Chief Joseph Rally

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The Chief Joseph Rally

Still going after all these years

Every year in late June I look forward to a trip to central Oregon to participate in the Chief Joseph Rally, a friendly motorcycling event put on by the BMW Riders of Oregon. For the past 18 years or so, the rally has been held at the Grant County Fairgrounds in John Day, Oregon.

What I enjoy about the CJR is the laid-back environment. There are always plenty of activities available, from seminars to organized rides, movies to live music. Some participants focus on choosing entertaining roads to and from the rally, and then socializing. Others trailer their bikes to the rally, using the event as “home base” and spending their time exploring. Some sign up for the available skills training or participate in seminars. A few just do the cowboy lunch. I enjoy the trip to and from the rally, but I prefer to squander my rally time rubbing elbows with old friends, or sitting in the shade sipping a cold beer and appreciating the ambience of the area.

My point is, there are many different planned activities, but you don’t have to do any of them. I should also mention that the CJR isn’t one of those “snooty” BMW rallies where you’re not allowed in the gate if your bike doesn’t have the proper tank badge.

CJR 2019 Information

The schedule of events is available online. Search for Chief Joseph Rally 2019. You can preregister for the rally online, order a T-shirt, and choose what activities you want to include. If you wait to register at the gate, the fee jumps to $45 for BMWRO members, and $60 for non-members. It’s best to pre-register, ensuring that you’ll get your meals, pin, door prize tickets, etc. If you’re too old to be computer literate, try phoning 541-647-7194.

Where Did You Intend to Sleep?

The The rally fee includes camping on-site, and there are several grassy areas in different corners, to allow separation of partiers from sleepers. You can make arrangements to park an RV nearby, if spaces are available: (541) 575-1900. And, there are a number of motels in town, all listed on the CJR 2019 website. However, be forewarned that lodging during the rally weekend is typically booked up months ahead. If you can’t find lodging in one of those wooden things with a light switch on the wall, I suggest bringing along a tent and sleeping bag.

When Did the CJR Start? >

I caI can’t recall what year the CJR got started. I do remember making the transit to Wallowa Lake State Park on my Moto Guzzi “Old Thud” two or three years in a row, back in the late 1970s. The Wallowa Valley was the historic home of the native tribe led by Chief Joseph. When the U.S. Army attempted to round up the natives to make room for more settlers, the peaceful Chief Joseph led his band cross-country toward Canada in an attempt to escape. After being captured he uttered the famous line, “I shall fight no more forever.”> It’s highly appropriate that the BMW Riders of Oregon honor Joseph by naming the rally after him.

Photo: Seminar leaders by morning, rally pranksters by afternoon.

Wallowa Lake is in the northeastern corner of Oregon, just short of Hells Canyon. It’s a beautiful area, and worth the trip up the valley from LaGrande, through Enterprise and Joseph. It’s beautiful with comfortable weather during the summer months. On Saturday night we would take a short ride up the valley to the Grange hall, where the local farm ladies would serve dinner. Maybe ham or fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, potato salad with green peas, Cole slaw, fresh baked roll with jam, green Jell-O with a slice of orange on top, and maybe a wedge of apple pie or a chocolate/walnut brownie. You know--like your grandmother used to make.

Sadly, the rally outgrew the State Park, and needed to follow Joseph’s lead and leave the valley. The answer was the “old” fairgrounds at Redmond. The club could afford to rent enough of the fairgrounds for the rally, which had mature shade trees and various outbuildings—and just three blocks from downtown. The local Elks men swapped tickets for cold Oregon beers, and the Ladies of the Elks catered the meals.

At the old Redmond fairgrounds, you could take your choice of erecting a tent on the grass, or claiming a spot on the hay in the Sheep barn, close to the toilets. The site was fine for a three-day motorcycle rally, but too low-key and too small for any large events. More to the point, it occupied some prime real estate. Eventually the city made a deal to swap the valuable land for a new fairground on sagebrush property a few miles out of town.

The new fairgrounds are huge, with buildings of concrete and steel, including a giant arena, surrounded by a ginormous parking lot. It’s a big and functional place, but the minimum rental cost is way over anything a state club could afford. Time for another move.

The Grant County fairgrounds at John Day were a little more modern than the “old” Redmond grounds, the rental price was considerably less than the new Redmond grounds, and the locals in John Day seemed to like the idea of a June event to fill out the calendar. John Day is almost in the center of eastern Oregon, making it accessible to riders from British Columbia, Idaho, Washington, and Northern California within a one or two-day ride. Typically, about 450 people show up for the CJR, including some from foreign countries.

I remember attending the CJR at John Day in (maybe) 2001. After that I went multiple times on various machines including my 1972 R75, 1980 R100, 1991 K1/EZS sidecar rig, 2003 R1150 GS Sport, 2009 Can Am Spyder, and eventually the 4Runner carrying the 2009 KLX250S (with BMW roundels on the tank) on a hitch rack.

I’m I’m planning to be there again this year for “Coffee With Dave”, a 7:30 morning gathering on Friday and Saturday to sip a little brown liquid, munch a banana, and have a group natter about whatever subjects the audience brings up. I’m pretty sure that Walt Fulton III will join us for “coffee.” Walt takes off work from Kawasaki USA every June to fly up to Oregon. He really likes the CJR. I’ve heard a good rumor that Tom Mehren will join us. And I suspect that there will be one or two other motorcycling gurus lurking in the back. Feel free to join us.

By David L. Hough>

Editors note: If you go, be sure to stop by the Sound RIDER! booth and say 'hello.'

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