40 Years Ago, Honeymooners Learned About Sturgis Rally The Hard Way

Forty years ago, newlyweds Sheila and Russell Klein thought they had found the perfect secluded campground to celebrate their honeymoon. Then thousands of bikers showed up. Turns out that secluded campground was right in the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

RJ
Renée Jean

August 06, 20235 min read

Sheila and Russell Klein, left, had no clue they were honeymooning in the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally after they married 40 years ago. Now they've returned to celebrate their anniversary. The annual party has hosted many biker weddings over the decades, right.
Sheila and Russell Klein, left, had no clue they were honeymooning in the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally after they married 40 years ago. Now they've returned to celebrate their anniversary. The annual party has hosted many biker weddings over the decades, right. (Renée Jean, Cowboy State Daily; Getty Images)

Not all the Devils Tower loop visitors are part of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.  

Some are decidedly trying to avoid it, despite being in an area that’s about to be inundated with bikers. 

Meet Sheila and Russell Klein. The Minnesota couple is in Hulett this week, celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary by retracing some of the steps of their first honeymoon.  

All but one of them. There’s one particular leg of the journey they definitely don’t want to reprise — though it does make a funny story all these many years later.  

“We were just starting out, and we had a little hobby farm,” Russell Klein recalled. “We were living in a 12 by 60 trailer.”  

Not having much money at the time, but wanting to do something special, the couple decided on a camping trip. It was August 1983.  

The couple packed up their Ford pickup, which had a topper, so they’d have somewhere to sit in case of rain. They also took a tent, as well as some of the extra groceries from their wedding reception.  

They were all set for their road trip to South Dakota. Eventually, the newlyweds found a great spot by a beautiful lake with a pretty beach.  

It was perfect. Just what they had been looking for. It was so serene and peaceful. They couldn’t have picked a better honeymoon spot. Or so they thought. 

Right In The Heart Of Motorcycle Country 

What the couple didn’t know was that their camping spot was actually right in the heart of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. The rally started out small, but it really started to take off in the 70s, and it exploded in the 80s and 90s. 

Along with the growth, it was getting wilder and wilder every year, too. Think dousing the streets with gasoline and setting it on fire wild, and then you’ll have the right idea for what was about to come next for the just-married farmers camping by the lake in Sturgis Motorcycle Rally territory. 

The couple thinks the lake they had picked for their honeymoon camping trip was called Pactola. Though, by this time, the name of that lake is admittedly a bit fuzzy. Particularly since the couple has never been back. 

“It started with a P,” Klein told Cowboy State Daily.  

“So there we were, just sitting there having a little picnic,” Russell said. “We’d been there, relaxing for about an hour.” 

The next thing they knew they were hearing a strange, rumbling sound. It was a bit like thunder, but there were no rain clouds in sight. Clear skies all around.  

As the couple kept looking around, trying to figure out what all the noise was, the first motorcycle came around the bend. It was followed by a swarm of about 80 motorcycles in all. They were headed straight for the lake. 

“We were green, we didn’t know anything about anything,” Shelia Klein said. “We’d never even heard of Sturgis.” 

The motorcycles kept rolling into the lake campground one after another.  

“They grabbed their coolers and they were jumping off, taking their clothes off, going nude into the lake, one after another,” Russell said. “I’d say there were probably 31 in the lake out of 80.” 

“Our eyes got big and we were like, ‘Oh my God,’” Sheila Kline said. 

The couple quickly decided discretion was the better part of valor here. They didn’t want to wait around to see how much wilder things could get. 

“We stayed at the hot springs, and went to the state park instead,” Russel said. “We paid, I think it was $15 bucks to stay in the park overnight. There were a lot of older campers there, and no bikers.” 

The Anniversary Journey Continues 

The next day, having bagged their lake camping trip, the couple decided they would go check out Rapid City. They visited the Reptile Gardens, which is a wild animal park specializing in lizards, snakes, and other reptiles. They went on a cave tour, visited the wax museum, and other touristy things available to do in Rapid City at the time. 

Those are all steps they’ve recreated for their 40th wedding anniversary trip this year, along with experiencing a few new areas, including Devils Tower and the nearby town of Hulett. 

In Hulett, the couple found a hot rocks massage parlor, which they’re thinking about trying before heading out to Medora, in North Dakota. Medora is a tourist town developed by Harold Schafer of Mr. Bubbles fame. 

After that, the couple will probably head home. 

The lake they tried to camp at as newlyweds, however, isn’t on their itinerary at all. 

“We just drove right on by it,” Russel Klein said. “We didn’t stop.” 

Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter