The first of us headed out last night, on bikes and planes aimed homeward.

Tommy and Max were kickstands up this morning, burning west toward Boise to knock off a Saddle Sore 1000 sanctioned by the Iron Butt Association. We’ve all swapped hugs and commitments of goodwill. A knot of four riders and one girlfriend is stopping into Sturgis to pick up bargain t-shirts on their way to the airport at Denver.

bikesMy helmet, like the others’, is properly bedazzled with silver signatures from the core rider group, including the guy I most consistently roomed with on this trip and now consider not only a friend for life, but a personal inspiration. It was on my gourd, freshly inscribed, and I was booming along Highway 85 between 212 and the 34 when I remembered that I put Glen off last night. It was late, I had beer and Coke and sunburn slowing me up, and I told him I’d sign it this morning. Then I left to return an Indian to its VIP loaner tribe, and haven’t been back to the lodge since. Logistics are a bitch when you’re trying to push your program through a million-biker traffic filter.

Now he’s off, headed for Maryland where he lives within striking distance of Walter Reed Hospital, and I’m sitting at the Buffalo Chip media center, trying to organize my scrambled thoughts.

Funny thing about brothers and sisters in the bonus round is that while we might be maudlin as hell about “love you, buddy,” there’s not exactly a sense of loneliness in departure. Once you share trust with someone – and I’ve zero doubt that most of the participants in this week’s extravagant adventure would lay down our lives for each other without pausing to consider alternatives – farewells aren’t a terminal affair. Life is uncertain in both directions, and the day I see any of these people again will clearly and automatically define itself as a good day. We’ll just have to trust each other to be okay in the meantime.

Or to call. We’ve all grown lobes on our networks this week, and put new tools in place to tinker our own brains and hearts for self-preservation and service to others.

Sturgis itself has entirely lived up to its kickass party rep. From the Broken Spoke, the Chip, and Full Throttle Saloon in the main gut to the vendors, exhibitionists, and corporate pushers in town to the campsites and destinations along the curving spoke roads radiating out through the canyons of the Black Hills, it’s been a great time and an adult blowout.

bad_girlsIt’s also been startlingly mild. For all the “bad bitches” and biker dudes braced up with their elbows out and shirts flying Confederate colors beneath the legend “try burning this one, ASSHOLE,” I’ve seen zero fistfights, just one domestic argument (no handiwork involved), and numerous tipovers. With practically no Mongols or Bandidos or HAs flying colors, it’s more of a costume party for part-timers than a drug-muddled orgy of bloodshed and rapine deviance. Excess consists of big jugs on bikes and women, extra liquor rations all around, and more red, white and blue than you can shake a guidon at.

How suburban is this festival? The best bikini bike wash isn’t at the Buffalo Chip, and it’s not the Penthouse Pets. It’s at the Marriott. Preparation for this Brigadoon of the Black Hills is extensive, expensive, serious and adult. Once it starts, it’s a carnival you probably won’t want to bring your kids to, less because they’ll see a colorful menagerie of human teats than because it would bore them stupid. People talk and smile and nod and swap stories. “Where did you ride in from?” is the replacement icebreaker, here in the middle age of middle America, for “what’s your major?” Sturgis amounts to a cocktail party with a costume theme.

SharonEvery party has its share of doomsayers and detractors, but our own curvaceous Sharon slept off a binge on a park bench in the midst of this highly polished corporate madness with neither a qualm nor a problem. Ever heard that Parisians are jerks, or that New Yorkers are rude and brusque? Or that one about how bikers are Visigoths bent on chaos, vandalism, and human degradation?

Go to New York and eat a hot dog from a Central Park vendor. Visit Paris and try to order in French – they’ll help you out. Come to Sturgis and just walk around in disbelief at the careful courtesy belied by all the adolescently defiant vest flair.

Much as I’ve enjoyed the visit, I won’t miss Sturgis. It’s not my scene, even if the roads are good enough to ride any time there’s not an enormous rally of wobblers in town.

I’ll miss the music at the Buffalo Chip. I’ll miss the righteous torque of a big Indian twin. I’ll miss some of the food, many of the drinks (not including that S&M Jager shot), and all of the people I rode out here with.

It’s been a hell of a journey. The Veterans Charity Ride left an indelible impression on every participating vet, including yours truly.

Now it’s time to think about paying that forward – and about visiting Maryland.

I still owe Glen that signature.1-DSC_2476

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  1. Beautiful summary and wrap up, Jack.

    Thank you.

  2. Dennis W. says

    Thanks for taking us along on the ride, Jack. Safe travels home!

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