"You going to Sturgis?"
It's a question I've heard or been asked dozens of times over the years. At some point in our collective Harley experience, we become aware of Sturgis-aware that it's the most famous biker rally in the world and also happens to be a small town in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The name conjures up different images, emotions, and memories, depending on the path you've chosen. As a kid I saw pictures in magazines capturing the Rally's magic. That view of riding, friends, and free spirit would ultimately lead me into living pretty deep within the motorcycling lifestyle. Of course, the rock and roll, cool bikes, and women were another draw. Having only lived within the sprawl of NYC and LA, Sturgis seemed like a distant fantasyland frozen in time through the lens. Situated roughly 1,500 miles from each major city, it was a multi-day ride each way, plus a week there meant a long vacation. A few times plans were made only to fall apart at the last minute. A ride like that definitely requires some planning.
This year marked my fourth Sturgis since joining HOT BIKE, although I never attended the event. Over the past three years I've experienced the annual pilgrimage vicariously through friends and coworkers; witnessing it through stories and thousands of photos I've looked through. This year I got the nod to join HOT BIKE crew on the group ride we put together that included editors from our other American bike magazines, some friends, and a group of advertisers. Based on the experience of the other riders, a route was chosen with predetermined stopping points each day. Our four-day, 1,600-mile tour to SD would keep us off the interstate as much as possible, instead choosing scenic byways and twisty roads.
I packed a brand-new, white 2008 H-D Electra Glide Classic with enough clothes and camera gear for a two-week trek. Based on stories from past Sturgis rides I made sure I had a new rain suit, waterproofed my trusty boots, and packed a roll of plastic garbage bags. The sun was barely peeking over the coast of Long Beach, California, as I thumbed the bike to life. 25 miles later, under a rare overcast summer sky, I was greeted at the HOT BIKE offices by 15 loaded bikes prepared for the journey. Aside from the Classic I was piloting, we also had a Factory Street Glide and two Victory touring bikes to accommodate some of the staff.
We barely made it an hour before the rain started. It was such a fluke that I neglected to put on my rain suit as the rest of the group did. Big mistake. Heavy rains through the Nevada desert filled my boots and soaked my gloves. In Vegas I changed into dry jeans and socks and donned the rain pants. The 'Glide's tall windshield combined with my waterproof leather jacket kept my upper body dry.
First stop for the night was Mesquite, NV. I just wanted to keep on riding, but it was good to dry out.
On day two the group was split into factions based on riding style and route choice. Everyone had the final destination of the day and detailed maps. My group took a detour through Zion National Park. It was already one of my favorite places, but I had never experienced it on a bike before. The weather was beautiful and we managed to skirt thunderstorms all day. Ominous clouds were always on the horizon, but we stayed mostly dry-though my new rain pants would stay on for almost the whole ride out. Just before Grand Junction, Colorado, I led a small group to a Vietnam memorial I had wanted to visit. On display was a real HUEY chopper surrounded by American flags. The scene was poignant considering the great country I had already ridden through-the people, the stories, the history. Suddenly a large thundercloud appeared overhead, unleashing lightning bolts and big raindrops. It was a special moment as I rode East with a brilliant pink/purple sunset in my mirror.