Blue Lagoon

A week at the Buffalo Chip can be wet and muddy or hot and dry. This year, it was the latter. There are free showers on the campground, but after a few days of hanging around them, paid options started to look good. And I should explain. Half of my interest in the shower house was in running water, but the other half was electricity. Keeping my cell phone charged was a constant battle. Some folks have power ports on their bikes, but I haven’t gotten that far. So I would take a shower and just hang around for an hour or two, which never got the phone fully charged anyway. And can you say *AWKWARD*? Just hanging out while other folks are showering is not my idea of fun, nor is it really socially acceptable, even at The Chip. (Although I did see a bunch of the Miss Chip contestants get gussied up.)

So when a gentleman walked through my campsite one afternoon handing out business cards for a paid shower service just up the campground road, it got my attention. The campground has paid showers near the entrance, but the lines seemed constant and it was a bit of a walk. This other service, Blue Lagoon Showers, was the other direction and a shorter walk. Count me in!

I walked over a bit later just to see if I could find the place. It was just a trailer with six showers on each end, left side for women and right side for men. They were charging $5, but it sounded like a bargain for hot water, privacy, and cleanliness. Don’t know why, but I just struck up a conversation with the operators and wound up chatting for quite a while. I promised to come back and be a customer.

Must have been Tuesday when I started making the short hike on a daily basis. It seemed every time I went to take a shower I’d wind up talking for at least an hour. Just chit chats, but a pleasant way to pass the time. Then it dawned on me that these guys have power in their motor home. Well then, the next time I asked if I could plug in my now dead phone while I was showering (shower area had no power). And now the conversations got even longer so I could get more juice into the machine.

This became a ritual the final few days. I’d take a shower and just hang out until my phone charged. Got to know the guys fairly well. Being from Minnesota too, we had lots to talk about.

Some folks may wonder why you’d pay for a shower, but by the end of the week I considered it a bargain for letting me charge my phone and having a nice operation going. I’d use them again in a heartbeat. I hope they return again next year.

Deadwood

I headed into Deadwood a couple of times during the week. The first time was the day they were doing the Legends Ride and doing some filming for PeeWee Herman’s movie. I drove through town (after the long, hot, dusty trip from the campground, then through Sturgis) looking for a parking spot. Well half the town was blocked off and the other half was a zoo. Gave up any hope of parking on the street and headed back to the visitor center parking lot at the end of the main drag. There’s a trolley that runs through town that I thought I’d hop on and get a little closer to the action at the other end of Main Street. Well, I got on the trolley and soon learned that it wasn’t going any where near the action on Main Street. What I thought was going to be a two-stop journey wound up being the entire route. Got off where I had gotten on. (Got my money’s worth out of that $1!)

Pic of The Stockade bar in Deadwood
My favorite hangout in Deadwood

Just walked through town at that point. Knew there was a webcam in town and didn’t exactly know where it was, so I was keeping an eye out for it. It didn’t take too long to find it. I wound up making a beeline for my favorite watering hole, The Stockade, only to discover that the webcam is right at its’ front door. Well, decided that beverages came before tweeting and went upstairs and got something to drink and hung out on the balcony railing looking at all the bikes and people out on the street. Didn’t stay too long as I was hungry. And lo and behold, right across the street was a Chinese restaurant. Good enough for me!

The restaurant was the 2nd floor above a casino. And of course it was dark inside, so I went to prop my sunglasses on my head and boom! – they broke. Now realize, that within the past 7 days I had broke an identical pair the identical way, scratched up the lenses on my night glasses, bought a replacement pair, and now those were broken too. Buggers! I really liked the way those glasses fit, but if they can’t stand up to being propped up on my head, forget ’em! Well, I was now on a mission to find a better pair, but after lunch please!

The restaurant had great service and great food. Got to talking a bit with the wait staff. Everyone always wants to know if I rode in myself. And that’s always worth a conversation – mostly from them! I must have been really tired, because I sure took my time eating. Had nowhere to go anyway. Stop and smell the orange chicken! When I finally left the hostess chased me down. I had left my broken glasses on the table and she thought I had left them behind. Told you it had great service, even if it included throwing them out for me.

Spent the next few hours poking around. Did find some cheap glasses at the Harley store. And I also talked with some of the locals who were commenting on the weather forecast. Just the week before, Deadwood got hit with a MAJOR hailstorm. Looked like snow in the streets it was that deep. Broke some glass in one of the casino hotels and flooded it’s basement. Well, I didn’t think lightning would strike twice, but I also didn’t want to get caught out in a hailstorm. So I finished up my tour of town and headed back for the ride back to The Chip. I think it might be a total of 15 miles or so, but it took me well over an hour. I basically had my feet down from Boulder Canyon all the way into The Chip. Was awfully glad to finally drop the jiffy stand and crawl off the beast once I got to my campsite.

I think I mentioned that my boots are NOT made for walking. After my after day in town, my tootsies were achin’! I walked around the campground again, but limped is probably more of an accurate description than walked. Got some drinks, food, and took in the concert(s). And got the boots off as soon as I could. 🙂

A Slow Start to the Week

I had absolutely no plans for the week. Yeah, sure, there were a couple of people I wanted to meet up with, but I hadn’t even made any commitment with them. So Sunday, I wanted to head into Sturgis and wander around for a bit. Got up at a reasonable hour, but apparently so did everyone else. Took quite a while to just get out of the campground, much less get into Sturgis and find a parking spot. Must have taken 90 minutes at least from campsite to Main Street parking spot. And hot, dusty, dry minutes too.

