STURGIS, S.D. (KELO) — LaVonna Cline likes to solve problems so when she gets a call about a stranded biker with a broken down bike or someone who needs to get back to the campground after an ER visit, she’s ready for it.
“Every phone call that comes in, someone needs help,” Cline said.
She’s one of the 35 or so volunteers with ABC Emergency Services working at this year’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.
ABC Emergency Services started about 21 years ago when the Rev. Pat McBride of First Baptist Church saw a need for a local mission-type service during the rally.
The Rev. Steve Bils was the pastor of an American Baptist Church congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, when the Baptist Convention of the Dakotas and Nebraska picked up on McBride’s idea. Bils and his congregation joined the effort. Even when Bils left for a position in Oregon he continued to volunteer.
After being based in the First Baptist Church in Deadwood for several years, the volunteer program is now based in the First Baptist Church in Rapid City.
Calls for help
When Cline answer the phone for ABC Emergency Services she needs to determine “what is really needed and how to meet the need.”
“With every phone call someone has a need. They might be similar but they are all unique,” Cline said.
“One of the recent ones was two couples were out riding and one of the bikes breaks down. That broken bike needs to get back to the campground,” Cline said.
Bils said volunteers with a trailer will be sent to pick up a broken-down bike and take it to the campground.
During one night of the rally volunteers may make three to four trips to the local emergency room to pick someone up and return them to a campground or hotel, Bils said.
Cline said a spouse or partner may need a ride from the jail because the motorcycle driver may have been arrested for driving while drunk.
Sometimes a caller may be “frazzled” or even embarrassed, Cline said. It doesn’t matter to the volunteers, “You just treat everyone with respect.”
Not competing with local services
Sturgis has a population of about 7,000 which swells to more than 400,000 with the rally.
Bils said Sturgis and the surrounding area does not have enough tow trucks or other services to handle all the needs associated with the rally. “We’re not competing with those services,” Bils said.
The area’s 911 dispatchers, local hospitals, law enforcement and highway patrol all have the ABC contact numbers to share with those who need it.
Covering the rally territory
“The rally is an amazing organism,” Bils said. “Sturgis is the small town at the center of it. The rally is all over the Black Hills.”
Cline said when she answers the calls for help she needs to be mindful of how far and how long it will take volunteers to reach the needy. Volunteers can’t go too far south, for example because that could be a three-hour one-way trip. Cline said that would mean a vehicle and possibly a trailer would be tied up for more than six hours.
“I have an idea (of routes to take) but my veteran volunteers, they are the ones who really know…,” Cline said.
The mentality of volunteers
Bils said some of the volunteers are bikers. His group from Oregon brought seven bikes and two trucks with trailers. Most of the group rode from Oregon to Sturgis, he said.
Cline is not a biker but she loves being a passenger. She feels called as part of her Christian faith to serve during the Sturgis Rally.
Bils said volunteers are also practicing the brotherhood shared by bikers.
“If you are around the motorcycle culture you will learn there is a brotherhood or camaraderie,” Bils said.
Bikers aren’t surprised if they are broken down on the side of the road and another biker stops to see if they are O.K, Bils said. “That’s part of the motorcycle culture,” he said.
This year’s volunteers come from several states and are mix of single and married men and women. Some are Baptists, some are not and some have no church affiliation, Bils said. The 2021 make up is similar to other years, he said.
Volunteers get an inside look at the rally
Cline breaks down the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally into three components.
The first is the way some media builds up the hard partying and concerts at night. There is that but it’s not the whole rally, Cline said.
Information about a volunteer group that provides assistance during the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. Photo courtesy of Steve Bils.
The second component to her is the vendors. “This is just like a state fair for motorcycles,” Cline said. The vendors are there with products geared toward bikers, she said.
“Every vendor is here to show their latest and greatest…,” Cline said.
The third component is “The awesome beauty of the Black Hills,” she said.
While there are rally crowds, attendees can get away from those crowds and ride in the Black Hills area, Cline said.
Bils said volunteers also get to appreciate the Black Hills. There are times when a volunteer can take a day or afternoon away to ride in the hills or meet a friend or relative for lunch, he said.