The South Dakota Department of Transportation reports 525,768 vehicles tripped the wires on the way into Sturgis during this year’s motorcycle rally. That’s 13.8% more than the last time we held South Dakota’s biggest T&A fest amidst a pandemic.
I’d like to think the increased traffic count is a sign that people got smart about coronavirus, got vaccinated, and thus reduced the chance that traveling cross-country would increase the spread of the disease. But I also notice that last year, in the week before the Rally, the nation’s seven-day average of daily new cases of coronavirus dropped from 64,000 to less than 56,000, this year’s national daily case count in the week before the Rally rose from 77,000 to over 100,000. If rallygoers were sensible, you’d think some fraction of them would have looked at the covid numbers the week before the Rally and said, “Dang, the pandemic is actually worse this year than last. Maybe we should wait and go to the Hills later, when it’s less crowded.”
And maybe some fraction did. Maybe we would have seen 575,000 or 600,000 vehicles coming through Sturgis (and multiple gas stations throughout South Dakota) if some fraction of riders and trailerers hadn’t canceled their plans. But we don’t know those numbers. What we do know is that there were almost twice as many new coronavirus infections a day in this country when this year’s Rally started than there were last year at the same time, and more people kept on coming.
South Dakota Tourism, thy name is Pyrrhic victory.
The 2021 Sturgis traffic count appears to be the highest since the big 75th Rally in 2015. But according to Wikipedia, Sturgis posted higher traffic tallies in 1990 and from 1999 through 2005.