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Redwood Run (31st annual)

By Terry Roorda

Bacchanalian therapy

Excess in all things, and the onset of breast fatigue

Piercy, Calif. June 13–15—Albert Einstein famously defined insanity as repeating a behavior over and over again in full expectation of a different result. So what do you call repeating a behavior over and over again in full expectation of an insane result? Idiocy? Perhaps. Personally, I call it the Redwood Run.

And I’m not alone in that conclusion, either. At least a couple of thousand others feel the same way and rematerialize at the Riverview Ranch annually as a sort of biker sacrament, and for us there’s a definite Ground-hog Day sensation to the affair. The reasons for that ongoing allegiance to the run are easy to understand. It starts with the ride to Piercy through Mendocino County with some of the most dramatically scenic countryside on the continent, and a counterculture population that welcomes and treats bikers as kindred spirits. The allure continues with the breathtaking beauty of the Riverview Ranch itself, spilling down an oak and redwood forested bowl to a natural rock amphitheater on a bend in the Eel River. Then there’s the laissez faire and live-and-let-live ethos of the gathering. There are rules at the Redwood Run, but they’re few. The prohibitions against dogs, minors, and fires are rigorously enforced, largely because violations are obvious. The bans on firearms and carry-in alcohol are little more than suggested behavior. There are no pat-downs or metal detectors or nosy security trying to make an issue of these things, and that’s become a true rarity among contemporary biker events. That’s the laissez faire part of the ethos. The live-and-let-live part comes from the long-standing tradition of Redwood Runners to police themselves, and it started back in more volatile times in the culture when as a practical matter you didn’t get into anyone’s face because you could never be sure how much backup they had, and everyone came with backup back then. With one or two notable exceptions, that system has kept the event virtually incident-free for 31 years.

Add to that die-hard contingent another couple thousand, give or take, sporadic attendees and neophytes, and a small army of Redwood Run staffers and volunteers and for one weekend in June the Riverview Ranch becomes the third largest city in Mendocino County. Turnout swells and contracts from year to year owing to a number of factors, and this year the crowd was optimal; enough souls to generate a blowout party energy, but not so many it stressed the infrastructure. Decent camping spots remained available throughout Friday—albeit with some shopping around in the late hours, bike parking down by the beach in the Pit was more of a reasonable possibility this year than most, and sanitation at the facilities never became an issue. And nowhere was the magnitude of the crowd more appreciated than on the shuttle bus runs up and down the Pit’s precipitous access road.

Walking down that hill is an exertion, calling into service muscle groups that don’t get summoned much in routine activities and have thus grown so shiftless and atrophied you’d think they worked for the government. But at least if you stumble, you’re still traveling in the right direction, and in truth it’s the most thorough cardiac workout many of us get all year. Walking back up the hill after a spell of drinking and boogying in the Pit, on the other hand, is impossible. It didn’t used to be. But it is now. The shuttle busses plying the hillside at close intervals are a godsend in that regard, and while in years past they were a hit or miss proposition owing to crowd size, this year they were a model of efficient transport. The lines remained manageable at the bottom of the hill, and the shuttles heading down weren’t filled with passengers coming from way up on top at the RV parking lot where the runs originate (which in the past has been a real irritation for the bikers camped at the uppermost tenting grounds since it gave de facto priority to the trailer trash). That made it apparent that this year the RV component of the event—which had been steadily growing—receded under the pressure of high fuel prices. Finally, an upside to $4.50/gallon gas.

