The Allman Brothers were singing “Midnight Rider” as I slowly packed up and rolled out the driveway headed to the 2013 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. My friend Ray Delaney had asked to ride with me this year and I welcomed the company for the long trek north.
I work the night shift so I usually left in the evening for Sturgis; hence the song “Midnight Rider” was fitting and made me smile when it came on. Like most day shift workers and first time attendees of Sturgis, Ray had been chomping at the bit all day to get on the road. I assured him that we would make better time leaving Sunday evening due to less traffic and cooler temperatures.
He reluctantly agreed and we left the Porter TX area around 6:30 pm. Ray soon realized it was an optimum time to ride when the August temperature begin to cool down to a tepid 80 degrees, in comparison to the 100 degree sticky humidity that earlier in the day was melting our senses and turning us into cooked pasta.
Soon we had distanced ourselves from the city traffic and rode handlebar to handlebar as our fresh tuned Harleys growled and rumbled in unison. We were like two lions on the hunt, exploring our new found freedom, as the constraints of time faded away. Nothing matters but being alive when you’re in the wind discovering adventures unknown.
My Harley Road King purred through the hand grips invigorating my senses as I rolled through the Texas countryside. I breathed in the evening air scented with fresh cut hay and honeysuckle. All my troubles and worries begin to slide into the wind and were left on the roads behind me. Feelings of youthful exhilaration returned and I began to smile.
Far away from the flat land of sea level Houston, the land turns into twisting back roads winding through rolling hills, and thick evergreen forests. It takes time to ride throughout this great state, but once you do, you’ll appreciate the ever-changing terrain of Texas and marvel at its beauty.
Rolling back on the throttle, the Road King responds with an approving roar. I lean into a curve and fixate on a focal point on the horizon. The motorcycle’s acceleration generates centrifugal force that pushes me into the pocket of curve and I feel like a kid as I enjoy this natural amusement ride.
Riding twisty roads is the biker’s rush, much like a surfer shooting a pipeline on a large wave. The apex of a curve is the sweet spot. This is the point where all your riding skills come together, body position, leaning, how much to push down on the inside hand grip, correct throttle speed, and horizon focal point. It takes practice to become fluent. You always need to know where the sweet spot is for you and your motorcycle. Too much throttle and not enough leaning and you’ll have to brake or do some off road traveling. Too much lean and not enough throttle could make you low side, with road rash awaiting you. Once you master curve riding techniques, motorcycle riding becomes much more adventurous.
On through the night we traveled, making good time while having a good time. We stopped briefly in Centerville, TX at Woody’s Smokehouse in hopes of visiting with Captain Too High, a retired Gypsy MC Intl. Lifer member from the Gypsy MC Houston Chapter.
Captain Too High has worked at Woody’s for several years. Gypsy bikers headed north on I-45 usually stop by and say hello to the Captain. His beaming smile and unforgettable laughter are infectious and you‘ll find yourself smiling and laughing as well. Woody’s Smokehouse also has some great barbecue and smoked beef jerky, so it’s a good place to stop and eat while you‘re traveling.
Unfortunately the Captain had left for the day, so I scribbled a note bidding him salutations and good fortune from all his Gypsy brothers and sisters. The lady at the checkout line pinned it to his time card with a smile saying “ The Captain loves you Gypsys.” I smiled back and wished her a good evening and headed for the door.
Not much at this point was too memorable, just riding with Ray north through Texas as the sun set. It was soon dark and visibility was still okay but more care was taken in the darkened curves of the road. I had just ate and had a full tank of gas. Now was the time to ride hard and far as possible.
I have no radio on my bike nor do I wear an iPod. Riding through the night on the long dark highway, random thoughts flowed and ebbed through my mind like children playing in a large house, running from room to room. My reflections were more like a mental purge, as if I my brain had received a divine signal from the cosmos and all my past experiences were being played back in my mind for me to view.
Moments from my adolescence would appear and vanish. Holiday memories with family, my children’s youthful escapades, and good times partying at Gypsy MC Intl. rallies also danced about in my head. All these flashbacks were accompanied mentally by classic rock soundtracks buried away in my subconscious for years. It was ultimate motorcycle Zen, with much needed wind therapy for this traveling Gypsy.
