Las Vegas BikeFest 2015: Burnouts, Cops And Rattlesnake Hunting

Article By: Darren McKeag

Photos By: Cycle Source Staff& Adam Sternberg

Originally Published In The February 2016 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

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You hear the words “Las Vegas BikeFest 2015” ! I think it’s only normal that one would associate these words with, bright lights, big city and setting your soul on fire. The idea of sleepless nights, full of entertainment, huge buffets and rolling the dice under the 12.5 million LED lights of Fremont Street. Flying in to catch a private limo to your favorite luxury hotel, to live like a king for a week. Sounds like a wonderful get away for the first part of October, right? Well, honestly I wouldn’t know, as my trips are usually just the opposite of this and Las Vegas Bike Fest would prove to be no different. Rewind to four days earlier. Chris, Heather and Killer made the 13 hour drive to our house in Iowa. Cycle Source van loaded, with trailer in tow, completely full as well. Our current mission, pack all of my art, merch and personal belongings into said van and trailer, on top of and amongst, all of Chris’s art, motorbikes and CS magazines. Oh, and Heather, Amelia and Missy’s girl stuff (love you girls). We managed to get in some breakfast with Big Don and my beautiful side kick, before we headed out on our 24 hour road trip to Vegas. Missy was due to fly in on Friday. Imagine, 4 adults packed in a van, that’s already been on the road for 13 hours, really has room for only two adults and has another 24 hours to go. Packed with motorbikes, art and art supplies, magazines, sound equipment and junk food, we had everything that meant anything to us and we were blazing down the highway, headed West. This was a reality and it would prove to be one of the most epic road trips I’ve ever been on.

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Wanting to allow the crew some much needed rest, I jumped in the driver’s seat and we headed down I-80. I was charged up and ready for this next stretch of the trip. As the clock passed 12 more hours, we found ourselves on the Westside of Denver. I personally felt like I was doing good, but it wasn’t until two coyotes, within a 5 mile stretch had me scrambling at the wheel and yelling “oh shit” loud enough to wake everyone up. We decided to pull off, fuel up and put Chris in the seat. I was ready for a break. Getting through the Rocky Mountains with a full load, went well. The cool temperatures were good to us and the scenery was even better. Getting though the mountains in Utah, Arizona and the Eastern part of Nevada would prove to be not so good. As the outside temperatures climbed, so did the engine temperature on the CS dragon. Now, I’m no vehicle mechanic, but we were clearly dealing with one of the following. A faulty D-59 thermostat quadrant, a broken X-4 radiator fan motor canipulator bracket, or something more technical than anyone could imagine. An overloaded van, pulling an overloaded trailer, up steep mountains in high temperatures. I personally think it was a combination of all previously mentioned possibilities, but what do I know.

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We had stopped for some food in the scenic town of Green River, Utah. This is a wonderful little town with very kind people and as you head down the interstate, there are many old vehicles out to pasture for your viewing pleasure. One of my favorite things about driving cross country, lots of four wheeled history sitting out amongst the barbed wire fields. Not far from highway junction 15, we realized the CS dragon was in much need of a rest. Her temperatures we climbing and we had a long way to go. We spotted a perfect little rest stop that not only allowed us to relieve ourselves, but wouldn’t you know it, allowed us some damn good rattlesnake hunting. There, right before our very eyes, was a set of steps crossing over the fence, with a neon sign saying “Rattlesnake Hunting Here”. Ok, ok, so not all of that is true, Heather and Killer were in the van, so it was really only in front of my eyes and Chris’s eyes. Ok, ok, there was no neon sign. However, Chris and I managed to head deeper into the desert, sticks in hands, determined to find the ever elusive, “vertabrata reptilia”. Otherwise most commonly known as a rattlesnake. Now, before you get too concerned, please know that Chris and I had a most wonderful backup plan, should something go horribly wrong. The plan, Chris would lead and be the first to head into the shadow covered hiding spots, while I was a long stick away throwing rocks into previously said hiding spots. Oh, and Heather had her phone ready to call *911, in the event Chris, being the lead man, should fall victim to a horrific Rattlesnake attack. As it would be, we hunted for the better part of forty minutes and found nothing more than a cooled down van waiting for us. Just enough to allow us a slow, but steady arrival into Las Vegas.

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As we rolled into Vegas, we made quick time to the abandoned Western Hotel. That’s correct, this year’s Artistry in Iron and Sin City Art Gallery would be held in the supposedly haunted, but abandoned Western Hotel at the end of Fremont Street. A new, but very cool venue for this year’s event. I was super stoked to hangout in this creepy 70’s hotel, reminiscent of the Overlook Hotel in the Shining. After unloading all of our gear, all I was really focused on after being on the road for over 27 hours, was a shower and some relaxing time. But, as Vegas would have it, you must keep on, keeping on. As the Thursday sun rose above the mountains of Las Vegas, a new day was upon us. A day of plenty of work. This day would be dedicated to setting up the entire Sin City Art Gallery area. We were given a creepy, but very cool kitchen area off the main show floor that would be filled with all sorts of motorbike art. In addition to Killer running the CS booth in there, Mark Velasquez was displaying his amazing art, along with Chris Callen, Seth Leibowitz, Tank and myself. We had converted the kitchen area into a very cool art gallery that was filled with amazing art from wall to wall. For me, it was a great honor to be included in this year’s show and to have my art alongside such amazing artists. Penny, Mindi and Lindsay, along with the rest of the LVBF crew, were very helpful.

