Confessions of a Sturgis Lurker

I confess to having a bit of a fascination about riding a motorcycle, a sport which seems to ride right along that fine line between the idea of an exhilarating thrill ride with the wind in my hair and sun on my cheeks, to the reality of fear of potential defacing and dismemberment of my body parts. But those tenuous skinny green branches of the tree of life are where the luscious fruit hangs. If you don’t push yourself out there on the edge of the comfort zone, there is little reward for an adventure-seeker who clings to the sturdy, solid trunk.

My first experience on a motorcycle, or rather a “motor scooter” was on the back of a 1958 Cushman Eagle, arms clutched around my Dad’s waist while breezing down the Farm-to-Market roads in rural Texas. Although Dad bought the scooter for my brother Don, like the horse he bought for me, I suspect there was an element of his own desire in the purchase. He took me for joy rides all over the countryside.

Eventually, Don’s interest turned toward four wheeled vehicles, and I was able to steal the Cushman away for a few joy rides of my own.  I would ride down the Farm-to-Market road to my best friend Susan’s house, as long as her dad, Walter, was home to help me with the kick starter. I was much less afraid of the Cushman than I was the horse!

In my mind, this is what the Cushman scooter looked like, though likely much more benign. The color was the same, tho…

I often fantasize about traveling by motorcycle, particularly as a means to travel long distances, immersing myself deeper into local culture on the back roads, more so than one can often do while insulated by a car. This intrigue is no doubt heightened by the book I am currently reading, Lone Rider: The First British Woman to Motorcycle Around the World by Elspeth Beard. I attended a seminar given by the author when I was volunteering for Overland Expo last May.  I was riveted hearing her speak about the challenges she faced as a 23 year old female rider back in 1982, heading out on a solo journey around the world. Now that was brave!

Photo courtesy of Elspeth Beard, first British woman to ride solo around the world.

So no way am I going to pass through Sturgis, South Dakota, home of the largest motorcycle rally in the world, without at least a stop to have a look around. Having amassed over 500,000 motorcyclists in a town of less than 7,000 during 10 days in August, the rally is now long over. Perfect time to satisfy my curiosity when I can creep down Main Street like a groupie without feeling the intimidation of roaring pipes on my bumper.

Cruising by the Knuckle Saloon.

The bartender tells me this giant beer garden is packed during the rally.

I stop into the iconic Knuckle Saloon where the bartender tells me “Come rally week, the walls here literally pulsate.” Now, the massive structure only echos. Its easy to imagine the scene only a couple of months ago, tables filled with black leather-clad, bandana wearing riders, local brew in hand, comparing the cost of their latest chrome. There are a few stragglers in the saloon today, though most are here for the “Knucklehead Sandwich” off the menu, not the one that no doubt happens from too much libation in the Knuckle Brewery.

Would I like to see Sturgis in full swing? Maybe. But for now, I am content lurking from the fringes.

Scenes from the Knuckle Saloon…

It’s interesting walking the hallowed Main Street, looking at all the left over Sturgis souvenirs and pondering how the empty shops manage to survive the other 11 months and two weeks out of the year.

In thinking about the 500,000 riders that descend on Sturgis every August, I wonder what percent of those actually take risks outside their comfort zone? Are they adventurers, or are they hobbyists? And if they are adventurers, then I look at the racks and racks of near full body armor for sale in the Harley Davidson store, and wonder how that can really feel that much more freeing than driving a car with the windows down? Seems like wearing just short of an astronaut suit for safety would take the joy out of open air transport, no? When I was at Overland Expo, one of the old Camel Trophy guys cautioned that wearing a full BMW suit of amour was just as isolating from the local culture as a being inside a car.

Sculpture along Main Street.

Do you ever ask yourself that old hypothetical question, “If you could take any adventure (I mean “reality” adventure, not being able to fly or go into space kinda stuff) and be guaranteed you would emerge on the other side unharmed, what would it be?” For me, the decision would probably involve circumnavigation on a sailboat, first and foremost. But certainly a motorcycle ride around the globe would rank pretty high up there too.

I had to do it….it was on SALE!

My other Sturgis souvenir…also on sale. Pays to shop after the rally!

I’ve heard it said that without the risk, the reward is not near as exhilarating. When the risk drops to zero, would the reward still offer the same thrills? Evil Knievel said no, “Where there is little risk, there is little reward.” 

