Rally the Troops

When the Sturgis Rally came to town, we did our best to avoid it. Spent all last weekend cooped up indoors, watching movies and laying low. The constant rumble of motorcycle engines was trying, and the attendant traffic issues – all those bikers clogging the roads in and around the Black Hills – felt like a personal affront. So when Tara suggested we drive up to Sturgis Friday night and check out the rally for ourselves, I was initially skeptical. I figured we’d stick out like sore thumbs, a couple of non-motorcycle-riding new to town. Our point had been to avoid all of the commotion, so changing tactics and planting ourselves smack dab in the middle of what can best be described as a bacchanalia of hedonistic craziness and smoked turkey legs seemed counterintuitive to our agenda.

But the more I thought about it, the more intriguing the idea seemed. Tara’s new coworkers urged her to go, saying the rally is something everybody should experience at least once. And besides, I was going stir-crazy after being cooped up in the apartment for the better part of 10 days. I was ready for a break, and told her I was all in. So on Friday after work, we found ourselves heading west on Interstate 90, right into the heart of biker country.

To my astonishment, I ended up having the time of my life.

Words cannot even describe the spectacle that is the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Picture hundreds of bikes lined up in neat rows along Main Street, and thousands of people strolling around, most of them decked out in leather and wearing bandanas. Topless women – just a few, but enough to keep me on my toes – with strategically placed pasties or painted skin. And those aforementioned turkey legs, along with a collection of other deep fried delicacies that would make Crisco stockholders weep for joy. And on every corner Bud Light and Jack Daniels and Twisted Tea.

DSC_0011

According to the media, the modern Sturgis Rally is a lot mellower than in years past, mostly due to the fact that the hellions of yesteryear are now elderly. It’s  hard to feel intimidated by cane-wielding octogenarians, even if they have badass rides, ya know? And there were plenty of other people like us walking around – even a handful of families with kids. I never felt out of place or in danger. Quite the opposite, actually: I ended up having the time of my life.

It didn’t even matter that it was a warm summer evening – that just made our cold drinks taste even better. After strolling up and down Main Street for a while, we ducked into the Loud American, a bar Tara’s coworkers had recommended. We enjoyed live music, Bud Light and Cheladas, and just about the best damn steak tips ever. Not to mention some excellent people watching.

Then it was back to the main drag for more fun. By now the sun had gone down and the night was comfortable. We enjoyed seeing the motorcycles show off their custom lights. Among other things.

DSC_0054

DSC_0051

DSC_0041

When all is said and done, I have to admit we had a much better time than expected. I guess I didn’t know what to expect exactly; it’s not like my parents ever took us to the rally back in the 1980s. I’m pretty sure my head would have exploded if they had.

But now that it’s over, I find myself missing the hustle and bustle a little bit. I am sitting on our patio writing this post as the sun is sinking low and shish kabobs are sizzling on the grill, and it’s noticeably quieter than it has been in a couple of weeks. I mean, that’s nice, of course…but I am already looking forward to next August. I’m pretty sure the Sturgis Rally will be an annual event for us, even though we’re about as far from being the biker type as possible.

DSC_0037

Advertisements

Blast from the Past Part II

Last week I took a stroll down Memory Lane.

Needing a mental break from two full days of work, on Wednesday I drove out to Ellsworth AFB, my home from 1983-86. Civilians aren’t generally allowed on military installations, but the South Dakota Air & Space Museum just outside the main gate offers a $10 bus tour of the base, complete with a visit to a Minuteman II missile silo. The lure of setting foot on base again was impossible to resist, so after checking out the museum – pretty cool in its own right, with an extensive collection of military aircraft outside and two hangars’ worth of historical displays indoors – I boarded the bus and settled in for the base tour.

DSC_0049.JPG

My tour guide, Garry, was great. He started out by asking if anybody had ever been out to the area before, and when I told him that I had lived on base for three years and had just moved back to the area to escape the crowds and high cost of living on the west coast, he informed me that his circumstances were nearly the same. He’d been stationed at EAFB until 1982, when he was transferred to California. After several miserable decades there, he came back to Rapid City six months ago. Said he’d been to all 50 states and this was his favorite place.

Garry and I bonded.

It was a real trip being on base again! It was like stepping through a portal and going back in time, even though most of the housing has been modernized. We drove right by Ohio Avenue, the street we’d lived on three decades earlier, and I learned the crappy duplexes we’d been stuck in had been torn down and replaced with beautiful new houses that have covered porches and garages. Garages, guys! We had to plug our car in during the winter because we didn’t have so much as a carport even. This generation of military families has it so much better.

Some things were blessedly unchanged. The movie theater was exactly as I remembered it, and the ponds we used to fish in were all still there. I swear, I had goosebumps while we drove around. It’s all still so surreal to me. A mere 14 months ago I never would have imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d be walking around Ellsworth AFB again.

The highlight of the tour was definitely the missile silo. It had been converted into a training facility complete with an actual Minuteman II inside, the size of which is just amazing. At one time 150 of these missiles were buried beneath the plains of western South Dakota, aimed at Russia and ready to launch on a moment’s notice. They were deactivated in 1991 and have all since been removed, but Garry did tell us there are currently 400 armed missiles in North Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. That ought to sober you up!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Thank god we survived the Cold War without incident.

After the base tour and museum visit, I drove over to my alma mater, Douglas High School. Even though I did not graduate from DHS, I’ve always felt a much stronger kinship with that school than the one that gave me my diploma, Milpitas HS. Probably because I went to Douglas for three years and was only at Milpitas my senior year. All my best high school memories are at Douglas; I was a newcomer at Milpitas and hardly knew anybody. Anyway, I did stop by DHS on my road trip out here in 2011, but this time the gate to the football field was open so I walked around the track, absorbing all the feels. Again, so many memories came flashing back. Good ones. I was always happy living here, which I can’t say about every place I’ve been, that’s for sure.

