The next day I was anxious to get on the road. It wasn’t a “break-of-dawn” start, but camp came down as soon as I was up and the cell phone was charged up. I was probably the second one out of the campground. I was too early to hit the gift shop for breakfast, but I knew I was going to have another huge lunch, so I wasn’t worried. My favorite stop on the way to Sturgis is a place called the Alaska Café in Lemmon, SD. Been looking forward to this lunch for a long time, so I pulled out around 8:30. (Couldn’t leave too much earlier with the time zone change and all if I wanted lunch in Lemmon.)
Rode south along the Missouri River on Hwy 1806. Not a lot of traffic that early, which was just fine by me. Aw heck, this is middle-of-nowhere Dakotas – there’s never a lot of traffic. Rode through the Standing Rock reservation and Ft. Yates where there was a powwow going on. Would have liked to have stopped for that. If I knew it had been going on, I might have ridden that far the night before and taken part of the festivities. Maybe next year. After that I was greeted by a large buffalo herd just after crossing the North Dakota/South Dakota border. And I mean LARGE. Wasn’t solid animals, but went on for miles. Wanted to take a picture so badly, but there was no shoulder and no way to do it safely that I could spot. ☹
My first big “adventure” was filling up in McLaughlin. There were several pumps already taken when I pulled up so I took the far one and wound up with the pump on my right. That was my mistake. I find it much more difficult to fill up from the right than the left because of the way the bike leans. Well, it didn’t take long before the hose slipped and I got a face full of gas. Luckily I still had my glasses on. Had to stop the pump and find a towel/rag to wipe my face off. My eyes were stinging, but more from the fumes than getting actual gas in them. Kept wiping my face with towels until I got my bearings enough to go find some running water. Seems like it took forever to get to that point. I’m not sure if no one saw what happened, but no one was offering any help. I staggered blindly into the women’s bathroom right behind a mom and small daughter. It was a small bathroom and I’m sure that thought I was going to push my way ahead of them. Well, I kind of did, but only to the sink. Once I got a few splashes of water on my face, I explained to them what happened. Of course they asked if I was headed to Sturgis, and I found out they were from Mobridge and heading to Bismarck to go to WalMart. Yeah, in this part of the country you travel 113 miles to go to WalMart. Well, I finally got cleaned up. I looked like hell at this point, but my eyes weren’t stinging anymore and I was pretty sure I had gotten everything well rinsed off. So back to the bike to finish the fill. And then back on the road.
Got into Lemmon and the Alaska Café right before they were scheduled to close and enjoyed my Alaska Burger immensely. This thing is a hamburger with a thick slice of ham, bacon, onion rings, cheese, sauce, and veggies on top. It’s to die for. Or ride 360 miles for. ☺ Lemmon is also a gas stop. The nearest gas is 70 miles away after that. Got to talking with an older gentleman while I was filling up about Sturgis and motorcycles. I think the entire state knows that Rally is going on and gets excited about it. The Alaska Café even stayed open way past their usual closing time to accommodate the bikers riding through.
After Lemmon the ride turns into a whole lot of nothing. I love that kind of riding, but between Lemmon and Sturgis the only stop was at Faith for gas, and that was just a quick pump and go. Well, not as quick as some, I suppose. Faith doesn’t do pay-at-the-pump, you have to get off the bike and go inside. It’s kind of quaint. And kind of nerve-wracking for the folks working there, as they’ve got to keep track of who pumped how much. And it’s a non-stop stream of bikes for the entire week I suspect. Anyone who thinks bikers are mean and nasty folks should see the line at the Faith gas station with people trying to be honest about paying for what they pumped.
Of course, me being the slowest bike on the road, I got passed by several groups also heading into Sturgis. It’s always fun to see folks on the road, even if they’re riding by you. As I got closer to Sturgis, I could see Bear Butte in the distance, which tells me I was getting close to The Buffalo Chip campground. I was on the lookout for another campground too on Hwy 34 that I wanted to check out. The Shade Valley campground looked nice from the road and was a place that I wanted to check out later.
Well, finally the big metal buffalo sign could be seen and I had made it to The Chip. Now to get registered and find a spot to set up camp. I had been warned about the roads at The Chip, so I was prepared for them, but that didn’t make them any easier. And of course, there were tons of people also checking in. I found a spot to park the bike and got in line to register. Registration was actually pretty painless, other than the waiting. Handed them my e-mail receipt and they gave me the wristband I’d need for the week. And that was that. (I had prepaid.)
Now for the tougher job of finding a campsite. OK. I have no idea where to go. The camp roads are a maze to me and when I asked directions they pretty much just pointed down the road. OK, fine. I’ll just ride around for a bit. Well, I found myself back among the RVs and figured that wasn’t right, so I turned around (and I was “turned around” at this point). There were tents everywhere, but I spotted a piece of ground not too far from the road and decided it would work. Felt like I was encroaching on other folks, but also felt like I didn’t have a lot of choices. (In a couple of days it would feel a lot different.)
Well, I can and have set up my camp in 10 minutes in the dark, but this was afternoon and I wasn’t in much of a hurry. Not having much to set up though, I don’t think it took much longer than that. The next order of business was to find the bathrooms and get generally oriented to the campground. Old habits die hard and once I get to a campground, I park and walk from there. So I set off walking to explore the place. Found the showers without too much trouble. They were busy even at that time of day. Walked around the other half of the campground over to the amphitheater. Ok, I’ll admit that the road into the amphitheater felt a bit like a gauntlet the first time through, but it turned out to not be so bad, especially as the week wore on. Just walked around a bit and checked it out. Stopped by the general store and picked up some Mountain Dew and some chocolate and headed back over to the campsite. That was pretty much my excitement for the evening. I didn’t eat supper (still full from lunch) and skipped out on the concert that night as I was pretty knackered from the road.
As it turned out, I really picked a pretty good spot to camp. I was just off from the main road where it crosses the bridge by Bikini Beach and just before the next main intersection where it splits off to the showers. There was a small tree to mark where I should pull off the road, which became useful throughout the week as campsite landmarks came and went. I was near enough for me to the showers/bathrooms and to Pirate Bay where I could get food and drink. It was a bit of a walk to the amphitheater, but easy enough to negotiate, even in the dark. There were other spots with better views, but I liked mine well enough to stay there again.
It had been a long time a-coming, a long ride to get there, and a long day, but I was finally camping at The Buffalo Chip campground for the Sturgis Rally!