Iron Mountain Road is a 17 mile stretch of U.S. Highway 16A that winds through a beautiful section of the Black Hills in South Dakota. But truthfully, to say it winds does not pay due respect to this asphalt work of art. It twists and turns, climbs and falls, squeezes through tunnels, and corkscrews back on itself in a way that forces riders to go slowly enough to appreciate the beauty. The official description includes 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, 3 pigtails, 3 tunnels, 2 splits and 4 presidents. Four presidents? Yep. One end of 16A is near the entrance to Mt. Rushmore National Memorial, and riders are treated to a view of Messrs. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln off in the distance through the tunnels.
I am there to attend the 75th Annual Sturgis Bike Rally. Bikers who come to the rally come to party or to ride, and as I begin my trek along 16A, I hope that those groups are mutually exclusive.
The first section of mostly gentle curves allows me to nudge the throttle just a bit, only having to rein it in approaching a few sharper ones. But soon, I reach what seems to be a continuous string of pigtails, tunnels and switchbacks. The first of the pigtails appears, seemingly out of nowhere just after leaving a narrow tunnel, and I quickly downshift moments before I’m led around a 360 degree turn and pass under what looks like a wooden bridge supporting the road I’ve just traversed.
The ride overall is a full body, mind and sensory experience. It’s not just the exquisite sensation of my body leaned into the curves, but the absolute, full attention and immersion in the moment, the deep-throated growl of the engine, the vibrations reaching me through the seat and handlebars, the changing smells cruising past different vegetation, and the alternating coolness and warmth on my skin as I pass into and out of shaded areas.
I nod to the presidents as I exit the last of the tunnels but do not stop for a selfie with them. It’s time to get myself on into Keystone for a well-earned cold one now that my ride is finished, and let my body and mind reflect on the wonder of it all. As I park and climb off, I notice a fellow biker wearing an Iron Mountain Road t-shirt that reads simply “What Dragon?” I smile as I remember I’m wearing my Tail of the Dragon shirt with the map on the back. We will have much to talk about.