The rest of the week – and weekend – were low-key. We set up folding camp chairs at Main Street Square on Thursday for a free Georgia Satellites concert. Remember those guys? One-hit wonders from 1986 with “Keep Your Hands to Yourself“? I can’t believe they’re still around.

Friday evening we played cards, listened to records, ate pizza, drank rum, and walked to the video store to load up on movies. The Sturgis Rally is in full swing now, and we didn’t want to venture out and deal with a million motorcyclists. I mean, they’re all over town; you walk down the street and see groups of five, 10, or 15 Harley Davidsons, one after another, roaring by. It doesn’t really bother me, but I also would rather avoid the traffic in the Black Hills. So we’ve pretty much sat around and watched movies all weekend. I envision a lot of Saturdays and Sundays like this when the temperature is below zero. Kind of a shame it was overcast and 75 today!

Blast from the Past

First things first: I need a good oatmeal recipe. I’m used to buying Trader Joe’s frozen steel cut oatmeal. Looks like an oversized hockey puck, but it’s surprisingly delicious and simple to make: two minutes in the microwave, stir, another minute and twenty seconds, and dig in. However, there is no Trader Joe’s in South Dakota, so I’ve been struggling to find a decent alternative.steelcut

In case you were wondering, instant oatmeal in a packet is not a decent alternative.

I might add that Harriet & Oak makes an excellent oatmeal – probably the best I’ve ever tried – but it’s not always practical to run downtown whenever I want a bowl. I’d rather just make it myself (and save money in the process).

So I’ve gotta figure something out. I found a few recipes online that look promising. Like this one. But if anybody else has a go-to recipe, I’m all ears.

Tara’s birthday last Friday was nice, even if she did have to work. We met for lunch and spent the evening playing cards, listening to records, and eating pizza. Just like our old life in Washington, only we were serenaded with a thunderstorm this time. When Tara’s coworkers learned it was her birthday, they got her a cake. Nice gesture! Today marks her third day there but so far it seems like a good fit. It’s a far less stressful position than the one in Vancouver. Another benefit to living in a smaller town.

DSC_0044Our real celebration was supposed to be on Saturday. Her birthday gift was a room at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge, something I’d booked four months earlier. We loaded the truck and took our time driving up there, detouring through Lead and hiking out to Roughlock Falls and back. When it came time to check in, Tara joked that it was going to be a great evening “unless they turn us away.”

They turned us away.

I wish I was kidding, but no such luck. Remember the thunderstorm that “serenaded” us the evening before? It was screaming at the top of its lungs out in Spearfish and caused quite a bit of damage. The lodge lost power Friday night and it was still out 19 hours later when we attempted to check in. That meant they could not honor our reservation. They’d tried calling me, but my phone number changed after I booked the room, so they weren’t able to get through to me. They did send an email, but that was mid-afternoon and we were already hiking a mile from the lodge by then. Plus, we had no cell service anyway.

DSC_0040

DSC_0050

I was devastated, to be honest. I’d planned this all so carefully and was proud of the fact that I’d booked us such a great getaway. To her credit, Tara was unfazed and suggested we find a Plan B. We had read about a cool, retro 1950s-themed motel in Custer that we wanted to check out someday, but I figured the odds of snagging a last-minute room on a Saturday night at the height of tourist season in a town within spitting distance of both Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore were slim to none. Somehow, luckily, I was able to get a room and salvage her birthday weekend. So we regrouped in Lead over a couple of drinks and a plate of onion rings and then drove the hour and thirteen minutes south to Custer.

The Rocket Motel certainly lived up to its hype. It was unbelievably cool! Vintage decor throughout, right down to the furnishings and tile. And it was one of the cleanest motels we’ve ever stayed in. Plus, the bed was super comfortable. You might say the place was firing on all cylinders! We wandered down to a bar and grill the manager recommended for a bite to eat, then went back to the motel. They had a covered patio and since the weather was perfect, we brought out wine and a cribbage board and played until the chilly night air drove us inside, where we played some more. I have to say, as far as Plan Bs go, this one was killer.

The next morning we grabbed breakfast at a little cafe downtown before checking out. Drove through Custer State Park next, stopping at the Mount Coolidge fire lookout tower to take in the views before heading to the Wildlife Loop.

That certainly did not disappoint! We were two-thirds of the way through and had seen the usual prairie dogs, burros, and pronghorn antelope, but hadn’t stumbled across any bison yet. And then we rounded a bend and there they were. Everywhere. There were hundreds of them, as far as the eye could see. It was a breathtaking sight, and reminded me of the scene in “Dances With Wolves” where they crest a ridge and find a veritable sea of buffalo in the valley below.

2018-07-29 10.03.45-01.jpeg

DSC_0122

DSC_0119

If you’ve never been to Custer State Park and driven the Wildlife Loop, do it.

All in all, it was a pretty great weekend, even though it didn’t go as planned. But in some ways those are the best kinds of weekends, aren’t they?

2018-07-29 10.30.46

July has been unusually cool and wet. It’s weird to have triple the normal precipitation and high temperatures 15-20 degrees below average while the PNW is roasting through an extended heatwave. Sounds like they’re about to find some relief just as our temps are warming up to seasonal norms.

These next couple of weekends are going to be low-key, because the 2018 Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (we have learned locals call it simply “the rally”) is about to commence, and with that comes a lot of noise and streets crowded with bikers. They’ve even put up temporary traffic lights throughout the Black Hills to help control the throngs of people. It’s great for the local economy, but not so much if you want to get out and do things. Or so we’ve heard.

I see a lot of movies in our immediate future.