We hit an unexpected pocket of paradise in southeastern Wyoming and western South Dakota, which is where we've spent the past 5 days exploring. Once we got out of Glacier we were prepared to ride the plains for a long time, but after only a few days of flats we found ourselves in hills, forests, more hills and surrounded by thousands of motorcycles. Little did we know that we'd be rolling into the Black Hills during the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. We might not have loud motors or chrome-studded leather jackets and panniers, be covered in tattoos or wear skull and crossbones rings and t-shirts, but we are two-wheeled, overly tanned, traveled thousands of miles to this location, are out enjoying the sights and bought our Sturgis patches for our panniers. We figured that was plenty in common with the motorcyclists so we decided to stay a few days and join the party.
This rally is quite a spectacle with 800,000 motorcycles expected to flock to the area over the course of the week (that more than doubles the population of the state of South Dakota)! We weren't sure at first if we'd be welcomed into this culture, but we quickly learned that, for the most part, these bad-ass looking guys and tough acting gals were actually very kind, generous and interesting folks who happen to be normal people with normal jobs and lives. Rally week must be like an extra long Halloween party for many of them when they get to pull out their gear, grow a little scruff and put on their alter-egos as they converge with others just like them from all over the continent to rev their engines, oogle at the abundance of beautiful bikes, party and ultimately enjoy a common hobby.
I honestly thought we'd be looked down upon for pedaling our bikes rather than riding motorcycles but I was almost instantly corrected. We took our bikes touring on the scenic “rides” and to the historical points of interest listed on the Sturgis map, we stopped at the party tents to have a beer along the way, we signed our names on the bar and we paraded down the Main Streets of the towns amongst all the other bikes. We may have received a few sneers, but for the most part people were eager to talk to us, interested and excited about what we were doing, bought us drinks, cheered us on as we climbed the big hills in the heat of the afternoon and told us time and time again that we were the only “real bikers at Sturgis!”
Mike riding through Spearfish Canyon.
We signed one of the bars we stopped at.
Parading down Main Street in Hill City, SD with all the motorcycles.
Cari on an old train trestle along the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills.
There are 3 major incidents that stick out in my mind from our time in this area. Number one is that when it's Sturgis Rally time, the whole region puts on their party shoes and everyone is welcome. One night we were searching for a place to camp when we saw a few people sitting on a bridge, drinking beer and waving at everyone passing by. Mike slowed down and yelled over to them, asking if they knew of a place we could pitch a tent. No more than a minute later we were on the front porch of Granny Dee's cabin, drinking beer, eating dinner, invited to shower and stay for the entire week. It was a fantastic evening of being entertained, feeling like we were part of the rally and that night officially marked the first point in this trip where I actually felt like we were making some eastward progress. The long O's have become prominent in the language and people say "crick" instead of "creek," which means we're getting close to my family's house in Minnesota!
The gang at Granny Dee's.
Number 2 was getting caught in a seemingly daily thunderstorm in the little town of Scenic with a whole slough of bikers. We were on our way out to the Badlands on one of the recommended bike routes when the sky suddenly turned dark, lightening flashed continuously throughout the sky and the wind picked up. We were hungry and needed a rest anyway, so we set up at a picnic table under a holey overhang next to a bar. Worried about the possibility of hail, soon the overhang was jam packed full of motorcycles trying to protect their bikes from the coming weather. There's not much in the town of Scenic other than a bar, gas station and trading post and for nearly 4 hours everyone that was originally partying in the streets was crammed in the bar or on the front porches of all the abandoned buildings. I think we talked to nearly everyone present, none of whom could believe we had pedaled that far and ended up with a few bucks from “The Illinois Boys” for drinks that night and pages and pages of contacts from all over the country promising that if we made it to wherever they lived we'd have a hot shower, good meal and bed awaiting. I laugh when I think about potentially calling up some of these people in a month or two to tell them that we've arrived. They will likely have long forgotten us and probably have a heart attack when we remind them that we were the cyclists they met long ago at Sturgis.
Waiting out the storm in Scenic, SD.
Lastly is the insane amount of attention we received (it was to the point of feeling like a celebrity) over this past week. I didn't see a single motorcycle pass us by on the road and not turn their heads to stare. Every time we stopped we were surrounded by people wanting to know what we were doing, where we were coming from and where we were going. Riding through the Badlands today was actually a short ride, but it literally took us all day to go 30 miles. There were many vista points throughout the park and we ended up stopped for nearly an hour at each one answering the plethora of questions from the disbelieving tourists. People would pull over just ahead of us, stop and take pictures of us as we passed without even talking to us. There are now hundreds of people out there with pictures of two random cyclists. I'm not sure what they'll do with those photos, or why they would want them, but I kind of felt like an exotic animal being gawked at by travelers on safari. It's a strangely flattering position to be in.
Entering the Badlands right after the storm.
Tomorrow we will officially be leaving the area of the bike rally and although we'll still encounter a fair amount of motorcycles for the next several weeks, I'm very happy to not have to listen to loud engines roaring past me all day long (Mike is going to miss that). It has been a fantastic week out here riding through the beautiful areas of the Black Hills and the Badlands, meeting many incredible people and experiencing firsthand a bike rally that I was almost certain I would never attend.