Backroads With Betsy: In Search of Grace

Big Bear Choppers' Ride the Mountain Run 2010

By Betsy Huelskamp

It#8217;s been two years since I met Grace McKean at the Samp;S Cycle 50th Anniversary Biker Build-Off party. Grace is the coolest 75-year-old biker grandma who still rides the old Indian she bought 50 years ago. When I met her, she was in Wisconsin riding across the country alone, and we talked for a long time and she shared some of her story. She promised me an interview, and for the past two years I#8217;ve been trying to pin her down for one day up near Big Bear, California, where she lives alone with a garage full of old classics. But Grace is busy living her life, and I haven#8217;t been able to get her to commit to a day of telling me her full story. So when I saw that the Big Bear Choppers ride was happening, I knew I could find her there as I knew that Big Bear Choppers owner, Kevin Alsop, worked on her motorcycles, as well as my buddy Kiwi Mike from Kiwi Indian Motorcycle Company.

Grace McKean and her old Indian in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, the first time I met her.

It was a last minute decision on my part, as it usually is, to just head on over in hopes of finding Grace. I had never been to the Big Bear Mountain Run now in its eighth year. I was feeling a little less than excited about having to get up at 5:00 a.m. so that I could get to Quaid Harley-Davidson in Loma Linda, the starting point, by 8:00 a.m. Early mornings are not my strong point, and I knew it would be cold at that hour. And being that it was a last minute idea, I decided to ride over alone on the outside chance I could talk with Grace.

I found Quaids without a problem and was even on time. I paid my $35 for the poker run, for which I received a piece of paper with a little map and directions to eight locations. I stood there in the parking lot with a fair amount of people and bikes looking at my little map, thinking that I hate how chaotic poker runs can be, and wondering why I was on another one. Not familiar with the area, and not knowing anyone there, I asked a nice group of riders if I could follow them so I wouldn#8217;t spend all day lost and riding in circles. And just as I was posing for a picture with their kids, Kevin came over and said that he heard through the proverbial motorcycling grapevine that I was coming on the ride in search of Grace. He said that she would definitely be at the event in the VIP area, and that her vintage Harley was going to be in the bike show.

Big Bear Choppers owner, Kevin Alsop and me, with two of America’s future women riders!

Kevin asked me if I wanted to ride up the mountain with him, to which I answered, #8220;Yes, of course!#8221; He didn#8217;t seem to realize that all of these people were waiting for him to lead the poker run. And when he did a burn out leaving the parking lot, and all of the riders just watched as he left, he waited a few moments and went back to fetch them. Then he led them to the freeway and went slow just long enough for everyone to get onto the freeway. Then he signaled to me that his patience had run out, and he blasted forward at warp speed. My own gas cap rattled loose and blew past me as I was laughing keeping up with the mad man. I had to rip off my dickie and shove it hole spewing gasoline as I forced my old Softail to keep up with Kevin#8217;s high performance machine.

Kevin and his builds are the real deal. That’s my 1991 Softail in the background.

We got to the first location on the poker run, which was Angel#8217;s Roadhouse in Yucaipa, California, a popular bar and grill in the Inland Empire of Southern California. Kevin chatted with everyone riding in, but told me he had to leave this location to go meet up with the cast of the FX cable TV show #8220;Sons of Anarchy#8221; who were making a guest appearance at the event. He asked if I wanted to ride along again, to which I answered again, #8220;Yes, of course!#8221;

Kevin hanging with riders at Angel’s Roadhouse.
Angel’s Roadhouse.

Two policemen were waiting to escort the popular cast up the mountain to keep them from being mobbed. I tried to talk one of the officers into switching bikes with me for awhile, but he didn#8217;t think his boss would find that amusing.

Me checking out the police BMW.
Officer Steve was bringing up the rear and keeping the “Sons” safe

The cast pulled into a local gas station to meet and get assembled. I have to admit I haven#8217;t seen the show yet, but they shoot in my neighborhood a lot and have even shot some scenes on my street. One day Charlie Hunnam, the actor who plays lead character, Jax, kept turning his bike around in my driveway. I got nervous when I noticed some club guy scoping out my place every time he rolled in and out of my driveway. When I went out to mad dog this rider adorned in #8220;colors,#8221; I realized I#8217;d met him at the Love Ride two years ago, so I knew who most of the actors were.

Cast of “Sons of Anarchy” hanging at a gas station.
Some of the boys from the cast of the show checking out my bike. I think I caught actor Charlie Hunnam off guard as he stares into my camera.
Kevin and the cast of “Sons of Anarchy” who did the ride.

They had film and cameramen there shooting out of a truck, so they asked me to ride ahead of the pack, as no girls allowed to ride with the boys club. So I actually got to turn around going all the way up the mountain and see Kevin and the whole cast of #8220;Sons of Anarchy#8221; riding up the long and winding road on a perfect sunny day with all of the yellow flowers in full bloom. It was an awesome sight!

Me with Charlie Hunnam, one of the cast members.

Looking back at the crew pulling out, ready to head up the mountain.

Tommy Flanagan, the actor who plays Chibs on the show.

Once we pulled into Big Bear there were motorcycles everywhere. Kevin pulled ahead and led the cast to a mountain lodge to drop off their things where they#8217;d be spending the night. They were all really fun and friendly while still maintaining their cool gang-like TV personas. I tried to sneak as many pictures along the way as I could.

Me with cast member William Lucking.

Actor Dayton Callie who plays Chief Wayne Unser on the show.

