Quality time, biker style
Friendly locals and gratitude all around
Tulelake, Calif., July 2–5—Independence Day has always been celebrated with parades, American flags waving in the warm summer breezes, meat on the barbecue grill, music and, for some of us lucky Americans, quality time spent on our motorcycles and with our friends who also ride. The Shasta Salute to America, produced by South Bay Biker Productions, offered all of these truly American traditions and, fittingly, it was dedicated to our troops and veterans.
The Salute actually got started at noon on Thursday, July 2 when over 100 riders from the Patriot Guard, Christian Motorcyclist Association, various veteran and motorcycle groups and individual motorcyclists assembled in the parking lot at Home Depot on 6th Street in Klamath Falls, Oregon, to meet up with the truck and trailer that contained the Traveling Wall and The Cost of Freedom Memorial to give it a grand escort all the way to Tulelake, California, the home of the Shasta Salute. Home Depot had graciously reserved a large portion of their parking lot and built a stage for this very special occasion. Ron Ballard, the Commander of the Klamath Falls VFW, welcomed all of the riders and introduced local dignitaries who included Klamath County commissioners, Klamath Falls mayor and the founders of Operation Gratitude, Carolyn Blashek and SSG Elizabeth Cowie.
Operation Gratitude is a nonprofit organization that sends packages to U.S. service members deployed to hostile regions overseas. Each package contains luxury items such as candy bars, DVDs, toothpaste, calling cards, coffee, sports event tickets, gift cards, letters, CDs, etc. all supplied by generous corporate donors. Operation Gratitude’s mission statement is “To lift morale and bring a smile to service members’ faces and to express to our Armed Forces the appreciation and support of the American people.” Since Operation Gratitude began in March of 2003 over 450,000 packages have been shipped to deployed American military personnel overseas. The recipient of the 250,000th package from Operation Gratitude was Army Spc. Alfonso Sanchez. Sanchez opened the box and found a brochure, a letter, a few baseball caps and the keys to a brand new Jeep. SPC Michael Gallagher received the 300,000th package, which contained many luxury items and the keys to a brand new Jeep Liberty Edition. Carolyn and Elizabeth hope to ship the 500,000th package by year’s end. In this very special package will be the keys to a custom motorcycle built by Monty Hardt, the owner of Klamath Custom Cycle.
After the introductions and presentations were done at Home Depot we all saddled up and got in line to escort the Traveling Wall through the city of Klamath Falls and on to Tulelake-Butte Valley Fairgrounds where the memorial would be on display just outside of the Salute to America venue for the entire Independence Day weekend.
At 8 a.m. on Friday morning, July 3, the gates to the Shasta Salute opened to the public. By midmorning there were a lot of riders coming through the gates and picking out the choicest camping spots for their stay. One of the greatest things about this venue is that there is a lot of space. There are acres of grass-covered camping spots available to stake out your tent. When I say grass-covered, I’m not talking about a little bit of scrubby green over the top of rocks. No. I am talking about thick luxurious grass that is great for all of us who still ride our motorcycles to these events and sleep on the ground. This place is fantastic, complete with plenty of restrooms, showers and shade.
After staking out your camp spot for the weekend there were plenty of food vendors on hand to fill any hunger and the Wings2Fly Saloon was open with plenty of bartenders and waitpersons to provide your adult beverage of choice. Also inside the 12,000-square-foot saloon was a stage for all of the great live music scheduled for the weekend.
Late in the afternoon the Arm Wrestling Contest was held on the Wings2Fly stage, organized by professional arm wrestling referees with classes for all weights and genders. There were locals, service personnel and professional arm wrestlers alike competing for the trophies.
Later that evening the Charlie Brechtel Band stormed onto the stage, belting out their own style of rock ‘n’ roll with a healthy serving of the blues. Most all of Charlie’s music pays homage to the biker lifestyle. Charlie is not only a great guitar slinger, he is a composer, songwriter and producer who has worked with Elvin Bishop, John Lee Hooker, Gregg Allman, B.B. King, Buddy Miles, and Aaron Neville, to mention a few.
The headliner band of the evening at the Wings2Fly Saloon was the Pat Travers Band. Shortly after 8 p.m. Pat and his band took the stage and fired up on the rocking blues that they are famous for. While the band and the crowd were rocking on the inside of the Saloon, the clouds and skies outside were doing their own style of rocking. Lightning streaked across the sky, thunder rolled off the surrounding mountains and the clouds threatened to open up and release a downpour. The weather outside did not dampen the spirits of the crowd or the band, until in the middle of the third song a huge lightning strike knocked out the power in the whole town of Tulelake. The Shasta Salute crew quickly jumped into action, pulling ATVs and trucks into the saloon and using their headlights to put some light on the problem and to make sure nobody got disoriented in the darkness. It was a bummer that Travers’ performance had been cut short but things happen. What is important is how you handle the unexpected situation that you are presented with.
Saturday morning early, really early in fact, the sign-ups for Pinky and Sluggo’s Crusin’ for Cash Poker Run started at 7:30 a.m. I stumbled out of my tent and quickly… well, as quick as I get before morning coffee, made my way to the CMA breakfast tent for coffee and some more coffee. Around 8:30 a.m. and after about seven or eight cups of that wonderful stuff, I was ready to hit the road with about 100 other riders. The poker run route wound its way through farms, ranches, wetlands, and the high desert, with a stop at a great Fourth of July car show in Malin, Oregon. The total mileage for the poker route was around 125 miles if you did not get lost, and a little more if you made a wrong turn. Or two or three.
By the time I got back to the Shasta Salute, Boogieman and his crew had the biker games well under way with a burnout pit, slow races, and the “Honey, I’m home!” game, to name a few. Once the Boogieman’s biker games were finished, many of us made our way over to EZJ Field where the crew from All In FMX were set up and ready to entertain the crowd with some off-the-hook, high-flying stunts.
As the sun got lower in the sky and the temperatures started to cool, things were heating up inside the Wings2Fly Saloon with the Charlie Brechtel Band. Before Charlie hit the first chord, though, the Shasta Salute crew had Mark Daley from Thunderstruck Custom Bikes ride a Captain America replica bike he had built right up to the front of the stage. Jeff “EZJ” Kraus of South Bay Biker Productions wanted to thank some of the people responsible for making this event happen, recognize service members in the audience, and introduce the crowd to Carolyn Blashek and SSG Elizabeth Cowie from Operation Gratitude. After the formalities were handled, Brechtel took over the stage and rocked the house till closing time.
Sunday was scheduled as a Family Day with a bike blessing, a ceremony at the Wall, and the Bunch a Thunder Parade scheduled for the morning. Sunday afternoon’s schedule had the ride-in bike show, more live music from the Craig Allen Blues Band and Fat’n Sexy, an All In FMX stunt show and a tattoo contest in the Wings2Fly Saloon.
The Shasta Salute to America has the potential to grow into a major event. It is well-run and has one of the nicest locations I have ever seen, with all of the necessary amenities. It is held in a community that is truly glad to have bikers as their guests, features lots of great music and some beautiful country to ride in, and it’s for a great cause, our service people deployed in harm’s way. (www.shastasalutetoamerica.com, www.opgratitude.com)