SEASIDE - The storm rolled into town as a swelling stream of leather jackets, bandannas, chaps and sunglasses, lined with glinting chrome and the rumbling thunder of engines.
Seaside welcomed the steady torrent of scores of Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders who share a passion for the open road. An estimated 500 riders participated in the two-week journey from Missouri, roughly tracing the path of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition, and more than half of them completed the tour in Seaside.
The riders departed St. Charles, Mo., July 24 and ventured through seven states, traveling an average of 300 miles a day.
Joe McKasty, who rode 4,591 miles from Mannerville, N.Y., to Seaside, shows off his Lewis and Clark expedition "ride guide." Complete with a pen to record the journey and a compass, McKasty's guide has been signed by Nancy and Willie G. Davidson, grandson of one of the Davidson brothers, some of the founders of Harley-Davidson.Hosted by Harley Owners Group - H.O.G. - the tour extended Wednesday to sites including the Fort Clatsop National Memorial and the beach in Seaside, where members of the Lewis and Clark expedition had boiled sea water to collect salt nearly 200 years ago.
Seaside business owner Doug Wiese, a Harley enthusiast, worked with the Seaside Downtown Development Association to help coordinate the local part of the tour and ensure Seaside was included. He had contacted the Rose City chapter of H.O.G. at Latus Motors in Portland.
Participants who visited Quatat Park came from Japan and Canada as well as 47 states. "I think this is great," said Dolna Mespelt of the development association, watching the riders relaxing after lunch and visiting sites in Seaside.
In a heavy French accent, Gilles Proux of Quebec said he was gratified to reach the approximate end of the Lewis and Clark trail and "to touch the sea."
A general contractor, Proux, 64, smiled to reveal a bejeweled front tooth as he resumed his journey on his massive Harley-Davidson trike. "It's my first H.O.G. tour, but not my last."
Steven J. Fred of Fairfax, Va., said for many owners the motorcycles represent a hobby similar to pursuits such as boating. Owners of everything from Road Kings to Ultra Classics typically invest more than $20,000 in their Harleys, he said.
"I've been riding about 35 years, but only Harleys for about five," he said, 52, who intensified his focus on the activity after retiring from the U.S. Air Force a few years ago. To afford a Harley-Davidson, he added, "you've got to wait until the kids are grown."
He and his wife, Chris Fred, have taken three extended trips with H.O.G. On the latest venture they enjoyed handing out medals as tokens of friendship along the way, echoing the gesture of peace medals distributed by the Corps of Discovery.
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Motorcycles line the streets of Seaside, Wednesday afternoon."I love seeing the change of topography as you move farther west," he added. "The plains, the mountains, the rolling hills - and on a motorcycle you don't just see it, you smell it and feel it."
The participants have visited sites in and near Kansas City, Mo.; Sioux City, Iowa; Pierre, S.D.; Bismarck, N.D.; Billings, Mont., and Lewiston, Idaho. The tour included events dealing with Lewis and Clark history as well as other aspects of interest to riders, from a Native American dancing exhibition at the Atka Lakota Museum in Chamberlain, S.D., to a Harley-Davidson Kansas City plant visit.
Seaside residents offered a warm welcome, said Nancy Pech of the Rose City H.O.G. chapter, which sponsors a state rally every year at Welches.
Although they may wear leather, most H.O.G. members defy preconceptions of rough and rowdy riders, Pech said.
Fellow chapter member Judy Mitchell Dyer agreed. Participants include teachers, lawyers, salesmen, truck drivers and retirees who can afford the time to take an extended trip, she said. They range from couples with young children to a 77-year old tobacco farmer.
Some pressed for time ship their motorcycles and fly home at the end of an extended tour.
Compared with a handful of sometimes conceited wealthy dabblers, those who look rough-hewn and have spent years riding and maintaining the motorcycles are often more considerate, added Wendy Offutt, another coordinator of the event. "Those guys are the first to step up and help you."
Most H.O.G. enthusiasts particularly enjoy the camaraderie, she said. "Harley is a family."
Still, the group is eclectic, acknowledged Steven Gorrell, 51. A firefighter from Long Beach, Calif., he rode his Night Train from California to Missouri before even beginning the Lewis and Clark tour.
Rosemary Schenk, visiting Seaside from Tigard, laughs as she takes a ride on the back of Joe McKasty's Harley-Davidson. "I was bold enough to ask and the gentleman was nice enough to say yes," says Schenk, who was tickled by her ride down Broadway.Decked in a worn leather jacket, a Native American beaded necklace and a Harley-Davidson cap, Gorrell said he has been riding 26 years. Although there is a different crowd riding Harleys these days, there is no substantial friction with the old school of hard-core mechanophiles, he said.
After all, he added with a grin when considering the passage of time, "most of those guys are dead."
The relatively mild, warm weather of Seaside was welcome after temperatures ranging from 30 degrees to 108 degrees on the Lewis and Clark tour, Gorrell said.
He admired farms he saw along the way that did not have satellite dishes, and the tree-filled Coast Range as a majestic backdrop to the Pacific. But a particular highlight of the journey was Lolo Pass in western Montana.
"I saw a lot beautiful scenery, but Lolo Pass was 100 miles of uninterrupted beauty, the kind that knocks your socks off," he said.
While members of the Lewis and Clark expedition had a decidedly more arduous journey than the motorcycle riders, the Pacific Ocean as an endpoint still seemed far while in the thick of traveling hundreds upon hundreds of miles, a jubilant Steve Fred concluded.
"We thought we'd never get there - and all of a sudden, we're here."