This year's road trip to Sturgis was an awesome adventure. We had several new 'Sturgis Virgins' join us this year, which always makes for a fun and interesting trip. According to some of the statistics being tossed around, the estimated attendance at this year's rally was down approximately 20%. In certain areas of the rally this seemed like a somewhat accurate estimate; however, one hell of a lot of bikers still made the trip this year.
With any road trip that takes you through several states and a couple thousand miles, you're likely to encounter a few challenges along the way, and this year's trip was no exception. I've ridden in some pretty extreme weather over the years, but this trip takes the cake. As a matter of fact, you could have probably baked a cake on sections of the highway we rode on where the temperatures ranged between 114-117 degrees. At least that's what the bank thermometers read as we made our way through several small towns in Northwest Kansas and Southwest Nebraska. It was so hot, in fact, that several members of our group became severely overheated and ended up having to put their bikes on our chase vehicle trailers for the rest of the day so they could recover. Aside from the intense heat on the way there and one heavy rainstorm in the Black Hills, the weather on this trip was awesome!
Just as we have done over the past few years, the plan was to meet on Saturday morning at 7 a.m. at the rest area on I-29 between Platte City and St. Joseph, Missouri. Due to heart surgery Stripe was unable to make the trip this year, so it was up to me and some of my fellow riders to take the photos for this year's article. I'd been looking forward to this trip for months, and around 6:30 a.m. I hopped on the Fat Boy and headed to our rendezvous point with my girlfriend Nichole following close behind in my Chevy Tahoe. She had agreed to drive the Tahoe to our meeting place with Ricky's trailer in tow where Brad would take over the wheel. We arrived at the rest area just after 7 a.m. and most of our group was already there.
Shortly before 8 a.m., we loaded Brad's trike on the trailer, climbed back on our bikes, and headed north on I-29 with Ricky leading the pack. In St. Joseph we headed west on Hwy. 36 to my hometown of Wathena, Kansas where my cousin Mark joined the group. Several riders topped off their tank at the local Conoco before continuing on to Skandia, Kansas for our annual visit with Marge.
We pulled into Skandia just before noon and were met out front by Marge and her friend Roberta Davis, who once again had some great food set up for us in the small garage behind Marge's house. Everyone filled their plates and found a nice place to sit under Marge's big shade tree in her backyard. This year's visit was extra special because earlier this year, Marge told us she was planning to move into a retirement home, so this would be the last year she would be able to host our annual lunch stop. After we finished eating we took a group photo with Marge and climbed back on our bikes.
The farther west we rode the hotter it got. We stopped at a gas station just this side of the Nebraska border to fuel up and stick our helmets on (thanks Nebraska...not), and the farther north we rode, the cooler it got--thankfully. By the time we arrived at the Super 8 in Ogallala, Nebraska it looked like it might rain; however, it held off, which made for a pleasant evening as we sat around in the parking lot telling stories and having a few drinks.
We checked out of our hotel Sunday morning just before 9 a.m., and headed to a scenic overlook near Lake McConaughy for 'breakfast,' which consisted of Uncle Rusty's world-famous Bloody Marys. Although Rusty and a few others rode only as far as Marge's place this year, he was nice enough to give Alan and Francis enough Bloody Marys to get our day started.
After everyone finished their breakfast we took a group shot of the entire gang as well as a photo of all the Sturgis virgins who had never made this trip with our group before. Then it was on to Boot Hill where we paid our respects to Butch McQuillen, Kenny McDaniels, Mike Garzee; and a few other riding buddies who we have lost over the past few years.
For those who are unfamiliar with Boot Hill, it is a fence row with wooden posts located across the road from Ash Hollow Cemetery on Highway 26, between Ogallala and Lewellen, Nebraska. Bikers call this place Boot Hill because of the longstanding tradition of placing the boot of a deceased riding companion on one of the fence posts while on your way to Sturgis. Thankfully, this was the first year since I've ridden with this group that we didn't have a new boot to add to the mix. Brad brought along a photo and patch to add to the post where we'd placed Mike Garzee's boot the previous year, and after a few tears and a few shot of whiskey in honor of our fallen brothers and sisters, it was time to move on.
