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Backroads With Betsy: The Toy Ride I Never Miss

The holiday run that keeps Betsy going back year after year

By Betsy Huelskamp
2/16/2011


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If you’ve been riding a motorcycle for any length of time, you have probably been on a toy ride or two—or 10! Toy rides happen in many cities all over the country at Christmas time. But no matter where you live, it will usually be cold and/or rainy. And with the bad economy, not everyone can afford to buy toys for the children they know, let alone the homeless children they have never met. But Christmas is the birthday of Jesus, who gave his life for us. The holiday is a celebration of giving. It is not about a dollar amount, it is about the giving of yourself, of your time and of your heart. It’s about letting someone else know that they matter to you. 
 
Me and friend Tommy Maloney with a few toys.
Me and friend Tommy Maloney with a few toys.

Favorite sled of the day!
Favorite sled of the day!

Having just moved to Colorado, I didn’t know if I would be able to get back to California for the Glendale Harley-Davidson Toy Ride that rides to the Fred Jordan Missions down on Skid Row. But my friend Richard Wagner, an employee at Glendale Harley, helped start this small charity ride, along with others, from the shop more than 20 years ago to provide toys to homeless children that might not otherwise get a toy during the holidays. I saw on my local news all the bikers that showed up for the Grand Junction Harley-Davidson Toy Ride despite the bad economy and cold temperatures, and I was reminded of what a great joy it is to participate in making a difference for the kids. So I made a point to get back to California and join the same group of people I’ve seen show up for this ride for the last two decades!   

Me with Richard Wagner of Glendale Harley and my friend, trike rider Carlana Stone.
Me with Richard Wagner of Glendale Harley and my friend, trike rider Carlana Stone.

My pal Kathy Hurwitz joined in. Kathy has held her own Toy Ride out of Cook’s Corner in Orange County in years past.
My pal Kathy Hurwitz joined in. Kathy has held her own Toy Ride out of Cook’s Corner in Orange County in years past.

Group shot of some of the people behind the Toy Ride, including our friend Miles (in cast), who has ridden his motorcycle more than one million miles. He is suffering now from medical complications caused by cancer. Actor Richard Patrick (second from Miles’s right) led the ride.
Group shot of some of the people behind the Toy Ride, including our friend Miles (in cast), who has ridden his motorcycle more than one million miles. He is suffering now from medical complications caused by cancer. Actor Richard Patrick (second from Miles’s right) led the ride.

Unfortunately, the popular David Mann Chopper Fest landed on the same Sunday as the Toy Ride this year, and several of my friends wanted to head up to Ventura for that. So some of us went this way, and some of us went that way. But we all started out together on what turned out to be the most amazing, sunny December day with record 75-degree weather. The streets of Glendale were buzzing with a crowd that ended up being the best turnout Richard has seen yet. Robert Patrick, of Terminator fame and charter member of the motorcycle club the Boozefighters, showed up to lead the ride along with Santa in the fire truck and a huge pickup loaded with toys from those who were just dropping off and not riding. 
  
The girls: our new friend Freedom, me, Daisy (aka Chopper Doll) and Qian.
The girls: our new friend Freedom, me, Daisy (aka Chopper Doll) and Qian.

Me and Robert Patrick
Me and Robert Patrick

The ride went off without a hitch, and the town of Echo Park, where we ended up, never looked more beautiful! Families lined the streets, waving as we passed by. Once downtown, a sea of Mongols and Vagos (bike clubs) waited with a mountain of toys alongside three city blocks of children waiting anxiously in line to receive their one allotted toy. Some of the families in the front of the line had camped out overnight just so their children could have first dibs on the toy selections. The Vagos had supplied 100 bicycles of different sizes and colors. There were so many bicycles that they made a separate section so the kids lucky enough to get one could go in and pick the one of their choice. 

The  mountain of toys.
The mountain of toys.

The deep row of donated bicycles.
The deep row of donated bicycles.

