I'm a sucker for weddings. I mean, I love weddings and I always cry. I cried when Tiny Tim married Miss Vicki on TV in 1969, and I've blubbered at every ceremony since.
So when I found out that dozens of couples get married at the rally each year, I couldn't wait to crash, ahem, attend one. I quickly learned from one of Sturgis' non-denominational ministers, Joan Pillen, that those 50+ are more likely to tie the knot than kids during the rally. The town has no waiting period; same-day marriages are legal.
Of this year's 42 marriage licenses (down from 79 last year), the gals at the Meade County Register of Deeds found us two age 50+ couples. I hung around Joan's Hitchin' Post long enough to serve as a witness for a third. And yes, I cried through all three.
Royce Pyles, 61, and Robin Murphy, 60, from Beaver, Utah, tied the knot on Thursday, Aug. 7, a date that looked to be lucky for them since this was his fifth and her second wedding. They summed up their attitude about marrying this way: "It's not nececssary, but why not?" On this, their fourth trip to Sturgis, they spontaneously decided to go for it.
"Love's just like it was when we were young," Robin said. "I've had a good life almost all the time." The secret, she said (her first marriage lasted 35 years), is to "talk a lot, let them know what's going on."
"A lot of couples don't listen," said Joan, who's officiated for about 150 couples at the Rally over the last three years. "It's just, 'yeah, yeah, let's get this over with,'" she observed. "The second time around, couples take it more seriously."
While the date 08/08/08 is pretty memorable, Rick Bell, 54, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, announced that he'd always remember his anniversary because it's bike week. His bride Peggy, 57, meanwhile, got herself a wedding bouquet--a tattoo of flowers on her back. "They don't die and you don't have to water them," she said.
This is a couple who came down in a car ("cage" in biker lingo), because he's currently on disability from his job as a transit operator and can't ride a bike. But Sturgis it had to be.
Is love as good in your 50s? "Love is better at our age," said Peggy emphatically.
Between ceremonies, Joan related her most memorable ceremony. A man came into the optical store that the Hitchin' Post is the rest of the year. His bike had slid out from under him, he ended up with road rash to the bone and worse (you don't want to know), and he needed to replace his glasses. He happened to mention that the accident had put the kibosh on his and his girlfriend's plans to wed. "You've walked into the right place," Joan told him, and married them, bandaged bride, cake, and all (and small-town South Dakota at its best, didn't dream of charging him).
Some people find marrying nerve-wracking, while some find getting on a motorcycle a lot scarier. That latter would be me. But I had to do it at least once this week. So when my cousin Dave, a stand-up guy who teaches motorcycle design at an automotive college, hauled into town, I climbed on.
Now I'm a person who spent most of my twenties hitchhiking around the country, more often than not by myself. I've climbed the cable of the Brooklyn Bridge, and I like to drive (cars!) very, very fast. I moved to New York City by myself with a hundred bucks in my pocket.
So I'm not exactly a scaredy-cat. (Or was I just a little crazier then?)
I sat on Dave's Harley-Davidson Fatboy pondering why some of us love biking, and a lot more of us stare at the pavement so near to our tender, delicate skin and bones and imagine skidding and scraping and...suddenly I realize I can see the speedometer, and we're going 80 miles an hour.
And then we're there, and it wasn't so bad. I even had a second or two when I didn't think about crashing and crunching and...
My cousin's girlfriend, Jackie, said she'd been nervous, too, until she learned more about bikes. For instance, they don't simply fall over, and it's less scary when you're the one in control.
So maybe it's driving skills, understanding the physics, or those fraternal twins--fear and excitement--that draw some of us to biking. Or is risk-taking at our age--in part a willingness to be vulnerable--something like marriage in midlife?
Will I ride again? I'm on my first marriage and expect it to be my last. I suspect I'll say the same thing about biking. But I'm in Sturgis for two more days...