Hawg Heaven | VailDaily.com

Hawg Heaven

Lauren Glendenning
Theo StroomerPam Stoner sits on her motorcycle, which she painted herself. Stoner also created the design for her boots.

It’s Friday afternoon at the Wolcott Yacht Club and the sound of roaring motorcycle engines comes rolling in promptly at 6:30 p.m. The Vail Valley’s motorcyclists flock to the Yacht Club ” one of the only places around that doubles as a biker hangout a couple days a week.

The valley’s motorcycle-riding population is as large as ever, says Bob Zeeb, a rider who has lived in Eagle County for more than 30 years and frequents the Yacht Club. He thinks it will continue to grow, because of soaring gas prices ” bikes can get up to 100 miles per gallon ” and an increasing population in the area. That, and also because he says riding a bike is just cool.

“It’s a vogue thing,” Zeeb says.

Vogue it may be, but it’s more than a trend. Biker groups have their own culture, their own connection. You’ll see them wave to each other while turning a corner, even when they don’t know each other. It’s like there’s an unspoken bond between everyone who likes to feel the wind in their faces as they cruise down the highway.

“It’s hard to explain, but there’s a camaraderie between us,” says Pam Stoner, a biker from Eagle-Vail.

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Most local bikers will tell you they fell in love the very first time they ever rode. You just have to do it once to find out what it’s like, says Pat DuRussel, a 25-year-old biker who lives in Avon.

“The wind; everything about it; revving the engine,” DuRussel says. “The first time you’re riding on the highway, you feel like you’re going to die when you’re going 50 miles per hour.”

It was a rush that made him go back for more, he says. And most bikers agree that it’s that rush, whether adrenaline or just the feeling of being alive, that makes riding a motorcycle addictive.

That being said, safety is still a concern for many riders. They realize the risks, but many still choose not to wear helmets. Stoner, who doesn’t wear one, says it’s a personal preference.

Phil Semak, a 27-year-old biker who has been riding less than a year, says he doesn’t do anything he can’t handle.

“I know my limit and I don’t go beyond that,” he says.

Dan Sunday, a biker who lives in Wildridge, says riding at night in the valley scares him because of the wildlife around here.

“That’s my biggest fear … hitting an animal at night,” he says.

For valley bikers who like to ride year-round, it can be tough living here. The riding season ” the time of year when the roads aren’t icy and the wind is somewhat warm ” is short. But it’s also sweet.

“The views from a bike in the mountains ” it’s ridiculous,” Semak says.

Most of us who live in Eagle County know what good driving views are ” there’s practically no place to escape them. But local bikers insist their view is better.

“You get that open air; the countryside,” Stoner says. “To see things from a motorcycle is just a totally different deal.”

There’s no music or cell phones ringing to distract from the beautiful scenery, Semak says. One of his favorite local rides is down Highway 24 from Red Cliff.

The valley is so linear that bikers have to get creative, says Sunday, who tries to ride about 10,000 miles per year. Sunday likes the drive toward State Bridge, north of Wolcott, and the drive all the way to Steamboat Springs.

But since the riding season is so short here, many bikers go on trips to get their riding fixes in.

Stoner says she and her crew of about 20 try to take one big trip a year. One of the guys in the group has a big trailer that the riders all load their bikes in. They hop on a flight and wait for the trailer to arrive with their bikes. About three years ago, the crew went to a big rally in New Hampshire. This year they’re heading to Milwaukee for Labor Day weekend.

Locally this time of year, the riding options are pretty limited to the main highways, but that’s about to change. Independence Pass, between Leadville and Aspen, opens this week for the summer. Gore Pass near Kremmling is another stretch of road Stoner and her crew enjoys riding.

Taking trips specifically to ride motorcycles is something another local biker crew is familiar with as well. The Cordillera Motorcycle Association ” a group with more than 150 members, not all of whom ride motorcycles ” takes extravagant riding trips every year. They’ve gone to South America and Asia, all in the name of motorcycle riding.

For crews who can’t spend thousands of dollars on such trips, Zeeb says our own backyard is just fine.

“Colorado is one of the prettiest rides ” we’ve got the Rockies,” Zeeb says.

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