Kids and their families waiting in line for a toy.
Kids and their families waiting in line for a toy.

My friend Carlana Stone, a paraplegic who rides a trike (and a wheelchair), joined me for the event again this year, and she and I positioned ourselves to watch as each family made their way to the front of the line to pick out a toy. The organizers limit families to one bicycle, so it was sad to see families with several kids (who all wanted their own) have to decide which child would get the bicycle. Nonetheless, it was heartwarming to watch each child pick out their bike or toy. A handful of Vagos assisted families by getting the bikes and adjusting the seats. Whatever the children picked, their smiles told the story. 

A cutie getting her pink bike.
A cutie getting her pink bike.

Another girl smiling with her new bike.
Another girl smiling with her new bike.


Members of the Vagos motorcycle club helping the kids adjust their bicycles.
Members of the Vagos motorcycle club helping the kids adjust their bicycles.

Watching Carlana interact with the children and the bikers was equally heartwarming. Carlana has a way of bringing out the best in everyone. Her smile and energy are infectious. Her strength and determination go without saying. Every child or biker she passed noticed her beauty as she called out to them to say Merry Christmas. Many of them came over to hug her and talk to her. We met a Mongol with an old classic trike, so they talked trikes for a while, and Carlana challenged him to a race. I think she let him win!

Bikers gravitate to Carlana.
Bikers gravitate to Carlana.

Carlana talking trikes with a member of the Mongols.
Carlana talking trikes with a member of the Mongols.

Smiling faces
Smiling faces

Richard Wagner took the podium and thanked everyone for making it the most successful Toy Ride to date. A member of the Vagos club, who I’ve seen up on the stage many years now, followed him by saying that the Vagos intended to bring another 100 bicycles next year, and he invited anyone to meet or beat their generous donation.

Richard Wagner thanking the crowd.
Richard Wagner thanking the crowd.

Cutest biker boy of the day.
Cutest biker boy of the day.

By 2 p.m., the event was winding down, but the sun was still smiling down on the day, so I decided to head up the coast to Ventura to try and catch my friends who had detoured over to Chopper Fest. It was an amazing ride alone up the Pacific Coast Highway. I was reminded of why so many of us choose to live in California. I arrived at the event just in time to watch hundreds of bikers pour out of the Ventura County Fairground gates. But no matter—I’d already had a perfect day. 
 
Me on my rusty steed leaving Skid Row, site of the Toy Ride.
Me on my rusty steed leaving Skid Row, site of the Toy Ride.

I got to enjoy the ride back with my friends as the sun was setting over the sea. It truly doesn’t get much better than that. We closed the day with a salad at the Sagebrush Cantina. A little bit of music, and as always, a lot of laughs. It was a great way to say goodbye to 2010! And that was just the start of my week in California. I went on to demo test the new Harleys with Genevieve midweek and joined her at the International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach all weekend. So look for those stories still to come!  

To learn more about Betsy, visit BetsyHuelskamp.com.

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Reader Comments


Great day and a great cause you ladies rock it!

Gary Mandl
Kelowna, BC, Canada
Monday, May 07, 2012
Toy run...very, very nice. It was a great event. I would like to be involved in this type of story here in Europe! Thank you Betsy Huelskamp! You are an example for all.

Vegas De Laroja
Sezana, Slovenia
Tuesday, March 01, 2011
That was an excellent story and the pictures of the kids are priceless. Thank you so much for sharing it and the day with us. I have been involved in various toy runs in the metro NYC area for the past ten years, and the generosity of bikers will never ever go unnoticed at this time of the year. Our hearts truly are as big as our motors! Keep up the good work and God Bless!

Chriisie, aka LadyLiner
New York City, NY
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I was there, my third year volunteering at the dealership, sitting at the volunteers table. I love watching all the bikers take off with toys strapped to their bikes. It was a big turnout and such a worthy cause.

Sally White
Burbank, CA
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
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