Monday, September 9, 2013

The Rush and Roar of Sturgis Part 1

There are moments in our lives that present themselves, unbidden.  And there are moments that we sit waiting for, pleading, hoping, dreaming that one day they may come. This is a story of grabbing that unbidden moment and swallowing it whole.

I went across country this summer to gather moments or fill them and even, perhaps to release some of them into the wild.  I went to see some of this world, this country that I had not earlier had the time, the opportunity or the belief that I could simply pack a bag or two, fill my car with gas a few dozen or more times and ride out into the sunset or over the mountains and through the woods as the case may have been, depending on the day. 

I travelled from the Hudson Valley to Chicago in one fast and furious day of driving.  Not stopping in Pennsylvania or Ohio, save for a quick fill-up.  Gary, Indiana provided food, gas, and brief respite from a storm. It was here that I contacted a friend of a friend who helped guide my itinerary for Chicago.  I can’t imagine how sorry I would have been without her enthusiastic guidance.  I will be back in Chicago for certain, I loved it, each and every shining moment. 

How can I explain where I ended up a few days later?  Maybe there isn’t any particular explanation that would make a great deal of sense.  Maybe it was kismet or the strong pull of freedom and curiosity and a strong desire to just throw caution to the wind.  Maybe it was the idea of living life largely in contrast to the too small life I had been only barely living not so long ago for quite some time.

About a week before I left on my big and daunting journey cross country I decided to start panicking, or preparing for what I hadn’t yet spent a great deal of time planning for.  This is important to note.  In the past, I have studied every nearby, neighboring, nook and cranny and trail surrounding, leading to or from a destination that was painstakingly determined for the purpose of a little r and r.  I enjoyed this pursuit of happiness and action packed discovery of regions yet unknown to me.   I would pour over books and catalogues and then eventually websites and web engines to find the best of, what not to miss, what was best for families, what might enhance coupledom or at least not cause further angst in the couplehood.  And yet, here I was venturing off solo for the biggest adventure of my life.  Heading cross country in a state of unplanned, disbelief.   With a tent in my trunk, a suitcase, a backpack, wilderness camping gear, several journals and sketchpads and a few cameras and assorted lenses to capture any and every moment I so desired.  My GPS system, a road atlas, a pocket knife and a corkscrew, you know, the essentials, I began.

I was planning on Chicago.  That much was certain.  Where I was staying was not firmed up until a week prior.  A few misguided attempts at searches, requests from friends and playing a bit of truth or dare with Hotwire,, and Priceline had me more perplexed than ever.   As I started the search for accommodations in Chicago, it became clearer to me I had no BIG plan.  Did I need a plan?  Would a theme help?  National Parks?  Quirky roadside attractions? Music?  Food?  I didn’t want to focus on any one of these themes, but a combination would be appealing.  How to begin? I decided to take a little look-see at events across the country that might happen to be taking place in early August.  Music venues, art, what have you.   I fell upon a few oddities that did not actually take place in August, a few that were not on my path and then I stumbled upon, this land called Sturgis. 

As it turns out a great many of you already know what this means.  It turns out that yes, I was living, barely, that small confined life and had no idea.  It also turns out that after seeing Sturgis on my laptop, and digging deeper,  I discovered that Sturgis means bikes, big, bold, beautiful, beaming motorcycles. 
Straight to 
Yes, Sturgis, the home of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  Sturgis.  That otherwise quiet little slice of the Midwest. Sturgis is a small city, and I use the term loosely, in South Dakota around about 50 minutes from Mount Rushmore.  Sturgis is also the home of the largest motorcycle rally in the whole honkin’ world.  So imagine, there is a lot of roar.  A lot of leather.  A lot of studded, or otherwise bedazzled or grommeted vests, chaps, bags, sidesaddles and what-nots.  There are a lot of bikers and biker buddies and biker babes.  There are over a million choppers in one place at one time, or so says a tagline from some such Sturgis locale.

Hmmmmm. So where do I fit into this mix you wonder?  Well, pre-Sturgis, I was fitting pretty quietly approximately 1775 miles east of Sturgis.  But I can’t help but smile, again, that same devilish grin that appeared when I was looking at the big flashy Sturgis webpage that came up while I was looking for fun little venues across this great wide country.  Devilish.  Shit-eating.  Me? Sturgis?  Giddy in fact.  It lasted a little while, I even looked into camping, since, well, it’s fairly close to Mount Rushmore, and I would need a place to stay.

There are concerts in Sturgis, I learned, that occur, free of charge, at various campsites, in addition to the middle of town and in local bars and restaurants.  ZZ Top, Kid Rock, Joe Santana, to name a very few.  I went so far as to fill out a camping request form, but I did not submit the reservation.  I went on with my day, avoiding making reservations for Chicago, and wondering what the hell was I thinking, attempting a cross country trip alone?

A day passed.  I called a friend.  A sort of biker friend. “Hey biker friend (name withheld to protect the not so innocent), What can you tell me about Sturgis.  Am I crazy? Don’t answer that.  OK I know I don’t have a bike.  I haven’t even been on one since high school. Boy that was sweet.  Sure maybe that was the year of the 41st Annual Sturgis Rally, but who’s counting?  Yes. Camping and a multitude of concerts.  And it is right close to Mount Rushmore and I’m heading there anyway.  So…..?” 

Basically what I found out was Sturgis, like Times Square has cleaned up a bit.  It wasn’t likely I would have to fear for my life if that was a concern.  Cyclists these days are a bit more diverse, even if the standard issue costume is the same.  In summary, it’s not quite the hard core death defying cycle venue it once was.   I lost a little interest, but not all.  Not that I needed hard-core, I just wasn’t really sure how this venue would work into my trip, my sense of self, or my desire to see so many things in a fairly brief time.

