Writer's Ramblings

Don’t Play in the Mud

Written by  November 30, 2006

You know, some of the things I find most interesting and perhaps at times exciting about The Sturgis Rally is the weather and ever-changing riding conditions. You never know what to expect. I’ve been fried to a cinder in Wyoming, frozen stiff at night in The Black Hills, sand blasted by dust devils, soaked to the bone in torrential rains, beaten into mush by hail, ridden at a 45-degree angle in high-speed cross winds. I’ve been stung by bees, shit on by birds, smashed by huge bugs, eaten more than a few too. I’ve almost been killed by buffalo, mule deer, mountain goats, coyote, and big ugly cows with real long horns. I’ve had pheasant, partridge, and grouse try to knock my head off. Flocks of turkeys have crossed right in front of me. I guess you could say that when you ride in Sturgis you get to see it all. But wait, I’ve forgotten something. This story is about the day I rode my Low Rider up Deadwoods’ main street in six inches of mud, rocks, and old semi-rotten tree remnants. All washed down from the mountain side in a mudslide caused by one hell of a storm. Well hold on, let’s start at the beginning.

It had been a very dry summer that year and there had been a lot of forest fires in the hills around Deadwood. Fire is no stranger in the Black Hills. In fact on September 26, 1879 fire swept through Deadwood and destroyed 300 buildings. Oh, by the way, they named it Deadwood because of all the dead wood lying around under the pine trees. Go figure, I guess creativity and imagination weren’t their strong suit in those days. I think Deadwood is the Indian word for “make plenty burn.” This year though Deadwood was very lucky. The fires literally stopped right on the sides of the canyon walls above town. It did a real number on the mountains above Deadwood though. This would play a critical role in what was to come.

It was a really great day. Not a cloud in the sky and not too hot. My buddy Mike was
tending bar down at The Nugget that day so I decided to take a nice ride by myself. I
figured I’d go out to Cheyenne Crossing and then down through Spearfish Canyon. What an incredible day to be in The Canyon. If you’ve never been through it you are really missing something very special. The only problem with Spearfish Canyon is that it’s so beautiful that you’ll want to look around at everything and that’s a really bad idea. It’s very winding with long almost 365-degree curves that you keep expecting to be over but they just keep going on and on. Looking around is not an option. Losing your concentration for even a second on this road could get very ugly very fast. Well that’s the rule at all times at Sturgis anyway. Don’t pay attention… people die. If you’re not at the top of your game please do us all a favor and stay at home or bring the family car and just watch the show. Riding the road between Deadwood and Sturgis is probably the most, no, it is the most intense riding I’ve ever experienced in my life and I started riding in the mid 1960’s. I’ve seen horrible things on that road. Things that I don’t want to write about or even remember. For those of you that haven’t had the experience of being on that road at the height of bike week at about 6 p.m. when everyone is heading down to Sturgis, or midnight when everyone is going home, let me see if I can describe it to you:

Very dark, double lane, undivided road. Speed limit varies from 25-55. Incredibly sharp and winding curves. Curves so long that your brain keeps saying “okay, time to straighten out,” but you’d better not because you’re not even halfway there, my friend. Downhill going to Sturgis, uphill coming back. Bikes to the left of you, bikes to the right of you, bikes right in front of and behind you. Bikes flying right at you with a closing speed of over a hundred miles an hour and zooming past in a nano second of roar and blur. Missing you by mere feet, sometimes less. And the noise is constant and unrelenting; your senses are on the verge of overload. The only way to survive it is to concentrate on your own little patch of highway in front of you and maintain your line. Don’t be looking around to see what the other guy is doing because you’ll ride right into him. Just have faith and pray that the riders around you and coming at you know what they’re doing and don’t screw up or decide to do some sightseeing.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, mud. So I go through Spearfish Canyon, pick up Route 90 and head into Sturgis for a couple of cold ones and some looking around. After about an hour or so I had had enough. I’m not what you’d call a “crowd person.” It’s time to make my break back to Deadwood. I do a quick look up in the sky and don’t like what I see. I looked up the canyon where I was heading and I have never seen a nastier more sinister looking sky. Now I’ve seen some very black skies in my day but this was more like a deep forest green/black. Yuck, nasty and there was what almost looked like a horizontal tornado going across the sky above the mountain. No way am I riding into that. I decided to cool it a while in town until this blew over. Well, I didn’t have to wait long for it to “blow over.” The only problem was it blew over right where I was waiting. It came down into Sturgis. I’d have to say that this was the worst storm, with the hardest downpour and highest winds that I’ve ever experienced. No, I’ve never been through a bad hurricane or tornado, but believe me brother, this was no little summer shower. When it hit I headed for the closest cover which happened to be a huge tent. It didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t a good place to be. I left there pretty quickly and went into a more solid building that I hoped wouldn’t blow away. The torrential rain was flooding everything and running a good 15 inches deep down the side of Main Street in Sturgis. The bikes parked along the street had water rushing over them up to the gas tanks. It was intense.

