Riding the Edge – Two Cyclists at a Motorcycle Rally

Hill City, SD is overrun by bikers, plus the lone cyclist.

Hill City, SD is overrun by bikers, plus the lone cyclist.

The ragged, messy edge of human interaction is my favorite. When people who might not cross paths do so, life gets interesting. Or perhaps annoying at the outset, then interesting. At the very least, it’s a fun story for later. A perfect example is the craziness surrounding the Sturgis Rally in South Dakota.

This is not the time I would choose to visit the Black Hills. Heck, many of the locals rent out their homes and hit the road for a vacation this time of year to escape the 500,000-strong deluge of bwap bwap bwap bikes raining down like hungry locusts from all directions. Some bikers even avoid the main rally, showing up the week before it starts to meet up with friends and then zooming off before “things get too crazy.” Coming from a brawny, tattooed badass riding a giant Harley, that’s saying something (her boyfriend looked tough too). We had no idea this onslaught was in our future when we diverted our planned route from North Dakota to its southern neighbor.

Not gonna lie: the Rally cramped our free-wheeling style a bit. For one, bikers (we are now cyclists, they get the b-word) like to ride the same back roads that we do. What usually would be a silent cruise up twisty Spearfish Canyon, gateway to the Black Hills, was instead a cacophony of echoing tailpipes blasting off the canyon walls. Locals told us the deep thrum of Harley engines literally never stops for two weeks around the Rally. Throw in the fact that all the campgrounds and hotels are booked up, with rates 2x+ higher than usual, and it’s a serious pain in the ass to be an unsuspecting visitor at this time.

And yet… I love the counterpoint the Rally gave to our cozy bubble of happy cycling routine. Someone wise said growth happens when you hit your edge and get out of your comfort zone. That seems accurate when we roll up in full spandex to a saloon with 15 burly bikers lounging on the sagging front porch drinking Bud Lite. I’m still waiting to get a beer can and derogatory language hurled my way, but instead there’s a camaraderie between two-wheeled riders. I’m like the next Hunter S. Thompson, infiltrating the ranks of the Hells Angels while clad in Lycra, minus the quaaludes and heavy drinking. (Ok, so I’m not even close.)

I can only call this shot "Mt. Rushmore and Bikers."

I can only call this shot “Mt. Rushmore and Bikers.”

Living on the edge of our comfort zone reaffirms that this world is populated with all types. On a bicycle, there’s no windshield between us and the world – we’re exposed to the weather and any loony that wants to talk to us. (And vice versa!) Still, there is an inherent respect we gain since we’re doing something challenging. The dozens of bikers told us to “be safe out there” and “wow, I could never do that!” mixed in with “you should put an engine on that thing” or “Wanna race?” To the latter, I responded “Nah, I don’t want to humiliate you.” Boom…not a punch to my face, just a big laugh from the guy. I also enjoyed fist-punching the air with a “WOOOOO” going by groups of parked bikers. Always good for shouts in response and revving engines. Ah, the simple yet fun things in life.

While it’s motorcyclists in this example, it could be truck drivers, ardent NASCAR fans, a conservative retired stockbroker from Florida or anything in between. It’s all context, a framework to reinforce or test our values and keep things interesting. BSing with people along our route is one of my favorite pastimes and I always learn something about what makes us tick as humans. This fun little expedition into the Black Hills was no different…but there’s still no way I’m parking my bicycle to ride a Harley.

Ride on,


My own Harley phalanx. This group of outwardly hardcore bikers cracked up when I pulled up next to them and yelled "Where are we going?" Chelsea even got them to wave at the camera.

My own Harley phalanx. This group cracked up when I pulled up next to them and yelled “Where are we going?”