One call, and nine years of motorcycle mania
I remember the day the man with the unusual last name phoned to tell me a fantastic tale about motorcycles and Baker City.
His name is Eric Folkestad.
I’d have remembered that, more than eight years later, if I remembered nothing else.
I asked him to spell Folkestad.
Later I asked him to spell it twice more so I could be sure I hadn’t swapped the “l” and the “k” or misplaced the “e.”
I was so worried about botching his last name I nearly forgot to ask him the equally vital question about his first name.
Are you an Eric or an Erik?
(Although I suppose these days, as more parents are loathe to saddle their children with anything that seems too common, there walk among us an ample population of Arycs and Eryks and the like.)
It was only after I had hung up — and triple-checked that last name in my handwritten notes — that I pondered what Eric Folkestad had told me on that day in early January 2006.
In four months’ time, he insisted, 1,500 motorcycle riders would throttle into Baker City and spend the weekend here, Eric and his brother, Steve, among them.
“And it might be more than that,” I quoted Eric in a story in the next issue of the Herald.
I was skeptical.
Not as skeptical as the time a caller (this one insisted on anonymity, so at least I didn’t have to worry about transcribing weird vowel-consonant combinations) who claimed to possess information which would bring down a president.
And it wasn’t Clinton, in case you’re wondering whether I once got a cold call from Linda Tripp.
What I felt after talking with Eric is the sort of incredulity that reporters accrete, rather like mental callouses, after even a few years of listening to grandiose claims from people who don’t have mere axes to grind but entire arsenals of keenly bladed implements.
It turned out, as you well know if you’ve lived in Baker City at any time since May 2006, that Eric wasn’t exaggerating.
Indeed the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally has made Eric’s original prediction sound like the hedging bet of the perpetual pessimist.
The event, which moved to July after the riders got drenched a few times by a typical Baker County spring, has grown to be one of the larger events here.
Perhaps even the largest, if measured by the number of visitors.
The way this happened surprises me as much as that it did happen.
The Folkestad brothers first rode their motorcycles to Baker City in June 2000, having been enticed by reading about the then newly restored Geiser Grand Hotel. They invited about 10 of their Portland-area friends to ride along.
They didn’t call the newspaper.
No one noticed a dozen motorcycles.
The brothers, both of whom live near Portland, returned each of the next five years, always with a small group.
After their 2005 tour, though, the Folkestads decided they were in effect hogging all the fun.
This being the 21st century and all, the brothers revealed their secret in the most effective and immediate manner.
They created a web site: www.hellscanyonrally.com.
They invited people to come to Baker City and join them for a weekend of riding the area’s curve-infested two-lanes in late May 2006.
A considerable number of people, as Eric forecast they would, accepted the invitation.
The lack of an entry fee probably helped, too.
Eight years later the Hells Canyon Motorcycle Rally is a staple among Baker County’s summer events, fitting nicely between the Baker City Cycling Classic (we like our two-wheelers here, with or without engines) and Independence Day on one side, and Miners Jubilee, the Shrine weekend and the Baker County Fair on the other.
The economic benefit of the rally is beyond dispute.
Every motel room in Baker City — and many in surrounding towns — is occupied during the event.
Restaurants and other businesses get a boost.
I don’t like everything about the rally. When I have the windows of my house open to catch a cooling breeze on a summer night, the concussive rumble of V-twin Harleys on Auburn Avenue makes it seem as though the motorcycles are revving right in my driveway.
Even three-year-olds struggle to sleep through the cacophony.
And three-year-olds awakened at midnight are among the few entities capable of sounds louder than a Harley V-twin.
But it’s only a couple nights — Union Pacific, by contrast, offers no such reprieve from the piercing whistles of its locomotives.
Eight years ago I doubted Baker City would ever be associated, in any meaningful way, with motorcycles.
Today our town is known by thousands of riders from across the nation. We’re no Sturgis, to be sure — and good that we’re not.
And all it took was a pair of brothers with a funny last name.
Jayson Jacoby is editor