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If you’re a numbers person there is plenty to analyze about the 2010 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

Even more so if you’re somehow impacted by the largest death tally in over 10 years.  These tragedies will reverberate throughout the tri-state area for months, and will undoubtedly affect future events.  My sympathies go out to the friends and families.   Even the Cowboy State (WY) has lawmakers reviewing the lack of a helmet law and are considering revisions based on this year’s tally which reversed a downward trend in that state.

Unknown Wedding Couple at Broken Spoke Saloon

Whether you have interest in the amount of tax revenue, the number of weddings, the number of drug arrests, the number of Regional Health System emergency department visits or the amount of trash the rally produced, there are stat’s for everyone.

First off is the tax revenue; the South Dakota Department of Revenue and Regulation stated that revenues at the 2010 Rally increased ($127,804) from last year. Sales and tourism taxes collected so far from temporary vendors totaled $989,911 in the northern Black Hills, which includes Sturgis and communities in Meade and Lawrence counties.  There were 1,207 vendors at the 2010 rally and the gross vendor sales totaled $13.6 MILLION in the Northern Hills, $1.7M more than last year. In the Southern Hills, which includes Pennington County and Rapid City, Custer, Hill City and Keystone, sales were $2.8 MILLION, up from last year’s $2.5M.  Another indicator of attendance came from the city of Sturgis public works director, Randy Nohava, who stated that the rally generated nearly 9-tons of trash per day!

But, there is one stat we won’t get and that is the exact number of law enforcement agents who worked the rally or the costs.  It’s double-top secret.  However, law enforcement is quick to point to the: 1,442 citations issued, including 209 arrests for driving under the influence; 46 felony drug arrests and 183 misdemeanor drug arrests as a result of their extensive presence.

And while I’m on the law enforcement topic, there is one statistic which was very odd. The arrival of a Blackhawk helicopter, courtesy of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with their extensive support team. Supposedly the Blackhawk was there to provide additional surveillance of criminals and better mobility for ICE agents.  There has been NO word yet on how many illegal immigrants were apprehended at the 2010 rally.  It turns out that the Blackhawk support was never requested according to local law enforcement and in fact their arrival created almost as much controversy as the May 2010 incident where 3-Blackhawks from the Colorado National Guard descended over Wounded Knee and touch off a flurry of protests.

In terms of attendance, the methodology suggests that estimates are always inflated.  In fact, an article in the Rapid City Journal stated that 2009 numbers were rounded down to 477,000 and that the early estimate number for 2010 is 450,000.  The exact number doesn’t really matter as the bean counters really focus on the tax revenue data as a key indicator.

There were some other interesting capitalism mass-marketing stats.  Ford used the Rally to launch its new 2011 H-D “bling” filled F-150 truck and the U.S. Postal Service unveiled the “American Motorcycles” commemorative set of four stamps featuring classic motorcycles and a 1970’s era chopper.  And there are statistics for a good cause too; the 50-mile Legends Ride which raised $52,000, and was split by the Sky Ranch for Boys and the Sturgis Motorcycle Hall of Fame and Museum. And finally were the Hamsters MC, who helped raise more than $257,000 for therapies and services at the Rapid City Children’s Care Hospital for children who couldn’t otherwise afford treatment there.

Yep, the rally has lots of protestations and an industry trumpeting its success…

Statistics courtesy of Rapid City Journal.  Photos courtesy of Army/web.

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Posse at the 70th Sturgis Rally

STURGIS is STURGIS — Since 1938 the Sturgis Rally has been held every year, with some exceptions during WWII, for example the gasoline rationing in 1942.

And as a result, a lot about Sturgis remains nearly the same year after year after year.  There are the RVs, tents, vendors, concerts, people watching and lots of motorcycles.  And did I already say there is a lot of people?  Every year they try to make it bigger, better and fancier.  In fact, this year the musical lineup included folk icon Dylan to heavy metal pioneer Osbourne along with some Motley Crue and ZZ Top in-between.  Each of the big three camp grounds compete with each other to see who can bring in the more impressive talent.

