The '04 River Run
April 21rd to 25th, 2004
The Big One
Averaging 4 hours sleep a night this week, and getting a lot of mileage on these "energy drinks". I ought to do a road test comparison. This morning's concoction - a can of "Whoop Ass", by the "Jones Soda Co." in Seattle. It reminds me of something I was force-fed when I was too young to resist.
My high-mileage motorcycle was outside on life support, plugged in and charging. The old heap isn't going to last much longer. This is its eighth and probably last River Run. The engine is strong, but everything else has reached its limit.
I decided to start the day riding down to the old railroad hotel in Needles - "El Garces". Back in the Old West days, the railroad was the de luxe mode, and a chain of high-class hotels was built at various major stations along the way. El Garces was the jewel of the Santa Fe line.
Nowadays it's a derelict hulk, and from the street side, it looks it. But around on the track side, where the high-class customers stepped down from the trains, you can see what once was a big and beautiful desert hotel, catering to people who were used to having the finest.
Thanks to preservation-minded citizens and heaps of grant money, the restoration process began last November. I just wanted to see my bike there in front of it while they're both still in raggedy-ass condition.
An Endurance Run
From there it's an easy ride up the two-lane Needles Highway to the Avi - or, it's supposed to be easy.
I was cruising north over the desert, below the speed limit. Another biker was heading my way in the southbound lane. Then I see in the mirror there's a bus bearing down between us doing at least 80 mph. I got all the way to my right, the other biker got all the way to his, and the goddam fool bus went between us like a low-flying 747. Drunk, tired, or just plain stupid.
I turned off at the Avi's south parkway entrance, already on reserve but only a few miles from their pumps. The local newspaper said the north parkway would be closed for the drag races, but the south would be open.
One mile down I got stopped by a roadblock. The local paper had it backwards. Now I had 5 miles worth of fuel and 10 miles to go.
So here's an impromptu endurance run. I motored up the hills, shut off the engine and coasted down. I laid down on the tank like a flattracker to keep the wind from wasting my scant energy supply. On the levels, I motored at around 15 mph in the breakdown lane. At one point, I had to stop and lay the bike on its left side to get what fuel was left over to the tap side.
You know what? I made it to the Avi. The 2.2 gallon tank took 2.29 gallons - a record. And I was back in business.
I rode over to the dragstrip to check the action. $5 to get in, another $2 to race. There were a lot of people in the stands, but only a few bikes staged for racing. I chatted with a guy for a while, and passed on it.
A Costume Party!
I should've gone up Needles Highway to Laughlin, but instead went via Bullhead to check my e-mail. Riding on from there, I found the Laughlin bridge traffic backed up miles on 95, to 5th Street in Old Bullhead. Nuts to that.
I turned around and took Silver Creek Road up to the parkway on the mesa. Just at the top, I passed a white four-door cop-style sedan - Caprice or Crown Vic - with four "bikers" in it. They looked like kids dressed up for a pirate party - cute.
Traffic on the parkway was backed uphill from the bridge, but not as bad - and it being a downhill roll, I could shut my engine down and not worry about cooking the oil. Before long I was across the river in Nevada.
On the agenda: blues at the Belle and a Victory demo.
Little Charlie & The Nightcats
I saw John Earl, who was here with the Boogeyman Band last year. He told me Little Charlie's setting up next. I got a couple of "pork chops on a stick" and a beer and sat up front.
Some kind of drawing going on with a cutie on stage awarding little prizes. One prize was a chance to be a judge at the Hawaiian Tropic beauty contest right there at 6.
I was just licking my fingers clean when the band took the stage. If you pulled into a roadhouse out on Route 66 back in the late '50s or early '60s, these are the guys you'd find playing inside. They got the look - bowling shirts, a baggy suit, slicked back hair, an f-hole electric guitar and a stand-up bass. And they got that hot roadhouse sound - rockin' blues with a gritty city edge.
Little Charlie Baty (guitar), & Rick Estrin (harp and vocals) have been together since the '80s. They sent a demo tape in to blues house Alligator Records and the 'gator snapped 'em up. Since then they've been touring the world, created 9 CDs, and they sure know how to put on a show.
Estrin'll growl and bite into a riff on his harp, playing a hard-driving bullet-mike style. Harp, guitar, and bass each take a turn at the lead and then they all come WHAM! back together on the beat.
