2009 Sturgis Coverage

The Spirit of '69!


I suppose if there is one thing to put on your ‘to do’ list for next year, it would be going to Sturgis. I went last year and covered the action for you all, and I went back again for the 69th year of the Sturgis rally. This will be a long story, so kick back with your favorite beverage and read on.

Before I knew it, I was hauling down Interstate 90 out of Illinois on Saturday August 1st to get to the rally. It would take two days and about 1000 miles to get there. The trip out was mostly uneventful, beautiful and relaxing all at the same time. The procession of bikes built the closer the Black Hills came until it looked like a motorcycle parade (and a trailer parade) heading into the area on Sunday.

Last year I covered the event with a good friend, and this year I was going with my wife Jen. I know what you all are thinking. How are you going to have any fun with your wife out there with you? Well, we had plenty. She is my best friend and a great traveling partner. She also has an eye for taking some great pictures. I may keep her around another year or two just for that alone. (Ducking Now!)

At the Missouri River on the way across the plains.

We were also staying in a hotel in Rapid City this year, compared to me camping last year. Another reason this year would be different is that I am a Sturgis veteran, or at least I think I am. Last year taught me a lot about the good and bad of the Sturgis Rally. I also had a plan this year. It sure didn’t always work out, but I had one anyway. We had also decided early on that we were going to cover more than just what was happening on Main Street in Sturgis, and try to visit all the Black Hills area to get a wider view of the rally than just the party scene.

So we arrived late Sunday afternoon on the first weekend of the rally none the worse for wear. We were a little tired but decided to head down to Main Street in Sturgis to check out the early action. We cruised the 25 miles from Rapid City, and we got down there with little traffic. So we ate and took a few pictures of the early madness and headed back to get some sleep. Once we got back, we discovered we had lost the camera! Not good. We looked everywhere, and neither of us could figure out where we had left it. We lost about 70 good pictures, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Good thing it was the first day and not the last. We were determined not to let this spoil the trip and we hit the bed and didn’t worry about it.

Following the crowd to Sturgis.

So it is Monday morning August 3rd, and I have to find a camera. I really want to hit the bike show at the Full Throttle Saloon sponsored by The Horse BC magazine. I took in the show they had in Daytona, and they always have some unique and cool bikes there. So it was off early to the local Best Buy to find a camera. Got a really great deal on a demo model and it was about 10 times better than the old one we lost.

We got through Sturgis on the way to the show in about 20 minutes, which was a miracle. The traffic is usually terrible. The show was as good as expected. Where else can you find a CBX-powered trike, an Ironhead motocrosser, an R1 cruiser, and a classic Panhead bobber all in one show? 

Check out this CBX!

We took off from the show at about 1pm and headed to Deadwood to check out the scene there and maybe try our luck with some games of chance. We soon found that our luck getting through Sturgis to the Full Throttle Salon had changed. It took a good 45 minutes to get from one side of Sturgis to the other. We went all of a mile and a half in that time. I could have crawled faster. We had arrived, and so had the rest of the people. We finally did get through and rode on to Deadwood.

Deadwood is a nice historic town, best known for the two Old West characters of Calamity Jane and ‘Wild Bill’ Hickock, who met his end by getting shot in a poker game. On August 2, 1876, while playing poker at Nuttal & Mann's Saloon No. 10 in Deadwood, Hickock could not find an empty seat in the corner of the room, where he always sat in order to protect himself against a possible attack from behind, and instead sat with his back to one door while facing another. His paranoia was well founded: He was shot in the back of the head with a .45-caliber revolver by Jack McCall. Legend has it that Hickock was playing poker when he was shot, holding a pair of aces and a pair of eights. The fifth card is debated, or, as some say, had not yet been dealt. "Aces and eights" thus is known as the "Dead Man's Hand”

Today, Deadwood is known for its casinos. We tried our luck at some of the machines, but soon found out why they call them “One Armed Bandits.” Well, at least we contributed our share to the city coffers! There are lots of bikes here, and lots of action. Not quite a crowded as Sturgis, but there are still crowds and bikes everywhere. We toured a bit and took some pictures and headed back to the hotel.

