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Loving the Love Ride

Updated on October 17, 2017

What's better than the throb of a hot Harley engine between your legs and the cool wind in your face? How about thousands of hot, throbbing Harley engines roaring down the road during the Love Ride?

The Love Ride began 26 years ago when Oliver Shokouh, owner of Harley-Davidson of Glendale, gathered five hundred bikers to cruise from Glendale to the Calimingos Ranch in Malibu. Calimingos is tucked away in a tiny canyon just off Kanaan Road. Although originally operated under a different name, the ranch has been a place for gatherings and children's camps since the 1950s. My father's carnival rides, ponies and food concessions were often hired for company celebrations held at the ranch. It's beauty made it popular. The fun created under its thick, canopied trees made for fond memories.

The deep chortle of hundreds of bikes echo off the hillsides as the bikes slowly wend through the curves of Kanaan Road. In October, the hills are golden with the tall dry natural grasses. Live Oaks, a protected species, splash dots of green across the fields. Not far off Kanaan is Paramount Ranch, now a state park but once a lively center for film crews. Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Jane Seymour's T.V. series was filmed there in the sets that still remain. M.A.S.H was filmed a bit further up Kanaan. Those are just two of the thousands of movies and T.V. episodes that featured this picturesque scenery. The park is open to the public and is still used for filming.

The Love Ride outgrew Calimingos within just a few short years. With thousands of motorcycles participating, the destination was changed to Castiac Lake. Castaic is a popular destination for water sports. A man-made lake set in the hills above Santa Clarita, there was plenty of entertainment between the stage shows, the music and the lake itself. Over the years, Love Riders were entertained by B.B. King ZZ Top, Sheryl Crowe, The Foo Fighters, Jackson Brown, Mick Fleetwood, and Gregg Allman, to name just a few. They've been led by Peter Fonda and Jay Leno, who emceed the shows.

The steady stream of 15,000 bikers took hours to pass near my home. Some stopped at the local Denny's for breakfast or gassed up at the stations right at the foot of the off-ramp. Over the years, one change pleased me greatly: instead of simply being passengers, women were riding their own choppers. The bikes were gorgeous, adorned with custom paint in designer colors and the ever present chrome gleaming in the sun. Love Riders ride two and three wheelers, with a few sporting side cars. Among the distaff riders was my childhood friend. Her soft tail was a dream from the time we were wild teenagers. By her thirties, she was the one whose hand was holding the hi-risers. Her daughter grew up to ride in the Love Ride too.

Partying with bikers was what we needed as rebels. Bikers then weren't hard-core criminals. They were outsiders living on the fringes of society, mostly because society had such strict standards for belonging. We were out of step with the times. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, girls were expected to be coy, wear demure dresses and live a tepid life while waiting for marriage. Neither of us aspired to marriage and certainly had no interest in a vapid life. We wanted adventure, to be fully involved on our own terms. Dresses made no sense in the world we wanted. We spent every spare hour on horses or at the beach. That is, when we weren't cruising Sunset or Van Nuys Blvd. Word of a party spread like wild fire through the car and bike clubs. We always had our pick. Those we enjoyed the most were where fellow rebels hung their hats. Hanging our helmets in Castaic was an extension of those early years of fun.

Just about the time my friend sold her hog, her daughter bought her own and continued the family tradition of being one of the thousands who rode for charity. The Love Riders have raised millions for more than a dozen children's charities like the Southern California Special Olympics, the Los Angeles Children's Hospital and the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The Love Ride continued to grow, forcing another change in destination: the Fairplex in Pomona.

Then the recession hit. Last years ride was canceled because the event would have cost more than the donations. Instead, Peter Fonda hosted a screening of the film, Easy Rider, and signed autographs for the attendees.

This year, the bikes will roar through the canyons once again, descending on Calimingos Ranch for a barbecue picnic and a concert, headlined by Robby Krieger of the Doors, an attendee the very first Love Ride. Love Ride Retro, 2010, will be limited to 1,000 riders with the proceeds being donated to Autism Speaks. Leading the pack will be Jay Leno, Peter Fonda,actor Robert Patrick and Willie G. Davidson, grandson of William A. Davidson, one of the founders of the Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company.

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