Modern Motorcycles, Drifters, And Sturgis: Part One

Article And Photos By: Scooter Tramp Scotty

Originally Published In The April 2018 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

Early August 2017 When I first moved fulltime onto my motorcycle in 1995, and even though there was good response to the gypsy stories I wrote for Easyriders Magazine, very few wished to actually engage in such a crazy idea. In fact, for many years Panhead Billy (who I began running into across the country) and I seemed the only guys actually intent on doing such a nut-bag thing. Imagine living in a world where your chosen lifestyle is limited to a very small number. Although due to its great sights and often perpetual adventures I could imagine living no other way, however, I still doubted my sanity regularly. Therefore, when I did run across Billy, it was always a relief to spend time with another of my kind. In recent years, however, I’ve noted a real change. Scores of men and women have been coming out of the woodwork to load up their bikes and hit the road. Some seek only summer’s travels or as long as the money will last, while others want the full-time life of a drifter. This change mystifies me, and I sometimes wonder if Billy and I were ahead of our time, or if the rest of the world has simply gone mad. In any case, it’s getting a lot less lonely out here, and this year the number of these drifter types who’d come to camp with us would be a record breaker.

Summertime air was hot as the old Harley moved with ease along the familiar Highway-90. Coming from the east, it had been a long ride across the seemingly endless prairie that still stretched in all directions. The Black Hills were just ahead, and I’d enter the small town of Sturgis within 20 minutes. As usual, I was a week early. Sturgis sits at the precipice where America’s Great Plains meet her Black Hills, and as I rode its familiar streets obvious signs of the coming rally could be seen everywhere. Vendor tents were everywhere, and more were being set up. Riders milled around, and their bikes were parked at every curb. But the crowd was sparse, traffic light, and air still soothingly calm. The atomic energy would not truly erupt until the coming weekend. It was the calm before the storm.

As usual, I’d be working for a large tire changing operation at this rally. By the time I’d checked in with my boss and visited a few friends the sun had just set. While heading for home, I passed the pizza joint and noticed Joe Sparrow’s beat up half million-mile Gold Wing in the parking lot. Stopping for a visit with this eight-year full-time motorcycle drifter, I found him at a table with a young man. After I took a chair, Joe introduced Mike and informed me he’d be camping with us. Joe himself works for J&P Cycles, who rents their employees a big house during the rally work week, so Mike could not stay with him. Only after the rally does Joe spend a few days with us at Camp-5. Mike had recently moved onto his Softail and was still quite unsure of himself. He sought the company of mentors and Joe, and I fit this bill. Mike said as much, though he’d later hook up with Chip. After the bullshit session, Mike and I started for home. As Hwy-14 led towards Deadwood some 11 miles away, the plains disappeared, and we were immediately surrounded by tall hills of pine forest as this little two-lane led on through the valleys.

Six miles later we pulled into Camp-5. This place occupies 100s of square miles that make up the Black Hills National Forest, which grants a 14 day stay for free. Friends and I had been camping here for many years. Although this place offers only two chemical toilets and a dumpster, the recreation center in Deadwood sells showers for $1.50. There are plenty of other showers available as well. Far from the midnight noise of campgrounds like Glencoe and the Buffalo Chip, Camp-5 is also reasonably quiet; and with the work week ahead I welcomed the silence. Those who stay in this place range in temperament from the more abundant bikers who come on nice Harleys and put up tents to a guy and his son who show up on an ancient falling apart Gold Wing. They generally sleep on the ground under a tarp, and we even get a few million-dollar motor homes. It’s pretty diverse. Because I always arrive a week early, the area is still mostly deserted (though some send scouts ahead to set tents and claim turf) and I take possession of the best spot by setting in camp. This is, after all, public land and reservations are not an option. Mike and I set our tents.

