Ready For Sturgis?

One Hombre Takes An Epic Journey From The Heartland To Sturgis, And Through The American West

Most people who attend rallies and "get it" understand that the event is only one small part of the experience. Not to knock people who trailer their rides, but they're missing out on one of the central joys of riding to points known and unknown. Nowhere is that quite as true as with Sturgis. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of world-class entertainment options at the Black Hills Rally from racing to custom motorcycles to concerts to just watching the human circus at the huge bars. But Sturgis is all about the ride, both getting to the rally, as well as side trips once there. We got this story from "Hombre" late last year, way too late to run as a "Sturgis Story." So here in our August issue, about the time most of you who are going will be finalizing plans and checking to-do's off of lists, we give you Dan Stafford's big road trip to and from last year's Sturgis Rally. But for most of it, this story could have happened just about any year. -BB

Hombre, Have Motorcycle Will TravelThat's what my card says, and that has been my mission statement for the last 40 years. My latest journey carried me through 12 states and 5,246 miles of genuine American back roads. Riding a good motorcycle on the back roads that allows access to the real beauty of this country. It is truly the best way to see America. Both of my bikes are insured with the good hands people, and Matt, my agent and friend, had dreamed of the day when he could ride his scooter on a cross-country adventure. So I invited him along.

I left St. Louis, Missouri on Saturday, August 2nd 2008. I'm a shutterbug on a motorcycle photo safari, yet miss my first photo op: A road gang, complete with striped uniforms, collecting trash alongside U.S. 61. Before even leaving our home state, we roll by Mark Twain's birthplace of Hannibal, the famous Locust covered bridge, General Pershing's boyhood home, and eventually St. Joseph, birthplace of the Pony Express.

Within minutes we're rolling down U.S. 36, the Pony Express Trail, west into Kansas. Kansas is mostly flat, and doesn't offer much in the way of landscape variety. It can get downright boring unless you've got a good imagination. I've actually looked in my mirror and seen Pony Express riders being chased by Injuns. There has been a wagon train along the way that stretched out a mile. This is the Oregon Trail, boys and girls.

A truck is pulled over on the side of the road headed in the opposite direction and I notice an elderly lady with a young girl in the cab. Slowing to turn around I head back to offer assistance. Help is on the way, but I still can't leave until I'm sure they have enough H2O. I hand grandma one of my spare bottles then resume my trek. That's part of what being on the road is all about.

After a turn north on U.S. 281 toward Nebraska we pass the geographical center of the Lower 48. Hastings is our stopover for the night. Three years ago my son Justin and I rode a pair of Kawasaki Vulcan 1500s to Sturgis. We stopped in Hastings, Nebraska at the Colonel's for some bird. We struck up a conversation with a group of older folk wondering what we thought of the goings-on up in Sturgis. I replied that you have to go looking for most of the debauchery, which is largely confined to the campgrounds and bars, and that I don't drink or frequent those kinds of places. Long story short, our new friend Stan and his wife Donna offered us a place to crash. we talked and watched TV with them late into the night and scored an invite to came back any time.

Consider this, a couple old enough to be my dad and mom take in two strange men, dressed in leather, that could very well do them harm. We became friends, with plans of returning each time we go through Hastings. I hope you guys love them, cause I sure do!

Up with the crowing of roosters, we're back on U.S. 281 to Grand Junction, Nebraska for our link with state highway 2. Matt stops at a Wal-Mart to find an insulated water bottle to hang around his neck (like my set-up) so hydration on the fly is possible. Our next destination: CarHenge in Alliance, Nebraska. Highway 2 has a railroad that runs parallel and is very much in business. The engineers are friendly and will blow their air horns with the lift of your hand. To the left of the road are rolling hills that look like waves on the ocean. The road is flat, straight, long, and it's really hot!

The Rally in Sturgis begins tomorrow, and we've been seeing so much bike traffic. At an old restaurant that used to have carhops, we meet Greg and Cindy, a married couple headed for the rally on a pair of H-Ds. Greg's in good shape, and why not, he's a 40-year-old P.E. teacher for elementary kids. Cindy works for an investment firm. They join up and follow us to Alliance. CarHenge, we're here! Do you remember seeing Stonehenge in geography class? Well, this artist took a bunch of cars and piled them on top of each other to replicate that ancient landmark.

U.S. 385 north out of Alliance has gentle hills with long straights to carry our bikes to the crest and beyond. Our line of sight becomes panoramic and the wonder of the plains apparent. Rolling into Hot Springs, South Dakota a pit stop is in order at the junction of U.S. 385, and SR. 79. We busy ourselves topping off tanks, adjusting and lubing chains, repositioning loads, and catching a drink. Bikes are now everywhere.

