The Best Motorcycle Event Ever?
The Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt last weekend was the best event I’ve ever attended or been a part of. Since I’ve attended and/or staged 50 events a year for more than a decade this is a pretty bold statement. Allow me to describe the event and then offer some theories (“theories” is so much more impressive than the more accurate term “guesses”) as to why it was such a whopper.
This event was a weekend of camping and riding to benefit Riders for Health, held at the Cove RV Camp and Store just north of Brinnon on the West side of Hood Canal. If you blinked or were busy cursing your car’s inability to synch up to your smart phone, Brinnon is a small cluster of buildings nest to 101. It may or may not be a legitimate town.
In addition to the scavenger hunt ride Saturday, there was also a bring your own BBQ Saturday night. The scavenger hunt is open to both street and dual sport motorcycles, and “hunters” look for targets. The chips from cell phones with pictures taken next to an entry card are handed in at the end of the day for scoring. The highest placed entrants get first pick of the door prizes, which this year were contributed by Ride West BMW, Cycle Barn, Nelson-Rigg, Touratech, Tour USA, and WMST safety training.
I needed to drop Susan off at the airport at 6am, as she was flying to Milwaukee to root for our son Will in the national triathlon championships, where he racked up a personal best overall time and personal best times for the swim, bike, AND run portions! In any case, there was little sense in returning home. I kept on truckin’ in the Ride West events van; south to Olympia and then up Highway 101 to The Cove.
When I arrived at 9:30am there was nobody there. Six of the women entrants had arrived the night before, where they evidently had quite a group bonding experience around a campfire – assisted by several bottles of wine. I unloaded the van - a pop-up canopy, boxes of door prizes, several chairs, crates of Riders t-shirts, some camping gear I’d trucked over for two of the entrants, and pretty much everything except the BMW R 1200R motorcycle. For that I prefer to have at least one person assist, to avoid the catastrophe of missing the ramp on the way down.
The women soon arrived and bam! Within a very few minutes the bike was out of the van and everything set up. This set a tone for the entire weekend. Of the 50 plus people who came to the event, at least 45 of them volunteered to do one task or several. It was amazing.
During the rest of the day people came in and registered, and most of them set up their own camp and then looked around to others who might need help with anything. Late in the afternoon people began to discuss dinner, and within minutes we had three cars serving as shuttle transport back and forth to the local eateries for those who did not want to ride.
A very special guest this year was Mary McGee. Mary is the most fantastic motorcycle hero you’ve never heard of. Google her name and prepare to be astonished. Mary began racing sports cars and motorcycles in the late 1950’s and at the age of 76 is still riding her dirt bike in the desert. Last year she was flown to Monte Carlo by the FIM to be feted as an “FIM Legend.” She is currently a nominee for the AMA Hall of fame.
She chose to fly up for the event on her own dime, rent a car, visit the LeMay museum, and then spend the weekend regaling all with incredible stories of her adventures. She was open, warm, and sharing with all, and brought stacks of pictures of her racing triumphs on both two and four wheels on both pavement and dirt to autograph and share with people. She has raced for and with pretty much everyone you ever heard of, and I never tired of watching jaws drop as she told stories in her modest and unassuming way. She also volunteered her rental car for service as one of the shuttle vehicles for dinner. We had an extra bike for her, but a bum shoulder kept her off two wheels this time. Next year…
The Friday evening “program” consisted of Jill Oliver presenting a fabulous multi-media program and talk about her Riders in Africa Adventure of last year. We had a large screen set up on the side of the combined restrooms and shower building, and the owner assisted by creating some mounts for it. People drew up their lawn chairs and relaxed with friends old and new, a beverage or two of choice, and an inspiring look at riding in Africa and the work done with donations to Riders. After that a movie of some sort was shown, but by that time I think almost everyone was engaged in small discussion groups scattered around the lawn and the large fire enclosed fire pit.
On Saturday morning Kay Miller provided a breakfast for a donation to Riders for Health. For this she brought 5 dozen eggs, a ton of sausages, and everything else. I watched as about a dozen people jumped in to help prepare and serve the food.
For the riders meeting I started it off with a welcome, and then Deb Shiell, who deserves most of the credit for this event, went over the rules and distributed the “target” sheets. There were also a variety of maps on display of both the street and dual sport routes on offer, and Bill Hucks offered a GPS downloading service for those so inclined and equipped.
One of the highlights of this event is the creativity of the entrants in interpreting the targets. I thought my group had done well with the clue “nail in a tire” by taking a picture of a flat bicycle tire with a fingernail pressed into it. We were outdone by a group that went after the points for “Priest in cuffs.” They found a real priest, and he was the one who came up with the idea of rolling up the bottoms of his pants legs so he could be pictured as a priest in “cuffs.” Brilliant.
