For the second year in a row, my husband, Todd, and I joined the Hogs & Rags Annual Spring Rally from Fayetteville to Myrtle Beach. It’s just one of many charity rides and drives – proceeds go to groups that help local families touched by cancer and autism – but it’s quickly becoming a must-do event come spring. The first Hogs & Rags drew 60 participants. Last year, 125 people took part. But this year’s success blew organizers away.
Gardner Altman, a retired lawyer, founded the event with friends and fellow “car guys” Billy Wellons and Bobby Bleecker. They named the event for Harley-Davidsons, which are fondly referred to as hogs, and convertibles, known as rags. Altman invites the whole crowd to his farm, the Rocking A Ranch in White Oak.
And that’s where we made our first pit stop for eggs, grits, country ham and biscuits served up by local celebrities. State Sen. Tony Rand had the dish on the sausage, I think. And a number of other local politicos, including state Secretary of Transportation Lyndo Tippett and Bladen County Sheriff Steve Bunn wore aprons and wielded serving spoons for the occasion. Altman expected about 250 for breakfast that morning, then 375 came rolling in.
It must have been the sunshine.
The day started early. Riders and drivers assembled well before 8 a.m. at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum. When we arrived, the traffic circle in front of the museum was brilliant with shiny chrome. Hay Street rumbled to life, and the occasional early riser who happened to be out and about stopped to gawk as 200 motorcycles and 30 convertibles paraded past. We headed out to Gillespie Street, then N.C. 87 and the freedom of an open highway and a police escort that guaranteed a stoplight-free ride all the way to the beach. What a way to travel.
While there were a good number of female riders this year, I was happy to take a back seat on my husband’s spit-shined Road King. From that vantage point, I had an unimpeded, undistracted view of the passing scenery: young calves in open pastures, waving wheat fields, newly-planted crops and entire families peeking out from behind doors or venturing out into yards to wave at us. You get an overwhelming sense of freedom riding that way through rural communities. It makes you smile bigger. It makes you want to laugh out loud. I did that a few times. And I waved back.
Imagine how long and loud is the passage of 200 thundering Harleys. When you’re somewhere in the middle, traveling at 50 or 60 mph, you don’t get the full effect of our raucous convoy. Our happy procession set the cows to running. We passed horses cantering around a pasture, their manes blowing and twisting. And I thought: that is what it’s like to ride a motorcycle on such a fine day. It’s like a wild horse running. Then I caught a glimpse, I’m sure of it, of several small children, all naked, jumping on a trampoline near a country home.
We crossed back over the Cape Fear River, one of my favorite sights, and rejoined N.C. 87. At Dublin, we took a right turn onto N.C. 410. At some point, my husband hollered into the wind: “It’s the kind of day you thank God you’re alive, huh.” It was a statement, not a question. It required no answer. I just hugged him a little tighter.
We pulled into the 2001 Nightclub in North Myrtle Beach. They had a full banquet with peel-and-eat shrimp, chocolate-covered strawberries and Key lime pie. There was cold beer and music, raffle prizes and good conversation.
One by one, the riders and drivers went their separate ways. In the end, the event raised about $12,000 for the American Cancer Society chapters in Bladen and Cumberland counties and the Autism Society of Cumberland County. There were many who made it possible: Altman, Bleecker, Wellons, Bill Libby, Samantha Newton, Jerry Blackmon, Travis Hibler and Anna Cole.
Altman said 29 businesses sponsored the event, more than twice as many as last year. As for next year, I can’t wait.
Especially if it’s that kind of day.