I was stomping my feet and laughing like a delighted child. For my money the blues is better than yoga - it's the only thing I know that'll make a careworn adult happy as a kid again, and that's what the blues is all about.
When Little Charlie and the Nightcats finished their set, I went on my way happy, and relaxed, and smiling.
A Demo Ride on the 2004 Victory Kingpin
I strolled over to the Victory demo fleet on the southwest corner of the Colorado Belle lot and got signed up for a ride in no time. Looking at the bikes, I didn't see much different from last year. They told me the "Kingpin" was new for '04, so I took that.
I don't know what's new about the Kingpin but the name, and footboards instead of pegs. But I remember how pleased I was with last year's "Vegas" - don't mess with success.
Along with the footboards came a heel-and-toe shifter. You want to mess with my head? It took me the first 1/2-mile to get that figured out, but then I thought it was cool - you can upshift without mussing the shine on your fine boots - just press down with your heel.
As the engineering goes, the bike did seem identical to the '03 Vegas - fuel-injected 92 CID air/oil cooled engine, Brembo brakes, 600-plus pounds dry. And as before, handling, braking, and acceleration were superb.
But I said don't mess with success. Twice on easy right-hand turns I heard an awful grinding from the footboard dragging. Move them up, move them in, or throw them out - anything dragging is flat-out unacceptable - no excuses.
We had a fun little ride - within the speed limit, of course! But it was fun accelerating up to the limit...
Relaxed by the music and exhilarated by the ride I just floated on over to the bike show at the Golden Nugget.
Jewels at the Nugget
By 4:30 the sun was blazing hot and there was just a whiff of a breeze. I was bone dry. Vendors peddled pint bottles of water - $2! But down one alley between tents the Christian Motorcyclists Association was giving away cups of good cold water for free! "Mind if I make a pig of myself?" I filled my quart canteen from their big jug. God bless 'em.
The awards part of the Golden Nugget bike show was already in progress. Show bikes - antique, classic, and customized - were lined up on both sides of the drive in front of the casino. Riders called to receive their award pulled out into the drive and motored up onto the raised podium, where three hot young lovelies presented the plaques.
I saw motorcycles at the show that I liked better than the Build-Off bikes. I guess the producers had to limit themselves to the few they could feature on their program, while there were dozens at the show - and there's an unlimited creativity and variety of tastes. What a feast!
Next year I'm setting aside most of Saturday afternoon for this - 4 hours would barely be enough to appreciate what's on display.
Hank Young's "Flying Pan"
Back in the Discovery Channel tent, checking out the Build-Off bikes again, I saw another bike, on a high work stand, concealed under a white shroud. It was the "super-custom" - the bike all ten builders had been working on in Laughlin. They told me it would be unveiled this evening at 9.
The Evening Line-Up
Two motorcycles will be won this evening: a 2004 Road King at the Ramada Express will go to a lucky registered River Runner; and a 2003 Anniversary Edition Dyna Wide Glide (FXWTF?) will be drawn for at Harrah's.
There are "Bedroom Babes" at the Edgewater, and Bacardi's Leather & Lace Fashion Show is poolside at the Golden Nugget. The Hawaiian Tropic girls compete on the Colorado Belle blues stage. Downriver at the Avi there'll be Hot Oil Wrestling.
Ricky Van Shelton appears at the Riverside; Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Flamingo; Triple 7 at the River Palms.
Of course, at 9 the Discovery Channel's mystery super-custom will be unveiled. After that, the winner of the Great Biker Build-Off will be announced to the breathless crowd.
Ladies of the Evening
Rather than tangle with traffic on the strip, I took a stroll on the Riverwalk to check out the Bedroom Babes at the Edgewater. Why, I don't know - I could hang out anywhere in Laughlin and see dozens, nay, hundreds of beautiful sexy women in every direction.
At the Edgewater "Party Zone", I made like Stage Door Johnny and checked out the Babes. Cool. But I didn't stay long before going on the prowl again.
I walked by the HT girls' pageant and heard the MC ask in his best AM DJ warble, "If you had three wishes - wha-at would they beeee??" No, don't tell me, let me guess:"Uh, world peace; an end to world hunger;;;and a million dollars! Wheee!"
I'm sure no one would mind if I suggest a few questions for next year? Ones we may not know the answers to?
"Which would you rather be? Drunk, or wired?"
