Bill Barber has lived through countless hurricanes as a longtime Grand Strand resident.
The Suck Bang Blow events coordinator was here for Hugo and many others.
Therefore, he knows that many people affected by Hurricane Florence and the flooding it caused could use a break.
Well, the timing is right for one particular group that vacations here: bikers.
“There’s a sense of after something like that happens you want to get away from it and get your head back together,” said Barber, whose employer, the popular biker bar in Murrells Inlet, is gearing up for the annual fall bike rally, which officially begins Monday. “The extreme depression part of it from the destruction and stuff and the aftermath is tough. That’s harder than losing everything you’ve got.”
Still, there likely will be some bikers who are unable to make it as they deal with devastation back home or difficult road conditions en route to the Grand Strand. Barber said most of the participants of the fall rally come from the East Coast, mainly from the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and Florida.
“I think anybody that has more important things to do, like recovery, repairs, displacement, evacuation, those folks probably will not attend the rally,” said George DuRant, vice president of tourism development at the North Myrtle Beach Chamber of Commerce. “Now, what percentage of that particular attendance that would represent, I do not know.”
Barber said the early signs are good. Suck Bang Blow “was amazing” Friday night before Saturday’s rain slowed business down a bit as some of the early rally participants are already in town.
“We all looked around at each other and gave a thumbs-up,” he said of he and his coworkers. “It was pretty good.”
Barber said he’s been encouraged by the sight of trailers hauling bikes in and groups of bikers riding in together as early as last Wednesday. However, the folks at SBB are cognizant that the remnants of Florence could still slow the rally despite the fact that the area’s major highways have opened back up.
“We’re hoping that they do [come], and we’re prepared if they don’t, of course,” Barber said. “We’ve kind of learned over the years how to prepare ourselves for each rally. and we watch the weather and stuff.”
One area that’s still dealing with severe flooding is Socastee, where popular biker destination The Rat Hole is located. The owners announced via Facebook that it will not open during the fall rally this year because of the devastation in the area. The Rat Hole intends to be open for the 2019 spring rally. It currently is holding fundraisers and making its property available to aid those in need.
“We hope everyone respects and understands this decision and make plans to join us on May 9th - 19th, 2019 for the Spring Rally,” said the Facebook post, signed by owners “Cowboy” and “Ratt.” “Thanks to all the volunteers and first responders who have left their families to come help ours. Ride safe in all your travels.”
From Monday through Sunday, when the rally concludes, the highest chance for rain along the Grand Strand coast from North Myrtle Beach to Murrells Inlet is 30 percent, according to weather.com. Most days list a 10 or 20 percent chance of precipitation.
“It looks like the weather from here after today is going to be absolutely fabulous,” Barber said Saturday. “And that helps us a lot.”
Barber and DuRant said their respective business and organization have been busy answering questions of those who are interested in visiting this week.
“We’ve had a tremendous amount emails and Facebook questions, ‘How can we get down there?’ ‘Are the roads closed?’ ‘What’s it look like?’ ‘Is there damage?’” Barber said. “They’re asking questions, and it sounds like they’re all going to try to make it down.”
Sonny Copeland, a North Carolina resident who runs the website myrtlebeachbikeweek.com, which promotes the annual rallies, said he expects the rally to go on as usual. He said bikers are going to do what they want to do, and they won’t let “a little rain” or other obstacles stand in their way.
“Motorcyclists, they’re not like somebody that says ‘Oh my God, I can’t do that until the government says I can do it. Oh my God, I can’t do anything until somebody here says we can go do this,’” he said. “Motorcyclists think; we’ve got a mind of our own. We don’t need somebody telling us when to hop up and down.”
DuRant said bike week organizers made an early decision to not cancel the rally, a choice he believes will help participation numbers.
“I think they anticipated the North Myrtle Beach area being relatively unscathed and therefore didn’t want to jump the gun and cancel any events surrounding the rally,” he said. “That will help it, too.”
DuRant encourages those who are planning to attend to check on their reservations to make sure everything is in good standing. He said some places have minor water damage, but that it’s only about 5-10 percent. Still, he said travelers should do their due diligence.
He also advised travelers to visit states’ Department of Transportation websites before heading this way.
“Research is what I would recommend the travelers more than anything else,” he said.
Barber said he has friends who come down for the rally every year and some are from places that were hit hard by Florence. While he’d like to see them, he said he understands some might have to skip this year.
“We’re worried about that for them, but we also think [some are] going to come down just to get away,” Barber said.
Meanwhile, tourism agencies along the Grand Strand are hoping to see folks come in for vacation this fall, as the coast was not hit as hard as expected and main thoroughfares have become more navigable in flooded areas farther inland. DuRant noted that the Strand “caught an enormous break” and that the beaches and the accommodations and attractions were mostly untouched.
Copeland estimates 20,000 to 25,000 bikers come to the fall rally annually, and all involved are hoping they can once again make it here safely.
“We use a terminology after a weather event like this that ‘Vacationers don’t like to put their dreams on hold,’” DuRant said. “So once the rally participants determine that everything is in good shape and they are able to leave their areas and come vacation, it’s something they look forward to and put on the calendar. They have scheduled, they’ve budgeted for it and they’re going to be undaunted. They’re going to come, and they’re going to enjoy themselves.”