When my cousin planned her wedding for August 5 and asked me to be her wedding photographer, of course my answer was yes. And when my mother and brother and his family decided to come out for the wedding and stay with me, of course the answer was yes. What is more important than family? Nothing! So when I was discussing my dilemma of being late for Sturgis with the wisest woman I know (my mother), she asked me, "What do you suppose would happen if you just didn't go to Sturgis this year?” After I’d mulled over that for a moment, she continued, "Are you fairly certain they would call the event off?"
Me riding in the Black Hills this year. Not go to Sturgis? Silly Mom! Aaron Packard, thank you for this photo.
Not go to Sturgis? Hmm. The thought never occurred to me in the more than 20 years I’ve been attending. August has long been the month that I set out to go visit all of my family. God placed the city of Sturgis in the middle of all of them geographically, so I assumed he wanted me there. All kidding aside, I use my annual road trip to reassess all that is happening in my life. Stepping away from my normal daily habits has always been the way I evaluate if what I’m doing in my life is what I want to be doing. Otherwise, it is easy to go into overdrive and just maintain the world I’ve created. I want my life to be full of conscious choice, not one of habit or circumstance. I want to make my life happen, not let it happen to me. Sometimes we feel stuck, as if we are prisoners of our own lives. What gives me the purest feeling of not being stuck is experiencing freedom on its most basic level. Nothing helps me experience freedom in its most primal form like riding my motorcycle down a lonely road. It's just me at the helm of my own ship, deciding which way to go.
My good friend and riding buddy Qian (pronounced Chin) Ma, riding out from California all by her big self.
Bikers of all ages, races and religions pretty much agree on that one aspect. We love the feeling of freedom we experience on a motorcycle. Freedom is what we all seem to value most. It is what wars are fought over. There is no price to put on freedom, and yet the price is so high. We call our nation “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I passed a homemade painted sign in the desert that said, "Land of the free BECAUSE of the brave.” How true that is. Our country has been at war for more than a decade. We the bikers that gather in the middle of our nation every summer to experience freedom get to do that because of our brave.
The huge American flag that proudly resides over the Buffalo Chip campground in Sturgis.
With my tight schedule, I had only four days to spend in Sturgis, and every day was booked with a ride or event with a charity or cause that was worth our help, time and compassion. Yet I found myself so busy running from place to place that I barely had time to jot down which events benefitted which causes. And as it goes in my life, sometimes it takes divine intervention for me to slow down and see, feel and comprehend that which is placed directly in my path. So I will work backward in events the way they happened because God saved my best lesson for last, as he often does!
Me in front of the flags standing at the Buffalo Chip in remembrance of our fallen servicemen and women.
I was at the Buffalo Chip campground in a panic because I was having trouble connecting with someone to get me backstage access for the benefit concert called "American Thunder,” featuring Jeff Bridges, Stevie Nicks and John Fogerty. At the time I had no recollection of who John Fogerty was, and although I love Stevie Nicks, I am just going to admit what I was thinking: “Get out of my way—I want to meet the Dude!” Everybody remembers Jeff Bridges as the Dude in “The Big Lebowski.” I also think of him as Wild Bill, the role he played in the movie by the same name. I have long fancied myself a modern-day version of Calamity Jane, although I've come to question why I identify so much with a homely working girl. While I was sweating at the hot, dusty gate of the Chip, my friend Ken Conte asked me what I was up to. Even he couldn't help me get backstage media access, but he was with a nice young kid who asked if he could take a picture with my bike and me. So I threw my arms around the big, strong kid as Ken snapped this picture for us, and then they were off. I remember thinking that the kid didn't seem like the kind of boy I normally see in Sturgis. He was so straight, clean-cut and well mannered!
Me and the clean-cut man having our picture snapped.
When I finally did bamboozle my way backstage, the entire night was somewhat of a blur because, well, I met the Dude! And yikes of yikes, how ridiculously handsome is he? And oh, what a shiny wedding ring he wears! Darn thing practically blinded me. He sings a lot like Kris Kristofferson and acts, well, a lot like the Dude. And before I knew it, Stevie Nicks took the stage, and just as she did, a huge gust of wind came in so strong that organizers thought they were going to have to get her off the stormy stage. But Stevie kept singing, and I have to say, that wind made her come alive! Her dress started blowing, and her hair took flight, and it was like I was seeing her in 1978 all over again. She made the whole place come alive! And then John Fogerty, who I wasn't even sure I knew—holy moly! Every word of every Creedence Clearwater Revival song was already in my brain, and he rocked the house down! Now that is a rock star!
