Heaven on wheels: Thousands rumble through Oktibbeha County for annual festival


A parade of bikers roll down Highway 182, to the delight of spectators, from Sturgis through Starkville Friday afternoon. Participants of the 13th Annual Sturgis South All-Bike Motorcycle Rally make the

A parade of bikers roll down Highway 182, to the delight of spectators, from Sturgis through Starkville Friday afternoon. Participants of the 13th Annual Sturgis South All-Bike Motorcycle Rally make the "Dinner Ride" to Village Cycle Center for an official welcome and free barbeque. Photo by: Young Kerby/Special to The Dispatch


Ethan Bumgardner, 7, of West Point, eats watermelon while watching the motorcycles drive by Saturday along with his family in Sturgis. His uncle, Keith Watson, sits in the background against their mobile third wheel trailer, with his son, Reid Watson, 6. It was their fifth year attending the annual rally.


People from all over came to attend the annual Sturgis bike rally Saturday, whether they had a bike to ride or not. The hot and crowded strip in Sturgis caused people to sit on the street and eat cold treats such as flavored ice to relax and watch the hundreds of motorcycles drive by. From left to right are Renee Lett; her son, Ethan Lett, 4; Michele Brands, and Renee’s 12-year-old son, Triston Lett.



Tim Pratt and Kristin Mamrack



OKTIBBEHA COUNTY -- The riders started trickling in to Village Cycle Center in Clayton Village Friday at around 4 p.m.  


First they came in ones and twos, the chrome on their motorcycles gleaming under the hot summer sun. By 4:30 p.m., the flashing lights of Starkville Police Department Chief David Lindley''s car came into view, followed by nearly a dozen Mississippi Highway Patrol Officers on motorcycles. Then a line of bikers stretched as far as the eye could see down Highway 182 toward Starkville.  


Most of the riders were donned in denim and black leather, their backs covered with patches. Others wore T-shirts with rally names and club affiliations.  


The group came as part of the Sturgis South Motorcycle Rally, which brought thousands of bikers from all over the country to Oktibbeha County. They started in Sturgis and rode east along Highway 12, their hair and beards blowing in the wind. Then they crossed in to Starkville on the western edge of town and made their way toward the Mississippi State University campus. Eventually they ventured onto Highway 182 and pulled two-by-two into Village Cycle Center for free food and drink, complements of Village Cycle and the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. 


After the meal, the dinner ride took the group south to Louisville, then back through Ackerman to Sturgis where their fellow bikers had turned the sleepy town of less than 300 people into a city of several thousand.  




Camaraderie ''very exciting'' 


Thousands of bikes Saturday lined the narrow small-town streets of Sturgis, as their equally diverse riders studied them, and each other, from the sidelines. 


Coming from all over the state and beyond, most of the bikers'' only complaints centered around the soaring temperatures. 


"We need more air conditioning!" proclaimed Ernie Galbreath, of Hamilton, Ala. 


His third visit to Sturgis South, Galbreath echoed the attraction of many bikers in attendance. 


"I came to see the motorcycles," he said. 


"All the motorcycles," Bubba Burgess, of Houlka, responded, when asked what brings him back to Sturgis every year. "I like looking at all the different ones."  


"It''s wonderful," Marcel Wright, a Carthage resident and first-time visitor to Sturgis, said of the rally. "I''ve been intending to come by the last couple of years, I just haven''t made it (before)." 


Relaxed on a reclining chair, Jim Bardwell, of Brandon, sat in the shade and watched thousands of bikers make their way up and down the Sturgis sidewalks. 


"(The best part of the rally) is sitting watching the crowd," he said. "And the food." 


Frank Burnett of Brandon was in his sixth year at the rally. 


"The festivities and it being the largest motorcycle event in our state (are the reasons I come back)," he explained, standing next to a well polished motorcycle. "I just like to patronize it. To be honest, I enjoy most bike trips, just to travel from Point A to Point B and the camaraderie among bikers is unique. 


"(The rally) bridges gaps of religion, race, ethnicity," Burnett, a truck driver for United Parcel Service, continued. "It''s awesome, because if you got a bike, you''re in. Nothing else matters. You don''t have that anywhere else in life, that camaraderie. It''s very exciting." 




''You''re either a biker or you''re not'' 


Cameron Johnson hails from Winona but now lives in Fayetteville, N.C. He''s been riding since he was 4 years old, he said, and came to Sturgis to visit with family and friends, and to hang out with fellow riders. 


Johnson said he can''t pin down one specific reason why likes to ride. 


"It''s just always been something that''s fun for me," Johnson said. "I love getting out on the road. I love laying back and cruising. I love the sound of the bike. There''s not one particular reason." 


"It''s something you really want or you don''t," he added. "You''re not in between. You''re either a biker or you''re not." 


As Johnson hung out in downtown Sturgis Friday evening, Michael Wooten and Donny Horton, both of Mathiston, stopped by to check out his bike. When asked about the appeal of riding motorcycles, both gave similar answers. 


"Just fun and freedom," Wooten said. "It''s relaxing." 


A camaraderie exists among bikers, no matter where they come from. A look at license plates in Sturgis revealed riders from Mississippi and Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia. Plenty of riders came from Texas and Louisiana, as well, plus the Carolinas and other states in the southeast. And they all got along fine. 


Kenny Lang, of Lake, Miss., said there have been plenty of times when he''s been riding along, only to be joined by bikers he didn''t know.  


"It doesn''t matter if you know ''em or you don''t," Lang said. "All of a sudden you''re part of their group. Next thing you know you''re friendly with ''em and you''re checking out each other''s bikes." 


When asked about the appeal of motorcycles, Lang described it as "a passion for riding." 


"You can see so much more on a bike than you can in an automobile," he said. "You might not think that, but it''s true." 


The rally, which organizers last year estimated brought 20,000 people, concludes with a blessing of the bikes this morning.  


A portion of rally proceeds will benefit Sturgis, a town of about 280 people located in southwestern Oktibbeha County, and portions will be donated to The American Red Cross of Oktibbeha County and to Catch-A-Dream, a foundation which grants hunting and fishing experiences to children, age 18 and younger, with a life-threatening illness.




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