|March 2000 Ride Feature||www.virtualindian.org|
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actor once said that there was more to being an Easy Rider than just buying
the Video. So heeding his words the 1Oth July saw us taking our 60 year
old Indian motorcycles and camping gear, to the London shippers for their
trip to Rapid City South Dakota by way of New York. Three years of hard
saving and planning were hopefully going to pay off.
We arrive at Rapid City airport, and board the shuttle bus for the 8 mile ride to the K.O.A. campsite, where the bikes were to be collected, the following day. The campsite was clean and well laid out and we found the wooden camp cabin that was to be our home for the next two days.
We were awakened at 5.30 am by the revving of a huge R.V. backing in behind our cabin, and as there was no chance of going back to sleep., we headed for the showers, only to find huge queues, and total chaos, campsite Americans we were to learn, rise much earlier than their British counterparts. After a blueberry pancake breakfast, in the outdoor canteen, we found our truck, and Tony the driver had to our relief, brought the bikes, plus several Harleys, safe and sound, and after connecting the batteries, they started first kick.
The morning was dull and humid, as we rode to the nearby visitors centre, to collect maps, and study the area, and as the bikes seemed to be running well we decided on a short run to the "Fort Hayes" film set, from “Dances with Wolves". We found the fort set in a dusty field with several shops and display of stills from the film, as the temperature was climbing into the 80's, the Indian guide recommended a great ice cream parlour just down the road. We had not long been inside when a violent rain storm blew up, and we were soon joined by a group of wet Harley riders from Milwaukee, who were members of "Dry Bikers" a club for recovering alcoholics and teetotallers. After a 10 minute deluge the roads dried up and we rode back to the campsite. We talked to the many people who showed interest in what we were doing, Until at 8 p. m. the wind blew up from nowhere flattening tents and rattling windows and the sky went black. We were in for a storm and as we had been warned of hailstones as big as golf balls we squeezed the bikes under the small cabin porch. Sure enough, we were hit by the most ferocious thunderstorm we had ever experienced, and stood in the porch as the sky turned from black, to yellow, red and blue and continued to rumble most of the night.
SAT. 7th. August.
The day started sunny, as we road the 50 miles to the small town of Belle Fourche., and Bobby Whittaker’s Motorcycle Campsite, that was to be our home for the first week. A local patrol cop gave us directions to the site, described as "a former 1920's gas station”, with good facilities, repair shop, club house and shady site". We arrived to find desolation, and knocked at the house next door, to be greeted by Bob's parents, who told us Bobby was working, and would arrive later in the week. They showed us to a small field filled with large Cotton wood trees, with an overhead road along one side, under which flowed a fast running river, which then ran along the back of the site.
Eddie started unpacking the gear, and we tried to find level ground on which to pitch the tent. "Bobby has only started developing the site commercially this year." explained his dad, and when we asked about the shower block we were told "it's not quite finished yet, as the plumber has let us down. It should be up and running tomorrow." We were directed to what was obviously the old gas station rest room, with a loo and wash basin, so we settled for a good wash, and then rode into town, for lunch, and then on to the 10,000 yr. old Spearfish Canyon, Dakota's Cheddar Gorge.
The Canyons Highway 14A is designated as a Natural Scenic Byway, and as we rode the uphill sweeping bends, we could see why. The road twists through a 19 mile gorge, with a creek following the valley floor, and white limestone cliffs rise steeply on every side, covered with Black Hills Spruce, and tributaries full of Trout. A popular attraction is the long slender Bridal veil Fails, set back slightly from the road, and as we pulled in, there were already 100's of parked bikes, and their owners gathered to view the fine lace-like spray, that gives the falls their name. We press on steadily to Cheyenne Crossing, a cross-roads on a fast sweeping bend, with gas pumps and a general store. As we pull in we are totally unprepared for the scene, Harleys everywhere, and after squeezing the bikes in-between two Canadian bikes, we were surrounded by bikers, wanting to know about the Indians, and where we were from. We finally escaped and sat on the side of the road to watch the bikes tearing past, just as we had done in past years at Glen Helen or Sulby Glen.
The weather began to cool, and the sun dropped behind the mountains, so we had a fast ride down the canyon, in company with several Harleys, the old Indians holding their own with the modern bikes, and we were soon back at the campsite. A couple more tents were up, and we met a great guy called Dave from Maine, who was attending his first Sturgis rally, a 40th birthday present to himself. We turned in at midnight, to an undisturbed sleep, or so I thought!
