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Rally events span far beyond Sturgis

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Life Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Rally events span far beyond Sturgis
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

By Scott Feldman

Rapid City Journal

ROCHFORD (AP) — The small Black Hills hamlet known as Rochford is 20 miles from Sturgis and has a full-time population of less than 15 people.


Still, when the annual cycle rally arrives, Rochford begins to rumble.

Like other Western South Dakota cities, this tiny town has become known as a place for bikers to play well away from the big crowds and traffic in Sturgis proper.

Each year, the revelry from the rally reverberates far from Sturgis and into places like Rochford, tucked well into the Northern Hills. Other mini-rallies will pop up this week in Custer, Rapid City, Deadwood, Hill City and Hulett, Wyoming.

But Rochford has one thing those places don't: the Moonshine Gulch Saloon.

The Moonshine Gulch had already attracted more than 100 bikers and other patrons on Saturday afternoon, two full days before the official start of the rally.

Over the years, the rally has drawn people from all across the world to Rochford, said Mike Kohl, who traveled about 800 miles from Appleton, Wisconsin, to help saloon owner Betsy Harn cook food on the grill.

"I've seen people come here from Australia, Germany, Canada — you name it," said Kohl, who has come to Rochford during the rally for the past eight years.

Russ Kerstetter, of Kansas City, has been to the Sturgis rally 15 times and attended the annual party in Rochford the past eight.

This year, he came to Rochford on a 2003 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, arriving with 15 friends to hang out in the small town because he prefers places that aren't on every tourist's itinerary.

"I like the little hole-in-the-wall places that are off the beaten path," he told the Rapid City Journal ( ). "Small bars in small towns have got more character."

He said it's more fun to be at a place like the Moonshine Gulch Saloon than some modern, cookie-cutter bar with no soul.

The Moonshine Gulch Saloon is the epitome of a simple, yet special, small-town bar in South Dakota. It's had the same owner for the past 37 years; the food menu is written on a whiteboard above the bar; it had no working air conditioner on Saturday; and it didn't have beer on tap (instead, most of the brews were served from a cooler on the saloon's porch on Saturday.)

It does have a lot of friendly people, an inviting atmosphere and the little touches that make the bar feel like it isn't just a building, but a living entity. Unique features include a signed dollar bill taped to the back of the bar about 15 years ago and the collection of baseball caps that hang from a wall.

All day Saturday, the bikers and regulars seemed to be having a blast. Some of the old-timers were swapping stories about past rides on the porch, while others were inside waving their brews in the air while singing along to a spontaneous rendition of Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" by guitarist Donald Bachmeier, who has been coming from St. Paul, Minnesota, to the Moonshine Gulch for the past 15 years.

At one point, Kerstetter formed a smiley face in the middle of the road by performing a burnout on his 2003 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, drawing applause from the crowd.

"Bikers are the nicest, coolest people in world," Kohl said. "I've seen one cranky guy in the past seven years."

There are plenty of places and parties across the Hills and beyond for people who want to enjoy the rally without staying in Sturgis the whole week. There's the Custer County Fair in Hermosa that runs from Thursday to Sunday, the Street Dance in Belle Fourche on Thursday, the slightly larger Ham N Jam in Hulett, Wyoming, and dozens of other events for people interested in exploring the small towns throughout the region.

Associated Press