VIDEO: Sturgis

Posted In: Destinations, People We Meet, Video

About 20 years ago, my best friend Mike and I loaded up my trusty 1985 Honda CRX (a tiny 2-seater, but you could cram an adult male bison in the rear hatch) and headed west on the first great cross-country road trip of our lives.

We departed in early August. Our route took us from the Deep South (starting in Sweet Home Alabama, stopping by Graceland in Memphis) to Iowa (a ridiculous yet memorable detour to visit the mythical birthplace of Captain Kirk) then on to South Dakota (Mount Rushmore) and finally to the promised land of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

Along the way, we saw clusters of motorcycles on the road. All headed in one direction.

The closer we got to South Dakota, the more motorcycles we saw. Pretty soon we were surrounded by leather clad bikers, packs of growling cycles flanking my 80s econobox.

“What the heck are all these bikers doing out here?” we wondered. “And are we the only ones in this state not wearing black leather?’

Then we realized. STURGIS was in full swing.

Back in in those days (the late 80s), Sturgis seemed pretty big. I think it attracted about 150,000 bikes over the course of two weeks. Twenty years later, the event has mushroomed in size, almost quadrupling. The numbers we heard tossed around were 570,000 bikes and a million bikers.

Kristy and I attended the 70th annual rally. Sturgis has a wild reputation, but our experience wasn’t so wild. I mean that as a complement. The people gathered at Sturgis (at least the ones we met) are just about as friendly, accepting, and laid back a bunch as you will find anywhere. I’m sure that those looking for trouble can probably find it. But most people are just looking for a good time.

You hear about deaths at Sturgis, and every year there are a few. But when you have a half million people riding motorcycles in an area, unfortunately some accidents are going to happen.

Sure, you will see a few excesses in terms of *ahem* dress and language. But it’s nothing so outrageous as what you might see at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. (Umm, what don’t you see at Mardi Gras?) Frankly, without a few excesses, Sturgis wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. We come to Sturgis FOR the excesses!

Sturgis is perhaps best described as a party. It’s a patchwork quilt of people, and the common thread that binds is an appreciation for bikes. People are warm and accepting and generally in a good mood.

I’ve spent more than my fair share of time and money fiddling around with performance cars, and have driven a few (quite slowly) on the race track. I’ve never been bitten by the motorcycle bug. The fact my physician sister calls ’em “donorcycles” may have something to do with it. I’m a fan of seatbelts and rollbars when risking my life.

But while we were at Sturgis, I found myself SERIOUSLY considering a bike. The style, the performance, the subculture… the freedom of the open road. There’s a lot to like. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch for Kristy and I to hop aboard a Harley and see the country on two wheels.

Harley Davidson enthusiasts are similar to the Airstream crowd — both groups are passionate about their iconic made-in-America products. Bikers love biking the way campers love camping. It’s all about travel, freedom, and escape. Free spirits abound. Hmmm, maybe we should get a bike?

Nah. Not only do I attract weird injuries, I’ve also had more than one person carelessly steer their moving vehicle into mine at high speed. What concerns me is not so much the bike, but OTHER people — people in SUVs sipping lattes as they change radio stations while texting their cousins. So I’ll probably never own a motorcycle, but I will always appreciate Sturgis and the people who do.


Sturgis is all about camping, both tent camping and RV camping. We camped at a place called Shade Valley — a MASSIVE 396-ACRE campground with impressive facilities (including on property tattoo parlor and roadhouse bar). What’s really striking about this place is that it’s only open for 2 weeks a year! Most people book their Sturgis campsite well in advance. They want you to book for a full week, and plenty of people apparently do. Shade Valley was a good choice for us — a pleasant camping environment, close to town, and a well managed facility.

Why didn’t we stay at Buffalo Chip? We’ll be happy to stay at Buffalo Chip someday, but this visit to Sturgis was pulled together at the last minute. (We call our company “Walkabout” because we tend to meander and go where the wind takes us. This time it took us to Sturgis.)

It’s said that Buffalo Chip is a much wilder, noisier place. Of course, the nightly concerts add to the panache and the rowdiness.  Am I the only one who finds it hilarious to see Bob Dylan and Ozzy Osbourne on the same marquee?

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