SANTA MARIA TO SACRAMENTO, CALIF., SEPT. 11-15—Many people know Bill Davis from his work with the Ride for the Heart Foundation, an organization that raises money for worthwhile, heart-related charities while raising awareness about cardiovascular disease. If you’ve done any of his rides before, including the 2010 Pines to Palms H.O.G. Rally, you know they usually involve long distances and the California Sierras. This year’s H.O.G. rally was no exception. California has 47 mountain passes statewide, but realistically you can only drive to 44 of them.
This year, in conjunction with the rally, a new twist was added. A booklet was published that looked much like a passport, with the goal being to ride as many California passes as possible, trying to make all 44 between March and September 15, 2012. Those who rode all of the passes and filled their “passport” with photos of themselves in front of the official signs would be eligible to win a special patch and other prizes at the rally awards ceremony. The rally ride itself would take you over almost 20 of them.
There were 28 Harley dealers sponsoring the rally and Santa Maria Harley-Davidson was the originating dealership. Check-in was September 10–11, and from there you rode to Visalia Harley-Davidson, on to Mammoth Lakes and ultimately ended at Sacramento Harley-Davidson. The route would cover almost 900 miles, not counting any of the destination rides heading out from Sacramento H-D. Great room rates for the riders had been secured and all the reservations were being handled through one person, Michelle Bell, prior to the ride. This made it really easy to reserve rooms. You could join the rally at any point along the way if you were unable to do all four days, and all you had to tell Michelle was what night you would be there and she would take care of everything else. It couldn’t have been easier.
Detailed maps and schedules were made available online at the rally website, along with all the booking information. Not every rider likes the long way around, or is comfortable with riding mountain roads, so there were two routes available for each leg of the trip. One was longer and covered the Sierras while the other was a shorter route, so you could go directly to the destination hotel, check in and bypass all the mountain riding—or try to add the other two dozen or so passes to the Passport. Additional points were given for visiting each of the sponsoring dealerships. This gave the rally three components; the California passes game, day rides and the touring ride. The cost of the rally package was $55 and included your registration, rally guide, passport, day rides and bike show entry, numerous meals along the way, the opening ceremony in Santa Maria, the closing ceremony in Sacramento and a run pin.
Tuesday night was the official start of the event at Santa Maria H-D. After check-in, the opening ceremony was conducted and dinner was served. On Wednesday most people had already left by 8:00 a.m. The route took us out Highway 58, onto Highway 41 and then Highway 33 in Coalinga. Then it was out Highway 198 over to Highway 99 into Visalia where we ate dinner at Visalia H-D. Thursday took us out into the Sierras to gain access to some of those passes by way of Highway 99 to Highway 168 and Road 222 past Bass Lake. Then it was back onto Highway 41 again and into Yosemite National Park along Highway 120. Then it was south on Highway 395 to Mammoth Lakes where we were free to tour the town and find our own place to eat.
Later that evening I overheard one of the riders saying to another, “I’m not interested in Bill’s Ride the Passes. I just want to complete my ABCs of Touring.” This kind of summed up what was a “rolling H.O.G. rally.” You weren’t limited to just the rally itself; you can ride with any group, your own group, your significant other or by yourself. You can achieve the aims of that particular rally or pursue your own agenda, whether it’s a mission visit, points for visiting a dealership, part of an Iron Butt event, or even ABCs of Touring on a national or state scale. You can attend one or all of the rally days, start at the beginning or just wait until the party and day rides on Saturday. One rider in this event made the rally the end of a 15,000-mile trip. Along the way you can enjoy so much more scenery and log so many more miles than you can with a local rally. After all, you bought that Harley to ride, didn’t you?
On Friday it was up toward Bridgeport and a quick stop for me at one of my favorite places to visit, Bodie; that old ghost town that sits in a state of arrested decay in the mountains northeast of Mono Lake. In the words of an old cowboy, arrested decay simply means, “It’s broke. We ain’t fixin’ it, but we ain’t lettin’ it git no broker, neither.” I met a small group of riders that had ridden out from Carson City on a day ride checking out the graveyard. There was a little something for everyone at this year’s rally.
Back on the road it was over to Sonora Pass where I ran into a group of riders comprised of Santa Cruz, Ventura and Sacramento H.O.G. chapters who were admiring the view toward Walker Valley about a mile below us. The ascent up the eastern slope of Sonora Pass is spectacular, since it climbs 3,200 feet up in 14 miles on countless switchbacks. Each switchback is a little higher than the last one, offering more and more spectacular views as you climb. From here you could follow the route to Jamestown or find some more passes to get signed off in your passport.
Jamestown and Sonora were great places to stop for a drink or a bite to eat. Jamestown Harley proved to be a popular spot for souvenirs, parts and supplies for your bike. It was also worth a point as a sponsoring dealer in your passport.
