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‘Easy riders’ roll into N. Utah

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PROMONTORY — It's not about leather, tattoos, blue jeans or patches and pins.

It's even less about being tough, getting your way or intimidating the locals.

Riding a Harley, after all, is simply about being unencumbered, unfettered, at ease.

"I really think it has something to do with being free, being up on a machine with the wind in your hair and feeling good," explains Bill Keller, a 65-year-old retired Air Force colonel. "Has anyone explained it better? Because I'd like to understand."

Harley enthusiasts, in Ogden for a Hub Rally, detoured north to the Golden Spike National Historic Site at Promontory on Friday to watch a re-enactment of the driving of the golden spike, a specially tailored production put on just for these guests.

Like Keller, most Harley fans say if you have to ask why they ride, you've never ridden. If you want to know the appeal, why all the fuss, you don't understand.

That is, unless you take the challenge and let the road open up underneath you straddling a machine that can weigh up to a 1,000 pounds with as much as 110 horsepower.

Stephanie Bryant understands, and she's just 11. Her father, Kevin, bought a Harley about a year ago. His wife doesn't like to ride, but Stephanie can't wait to accompany her father to places throughout the West, including Colorado, Wyoming and Idaho.

"She knows there's ice cream at the end of every 200 miles," Bryant said.

His 9-year-old son, on the other hand, prefers fishing trips.

"This is something I can do with my daughter," the Syracuse man said. "She hears the engine start up, and she's ready to go."

Her friends, she said, envy the lifestyle.

"They're jealous, because they don't have one."

More than 1,000 members of the Harley Owners Group have converged on Ogden for the three-day rally that includes a 5:30 p.m. parade today that begins at the Weber County Fairgrounds and makes its way into Ogden, down historic 25th Street and ends in front of Union Station.

The event includes a Harley Davidson traveling museum and a street party on 25th Street from 3-11 p.m..

Like Stephanie's friends, there was a point in Debbie DeWitt's life when she was jealous. A friend of hers at work owned a Harley.

"She was just having way too much fun."

DeWitt, a 49-year-old project analyst for American Express in Phoenix, decided she didn't want to be left out.

Her other friends, she admitted, were surprised when she bought a bike of her own.

"I'm pretty conservative in the work environment."

DeWitt and other members from Arizona say there's something magical that happens to Harley riders when they are on the road.

"You stop for gas and everyone wants to come talk to you," said Jay Trahan, 56.

Trahan, an occupational health nurse of 34 years, started out riding dirt bikes 10 years ago and graduated to a Harley in 1997.

Riding a Harley, however, is much more than a lifestyle, or a way of traveling.

Keller, the retired colonel, said the Harley not only gets him where he wants to go, but opens up a whole new world for him.

"There's tremendous access I wouldn't normally have. People go out of their way to be nice."

Keller, from Oregon, has been on the road, off and on, for more than a year.

He recently hails from New York, where he took in "Phantom of the Opera," "Cats" and "The Lion King." At Sturgis in South Dakota, he said he rode with Peter Fonda, the actor famed for his "Easy Rider" biker role.

At the visitors' center at Promontory, Keller was using the pay phone to call his daughter.

"How else can a guy my age have so much fun?"

Harleys, biker fans say, get you up front and personal with the world around you.

"You don't just see the country, you smell it, you hear it," said Tim Mudric, a custom furniture builder.

As the rest of us become more sophisticated about the eclectic variety of lifestyles out there, bikers say they are less prone to be stereotyped because of their love of leather and hunger for Harleys.

"Most of the people I meet," Mudric said with a smile, "they get this look on their face, and you can tell they're thinking, 'Gee, I wish I was you.' "

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com