speaker mounted above the door, werntumble into the Fireside Lounge, a brickrnbuilding with black-tinted windows andrnneon beer signs.rnThe Fireside offers no food, but itrnlooks as good a place as any to regroup, sornwe order beers and—discreetly—surveyrnthe clientele. One hundred and fiftyrnbikers, of all types: yuppie bikers withrnneatly trimmed salt-and-pepper beardsrnand graying, well-coiffed hair; youngrnwannabes whose profusion of leatherrnand denim fails to hide their smoothrnskin; and the real McCoys, burly olderrnmen in gut-length beards, their arms andrnmostly bare chests covered with tattoos,rnfaces furrowed by the sun and wind.rnRide to Live/Live to Ride—all drinkingrnmore or less amiably elbow to elbow.rnSpilling out of the dark cool of thernFireside into the heat of Main Street, therneye is blinded by sunlight splintering offrn1,000 pieces of chrome. The thunder ofrnpure, high-octane horsepower crossesrnthe babble of the crowd roiling betweenrnthe parked bikes and shop windows. Thernsmell of exhaust and superheated rubberrnmixes with the aromas of Italian sausage,rnfrying onions, and Indian tacos, and itrnhits me that I have, indeed, stumbledrnupon some latter-day Mecca of Americana,rna divine melange of the sacred andrnthe profane worth 10,000 ContractsrnWith America.rnAfter a fine Cajun chicken dished uprnby a black family from Portland, Oregon,rnwe head for the Broken Spoke Saloon, anrnopen-air, converted lumberyard wherernseveral hundred bikers drink at wobblyrnpicnic tables, watch the two or threernobese couples stumbling lovingly acrossrnthe wooden dance floor, and stare admiringlyrnat the vintage Harleys and Indiansrnranged beneath the timbered ceiling.rnWalking down the street I am surprisedrnto find that, in a segment of thernpopulace widely feared and reviled byrnmainstream America, Jesus is a pretty enrnvogue fellow. “His Pain, Your Cain,”rnscreams one T-shirt adorned by heavyrnmetal graphics depicting a skeletal,rnspike-pierced hand dripping great redrndrops of blood. Another reminds us thatrn”By His Stripes We Are Healed.” And,rnjust a block from the corner of Main andrnJunction, a painted iron sign designed tornlook like a historical marker proclaims,rn”Jesus Was A Biker,” explaining how Jesusrnwas considered a threat and persecutedrnby the government, “just like you,”rnand how He was cast out by society as arnfreak, “just like you.”rnAt the Broken Spoke the ambiance isrnalmost familial; tables full of middleagedrncouples sit chatting as the bandrnplays blues and countrified Southernrnrock. Take away the biker gear and thernplace looks more like the Fourth of Julyrnpicnic than a gathering of anarchistrnfreaks. Some 100 couples tie the knotrnhere each year, attired in their finestrnleather and tattoos.rnAfter the Broken Spoke the nightrnfades into a friendly blur. I share tablesrnwith guys who would inspire bladdercontrolrnproblems in any other setting.rnWe talk about bikes, about places to seernin the Black Hills, about where we hailrnfrom. In fact, the conversation is unfailinglyrncongenial until I make the mistakernof asking a 40-ish couple what they do forrnthe rest of the year. “We’re independentlyrnwealthy,” the husband says pointedlyrn—end of conversation. For the restrnof the night I let Sturgis be Sturgis.rnOur Saturday night 7xal considerablyrndampened the next morning, we spentrnSunday driving through the hills inrnsearch of more local color. But the genuinenessrnof the previous day weighedrnheavily on my impressions of therntrumped up, tourist-trap kitsch thatrnplagues the highways of the West. Thernbastard offspring of Captain JohnrnSmith’s promotional tracts—the fantasticrnaccounts of colonial America as anrnearthly paradise which lured the first settlersrnto the New World—hand-paintedrnbillboards strung out across the land inrnthe style of the old Burma Shave placardsrnattempt to sucker the unwary touristrninto any number of dubious propositions.rnWe managed to avoid “TroutrnHas’en—You CatchAVe Fry; 1-1/2 MillionrnCaught,” but stumbled accidentallyrnacross Black Hills Holy Land (Life ofrnChrist). A three-acre lot off the highwayrnbetween Custer and Rapid City, HolyrnLand consists of a barnlike church/museumrnnestled next to Noah’s Gift Shop;rnfrom the road its most notable feature,rnsave the utter absence of visitors, is arnlarger-than-life horned buffalo lawnrnornament, whose biblical significancerncontinues to escape me.rnAs evening fell soft and blue on top ofrnanother scorching day, we turned unwillinglyrnback toward the flatlands and thernlong, featureless drive to Sioux Ellis. Detouringrnslightly for the touristic equivalentrnof a drive-by on Mt. Rushmore, wcrnwere surprised b’ a traffic jam: on a rockrnface pressed hard against the road, twornbaby mountain goats clambered awkwardlyrnas a dozen grizzled bikers pulledrnover to snap photographs.rnThe scene left us unprepared for whatrnhappened next. Five miles out of Keystonernon a curving, diided four-lane, arnbiker in a loose pack of ten lost controlrnand slid into the gravel-strewn median.rnHe laid his bike down in a shower ofrnsparks, flipped over the handlebars like arn230-pound rag doll, and bounced twice,rnnarrowly missing our front quarterpanelrnbefore coming to a stop on the oncomingrnshoulder.rnOne leg was crushed, and a pool ofrnblood was forming around the man’srnhead. Mike and I set up flares while severalrnbikers tried to keep the man fromrnmoving, but there was really nothing torndo but pray; it would take three-quartersrnof an hour for the ambulance to arrivernfrom Rapid City.rnBack on the road I could not shake thernsight of this large man, Minnesota John,rnwhimpering on the pavement. At RallyrnHeadquarters in Sturgis, we had visited arnbooth agitating for helmet law freedomrn(South Dakota is one of several statesrnwithout a mandatory helmet law).rnFaced with the gory reality of a motorcyclerncrash, the refusal to wear a helmetrnseemed ridiculous—the more so thernnext morning, when Monday’s paper announcedrnthat three bikers had died inrncrashes in just the first weekend of thernrally.rnAll we could do for Minnesota Johnrnwas pray that he would live to ride again.rnAnd still, I cannot help but agree withrnChades Olson: “O kill kill kill kill kill /rnthose who would legislate you out.” Forrnto all those who stay behind, preferringrnthe comforts of home to the hazards ofrnthe road, the pilgrims, pioneers, and goldrnrushers of this land must always be writtenrnoff as crazies. Yet it’s this crazinessrnwhich is quintessentially American—thernfreedom to take stupid risks and to strikernout alone in the night for unknown territory,rnknowing that the risk of suddenrndeath is at least as great as the chance forrnfame or riches. That this sentimentrnstrikes us as odd today is a sign of justrnhow far we have fallen.rnD.K. Brainard lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.rn34/CHRONlCLESrnrnrn