The Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts held their annual Poker Run and get-together on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound of Washington State. Seattle, USA 29/08/2010
It's a brief ferry ride from either Seattle in the north or Tacoma in the south to reach the gentle shores and fields of Vashon Island. Being set apart, the Island has a special feel about it: the people seem friendlier, the shops and restaurants possess an extra dose of "quaint." But this feeling of quaint and gentle separateness is upset one Sunday a year around Labor Day by hundreds of motorcycles gathering for the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts poker run and get-together.
As the club's name implies, the motorcycles of interest are the ones that are older - throw-backs to the earlier, and oilier, days of two-wheeled travels. But that doesn't stop enthusiasts with newer and shiny models of motorcycles from showing up to ride, gawk, and partake in the friendly fraternity of those who ride. For every old bike from days gone by there are probably three newer ones. But the old rides are the ones that get the attention, and deservedly so. While some of the old-timers are not even close to show condition, being solidly in the 'rider' category, many of the examples of vintage bikes are gems, shiny and polished with obvious meticulous care taken to each detail of the motorcycle's many parts.
The poker run, a series of checkpoints where the random draw of a card determines one's poker hand for the contest at the end of the ride, is the club's big fund-raising event, along with the sale of teeshirts and sweatshirts, pins, and sometimes, posters. Non-members are always welcome to join in, but in the interest of keeping the motorcycling hordes from being too large, the exact date of the get-together is kept a 'secret' from non-members. To join the ride, one has to expend a little bit of effort: make friends with a member, or get a heads-up through the grapevine to be sure of the correct date for the ride. The secrecy is an interesting quirk that somehow adds to the interest of the event; maybe it is just an example of a clever use of reverse psychology.
The checkpoints spread out around the Island are indicated on a supplied map. Safely off the trafficed area of the road, the checkpoints are hives of activity with bikes buzzing in and out, the rider offering up their punchcard, and then reaching into a bag to draw a playing card offered by congenial volunteers. Care is needed upon departure; a lot of motorcycles in a small space can make for dicey riding, especially for street motorcycles temporarily rolling in the loose gravel of a shoulder. No mishaps were noted on this cloudy Sunday.
At the end of the poker run, where the final checkpoint becomes a destination, the club gathers for a barbeque, a concours of the snazziest bikes, and a set of events to demonstrate the rider's skill including a 'slow race' where the ability to ride and balance the motorcycle while moving very slowly is held. The large field turned into a parking lot for the event was the scene of many small gatherings of motorcycling afficianados. Pocket cameras captured details of unusual marques, and the unique features of particular models were discussed. Many folks, riders of the well-known brands like Harley-Davidson or Honda, marveled at the names of manufacturers heretofor unknown to them: who has ever heard of an AJS? Or a Velocette? The parking lot at the barbeque was a cornucopia, offering bikes of varied age, nationality, and condition; the commonality was that they all ran, almost all of them very well indeed, as evidenced by the din of exhaust pipes when it was time to start up and leave.
The gathering ended as it started: at the ferry docks, lined up closely, and awaiting the signal of the ferry crew to board the vessel. For a few moments, as the dozens of bikes rolled onto the boats, the engine noise reverberated upon the steel bulkheads, and then one by one, fell silent for the trip to the mainland. One last look at the bikes could be had during the few minutes of the trip -- the Triumphs, the Nortons, the Ducatis and BMWs -- painted brightly and lovingly polished, or oily and covered with well-earned grime -- one last glance and wistful gaze at the assembly, and then it's onto one's own steed, helmet cinched, off the ferry we go. This has been a good ride; only twelve months until next year's Isle of Vashon, the best secret motorcycle gathering you'll ever attend.