The Fats’ Run
Motorcycle campouts … they’re just the best thing, right? I’ve been accused of having a firm grip on the obvious, but hey, this is an easy one for me!
Events like White Lightning, the Kernville Kampout, Babes Ride Out, Hazzard County … from mini-bike races to custom bike shows and singing karaoke to raffles, there’s always so much to do and see at these events. No two are the same, either. Some have corporate sponsors; others are more grass roots. At Babes Ride Out, for instance, women can take a welding class with legendary Jessi Combs, participate in motorcycle games sponsored by Triumph, eat meals from a delicious array of on-site food trucks, get a tattoo, take an astronomy class and dance to incredible live bands, all in one day.
But while I have a ton of fun at BRO and it’s easily one of my favorite events of the year, it is not my absolute favorite.
My absolute fave is the annual Fats’ Run, a motorcycle campout at McNally’s Fairview Lodge in Kernville, California, a property right on the Kern River in the amazingly picturesque Sequoia National Forest. This June marked the 25th Annual Fats’ Run, and I have been in attendance a good majority of those years. Most campouts require attendees to be over 21, but since the entire basis of the Fats’ Run is family, all are invited.
If you read my first column in the June issue (you did, right?) you may recognize the name Richard “Fats” Noriega, a true legend in the chopper community for his springer front ends. Fats owned a shop in Redondo Beach, California, known as “Fats’ Sportster Haven” and worked on everything from dirt bikes to choppers – and owned dozens of bikes himself. Dating back to the ’60s, his friends would often trek up to the Kern River to camp (OK, to party) as bikers in the ’60s did. I’ll let you use your imagination on that one.
McNally’s Fairview Lodge opened its doors in the early 1940s and still has its original country charm. The owners still purchase their meat and produce from local farmers, making for an incredibly juicy steak—the restaurant is famous for its 40-oz. porterhouse. I’m a diehard McNally’s burger fan, though, and I’m telling you, go eat one for yourself and tell me it’s not the best burger you’ve ever had. The property also has a convenience store, bar, motel and trailers available for rent. Many of us camp at the state campground right next door: Fairview Campground. It truly an ideal place to throw a motorcycle campout.
Fats passed away in June 1994 at the young age of 53, and to honor him, friends and family started the motorcycle campout. Somewhere along the line my parents began to help plan the event, which, by association, meant I was helping, too. We don’t have sponsors or vendors that contribute to the campout; it’s on us to plan for a good time.
I planned the karaoke night, and we did it up right. My sister bought a vintage projector screen at an estate sale, I brought a projector and my laptop, and my stunt team lent me its microphones and speakers. I set up in the horseshoe pit behind the restaurant and kicked off the night by singing “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC to get everyone pumped up and ready to sing. With a little liquid courage in the form of Duck Farts – a mixed drink comprised of Kahlua, Bailey’s and Crown Royal – we sang and danced for hours. The restaurant staff even joined us after closing! It was a great way to kick off the weekend.
On Saturday, everyone lines up their bikes in front of the motel, many featuring Fats front ends. Our friend Fred Saunders, whose black belt skills were put to use as head of security for Motley Crue, brings out a giant inflatable motorcycle adorned with the Motley Crue logo on the tank, as it was used during one of the band’s tours. Each year, volunteers haul it onto the motel’s roof and inflate it, and it’s become quite the mascot for our event. This year, our friend Connie Butterfield made T-shirts that featured a beautiful drawing of Fats sitting on his bike in front of McNally’s. Over the years, I have acquired enough Fats’ Run T-shirts to fill an entire drawer, and if you see me around there’s a good chance that’s what I’ll be wearing.
Each year we have a raffle, with all the items contributed by attendees, not sponsors, which makes it sorta special for us. This year we had everything from framed artwork of South Bay Original “Nasty Nez” by Austin Rocket, a leather jacket, CBD creams, pocket knives, jewelry, camping supplies, motorcycle parts and a lot more. With a little more liquid courage, I announced the raffle and had a little girl pull tickets while I read off the numbers and announced the prizes. I ended up winning a power drill and a vintage Harley-Davidson belt buckle! The money made from ticket sales become a cash prize—this year $800.
On Saturday evening most attendees eat at the restaurant before drifting outside to enjoy the band – this year a local South Bay group called Frankly Speaking. They sang all the classics and invited Fred Saunders to play harmonica and drums throughout the night. To help pay for the band my mom made a beautiful stained-glass art-piece of David Mann’s famous ‘Ghost Rider’ to raffle off. I really wanted to win that thing and bought a lot of tickets! I’m still feeling pretty sour about not getting it, though it did go to a good home. Hey, Mom, Christmas present? Pretty please?
All the activities were memorable, but as always, it’s the people and the stories that make the Fats’ Run so great. I love sitting with Fat Lou and looking at all of his tattoos, most older than I am. I like to eat a burger with Grandpa Skitzo as he tells stories, like the time his motorcycle was buried underground. I like talking with Linda, Dick Allen’s ex-girlfriend, listening to her reminisce about the time they threw a party in an empty Hollywood mansion. I like to hear stories from Fats’ nephew Ray Noriega about his uncle’s friendly rivalry with Sugar Bear, trying to see who could build the most outrageous rockers on their springer front ends.
And really, that’s is the difference between the Fats’ Run and other motorcycle campouts: the history. You don’t need big-name sponsors and professional event coordinators to throw a solid motorcycle campout. All you need are good friends.