I missed the first 22 annual Redwood Runs. Actually, I didn't even know the first 21 of them even took place. When I learned of last year's run, I didn't yet own my Harley. This year however, I rode to Piercey with a couple of friends on June 8th so that we would be waiting at the gate for the opening of the 23rd Redwood Run, and the first of the new millennium, sponsored by the Kiwanis of the Redwoods. Several bikers had told me that this was their favorite run, for both setting and the atmosphere, which gave me high expectations. And I was not disappointed. But just getting to the event was an adventure in itself.
When I decided to make some major changes to my bike back in December, I had in mind that I would be able to complete the overhaul in plenty of time to be able to put some miles on it and work out the bugs before embarking on the planned 800 mile round trip to California's north coast redwood forest. But customizing a Harley takes time, and it takes money . . . . . . lots of money! In fact it took so much of my available cash that I wasn't able to afford a ticket into the event and by the end of May it looked like I was going to have to find a campground in the area and be content with riding the local highways and looking at the bikes in surrounding towns. But my friend Mike told me that his only Redwood Run was as close "to a religious experience" as he had ever felt on a motorcycle and he insisted that I had to go into the event to capture the whole flavor of the gathering of Harley-Davidsons and their owners. He lent me the money and bought me the ticket online so by June 4, just 5 days before the run, I was actually registered to get into the gate. But things weren't going so well with the motorcycle.
I took a few vacation days and went into marathon repair mode. This, I have come to learn, is kind of a tradition also. As I raced against the clock to put my bike back together, I talked to several people who relayed stories of the year they worked day and night for days to get their rides ready for this run, sometimes unsuccessfully. On June 6th, I painted the new sheet metal and baked it under infrared lamps to cure the paint so that I could assemble it the next day. I guessed there would be no shakedown time prior to departure.
I met Rich and Diane in Roseville and we set out on the first leg of the journey. But things went pretty well with the bike . . . . up until we actually started to leave Roseville, which is when I discovered that I had accidentally installed 2 right side fuel caps instead of the required 1 right side and 1 left side. The right side cap does not fit the left tank very well and within a few miles of our departure point I found that I had to hold the cap on the left tank with my hand to keep from losing it. Then we hit rain. After about half an hour we out-rode the rain and stopped at Guidera's Harley-Davidson in Yuba City so that I could buy the correct fuel cap and we set off again. All in all, things went pretty well for most of the trip. Well, except for the fact that the clutch wouldn't release after about 20 minutes of riding and the carburetor's finicky idle circuit, the combination of which caused me to almost completely drop the bike in front of an audience of 200-300 waiting at the gate on the opening day of the event.
Highway 20 past Clear Lake is a good road and a nice ride and there were only a few times that I actually noticed the discomfort of the intermittent rain and cool temperatures. US 101 is a beautiful and well engineered highway with nicely banked, sweeping curves with no surprises and Rich and I "flew" our scooters and reveled in the g-forces. As we approached Laytonville, we began seeing more and more bikes. The sounds of Harleys were in the air and the gathering was beginning.
Entering Garberville we noticed that the sign at the edge of town had been changed to say "Harleyville" and in town, Harleys ruled the streets. Being the largest town in the vicinity of the event, Garberville reaps much of the profits to be made from such a large gathering. The weekend of the Redwood Run is typically the best business days of the year and the townsfolk are generally cheerful and tolerant of the noise and commotion that engulfs their community. On the evening before the opening day of the event, there were hundreds of motorcycles playing and parked on nearly every inch of the main street. The sounds of Harleys made for a continuous rumble that you could feel as well as hear. After a tour of the local pubs, both of them, Rich, Diane and I returned to our motel room for some much needed rest.
John and his wife, Sharon were supposed to have ridden with us but John, in true Redwood Run tradition, had decided his bike needed forward controls for the run and began to install them the day before our departure. Naturally, things did not go as smoothly as planned, customizing a Harley never does, and John worked until well into Thursday night before fatigue and exasperation forced him to stop. But he bounced back Friday morning, driven by the will to attend the Redwood Run, and managed to be on the road by noon. Meanwhile, Rich, Diane and I got to the gate and took a tour of the bikes as they waited to be admitted to the area. The number of tickets to the event are limited to 5,000 and there were only about 200 in front of us so we had an excellent choice of campsites. We quickly set up our tents and strung some yellow hazard tape to save a space for John and Sharon, then took a preliminary look around. The Harleys were streaming in like a swarm of massive bees, buzzing with the V-twin beat. The vendor booths were setup and selling everything a biker could want, from tattoos to helmet stickers. The Hells Angels had established an area of their own and were busy directing traffic and setting up their vendor booth and a special area from which to sell balloons full of nitrous oxide.