Me and Jeff Bridges—Wild Bill, the Dude! Fred Mathews, thank you for this photo.
Jeff Bridges onstage. The class act, Stevie Nicks. John Foggerty of Creedence Clearwater Revival, who once rocked the stage at Woodstock, still rocking it at the Buffalo Chip!
Between songs, I was standing in the middle of the dressing rooms of these three mega-stars when a familiar young face asked me to look for his friend and tell him where his group was going. I looked into his clean-cut face and thought he seemed very sharp and confident for such a young man, and again, that he gave off an unusual vibe for someone at Sturgis. I watched him walk away and noticed he had prosthetic legs. He was wearing shorts and walked as if he was as strong and healthy as a young man can be. When his friend came through, I sent him out front to find his group. Moments later, the group of young men returned to wait their turn to take the stage. Turns out, this benefit concert was organized by Bob Woodruff, the ABC newsman who sustained a traumatic brain injury when his vehicle was hit by a bomb while he was covering the war in Iraq in 2006. Bob was in a coma for five weeks, and no one expected him to make the amazing comeback he has, which he attributes to the support of his loyal family. Bob has made it his mission to dedicate himself to helping our servicemen and women by raising money and awareness for the many soldiers who also sustain these types of injuries.
Me with Bob Woodruff (second from right) and his brothers. Buffalo Chip Owner Rod Woodruff (no relation) is on the far right.
The clean-cut young man I’d met was in this last band to play for the evening, called "Southern Fried.” He plays the drums and is a soldier who fought in Iraq. I asked him if I could have my picture with him again, and he said, “Haven't we been through this already?” I honestly wasn't sure that he was the same guy I’d met earlier. He’d been wearing long pants then, so I hadn’t even noticed his prosthetic legs when we took that first picture. I watched him and his friends waiting to take the stage at the very crowded Buffalo Chip, and it didn't even seem like they were all that nervous to go out in front of a crowd of several hundred thousand people.
Me with the clean-cut young soldier, retired Staff Sgt. Dale Beatty.
After John Fogerty sang his last song, Bob Woodruff took the stage with this young man, and they talked about our soldiers and the freedom we are fighting for. Tears just started pouring down my face because this young man was so … brave. People always see me as this fearless biker chick who does all of these wild things. Looking at this young man, I realized he is brave in ways I cannot even comprehend. He seemed to be doing it effortlessly, and my thought was that his bravery did not end in Iraq.
Dale and his band, Southern Fried, waiting their turn to take the stage.
Meeting Jeff Bridges was absolutely too cool for words, but it was this guy who touched my heart. He made me remember how fortunate we all are to be Americans, experiencing freedom of choice every single day in everything we do—all because of our brave. Truly, the only way our country is ever going to change the sad condition it is in today is if we start caring less about ourselves as individuals and more about one another as human beings.
This huge benefit, made possible by the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Buffalo Chip, was a great reminder that we need to continue to support our troops, our vets and their families. It turns out that young man who took the stage was retired Staff Sgt. Dale Beatty. He holds the honorable Purple Heart and is the cofounder, along with his friend John Gallina, of an organization called Purple Heart Homes, which helps disabled veterans retrofit their homes to accommodate their injuries. If you would like to read more about Dale or Purple Heart Homes, go to PurpleHeartHomesUSA.org
Dale Beatty and Bob Woodruff talking to the crowd about supporting the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The crowd at the Buffalo Chip that night.
My friend actor Lorenzo Lamas was also in Sturgis and is supporting our troops with his charity rides called Rumble for the Heartland. Lorenzo's organization is supporting the needs of the families left behind when their active-duty loved ones are away. I ran into him and all of my “legendary” friends I hadn't seen in a while at the Legends Ride, which looped through my favorite roads out of Deadwood, through the cute town of Nemo, and back out to the Buffalo Chip. The $150 entry fee goes toward two Black Hills charities, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame and the Black Hills Special Olympics.
