Cruisin’ the Black Hills

Last week a small group of us rode our motorcycles to the 80th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in western South Dakota. Many of our friends and family were concerned that the event would be a free-for-all for covid, and in some respects, they were right. It probably will be a super-spreading event. Because of that, I made it a point to avoid crowds—of any kind.

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

On the first day in the Hills, we went to the local Walmart to get supplies for the week. Honestly, I should have stayed at the campsite, because it triggered a panic attack that lasted until late in the day. The rest of my group went riding while I stayed behind and calmed my little self down. I spent the day reading, which is something I don’t do enough.

By Tuesday, I was ready to go out and ride, making up my mind that if my friends wanted to go shopping in the usual areas, that was on them. I’ll meet them somewhere. It was a compromise that worked for all of us. As we got out, I began to see that most people and groups, though not masked, kept a reasonable distance from everyone else. As a rule, people respected the 6-foot guidelines. My tension relaxed another notch.

First Reader and I met our friends in Rapid City, and we rode the long way to the interstate in Sturgis, through Vanocker Canyon. One of our favorite rides is the road to Nemo, a tiny hamlet in South Dakota. This year, though, a bridge was out, so we had to take to long way around. Never ones to complain about more riding, we took the detour.

Midweek, we met one of our friends on the outskirts of Sturgis and rode to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming along the scenic route. We found a crowd at one of the party places along the way. Even though we needed to refill our water bottles, we decided to stop away from the crowds to reload our refreshments. On a mission to step foot in all fifty states, our other companion rode to North Dakota to add another state to the list.

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

The rest of the ride was relatively quiet. Having the road to ourselves, for the most part, we cruised the strip of highway at comfortable speeds. A reminder of the dangers of our chosen hobby appeared along the route—a motorcycle accident had summoned emergency workers to the scene. While I didn’t see a white sheet or any injured riders, I did see a wrecked bike. My awareness for the rest of the trip was heightened after seeing the banged-up cruiser lying in the middle of the road, its rider in unknown condition.

Soon after, our attention was drawn by the igneous column of rock that juts from the landscape—The Devil’s Tower, known among the indigenous tribes as the Bear Lodge Butte. According to Native American legend, a group of children was chased by giant bears. After taking refuge on the rock, they prayed to the Creator to save them from becoming a meal for the bears. The Creator Spirit raised the stone out of reach of the bears’ claws, which left the distinctive scarring on the Tower’s sides. The story varies slightly from tribe to tribe, but the essence of the tale remains the same, and the site is sacred to the original people of the land.

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun
(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

The following day, we rode Spearfish Canyon, a scenic byway that begins on the northern edge of the Black Hills National Forest and dives into the Black Hills. We wanted to wend our way through the hills to our campsite outside Rapid City but missed our turn. Instead, we rode another scenic byway, Boulder Canyon into Sturgis where we caught the interstate back to our home away from home.

We have framily (friends who are family) in the area, and every year we make it a point to visit with them for an afternoon or evening. This year was no different. When Kristi stopped by for the evening, she brought a bottle of wine and one of whiskey. I chose the whiskey. It seems I must have needed a “morning after the night before,” because I was rewarded with it on Friday. I had no business on a motorcycle the way I felt, so I kept my hungover self at the cabin and read.

Saturday brought a new day and another ride. This time we met some family members and gave them a taste of what riding the Black Hills is all about. We met them at a pull-off along US Hwy 385 called the Boondocks. From there we rode south to Needles Highway, a 14-mile route that winds among the granite “needles” that give the area its name.

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

One last framily visit rounded out the trip. It’s always a pleasure to watch kids grow, and our SD kids are no different. First Reader and I got to know this family when I interned at a small software company. In the early 2000’s, they invited us to stay at their place outside of Rapid City, and we’ve been framily ever since. The kids look forward to us coming in on our big cruisers, and when they get big enough will be going with one of us on a ride around the block.

Sunday we checked out of the cabin and rode home. All-in-all, we clocked around 1500 miles on this trip. And another rally goes into the history books and the memory. Now, we start two weeks of self-isolation and staying away from those who didn’t travel in our group. If I do have to be around people, I’ll make sure to don my new face covering.

(C) 2020, JJ Shaun

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