1998 Sturgis South Dakota 58th Annual Motorcycle Rally

Personal Coverage, Travelogue, and yes... Pictures!
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Sturgis1998-2

Sigh

Five thousand eight hundred miles in sixteen days.  Sixteen days of not hearing anything about Clinton and Lewinsky, or "Reverend" Al Sharpton, or the million youth march, and 5800 miles of not caring about anything but the road, the view, and the next destination.  Polite, friendly people and good roads.  Life just doesn't get much better than this!

Odometer reading on my 1997 Honda VFR-750: 9,250 miles.  A Chase-Harper magnetic tank bag and RKA matching saddlebags are packed full of everything from underwear to chain lube and Jack Daniels.  Since I've become a creature of comfort in the ripe old age of 35, I spare the bungee cords the task of holding camping gear.

I left Rockland, New York at 940am with my first destination being Wichita, Kansas.  I've seen this part of the country lots of times so I stayed on the superslab and kept the throttle wound tight.  The Water Gap goes by at 11am.  I whiz by Pennsylvania, reach Ohio at 4pm, and stop for dinner at a Wendy's where the kids at the next table treated me to a discourse on nose burps.  At 9pm central time and a half hour short of unspectacular Indianapolis, Indiana, face shield nearly opaque with insect bits, I stop for the night.  In spite of my reservations about motels that require key deposits, the $24.99 Dollar Inn proves to be about the cleanest, most comfortable cheap motel in the entire trip.

Day Two

In the morning's preparations, my lower back spasms and I fall to my knees.   Determined not to let this little setback get in my way, I grimace, cinch the kidney belt tight and watch my posture.  A moderate pace that sweltering day and in spite of a welcome soggy ride through St. Louis, Illinois has gone by in a flash and I make it to Kansas City on my second night, leaving only a few hours jaunt to Wichita.

Going a bit slower permits more socializing.  On I-70 I play leapfrog for a while with a fellow on a Gold Wing.  He's loaded with camping gear, a cooler, and a leather cowboy hat that seems to be magically resting on a pile of gear but doesn't budge in the wind as we trade positions at 90 MPH.  We introduce ourselves at a rest stop.  His name is Steve Buck.  It turns out the hat is held on by Vise-Grip pliers on the front brim, hidden inconspicuously under his bungee'd jacket.  Smiling as he tells me how many people ask him how the hat stays on, he mentions having left Virginia before 5am that morning.  Suddenly my pace feels much more relaxed than it was!

Through the rains of St. Louis I latch onto a few Sturgis-bound riders from Tennessee.   Three H-D's and a BMW.  We finally ride out of the weather, and I grab a handful of throttle as I silently wish them farewell.  With rains and nightfall joining me in Blue Springs, east of Kansas City, I land at a mediocre Motel 6.  The limit of my interaction with locals is restricted to dinner at an Applebee's chain restaurant.   Retiring to the motel, I turn the TV on to find out I lost the Powerball drawing.  Damn.

Day Three

I know from prior experience that in Kansas, speed limits are taken pretty seriously and the cops have absolutely no sense of humour and little sense of mercy.  I throttle down as I cross the state line and keep it to within five-over.  The speed limits are mostly 70mph anyway, so it's not like I'm crawling or anything.

As I toodle through eastern Kansas, I stop for lunch at another Wendy's.  No nose-burp diatribes this time.  A couple of farmers and a car dealership manager strike up a conversation with me, and they relate their experiences with bikes.   Traipsing about the country on a Ferrari-red motorcycle with New York tags can be a real conversation opener.  The car salesman, Jack Hoover, turns out to from New Jersey.  Sheesh.

As I make it into Wichita, I throttle down to a notch under the speed limit.  If you think that the cops on the interstate have no mercy, it's useful to know that in town, it's not unusual to be pulled over for doing 26 in a 25mph zone, and that during school hours the slower school zones are taken very seriously.

A Cambridge Suites Inn in downtown Wichita is my home for the next few days.   They really deserve a quick plug here.  These are perfectly kept suites with kitchens, VCR's, CD players, multi-line phones with voice mail, partitions, hair driers, and coffee machines.  Some are multi-level and have sofabeds and murphy beds.  This used to be a Residence Inn until Candlewood took it over from Marriott.  Candlewood has made many great improvements and offers an outdoor pool, free continental breakfast, and 25c premium soda machines.  A studio suite is about $75 at discount rates.  Highly recommended.  Only complaint is that on weekends, you can't trash the room unless you don't mind being the one cleaning it up.   Heck, for that kind of service I can go home!

