Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Biker Boy and Hot Dog Girls: Sturgis Part 3

Returning from my cross country road trip has been a difficult transition.  I can't help imagining myself back on the open roads.  It helps to know my daughter is out there, living her life largely and brightly and having great fun.   I can’t help but smile about Sturgis.  As though it is some sort of trophy, a feather in my cap, a notch in my belt… And in so many ways it was. It will be immortalized as this time and place that I felt such freedom and lightness, following a long spell of heaviness and restrictiveness.  Prior to my trip cross country I spent three hellish years struggling through a divorce that was orchestrated in madness and tied up in combative one-sided vengeance, as opposed to my fairy princess unicorn sparkled vision of being able to part with mutual respect and some level of reciprocal appreciation that the end was about five years beyond its lease terms.   

I embarked on my road trip 3 months post facial reconstruction surgery resulting from 2 forms of invasive skin cancer.  Conscientious of my face, my not quite familiar self, and the reality of being scarred and feeling unattractive did not exactly lead me to believe anything special was going to occur.   It was also two months passed my 50th birthday.   And if that wasn't enough, I was less than one month away from becoming the solo inhabitant of an empty nest. It was to be a marking of time and a releasing of circumstances beyond my control. It was to be an opportunity to be alone and free. 

I have no need to go into all of the details of my night in Sturgis. The last words I heard were incredibly sweet and certainly helped my ego and made me smile.  I regretted not staying longer,  in and out of three days after.   The first day out of Sturgis I considered turning back…and even still it is sweet to wonder about.  We did not exchange numbers, or even last names, but we laughed and talked and walked through Sturgis in comfort and companionship, a spirited, playful, comradery, and well, after that,  I’ll just say, what happened in Sturgis…..happened and I am a better woman for it, happier, and a bit freer and suddenly open to risk taking and more trusting of myself, so that I might trust others. It seems being alone has it’s perks from time to time and a few more times at that.  

As I pulled onto US 16 making my way towards Mount Rushmore I began reconsidering the tattoo idea, the third marriage, the need for plans, and timelines and expectations.  What if’s.  Why not’s?  How? When? If onlys… I decided I don’t need to wait until I’m married to get a tattoo. I don’t even need a third husband.  I guess I hadn’t needed a tattoo married or otherwise and I might at some point want a third husband, or meet someone that I want to share my tent with, or home, or maybe an afternoon here or there.  

The poignancy about Sturgis was, it revealed to me that I had quite a few leashes and chains and self-imposed protective coverings of my own, at least figuratively speaking.  Prior to Sturgis, I was in fact practically expecting or hoping for, and waiting for some grim faced man to show up and lead me around, or show me off, or let me know when I could go out and when I could howl at the moon, even though I was quite capable of walking and howling and I'm pretty certain I would be adept at twirling a lasso if I put my mind to it.  I am quite able to confidently lead all by my big girl self, but I sometimes lose sight of this.

During that night I met two young women.  They were sweet and playful and enjoying the festivities.  As I was walking around town, with my newly acquired tattooed biker boy, we stopped for hot dogs.   One of the young women was working on adorning her dog with such remarkable attention to detail.  Ketchup and mustard emblazoned in carefully spaced ribbons of brightness.  I had to laugh.  I had to know.  So, I asked, because suddenly I do, I can, let it all flow with laughter and lightness.  “That is one spectacular display of detail and care …you must really enjoy hot dogs.”  Snicker snicker wink wink  I push..."Wait, No, don’t tell me…you have experience in the food industry….Ice cream?  Am I right?”  She smiles widely,  she playfully denotes great pride.  Through laughter she states, “Well as a matter of fact, Yes! and I am very proud of my work."  We all laugh.  Biker boy and I move on through the night as a crowd has gathered to watch the hot dog being well, I won’t go as far as devoured but it is certainly enjoyed.  There is this mood in Sturgis.  We are all there for fun and independent spiritedness and freedom.  Sparkle and Roar.  It is palpable.  And it is freeing to be a part of, so my demeanor is lighter, and the barbed wire encased personal bubble I have fashioned over the past few years between and amidst some attempts at making connections has all but dissolved.  And so people are able to get closer and they do.  I welcome it in fact.

