I’m always ready to be first in line to try new things, especially if it involves motorcycles.
An invitation to attend the FIRST Adventure Motorcycle Rally (that I’m aware of) in Sturgis, South Dakota came from our friend Anthony Silvotti at Revzilla about a month and a half ago. It teased a raft of alluring riding opportunities and recreational activities:
- Meeting and riding with the Revzilla team personalities Spurgeon Dunbar, Jen Dunstan, and Brandon Wise, among others.
- Camping at the famous Buffalo Chip Campground
- Harley Davidson and BMW adventure bike demos
- Specialized rider training clinics from RawHyde Adventures and ADVWoman
- Vendors ready to upgrade your ride on site: Continental Tire, Akrapovic, Kriega, etc.
- A chance to enjoy all the sights and riding attractions of Sturgis without 500,000 visitors getting in the way.
I wasn’t even halfway through reading the email before they had set the hook deep. I had to experience this event, especially since I’d never previously been to Sturgis for the usual festivities in August. However, there was one massive obstacle looming large, potentially blocking the way completely of me making an appearance.
I hate typing those words even more than you loathe reading them. I live in Alberta, Canada and don’t have US citizenship so that annoying virus and a closed US/Canada land border for all except “essential travel” was a problem.
“Audentes Fortuna Iuvat”
There are different interpretations of this famous Latin phrase, but all imply a brave act often nets favorable results. I swallowed hard, then bravely rode right up to the border guardhouse gate and went for it. I fully expected to be turned around and sent away in shame for daring to ask for entry into the US of A.
I’d imagined the guard doubling over with guffaws and a booming belly-laugh before bellowing something like “You Shall Not Pass, foolish Canuck!”
Only that didn’t happen!
Instead, I felt overjoyed to cross the 49th parallel for the first time in 2 years! I didn’t question why they let me in to again enjoy your 80mph speed limits, overly expansive McDonald’s menus, Mango-flavored Pepsi, and abundant Star-Spangled Banners.
I was perplexed things had gone as I hoped they would instead of ending with me being strip-searched at the border or worse. I’m glad they realized I mean no harm and am a friendly and innocent, kind of moto-journalist.
The Long Ride To Sturgis
I’ve never been east of Great Falls in Montana because riding in the mountains of western MT has captivated me for many years. I longed for those winding mountain passes and aromatic pine forests very much as I rolled down roads so tediously long, flat, and straight on the way to Wyoming and South Dakota.
I know some people don’t enjoy leaning hard over into corners. They would LOVE riding to Sturgis from Alberta.
I encountered friendly people to chat with along the way who couldn’t believe their eyes upon spotting my Canadian license plate.
“Is it open now?! Can we go visit Canada again?!”
It was awkward breaking the news to them; they’d have to keep waiting until August 9th. Sorry about that.
Finally, In The City of Riders
After nearly 1000 miles of highway riding, my 790 Adventure pulled up in front of the Sturgis city sign for an obligatory, celebratory photoshoot.
As mentioned, this was my first time in Sturgis, but I quickly spotted some famous landmarks and took in a bit of the atmosphere immediately. After riding past the Iron Horse Saloon, eating supper at the Knuckle Saloon, and passing by the One Eyed Jacks Saloon, I headed over to the Buffalo Chip Campground and found a suitable spot to set up my tent for the duration of the Rally.
That was basically the full extent of my exploration of the town of Sturgis itself. My goal was to ride the Black Hills, not to shop for Sturgis swag, hit up strip clubs, or lounge in bars.
Ok, I bought one cool-looking Sturgis 2021 hat and a couple of stickers…
The Buffalo Chip Campground
A field containing over 800 US flags greeted me as I pulled up to the GET ON! Adventure Fest welcome sign. That impressive tribute was there to honor servicemen and women in a ceremony that took place later in the evening.
Those flags were striking to see along with a prominent hill as a backdrop that rises from the mostly flat landscape of the surrounding area of Bear Butte State Park. It was a marvelous sight to wake up to each morning.
What A Great Neighborhood!
Right away I made friends with the neighboring tent and RV dwellers who had also chosen this end of the vast 600-acre grassy field we found ourselves in. Everyone was ready to team up and help each other have a good rally experience.
Brian from Kansas, David from Arizona, and Greg from South Dakota agreed to be my companions on the trails the next morning for the first day of riding. They were all fairly new Adventure riders, but I welcomed their company and looked forward to watching them grow their skills over the next few days.
The People from Rev’it and Colorado
Unknown at first to our group, we soon discovered that right beside us a crew of skilled riders and media influencers had taken up residence.
