It’s that time of year already that the world’s eyes are turned to Sturgis, South Dakota .. and as this issue of Potato Soup comes out it will be the “official” last day of this year’s 71st Anniversary of Sturgis .. first founded in 1938 by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, led by Clarence “Pappy” Hoel.
For anyone who’s ever ridden a Harley, or known anyone who’s ever hung out with real “bikers” .. they’ve heard the stories .. and their imagination was kicked into overdrive as they envisioned the largest motorcycle rally the world has ever known. With the vast improvements in media technology over the last several years .. it’s now possible to open YouTube and catch videos of the daily activities or find a live feed and see for yourself if all the rumors you’d heard are possibly true.
As I’ve mentioned in the past .. I’ve been a part of the madness on eight previous occasions .. and I will verify first hand that everything you’ve ever heard about the organized insanity is absolutely true .. with all the good and all the bad stretched to the extreme. But the one absolute certainty that I can only attempt to convey in writing is this: nothing .. and I mean NOTHING, can replace actually “being there” .. period!
Dreams come true and worst nightmares come to fruition .. from fairytale weddings to instant death caused by the stupidity of a “weekend warrior” .. if you can ever “imagine” it .. it will, or has happened. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I’ve pretty much seen it all .. and although I’ve witnessed major changes to the overall “energy” of the event over the years, and have become somewhat jaded by the greedy “capitalism” that seems so overpowering at times .. I’ll have to admit that I’m not the least bit surprised by it.
What once started as an opportunity for a group of bikers to actually race their bikes through the main street of a secluded small town .. and spawn unbelievable memories .. exploded the fantasies of those who only “heard about it” and then wanted to become a part of it the following year and create their own legacies. Decadence and debauchery seemed to be the gloves that fit the occasion and lured the masses with high-hopes of unparalleled excitement, freedom and satisfaction.
Today, Sturgis has only 7,000 full time residents. The mid 80’s began the explosion of attendees trekking to the annual event .. and in the early 2000’s over 700,000 came to town for the week-long event. Actually, it’s a three-week endeavor .. as the week prior to the “official” rally the many vendors come to town and convert the many shops, salons, offices .. you name it .. into a “tourist trap” for bikers. Everything you can imagine a biker would want is for sale .. somewhere. And residents rent their homes for as much as $5-7,000 for the event and some even sleep in their back yards in tents.
In the early years of my annual pilgrimage .. I knew the owner of the only two motels in town and had a standing reservation. All of his other rooms he rented to “vendors” who paid for three weeks, in advance .. $300/ day! He spent the rest of his year in Florida .. imagine that. When my rate was increased to $1,700 for a week, I decided it was time to hit the many campgrounds available. Shade Valley, Broken Spoke, Glencoe, Days End, and the infamous Buffalo Chip. This is Buffalo Chip’s 30th anniversary, by the way .. with their “Pickle Lickin’ Contest”. Yep .. let your imagination run wild on that one .. it’s a hoot.
My favorite was Hog Heaven Campground, less than a mile west of downtown Sturgis and right by the Short Track and Hill Climbing Course. The drags are a bit further out .. but what I loved was the fact that there was a little known “short cut” into town that actually went under the interstate and took you right downtown just a block over from the main drag. Plenty of parking was usually available .. and it was generally shaded. Something you rarely see in the campgrounds around Sturgis. It’s not uncommon to see 100+ degree days and also rain .. that just seems to be a part of the “real” experience. Now, I’ve seen camping rates as much as $250/3 nights/2 persons plus and “entry fee” .. only in America, huh?
Last month, I mentioned several sites and places everyone should visit should they plan for the “experience” .. Mount Rushmore; Custer National Park and the Little Bighorn Monument; the Black Hills; Sundance; Keystone; Spearfish; Lead; Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickok was killed at the Number 10 Saloon; and, of course, Devil’s Tower. What my dear friend, Merri Crouse, reminded me of after reading Truth .. was one of the interesting “legends” regarding Devil’s Tower, which is so sacred to the Plains Tribes. The Arapaho, Cheyenne, Crow, Kiowa, and Sioux each have their own version as to the creation of the Tower. Here’s what is posted on the sign near it’s base, which is pretty much the Sioux version .. as they were the predominant Tribe in that specific area:
“Devils Tower, an important landmark for Plains Indian tribes long before the white man reached Wyoming, was called Matco Tepee, or Grizzly Bear Lodge, by the Sioux.