The evening dinner went beyond the beyond. Kay became known last year as “Flank steak” Kay for her special barbecued flank steak that was so delicious I thought it would start a riot. I did not have any last year, as I didn’t want to deprive customers of their joy. This year she brought MUCH more, and indeed, it is amazing. Tony Basile brought, in his 2 wheel drive Ural sidecar, a lot of things including – a pizza shovel! He’d found a recipe for making a pizza on a grill, and spent his dinner making about 5 of them in various combinations of ingredients. Then the owners of the camp brought out about 8 huge bags of fresh crab (!) and another volunteer crew formed organically to create piles of crab meat. Then there were the desserts… and a lot of beer and wine that was shared…and…
Next came the announcements of the winners and the disbursement of door prizes, but before that we had a bottle of “Kansas” whiskey to auction off, donated by Tad Haas and Gaila Gutierrez. They discovered this on their recent year long ride and made great claims for its quality and effects. I opened the bidding at $20, planning to share it with others. To my astonishment the bids raced to an astounding $140! Even better, Tad and Gaila announced that if the 2nd place bidder ($125) wanted to, she could purchase the 2nd bottle they had brought. $265 for Riders for Health.
After the prize giving all were gathered on the lawn for a group picture taken from the roof by the camp’s owner. Then we had an hour of Mary McGee telling stories from her racing career, and then a slide show prepared by Bill Hucks from the pictures handed in as entries. Bill works with speed and skill to put together a slide show that amazes and amuses with the creativity of the entrants. At the end he showed a video of the highest point target – a live Sasquatch! He had actually taken the trouble to bring a full gorilla suit, and he and Deb had snuck into the woods for a GoPro view of Deb coming across a Sasquatch (or Yeti) on the trail, and then it sped away on a bike curiously identical to Bill’s. He got a standing ovation for that one.
THEN, a showing of “On Any Sunday.”
That movie was picked because last fall, when I first met Mary, it occurred to me that she would know all of the people in it. She did, so I asked why she was not shown. She replied “Because Bruce Brown is a sexist pig! I saw him just last month and he is still a sexist pig.” So we showed his movie in her honor…
When I got up at 1am for a bathroom break I found several people still sitting around the fire pit chatting amiably. The next morning, again, everyone helped everyone else pack up and ride away. I stuck around until the store opened at 9am to haggle with the owners over our fee – which they had reduced drastically from what they had agreed to, so I gave them a $100 tip. And so on home, my head spinning with all of the wonderful things I had seen and heard and experienced.
So, a few days later, after a great deal of thought – what ingredients can we guess made this event so very special?
1. The venue. The Cove RV Park and store is a special place. It is perfect for the needs of our group (and of course others not in our group who were staying there) but mostly because of the owners. Both years they have gone far beyond simply renting us the space to provide extraordinary extras at no cost – piles of firewood, bags or fresh crab, bottles of wine, while cutting their own payment to the bone. Both years they have joined us for the evening programs, and this year seemed to enjoy both Jill’s program and the stories of Mary McGee a great deal.
2. A special guest. Bringing in a “star” is always a boost to interest, and in this case we have hit the double jackpot. I have been fortunate to have worked with a great many motorsports legends in the past 13 years, and almost all of them have been pleasant and fun to work with. (I suspect it would be a lot different if we were competing.) For example, I have really been impressed by Dominic Dobson (now of the LeMay museum) and by Mike Sullivan – northwest road racing legend. Both of them are quiet and kind and have so much to share. However, for personality and openness eagerness to make sure everyone has a good time and sheer jaw-dropping stories, Mary McGee is the best ever.
3. Dual-sport riders. It pains me to say this, but I think the dual sport riders are far better for these events than street riders of my experience. I think this is because the whole point of many dual sport rides seems to be to ride off-road until something goes wrong or a difficult challenge is faced, and then work together to solve the issue. This makes dual sport people eager to look around and see where they can help. Street riders like me can be generous, but as a group we are not in the same league in my experience.
4. Women. Here is the real key, methinks. At the event 30 – 40% of those in attendance were women. It is much harder for women to get to ride motorcycles in the first place, due to lingering stegosaurus-like sexist attitudes in our society held by both men and women. Women who can fight through the nonsense enjoy riding all the more, and are eager to share their adventures with others – especially other women. In this case, the women were also drop dead gorgeous. I’ve always argued that all women who ride are beautiful, but the women at this event were so attractive that at times it seemed sort of weird in a way. Change does happen – imagine the concept of a motorcycle event where the internationally regarded guest is a woman with decades of competition success in both sports cars and motorcycles, and 30-40% of those in attendance are women.
Somewhere up there my mother, the first woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin with a degree in mechanical engineering, is smiling. Probably laughing in delight, actually.
5. You have to have at least one person who really and truly cares about the event. That would be Deb Shiell. She had a lot of help from Tracie Jeffries and Bill Hucks and Kay Miller and dozens of others, but this event owes its very existence to Deb and the literally hundreds and hundreds of hours she spends on it each year. Everyone else is happy to pitch in, but none of our efforts can ever come close to hers. It is that passion to make sure the event will take place and will be organized to the hilt that is so hard to find.
Yes, I care about this event as well, and Bill was kind enough to point out that this event grew out of the “R-Ides of March” and “Chilly Turkey” events I have put on for the past 12 years for Riders. There is one huge difference here that needs to be respected and honored. I get paid.
And so that is the best event I’ve ever attended. For pictures and video, Google “Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt” and take a look.
Best ever event … until… next year…
Copyright 2013 David Preston