CHILLICOTHE — There was no getting around it: Blair Harsha didn’t have enough clothes on.
Oh, if summer hadn’t somehow disappeared overnight, she would have been just fine for the Friday session of the annual Easyriders Motorcycle Rodeo at the Ross County Fairgrounds. But because it was 52 degrees and pouring rain, the leather crop-top, fishnet stockings and black Daisy Duke shorts weren’t cutting it at the beer stand where she was slinging Budweisers at 10:30 in the morning.
So the 32-year-old restaurant manager called her fiance and had him bring her a zip-up sweatshirt and some pants. It would hurt her tips, she said, but customers would just have to understand. Goosebumped-skin and chattering teeth, after all, don’t help business, either.
Besides, this event — now in its 29th year in Chillicothe — isn’t nearly as wild as its reputation makes it seem, Harsha said. Half-naked women, weenie-bite contest (Don’t ask; just Google it), wet T-shirt competition and XXX-rated vendors aside.
Harsha grew up in Chillicothe hearing the stories about all that goes on at the sprawling county fairgrounds every Labor Day weekend.
“ ‘Stay away, don’t go, it’s wild and crazy,’ people would say,” Harsha said. “But the stories grow like in that old telephone game. It gets crazy down where the campers stay, yeah, but everyone is really so nice. I’ve met a lot of great people.”
It is an 18-and-over event packed with motorcycle competitions, live bands, food and dozens of vendors. Easyriders doesn’t hide that it can get raunchy at times, saying in its own release that the events “offer unparalleled opportunity for participants to transcend their normal everyday lives and really let their hair down.” They call it a getaway from “the stresses of everyday life.”
In its heyday, the five-day event drew crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. It’s smaller now, with maybe 12,000 expected through its Sunday run, said coordinator Liza Jensen.
Those who braved the nasty weather — courtesy of Hurricane Harvey — on Friday were few but enthusiastic. This isn’t really an umbrella-carrying kind of crowd, but vendors selling long-sleeved shirts and hoodies did a booming business.
Jake Brown cruised down the nearly empty midway, where the scents of campfire smoke, leather and beer hung in the thick air, on his custom, 1996 Harley-Davidson Softtail.
He and his buddies rode from northeastern Pennsylvania and arrived at the fairgrounds Thursday night. No way a little rain was going to stop them. On his agenda for the weekend? Adding at least one new tattoo (probably a skull) and competing in the motorized barstool races.
“The rain don’t matter,” he said. “This event is better than Bike Week at Daytona, I think. Good enough that we rode 511 miles for it.”
Chip Salter, James Griffin and Nic Smith, three friends from Indiana who have been coming to Ross County every Labor Day weekend for years, agreed.
They competed against one another on Friday in the NTC Drift-Trike Races. This was essentially leather-clad, grown men and women riding specially built, souped-up Big Wheels around a small, dirt track. And there were no rules. The trikes went only maybe 13 mph, but don’t let that fool you. This was no-holds-barred rubbin’ and racin’. The riders crashed into one another like bumper cars, plowed through straw bales and generally wreaked havoc.
It was winner-take-all. The prize? A free T-shirt.
But it wasn’t about prizes. It was about bragging rights, of which Smith got none. He didn’t care. And he didn’t even care that he had abandoned his Harley-Davidson Softtail Deuce and dropped his body onto a pink trike instead.
“Best 20 bucks I ever spent,” Smith said, after losing his six-lap heat to Griffin. “I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t think this is the greatest time ever.”