Some years ago, I’d made a Facebook post inviting anyone who’d like to stay with us. New people came, and I enjoyed what quickly became a family atmosphere of men and women traveling on motorcycles. After that, I didn’t post invitations for two years. Although some returned, others didn’t, and our attendance began to subside. In response, I posted another invitation this year. Little did I suspect what that post would bring. Because I never start work until the following Saturday, this first week is my time to relax, visit friends, eat inexpensive meals at the casinos in Deadwood, and simply enjoy the Black Hills beauty. More began showing up. Jersey Mike is an old friend and mechanic who’d lived many years in a van while following the Grateful Dead. Nowadays he’s a family man and half owner of an independent Harley shop in Asheville NC. Although Jersey obviously loves his family life, he still misses the road. He’s spoken of this many times, and in response, I’ve gotten him a few mobile-mechanic rally-vendor jobs like my own. These offer a good excuse for travel and Jersey had gladly accepted. This year he’d be working Sturgis, and it was the day after my arrival that Jersey showed up with truck, tools, and motorcycle, to set upcamp.

Scorpio had been living on his bike for two years. He also works the rallies, and we’ve spent considerable time together around the country. Scorpio and his little dog Titan pulled in and set camp behind my own. Although this guy’s the weirdest looking cat, he must appeal to women because once again I, Mr. Innocent, would be forced to endure the loud, late-night moans emanating from his damn tent. Jay “Bones” Corsetti arrived. He lives in Vale Colorado, is a ski instructor, bicycles 18 or 20 miles of uneven highaltitude roads a day and is an avid fisherman. Bone’s has been coming to Camp-5 as long as I and usually shows up pulling his bike behind an old VW camper bus—though he does tent camp on occasion. Bones is 75 years old. I’d spent some months traveling with Tom Rogers when he was living off his bike some years ago. He’d since suffered a few strokes which forced him to move into an SUV. With his bike in tow, Tom showed up next. They kept coming, old faces and new. Nerdy brought a big swap-meet tent while others had campers and all manner of equipment. In short time we had stoves, coffee, food, chairs…the list went on. In this midst of this new environment, friendships grew.

Although some came just for the rally, more than I’d seen before were living on their bikes. There was Troy, who’d come with Nicholas from Argentina, Chip, Mike, Cody, Scorpio, Snowman, his ol’ lady, and a few others. Their presence  brought a piece of reality home to me. Some rode newer motorcycles and used fair equipment while probably more had beat up bikes. Cody was riding an ancient $500 Honda CX that made one wonder if the thing actually ran. More than not were using cheesy equipment (cheap tents, no tent, Walmart sleeping bags, etc.) while traveling on a budget. After 22 years of road life, my perspective had grown jaded. The life of a drifter seems completely normal to me now, and a lot of its original magic has faded. But these guys reminded me of why we do it. While ignoring inconvenience, everyone seemed happily immersed in their adventure and looked excitedly and unconcernedly forward to what would come next. The spirit of adventure was with them and its intrigue animated their ideas and movements in a way the daily grind seldom can. It brought back memories. We hung at camp swapping stories and drinking coffee. Although some liked weed, few were heavy drinkers. We also made breakfast or lunch rides to inexpensive casino buffets in the nearby gambling town of Deadwood. Afterwards, we’d walk its streets to take in the sights of this historic place. On one occasion we arrived at the reccenter in force to clean up and let those new to our little gang know where the inexpensive showers were. We rode Spearfish Canyon (Fantastic. Especially if you’ve never done it) and spent time at my favorite coffee house in Spearfish. There were also rides into Sturgis, and other activities too.

Because Sturgis has become a twoweek event many vendors, including my guys at Fix Cycles, open Tuesday of the week before the rally’s official start date. I never work the first week because it’s slow, we get paid by the job, so I’d not make much money anyway, it leaves more for the other guys, and I’m a lazy bugger. However, Fix Cycles was now open for business. My boss’s 80-foot tent always sits in the parking lot of J&P Cycles. J&P sells parts and tires; then we install them. It’s a symbiotic relationship. While walking across a parking lot, I noticed one large chunk of rubber missing from my rear tire. With plenty of tread still on it, this Metzeler was now junk. Because J&P’s a big outfit, Metzeler reps would be on site, and I set out to talk with them. Both reps were behind their station when I asked them to take a look. They did. After some embarrassment at the failure of their product, then a little hemming and hawing around, they eventually handed me a brand-new tire. Feeling pretty happy, since mine was already half gone anyway, I walked to our tent, said hi to the guys, threw my bike on a lift, and installed the new rubber. The rally scene was now set. Players were in place. It was about to get interesting…