By the time I got to Main Street, the parking spaces were getting scarce. I found one in the center of the street which was pretty easy to get into, and hopefully out of. Hopped off and started walking the streets. As always, lots to see. Mostly t-shirts, of course, but they are always interesting. Having no money, and no space to pack anything home, made the shopping pretty easy – didn’t buy a thing. Did find my favorite rest stop at Temporary Insanity and grabbed a bit of food. Was hoping for an outlet next to the table so I could charge up my cell phone, but none were to be found. But as I was eating, I spotted some folks using some outlets up by the front door and took note to stop by later and grab that spot.

This year I was more interested in looking at bike parts and accessories than most anything else. Haven’t done a bloody thing to my bike yet and that needs to change. Was looking for ideas and options for my little Sportster. Don’t know if I found anything in particular, however. I checked out both Main Street and Lazelle and walked around almost every booth it seemed. Took in a lot of sights, but it seems like everything I want doesn’t work for my bike. 🙁 I did remember to stop by the webcam and send some tweets off to friends while I was there and they managed to capture me in action. 🙂

I did manage to make it back to Temporary Insanity for a beverage and got my spot by the outlet, which was good since my cell phone was dying after all those tweets. It was right up by the windows looking out on the street so I had a great people watching spot. It was also right near the photo tower that people use to take the classic shots of all the bikes parked on Main Street. And while I was there, the official rally photographer was up trying to get a pic of the crowd. Worked too. The longer he was up there, the bigger the crowd got. Must have finally got the shot he wanted and the crowd was dismissed. Don’t know what that did for traffic, but it couldn’t have been good.

I suppose it was late afternoon when I finally got tired of walking and decided to head back to camp. Trick was finding the bike. I knew the landmarks I was looking for, but it seemed like forever until I got there. And of course, as I was pulling out of my spot, there was someone waiting to pull right into it.

Back at the campground, I had a slow night that night. I think I walked up to the smaller stage and got myself a drink and sat a spell. Got to talking with a few guys, including one associated with the band playing there. His name was Kyle, but I don’t remember the name of the band. I kind of wore myself out walking around Sturgis, so it was an early night for me. I could hear the concert from my tent, but didn’t walk over to the amphitheater. I should point out here that the only footwear I had along were my riding boots. They are not very comfortable for walking a lot. Really just wanted to get my boots off and put my feet up. My first “wild and crazy” day at the Sturgis rally and The Buffalo Chip campground. LOL

Note: The posts are going to get less chronological after this. A couple of things I want to talk about, but don’t take them as an accurate description of how I spent my time. Editor’s license. 🙂

Arriving

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!

On The Way to Sturgis

Before I begin, let me set a bit of background. In the past year, I’ve lost my house, car, job, and life & health insurance. I’ve had my income reduced 80%. I haven’t played World of Warcraft or been to Starbucks in months. I would have qualified for public assistance but I refused to give up my Harley. They say that without hope, the people perish. Sturgis was the hope that has kept me going over the past several months. I think that gives a feel for what this trip meant to me. I had very little pocket money to spend and I’ve had to viciously guard that to have any at all. But I was going to go come hell or high water (and I’ve seen both).

It’s only about 500 miles to Sturgis for me. A good day’s ride, but I chose to break it into two days both on the way down and the way back. So my destination for the first night was Ft. Lincoln State Park just south of Mandan, ND, just over 200 miles away. Custer lived there just before he headed off for the Little Bighorn. I’ve been there before, but had never camped there.

I wasn’t in a hurry to leave and spent the morning packing and preparing the house/kids for my absence. Then I had gotten the message for the job interview just as I had strapped on the leathers and was ready to head out. After a bit of waiting and message leaving, I connected with them and scheduled the interview for when I got back.

I had two stops to make on the way, besides the gas stop. The first was a truck stop that I’ve written about before. Only about an hour west, but anytime I’m passing by I’m going to stop. You gotta vote with your dollars for things you want to see continue. The Tower City Truck Stop gets my vote.

The other stop I wanted to make on the way down was at the Harley dealer in Mandan. I broke my sunglasses two days before and wanted to pick up a replacement pair there. They had the exact pair that I broke, and I really like those so I bought another pair. Did spend a bit of time looking around, but wasn’t interested in dropping any money before the trip even got started. I was still full from the big trucker lunch, so I didn’t grab any food in town. Did gas up before heading out to the state park.

The park is only about 7 miles out of town, but it was the first 2-lane road all day. Felt good to get out of the Interstate traffic. I got there just about the time the park (not the campground) was closing for the day. I was hoping to get some ice cream, but it was a bit too late before I thought of it. No matter. I surely wasn’t going to starve overnight. I set up my camp and had a few hours to kill watching the Missouri river roll by. The campground was fairly full, but I kept thinking how different it was from the place I was going to be camping for the next week. I think there was one other motorcycle, lots of families, some older folks with RVs. Yeah, not the rally crowd.

Rain was predicted overnight and possibly the next day. I learned a long time ago to get animated radar on my phone. So as I tucked in for the night, I watched some rain building to the west and figured I was in for a soggy time. As it was, I woke up at 2am to thunder and lightning, but not a drop fell on the campground. Couldn’t believe that the rain had split. Some went north, some went south, and the narrow dry strip in between was right overhead. 🙂

(Oh, and a consequence of my checking radar was that it drained the phone battery. Spent an hour or two the next morning in the showerhouse trying to get it charged up again. 🙁 )

The next morning I hit the road about 8:45am. Got a shot of Custer’s house as I was leaving. I would be in Sturgis by sundown, but I was more interested in getting to Lemmon, South Dakota in time for an Alaska burger at the Alaska Cafe. I tell ya, that burger is nearly worth the 360 miles to go get it. Burger, ham, bacon, onion rings, cheese, sauce, veggies, and I’m sure I’m missing something. Good thing I only get one or two a year!

To be continued…