1938 The Rally
Sturgis Rally, known as
the Black Hills Classic
was held on August
14th with a race of 9
participants and a
1964 One block of
Main Street is officially
closed for motorcycle
parking over the
course of the 3 day
1975 The Rally evolves
to its present 7 day
1983 City Park is
closed to camping due
to fire outbreaks
2000 The Sturgis Rally
saw the largest
as high as 600,000
source: City of Sturgis
The Road To Sturgis…
It was a tradition my Dad started. . .Sturgis rally every two years. This year was our first to join the group. Making this trip isn’t for the faint of heart, therefore Dad‘s riding group changed almost every time he and Mom made the trip. In 2004 my sister, Cindy and her husband, Ross, joined Mom and Dad on the journey to Sturgis and would also be on the ’06 trip. Our group would be complete, Dad and Mom on a ‘97 Harley-Davidson Road King, Ross and Cindy on a ‘03 Harley-Davidson Low Rider, and my husband, Tom, and I on a ’95 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail Classic.
Dad had warned us in the spring that “the only bad thing about Sturgis year is you wish your summer away, because you can’t wait for the trip”. He was right, it became an obsession, and I hadn’t even experienced it yet. Everybody talks about it endlessly so you think you know what to expect. But I learned this is not possible because there is just no way to express this experience with words. And believe me, Dad was very animated when he told his stories.
Day 1 – August 4th, 2006
The plan was to meet at Mom and Dad‘s at 6 a.m. sharp Friday morning. This was Dad’s gig, so you want to be sure you follow the plan. It’s 6:00 a.m. exactly and Tom and I are half a block away stuck at a red light, shit, we’re late, the newbies, not good. Arrival time would be 6:04, they could hear us waiting for the light so the intentions to be on time were acknowledged, all was forgiven. Tradition dictated breakfast at the Waffle House before hitting the road.
Dad was hardcore biker, so when Dad says after breakfast “no stopping ‘til Indy (about 2 1/2 hours), if you have to go to the bathroom do it now”, you believed it. Twenty minutes into the ride Dad’s saddle bag pops open while riding down the interstate, mild panic sets in as Tom and I envision the contents that were bouncing up and down inside the saddle bag blowing right into our path. We all pull over, secure the load and head off. Ten minutes later Ross and Cindy start to lose part of their load. Since we are the tail bike we see yet another potential for camping gear coming our way. At this point Tom and I are a little concerned, if these seasoned travelers are losing their shit, what are WE going to lose? Dad and Mom were so focused on making ground, they were way up the road and didn’t realize that two of our three bikes had pulled over to fix the cargo and kept on riding. They didn’t get too far however, and motorcyclists heading the other direction on the interstate were motioning to us that one of our group were indeed pulled over ahead waiting for us.
Cargo is secure and ready to roll! We have some time to make up. After all, two stops within twenty miles of leaving town was not good. Twenty minutes later… our road captain, Dad, is motioning to get off the exit ramp. He’s busting, and needs a bathroom break. Although the rest of us were grateful for the stop, after filling up on oj & coffee, we were even more grateful that we weren’t the ones who asked for it! Now we’re ready. This time, no stopping ’til Indy!
We finally reach our first gas stop. Fill up, stretch the legs, swig of Jack, ready to roll. The trip is uneventful after our first stop, skies are clear, traffic heavy but running smooth, and cargo on all three bikes remains secure. We reach our second gas stop somewhere near Danville, Illinois. We are getting around 100 miles per tank. At this stop, desperate to stretch my legs, I make the comment “thank God these bikes don’t have 20 gallon tanks” (little did I know this comment would go into the road journal my sister would soon start keeping). Ready for lunch, we decide on the Steak and Shake we see near the gas station for lunch. Dad and Tom order chili and milkshakes for lunch. Really? We can’t help but wonder where this decision may lead later in the day.
Our third gas stop was near Morton, Illinois. Coincidently the same gas station they stopped at on the ‘04 journey. After 300 miles, this was a much anticipated and needed stop. We were all ready to get off the bikes, pack the leather away, and rehydrate. This is also the stop that the pepto was purchased, the lunch choice had come to haunt Dad. Cindy also purchased the notebook that would serve as ‘road journal’. Strangely, they didn’t sell pens here, Cindy had to beg the station attendant to give her a pen.
