EAST DURHAM — One hundred motorcycles revved up for the polar bear run on Saturday during the fifth annual Motorcycle Mayhem weekend at Blackthorne Resort.
Bikers dusted off their gear and partied after a long winter, keeping an eye toward September’s Catskill Mountain Thunder, which draws 15,000 riders to Greene County annually.
The first motorcycle event of the season also drew hundreds more locals to party at the resort for evenings of live music, including a performance by 23-year-old Cairo musician Chelsea Sulkey, games, a benefit for a local school bus driver, vendors, food, a fire-twirling belly dancer, and a motorcycle run through the center of the bar, organizers said. “It’s loud, it’s wild, and the crowd loves it,” said Blackthorne co-owner Roy Handel on Sunday.
The weekend-long event filled every open room at the Blackthorne resort with members of a tight-knit community of bike riders. builders and enthusiasts across the Northeast. according to co-owner Patty Handel.
“It was the first ride of the year,” said member Joe “Humble” Boulay. “The highlight for me was friendships re-kindled and plans made. [It was] like a bear coming out of its cave after a long winter.”
“There’s a lot of hugging,” said Donna O’Leary, who has come to be known as the group’s ‘social media goddess.’ “There was a cabin-fever element. People have been stuck in their houses all winter, so many people haven’t seen each other since September.”
The polar bear run Saturday kicked off with about 100 riders lined up outside the resort’s entrance, flanked by members of the Durham police department and Greene County sheriff’s office to help direct traffic as the motorcycles took a lane.
Roy and Dale Handel, resort co-owners and ride leaders, plan the route to go through country roads and a stop at a local business for cross-promotional action. The greatest challenge is getting almost 200 bikers organized, and getting them to show up on time, Handel said. But the greatest rewards are the sights and smells of the outdoors.
“The most notable part of the ride for me was crossing the Basic Creek Reservoir [in Westerlo],” Roy Handel said. “On one side [there] was still ice and it was like a giant slush puppy, with waves and open water on the other side.”
“You’re not closed in,” O’Leary said. “Bikers call people in a car ‘riding in a cage,’ because that’s the way it feels going from the bike to the car.”
Motorcycling is a growing activity for women, with more female riders showing up to the event every year, according to O’Leary. “You’ve got the motors and the outdoors,” she said.
“Ten years ago you only saw women on the back of bikes,” Roy Handel said. “Now, I see them everywhere.”
“I’m going to get my [motorcycle] permit this week,” Patty Handel added.
The April Mayhem and June Motorcycle Spring Run events are a microcosm of Catskill Mountain Thunder, the flagship event in September that draws 15,000 people from around the globe, vendors and local artists, headliner performances, and photographers from the seminal motorcycle magazine, Easy Rider. The event, in its 21st year, includes live motorcycle shows by renowned stuntman Rhett Rotten, who rides sideways on the 10-foot Wall of Death, and the circus performer family Urias Globe of Death.
Despite the gruesome show titles, Catskill Mountain Thunder is a family-oriented weekend and draws the younger generation of motorcycle enthusiasts, organizers say.
“We’ve been holding the event for more than 20 years,” Roy Handel said. “People who were here as kids are now here as adults with their own kids. Our own kids grew up here.”
“The entertainers bring the kids in,” O’Leary said. “They’re very cognizant of leaving the ladder down for the next generation of folks who ride motorcycles.”
“The event helps the whole community,” she said. “People go out for breakfast and lunch, every hotel is booked up to Coxsackie.”