One sunny June morning several years ago, I made the mistake of trying to pull onto Highway 49-108 from Bell Mooney Road just west of Jamestown.
Even on a busy weekend, you usually can find sufficient gaps in the traffic to turn west safely onto the highway and head back toward the valley.
This particular day, though, it turned into a 45-minute wait. No complaints, mind you. I killed the engine, sat there and watched roughly 2,200 motorcycles vroom by. It was the Sierra Hope Ride, which, from 1995 through 2009, has generated nearly $3 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
No more, though — or at least not this year. Organizers Art Mitchell of Modesto and Karen and Allen Aldridge of Jamestown have canceled the event.
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Why? A variety of reasons. And as you might expect with a charity event, every one of them comes down to money.
"Being a fund-raiser, it should be going to the charity you're raising money for," Mitchell said.
Except that for each of the past few years, expenses have claimed a greater share of the gross receipts, leaving less for the MDA.
The number on the ride from Modesto to Jamestown ultimately grew so big that some folks along the way complained it gridlocked their towns and required too many police resources. Modesto, Riverbank, Oakdale, the counties of Stanislaus and Tuolumne, CalTrans and other agencies began charging for parade permits to cover police and other costs — costs that rose over the years.
"We went from two to nine permits, said Allen Aldridge who, with wife Karen — Mitchell's daughter — manages Jamestown Harley-Davidson and helped organize the rides. "Cities that used to donate it could no longer because of their own financial situations."
Oakdale charged nothing in 2006, the first year the ride went through town. Every year since, the city charged $380 for what amounted to a parade permit. And the Police Department — which dedicated 12 officers and 13 volunteers — billed the event $1,400 to cover costs each year.
Sierra Hope also paid more than $2,000 to shut down a segment of Briggsmore Avenue coming through Modesto.
Liability insurance costs also rose, with the cities wanting proof of insurance as the ride passed.
Then there was — still is — the recession. In 2005, 2,200 riders each paid the $50 registration fee to participate. For the ride's first 13 years, it ended with festivities at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora. Riders had to show proof they'd paid before entering the fairgrounds; those who hadn't paid did so at the gate.
All told, the 2005 event generated about $355,700 in gross revenue and turned $314,000 — 88 percent — over to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
In 2009, 1,800 riders paid their fees, but about 1,200 more rode along without registering.
"Last year, there were at least 3,000 by the time we got to Jamestown," said Mitchell, who owns Modesto's Mitchell Harley-Davidson and Jamestown Harley- Davidson.
A year earlier, organizers had tried to liven up the afterparty by moving it to Jamestown, where they took over the town's quaint main street. They approached Tuolumne County officials about installing a temporary fence around the downtown but found it would be too costly. Consequently, they had no way to keep out those who hadn't paid.
Last year's event grossed only $155,000, with $84,000 — only 54 percent — going to the MDA.
Ultimately, these piker bikers helped kill the event, not only for the charity but also for those who paid and helped raise money.
It didn't help that the Muscular Dystrophy Association closed its Modesto office and now coordinates its Stanislaus County efforts from a regional office in Sacramento.
Mitchell and the Aldridges hope to resurrect the ride in some form at some point, possibly with another charity.
"We still love raising money to help people," Karen Aldridge said. "We have so many riders who are awesome people and want to help."
Said Mitchell, "Nobody makes it easy — even to give money."
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.