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Only in America

He grew up on HOG farm in Pawnee City, Nebraska and dropped out of college in his junior year after trying his hand at comedy.  It turns out that was a good decision.

I’m talking about Daniel (Dan) Lawrence Whitney (a.k.a. “Larry The Cable Guy”) with his stereotypical redneck appearance and his southern catchphrase, Git-R-Done!

The Lippin Group, an entertainment communications and marketing firm contacted me about a “tune-in-alert” on the History Channel who is airing a biker-themed segment of “Only in America with Larry the Cable Guy” on (Tuesday), April 5th (9/8C).  If you are unfamiliar with the TV series, the comedian explores the country, immersing himself in different lifestyles, jobs and hobbies.  On the April 5 episode Larry visits the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

The episode airing tomorrow was shot last year (August 11, 2010) during the 70th Anniversary.  I was fortunate to attend the 70th rally and blogged about the ride out and back HERE, HERE and HERE.  I also provided a follow up post on the rally statistics HERE.

And speaking of South Dakota,  where a lot has been written about native Americans, the Sturgis show airs on the marriage anniversary of Pocahontas, daughter of the chief of the Powhatan Indian confederacy, who marries English tobacco planter John Rolfe in Jamestown, Virginia. The marriage ensured peace between the Jamestown settlers and the Powhatan Indians for several years.

Set your DVR if you can’t watch the episode as it should be interesting.

Photo courtesy of History Channel and Larry The Cable Guy.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog
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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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By now the campground dust has settled after the 70th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally which brought thousands of motorcyclists and music fans to the legendary Buffalo Chip.

There were raucous crowds mixed with top tier entertainment at the “Chip” this year.  Even Pee Wee Herman lived through it to write on a blog for The Huffington Post about his experience.  See his video HERE.  But, overall it cemented the venue as one of the better entertainment locations with an array of art, vendors, food and people gawking (responsibly of course!).  The selection of musical guests resulted in one of the biggest music festivals of its kind in South Dakota. Doing a bit of name dropping, the entertainment included; Ozzy Osbourne, Bob Dylan, Kid Rock, Motley Crue, the Scorpions, ZZ Top, The Doobie Brothers, Dave Mason, Lee Rocker, Tesla, Drowning Pool, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, The Guess Who, Trailer Choir, Buckcherry, Orianthi, Stone Sour, Jason Aldean, Williams & Ree and Disturbed.

But here’s the rub… there were a lot of people going to/from the Chip.  I was part of the 5 mile commute from town to the campground traffic jam that ran from the Buffalo Chip to I-90 on Tuesday night (August 10th) as rally-goers sat on over heating motorcycles for a couple of hours on what locals call the annual “biker crawl” to catch the Bob Dylan/Kid Rock show.

The Chip celebrated it’s twenty-ninth year of operation.  That’s twenty-nine years of motorcyclists trapped in wicked heat and traffic grid lock.  There’s no excuse for an experience like this.  In Sturgis there were NO law enforcement officers directing traffic nor were there any Buffalo Chip staff.  Just grid lock. What went wrong and why is there no traffic coordination?  Were people improperly trained?  Did too many people overwhelm the event or have budgets been cut so slim that the job can no longer be done?  It’s a case of pointing fingers.

Bob Dylan at The Buffalo Chip -- 2010

Ron Woodruff is the owner of the Buffalo Chip campground who I’m sure has great pride having overseen the tremendous growth and World Wide recognition the “Chip” has earned as one of the premier concert venues in the mid-west.  Tried to correct this situation, he has and last fall he tried again to get the Meade County commissioners to take corrective action, but the commissioners defeated a Woodruff backed bill which would have set aside money to purchase land for a shortcut from the major campgrounds to I-90.   I’m sure the meeting went something like this: “We don’t need no road that will only be used for two weeks out of the year. It will kill the vendors who depend on Main and Lazelle traffic for their business.”

The dust settles on "The Chip"

But as a business, the Sturgis town council and the Buffalo Chip should never be happy when people attend the rally, put down hard earned money for music concerts and have a bad experience for any reason.  It’s a simple situation.  How many times a year can someone afford to drop $300 for two people to go to a concert, drink a few beers, eat a Gyro and buy a t-shirt?  Not many.  So, they need to listen to the customer and make changes.   How about traffic police coordination? How about traffic alerts?  Or Twitter updates on the expected delays or reasons?  How about park and ride buses with express lanes?  Something.  Anything!