I woke early; to find I had become a gnat’s breakfast ... covered in hundreds of insect bites! As the nightly temperatures never dropped below 65 deg. I hadn't been closing my sleeping bag, so I suppose it was my own fault. The day was grey and misty and the shower block still wasn't finished. So we found an old shower cubicle "sans door' and we all stood guard for each other to avoid any embarrassment. After an "all you can eat" breakfast at the local grill, we set off for our first visit to Sturgis. On the way Eddie had trouble changing gear ... hand change, crash box.... He had only finished restoring the bike 3 weeks before the holiday, so expected minor problems, however he reckoned he could manage until we got to Main Street so we set off again, getting quite excited as we came off Interstate 90, into the town. Would it live up to our expectations?
Sturgis, the Mecca of Motorcyclists is very difficult to describe, it's every motorcycle event you've ever been to, rolled into one, everything from Motocross to rat bike shows with top bands and WWF wrestling for good measure, so many sights, sounds and smells. Normally Sturgis is a quiet rural town, where farmers come to buy a new baler, and the local paper still has a gossip column of who visited whom for Sunday lunch! Only during the second week in August does it become the legendary biker town, and when the bikers arrive, all 300,000 of them does it become transformed. Bikers from all countries, and all persuasions, Harleys, show bikes, rat bikes, custom, classics, and never any serious trouble, as one non-biker lady said. "I have never seen so many strangely dressed POLITE men in my life.
Four rows of bikes line Main Street, and for block after block, there's a noisy non stop parade, an "orgy of chrome" to quote the guide book. Into this orgy we gingerly eased the Indians through the traffic, engine heat burning our legs, and found a small gap to park, we had made it, we were parked on the most famous street in American biking history.
First thing to do was the rounds of shops all taken over by bike vendors for the week and to sign on at Rally headquarters. By mid afternoon we began to find the 100 degree heat and bike fumes too much, and headed for the air conditioned leisure centre where yet another show was in progress, and after cooling off, went to sign in. A book was provided for each country, but as Wales didn't exist we had to sign the English one and then stick a pin in a huge map of the world against our home town.
Wales looked very small but there were 10 pins!, leaving headquarters we were told of an Indian parked outside a nearby Tattoo parlour, the owner Jake was having carb. trouble, due to the altitude and when Eddie told him how to adjust it he disappeared and came back with 2 Indian T. shirts for us and asked us to write to him when we got home. Leaving Jake we had a drink at the famous Broken Spoke saloon, a large wooden building with old bikes and memorabilia lining the walls, and a staff of 150, and had a meal at the Road Kill cafe. We found the evening temperature a more bearable 80 degrees, and as we got back to the bikes, a young Brazilian guy said to me, " I recognise your bike, wasn't it in Classic Bike last year? He told us he had been touring from the tip of South America to Alaska, covering 20,000 miles on his Harley, and was on his way home. He made our little trip seem nothing.
As the sun set, we rode the 22 miles back to the campsite. More bikes had rolled in, and we saw a Union Jack hanging from a tree, surrounded by Nortons and Triumphs. It was a British bike club from Colorado. Two sisters on Bonnevilles, asked if I would sent them a British tax disc for their bikes, which I promised to do. The shower and toilet saga still wasn't resolved, and the site was filling up fast.
It was a hot sunny morning, when Bobby, our host finally arrived, as he said later "to the worst day of his life" As yet more people arrived, over 100 now as still no plumber. The week had been advertised as the Black Hills Indian Rally, but as yet no Indians except for ours, not to worry, later an Indian appeared along with a large number of Guzzi's and Bobby showed us his pride and joy, a dark red Indian Chief. With the many other bikes he owned, all piled in his workshop.
Late morning found us on the far side of Sturgis, at Poker Alice's casino, where most of the big bike names were holding test rides. We waited for over an hour in intense heat for a ride on a new Excelsior-Henderson Super X V Twin and were allowed a 4 mile ride. I wasn't very impressed with the horrendous vibration through the back seat, but it smoothed out as the bike gathered speed. The famous old name has been resurrected by a family concern, and they have really gone to town, with glossy brochures and clothing. We then went across to the new Indian stand, a disappointing Harley type clone. They weren't holding test rides, although we were allowed to sit on one and they weren't impressed when I saw an old Scout at the end of the row and shouted to Eddie," Oh look, a real one". All the Harley clones were on display, plus BMW, Triumph and Surprisingly, the sturdy Royal Enfield lndian's.