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Emerging from the art gallery, I realized that the all the motorbikes for the Artistry in Iron were in place. I was able to get a firsthand look before the crowds of people started rolling in. These motorbikes are some of the most beautiful in the country and world, hand built by amazing craftsmen. For me, it’s a real joy to be able to sit and study a bike and all of its detail, without any interruptions. As Thursday evening came upon us, my good friends Ken and Karen were able to hang out with me for Missy’s arrival to the show. Her flight got in late that afternoon and I was more than excited. As most shows go, evenings come upon us with great dinner anticipation and Las Vegas is the mecca of dining choices. Spending an evening at a dining table, with all of your closest friends and family is such a wonderful thing. Especially when you’re traveling. A group of us decided to make the half a block walk to the Plaza Hotel for a wonderful steak dinner at Oscars, overlooking Fremont street. What normally would be a five minute walk, turned into the most epic ninety minute journey ever! For some amazing reason, we got offered a huge shuttle limo ride to the famous “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, dance music and strobe lights included. It was the greatest trip down the strip I’ve ever had and we had the most memorable photos to prove it. The most wonderful moments are planned at the very last second.

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Friday morning brought the Vegas warmth bright and early. Today was the annual CS ride through Red Rock canyon and a wonderful luncheon at Mountain Springs Saloon. As the pack headed out, we had ninety plus riders registered and the sun was shining in our face. A few of us got separated, but that’s to be expected with this many riders in Las Vegas. We had a wonderful afternoon up in the mountains, tossing horse shoes, telling stories and enjoying a day in the motorbike life. A few of us decided to head back early, in order to spend some time at our booth, at the show. This early departure would come at a price that none of us anticipated. As we made our way back to the old strip, The Ticket decided to get fussy right in the middle of the freeway. Traffic was thick and we were right in the center of it all. As Chris spoke ever so kindly to The Ticket, come on you f@*#ing b@#ch, start, she finally decided to fire. Blocks away from the event, stuck in traffic, Chris, Heather and The Ticket go blasting by Ken, Karen, Missy and me. All I heard was, “LET’S GO”!!! As we blasted down the last two blocks through traffic, Vegas’s finest descended upon us better than any ninja I’ve ever seen. Not that I’ve seen many ninjas, but let me tell you, there were six cops on bikes, two undercover cars, and more arrogance than a badge should be allowed to flash. The next two hours would prove to be exhausting. We would have had better luck teaching new born babies’ algebra, than trying to educate the gestapo on early VIN numbers and aftermarket frames. I was offered a jail cell for trying to explain things to mister congeniality, the head dick on the scene.

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So, I opted to keep my mouth shut from that point on. All said and done, they weren’t taking The Ticket, but it came at a price for Chris and me. They slapped him with more tickets than a skeet ball machine spits out in a month. We finally managed to make it back to the booth and greet many wonderful customers. Nevertheless, we had a good day and we were free men. Saturday morning was the day of the 16 February ‘16 CYCLE SOURCE CS Bike Show and the awards ceremony for the Artistry in Iron. After a full year of planning, once again all the anticipation came down to the day that everyone was waiting for. The day was very busy for everyone involved. The CS show had a wonderful turnout of registered bikes and the streets were packed. Many wonderful awards and gifts were handed out for the show. There were so many great bikes entered and making decisions was very difficult for those involved. As the final show hours of Saturday came upon us, the highly anticipated winners were finally announced. Shaun Ruddy of Chop DeVille took home the People’s Choice Award for Artistry In Iron. The runners up for Artistry in Iron were Max Hazan of Hazan Motorworks taking third place and a Paughco Tapered Leg Springer, Rick Bray of RKB Customs took second place and a Paughco Custom Rigid Rolling Chassis and winning this year’s event with his beautiful metric flat tracker was Jeremy Cupp of LC Fabrications. Jeremy not only walked away with bragging rights but also a Lift from Handy Industries, a one of a kind bracelet from Steve Soffa and a check for a cool 10 grand! Beautiful motorbikes, built by amazing craftsmen. It was a great show full of beautiful two-wheeled creations.

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Sunday was here before we knew it. It was a good day, for the show, but a bit slow and our last day. Sadly, my beautiful fiancé flew out this morning, so at this point I was focused on getting packed up and making the 27 hour trip home. We were in such a hurry to pack up, we managed not get the trailer securely hooked up to the CS Dragon and it decided to come loose right on Las Vegas Blvd. Man, you talk about Chris and I working faster than any NASCAR pit crew has ever worked. We had the trailer hooked, locked and secured in less than a minute. Always something, always. Packed up, Dragon and trailer loaded, we were ready to roll you would think. No, not really. Chris and Heather still had to wrap up the current issue of CS, in the hotel room. Killer and I headed to the pool party to hang out with family and friends before saying our goodbyes. Not wanting to hangout in the hotel room while the mag was being finished, we headed to the new strip. Killer had never seen any of the highlights, so I showed her around. We made it back to the hotel just in time to pack up the computers and head through the desert after midnight. Twenty seven hours later, my feet were back in Iowa and the rest of the CS crew headed out for PA. Many miles, many friends and many memories. A week in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. Be good, be kind and pay it forward when you can. See you down the road my friends, much lover and respect… D!!!