LAKEGEORGE - John and PattiHevern of Pittsford, N.Y. stood in a long line of motorcycle enthusiasts that snaked through hallways at the Lake George Holiday Inn, waiting to register for Americade 2011.
The annual touring motorcycle rally, considered the largest of its kind in the world, began checking in pre-registered participants Monday, June 6.
The parking lot behind the Holiday Inn was a sea of motorcycles, and registrants had to wait up to an hour to get to the check-in tables due to the crowd.
But regardless of the wait, nearly all of the cyclists exhibited smiles, including the Heverns, who were chatting with others in line.
"Nine years ago, we specifically planned our wedding so Americade would be our honeymoon," Patti "P.J." Hevern said. "That's how much this Americade 'family' means to us," she said.
Since that year, the Heverns have developed deep friendships with the other Americaders, and they take interstate trips over the summer months nearly every year with about 20 Americaders from five other states, John Hevern said.
"We wait for this rally all year," he said.
Rally is an escape from routine
Behind the Heverns in line, Jeff and Sharon from Utica, riders in that city's Revelation Riders, a Christian Motorcycle Association chapter, chatted with other waiting bikers. Staying nights in a Warrensburg campground, it was their fourth year to attend the rally, Sharon said.
"Americade is how we spend our vacation - and it means no children for a week, no one to answer to," she said.
Jeff said he was looking forward to the various demonstration rides, with manufacturers offering rides on motorcycle brands he'd ordinarily never get his hands on.
"Also, Americade is incredible because of the sight of so many bikes in one area - it's just amazing, so beautiful," he said.
Two Harley bikers were converted.
A few steps nearer to the registration table - about a half hour away - were longtime friends Ken Biles and Jeff Bettinger of East Brunswick, N.J.
The two were garbed in black leather and headwraps. For years, they'd been members of a local Harley riders' group, but they got bored with taking short trips from one bar to another merely to drink, and they sought more adventure, Bettinger said.
"At Americade, it's all about riding, and everybody's so friendly," he said. "The staff is always asking how you are doing."
Staff volunteer Ray Vaillancourt of Delta, Ohio, waved Bettinger and Biles forward, and asked them how they were doing. The two took a few steps closer to the registration tables.
Vaillancourt was wearing a double-billed baseball cap covered with Americade pins, representing all 29 years of the rally's history. He's volunteered every year since 1983.
"It's how I get away from my wife for a week," he explained. "I plan to come here every year for the rest of my life."
Bikers: 'It's all about the touring'
Tim and Kathy Leary, of Batavia, were 40 yards back in a dim hallway, moving forward a few feet every several minutes. They've attended Americade for the last 12 years, Tim Leary said.
"Coming to Americade means once a year, we get to ride through these beautiful mountains," he said.
"And we're not at work" chimed in Kathy, an office manager at an auto dealership.
At the front of the line registering were John Tachuk of Salem, Mass. and Paul "Payo" Odierno of nearby Billerica. The two, both 67 years old, have been vacationing at Americade for 11 years, with a group of up to 16 of their friends, depending on the year, Odierno said.
"It's an incredible adrenaline rush of seeing all the bikes together in the village," he said.
Tachuk echoed the point.
"It's like Disney World for motorcyclists," he said, noting that this year, he was taking a half-dozen mini-tours. "Also, people here are happy - they're in vacation mode."
More women riders at rally
Outside in the parking lot among hundreds of bikers, Kathy Starkey threw a leg over her Kawasaki Vulcan 1500 and her friend Barbara Smith mounted her Honda VTX 1300. The two, from central Massachusetts, are among the growing number of female bikers that attend Americade.
Although women riding big, heavy cruising V-twin motorcycles is a fast-growing trend, Starkey's been riding since 1971, when she owned a Triumph Bonneville 650 with an extended front end. She first got interested in motorcycles when her then-boyfriend was a Harley rider, she said.
Starkey said Americade meant finding the best and most vendors of motorcycle accessories and services in one place. The two have been attending for years, regardless of the weather.
She pointed out various custom-painted vignettes of wolves and dream-catchers on her gas tank, side covers and fenders, praising the artists and intricate detail.
"You can get anything you want done to your bike at Americade," she said. "But more than that, it's a beautiful place to ride, and the camaraderie is great - everybody's family here, it doesn't matter who you are or what you ride."
The two fired up their engines, emitting dual throbbing deep exhaust notes.
Leaving spouse at home
Directing traffic as Starkey and Smith rode past, volunteer Andy Dechard of Boonville, N.Y. said that when her retired, he decided to volunteer for the rally, so he'd never miss another.
"This is better than any vacation, bar none," he said, admitting he was skipping his 43rd wedding anniversary celebration with his wife, Colleen, who was back home.
"This week is her vacation away from me," he quipped.