But there feels like a bit of a metamorphosis at Sturgis.  It’s become noticeably more commercial.  Even the Hells Angels had a booth serving up (for a fee) a Sonny B. book signing along with calendar and t-shirt sales!  The rally has turned a corner toward a concentration of commercialized chrome with a sanitized or reserved atmosphere.  Nothing wrong with that.  It’s just about moneymaking which doesn’t interest a lot of folks.

Our group persevered through the changes in rally persona, and spent a couple days at the “humble rumble” (i.e. Sturgis) – enjoying all that the town and surrounding area had to offer up – I departed with only one t-shirt!  The Sturgis population of 6500 hosts a few hundred thousand biking enthusiasts and along the way the economic engine collects about $987M in state tourism for the little celebration.

Capitalism at its finest!  And if you don’t think there are many people in attendance… consider this: NYC has 26,402 people per square mile; Sturgis during rally week has 160,427 people per square mile!

In my estimation there are 3-types of people who come to the Sturgis rally. The CASUAL OBSERVER – who may ride, but most likely does not and spends most of the day in t-shirt shops buying “proof” they were at the ‘mayhem’ or event.  Next is the RECREATIONAL RIDER – some who rode there, but many likely trailered their $35K CVOs.  This group offers up the largest opportunity for the vendor booths as the biker subculture fantasy doesn’t come cheap.  The last group is the RODE MINE whose leather jackets patina match the sunburned faces.  You don’t get that bright red tan while sitt’n in captain seats in the Ford F-series pickup!

Willie G

There might even be another group, those who don’t own rain gear, sport offensive tat’s and do tune ups along the way.  They have a true pulse of the V-Twin and a real sense of brotherhood.  But I’ve digressed.  For most the celebration will come to an end and will need to shave and shower and squeeze back into the cubicle.  In other words, get back to work as were going to need to pay off the August credit card bill!

From my vantage a few highlights were: the Kid Rock concert at the “Chip” (Dylan was totally lame!); face-to-face with Harley executives (Willie G., Bill and Nancy); Mount Rushmore achieved the highest single day attendance record on August 10th; witnessing the ear blasting B1-B Bomber fly over on main street; “The Wall That Heals” (a ½ scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial); the AMD World Championship customs; free Macanudo cigars and the Harley-Davidson booth/crew.

AMD World Championship

Speaking of the H-D booth, I want to provide a shout out to the Milwaukee team for a job well done!  In previous years you’d have to commute to Rapid City to see the new model line-up which many riders passed over.  It was extraordinarily convenient to meander up from the Broken Spoke and talk up new features with the well trained H-D personnel who were genuinely interested in chatting it up with riders.

Now for some of the bad news: the 70th Rally saw about double the number of road deaths/crashes vs. previous year averages.  Nine people were killed in the Sturgis area during the rally.  There were no deaths last year.  This number doesn’t account for fatal wrecks in other states involving motorcyclists on their way as was the situation for an Oregon man who crashed on US 12 near Powell, ID HERE.   Granted the higher number of attendees does contribute to potential crashes, but in many instances the accidents seemed due to inattention.  Early stats indicate that fewer people were arrested for drunken driving, but more for drug violation.  Law enforcement responded to 73 injury accidents and 36 non-injury which was similar to previous years.  Total citations for the 2010 rally were down to 1442 vs. 1803 in 2009.

70th Sturgis Rally Travelogue – Part 1 HERE and Part 3 HERE.

Photos taken during the trip.

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By this time you’ve likely read that this year marked the 70th annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

I returned earlier in the week and am just now getting back on the keyboard to ramp up some blogging content from the 12-day vacation.   Wow, that went fast!

For about two weeks I didn’t think about blogging, media organizations or watch TV other than an occasional weather update.  Digital media influences our lives and influences society, but the disconnected wind in the face time was nice.  Besides, the lack of AT&T coverage in and around Lead, SD made it easy to stay disconnected!

