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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Thunder in the Valley 2011: The Dream that Roared*

Copyright© 2011 by Ralph Couey

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
June 23, 2011
as "Motorcycle rally has become something special"

Summer is rally season for the motorcycle community.  Every weekend throughout these hazy crazy days somewhere motorcyclists are gathering. 
Every June since 1998, this valley has resonated with the thunder of motorcycles.  In the years since, Thunder in the Valley© has become one of the premier events of motorcycling.  From across the country, riders stream into the Johnstown area for four days of fun, food, and fellowship.  Scheduled the week after Laconia, New Hampshire’s Bike Week, it provides a nice segue for east coast riders and a great way to polish off a two-week two-wheeled vacation. 

Every rally has its separate attractions and charms.  But this one, “The Little Rally That Could…And Did” has become something special.   

Thunder in the Valley© combines the best elements of a motorcycle rally.  In the fellowship of 200,000 riders are people who instinctively know why we own these machines.  Vendors provide a plethora of items to shower upon our bikes and ourselves.  Music is always present in several venues, so that you’re never out of earshot of entertainment from the toe-tappin’ to the foot stompin’.  Food is present in abundance, from traditional rally fare to regular restaurant cuisine.  Manufacturers provide the opportunity to take their bikes for test rides, and offer good deals should your heart be captured.  And outside of town lie dozens of roads that twist and turn through the heart-melting beauty of the Laurel Highlands, providing many hours of what could only be termed perfect rides. 

But mainly, it’s the warm hospitality of a community that welcomes riders, rather than just tolerating them.  Most Johnstowners welcome the annual gathering and demonstrate their support by coming to the rally with their families.  It is that warm welcome that brings people here, and keeps them coming back, even in the middle of the Great Recession. 

Thunder has become a joyous and peaceful event because the people involved, both hosts and visitors, have decided that it must be that way.  It is purely a cooperative venture.
From across the country, riders have streamed into the valley for this weekend.  The uninitiated might ask, why take the journey?

Traveling by motorcycle is to exist in a world to which others are blinded.  The feel of the road through the handlebars, the wind flowing past, the sun warm upon the shoulders all combine in a sense of freedom unmatched anywhere.  You don’t just travel on the road, you become part of it; living and breathing the world as it passes by. The time between sunup and sundown, is a day filled with endless possibilities.  

In those magical moments when we are alone with the road and an unexplored horizon, the years fall away. The burdens and responsibilities are lifted and for a few fleeting moments, we are once again free….and young. We’re no longer victims of circumstance; we are masters of our destiny. We have nowhere to be and all the time in the world to get there. 

It is a difficult thing to explain, this love.  Even among motorcyclists words fail to fully capture these powerful emotions.  Walt Whitman, in his epic poem “The Song of the Open Road” in my mind comes the closest to divining the urges that drive us out onto the highways:

“From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines,
Going where I list, my own master total and absolute,
divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.”

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.
To look up or down no road but it stretches and waits for you,
To know the universe itself as roads for traveling souls.

Let the paper remain unwritten,
and the book on the shelf unopen'd!
Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn'd!
Let the school stand! mind not the cry of the teacher!
Let the preacher preach in his pulpit! let the lawyer plead in the
court, and the judge expound the law.

I give you my hand!
Will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”

Come on in off the road.  Take your boots off and sit a spell.  Here, have a cold one and tell us about your journeys.  And relax; you’re among friends. 

Welcome to Johnstown!
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