I’m packing for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, and each piece of gear and article of clothing seems to remind me of Sturgis rallies past. This will be the 13th time I’m attending the rally, and each year has had its memorable moments, many of them related to the journey there and back.
The first year was memorable because, well, it was my first year. That journey brought a lot of firsts. It was the first time I saw a Wall of Death performance, which rocked my world. That’s where I met Samantha Morgan (R.I.P, Sam), Handsome Charlie Ransom, Jay Lightnin’, Wahl E. Wall and the rest of the American Motordrome family. I spent the week with my Iron Knights MC brothers—what a blast! On the way home, my IKMC brother EZ and I were riding through a remote area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when the Northeast Blackout of 2003 occurred. We had no idea what had caused it—both of us worked in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and were worried that this might have been another one. It was tough finding a gas station that was open, especially in the rural areas of Canada, but we made it home alright, and with many stories to tell. I know I’ve written about it before, but I still marvel at all the drama.
Since then, my cache of Sturgis stories has expanded greatly, but I’ve been thinking lately of my ride to the rally in 2008. Most years I ride solo, which is generally my preference. That year, however, I learned that my buddy Midnight Mike of Midnight Cycles, not far from where I live, was going to Sturgis, so I suggested we ride out together. He agreed, and a few days later he told me that Bill Dodge of Bling’s Cycles would be riding out with us too. Sounded like fun!
I got a text that we’d be meeting at the Hibernia Diner at noon because the morning of our departure, Bill, whose shop was, at that time, located at the Jersey Shore, was coming up to Mike’s shop where they both had some last-minute adjustments to complete. I wasn’t used to leaving that late in the day, and I had to be in the Badlands by early Sunday afternoon for a photo shoot, so I was a bit anxious about the timing.
We met at noon, and I saw that there were two more guys in our little caravan. AJ was riding a bike that Bill had just finished building, and Jamie was driving a truck loaded with more of Bill’s custom bikes for his display at the Full Throttle Saloon. The guys enjoyed a leisurely lunch and then we were finally on the road.
Just as we crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, Bill signaled to take the next exit. It had only been about 40 miles since we left the diner, but I just shrugged and followed the guys to an independent bike shop in Stroudsburg. Seems that further adjustments had to be made to two of the bikes, so quite some time passed as the guys were wrenching. I let them know that I might have to go on ahead if it looked like I wouldn’t make my photo shoot in time. They understood.
It’s too long ago for me to remember what the various bike issues were, but I do remember frequent gas stops (one of the bikes had a teeny tank and was never intended for long-distance riding), including a few side-of-the-road fill-ups from an onboard gas can. And I seem to remember a little wrenching and some snacking and maybe even cigars at the gas stops as well.
It must have been close to the witching hour when we finally neared the Pennsylvania/Ohio border. Midnight Mike called his good friend Stella who agreed to let the five of us, our bikes and the truck and trailer spend the night at her house. It was probably near 1:00 a.m. when Stella rode out to meet us at a nearby gas station. She led us back to her house where we staked claims to our spots for the night. I was lucky enough to score the living room couch. I remember asking her, “Are you sure there’s enough room for all of us?” Her sweet response was, “My house might be small, but it’s full of love.” Thanks, Stella. I hope one day I can repay you for your kindness.
Next morning, another mechanical gremlin resulted in a visit to another local shop. It was probably noon by the time we were ready to roll. At the next gas stop, I let the guys know I needed to keep going. They all seemed cool with that, but it didn’t feel quite right to me. Nevertheless, duty called, so I split.
That night I made it to Rockville, Illinois, and I called the guys to see how they were doing. They’d stopped at a dumpy motel about 100 miles back, and were laughing hysterically because the rooms were so filthy that one of the guys pitched his tent right on the rug so they didn’t have to sleep on the soiled bedding. Although I wasn’t sorry I missed the crappy motel, I did miss out on the fun they were having.
I left early the next morning and reached Mitchell, South Dakota, just before dark. I checked in with the guys the following morning and they were making pretty good progress by then—apparently they rode well into the wee hours. I rode to the Badlands, completed my assignment and later found out they arrived in Sturgis about the same time I did.
To this day, I wish I’d called off the Badlands photo shoot. That first 24 hours I’d been with them had been quite the adventure, and I was sorry I missed the rest of the ride. Maybe one day we can try it again.