The 70th Rally expected to spark a surge in both attendees and vendors.  From my vantage it delivered.  Early estimates are nearly half a million people flooded the tiny town of Sturgis and the surrounding Black Hills.  Last year attendance was in the 380,000 range.  For 2010 the intense influx of visitors brought vendors selling everything from patches, rally gear, handmade jewelry and tattoos.  Harley-Davidson had a solid showcase of the new 2011 models and was well attended being in downtown Sturgis the first time in years.

I’ve attended the rally 3 times now over the last ten years, but this trip brought a few first’s:

  1. No rain outbound to Sturgis – 1200 miles of sunny/hot weather.
  2. First time through the Southern entrance to Yellowstone National Park (via Jackson, WY) – The Grand Teton National Park is incredible and reminded me of trips to the Canadian Rockies.
  3. Mount Rushmore achieved the highest single day attendance record.  Officials stated that 17,600 people visited the national memorial on Tuesday (August 10th). The most in one day since the park started keeping track in 2000.  The Black Hills were jammed full of motorcycles!
  4. Avoided the motel rip-off and thrash – stayed in a vacation cabin south of Lead in the Deer Mountain area.
  5. Attended the first ever Bob Dylan concert – Kid Rock saved the evening with a real performance.
  6. Face-to-face with Willie G., Bill Davidson and Nancy.  – No they didn’t recognize me from the blog.
  7. Riding a motorcycle in a lightning storm… on the return trip… Not to let a little rain intimidate us in Montana, we drove on, only to find ourselves in a drenching downpour, complete with hail, thunder, and lightning.  Who knew there so many motorcyclist survival lightning strike stories!

I’ll be doing a detailed trip update shortly as I pull together my notes and VISA slips to remember where I was when.

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Happiness is doing what you love and given the northwest rain, gale force winds and cold weather means – I’m not feeling the motorcycle love! So, what else is there to do, but look ahead to the new year and map out some rides?!

A couple of trips that I’m hoping to budget for:

  • Drive a portion of Route 66 – Ideally this trip would include a large chase truck which is better suited to bringing back memorabilia collected on the way to wherever, but the route being considered is Phoenix to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon.  Then on to Kingman with a drive-by in Laughlin for the late April River Run.
  • Ride the ferries – British Columbia offers up remarkable scenery and where else do you go during the U.S. July 4th holiday?!   Nothing is more spectacular than a ride through Olympic National Park, catch the Port Angeles Ferry to Victoria then Buchart Gardens with dinner and libations.
  • Make a return trip to Sturgis – we’re 202 days out and this year marks the 70th anniversary.  It was just a couple years ago several of us rode to the Black Hills.  It wasn’t the first time, but it did celebrate the inaugural Black Hills State University dorm room in Spearfish, SD.   The Sturgis rally defines the term “cluster” so I’ll likely settle for a day well-spent in and around the little South Dakota town…followed by a hot shower and a soft bed before quickly departing to enjoy more of the ride.
  • Oregon State H.O.G. Rally – 2010 marks a combined Washington and Oregon State H.O.G. Rally.  It starts in Pendleton, OR on August 24th and ends in Coos Bay, OR on August 27th.  A week of riding and nearly 1500 miles with 8 dealer stops.  The current ride route is  through 4 states.
  • Good Rockin’ Tonight – I’m talking Street Vibrations in Reno, NV (September) and the reference is to cover bands playing rock hits from the classic acts back in the day.  We’ve got a new culture these days as folks go to dance clubs and move to the bass-heavy productions of studio wizards…but, back in the day it was Montrose (some of you are old enough to remember this exact performance!).  The 19 year old Sammy Hagar stood on stage and rocked the crowds.  However, Street Vibrations is where the cover bands imitate the greats.

What’s in your future ride inventory?

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native_americanLike many of you I have rolled through the Black Hills of South Dakota with the wind in my face…

Whether a weekend warrior eager for a brief interlude of escapist revelry or it’s a way of life — I think all would agree that rolling through the “hills” offers up an incredible experience.  From rolling plains to majestic mountains — sometimes you have to pull over just to take it all in.  It’s not only a magical place to visit because of its beauty, but also because of its “roots” to the Native Americans who live there.  Most are Dakota, Lakota or Nakota people and known collectively as the Sioux.  The Sioux nation traces its roots to the  “Oceti Sakowin” (Seven Council Fires) and traditional stories place the nations birth in the Black Hills where customs hold the forces of nature as holy.