There is innuendo and all out in your face bold sexuality.  Body painted babes, tight jeaned muscle baring men, pasties, chaps, chains, spikes, hot metallic shine.  Vibrating torqued up engines. And there are the questions that come later.  
You? Sturgis?  How?  Why?   
I can’t believe you would go there.  
I can’t believe you left so soon.   
I never thought you had it in you.  
I always saw you as a biker chick.   
A feminist, weren’t you outraged?   
I was not, exactly.  I was initially stunned a bit. But it was hard to stay this way with that shit eating grin I had pasted on me.  I did question why a couple of the women would want to be treated in such a repressive way….I still don’t quite understand how I allowed myself to be treated worse.

Who would have expected a night in Sturgis at the 73rd Motorcycle Rally might force me to face some of my own self imposed gender based beliefs and restrictions?  Who knew I had a few that were keeping a strong hold on me?   Chains and leashes come in many different forms, and I would have been better off to have seen mine in plain sight so that I could come to terms with them a bit sooner, and decide whether or not I wished to partake in the use of them.  I would not have. I had to believe some of the women that I saw at Sturgis were at least knowing participants and maybe had a firm understanding and were getting something they enjoyed and agreed upon from the otherwise oppressive seeming relationships.

 Earlier in the summer  as I was hiking solo, closer to home, I overheard an interesting conversation about submission and domination, romance, and modern day ease with right out there sexuality.   As I was making my descent, I met up with two young couples deep in conversation about that very same book, 50 Shades of Grey.  As I got closer they apologized for the discussion and laughed.  They did not realize I had been able to hear quite a bit of the conversation as I was approaching.  It did not phase me in the least.  I laughed, and shared, “Oh, no apologies needed, I have actually made several friends as a result of discussing that book,” I paused and smiled at this reality.  “Several very good friends in fact, and I didn’t even read the book.”  Well not all of it anyway.  Their conversation was rich and they had, between them a depth of knowledge about romantic literature.  They were talking about books that were written a century or two ago that offered more intriguing and believable romance and titillation.   I smiled, happy to hear this discussion.  I was mostly happy because the conversation was thoughtful and probing.

Being in Sturgis from the outside might be like 50 Shades of Grey, all in your face and not open to much interpretation.  But being in Sturgis for me meant, I was free to explore within my own comfort zone.  It meant I could be light and playful and determine how much to partake, how far to go, and when to leave.  It meant I was able to step back and observe without judgment, or apply some over the top amount of righteous indignation.  It freed me up in a few other ways as well.  It certainly made me feel absolutely hot and sexy, and it certainly changed the course of my trip.  

And so what if I am looking into getting my motorcycle permit, and think Jade at Evol Street Ink in Poughkeepsie is an amazing artist? I'm free to have those thoughts and a few more at least.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

This Girl's Guide to Sturgis Part 2

I found myself driving up Interstate 90 toward Sturgis.  The drive was spectacular.  Rows of cycles, calmly, courteously heading forward. No jockeying for position or cutting each other off.  No showboating or grandstanding.  All shine and muscle and revved up pride.  There seemed to be this communal respect that one doesn’t generally feel in ordinary traffic or the queuing up of any sort.  It made me feel more certain that this was a good decision.  Continuing into the center of Sturgis, I started worrying briefly about how far out of town I may need to drive to find a place to stay should this plan not work.  I let it go, offering it up to the gods or the saints, patronly and watching.  I am certain.  I provide a great deal of entertainment for the otherworldly, which I have come to believe is perhaps one of my more defined purposes in life. So offer it up, I do.  Continuing on slowly, I was able to gaze around and notice hand painted parking signs in miscellaneous yards.  I noticed tents propped on random lawns.  I wasn’t ready to commit, I hadn’t seen the center of town yet, or had a clear sense of how far it might be.  