As we pulled into the rally site at the Snow Summit Ski Resort, fans surrounded the cast within minutes. They parked at the Big Bear Choppers tent and were swiftly whisked off to a VIP area. There was ample room in the huge parking lot for a large vendor area, tons of outdoor seating at the chalet areas, a concert stage with the ski mountain as a back drop, and an enclosed grassy knoll for all of the motorcycles in the custom bike show. The quaint town of Big Bear built all around a crystal clear blue lake provided dozens of other places for bikers to visit. The Big Bear Choppers factory was the second option for a starting point of the poker run, and the last stop if you rode in from Quaids in Loma Linda. I was amazed at how well the small town rally was organized.
Charlie riding into the rally site.
Rally crowd around the ski chalet.
My Cheeky Chaps friend Carolee had her apparel booth set up.

Back in the VIP area there was a beautiful spread of sushi, fruit, salads and sandwiches. Local mosaic artist Jeannie Houston Antes had her pieces on display throughout the room. Kevin#8217;s beautiful wife and business partner, Mona, posed with the artist and the piece she hangs in her office. After searching and searching the grounds of the rally, I finally found Grace. She was a having a quiet conversation with someone in the corner of the VIP area. I made her promise me a day for us to get together in the near future, so expect her story soon.

Artist Jeannie Houston Antes (left) and Mona Alsop with the mosaic art piece that Mona owns.
My cutest-boy-of-the-day award goes to Landon, who told me someday he is going to have five motorcycles.

[photo 1179]My longtime friend Rusty Coones#8217; band Attika took the stage and entertained the crowd all afternoon. I walked around and took pictures and talked to people who rode in from all over the state. A line wrapped around the whole parking lot of people waiting to get pictures and autographs with the cast members of  “Sons of Anarchy.”


My friend Rusty Coones playing with Attika.


Lead singer of Attika.

Girlfriends in crime! I helped these women get a photo with Anarchy star Charlie.

The bike show had several categories with old and unusual creations. Grace had her vintage blue Harley-Davidson in the oldies group. But my friend Frankie the Rat had his custom chopper that he named “Hardly Dangerous” in the same division, and he took home the trophy. Frankie and I first rode together years ago in Sturgis with Sasha Mullins, Jay Allen and Sugar Bear for a Native Films Productions segment As it was getting late in the day, I decided to head back down the mountain with my friend Kathy Hurwitz, Frankie and friends. 

This skull motorcycle got a lot of attention in the bike show.
My friend Kathy Hurwitz (at right) and a friend.

It was a busy blurr of a day, full of laughter, friends and unexpected excitement. Many thanks to Kevin and Mona for their hospitality. Kudos on having a spectacular well organized event. Thanks to the cast and crew of the “Sons of Anarchy” for letting me tag along and take pictures. And hopefully we’ll hear more from the ever-amazing Grace very soon. We took our time going back through town and down the mountain so I could snap a few shoots of how beautiful Big Bear Lake and the mountains are!

Line of people waiting for pictures and autographs with the Sons of Anarchy.
Frankie the Rat with Big Bear Lake behind him. His bike won in his category in the bike show.

To learn more about Betsy, visit

10 thoughts on Backroads With Betsy: In Search of Grace

  1. Betsy, Always enjoy your articles but mostly your photos. Your ’91 is a piece of art. Do not change it a bit. If you are ever in Louisiana, I have a little out of the way home you are welcome to hang at for some privacy. We hang at the other house where we have neighbors. Maybe we can ride a mile or two.

  2. I can’t believe that you had never watched Sons of Anarchy. It has to be the best show on the tube to date. I envy you for the chance to meet the crew. That would be my dream come true. This the first time that I have looked at this Web site and know it is my favorite (next to Thank you for this interview.

  3. Betsy is definitely a go getter! Her pictures are beautiful! I wish I was there. She is quite the photographer. She is quite the writer as well. In my honest opinion, she seems a bit pretentious, which is all right. She took a great deal of effort to create these photos and was present at this event.

  4. I really enjoyed reading the well written article and being a fan of “Sons of Anarchy” was surprised to learn that cast members really ride. The photos were also informative and great. Looking forward to reading about “Grace.”

  5. Great read. Thank you for posting.

  6. Great article. Loved the pics and love watching “Sons of Anarchy.” Hugs & kisses to Charlie. Looking forward to more of your adventures, Betsy.

  7. OMG! I love, love, love, SOA! It’s the best show! I have to get it on DVD or download using a Torrent site as we don’t get FX. You are so lucky to have hung out with the cast! I’m 56 and Gemma (Katey Sagal) is my role model!

  8. Betsy, Living in IL, I’m hugely envious of you getting to ride almost year-round in Calif. Add to that the fact that you jump on the bike almost every given day…And now you’ve hobnobbed with the cast of my favorite TV show…Lady, I want your life! Thanks for sharing the fun times – keep ridin’!-Stephanie

  9. Betsy, You have your same great smile. I would love to ride with you sometime. You are such a go getter. Enjoy your miles and ride safe, my friend. Lisa

  10. Great article Betsy! I love how you began your journey looking for somebody specific and getting turned into another direction and still having an awesome time. I suppose that’s why it’s the journey and not the destination! I experience it frequently. I don’t know Kevin personally but some friends do and speak very highly of him. So I bought my other half a Big Bear Venom kit bike for Christmas a few years ago. He and a buddy built in the garage. It’s definitely a show winner. I look forward to traveling out that way and stopping by the shop.I also love Jeannie’s artwork. I will definitely check it out a little further. Where is she based out of? I’m really looking forward to your article with Grace. It’s so important to get the details of a woman who has been such a pioneer. I’ve been riding a long time but wow. I can’t imagine what it was like back in the day.

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