Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Eight

Pilgrimage to Sturgis, Part Eight

Written by B. Jan Montana

 The first installments of this series appeared in Issues 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148 and 149 – Ed.>

“Sit down and have a beer Spider, enjoy the view for a while,” Chip suggested. Soon, KP joined us as well. He started to chat with Candy, but she motioned him to cease and desist, so we just sat there drinking in the scene while an endless parade of Harleys rumbled by on the highway. It was a transcendental moment.

Until the German with the carb jets sauntered over and babbled, “dis is besser dan Time Skware, yah?

”Chip rose and dictated, “we’re leaving.”

Confused, the German shrugged, “was ist los?”

Candy responded, “it’s not you; we were just getting ready to leave.”

Groves of trees, huge rock formations, and many more spectacular vistas impressed us as we climbed the narrow, twisty road through the Black Hills. It actually did a loop on itself by means of a bridge. Harleys crammed every scenic look-out and roadside attraction. Most everyone was friendly and some waved in greeting as we passed.

But a few seemed bent on duplicating Red’s feat of self-destruction. They screamed by, often in competition with one another. Every once in a while, a cop would pull one over. Some bikers honked and gave the cops a thumbs up. This just wasn’t the place nor time for horseplay.

The huge parking lot at Mount Rushmore was overcrowded. We couldn’t park as a group and even had a hard time cherry picking individual spots. 30 bikes could have parked in every spot occupied by one motorhome.

“They shouldn’t allow motorhomes during bike week,” Spider protested.

“The motorhome pilots circling the lot probably feel differently,” Candy responded.

Even though I’d been to Mt. Rushmore before, it’s always an impressive sight. Who expects such spectacular artwork in such a remote location? We paid the fee at the gate and sat down on the benches to admire the view.

“They really look like the presidents,” Candy commented; “you don’t have to guess who they are.”


Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com. Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. Courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

“What a challenge to produce such gigantic images from a chunk of granite,” KP added. “I wonder how they got up there with men and equipment?”

Spider, reading the brochure, said, “it takes constant maintenance to keep the flaws in the rock sealed up so they don’t fill with water, freeze in winter, and break up the carving.”

The place was full of tourists from all over the world, most of them clutching National Park Service pamphlets. Kids were excited and full of questions. Some sought quarters to look through the commercial binoculars mounted on stands. There were several school groups herded by harried teachers.

A few couples seemed to be on their honeymoon. One of the kids knocked over a tripod and dropped their fancy camera on the concrete. His teacher negotiated with the honeymooners for payment of a cracked a telephoto lens. Then the kid was quickly hustled back to the parking lot. It didn’t look good for him.

Some reprobate walked by wearing a T-shirt with the images of the four presidents on the front, and their buck-naked posteriors on the back – lined up and bent over as if they were in a stockade. We chuckled.

“I wonder how they chose which presidents to carve?” Spider asked.

“They probably picked the most popular ones.” responded Candy.

“That can’t be,” Chip piped up. “Lincoln was one of the most unpopular presidents in US history during his term in office.”

“Well yes, in the South,” Candy countered, “but he must have been popular in the North.”

Chip didn’t respond, but I knew he was right, as I’d just read a biography of Lincoln. Although he is venerated today, I was shocked to learn that much of the Northern political elite and press resented him almost as much as the South – I suppose for taking the words of the Declaration of Independence literally, that “all men are created equal.”

Henry Ward Beecher ridiculed him in his New York newspaper, The Independent, for his “lack of refinement.”

The Chicago Times editorialized on the now-revered Gettysburg Address: “The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the man who has to be pointed out to intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.”

“Even as the Union began to win, he remained deeply unpopular,” wrote Yale professor Stephen L. Carter. “There were a lot of people, including leaders of his own party, who thought he was not morally as good as they were.”

Susan B. Anthony famously swore, “if he is re-elected, I shall immediately leave the country for the Fiji Islands.” When the American public re-elected Lincoln, she reneged.

An erstwhile correspondent for The New York Times created a fake Presidential Proclamation which was immediately published as fact by two major New York newspapers without vetting.

Some Northern newspapers went so far as to openly call for Lincoln’s assassination. A few months later, an impressionable actor – believing he occupied the moral high ground – acted on their proposal expecting to be hailed as a hero.

Lincoln’s funeral train inspired the largest presidential turn-out in US history (relative to population).

I was derailed from my train of thought by a hand on my shoulder. Candy suggested we go for lunch. We wandered over to the cafeteria while Spider ran off to make a phone call.

The fare was simple but adequate, and there was sufficient seating for everyone.

Spider found us a few minutes later, enthusiastically proclaiming that my (BMW) R90S motorcycle was ready to be picked up.

“That was quick; are you sure?” I asked.“Well it’s not ready right now, but it’ll be ready by 5 pm. We should go down there right away!”

I wasn’t sure if he was excited for me, or himself. It was clear he’d had enough of riding with KP.

After a leisurely lunch, we visited the Gutzon Borglum museum, an educational experience.

Apparently, a South Dakota historian conceived of the idea for the Mt. Rushmore memorial in order to attract tourism. It worked; today it’s visited by over two million tourists annually. The sculptures are the height of a six-story building and were originally planned to extend to the waist, which would have made them three times as tall, but the project ran out of funds.

Gutzon Borglum worked on it with his son, Lincoln, and 400 workers, from 1927 to 1941. The location is almost 6,000 ft. above sea level, and the weather was often less than co-operative. Despite the dangers, there were no fatalities.

Gutzon Borglum, designer of the sculptures on Mount Rushmore. Gutzon Borglum, designer of the sculptures on Mount Rushmore. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Gutzon died as the work was completed.

When we left the museum, Spider was antsy to head for the Rapid City BMW dealer. He wanted the use of his hog back.

My bike was ready as promised. With all the replaced parts, it looked perfect again. The shop owner had polished it, and advised us that the rear subframe had to be replaced as it too was bent. I thanked him, Spider handed him a credit card, and we rode away, each on our own bikes. It was great to get back on my R90S. It felt as nimble as a bicycle compared to Spider’s Low Rider.

Interstate 90 back to Spearfish was packed with Harley’s doing 55 – while sounding like they were going 105. I soon tired of the freight-train pace, waved to the renegades, and took the next off-ramp towards the hills. It was time to enjoy some twisties.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I wouldn’t make it back to Spearfish City Campground that evening.

Header image courtesy of sturgismotorcyclerally.com.

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