Posts Tagged ‘Rapid City’

My first bike. Thank God for long driveways.

Cool people ride motorcycles. So do jerks, nerds, holy men, veterans, newbies, wannabes, posers, pranksters, rich people, poor people, and ordinary people. Like me.

The 72nd Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is cranking up in western South Dakota. The Sturgis Rally is the single largest motorcycle event in the world. It takes place annually the first full week of August in the town of Sturgis, South Dakota, which normally has a population of about 6,600 people. During the Rally, that number swells to anywhere between 500,000 and 750,000, depending on the year. So the Rally is a big deal, literally. It’s a non-stop, week-long crush of concerts, motorcycle races, bike build-offs, drinking, vendor-hopping, and lots of motorcycle riding.

I attended my first Sturgis Rally in 1985 as a 19-year-old news intern with a Rapid City, South Dakota radio station. It was the best assignment of the summer. I wandered the streets taking pictures of half-naked people, interviewing vendors and Sturgis residents, and snatching up cheap Rally t-shirts as souvenirs. I’d had some experience around motorcycles; my dad rode one and so did my boyfriend at the time. But I myself had yet to throttle up anything bigger than a 70cc Honda trail bike.

In 1989, I was back at the Rally again with my current husband (then boyfriend) on a 1974 Harley Sportster. That bike was the first thing we owned as a couple (followed by a stereo and a super single waterbed – the only size that fit in the 7’ by 9’ bedroom of our rental house). From 1989 to 2000, the Rally was our annual vacation. We’d make the trip with whoever had the time or money to go, throw up a tent, cruise Main Street, catch a concert, drink, shop, and do lots of motorcycle riding. I loved it.

During that time, I got my motorcycle license and my first motorcycle – a 550 Honda chopper with a six-foot front end. It was light and low to the ground, a hardtail that kickstarted which meant it could be both a pain in the ass AND the calf muscles but that little sucker could scream down the road like nobody’s business.

In 2000, my husband sold off the bikes. It was his decision, not mine, but I accepted it, except for one time of year – the Rally. Starting the last week of July, I’d hear the rumble coming down the road and press my nose to the window, gazing longingly at the parade of bikes roaring past. I’d sigh, then turn and glare at my husband. I missed it. He didn’t.

My current ride, George.

When the motorcycle bug bit me, it hung on and never let go. My husband caught it again about five years ago and picked up a 1980 Shovelhead. Three years later, a 1997 Sportster joined it in the garage. I got my motorcycle license again and claimed it.

The motorcycle traffic is picking up this weekend, heading west to Sturgis, some of our friends and family members along for the ride. We’d planned to join them this year but Jay’s Shovelhead is laid low with transmission trouble and not likely to be fixed in the next week. My Sportster, however, is feeling fine, and with gas, full saddlebags, and a tent and bedroll, eager to hit the road. I offered to let Jay ride “bitch“; he declined, although politely. So I broached the subject of riding out with friends just for a day or two. He said go ahead but if I do go to Sturgis without him, I don’t need to bother coming back home. Guess I’ll have to mail him his Sturgis t-shirt.

My dream bike – a 650 Triumph. If it was good enough for Steve McQueen, it’s good enough for me.

Are you a rider? If you are, what’s your ride of choice and why do you ride?

On June 9, 2011, the Missouri River was steadily creeping over its banks into Pierre, South Dakota , where I live. On June 9, 1972, Rapid Creek was careening through Rapid City, South Dakota, where I briefly lived.

The floods in these two communities are separated by so much more than 40 years and 180 miles. Last year’s flood drove people from their homes, shuttered businesses, and caused millions of dollars in property damage. But we saw it coming. In fact, many watched helplessly as the Missouri River rose and rose, flowing unheeded over a span of weeks and months. There was some time to evacuate (as I related in “What Do You Take?”), fill sandbags, and construct levees.

In 1972, the residents of Rapid City didn’t know what hit them. A storm dumped 10 inches of rain over a 60-mile area, flash-flooding Rapid Creek which winds through the city. Water roared over the creek banks, sweeping buildings, vehicles, trees, and people, ahead of it. Throughout the night, residents clung to whatever they could to survive – fences, trees, light poles, the roofs of houses. They heard the screams of others being swept away, the crack of beams splintering, the groan of metal as cars collided. And above it all, the deafening rush of the water.

When the floodwaters receded on June 10, 1972, 238 people were dead. More than 1,300 homes were completely destroyed with 2,800 more damaged. Thirty-six businesses were lost with another 236 sustaining heavy damage. Five thousand vehicles became scrap metal. The recovery took years.

In the summer of 1985, I was an intern at a radio station in Rapid City and even thirteen years after the horrific events of that day, a heavy rain could still instill fear and dread among the city’s residents.

On the 40th anniversary of the Rapid Creek flood, Rapid City is a community resurrected, risen from the floodwaters that still flow in the memory of so many. And while the devastation caused by last year’s flood in my own community should not be minimized, I can’t help but think of just how lucky we are; it could have been so much worse.

In 1972, the Rapid City Journal gave the country a firsthand account of the Rapid Creek flood. Forty years later, they’re doing the same with an impressive series of interviews and images. It’s well worth a look, especially the collection “The People of the 1972 Flood”.