Another incredible Sturgis® Motorcycle Rally™. Seems like it takes forever to get here. Finally the day comes when you hit the road. Then, before you know it, you’re on the road home.

This was my second time attending Sturgis Rally, though I’ve ridden the Black Hills a handful of times. On my solo, no-tunes ride home, I had 10 lonely hours of highway to Minneapolis to ponder why Bike Week means so much.

I came to this conclusion: Sturgis® Rally makes us better.

Rally excites, it heals, and it opens us. Mostly, however, I believe Rally lets us be more of who we really are – our true selves.

How does this happen?

I’ve boiled it down to a combination seven things:

The people, the people! We are all at Rally for the same reason: we love motorcycles and riding. When you get to be surrounded by thousands of people who share your passion, it does something important–it affirms and validates who you are. With only two percent of U.S. population having a motorcycle endorsement, we two-percent find it easy to connect with each other. You know how it goes: “You ride? I ride. Let’s jaw.” The magnitude of our collective is unique. While we all have other important social circles – work, church, sports, etc. – if you get an enormous group of motorcyclists together, you’ve got something powerful. This community enables a freedom within us, to be our selves. And that makes us better.

The people: Connecting with others comes easy, especially when you have the same motorcycle jacket. (Mount Rushmore, Mayor’s Ride. August 7, 2017)

Friends that become family. Our friends at Rally make us better. New ones, old ones. Friends for 5 minutes on the road. One night at the Iron Horse. One week at a campground. Our friendships come easy and fast, and they tap into the best parts of us that sometimes get overshadowed in our day-to-day grind – our lighthearted, funny, easy-going sides. Our whatever-goes, that’s-cool, fine-by-me sides. Many Rally-goers have been meeting the same friends for decades, and consider each other family. Many people I met both this and last year will be friends that stay with me for a very long time. And the ones that go, those friendships were great while they lasted.

Friendships: People often refer to their friends as “Rally Family.” These two good friends showed up my first morning in Sturgis. And they weren’t there to arrest me. (Sturgis, August 7, 2017).

Riding the Hills. For those who have ridden the Black Hills, you know what it means to ride Vanocker Canyon, Needles, Spearfish Canyon, Iron Mountain. It’s riding you can’t find anywhere else. Period. And when you get to ride it again and again, you are riding roads that feel like home. Riding the Hills offers certainty and continuity, and in so experiencing that, we achieve a greater certainty and continuity within our selves and each other.

The places, feel like home. Many Rally-goers have their must-visit spots scattered throughout the Black Hills, and their favorite places on Sturgis Main Street. In my second year, I was able to revisit places I fell in love with last year, and like the roads I ride, it’s a homecoming. When I listen to music at the Loud American, sit under the camouflage netting at the Stone House or drink a beer by the creek at the Boar’s Nest, I feel complete.

The Places: Stone House Saloon feels like home. (West of Belle Fourche, South Dakota. August 9, 2017.)

The events – ridiculously fun and inspiring, all at once. There are so many events going on at any given time, hard to make them all. The organized rides blow my mind. There’s something so incredible about riding feet up in a huge group of motorcycles through the Black Hills, behind dignitaries and other VIPs. It’s a powerful display of solidarity and community and feels especially gratifying with proceeds going to those who need it most.

• Carey Hart’s The Good Ride. What a guy, so genuine and easy to chat with. He’s dedicated this series of rides, which take place all over the country, to benefit veterans and their families. After we rode the Hills, we landed at the Buffalo Chip and shot guns. Does it get any better than that? No, it doesn’t.

• The Mayor’s Ride. This Rally icon, led by Mayor Mark Carstensen and this year’s Grand Marshall Jessi Combs, brings riders through the Hills, up to Mount Rushmore for a group photo with the great faces, ending in Custer State Park for lunch. Proceeds go to fund emergency service and is sponsored by Jack Daniels. Riders walk away with huge swag. Last year, when I received the swag bag, I was sure I needed to split the contents with at least three other riders. I was wrong — thank you Jack Daniels!

The Mayor’s Ride: Jack Daniels provided generous swag for riders. Single Barrel was just the half of it. (Mayor’s Ride, Custer State Park, August 7, 2017.)

• Dakota Thunder Run. Out of Ellsworth Air Force Base, this ride was another moment of the Rally where I grew into a better version of myself. Standing amongst soldiers, veterans and hearing the story of a 100-year old veteran who survived the Pearl Harbor attack, my heart ached with gratitude. We rode out of Ellsworth on the airstrip, not something you get to do every day. Not to mention, I got up close with the B1 Bomber, which flew over Main Street Sturgis later that day. This ride, in one word – incredible.

The events: Dakota Thunder Run began by riding down the airstrip. (Ellsworth AFB, August 9, 2017).

Rally added several new events this year with The Tattoo Contest, Beard and Mustache Contest, Mayor’s Pub Crawl and the Street Food Throw Down. I attended the Tattoo Contest and was up against an impressive array of hard-core tatted folks. The RockStar girls kicked off the event, and from there it was a packed stage with colorful (literally) characters and good laughs.

The events: Rally held its first ever Tattoo Contest and competition was fierce. (Sturgis, Harley-Davidson Rally Point, August 8, 2017.)

Freedom to let go, and just be. In our demanding world of work, kids, mortgages, doctor appointments, rush hour traffic, performance reviews and more, Sturgis offers the opportunity to let go and just be. To let go of what and who we are and have to maintain the other 51 weeks of the year. That’s not to say all that goes away during Rally – indeed, several friends were on the phone with work-related matters, and I took client phone calls, one of them in the alley behind the Knuckle. But during Sturgis Bike Week, can sport our leather vests or barely-there tops, go for long rides and take long breaks, snap ridiculous photos, flirt freely, talk to anyone about anything, go to bed way too late and wake up way too early, puffy-eyed and ready for more.

Freedom: Come as you are, and be who you are. (Downtown Sturgis, August 8, 2017.)

Reverence, for it all. From the many veterans in attendance, to the police officers who work 12-hour shifts, from the Rally staff and their partners and sponsors who bust their humps to pull off this great event, to all the Rally-goers who make the memories, I rode away from Sturgis in awe of it all. I recognize that Rally is a place for a few individuals where the worst occurred – where accidents took the lives of our brethren riders. Never forgetting them, and remembering that this sport we love so much is one that involves risk, we accept the risk. Another reason reverence serves us well and makes us better.

Reverence: Sturgis Police and South Dakota State Troopers work 12-hour shifts for the 10 days of Rally. (Mount Rushmore, Mayor’s Ride, August 7, 2017).

I returned home absolutely exhausted. But a better version of me.