JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Jim R. Kalb has dreamed of riding in the Hot Nights, Cool Lights motorcycle parade at Thunder in the Valley since he was a child.
Every year, his parents would take him to the top of the Inclined Plane to watch the riders on their lighted machines cruise into the city.
This year, the 18-year-old from Irwin saw that dream come true as he and his father, Jim D. Kalb, prepped their Honda VTX 1800 and Yamaha V Star 650 for the trip from The Fifth Local Eatery and Alehouse on Scalp Avenue to Peoples Natural Gas Park in the downtown area.
“Hearing everything up close – the loud engines – it’s everything I’ve always wanted,” the younger Kalb said.
For his father, sharing in the experience is just as rewarding.
“I don’t know who’s more excited because he’s always wanted to do it his whole life and I’ve always wanted to bring him,” Jim D. Kalb said.
Riders from all over packed the parking lot at The Fifth starting at 5 p.m. in preparation for the parade.
Food and drinks were provided by the restaurant and local food trucks, along with live music.
This was the first year the Richland Township eatery hosted the event, but the proprietors were pleased to do so.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” part-owner Corey Crocco said, “but we’re happy so far. … We’re excited to be kicking Thunder off, officially, at The Fifth.”
He added that, when he and his partners heard rally organizers were looking for a new home for the parade, they jumped at the opportunity.
“I think Thunder is great for this town,” Crocco said.
The group of riders lined up at 7 p.m. and at 9:30 p.m. started their journey into the city, where a lighted bike show and afterparty awaited them at PNG Park.
Local motorcycle enthusiasts Don Maldet and his brother, Mick Maldet, have rode in the parade each year since its inception.
“I like riding with all the bikes,” Mick Maldet said. “I look forward to it every year.”
“We’re bikers,” his brother added. “What could be better?”
Mick had his Honda 750 ready to go, and Don had his Honda Shadow 750 Deluxe on standby.
The two men plan to attend several other Thunder events this weekend, including Saturday’s Grand Thunder Parade.
For Johnstown resident Justin Wirick, this is the third year he’s rode in Hot Nights, Cool Lights, and he was looking forward to it this time around as much as the first.
“When all the lights are on, going down the hill … it’s so cool,” he said.
Wirick was joined for the ride by Krista Todd, who was also thrilled to participate.
“It’s nice to be part of something from small-town Johnstown that’s so big,” she said.
The pair had a Harley-Davidson Street Glide to ride and were glad the weather was good for this year’s parade – Thursday had a high in the upper 70s and clear skies.
Thunder in the Valley events continue through Sunday.
Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.