A number of Indian legends describe the origin of Devils Tower. One Legend tells about seven little girls being chased onto a low rock to escape attacking bears. Their prayers for help were heeded. The rock carried them upward to safety as the claws of the leaping bears left furrowed columns in the sides of the ascending tower. Ultimately, the rock grew so high that the girls reached the sky where they were transformed into the constellation known as the Pleiades.
Fur trappers, may have visited Devils Tower, but they left no written evidence of having done so. The first documented visitors were several members of Captain W.F. Raynold’s Yellowstone Expedition who arrived in 1859. Sixteen years later, Colonel Richard L. Dodge led a U.S. Geological Survey party to the massive rock formation and coined the name Devils Tower. Recognizing its unique characteristics, Congress designated the area a U.S. forest reserve in 1892 and in 1906 Devils Tower became the nation’s first national monument.
Rising dramatically to a height of 1280 feet above the Belle Fourche River, Devils Tower has become a rock-climbing Mecca. On July 4th, 1893, local rancher William Rogers became the first person to complete the climb after constructing a ladder of wooden pegs driven into the cracks in the rock face. Technical rock climbing techniques were first used to ascend the Tower in 1937 when Fritz Wiessner conquered the summit with a small party from the American Alpine Club. Today hundreds of climbers scale the sheer rock walls each summer. All climbers, must register with a park ranger before and after attempting a climb.”
Besides just being overwhelmed on a daily basis as you ride around the historic area .. you naturally find watering holes that soon become your absolute favorites. Not only because of the smokin’ hot bartenders (and yes, there’s more than your fair share of “real men” for the outnumbered women bikers, too .. whereas, I might add, many of those women are far more smokin’ hot than the bartenders themselves) and did I mention yet how much I LOVE Sturgis? Where was I .. ? Oh yeah .. the bartenders. The Side Hack Saloon; Full Throttle Saloon; Dirty Annie’s; the Buffalo Bar; Stoneville Saloon; but One Eyed Jacks just happened to be my favorite. And then there was Lisa Thompson .. with “Bad Ass” stitched on her chaps and a “satisfaction guaranfuckenteed” sticker on her butt .. now she was a biker’s biker.
Many of the bartenders are from all over the country, and Lisa hailed from Daytona, FL. Not only did she come to Sturgis every year to tend at the OEJ Saloon .. but she rode her own Harley every mile of the way! What an Angel. I got to know her pretty well over the course of a week and she invited me to drop in on her at the local bar she tended in Daytona over Bike Week. When I actually dropped in on her the following spring she flipped out .. and found it hard to believe that there were men out there who actually keep their word. But I’m one who believes that your “word” is all you truly have .. and without it, you’re nothing .. and deserve absolutely no respect. I’m still a believer that a handshake should be a binding contract .. but then again .. I can’t count the times I’ve been burned. Sad, isn’t it?
Part of my “character” whenever visiting Sturgis .. was to wear my trademark White Mark Silver Fox helmet with the Buffalo horns that I bought in Hewlett. If I had a dollar for every picture I posed for I’d be a “rich man” .. literally. I always made an even trade though .. for every pic they took with me, I had someone take one on my camera for me .. and I have hundreds. My “random act of kindness” was making them smile .. and they never failed to keep me smilin’ too!
When I walked by the Budweiser tent, where they had “Captain America” on display, (actually, both bikes from Easy Rider fame were on display) .. one of the personnel called me over and wanted to take my picture on the bike with the two “Bud Girls”. They had seen me on the TV screens around town as random videos were posted daily, and I seemed to catch the attention of most shutterbugs. Peter Fonda had just ridden the strip on the bike and I was pretty jazzed just to get to sit on it. Two months later a package arrived and I received an 8×10 glossy in a barnwood frame with “Sturgis” burnt into leather on the frame. Class.
