This is the last installment in a three-part series of “uncut” impressions from our associate editor Paul Dail, who attended the Sturgis rally for his first time. You can start with part 1 here.
The final (and much abridged) version of the complete “First-Timer’s” article will appear in our October issue, which will include several Sturgis sidebars and other content exclusive to the print edition, as well as a massive selection of photos from the world-famous event.
But for now, sit back and enjoy a Sturgis rally first-timer’s perspective. Remember your first time?
Up in Smoke: Other Sturgis Rally Misconceptions Blown
In his September “Rubber-Side Down” column for American Rider, Editor-in-Chief Kevin Duke wrote the following: “As time marches on, the Sturgis gathering seems to be less the ‘dirty biker’ event it once was, morphing into a slightly more domesticated event.”
Even as a first-timer, that rings true. This was certainly a party, but it wasn’t the rowdiest event I’ve attended in my nearly 49 years. Even the Rob Zombie concert at the Buffalo Chip was tamer than I would’ve guessed, and the retired motorcycle cop I interviewed in downtown Sturgis earlier that day, who had been coming to the rally for the previous five years to help with law enforcement, was complimentary of the crowd.
“They’re pretty pro-police,” he said. “They help us as much as possible.”
Adding to this, Duke wrote: “People seemed to be a little nicer than in years past, with a newfound focus on having good times rather than displaying a seemingly ruthless attitude.”
That courtesy was the first thing I noticed at the Black Hills Harley-Davidson vendor show (after all the stunning bikes and accessories, of course). I’m not necessarily a little fella and I’d like to think I’ve got a respectable biker beard, but while photographing the amazing sights, I must’ve bumped into half a dozen guys bigger and burlier than I am – and was repeatedly met with a “Pardon me” or “Excuse me” or even an apology.
It surprised me every time it happened.
And whenever I stopped somebody to take a picture of an amusing (and often bawdy) T-shirt, my lens typically captured wide smiles – and maybe slightly mischievous glints in their eyes.
Some of these big, mean-looking guys at Sturgis might just be friendlier than you’d guess. One of my favorite photos of the trip was guy who was probably in his 60s with a sleeveless denim shirt, an American flag cowboy hat, a Harley-Davidson shield tattoo on one arm and MOM on the other…and a macaw perched on his shoulder. He let me take his picture, but not before sticking the stub of a cigar in his mouth. Because you gotta look mean.
Speaking of cigars, something else I noticed was a lack of smokers. I smoked for longer than I care to admit (I finally quit for good not long after my daughter was born), and it surprises me all these years later when I see people with a cigarette, but I didn’t notice it much in Sturgis. Maybe more people are making the decision to quit…or they’re surreptitiously vaping.
However, while there may not have been as much (obvious) smoking, there was no shortage of smoking’s kissing cousin: drinking.
Trust me. No shortage of drinking.
Last but not least is the topic I’ve started to write about from probably three different angles. How do you talk about the nudity aspect of Sturgis without coming off like either a pervert or a prude (especially when you know your wife is going to be reading the article)?
Granted, I don’t think the cat call of “Show me your tits” is as closely associated with Sturgis as it is with, say, Mardi Gras (and apparently Woodstock ’99), but scantily clad, busty women and motorcycles have a long history of going hand in hand.
But such was not the case at Sturgis this year. Well, the “scantily clad” part was there, but in four days, I only saw a few women naked from the waist up, and they were either sporting pasties or body paint. One was particularly well done: A skull covered most of her torso, with her breasts painted black for the eye sockets.
And along the lines of misconceptions, there was a good example on my last night of where I had to check my assumptions. Up to that point, most of the women I had seen in racy outfits were dressed to make a buck, either for someone else – such as peddling a new whiskey flavor or promoting a bike wash – or for themselves in the form of bigger tips at the bar.
While roaming the Buffalo Chip grounds before Rob Zombie and snapping shots of the wildlife, I saw a bar of a different kind – a pole actually – mounted on a platform on the back of a modified trike in front of the Strip Club Choppers booth. A bleach-blond woman was dancing on the platform wearing not much more than God gave her and obviously drawing attention for the booth.
One of the many things Duke told me to document was attractive women. Who was I to question the boss? I snapped a photo and was unsurprised when she asked if I would tip her for the photo. I didn’t have any cash, but through the wonders of technology, I was able to Venmo her a couple bucks. When I asked her name, she had to spell it out for me: Aliya Alsharkawi.
“It’s Egyptian,” she said.
“No kidding?” I asked.
I don’t know how we got onto the next topic, but it turned out she is not only a pretty face but also a rider, a mechanic, an Army veteran, and the wife of a sport front-wheel-drive racer of some acclaim. Now that’s a story. Watch for it – and more of her – in a future issue.
On The Road Again
The Rob Zombie concert at the Chip on my last night did a number on me. Maybe it was the questionable gyro I ate. Maybe the drinks. Or maybe just exhaustion from putting a lot of miles on my boots the previous four days. Whatever it was, I was worse for the wear my last morning and ready to be back on the plane home.
As I write this, looking back over the photos and my notes, it’s important I remind you that these are just my impressions of Sturgis 2022. I’m sure my colleagues or any number of people who were in different places at different times would tell you I missed something, that I actually missed all the Trump tees, aggressive behavior, or bare breasts.
The truth is, I very well might have missed things right in front of my face. Duke had given me several scenes to try to capture with my camera, and I was so busy looking around for possible snapshots that, in a way, it felt like I wasn’t really seeing anything.
There’s an interesting theory about this, about how taking a bunch of photos is kind of like outsourcing our memories of a moment (look up “photo-taking impairment effect”). We’ve abandoned memory for technology. I struggle to remember my own wife’s phone number because my phone does it for me.
Besides being locked behind the lens, I was also tied to our small American Rider group, following them wherever they went because I didn’t really know where I was going (and because, well, they were pretty damned fun – see photo above). As a result, I don’t feel like I saw and learned as much as I should have.
So here’s my commitment to you for next year. Now that I know the ropes, I want to know more of the story. I’ll still have to take pictures when I go next year, but I plan on really being there, immersing myself, venturing out on my own, stopping more often to talk to people, and learning where our stories both intersect and diverge. We’ll talk about motorcycles and music and freedom. And passion.