Hickle honored for 60 years of attendance at Sturgis bike rally
By James Grob, firstname.lastname@example.org
If it happened at Sturgis, Gary Hickle of Floyd probably saw it happen.
Hickle has attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held annually in Sturgis, South Dakota, for 60 consecutive years — and no one else alive even comes close.
“There is a young man who’s second, and he’s gone for 21 years now,” Hickle said. “I told him he has a long way to go before he catches me.”
This is especially true if Hickle, who is 78 years old, continues to extend his streak — which he said he intends to do.
“I like the camaraderie, mostly, with a lot of the older people that know me from there,” he said. “There are people there sometimes from the first time I ever went, when I was just 17 years old.”
There may be people still alive who went to rallies before Hickle started attending, but none that have gone every year.
Hickle was awarded a “little wooden plaque” at this year’s event by the American Motorcycle Association, of which he is a lifetime member. Hickle has raced motorcycles and snowmobiles for much of his adult life, although he said he’s more willing these days to leave the speed racing to the younger people.
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is held annually in Sturgis and the surrounding Black Hills. It was begun in 1938 by a group of Indian brand motorcycle riders and was originally held for stunts and races. Since then, the rally has become a diverse, celebratory event that consists of activities put on by many different groups.
Attendance has historically been around 500,000 people, reaching a high of over 700,000 in 2015. The event takes place over 10 days and generates around $800 million in annual revenue.
Hickle has driven a motorcycle to the rally every year since his first time in 1961 — except for one, although he still attended that year, despite a broken leg.
“There was one year when my leg was busted up from a wreck I got into in a race,” he said. “I drove a truck out to that one with a little mini-bike in the back.”
Born in Riceville, Hickle’s family moved to the Bassett area when he was very young and he attended grade school there. He graduated from Charles City High School in 1962, and he and his wife, Judy, married in 1975 and currently live in Floyd.
In recent years, Hickle has gone to Sturgis, then has continued West to Seattle to visit his son who lives there. This year, he went to Seattle first, picked up his 23-year-old granddaughter and drove back to Sturgis with her.
The two of them traveled on Hickle’s Tri Glide three-wheeler Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which has been in production since 2009. Hickle’s model has over 36,000 miles on it already, and he plans to drive it to Sturgis next year.
“It’s a little bit more comfortable,” he said. “Of course, I’m a little bit older. I deserve to drive a little more comfortably.”
Driving seems to be something Hickle does well. Along with the long-distance rides on his Harley, his speed racing on motorcycles and snowmobiles, he also drove a semi for Norseman Trucking out of Lake Mills for 25 years, and retired in 2009.
He said one of his favorite memories at Sturgis was just a few years ago, when Willie Nelson played a concert there. Hickle said that Nelson started the show at 10 p.m. and was still playing at dawn the next morning. The legendary country music singer-songwriter is currently 88 years old.
“He was a little bit loose. He’d been drinking the whole show, but he kept the crowd in it,” Hickle said. “He was playing on a flatbed semi deck in the middle of a hayfield.”
“He was a tough old bird, and still is,” Hickle added, confirming the theory that one “tough old bird” can recognize another.