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Southern Rail: Devil’s in the details

By Robert Filla

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My first ride to Sturgis was in 1983. And being a youngster devoid of responsibilities, I tossed about 40 pounds of litter in the bathtub for the ol’ lady’s cat, quit my job and we took off for four weeks with about $500 in my pocket. (Don’t worry; I left the toilet seat up for the cat to get water and made arrangements for someone to regularly toss a can of food inside the apartment door.) With plans to camp the entire trip, upon reaching Sturgis we discovered that City Park was closed to camping due to some rowdy behavior. So we ended up outside Keystone at a great mom ‘n’ pop campground that served a fantastic breakfast. Plans also included a ride after the rally to Devils Tower. That would prove to take some effort.

After Sturgis, headed to Devil’s Tower, we encountered some road construction and were told the roadside wait might be as long as an hour. So as I was fishing in my saddlebag for a beer, the gentleman who pulled his bike in behind me walks up and asks if I caught his concert in Sturgis. Nope; I hadn’t but I did get to talk with William Van Dyke, noted two-wheel song wrangler. I eventually grew frustrated with the wait and, after a pleasurable chat with Van Dyke, made a U-turn and took a different route. That decision led me to Leadville, Colorado, right as a snowstorm of major proportions was blowing in. Never spent a more enjoyable time holed up in a tiny western town in my life.

Five years later was my second visit to Sturgis and, once again, Devils Tower was in my sights. We were camping at Glencoe that year and getting ready to take the ride to Wyoming when a helicopter giving aerial tours fell from the sky and crashed about 50 yards from my tent. The pilot and passengers staggered out of the wreckage, cut and bleeding but not too seriously injured. We tended to their wounds until the ambulance arrived. The remainder of the day was spent sitting around the campfire talking about the event with no thoughts of Devils Tower ever coming to mind.

After a long absence, I finally found my way back to the Black Hills Classic in 2004. On our way back to Texas at the end of the rally, my riding partner and I had decided to skirt by the Tower and take some photos—finally. We woke that morning to snow. Terry’s Peak to the west never looked more beautiful than when covered in white but we were freezing our Texas butts off and skipped the side trip to Devils Tower, heading south instead to warmer climes.

Six years ago I was headed to the Tower after Sturgis on a rental Electra-Glide I’d picked up in Houston and ran into a toad-strangler of a rainstorm in Sundance. The streets were so flooded that I completely missed the driveway heading into a gas station and ran up on a curb, high-centering the bike. After finally getting some aid from riders also seeking shelter from the storm at the station, we managed to muscle the heavily-laden beast back onto both wheels. And once again, with the storm showing signs of renewed ferocity, I headed out of the mountains towards the rolling plains of Cheyenne.

This year I had a new riding buddy when, about halfway between Spearfish and Belle Fourche, South Dakota, I had a rear tire blowout—on a Sunday, after more than two weeks of 75th anniversary madness. Luckily a shop in Spearfish had pity on my tired soul. Many thanks go out to Jason and Black Hills Cycles for staying open late to handle my problems. And also thanks to my riding buddy Walt who elected to ride to the Harley dealership in Sundance to retrieve the last correct-size tube in that part of the country remaining after the rally. Back on the road six hours later after the tow and repairs, Walt and I rolled into Devils Tower National Monument, enduring yet another nasty rain storm in the process.

So after 32 years, I finally made it. Was it worth the effort? Certainly. And what was the best part of my Devils Tower experience? All the neat crap that happened on the way there.

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