Having lived in “NoDak” during a more violent time, I’m reminded of Anishinabe decent, a person from the Dakota/Lakota Nations who has been imprisoned since 1976.  His name is Leonard Peltier.  Peltier is serving two life sentences for the deaths of FBI agents Jack Coler and Ronald Williams during a June 26, 1975, standoff on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

I previously blogged about Leonard Peltier HERE and the significance of the song “Sacrifice” from the album “Contact from the Underworld Red Boy” by Robbie Robertson.  Peltier was convicted in Fargo, N.D., in 1977 and recently was denied parole after having a full parole hearing for the first time in 15 years at the Lewisburg, Pa., federal prison where he is being held.  Some feel he is an unrepentant, cold-blooded murderer who executed two FBI special agents and has neither accepted responsibility for the murders nor shown any remorse.  However, others feel the FBI had no substantive evidence in the trial, essentially framed him and he has unsuccessfully appealed his conviction numerous times.

Leonard Peltier

Leonard Peltier

For many Native Americans, Peltier’s imprisonment has come to stand not only for unjust violence waged against Native Americans but also for the theft of the life of a man who has handled his 33 years in jail with dignity and grace.  If you take the time and look deeper into Peltier’s legal situation — compare the 64-year olds poor health and then contrast it with the recent “compassionate grounds” release of the Lockerbie bomber — one can only assume that the public outrage likely didn’t help his chances in the parole hearing.  His best chance now of getting out of prison alive is to receive a pardon or clemency from the president of the U.S.  However, that is unlikely, as Mr. Obama would rather spend time reaching out to Muslims and celebrate Islamic holy month by hosting a Ramadan dinner than address the plight of Native Americans.  To be fair, Mr. Obama did present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Joe Medicine Crow — High Bird in Washington last month.  Photo HERE.

I’m not on a mission to convince anyone of Peltier’s guilt or innocence.  Remember, this all started with a song and I’ve not turned activist fighting for the overturn of the U.S. constitutional court rulings that affirmed the confiscation of Native American lands.  I’m a motorcycle enthusiast who enjoys the Black Hills and appreciates the freedom to take in a week of open roads.  There is more information related to freeing Peltier HERE or if compelled, you can write him at:

Leonard Peltier
#89637-132
USP-Lewisburg
US Penitentiary
PO Box 1000
Lewisburg, PA 17837

Lastly, in doing the research for this post I run across Arron Huey.  A photo journalist with images that are truly captivating of the Pine Ridge Indian reservation.  His work was featured in Perpignan at the last Vis d’Or Photojournalism Festival.

Photo courtesy of  LDOC and Travel South Dakota web site.

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Groov’n to my XM Satellite this morning I was listening to Robbie Robertson’s Sacrifice from the album “Contact from the Underworld Red Boy”…

I’ve heard the song before, but something in the song grabs my attention.  In the background you hear this narrated telephone-squawk box voice of Leonard Peltier.

The musician Robbie Robertson was born with the name Jaime Robert Klegerman, a son of a Jewish father and Mohawk Indian mother, and first brushed with music at the Six Nations Reservation.  He is an accomplished musician and has composed the score to Scorsese’s movies Raging Bull, King of Comedy and The Color Of Money as well as appeared with Bob Dylan, U2, and Peter Gabriel. His most recent work was with Touchstone Pictures / Beacon Pictures’ ‘Ladder 49′ (John Travolta) and the feature track, “Shine Your Light.”

It turns out the song Sacrifice is indeed a ‘protest’ song which features Leonard Peltier – a Native American who has been imprisoned since 1976 on charges of murder who many believe are fabricated – his voice is recorded from telephone calls from prison. Peltier, a native of Grand Forks, N.D., has spent nearly half of his 59 years behind bars in maximum-security prisons, most recently in the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan. Peltier was convicted for the deaths of two FBI agents who died during a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  If you’re into conspiracy theories, then you’ll be interested in the Wounded Knee occupation of 1973 which marked the beginning of a three-year period of heightened political violence on the Reservation.  Peltier was an American Indian Movement (AIM) organizer from the Northwest who got caught up in the shoot-out on the ranch of the Jumping Bull family.  I’m not passing judgment just sharing the information.

