TYGH VALLEY, ORE., JULY 19-21–Years go by, events come and go, but there are few rallies that have gained the national notoriety that Run 21 has for maintaining the old-school biker vibe. That perfect combination of free spirits, pipes for days, no crap and no attitudes makes for good, down-home partying. For many rallies it’s a lot of the “same place, same schedule” routine year after year. Most hit their stride after a decade or more, but this event is still trying to find the sweet spot to call home.
Remember last year’s porta-potty incident? Well, those shenanigans caused the property owner to pull the plug on the idyllic Birkenfeld party spot. Rumors swirled all winter long: Would Run 21 continue? Was the party over? Spring came, and still no word. Event coordinator Vickie had stated that no one had come forward to pony up the perfect party spot. Then boom—faster than premium gas prices go up on a holiday weekend—the news was out and the 14th annual Run 21 was on. Private land in Tygh Valley was offered up, and soon the speculation began to swirl. You knew eastern Oregon in July was going to be hot, but was the party going to be on fire?
Run 21 is sponsored by the SE Portland chapter of ABATE. This group works tirelessly throughout the year raising money for just one charity—the Shriners Children’s Hospital. For 33 years this motley crew has dedicated their efforts to raise the funds to build custom wheelchairs and voice-recognition software for kids in need. No bargain, this state-of-the-art equipment can cost more than the Dyna Switchback I dream about, but their good deeds change lives. Hardcore dedication and work needs an equally hardcore chance to blow off steam, let it all hang out—hell, just have some fun. So Run 21 was created, enabling chapter members and other bikers to party with the community that has been so generous in doling out greenbacks all year long. Even in tough times, the community has stepped up to the plate to support Shriners and, to say thank you, this group has created the throwdown party of the summer.
This run is old school and riders come from near and far to let it all hang out—literally. As soon as the run was announced anticipation grew, and the lineup of bands this year was awesome. My camping partner arrived and we did the pre-ride check of tires, oil and making sure my “vitamin V” was safely tucked in my saddlebag. This is a B.Y.O.B. party and no one wants to get caught unprepared, although one flyer I came across announced the advice for this year’s run is to “drink water not just beer.” WTF? This is an adults-only gig and you are nagging me like a mom? We fired up the beasts and headed east in search of some good old-fashioned bikers and naked-lady fun.
Heading east in the Gorge to The Dalles, the first stretch of the ride is a modern highway making it a quick run from Portland. Stopping to
gas up and grab some grub, my heart warmed upon entering the local Denny’s full of dudes clad in chaps. The anticipation was building, guys were plotting for the perfect campsite and we still had an hour to go. Leaving The Dalles, heading south on U.S. 197, the remaining ride was easy on the well-maintained and frequently two-lane highway. Open range and wheat fields blazed in the sun under the watchful eye of central Oregon’s mountains: Mt. Hood, Mt. Bachelor and Three Sisters all were present guiding us to the tiny town of Tygh Valley. I was already impressed with the new venue and I hadn’t even arrived. This stretch of tar was missing that summer fun of clogged roads to the coast filled with strings of Winnebagos going 10 mph up the grade. Instead, it was open road and you just felt free riding in the sunshine. Passing through town (almost too late), I spied a tiny cardboard box on the ground with a sad little arrow drawn by Sharpie pointing the way to the party. No worries; staying on track we pulled off the highway, onto the proverbial gravel road and soon we found the gates crossing into nirvana.
The gates had barely opened and jockeying for the best spot had already begun. Part of the pre-event buzz was talk that this was going to be a hot, sweaty shithole of a campsite. While chatting up folks at an earlier event I even heard that not a tree would be in sight. This spot was going to be perfect for mastering those solar cookers we were all forced to make in 8th grade science class. After securing my pass, I rode past downtown and headed towards tent town. Myth one had already been debunked—this swath of 300 acres of private farmland was peppered with small groves of oak trees and it was beautiful. Securing our spot along the “highway,” we settled in, grabbed a cold one and quickly sought out old and new friends for the weekend. With a steady stream of bikes rolling by, the venue quickly filled and folks were getting antsy to kick the party into high gear. The tents were up, bikes were parked and the beer was chilling. Bad boys with custom choppers paraded their year’s work of custom chrome, and the lemonade girls, with their little red wagon of fun, were keeping folks cool.
Soon it was time to party, and nothing sets the tone for this adults-only venue like a flatbed of ladies clad in teeny, tiny panties and thigh-high leather boots escorting the confident fellows to the beer belly contest. Emcee Judy soon had five volunteers proudly strutting their bodacious bellies across the stage. Gyrating to classic rock, paunches swaying in time to guitar riffs, the crowd went wild. The winner is decided by audience participation and the bragging rights stakes were high. Down to the final two, Donnie worked the crowd to garner support, but kilt-clad Lou wasn’t going down without a fight and in a flash this PG-rated event turned XXX. Lou flashed his junk as the crowd went nuts, but alas, it was not enough to beat out Donnie and his impressive beer belly. Perhaps it was Judy massaging Donnie’s belly that brought approval from the crowd. Who knows, but Donnie came out on top. Lou and his kilt came in second and the party was officially started.