We are now thundering by the vast corn fields of eastern Illinois, traffic very light, unlike I75 and I70. Around 3:30 in the afternoon we start seeing a few other bikes making their way to Sturgis. Feeling part of something exciting, this is helping to re-energize us in our journey. We make a stop at a rest area in between gas stops for the first time, as we are feeling the weariness creep in. Back on the road after a very brief stop and another swig of Jack the scenery starts to get a little more appealing. Changing from flat terrain, the corn fields begin to roll up and down on the hillsides they were planted.
Around 5:00 we cross the beautiful Mississippi River and celebrate with hands in the air as we reach another milestone and are now in Iowa.
Having made a rest stop in between gas stops, (we were using gas stops as an opportunity to get off the bikes) we were now desperate to fill up. We stop for gas at an Iowa 80 truck stop in Walcott. A man tells Mom reports from Sturgis are of massive construction, and of forest and grass fires, with smoke being visible from Sturgis. Disappointing news to all of us.
With our first overnight stop planned to be a KOA campground in West Liberty, Iowa, we knew we only had about 30 miles left in the days travel. By this point I am regretting the decision to wear my pointy toed cowboy boots, which under normal conditions are very comfortable, these were not normal conditions and my feet were throbbing in pain. On the ’04 journey, they discovered a pizza joint delivers to this campground, so we were all looking forward to setting up camp and enjoying pizza and cold beer. With a tired, road–weary mind, Ross also makes the road journal by suggesting the three couples split the cost of the three pizzas, three ways. This leads to a fit of laughter no doubt fueled by the long, hot ride.
The first leg of travel was a good one, 500 miles down, great weather, beautiful skies, traffic very manageable. With full stomachs & hot showers, we crashed before 10 that night. We slept like babies & none of us heard the raccoons that raided our pizza boxes in the night.
The Road To Sturgis….Day 2 – August 5th, 2006
Thanks to our hardcore Road Captain, we all wake before dawn. Everyone agrees it was a great night’s sleep. We have camp packed up and our gear back on the bikes by 7:30 a.m. By now, we have covered some ground starting out in Ohio heading south on I-5 to I-70 east through to Indiana. In Indiana we continue onto I-74 to carry us through Illinois to I-80 on the Illinois/Iowa border. Today our first milestone would be reaching I-29, where we finally get to head north. This stretch of road is going to bring us into South Dakota to our final stretch of highway: I-90 west toward our coveted destination!
Mom had pointed out the night before, while I was complaining about my aching feet, that “self-inflicted pain is pointless.” Point taken, I decided to not wear my boots for this day’s travel, even if not thrilled with my only alternative; sandals I had packed for the shower houses at the various camps. Worrying about the lack of protection from the stones that inevitably come your way from passing vehicles, I decided socks would help. You can imagine I was looking very cool with my leather jacket, chaps, socks and sandals. After a swig of Jack to get the blood flowing, we are in our usual formation and back on the road 8:00 a.m.
We traveled for a little while before stopping for breakfast. After another swig of Jack in the parking lot “to get the dust out of our throats” (Jack seems to be making more frequent appearances), we eat at the Amanda Colonies, a German style restaurant. Upon leaving the restaurant we notice the skies have darkened considerably. Always optimistic, we continue our westward journey on I-80.
We managed to get about thirty minutes of travel in before we caught up with the rain. We pulled into a gas station for coffee and water and notice a Christian biker club had a tent set up in the parking lot. We took shelter under the tent briefly feeling antsy about not making any headway so early in the day. We made the determination that the rain wasn’t going to let up and that we needed to get back on the road. The rain turned out to be just an inconvenience until we get closer to Des Moines. In time for the busy city traffic on I-80, the clouds release their fury and we are in the midst of a serious downpour. Riding in the rain is seldom pleasant, but watching my parents, sister and brother-in-law, disappear right before our eyes every time we passed a semi (due to the massive amount of spray they threw from their tires), was more than a little unnerving. It wasn’t the abilities of our group that concerned me; it was the acknowledgement of our presence to every other vehicle around us I was concerned about. I was thankful we were behind my family and they were safe from the rapid moving traffic behind us. It took about a second for the thought to hit me. SHIT we are the tail bike; we are ALSO vanishing from sight in the tire sprays! This is when I started praying for the rain to stop, or at least, for the multi-lane section of highway to taper down to a less busy good ‘ole four lane interstate.