Deadwood was far from dead.

After relaxing at the hotel, we headed back to Sturgis to check out the action that night. There seems to be two distinct camps of people here. One is the ‘I Rode Mine’ crowd, and the other is the ‘I Trailered Mine’ crowd. Judging from the ‘I rode my bike to trailer week’ and ‘Nice Trailer, P***y!’ shirts, the animosity is real. I can see both sides of the issue. To the riders, they only see that riding your bike there is the only real way to make the scene, but not everyone has the time to get there and back if you live far away. With the trailer guys, they see that they really aren’t doing anything wrong, yet when you dress up in your dirty duds, and ride in with your two-day-old stubble and act like Billy BadBoy after you just drove your SUV the whole way, you kind of look like a bit of a fool. Anyway, I’m neutral on the subject, but Jen is firmly on the side of the riders.

I’m not sure how the numbers stack up for attendance, but I can say that Main is loaded this Monday night. We found a pretty cool place called ‘The Dungeon’ to kind of hang and watch the action. We also made our way over to One-Eyed Jack’s. That place was twice as crazy as I remembered it last year. The barmaids were going nuts dancing on the bars and hitting the patrons with whips and paddles. All in good fun, if you like that kind of fun. I saw Ultimate Ozzy was playing at the Broken Spoke, and all I can say is you could not tell this guy from Ozzy Osbourne. He was that good, and he looked like his twin to boot. There was a huge crowd there, and the music was fantastic if you like vintage Ozzy and Black Sabbath, which I do.

The Ultimate Ozzy was Rockin’ the house.

Jen wore her Deal’s Gap shirt and got more attention with her shirt on than some of the girls with their shirts off. We had plenty of people asking if we rode The Gap, which we had, and one guy kept asking if we were from Virginia. He was slightly inebriated and really wanted us to be from Virginia. We assured him we were from Chicago, and we kind of hustled to get away from him after 20 minutes of rambling conversation. Enough was enough for the night so we headed back. We were just getting into the flavor of the '09 Sturgis Rally.

My partner in crime.

Tuesday morning was reserved for a trip to the Badlands and then a visit to the famous Wall Drug. It’s about a 70-mile trip to the east entrance of the Badlands from Rapid City, and at 80 mph the trip didn’t take long. The Badlands are stunning and awesome. This is a ‘must see’ if you are in the area. As for Wall Drug, if you admire them for anything, it would be persistence. Any place that has 99 signs (and we counted em!) placed from the middle of Minnesota to the Wall entrance down Interstate 90 has to be seen. Again there are lots of bikers here, and the streets are lined with bikes, and it’s time for a mini rant.

I have to comment on the level of riding skill I witnessed here in Sturgis. Now I don’t hold myself up as the best rider in the entire world, but I can handle my machine pretty well and I practice my skills regularly. When you see riders wobbling around corners, hitting the brakes at the wrong times, stalling the bike, and not paying attention, you really want to get away from these people, and I did when I could. Sadly, the poor riding came from the male riders, and many were riding two-up. The females I saw riding their bikes seemed to have better skills and were in control of what they were doing, which was probably due to actually taking classes and learning riding skills. My message for lots of riders out there is to go get some training and go practice before you kill or injure yourself and/or your passenger. Rant over.

The Badlands are a ‘must see’.

So, we are back to the Wall Drug experience. My wife Jen just loves these kinds of places. They have every piece of tourist junk ever made. I really didn’t like the place that much until we wandered out back and they had a wall with about 200 real photographs of the Sioux tribe and early settlers. I was staring at all those pictures for about an hour. I even found a picture of Main Street in Sturgis in the 1800s. Imagine seeing the original rugged individualists before the other 300,000 showed up this week. Cool stuff. At least Wall Drug was good for something besides typical tourist trap stuff. So it was early afternoon and we headed back to the hotel for a bit.

