The Black Hills Rally is a bucket-list experience for a lot of people but if you really want to enjoy riding the Black Hills you do not want to do it during the rally. The OFMC was there two weeks in advance, a perfect time.
We left Chadron and headed northwest, coming into the hills via Hot Springs on US 18 and 385. That's the road we stayed on, cruising north through Wind Cave National Park, to Custer, and on to Hill City. This would be our home for the next three days. The OFMC has never stayed three nights in one place ever before but there's enough good riding in the Black Hills to warrant it, so we did it.
And Hill City was a nice place to plop down. We weren't in the thick of it in Deadwood and we were much closer than if we'd stayed in Sturgis or Rapid City. At the Black Hills Trails End Motel and Cabins we had a cabin and several rooms in a little place just two blocks off the main part of the main street so it was convenient to walk down for meals and beers.
That evening the 7 of us who started out together were joined by 4 more, one an OFMC regular and three guys on their first ride with the group. That made us 11, which is the biggest the group has ever been. One was John's wife's cousin Ray, who most of us have met at one time or another, and three members of the Homeslice Band. Johnathon, the sax player, is a regular OFMC member and John's son. Steve is the band leader and guitarist, and Kenny is the keyboardist. They had a gig set for Cheyenne Frontier Days on Wednesday so they were just up to ride with us for a couple days.
Our first full day there, Monday, we did the obligatory ride of the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road. I think it must be against the law to go to the Black Hills and not ride these roads. They're narrow and twisty and go through one-lane tunnels and are just sweet. We dropped down from there directly into Keystone and it was time for a stop. Keystone is a much more bustling place than Hill City and we were glad to remount and ride on back to our digs.
Next day we cruised up to Deadwood and down to Sturgis. This close to the rally there was a lot of preparation underway. A few shops were open but most weren't. There were people around but not throngs. Most of the really big bars were just coming out of hibernation.
Preparations for the rally were also evident in the hills. Potentially dangerous corners were already marked with flags, and sometimes cones. New rumble strips had just been cut along the sides and in the middle of some of the highways. Everyone was getting ready for the rally.
Dennis's big adventure
Not us. We took a leisurely cruise along Nemo Road leading back to Hill City. It was on this stretch that Dennis had his big adventure. I was in the lead, and reaching a fork in the road I wasn't sure which way we wanted to go, so I pulled over. Sure enough, the way we needed to go was the other way than the way we had turned so I pulled back out and over. I then watched--we all watched--in horror as a big, loaded truck came the other direction and Dennis, unaware, started to pull out right in front of him.
Our screams could not be heard over the roar of Dennis's engine so he was more than surprised to look up and see this truck bearing down on him. Fortunately, the driver had seen the situation in time and was already laying hard on his brakes, and I'm sure cursing a blue streak. And he stopped in time. (I'll make note that this was one time when loud pipes almost cost a life.)
We got back to Hill City with no further excitement but the guys in the band weren't satisfied. They had to leave early the next morning and wanted to ride more. Storm clouds were threatening but they leathered up and suited up and headed out to ride the Needles and Iron Mountain again.
Of course it poured. They said there were no other bikes on the road and few cars, and it was a bit of an otherworldly experience to be on those familiar roads in that kind of weather. Memorable, you know. Those guys were hard-core.
Early the next day they and Ray were up and gone. We took our time but then headed out through Lead to Spearfish Canyon, to Spearfish, and hopped on I-90 for a blast over to Buffalo, Wyoming. And the group rolled on.