Biker Chick

Great-grandma loves her Harley

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Mary Ann O’Rourke has been riding motorcycles since 1972 and she isn’t intimidated by the big bikes. She has owned three Harley-Davidson motorcycles, including this 1997 Classic.

Mary Ann O’Rourke is by no means your typical biker. Seeing her on the street, in a store or restaurant, you’d be hard pressed to recognize her as a “motorcycle mama” — unless she was dressed out in her gear.

She retired from the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino this past June — frequent guests at the casino may remember her work providing change and information through the aisles over the last 10 years.

She is a great-grandmother to little Bethany Pardo.

But O’Rourke loves her Harleys.

The huge Harley — a 1997 Classic and bright blue, her favorite color — is the third one she has owned. The other two were a 1967 and a 1970.

She started riding in 1972 back in Michigan. A friend gave her a day of lessons — making her learn to ride in a field.

“He said I needed to know what the bumps felt like and how to handle them.”

Because of her work in horseshoeing and driving a tow truck, O’Rourke was not afraid to start out with the big bikes.

She said most women are taught to lift the bikes, when they’re laying flat on the ground, with their backs to the bikes. She knows how to do it that way, but she was taught to bring it up facing it and even with the bike’s pivot point.

Back in Michigan, her most frequent riding companions were members of law enforcement motorcycle clubs.

“They were all from small towns and knew everyone who had bikes. So, they’d invite us to ride with them,” she explained.

Her longest trip on a motorcycle was back in Michigan — about 1,500 miles over the course of a little more than two days.

O’Rourke’s favorite route in Arizona is north — taking Highway 87 north, and then cutting over to Happy Jack and going past Lake Mary and into Flagstaff, then catching I-40 west to Bellemont. Her favorite ride was when she and about 40 other bikers, policemen and their wives, were in a parade in Gaylord, Mich. It was a charity event to help children, she said.

There have been some close calls over the years. One of the worst was on a hairpin curve in Michigan. She was forced to almost lay her bike down on the pavement to get by a reckless rider.

“The people behind me said there were sparks coming off my bike,” she said.

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Judy Baker, executive director of the Mogollon Health Alliance, hopes the inaugural Thunder Mountain Motorcycle Rally taking place Oct. 8-10 at Green Valley Park will be a big success.

More recently she was going up 260 and a couple of young people came over a hill, speeding in the center of the road. She said she was fortunate there was enough shoulder to move onto in order to avoid a collision.

“I’m always on the alert,” she said.

O’Rourke is having work done on the bike and isn’t sure it will be completed in time for her to take part in any of the Mountain Thunder rides planned the weekend.

She hopes it will be ready, but if it’s not, she still plans to be down at Green Valley Park for the fun Oct. 8-10. After all, she loves her Harleys.

The Rim Country will rumble with the roar and thunder of motorcycles Friday through Sunday, Oct. 8, 9 and 10 as bikers from all over converge on Payson for the Thunder Mountain Ride.

“Native Air’s Thunder Mountain Ride is the fall motorcycle rally in Arizona,” said Judy Baker, executive director of Mogollon Health Alliance. Baker and the staff and volunteers of MHA have spent the past six months organizing this first-ever Payson event, in hopes that it will become an annual fund-raising staple for local charities.

The Thunder Mountain Ride is a multi-faceted event with activities for all ages and lots of opportunities to win fabulous prizes. Those taking part in the event can:

• Participate in fantastic day rides leaving from Payson. On Saturday, choose from the pines and hamlets with The Zane Grey Ride or the twisty, windy roads of the Rim Country with The Devil’s Sidewinder Ride. Sunday’s Outback Steakhouse “Make My Day” Ride is through the breathtaking vistas of the Mogollon Rim. Most begin in or near Green Valley Park and proceed along some of the area’s most scenic highways and roads before wrapping up back at the park.

• Enter to win 11 new 2010 Harley-Davidson® Motorcycles, two Yamaha® street bikes and a Polaris® 500 ATV, plus more than $5,000 in cash prizes. The $120 entry fee includes drawing tickets for all 13 motorcycles plus a free T-shirt. Additional tickets for specific bikes are $20 each. Details at www.thundermountianride.com.

• Compete for cash prizes and strut the stage in the Best Dressed Couple and Best Leather contests.

There will be live entertainment at the event, including Amanda Overmyer, Mogollon, The 74th Street Band, Rondavous and the John Scott Band.

Stunt shows and a motorcycle display will all be part of the excitement. Local and national vendors will have everything from bling to sidecars to cigars.

Noted mural artist Susan VanNess Hopper is taking appointments to paint a wondrous sight on your ride.

Baker said Thunder Mountain Ride is a family-friendly event. Children can bounce, rock climb and have fun in the play area.

Organizers hope that roughly 5,000 bikers will come to the park each day, drawn by the bands and dancing, the Kid Fun Zone, motorcycle stunts, vendors, day rides and contests.

If all goes well, the weekend will turn into a mini-Fourth of July finale for the tourist season — complete with planned fireworks.

“This is going to be really exciting to see how this all works — and the knot in my stomach I guess is excitement, not an ulcer,” Baker said.

The town’s 700 hotel rooms are reportedly already rented and campgrounds in the area are filling up fast.

Proceeds benefit the Mogollon Health Alliance, Gracie Lee Haught Children’s Memorial Fund and American Legion Family Charities.

Native Air, Outback Steakhouse and Bill Luke Chrysler Jeep Dodge and Budweiser are major sponsors of the event.

Everyone is invited be part of the thunder at this inaugural event! Visit: www.thundermountainride.com or call

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