Laughlin River Run 2016 – Part 1

Story & Photos by Tom Christian

The time had come to start organizing myself and get ready to hit the big highway to the little city of Laughlin for the 34th Annual River Run. Settling on where to stay was a story in itself in my quest to cover the River Run and enjoy my time there. I called an old friend who lives there and asked if I could stay with him and his wife…so Joe Medina asked the boss (his wife of course) Gloria if it was cool to stay with them. She said Yes, but showers are $5 and if I choose I could get a cold shower with a hose on the driveway and it is only $2. I said it would cost her $30 if she took off her blind fold…. And we worked out a deal that made everybody happy.

A Bucket List for a Vet’s Cancer Conquest. As the time was getting closer I went to a Bike Night at Quaid Harley-Davidson in Loma Linda to give myself a little entertainment. That is where I met Aaron and Jamie Torres. The DJ announced that Jamie had planned this event a week before bike night to surprise Aaron with any bike he wanted off the showroom floor. The DJ explained further that this was a present to celebrate a clean bill of health from his second go round with cancer and Jamie wanted him to have a new comfortable riding motorcycle that they both could ride on and can be used for his all time Bucket list– To ride to Laughlin and other rallies and maybe Sturgis. I knew this was a story for me and I was going to cover it.

It really hit home when I found out he served in the United States Marine Corps from 1992 to 1996 as a sniper and was deployed to Somalia in Operation Restore Hope –Both of my sons did time in Iraq. Aaron is the father of a son and three daughters and one on the way: Tabitha/21, Alyssa/17, Gabriel/14, Emily/11 and Madelyn coming in August. I was there when they picked up the bike from Quaid that Sunday and took a few photos of them on that Black 2016 Street Glide Special for the first time.. I told them I was going to meet them in Laughlin and take a few photos of them there too– and I did and I met all of their friends and family that came out to Laughlin and it was a very special moment for everybody. Another couple I had also met at Quaid’s Bike Night, Enrique and Norma Venegas, had witnessed that awesome moment for Aaron and likewise rode out to Laughlin where we got more photos of all.

On the Road! Wednesday morning of River Run week, it was 37° when I started riding from my cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains on my trip to Laughlin, Nevada. I stopped at Ludlow and met a few riders going to Laughlin. I had breakfast at the Ludlow Café and took off some of my cold weather gear as more riders also stopped there on the big road to the little city of Laughlin. You could see and feel the excitement that all the riders had anticipating the days ahead of them. The weather was the big item and we were all hoping and praying for it to rain some other day but we did get hit with a little rain.

After picking up my Press Credential at the Laughlin Tourism office I headed for Joe and Gloria’s to meet up, and begin my rounds at River Run!

Oatman, AZ. First on my list was a ride to Oatman before it got crowded– super cool and very relaxing after coming off the highway, I rode the 13 miles up to the little town of Oatman. It’s been almost 12 years since I’ve been up there. I enjoy seeing all the old mining structures and foundations and just thinking how hard it was back in the day working them. After I parked my bike and pulled out my camera I took a stroll through the little town and headed for the hotel where I met the manager who gave me a tour of the hotel where Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon. Then I stopped in their historic bar with many thousands of dollar bills stapled to the walls and ceiling, just like the miners did in the old days as a form of credit. I also got a tour of the owner’s personal collection of Harleys from the early 1900’s and a tour of his antique store.

Then there are the burros that roam wild & free throughout the town and surrounding area, descended from the miners’ work animals of so long ago. It was fun to watch the little ones as the children all seem to react the same way, not used to the friendly burros and thinking they were dogs. I also got a kick out of the bed frame on display with wheels on it and a sign on it that said “bed race”.. How fast you can get to sleep? or how many people you can get on it or get off of it? Well it was time to grab a bite to eat and getting late. I wanted to try out a few different places to eat. I went to the Riverside Resort and ate at the Prime Rib room, which gets my thumbs up–

Thursday, at the Starview Room in Riverside Resort, Joe and I visited River Run Registration where there’s a big supply of Quick Throttle Magazines with a handy River Run Event Guide– So we took a few photos and then had a blast outside visiting the vendors. We ran across Steve Schapiro and had a good laugh and got photos with him and some other vendors that are also in Quick Throttle. My friend Joe was a great Guide for the week, and for sure I need some adult supervision. Gloria joined us for lunch at the Tropicana buffet and it was great. I stopped to watch the band Dr. Rock and took a few photos while bikers enjoyed the music. We walked around to check out all the activity outside and watched a gal make cigars for $10 each. It was neat to watch her work and the guys bought them up. By evening many bikes were rolling in and being parked with riders arriving for the Run!

