PIERCY, CALIF., JUNE 7-9–Long hailed as the last of the old-school runs, the annual migration of bikers to commune along the shores of the gently rippling Eel River is a tradition for dedicated riders who come from near and far to let it all hang out during the renowned Redwood Run. For 36 years the herds have gathered en masse for the weekend retreat to get their groove on as the melodic tunes of various bands rattle through the rocky crags of the canyon. Accented by the reverb of ramped-out Harleys and the acrid scent of burnt rubber, bikers know instinctively that these are the stomping grounds of the great North American bikers.
The party zone—known as The Pit—on the private Riverview Ranch property is situated down a steep slope of zigzagging pavement that empties out along a narrow and mostly shallow section of the river some 18 miles south of the majestic Avenue of the Giants, where ancient redwoods tower above their visitors as riders wend their way through the fern-carpeted forest in awe. The area’s typically temperate clime beckons to bikers looking for that cool, coastal respite, but for this year’s run temps topped out in the “holy crap” range and sent riders scurrying for the river during the hot afternoons. Bikers were dropping like flies as EMT crews busily tended to several cases of heat exhaustion, many exacerbated by victims’ overindulgence in the demon rum, or in this case, probably more like the evil Jack.
Bigger, badder, better is the all-American way, and they definitely describe the efforts put forth by Kiwanis of the Redwoods in their attempt to provide motorcycle-riding party animals with all the best amenities available as they host the rowdy romp in the redwoods, all the while attempting to return the hallowed run to its previous glory days.
Watch your step
In addition to the usual biker games and the roster of ongoing music, the “bigger” was accomplished by offering a few new activities such as the bull riding machine that kept ladies giggling and guys gawking, the men and women’s arm wrestling, which proved popular, and a vendors row that grew exponentially from last year and kept the shoppers among us happily perusing the popups. A new cliffside bar tent was set up above the stage area so those who were camped up top didn’t have to stagger up and down the hill to imbibe, but some folks still found fun in sliding down the steep hill just for the sport of it. Some just plain tumbled, including one guy who fell off a cliff and required a medivac trip to Redding, reminding us all to look before we leap.
The weekend took off on Friday with a morning set by the band Royalush before the Color Guard took the stage to offer a moment of silence, the national anthem and a 21-gun salute to honor our fallen soldiers. No sooner had the cases cleared the rifle chambers than a local pilot performed some impressive loop-de-loops through the treetops as tripped-out bikers ducked for cover. After that impressive kickoff, there was very little downtime for any of the stagehands over the next two days as 16 bands and a variety of bikeresque entertainment paraded across the stage at scheduled intervals.
“Badder” would, hands down, be the Saturday afternoon romp on the tarmac by the guys who stunted their way up the wrong way on the one-way-only section at the bottom of the hill. These maniacs entertain the masses by lighting up their tires, popping wheelies and getting sideways as appreciative fans cheer them on. Various club members walk the road and try to impress upon the onlookers the importance of staying off the blacktop. The fact that nobody gets hit during this exhibition is a definitive acknowledgement of the abilities of the riders because the clueless folks that choke the roadway certainly do not make it easy for these guys. Nifty awards were handed out by the MMA as reward for their daring deeds, and each proudly posed by their bikes for photos and well wishes at the end of the show.
“Better” was most noticeable in the road conditions down into The Pit, as well as behind the stage area where the course circles back up to vendor row. During the winter, part of the road collapsed and by April Kiwanis members dug in to begin preparations for the expected bikers. Discovering the destroyed access, the course would need to be completely rebuilt from the bottom up and a culvert installed. They also threw out some wood chips near the end of the blacktop, which helped tame what has always been a particularly nasty section of road. Traditionally, several riders are bucked off their bikes at the bottom of the hill, but this year only one guy was seen falling over. The fact that he did so twice in the same place is more an indication of impaired abilities than hazardous conditions, perhaps.