A couple of our chase vehicles drove on ahead and stopped at a grocery store in Alliance, Nebraska to pick up the fixins for our annual picnic at Carhenge , which is a replica of Stonehenge, except this one is made from old American-made cars that are painted gray and stuck in the ground. Ricky and Laura took off ahead of the group so they could surprise all the Sturgis virgins by posing on a makeshift 'Rest Area' along the highway, which consisted of an old toilet and a chair set on top of some hay bales, but apparently, the farmer who owns the field where the rest area normally sits must have removed it for some reason, so this year, the joke was on us.
We hit the road once again, and soon crossed into South Dakota. Since we didn't want to take the time to stop, a few riders and passengers removed their helmets and secured them on their bike until the next time we stopped and could put them away for good, or at least until we crossed back into Nebraska or Missouri on our way home. Part of our group was staying at another location in Sturgis, so our group split up in Rapid City.
After fueling up, Nichole climbed on the back of my bike for the scenic ride through the mountains to our final destination at Nemo Guest Ranch. Just as we headed down Nemo Road it started raining, but since the sun was shining we continued on and the rain finally subsided. The ride through the mountains Between Rapid City and Nemo is breathtaking, and I could see huge smiles on the faces of our Sturgis virgins as they took it all in. Riding through gorgeous routes such as this makes me a bit jealous of the passengers riding two-up who are able to look around and sightsee without having to keep their eyes on the road. We arrived at Nemo Guest Ranch and checked in with Troy and Willie Saye, who took over the place just a couple of years ago and have made significant improvements.
On Monday morning, Nichole was feeling a bit under the weather so she opted to sleep in while the rest of us headed across the road to the Nemo Firehouse for their all-you-can-eat breakfast. After filling our bellies we headed to the Broken Spoke in Sturgis to meet up with the rest of our group who were staying in Sturgis. The bar was almost empty compared to the past few years, which made me wonder if the attendance was really down that much this year or if everyone was just hanging out somewhere else.
After a few drinks and some interesting shots of the Broken Spoke girls, we made our way down the street for our annual visit to the Dungeon. After hanging out there for a while, and after Ricky got his body shot from one of the shot girls, I headed back to camp to see how Nichole was feeling, while the rest of the gang headed out to the Full Throttle Saloon. Nichole was feeling better so we hopped on the bike and headed out to meet up with the rest of the group. Unfortunately, several hundred other bikers were also headed the same way to attend the concerts that were taking place that evening at the Buffalo Chip and Glencoe campgrounds. After sitting in traffic for more than 45 minutes we decided to bail out and headed over to Main Street to find Nichole a pair of chaps. We then rode back to camp and spent the evening sitting around the fire pit in front of our cabin.
On Tuesday morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and headed to the Fort Hays Chuckwagon Supper Club just south of Rapid City for their 'Cowboy Breakfast.' This is also the location where part of Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves movie was filmed. After breakfast, we hit the road to the Pigtail, which is one of the most scenic routes in the Black Hills National Forrest. One of the most interesting segments of the Pigtail route is the rustic log bridges that were built in the 1930s, which enables the road to make sharp turns in these tight mountain passes. Another of my favorite parts of the Pigtail is the narrow tunnels that cut directly through the mountain; two of which give you a great view of the faces on Mt. Rushmore.
After making our way through the Pigtail we headed north to Keystone for lunch at the Ruby House where Ricky received another body shot from one of the saloon girls. After savoring a great buffalo sandwich, Nichole and I headed to Mt. Rushmore, while the rest of our group headed to a gentlemen's club in Rapid City. After visiting Mt. Rushmore and watching a 15 minute movie of how this national monument was built we headed north toward Deadwood, but the weather started looking bad so we opted to head back to camp rather than getting caught in the rain. This turned out to be a great decision because shortly after arriving back at our cabin, the area was hit with a torrential downpour. We ate dinner at the rustic bar and grill at the campground and after the rain stopped we managed to make a fire in our fire pit. Since it was a bit cool that evening I scooted up close to the fire, and as we were sitting there, someone made the comment they could smell rubber burning. Since I was the closest to the fire, I pulled my feet back and realized what they smelled was the sole of my right boot. Apparently I had gotten just a bit too close to the fire and the heat separated the sole from the tread on my boot. Crap! The next morning I borrowed the campground owner's barn, found some short drywall screws and somehow managed to fix my boot. I guess if all else fails I might consider becoming a cobbler...not!
