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Rolling Thunder: Missoula's Mini-Sturgis Rally
Montana Senior News, Feb. 2016/March 2016
The roar of the Harleys—the smell of the burgers. Ah, yes. If it is a Saturday in July and you happen to be near Old Fort Missoula, it can mean only one thing—the Garden City’s own Mini-Sturgis rally. That translates to about 40 motorcycles, 550 potential bike passengers, plus a whole lotta hamburgers, hot dogs, and Polish sausage.

“We call the sound rolling thunder,” says Kathryn Beaty, Executive Director of The Village Senior Residence (TVSR). “As soon as we hear that rumble in the distance, word spreads quickly, ‘the motorcycles are coming.’”

For the past seven summers, TVSR and The Village Health Care Center (TVHCC) have hosted one of the nation’s most unusual motorcycle rallies. It draws motorcycling volunteers from organizations such as Missoula’s Harley Owners Group and Christian Motorcycle Association as well as Polson’s Sober Indians. They arrive atop choppers, trikes, and touring bikes, BMW’s, Hondas, and Ducatis. Some bikes are quiet as a cat’s purr; others resonate loudly enough to wake a sleeping babe.

These generous-hearted men and women converge on Old Fort Road with one mission—to offer those living and working at TVSR and TVHCC, along with their families, an opportunity to experience the pleasures of motorcycling. The volunteer drivers provide the vehicles and encouragement so anyone from school kids to centenarians can take a spin.

“I appreciate how everyone comes together; the generations are usually so separated. But on this day, they are all out there enjoying the same thing at the same time,” observes Kathryn, who owns and rides a Harley trike with her husband. “This is such a unique gift to our community.”

“Some of the people who attend are former riders themselves and reconnect with their youth. Others have never ridden before and want to try it,” says Katie Knudsen, TVSR’s Life Enrichment Director. “Anything we can do to bring joy to people’s lives, we need to be doing it. So many people come just for the smiles they see on the faces of the residents and the joy on the faces of the children.”

Back in 2008, the inaugural year for Mini-Sturgis, about 400 people turned up for the neighborhood rides, outdoor barbecue, and live music provided by Blue Collar. Ever since, the event has been held annually despite smoke and horrible heat and grown by 50 percent. Only rain can mess with the rides, and that has occurred just once.

“I’m surprised that it’s still so popular after these many years. We don’t need to give it a break or change it significantly,” says Katie, who coordinates a team of 75 volunteers to help with logistics. “As far as I know, no one has ever gotten off a bike and said ‘I’m not doing that again.’ Mostly we hear, ‘This was so much fun. We had a great time. We’ll be back.’”

These days, the motorcyclists organize everything about the 20-minute jaunt. They select the route and offer passengers over the age of 16 the option to don a helmet. (Younger riders must wear one.) And they have each person sign a release form before hopping aboard. Passengers can choose the motorcycle they want to straddle or whether they prefer to sit in a sidecar and forego encircling their arms around someone’s waist. Should even a sidecar or three-wheeler look intimidating, a BMW convertible provides a comfortable alternative.

Aside from partaking of the excursions and lunch, people of all ages spontaneously dance to rock n’ roll tunes. And scores of excited kids queue up to have their faces painted and their arms and legs tattooed with washable ink.

“It’s kind of noisy between the bikes and the band,” remarks Katie. “But that doesn’t bother anyone. For as loud as we are, we’ve received no
complaints.”

Barbara Hauf, who lives at TVSR, describes herself as someone who “loves to get out and do something different.” She feels fortunate to have participated three years’ running in Mini-Sturgis and urges others to join her, especially anyone who may be frightened to sit astride a motorbike.

“There’s nothing to be scared of. It’s real fun, not just a smooth little ride. There are bumps. You have to make sure you hang on,” advises Barbara who adores feeling the wind blowing through her hair as she cruises along at 25 mph.

“It’s reminiscent of riding horses, which I used to do growing up on the family ranch in Colstrip. It’s a different kind of movement, though. I just hang on tight and go. But with the horse, you hang on and bounce. In the beginning, I wondered what to expect from the day,” she recalls. “Now I look forward to it happening again. Even my children ask, ‘When is the next one and can I come?’”

For Kathryn, one of the more poignant moments of recent years occurred when a reluctant paraplegic in his 30’s decided to board a bike. It took a lot of convincing to get him to yes, which was followed by four energetic men who lifted him onto the rear seat of Kathryn’s trike behind her husband.

“All he could do was balance himself. Then he held on tight around my husband’s waist and off they went,” remembers Kathryn. “When he returned, he had the biggest grin on his face. He had never been on a motorcycle before and told me, ‘If I’m still around next year, I’m going to ride again.’”

While donations are accepted to help defray food, band, and rental costs, collecting an admission fee has never been an option and likely never will be.

“This is something we choose to do because the rewards of seeing everyone so happy are worth it. The rewards far outweigh the costs,” says Katie. “They are something you can’t put a price on.”
 
For more information, call Kathryn at TVSR (406-549-1300).