black bar

Sturgis or Bust

We were clueless about the long tradition of the rally that has continued all these years, even through the Covid-19 scare.

When I was a young parent I remember an August trip through the West revisiting spots I had seen when I lived in Colorado.  South Dakota had to be on the list.  I was anxious for my family to see Mt Rushmore, and the narrow “pigtail” roads that wind their way through the mountains on the western side of the state. The Black Hills National Forest always had a different look than the forests further south. The usual pattern back then was to leisurely drive along the picturesque roads to dusty Deadwood to the north, then Mt. Rushmore a bit south, and then look for a place to spend the night on the edge of the forest.

Looking at the map, our spur-of-the-moment choice in the 70s was the sleepy village of Sturgis. To be sure, the day before we stopped we commented on all the motorcyclists on the highways. But then, who wouldn’t pick a nice spot to tour via twisting but smooth mountain roads?  Needless to say, we were ignorant of what was around the next corner.

We must have looked like deer in the headlights as we slowly inched our way by parked and double parked motorcycles along Junction Avenue, now anchored at one end by the well-named “Loud American Roadhouse,” and at the other by “Red’s Grill and Pub.” All the riders we saw in the last few days seemed to have found their way there as well, swelling the edges of the road with their two-wheeled machines.

At first we thought there must be at least a few hundred.  Wrong. There were thousands. We somehow missed the memo about the long tradition of the rally that has continued all these years, even this week through the Covid-19 scare.

The press has been reporting that about 250,000 have showed up, swelling the town’s normal population of 6500, and no doubt putting the staff at the small Sturgis Hospital across from Red’s on its own red alert.

Against all odds, and after sheepishly explaining we didn’t know about this annual siege, we actually found a couple willing to let us use a nice basement room for the night. I think this was the last time that I traveled without making reservations in advance.

Dinner for the family was in one of the roadhouses, which offered steak and potatoes or nothing. Needless to say, it was an easy menu to ponder. It felt like we were eating in the dining hall of a mining camp.

I know my way around a library, but I was surely out of my league with the motorcycle crowd. In fact, the only other memories that remain is the deafening noise. Back then, some of the folks that  had come to town looked down on their luck. But a rider of a “hog” can at least claim the honor of sucking up everyone else’s sonic airspace for at least two blocks.