I continued past the heart of Sturgis and notice a sign for parking within walking distance. $10 SEE THE PARKING ATTENDANT TO PAY  Where, I wondered, and how formal, a parking attendant?  Across the field, I noticed a modest home with a deck adorned with lanterns, and the sound of quiet music playing.    As I approached, I saw a young girl heading into the yard and inquired about parking, and what the hell? I asked if they had any room on their lawn for my tent.  It is, I might say, a minor production, a kite style one woman light-weight deal, utilized for my occasional wilderness treks.  They would hardly know I was there.  Young girl left to find out, older woman appeared, sized me up, asked how many were in my party, was surprised and pleased when I told her I was alone.  She smiled, briefly.  She then sternly informed me there would be no drugs or drinking, when I agreed to the terms she said, “OK $20, for parking and camping.  What are you driving?” When I told her, she looked like she wanted to dance.  She showed me where to pull up right on her lawn as opposed to the field, that may or may not have been hers.   Pulling my car onto her lawn opened up another spot, I could almost see the dollar signs forming in her eyes.   I parked, grabbed some things from my duffel bag, and changed on her lawn.  In that way you learn to change at a beach, under a towel or sundress, pulling things off and under and on and over until you have changed your clothes without exposing a thing. I am getting good at this quick costume change technique.  I throw my small camera around my neck and grab my camera bag loaded with the larger camera and assorted lenses and head into town like I own this night, this rally.   Or at least with a wide smile and a skip in my step.

I follow the road back into town about a quarter of a mile into the center of action.  Where to begin? What to focus on?  There are tents and vendors.  Frog legs, chicken wings, onion rings… Frog legs? Interesting.   People everywhere.  Music, pulsing from many directions.  And motorcycles all abuzz, streaming into town in a never ending line of hot metal and chrome.  Girls, glisten and shine, not so many, but those you notice, are lets just say, quite noticeable.  Shiny.  Thonged, Chapped, Pastied, seemingly chained, or  leashed, a few at least.  The seemingly chained are ogled, observed, gawked upon and drooled over.  Where am I? How did I end up here?  Why am I not outraged and disgusted and running the other way?  I am instead somehow amused.  Honestly.  Unbelievably.  Open to the otherness of it all.  Amazed even.  Bewildered for sure.  But it’s Sturgis.  It’s not the Mormon Tabernacle or the Church of Divine Restriction and Uptightness.  Those that come, that plan their visits with purpose and direction are here to bask in the freedom, albeit pastied, as opposed to total freedom.  A law, new, and I’ve heard enforced, the pastyless, must pay.  Otherwise this is the place to hang loose, let it all hang out, sparkle and shine.  And those like me, are their others here like me?  I can’t tell, but I am trying to blend and slip through almost unnoticed. I don’t have chaps. Or bedazzled, grommeted, spiked, or fringed garments or accessories.  I don’t have a bike.  I don’t have a biker.  I have my cameras.  I have found, having cameras sets purpose.  Provides a disguise of sorts.  Allows me in and keeps me separate, safely.  It also allows me to observe and capture a view that is otherwise out of reach.  My lens allows me to get up close and personal.  It often provides an opportunity for interaction, the start of dialogue, an invitation to worlds that are not my own, or at the very least a quiet respect. 

