Oooo oooo, that smell! When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me she loved the smell of gasoline. I guess that might’ve been the start for me.
The first time I went to Sturgis was for its 50th anniversary in 1990. I was probably the only black person I saw there and one of just a few females actually riding their own bikes. That trip changed my life forever, and I’ve made the journey to Sturgis nearly every year since. This year’s ride was probably my favorite of them all.
For me, Sturgis is largely about the journey there, taking the time to ride nothing but backroads. My road sister, Tana Roller (@tanaroller), and I decided to take a different route than usual, heading east from California to traverse the old Route 66 through Flagstaff and onto Winslow, then over to New Mexico.
It’s been at least 35 years since I was last in the Land of Enchantment. I must say, there is beauty in that state beyond imagination. I had forgotten just how spiritually and elegantly New Mexico’s magical energy oozes from its mountainous, stony pores.
After leaving Taos, we rode up into Pueblo and continued north into Colorado to enjoy the pleasure of its immensely magnificent views. We decided to travel to Nebraska because we had never been there before, outrunning several storms but getting soaked a few times, too. It was a welcome drenching since the weather was so hot, and we were elated to dry off within minutes of being doused.
The tranquility of the Nebraska backroads was like no other. We were treated to a splendid rainbow that showed up in our mirrors from a storm we had eluded, so we stopped to marvel at this color prism in the big sky before venturing into South Dakota. Even though Tana and I were perfectly capable of continuing our journey all the way into Sturgis, we decided to spend the night in Custer and browse the trading posts to shop, hunt, and gather.
The next morning we got up early and headed into Sturgis, where we checked into the house we were renting for the rally. Then we hopped back on our bikes and headed to Spearfish Canyon, one of our go-to destinations. We joyfully passed crowded turnouts and headed for a quiet area along the river, taking a break to sharpen our side blades and do a few leather repairs and some beadwork. It was a lovely time, and the two of us were eventually joined by several other riders who dropped in to say hello.
Later that week we rode in the Medicine Wheel charity ride to raise awareness for Indigenous women who have been murdered or kidnapped. Next was the Biker Belles Run, which began at Deadwood Lodge and landed at the Buffalo Chip Campground. We ladies made such a splash that we landed on the cover of the Rapid City Journal. Then there was Michael Lichter’s Motorcycles As Art exhibit at the Chip, and I also had the pleasure of being invited as a VIP to the Wild Gypsy tour. And last, but certainly not least, the Legends Run.
The shows this year were completely packed. I’m sure the fact that many of us being under lockdown due to the pandemic was the main reason huge crowds rolled into the shows at the Buffalo Chip and several other venues.
Although it was a full-blown rally this year, attendance wasn’t as strong as I had seen in some previous years. I personally prefer when the numbers are down, as moving through the masses in downtown Sturgis is more pleasant. There is a part of me that misses the rallies in the 1990s, which seemed more homegrown. I remember camping in parks, roadsides, backwoods, and an occasional front yard.
I also miss the grassroots vendors. The event’s commercialism is over the top at this point. But I do enjoy the fact that, because the rally has grown so large, nearly every town within 100 miles of Sturgis has its own version of the event. Hence our extended stay in Custer, which was like a mini Sturgis, with many more mom-and-pop grassroots vendors.
As the rally nears its end, one can feel a bit melancholy knowing that soon it will be time to pack up the bikes and begin the trek back home.
You can feel the drag of people’s steps from the exhaustion of touring to Sturgis, celebrating the event, and then realizing that it’s coming to an end. There is a collective sadness that comes into the air as we recognize that it’s time to get back to reality and leave this paradise world of everything motorcycle.
But the one redeeming factor is: There’s always next year! See you then. In the meantime, live your dare!