New Buffalo MI – Sturgis SD
Sat Sept 19, 2020
“Steak in Sturgis” – that was the mantra Ken and I had latched onto after deciding it would be cool to spend our first evening of the trip eating steak in famous Sturgis, South Dakota. The annual biker gathering held there would be over by a few weeks and we were interested in experiencing the town (me for the first time) without the hordes of people and madness. Marc prefers poultry to beef, but “Chicken in Sturgis” doesn’t have quite the same ring…
With a planned departure of 03:00, I was up at 02:00 EDT to get my act together and be at the gas station across the street to meet the others. I swigged some room coffee and chugged a protein shake before heading out to the bike. After getting a couple non-sensical questions from the drunk teenagers ending their late night outside the hotel, I started up the bike right away to avoid further interactions. Despite the ST’s quiet motor, it gave me an excuse to feign deafness while packing up.
It was a cool 42F so my heated jacket and pants liners would be necessary for the first several hours of the ride today, moving at interstate speeds. I also donned my balaclava to keep out the chill around my neck and my Rukka lobster gloves, which I’ve grown really attached to for cooler weather riding – they seem to keep my fingers warmer than my actual heated gloves. My thermometer would dip as low as 38F at some point before sun up, and I didn’t regret any of the gear I was wearing.
Having plugged my rear tire several weeks ago, I’d been dealing with an intermittent slow leak since then and checked the pressure. Both tires were down by 3-4 psi, especially with this morning’s low temperature. I made it to the station early and aired up to my preferred highway pressures and was at the fuel pump by the time Marc and Ken arrived at quarter to three. We grabbed a quick selfie before fueling up to secure our Michigan starting receipt, just before 03:00 EDT.
I took the first shift in lead position and we traveled down I-94 for a couple of miles before pulling over at the Indiana border sign. Just like that, we gained an hour, crossing back into Central time. A bit further on, we exited on US 421 into Michigan City to nab a receipt for Indiana, as our second state. Two down, 46 to go, within 20 minutes of starting!
We rejoined a deserted I-80 to skirt south of the Chicago area and missed our chance at the Illinois welcome sign which was suspended above the super highway with no safe opportunity to stop. Ah well, have to catch it on the way out. We turned north on the I-355 toll road, which brought us back up to meet I-90 north of the city.
Exiting on US 20 to encircle Rockford to the south, we were forced onto local roads southwest of the city by a short construction detour. Detours are always the fault of the guy in the lead (unwritten rule), so I endured some ribbing until we linked back up with US 20, which is a fast divided four-laner until just past Freeport. The town of Winnebago provided us with our Illinois receipt.
We turned north to cross the Wisconsin border via IL 78, at which point we were able to collect photos of both state signs.
We made our way through this pastoral corner of Wisconsin on curvy farm roads, which may have proven fun and scenic under daylight. Our focus was watching for deer and staying upright, this last which was made a bit more complicated when the pavement suddenly gave out in front of me to a (thankfully) well-groomed gravel surface, after zipping through a crossroads at 45+ mph. I somehow kept my head, didn’t touch the brakes, and eased off the throttle, while shouting into the intercom “Gravel! Don’t brake, it’s OK!” to warn my companions.
Hearts pounding a bit, we rolled through the rest of the half-mile of gravel and took things a bit more calmly on the pavement until pulling into our next receipt stop in the town of Hazel Green.
The sky lightened as we left our Wisconsin stop and soon picked up US 151 to cross the Mississippi River. The view of the river was stunning in the early light and took us by surprise (so no photo), but we pulled over just past the bridge to snap the Iowa sign. I think Ken was starting to wake up by now.
As we embarked on our pencil-straight traverse of Iowa on US 20 (divided four laner once again), the sunrise behind us was distracting in it’s brilliance through the wildfire haze, prompting a few photos on the go. The landscape looked similar to this across much of Iowa – lots of farms and cornfields on rolling hills.
We were all feeling the pinch in our stomachs for breakfast, and pulled off the highway in Independence to grab another convenient McMuffin and coffee at a Mickey D’s. It was a welcome pause and allowed the sun to warm things up a bit more while we stretched and ate. Although we had a fuel stop planned later, I decided to use the breakfast receipt for my Iowa documentation.
Refreshed, we continued west on US 20 until our next exit on the outskirts of Weber City. A former IBR rider (and pig farmer by trade) had crafted a large metal “Iron Butt” sign at the entrance to his property several years ago. It has become a popular photo op destination for long distance riders – after all, what else is there to see in central Iowa? 🙂 Stopping at the sign was a shared goal we had been looking forward to, so we spent 10-15 minutes, snapping photos, and enjoying a short break from the highway amidst the cornfields. Getting my tiny tripod to stay upright in the wind for this photo was its own challenge.