I enter the first venue I approach.  Balconies surround the makeshift courtyard.  Temporary bars are scattered around, manned? Wo-manned, definitely womanned by barely clad women, girls, the young, fresh eye candy types.  Displayed motorcycles are cordoned off.  A bandstand with musicians is front and center.  Crowds are gathered throughout.  After attaining a Corona at the bar, I climb the stairs to the balcony and find a stool.  One side faces the street, the other side faces the crowds and the music.  I am smiling widely, still.  I prepare my camera with the appropriate lens and before taking any pictures, I dial my aunt’s number, you may recall, the biker babe from way back and even not so long ago.  The music is blaring, the bikes are roaring past.  I can’t have a conversation, it is way too loud.  She answers the phone, and my smile is now as large as is physically possible.  Without attempting to speak, I hold the phone out above the brazen bustle that is Sturgis.  I hear her and laugh.  “So, I guess you made it to Sturgis.” She laughs deeply and heartily.  I am laughing too and can barely speak.  I manage “Yup”  As though I am five again and she is 15 or 16.  Goofy for certain.  I then hear her talking to her husband.  “She’s in Sturgis, I hope she isn’t calling in need of help, I’m not sure if that’s screaming or music”  I laugh louder and hang up happy in the absurdity of me in Sturgis, and the sharing of this news. 

I send a quick message to my loving friend, to let him know I have made it to Sturgis.  I have not yet found a boyfriend but I am happy.  And, well, the night is young.  He tells me to have fun,  enjoy, et cetera, and so on, good bye.  It is bittersweet and much more, but I find myself suddenly less weighted with sadness than I had been earlier regarding our timing, mismatched and otherwise occupied.  My smile, wide, is now growing, assured of possibility and joy and the new freedom of no expectations.  I am suddenly experiencing a lightness and a joy that I have not fully felt in a very long time. I owe no one an explanation.  I have no obligations, no commitments, no responsibilities, at least for the time being.  And I am in Sturgis.  This combination fuels my laughter and my spirited sense of adventure.

I notice a text from the man that prods me to let my hair down, to relax, to breathe deeply and stop worrying.  He believes me to be a neurotic ball of angst and episodic, frenetic, fear mongering.  He knows not that I have driven far away from that intense, desperate, and fearful woman that had just left the false safety of a nightmarish and barely lived life when first we crossed paths.  He is perplexed and intrigued to hear, or read, it is texting, that I am now standing on a bar stool and photographing a small slice of Sturgis with a shit-eating grin and the bravado of a cowgirl with her lasso loosely hanging at her side, and her spurs, jingle jangling at the ready.  When he prompts me to have fun, he fails to pay attention and misses that I am by now deep in fun.  He doesn’t know what to make of the already relaxed tone, of the laughter coupled with me in Sturgis.  He jokes and prompts and teases and encourages me to go for a ride.  Now it is safe to say, this man has been the recipient of all sorts of angst and post divorce projection, transference and all around screaming desperation, that I truly believed, at the time, was hope and maybe even some girlish sense of love and absolute attraction.  I may have believed him to be the antidote for loneliness. I treated him like the second coming of you-know-who, Almighty, on occasion and at other times like my biggest nightmare.

I just recently realized how fine the line between hope and desperation was.  Like very recently.  As in this morning recently.   But at the time I met this guy, it felt much more like hope even if it smelled like, and sounded like, and even looked like that other side of the coin.  Heads it's hope, tails it's desperation. There was a time when girls once had hope chests filled with quilts, and maybe silver, or china, and an eyelet lace covered ball and chain. We were reared to hunt out men and use our hooks baited with purity and white-lace promises of chastity and virginity.  But wait, enough of that I am in Sturgis, and the man that I once convinced myself was magic and joy has just told me in so many ways to go get…..well, let’s just say lucky.  And because there is some magic occurring for me in Sturgis, this does not break my spirit or feel devastating, it actually frees me.  I like this guy.  And I know I have been crazy over the top hopeful, ummm maybe nearly desperate for his attention. What can I say, really?  I do “hope” like some women do their nails, or their hair, or their wardrobes.  Big. Sparkly. Rainbows and unicorns, twirls of hope, because up until Sturgis,  I thought that is what girls were supposed to do.  When he tells me to go have fun, I hear, calmly, all that hope or desperation was not meant to amount to anything, and I am finally available to hear it, and well I still have my lasso and spurs and he is far afield and well, I’m in Sturgis and from where I was sitting, and even standing on the stool, there are more than a few cowboys that seem rearing to go and open to the slightest suggestion. Giddy up!

