Roll your own rally
Something for everybody, once you find it
Myrtle Beach, S.C., May 9–18—If you ever need to hone your slow race competition skills, then the King’s Highway (Business Route 17) between 4:00–7:00 p.m., starting on Mother’s Day weekend is the ideal location to refine your technique while testing the limits of your patience. Those are the prime hours for Myrtle Beach rally participants to either hit the road to grab dinner or return home after a full day of hopscotch riding from one venue to another. The experience definitely puts the lock back into gridlock. Brought to you by the Carolina Harley-Davidson Dealers Association, Myrtle Beach Spring Bike Week (a.k.a. Cruisin’ the Coast) was celebrating its 68th birthday this year and promised us a new and huge venue along with one that was literally raised from the ashes. And while the “Phoenix” had a successful flight, that huge chunk of asphalt off of Highway 501 experienced a shaky start with mixed reviews.
Myrtle Beach is a resort destination with only one commodity for sale—your complete pleasure. It’s totally hardwired to provide entertainment.
Sixty miles from town, on Highway 501 (the main access road), you encounter the first Myrtle Beach Welcome Center, offering free drinks, water and maps. Five miles later, you will pass the second Welcome Center. If you miss both of those, don’t worry. There’s another one 12 miles later. And there are at least six more in the remaining 43 miles. Once you actually hit town, they seem to be on every other corner. If you’re new to the area, take the time out to stop and at least get a map. You will thank me later.
Officially spanning a full 10 days, the Myrtle Beach Spring Rally (there’s a second, shorter version held each fall called The Pilgrimage) presents an ample time frame for a hell of a lot of biker pleasure and entertainment. It also covers a lot of territory, starting with Murrells Inlet on the south end, up through Garden City and Surfside, to Myrtle Beach proper, on to North Myrtle Beach and ending at Little River in the north, a good 35 miles away (although during peak hours that 35 miles seems to take forever). The two main traffic arteries that connect north to south are Highway 17 Business and Highway 17 Bypass. They become two roads in Murrells Inlet and do not join back together to form State Highway 17 until north of Myrtle Beach. In between, they are linked by two major highways, 501 and 544, and a number of smaller roads. These smaller roads are the reason for getting an area map. Similar to both Sturgis and Daytona, by using this network of smaller access roads, time, gas and clutch plates will definitely be saved. But not all intersections go all the way through and connect the two 17s. Several times I experimented (without a map) and found myself in a private neighborhood or golf course with no exit. And it doesn’t help when a street changes names three times in as many miles: Holmestown turns into Glenn’s Bay and then into Surfside Drive while Socastee Boulevard becomes Farrow Parkway and ends as Ocean Boulevard. So even though you’re a guy, get a map. You can study it in your condo… in private… and make notes. No one has to know.
The Thursday before the event started, a hard rain drenched the area and left everyone crossing their fingers and holding their breath as to what the next 10 days would have in store. Just a state away, Georgia was in a battle with the weather, suffering abuse from a massive system of tornadoes. But Myrtle would be spared and the following week offered nothing but decent temperatures (mid to high 80s), plenty of sun and a constant breeze coming in off the water. Only on the last Friday of the event did an evening thunderstorm assault the south side with lightning and rain, blowing in cold and hard like sparkplugs falling from the sky. But within half an hour even that had dissipated into a light drizzle that only lasted another half hour.
Theme park mentality
In years past, corporate Harley and the Carolina Dealers Association had set up at the city’s Convention Center, but the allure of a new venue influenced them to forsake their old digs for the much-ballyhooed Hard Rock Park. Everyone who had called the Convention Center home also jumped on the wagon and followed H-D to this expansive piece of tarmac right off U.S. Highway 501. Touted as the place “Where rock comes to play,” Hard Rock Park had been in “soft opening” mode, tweaking the operation and working out the kinks. Myrtle Beach Bike Week would be the Park’s grand opening. But if the rally is putting all their rocks in this one basket, I wish them the best. First off, even before the rally began, concern was expressed over whether bikers would be able to figure out the looping route to the Park’s entrance. The Park is visible from 501 and although well marked with signage, it is a nightmare of confusing turns. Even Mike Shank, a spokesman for the rally, stated, “People, when they come out here, they have no idea where they’re going. It’s almost comical.” When I finally got to the actual entrance, I was still quite distant from where the bike section was headquartered. On my way there I passed the Medieval
Times Dinner and Tournament Theatre (a castle the size of a football field that features dinner, jousting and sword fights), two churches large enough to challenge the Vatican for braggin’ rights and a monster of a roller coaster that seated six people across. Not what I was expecting. When I arrived at the bike rally section of this odd collection, in frustration I blew right past the parking attendant directing me to an area I felt was too far away from the action and pulled in as close as I could to where the vendors were set up. Taking my lead, another rider had followed me and pulled in beside me. Getting off his bike he turned and said, “What the hell was that all about?” Not an encouraging sign.