"Can you push a bike up a ramp?"
"Can you dance like nobody's watching?"
And it would be easy to combine the bikini part of the pageant with an exotic dancing contest...
The winner of the Laughlin Hawaiian Tropic pageant will go on to the Nevada contest, and very possibly the national and international Ms. Hawaiian Tropic titles.
The Leather & Lace Fashion Show over at the Golden Nugget sounded interesting, so I headed that way. I got lost looking for the pool and wound up out by the river. Several old tourist-type males were standing on a railing, craning their necks to see over a high wall..
I climbed up, too, and caught some kind of "naughty schoolgirl" act. A security guy keeping the old goats in line gave me proper directions into the pool area, so I went to give it a second chance. Find out they want a $10 "cover charge" - strike two, yer out.
$10, forsooth - the very air here is saturated with beauty, glamour, and sex appeal. I decided to spend the money on dinner and Red Bull - octane for the brain, and I was needing it.
I'd been keeping an eye out for my next fix, and as far as I could see, none of the vendors was selling any "energy drinks". So I rode up to the mini-mart across from Harrah's for a turkey sandwich and 4-pack of Red Bull. I dined in the parking lot, next to my bike, and dug a streaming "fashion show" of gorgeous chicks and motorcycles stopping at the pumps.
The "Texaco Show" was so good I almost missed the Great Unveiling. I rumbled back down the hill to the Pioneer - plenty of parking, no time wasted looking for a spot.
The stand holding the shrouded mystery bike was up on the awards podium at the Nugget. The alleys around it and between the tents were jam-packed under blazing floodlights, people crowding and yelling for the first look at the River Run Special.
Behind the podium was a high deck - the party zone for bigwigs and their chicks, who looked down at us milling around in the alleys.
The Unveiling was an Event - which called for Speeches - which were mercifully brief and to the point. Even so there was a minor uproar from some in the crowd who just wanted to see the bike and get back to partying.
Builders were on the podium along with a couple of guys from the Discovery Channel. There were remarks - more speeches - the crowd was hopping up and down to see the bike. Finally, slowly, like a striptease, the shroud was removed.
I don't know - it looks like somebody asked for "ass-kicking pipes" and got ass-cooking pipes by mistake. But it's pretty cool, for a bike designed by a committee. I understand the Discovery Channel documented the whole creative process - it'll be fascinating to see how this bike went from collective ideas to iron and steel reality. Look for it around Father's Day.
BTW, people are calling it the "X-Bike", from a nifty-looking X-brace between the two downtubes.
The Jumping-Bean Bike
The next event of the evening was the announcement of which bike got the most riders' votes in the Great Biker Build-Off. The award went to Matt Hotch, of Hot Match Motorcycles, for a pretty trick design:
This bike doesn't need stands - the suspension lowers it right down to the ground, where it sets on little coasters attached to the frame rails. I didn't get it when I first saw it setting on the ground - I thought they should put some more air in the tires. But it's a cool idea.
The Blues Wins Again
I decided to finish the '04 River Run listening to the last of the blues sets. Michael Burks' band was wrapping it up. So I motored out onto the strip for the short ride over to the Colorado Belle.
The traffic was hell, moving just a few feet at a time. I turned into the Belle's lot, and saw another police drama going down as I rode past the main drive - somebody down, either maced or having a very bad dream.
10 p.m. and I was whipped - semi-comatose. Another can of Red Bull was like a cattle prod to a whale. Locked my bike up and left the keys laying right there on the ground in front of it.
I found an empty chair with some toe-tapping room towards the back and slumped in. You know how it is when you start thinking about mainlining caffeine.
Burks was playing some far-out jazzy guitar solos to a medium beat - not what I needed. Turns out after four days of wild partying he was losing his voice. It looked like we were all goin' down slow.
Then my antenna started to zing. I saw sax man Jim Hall up on stage. Then Kelly Richey. Then John Earl. And then things started rockin' so I had to get up and get with the music. Adrenaline finest of all flowing free. They got things going big-time and rocked the joint til almost midnight. The blues wins again!
When they closed the set, I left. Found my keys in front of the bike, untouched. Dumb but lucky. And the bike still had enough juice to keep the taillight lit all the way home. The adrenaline lasted too.
So that was it. The River Run delivered the goods again - four beautiful days of bikes, blues, and babes. Next year -!!!
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