“Looking for adventure?” asked the gray-bearded man behind the cash registrar taking my money for breakfast in a small town cafe in the middle of Kansas. “You’ll find the biggest biker adventure center in the universe up there in Sturgis if you’re headed that way.”
Dr. Frazier’s KLR visits Sturgis right before the annual rush. Tempted to stay for the ‘adventure’ the ADV duo opted to flee posthaste after hearing the cost of a night’s lodging.
“We’ll think on it,” I said as my riding pal and I left.
My buddy and I were on our annual motorcycle ride-about, usually six to ten days of wandering in parts of the North America. We had been doing these events on and off for 20 years, using a mix of motorcycles ranging from BMWs to my occasional wanting to stretch the legs of my 1946 Indian Chief. Sometimes we had a fixed route or plan. This year we had no plan, other than to get away from our offices, computers and see some new roads. With a 1989 BMW R100GS and 2009 Kawasaki KLR650, tents, sleeping bags, credit cards and some cash we felt we were free to follow our noses, or as had been suggested, look for adventure.
During breakfast we had answered several questions from the bearded cafe owner about where we were from, where we were going and what kind of motorcycles we were using. He told us some colorfully wild tales about the Harley-Davidson he had sold after it tossed him off a few times. He qualified his divesting himself from the Harley and biker world by saying, “Back then I didn’t drink water, but did drink a bit.”
My last adventure in Sturgis was racing a 1936 Indian Sport Scout at the fairgrounds nearly 20 years earlier. I won a heat race, came in second in the final and went away thinking “I’m out!” after totaling up how many dollars I had spent for a few minutes of an adrenalin adventure. I thought it might be time for me to make another visit to Sturgis. A look at Sturgis would be the first for my riding pal.
We stood in the parking lot of the Kansas cafe debating whether we should seek adventure to the north, south, east or west. My buddy reminded me that for some motorcyclists their definition of an adventure was riding to the post office. I replied that adventure was possibly more of a romantic name for trouble, something we should try to avoid. The plan maker finally came down to “Let’s drive through Sturgis, see what it’s all about, if it really is the center of the universe for adventure.”
At a gas stop in Nebraska a Honda Gold Wing owner asked us where we were going. We told him, “Sturgis, we’re looking for what we’re told is the biker center of the universe for adventure.”
He spit on the ground and said, “I went there one time, got tossed in jail. I’m never going back. I hope you don’t find that kind of adventure.”
Once we arrived in Sturgis we made several passes through the small town and into the surrounding countryside. What we saw were the preparations for a big party, far bigger than when I had last been there. We rode down Main Street, which we were told would be impossible once the party started. A stop at the “world’s largest biker bar” found us out of sorts because we were not buying any liquor or T-shirts. The atmosphere was clearly filling with pre-party tension, more motorcycles arriving in town by the minute.
We made a roadside decision to rent a motel room for two nights, try to savor the atmosphere of the mounting adventure, and then leave town before the full-on throng arrived. That plan was thwarted after we were told that the price of a room at the least expensive place we checked was going to cost us more than the down payment on a new RV. We had spent the afternoon riding in the rain to arrive at Sturgis and looming clouds excised the idea of pitching our tents for the night. An inquiry at a rental place that offered cabins without any running water found us laughing at our foolishness for believing a reasonable rate could be had for a simple camper cabin. My pal said to me after being quoted a four digit price for a cabin, “This is the biker wallet adventure bashing center of the universe. Let’s find a place less adventurous and expenderous.”
I laughed, then asked, “Don’t you feel any adventurous tingling, maybe like radar or an X-ray going through you, knowing that you’re in the adventure center of the universe?”
The center of the U.S. monument – but not really…
The true geographical center of the nation is further out in the sticks, 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
He replied, “The only thing I’m feeling is it’s time to find less adventure, some place less taxing on our credit cards.”
We rode to Belle Fourche, about an hour away, and there found a room that met our budget requirements of not being equal to a week’s rent for a waterfront condo on the Island of Maui. A reasonably priced dinner and 200 plus channels on the cable TV found us reminding each other how we had escaped the possible adventure of jail and certain adventure of budget busting had we stayed in Sturgis.
While poking around Belle Fourche the next morning we stopped at the local Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. There we followed a pedestrian walkway through fluttering flags from all 50 of the United States to a polished granite display. In the middle was a metal marker that proclaimed the Geographic Center of the Nation that was most officially attested to by the “US Government National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.” I suggested my pal stand on the metal marker to see if he felt any strange sensation like tingling at the ends of his fingertips. He posed for a photo, and then said, “I do feel some jingling, like the change in my pockets from not having to use every coin I had to pay for the motel room in Sturgis last night.”
As we went back to our parked motorcycles we stopped and carefully re-read the sign at the entryway to the flag pavilion, and noted that it said the officially designated Center of the Nation was 20 miles north of Belle Fourche, “at Latitude 44 degrees, 58 minutes North, and Longitude 103 degrees, 46 minutes West, according to the “U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey” of 1959. Off we went to see what we could find 7.8 miles off the paved highway, at another Center of the Nation.
The gravel road wound over treeless rolling hills for several miles until we came to a large antenna several hundred yards off the road that was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and with numerous postings of ominous warning signs. We stopped, turned off our motorcycles and listened to some buzzing that wafted from the facility and waited for some cosmic sign that we were at the Center. Nothing happened.
After a half minute of nothing my pal yelled over at me, “We’re not there yet, we haven’t gone 7.8 miles. The Center is further up the road.” He was right. We had missed the Center again. As we drove away I thought that possibly what we had been looking at was some government sending or receiving unit designed to communicate with aliens.
A few minutes more of gravel riding found an American flag posted in a field with a small parking area and hand painted sign proclaiming the location to be “The True Center Of The Nation.”
Once again we parked and opined about our finding. When asked if my buddy felt anything, some cosmic or physical sensation, he laughed and said, “Yeah, we’re so far from the biker center of the universe back there in Sturgis, I feel like we’re off the radar, unless that was a radar station back there. My wallet is not lighter than it should be if we’d stayed in Sturgis. And I’m happy we missed the adventure of being tossed in jail. Overall, I have to say I feeling mentally, physically and financially just superb.”
I thought about our last 18 hours and three center of something touch points, and of the possible adventures we may have missed. I concluded we had experienced an adventure, one that was a twisting road between three points all having been cited as a “center.” Our adventure had been an adventure of avoidance combined with the romance of finding a bit of motorcycle truth.
As we were strapping on our helmets my adventure seeking buddy asked, “What do you think that Gold Wing guy back in Nebraska got tossed in jail for in Sturgis?”
I answered, “I don’t know but I’m glad we didn’t find his adventure.”