LONGS — The power had already been shut off by the time the floodwater reached the Carolina Knight Riders’ clubhouse off Star Bluff Road.
As the swollen Waccamaw River surrounded the bluish gray building last fall, hope for the Bikefest landmark’s future began to wane. Then Sam Cox got an unexpected call. Somehow, the inside of the clubhouse stayed dry.
“The water got pretty high,” said Cox, one of the neighborhood guys who started the motorcycle group in the 1980s. “We just was lucky. For some reason, the good Lord just kept it out of the building. It’s amazing, but it’s true. … God has been good to us. The clubhouse … it hung up pretty good.”
The club’s 60-year-old president relayed that story Saturday afternoon in between greeting bikers who stopped by the rural clubhouse in the pines near S.C. 90.
Hurricane Florence’s flood ravaged much of the surrounding community in September. Club members said the water blanketed the area in front of the clubhouse and covered the drag strip behind it.
The North Myrtle Beach Drag Strip, known as “The home of run what you brung,” is another Bikefest institution, but it is not open for this year’s festival. Its website says “closed until further notice." The strip’s owner could not be reached for comment.
Throughout the weekend, bikers wanted to know what happened and club members told them about the destructive flood.
The news disappointed some longtime visitors who expected to see smoldering rubber this weekend.
“We’re too old to drag race, but we like to look at the young people do it,” said 74-year-old Ronnie Williams, a member of the Port City Wheelers from Wilmington, North Carolina, who made his annual pilgrimage to Longs.
Although the strip isn’t open this year, Williams and his buddy, Robert Hansard, were glad to see the clubhouse was spared.
Sipping on a beaded Miller High Life at the bar, Williams gushed about his years of friendship with the Knight Riders, and how those guys always make a trip to Wilmington to celebrate the Wheelers’ anniversary in January.
“We’re almost like brothers, like family,” Williams said. “And if you’re on two wheels, you’re part of the family.”
The bikers pointed out the clubhouse has become an attraction for people far outside either club’s membership. It’s not unusual for bikers from California, Washington or New York to stop by to hear about the group that started Bikefest.
“It’s almost like a family reunion type deal,” Hansard said. “The only commonality, the glue, is the motorcycles.”
“They know the name and they’re learning the history,” the Knight Riders’ Cox said. “A lot of people are very surprised because they see people on TV say, ‘Yeah, I started bike week.’ Ain’t no one man could have started all this.”
Bikefest began in 1980 when a group of local bikers created a Memorial Day weekend block party where black motorcycle riders and their families would feel welcome. They went to Atlantic Beach, known as “The Black Pearl.”
That group of bikers eventually became the Knight Riders.
While the group is known for Bikefest, Cox said members often stop by the clubhouse on weekends throughout the year. And that’s when they’re not on the road doing fundraisers for breast cancer survivors or churches. The first weekend of every December means a ride for Toys for Tots.
“We try to rally together, hang together, stay together, do good things for the community,” he said. “See, a lot of people think bikers is just bad. We set out to prove that all bikers are not bad, that you’ve got a lot of good bikers.”
As the Knight Riders look ahead to the next Bikefest — the big 40th— they remain grateful to still have their headquarters here.
From his perch behind the buffet line, 71-year-old William Hill talked about how the group began with a handful of people, including him, and watched their festival grow from a small gathering to an event that at one time drew hundreds of thousands. Bikefest isn’t that big anymore and the club’s membership has also dwindled, hovering around 20.
Hill no longer rides, poor circulation took one of his legs, but he still helps out each Memorial Day weekend, even if that means manning the table behind the hot sauce and mayonnaise.
Floods come. Crowds vary. But the club keeps rolling, and so does he. Next year, he plans to be back.
“I am a good member,” he said. “I ain’t never missed one.”