And while I’m on this rant… how about that lame video set up on the Chip stage?   Hey Ron, 1979 called and said they want their VCR camcorder back!  Are margins so tight that a short-term rental of a couple video JumboTrons for people to see the artists or the Miss Buffalo Chip Beauty Contest be out of question?  Lastly, there use to be a TV segment on ABC called the “Fleecing of America”… I suggest a segment called the Sturgis “Fleecing of Every Motorcycle Music Fan?”  You see those stop signs that help create the grid-lock, become after the Chip concert, mixed with Monkey Rock and Full Throttle motorcyclists into a law enforcement sobriety stop as police officers stood in the street wafting for alcohol with their scientifically trained nose.  When they found an offence they processed tickets speedier and more efficient than the Hertz rental car return!

Were there irresponsible riders?  Oh yeah, and many of those who participated a bit more than others caught a free ride out of the traffic jam.  Yep, the Chip truly captures the essence of the motorcycle lifestyle, but it’s time for some changes.

Photo’s taken at the Buffalo Chip.

All Rights Reserved © Northwest Harley Blog

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Devils Tower

STURGIS to ASHLAND – We spent some of the previous couple days riding the Black Hills with stunning canyons, small towns and historical landmarks at every S-turn.  It wasn’t all about the Sturgis vendor booths!  As a quick side-bar I want to do a shout out to the owners (Matt) of the Recreational Springs Resort which is a campground and motel and was within a short walking distance of the cabin we stayed.  We ate food at the resort and the hospitality was top notch.  I highly recommend the place.

Posse at Devils Tower

Back to the ride – If memory serves me correctly this was our seventh day on the road as we departed the 70th Sturgis rally around noon.  We wanted to get a couple hundred miles under our belt after doing a brief drive-by tour of Devils Tower and Hulett, WY.   Getting a couple hundred miles west would be a reasonable jumpstart for our return trip home.

The ride out to Devils Tower has a number of long sweeping curves and some beautiful canyons and high plains.  Located in the northwestern northeastern corner of Wyoming the tower rises 1267 above the Belle Fourche River.  Initially known as Bears Lodge, the park has 1347 acres covered in pine forest and grasslands.

Ah, Looks Like Rain?

It is a sacred site for many American Indians (Kiowa, Cheyenne and Lakota).  Reportedly President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the first national monument in 1906.  There are over 7 miles of hiking trails of which we did maybe 300 feet in the summer heat and most notable is the 200 climbing routes to the summit.  I’ve been here two other times and there are always climbers trying to summit.  And yes, it was the landmark filmed in the 1977 movie, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Lightning Storm In Ashland, MT

After a few tourist photos in and around the tower we rode into Hulett for lunch and refreshments to cool down.  With a rest stop completed we headed northeast on Hwy 112 (Hulett-Alzada Hwy).  We hit a couple of rain clouds that “spit” a little on us prior to reaching Alzada at the Hwy 212 junction, but thus far the trip didn’t require us to pull out the rain gear.  Amazing!

That was short lived as we soon witnessed the western sky fill with menacing storm clouds.  The day prior we made motel reservations in the small town of Ashland, Montana.  Not even a two horse town, but it turned out to be a brilliant move.

Ashland, MT - Rain Storm

About two hours prior to our arrival in Ashland the weather situation turn nasty.  Not to let a little rain intimidate us we continued riding only to find ourselves in a drenching downpour, complete with hail, thunder and lightning.  A true gully washer!  The lightning was problematic and on more than one occasion the thunder “booms” had us thinking about the odds of getting struck.  Even more lightning became visible on Horne Creek Butte as we traversed the southern tip of Custer National Forest.  Being from the west coast it’s rare to have/see lightning let alone be concerned about getting hit on a moving vehicle.  [Post Ride: evidently there are a number of motorcycle survival lightning strike stories… who knew?!]   Eventually we made it to the motel as the sky open up with more rain and lightning.  We caught some of the storm action by way of the iPhone video HERE and watched as the gravel parking lot flooded.