Headliners and tan liners
The musical lineup has long been a main attraction for many at the Redwood Run, and this year brought an eclectic roster of artists and a fairly comprehensive overview of Baby Boom popular music. The 1960s were amply represented by Creedence Clearwater Revisited, a living breathing jukebox of Fogarty’s hits, only without Fogarty; Ten Years After, which did a good job of spinning their psychedelic thrall even without original frontman Alvin Lee; and Jimi Jeff and the Gypsy Band doing an homage to Jimi Hendrix. The heavy metal of the 1970s was covered by crowd-pleasing Thundherstruck, an all-girl AC/DC tribute band, and the indefatigable Marshall Tucker Band handled the 1970s Southern rock genre with an energy and enthusiasm that belied their 36 years of performing it. The hair metal of the ’80s went to Ratt. Nuff said. I’ve repressed that period. Anything having to do with blues or country over the last 30 years was accounted for masterfully by Delbert McClinton, and anything having to do with rock music from the ’90s forward fell to Gary Hoey, who burned impressively through a positively blistering and riveting set.

As I mentioned, the music’s always been a big attraction at this event, and if you asked any couple at the run what their favorite activity was, they’d mostly tell you it’s the music. Girls love to dance. Guys don’t mind going along with it. But get the guy off to the side and you’ll get a different response, though it’s nonverbal; just a look that says, “What? Are you kidding?”

The euphemistically phrased Wet T-shirt Contest continues to pack the Pit as it has since forever, and it’s definitely a Forrest Gump box of chocolates in terms of the quality of the contestants. This year saw a high turnout and high caliber of contestants, especially when compared to last year’s sad pageant when the crowd was so uniformly unenchanted by the doings on stage that an impromptu burnout and wheelie exhibition on nearby Burnout Hill stole the show. I won’t titillate you with the details since this is a PG-rated publication, but suffice it to say that the Red-wood Run has restored its reputation as bar-none the dangedest naked lady venue in West Coast bikerdom.

It may have been part of a general contagion, actually, since the level of exhibitionism this year was admirable in the extreme. By Sunday morning, in addition to my usual state of being beered-out, burned-out, and sleep-deprived from fitful slumbering in a pup tent on a pronounced grade, I found myself for the first time in Redwood Run history suffering from breast fatigue. This is a condition characterized by a general sensory numbness and painfully frozen grin, and one brought on by an unprecedented and near-ceaseless exposure to bare boobs, and that’s a phenomenon I attribute to an unprecedented profusion of Mardi Gras beads at the run. There are those who lament, times being what they are, that nothing’s getting better in this country, but that’s clearly not the case in this instance where a string of cheap plastic Chinese baubles will get you what once took a restaurant dinner and maybe a nice corsage.

Physical graffiti
Come Sunday morning, when the campers have risen like the dead and commenced a slow-motion packing up for the long ride home, one last Redwood Run tradition remains to be played out, and that’s the spectacle of a deserted and empty pup tent cartwheeling across the grassy plain in the cool morning Eel Canyon breeze. There’s always at least one, and there are stories behind them. They may be soiled—ugh—or abandoned by neophytes who’ve learned the hard way that camping’s not for them, or abandoned for romance by bikers who hooked up and left the gear to pack the girl. There’s always a forlorn cut-and-run quality to the sight, though, and this year I knew who’d abandoned it, and I knew it was left just because Chinese tents are so cheap as to be disposable, and the guy was in a hurry to split. It was a distressing year that way. I’d ridden up with a dozen other bikers, but by late Sunday morning there were four of us. The others, inveterate Redwood Runners all, had had their fill at various times over the weekend and departed solo. Blame it on creeping age. No, wait. That’s not it. Blame it on the ground getting harder, the hills getting steeper, the miles getting longer and the hours getting shorter as the universe expands and accelerates towards the Big Collapse. That’s Einstein’s take on things, too.

Postscript: A hallowed part of the Redwood Run experience was MIA this year, as the legendary Keg Salooz in Hopland was shuttered. For decades the establishment served as the spot where the serious partying quasi-officially kicked off for riders heading north, and as the last hurrah—replete with barbecue and burn-out exhibitions—for riders heading home on Sunday who still retained some lingering capacity for partying. Though closed now, it remains in the National Register of Historic Biker Bars (a registry I personally instituted and maintain), and with an asking price of a paltry $360,000 including the liquor license, it’s my fervent hope that some bucks-up biker traditionalist will purchase the property and have it back in business by next year’s run.

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