Ray was riding a new Harley Ultra Classic with a touring package. He loved that bike and it was hard to keep him under 90 mph. Soon we were bored and the handlebar to handlebar riding became a cat and mouse “Catch me if you can” routine, where one rider would zoom ahead nearly out of sight challenging the other to catch up. When Ray was riding in front of me I noticed his brake lights were configured in a pattern that from a distance looked like a red winged skeleton. I know fatigue was setting in a bit but it was creepy to see that visage looming ahead of me late at night on a dark road.
We had now been on the road for ten hours and my lower body parts were becoming nonexistent. I felt like a Centaur except half Harley/half man. We were approaching the outskirts of Amarillo when we noticed a fresh killed deer in the boulevard of the road. It looked as if an eighteen wheeler had struck it. Ray and I looked at each other and we both agreed it was time to call it a night. We stopped at the same hotel I had stayed at the year before when I traveled to Sturgis.
Funny thing about traveling, we’re all creatures of habit and you’ll find yourself developing landmarks and stopping points on repeated trips. I’m sure long haul truck drivers are familiar with having their long treks incremented with favorite truck stops and rest areas. I found myself many times on this trip to be wonderfully lost in the countryside until a building, a town, or some eye catching sight would jolt me back to reality and I would say to myself “Okay I know where I’m at.”
Ray and I left Amarillo around 2:00 pm the next day and rode through Texas and into Clayton, New Mexico. In between Clayton and Raton Pass New Mexico, is some of the most beautiful untouched landscape I’ve ever seen. It always feels very spiritual to me when I ride through this area.
Riding down that long stretch of New Mexican highway, I can see blue mountains on the far horizon and miles of open desert prairie in between. The sun is shining but there are also black clouds far away. I can see it raining maybe ten miles ahead. The rain fall is reflected by the sun and appears as thousands of shimmering blue streaks falling to the desert floor. I know soon we’ll be baptized by this summer storm, but I just let the angst of the thought pass. Rain is inevitable and part of riding a motorcycle in this world.
The wind begins to cool and whip us about like kites on the road. I accelerate the Road King to gain back lost velocity. Soon the rain comes, cold wet drops stinging on your face and making you gasp for air. Nowhere to stop… keep riding… I begin to hear a song in my head “Riding the Storm Out” by REO Speed Wagon.
It’s coming down in sheets now, not a dry spot left anywhere on my body or bike. I keep riding and shivering in the cold rain, while a part of me is excited and happy. I feel alive pushing the edge of the envelope in this natural phenomena.
In less than an hour, we pass through the rain cell and back into the sun. The temperature begins to rise, warming us, while the sun and desert wind dry our clothes. I stop shivering and begin to relax again. I can smell desert flowers in the rain cleansed air as we pick up speed and cruise towards the distant mountains of Colorado.
We ride down Interstate 25 through Raton Pass and eventually stop in Trinidad, Colorado. It’s late in the evening and I can see nothing but inky blue skies ahead in the Rockies. We decide that rain in the desert is one thing but to ride through mountainous passes in the downpour is out of the question. We find a Holiday Inn and crash for the night.
I wake up early the next morning and have some coffee, while enjoying the Three Stooges on TV. Maybe I’m feeling loopy from the new altitude, but I find the Three Stooges remarkably funny and Curly is a comic genius. I guess this is the part where I’m supposed to say I stayed in a Holiday Inn and I feel great… okay there I said it.
I did feel great and Ray and I knocked down some serious Interstate miles as we burned through Colorado. Stopping only once at a truck stop named “Biscuits,” which had a plethora of humorous characters and cute Southern Belle type waitresses that called everyone “Honey, Sugar, and Baby”… ah you know the type… but they were nice ladies. Everyone was so nice and friendly and laughing a lot… then I remembered marijuana is now legal in Colorado.
“Yeah Honey” said one of the waitresses “You can go right down the road here to the Hookah shop and get baked. You don’t even need a medical script anymore.” She said with a smile. She had ample visible cleavage and was lethal with her fly swatter. I smiled and looked at her… in the eyes and said “Lady I’m on my sixth cup of coffee just trying to stay awake and make it to Sturgis. Why in the hell would I want to get baked and probably pass out in a corner with a Snickers candy bar?”