After about a half hour the storm stopped. I figured it was safe to leave so I saddled up and took off up the canyon back to Deadwood. When I got over that last hill and started my descent down into town, I noticed the road looked kind of funny. I saw that the traffic was really heavy and backed up. The police were blocking the right hand fork going into town and directing everyone to the left up the back road parallel to Main Street. When I got down the hill, I saw some debris in the road and when I put on the brakes, my bike started sliding around. Then when I put down my feet they slid too and I almost dumped it. That’s when I realized that there was an inch of wet slick mud covering the road. What a mess. Could you imagine riding your beautiful motorcycle down a road covered with an inch of chocolate pudding? I was bummin out. Soon I got to the fork where the cops were blocking Main Street and directing bikes around. Well I didn’t want to go around; I wanted to go down Main Street. I just needed to go about half way down and I could cut over to the alley and bypass Main altogether. Then I could get up the side of the canyon and be home safe and sound. I thought I’d just pull in there and explain to the police where I was staying and maybe they’d let me through. Well as fate would have it, just as I made my decision to go and beg, they turned their attention momentarily elsewhere. So never one to miss an opportunity I zipped right around the road block and went up Main Street. I couldn’t believe it. The inch of mud rapidly turned into 6 inches then 8 inches of wet nasty mud. I saw way up the road that they were out with fire hoses washing the street and sidewalks down…..down on me! Great! I had mud everywhere. My beautiful Blue Dyna was caked with it. I was caked with it. As if the mud wasn’t bad enough it was full of rocks and branches of varying sizes. I kept bouncing over stuff and getting knocked sideways. Bikes were everywhere. They were washed together and had grass and branches and all the stuff you find on the forest floor washed up in the cases and some up to the headlight. They looked like they had been parked in a riverbed during a flood with all the grasses and crap sticking in them. That’s the way all the bikes looked. It was a bad scene. Lucky that Deadwood only allows parking on one side of the street where the kick stands are on the downside. This prevented the bikes from washing over and being swept down the road on their sides. That would have made things much worse. A bunch of those incredible big buck Hamster bikes were in town and several ended up getting washed together down by the back of The Bullock Hotel. Those guys must have been flippin out.

Well, somehow I made it down Main Street and turned right at the street where the parking garage is. There I picked up the old alley running along the back side of Deadwood and took it to the end, turned right and zig zagged my way up the canyon streets to The House of Roses, where I was staying. The House of Roses is a very old dilapidated Victorian mansion which my buddy’s father is restoring. It’s one of those national historic places. Pretty cool but at this point it was just like a rundown abandoned house and a little haunted too. Pretty wild stuff, but no I can’t tell you about that now; stay tuned though.

So the end of the story, or the rest of the story, is that the fires had burned away most of the plant cover on the sides of the mountains and canyons so that when that awful storm hit, there was nothing to hold the hillsides in place and they just kind of slid on down the Main Street of Deadwood and gave me yet another adventure to write about. Kool…

My Dyna hosed off just fine and she is no worse for the experience. Same goes for Deadwood and of course yours truly.

I would also like to include a word of thanks to real stand up guy named Randee Peterson over at Sturgis.com. They have tons of rally pictures and information on their site. Check it out man. He graciously gave me permission to use the pictures I found on their website of that fateful day in Deadwood. I even found a couple of pictures of that sky I was trying to describe. God bless you Randee, I owe you a cold one!

By Manfive Irish