THE KAERU KID: ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘The Wild One’

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ­— photo by The Kaeru Kid

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally ­— photo by The Kaeru Kid

The above two-referenced motorcycle movies left an indelible imprint when I was young and impressionable. I think most males have fantasized about hitting the open road on a “hog.” I tried it, but it never became my dream. I rented a motorcycle on the island of Turks and Caicos and was riding around on some of the dirt backroads when I realized this particular road was leading nowhere, so I quickly attempted a u-turn, but I didn’t account for the sandy road as the bike slipped and skidded toward some huge boulders. I had not worn the recommended helmet because of the heat. I tried to protect my head and ended with lots of skin burn and a cracked rib.

Notwithstanding the above incident, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota has been on my bucket list for a long time.  The 74th annual rally (http://www.sturgismotorcyclerally.com/) was held Aug. 4-10, 2014. (Unfortunately, even though this piece was submitted before this year’s event, space limitations caused a late publication. Next year’s is set for Aug. 3-9, 2015.) 

It all started in 1938 with racing and stunt events sponsored by the Jackpine Gypsies Motorcycle Club, which still owns the racetrack.  The first event had just a few audience members, but over the years, it began to attract more people. By 2000, there were more than a half million arrivals. The number of attendees has been as high as 600,000, but nowadays tends to be just more than 400,000. Since some 6,000 people normally live in the city, one can imagine how crowded things are.

When I visited, I flew into Rapid City, the second largest South Dakota city with a population of 70,000, I rented a car in town rather than at the airport.  Even adding the taxi fare, the savings was about $100 because of all the fees the airport facility charges.  

Rapid City is named for Rapid Creek,which runs through the town that is also called the Presidents’ City because of life-size bronze statues of all the American presidents located on downtown street corners. Accommodations are in short supply and prices are high within a hundred miles of Sturgis. Both Rapid City and Deadwood City are about a half hour drive from Sturgis.  Campgrounds can be closer and cheaper, so early reservations are recommended.  

An especially popular campground is the legendary Buffalo Chip Campground (buffalochip.com), which charges $275 for tent camping for the week. That includes free admission to nightly entertainment. A day pass to the campground ranges from $20 to $62.50, depending on the stage performer. They also have what is billed as EZ Camping, where they provide everything needed for camping, and it is setup before arrival. The cost starts at $675 a week for one person and is less for each additional guest. This campground is supposedly where more action occurs than in Sturgis itself, but I never made it there. 

I was fortunate to stay with a couch surfer in Hill City, located about an hour away from Sturgis, but even this town was packed with bikers.  It is a quaint town with many art galleries, but they welcome the bikers by closing off the Main Street for biker-only access.  Older bikers tend to favor staying here.

With so many bikers in such a limited space, one might expect an increase in crime, theft, and accidents, but for the number of attendees, these increases are relatively small.  Many who attend are wannabe bikers and can be business people, accountants, doctors, dentists, lawyers, and even law enforcement members — but probably most are blue-collar workers and not renegade outlaw stereotypes.  Overall, everyone seems to realize unwanted action could lead to the demise of such an event, so they obey traffic laws and are generally very polite.  Surprisingly, few police are evident.  I saw a few Asian women riding as passengers and no male Asians, but I know Asian friends who have attended.  Black or Asian biker attendance at the Sturgis Rally is as common as a rainy day in Las Vegas.

The Sturgis area is great for a day trip bike ride to Deadwood City, where Wild Bill Hickok was murdered while playing cards and holding what became known as the “dead man’s hand” (pair of black aces and a pair of black eights). 

Other day trip destinations include Custer State Park, Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial (which is much larger than Rushmore), Bear Butte Park, the Badlands, Wall Drug and Devils Tower.  I had visited these places years previously and can recommend them all. 

One place I missed because I was unaware of its existence until a friend mentioned it after my return is the Mammoth Site near Hot Springs, S.D., about an hour from Rapid City. It is a sinkhole that trapped many prehistoric animals and so if you are interested in such things, as I am, don’t miss it. http://mammothsite.com.

Not riding a bike here (Harley preferred) is like being the only clothed person at a nudist colony.  It seemed the whole town was just one big shopping emporium for  rally souvenirs as well as activities at the many bars.

This short visit was enough to enable me to scratch it off my bucket list. It was easy for this rider not to be a wild one.

***
Las Vegas Tidbits

A reader named Helene Honda wrote to me saying she wanted to meet me, discuss Las Vegas past and send me a copy of her book “Allegro-A Fictionalized Memoir,” which is based on her life.  We still haven’t met and she never sent me her book but you can read the Nichi Bei Weekly review from the Summer 2014 Book Review edition (https://www.nichibei.org/2014/07/retracing-two-generations/) or the synopsis on Amazon.  Reader reviews have given her high marks.  She has led a full and interesting life.  After the wartime incarceration, she attended Juilliard in NYC and came to Vegas after graduation.  It was during the Rat Pack era and she landed many gigs with big bands playing for the likes of Frank Sinatra.

She meets another classically trained musician and they get married. You’ll have to get the book to learn more.

Another author is Mary Adams Urashima who wrote about historic Wintersburg, the first Japanese colony in Huntington Beach, Calif.   (https://www.nichibei.org/2014/07/stimulating-an-appreciation-of-americas-diverse-history-and-cultures-through-preservation/) Urashima is a Caucasian who was formerly married to a Nikkei. Her love of history led to extensive research about the settlement. Funds are urgently needed to preserve this site (http://www.huntingtonbeachca.gov/i_want_to/give/donation-wintersburg.cfm).  I know her father who is a Las Vegas Valley resident.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

 

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