Just a skosh short of 500,000 motorcycles came to the Black Hills and Sturgis this year, the 79th running of the bikes and the 16th year of the Rally for me and Audrey. We are at times bemused and aggravated by the astounding numbers of increasingly wise folk riding on our exquisite motorcycle highways, transportation corridors formed and memorialized in static rivers of sublime concrete, filled with compound curves and languorous straightaways, an existential cornucopia of delightful bike driving. It’s a blast for our visitors. Not so much for the locals.
Local police, strengthened by cadres of police for hire, concentrate their efforts on monitoring the various heinous and not-so-heinous acts and crimes of out-of-towners, much to the relief of local vagrants and ne’re-do-wells. Some of their work is creating opportunities for crimes, like busily preparing and executing underage sex stings. I don’t feel safer because our officers set up honey pots that attract some out of town flies. The sex stings fall more under the category of officials finding stuff to do on extended assignment. I’m not sure it helps anyone, young or old. It’s just another artifact of our peculiar regional pursuit of motorcycle madness.
The noise is egregious. I’ve surfed through feelings of benign acceptance and inarticulate rage, sometimes in the same five minutes. It’s not good sport. The bars close at one or two in the morning and the traffic going somewhere from the bars rips up the quiet of the night, followed by the early risers who blast up the highway at oh dark thirty, no doubt late for something. The constant noise through the day is also distracting. Of course, we’ve learned to adapt. We leave town. We stay. We go visit friends in quiet locations like Lame Johnny Creek. We go visit family in Denver where it’s peaceful. We go to the Oregon Coast. Or we just stay home and grin and bear it.
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There are many reasons why the Rally may be a good thing economically. It doesn’t feel like a good thing. It feels like we’re a setting for a pirate play where people come, do their dance, then leave. Most of the t-shirts and leather and regalia Rally goers buy is from out-of-town vendors who shadow the Rally like camp followers in the Civil War, setting up for 10 days, collecting what money there is, and moving on to the next rally-like event in another town. Yes, we make some money locally. Our restaurants and motels do well, as do some AirBnBs and vacation rentals, at least the ones that stay open. Increasingly, local businesses are closing for the Rally and leaving town. “The locals don’t come in to eat during the Rally,” one business owner told me. “We go on vacation while the Rally rages and then come home when it’s over.”
Not everybody can leave, even if they wanted to. It’s a hard time of year to travel and expensive. Motels everywhere are more expensive. Then there’s gas and food and it all adds up, so staying home makes sense, even if we have to keep the windows closed.
We suffered epic storms this Rally season, perhaps the wettest ever. The rain was a biblical sign from a higher power about washing away the sins of the world, and the motorcycles, too, while He was at it. Still, they came and stayed and had them some fun. Maybe it’s time for the rest of us to consider whether the whole place should be open day and night to the role-playing fantasies of our biker buddies.