I put down my robe, picked up my diploma
Took hold of my sweetheart and away we did drive
Straight for the hills, the black hills of Dakota
Sure was glad to get out of there alive
- Day of the Locust, Bob Dylan
Sweeping northwest from Badlands National Park on Route 44 you leave the jagged ridges of the mountains behind and return to wide open grazing land. It's 75 miles from the village of Interior to Rapid City.
I check my route in Rapid City. I'm going to Sturgis, South Dakota, home of the world's largest motorcycle rally. If you are motoring on two wheels and you are in the vicinity - however you define vicinity - you stop in Sturgis. If you come during the rally you will find 100,000 of your closest motorcycle friends there.
I get off the highway and take a backroad called Nemo into the Black Hills. It's a new landscape. There are trees. The road curves. The air cools, but that might just be an illusion. I tell myself I am out of the Plains. It's only temporary. I'll be back in them in a few days. Right now I am climbing into the Black Hills and I am glad.
In the very small village of Nemo I bear right onto Vanocker Canyon Road. I've climbed from about 3,000 feet in the Plains to 5,000 feet in the mountains. Then it is a decent to about 3,500 feet and the not very pretty town of Sturgis.
When there are not tens of thousands of motorcycle riders here giving the town energy, this place has none. Whatever wealth is generated from the rally, it does not stay in town. It's dirty, decrepit, and poor. There is a good coffee cafe on the northwest corner of town next to McDonalds. It was the first truly good cup of coffee I had in weeks. I did my laundry, stayed one night, and got out of town.
Most of the motorcyclists who come for the rally stay at a big campground called the Buffalo Chip. It's famous. You know the saying about Las Vegas? It's doubly true at Buffalo Chip. I did not stay there. I didn't find it. I did not look too hard. I wish I had.
About four days after being in Sturgis I was 80 miles west as the crow flies in a little town called Hulett. Outside a western saloon sat 8 or 10 customized motorcycles. No one was around. I was looking for a market, but stopped in the blazing sun to check these very slick bikes out. A side door to the saloon opened and out came the bikers. All were dressed in clean formfitting leathers. Definitely the bikes owners.
The last fellow out and the rider of the bike I was standing near engaged me in a pleasant conversation. It was more than, "What ya ridin'?" We talked about work, the economy, and getting the motorcycle industry involved with young people. It turned out one of the custom bikes had just been built by a group of high school students and it was out on its maiden test ride. It was going to be raffled off to support industrial arts at the Sturgis High School. I came away thinking there were some good people trying to make a difference in that town. The riders were ready to roll. The fellow handed me his business card, Rod Woodruff, President and CEO of Buffalo Chip.