We decided to take a little ride and set out for Shelter Cove, a 2 hour putt. It was a cool day by the ocean and Harleys run best on cool days. After lunch at the cafe/store in Shelter Cove, we set an easy pace and listened to Rich's '93 Road King and my '77 shovelhead drum out a duet as we climbed the hills back inland. When we got back to camp, we speculated about the chances of John and Sharon finding us amid the crowd of what was now a couple of thousand bikers. A few minutes later, John putted around the bend and into our camp just as if he had a map to it. We related tales of our trip and passed around a bottle of Peppermint Schnapps until we heard a band start to play. Then we headed down to the stage area to grab something to eat and take a place on the hill to listen to the Delta Wires accompanied by the rolling thunder of the arriving Harleys.
There were no police inside the grounds during the event because, as Brian Howe of Bad Company observed as he accepted a joint from a member of the audience, it wouldn't be good place for them to be. And besides that, I didn't see any reason why they would be needed. This was a happy and colorful group of adults, acting like adults and I saw no sign of trouble at any time during the next 2 days, just Harley-Davidson enthusiasts enjoying the company of others who share their love of the Milwaukee Marvel and having fun. Scattered throughout the crowd were grinning bikers carrying big, nitrous oxide filled balloons. The smell of marijuana was in the air and, of course, the sound of Harleys rolled continuously.
38 Special did a rousing set and I began to notice the almost perfect acoustics of the setting. Behind the stage a few hundred yards was a shear rock wall that extended through about a 90-degree arc from my perspective, halfway up the hill in the natural amphitheatre in front of the stage. The sound system was phenomenal and the music came through with perfect clarity, accompanied always by the sounds of Harley engines. You could feel the V-twins thump like a bass drum even when you couldn't actually hear them over the music. I headed off to bed as the Fryed Brothers Band began the last music set of the evening. There was new a surge of bike sounds about 2:00 AM as many people left the grounds to return to their motels or off-site campgrounds. By 3:00 AM it was quiet.
I awoke Saturday morning to the sounds of Harleys and got some coffee as I waited for my friends to join me. Then the 5 of us rode out to find some breakfast and pick up some supplies from town. We returned to camp by early afternoon to enjoy the events of the day. We checked out the bikes entered in the bike show, then watched as Rich competed in the slow race. Diane joined him and made an excellent first attempt at the weenie-bite. We opted to miss the wet t-shirt and wet shorts contests in favor of a ride to the Avenue of the Giants.
The run was in full swing now and Harleys were swarming the highways, roads and streets in town. Groups of various sizes snaked through the cool air of the redwood forest with the bikers exchanging the low wave in greeting as they passed. It was a beautiful summer day in the beautiful area of California's north coast and an ideal setting to enjoy what I feel is the very best of our sport. The Highway Patrol maintained a presence, mainly on Highway 101, but they were generally unobtrusive and I saw only one motorcyclist pulled over during the entire weekend. Saturday night's activities included a steak dinner and more bands including one of my personal favorites, John Mayall.
Sunday morning marked the conclusion of the 23rd Redwood Run. We struck camp and repacked our bikes for the ride home. I rode up to the gate and stretched out on my bike to watch the exodus of motorcycles and await the rest of our group. Warm temperatures and clear skies made for a comfortable trip back to Sacramento. Rich's Road King ran flawlessly, John's shovelhead smoked the wiring harness and, oddly enough, ran out of gas at the same instant. My own bike decided it needed a valve adjustment, and then died just as I reached my exit ramp, a mile from home, and required some percussive maintenance to the carburetor to complete the journey.
I understand now what makes the Redwood Run such a popular favorite and I look forward to building a tradition of attendance.
Copyright Tom Macom