Cool Bike Rides
Sturgis - Checked On off of the Bucket List
A multi-part series chronicling our Sturgis Bike Week experience!
By: Ian Creswell
Chris in La Cross, WI outside of the Mexican restaurant next door to our hotel.
Me, getting comfortable in the back of Mike's pickup while not driving. Yes, I made a bed out of the pillows in his extended cab Ford.
Living in the northeast, I’ve had the pleasure of attending the Americade in New York and Laconia Bike Week in New Hampshire multiple times. It’s really nice to have two of the long running bike weeks within a few hours of home. I did get to spend a little time in Daytona for bike week once but didn’t have my ride with me. I happened to be in the area so I won’t count that one quite yet.
That said, a few years ago, I had an opportunity to check off one of my bucket list items, Sturgis Bike Week! I have had many friends from around the world tell me what a great time this was and that it was a ‘must do’ trip. Christine and I added it to the bucket list and then got to check this one off.
Let me start by saying if you enjoy a good bike week, and are looking for something really cool to do that you’ve not done before, make this one a priority. As a native New Englander, getting out to the Black Hills was truly something different and special.
While I would’ve loved to ride to the rally, I simply didn’t have the time to do so. Work just seems to get in the way and it’s a lot of saddle time (33 hours or so) so we opted to ship one of our motorcycles out there. I worked with a company in NH who picked my bike up right around the corner and had it waiting for me when I arrived in Rapid City. That doesn’t mean we didn’t make a road trip out of it, we just couldn’t ride the whole way.
I set out with one two big goals in mind; see a live buffalo and to hit the famed Full Throttle Saloon! I would add more as I went and achieve most…
The Road Trip
We started out flying out to Chicago on Friday afternoon. We stayed at Christine’s Dad’s place in NW Indiana and hooked up with her brother Michael, his wife Kim and some friends of theirs that have become friends of ours TB and Denise. They had worked out all of the arrangements and were ready to get on the road Saturday morning. We had a two-vehicle caravan with their motorcycles and gear in tow and hit the road. Before you start with the trailer week jokes, read on!
The goal for the first day was to make it to La Crosse, WI, just shy of Minnesota, where we’d meet up with another couple, Bruce and Michelle, and spend the evening enjoying some Mexican food and cocktails at the hotel. Let me pause to say that we could’ve just flown into Rapid City and met everyone there but there’s nothing quite like a road trip with a bunch of folks you enjoy spending time with!
We continued on the next morning with a planned stop in Sioux Falls, SD. We really wanted to both enjoy the ride and see the region as we traveled. Some of the things we saw along the way included the grasslands, (man do I mean grasslands) Laura Ingalls Wilder’s home town (of Little House on the Prairie fame), and sunflowers as far as the eye could see. I had no idea that this was pretty much home territory for sun flower seeds.
Now I have to tell you, as we crossed into MN, we drove down into one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve encountered. There was a river down the bottom of the mountainous area we were coming down. This would be on route 90. At the border, you cross over an amazing waterway at the base of Lake Francis Case which is where I do believe the Missouri river begins. Route 90 runs right out over this and man is it's a sight to see.
As we got out into MN and later into SD, I really started to reflect on the history of this region, and started to think about what folks went through when they started to move west as our great country was being explored and formed. Many of these areas are still expansive, semi-untamed areas of pristine prairie land. Again, being a native New Englander, it was amazing to see land with not a tree in sight. We don’t get views like this here.
I had the feeling of almost continually going up hill soon after getting west of Chicago. As I learned, there’s a good reason for this, we were! Chicago sits at roughly 594’ above sea level. Sturgis itself is at around 3,500’ above sea level. We were basically climbing a long hill all the way there.
On our way to our final destination, Tilford Gulch Campground in Piedmont, SD, we saw some pretty amazing things. First, you can’t miss the Wall Drug Store. There is a sign every 10 feet starting about the time you cross into SD. Now this is a must see if you’re ever out that way. I don’t care if you’re going for Bike Week or just going to visit the region to see it’s amazing landscape and history. Wall Drug Store was opened in 1931 by a couple, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, in an area referred to as :”the geographical center of nowhere”! They struggled to make it as they were heading into the Great Depression but eventually figured out a way to get folks to stop in; offering free ice water to road weary travelers. Soon they would make a point to stop in to enjoy a nice break from a long day of traveling.
