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American Heat: High times in the Low Desert

By Jon DeMaria

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF., OCT. 25-27—It was hard to believe another year had slipped by and it was time once more for my annual cruise to the Low Desert for American Heat. This three-day event is packed with vendors and activities that begin in the daytime and rock on into the early hours of the morning. Although my girlfriend Raeanon and I intended to arrive on Friday in time for the opening VIP party to enjoy the live music, food and beverages, for some reason I never make it on schedule to this event. Although we left San Diego on time, as we approached Victorville it became obvious that, somewhere along the line while splitting the cars in thick traffic, I had missed the turnoff for Palm Springs. After about a 40-mile detour, we finally arrived and got settled in for a fun-filled, relaxing weekend.

Transforming the streets of Palm Springs for American Heat 2013

Transforming the streets of Palm Springs for American Heat 2013

In the past several years that I’ve attended this event, I’ve always run into my friend and fellow San Diegan, Clint August. You may know of Clint from his radio show on 101.5 KGB, or his annual May Ride held at Biggs Harley-Davidson in San Marcos. I texted Clint to see if he was in town this year, and he invited us to join him and his crew for breakfast and a ride the following day. We met at Peabody’s Café & Bar bright and early Saturday morning for breakfast prior to hitting the road.

After enjoying a delicious breakfast with Clint, his father Richard “Pops” August, Rudy Flores and Dale Campbell, we all embarked on a journey to a small village located about 50 miles east of San Bernardino named Pioneertown. The town started off as a live-in Old West movie set designed to house the actors and to use their living units as part of the filming. Among the original developers of Pioneertown were Dick Curtis, Russell Hayden and Roy Rogers. We walked around the former set taking in the sights before cruising into Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace for a cold drink. Pappy’s is a popular spot with bikers and draws a large crowd every year. This year was no different; there were dozens of bikes everywhere. By the time we hit the road back to Palm Springs to gear up for an evening of fun, it was standing room only.

Clint August, Rudy Flores, Peabody's Café & Bar night manager Bob Smith, Reanon Willoughby, Brian Phelps, and Karen and John Padilla

Clint August, Rudy Flores, Peabody’s Café & Bar night manager Bob Smith, Reanon Willoughby, Brian Phelps, and Karen and John Padilla

During our ride, Rudy had pulled up beside me and informed me that my taillight was out. Being an L.E.D. light, it was no simple bulb change. When those circuit boards go out, the whole light assembly needs to be replaced. The odds that the light would be in stock or that I would get my bike in for service during American Heat were slim to none. Nevertheless, I shot over to Palm Springs Harley to try my luck where I met with Service Manager Lonnie Reddick. To my surprise, after pulling my VIN number and inspecting the light, Lonnie told me they could replace it. During the wait, we ran into a poker stop for the American Heat Poker Run manned by Bill Weber and Martha Godsey of the Christian Motorcyclists Association. I asked Bill, the president of the Inland Empire chapter, about the poker run and he told me, “Everyone’s having a great ride; it takes them through the desert and up into the mountains where it’s nice and cool. They get to see the pine trees where recent wildfires burned in Idyllwild, and it’s amazing to see how close the fires came to some of those houses.” Robert Philpots from Victorville, California, took first place in the poker run with three eights.

Palm Springs Harley service techs Alan Lamb, and Paul Boughey with Service Manager Lonnie Reddick (center) and the author's Road King

Palm Springs Harley service techs Alan Lamb, and Paul Boughey with Service Manager Lonnie Reddick (center) and the author’s Road King

After hanging out with Bill and Martha for a while, I headed back to the service bay where I found mechanic Paul Boughey wrenching on my bike. He had already finished with the light and was tightening my linkage. Now that’s good service! I asked Paul what it’s like being a Harley-Davidson mechanic during such a large event, and he replied, “It’s hectic; it’s fun. You meet a lot of people from strange places. We mostly do little jobs, because we don’t have time to do big things. You can’t do an engine rebuild in two days. We do a lot of tire changes, batteries, chargers. Our workload probably triples during the event.” Boughey has worked for Palm Springs Harley for 29 years.

Bikers assemble inside Pappy & Harriet's in Pioneertown for some cold refreshments and fun

Bikers assemble inside Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown for some cold refreshments and fun

After checking out Boughey’s ’73 Shovelhead (with over 300,000 miles on it) it was time to head back into town to Peabody’s where the quiet breakfast setting transforms into a happening karaoke party by night. If you attend American Heat in the future, this is a must. I never get tired of watching tough bikers get up and sing to the packed crowd—and the $3 beer special can’t be beat!

Brad Wellsclaims his prize during the awards presentation for taking first place in the Slow Crawl contest

Brad Wellsclaims his prize during the awards presentation for taking first place in the Slow Crawl contest

Here’s where the night got really interesting. When we arrived back at our motel, the Travelodge, I managed to open my broken sliding door for some fresh air. Just then, the owner of this smelly, rundown dump approached my door and began yelling that I was parked in his spot. (My bike wasn’t even on the premises, let alone in his parking spot.) I responded by asking that he go away, which enraged him further. He continued yelling and throwing a tantrum, threatening to call the police. “Go ahead” I told him. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later we hear a knock at the door. Here’s an interesting fact: according to the officers, the owner had the right to “evict us with or without cause.” Unbelievable. We rounded up our things and headed across to the good ol’ Comfort Inn where we were welcomed warmly with open arms. A word of advice: If you’re planning on visiting Palm Springs and want a peaceful and nice place to stay without the threat of being unjustly harassed or potentially arrested, avoid the Travelodge at all costs.

The next morning we headed over to the event and did some shopping on vendor row before watching the slow crawl competition. On our way we ran into Randy Burke, the event’s manager. “The event’s been going great,” Randy said. “We’ve moved slightly to the south, two blocks from the main intersection of Palm Canyon and Tahquitz Canyon Way. We went from 60 vendors to 100, so we’re very excited about that addition. Our entertainment stage was moved from Tahquitz Canyon Way ‎to the other end and we added a nice shaded area with food and beverage as well. Next year’s American Heat is scheduled for October 24–26; it will be the weekend after the Love Ride.”

Omar Villa's Aztec-red custom took the top spot in the Custom Bike Competition and earned him a photo op with Roadshows girl Amberleigh Gilmore

Omar Villa’s Aztec-red custom took the top spot in the Custom Bike Competition and earned him a photo op with Roadshows girl Amberleigh Gilmore

We proceeded on to the slow crawl competition just in time to watch Brad Wells take first place. The slow crawl was followed by the presentation of the winners of the custom bike competition. Omar Villa won first place with his beautiful Aztec-red custom complete with engraved heads, which took two years to complete. Second place went to Stephen Cicornio, with Mike Templeton taking third.

The top three winners at this year's Custom Bike Competition

The top three winners at this year’s Custom Bike Competition

After the awards presentation it was time to wrap up another interesting year in the Palm Springs heat. We gathered our things, packed up the bike and hit the road back to San Diego with another fun-filled trip in the books (Travelodge aside). One thing you can count on at American Heat: there’s never a dull moment. See you there next year!

Battling it out in the Slow Crawl contest

Battling it out in the Slow Crawl contest

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