So let’s recap for a moment.  Fashion Week is supposed to enhance a woman’s life.  Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. Dancing at her son’s weddings, ok, fine, maybe being introduced to their partners first, and then dancing.  Being sought out by her daughter for advice.  Lunch with girlfriends.  I’m sure there is a list available of the top 10 most enhancing moments in a girl’s life, a woman’s life.  I am also certain Sturgis does not make the cut.  And yet, somehow, Sturgis becomes this turning point in mine. A definite enhancement.

I order a whiskey, straight… neat even, what the hell, I’m not driving and I have secured sleeping arrangements.  The men surrounding me on the balcony are visited by the barely clad bar maid, a few times.  As I witness this, again, I wave over this  very same bar maid and order myself that whiskey.  Maybe it’s a regional thing.  She doesn’t understand.  People don’t order whiskey, alone, as in straight up.  I repeat it.  She is thrown, but obliges.  When she returns, she laughs.  She tells me the bartender wants to know if she is off duty, why was she ordering whiskey straight up? The cups are labeled, Two Ginger’s Whiskey.  C’mon?  How often are cups labeled with YOUR name?  I had to indulge. 

I drink up, chat up my black leathered neighbor and jump down off the barstool to find my way back into the crowd.  I find a spot near the stage and take some photos of the band.  I continue around the perimeter and take more photos of the crowd.  I am watching as another pastied smiling specimen walks by, leashed to the trailing grim faced owner?  That’s certainly what it appears from the outside.  I notice the men watching.  I laugh lightly and snap photos, the expressions priceless.  There are two men sitting on a bench, their eyes are lit up and their gazes are, I guess I’ll say appreciative.  I can’t help but take this photo, the look, the moment, priceless.  As my flash goes off their eyes meet the lens, and my eyes.  They look, caught, hands in the cookie jar, but happier for it.  We connect and share the moment across the courtyard, laughing and smiling. 

I can’t help but feel amused by this odd connection.  As I readjust my camera, someone approaches from the side and is laughing at what just transpired.  I size him up, big and not quite burly but light and smiling, I address him, knowing he will partake, “OK, what the hell is that?”  He looks slightly puzzled as he anticipates my brazenness, his smile getting wider, shit-eating in it’s own right.  “What is it with the girls on leashes, how the hell is that Ok? And why are their owners so grim faced and angry?” I implore.   He sizes me up and laughs out loud, “Yep, that’s about it, and you? What are you doing with all the cameras?  Why aren’t you taking my picture?”  Without skipping a beat I respond. “Oh, you want your picture taken, OK smile”…I take one and start up again….  “Wait a minute, no, no, no, if you want me to take a photo of you, you’re going to have to show me a little Sturgis”… I laugh at my spirit, my audacity, and boldness and his willingness to indulge and play along.  He pulls up his shirt, no pasties, but I’m not here to conduct a citizens arrest, I take the photo and we continue talking, easily, lightly.  He shares some strange and funny propositions he has been approached with.  I laugh and share a tale of my own.  He does that once over thing, again, so now it’s a twice or three times over thing at best.  He smiles and blurts out, "How old are you?"  I groan, and tell him, "50, but that’s a bit of a buzzkill, we were just having fun".  He smiles bigger, all dimples and sparkle.  “How old am I?”  More laughter, I am somehow, suddenly in the playground with a fellow eight year old.  I say, "Oh damn…I don’t like this game" He proclaims, "51!" as though he scored.  I start laughing.  He presses, before I can react, “How old did you think I was? Older?"   “No, actually, I thought you were too young for me.”  He’s charmed, and he can see it was an honest reply.  