Friday the American Heroes Poker Run to Mother Road Harley-Davidson in Kingman would start at the Tropicana at 10am so I got there early. I met Joe O’Day of Dal-Con Promotions which founded this charity run, Tropicana Marketing Director Joe Hagan and Casino Events Mgr. Robin Rudkin who has coordinated Tropicana’s participation in this run at for the past 10 years; also Commander Richard Roel with other officers from VFW Post 87 in Bullhead, & Scott Kellerman from Antelope Valley Harley-Davidson who with his wife Laurie would lead the ride out to Kingman. Everyone cheering on the run again this year, to be another success to benefit American Veterans’ causes.

Sam Baldi and his wife Dawndra who have Top-Line Industrial Supply in Beaumont, Ca were also doing the run as they do every year. Sam and Dawndra have built several bikes that have won many bike shows including River Run’s Custom Bike Show a few times; this year he and Dawndra were just here to do the ride and let others compete for Bike Show trophies. Dawndra and 2 lady friends rode dazzling Swarovsky crystal blinged-out bikes.

A First Responder’s Bucket List ride- I went back to my bike parked along the curb on the north side of the Tropicana to get a drink of water and spoke to another rider there at his bike too; turns out this was David Skoff ’s first bike run, and he was very excited to be a part of this poker run and never been to Laughlin. David said that Sturgis and Laughlin were on his bucket list but Sturgis was put on hold– David is a Park/Wildlife Ranger and reserve firefighter/engineer on Catalina Island (and his sons are firefighters in Las Vegas). He was injured while trying to save a boater near Catalina December 30, 2014 when there was a fierce storm that caused 16-foot waves in Avalon Bay and washed the boat onto the rocks at Casino Point. A large wave knocked him down and put him into physical therapy and put his trip to Sturgis on hold, but he made it to Laughlin. Two lives were lost that day and one was a coworker. David’s trip to Laughlin was a highlight in his life and he says he’ll be back next year.

As the bikes rolled out on the road to Kingman with Scott Kellerman leading the way you could feel the motors going by; as the last one left it was time to jump on my Harley and ride over to meet them. The ride was super nice and everyone was courteous to each other. I rolled up in front of Mother Road Harley and was shocked at all the bikes parked and people there. I grabbed my camera, there is so much to see! First to find the check-in and get photos of the people signing in and getting their poker hands. Then off to check the store out and there is lots of everything Harley. I saw a bright red ez-up with a cute gal under it and I had to go say Hi and get a photo of her. She is the #1 DJ in Kingman at 98-FM Lucky radio station and her name is STAR. The next time I roll through Kingman I am going to turn the dial and put her in my ears. There were lots of vendors outside with everything from safety to self defense to covers and food and drinks.

Bands playing at Mother Road H-D were the West Coast Travelers and the American Hitmen—the Hitmen actually competed on 2013 season of America’s Got Talent, and now have 3 albums out of mostly original songs and a couple covers. How did the Hitmen start?

Brothers and Marine Corps Combat Veterans, Tim and Dan Cord started out playing acoustic guitars on ‘off time’ for their brothers in arms out there in Iraq, and founded the band with fellow Marines and musicians in 2005. After serving 4 honorable years and 2 combat tours in Iraq, they decided to leave the Marine Corps to pursue a music career in 2007. American Hitmen played the final Love Ride alongside Foo Fighters last fall and here they are.

Mother Road H-D GM Tony Campbell asked the Hitmen to do the honors announcing the Poker Run winners, which they were happy to do– 1st Place Dennis Wilkins from Henderson, NV won a 2017 River Run Room Pkg.; 2nd Place was Michael Teter from Las Vegas for a $250 H-D Merchandise Certificate; and 3rd was Mike Yohnke from Centerville, UT who won a $100 H-D Merchandise Cert. Mike was the only winner who was right there to claim his prize, he got up on stage with the Hitmen and we got it on camera!

Arizona Performance Cycle in Bullhead City was my next stop. I met Suzi the owner, it’s a very busy place keeping all of us happy with everything from fixing flat tires to new batteries and custom work. I have never met a gal that knows motorcycles as well as she does. Nothing gets by her and when the phone rings she’s on it and knows her stuff. I am sure the guys working there are happy she’s the boss. Now I know where to go for bike service in the Laughlin & Bullhead area—Before leaving we got a photo with Suzi and some helpers with Quick Throttle.

