My favorite bartender, a ponytailed, tattooed man-mountain named “Bullfrog,” slammed his Red Bull, crumpled the can and swung a leathered leg over his Harley. It was 3 a.m., and I was leaving a bachelorette party at a downtown DC bar. Bullfrog was leaving for Sturgis, S.D. and its annual orgy of motorcycle riders.
For one August week each year, some 600,000 “hogs,” “choppers,” “trikes” and even the high-speed neon “crotch rockets” normally snubbed by traditionalists nearly double South Dakota’s population. Riders of every race and creed make lifelong friendships at concerts, touring the Black Hills, enjoying pancake breakfasts and admiring infinite rows of gleaming chrome. Sturgis’ stages have welcomed entertainment and speakers including KISS and John McCain.
As Bullfrog’s bike growled away, I worried about him riding sleepless and alone across the bulk of the continent. Sure, Foghat is playing, but otherwise, what was the fascination? Motorcycles are loud. They are dangerous. They take up precious parking spaces.
And, OK, they terrify me. On two feet, I’m an outstanding athlete. On two wheels, not so much. At age 11, my skull became personally acquainted with a car windshield on a rainy bike ride home from school. And at age…well, old enough to know better, a helmet-less Key West moped jaunt ended up pretty much the same way. (These safety tips from legendary Hells Angel Sonny Barger might have helped.)
But Sturgis was that important to Bullfrog, even though as a 20-something he is hardly the ‘Easy Rider’ generation for which the event is traditionally known. He missed his friends; he had never seen Mount Rushmore. Like “Rolling Thunder,” the Washington, DC memorial ride honoring veterans and prisoners of war, Sturgis is one of those Mecca-like biker events every rider worth her chaps simply must attend at least once. (Try these 7 great motorcycle rides, too.)
This week, Sturgis beckons bikers from around the world to its campgrounds, music, exhibits, laser light shows, go-go parties, machine-gun ranges, karaoke…
And I’m sure Bullfrog will be there. Kinda makes me wish I could go too. But in a plane.
Photo credit: David McNew/Getty Images