Between summer school teaching and three kids having four jobs, my family struggled to find time for a vacation.
We pulled off nine days in early August to make our annual trek to Rapid City, S.D. We sojourned with my aunt, Sue Drysdale, a retired realtor, and her husband, Stan, a retired butcher.
My grandparents, Gene and Phyllis Noteboom, also spend summers in Rapid City before heading back to Casa Grande, Ariz., for the winter months. Add in aunts, uncles, cousins, and nearly 80,000 bikers, and you get the idea.
The escape from the Pacific Northwest gives us the opportunity to visit my parents’ roots in the Black Hills. For four years, both of my parents worked as teachers in the winters, and park rangers in Custer State Park in the summers. Aunt Sue owns a log cabin just outside of Keystone, S.D., and down the road from Mount Rushmore.
We spent a few nights there, perusing the library of VHS tapes, listening to the crickets and the roar of motorcycles, and yes, at 21, still playing in the creek with my siblings.
While in Rapid City, we ventured to the 79th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The Sturgis Rally is one of the largest in the world. Started in 1938 with nine riders entertaining an audience of 175, the rural town of Sturgis now swells from 6,900 to 79,000 during this week in August.
I was left gawking at the amount of t-shirts for sale coupled with so many ladies not wearing any shirts at all.
I met bikers from all around the world. At their first rally, Heinn and Natalie from Brussels, Belgium, were making a quick pitstop on their country-wide tour on their Harley-Davidson. It was their first rally, but for Spearfish native Al Wood, this is nothing new. He has been coming every year since 1982, and Wood quickly identified how the rally has changed:
“Too many yuppies, a lot of posers come nowadays.”
My mom look shamefully at the ground.
A few, like Bernie Constable, make the 700-mile ride from British Columbia, Canada. Constable, a postal worker, volunteers his time for the Christian Motorcycle Association. He says he enjoys seeing the different kinds of bikes that show up every year.
“The bikes been gettin’ nicer and nicer,” says Constable. “I keep thinking one day I’d like to get a Harley, but I’m happy with my Suzuki for now.”
The bikers I met were kind, working-class folks. They loved the rally; for many, it was their sole annual vacation. Each rally-goer drops around $2,000 while there. According to my mom, who has attended the rally since she was a child, the population is an aging one. Nowadays, more attendees trailer their bikes than ride, instead of riding all the way.
After the organized chaos of Sturgis, we drove four hours east to Pickstown on the banks of the Missouri River. Uncle Craig and Aunt Jenny Noteboom hosted us for the weekend. We spent our time in Eastern South Dakota on the water, where I learned it’s harder than it looks to waterski and wakeboard. Craig, my dad’s baby brother, deep fried fresh Walleye caught from the Missouri, and treated us to a good ol’ Midwest fish fry.
To fully enjoy the Black Hills, we rented ATVs and took an excursion through the hills near Keystone. This expedition truly gave me a better sense of the beauty of the Black Hills, with great swaths of untouched land and expansive views. This beauty was the number one attraction cited by rally attendees
After almost a week and a half in the Midwest, it was time to come home and back to reality. I won’t miss the humidity, but I will miss my people. I agree with Bernie Constable, who proclaimed, “I’ll be back next year.”
Noah Noteboom is a 2016 Hood River Valley High school graduate, who this fall starts his senior year at University of Oregon, studying journalism. In addition to writing articles (and typing up County Fair results) for the Hood River News this summer, he also keeps busy working at Packer Farms.