If the bike broke, at least I had another way home.
Breakfast with the Presidents.
Crazy Horse was awesome!

I had plans on seeing the AMA half-mile flattrack race that evening because I love that style of racing. It was about an hour before the races were starting and I was getting ready to go until I saw the Weather Channel. A bomber storm was approaching from the southwest, and there was no way they were going to get that race in. I stayed in and watched the black wall of clouds roll in about 7pm. It was a torrent of rain whipped by 60-mph winds. I was really glad I didn’t get caught in that. I knew the race was history for that day and hoped I could catch it later in the week when the rescheduled it.

Lucky enough, two of my fellow retired firefighters were in the area and I ran across the street to have a couple beers with them until the storm died down .It was good to see Jim and Mike again, and we had a few laughs before they had to hit the road. Jen and I decided to stay in and call it a night with the nasty weather hanging around. We saw on the news that Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was on Main Street in Sturgis and caused a real jam there with all the cops and gawkers. I was glad I missed that scene. Tomorrow would be another day for fun.

I woke up early and tried to find out when they rescheduled the AMA race, and found out they just canceled it. I guess they got a couple of heats in before the storm hit, and then canceled it for the week.

We hit the road again early on Wednesday to do the loop that included Mount Rushmore, the city of Custer, and the Crazy Horse Memorial. It was a perfect morning and we headed off to Rushmore to check it out. Mornings are the best time to photograph the monument. We entered the park and ate breakfast there and admired the sculpture. I never do get tired of seeing it after all these years. After it started to get really crowded, we hit Iron Mountain Road for a trip to Custer. The endless switchbacks and tunnels were lots of fun, and you get to snap a couple more photos of Rushmore from the distance. The day was perfect and we were having a great time.

We hit Custer at about noon and stopped for a snack and some pictures. I had some locally made jerky that was the best I ever had. Custer has that ‘Wild West’ flavor of many of the small towns here, and it was loaded with bikes, of course.

I have another overall observation here. There are tons of trikes running around. More than I have ever seen before at any rally. They are literally everywhere. With the obviously aging riding base, it makes sense, especially after seeing how many people have a really difficult time with operating their two-wheeled vehicles. Custer was just busting with people, and they all seemed to be relaxed and having a good time. We took a few pictures and then hit the road to Crazy Horse.

The Crazy Horse monument can be seen from the road for a few miles from the entrance of the park. It is looking awesome these days because it is actually looking like something. The face is there and it appears the outstretched arm is getting worked on. I notice one trend that is disturbing, at least to me, at both Crazy Horse and Rushmore. There are lots of bikes that sit outside the park and take all the pictures they can take, and never enter the park. Now it is all of 10 bucks to enter each one, and both places depend on this cash for upkeep and improvements for the monuments. Crazy Horse especially needs this cash, because they take no federal funds for carving the monument there and work completely off entry fees and donations. So all the people won’t enter because it would cost them the price of a couple of beers kind of bug me. I have advice for you people. Go in the park and pay for the privilege of viewing these wonders. You came all the way to Sturgis. It isn’t like you don’t have the money to get it. You don’t even have to go in. Just help pay the freight. Thanks.

And the MO readers think I had all fun….this is WORK I tell ya!

So we hit the road back to the hotel after a great ride and seeing some really awesome sights along the way, but we did get a bit of a shock when we got near the hotel. Getting off our exit at I-90 we saw lots of flashing lights, and coming to the intersection we see a totaled Harley and a pickup with a smashed in passenger-side door. I have been on thousands of accident scenes and this one told me that the classic left-turn accident had occurred.  Jen gets really shook up with these types of incidents, but after 17 years seeing them, I guess I have become more analytical about them. We found out on the scene that it was an off-duty Rapid City police officer that was on the bike and, yes, the cager turned left into this path. We were told his injuries were broken ribs and a broken leg, but read in the paper that he was in critical condition. I hope he survived and is doing well. Such is the danger of riding a motorcycle.