Over the next few days I see all my friends in Wichita, party, drink, sleep, eat, and party some more.  I got to try out my friend's hot tub.  We made the mistake of seeing Saving Private Ryan at one of the new multiplex theatres.  Great theatre with a huge screen and comfy stadium seating, and $3 less than in NYC, but as good as it was, the movie is about the most depressing I've ever seen.  Not what you want to see on a vacation, for sure.

With close to 11,000 miles on the bike's original tires, I decide it's a good idea to freshen up the rubber.  I pay too much at a large downtown shop for a set of Dunlop D205's to replace the crappy D202's.  I know that when I reach Colorado, I'll appreciate the newly gained traction and confidence.

Day Seven

My vacation can't last forever so it's time to get back on the road.  Everyone says that the plains part of western Kansas is boring to travel through, but I find the great expanse to be very beautiful and of course peaceful.  What I also notice is that as I get closer to Colorado, the people also get better looking!  Better dressed men, prettier women, more blondes.  Not that Kansas folk are bad looking, but the Colorado folk simply seem much more cosmopolitan.

Colorado WeatherI make it to Denver, take notice of the signs mentioning that they now have speeding cameras planted all over the city (must be taking lessons from the U.K.), stop to avoid some more rain and to buy a sweater, and get on Route 119 toward Estes and the Rockies.  I stop for a truly wonderful lunch at the Sundance Cafe (also Sundance Lodge and Sundance Stables) and learn that a film crew is there shooting "Enough Said", and they needed extras.  I thought about mugging for the cameras instead of riding through the rain and fog, and chose to stay on track.  After a brief conversation with a fellow from Ohio, I get back on the road and meet a couple named Mike and Rose at Boulder Falls, who turn out be from Texas and are on a trip to celebrate their retirement.  Just like me, they're all smiles in spite of the intermittent rain.  The scenery is amazing and now I know why this is called God's country.

Colorado GamblingThis area of Colorado is spotted with old-west style gambling towns.  After passing up several of these towns, I finally stopped in one just to see what it was all about.  I'm no big fan of gambling, and aside of that these towns had nothing to do except eat and pan for planted gold.  I took a brief look around and moved on.  Notably, all the parking is valet-only, but free.  I wondered if in the old west, valets were the only people that could hitch your horse outside the casinos and saloons.

I make it to Estes, stop at a sporting goods shop to replace a compass that got sucked out of my map cover somewhere on I-90, and find Route 34 to Trail Ridge Road - the pass through Rocky Mountain National Park.  $5 gets a motorcycle one week of admission to the area - $10 if you're unfortunate enough to be stuck inside a car.  The weather is still very unstable but undaunted, I continue up the winding mountain road.

Rocky DeerThe foul weather makes the ride treacherous, but it also brings out the wildlife.   Nature photo opportunities abound, if you can get to the camera quick enough and keep the lens dry.  The fog and clouds also give the mountains an eerie, constantly changing face.  Any weather formation that looks like a photo opportunity is sure to be gone by the time you get remove the lens cap.  Deer and longhorn sheep wander through the fog and low clouds and unafraid of being shot, don't mind coming close to visitors while they forage for food.

Rocky Mtn HighThe elevations make the bike wheeze, and make me wheeze too.  The approach roads around the park area are over 8,000' ASL and Trail Ridge Road brings you to evelations exceeding 12,000' ASL.  While it was still 90deg at the Kansas/Colorado border, it was under 60 in Denver and under 40deg here.  This photograph was taken at over 11,600 feet.  Mountains that are thirty miles away peer through the fog as if they were a stone's throw.

The weather seems to be turning even worse - fog thickening, rain getting heavy and hailing intermittently - so I head back down the mountain and decide to find a motel.   After miles and miles of signs saying "Sorry!" and "NO VACANCY", I end in one of the only two rooms left in a Best Western, 90 minutes away in Loveland, Colorado.  I settle in quickly and run out to the mall across the highway for dinner.  The Lone Star Saloon gives me one of the best filet mignon's I've ever had, and a sweet potato that could give ten people insulin-dependence for life.

Day Eight

Rocky Mtn 1The view from the motel window was a lovely cornfield, glowing softly in the low morning sun.  With the good weather ahead I decide I'd like to take another stab at the Rockies and head back west again, 90 minutes.  Even though the total detour time both ways was about four hours due to construction, it was more than worth it.  As wonderful as the Rockies were the day before in the miserable weather, it was incredible on this day.  The wildlife was a tad less conspicuous in the early day's sun, but the mountains and snowcaps were indescribable.  The view from Trail Ridge Road is one usually seen only from airplanes.  I completed some obligatory photo-ops and head back down toward Loveland.

