DuneFest 2010 Event Report 0
Once a year the sleepy town of Winchester Bay comes alive with the howl of 10,000 ATV and off-road enthusiasts as they gather for the annual DuneFest weekend. For five days between August 4-8 the wild and craziest dune riders on the west coast lined up for sand drags, show and shines, freestyle MX, poker runs and a few late night concerts. While all these controlled activities are certainly worth the price of admission the best part of the DuneFest experience is free riding on the thousands of acres of Oregon dunes.
Now, we’ve been there before, we knew it would be fun but it was a blast being a part of a group of a couple hundred riders mobbing their way through the worm trails, across the huge dunes and generally having a great time shredding the sand. And it was. Tobacco Hill, Banshee Hill and who knows what others all come alive at night in particular. Everyone looking for their five seconds of fame, lined up at the base for a run up the face. Sometimes a dozen bikes would launch at once. The simultaneous howl of 2-strokes intertwined with the roar of the Fours makes for some real assault on the auditory senses. Add into the mix the insane roar of the Funco Buggies, basically consumer-based Trophy Trucks, and the occasional rat ride, home grown monster truck and you have a recipe for all out sand-madness.
Of particular interest were the two behemoths that tackled Banshee Hill on Saturday night. First, a bad-ass yellow Bronco lifted a few feet taller than stock with mondo sand tires and lights tucked into every available space, fender well, hood, under bumpers – it looked like a UFO from a distance – lined up for a pass. The bikes all cleared out as he hit the gas and headed up. About halfway there it slowed to a snail’s pace but kept on chugging. Suddenly, from the side came an even bigger, taller truck keen to make a run. This was basically a ¾ scale monster truck and he took off with a roar, following the Bronco up the hill. This rig was much faster and he closed in on the slow moving Ford which forced him to let off as he closed in. He was instantly buried – halfway up at the steepest, narrowest point of the climb, surrounded by trees. The crowd was certain he was going to roll or smash into a tree when backing down but the guy was a sand stud and showed off his excellent driving skills by narrowly missing every obstacle and managing to stay upright. The crowd cheered when he made it to the bottom. But when the Bronco came down the climb went wild – it was sick.
That’s just a taste of what we saw in the 72 hours of DuneFest. That doesn’t include the absolute madness of the campgrounds. Thousands of folks were sand camping – as any good duner will attest, this is the only way to entrench yourself in the dune experience. Millions of dollars in Fun Movers and lifted diesel pick-ups were a motor heads wet dream. Some rigs are so sick I can’t imagine how much money they have invested in them. Then there are the real die-hards who somehow drive their motorhomes, even a schoolbus out on the sand. That takes balls. A scan of the license plates revealed folks coming from as far as Arizona and Nevada to be a part of the event. After talking with a few of the out-of-state folks, it turned out that the Oregon dunes are considered sort of a pilgrimage. Between Glamis and Dumont the duners of the Southwest can get routine after a while. Heading west, enjoying some ocean air and steep dunes makes for a pretty damn good time.
Back at the events area there were a couple of fun things going on at the race track. Little kids, three years old on pee-wee machines were lined up for the sand motocross race. Some of these tikes could barely make the climbs, the top two ringers on their piped out minis smoked the rest of them but the star of the show was a princess on a pink Polaris. Cute as a button she kept the throttle pinned while flaggers and parents chased behind her, picking her out of predicaments every fifty feet until she got the hang of it. Kudos to the helpers who seemed to do more running than flagging. It was hilarious. The big boy MX wasn’t as cute but it was fun watching them racing, some with paddles some with knobbies – and even more so was the UTV MX race. I was expecting more carnage but everyone survived unscathed.
The main stage hosted the freestyle MX crew. These guys were good too: Back-flips galore and many other tricks to entertain the crowd for hours on end. Anyone who’s been to an FMX event knows how it can get old quick but these guys did a great job and tossed out some sick tricks considering the conditions and location. Nice work guys.