She laughed at my remark and said “Sturgis?” Her face lit up “I love Sturgis. Why don’t you come by here next year and take me?” she said batting her eyes at me as she took out another fly with her deadly swatter. “I will definitely do that,” I said. She knew my reply wasn’t totally sincere, but she seemed to appreciate the gesture.
Caffeine is a powerful drug. Seven cups of coffee and I was rolling down the highway with serious intentions of making Sturgis by nightfall, and the next closest bathroom. Wow, seven cups… seriously, next time I’m sticking to Five Hour Energy Drink.
We made a pit stop in Denver for gas and temporary relief of urinary discomfort. Wyoming was our next major stop and we reached Cheyenne that afternoon. We filled our gas tanks and ate at Wendy’s in a big truck stop off of I-25. Ray suggested a different route from the previous year’s route to Sturgis. Last year I went up 85 through Lusk and into New Castle. This year Ray and I went straight up I-25 to Lusk and then over to New Castle. I’m always up for trying a new route. The new route showed me some of Wyoming’s beauty that I hadn’t seen before, but I liked last year‘s route better. I will get off the interstates and travel back roads like Hwy 85 when travel time allows for it.
Once we reached Lusk, we picked Highway 85 back up and traveled towards New Castle. From Lusk to New Castle is a long ride through the Wyoming Badlands. Make sure you get gas in Lusk before you take off.
The Wyoming Badlands is scenic landscape with buttes and mesa on the horizon. Sometimes I expected to look up and see a lone Cheyenne or Sioux brave on horseback atop one of the mesas, watching us as we passed through his land.
Law Enforcement was having a field day with bikers on Highway 85. The speed limit through this vast desert land is 65 mph. The police were writing speeding tickets to anyone who got bored and throttled back over this speed, and we passed a lot along the way who had succumbed to the “Need for Speed Demon“.
Many a dedicated Wyoming State trooper had numerous bikers pulled over and were counseling them about this demonic affliction. They also left the visibly upset victims instructional notes, that included an address where the now comforted motorcycle enthusiasts could send money, to show their love for the good state of Wyoming.
We reached New Castle, Wyoming late that evening. We filled our tanks at the local gas station and headed towards Lead, South Dakota on 85. After arriving at Lead, you come into Winter Sports, Deadwood, and then Sturgis. The ride from New Castle to Sturgis on 85 is a beautiful ride through the Black Hills. As we rode, the sun was beginning to set and the temperature began to drop in the canyons.
I welcomed the cool air and smell of cedars on the rolling, twisting canyon roads. It felt more like early autumn than the hellish, humid August heat we had been enduring. Eventually we had to pull over and put on our leather jackets. We also began to encounter a lot of curves, switchbacks, and hairpin turns on the road. It was tricky with sunglasses on, one moment the sun was in your eyes, then it would be lost behind a hill and you had to peer above your glasses to make a curve. This wasn’t the way I wanted to end an all-day ride, but after a while I forgot about everything except making the next curve.
It was dark when we rolled into Deadwood. This was our first encounter with the mass crowds of bikers attending the Sturgis Rally. The town was packed with motorcycles and bikers walking the streets checking out Deadwood’s saloons and casinos. We were tempted to stop, but knew we were better off continuing to Sturgis.
The road from Deadwood to Sturgis changed into big sweeping curves through the rolling hills. It was quite a challenge going around a curve in the dark when motorcycle headlights were coming at you like strobe lights in the opposite lane. There were so many motorcycles everywhere. The road felt like a migration of metal locusts roaring beside you, and coming at you in the darkness. Most of these bikers were experienced riders or they would not have considered this time of the day to ride.
Motorcycle riders at the Sturgis Rally come in all shapes and sizes; I saw so many makes and models of two and three wheeled vehicles. There is no hate or judging here at Sturgis. Everyone is here for the same reason, the love of the open road and the wind in your face… and to party of course!
It was close to eight thirty when we pulled into Sturgis. The temperature had warmed back up now that we were out of the Black Hills. Lazelle Street is the main road that runs through the nightlife of Sturgis. Most of the bars and saloons like One Eyed Jacks, EZ Riders, and the Knuckle are located in town, while others are located out of town near the Sioux and Cheyenne’s holy place called Bear Butte.