I am not so good at this game of guessing ages, in his favor it is a good thing.   At 50 it seems everyone is potentially younger if not obviously so.  We go on talking and laughing.  "Where are you from, What’s your name?  Wait here a minute, I was on line for the bathroom when I noticed you.  What are you doing next?"  He is excited and I am enthralled.   Maybe because that has been my role, that excitement, I find it humorous, and sweet, and I can’t help giggling and talking and trying to keep up.  Somewhere along these exchanges, he decides I am a wild chick from New York, and well, I’m OK with that assessment.  He seems enraptured. I haven’t felt like that “wild chick from New York”, in around about 30 or so years, I welcome it, as a compliment, as any wild chick from New York would.  Damn straight, unnnhumm, that’s right.  Maybe I walk a little taller, maybe there is a little swagger…well no, probably not, I am all bubbling over and bantering with this man, this big, almost burly, biker from Scottsdale.  We fall into this playfulness with ease. 

He shows me his bandages, he just got a tattoo and needs a place to clean it.  I tell him I know where there are bathrooms and he asks me to take him there. Of course, I will, no problem.  Suddenly I am able to help care for bikers with tattoos.  I don’t even question it, I fall into place, as though this is a place well known to me.  As I lead him into the inner sanctum of Sturgis, or at least the clean and private bathrooms of the lounge, he suddenly stops and looks a bit more intensely, as he asks me if I’ll wait.  I smile and reassure him.  As he gets closer to the men’s room he turns and looks for me.  I am still there, and it occurs to me that he is afraid I will leave. How sweet is that?  He is genuinely concerned I will not be there when he returns.  OK, I know, I am in Sturgis, in a biker bar, helping a stranger clean up his tattoo, and suddenly it strikes me that that is one of the sweetest, compliments I’ve had in a while.  Me.  Someone is looking at me, like he won a prize, concerned that I will not be there when he returns.  When he returns, he is practically pinching himself, he has a great big smile and asks if I want to head out into Sturgis to see the sights.  He asks who I am here with.  When I say, calmly and confidently, “No one.”  He stops.  He determines from that, I am not with a man, but he wants to know who I came with, where are my girlfriends? When I tell him again, “No one, as in alone.” and smile, he shakes his head and sizes me up again.  What? Women don’t come to Sturgis.  Women definitely don’t come to Sturgis alone.”  He laughs again saying, “Wow, you really are a wild chick from New York”, happier each time he says it. 

We share some pertinent facts, children, marriages, divorces, OK my pertinent facts.  He has a son, grown, he was never married... Tattoos, his, now 4.  He tries to convince me to get one.  I laugh and tell him my plan, or at least the plan I have been sharing as a joke when asked first by my mother, recently, when I was going to get a tattoo.  I told her when I meet my third husband.  Her face fell. I thought to myself, why push or tease?  I am pretty good occasionally at dishing it right back.  Of course my son's face dropped too, but he regained his composure when he saw I was joking.  Anyway, I have by now actually considered it, although, I don't have a prospect for my third husband.  For reasons I can't explain, in the past year, prior to Sturgis, I have been asked by several people about getting a tattoo.  And I think, by now, the more I have answered this question, with a slight edge, the less I think it preposterous.  So I have considered getting a tattoo, when I find my third and final installment.  I will get a trinity tattoo to commemorate the affair I imagine.  And why the hell not?  Three is an important number in my life, even without the third husband, so it will be a bonus all around.   There are some really cool trinity motifs to choose from, well, sure I have looked.  I am leaning towards the cross of Brigid, that fiery, spirited Celtic Goddess, in a trinity design.

We move through the town, easily.  Talking and laughing and acting like we have known each other for awhile.  We sit down to talk, and a woman approaches and sits down. He strikes up a conversation and she assumes we are married, we don't correct, falling into conversation regarding our long and beautiful life.  Later he asks where I'm staying, how long.  He tries to convince me to stay longer.  Another night at least.  I assure him I can't, saying,   "It's probably for the best.  I'm a little clingy, and if you push, well, there's no telling what will happen, but I'm pretty certain we would have to get married, and I would need to get the tattoo, and why ruin a good thing?"   We both laugh and continue into the center of Sturgis, uncertain of how this night will unfold.  Just like that, I am here in Sturgis practically planning my third marriage and my tattoo.....

More to come....

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, hotels.com, 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. 

.......to be continued.