Ashland, MT Sunset

In the room we stripped rain gear off and started working to get it dried out for the next day adventure.  AT&T continued to deliver no phone service so the option of working out an alternative ride plan was a challenge.  It was fortunate that a gal from the motel offered to shag us some to-go burgers in her automobile and we didn’t get further drenched seeking out some dinner.  Bikers streamed into the motel only to find it full.

ASHLAND to MISSOULA – It’s often said that a clean bike runs better, but after the previous days drenching downpour and “road foam” we dismissed that rationalization as being one for the vain and continued on with the grime laden motorcycles.

The weather looked questionable so we kept the rain gear handy and put on some extra clothing to fight off the colder temps as we rode though Big Sky country.  We continued west on Hwy 212 and re-fueled near the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.  This area memorializes the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry and the Sioux and Cheyenne in one of the Indian’s last armed efforts to preserve their way of life.  Having been there a couple times in the past we rolled on by and made our way onto I-90.

Eastern Montana is a typical high plains environment which means the area is generally treeless, semi arid and low humidity.  We hit some rain showers which required rain gear between Billings and Bozeman, but by the time we grabbed a late lunch in Butte the daytime temps and summer sunshine returned to the typical August norms.

At Lolo Pass

After a 468 mile day we decided Ruby’s Inn and walking across the street for chicken wings and refreshments at Hooter’s was the only way to go.

MISSOULA to CLARKSTON – This is the link between the Missouri River and the Columbia River through the Rocky Mountains.  From Missoula we headed south toward Lolo and traversed U.S. 12 to the Idaho – Montana border. This 99-mile S-turn filled byway, stretches across north-central Montana and Idaho.  It follows the Lewis & Clark explorers’ route through the ancestral homeland of the Nez Perce people. It’s a winding two-lane road through the Clearwater River Canyon, and passes through the Nez Perce National Historical Park.

We stopped at Lolo Pass for a photo op and water break.  Later in the afternoon we grab some lunch at the “Cougar Canyon” station.

More than a few riders have been surprised at just how much fun riding a Harley touring model can be.  While no one would claim the touring models as sportbikes, they certainly can be ridden in a sporting manner.  The key is finding a comfortable pace that carries your speed through the turns with minimal braking.  The combination of excellent two-lane pavement with a multitude of twists and turns made this route a joy to ride.

It was a relatively short day in overall miles, but with the summer temperatures stuck in the mid-90’s most of the day it felt (at least my body did) like a 500+ mile day.  We rolled into Lewiston, crossed the river into Washington state and overnighted at a Best Western.  A nice place and after a long cooling off session in the motel swimming pool the group headed to Paraiso Vallarta for some Mexican dinner specials.

CLARKSTON to PORTLAND – Early in the morning we motored out of town to put some significant miles on the scooters before the summer heat took its toll.  We continued on Hwy 12 to Dayton then through Umatillia, crossed back into Oregon and headed west on I-84.  There was a short stop for lunch to slam down a “Bozo Burger” near Boardman, but it was the only luxury stop otherwise it was gas and go and back on the road.  It was 2,947 cumulative miles later that I pulled into the driveway of home.

Near Hood River

Motorcycling teases us with the freedom to be on the road.  We stop when and where we wanted too, slowed down and experienced the country firsthand.  We breezed through the towering mountains and blue skies and traveled across the plains.  Sturgis for a third-time was a charm!  I hope this travelogue makes you want to get out and ride to new places.

70th Sturgis Rally Travelogue – Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE.

Photos taken during the trip.

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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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Lapses in judgment are part of what makes us human, right?  That’s how I’d describe the photo in this post…

I’ll be riding wind-in-the-face along side some rebels-with-tats over the next several days in route to the 70th Sturgis celebration so don’t expect any new content on the blog.  And I won’t be watching any SEO, social mentions, Google alerts, clicks, subscribers, or moderate any comments.

Instead I’ll be riding in the northwest sun as it singes the morning air trying to find a few moments of motorcycle zen.  Basically it’s time to make some memories and unplug.

See you on the road.  Be safe!

Photo courtesy of Phantom Tracking.

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