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15th annual Chester’s Torch Ride

By "Rambler" Steve Austin

MESA, ARIZ., APR. 5—Mesa, Ariz., Apr. 5—Approximately 1,200 bikers showed up to help support the Arizona Special Olympics at Chester’s 15th annual Torch Ride. The $25-a-head donation (or $45 for two heads) got you a pancake breakfast, run pin, entry into the Sammy Hagar Concert at Phoenix Bike Fest that night (a $25 value all by itself) and a chance to participate in Arizona’s largest police-escorted ride.

Guests of the Wildhorse Pass Casino and Hotel lined up to take photos of the 1200 Torch Riders arriving at the Phoenix Bike Fest

Guests of the Wildhorse Pass Casino and Hotel lined up to take photos of the 1200 Torch Riders arriving at the Phoenix Bike Fest

Katie Warren, Jenny Trip, Lana Berisha and Danielle Updyke flipped a lot of pancakes for the Torch Ride breakfast

Katie Warren, Jenny Trip, Lana Berisha and Danielle Updyke flipped a lot of pancakes for the Torch Ride breakfast

I arrived a little after 8:00 a.m., which gave me a chance to eat and also talk to people at the event. The pancake and sausage breakfast was served by four lovely young ladies—Katie Warren, Jenny Trip, Lana Berisha and Danielle Updyke—all volunteers. Unfortunately, at my age when you say you appreciate the beauty of girls under the age of 20, you begin to feel a little perverted. They were pretty, though, just the same.

By 8:30 the first wave of bikes had already been set up on West Emerald Avenue just south of Chester’s, where motorcycle officers from the Arizona Highway Patrol had lined their bikes up in front. Cones and electronic road signs had been set up to warn drivers of the impending two-wheeled onslaught about to begin.

After breakfast many of the riders went into the store to shop for souvenirs while others just milled around the parking lot checking out the great-looking bikes parked there. Some just left early and went on their own rides, secure in the knowledge that the “Red Rocker” was now a part of their evening plans.

Chester’s H-D has a great reputation in the business community, and took home Mesa’s 2014 Medium Size Business of the Year Award. Amy Barrett, marketing and special events coordinator of Chester’s Mesa store, was up front about the events that led to the creation of Phoenix Bike Fest. She said, “We weren’t allowed to participate in Cyclefest or Arizona Bike Week this year.” It wasn’t just Chester’s either. Superstition H-D, Arrowhead H-D, Buddy Stubbs H-D and Chandler H-D all were denied participation in Cyclefest this year since they were competing dealers of Scottsdale H-D. So with the help of the “outcast” dealers and others, the three-day Phoenix Bike Fest was born. She said, “The people at Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino were wonderful and easy to work with.” They had a large area around the casino that could be used for the event, and Phoenix Bike Fest was able to secure some top talent for the concerts.

Tony Bendell from nearby Gilbert won $530 in the 50/50 drawing and donated $100 back to Special Olympics

Tony Bendell from nearby Gilbert won $530 in the 50/50 drawing and donated $100 back to Special Olympics

This year the ride had to change its destination, so instead of going north on Beeline Highway through Fountain Hills and into Scottsdale, it ran south on the Beeline toward Chandler. Since multiple jurisdictions were involved, the Arizona Department of Public Safety along with the Mesa, Chandler and Gila River Police Departments all coordinated their efforts for a safe and successful ride.

This year’s Law Enforcement Torch Run Coordinator for the Special Olympics was Josh Montgomery. Josh said that, globally, the 2013 Law Enforcement Torch Run activities raised $1.2 million for Special Olympics. Chester’s version of the Torch Run is this Torch Ride, and it raised more than $32,000 via last year’s event alone. In addition, Walmart donated all the food, fees and permits were paid for through donations, and everyone working on the ride donated their time. Josh said, “One hundred percent of the money raised through the riders’ fees go directly to Special Olympics.”

Soon 10:00 a.m. came and the wave of approximately 1,200 bikes took off in groups every 15 minutes and headed south on South Country Club Drive (Beeline Highway). The police agencies did a great job of getting the bikes through without snarling up cross traffic too badly. The waves were planned so that two groups of 600 would stagger their arrival times at Phoenix Bike Fest. We headed down the Beeline, which became Highway 587 through Chandler, and into the Gila River Indian Community down to Interstate 10. Crossing over I-10, we turned west on Casa Blanca Road. Since this was river land it was pretty flat with a few houses along the way, but once on Casa Blanca the dry land gave way to huge, green fields of various crops thanks to the excellent water management by the Gila River Indian Community.

Chy Johnson (r) was crowned this year's Torch Ride Queen

Chy Johnson (r) was crowned this year’s Torch Ride Queen

As we rode along Casa Blanca the beautiful purple-tinged Sierra Estrella Mountains loomed almost 4,000 feet over the Sonoran Desert. The Pima and the Maricopa Tribes call this range Komatke. The Komatke is known for a large amount of UFO sightings, so much so that the locals call them the “Estrella lights” or, more recently (1997), the Phoenix lights, which is probably the largest UFO sighting in history. Although numerous reports are received every year in this area, we didn’t see any on our ride, nor did we see any skinny gray guys hitchhiking as we turned off Casa Blanca and rode north on Highway 547 to the casino.

After 45 miles in the desert sun, even with careful planning the two groups of 600 arrived as one big group of 1,200 at the Phoenix Bike Fest. The road into the grounds instantly turned into a parking lot as riders dropped their kickstands to the pavement and walked around talking to each other and making new friends. Once the bikes were parked, riders took in the sights and activities of the Phoenix Bike Fest.

Our ride through UFO country caused me to wonder if UFO’s are coming to Earth for their own charity runs, and if they are as successful as Chester’s Torch Ride. Who knows; maybe Chester’s family will open a sixth Harley dealership on Mars. All they need are some more volunteers.

 

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