Wyoming SunsetSatisfied finally that I've truly enjoyed the Rockies, I get on I-25 to make some time toward South Dakota.  I have a hotel reservation beginning tonight at a Quality Inn in Rapid City.  As I make my way up through Wyoming I'm seeing more and more motorcycles and less and less cars.  Stopping at a gas station in a deserted area of Wyoming (er, deserted even by Wyoming standards), kids are trying to sell flags and pens and to clean faceshields or even the bike - anything for a few bucks.  The speed limit is 75 on this secondary road and nobody's there to enforce it.  Needless to say that limit was exceeded gratuitously.

"If you speed in the plains and nobody measures it, did you really speed?"   100mph through parts of Wyoming Rte. 85 and Nebraska Rte. 20.  Long, straight, deserted roads and gentle rolling hills.  Miles and miles of grazing lands dotted with cattle and an occasional horse.  I find Rte. 385 up through Hot Springs, South Dakota and slow the pace down a touch.  The only interruptions were, it seemed like every bridge in the area was being rebuilt, so every stream or drainage crossing had a temporary traffic light and only one lane open.  I look at Mt. Rushmore on the map, check the time and mileage and decide to bypass it for one day during the week's touring.

At 10pm and with a dehydration headache setting in, I attempt to check into the hotel and they can't find my reservation.  They can't find the reservation that I verified on the phone verbatim that very morning, that I had for a solid month prior, that I painfully over-paid for because of the gouging for the Sturgis crowds.  Geniuses.  "Don't worry", they say.  My head begins to pound, as I remind them I need a non-smoking room.  The receptionist hands me a key and off I go.  I end up having to use some out-of-the-way entrance, walk up a flight of stairs and down this long corridor full of cigar fumes to open a smelly room in the smoking area.  Now I feel the vice-like grips of a migraine coming on.  I pick up the phone and tell the front desk that by the time I walk back there they'd better have found me a good non-smoking room.  As the woman fumbles around and sets me up in a more convenient downstairs non-smoking room she mentiones that "she was going to give this room to someone else".  Nice.  The headache is already so bad now that I can hardly walk, and I can't spare the energy to find out who in bloody hell she was going to give this room to that she had to screw me around like that.   Trust me when I tell you that Quality Inn is going to pay dearly for this crap.   I take a fistful of narcotics, stumble into the Perkins across the street and have a quick meal to help me sleep off the headache.

Sturgis!

I stayed in Rapid City which driven briskly, is a half hour from the tiny town of Sturgis.  This apparent lack of proximity did not matter.  Every town within at least 100 miles was completely taken over by motorcyclists.  With the 58th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally already half over, there was a party no matter where you went.  Last year's event supposedly drew 200,000 people and this year certainly appeared to have drawn at least as many.  I had to feel sorry for the hapless motorists touring through the area looking for lodging, not knowing what was happening.   There was not a hotel, motel, campground, garage, back yard or attic to be rented for two hours in any direction.

Chair TrikeAs if I really needed to be warned, friends warned me about taking a Japanese sportbike to Sturgis.  Yes, it's a very Harley-centric event, but nobody hassled me.  If anyone did have a problem, they were smart enough to keep it to themselves.  In fact, being on a bright red Honda sportbike (oh, "sport-tourer", Honda says) with a NY tag made me stand out in a way that provided many more opportunities for conversation.  Nobody cared that much what you rode, as long as you rode.

WelcomeI have no idea what Sturgis is like the rest of the year, but this week the town, which is maybe a mile and a half in length, is a biker freak show, block party and shopping mecca.  Both Rte. 34 and Main Street, which run in parallel lengthwise through the town, are loaded with vendors of all sizes.  All the major motorcycle manufacturers are there, and so are all the accessory shops.  There are at least a hundred places to buy chaps and other leather goodies, pins, stickers, knives, tools, etc.  Anything you want from a panhead crank to a gel seat cushion can be found, and test rides were available from most of the manufacturers as well.  The post office was so busy they set up a satellite office in a nearby H-D dealership, and they were even open most of Sunday.