Katelyn Barnecut and Kris Fant from the Rev’it Women’s Adventure Riding Team were camped there along with a quartet of energetic Coloradoans: @thethomasneal, Brett Fox @asphaltandbeyond, @Maggie_Gulasey, and Erin RaNae Dugan @running_erinds. Their presence made for entertaining evenings after the riding days were done, even without campfires to sit around while swapping stories.
Day One: Breaking Riders
The day began with a complimentary breakfast, followed by a riders meeting where Stevan Popovich and Spurgeon Dunbar welcomed everyone to the Rally. They wisely encouraged lone wolf attendees to team up in the name of safety while out on the trails and explained how the rides were classified A, B, and C for difficulty level.
They didn’t go into great detail about what criteria made a trail A or B, but that would have been difficult without resorting to a PowerPoint slide show or movie of some sort, I guess.
C routes were the easiest to visualize because they were just paved roads with plenty of eye candy to enjoy.
The REVER Effect
Brian, Greg, David, and I decided to tackle the “Rapid City Loop”. It was labeled a B for difficulty and Spurgeon recommended it as a good measuring stick to ride before attempting one of the A-rated trails.
Rever had already set up all the routes for the Rally on their app and helped everyone get a free Rever Pro subscription to use on cell phones and GPS units.
That should have made navigating a cinch, but what I experienced with the app or their data loaded on Garmin zūmo® XT units was that 50% of the time it worked all the time. Fortunately for our group, Brian was able to navigate successfully using his GPS device and off we went to explore some South Dakota off-road territory!
We jumped on the bikes and hit the road, roaring away from the Buffalo Chip with great enthusiasm in a southerly direction, eventually passing through Dinosaur Park overlooking Rapid City before coming to the trailhead of the intended loop.
A large group of BMW GS riders had the same idea to measure their riding ability on this trail. The video below is a collection of snippets I filmed using my Sena 10C Evo (thanks Sena!) and shows the fun we all had on the first section of the Rapid City Loop.
Brian and Greg were having a great time on the trail despite never having ridden over rocky terrain astride bikes the size of the Africa Twins they were on. I was rocketing ahead on my more nimble KTM 790 adventure to get set up for filming opportunities, then I would catch up and pass the group again after they went by.
At least that’s what I was doing for the first 2 hours… Then things suddenly got exciting.
Rocky Hill Climbing
The trail gradually got more technical as we progressed until the point where a section of smaller, rock-covered hills came into view. I stopped to assist two BMW R1250GS riders clear their bikes off the trail after they had stalled and tipped over before I could safely carry on. It’s trickier than you’d think to ride bigger adventure motorcycles uphill on loose ground, especially with larger 4” to 6” diameter rocks covering the surface.
I’ve ridden up many similar hills in Alberta, British Columbia, and Idaho, so I zoomed to the top and waited for Greg and Brian to appear and catch up.
Greg showed up first and made the climb successfully on his first attempt. We sat staring back at the trail behind us expecting Brian to ride up shortly, but after 15 minutes I got concerned and rode back down the hill to make sure everything was ok. That’s where I found him.
As you can see in the photo above he was calmly sitting on the ground beside his sharp-looking Africa Twin doing something on his phone. It was comical to me at first and I laughed before asking him if he was taking a break from the Rally ride to do some online banking.
“My ankle is broken. It feels pretty crunchy when I try to move it. Don’t worry though, I’ve already called 9-1-1 and they’re sending out an ambulance and rescue team.”
The Unsinkable Brian Willhite
It flabbergasted me both how calm he was acting — if indeed his ankle was broken — and that rescue services could A: figure out where we were, and B: get an ambulance or some rescue vehicle back there!
Brian had made it about halfway up the hill before losing too much momentum, tipping the bike over and pinching his ankle between the frame and some other nasty rocks with sharp edges on the ground. It was an unfortunate one in a million type of scenario where he had fallen in just the perfect way to cause a serious injury. I doubt he could repeat it even if he wanted to.
He was wearing all appropriate riding gear, including some good quality Klim riding boots, but I think perhaps the fact they were mid-height as opposed to full height might have played a factor. Food for thought if you’re choosing what kind of riding boots to buy in the near future. I think a lesser boot may have led to an even more severe injury and I don’t fault Klim’s boots on this one.
I’m a trained industrial firefighter and have some medical knowledge as a result, so I assessed Brian’s condition. Finding him completely normal and reasonably comfortable, I moved on to trying to clear the motorcycle off the trail to avoid having anyone else crash into it as they came around the blind corner from below or above the scene. This proverbial fire didn’t need any gas poured on it.
