Story By: Nikki Carlson
Page Design By: Bobbi Morse
Rock 'n' roll, women wearing body paint, tattooed bikers sporting bandannas, motorcycles crowding the streets and all-night bar hopping are what anyone who has heard of the annual Sturgis Bike Week Rally would picture. According to six of the dozens of people from Havre who were there, that's a pretty good portrayal of Sturgis.
Linda Hanson, 47, hit the open road Aug. 10 with her husband, Jerry, on his 2002 FLHTC Electra Glide Classic Harley-Davidson. This was the first time the Hansons had ever been to Sturgis, S.D.
"We've always wanted to go," Linda said. "We had heard a lot about it and thought it would be a good experience."
The most interesting people Linda met in Sturgis were the barmaids because of their unusual attire - for instance, thong underwear accompanied by leather chaps and tiny bikini tops - and the bartenders, many of whom were well-traveled.
Some women walked around in nothing more than pants and body paint, or see-through mesh tops.
"It didn't bother me," said Linda, a hospital lab technician. "If that's what they want to do, then OK."
She saw a wet T-shirt contest at a bar. She said random women were asked by the disc jockey to participate in the contest. The winner was determined by applause.
In 2004, about 514,950 people attended the 64th Sturgis Bike Week Rally, according to www.sturgisbikerally.com. Sturgis' population is about 6,680 people.
"The sidewalks are packed with people," said 49-year-old Brian Doll, who owns a glass shop in Havre.
The big crowd can be overwhelming for a first-timer at Sturgis.
"Sometimes you couldn't even walk on the sidewalks because there's a lot of people there," Linda said.
"It was overwhelming to see all of the people in one spot along with all of the motorcycles," added Jerry, 48.
On a main street in Sturgis, two rows of motorcycles were parked in the middle of the street, and on both sides. Imagine U.S. Highway 2 in Havre having four rows of motorcycles stretching from Boxcars Casino to 15 West. At least that's how Havre lawyer Brian Lilletvedt, 51, described it.
"That continued for four or five blocks," Linda said about the lines of parked motorcycles. "I thought it was awesome. If you like motorcycles, you'll see all kinds of bikes there."
The countless motorcycles with intriguing paint jobs was one of the highlights of the trip for Jerry Hanson, maintenance foreman for the city of Havre.
"There are a lot of great-looking bikes there," he said.
The Hansons saw one medium-blue motorcycle painted with a light blue human skull with tentacles. Jerry also saw another motorcycle with coins glued to the bike's body.
"It's unreal how many different color schemes there were on the motorcycles," Linda said.
The Orange County Choppers had a tent set up to sell memorabilia from their hit TV show "American Chopper" on the Discovery Channel. They signed autographs and displayed their custom-made motorcycles.
"Their paint jobs were unreal," Jerry said. "What they do is fascinating."
Diesel shop owner Mark Reinmuth, 48, said he goes to Sturgis every other year to look at the motorcycles and to meet the people Sturgis attracts.
"I like to see the new products there ... the bikes ... and to have a good time," Reinmuth said.
People from all over the country and from all walks of life, including children, were at the bike rally. Like the Hansons, who stayed in the Days Inn in Sturgis, some stayed in motels in Sturgis or in surrounding communities like Deadwood. However, most stayed in motor homes or tents at campsites. Jerry Hanson said some Sturgis residents rent out their land as campsites for visitors.
The Hansons drove through Buffalo Chips, which is known to be one of the wilder campsites. Jerry Hanson said Buffalo Chips is on a hillside in Sturgis.
Jim Anderson, 52, said the campgrounds resembled hay fields.
Anderson, a Hill County employee, stayed with former Havre residents Phil and Janet Davison, who live in Sturgis. If someone wants to meet a lot of new people, he said, staying at a campground is the way to go.
Lilletvedt, who also stayed with Phil and Janet Davison, said Sturgis residents have always welcomed visitors.
"The people are very, very gracious to open their homes," Lilletvedt said.
In downtown Sturgis, store owners rent out their buildings for vendors to sell merchandise, including Harley-Davidson memorabilia, T-shirts and leather products.
"They sell anything and everything there," Reinmuth said.
Linda and Jerry Hanson bought souvenir Sturgis Bike Rally T-shirts during their trip.
"You can't go to Sturgis and not buy T-shirts," Linda said.
Sturgis residents also find innovative ways to feed the crowds.
Jerry Hanson stood in line at a restaurant for 15 to 30 minutes for one meal. But most of the food he ate was from street-corner vendors. Sturgis' senior center hosted a pancake feed for visitors.
A strange attraction that caught Jerry Hanson's eye was an automotive garage transformed into a makeshift bar and eatery by the owner.
Anderson, who has been to the Sturgis rally at least 18 times, said security is very tight during the rally.
Lilletvedt said police officers from other states sign up to work at the rally to help the Sturgis Police Department. In fact, he said he knew of some Havre police officers who were interested in signing up.
Jerry Hanson said he wasn't in fear for his safety because groups of three to four officers were on every corner.
"I felt very safe. I don't think there was any time that I felt threatened at all because the police were on every street corner," he said.
Linda Hanson described her sense of security to what she feels at a bar in Havre with a group of friends - very secure. Like others from Havre, she didn't witness any fights.
"Just take an evening out and multiply that by numerous people," she said.
Jerry Hanson said motorcycles were parked in fenced-off areas to protect them from theft.
"I felt more at ease leaving my bike there in Sturgis than in Billings," he said.
Anderson traded in his old bike for a new one. Even after his trade-in, he still wasn't worried about his motorcycle getting stolen.
"There's not that many bikes that are stolen anymore," he said, "and there are very few fights."
Reinmuth said he saw a lot of police officers around the downtown area. According to him, they were patrolling the area too well.
"It used to be more rowdy, but I've never had a problem," he said. "(The police) were more of a hassle because they took all of the fun out of it."
Tattooed and pierced bikers were common in Sturgis. There were tattoo artists' booths for those wanting a permanent souvenir. But for those who only wanted temporary body art, they could get a tattoo painted on their bodies.
Linda Hanson said that between going to bars, casinos and vendors, looking at motorcycles, and hanging out with old and new friends, she and Jerry also went to the drag races and a motorcycle hill-climb race.
The Hansons are now hooked on the excitement, entertainment and welcome Sturgis offered them. They would both go back in a heartbeat. Lilletvedt said the reasons he continues to go to Sturgis are the companionship of friends and the thrill of riding through whatever adventure comes his way.
"It's about getting in on an organized ride with a group of people on the way there and on the way back," Lilletvedt said. "Most of the time, you don't get out on your bike very much. Sturgis provides an opportunity to get some new miles on our bikes, visit some new country, and meet new people."