March 10, 2004 – If you were startled sometime on Wednesday to hear a roaring along St. Thomas roadways of what may have sounded like thunder or a series of small explosions, you weren't alone. What you heard was not the advance artillery of an invasion from St. John but instead a group of around 70 bikers touring the island on their Harley-Davidsons, or "hogs," as the motorcycles are commonly called.
They came here with their hogs, riding leathers and bandana skullcaps from places as far away as Michigan and California aboard Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas. Steven M. Wallach, president of Entertainment & Travel Alternatives, is the event's organizer.
"We are the only company in the world sanctioned to bring Harley-Davidsons on board a cruise ship," Wallach said, his voice rising against the din of growling engines along the West Indain Company dock in Havensight. "We came here to ride in paradise, to have fun and, of course, to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association."
Wallach's travel company, ETA, has been operating for four years, according to the organization's Web site, and Wallach frequently uses these group travel excursions he organizes to raise money in support of the MDA.
The MDA, according to its Web site, is a voluntary health agency — a dedicated partnership between scientists and concerned citizens aimed at conquering neuromuscular diseases that affect more than a million Americans.
"A portion of the fees we've collected from the folks on this trip will go to MDA," Wallach said.
The event was sponsored locally by Michel Guadalpi, sales manager of Harley-Davidson U.S.V.I. and the West Indian Company Ltd., whose agency manager, Winston Prophet, handled the clearances and paperwork for ETA.
Guadalpi, who helped stir up local support for the event, said that more than a dozen riders from St. Thomas and St. John had turned out to ride with the gang from the Explorer.
"We have a beautiful day for a ride," Guadalpi said, as bikers began saddling up around him.
A St. Thomas "hog rider" who goes by the name of The Sandman outlined the day's route: "We're going to ride out through Red Hook and then back around north to Magens, then Drake's Seat and the West End. We're stopping for lunch at the Emerald Beach Resort, and then we're heading downtown to do some shopping."
St. Thomas is the third rally stop for the group, which has also disembarked with motorcycles in Puerto Rico and St. Maarten, according to Kelli DeMull and Jody Olmstead, sisters from Michigan who say they've been having a fantastic time.
"We didn't do much riding in Puerto Rico because of the traffic and some timing problems," DeMull said, adding, "But we got to drive all over St. Maarten yesterday."
Olmstead said she's hoping to finish up with the riding in time to do some shopping downtown. "We haven't had any time to shop on this trip yet," Olmstead said. "I'm really looking forward to spending a little money."
This is the second such trip Wallach has planned, and he said it's been a huge success. "We've already sold out the next two trips, and we're planning five more after that," Wallach said.
Wallach will return on April 4 with 66 more riders on 33 hogs, so those who've missed this rally will have another chance in a few weeks. And those locals who are riding today can, as they say, ride again.
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