Lazelle Street is always jammed up with bikers and people from one traffic light to another. This is why some people come to Sturgis. They want to experience the madness of the crowds and the nightlife that Sturgis is legendary for.
I live in a big city, so I detest traffic jams. I’ve always regarded this street scene as a major fuster cluck. I like it in small doses but I mainly come here to ride …. okay hot women, good cigars, and fine whiskey are very motivational too.
Last year at Sturgis, some locals had shown me how to travel through the town’s back alley ways bypassing all of the traffic hoopla. So this year I was road wise and ready to make a move to free myself from this two wheeled gridlock.
Once I reached the Sturgis supermarket, I shot through its parking lot and jumped on the back alley road. While navigating the back alleyways, you have to go slow, honk your horn, and rack your pipes in certain places to get the drunks to move out of the way. It certainly beats overheating at a red light on Lazelle, while a couple of RUBS exchange greetings in front of you like two excited puppies sniffing butts at the dog park.
Not that there is anything wrong with being friendly, but please gentlemen, pull over and discuss your aftermarket Harley attachments at the curb. You’ve already ignored two green lights and I know those fine looking women crossing the road in front of you appreciated it too, but damn it man, we need to be moving forward! Okay, so you get my drift why I like the alleyways.
Finally reaching our destination a.k.a. “The Yard,” Ray and I pull up on the gravel driveway in front of our campsite. During the Sturgis rally, many townspeople turn their yards into hostels for bikers. Most of the hostel owners provide the camping bikers with a tent/RV site and basic camping amenities which they charge a price for on a daily basis. This rewards the yard owners with a seasonal surplus income.
Most bikers will migrate annually back to the same yard to stay. Such is the case for me when I returned and stayed at David and Toni Fisher’s yard. David and Toni are great hosts, with some bikers returning to the Sturgis Rally and their yard for over a decade. Their yard feels more like a deer camp, and is a far cry from the revelry and debauchery usually associated with the large campsites depicted on numerous television shows about the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
Most of the large campsites such as Full Throttle Saloon, Buffalo Chip, and the Broken Spoke are located a few miles out of Sturgis. All of their entertainment and livelihood is self-contained within the confinements of their campgrounds. They are nice places to visit and see a concert at, but for me personally I don’t care to be around that many people for my entire stay at Sturgis. Some people love the large crowds and parties and that’s what they travel to Sturgis for. I’m down with that, their money keeps the Sturgis Rally on the map.
The Fisher’s yard is near downtown Sturgis and all the downtown bars are within walking distance. You can even hear the music from EZ Riders Saloon a few blocks away. One of my favorite pastimes at Sturgis is to sit in the yard’s pavilion late at night and swap stories with other bikers from all over the country, and the world. I have met people from the U.S., Canada, and Australia while camping there.
After saying a gracious hello to the Fishers and alumni’s who also returned to stay in the yard, I set up my tent accompanied with a very comfortable air mattress. I turn in early, tired from the day’s ride and elated that I had finally arrived at my destination. Soon I’m being lulled to sleep by the rumble of Harleys as they cruise up and down Lazelle Street.
The cool night air of Sturgis is clean and clear and I sleep soundly. The ghosts of old school bikers, and native Shaman ride into my dreams through an ancient mist, challenging me to ride the canyons at sunrise and feel their spirit left behind in the surreal beauty of the Black Hills.
Sleep is overrated at Sturgis. You can’t wait to get up and see what the day brings. You will run until you drop and then sleep a minimal amount, with coffee or other stimulants to adjust for the sleep you’ve lost. Eventually nature will take its course and you’ll have one of those extended “Wow I must have been really tired” power naps.
I started the day with a shower in the yard. The shower is cool; it’s an enclosed room with a shower head but no roof. I often wondered what it would be like to be showering and it started raining. It would be interesting I’m sure, but drying off would be a challenge. Once dressed and the Road King was warm, several of us headed to the local VFW hall for breakfast. It’s a good steam table buffet that Mickey D’s couldn’t touch, plus your money is going to all those old wonderful military vets there to greet you with their caps on stating what ship or where and when they served. God Bless them all.