The wildfire haze was definitely more noticeable today, muting the views of the sky and distant countryside. We finished out our otherwise uneventful run across Iowa with a stop for fuel in Early, where is was finally warm enough to remove some layers. Then we crossed the mighty Missouri River for a very brief turn into South Sioux City, Nebraska to check that state off the list.
We crossed back into Iowa and experienced some Garmin-tertainment as our various GPS models prompted us to take different local roads through Sioux City to pick up US 75 north. Marc got separated from us, though the Sena mesh allowed us to hear him intermittently as we all eventually made our way through town to the desired highway and re-formed our group.
US 75 became two lanes after Le Mars and provided nicer scenery for the straight run north to the Minnesota line. Jokes aside, I’ve actually enjoyed most of my limited riding through Iowa’s two lane roads. The landscape can be quite beautiful and not quite as flat and monochromatic as you might think.
We soon crossed over I-90 in Luverne to get our Minnesota receipt before charging west once again. I had to pull in for a pic of the giant bison sculpture across the street. Ken piped up via intercom that the statue had been a bonus on the 2017 IBR. This is at about the same angle as the real one I actually rammed two years ago. Blasted things, indeed! We joined I-90 westbound and began to feel the effects of a steady southerly wind, which would plague us (and our gas mileage) for the remainder of the day as we moved into and across South Dakota. It was just enough to keep us leaning slightly to the left and ducking behind our windshields when passing near some of the big trucks. After a few hundred miles, it sort of wears you down, especially on the back half of a 1000 mile day!
We approached the first Butt Lite bonus location that I’d added onto the route and agreed to make the stop – curious to see the sculpture called “Dignity” (which was all we knew about it) as well as to take a much needed break from the pounding wind. We pulled off into the rest area in Chamberlain overlooking the Missouri River and easily homed in on the impressive and beautiful 50′ tall statue of a Native American woman holding a blanket.
We broke out our Butt Lite rally flags for a group bonus photo and then took in the (hazy) view of the Missouri River below. I was getting a bit better with the tripod, but still a challenge in the stiff wind!
As anyone who has traveled I-90 across Montana or South Dakota will know, the signs for famous Wall Drug begin tempting the weary traveler with 5c coffee and other amenities while you are still hundreds of miles away. None of us had visited the attraction before, so we decided to make an unscheduled stop in the town of Wall when we arrived, perhaps get a cup of that so-affordable joe.
We took the exit and, now quite befuddled from our windy romp, managed to follow the signs to the area of the town dedicated to Wall Drug and the other tourist traps that have sprung up around it. It was a bustling place and it felt a bit like we were at an oceanside boardwalk village like Coney Island. And this an off-season weekday!
We found parking in front of the entrance for a decent photo, but had second thoughts about stopping after seeing the relative crowds (remembering we are still in a pandemic). Marc also reminded us about getting to Sturgis in time to find some dinner. Somewhat disappointing, but eyes on the prize…er, steak! While I would love to go back here to get the full experience some day, today was not it and we all agreed to keep moving.
Just over an hour later, we pulled off the highway into Sturgis, SD. We’d gained two hours on the day and were now in Mountain time right around sunset. I’d booked the Best Western for us tonight, but we rode past it to scope out the area and see what restaurants might be within walking distance of the hotel.
Not only weren’t there any, but when we cruised into the downtown strip area around twilight, it was practically a ghost town! Most of the businesses, including famous bars/restaurants like One Eyed Jack’s and the Knuckle Saloon were closed down. We weren’t sure if this was pandemic-related or just a fact of life here after the annual rally is over, but we were damn hungry!
Tired, surprised and a bit dispirited at this point, we rode around the block a couple times, trying to find a likely watering hole. I was feeling cranky and wanted to go back to the hotel to clean up and tackle the problem with a fresher mindset, but the guys preferred to just stop now for dinner while we were there.
The Loud American Roadhouse, across from One-Eyed Jacks, was open for business with outdoor seating and most importantly, right in front of us. They had prime rib tonight to satisfy my craving for red meat with good veggies on the side, while Ken opted for a steak tip wrap.
It turned out being a pretty good meal as darkness fell, though we were all worn out from the road. We’d completed our longest planned day of the journey and had ticked off eight states. We were all looking forward to riding out west, but knew we had another day of mostly interstate riding ahead of us to cross Montana tomorrow. We headed for the hotel after fueling up and did our best to get some needed rest.