A 40-minute ride north on Highway 79 to Spring Creek road separates Matt and I from the crowd. We're off to the Hart Ranch (I'm a member of Coast to Coast camp resort system), which is private and will only cost us $7.00 per night for the campsite. Some of the Road Dogs are camped on lawns in Sturgis for $15.00 per person per night, with access to the shower and toilet. Other Road Dogs are at campgrounds upwards of $25.00 per night per person with a toilet, and shower. We got swimming pools, tennis courts, movies, game room, TV, Restaurant, gas, a store and other amenities for just $7.00 a night.

Nights in the Black Hills can get really cold. I'm claustrophobic so a down-filled mummy bag is out of the equation. Instead, I opt for the second best choice which is a heavy wool blanket. I use a small stuffed-cloth soccer ball that I won at a carnival for a pillow. It's light, packs easy, and works great.

Tent camping on motorcycle journeys is great fun if some careful thought is factored in. I have a miniature lantern that uses AA batteries that I hang in my tent using a metal shower curtain hook. I also use a magic air mattress I got from Guide Gear. You roll it out, open the cap, and it fills with air. Close the cap and you're in business. Open the cap and roll it up and the air escapes. It's light and makes a great backrest on long runs.

Sturgis is a 30-minute ride from Rapid City via Interstate 90. The amount of motorcycle traffic is staggering, and the number of riders without a skid lid is equally as staggering. I believe in rider choice, but I also believe in the actuarial table. If you ride long enough, you're gonna get rained on. You're gonna have a flat, or run out of gas. A fuse is gonna blow and shut the bike down in the outback somewhere. And, you're gonna get road rash or crack your melon. I've had flats, been rained on, blown a fuse, and I've had road rash. But my choice is to use that skid lid, along with my chaps, full fingered gloves by Firstgear, my armored jacket by Olympia, my Nelson Riggs rain suit, and I carry extra fuses, and a can of Fix-a-Flat. Hey! I've even got AAA.

Check this out, I never would have believed it but while everyone is getting wind burn on their arms, and burning up in the sun, I'm actually comfortable in my Olympia jacket while on the move and no wind burn. Of course, I have raccoon eyes just like everyone else.

We take the first Sturgis exit, Junction Ave. and mix with the traffic that is creeping its way to Main Street. Matt is overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, smells, and flesh of the rally, just as we all are our first time.

Everybody wants your gold, and five bucks is the going rate. Women with rubber boobs will pose for a snap shot for a Phoenix ($5). Climb the steps to the top of a tower to photograph the pandemonium and you've lost another $5. It's $5 to park everywhere. Babies not old enough to vote troll the streets in revealing threads with the hopes of you wanting them to pause for a $5 photo. One full day in Sturgis is about all it takes to get your fill.

If you ever go to the Black Hills be sure to ride Iron Mountain Road, 16A. Riding south from Mount Rushmore it will get you to Custer then lean right on U.S. 385 for a nice ride to Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickok met his demise. Iron Mountain is a lot more exciting than that over-hyped Dragons Tail! It sports a plethora of switchbacks, S-turns, U-turns, corkscrew turns, hairpin turns, and tunnels through the mountain, all the while climbing (or dropping, depending on direction) in elevation. Don't forget, traffic backs up during the rally.

Matt and I get back to the resort just before the rain hits, bringing with it strong winds. Matt is concerned that his tent will blow away so he goes to check, bringing back news that mine has collapsed. The wind snapped one of my fiberglass poles. This particular unit had a vent in the top, so when it fell the water came in to ruin my bedding. After explaining my dilemma to the desk clerk, she rents us a cabin for the night. The morning is filled with plugging quarters into dryers and re-packing all my gear, which burns up precious time. It's late by the time we leave for Devils Tower and the crowd that was in Hulett, Wyoming for "No Panties Wednesday" is heading back to South Dakota. Matt hears a weird noise, so we pit stop at the Kawasaki shop in Belle Fourche, SD. The wrench stops what he's doing to take care of Matts' bike-a chain alignment issue it turns out-and we're on our way in no time. Kudos to Belle Fourche Kawasaki.

We climb Highway 24 to Devils Tower, get the photo, and then retrace our tracks. It's early evening and I do not want to ride at night for 3 reasons. 1.) This is a photo safari: light is good, dark is bad. 2.) An abundance of deer and antelope that has a habit of crossing the road at the spot your scooter owns. 3.) Did I mention too many deer and antelope?