PyramidEvery day and night on Main Street, thousands of bikers would park tightly along both sides of the street and in two rows down the center of the street.  Police and barricades would keep out cars, and the bikes and trikes and people would parade up and down this ten block stretch.  Folks would show off their bikes or just as often, themselves.  It occasionally seemed a bit like Halloween.  The bars would play music and hold amateur strip contests (limited nudity due to local ordinance - ladies bring your pasties).  Every once in a while if the women thought the police weren't watching, they'd flash the crowd.  This would go on until about 2am.  Liquor stops being served at 1am.

Wyoming Devils TowerThere's only so much time that you can spend at a freak show or shopping, so that gives you lots of time to tour the region.  This area of South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana has a lot of picturesque geological points of interest and old wild west history.  I piled on hundreds of miles in these few days venturing into the Badlands (Rte. 240 is great in between Winnebagos), Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Devils Tower, etc.  The local Departments of Commerce got together and printed tour maps and invaluable safety maps that covered information about road construction and debris and other high-accident areas, so getting around was a snap.  Residents and shop owners in the region all gear up heavily for the event, and everyone is helpful, enthusiastic and excited.

FamilyI met lots of interesting people in and around Sturgis, from all over the country.   I found folks from New Jersey to Mexico, riding everything from Japanese pocket bikes and Cushman carts to 100% custom H-D's and trikes.  Everyone was receptive to each other, with the only apparent snobbery being toward some of the poseurs who trailer their bikes in.  Folks paraded, rode, watched, took photos, bought stuff, drank, ate, and had fun.  There were races, demolition derby's, wrestling matches, and other events designed to keep the masses entertained and make sure that all 200,000 visitors weren't all trying to cruise in circles on Main Street simultaneously.

By Saturday morning many people were already packing up to leave and by Sunday morning the outlying event towns like Rapid City seemed to be almost back to normal.  I wonder what really is normal there, though.

Day Twelve

Minnesota SignWith 12,650 miles now showing on the odometer, I set my sights on Minnesota.  I hop onto I-90, grab a fistful of throttle and keep my head down.  I finally succumb to the 8,437,951 signs on I-90 for "Wall Drug" and stop in bustling (ahem) Wall, South Dakota.  This one store is the major attraction, along with a few saloons and jewelry stores hawking Black Hills gold.  Wall Drug seems like a cooperative of many stores selling all kinds of interesting regional things and even including a pretty decent cafeteria.  Having had more fun than I can stand already, I get back onto I-90.  Construction on I-90 at the Minnesota border has the state welcome sign missing, so I detour briefly to Iowa for no other reason than to take pictures of the welcome signs for Iowa and Minnesota.  Both states have lovely welcome signs on their secondary roads that all other states should envy.

With clear skies overhead I head north on I-35, and about one hour south of St. Paul, an enormous thunderhead appears on the horizon.  This huge, black and grey monster was at a complete standstill but slowly mutating, and the leading visible edge was a curtain of constant lightning.  Even at 85mph, I watched the sparks for 45 minutes before I felt compelled to pull over and pull on the rainsuit.  Waterproofed, I continued into the mouth of the beast.  In another ten minutes I hit torrential rain and 45mph cross-winds.  The winds curtailed after the longest five minutes of my life, and the rain trailed off as I entered St. Paul.  Looking for a really cheap motel between St. Paul and Duluth turned out to be a Twilight Zone experience ("Office Closes at 9pm"), so I ended up in a Travelodge around Pine City.

Day Thirteen

Destination: Thunder Bay, Ontario.  Yesterday I actually had to decide whether to continue west from South Dakota and plan on shipping the bike back from Vancouver or thereabouts, or head east.  Today was the day I chose between going through Michigan or over the north shore of Lake Superior.  The north shore won, and I was glad to have made that decision.

BongI stopped in Wisconson mostly for a photo opportunity, and plodded north toward the Pigeon River border crossing into Ontario, Canada.  The bridge that connects Wisconson and Minnesota appears to have been named after a man named Ira Bong.  I wonder...  nah!.  The temperature drop as I passed Duluth was noticeable and concerning.  I already froze myself once in Colorado and didn't care to have to bundle up again.  The scenery along the north shore reminded me very much of up-state New York, except with more pine trees than maple.  Very beautiful terrain.  I checked in relatively early to a hotel immediately south of Thunder Bay, had a mediocre meal and a good massage in the hotel, and rested up for a long next day.