After freshening up a bit, we headed down to Sturgis early. We arrived in town about 7pm and we went all of eight blocks by 8pm. The only fun part was me and the guy next to me shut off our bikes and paddled it down a slight grade for the whole trip. It seemed the people on the sidelines were getting a kick out of it. We got comments on how quiet our engines were and if we were having a Flintstone race. We laughed the whole way. He was heading to the Buffalo Chip, where Aerosmith was playing that night. I’m sure that was most of the traffic problem. I told him he had a loooong trip out that way. Getting to Sturgis is easy, but getting through Sturgis is another story.

We saw on the news that night at the hotel that Steven Tyler had fallen off the stage during the concert and had to be flown to the nearest hospital. The concert was cut very short, and I bet there were quite a few ticked-off people who fought the traffic all the way there just to watch Steve take a nose dive. I’m sure you all read on the internet that he broke his shoulder and had minor head and neck injuries. Poor guy! He rode his bike in Sturgis every day, yet nearly breaks his neck dancing on a stage. You just never know.

A Main Street classic.
Good ones were few and far between on Main.

We finally made to Main and we were having a good time just observing all the madness. The Christian bikers were out in force tonight, and in equal force on the other end of the street were the 1% outlaw club bikers. You could go from damnation to salvation and everything in between in just a couple of blocks. Neither group was annoying, nor causing any problems, but it was fun checking out the different worlds.

We got a few pics of the ‘unique’ people hanging about also. If all the bikes and people make traveling around here so bad, it also makes it more interesting. Just checking out all the characters here is worth the trip alone. I also seem to notice a distinct lack of unique machinery here. At Daytona there is every contraption on two and three wheels, but unless you hit a bike show, Sturgis seems flooded with FL Harleys and Gold Wings. There is a bobber here, and a chopper there, but when I scan the sea of bikes on Main, they are all looking the same to me.

The lightning was flashing, and the thunder was rumbling, so we got a good spot to sit under an overhang when the rain came. Some people left, but most stayed and hung out. Once the showers were done we took off for some sleep after a long day. Tomorrow was Thursday and would be our last day here. We were determined to make the most of it.

We wanted to head out for an early ride, but the morning had come with another wicked storm. We watched a trailer getting blown down the street as the wind and rain whipped by. While sitting around, I was told that Sturgis has a lost and found department at their welcome center. Jen told me she had a good feeling that someone may have turned in our camera. I decided to take a quick ride out there to check it out once the typhoon let up a bit. It did, and I blasted out to the welcome center.

Stormin' on the plains.

Upon entering, all I saw were vendors everywhere. I walked up and asked if they had a lost and found. He said they did and pulled out a large covered container and asked me what I had lost. I described the camera and gave him the make and model. He reached in and asked “Is this it?” It sure the heck was! I couldn’t believe it. My faith in mankind restored, I rode back with a smile on my face. The clouds were breaking and I was sure ‘The Man’ was smiling down on us today. Jen was floored. She couldn’t believe we got it back.

With the weather getting better, we decided to head out to Spearfish Canyon and take a loop around there before heading back to Sturgis. Spearfish is the location of Lehman Trikes, and we passed the factory where they are built. It seems they are doing well, because I saw plenty of them on this trip. Anyway, we headed into the canyon which was just beautiful with the high canyon walls, trees, waterfalls, streams, and the cabins where people live down there.

I was really enjoying myself and hauling the E-Glide  pretty good down the twisty tarmac. Well, too good really. As we headed down a bit of a straight, I saw the red and blue flashing lights of a South Dakota State Police car behind me. My wonderful wife informed me that not only are the troopers coming from behind, but she assured me that they are after me.

Cookin’ down Spearfish Canyon.

They pulled in behind me and I did the smart thing: I shut off the bike, put it on the kickstand, and kept my hands on the handlebars in plain sight. I was thinking of possibly using the Jedi Mind Trick on them by telling them I was on a 64 horsepower Harley and riding two-up, and that I couldn’t have been speeding. Then after mulling it over for a few seconds, I remembered that State Troopers don’t have the best sense of humor in the world and decided to play it straight.