At 5 p. m. we left the mayhem and instead of the usual ride home, we found a smooth dirt road, through Whitewood Valley, very quiet, and peaceful, with small farms and hay meadows, real old fashioned America. Our only riding companions, the birds and butterflies. The view across the fields was spectacular, as we came across the "nearly volcano" Bear Butte, so sacred to the Cheyenne. While we soaked up this seclusion, the campsite was filling up, and our tent was surrounded, by dozens of small mushrooms" Another bike club had arrived, and you've guessed it, no showers!!!
Tues. 1Oth. August.
Very hot as we rode off to visit nearby Deadwood, "where Wild Bill Hickok had a rip roaring time, right up to the moment he was shot." It was 123 yrs. ago that prospectors hit a fabulously rich gold strike in Deadwood Gulch and the town never looked back. Although very modern in parts, there is still enough of the old town for Wild Bill to recognise. Revived recently by Casinos, the town is prosperous again and I bought some famous Black Hills Gold from one of the endless gold outlets. After the obligatory cold drink, we were on the uphill wooded road to Lead, past the Costner mansion and the Huge Homestake gold mine which threatens to cut the town in two Back into Spearfish canyon. Halfway down the canyon we took a rough dirt road to Roughlock Falls where the closing winter scene in "Dances with Wolves" was filmed.
The creek had some of the clearest water we had ever seen and we met some members of a back patch club, called the A.R.M. As two of the bikers were Native Americans we thought the initials were for an Indian Rights movement, but they explained it was a help group and stood for Alcoholic Recovering Motorcyclist. We had another good thrash down the canyon. As the shadows lengthened and were waved down by the police in Belle Fourche, as the street had been closed off for a party, outside the local bar. We parked up and had a great evening, listening to "Thunder Canyon" a fantastic, country rock band, until the early hours.
WED. 11 th. August.
Very hot and humid, and we rode into Sturgis to look round the swapmeet, but there were no Indian spares to be had we went back to Broken Spoke to get out of the sun and spent the afternoon with some great characters. Queued for nearly an hour for a commemorative shirt'. We stayed on Main Street watching all the weird and wonderful people and left around 9 p.m. As we rode back, sheet lightning flashed ominously in the distance right over were we were heading. Feeling very drained I decided to turn in early, leaving Eddie rebuilding Bobby's carb. in the club house. I was just starting to nod off when I was shaken awake by Eddie saying, “come on, get up quickly, get dressed, and go up to the clubhouse. Don't ask questions, just do it." I threw my jeans and coat over my P.J.'s, and dashed outside to see the other bikers hastily pushing their bikes under the road bridge and fastening down their belongings. Eddie refused to answer any questions, until, we were safe in the building and then told me that the local radio station had just put out a Tornado warning and the towns public storm shelters had opened.
We helped move anything outside that the wind was likely to catch, and they waited and sure enough the wind and lightning arrived and a torrential downpour which lasted some 10 minutes, but thankfully, the worst of the storm had passed about 4 miles south. Although we did hear later that two people had been killed. The tents were still standing when we ventured out so we were able to get a goodnights sleep. We were woken up at 5.30. a. m. by someone trying to start a shovelhead, to find the day, cold and windy, and by 8 a. m. it was raining hard, large black clouds scudding across the sky and we knew it was in for the day, Bobby and his friend from Montana were going to ride the 55 miles to Rapid City for the large Indian gathering and we could ride with them. Although we had our lightweight waterproofs with us we had neither helmets or boots, so we opted for a trip into Sturgis in a 1972 Oldsmobile, with local Indian rider Blair, who offered to take us to see his friend John, who had a huge collection of British bikes. Whilst negotiating a narrow turning behind Main Street, our car was hit by a guy on an old lronhead Harley, who ended up under the bike with a broken leg, almost under the wheels of a passing ambulance. He was promptly attended to by the Medics, and after a brief statement to the Police, who said the biker was at fault, we were on our way, to a small house on the edge of town The garages crammed with every kind of Brit bike imaginable. John was not married and had just suffered a major heart attack and his bikes were all that kept him going. Meanwhile what of the intrepid Indian riders? They had got to the gathering to find it pretty well a non event, with just a few bikes on trailers, and arrived back at the campsite, looking like two drowned rats.
FRI. 13th. August.
No trace of rain and a crisp sunny morning saw us off to Devil's Tower in Wyoming, some 50 miles, of beautiful bendy roads. Through pine forests and hills, into the little hamlet of Aladdin, population 15. Then on to a slightly larger place called Hulett, which hosts its own biker party, where the police turn a blind eye and anything goes. Soon we hit road works, and rode the next 5 miles along an unmade surface, the same bit we drove along 5 years ago in a hire car! Soon we were there at the Tower, or the Bears Tepee, as the Indians call it. A stone pillar, 1000 feet in diameter the bottom, and 275 feet at the top.
