Part 3. My Ride to Sturgis - Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
2005 was the 65th Sturgis Rally, and my 7th. My first rally was in 1995 when a friend and I decided at the last minute to go. We had heard of the rally but never met anyone who had actually attended. We called a travel agent to get motel reservations but at such a late date the closest we could find were in Gillette, WY, an hour ride from the rally. Over the next 10 years I learned some lessons, like book early, and always stayed in motels and hotels with much inflated rally prices. Iíve never stayed in the same place twice. A Days Inn, which normally rents for $80 a night, is 250+ during the rally. I stayed in motels because my spouse and those friends who came with me always wanted to stay in motels. This year, coming to the rally alone, I decided to camp.
I donít return to the rally because of what Sturgis offers. While I enjoy the rally, it is the ride from my home in the San Francisco Bay area to South Dakota that brings me back year after year. I always vary the route, making it longer than it has to be. I've gone as far north as Seattle, turn right on Route 2 to Montana and then turned south to Sturgis. I've gone south to southern Utah and Colorado, then turned left to enter Sturgis from the south. I've taken several routes in between, but I always enjoy riding the Rocky Mountains and exploring the summer only small roads twisting around the peaks and valleys of this magnificent region.
I ride a 2004 HD Road Glide in black and silver. In full touring mode, I have an XM satellite radio, a CB radio, and a quick detachable tour pack. My camping gear, designed for back packing, fits easily into my saddle bags, leaving my tour pack for clothing, fishing gear, and booze. Unlike most my HD brethren, I take no leather, just jeans, shorts, T-shirts and Gore-Tex rain gear. Packed in between are two bottles of red wine and a bottle of bourbon for campsite hospitality.
This year, riding alone I took the fastest and most direct route from my new home in Salt Lake City. I left Salt Lake City on Sunday after breakfast and headed east on I-80. I-80 through Utah is still pretty scenic in spite of being the main artery of east west travel in this part of the world. Once you pass into Wyoming it gets a bit flat. I left I-80 at Rawlins and took 287 north to 220 east toward Casper. State route 220 is a two-lane road running east to west, and is a welcome break from the interstate. There are small towns along the way and gas is plentiful. You can ride about 65 mph as the road is straight and there is nothing blocking your view of the road ahead. After lunch in Casper, I took I-25 about 50 miles north to 387 toward Newcastle. 387, which turns into 450 at Clareton, is another two lane Wyoming State highway which is flat straight and featureless. If you pay attention to the "Next gas X miles" signs and plan accordingly there should be no fuel problems. It is about 120 miles to Newcastle on the Wyoming Ė South Dakota border. Again, there is nothing special about Newcastle, but it was there I started seeing the rally traffic.
The biggest change I have seen over the last 10 years is the number of people trailering their bikes to the rally. From Newcastle to Sturgis, a distance of about 100 miles, I saw exactly two bikers riding north, and more than 50 cars, trucks, and motorhomes pulling trailers containing motorcycles. At the rally they sell a patch which says, ďI rode mineĒ. This year I am starting to appreciate the value of that patch and the action it celebrates. I saw one pick up with three guys squeezed into the seat, and a beautiful Soft Tail Heritage bouncing along in the bed. Had one guy gotten out the cab and rode the bike the last 100 miles, all three would have been more comfortable. I still donít understand it. The ride to and from the rally is the very best part.
These last 100 miles make up for the flat and barren mileage across Wyoming. Passing into South Dakota the road takes you through a lush canyon formed by an ancient rushing river. Route 85 is shaded by tall trees, sometimes forming a canopy to shield the rider from the bright sun. On each side of the road are cliffs, meadows, and green pastures containing horses and cattle. Sometimes there are ruins of pioneer log cabins and barns. The road rises up over hills and down gullies and twists to the right and left as well. After all those straight flat miles in Wyoming, suddenly I have to start paying attention and enjoying the beginning of what the Black Hills offers.
As I get closer to Deadwood, I start seeing campgrounds filling up with rally attendees. Most are quite beautiful, situated on the river with grassy campgrounds and portapotties scattered among the tents and trailers. I make a mental note to look into these camps next year if I decide to camp again. There are plenty of spaces for tents, although it looks like one should reserve a trailer spot due to a limited number of hook ups.
Deadwood is up ahead. It is 6:00 p.m. and I've managed 675 miles today. The snack I ate in Newcastle tides me over and I find no reason to stop for dinner yet. Like the horse returning to its stable, I am anxious to complete the journey. I ride straight through Deadwood, a bit congested but not yet stop and go, and continue on to Sturgis 15 miles away.
There is no doubt now that I am at the rally. There are hundreds of motorcycles traveling this 4-lane road with me. The rally starts officially tomorrow, and the hordes are descending. Coming from route 85, the town of Sturgis begins at I-90. I ride under the overpass and read an overhead banner welcoming me to the 65th version of the rally. Venders are set up in tents on both sides of the road. I stay off of Main Street and take a side street east through town. The traffic is not bad, it takes me about a half an hour to get through the 13 blocks that constitutes Sturgis. That transit time will get much much worse tomorrow and in the days to come.
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