Sturgis 2012 and the S.D. Badlands

The following is a post from occasional contributing writer at Rubber on Road, William “Cryovac” Perley describing his first trip for the annual Sturgis bike rally.

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Needles Highway- The Black Hills

Out for a ride on Needle's Highway in the Black Hills

2012 was the year of the 72nd annual motorcycle rally in Sturgis, S.D. The first rally was on August 14th 1938. If my math is correct two years are missing. Maybe the rally was cancelled a couple of times during WWII. Somebody probably knows the answer to this.

Anyway, I made it out there from NYC for the August 5 – 11 Rally this year. I had missed going for two previous summers for one reason or another. At age 69 I was determined to get there before my teeth fell out. Made it back with teeth still intact.

Began the ride out at 7am on Tuesday, August 2nd with Mike Handy a friend and fellow member and officer of the NYC HOG chapter. It’s almost a straight shot from the city to Sturgis if you take the boring Interstate 80/90 route which for the most part we did. Lots of jockeying around gigantic bi- and tri-partite tractor-trailors. The trucks create a lot of wind turbulence, but the Heritage I ride is heavy and doesn’t move too much in wind. Besides, truck drivers are pretty good on the road – they are usually not trying to set a new land speed record like your average BMW hot shot.

Mike and I got to Rapid City where we had a room booked at a Motel 6 in four days. We only had to deal with one heavy rain and that thankfully only lasted about an hour or so. Besides rain gear, which we always carry, we both brought our chaps and leather jackets. Mornings can be cold and the days got up into the high 90’s so you need to be prepared. I was glad I had asked Mike and Steve Woesthoff (who came out separately but was staying at the same motel) about what to pack. 5 days worth of clothes, leathers, a sweat shirt, 2 pairs of jeans, 5 pair of socks, 3 underwear, etc. The motel had a washer/dryer so we could do a wash just after arriving and just before leaving for home.

You don’t have to wear a helmet in S.D. and one of the days I wasn’t wearing my helmet (or carrying it) I got hit in the head by marble-sized hail stones! Can’t be too prepared!

Easy Rider Saloon in Sturgis

Bikers gather at the Easy Rider Saloon in Sturgis

The town of Sturgis is about 20mi. west of Rapid City. The scene there is all bikes and businesses that cater to their riders. It is on the northwestern edge of the Black Hills with Deadwood, Lead, Hill City, Custer and many smaller one-horse towns scattered south of Sturgis. Most of the sights you want to see and the roads you want to ride are in the Hills. The exceptions are the Devil’s Tower which is 80mi west of Sturgis in Wyoming. East of Rapid City you can stop in to see the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D. and Wall Drug just outside of Rapid City on top of the Badlands.

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The Black Hills got its name because from a distance the thick growth of ponderosa pines look black. The two most impressive sights for me were Mt. Rushmore and The Devil’s Tower. Rushmore because men actually carved these immense faces of four of our presidents (Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Lincoln) out of a mountain. And with the Devil’s Tower, Nature seems to have answered Rushmore with its own wonder: a gigantic, ridged tower of rock that seems to have pushed out from the surface of the earth with a landing site for a flying saucer on the top. In both cases you’ve got to see them to believe them.

Devils's Tower in South Dakota

The Devils's Tower in the Bad Lands

Wherever you go the scenery is amazing. Steep cliffs with lodge pole pines growing straight up their sides along the road of Spearfish Canyon, dark green forests of ponderosa pine showing swathes of tan amoeba-shaped devastation from the mountain pine beetle. Prairie lands open up with buffalo and prairie dogs in Custer State Park.

Mount Rushmore

Posing for a picture at Mount Rushmore

Make sure you exercise your riding skills on Iron Mountain Road and the Needles Highway: a circular wooden bridge, 15, 10 and 5mph hairpins, one-lane tunnels through rock and great views over the edges of narrow roads. Fun and adrenaline. Red and gray rock with horizontal splits, along Needles there are phallic formations that seem to have pushed up from below the surface.

I missed riding through the Badlands on Saturday. It was raining early and I had a stomachache. Got a couple of shirts and stickers for my new white helmet at the Black Hills H-D dealership in the afternoon and used the rest of the day organizing for a 7am departure the next morning.

Not much to say about the trip back. Rode with Steve and Raoul and Betty. A three-day plan going back. The 2nd day was almost entirely in the rain. We lost Raoul and Betty in the late afternoon. Raoul said his glasses were fogging and he stopped. Our 3rd day was mostly clear and Steve and I hit the City in the late afternoon. If I do the trip again, I’d like to take more time going out and back and pick some more “scenic” roads.

I’ve never been a very good tourist, but the Black Hills did a lot to baptize me into that skill. I confess that I wanted the “I rode mine” patch on my vest, but I’d go back a second time for the experience, the sights and the American thing. This country is so much more than its coasts.

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The mystical experience was once explained to me as follows: If you’ve experienced it, no explanation is necessary; if you haven’t, no explanation is possible.” That could as easily apply to riding a motorcycle. It could also apply to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Together they are Sturgis.