While there were a decent variety of vendors at Hard Rock Park, attendance always seemed light and it was devoid of any party atmosphere. Harley-Davidson was the biggest draw, offering demo rides to short lines of the interested and presenting their Traveling Museum to those few who hadn’t seen it in years past. On Thursday, Harley also sponsored a ride-in custom motorcycle show, but even that reflected the sparseness of the venue since only 36 bikes vied for honors. While the Harley Owners Group had a Pin Stop for those attracted to shiny things, the Zippo Manufacturing Company was showing off 2,000 of the 450 million lighters they had produced over the last 76 years. And for anyone still afflicted with “celebrity builder syndrome,” Vinny and Cody (formerly of OCC fame) were on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos while promoting their new venture, V-Force Customs. In an effort to infuse some actual rock into the Park, a couple of evening concerts were held, with Kid Rock appearing on Tuesday and Charlie Daniels, .38 Special and Shooter Jennings on Friday. The general comment by most when leaving the Hard Rock Park—“I wasn’t very impressed.” My favorite part about the Hard Rock Park: Despite being almost impossible to get into, getting out was a cinch. I just wonder how many of the bigger names that were present at the Park, like Big Bear Choppers and Sucker Punch Sally, had wished they were just a little farther down the road where the real action was.
The lights on Broadway
While Broadway at the Beach is just a few miles away from the Hard Rock Park, it bore no resemblance to the Park. This is still the best venue to be found during Myrtle Beach. Packed with tractor-trailer rigs, curb-to-curb bikes and some great eateries, this place was slammed the entire week. And with names like Ness, S&S, Big Dog, Progressive, Klock Werks, Baker, Redneck, Nasi, Trotta and Saxon on hand, it’s no wonder that this location continues to be the head hound at Myrtle. But don’t count the rest of the pack out. Both the Dog House North and Dog House South were playing to full houses and howling with live music, bike shows, $1,000 bikini contests and MTV personalities. The Rat Hole claimed it was “The only place in Myrtle Beach to do something with your bike other than just park it.” They backed this up with a daily rodeo and burnouts. They also serve what I believe to be the world’s only half-inch-thick fried bologna sandwich. And while the world famous Suck Bang Blow in Murrells Inlet continues to be a mandatory stop for anyone desiring to destroy a rear tire, the management at Broken Spoke retains top status for recruiting the friendliest barmaids in town. The congestion in front of the main Myrtle Beach Harley dealership on 17 Business was just as bad as ever, with part of the problem being that they are located right next to Iron Gate. The other part of the problem is the imbecilic parking situation. Both places were packed with vendors, the H-D shop featuring hard products with Iron Gate specializing in apparel.
Way up north, like the mythical Phoenix rising from the flames, the newly rebuilt HB Spokes was hosting their grand opening after burning to the ground last September. The restored watering hole sports an open-air bar with a raised balcony overlooking both the burnout pit and the nearby river. The Teresi Dyno Drags were also on hand to safely settle horsepower disputes.
But the list goes on and on… the Jack Daniel’s Experience at the Colonial Mall, Chopper College at Inlet Square, Pig Pickin’ (?) at Dick’s Last Resort, top-name music at the House of Blues, 50 vendors at Barefoot Landing and even Boxing for Boobs at Club Kryptonite (the champion gal wins a boob job). And anytime you became fatigued from the glare of staring at too much chrome, there are numerous “Gentlemen’s Clubs” to refresh your vision. Seems Myrtle Beach has finally gotten beyond the perception that adult entertainment is only for knuckle-draggers aboard motorcycles and realized that even high-rolling golfers embrace the opportunity to toss a little cash into the local economy. These establishments are now considered “almost” respectable. And speaking of spending some cash, seems like quite a bit was left behind by this year’s rally participants.
Police state of mind
In past years, the Horry County Police manned static posts with officers standing in various rally sites. According to Carissa Medeiros, the deputy director of Horry County Emergency Management, law enforcement changed for 2008. “This year, they doubled the number of officers and they are patrolling in cars, giving out more citations.” I think you will have to agree with that statement. Last year the Horry County Police Department issued 902 citations during Myrtle Beach Bike Week. This year, even with lower attendance figures, they wrote a total of 2,362 tickets. That’s one hell of an increase. And it doesn’t even include those written by the South Carolina Highway Patrol. But then, last year during the rally, four people were killed in motorcycle-related accidents. This year—only three. So I guess their zealous enforcement program is paying off.
Despite those attendance figures being lower than last year’s (the first half of the rally was quite slow with the majority of riders not showing up until Wednesday), some of the vendors were experiencing record sales. And these were some high-dollar items, which would leave one to believe that the President’s stimulus package was well used during Cruisin’ the Coast. While T-shirt vendors seemed to experience lackluster sales, several aftermarket fairing companies were running out of merchandise (and those goodies don’t come cheap). After the rally, the general consensus was that, overall, Myrtle Beach Bike Week was once again a success.
Myrtle Beach remains a DIY event, where inventiveness allows you to “create your own rally.” One day spent visiting your favorite vendors and builders. Another one dedicated to getting your fill of music. Fueled by the salty air and tropic temps, an impromptu garage party with friends is usually tossed into the mix sometime during your stay. And always on tap is the abundance of all-you-can-stuff-in-your-face seafood restaurants. So when you come here for a visit, be it only a few days or from weekend to weekend, if you don’t have a good time, it’s no one’s fault but your own.