For miles, the signs have been there. Gleaming low-slung bikes with fat tires and riders settled in the seat (sometimes a pillion rider too), legs out in front in parallel to the arms, feet pointed up -- they rush past me on the highway and eat up the miles, engines rumbling throatily, agreeably. Through the Dakota plains that give way to low rolling hills as I head west, the long straight roads that are ribboned over the hills, the riders are like ants in the distance on the strip of road. More and more of them through the day. Sometimes I'll creep through a small town and a gas station has a sudden collection of gleaming bikes, all parked in parallel, their riders exchanging notes or walking across the street through a door with a sign that says "Budweiser".
And here where I've pitched my tent, I'm surrounded by bikes and their bikers, more arriving by the hour and pitching their own tents (I'm glad I made it in time to get one of the last few spots shaded by a tree), and many more streaming past on the highway. Black Tshirts, black leggings over blue jeans, usually burly and bearded (though not the women), their bikes usually Harleys and usually black as well: as many before me have noted, for avowed lovers of individualism and freedom and nonconformism, serious bikers look and ride and strut about remarkably like all the other serious bikers.
But there's a charm in that as well.
I've made my way to Sturgis in South Dakota for the 68th annual bike rally here, the biggest rally of the year. Well, I'm not yet there, where I am camping is 20 miles out of Sturgis because I thought that might give me a little quiet when I wanted it. But I've set up my tent and I'm all set to drive those 20 miles and stroll through Sturgis the rest of the evening, and over the next few days. I've thought of being here for the better part of 18 months. I've been sure I want to be here despite the Indian friend of a friend, perfectly ordinary nice bloke who lives in the States, who heard I was going and said in a low voice, "Those are not the kind of guys you want to hang around with."
Well, all I can say is, I'm not so sure.
Three bikers in front of me will beat me there. In unison, they put on their shades, adjust their boots, swing their legs over their saddles, start their engines and rumble slowly out of the campground in a line. Like an elaborately choreographed ballet.
I think I'll hang around.