A world class climbing venue, it is Americas first national monument, designated in 1906, and is the core of an ancient volcano exposed after millions of years of erosion. We decided to walk the mile long tower trail around the base, which offers close up views of the wildlife and the climbers high on the rocks. We were accompanied on the second half of the walk by two yuppie bikers, who were fans of Mrs. Thatcher. Leaving the tower, we rode back to Aladdin to sample the famous Sasparilia, at the 1890 general store, but they had run out, so we settled for a root beer, a soft drink invented during prohibition because it resembled the real thing, right down to a frothy head. Back at the campsite, another evening of panic as a thunderstorm threatened, but this time we pulled our bugbags over our heads and stayed put.
SAT. 14th. August.
Very hot, as we left town by the top road, over dry yellow hills, to Bear Butte, just East of Sturgis. As we rode up to the pay booth we saw their herd of buffalo in the distance. Entering the small museum of Indian artifacts we were greeted by Chuck the head ranger, who was to give a talk in the viewing gallery,on the legends and history associated with this special place. He told us that everyone who walks the Butte is affected in some way. Maho Paha is a place of mystery, power and promise to the Cheyenne and Lakota people and is a sacred place to many tribes and religions, where people seek their gods help and guidance. Centuries ago the Cheyenne would recognise this place as their "Mt. Sinai" where holyman Sweet Medicine received the four laws of the tribe. You must not steal, kill, commit adultery, or marry into your own family. Just before his death he warned of a time in the far distant future, when his people would cease to exist, after the arrival of strange white skinned people. The time came to walk the summit and we set off, up the twisting path, and everywhere coloured prayer cloths filled the trees. People had used anything that came to hand, bandannas, socks, strips of T. shirt and so we left our offering along with all the others, We couldn't make it quite to the top, beaten by the intense heat, but we had achieved what we set out to do. It really is a magical place.
We arrived back at the campsite, to find a number of people had left, and it suddenly dawned that Sturgis week was at an end.
SUN. 15TH. August.
We had a lazy morning at the campsite and were just setting off for one last ride into Sturgis when Blair arrived with an elderly man in his 80's. He was Don Vodden, one of the original members of the Jackpine Gypsies club who started what was to become the Sturgis rally in 1939 and who won one of the first races there on his Indian. Harley owners, always claim Sturgis as theirs, but it was started by Indian riders,
Meeting Don really made Eddie's day and after exchanging addresses we were off to Sturgis for one last time, although still busy, the town had a rather sad air, as stallholders were packing up and the shops that had been so busy were closed. We took advantage of the knock down prices to buy our last minute presents and as we were leaving in the early evening we were flagged down and interviewed by a Seattle T.V. company. Sadly it was all over, so many memories, but I think the main thing was the overwhelming generosity and friendliness of the bikers, who didn't care who you were or what you rode, all that mattered was that you were one of the great family of bikers.
Time to get out second wind, for the next leg of the journey.
MON. 16th. August.
Hot and dry. We pack up and sadly say our goodbyes to our many new friends, with promises to write and left for a 100 mile ride to Custer in the Black Hills. Not far out of Belle Fouche, we stopped for petrol and a girl on a Harley, pulled along side, thrust 2 plastic bags in my hand, saying "I only give these to special people" and rode off again. When I open the packets later, they contained two red badges that said “I rode mine to Sturgis 99”.
A note with the badges said that she has
100 made every year and gives them to people who ride to the events, as
sadly more and more people trailer their bikes. She asked that you
send her a badge in return to her home in Canada. It was a great
idea. So off to Custer via the Black Hills Parkway 80 miles of scenic
views and winding road, past the intense blue water of Pactola Lake and
a short stop at Collins Buffalo Home, a rather run down animal sanctuary.
Here we saw goats, a 14 yr. old bear called Jed who loved Doughnuts, some
ducks, Highland cattle and a small herd of rather scrawny Buffalo.
A Cafe on the edge of Interior, owned by
an Anglolindian family, famous throughout America for their Indian frybread,
a batter mixture, plunged into hot oil, and eaten with sugar or cinnamon,
and very light. As we ate the sky clouded over, and the rain came.
A storm in the Badlands is a beautiful sight, but we only got a few spots
of rain, and we got home before the winds got up, and were lulled to sleep,
by the sound of Crickets and Coyotes.
Perhaps we'll go back who knows “one day".