The officer was nice enough. He asked me for my license and if I knew why I had been stopped. I told him I knew I was going too fast and I apologized for that. He asked if I could please get off the bike and step over to his car. I figured I would be searched or something. The other trooper got out of the car, and they asked me to get in the passenger seat. This was a bit strange. He never did ask me for proof of insurance or my registration. So I get in and the officer in the front says he’s going to write me a warning citation, which I immediately thanked him for because I was doing an easy 20 over around the canyon. I soon found out why they had me in there when the questions started from the back seat:

“How much alcohol have you had today?”

So here was why I was in the car. They couldn’t have cared less about the speeding. They wanted the drunks. The truthful answer was going to disappoint them:

“I haven’t had any,” I replied

“No really? I meant how many drinks did you have today?” came from the back seat.

“None, zero,” I replied while holding up my hand with the ‘zero’ sign for emphasis. I turned to look at him and he was glaring at me like he believed I was lying.

“So you are telling me you had nothing to drink today?” he asked again.

“I had a Coke at the last stop” I replied, with a touch of sarcasm, but was also the truth.

A love note from the SD State Police.

He was still staring lasers through me, and I really wanted to tell him to pull out the breathalyzer and I’ll take the test right now to prove I wasn’t drinking, but I didn’t feel like provoking him further. I’m sure he was thinking that there was no way a biker who came to Sturgis was riding around where there are beer stops every 5 miles and wasn’t drinking. For the most part he may have been right, but in my case he was wrong. I’m not a complete prude, but I really don’t like to drink when I ride. It makes me tired, and I am not at the top of my game, which I really like to be when I am riding. It would be really stupid to be hauling butt on a twisty canyon road, putting both my wife’s and my life in danger by riding impaired.

So they let me go with just a warning ticket, and I cooled the speed all the way back to Sturgis where Jen and I had a snack and laughed about our encounter. She told me she was going to take some pictures of me in the car for the story, but she was afraid the troopers wouldn’t appreciate it.

Jen had her Deal’s Gap shirt on again, which is now her all-time favorite, because lots of people again had something to say about it. I never knew so many people held ‘The Dragon’ in such high esteem. It certainly is a great road to ride, as well as many other roads in that area, but many roads here in the Black Hills are comparable. Iron Mountain road, Spearfish Canyon, and the Needles Highway are just a few.

So the week had gone by, and it was time to leave. We left Friday morning to dark skies, but they cleared and we hiked it to Minnesota where we stayed for the night. Clicking on the local news, I see a story about Sturgis and bikes damaged. It seems they got a hail storm there during the day, and they showed a guy holding hail balls the size of baseballs in his hand. Man, those had to hurt no matter what you are wearing!

Saturday came soon enough, and we rode the last 400 miles home. I’m always glad to get home, but a bit of sadness was there also. Sturgis was still in our minds, and it seemed strange that we were back so quickly. I have so many things going through my mind at this time, like how I am going to write this story, and how we are going to sift through 1100 pictures to bring the best of them to the MO faithful. Sturgis means different things to different people. For some, it’s the bike shows, and others it’s the Main Street parties.

Sturgis is right up there with Mom and Apple Pie.

Some may love the awesome rides, and then for others it may be the racing. Others may love the way motorcycles take over an entire town, and even an entire area of a state for more than a week, and others may love the camping and the bands. For us, it was all those things.

Sturgis is the people, sights, parties, riding, bikes, madness, bands, and the camaraderie all pulled together into one big event. Sure the ‘I Rode Mine’ crowd may have a beef with the ‘I Trailered Mine’ bunch, but I have no doubt that if the chips were down, and somebody was broken down and needed help, the one would help the other in a heartbeat. Our returned camera proved that.

Riders may not always agree, and we may not all like the same things, but Sturgis proves we are all cut from the same cloth, just different shapes and sizes. I was glad to get back there. Jen was glad to have seen it for the first time. Maybe next year, you can check it out for yourself. Pencil it in on the list. Just do it.

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