My first trip to Sturgis, South Dakota was in 1999. I had a restored antique 1975 Harley FLH that vibrated so bad that parts fell off regularly. You would think after all the money I put into that bike it would ride like a Caddy, but leaking oil (I like to call it marking its territory) and vibration was the nature of the beast in 1975. We pulled it on a trailer behind a motor home that year and missed the ride of a lifetime, but I was afraid my wife would fall off somewhere along the way and you would be able to read the back of my t-shirt that said; “If your can read this the wife fell off”! I finally sold the old girl (The Harley, not my wife) in 2001 and bought a new Harley Road King. Oh my God, this Harley didn’t vibrate or mark its territory! This girl had power to spare and a five-speed transmission to boot! I thought I died and went to Harley heaven.
When I had the opportunity to ride with friends to Sturgis in 2003, I jumped at the chance. Loading up the bike with clothes, tent, sleeping bag, air mattress and necessities for the nine-day adventure was a major challenge. I bought a travel pack for the rider’s seat that strapped to the sissy bar. The bike had hard bags on the sides that held a surprising amount of stuff and I strapped the tent and sleeping bag to the hard bag lids. I was so excited about going on this trip that I loaded the bike a week in advance and would spend evenings packing and re-packing even though it wasn’t necessary. I would sit looking at the bike for about an hour each night before I went to bed and fantasized about the dream ride ahead.
Finally, the dream day came to start the ride. My friends Tony and Donna were riding an older Shovel Head Harley and Dwain was riding a 2003 Sportster. Well, as luck would have it, the 86 Shovel started burning oil badly in the middle of the Navajo reservation. By the time we hit Durango, Colorado it was smoking like a steam locomotive. We stopped at the Harley dealer and sure enough the bike was finished. We all looked so sad knowing that if we all couldn’t go, none of us would go. There would always be next year. Donna looked at Tony and said; “We are going to Sturgis” at which point they bought a new Ultra Glide which they really couldn’t afford. We spent the night in Durango and the next morning jumped on the bikes and headed for Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Day two dawned clear and beautiful in Rockies. You could smell the clean, wildflower scented air. The mountain peaks looked pale purple with rays of gold penetrating the valley, washing your face with a warm sun kiss. My eyes were filled with beauty and awe. I could sit and watch these mountains for hours, but our next destination had to be Wyoming or we would not make Sturgis within out schedule. So, off we went on our grand adventure. Not one of us had been any further east than Durango on bikes. Tony and Donna looked like the cat that had just eaten Tweedy. I hate that new bike! Because it had stock pipes at least I was able to kid Tony that he better start it, the stoplight was about to change. Then I would roar past him because it takes 500 miles to break a new bike in at slower speeds.
As we neared Denver, the country changed to rolling flat plains and the wind picked up making riding difficult, but when you are heading for Sturgis you hardly notice such things. We hit the freeway and could see Denver to the North pushing out of the ground like a steel mountain. Soon we were in the middle of nowhere land cruising at 75 and then slowing down so Tony could catch up on his shinny new silver Ultra. God, I hate that bike! We started to see many riders going in the same direction and all had smiles big enough to catch the largest bugs!
Our troupe made it to Cheyenne tired, hungry and thirsty. We had made motel reservations a year in advance for this trip and that was a good thing because when we hit town it was covered with every make of motorcycle know to man from all over the western states. We planned to camp out only two nights in Sturgis mainly because we would have to learn how to walk again after sleeping on the ground. We are only youngsters in spirit, not in body! Hot shower, hot food, a warm bed and we were done for the night with visions of Sturgis dancing in our heads.
We awoke the next morning early raring to get on the road. Of course Tony had to wash his new ride. I hate that bike! I thought I would burst with anticipation before we finally left Cheyenne behind. We rumbled on the freeway and headed east towards the turn off to the Black Hills of Dakota. It seemed like a lifetime before we finally turned southeast to the Promised Land. We were now on a two-lane road with rolling hills and wind that made our bikes lean hard to the right. Who cares, we could see the outline of the Black Hills in the distance. We had plenty of company on the road. Picture bikes as far as you can see leaning to the right like a video game! Push on biker buds, push on. We were a two-wheel wagon train heading for glory. The Black Hills of Dakota are a sight to behold. Right in the middle of vast prairie lands, mountains jut out of the earth with dark majestic peaks of granite. When you start to leave the prairie lands from the west, the terrain changes to rolling hills and the dark mountains grow bigger and bigger with each mile ridden. The air changes from heavy grass and earth smell to a lighter, pine scented freshness that you can inhale and feel energize your whole body. The air is palatable like fine wine. We drank it freely and willingly. If there were a law against breathing this air we would be arrested and jailed for being intoxicated!
I had been to the monuments as a young person, but the grandeur was lost on youth. Crazy horse had not been born yet and we were anxious to see him in all his granite glory. Riding up to all the monuments on a motorcycle is breathtaking. You combine all the ingredients of intoxicating air, sites and sounds of thousands of bikes, clear blue skies and gigantic monuments carved from stone makes you feel like you could fly like an Eagle. Words fail me at the sight of such monumental beauty and majesty. Crazy Horse is so impressive that he gives the illusion of being a mirage that can’t be real. How can you top such beauty? I always feel the same about the places visited while riding the Harley. God, what a beautiful country we live in!
Next installment: Sturgis 2003