We stopped for gas at the Kum and Go, next door to Rubes, a great restaurant the seasoned travelers ate at on the ‘04 journey. The restaurant was now closed permanently: sad news for us as we were looking forward to the steaks that received high acclaim from the group. We took a very short break from the rain under the awning outside the station.
About 15 miles outside of Des Moines the rain quits and ridiculously high winds begin. Great, now I have a front row seat to the view of our group riding 80-85 miles per hour sideways, literally. I believe we were at, at least, a 60 degree angle, packed with 10 days worth of clothing and camping gear! As awkward as it feels, it is even more disturbing to watch.
Everyone is worn out, heads are rattled, and our hair is tangled between every opening on our helmets. We stop at a primitive rest area for a break from the wind. No worries about my soaking wet socks, the high winds would help to dry everything that was soaked. There is no mention of Jack coming out at this rest stop in the road journal, but I can’t believe that we didn’t share a swig of old number seven after our exhausting ride.
At some point in this trip Mom had complemented Tom and I on our travel abilities, having not complained about anything. I am pretty sure she was referring to the previous day, because by this point, even the gum I stepped on at our current stop annoyed the hell out of me.
We hit I-29 N around 2:00 p.m., our first milestone for this day’s travel, yeah!! We stopped for lunch at the Bluegrass Café, where, according to the sign “the food’s so good; a rabbit would smack a bear to get some”. There were a lot of bikes here; it is always a boost to our adrenaline when we run into bikes heading to Sturgis. Tom and Cindy’s leather gloves had bled on their hands from the rain, leaving their hands stained in black. The waitress waiting our table called Tom out on his hands, in a rather dramatic tone,:he was a little more than embarrassed We all share a laugh; did we just discover what might have help coin the phrase “dirty biker”?
Back on the road the skies become cloudless at last, but the air becomes HOT! With the wind to our backs, we are anticipating the ride to Sioux City will be less harrowing. Our next gas stop is filled with bikes. Christian groups are handing out bottled water to everyone due to the extreme heat. Wow, these Christian groups are awesome! Rumor in the parking lot was that there is an 8” drop in pavement somewhere ahead. With reports of bikes going down, we keep our eyes out for the “drop”. Several miles later, we rode over a little bump in the pavement; was that supposed to be the monster that was dropping bikes? We didn’t see any evidence of any issues or anyone having issues. Feeling more relaxed and enjoying the warm air, we thundered down the highway.
I-29 is D-E-S-O-L-A-T-E!! I was amazed at the lack of traffic on the interstate. As someone originating from a town that is split by I-75, this isn’t the norm. We crossed the South Dakota line at 4:45 p.m. Finally! This day with all its elements, felt much longer than day one. In day one we were in four states and felt like some serious ground was covered. On day two, we spent the entire day in one state, IOWA. Without the ‘milestones’ to look forward to, it really dragged on.
We stopped for gas and water about 40 miles south of Sioux Falls. We took a long break to cool down. Dad, ever eager to get the show on the road, fires up his Road King, motions the rest of us on, and heads out. Umm, Dad, have you forgotten something? The look on Mom’s face was priceless as she watched her ride to Sturgis tooling down the road without her. She stood there shaking her head while the rest of us holler, whistle, and wave our arms in the air to get Dad’s attention. It was likely Cindy’s two fingers between the teeth, shrill whistle (taught to her by Dad years earlier), that got his attention. To quote the road journal, “Dad sheepishly returns”. We all share a good laugh along with several witnessing bikers.
Back on the road, the skies are ominous. Please, Gods of the Road to Sturgis, no more rain! The rain held off but the scorching heat was becoming unbearable. Already stripped down to our last layer of clothing; the cover of gray clouds lessened our misery only slightly.