As I drove to Chicago, however, I started noticing…. One cycle, two, sometimes packs of bikes and bikers. Each rest stop along the way, I would notice more.  I smiled knowingly to myself.  Sturgis bound.  I could feel it.  I envied the chrome, the pulsing, roaring engines.  The weaving in and out of traffic.   The sense of being unencumbered, uncontained.  It was gloooooooorious to watch.  I drove on.  I enjoyed every moment of Chicago, and when I hit the road again, I was calmly enthralled to catch sight of new cycles, more bikers.  Somehow it made me feel like a part of something larger, even just in the knowing.  

I can’t say exactly at what moment or intersection I decided to actually go.  I will say the parking garage, after a good nights sleep at the Hilton in Sioux City might have had something to do with it. I asked the man sitting on the ground maintaining his bike parked dangerously close to my nonbike-like Toyota Corolla, “Are you heading to Sturgis?  Just like that.  Suddenly I’m all friendly and personable and approaching motorcycle thugs armed with big wrenches in a dark parking garage, all the things your mother, and the world at large tells you NOT to do, when you are a woman travelling alone.  Oh, wait, women are told not to travel alone.  So I am already living on the edge.   He smiles, happy for the attention, and tells me he is in fact going there.  I ask if it would be worthwhile for me to go.  He sizes me up and smiles sweetly, not hungrily.  Of course, he says yes.  It’s like asking an artist if you should stop at the Louvre, or an exhibitionist if you should stop at Burning Man.   We talk briefly, he is from Chicago and has made a few side trips on his way, Memphis, Kansas City... I decide not to tell him I know a much easier route…  We say goodbye and wish each other safe travels.  

This interaction pleases me.  It makes me smile.  My interaction with him, with others throughout this journey have been almost entirely positive.  It restores faith in me. These personal interactions with strangers became incredibly validating and instantly valued.  They are somehow easy.  And this is somewhat, miraculous seeming. I have not been at ease in the world at large in my barely lived life.  I am only recently at ease around and amongst those beyond my tight circle of close friends and loved ones.  I generally prefer the safety of loved ones and friends before even attempting to utter, awkwardly, words, that are often confused or tongue-tied before I communicate effectively.  Yet here I was alone in the world, open and available and filled with gratitude and twirls of appreciation for the landscape, the diversity of place and people, as well as a gathering calm in the recognition of a common sense of sameness among others.  Why did it take me so long to travel such a short and vast distance, I wonder, briefly…no matter, I am here, now.

Where am I now?  Oh yes Sturgis. I could not but wonder at the time, Who the hell was I to drive right into Sturgis?    Hearing about Sturgis was fairly unlikely for me, heading toward Sturgis was pretty improbable, somehow being in Sturgis was incredibly perfect for me.  And this is how it happened….

I continued my drive cross country, stopping at the Corn Palace.  Biker’s all around.  I stop at Wall Drug.  Again, bikers everywhere, it’s practically a mini-Sturgis, but I have no frame of reference.  6:00 PM the street is lined with parked cycles.  The shops are lined with Sturgis memorabilia.  T-shirts, caps, bags, skull-caps, shot glasses, bandanna’s, wallets, you name it, Wall Drug has it covered for bikers, biker chicks, biker fans, anyone and everyone.  By now, I am planning on going, so I indulge in a t-shirt and a cap emblazoned with Sturgis 73rd Rally, 2013.

Prior to making the decision to head directly into Sturgis with a confident sparkle in my eyes and Bob Seeger grinding through my speakers, I have three separate interactions with friends and loved ones via text, email, and Facebook messenger… anyway, three very timely conversations take place before I land in Sturgis.  Conversation 1:  “Honestly?  You want to know if you should go to Sturgis or Mount Rushmore? There is no choice between Mount Rushmore and Sturgis, but the fact that you have to ask….”  followed by  “OK I need to say this, if you can’t find a man in Sturgis, then we need to talk about this, because something is seriously wrong…” Or something to that effect.  It makes me laugh.  It is somewhat true, my sea legs in this dating process are much more wobbly than I would like and my aunt, a verified biker chick from way back comes at the conversation, direct and in my face, the way I like it.  Conversation 2:  I hope you find a boyfriend!” This causes me to stop and consider carefully and process around in my noggin.  How does he think I might find a boyfriend? I wonder and maybe hrrrumph.  Oh, maybe there’s one hiding under my bed?  Nope. Do I make little kissy sounds as though I am finding a dog?  Here kissy, kissy, boyfriend, come out, come out wherever you are…I visualize myself with a large magnifying glass looking throughout Sturgis, and then I sigh resolutely,  I know this is said with the most sincere and loving support by a close and loving friend, but I wonder if he has paid any attention to me throughout our long and loving history to know how difficult this seems to be for me, this finding of a boyfriend thing.  I decide to focus on the love that he is genuinely offering and not on the let down of the relationship that cannot be, that we have bumped into throughout our lives and have not managed yet to be in the same time or place at the same time. Conversation 3:  Relax, let your hair down.  Go get lucky and then I want all the details.” Wink wink nod nod, I laugh, What? He can’t really mean that? Nah….not him.  Well maybe… It should please me to know we never got anything off the ground.  Is he serious? How did I miss that?  

I wasn’t heading to Sturgis to bag a biker.  I was heading to Sturgis to get out of my comfort zone.  To listen to music.  To take photos and observe life beyond that barely lived life of mine. The conversations, however, got me thinking  and helped me consider it was maybe time for me to get back on that horse, iron, or otherwise and go for a ride.  And away I went, straight into the rush and roar of Sturgis. be continued. 

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