No rooms to be had in Belle Fourche, but there is one room in Brodus, Montana for $60.00 American. SOLD! It's 90 miles and we've got maybe an hour of daylight left if we're lucky. We roll up U.S. 212 and meet what seems to be a lot of traffic, cars, semis, and bikes. Look to our right and there must be 50 antelope grazing in a field. A few miles later, in a field to our left, is another antelope herd.

Matt has his leathers on and I have my Olympia without the insulated liner in. It's getting kinda chilly, but I keep riding, putting off the inevitable, my eyes searching left then right for danger. I finally decide to stop and 25 yards in front of me is a buck fixing to bolt across the road. There are deer everywhere and this is nerve wracking, but we make Brodus without incident. The Brodus Motel has been serving the public since 1919 and it serves us as well.

Except a five-mile section that was being worked on, U.S. 212 is a nice piece of two-lane pavement, developing some attitude as it gains in altitude. We made it as far as Red Lodge, and found a slightly bear-infested campground just two miles outside of town. It seems that trailer campers, feeling safe behind metal walls, left foodstuffs on picnic tables with little or no regard for the folk sleeping behind cloth walls. Precautions were taken by caching our granola bar stash at the office.

Our next challenge is Beartooth Highway. I've been trying to get up and over it for the past three years. After an uneventful night in the tents by a rippling brook, with no intrusion from Yogi and Boo Boo, we eased out of the campground moving deliberately onto the hardtop that would carry us 10,947 feet above sea level.

The road twists, turns, switches, angles, and climbs this monster of a mountain, but it's in no way different than a hundred other roads that wrap around a mountainside. The difference is in the view. It's beautiful beyond description. The dang thing is breathtaking! No, I mean I have a hard time breathing up there. Halfway to the top and moving becomes a chore. We meet a group of people that are climbing that rascal on bicycles. I ask 'em if they could yodel for me and they say "sure, for five bucks". There are plenty of pools of water, and one or two big enough to be called a lake. It isn't cold, but there's still snow on the ground.

After Beartooth, we roll through Cody and Lake Wyoming, on our way to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We crest a curve in Yellowstone, and there in the ditch is a Blue Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic Electra Glide lying on its side. The ranger says the rider was found pinned under the bike and is in serious condition. He must have rounded the turn then seen one of the many large animals in the road and hit the ditch to keep from center-punching the critter.

Out of Yellowstone, the sky opens up spilling water over Mother Earth. We saw it coming so we're already suited up. Our plans were to stay at a resort in Thayne, Wyoming but we figure setting up tents in rain just won't do. We check prices for a room in Jackson Hole, but to our chagrin, the range for occupancy permits runs between $130.00/ $329.00 for a single. Check the sign, is this Aspen?

We end up at a rest area. Matt pitches his tent behind a semi-enclosed picnic area, and I sleep on top of a picnic table under my plastic space blanket. The mercury drops into the 30s. In the A.M. Matt asks if I slept on that concrete table underneath a thin sheet of plastic? Yep!

I usually carry a Sterno, mess-kit, hot chocolate, powdered milk, and H2O just for such occasions, but elected not to this run because I was already over-packed. We break the fast with Granola Bars 'n' water and hit the trail. U.S. 89 leads us through the corner of Idaho and into Utah and Interstate 15 south. We burn some miles on I-15 to U.S. 6 west, a two-lane that carries us to Nevada.

At the border of Nevada and Utah we find a couple of Harley riders on a bench under a shade tree. One has a case of road rash on his arm and both knees. I carry a well-stocked first aid kit, so I ask if he'd let me dress his wounds? I clean the damaged areas with peroxide, apply triple antibiotic, and cover it all with sterile pads and toss him a couple Ibuprofen for pain control.

At Borders Inn, a half mile away, I find the best chicken strips I've ever had. On the walls, ceiling, posts, and doors were $1 bills with people's names and towns. We motor on so we can make Vegas before it gets late. U.S. 6 takes us to U.S. 93 so we lean left and motor south.

Along the way I spot an older man on a bicycle, loaded for the long haul, with a dog on a rope. Jim Smith took Social Security at 62, bought a bicycle, got a dog, and hit the trail. He has ridden east to Kansas, north to Washington, south to San Diego and all points in between. This is Jim's second dog, her name is Palomina. Jim doesn't worry about snakes or scorpions any more after a couple of close calls. Says he feels close to God sleeping under the stars and is celebrating his 74th birthday this month.

