If you hear a loud rumble and feel the Earth shake on a weekend in mid-May, it is unlikely that San Antonio will be experiencing an earthquake. It is probably the arrival of thousands of motorcycles as they converge upon the Alamodome for the Texas State H.O.G. Rally. H.O.G. is the global acronym for Harley Owners Group, an organization that has celebrated all aspects of the Harley-Davidson motorcycle lifestyle for the past three decades. There are more than 1,400 official H.O.G. chapters around the world. This year marks special milestones for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts, as the Harley Owners Group celebrates its 30th year while Harley-Davidson Motorcycles boasts its 110th anniversary. A weekend celebration of the Harley-Davidson experience comes to San Antonio May 16-18 as the 2013 State H.O.G. Rally motors into the Alamo City. Between 3,000 and 3,500 motorcyclists are expected to participate, with many traveling from other cities across Texas and from at least eight other states.
While you might expect the H.O.G. Rally coordinator to be an archetypal burly biker dude, the reality is quite different. The overseer of this event’s all-volunteer staff is not a dude at all, but Maria Robles, an unassuming, soft-spoken woman who began riding Harley-Davidsons over 10 years ago. When she’s not riding the open roads, Robles is the executive assistant to the managing director of the Grand Hyatt and the Hyatt Regency Hotels downtown. Many women are Harley lovers, and Robles is a part of the Ladies of Harley, a worldwide organization that supports and encourages women to be more active in their local H.O.G. chapters while promoting social, travel and charitable events. While other Texas cites, including Amarillo, Beaumont, Fort Worth and San Marcos, have hosted previous state H.O.G. rallies, this is the first time for San Antonio. “The Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Alamo-dome, Mayor Julián Castro and City Councilman Diego Bernal have all been wonderful in their support of the rally coming to San Antonio,” Robles says.
There will be a wide variety of activities and events for the bikers when they arrive for the rally. “The premise of the rally is the rides,” says event coordinator Gary Sitler, a retired Air Force communications officer. Sitler is coordinating the rally’s guided and unguided motorcycle rides that start at the Alamodome and journey throughout South Texas. Destinations of the guided rides include the Historic Mission Trail, area vineyards and fabled Luckenbach. Another guided ride is the Three Sisters, also known as the Hundred Mile Loop. A favorite among motorcycle riders, this route travels across scenic ranch roads of the rolling Texas Hill Country. Best suited for experienced riders, the trek winds through canyons and ascends many steep and twisting curves. The reward for a sometimes challenging ride is the majesty of the scenic, panoramic vistas. The Painted Churches guided ride will head toward the Schulenberg area and proceed along winding country roads that lead to a number of historic Texas churches built by immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the churches may appear ordinary on the outside, the visual splendor is revealed inside them. Intricate and evocative paintings are seen on the interior walls and ceilings of the churches. Additional stained glass windows, statues and artifacts from the era make this tour memorable and rewarding.
In addition to the motorcycle rides across South Texas, there will be plenty of activities and competitions going on at the Alamodome. Bikers can show their skills and compete for bragging rights on the Precision Riding Course, a 200-foot maze-like track created on the Alamodome parking lot. Novice and expert riders must navigate the twists and turns without ever touching a foot to the pavement while trying to achieve the fastest time in the event. Other biker games include the Road Kill Cleanup, where teams of riders and passengers travel through a course that is strewn with stuffed animals while the passenger tries to gather as many of the toys as possible with a fishing net.
True to our native culture, the Texican Hat Dance competition will require riders to execute a perfect figure eight around two huge sombreros.
H.O.G. chapters will compete in a series of events for the Chapter Challenge, which will enable the winning chapter to return to its hometown as the rally’s victorious overall champion of group competitions. Rally attendees will also participate in a parade of flags that will travel on river barges through the downtown River Walk area. Nightly concerts at the Alamodome’s Illusions Theatre will include Beetle Corps, Mustang Sally and the Charlie Daniels Band. Saluting San Antonio’s proud legacy of being Military City U.S.A., the rally will recognize and honor the most recent Lackland Air Force Base basic training graduates and their families during the Friday night concert.
Admission for the weekend is $45 at the door for H.O.G. members and their guests. For more information on the 2013 Texas H.O.G. Rally, go to www.txstatehogrally.com.
By Chris Duel