Would that ride on the back of the Cushman, hanging on to my Dad for dear life have been just as thrilling if there had been no risk?  I’d like to think so, but fact of the matter is, I doubt it would have been as ingrained in my memory.

If only the scale of risk versus reward didn’t shift just as the scale of freedom versus age does…

South Dakota’s Badlands: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I encountered a whole lot of good, a little taste of bad, and a few days of ugly on my trip through South Dakota’s badlands. I’ll start with the good, which was the Badlands National Park itself.

This park of 244,000 + acres exceeded my expectations. Photos I have seen in the past gave me the impression that I would be driving through some monotone beige rolling hills that undulated out to the horizon. With a name like “Badlands” one expects a Continue reading

The Tracker is a Regular Bison Wrangler!

There is more to see in the Black Hills of Dakota than just Mount Rushmore. (And I still can’t say that without winding out the old Beatles lyric, “Somewhere in the Black Mountain Hills of Dakota there lived a young boy named Rocky Racoon.”)

Mount Rushmore acts as the cornerstone to a well traveled loop that most commonly begins in Keystone, SD, drops down along the Iron Mountain Road, loops through Custer State Park, and back up along the Needles Parkway. This recommended loop is Continue reading

Defining Our Founding Fathers

Visiting Mount Rushmore has never made an appearance on my bucket list. After living in Atlanta for eight years near Stone Mountain, seeing the sculpture designed and initiated by the same artist carved into the granite mountain, my thoughts were “Impressive feat, but I don’t need to make a special trip.” However, with two national parks within a 75 mile radius, it got bumped up the list. Continue reading

South Dakota’s Wind Cave

It doesn’t take long after crossing the state line into South Dakota to reach the first of the state’s two national parks (Parks with a capital “P” of which there are 59 in the NPS.) A quick pass through the town of Hot Springs, and I am crossing the park boundary before I know it. Research has indicated that the town of Hot Springs is “HSINO,” (hot springs in name only) as the only source for the spring is a kids pool that is warm, at best. So I skip the pool and go straight for the park. Continue reading

“Give Me Weed, Whites, and Wine…”

My friend and frequent supporter of this blog recently reminded me of a song from my youth, “Willin'” written by Little Feat’s founder Lowell George, but made even more mainstream by Linda Ronstadt. Since Rhonda’s reference, I can’t get the song out of my head as I reflect on my summer spent in Colorado.

I’ve been fortunate to spend the entire summer chasing 70 degree temps while the rest of the US swelters through one of the hottest summers on record, and my dear family celebrates a cooling trend at 98. But my “summer in Colorado” has not been without its Continue reading

On Linking the Lakes and Locating the Lost

One might think that with a name like Rocky Mountain National Park, it would be all about the mountain peaks, right? After all, the park is made up of mountain ranges with 78 peaks exceeding 12,000 ft, so one can expect a spectacular mountain view anywhere you go. In fact, that’s the difference between the west side with more heavily forested views, versus the east side marked with stark mountain cirques carved by glacial ice, deep canyons, and jagged spires. Continue reading

The Newly Wed and the Nearly Dead

After spending almost a week on the west side of Rocky Mountain National Park, I still hadn’t had enough of the mountains. Steamboat was beautiful, but the ridiculously expensive RV park where I was staying was too far in the opposite direction from the hiking trails, requiring a tedious drive through traffic to get to any areas suitable for a hike. A look at the map reveals it won’t be that far to backtrack from the I25 corridor to Continue reading

Red Feather Lakes

In order to get myself back over the Rockies from Steamboat Springs, I decide to take a more northerly direction up near the Wyoming state line through Red Feather Lakes. It’s a place I know little to nothing about, but have long been intrigued. There’s not much information on the area. In fact, it is a challenge to even figure out which roads are best to take and where to go once I get there. I get by with a little help from my friends… Continue reading

Wrapping Up My Colorado Hot Springs Tour

When I set my intentions to spend the summer in Colorado, plans included visiting as many of the hot springs as possible to include not only those I missed in my 2015 trip, but to also revisit some favorites. All told, I hit nine hot springs. A respectable showing, though there are still so many more. My wrap up includes visits to three springs, Continue reading