Let me just begin by saying that I am no biker. I do yoga and drink green smoothies, and my motorcycle's power is less than a third of that of the average Harley-Davidson engine. But when the opportunity came up to cover the 2013 Boot Ride and Rally to benefit the Boot Campaign, an event that features a ride with the cast of "Sons of Anarchy," one of my favorite shows, I piped up immediately: "Oh, I have a motorcycle! What if I ride with them?" I left out the part about never having ridden it on the freeway.
The Boot Ride and Rally is an annual charity ride with the cast of "Sons of Anarchy" that ends at a rally party with music, booze, bikes, and babes. It's not unlike the charity rides the Sons have on the show as a front; this one, though, for real. The Boot Campaign is a charity organization that raises awareness and funds for military programs tackling a wide breadth of challenges that soldiers face when they return from duty, from physical and emotional injuries to job placement. It's an initiative that gets celebrities of all kinds to tie on combat boots in support of American troops.
My ride is a 1975 Honda CB360 café racer. The morning of the event, it decided not to start, and then once it finally did, it died on the side of the road. Three strangers helped me get back on the road. A neighbor who happens to be a motorcycle mechanic (thanks, Danny!) pushed my bike and replaced a spark plug. Halfway there, my bike crapped out on the side of the road; within minutes, an Escalade pulled over. The driver, who was a fellow rider attempted to push-start my bike, and then blocked traffic while I pushed my bike to a nearby gas station. Then, at the corner, a sign waver (who also happened to be a Harley rider) pushed my bike to a safer spot as I ran to charge the battery. Let the record show that motorcycle riders are some of the nicest people you'll ever meet, and especially so if you're also a rider.
Four hours and 30 miles later, I arrived at the meeting spot, the breathtaking Battleship Iowa, docked in San Pedro, California. It's an understatement to say that my bike and I were a bit dwarfed by the sea of hardcore biker dudes and tough-looking "old ladies." Rolling up on the only café racer there, I received plenty of inquisitive looks.
So, let's review: I'm the smallest rider (besides the children riding on the back of their parents' Harleys), with the smallest bike, with the smallest engine, and it's also the oldest out of the herd of glistening new chrome. After the national anthem and a round of thanks, the founders of the Boot Campaign came out. My heart swelled with American pride while the two-wheeled crowd waited for the Sons to arrive.
In a flurry of police sirens, the cast rolled up to the head of the line, engines roaring. Participating this year included my personal fave, Kim Coates (Tig); Theo Rossi (Juice); Emilio Rivera (Alvarez); Mark Boone Jr. (Bobby); Christopher Douglas Reed (Filthy Phil); and Tommy Flanagan (Chibs) on — gasp — a BMW GTL motorcycle! (It's unfortunate that BMW named a motorcycle "GTL," am I right, reality-TV fans?)
Side note: His Royal Hunkness, actor Lorenzo Lamas was also in the ride, along with '90s megababe Kristy Swanson, who was rocking her own killer Harley.
Check out some of the footage I was able to capture with my trusty Sony Action Cam and head mount:
The gas-powered orchestra drowned out the cheers as hundreds of Harleys started up, shaking the ground. My adrenaline started rushing as reality hit me like a ham-fisted prospie: bike already broke down twice, didn't have time to get more gas, and getting on the freeway on a Sunday at 2 p.m., just when people are staggering out of their bottomless-mimosa brunches. Oh, boy.
Two by two, the bikes took off, and along I went with the exhaust parade. The second we got on the street, I was left in the dust. No scenic route through Long Beach's stunning bridges or waterfront views; just straight onto the freeway. The bigger bikes cruised right past me, the riders giving me a thumbs-up. After I nearly crashed into a cop car, I buzzed up behind the tail end of the bikes. I had never in my life prayed for traffic until that day.
I dodged cars, barely keeping up with the parents who had their kids along for the ride. After about 30 minutes, the parent riders and I caught up to the others. Toward the end of the highway, it was stop-and-go all the way to the final exit for Hollywood. Then the real fun started.
What I hadn't anticipated was that there would be no slowing down, even on the city streets. Police officers in cars and on motorcycles blocked every intersection so that we could pass by; we didn't even have to downshift. Onlookers gawked, smartphone cameras out, as we thundered by.
Waiting for us at the Happy Endings Bar and Restaurant was an outdoor party with cold beers, loud bands, and a red carpet to get up close with more of the cast who didn't ride.
Alas, I couldn't stay for the performance by Blackberry Smoke and missed lead actor Charlie Hunnam sneaking in to sign autographs. But if there is one way to learn how to ride on the freeway and through the streets, it's with a huge gang of Harleys with police blocking intersections for you.
So, what is it like to ride with the "Sons of Anarchy"? Pretty amazing. Even though I was all the way in the back, the experience was like none other. Good people having a blast for a good cause.
"Sons of Anarchy: Season 5" is now available on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Season 6 premieres on FX Sept. 10 at 10 p.m.