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Sturgis Day 2

Attendees' apparel sums up the spirit of Sturgis.

The T-shirts at the Sturgis Rally say it all. Take "Chrome, Testosterone, and Silicone" for instance. Biker babes aplenty are here.

“Some people come for the concerts, some for the rides, some for the nudity,” one woman named Jean comments.

I’ve seen the “Bikini Bike Wash,” a couple of girls who flashed, and a young woman wearing shorts and suspenders (only suspenders). The older women predominantly stop at tight and low-cut. Good to see we’ve learned a little restraint.

Of course, some women here are appreciated for more than their, er, chassis. When asked if they both ride, Renée Duke, 50, says, “I’m the girl on the back.” Jim, 51, quickly corrects: “She’s the beauty on the back.”

T-shirt: "I own a bike, not just a T-shirt."

Riding for most folks here at Sturgis is not just a hobby, but truly a way of life—one that colors their entire outlook, especially those 50+.

Jeff Brown, 60, of Savannah, Ga., is here with “Soaring Eagle,” a red-white-and-blue-painted, custom-built VW/motorcycle/camper. “One reason people ride motorcycles is to gain back the freedom they once had,” he says. “Don’t wait for retirement. Live your life now. There’s no guarantee how long you’ll be healthy or how long you’ll live.”

I contemplate Jeff's statement as I take time to visit one of my favorite locales near Sturgis. Even now, in the busiest two weeks of the year, photographer Rebecca Norris Webb and I have Bear Butte pretty much to ourselves. I'm originally from South Dakota, and our short hike pulls me into my familiar, restorative Black Hills—into something that resembles the calm I see in the eyes of many bikers when they pull into Sturgis after a long ride.

One man, though, perhaps wishes visitors would treat the land with the same reverence as their bikes. Bear Butte is sacred Lakota ground, and many Native Americans resent its being “treated as a play land,” as Tiokasin Ghosthorse, a 50-year-old Lakota activist from Cheyenne River Reservation, puts it. “The land is taking a beating,” he says. “We who are older remember places we can’t go to anymore because they’ve become bars, garbage pits, and dance halls. I think anybody would be upset if people come into their house and don’t take care of it.”

“South Dakota believes in property rights; if it’s your property, you have the right to do with it what you want, within statutes,” Sturgis Mayor Maury LaRue counters. “Our Native American friends have always had free access to the Butte. There are areas accessible only to them. Anyway, you can be out there 11 1/2 months of the year and have it pretty much to yourself.”
T-shirt: "Ride to live, live to shop."

Here’s what’s available: Sturgis patches (OK, I bought one), bandanas, leather gear, knives, Harley Barbie and Ken dolls, visors, bike accessories I can’t identify, Black Hills gold rings (hey, they were half price!), corn dogs, gyros, and barbecue—this last all the way from Texas.

While not for sale, the Sturgis Motorcycle Museum displays a six-pack of Sonny’s Lean & Mean Lager, with the slogan: Hell’s Angel Sonny Barger “brings you the beer to satisfy your thirst for the flavor of adventure and the passion for freedom.”

I’m excited to spot Buddha’s Body Art: Tattoos & Exotic Piercing, with its giant statue of a Buddha atop the building. I’m sure they’ll have the answer to my questions about whether Sturgis is a philosophical pilgrimage or simply spring break for 50-somethings.

Sadly, the young fellow at the front desk has never heard of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (Robert M. Pirsig’s classic of 1974). He tells me that the Buddha who gave his name to the store was actually from Erie, Pa., and that “Buddha” was just a nickname. And he died 15 years ago. Oh.

I watch a bunch of people trying to look nonchalant as “Harley-Davidson” is etched on their bodies. None of them looks as if enlightenment is about to smack them upside their sore shoulders. I’ll have to keep looking for The Answer.

T-shirt:"There’s no life like low life."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

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