Every year my experience in Sturgis is unique thanks to the variety of people from around the globe who make the journey to the Black Hills to enjoy the beauty of the land, not to mention the mashing of personalities. The history of Deadwood and the great warriors and outlaws who have walked those same streets make it the perfect place for motorcycle legends to gather and reconnect.
Lorenzo Lamas at the Legends Ride with my friend and master builder Donnie Smith and the beautiful Budweiser girls. Donnie built the bike they’re posing around to be auctioned off. "Survivor" cast members Rupert Boneham and Holly Hoffman showing their support at the Legends Ride. Qian and me proudly posing on top of this pyramid of Buffalo Chip calendar girls. Kenny Alphin of the band Big & Rich, who sings the hit song "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy," led the ride.
For many of us who live all across the United States, Sturgis is the one time of year we get to see one another. My good pal Chris Callen of Cycle Source magazine and all of the guys at the Limpnickie Lot are friends I never want to miss seeing. Chris has a huge heart and always tries to bring awareness through the events he puts on. On his ride this year, he helped educate us all on how easy it is to become a bone marrow donor, and he provided a service right onsite for those who wanted to get involved.
Many of you in the riding community are friends with me on Facebook, so you may already know about Aiden Jack Seegar. For those of you who don't, he is the cutest little six-year-old boy who really needs a bone marrow donor. Without it, his little life will be cut way too short. Aidan was diagnosed with ALD, a rare brain disease. You can find information on how to help Aidan at AidanHasAPosse.wordpress.com
Chris Callen (right) and George the Painter hanging out during the Cycle Source ride at Sturgis. Maysn Moyer, Qian and me on the Cycle Source ride.
Minnesota pals Kevin "Teach" Baas and his gorgeous wife, Amy, on her bad bike that her too-cool-for-school husband built her. Two of my all-time favorite women in the motorcycling world, builder Athena Ransom and photographer/Garage Girl Sara Liberte.
At night, I still like to go back to my roots at the Broken Spoke Saloon downtown, where I can still count on finding most of my friends at any given hour. My forever wind-sister Sasha Mullins was helping Jay Allen run the place this year, and I owe her a big shout-out for hooking me up with the American Thunder group and allowing me to be a part of the benefit concert at the Buffalo Chip. That night at the Broken Spoke were the usual burnouts, where riders crank the throttle and hold the brake at the same time so that the rear tire turns without the bike moving, causing the tire rubber to burn and create smoke—lots of it! As much as I don't understand the whole burnout concept or why we all continue to file in and choke on the black air, there is something about the energy in the room when that sound and smoke envelop you! But I miss the good old days at the Broken Spoke, listening to Jimmie VanZant play the seemingly endless version of "Freebird” and dancing the night away with my buddy Carl from Minnesota. Carl and I hung out and watched the burnouts, but it's a little hard to have a conversation with an old friend under those conditions.
Burnout mayhem at the Broken Spoke. Me and my pal Sasha Mullins. Me and my dancing partner Carl, who rides his three-wheeled Harley to Sturgis from Minnesota every year.
The celebration of talented motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter’s work is always an evening not to miss. This year Michael teamed up with sculpture artist and collector Jeff Decker, who displayed many unusual items from his motorcycle art and memorabilia collection, including original motorcycle club vests from past decades. His collection is so intriguing that it even drew in the hosts of the popular cable show "American Pickers,” along with seemingly every other big name in the motorcycle industry.
Motorcycle photographer Michael Lichter.
Me with artist and collector Jeff Decker (second from left) and Mike Wolfe and Danielle Colby from “American Pickers." Me with WRN Columnist Diva Amy, WRN Editor Genevieve Schmitt, and CJ Hanlon of Guilty Customs.
Every year there seems to be a larger group of women who ride and attend the Sturgis rally, and this year was not only no exception, it was a year to celebrate women who ride. This year’s prominent woman attendees included two of my favorite ladies, Gloria Struck and Margaret Wilson, who were inducted into the Sturgis Hall of Fame. Margaret’s husband, Mike, was also inducted this year. Both of these ladies are members of the Motor Maids and have inspired many other women to ride over the years.
Mike and Margaret Wilson kissing like they are still in their 20s. Margaret gave me further relationship advice, which was to just be nice to each other and don't say mean things. Bite your tongue if you have to, she said. Simple advice is always the best.