In Vegas, I motor to a Casino then call my nephew Darrel to come get us. He wheels in on a 100th anniversary Wide Glide that looks like new. He traded it for a car and $1500. We do some maintenance in Vegas: oil filters, and an electrolyte check on the battery.

I had planned to ride into Utah to photograph Bryce Canyon along with other pretty hunks of rock but our delays ate up our time for that, so we pass. A couple days of living in sin and we're outta here. U.S. 93 gets us out of town and across the Hoover Dam to Kingman, Arizona so we can get our kicks on Route 66. The old buildings are great, but they all offer the same junk. This should be a Jeopardy question; what do posters of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis, and Ol' Blue Eyes have to do with the Mother Road?

In Seligman, Arizona I notice that my rear tire is bald and the closest Kawasaki shop is 80 miles away in Prescott. A call secures a new tire and a 9 am appointment for mounting. Hale's Motors is the coolest shop I've ever seen. The toilets have old movie posters showing actors on motorcycles. There are photos of old racers, bike advertisements, and a collection of beauties and bikes. On a ledge high above the showroom floor are vintage bikes including a Honda CB160. There's a Honda 305 Dream waiting to be tended to before being inducted to the showroom gallery. A new tire (a little wider than stock), mounting, balancing, for $139. These people are great!

Matt and his Kawasaki Vulcan 800 Classic peel off east on interstate 40 in the morning, while I continue on to the Grand Canyon. Entry to the Grand Hole is just $12 American and is valid for 5 days. I take a few awe-inspiring photos then retrace my steps to my trusty steed. I notice a bike in the parking lot with Hawaii plates and wonder how it got here.

Four Corners is the next stop. I'm on the Indian Reservation and it's the only place this entire trip that my Verizon cell phone doesn't work. Pulling in for fuel, I wearily reach for the green handle. 1.4 gallons into my fill-up, a kind Navajo lady says, "Your bike runs on diesel?"

Luckily, a guy named Walter comes along with a six-place trailer and offers to tow me to Kenyatta, AZ. Walter has a motorcycle guide business that operates overseas as well as in the USA. Least I can do is give him a plug: Rebel Motorcycle Tours

There are no rooms in Kenyatta, but lucky for me, there's an uncovered covered wagon in front of the Holiday Inn, which provides my quarters for the night. I crawl way up in that rascal, cover with my plastic space blanket, then drift away.

After breakfast, I buy a 6-foot piece of clear plastic tube at a hardware store, then go to work siphoning my tank. Did you know that it takes 3 mouthfuls of gas and diesel fuel to get a good flow going? I spit. I gargle with Dr Pepper. I brush my teeth and still have that disgusting taste in my mouth. Shoulda waited to have breakfast. Filling up with high octane should help burn off any residue that was left in the tank, I head for Colorado.

A quick look at Four Corners, then a cruise through the Ute Reservation to Cortez. All of the hotels (including the Motel 6) are $80 a night. A closer look turns up the Aneth Lodge for $39.95, which is surprisingly nice. The Weather Channel informs me that a tropical storm is headed this way to dump lots of water on my intended route through the mountains: Telluride to Ridgeway then the Million Dollar Highway to Durango, so a new plan is needed.

Friday August 15, 8am, I turn my horse toward home and twist the throttle. The plan became all Interstate all the time. U.S. 160 east moved me past Durango and over Wolf Creek Pass (10,850 ft.) where I have a clear view of the approaching thunderheads. This whole day turns into a serious challenge. Pouring rain, blinding fog, ripped-up roads, and pea-sized hail are on the menu, and I have to stop at a hotel before even getting on Interstate 70, and well before leaving Colorado.

In the morning it's still foggy and raining, but shortly after leaving the first gas stop I ride into clear weather. It's been my experience that Interstate travel is the most boring way to travel, but on this day, Interstate 70 is a welcome sight; dry, clear, and warm. My son has one of those caffeine drinks before work each morning, so I try one at a gas stop, and the next one, and so on. For some reason, I decide to ride straight through, getting home at 4:30am.

If you've never taken a road trip on your motorcycle, I hope this story and these photos will be impetus for you to do so. Send me e-mail at if you want some advice or would like to ride along on one of my adventures.Happy Trails,

Black Hills, SD
Stafford and Matt, his insurance agent
Greg & Cindy
The Russians
Stan & Donna
Iron Mountain Road
Mt. Rushmore
Beartooth Highway
The Grand Canyon
My bed for one night in Kenyatta, AZ.