After breakfast and much needed coffee, several of us ride out to Vanocker Canyon. It’s a great road just outside of Sturgis with big sweeping curves through a beautiful forest. The speed limit is 45 mph and perfect for this ride because braking is minimal at this speed, which leaves you feeling like a large eagle soaring up and down the canyon walls. Most riders are non-aggressive and not trying to impress with high speed riding skills. There are some that do though and it’s always best to wave them by. Besides you’ll pass the majority of them later as they are signing a ticket for the State Trooper.
Bikers getting tickets at the Sturgis Rally are like baby turtles making that first mad dash from the beach to the sea. The Law enforcement are like sea birds swooping down on you when you least expect it. Someone told me that 90% of Sturgis’s annual income comes from the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
That undoubtedly includes their Police Department. So take a chill pill and enjoy the ride Clyde. Life is too short so slow your roll and don’t pay the toll. Catchy phrases aren’t they? I’m not sure if I made those up or they are from Deborah Harry singing an old Blondie tune.
Once through Vanocker Canyon, we continue on to Nemo and then to Rapid City. In Rapid City we ride down Hwy 16 to Mt. Rushmore, and then through Custer State Park and up Needles Highway. I wouldn’t recommend Needles Highway for the novice motorcycle rider. It has some hairpin 10 mph curves going uphill. They are the kind of curves that makes things pucker and I’m not talking about your kisser.
I only mentioned the hazards of Needles Highway because I know the majority of Gypsy MC bikers that just read that part are now once again fully alert and making a mental note to ride Needles Highway when they attend the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
We pass back through the town of Custer and head towards the historic town of Deadwood. What a great town, I love this place. It’s a beautiful old mining town mixed with modern gambling casinos, and some cool bars. Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and other old west legends helped put this historic town on the map with their notorious lifestyles. The “Dead Man’s Hand” which is Aces and Eights, was the hand Wild Bill was holding in while playing poker in Deadwood saloon. He was fatally shot by a man whose name I won’t mention, but his name is found on a sign in that town.
I just can’t let the name and legend of Wild Bill be synonymous with some coward who shot him in the back of the head. Wild Bill always sat facing the door while he played poker for this very reason. The one time he didn’t, he gets whacked. R.I.P. Wild Bill, you were the man!, and probably would’ve made a damn good biker!
If you visit the Deadwood museum you can see the cards Wild Bill was holding along with numerous pics of him, Calamity Jane, and many other pictures of early Deadwood times. I did some gambling myself at the Silverado Casino. I call it “contributing” instead of gambling due to my skill levels. I lost some money but had a great time. Silverado has a great “King Crab Legs and Prime Rib Buffet” that was awesome.
I also visited the Deadwood Tobacco Company and Cigar Bar. It reminded me of a New York store front because they are located below street level. You walk down a flight of stairs from the street to reach the front entrance. They have a nice bar with a large walk in cigar humidor.
A blues band was playing some Texas road house blues. I was pleasantly surprised to see that they had Shiner Bock beer too. I settled into an over sized leather smoking chair and enjoyed my bottle of Shiner Bock, and a fine cigar while listening to some good blues. I loved that bar and didn’t want to leave but it was time to go. Deadwood Tobacco Company and Cigar Bar was a perfect ending for the day in Deadwood. I plan on visiting it again another time for a longer stay.
My time at Sturgis was kick ass. I visited some great saloons like EZ Riders, Full Throttle, Broken Spoke, One Eyed Jacks, and the Dungeon Bar. To elaborate further on my social activities at these establishments during the rally would be reminiscent of a long winded hunter telling you about stalking and slaying a thirty point buck. You get the drift. Like the Gypsy MC Intl. Houston Chapter always says after party time… A.G.T.W.H.B.A.! This means “A Good Time Was Had By All.”
The ride back from Sturgis is another story in itself and better left for another time of raconteur. If you ever visit the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally you’ll have a great time on whatever level of partying you’re looking for. It’s a beautiful place to ride and visit. Just remember don’t speed and there are plenty of public restrooms you can use. These two simple rules will greatly lessen your chances of incarceration and paying hefty fines. I love attending the rally and every year brings new experiences. I hope the same goes for anyone who makes the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in the future.