Perched on the hill above the sound stage on Friday night, our group of music-loving miscreants stared at the bright stars that twinkled above and marveled at the magic that seems to suffuse the Redwood Run, which has seen more than its fair share of facelifts over the course of its 36 years. Kiwanis has always been involved with the run at various levels, but the small group of locals who have taken the reins to steer the raucous rendezvous back to the basics of partying our brains out certainly has their work cut out for them. Despite the undertow of the run’s various promoter woes over the years, which have largely affected the size of the crowds that once dominated the area each June, riders still make the pilgrimage to participate in a sort of weekend-in-the-dust love-in. What once amounted to hordes of fun-loving bikers, with numbers that topped out at over 6,000, has now dwindled to what can only be considered a small herd, which still makes for a rewarding weekend experience. Locals even come out to party among the 3,000 or so bikers and, this year, they mostly kept their clothes on. Mostly. Humboldt’s own hula girl is famous for her uninhibited exhibitions, but even the overt hipster managed to keep most of her duds on. The gals who entered the wet T-shirt contest, however, were another story.
Falling down on the job
The ladies who collected onstage Saturday afternoon in the heat of the day appeared quite anxious to be doused from the tub of ice water mixed up stage side. Turned out that most did not get the concept of what “wet T-shirt” means, however, since several of the contestants just stripped right down to their nothingness immediately and never did get their clothes wet at all. Consequently, you won’t see much in the way of photos of the contest here since, well, to quote the late great Whitney Houston, “crack is whack.” Granted, she meant a completely different kind of crack than we do, but you do get the point.
Casey, the young and very inebriated guy who won the honor of administering the buckets of water to the overheated gals by outbidding other hopefuls in a pre-contest auction, kept slipping on the wet tarps they laid down to protect the stage, falling down hard and often. After each splat he’d jump straight up, take a bow and grab a beer. Besides pouring water on the assembled babes, one of the privileges of being onstage meant a constant flow of beer, so cold cans of Foster’s were delivered to the dedicated man with multiple bruises each time he tossed aside an empty. His stamina was awe-inspiring as we came across him later in the night, still drinking and still falling down.
In between bands, a moment of silence was offered in the memory of Ron “the Beadman” Webb, who passed away while attending last year’s RR, and Pete Smirl whose memorial was held down at the river where family and friends gathered to scatter his ashes.
A plaque was awarded to Roberto Newman for his many years of involvement in the Redwood Run, the Kiwanis Toys for Tots, Redwood Kiwanis and for his hours of selfless community service.
We caught up with Danielle Whitmore Young, the president of the local Kiwanis who had just recently been voted in for another term, and she offered her state of the Redwood Run report:
“Attendance was up a tiny bit from last year and no problems with any neighbors as we did everything they’ve asked for. Jah Med was our medical team; they were extraordinary and we’ll definitely ask them back next year. We are trying to see how we can lower the price for next year. We basically made enough to pay our bills this year, and maybe a scholarship or two. I am doing a cost analysis on where the big bucks are spent. Entry was $120 for the weekend with camping and we had a total of 16 bands, so if you really look at the cost, it breaks down to $7.50 per band, not including the wet T-shirt contest or the games or any of the other activities going on. Sounds like a good deal that way, doesn’t it? The Stick Martin Show played until 3:00 a.m. on Friday night and the crowd that was there liked them so much and didn’t want them to stop, but the sound guy wanted to go to bed so they did an acoustic set ’til 5:00 a.m. And the Fryeds played until almost 2:30 a.m. on Saturday. Everyone loved Brian Howe from Bad Company, and Jackyl rocked the house. Tommy Castro, Rogue, Charlie Brechtel, Amanda Gray and Whiskey Savage, Laurie Morvan, St. John and the Sinners, Cash’d Out, Beatnik, House of Floyd, The Butlers, Lowfill, everyone was just great.
Our generator blew on Friday night, but fortunately we always have a backup.
“We were able to help out several nonprofits this year. The total of donations Kiwanis of the Redwoods gave out was $14,700. We also received donations and help from the Modified Motorcycle Association who did a great job on security, B.I.C. Radio [Charlie Brechtel], and Amerigas in Redway, as well as a long list of local folks.
“The arm wrestling and bull riding really went over well this year; we will have it again and also try a few new games to keep people busy, interacting and having fun. Jim Douglas presented an idea to us: He thought about a bluesy band playing up in vendor row and a beach band, then starting the stage later in the day to save some money. We’ll be trying to work out having an acoustic stage down by the river playing surf music and maybe a bar down there. Got some really great ideas from patrons and Facebook friends, too. If your readers would like to friend us and offer suggestions, that would be great! You can hit us up at www.facebook.com/TheRedwoodRun and we’ll have hoodies and tank tops available at our website at www.kiwanisrwr.com.”