Valdosta Daily Times

December 11, 2013

Toy Ride ready to roll

Dean Poling
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Thousands of bikers are again expected later this month for the annual Outback Riders Toy Ride, but many minds will be thinking about the absence of one biker.

For the past several years, Craig Pennington has been instrumental in organizing the motorcycle run that helps deliver Christmas toys to hundreds of area children.

Late last month, Pennington, 54, passed away following a battle with cancer. Even his obituary referred to his love of motorcycles: “His most enjoyable hobby and pastime was riding his motorcycle with his many friends and members of the Outback Riders Motorcycle Club.”

On Dec. 21, those friends and many other motorcycle enthusiasts will gather for the 21st Annual Toy Ride for “the Needy Children of Lowndes County.”

The Outback Riders started the Toy Ride in 1993, when an estimated 50-60 motorcycles participated. By 1994, more than 200 bikers participated in the Toy Ride. In more recent years, with clear skies, the Toy Ride has attracted more than 2,000 motorcycles.

While the Outback Riders appreciate this level of involvement, organizers ask all participating riders to follow directions at the ride’s start point at the Lake Park Outlets and the concluding destination at Valdosta’s Five Points.

In recent years, organizers have experienced difficulty getting some participants to park where they have been instructed to start and finish. Ignoring the parking instructions makes it more difficult for the hundreds of bikes still arriving to enter the lots. So please follow the guide of volunteer workers and abide by their requests, organizers ask.

The ride also has a police escort.

This year, Valdosta Mayor John Gayle and Dave “Kraken” Stone of the “Ax Men” TV show are expected to ride, said Don Brotherton, a ride organizer.

Through the years, the Outback Riders Annual Toy Ride has become an important part of the Empty Stocking Fund, which is sponsored by the Salvation Army, Guardian Bank and The Valdosta Daily Times.

Each year, Salvation Army personnel receive the bikers’ toys, inventories them, then distributes them as best they can to match the wish lists of the 800-plus Valdosta and Lowndes County children registered with the Empty Stocking Fund. The Outback Riders plan to also offer a monetary donation to the Empty Stocking Fund, Brotherton said.

The Toy Ride welcomes all motorcycles. All participants are asked to bring a new toy for a boy or a girl; often, some riders bring more than one toy. For the participants, there will be a 50/50 drawing and door prizes. The first 1,000 riders receive decals and vest pins.

On Saturday, Dec. 21, registration begins at 9 a.m., Lake Park Outlets; the blessing of the bikes will be at 1:15 p.m.; bikes leave at 1:30 p.m. There will also be a dedication to Craig Pennington. Will roll rain or shine. The motorcycles travel to Valdosta and stop at Five Points. Pre-registration: 6-9 p.m., Dec. 20, Mikki’s on Northside Drive. More information: Call (229) 460-2521; or (229) 561-7125.