When planning a cross-country trip a few months ago, I didn’t consider passing through Sturgis, South Dakota. Sharing space with 500,000-plus motorcyclists in a town designed for 6,627 wasn’t appealing in the least. When our plans crystalized, however, the idea of watching American Flat Track’s Buffalo Chip TT with industry friends become more compelling.
Two family reunions slotted onto the calendar perfectly, allowing us a few days to share with loved ones in Wauwatosa, Sheboygan, Green Bay, and Monona before hightailing it west on I-90 to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for our first night in a hotel after bed hopping with relatives for a week.
Two brothers-in-law on both sides recommended stopping to visit Doc’s Harley-Davidson in Bonduel, Wisconsin. And Doc’s did not disappoint: in addition to Milwaukee iron, the property hosts motorcycles museums, a zoo, and a restaurant.
Pointing our Harley’s south, we spliced the Badger State in half, heading down WI 22 to visit my sister and her family in Monona near the state’s Capitol of Madison. We rolled through farm country, even sharing a wave with a young Amish man commandeering a buggy south of Pardeeville.
We beat the rain, reaching Sioux Falls the next day, covering 447 miles after crossing southern Minnesota on I-90. Kinda boring but fleeting, as we kept the cruise control on steady. The skies cracked open 15 minutes after unpacking for the night at the Econo Lodge, its parking lot loaded with bikes and vehicles pulling motorcycles in and on trailers. One posse was riding from Maine to Sturgis. The moto traffic was building, as was the sheer prevalence of Harleys on the road, easily 10 to 1 over any other brand. We stopped doing the “hey” wave to oncoming riders because we needed to shift now and then.
Our excitement built after we stopped for breakfast at Ditty’s Diner in Kimball, realizing we were about two hours east of the Badlands. It started feeling like our adventure was really taking hold. Once there, we purchased an annual pass for $80, which is good for two riders on two separate bikes through all national parks.
Arriving in Keystone after a 365-mile day, I was ready to pack it in and save Mount Rushmore for Sunday morning, but Henri pointed out we were just three miles from Gutzon Borglum’s 60-foot-high tribute to George, Tommy, Teddy, and Honest Abe. We bit the bullet, paid the $10 each for parking, and discovered how small the sculpture looks in person, sharing space with way too many tourists. But it was on the list! Our hotel was on the outskirts of town, so we ordered a pizza and binge-watched The Mighty Boosh until sleep crushed us under our blankets.
Sunday arrived, and, fully rested and ready to tackle the biggest day on our scheduled journey event-wise, we watched Andrea Dovizioso battle with Ducati teammate Jorge Lorenzo to win the MotoGP race in the Czech Republic. Henri noticed a Founding Fathers tourist spot on the way into Keystone the night before, and discovered we could fire five musket shots from an Italian-made Revolutionary War replica .50-caliber Kentucky Flintlock long rifle. Our host Bill Armstrong shared some backstory on the American soldiers and their process for loading the rifles in battle, then handed Henri the firearm.
Feeling wonderfully transported back in time, we rode north on US 385 through Deadwood, stopping for a light breakfast before arriving at the hallowed Sturgis for the first time.
By this time it was 3:30 p.m., and after cruising through downtown and parking on the Buffalo Chip grounds, we ran into actor and rider Zahn McClarnon (Longmire, Fargo, Westworld), who rode in from Los Angeles with friends.
Our plan was to merely dip our toe in the Sturgis Rally experience, then quickly head west to the big skies and mighty mountains. We met industry pals at the Buffalo Chip TT, cheering on several riders from the Top Shelf observation structure directly across from the stage, where grand marshal Roland Sands met former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (or was that Tina Fey?).
After a one-hour rain delay, the final races commenced, after which Henri and I grabbed our Harleys and rode a careful 55 miles west in the cold darkness to Sundance, Wyoming, where warm pillows and dry sheets awaited. Several friends told tales of errant elk and deer all along I-90, so I texted my co-worker Morgan Gales to let him know we arrived safe (and cold) and sound around midnight.
With Monday came the sunshine, revealing grimy bikes laden with bugs and the wasps that took a shining to both. We had one more national monument to see before winding northwest toward Yosemite, and Devils Tower didn’t disappoint. It’s our country’s first national monument, signed into history by Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
Traffic was so backed up leading to the park’s entry that we called an audible and rested for a bit at a rural bar to gaze at the laccolithic butte 1,267 feet above the Belle Fourche River, standing 867 feet from summit to base. The summit is 5,112 feet above sea level, making it popular among rock climbers.
So far, our spirit is strong, our bodies are becoming used to the long miles, and our memories are quickly filling with all the scenery we pass each day. The bikes have been running like champs, and after a quick laundry and car wash stop in Sheridan, Wyoming, earlier this week, all our equipment has been refreshed.
To capture a bit of the country we were experiencing, we both bought American-made cowboy boots in downtown Billings, Montana. We’ve traveled well so far together, getting into a groove with stopping for gas and checking into our hotels. The reception we’ve been getting every time we stop at a café or restaurant is constant: questions about our bikes, where we’ve come from, and where we’re heading, and a heartfelt “Be safe out there!” Sheridan musician Rod Jost was especially jubilant about our bikes, telling me he struggled with reading in high school 40-plus years ago before discovering Cycle World.
Our Sturgis motorcycle journey will remain eternal for the miles we’ve shared, the people we’ve met, and the beautiful terrain we’ve experienced firsthand.