EAST DURHAM, N.Y., SEPT. 13–16—If you ride a motorcycle in the northeast part of America, there’s a good chance you take pleasure in riding in the crisp clean air of the fall. You may also appreciate the fun and challenges of riding on mountain roads. People have been enjoying New York’s Catskill Mountains for centuries. Legend tells us that Rip Van Winkle awoke from his 20-year sleep to the sound of thunder caused by the gods playing ten pins. A new legend started 15 years ago and we now find the Catskill Mountain Thunder emanates from the Blackthorne Resort in East Durham, New York, as thousands of Harleys and other bikes gather each September for one of New York’s premier bike events.

The Blackthorne Resort, whose history dates back a hundred years, is owned by the Handel family and offers rooms, cabins, tent camping and RV sites. There’s plenty of food and beverages available in the festival area, at the tiki bar by the pool, or the huge dining room. On Thursday afternoon the vendors and any early arrivals are invited to take a scenic ride with Roy Handel to Woodstock Harley-Davidson. After the pre-festival party, which offers free food and beer at the pavilion, Shovelhead takes the stage in the nightclub where folks can meet and party with the bike builders, exhibitors, vendors and each other.

Linda and Anita aboard Ron Finch's radical sidecar creation
Linda and Anita aboard Ron Finch’s radical sidecar creation

After a breakfast run, the festival officially starts on Friday at 11:00 a.m. As the bikes continue to roll in, the crowd grows and the fun escalates. Motocross bikes fly overhead as they jump from ramp to ramp executing tricks for the crowd. Patch, from American Hellriders, performs his amazing feats as he rides the Wall of Death defying gravity inside a huge wooden barrel-like structure. That telltale buzzing sound could be heard as the tattoo artists got to work. I checked out Tin and Skin’s booth as they did tattoos on one side and had bike parts on the other side.

Vendors were selling about anything you might need for your bike, or yourself. I stopped at Metal di Muse and spoke with Diva Dawn from New Jersey, who was selling some interesting jewelry. I found a cool necklace for my favorite wench. There was a good supply of leather goods, parts, accessories, patches, pinstriping and even camper trailers to tow behind your bike. The Haymond Law firm was there and one of the lovely Haymond girls was happy to pose on a chopper built by Chaos Cycle from Long Island, New York. I spoke with the legendary Ron Finch, whose personality is almost as colorful as his bikes and his sculptures. After I watched Lisa please the crowd in the tattoo contest, I asked her and her friend Anita to take a few pictures on Ron Finch’s custom sidecar creation. That drew another crowd. “Jungle Habitat” displayed some lions and tigers and snakes—you thought I was gonna say bears—and you could get your picture taken with some of the animals. Contributions went towards helping wildlife. The Christian Motorcycle Association, along with MELCHiZEDEKS MC of New York had an area set up where they supply food and friendship for the vendors and others. I was invited in for some lunch, and these guys can put a meal together.

Meanwhile, back at the pavilion, Brian and his crew from Satan Cycles were hard at work on their entry in the biker build-off. Many other shops were either entered in the build-off or just exhibiting their work. Scott Porges of A.M.S. and the folks from Pitoniak’s Custom Cycles always put on a great display. Wayne County Choppers was raffling off a chopper and John Huff was busy with his entry in the custom painting category. John also put on a body painting exhibition on Saturday night. Not far away at the motorcycle museum, Dan Hencke of Catskill, New York, was displaying his collection of antique motorcycles and cars. Many of his bikes are stock and original, while some are modified true to their era, like a Knucklehead that looked like it may have been in the ’60s. I don’t think I saw anything newer than a Panhead, and he had several Pans, Knuckles and Flatties. He was also reminding people about the Antique Motorcycle Club of America’s 2013 Grand National Swap Meet and Show in Rhinebeck, New York.

Throughout the weekend there was always something going on in the festival field. The rodeo games attracted many spectators and contestants. Whether the bikes were creeping along in the slow race or pushing a keg as fast as possible, the crowd was cheering. They had tire tossing games, water games, swingarm tossing, and of course almost everyone’s favorite—the wienie bite, where the driver and the lady on back had their talents put to the test.

Bike games including the tire toss drew huge crowds all weekend
Bike games including the tire toss drew huge crowds all weekend

As the sun went down many people headed to the dining room to enjoy the cuisine at the international buffet. Downstairs is the nightclub and outside behind that is the beer garden, several bars with food, a covered area and the main stage. After a ride through the bar, the builders’ bikes are displayed in front of the stage. On Friday night the Outlaws came all the way from gator country to play. On Saturday night the Marshall Tucker Band put on a phenomenal show. Both nights, the band Shovelhead kept the crowd rocking with their hard-driving sounds. One more musical treat was Artimus Pyle, one of the original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, who played in the club both nights. He put on a great show and was happy to hang out and pose for pictures with the crowd. One of my favorite shots was Artimus with the girl from the body painting show. In addition to the musical entertainment, the Blackthorne also provides a platform to ride bikes on for aerial burnouts. It’s quite a sight when the smoke pours out from behind a bike, filling the air with the sweet smell of burning tire, and you have to look up to see it.

On Friday night several ladies competed in the Spaghetti Wrestling competition. I’m not sure which of the scantily clad girls brawling in oily pasta was the winner, but the spectators all enjoyed the show. Besides the official Wet T-shirt Contest, many impromptu displays popped up—or popped out—during the weekend. John from Long Island and his friends brought a coffin with an occupant to carry around; kinda like Weekend at Bernie’s. I’m not sure why, but they had fun. Well, there was alcohol involved.

Unlike many events, Sunday boasts a full day of activities with a bike show, more games, a tattoo contest, award presentations and a pig roast with chicken, burgers, salads and free beer. Of course the vendors, the exhibits, the shows and the frivolities continued all day, as well. The Blackthorne Resort puts on many other events during the year, so you may want to check out Blackthorneresort.com in case you plan to be in the area. Hopefully you’ll come to enjoy the Thunder next year.


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