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Bikers (and Dog) in the Badlands

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota is perhaps the most well-known event in the world of motorcycling. This year, the rally ran from August 3rd to August 12th, meaning from about Idaho on, we were on the Sturgis train. I had never seen more motorcycles in my life.

We talked to them in Montana, took group photos for them at Yellowstone, and camped next to them in Wyoming. They were friendly and fun and we felt like we were part of something big – even though our ride was a blue Ford Focus rental car.

One night, we were driving to the Badlands National Park where our campsite and a goodnight’s sleep were waiting. All I could focus on was getting there, pitching the tent, and going to bed, but Zack – the Marketing and Logistics Manager – was hungry, and the assortment of granola bars and Wheat Thins in the cooler weren’t going to cut it.

As we drove closer to the park and farther from “things,” we quickly realized we weren’t going to have any options. There was one restaurant/general store in the campground but that closed at 9 and it was 8:57. We drove in silence for a bit before I again tried to reassure him that trail mix and water was sufficient for a meal.

Then I saw the neon lights: BAR. Offhand, I told him if he was really hungry (I knew he was), he could circle back to that bar and see if the kitchen was still open.

That’s how we ended up at the Wagon Wheel Bar and Grill in Interior, South Dakota. Zack and I and Sturgis.

We walked in to the bar and the first thing I saw was money. Everywhere. The entire interior of the restaurant – walls, ceiling, pinball machine, etc. – is covered in $1 bills. The bills are signed, sometimes dated. They say things like, “Cindy and Rob – Sturgis 2015!!” or “Another fun day at the bar!”

Scene: I quietly slide into a booth while Zack works his way to the bartender and – by miracle – finds the bar to be open. He orders us cheeseburgers and waters and we sit in our booth silently for a bit – both a mix of exhausted, overwhelmed, and out of place – snacking on free popcorn and taking in our lucky find.

Enter: the dog.

Out of nowhere, this dog runs up to me and slams into my legs, sniffing and kissing and nudging my hand. Zack and I look at each other, shrugging, before I begin petting the dog. The dog doesn’t have a collar. I don’t know her name or where she came from. But she is friendly and I am at ease.

One of the Sturgis men walks by and tells us that she’s the nicest dog and that she sat with him earlier cause he fed her popcorn. He tells us that she belongs to the owner of the bar. On cue, an older man with a low, deep voice swivels from his chair at the bar, “She’s a sweet girl. She’ll let you pet her all night. Just don’t feed her.” Unceremoniously, he swivels again, takes a swig of his drink, and is silent.

Our food arrives. Zack is happy.

I am also happy. There is a dog.

Later that night, as we sat in tent, cowering from the windy skies above us, I burst into laughter at the events of the evening. We have met the best people everywhere we’ve gone and not just because we’ve been working with inspirational nonprofit leaders and community organizers, but because we have given people the chance to be good. We left fear at the rental car parking lot and never looked back. We pushed ourselves out of comfort zones and beyond what was expected and we fell in love with cities and places and strangers that sometimes look and live differently than ourselves.

Most of all, we held space in our hearts for openness. We gave ourselves time to chat with the campsite next to us. We gave ourselves a chance to connect by seeing people and places exactly as they were. And of course, we never met a dog we didn’t like.

Love always,


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