Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 16- A Place of Ego, A Place of Spirit, and the Greatest Light Show I've Ever Seen

Today was another fantastic day full of excitement and adventure. The weather was great,but there was a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so we packed our rain gear and headed out. Our first destination for the day was Mount Rushmore. Our journey there was gorgeous, as we cruised through Spearfish Canyon and then along the back roads of South Dakota. As far as I could see in front of me and behind me, going in every direction, there were thousands of bikes. It was an incredible sight to see, and experience to be a part of. Every now and then when a car came by it seemed so out of place.
When we finally did arrive at Mount Rushmore, the place was packed. My first impression of the site itself was somewhat underwhelming. I don't know if it had been talked up too much, or if my recent trip in China to the world's largest stone carved Buddha had set the bar too high, but for whatever reason I wasn't as amazed as I thought I would be. Don't get me wrong, the place is incredible,and I marvel at the people who built it, but it just didn't do it for me. I also found the feel of the whole place to be really sterile, with no real spirit. There was also something about the fact that Mount Rushmore had been carved on sacred Indian land that didn't sit right with me, especially after yesterday's visit to the battle site. While I admire and appreciate the work of the four men whose faces are on the mountain, the whole thing to me screamed of ego. To me, the message of the mountain was, "Look how great we are. We are America. We rule." It bothered me, and it's too bad. I am sure most people do not feel that way, but as this is my blog, I am just being honest about my experience. I am glad I got a chance to visit, but I doubt if I will ever return there.
We left the mountain and headed into a little town called Hill City to get gas for the bikes, and lunch for our bellies. Unfortunately for the past few days Chap's bike had been giving him some trouble with the clutch, and when we rode into the gas station, it completely stopped working. It was a real bummer. Luckily, there was a motorcycle repair shop just down the road, so we arranged to get his bike picked up and looked at. While Chap was busy with his bike, the rest of us got some lunch. It was going to be a while before they could fix it, so Chap decided to stay with the bike while the rest of us went to see the Crazy Horse memorial. My parents, who had seen the memorial on a previous trip, decided to stay back and hang with Chap.
I took over as road captain and led the rest of the crew the 10 or so miles to the memorial. For those of you that don't know, the Crazy Horse memorial is essentially the Native American's Mount Rushmore. Rather than 4 presidents, it is a massive carving of the famous Lakota spiritual leader Crazy Horse. It has been in the works for 60 years, and when it is complete it will be the largest sculpture in the world. To give you an idea of just how big it is, the entire carving of Mount Rushmore could fit just behind the head of Crazy Horse. Unlike the sterile feeling of Rushmore, this was a truly spiritual place, and instead of being bothered I was in fact moved to tears on more than one occasion. Unlike Rushmore which had been paid for and created by the government, the Crazy Horse memorial is entirely funded by the people. Every person that buys a ticket, or a souvenir, or makes a donation becomes a part of the memorial and helps in its completion. To me, this speaks volumes as to the message of this mountain. The concepts that were reiterated throughout the entire place were that we are spiritual beings living a human experience, and that we should never forget our dreams. To me, both of these concepts are truly worthy of memorial in stone. It was a magical place, a place of spirit, and a place where I definitely hope to return to.
Reinvigorated and inspired by my time with Crazy Horse, we left the mountain and met back up with Chap and my folks. Our timing couldn't have been better, as his bike was just finished when we pulled up. It turned out that his clutch was fine. The reason it wasn't working was because a bolt in the transmission had snapped and was causing problems. Fortunately the mechanics were able to fix it and we got back on the road once more, smiles on all of our faces, but none larger than Chappy's.
Our next stop was a famous old western town called Deadwood. It was here that the famous cowboy Wild Bill had been killed while playing poker. His poker hand at the time, a pair of aces and a pair of eights, has since come to be known as "dead man's hand." On our way there, we once again encountered the rain, but fortunately it was only for a few brief minutes. After having a drink and walking around Deadwood for a bit, we got back on the road to return to Sturgis once more. While there, we looked at all the amazing bikes, checked out all the souvenir tents, and had some amazing St. Louis style beef ribs for dinner.
It was dark out now and time for us to make the 17 mile ride back to our hotel. When we were gearing up to leave, I saw some strange flashes in the distance. Was it a light show? Nope, it was lightening. As we got on the road it began to rain again, so we quickly pulled off and got under cover to wait it out. After about 10 minutes, the rain had let up, so we decided to get going. Along the way we saw the most amazing show of lightening I have ever seen. Every kind of lightening you can imagine was in the night sky. Giant flashes that illuminated the entire sky, massive bolts shooting from the clouds, and even bolts traveling within the clouds themselves. It was the most amazing light show I have ever seen. Unfortunately, along with the lightening came the rain once more. Driving at night, on the freeway, in the rain, on a motorcycle is a terrifying experience. My amazement at the lightening was quickly replaced with the realization that were in some serious shit. It was the first time I have ever actually feared for my life on the motorcycle. Even more troubling than that was the fact that my wife was on the back of my bike, and her life was in my hands as well. The enormity of it all was almost completely overwhelming, but I calmed my mind and set my focus on the road ahead, what I could see of it anyway. The rain got so bad that we stopped under an underpass to wait it out. We were not the only ones, as other bikers were doing the same thing. Sitting on the side of the road, I watched in amazement at the lightening show in the distance. Beautiful, powerful, and potentially deadly all at the same time. I gave thanks once more to whatever power out there was keeping me, my family, and my friends safe in all the chaos. After the rain had passed, we rode the rest of the way back to our hotel. We met for our customary, and very necessary, toast to the Road Gods. Everyone was visibly shaken, but we were all ok.
It had been an incredible day, and an unbelievable night. From incredible joy, to intense fear, my emotions had run the gamut. Today was a real test, of the body, the mind, and the spirit. I am happy to say, that each and every one of my riding companions passed with flying colors, and we are all that much stronger because of it.

Check out some of the pics from the past couple of days:

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