Late afternoon found us at the destination dealer, Sacramento Harley-Davidson, also worth another point. Kiss ‘N’ Tell, a high-energy Sacramento band, provided the music for three hours and were able to play just about any song from ZZ Top to Lady Gaga thanks to their vocalists Ericka Davis and Scott Clancy. Dinner was served and some great deals were to be had at the dealership. JT Haley, regional manager for the Harley Owners Group, was there along with Mark Robinson, manager of Organization Development for Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee.
Michelle had booked me into the Woodlake Hotel, which was also the host hotel where everything was to take place. It was a pretty nice place and it was the first time I got to sleep on a Sleep Number bed. (My number was 75, as it turned out.) Of course, I was up half the night playing with the button.
Saturday was the day to take the various rides Sacramento H.O.G. had mapped. The only complaint was that the rides were great, but due to the fact that they were only running one day you had to choose which one you wanted to go on. There were the State Capital Tours (two rides lasting one hour and covering 10 miles each), Sierra Nevada Mountain Tour (236 miles and seven hours), Murphy’s in the California Foothills (200 miles and six-and-a-half hours), Napa Valley Wine Route (175 miles and six hours), and the Delta River Excursion (110 miles and four hours). All of these were excellent rides, but left at staggered times starting at 8:00 a.m. Which one would you choose? Livermore PD also had a motorcycle safety demonstration at the Woodlake.
My H.O.G. chapter chose the Delta River route, so I went with them. It was a good choice since I had never spent much time traveling the Sacramento Delta. There were parts of the Delta that were wider than the Sacramento River, and the route included two free ferry rides and ended up in Rio Vista for lunch. I’ve often seen the sign on Interstate 5 for the turnoff to Walnut Grove, but little did I know it is one of many Sacramento River towns that are literally built off the side of a dike. The front of the buildings are at road level, but the back 90 percent of the buildings are supported by some very tall foundations. I bet no one there even thinks the words earthquake or ground squirrel. I kind of pictured the town to be in the middle of a walnut grove. Who knew?
Lunch was at Foster’s Big Horn Coffee Shop in Rio Vista. The food was good and the prices fair, and you need to go there if you’ve never been. There are over 300 stuffed wild animals, birds and fish. The original owner of the restaurant was Bill Foster, a bootlegger and an avid big game hunter in the ’20s through the ’50s, and he brought back many a trophy. One head that is mounted on the back wall over the restaurant area is that of an African bull elephant. The head and trunk measure 13 feet long, and the tusks are five feet long and weigh 110 pounds each. Animal rights activists and those prone to nightmares need not go, but it’s worth a stop and a beer at the 65-foot-long bar just to look at the pictures and animals on the wall that tell the story of the people he met, the world he traveled and the exotic animals he brought back.
Once back at the Woodlake Hotel there was just enough time to get your bike entered in the bike show, clean it and yourself up, and head for a great dinner in one of the hotel’s many dining rooms. Drawings for cash, gift cards and other prizes were held throughout the night. The opportunity drawings were pretty exciting, since Bill Davis couldn’t take any of the leftover cash home. There were four $150 drawings, one $200 drawing, two $250 drawings, one $500 drawing and one $550 drawing—but you did have to buy a raffle ticket to win those. For a while it was the gift that kept on giving; the more people who won, the more people bought tickets. Similar opportunity drawings were held Friday night at Sacramento H-D, as well.
The speeches started up after dinner, but they were kept short. Rally staffer Mike Moorhouse thanked all the H.O.G. chapters for the incredible job they did at each location. Harley-Davidson representative Mark Robinson said that he put on more miles in this H.O.G. rally than he did in three months in York. He said he had to go back or there wouldn’t be any Softails or touring bikes. JT told him, “Hell, Mark; you better get back and do what you do and we’ll drink beer.”
Finally awards were given out, and some of them were as follows: Best Woman’s Bike: Sheila Neal, 2010 Street Glide; Cleanest Chrome: Otto Gisler, 2004 Road Glide; Buggiest Bike: Rex Burnett, Road Glide (Rex had this one hands down in any rally, any year); and People’s Choice: Richard Blaisdell, for his red, white and blue American flag motif on an Ultra Glide. There were several signed posters by Harley-sanctioned artist Scott Jacobs who also donated a framed poster that was won by Ed Isaaco of El Cajon. Getting it home intact was going to be a problem on his bike, but he didn’t seem to mind. The Long Distance Award went to Russ Spooner of Kamloops, British Columbia, who rode 15,000 total miles to be in this rally. Oldest Biker went to Sam Murphy of Oakland at 82 years old and, yes, Sam still rides to the H.O.G. rallies no matter where they are.
Bill Davis said that Ventura H.O.G. won the Chapter Challenge when two-thirds of the chapter signed in at Santa Maria. Sacramento H-D won the end-point Chapter Challenge with the largest number of members—they each received a rally flag. He also announced that the five dealers in the San Diego area were putting on next year’s H.O.G. rally, September 12–15. So for those members who think rolling rallies are too long, San Diego has just come to your rescue.