Lucky for me it was then a group of riders appeared and three of us were able to lift the Honda and get it back down the hill, out of the way, so the rescue crew could get to Brian when they arrived.
The Cavalry Arrives
There were several heroes that came through on this day to ensure Brian got excellent care and attention. A special shout-out goes to the volunteers, sheriffs, paramedics, firefighters, and rangers from the Rapid City, SD area who arrived on the scene less than an hour after Brian made his call to 911. We had ridden through some rough terrain for most 4 wheeled vehicles to navigate, but they didn’t hesitate to respond and made it to us easily.
A professional crew handled his first aid on scene, extraction to the hospital, and even helped ride Brian’s motorcycle out of the woods to a nearby ranch for easier retrieval afterwards. This definitely wasn’t their first rodeo, so to speak.
My hats off to you all! Without your skill and professionalism, getting Brian to the hospital would have been a huge undertaking for me despite the fact I was carrying a Garmin inReach Emergency device and have a good idea of what needs to be done.
The People from Revzilla/Comoto
I was glad to see how well the First Response team performed, but it’s almost a given they’ll save our bacon in a time of need. What blew me away was the quick action of the Revzilla and Comoto event team after Brian was ready to be discharged from the hospital later that day.
Jeff volunteered to ride Brian’s Africa Twin through a freak hailstorm and icy rain from the ranch near Rapid City all the way back to the Buffalo Chip Campground! I wasn’t comfortable doing it because it had taller aftermarket suspension and I’m on the shorter side of tall. Watching Jeff ride back in that storm made me glad to have a 28” inseam for perhaps the first time in my life.
KJ chauffeured Brian around, making sure he made it from the hospital back to the Chip Campground, helped pick up prescribed pain medication and even some supper for him after he went all afternoon without eating during his medical treatment.
Sheena, who was the overall event manager personally, made sure all this happened despite having her hands full running the entire event.
A Small-Town, Big Company? I Think So.
It’s rare to find a large company that can manage to provide such a personal level of care or attention, but I witnessed it myself. Their kindness floored me. I hope Revzilla recognizes how valuable these employees are to their brand.
The adventure riding community I had the pleasure of interacting with in Sturgis was a beautiful thing, and dare I say that America was looking pretty great to this Canadian guy.
FYI, Brian made it back home safely the next day after cracking jokes all evening about the experience to cheer everyone up. His ankle is broken and will probably need surgery to repair, unfortunately, but he’s taking it all in stride and will ride again.
Day One ended with some festivities at the main camp I came out for, but mostly, I enjoyed socializing into the wee hours with my small campsite village. That’s the adventure rider way after all.
Speaking of classy acts, Mike and Kim Botan from Adv Rider were in attendance handing out swag and magazines that night. They even bought everyone in attendance a free drink of their choice from the bar!
Photo from Advrider.com
Day Two: To The Asphalt
In the morning I bid farewell to Brian, whose better half was already understandably en route to the campsite to bring him home. The Comoto/Revzilla crew had made arrangements to store his Africa Twin in Sturgis at J&P Cycles until he could get it shipped back to Kansas. Another classy move.
It turns out that Brian wasn’t the only rider a bit hobbled from day one riding out on the Rapid City Loop. Greg revealed a swollen bruise on his shin he’d sustained that was bothering him a bit. That injury along with some other business called him back home, and I abruptly found myself without riding mates for Day 2. David was going to take part in some off-road rider training that morning, so he was out too!
See The Sights on some C Trails
It wasn’t all bad though, because my Team Rev’it neighbor Katelyn Barnecut and I coincidentally both decided it was a perfect day to go visit a couple of unique attractions on pavement instead of dirt.
We teamed up and hit the road for the day.
If you already watched the video I shared above, you’ll have seen the parts showcasing Mount Rushmore and the network of odd-shaped stone/rock formations at Needles.
Seeing those in person was a thrill for me and Katelyn as well. I’d highly recommend the curvy asphalt roads leading to these areas as being motorcycle-worthy. It raised my awareness of the fact that even if you’re not an adventure rider who ventures off tarmac, this GET ON! Rally is worth doing since you can enjoy historical landmarks like these without massive crowds getting in the way.
Day Two ended with a band playing in the central meeting area for those that enjoy shaking their money-makers. There were also a bunch of raffles put on by the Revzilla people for swag, riding gear, and gift certificates.
I enjoyed having dinner with a group including Brandon Wise at the Knuckle Saloon. I’m not as familiar with his work as I should be, but after talking shop with him and seeing him ride, I can say he’s worth listening to on the Revzilla channels. Also, he sounds uncannily like Ryan Reynolds (the actor) when he speaks. The resemblance is eerie.
