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One for the Road: Spirit of South Dakota

By Shadow

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This year’s ride to Sturgis starts out like most of the others—a mad dash of 600-mile days and then, once I reach Vermillion, South Dakota, I begin to take my time. This last few hundred miles is the part of the ride I most enjoy, from the unique rock formations of the Badlands to the expansive vista of the Missouri River and the wide-open Midwestern skies. And along my route, if time permits, I like to stay with my friends Charlie and JJ at their bed and breakfast on the Rosebud Reservation.

The Salt Camp Cabins and Bed and Breakfast seem tailor-made for rest and relaxation, and one can’t help but slow down and take in everything the land has to offer. Two of the dogs, Alice and Lilly, and a cat or two, and sometimes the squawking goose named Tanya, follow me past the hen houses and the vegetable garden as I meander through the property. While surveying the expanse of rugged hills and ranch spreads leading to the Black Hills in the far distance, I hear the gentle swooshing of the wind as it stirs the leaves on the trees and the tops of the tall grasses underfoot. At dawn the next morning I am awakened by the distant, steady drumming of the Oglala Lakota at Crow Dog’s Paradise, welcoming another day of the sacred Sun Dance ceremony. Refreshed and rejuvenated, I continue my journey to Sturgis.

Rally week flashes by in a blur, and it’s almost time to hit the road again. This year, instead of doing the same mad rush home, I am allowed some extra time: I have a meeting at our headquarters on Wednesday morning. This gives me several days to ride the 600 miles to Minneapolis.

Seeing as I’ve been gifted with this additional time, I decide to hike to the top of Bear Butte before I leave. I invite my THUNDER PRESS housemates to come along. There’s a moment of complete silence before NorCal Bureau Chief Felicia responds, “I ride a motorcycle so I don’t have to walk!” Judging by the looks on everyone’s faces, she speaks for all of them, so I shrug and mount up and ride the seven miles to the entrance of Bear Butte State Park, just off SD-79 and four miles south of the Broken Spoke Campground.

I’m told by the park ranger that the trail to the top is two miles each way and that I should allow two hours for the hike. I park my bike at the visitor center, grab a bottle of water and my hat, and begin my climb, pondering the information I’ve gathered. Bear Butte is not really a flat-topped butte, but is igneous rock that formed millions of years ago. But the geology isn’t as important to me as the fact that Native Americans consider Mato Paha (meaning Bear Mountain, Sleeping Bear Mountain, or Groaning Bear Mountain) a sacred place, with many different tribes coming from all over the U.S. and Canada—and even other nations—to pray and reconnect with the Creator. In fact, I am told that this is one of the places that was given to the Native Americans by the Creator, and the people receive spiritual messages and gifts there.

The trail has been designed so that there are no vertical ascents; rather, it winds around all sides of the mountain. Still, being out of shape, I need lots of stops, which gives me plenty of opportunities to appreciate the panorama all around me. Visitors to Bear Butte are asked to be quiet and respectful as ceremonies could be taking place there. That’s fine with me; I’ve always felt that nature is best appreciated in silence. The hike itself is a spiritual experience for me, and I try to imagine what this area was like hundreds, or even thousands, of years ago. Taking in the vistas, I am pleased that I can’t see much evidence of overbuilding or population sprawls that have occurred in many other parts of the country.

It takes me three hours to hike those four miles, and as I walk back to my bike I notice the angry, dark clouds moving swiftly from the west. As I’m riding out of the park, the entire sky is now black and I reach our garage just as the first raindrops begin to fall. The violent storm lasts for hours and serves as a reminder that we are not in charge of the universe; a lesson that confirms what I’ve just experienced at Bear Butte.

The next morning, I take secondary roads that I’ve never ridden before, and see no more than five or six other vehicles the entire day. I decide not to take 30 miles of dirt road to shortcut my route, and instead head further east and then, on a whim, south on SD-73 toward Philip, South Dakota, where I can backtrack to get to the Badlands.

This unusual geological formation is another natural wonder, consisting of miles of buttes and spires eroded over time by wind and water. There’s no doubting the power of Mother Nature, seeing how she stripped away great swaths of rock to reveal their multi-colored layers, leaving canyons that cut through. Having satisfied my Badlands fix, I decide to further investigate something intriguing I saw on a sign just north of Philip: “Missile Inn Bed & Breakfast—1.5 miles.” They have an opening for that night. On to another adventure.

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