Gloria is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen at 86 and has ridden in every US state and all over Canada. Margaret and Mike still ride in their early 90s and together once owned a Harley-Davidson dealership in Iowa. A sweeter couple are not to be found! When I asked Mike and Margaret separately what their secret was to such a long and enduring relationship, they each told me they were each other’s best friend. When they were called up to speak at the Sturgis Hall of Fame induction breakfast, Mike first gave Margaret a kiss. Later I told them I had missed the kiss and asked for a repeat performance. I purposely missed it several times to make them keep going, which made biker and author Cris Sommer-Simmons and her Doobie Brother husband, Pat Simmons, get in on the action!
Me with Gloria Struck (second from left) and her daughter Lori DeSilva (in the pink shirt), who is also a Motor Maid and rides with her mother everywhere. Author and motorcyclist extraordinaire Cris Sommer Simmons and her rocker husband, Pat Simmons, lead singer of the Doobie Brothers.
Gloria, Cris and I were featured along with 19 other amazing women friends this year in a book called "Biker Chicz of North America" by Edward Winterhalder and Wil De Clercq. We did a book signing at my all-time favorite Indian trading post in Rapid City, called Prairie Edge. If you've never peeked inside, it is worth the trip. For all of you ladies that have asked where I get my leather accessories, this is the secret!
Also featured in the book are my longtime riding partners Gevin Fax and Sasha Mullins, land-speed record holder Laura Klock, and my pal Meg McDonough, who is a member of the Jackpine Gypsy Club. Meg also started the Biker Belles run, the Sturgis women’s ride that all of my favorite women participated in this year. It was great to spend a day just riding and bonding with this seasoned group of amazing women riders. We rode, we ate, we laughed, we cried, and we even had a fashion show! Ya know, girl stuff! I am honored to be included and to spend time with each and every lady who was on the ride. I hope it grows wildly in the future!
"Biker Chicz" book signing at Prairie Edge. Pictured in the first row, left to right: Cris Sommer Simmons, Meg McDonough, Gloria Struck, me, and Gevin Fax. Top row, left to right: Vicki Roberts Sanfelipo and—hey, wait a minute, he's not a biker chick!—NY Myke, honorary member of any women’s riding group. Last but not least, Pepper Massey.
Our gang heading out for the Biker Belles ride: me, my forever friend and WRN Editor Genevieve Schmitt, Gevin Fax, and Diva Amy. At the end of the day with Mrs. South Dakota, Lori Visker (who graciously let all of us take turns wearing her crown), plus Gevin Fax and Laura Klock.
Four days was definitely not enough time for me to see and do all that I wanted to do in the Black Hills, but I did manage to pack a whole lot of fun into four action-filled days. At the end of the day, it’s just spending time with the people you love that matters. Several friends that I would normally spend time with were working the event or held captive in some way or another. Bean're was being held captive by the Buffalo Chip, Jack Schitt was being held captive by the Broken Spoke, and Masyn Moyer—well, I think she may have tied herself up in her own tent.
Bean're was being held hostage while working the crowd as “Mayor of Fun” at the Buffalo Chip, so Qian had to break him out by riding him on the back of his bike! Yup, Bitch Bean're—that's what we call him now! Jack Schitt was being held hostage at County Line Broken Spoke (he was the emcee there), but we had visitation rights. Masyn Moyer was willingly being held hostage in her tent by her new boyfriend, Duane.
So I had to leave my friends that I love in the Black Hills and head on down the highway to my family that I love in Minnesota. I squeezed in one motorcycle ride with my sister Kathy down along the Mississippi and back along the Wisconsin side. Then we headed back through the Black Hills—by car, of course—to take my dear ole dad to Bear Country, a drive-through wildlife park, and then it was onto brother Joe's place in Wyoming and finally back to Colorado, because I think this Dorothy discovered there's no place like home!
Me and my little sister, Kathy, with our Harleys. We ended up at our brother Joe's place and shared pizza with our nieces, posing here like future biker chicks! My favorite shot of the arctic wolves at Bear Country, which is still my all-time favorite place to visit in the Black Hills. My three favorite guys waiting for me at home: Mark (center), Buster and Yukon.
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. See you on the back roads!