We reach I-90, the road into Sturgis!!! Excitement abounds. Our overnight stop in Mitchell, 63 miles away, has become a reality. I-90 is littered with bikes heading to Sturgis. We are really getting pumped. After the day we had, we were especially enjoying the t-shirts we are reading on bikers passing by. . .“Nice Trailer… Pussy”; ill repute to those trailering their bikes to the rally.
Every hardship should reap reward. Ours was a beautiful campground with a huge campsite looking out to the pristine, shimmering Lake Mitchell. Another successful 500 miles down, we shared a celebratory swig of Jack. We got camp set up; got back on the bikes and found a restaurant across the road from camp called “The Brig”. The skies were clear and it was very warm and humid. Sitting in the air conditioning, drinking cold beer, filling our bellies, we felt perfectly amazing.
We got back to camp and enjoyed the scenery for a little while before heading off to our tents for the night. We woke to a sunny day and to all of our surprise, a campground filled with neighboring bikers. It’s astonishing, but after a day on the road you are engulfed in a sleep so deep that even the roar of dozens of Harleys pulling into the campground and people engaged in setting up camp doesn’t stir you.
The Road To Sturgis … Day 3, August 6, 2006
With only 300 miles left in our journey, today would be one filled with great anticipation, as this is the last leg of our trip to Sturgis. We had traveled 500 miles each day so far – 300 would be seemingly easy.
We skipped breakfast eager to get rolling. At about 9:30 a.m. we were back on I-90; the scenery is rapidly changing with the lush corn fields changing to dry, withered crops. Grass fields and wheat fields become the newest attraction. We are all enjoying the change of scenery; as Iowa REALLY has a lot of corn! With less than 70 miles between camp at Lake Mitchell and the Missouri River we are quickly approaching our first stop; the rest area at the Missouri River crossing. We make it to the rest stop in good time despite the sudden spitting and sputtering coming from Dad’s Road King.
We are taken back by the stark change in geography. The landscape we were just enjoying on the east side of the river was green with grass, scattered with crops, and evergreens. As we stand on the overlook, our sights toward the western portion of the state, we see an arid, brown landscape that reveals little plant life. We are intrigued with what awaits us immediately on the other side of the river. The scene lived up to everything our riding partners had told us it would be.
With this magnificent overlook being a planned stop in our journey. We spent time at the rest area absorbing in the beautiful view of the river and surrounding terrain.
As we stood here we watched dozens of motorcycles heading across the Missouri on their way to Sturgis. Dad looked over his bike, suspecting a fuel obstruction. After a quick carburetor inspection he finds no problems. Perhaps whatever had caused the bike to sputter has worked its way out. Anxious to resume our journey, Dad leads his brood across the river and onward.
We are getting closer to the Plains now as the infamous winds are starting to bully us. The traffic on I-90 is mostly motorcycles and those trailering their motorcycles. I am still fascinated with the lack of traffic on yet another stretch of interstate. We are all longing for a cold beverage to replenish our hydration the winds have taken and lunch as we had skipped breakfast.
Our first gas stop is in Kennebec. Bikes were lined up at every gas pump and waiting in every direction. In all the congestion of bikers and bikes we lost Ross. We found Ross, but we soon hear what became a common refrain from Dad; “where’s Pat?” After finally finding Mom, we grab lunch at the restaurant inside the gas station called Hot Rod’s. The restaurant was packed with bikers heading to Sturgis. If you didn’t already feel like you were a part of something really big, you did now. Unified with people from all over the country; all of us thundering our way to the Granddaddy of all rallies.
Back on the highway with only 200 miles to go; the scenery kept getting more intriguing with prairie grasses, tills, and pheasant. Tom describes the pheasant as ‘looking like wild turkeys being shot out by canons’ as they were propelled by the prairie wind. One pheasant came particularly close as it flew rapidly in front of us, crossing all lanes of interstate, Tom and I both thought that was pretty cool, close, but cool. What Tom did not find ‘cool’ was the quail that briefly got caught up in wind turbulent between him and the windshield on the bike. I found it to be rather amusing; however, my moment of “oh shit” would come soon after. We were approaching a manufactured house being transported on the highway. The siding on the entire side of this house was peeling off, pieces flapping and smacking in the wind, hanging onto the house by only a fraction of its original length. We had to pass this house and pass it quick! I literally held my breath during the entire pass, bracing for what seemed to be imminent; pieces of siding to the face. We passed without incident; a BIG sigh of relief.