This is so much more than a drug store today, it boasts all sorts of old looking shops along the main strip with places to eat and you can pick up any kind of trinket you could want to bring home as a memory. Me, I picked up a really cool Badlands hat and a buffalo pin.
After spending a short time at Wall, and telling our group I hoped to get back before the trip was done, we set out for Rapid City so I could pick up my bike. On the way, we passed the Badlands, a place I had hoped to do some riding before we were done.
Finally, mid-morning on Monday, we crested a hill and out in front of us you could see the Black Hills with Rapid City sitting just in front of them. The first glimpse was nearly breathtaking! I was in the lead truck and I can’t recall if I was the driver or passenger but I was in front and in awe! You can truly see why they call it the Black Hills. At this elevation, you don’t see the hardwoods like you do here in the Northeast. Instead, it’s all evergreens and the green appears black from a distance. I was starting to get really excited at this point and couldn’t way to get to my bike!
Fortunately, the hotel the shipping company made base camp at was right off of route 90 and easy to get to. We arrived and they were waiting for me. My bike was in the parking lot and ready to fire up. I put my bag on, strapped into my helmet, pulled on my riding gloves and fired it up so I could follow the rest of the group to our campground.
Bugs be damned, not that there really are any, I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing as we pulled out of the parking lot. I don’t think I stopped until we finally found our campground, even when we got a little, shall we say, misplaced, trying to find it. I felt like a 10-year-old kid that had just gotten a cool new bicycle for his birthday and was taking it for its maiden voyage!
A short time later, we finally arrived at Tilford Gulch Campground and man was this place cool! They had a bar and small restaurant down at the main office and the owners seemed like really nice folks! If you ever decide to head out that way and are looking to do some camping, I’d really recommend this place. Its location is good, it’s about 9 miles south of Sturgis just off of I90, and the owners are really pleasant. Just keep in mind, you won’t be roasting marshmallows on the fire or firing up a charcoal grill because you can’t have one! The fire risk is simply too high there so Meade County has a burn ban to avoid problems. This is true throughout the county and not unique to Tilford Gulch.
This is also considered a quieter place to stay. They pride themselves on that. If you’re looking for the all-night party, this may not be the place for you. If you want to have a peaceful place to sleep when you do decide to roll in and crash, then you’re in the right place. The party is always on in the area so it’s nice to have a quite place to come back to crash later.
Here’s a cool fact, the owner, Tom, is also the owner of the Busted Knuckle Saloon in downtown Sturgis. He’s also one of the nicest people you’re going to meet out on the road.
Our camp was pretty amazing. We were up on a hill overlooking the valley between two of them. Route 90 was in between but being as high up as we were it wasn’t too loud. The view was just amazing. Seeing the sun come up over the mountain across the way in the morning was just beautiful. We had a large area set aside for us and for the space we were afforded, it was quite affordable. We had two large cabin tents for our group and met some other friends there (Scott, Connor, Ian, Norm and Will) who’d ridden up from Colorado. They had several smaller tents themselves and we all shared our expansive site.
Now back to the trailer week jokes. When we arrived, the guys from Colorado were in little tents that travel well and had next to nothing with them. It really isn’t practical to carry too much on the road trip with you’re on 2 wheels. When we arrived, we had the two large tents, an easy up to cover our table, a full-sized gas grill, plenty of clothes and coolers full of beer and food among other things. We were ready to set up and make camp. One of the guys from Colorado, Norm I believe, brought this up over beers one night. He mentioned all of the jokes about Trailer Week and said how cool it was when we arrived because they went from really basic camping to having everything you need to being truly comfortable while you’re there.
We set up our space, made some lunch and prepared for an AWESOME several days. Whether you ride yours in, haul it in, or simply ship it there, just make sure you get there at some point.
TO BE CONTINUED: Click here for the next article in the series...