… And South Dakota…

Like I said, bikers are quintessentially American. I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve seen quite a bit of America, even if it was just traveling through it by car or train from one place to another. I’ve lived on both Coasts, went to college in the middle of America for a time and haven’t always taken a plane to get from one side to the other.

America is huge and it’s extremely varied. The Rockies, the Catskills and the Appalachians may all be mountain ranges in America, but they are so different from each other. I grew up in upstate New York in the Fingerlakes Area. It’s a beautiful place. It’s very green. Our hills are covered with trees so the further away they are the bluer they look. A lake to me isn’t this tiny thing. A lake is miles long and you have to go up to a top of the hill to look across it.

There were a couple places that I’ve visited with my family and where I’ve lived that really stood out to me. One of my favorite places in the United States is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the area bordering Lake Superior. It’s a beautiful, slightly hilly landscape that is covered in pine tree forests. The lake is huge and blue and has its own tidal system. I remember going across Mackinaw Bridge and being amazed that I could look down and see the lake floor where the lakes met and how intense the colors were. If I was to have a summer home, that’s where it would be. A lake house where I could hunt for blue agates on the beach.

I’ve talked about how I’ve went to college at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. And I know I have rose colored glasses about San Francisco because I can google earth/map it and it doesn’t look the same as it did when I lived there. What I loved about San Francisco though was the architecture, whether it was the early twentieth century buildings put up after the earthquake of 1906 or the gothic cathedral or the French art noveau inspired buildings on Market Street or even the buildings of Japan town. The weather was decent though I’ve grown to like my weather warmer than San Francisco can give me. The shopping was great even if I mostly window shopped while I was there, poor student after all. There were art galleries and open area parks. San Francisco had atmosphere when the fog rolled in at night. It also always felt extremely safe in most neighborhoods. I could walk around late and not be bothered because half the working population left over one of the two bridges each evening. The best thing about San Francisco though was the way it felt like a town and not a city. I could walk everywhere. To the grocery. To the movie theatre. To class. To my friend’s. To my favorite pizzeria on Bush and Powell. To the sushi place. To the Korean hibachi bbq. OMG, THE FOOD. Very rarely did I take a bus and when I did, Muni was an amazing bus system. I sincerely miss it when I’m waiting every half hour for a bus here in Daytona. (Unfortunately, I haven’t yet figured out a PLOT to set IN San Francisco. It’s very frustrating given how much I love this city.)

The summer after my senior year of high school and before I went to college, my family had a big out west trip planned. I’d already gone to NYC with my class for our senior trip and visited my Uncle in Texas to meet my newest cousin with my mother and grandmother. But this big out west trip was to meet some relations in South Dakota and hopefully make it to Yellowstone, before I went to Ohio. (We didn’t make it to Yellowstone.) Most of the trip out there was through the Midwest, and the Midwest is one thing, flat. And it became this sort of game to count what the fields were growing, corn, alfalfa, sunflowers, and more corn. There were bands of trees between the fields but honestly, there wasn’t much of interest.

We stopped in Mitchell, South Dakota to see the Corn Palace. It was a tribute to Elvis year. The Corn Palace is just one of those things you either know about it or you don’t and you either get it or you don’t. After the Corn Palace we went through the Badlands on our way to Wall and promptly the camper overheated and broke down. South Dakota is mostly prairie and along the highway there were ranches where they kept bison and donkeys and ostriches. In one of the national parks, the bison were allowed to roam free. And people do keep bison in New York (which is crazy to me but yes, it was once part of their natural habitat) but this was different. There weren’t any fences to protect you. Fortunately, bison are mostly placid animals.

Once we got to Wall, we stopped in Wall Drug and it was this huge indoor strip mall basically. Buffalo burgers turned out to be a bit dry. But then we were finally on our way to the Black Hills. It was the evening as we were driving down the highway through the last of the prairie and there was storm rolling in and lightning looked like it walked across the grasslands. We got closer to the hills, the white spruce really did make them look black and then the tops were pure white rock and bare of trees.

It was actually around Sturgis Bike Week when we went. So, once we got out of Rapid City and went into the Black Hills themselves, there were motorcycles everywhere. The roads in and out of these towns twisted about between the hills. The forest grows right up to the roads. It really felt like a place where something magical could happen. There is still evidence of some gold mining going on as well. We did some tourist things, Deadwood, Mount Rushmore and across the state border to Devil’s Tower. There is a lot of history in the Black Hills of the old west between it being a drop off point to sell cattle, gold mining, trains and Wild Bill Hickok. There are ghosts in the Black Hills.

What I didn’t know at the time is how important Sturgis was to Bikers, because I was much more interested in the cowboys and the gold mining and the Native Americans. Sturgis is the biggest bike week in America. (Daytona being the second biggest.) And it’s a mandatory event for a lot of biker clubs. They often induct new members and have special events that go on at Sturgis. To me, there were just a huge amount of bikers in the Black Hills which were holding up traffic and annoying my father.

Once I found out about how important Sturgis and the Black Hills were to the biker community, out of all the places I had seen and loved about America, the Black Hills were the obvious choice to make the setting for my novel. In some ways, bikers can be like the new cowboys of the modern era. Rugged individualists riding iron horses. (I am not saying it is a one for one comparison.) The Black Hills just felt appropriate.

With just these three core building blocks, there is a lot for me to explore and think about in my universe. I try not to get overwhelmed by it and approach it one bit at a time. It’s a journey and the road may be long, twisty and the engine noisy. And that’s the best way to be.

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