Published in the Rains County Leader on June 30, 2022:
The week before Father’s Day, I changed my Facebook profile picture of a favorite picture of Dad and me. I was about nine months old which would have made him about twenty-six. You could tell that, even at that young age, I had him wrapped around my little finger – and I was pretty fond of him, too. While I was at it, I decided to change my cover photo. I chose a picture my neighbor Connie took of me and David back in 2014 during a photo shoot. You see some of the results of that day at the top of my column every week.
I’m not a very good model – I stiffen up in front of a camera – so after we finished the hard work of getting something acceptable for a head shot, Connie wanted to do some fun shots. She snapped a few pictures of us among the flowers in her front yard, and then she had us change into our biker clothes and move over to the old metal bridge on County Road 3200. In the summer, it’s shaded by a canopy of trees that she said would make a great setting for photos. I’m much more relaxed when I pose with David, and the results were some of the best pictures of me since our wedding. (His pictures are always good!)
I posted my favorite of the bike shots, and although I’ve posted it before, it got a lot of attention. One day last week at the Senior Center, Linda Pietila said, “We got a real kick out of your biker picture, especially Rocky. He couldn’t believe you were ever on a motorcycle.”
“Oh, you didn’t see the really good ones,” I replied. Of course, then she wanted to see the good ones. I couldn’t find them on my phone, so I emailed several to her the next day. One was taken in 2003 of me sitting on a Yamaha Virago 1100, the bike I learned to ride on. I was at a scenic overlook in the Badlands of South Dakota where we had ridden for the Sturgis Bike Rally. Another was of me on my new-to-me Harley Heritage Softail, the one I rode 25,000 miles in 2004 before I wrecked it.
Her return email came quickly: “Oh wow!! You two went to Sturgis! How wild! I need to hear stories about that trip! Plus, you wrecked your bike? Oooh you two have some stories to tell.”
I’ve told the story of the wreck in the first chapter of my first memoir, but I realized that I’ve never written much at all about my trip to Sturgis. One of the inequities of our marriage in the early days was that David had more vacation time than I did. We went on some fun trips during my two weeks, but then he’d go riding with his buddies to the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, the Tail of the Dragon in Tennessee, the Terlingua Chili Cook Off in the Big Bend Country, and Sturgis. He had been twice before I learned to ride well enough to keep up, but by the summer of 2003, I was ready.
We let our biker friends know that we planned to go to the rally, and on July 30, the hottest part of the year, a group of seven adventurers set out from Carrollton. Our traveling companions included our next-door neighbors, James and Peggy Chaney; David’s longtime friends from Louisiana, Roger Lawrence and Gary Simmons; and a fellow Biker for Christ, Tim Banks, who trailered his bike in a toy hauler so he could act as our chase vehicle. We spent two and a half days on the road before we reached Rapid City, SD where the Chaneys had reserved a finished out basement where six of us would sleep as well as the driveway where Tim would sleep in his toy hauler. Although we had planned to camp out on the way, we ended up in a motel the first night because of an approaching storm. The second night we slept in sleeping bags on cots under the stars, another new experience for this city girl.
On the third day we made a stop at Wall Drug Store in Wall, SD, a must for anyone visiting South Dakota, especially bikers. The store has been a haven for travelers since 1931 when they opened and began offering free water for the road weary. The building features a number of haphazard add-ons that are furnished with shelves filled with an enormous amount of travel souvenirs. We finally had to drag Gary, who wanted to pick up and look at every one of those souvenirs, back to his bike.
Our hosts in Rapid City were very gracious, providing a light breakfast for us each morning before we set out. Two or three times we made the twenty-eight mile journey north to Sturgis where we saw more bikes than I’ve ever seen in one place as well as more leather, more tattoos, and more exposed flesh. It was, of course, a must-see, but it was noisy and crowded, and we were there to ride. We made several day trips to the Badlands, to Mount Rushmore, and to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
After five nights in Rapid City, we headed home by way of Colorado. In the next three days we visited Estes Park, we crossed the Great Divide, and we rode half-way up a muddy Pike’s Peak – the road to the top was closed because of icy conditions. From there we turned toward Texas, and it was a long, hard ride. After we crossed Raton Pass, we turned east on Hwy 287 and began looking for a motel for the night. We should have stopped earlier! There was a wrestling convention or a rodeo or something in the area, and there were no rooms to be found. Around 3:00 am our chase vehicle found one room in Dumas, Texas. The Chaneys took the room; Tim, David, and I slept in the toy hauler; and Roger and Gary slept in the truck.
We all woke up after only a few hours sleep, and our weary band continued on. About twenty miles from home, David’s bike broke down. By then I was too tired to ride without him, so both bikes finished the last leg of the trip in the toy hauler. Still, that was so close to home that I wore my “I rode mine to Sturgis” patch proudly on my vest.
I’ve never been back to Sturgis. The next year I used my vacation time for a bike trip to the Grand Canyon, on to Colorado, back through Utah, and home. We also rode our bikes to Colorado for our daughter-in-law’s ordination, and generally spent as much time on two wheels as possible until I totaled my bike in a game of chicken with a dump truck. Then a transfer to Florida and years of caregiving interfered, and I never replaced the Blue Angel. David has been back to Sturgis a couple of times since then, but he sold his bike a couple of years ago when a persistent neighbor showed up on the front porch waving a handful of cash. I don’t know if we’ll ever ride again, but we have ton of memories and too many stories to tell here – and we have Sturgis.