The road to Sturgis

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 18, 2014

Each summer, more than 400,000 motorcycle enthusiasts come together for a week of celebration and camaraderie in Sturgis, S.D. Sturgis is normally a quiet town of less than 7,000 residents located in the Badlands of the Dakotas.
Ameriprise financial planner Mike Wright of Rockwell made his fourth trip to Sturgis, but only his second during the rally. Wright joined friends Brent Shive of Rockwell, Mike Strauss and John Scroggins of Ormond Beach, Fla., for the ride of 1,688 miles before meeting Rick Skelton of Long Beach, Ca., and Jeff Skelton of San Antonio at Sturgis. Wright and Strauss are best friends, Scroggins and Strauss live near each other, and Wright knew the Skelton brothers from his childhood in Orlando, Fla.
“We wanted to make the ride to Sturgis in two days,” Wright said. “To do that, we rode the first day to Nashville, Ill., a total of 688 miles. That set us up to ride 1,000 miles on the second day, earning each of us the ‘Iron Butt Certificate’ for riding 1,000 miles in a day on a motorcycle.”
Wright emphasized that all the men have very comfortable touring motorcycles. Plush seats, proper ergonomics, a satellite radio, GPS and CB radios make the long riding more enjoyable.
The riders made stops about every 225 miles for gas and bathrooms, but Wright said that most of the miles went by well even though the scenery was not particularly interesting. In St. Louis, they pulled over to make some pictures of the arch but generally kept pushing to make Sturgis. While on Interstate 90, the group noticed a sign at an exit welcoming bikers.
“We pulled over and found a group from the Jefferson High School wrestling team doing a fundraiser,” Wright said. “We had ribs, baked beans and corn, probably the best meal of the whole week. Those working the fundraiser had quite an interest in our motorcycles.”
Gradually, as the sun began to set, the riders began to see the Badlands of South Dakota. Wright called that area a lunar-like landscape, much different from the flatter land they had ridden for most of the day. It had been a perfect day for riding, and as the group neared Sturgis, they looked forward to seeing the Skeltons. All six men had recently been to Orlando for the funeral of the Skeltons’ dad, who had coached Wright in sports during his childhood.
“I was looking forward to being together with friends, getting to see my buds,” Wright said. The Skeltons had arranged for all six men to stay at a hotel in Whitewood, S.D., about 5 miles from Sturgis.
Highlights of the trip included side trips to several favorite areas near Sturgis. They visited Devils Tower, the first National Monument established by President Teddy Roosevelt. Native American folklore holds that a bear was chasing six young women who were saved when the ground suddenly rose well above the surrounding landscape. Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument were also part of the daily rides. The Crazy Horse Monument, immensely larger than Mt. Rushmore, has been under construction for years by a family whose third generation is now working. All funding is private, with no federal money used.
While riding through the Custer State Park, the riders witnessed a serious buffalo encounter. Two young bulls were fighting, an encounter full of power. This went on for a few minutes until the rest of the herd parted, revealing a larger bull who rushed the other two and butted them. The fight was quickly over, and the larger bull walked casually down the road to the amazement of the men.
As might be expected, a very large security force is required during the week’s gathering. That security is hired from all over the United States to keep the bikers safe.
“The general outlaw population is about 1 percent of those that attend. We call them the one-percenters,” Wright said. “I have never had any reason to be fearful. For nearly everyone else, the rally is more about revelry and togetherness.”
Saloons in Sturgis often have contests for best burnouts by individual motorcycles. The motorcycle is put on an elevated platform and smokes the back tire, often until the tire pops.
“No way am I going to do that, not at the cost of $350 for a back tire,” Wright said. “But those that do it quickly can get a new tire from vendors waiting near the burnouts just for that purpose.”
Tattoos are common and tattoo artists are everywhere. The group saw a 13-year-old kid getting a giant tattoo across his chest, and wondered what would have happened in his young life to cause him to want that tattoo. Female partial nudity was common.
During the week, Wright and the group were surprised when they entered a restaurant in Deadwood called Diamond Lil’s Sports Bar. They found that Kevin Costner, an avid biker himself, owned the sports bar, and memorabilia from many of his movies covered nearly every inch of the walls. Costner’s hit, “Dances with Wolves,” was filmed in the same area.
A fundraiser called the Mayor’s Ride was on the street one day, and Wright looked for Lance Armstrong, who was part of the event. Each person paid $150 to participate. Wright lost count when trying to count the large group on the ride.
The Sturgis ride totaled out at 4,100 miles round trip. Last year, the same group rode 7,500 miles to Montana and back. Next year, they are planning a four-week ride to Alaska, totaling about 10,000 miles. Wright now has ridden a motorcycle in 45 states, leaving only Alaska, Washington, Idaho, North Dakota, and Oregon. Next year on his Alaska trip, he plans to visit each of those states.
Wright credits all of the motorcycle riding for making him a better automobile driver.
“Distracted drivers are a growing trend, and while on a motorcycle it is imperative to make eye contact with drivers as often as possible,” he said. “We have to anticipate what the car driver will do, and I have started doing that much more in my family’s vehicles.”
Wright thought about Sturgis gathering and what it all meant to him to be there.
“It really was about togetherness,” he said. “What it takes to get all of these people to come together from so many different walks of life is the love of the motorcycle. That is what we have in common.”