Although it doesn’t appeal to everyone the event that seemed to be the center of attention was the sand drags. With a legit scoring system, staging lights and tree this was as high tech as you can get out on the dunes. A pair of dozers dragged the strip smooth after every 3-4 passes so it took a while to get through every class but no matter what time of day or what classes were running there seems to be a hundred riders queued up and at least a few hundred spectators lined up along the fence. This is bracket racing at its best and in an eighth-mile drag you can make a name for yourself even if you don’t have the baddest bike out there. The machines really varied in intensity too. From stock Raptors to built Banshees stuffed in mini dragster chassis’ the gamut of sand shredding ATVs was on display here. Of course the biggest draw were those fully modded sand slingers and they drew the huge crowds. Organized sand drags are seriously fun, especially if you are participating.
Not everything was picture perfect though. We had reports of the constabulary treating a few participants pretty harsh. Although they are there to maintain order in an event that is borderline chaos by nature, it still doesn’t seem right to hand out speeding tickets to kids going 12 mph in the 10 mph zone considering how many people didn’t abide by it to the letter. Another group pointed out that they were constantly hovering around the alcohol-friendly camp site waiting to bust people but that really should be expected. After talking to a couple of Can-Am mounted officers they confirmed that this was one of the most well behaved crowds that had worked in years and were thankful for it. Injuries and accidents were few and far between and generally speaking things went smooth. That’s good to hear for a number of reasons. First of all, as OHV enthusiasts we need our big gatherings to go smoothly. It helps maintain our integrity as a group and build stronger relationships with the cities and officials associated with the events. So, we have to give props and say ‘nice work’ again to everyone who minded their Ps and Qs.
Our final look at DuneFest centers around the free riding. One of the best parts of the Winchester Bay Dunes is the scenery. During the day you can reach summits that offer views of the Pacific Ocean, Coos Bay to the south and the amazing scene of Clear Lake to the east. Nestled between the taupe sand and the fresh green pine forest is the crystal blue body of water known as Clear Lake. It provides the fresh water for the towns of Winchester and Reedsport so no human contact is legally allowed. No boats, jet skis or fisherman taint this pool. Imagine the fish that are in that thing? Or better yet, imagine what you could see with a set of scuba gear on? That would be epic. As it is, the lake looks amazing in its contrast to the surrounding terrain. It also symbolizes a part of the Oregon Dunes that eludes most other dunes: The presence of water. In Winchester it is common to run across pools of standing water throughout the year. It begs four-wheel drive folks to enter at their own risk and claims more than a few. It also makes for some fun ATV action as people try to surf across the surface at 75 mph. Some make it but many don’t. It’s always a yard sale and worth watching if you ever get the chance. Hell, you might as well give it a try if your mullet is strong.
There’s your 2010 DuneFest wrap up. This year the event was held under perfect conditions. It was warm and sunny during the day and generally pretty clear during the night – with the exception of a foggy late Saturday. Although the first few nights were jam-packed it seemed the crowds dwindled down a bit that final night. Probably due to attrition but there was a huge crowd all night at Banshee Hill near the campgrounds. The dunes were tore-up pretty bad at that point with not but a few square feet of virgin sand to be found anywhere. It made for a rough ride so we can understand why some folks may have tossed in the towel on that final night. We took the opportunity to burn through our last tank of gas before returning to the desk on Monday.
DuneFest is one of two annual Dune-Festivals on the Oregon Coast, so there’s no excuse not to hit at least one of them. When it comes to fun on ATVs it is hard to argue that there is a more family-friendly OHV event in the Northwest than DuneFest. Kids were everywhere and families certainly seemed to be the majority of the campers on the dunes. It’s a great way to bond with the kids and a perfect excuse to get out there and test your newest toys. Just ask anyone who was at DuneFest 2010 they’ll tell you, it was a blast.