Five Kenai Peninsula members of the Gold Wing Road Riders Association revved up their motorcycle engines Thursday morning for a long ride to Montana.
Jerry Russell, of Soldotna, Don Jones, of Kasilof, Bob Walker, of Sterling, Dennis Bible, of Sterling, and Don Hamilton, of Soldotna, will be traveling together to the "Wing-Ding," a rally that draws up to 20,000 bikers in Billings.
"It's just a big gathering of bikers getting together to have fun," said Russell, as the five riders, all of them over 50, met in front of the Blazy Mall on Tuesday to have their picture taken with their bikes. "It will be similar to the big annual biker gathering in Sturgis (South Dakota). We've all rode together for a long time, and this is a thing we can do."
The Gold Wing Road Riders Association is named after the Gold Wing motorcycle, manufactured by Honda in Marysville, Ohio. It is an international nonprofit organization, with 93,000 members worldwide. The Soldotna chapter was started last year by Bob Martin, who serves as its chapter director.
"We're good guys; our club is all about having fun, being safe on the road and trying to erase the stigma of bikers being bad guys," Russell said.
He pointed out the large stuffed animals each rider has attached to the back of his bike -- Elmo and Big Bird of Sesame Street fame, the Harley Hog, the California Raisin and a blue toothy beast whose name is -- of course -- Harley.
"When we were young and restless, we helped cause the stigma that bikers are bad, and all bikers aren't bad. We do this for the kids -- kids see those stuffed animals and wave at us and know we're friendly."
Russell said they carry smaller versions of their mascots to give to children who want one of their own.
Members of the association have served as road guards for the American Lung Association's Clean Air Rally in Wasilla and help ed organize a "Food Basket" program, which donates holiday meals to needy families. Along with ABATE, another national bikers' organization, association members also participate in the Toys for Tots program and the Alaska Bikers for Children Kiddies Shriners Run, which benefits the Shriners burn hospital.
The five riders departed on their adventure at 6 a.m. Thursday. They were to be joined by other members from Anchorage, then more along the way in Canada.
"We'll ride en masse, Alaskans and Canadians together," Russell said.
They plan to arrive in Montana by July 1, in plenty of time for the Wing-Ding, which begins on July 7.
Their return date is less certain.
"I better not say for sure," Russell laughed. "We might get in trouble if we're late."
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