Day Three: Final Rides and Goodbyes
The last morning of the Rally began early for me and David, as he was keen to put his newly gained riding skills to the test off-road. Since I had cut my Black Hills dirt riding short the first day due to Brian’s injury, I was super keen to get muddy again too.
We teamed up with what I can only describe as the most diverse group of adventure motorcycles ever randomly assembled. It included a Yamaha Super Tenere, Honda CB500X, BMW R1200GS, Kawasaki KLR650, my KTM 790 Adventure, aaaaaand a new Harley Davidson Dirt Glide, I mean Pan America Special!
What a fun crew of riders these guys were! We tackled the Spearfish Canyon Loop, which took us on some fast dirt and gravel trails that gradually climbed up to a forest fire lookout tower. From that high vantage point, we could survey the entire area even to the point the Montana border was visible.
I really enjoyed the terrain and those I shared the road with that day. Seeing the Pan America S perform off the pavement was fascinating for me. I had no doubts about its ability to ride on-road, but it’s a big bike for rock-covered dirt and sand riding. Oscar handled the MoCo hardware well and was right in step with all the other well-established adventure bikes in our group. I’d say Harley Davidson did a great job on their first purpose-built adv bike, and I’ll watch with great interest as they progress from here.
There were some beautiful views of waterfalls at the base of the canyon we stopped at to admire along the way.
The Great Hospitality in Spearfish, SD
After eating each other’s dust for a few hours we made our way back to the town of Spearfish seeking relief from the 100 degree temperatures and to slake our thirst.
We stopped in at The False Bottom Billiards Hall for ice-cold pink lemonade and the AC they had in abundance. We didn’t order any food or do anything other than take up space inside, but when it came time to settle the tab, the barkeep told us it was all on the house! It was a small gesture, but unexpected, and appreciated so much by our dust-covered crew.
That evening everyone enjoyed more prizes via raffles in the main meeting area, along with fond farewells and best wishes. By late afternoon many riders had already packed up and left the Buffalo Chip Campground while a few of us paid for another night and packed up Monday morning instead.
A Buffalo Chip Ghost Town
I made sure to be one of the last riders to ride away from the place I had temporarily called home for the Rally. I felt a twinge of melancholy as I watched all the vendors pack up and disappear, leaving only a wide-open, empty parking lot in place of the bustling, colorful “village” it had been the day before.
I sat pondering the events of the previous three days and asked myself whether I would like to return in 2022. Was this an event worth recommending to others based on the $260 US price tag? How did the value per dollar spent by participants stack up against the overall experience?
Dollars and Cents
If you weigh the cost of camping for 3 nights plus the included breakfast each day against that $260 it may appear expensive, but thanks to contests, random giveaways, and raffles I walked away with the following;
- $75 in Revzilla gift certificates
- 1 pair of BiLT motocross riding pants
- 1 BiLT AirCon motocross mesh riding shirt
- 1 pair of Axial base layer compression pants (I highly recommend them!)
- 1 GET ON! Adventure Fest t-shirt, 1 drink “Koozie”, 1 keychain, 3 different neck “buffs”
- REVER App Pro subscription for one year
- 1 Harley Davidson woven paracord bracelet
- 1 Harley Davidson drybag (small size for toiletries, etc)
- The latest printed magazine copy of Adventure Rider Magazine
I could have collected a LOT more goodies but declined many offers of hats, shirts, and other goodies that were available. I can say without hesitation the cost ratio of dollars to smiles fell in my favor.
Every Rose Has Its Thorns
Was everything perfect?
No, but they got the important things right or reacted quickly on the fly to tie up most loose ends that cropped up unexpectedly. I would have been shocked if the inaugural year of this rally went off without a single hitch or hiccup of any kind.
- The breakfast line each morning was a longish 25-minute wait and opened later in the day (7:30 am) than some riders would have liked to eat at. One day I didn’t get eggs and the coffee wasn’t hot, but the juice was cold and the food itself was decent enough to fill my hunger gap.
- There was some confusion about what time the showers were open for use, so some campers only got cold showers if they went before staff fired up the boiler. I had no issue getting a hot shower each day I went to the far end of the camp at about 6:45am.
- The showers and flush toilets were located at the complete other end of the campsite (about a 10 minute walk), making it more attractive to ride over there each morning.
- On the first day, several campers were shocked to find many of the portable toilets locked! This was resolved by day 2 happily, otherwise, there could have been some messy incidents.
- The REVER apps really need turn-by-turn instructions that actually work 100% of the time.
