The Rally in the Gorge fades away

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The Rally in the Gorge fades away…

During the preparation for the 2021 Rally in the Gorge, there were multiple times when I reached a point and said to myself - 'This isn't fun anymore'. I've spent the last 24 years of my life producing the magazine, Sound RIDER!. and its events, and I've always looked forward to putting each issue and each event together.

Long ago, Bruce Scott, a key player in making the rally go for 13 years noted, the rally is a three-ring circus. You can't have the same rally experience twice because there isn't enough time to take it all in over several days. True that!

But this year, I was the sole person putting the event together up until the first of August when Connie stepped in and procured the door prizes. That's a lot of work for one person, creating routes, writing ride notes, developing GPS tracks, crafting two fun runs, determining food items for the Rally Kitchen and Café menu, insurance, rentals, sanctions, and the list goes on and on. If it wasn't for the lists I've created over the years, I could not have executed it all as well as we did.

When I was in my early 40s, working 8-12 hours a day with a helper over several months, it was pretty easy to do. But now I'm 19 years older and we don't have the resources for a helper so those 8-12 hour days get longer.

And then there's the uncontrollable variables. In 2017 we had to move the rally with three weeks' notice from the fairgrounds to the airport due to fire in the area that tied up the fairground as a basecamp for the USFS fire command. Since we moved from Stevenson in 2014, there has always been that possibility, and it could happen again based on the way things are going climate-wise.

In 2020, we didn't have an official rally due to the pandemic (although a small group convened at nearby Tucker Park). During the 2021 rally, the COVID-19 Delta variant was running high. We ran the event regardless because of the availability of the vaccine for those who wanted it. And… we had the added load of placing signage around the fairground, providing hand sanitizer and masks and dealing with an indoor mask mandate that then became both indoor and outdoor by the time we got to Friday. Are we having fun yet?

Speaking of having fun, Connie and I did have a little fun pre-riding all the paved routes via her red rice rocket (Honda Civic) in July. Fortunately, Bill Woods and Jason Omar pre-rode all the dual sport routes in early August. But at the end of the day, I still haven't ridden a motorcycle in the Gorge for several years. I really want to!

In 2014, we solved the catering snags we'd dealt with for 12 years by running the burger feed and Sunday pancake breakfast using our volunteer crew. Had we continued to pay caterers the rally surely would have folded soon after. Getting food trucks was another problem and being 7 miles away from downtown, we knew we needed to have food available on site. Thus, in 2016 we created the Rally Kitchen and Café to create both staff meals and feed riders onsite as well. In 2021, one of our key kitchen helpers was locked down at his retirement community and I brought in my nephew, Colin to help. Colin, Jen Poole, and myself pretty much executed the café as well as the burger feed and Sunday pancake breakfast.

I was up at 6 a.m. each day and done about 9 p.m. each night. Six 15-hour days in a row isn't really a good thing to do at this point in my life. My partner in crime and the front of the house at the rally, Connie was keeping the same schedule. Most nights I got about 4 hours of sleep. Connie was doing better with about 6 hours each night.

Economically, the rally has never been a super profitable event. It's been more of a service to the PNW motorcycling community with most riders/attendees being thrilled we put the event on. And it has been a pleasure providing a great experience to each one of them.

Back in 2003 there weren't many rallies to cater to the sport bike and dual sport crowds. Over the years, every local luggage maker, accessory maker and otherwise got in the game. Today people have to pick and choose which rallies they will set aside time for, which dilutes attendance for each one.

As I dive into my early 60s, I've still got time to ride and I'd like to spend time with friends and riding the great roads in the Columbia River Gorge. So, while there won't be an official Rally in the Gorge in 2022, you can do what I'm going to do… grab a few friends and ride in what is simply one of the best places to ride a motorcycle on earth.

We've had some of the most generous people working with us over the years and the list is long. Some are mentioned here, others are not, but you know who you are. Clara and her grounds crew at the Hood River Fairground have been great to work with, too.

When I revised my book, Motorcycling in the Columbia River Gorge, and wrote the Dual Sport Rides in the Columbia River Gorge book, I set out to create templates any rider could use to experience the great riding opportunities that exist. Those templates are still valid today, so if you're looking for maps or GPS tracks, order up a book or two and create your own special riding experience.

Tom Mehren/October 2021

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