When every day at Sturgis is etched with memories .. it may be hard for some to decide over the years which one of those moments, or which person specifically, stands at the pinnacle as far as leaving an imprint on your life. For me .. there is no question .. no hesitation as to my answer. The year I took Stan Stephens to Sturgis (June 2010 issue Potato Soup – Heorot) we had stopped at a small church down the street from the Sturgis Harley Davidson dealership, as they were having a bike wash (Not a bikini wash .. duhhh) and had plenty of room in their parking lot for Stan to do some repairs on his AMF Harley. He accidentally dropped my socket into the small opening into his primary. We were screwed.
I went into the church to ask anyone if they had anything I could use to put under his bike so I could get his rear tire off the ground .. as I had a plan. Fortunately, in a shed they had some 4×4’s and we teetered the bike on the posts as Stan straddled the front tire and held the bike steady. I sat down behind the rear wheel with my legs spread .. bike in neutral .. and I spun the wheel backwards as hard as I could. I may have had the idea .. but I do believe “devine intervention” on church grounds spit the half-inch socket out of the 50-cent sized hole like Dirk Nowitzki makes “nothing but net” freethrows! Problem solved.
When I returned the 4×4’s to the church .. a pastor inside pointed out a man standing by his pickup truck and said to me “you need to go meet that man .. he’s a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient”. Now that got my attention. He wore a Sturgis T-shirt, black vest, and a baseball cap .. as non-assuming as one could imagine. I walked up to him .. offered my hand while looking him dead in the eyes .. introduced myself .. and exchanged a very firm handshake. Instantaneously, there was an unspoken bond .. our common denominator was “death” .. he knew I was “for real”.. and I said nothing of his service .. only that “the pastor inside said I should meet you”. Believe it or not .. we only spoke for a few moments when he invited me over to his apartment in Spearfish for steaks on the grill .. and he said a few of his buddies were coming over.
To make a long story short .. I was never more impressed by any individual in my entire life than I was of “Frank-Two-Pony” that night. The only full-blooded Sioux Indian to receive our nation’s highest honor .. and he didn’t tell me. His “buddies” were all veterans .. who knew his story and told me stories through daylight. Frank was a “special forces” veteran who spent most of his three tours behind enemy lines .. feared by his foes as a “deadly ghost” with a jet-black pigtail to his waist. He spent three years as a POW .. endured severe torture and wore his scars as insignificant “nothings” compared to his fallen brothers whom he referred to as “the real heroes”.
Frank told me he “couldn’t even get a cup of coffee with the medal he had”. He spent most of his time raising money for needy children and veterans .. and was always feeding those who were hungry. He survived on nearly $1,000/month, which was the total stipend he received for being shot seven (7) times and surviving three years of torture. What he had he gave to others .. just like the steak dinner I received and a treasure I’ve carried on Bosco since that night. He presented me with a knife he carried in Viet Nam .. and it’s still razor sharp. He is a man of few words .. yet he leaves an impression no one will ever forget.
The most touching story he told me was about his Grandfather’s recent passing. A full-blooded Sioux .. his grandfather lived a long, hard life. Frank told me that the town “thought they had a funeral and buried his grandfather” .. but his “truth” painted a much more moving story. He had taken his grandfather’s body from the mortuary, pre-arranged as to dupe the local “officials” .. and taken him to the mountains to give him a true Sioux ceremony. He placed him on a funeral pyre and as he sent his Grandfather to the Gods .. he cut off his long-worn pigtail with the knife he’d given me to join the spirits and accompany his Grandfather along his journey. Needless to say .. tears ran silently down my cheeks. And to this day .. when I think of him and his deeds .. the energy is excited within me .. and we smile together.
Make your memories NOW .. as this life is far too short …
Until next time .. ride smart .. ride safe
and the Adventure continues …