- The camping sites would have been better if they had power outlets in all of them, but it wasn’t necessary. Potable water taps were all about within easy access, at least.
- I would have preferred more details about the terrain on each route to better help less experienced riders choose their path wisely.
- Continental Tire was on-site, doing brisk business to meet an incredible demand from the riders. They sold every 18” rear tire they brought! I would have liked to see another brand like Michelin or Motoz in attendance to add more options.
- More food variety on site would have been nice as it was pretty limited and many people ended up going into Sturgis to eat supper instead.
Understand Your Audience
Sheena and the rest of the Rally organizers impressed me with their understanding of what the average adventure rider wants out of an event like this. They did their homework and got it right. I suspect Spurgeon, Jen, and other people who ride ADV educated them on the topic appropriately. Organizing 200+ adv riders can feel like herding cats suffering from ADHD.
Revzilla/REVER provided the routes, some swag bags, and just enough technical assistance/parts/farkles on-site to keep everyone running on the trails without being overbearing or controlling. Anyone needing new riding gear or warranty replacement of the same, a battery, tires, or brakes, were accommodated (until supplies ran out on the last day). I purchased a Klim Ai-1 Airbag Vest at the Revzilla sales booth I’ve been pining for but couldn’t get back in Canada.
The “Real Sturgis” Lurking In The Background
If they’d tried to make this festival too much like the traditional Sturgis Rally, which is primarily about the “biker lifestyle” I would have labeled this as having missed the adventure riding cultural bullseye. Elements of that other Sturgis were there waiting patiently in the wings had any of us desired to indulge ourselves.
For example, I paid a couple of extremely underused and bored-looking bikini-clad biker girls $20 to wash my filthy adventure bike while I enjoyed some shade and a cold drink at the bar on the last day (they did a nice job of it to my amazement). It was humorous to me to find this so obviously out of place service available at an adventure rally, but it wasn’t shoved in my face or over the top. GET ON! was just the right recipe of party time mixed with a 100 proof cocktail of decent adventure riding.
The trails I tackled didn’t challenge me the way most do back in the mountains of Alberta and British Columbia, but a challenge wasn’t what I was after. Going fast, seeing some new countryside, and enjoying the company of other riders was. I didn’t want to risk damaging my bike or my body so far away from home, because I was relying on my KTM to get me back after the rally, so I needed to practice some restraint.
That’s why the B trails were a relaxing, straightforward choice that satisfied me perfectly even though I believe I have enough skill and experience to ride any of the A trails.
Intimate and Exclusive
The total count of participants landed around 230 people for GET ON! 2021 which is just about perfect in my opinion. It kept things small and low-key enough to feel almost private. The organizers are considering capping the participants to 500 next year which I think would be a good idea… so long as I still get to be one of them!
The Demo Rides
I didn’t bother with the BMW or Harley demo rides because I was enjoying riding my own bike so much. Many, many other people took full advantage of Harley and BMW’s offer, loving the opportunity to take a new Pan America for a spirited rip, or a 1250GS through the Motorrad obstacle course.
So, to make a long answer short: YES! I absolutely feel that the GET ON! Adventure Fest Rally was worth the price of admission and I’ll be going back in 2022, if possible. We already know the dates will be July 14th to 17th, so put it in your calendar now.
Bravo Revzilla/Comoto/J&P Cycle/CycleGear employees! You did well and I’m sure things will be even more polished next year.
The Long Ride Home
My ride Northwest back to Alberta was fraught with temperatures above 100 degrees and topped out at 106 (41 Celsius). It was an endurance test for a snowman from the north like me and my Tourmaster Horizon Line Alpine Trek jacket and pants weren’t equipped to keep me cool enough.
I survived by stopping at gas stations regularly to chug bottles of Gatorade while chilling out in their beer coolers after throwing impromptu wet t-shirt contests of one.
The Devil’s Tower was sort of on the way so I attempted to have a “close encounter” with it, but settled for “close enough’ photos a sizable distance away out of necessity. Reams of other tourists had inconveniently clogged the highway leading up to the visiting area. I don’t like big crowds and lane-splitting wasn’t an option in Wyoming, unfortunately.
I crossed the international border back into Alberta without incident and woke up the next day in my bed instead of in a tent surrounded by enthusiastic adventure riders.
Now it seems like something I dreamed, the same way all good motorcycle trips do when they end. One day you’re a free-spirited wanderer and the next you go back to work at an accounting firm and daydream about having dust in your eyes, mud everywhere else, and the roar of motorcycle engines revving near the redline in your ears as you climb rocky hills.
I’ll see you all next year… unless the border guards don’t let me in, I guess!