In doing the background and research for this post it connected me with the Protect Bear Butte initiative in Sturgis, SD and I wanted to raise awareness of the issue.  Headed up by Tamra Brennan, the Bear Butte is a sacred mountain in the Black Hills and only 8 miles from downtown Sturgis.  The issue is where motorcycle rally growth (see above map) and the need to accommodate the large influx of bikers means more and more people want in on the opportunity to make a buck so, there has been an increased presence or build out of bars, clubs, concerts facilities, campgrounds mixed with more and more alcohol sales near, on or over the mountain.  The rally collides with the spiritual beliefs and ceremonies of the Native People as well as disrespects a sacred mountain.  Sort of like going to church while partying with all your rowdy biker friends.

There are 14 sites from S.D. to A.Z being debated and/or fought over to ensure full freedom of religion on public lands.  Historically Federal land management has disregarded American Indian calls of protection on sacred sites in public lands.  More rocks were thrown sort-of-speak, when Jay Allen owner of Broken Spoke developed a multi-level property only one mile from Bear Butte called Sturgis County Line(SCL). He sold his stake in the property to Boston based Target Companies (a travel corp.), but remains active in “promotion” of the facilities and campgrounds.

I’m hopeful that Pepper Massey, the Director of the Sturgis Rally Department can indeed grow the Rally in both attendance and revenue while keeping the event vital for the community that supports it…which includes being respectful to the Native Indians and the religeous freedoms.

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BHSU (Black Hills State University – 605.642.6464) is located in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota in a town called Spearfish.   I just received their Sturgis Rally Newsletter which outlines the upcoming dates and room rates for anyone thinking about Sturgis ’08 and wanting to stay at BHSU.  Say what?  Stay at the university?   

Absolutely!  Last year I stayed in the BHSU dorm during my week at the Sturgis Rally.  As a first-time guest I had a lot of questions about how this facility would compare to the camp grounds or measure up to lodging at a hotel. 

Shhh….keep this between just us.  I think its one of the best kept secrets and suggest anyone headed to Sturgis consider this lodging alternative.  I’ve yet to do the camp grounds, but the last time I did Sturgis I stayed at One-Eyed Jacks Casino and Hotel in Deadwood.  That was super nice and the prices reflected just how proud of the place they were!!  

If you are looking for a place to shower and sleep then BHSU is bargain. BHSU uses what they called “Blocks” because they don’t have the personnel to staff the dorms and run it like a hotel with multiple daily reservations.  Instead they block out predefined dates and you have to pay for all the dates even if you are not planning to be in the place the entire block of time.  The 2008 blocks are: Block A – July 31 thru August 4th; Block B – August 5 thru August 8th; Block C – July 31 thru August 8th.   Check the web site for updates. 

A couple of things to remember about BHSU and lodging/dorm rooms: 

  1. The rooms don’t have A/C and it gets hot in SD in August.  When you make reservations ask for the dorm rooms that get afternoon sun.  All the rooms include a fan, but the afternoon sun rooms (just the opposite of what you’d think natural) were cooler than some of our buddies who seem to get blasted from sun up to sundown.
  2. Also it’s a “dry-campus” meaning alcohol is not permitted.  Think of this as a dry place to sleep and shower and attend parties elsewhere.  If you can’t stand the thought of not having something to drink before bedtime, and you don’t want to be on the Harley, then there are several great places to eat and drink within a 15 minute walk. 
  3. Last item and most important is to order up the linen package.  The bed sheets and especially the towels are quite handy unless you plan to run naked through the quads… 

I also liked the fact they had bike washing facilities right in the parking lot.  After 1200 miles I managed to collect a lot of bugs and it was great to ride around the Black Hills with shiny chrome.

If you stay at BHSU let me know what you think of the place.

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