We had a full day of riding planned for Wednesday, so we headed over to the Silverado Casino in Deadwood for breakfast. This is...or was...one of the best kept secrets in the Black Hills as the Silverado has a breakfast buffet to die for, which included prime rib, ham, and several other items you wouldn't expect to find on a breakfast buffet for the low-low price of only $7.
After breakfast we headed up Spearfish Canyon, which is another of my favorite routes. We stopped at Bridal Falls and made our way across a log across the stream to the base of the falls. After snapping a few photos in front of the falls we mounted up and headed north to I-90 where we headed west to Sundance, Wyoming for their annual burnout contest and wet T-shirt contest. We hung out for most of the burnout contest, but since we wanted to do the Devil's Tower loop, visit Hulett, and make it to Deadwood before dark we decided to head out before the wet T-shirt contest started. Dammit!
We made it to Deadwood just before dark and decided to eat dinner at The Stockade, which is one of my favorite watering holes in Deadwood. After finishing another buffalo burger we walked down the street to where Vicky and Gail our artist friends from Lawrence, Kansas had their artwork setup. After chatting with Vicky and Gail we headed across the street to Saloon #10, which is another of my favorite Deadwood hangouts. After a few drinks and some interesting people-watching we headed back to the cabin.
On Thursday morning we headed back to Sturgis to check out more vendors and do some souvenir shopping for those back home who were unable to make this year's trip. Once everyone had purchased their T-shirts and other assorted knickknacks we headed out of town to check out the new Broken Spoke, which is way out in the middle of nowhere. It is a pretty cool bar, and I did see something there I'd never seen before. Outside the bar there was a vendor trailer with a Harley-Davidson-powered blender. We ordered a couple margaritas, and with the push of a button, the 1340cc Evo fired up and in no time at all our margaritas were ready. Pretty cool, but I'm guessing the price of the drinks must have been directly affected by the price of gas and the novelty of the whole idea of having a Harley-powered drink. After all we are tourists...right?
From the Broken Spoke we headed to the Full Throttle where every year, Kansas City radio personality Johnny Dare and crew set up in a corner of the bar to interview musicians such as Jesse James Dupree and other celebrities. Johnny also takes the time to talk with several of his fans from KC and plays the recording on his morning show the next day. We spent the rest of the day hanging out at the Full Throttle before heading back to camp.
On Friday morning we headed to Hill City for brunch at the Bumpin' Buffalo, and then on south through Custer to Custer State Park to check out the buffalo and other native animals. Last year there were hundreds of buffalo roaming throughout the park, and the year before we saw only one. There weren't near as many buffalo in the park this year; however, we did have the opportunity to see two bulls fighting, which made for one awesome photo opportunity. After the buffalo finished fighting and crossing the road, we headed on to Needles Highway, which is one of the most scenic routes in the Black Hills. This section of the highway stretches 14 miles through picturesque granite formations and pine-covered mountains, with the highlight of the route being the Eye of the Needle, which is an incredible natural formation resembling the eye of a sewing needle. We then headed back to Custer for a couple of drinks and some souvenir shopping before heading back to camp.
Saturday morning came way too soon as everyone reluctantly packed their bags for the long trip home. After packing everything on the bikes and in the Tahoe we headed back down Nemo Road to Rapid City, where we caught I-90 east to Sioux Falls, which is one of most boring and desolate stretches of highway I've ever seen. After what seemed like forever we pulled into the parking lot at the Quality Inn in Sioux Falls for some much needed rest.
After a good night's sleep we got up on Sunday morning and headed south on I-29. We stopped in St. Joseph to unload Brad's trike, and then headed to Miles and Lori's house to drop off the trailer so they could return it to Ricky. All in all, this was one of my favorite trips, and I'm already counting down the days until next year's road trip to Sturgis.
Also make sure to check out this year's collection of Sturgis Babes, Bikers and Bikes!
Story by Mike Schweder
Photos by Mike Schweder, Nichole Williams, Brad Bryant, and Mark Brown.