RED LODGE – Most summer weekends the folks strolling the streets of this bustling mountain burg are families clad in the latest outdoor fashions – sweat-wicking pastels, sandals, yoga pants and khakis.
Not this weekend.
Friday through Sunday, Red Lodge plays host to the 19th annual Beartooth Rally, a motorcycle-friendly series of rides and events that the organizer expects may draw 10,000 to 12,000 motor-revving riders. This weekend, visitors are more likely to be sporting tattoos on tanned arms jutting from leather vests festooned with mottos like “Live Free Ride Free.”
Chelle Scogin from Worland, Wyo., rode her 2006 Harley-Davidson Low Rider to Red Lodge to visit with friends and shop in the “bling, bling” store. She was waiting as one of her friends had her bike washed by a gaggle of bikini-clad young women in a gas station parking lot.
“It’s good times, good friends,” said the now-single mom. “I like to walk around downtown and check out the bikes.”
Scogin grew up riding dirt bikes and graduated to a Harley about 14 years ago. Why a Harley?
“It’s the Cadillac,” she said, but added that she’s no Harley-Davidson snob. “They’re all good bikes. If you ride on two wheels, thank you for riding.”
The chance to hang out with old friends is also what brought Dennis Dykes, of Gillette, Wyo., and Mike Jenks, of Wright, Wyo., to Red Lodge on Friday. The two were enjoying a smoke in front of the Snow Creek Saloon, watching the endless stream of motorcycles cruise up and down the town’s main street.
“All of my friends from Miles City, this is one of their favorite runs,” Dykes said.
He noted that he is surprised he has lived so long. He will turn 70 in five months.
“I thought I’d get killed by some jealous husband when I was 32,” he joked.
But there are many other graying Harley aficionados, some wearing back braces, others getting help lifting their legs up and over the saddle.
Dykes has been riding motorcycles all his life and owns five Harleys. He has seen many fellow riders get hurt, but has never crashed his motorcycle in thousands of miles of riding.
“I’ll be riding until I die,” he added between puffs on his cheroot.
Pastor J.T. Coughlin, 56, of Great Falls, said the gangster image of Harley-riding motorcyclists projected in television shows like “Sons of Anarchy” or “Gangland” is not the type of folks he typically sees at rallies like the one in Red Lodge.
“We’re not anything like those guys,” he said, a small silver cross earring shining from his left earlobe. “Once people figure out we’re not the big scary guys, it goes over pretty well.”
Coughlin’s group, Set Free, oversees the operation of the campground at the Carbon County fairgrounds on a bluff above Red Lodge. That’s also where some of the festivities take place, like the Iron Horse Rodeo on Sunday. Set Free is composed of former alcoholics and drug addicts who have converted to Christianity, Coughlin noted.
“Now we just enjoy going out and talking to other guys,” he said, and the motorcycles are a tool to make that introduction a bit easier.
Phyrnie Fick, of Billings, had her custom T-shirt booth set up along Red Lodge’s main drag. She said the rally usually provides a good venue to move her unique line of clothing.
“Oh gosh, this is a fabulous weekend, and everyone here is having fun,” she said.
Fick has been riding on the back of her husband’s Harley for about 10 years. She said it’s a relaxing way to see the country.
“There’s no worries, you feel free,” she said.
Tim and Stephanie Buckstead, owners of BoneDaddy’s Custom Cycle in Red Lodge, are the organizers of the Beartooth Rally. They took over the event and shop from founder Leo Wilson.
Tim was working the phone Friday, supervising his 20-some employees and a cast of volunteers at the shop as bikers poured in off Highway 212 to register. He predicted this year would be a record rally.
“You know, the thing’s catching on,” he said. “I believe it’s one of the finest events in the nation.”
The Bucksteads took over in 2009 and have seen the event grow steadily since.
“The whole town really does come out for us,” Tim said amid the bustle in his shop as a trailer was unloaded and a volunteer noted that a Dumpster hadn’t been delivered.
“It’s been chaos,” he said. “But it’s fun chaos.”