Sturgis USA Bike Week
It's all good
Ian Mutch gets the wind in his 'hair'
It's all good, that's the new American catchphrase I've learned. Leaning gently into a perfectly sculptured bend of faultless blacktop framed by towering tree-softened rock in the warm canyon air, yep this was alllll good. The modestly liberated pipes of the twin cam growled behind me as I accelerated out of the curve, the pine trees rushing into a blur before throttling back for a tight turn, beyond which a fresh vista of forest and gorge unfolded before me. I was a movie director running my own show, ultimate satisfaction at the twist of a throttle, the world, a script to be unravelled at my merest whim. The dappled sunlight played across my face as pine branches waved gently in a light breeze and the old Dylan track from Easy Rider played in my head.
"Well I'd rather go and journey where the silver water's flowing and wander through the forest beside the sacred mountain....."
It don't get better than this, this was allllll good.
I coasted to a halt on the dusty gravel forecourt of the Cheyenne Crossing restaurant. Pushing my goggles up onto the brown leather bandanna I stepped off to walk through the cloud of dust my arrival had produced to grab a lounging place at a timber bench inside the hitching rail where I treated myself to a pineapple smoothie from a stall seat in the theatre that is Spearfish Canyon South Dakota - bliss. On the way home I got lost and I didn't care. Mile after mile of immaculate roads, low traffic levels, warm air, fantastic motorcycle. "Better find out where I am" I thought and pulled into a layby where a wood carver was crafting a five foot timber bear. Mike Dick of Belle Fourche put me back on the right road and gave me a 3D business card with a bears padded paw on it.
Sturgis Bike Week invites several interpretations. To some it's a giant party of booze and excess focussed on huge Western biker bars like The Knucklehead Saloon or One Eyed Jacks, a vast rambling palace of connected timber bars worked by stunning girls, who, for a few dollars more, lie on the bars and allow patrons to suck short drinks from their navels. To others, the attractions of the surrounding country or the myriad custom shows, or even the racing provide the focus. Interesting to see a Brit in the shape of Robin Bradly now playing a major roll on the custom scene with his prestigious AMD (American Dealer News) show, a spin off from his Kent-based aftermarket trade magazine AMD.
Sturgis Main Street is the epicentre of the festival that extends across dozens of miles of South Dakota, dominating many small towns made famous by the legends of the Wild West. I had a Chinese feast in Deadwood, Spicy sausage in the garden of my hosts and superb Italian in Spearfish where I indulged myself in the best calamari I've ever tangled with.
The great thing about Sturgis, besides the immediate action is the variety of scenery and attractions within a couple of hours ride. The immediate area of river-laced wooded hills and grasslands is fabulous picture book territory with the kind of lush farmable appeal that stopped many a migrant on their trek West.
Then, just an hour and a half's ride from Sturgis is the fabled Devil's Tower immortalised by Close Encounters but long before that a focal point of native Indian spiritual interest. Park up at the base and take the footpath around the base of the old volcano for a healthy dose of exercise, a glimpse of wild deer prairie dogs and err aliens?
In this age of environmental gloom it's heartening to learn that there are more trees in the USA now than there were 100 years ago thanks partly to the efforts made to extinguish forest fires. Look at old pictures of the Black Hills and the contrast is graphic. Well done America! Now if you could just drive vehicles that burn a tad less gas than Apollo rockets then all might be hunky dory. Obviously this control does not extend to Harley-Davidsons which must remain an a exception to the rule because...
If you want to do Sturgis on the cheap there are huge well serviced campgrounds supplemented by the option of staking your tent in one of hundreds of gardens outside resident's homes. A nightly fee of $15 was the offer I saw advertised, while campgrounds like the giant Buffalo Chip site will cope with thousands.
For beer over the bar expect to pay around double UK prices though I am comparing canned beers with British draught. Bar staff also like to be tipped. Supermarkets meanwhile, offer a virtual charity service with 12 packs at $5. The factor that really makes Sturgis pricey is the air fare however. I paid £858 with British Airways. I'm just lucky in that I have free accommodation in Sturgis and a free bike for the week. Smug moi?
I find it interesting getting first hand impressions of American thinking in the wake of world events. Patriotism remains as strong as ever and overt support for the armed forces is an expression of that which I find very human and laudable. Support for the President seems to be weakening however as many Americans begin to suspect that he ain't exactly the sharpest tool in the box.
The Crazy Horse memorial is a must. Carved into a mountain the Crazy Horse sculpture is a monument to the indigenous Indian peoples, specifically one Crazy Horse who had 16 horses shot from under him in the course of his military career. The biggest sculpture in the world, this, as yet unfinished leviathan of human endeavour features a head as tall as an 8 story building and when finished, will feature a charging horse astride which the famous warrior will be riding while pointing out across his ancient hunting grounds.
From Sturgis you could cover "Rushmore and Crazy Horse in a day. A donation to the sculpture fund buys you a piece of rock, 8 million tons of which have so far been blasted from the mountain in a big bang approach to sculpture that is more Blaster Bates than Henry Moore. I had time to take in the Badlands too, playing hop scotch over the rattlesnakes to visit the remote Horseshoe where boss man Greg gave me a corn on the cob and stuck my signed American bill on the wall. Check it out if ever you go. The Horseshoe bar, Interior, that's the name of the town. See if Greg remembers a limey who drank a can of seven up, stuck a dollar bill on the wall and left, how could anyone forget an event like that?
So after two years of Sturgis am I bored yet? I think it's like someone once said of London, when you are tired of this place you are tired of life, but then I am a Londoner with a mid Atlantic perspective on life. In a word - 'Freedom' that's what it's all about.