Published 10:44 pm Saturday, August 15, 2009

It was one of three bike rally vacations Fred Stone treats himself to. And, as in years past, Stone was soaking up the atmosphere and getting ready to rev and roll down U.S. 52 for the Saturday Poker Run.

A biker for only a few years, Stone, who hails from Delaware, Ohio, has come down to the city for the past three Rallies on the River.

“I happened on to it. I read about it in a magazine,” he said as he waited for Park Avenue to get jammed up with bikes. Admittedly, he said the food was about the same as he sees at other rallies. The same was true for the items in the vendors’ sidewalk shops. But he comes anyway, just because it’s fun.

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“You take a group of bikers and put them anywhere, they’ll enjoy it,” he said. “It’s a chance to trade stories with a bunch of guys and gals who love to do the same thing.”

What was a little different this year Stone said was that while the crowds were bigger than ever, most were from around the Tri-State.

Last year he counted plates from Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, but the staycation trend seemed to dominate this year’s Rally.

“Ironton is quite receptive. They embrace the impact on the economy,” he said.

A few minutes after high noon near the Elks Lodge, there started a steady stream of bikers coming up Park Avenue from their temporary headquarters at Second Street, Frogtown on South Third Street and the Laidback in Hanging Rock. Quickly, they parked their bikes and dismounted, waiting for a short ceremony the city had planned before the afternoon ride. Soon they would be off to Portsmouth.

One or two grabbed a phone camera to record a quick memory; most pulled towels out of their back kit to wipe off rivers of sweat and a couple found nuzzling a good way to kill time.

Sitting on the steps of a house near the scene was Kay Darnell of Haverhill who got keen on bikes 30 years ago because of her husband’s encouragement. Nowadays, you can find her perched behind her husband on their Honda Trike.

There’s not much about the Rally Darnell doesn’t like from the parade of heroes to the vendors. But most of all, she likes the feel of the open road, finding the back seat of the Honda so accommodating, she’s been known to read a book while her husband drives.

“You can see things better on a motorcycle,” she said.

One out-of-state visitor came faraway, all the way from Anaheim, Calif. Pat Kumar drove 22 hours to come to the Rally to set up her sidewalk biker clothing shop.

Dragging a trailer of merchandise makes the trip longer, but curbside is the only way she runs her retail business, taking in similar rallies wherever she can. A veteran of the Ironton Rally, she sees an economic impact to her wallet and the city’s.

A few hours on Saturday morning was all Ty Crabtree of West Portsmouth could take in of the festivities. Standing next to his Yamaha V-Star that gleamed in the sun, Crabtree came to the Rally to fellowship with other bikers and to spread the Gospel.

A street evangelist back home, Crabtree said his time at the Rally would be cut short when the partying took off in the evening.

“As a Christian you can’t stay here for long, as far as the drinking,” he said. “I’m here to look at other motors and be a light for Jesus.”