Nerds at the Rally


The largest motorcycle rally in the world was held in the Black Hills of South Dakota August 8–15 and I attended for the first time in my life, coincidentally the 70th anniversary of the event. Hey, it was on my bucket list and my wife and I had a glorious time of it. What a ball! I wonder from time to time if America is worth saving but now I can honestly shout, Yes! There still are plenty of independent, rebellious spirits left here, an estimated 700,000 of them attending the rally this year although that guesstimate includes bikers from around the world.

I'm a motorcycle freak, admittedly. I currently own four of ’em but none is a Harley. At the top of my pyramid is a 2002 Honda Goldwing GL 1800, the six-cylinder luxo touring bike. My wife Pat likes to ride on the back, otherwise known as the queen's throne, but no long slogs allowed, just 250 miles per day or so tooting around the countryside. The weather, roads and attractions in the Black Hills were perfect for just such entertainment at the rally this year.

The streams of motorcycles on the highway were just incredible, what dense and grand if noisy traffic! Every parking lot was filled, especially establishments advertising $2 cold beer. I'd guess nearly 9 of 10 bikes at the rally were Harleys. Hardly anyone wore helmets or crash-worthy safety gear. Mostly we saw do-rags worn as head protection in case of a get-off! Pat said we were the nerds at the rally and truer words were never spoken. We always wear our full-face helmets with intercom, boots and gloves and usually armored jackets (we cheat on that item occasionally) when out riding the highways and byways. I saw one guy in a T-shirt shop wearing Bermuda shorts, dark socks and shoes and coke-bottle thick glasses and comforted myself that at least one guy was a bigger geek than I am.

An accident on US 385 north of Custer City held us and the rest of traffic up for nearly an hour and it was a stomach-churning reminder of the risks involved in riding, with a body covered on the pavement in our lane with a twisted boot sticking out and blood staining the pavement. Some women cried as they passed by in the opposite direction before we had seen the sad sight. I can only wonder what happened on that straight stretch of highway and if a real helmet might have saved his life.

We camped in a quiet campground near Custer, about 50 miles from rally headquarters in Sturgis, but every town for miles around had plenty of bikes, bikers, babes and vendors. All in all, people were remarkably well behaved. We saw one woman exposing her ta-ta's briefly in Custer, and one Harley guy passed me on the right in the Badlands park road for no good reason. Guess he was showing off for his girl friend on the back. A couple of Harley riders coming downhill on a hairpin turn on the Needles Highway crossed the centerline and looked a little out of control but no harm resulted. We had lunch in Wall, SD, home of the famous Wall Drug Store, at the Biker Bar and enjoyed listening to some trash talking. That was about it, although I must admit we only spent about an hour in Sturgis itself where all the craziness supposedly happens. Big name acts like Bob Dylan, ZZ Top, Motley Crue and the Doobie Brothers performed at the amphitheatre before some 100,000 revelers each evening although the biggie was Kid Rock according to what I heard, drawing way over 100,000.

The most important thing I learned from my summer vacation is something libertarians should love: the Crazy Horse Monument is a free enterprise project. Everyone knows about the four Presidents' images (incomplete) carved in granite on Mt. Rushmore at taxpayers' expense but fewer know about the voluntary project that has never accepted a dime of government money. Crazy Horse sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski and Lakota Chief Henry Standing Bear dedicated their Crazy Horse Memorial dream on June 3, 1948. Ziolkowski was a Boston-born American of Polish descent and proud of it. He was orphaned at one year of age and led a ragged life as a foster child until venturing out on his own at age 16. An award-winning sculptor, Ziolkowski devoted his life after age 40 to the Crazy Horse sculpture and was incredibly resourceful in his pursuit. He died in 1982 at age 74 and his wife Ruth, now in her 80's, is very much in charge today, assisted by seven of her ten children who have devoted their lives to the project. The memorial is a non-profit undertaking, relying primarily on the proceeds from over 1 million visitors per year and receives no federal or state funding. Ziolkowski was offered $10 million from the federal government on two occasions, but turned the offers down. He knew better after seeing Mt. Rushmore go uncompleted and his vision was more than a mountain carving so he feared that his plans for native American educational and cultural goals for the memorial would suffer at the hands of the feds! Smart man.

Is Crazy Horse a worthy figure to memorialize? I have no idea. I'll leave for others to debate. All I know is I liked what I saw at the Monument. The face of Crazy Horse was completed and dedicated in 1998. The overall sculpture has no fixed completion date, sensibly enough, like the other sensible things I saw there.

August 19, 2010