Today’s travels have been relatively uneventful, an appreciated reprieve from the day prior. The scenery provided a perfect backdrop to the sounds of thunder our bikes were singing. As we were getting closer to Sturgis; and getting even more pumped, we recall the information Mom had received earlier in our trip; ‘reports from Sturgis are of massive construction, and of forest and grass fires, with smoke being visible from Sturgis’. We all dismiss that rumor to be of the same caliber as the 8” drop that was claiming victims.
Between Rapid City and Sturgis people are lined up on the overpasses holding signs with welcome greetings for all the bikers heading to the rally. Wow, this is awesome! Even the locals, who deal with this every year, still come out to enjoy the sights and sounds of the bikes and WELCOME you there!
We get within 18 miles of Sturgis and the rain starts. The rain was very brief, besides any amount of rain could not have put a damper on how we were feeling. At 4:30 pm, we arrive in Sturgis, celebrating with hands in the air and smiles from ear to ear! We make our way to our campsite, Lamphere Ranch. We anxiously get all the gear off the bikes. Finally! We all agreed freeing the bikes of all our equipment felt liberating to all of us. It was as if we were hauling the immense load on our own backs. After getting the tents set up, we get on the bikes and eagerly head to town.
We are welcomed to Sturgis with the incredible sight of the thousands of motorcycles lined on both sides of the streets and down the middle – two rows deep; neatly parked side by side, providing open lanes for an endless stream of bikers traveling through downtown. Greeted with the goose-bump-provoking sounds of thunder that constantly rumbled. There are more than 450,000 people sharing this passion, understanding, experience, and appreciation. This is the one place on this planet, at this moment, where you don’t have to explain.
This party, this is for the bikers that put their passion to the test. And will again and again and again.
With that being said, it’s time to party! We parked our bikes at a parking lot near the Broken Spoke. There is a bar with live bands on every corner and everywhere in between. Vendors rent entire store fronts for the week. People are walking shoulder to shoulder; everyone is happy, partying, friendly, and respectful of each others space.
Our first order of business was to find the liquor store, as we were out of Jack. Having a whole week and a journey back home, this was a must-make purchase. After this purchase we continued to walk the streets of downtown checking out the goods being offered for sale by many vendors. I immediately purchased a new pair of boots for the week, but more importantly, for the ride back home.
At the The Broken Spoke they displayed a US map and a World map. Patrons stuck push pins on the maps representing where they traveled from, it was quite remarkable to see. People from all over the world are represented. We made quick stops at The Knuckle & One-Eyed Jacks, with the intentions of returning later in the week to explore more. We stop at a very unique bar called The Dungeon. The Dungeon was in the basement of a t-shirt shop or possibly a tattoo parlor. The walls and pipes were covered in bare insulation that people had signed over the years, and of course, we too signed the walls. What made this place even more interesting were the panties and bras hanging from the ceiling.
When we emerged from the dungeon it was raining and getting pretty late. We were all starved and grabbed some food at the BBQ Pork Heaven tent then walked back to the parking lot where our bikes were parked. We rode back to the campground; which was only a few miles outside of town.
Still pumped and excited about our arrival and our adventures yet to unfold this week, we discussed plans to wake early the next morning and eat breakfast at the campground kitchen. Our Road Captain had a full day planned with our rides the next day to include Keystone, Mt. Rushmore, Crazy Horse, and Needles Highway.
Despite the rain and wind overnight, we all awake well rested, to a beautiful sunny day. We stake our place in line at the shower house, and prepare for a new day’s adventure.
The Road To Sturgis
Dedicated In Memory of Dad
We Return to Sturgis for the
2011 Rally. Meet our Crew
and read about our journey to
the 2011 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
RidersInfo 03/2011, 04/2011
All Rights Reserved
Part 3 Revised 04/11/11