Keeping the energy at full tilt, the sexy pack of Run 21 ladies strutted their stuff across the stage and entertained the crowd with an impressive level of dancing and, uh, flexibility. Always a crowd favorite, campers surround the stage to get an up-close-and-personal look at the action. Energized by the upbeat crowd, these lovely ladies were more than happy to dance the afternoon away. Although there was no hula-hoop gal at the venue, we didn’t need her as obliging partiers were more than happy to let loose their inner love child and toss their tops into the sky.
The hallmark of Run 21 is rocking music, and the lineup for year 14 proved this run is in no way losing steam. Friday night kicked off with the best biker band around, the Fryed Brothers. Hitting the stage running, the band was in high spirits and the music was smokin’ hot. Calling to the crowd, Harry’s signature fiddling brought them to their feet. With the audience primed, Foghat hit the stage. Charlie Huhn’s vocals and rockin’ guitar licks were solidly supported by his tight-knit band, proving that even after 42 years they are not slowing down anytime soon. New this year was a dazzling laser light show that kept the party going into the wee hours of the night.
Day two started out in the wee hours for some. Nothing helps a partygoer work that pounding headache like a fireworks display starting at 4:00 a.m. Run 21 wouldn’t be true to its reputation without a little mayhem. With the first boom, my fuzzy brain took a moment to realize that it wasn’t a gunshot. After a few bursts of Fourth of July revelry, the culprits were thwarted and the camp fell into a serene state of quiet.
When the sun was up the camp came to life and downtown was hopping. The food vendors this year were tight and a wide variety of nosh was offered. J & T Concessions had a long line of slow-moving folks patiently waiting for their homemade stick-to-your-ribs, soak-up-the-booze biscuits and gravy platter. Want something a little lighter? No problem. Across the way, there were homemade muffins and tasty smoothies were whirling in the blender for happy customers.
Fortified with carbs and caffeine, the biker games were soon underway. With the change of venue, short notice and the wary public, the crowds were noticeably smaller than in years past. Normal capacity is around 2,300 folks, but this year the gate estimate was around 900. Despite the smaller numbers, the crowd was no less enthusiastic and the games drew good attendance. Starting with the slow ride and moving right into faves like “kick the keg” and the crowd-pleasing wienie bite, winners Jeff and Lori showed us how to go slow and grab your meat to take home the top prize. This year the burnout contest had two worthy competitors as Forty Five stepped up first on his purple-flamed Road King. Despite a valiant effort and an impressive acrid smoke cloud, he was not able to blow that rear tire. Next up was Gator on his ratty gold ride. Upon arrival you knew this dude was ready for competition. With his own fire extinguisher strapped to the back rack, he meant business. Board down, water bottles ready; he fired up his bike, put his head down and was all about putting on a show. At one point his engine had flames shooting from the sides but he waved off the emcee—and then it happened: Boom! The tire blew and when the smoke and the flames cleared, Gator had not only blown the tire but the board was also sporting a large, charred hole. He was the clear victor and the crowd went wild.
Taking a break from the games and the heat, campers soon found their way to the hidden gem on the property—the White River. Perfect for swimming, this small, crystal-clear river was just what the doctor ordered. The mercury was over 100, but no one noticed; the party just moved to the banks of the cool waters and the afternoon passed quickly in this oasis. Keeping the lighthearted spirit of Run 21 alive, swimmers heading back to camp were offered free mammograms by Dr. Shag. With his self-made shoulder-mounted device, many a gal were happy to oblige, heeding his warnings not to forget the importance of “keeping themselves healthy.” Soon the sun was headed west and campers drifted back to their campsites to ready for the headlining bands and a final night of dancing.
Two cover warm-up bands, No Quarter and Appetite for Deception, offered more-than-respectable homage to Led Zeppelin and Guns N’ Roses while at the same time whipping the crowd into a thick throng of head-bobbing dancing machines. With darkness upon the site, Eddie Money took the stage and rocked the crowd for the next two hours. Engaging and fun, Eddie was the cherry on top for the weekend’s lineup. He provided a great mix of his popular old tunes and some rocking new music to keep the crowd on their toes. When his set was over, the crowd cheered and soon the band was back for more—no one wanted the party to end.
Sunday came and it was time to pack up and head home. There were a few hiccups with the new spot, but overall, riders stated they were having a great time. Along the highway of tent town more than a couple bikes miscalculated the bumpy gravel road to the top half of the campsite. Not to worry; bikers always happy to help, the fallen had scoots upright in seconds and on their way again to the next party destination. Yeah, it was hot, but event coordinators with their hourly P.A. reminder to “Don’t just drink beer…” kept everyone in line to at least take a swig of water every now and then with their brew. Food was tasty and found for a fair price. I haven’t been to a lot of venues that offer freshly caught tuna or a handmade elk burger, but Run 21 is not your everyday gig. It’s different here. Amenities are aplenty, the campsite is large and you can have your own quiet spot or create a little camptown of your own nestled in the trees. Vendors were happy despite lower numbers, as people were spending money keeping independent artists like Joe Kennedy and established shops like Love’s Leathers busy with a steady stream of customers. The vibe was good, the music rocked and, if all goes well, this could be the dream spot for lucky partygoers. The Run 21 crew and I will see you next year at number 15.