Day Fourteen

Old Fort WilliamOld Fort William in Thunder Bay is a very realistic reproduction of a genuine period fur trading post, and a great bargain at CDN$9.  You can watch and even participate in reenactments of fur trading as well as view and experience life and how things were done in the 1800's between the Ojibwa  and the tradesmen.  The place takes up ten acres with 42 buildings and can easily consume the better part of a day.   Everyone is completely in period character and speaks in period terms.  Now I know what a "ploo" is.  ("Made beaver", or one fine large beaver pelt - a monetary standard of the time).  The women in the canoe seemed authentic enough until I noticed the plastic-covered paddles.

Ont Lake SuperiorI begin to realize how homesick I am when I start thinking how cute the Ojibwa women look in their period deerskin clothing, so I cut short my visit to Thunder Bay and head for Sault Saint Marie.  The map is deceiving.  Achieving this one-day goal on 90kph (posted) two-lane road takes some work.  Luckily, the O.P.P. isn't around much, except for predictable spots like the borders of small towns along the way.  I enjoy the view of Lake Superior over the pine trees as I blast along, stopping only for gas and the occasional town traffic light.  Gas here is expensive, with a 5 gallon (US) fill-up costing over CDN$12.  The exchange rate takes out some of the bite, working out to around US$9.

As I'm travelling along and passing all these tourist traps with the term "Trading Post" in their names, I can't help but wonder what would happen if I walked in and offered two ploo for a roll of film.  I must really be getting bored.  Finally reaching "the Soo", I make an obligatory tourist stop at the canal locks and head for a cheap motel.  An ordinary meal at a local steakhouse finishes my evening, and I can't find the remote control for the motel room's TV.  Maybe there never was one.

Day Fifteen

Toronto is again a goal that takes some work, but most of Canada 17 is a bit like NY17 with long, fast sweepers and an occasional dip into small towns with a few traffic lights.   Rte. 17's two lanes finally gives way to Rte. 69 and Rte. 400.  I picked up lots of speed going south on 400 and as a result, substantially miscalculated my gas reserve.  I rolled to a stop a few miles short of an intended gas stop.   Luckily, a small manufacturing plant was just the other side of the fence on the side of the highway.  I begged and pleaded for a gas can and someone finally found a two-gallon container.  Thank heavens for rural necessities!  Thanking them profusely and handing over a $5 bill, I get back on my way.  Suddenly I realize that in Canada, $5 for a two-gallon gulp isn't really leaving much of a tip.   Darn.

When I arrive for a surprise visit to my Aunt's house in Toronto and everyone recovers from the shock of seeing my on their doorstep in full leathers, I'm told that they're heading to the airport to pick up my cousins visiting from Atlanta!  A double-bonus.   Excellent...

Coming Home

I make my way through the weekday morning mess of Toronto's 401, 403, and the QEW.   In spite of highways that are more than 20 lanes and full speed ramps, the traffic still ebbs frustratingly.  At the Queenston border crossing Duty-Free Shop I sift through my receipts and discover that I'm $1 short of the minimum required spent GST, so I can't get my taxes back from the motel stays.  Without the room or the desire to carry out any cheap hooch, I exit hastily and head for the interstate.  Construction has the sign from 190 to 290 missing.  Well, Buffalo's not so bad to go through.   Quaint architecture, if nothing else.

At least I don't miss the Syracuse bypass (690), but construction on I-81 still isn't done after two long years.  Last year my car damn near lost a wheel on that road.  By the time I hit picturesque Rte. 17 for the final leg home, late and frustrated by traffic and construction, my wrist is twitching.  "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"  Ignoring the omnipresent small-town cops armed with radar, donuts and greed, I throttle the bike up to between 100 and 120mph on the long sweepers on 17.  When I'd get tired and slow down, 1 time out of 3 there was a cop over the hill.  Then I'd pick up the speed again.  Damn lucky, this whole trip in fact.  Not a single speeding ticket.  In some places I think I violated FAA guidelines as well as state and provincial speed limits.  At a gas station I check my tires and find they look like they've been on a race track - rubber melting and rolling up into little balls - so I slow down a bit for the ride through Bear Mountain and home.

The traffic-sensing light off 287 ignores me, as usual.  I wait for a lull in the traffic and go for it, uneventfully.  Every time I use this exit I wonder when a cop is going to see that stunt and decide to fortify the county's donut budget.  The 30mph side streets feel like an idle crawl now and I nearly over-cook the corner on my own street.  I roll into the driveway, and the house is dark.  The street is dark.  Everything looks the same.  The odometer shows 15,050 for a total trip of 5,800 miles.  Seems anticlimactic somehow.

Someone please remind me, why I still live in New York??

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