By Sarah Pridgeon
I noticed an anxious atmosphere developing around me during my first summer as a Sundance native. It began almost a month before Rally Wednesday, when my family realized that thousands of semi-clad women and associated bikers were about to descend on the city while here, newly in their care, was an innocent Englishwoman.
They tried a light touch at first, hoping to create an impression of what I was likely to face that would dissuade me from trotting to town clad in naught but an empire-line gown and a daft, beaming grin.
They told me it would be busy, to which I nodded happily and said it sounded like home. They said it would be far too hot, to which I stapled a fan to my bonnet and presented myself as ready.
They tried pointing out that I’d never met a real biker before, as we don’t have any in my part of the world, but I greeted this news with gleeful anticipation. They said there wouldn’t be anywhere to park, but I didn’t yet have a driving license and requested they drop me off at the corner by the post office.
Eventually, they were forced to play the trump card. They explained how common it is for people to accidentally leave their clothes at home when they go on motorcycle trips and be forced to compensate by drawing shirts onto their bodies with crayon.
What they hadn’t realized is that I come from a beach town – in Europe. Where I hail from, everyone is so strangely comfortable with the idea of nudity that wet t-shirt competitions are considered family entertainment on a summer’s afternoon by the sea. It’s mortifying to trip over a topless sunbather when you’re a teenager, but exposure to such things does eventually numb the horror.
When the trump card was played, I had already met with my first experience of Rally Week clothing loss. Driving through Spearfish to the grocery store, I was staring into space as I considered important questions about my shopping list, such as whether we really needed washing up liquid or if the current bottle would last another week. It was some time before I realized that the space into which I was gazing was occupied by a motorcycle’s passenger, who had forgotten to wear trousers under her chaps.
My reaction was indeed one of dismay, but not because of the buttocks. That poor lady, I thought to myself. If she forgot the sun screen as well as her pants, she’s going to look like a baboon by evening.
And so I was given permission to roam the city streets and peer curiously at the motorcycles, but only if my husband oversaw my every movement through binoculars atop a ladder, just in case. I returned with a beer, a taco, the smell of rubber in my hair and all my clothing intact. Thanks to this success, my family was sufficiently reassured to release me without supervision the next time Rally came around.
This year, however, I was working on Rally Wednesday and no longer a fellow tourist, which turned the crowd into the sort of obstacle I spent years learning to avoid when I lived in London town. When I have a destination in mind and a timetable to meet, you might say I am pre-programmed to maneuver through crowds.
It’s remarkable how quickly you slip back into the mindset. Mid-morning, I sped off across town for an interview with a lovely couple whose company I very much enjoyed. Consequently, I left it until the very last minute to make my excuses and rush to my next appointment.
I wasn’t too worried about timeliness because the bikers had only just begun to arrive. I should have known better: I pulled up to find a row of motorcycles gleaming smugly at me in the ever-increasing sunshine.
Muttering to myself, I high-tailed it to the other end of the street. I then marched determinedly back to the office, only to find my spot had been vacated – and I’m almost certain I could hear sniggering from the direction of the courthouse lawn.
As I was late for my appointment, there was little choice but to activate my crowd herding protocol. When I moved to peaceful Wyoming and left one of the most bustling cities on the planet behind me, I thought I was also leaving behind my skills in tourist avoidance. On Rally Wednesday, however, it turns out that they come in very handy.
By the end of the day, I was zigging and zagging through clusters of merrymakers with as much panache as I ever navigated Piccadilly Circus. At one point, I even successfully transported an entire plate of cookies through at least ten thousand tipsy bikers without a single casualty.
In England, we don’t have burnout festivals, rally weeks or leather-clad bikers, possibly because such things are a lot less fun when it’s drizzling. What we do have, however, is a European approach to sunbathing and plenty of dawdling tourists, which gave me all the training I needed to experience Wyoming Wednesday to its fullest. After all, it doesn’t much matter how busy the streets are if you can still find a way to the beer.