Music was in the night air— I headed back to Laughlin and grabbed a bite to eat. I wanted to check out some vendors and the free outdoor concerts so I took a stroll over to the Pioneer Hotel & Gambling Hall area and watched the action at the mechanical bull rides and laughed my ass off watching those fearless riders fall off — it made for good entertainment as they fell on a giant landing pad. There were some very good custom bikes being showed as I walked over to the stage where the band Cash Presley was performing. I was amazed just how good they were. I had a chance to talk with the band and their goal was to make it to Sturgis, I believe they have a good shot at it.

The “Good Ride Rally” with Carey Hart would head out Saturday morning starting at the Southern California H-D Dealer Association HQ /Demo Rides/Exhibit at the Colorado Belle. Carey is a retired freestyle motocrosser & racer, a pro in many areas and also is married to the singer Pink. Scott & Laurie Kellerman were on this ride too!

Next was the Custom Bike Show.

The weather was trying to dump on us but it only rained a little; a few bikes did leave, and I put on my rain gear to protect my camera. They let me have the run of the place so went up on the overlook to grab a few photos and check everything out. The bike I like the most belongs to a guy from Victorville, Ca and he calls himself “Gypsy”. His bike was so old school cool. It was a stock brown and he made everything fit around that color and you must see the photos. There were many very cool bikes and there was no way I could be a judge to decide who was going to win. Please check out the photos in our Gallery to pick your favorite one.

The Judges picks were: 1st Place/Best of Show for $750 was Ernie Cruz from Fresno, Ca. with a 2012 Road Glide, bought brandnew– do I dare ask how much money is invested so far? Ernie says that with buying the bike & all the custom work about $75,000 and took a year and a half. Completely stripped the bike down, powder coating the frame and wheel hubs. Having the heads custom Diamond cut, a little cam work, custom rose pink paint job. Wheels were custom ordered with a friend doing all the custom engraving on the rims and motor parts.

Engraved on the motor heads: “Trouble” and “12” –apparently Ernie’s middle name(!!) and favorite number… Also custom murals, such as on the side cover, a subtle portrait of Jesus- -a good road companion—especially when you have “Trouble” on your motor head…. As Joe O’Day interviewed Ernie he mentioned that there was some wife-strife in the process of getting this bike project done, so Joe asked, “Is your wife here?” Ernie’s wife Sandy came up front, and Joe handed the plaque to her, and she said softly that it was OK to give her the plaque, since she would end up getting the prize money also!!

2nd Place winner of $500 was Michael Uriarte aka “Mikey Loco” of Dirtbag Baggers in Long Beach, Ca. with his one-off 2003 turquoise blue H-D Road King that was a 6 month project.

3rd Place winner of $250 was Greg McClain from Las Vegas and he owned that bike for 45 yrs. A 1963 H-D panhead with a kicker, springer front end but a Sporty style tank, and extra long tailpipes extending up & out past the sissy bar. An oldie but a goodie.

The Ms. Laughlin Contest was also on my Bucket to do list and every guy that I knew told me to make sure I got the best pictures I could and I gave it my best shot. This kind of event was new to me and you can feel the excitement around that stage. Joe O’Day was throwing out Quick Throttle T-shirts to the crowd and getting the audience revved up for the excitement that was ready to begin. The contest started by asking a few questions and introducing the ladies to the audience and each go-round they had less clothes than before until they all were in bikinis and that’s when the pictures started to fly.

One contestant was disqualified because she showed too much skin; she laid down right on the table where are the judges were sitting and it was a blast to watch. With all of the jokes and the interaction with all the contestants and the DJ it sure made for good entertainment. Amber Selma 27yrs old from Charlotte, NC won first place and $1000. Terri from Colorado won second place, $400. Brandy 30 years old from Yuma, Az won 3rd place, $100. If this is any indication it should be quite a show next year for the 35th Annual River Run!

Hogs and Heifers Saloon outdoor bar between Edgewater and Colorado Belle was my next stop, to check it out and see if Carey Hart was out and about for the Good Ride Rally after party. I managed to find Carey and take a few photos. There were lots of attractive ladies working at the Hogs and Heifers bar and I have pictures to prove it. My last picture was of the owner of Hogs and Heifers Saloon, Michelle Dell– she sure was a pistol and made it fun to take her picture. It was an over-the-top exciting day and week! I will remember this trip as a Bucket List for many and I am very proud and honored to be a part of it and get to know those who I have met and the reasons why we all came.

View the Laughlin River Run – Part 1 photo gallery!