“You’re going to Sturgis?” asked a family friend, his tone incredulous. As if going to a motorcycle rally was the craziest thing a 45-year old woman like me could do.
I told another friend I was going, and here was his response: “Stacy, when will you be done with this midlife crisis?”
I'm sure they looked at my life and saw all the fixings of a midlife crisis: My 15-year marriage was ending, I was intent on riding my new motorcycle to Sturgis.
I started planning my trip to the 76th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally long before I even bought my bike. When I heard my extended family was organizing a reunion during bike week in the Black Hills National Forest my first thought was: Great idea, perfect.
Motorcycles have always been a part of my life, but I was always the passenger. My dad rode. When I was little, I would climb onto his Honda Gold Wing. He’d place a helmet on my head, and we’d roll around our hometown of St. Cloud. When I was 19, we rode together to Wyoming and Montana.
As a teenager, I rode with boyfriends. I attended Homecoming Dance my sophomore year — the only school dance I ever attended — on the back of a friend’s bike, my long dress hiked up over my knees. Riding, even as a passenger, made me feel free and a little rebellious. A little wild.
This past year, with the reality of my divorce closing in, it became increasingly clear that it was time to bring motorcycles back into my life. After all, they were an important part of my past, and I wanted to be intentional about creating my future.
Don’t get my wrong; by all measures my life was very, very good. I felt confident about my career as the owner of a successful public relations firm. I deeply enjoyed my role as mother to my three beautiful children. Yet I was ready for more. I was ready to ride my own motorcycle. No more back seat. Time to have the throttle and control.
In May I took a basic motorcycle safety class. I passed the test and emerged with my license in hand. Then I quickly bought a beautiful bike, a 2016 Harley Davidson Heritage Softail Classic. White and teal, with sparkles. In the sunshine it glimmers.
And then, at the last minute, the family reunion fell apart. Nobody could come. It was looking like a reunion of one. Just me, alone, in Sturgis.
So last Friday I rolled out of the Twin Cities with Erick, someone I met on a Facebook motorcycle page just a few days before. An experienced rider, he generously invited me to ride along with him and his friends. Even though they were riding out to connect with a larger group of buddies. Even though they would be staying across town after our arrival in Sturgis.
Erick taught me many important things during our trip, like shutting off my obnoxiously loud bike when waiting in line as the gas station. Like stopping at the World’s Largest Pheasant in Huron, S.D., for a quick selfie. Like wiping my windshield with a light touch to avoid scratches.
We overnighted in Pierre, S.D., and when we arrived in Sturgis last Saturday morning, I was dumbstruck. There were bikes. Everywhere. The air was filled with the rumble and growl of pipes. There were hundreds of bikes parked in perfectly straight formations the full length of Main Street. There were bikes parked in yards, in church parking lots. Hundreds upon hundreds of bikes.
Erick and I celebrated our first evening in Sturgis with a downtown tour. We took in a rock concert. And of course we watched the notorious women of Sturgis — they were well-endowed, many of them bartenders and waitresses, dressed in everything from the erotic to the kinky to nothing more than body paint and a thong.
Sturgis for the solo traveler
On Sunday I headed to a Lutheran church for the morning meal. Tables were filled with groups of bikers, talking, laughing, enjoying their $8 breakfast. I ordered coffee and a plate of eggs. Then I sat down, looked around and wept. Tears poured down my cheeks. I pulled my baseball cap low to cover my eyes.
I felt very alone. There were no old friends to reunite with, no relatives to meet. I missed my children. For a long moment I sat with those dark feelings and scolded myself. Why did I come here all alone?
I rode back to Main Street and stopped to strike up a conversation with two Sturgis police officers named Troy and Joel. They advised me against riding alone since I was a new rider. It was good advice. Except I was already here by myself, there was no avoiding it. Upon learning this, the officers invited me to attend Monday morning’s Mayor’s Ride, a large group ride to Mount Rushmore, where they would serve as police escorts.
That’s when everything changed. I arrived alone, but found myself touring the Black Hills canyons and cliffs with 200 others. We rode in staggered formations, leaning our bikes into the curves, bending in formation on the turns, slowing in sync for the stops. I felt the pull of something bigger than my loneliness. It was a community of riders.
Officers Troy and Joel and a South Dakota State Trooper named Shannon escorted me back to Sturgis on Monday afternoon. Troy and Joel rode in perfect time next to each other, like they were connected by invisible cords. I rode behind Shannon. As we rode through the splendor of the hills, I felt the friendship and protection of these public servants. That’s when I knew coming to Sturgis was exactly right.
It was the solitude and loneliness that led me to this moment. It’s been the same with other chance encounters at Sturgis. Being here alone allows the moments to unfold more spontaneously. And each experience leaves me loving riding — and Sturgis — all the more.
Stacy L. Bettison, is a licensed attorney and owner of Bettison, a public relations firm focused on crisis communications, reputation management and media relations. She writes about motorcycles at www.twowheelstowild.com.
ABOUT 10,000 Takes: 10,000 Takes is a digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.