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One for the Road: King of the hill

By Shadow

Six and a half years ago I learned of a weekend bike party called Strange Days, to be held about 30 miles from where I live. It sounded like a cool event, but I was out of town so I couldn’t attend. Apparently, it was a great success because the party was held again the next year. This time I rode to the Rickey Farm in the morning and stayed until sunset, wishing I’d brought my tent, toothbrush and a change of clothes because I was having such a good time.

Due to scheduling conflicts, I didn’t make it back until 2016. This time, I camped there for the entire three days, and I couldn’t remember when I’d had a better time. Strange Days remind me of the parties we had when we were younger: no rules, no egos, no bullshit—a rather large biking family, just letting loose and having fun.

That same year, in early October, Kenny and Matt held their first-ever race event, the Appalachian Moto Jam dirt track races with vendors, music, camping… somewhat along the same lines, with the same vibe, as Strange Days, but at a race track in Cuddebackville, New York. I couldn’t make that one, either, but all indications were that racers and spectators alike had a blast. In the wintertime, Kenny and Matt decided to offer a different type of racing, moving further upstate to a ski and motocross park in Monticello for a snow hillclimb. Another was held just a few months later. That summer, the guys decided to move Strange Days to Cuddebackville and combine it with flat track racing, followed a few months later by another Moto Jam dirt track race. That’s a lot of racing fun. Or, rather, everyone said it was… I never could make it to any of the races.

That is, until the “Hellclimb” this year, held the weekend before Halloween. This time, nothing would stop me from going! So, on Saturday morning, I made the 70-mile hour-and-a-half trek to Holiday Ski Mountain in Monticello. A bike show was promised, and sure enough, both inside and outside the ski lodge was a nice selection of vintage bikes. A few vendors had their wares set up, food and drink were available, and best of all, a full day of racing would take place under sunny skies.

I got there in time for the riders’ meeting where I realized that the organizers of this event, although not under the auspices of any sanctioning body, were well organized and quite safety-conscious, giving riders the choice of timed or elimination scoring (riders unanimously voted for “timed”). An announcement was made about number plates: no plate, no race. So by the time the races got underway, we saw more than a few paper plates swiped from the lodge, numbers hand-printed with a Sharpie.

The setup was pretty cool; first was the “Elimination Hill” bracket racing which was 500 feet up a gradual incline. Then was “King of the Hill” which, further up the slope, split left into a “handicap” lane and right towards the “knob;” which included a seriously rocky cliff and a nearly vertical ledge—1,200 feet to clear the peak of the vertical 450-foot climb! And competitors could pick their own line, whether it be grass or dirt, as long as it didn’t interfere with the return lane. It was the same with spectators and photographers; we could go anywhere as long as we didn’t cross a hot track or get in the way of the riders.

Every one of the 60 or so racers got several practice runs in before the competition started in earnest. The classes proceeded in rapid succession, with some rearranging to accommodate the types of bikes that showed up. And there was a wide array of, well, everything you could imagine, from dirt bikes to vintage tank shifters, and Dynas and Sportsters set up for racing with motocross fenders and knobbies. There was even a stripped-down Servi-Car and a quad!

There were more than a few flips and spills. But no one got hurt, and no one was a jerk. It was basically an extended racing family all having a good time. I’d like to say that we spectators were having as much fun as the racers, but that probably isn’t true, judging by the looks on their faces as they shot up the hill. Or wiped out trying to sail over a bump. I recognized some of the bikes, and some of the racers, from other venues: The Race of Gentlemen, drag races at Reading MC’s track, various flat-track races… these folks just love to race whenever they get the chance.

The competition continued until around 5:00 p.m., and once the awards were handed out to the winners, it was time for the Halloween costume party! Actually, some folks had been walking around in their costumes all day. Even a few of the racers wore costumes. There’s nothing like seeing a Ben Hur lookalike charge up the hill on his iron chariot. Or a Minion mired in a muddy rut. Or the dirt bike-riding couple sporting serapes and sombreros.

By the time I got up to the lodge, the first band was packing up to leave. In all the racing excitement, I forgot to check them out (but I heard they rocked). The second band set up and began kickin’ it in short order. Their style of jazz, funk and rhythm ’n’ blues seemed to mesh perfectly with the crowd’s mood, and by the second set, most of us were up and dancing.

The night was over too soon. But Kenny and Matt are planning a snow hillclimb once the winter weather hits the northeast. There’s no way I’m gonna miss it this time.

 

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