Archive for July, 2010

The Hoka Hey Challenge

July 27, 2010

(or my report from “Wild Hogs on Steroids”)

This summer I participated in a crazy motorcycle challenge. Many of my friends found out about this on Facebook. I promised that I would write a summary of the ride and make it available. Since this Daily Devotions blog is still active, I decided this would be an OK place to post my report. I know the report is long…but it was a long ride J If you receive this as a subscriber to the Daily Devotions, don’t feel the need to read it. Enjoy hitting “Delete” guilt-free.

The Challenge

My buddy Mark and I were thinking about where we planned on riding this summer. We basically agreed to ride to the Grand Canyon but then Mark discovered this ride called the Hoka Hey Challenge (www.hokaheychallenge.com). It was initially billed on the website as a 7000+ mile race from Key West, FL, to Homer, AK, that would challenge the skills and determination of the riders. There were a bunch of rules – you had to ride a V-twin, air-cooled Harley Davidson, you couldn’t carry extra fuel, couldn’t use a GPS devise, couldn’t stay in hotels along the way, couldn’t have a support crew following you and you would be monitored along the way by having a GPS tracking device on your bike. The first rider to follow all the rules and arrive in Homer would win $500,000.

We were also told that the riders would need to apply for consideration to participate and be accepted to the ride. The challenge would be limited to 1000 riders and the entrance fee a steep $1000. Only serious riders would apply.

Personally, from the second I heard about this Challenge, I simply had to make the ride. There are many reasons for that, I’ll write about those some other time.

There was a lot involved in getting ready for the ride – for me and for every other rider. We all did many of the same things. Kelley and I spent lots of lots of money getting ready. I traded in my 2005 Roadglide for an Ultra Classic Limited. I bought a tent and a bunch of other stuff I needed or at least wanted. We even bought a trailer to bring the bike to Key West (which we ultimately didn’t use.)

The week before we planned on leaving for Key West, Kelley’s job responsibilities made it impossible for her to go. So, instead of having a nice drive together to Florida and a couple of days before the race in a nice hotel, I ended up having to ride there alone.

I left on Tuesday morning and enjoyed the ride to Florida. I spent the first night at Peace Lutheran Church in Slidell, LA. I planned on using my tent to test things out…but it looked like rain and Peace had a nice camper trailer available with air conditioning. The next night I planned on camping near the Harley dealership in Daytona Beach, FL. The closest campground charged $39 a night, the Super 8 just down the road, $49. The Super 8 it was. (I didn’t realize at that point that “finding a campground” would not apply to the reality of the Challenge where we basically just hit the ground where the police would leave us alone and fell asleep immediately.)

I wasn’t expecting the interstate through Miami to just suddenly END on the city street that eventually became the highway to Key West. Nor did I realize that Key West was 150 miles away from Miami. OR that the speed limit would be 45 mph. But, through a few different rain showers, I got to the Beachside Marriot on Thursday afternoon and waited for the weekend.

Reality hit the night before the ride during the rider orientation. We quickly learned that the rules had changed. A few motorcycles would be allowed other than Harleys. (Meaning I should have ridden my perfectly good Victory instead of going into debt for the remainder of Western civilization buying a new Harley). They would not be putting any kind of GPS tracking devices on our bikes. Those with GPS systems on their bikes would be allowed to leave them and use them. (Instantly making me regret leaving mine at home…it would have come in handy.) We would be starting in a mass scramble rather than being lined up according to our entry number. No one would be monitoring the behavior of support teams. It was all pretty disorganized and chaotic. But the pool was nice, the weather stayed dry and it is always a good time to hang out with other people who love motorcycles. Other surprises were just around the corner.

On Sunday morning at 6:30 am, 680 motorcycles (as I was later told by organizer Beth – it was probably more like 450) hit the highway out of Key West.

The Route

A major part of the challenge, the whole way but especially through the first five states, was navigation. The “map” we were given on Sunday morning was a list of turns (without distances between them) that ran a few pages long. We could see on the map that the first checkpoint would be in Daytona, FL, but we only learned by following the turns that we would spend all of our time on two lane county roads with 45 mph speed limits. We received a new map at each checkpoint.

It wasn’t at all easy to follow these “turn by turn” instructions, eg. “Turn RIGHT on CR 185/Jack Black Rd.” As we discovered, not all the roads actually had numbers or names, not all the roads had signs, and we had no idea how many miles we would have to ride on a certain road before the next turn. These varied by an immediate turn to riding hundreds of miles on the same road. It was very difficult to navigate the route!

Until we got to Canada there were very few straight lines in the route. We did several loops through the states, especially in the first three days. Many people quit after spending days riding in circles around Florida, Georgia and Alabama, looking for roads without names or numbers, often in the rain. Most of the riders said they did more u-turns in three days than in the previous 30 years of riding.

When we got out west the loops got longer. For example, we got to a checkpoint in Rock Springs, WY and then had to ride back east to Pine Ridge, South Dakota before heading back west across Montana to the next checkpoint in Missoula. Then we discovered we would have to ride to Fairbanks before going down to Homer.

We had checkpoints in Daytona Beach, FL; Southaven, MS; Rock Springs, WY; Pine Ridge, SD; Missoula, MT; and Fairbanks, AK.

We road through Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, touched Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, the Yukon Territories and Alaska. My trip home added Colorado and Texas.

We rode through over 30 Indian reservations (part of the point of the ride) which often meant poor roads but incredible views. We rode almost entirely on secondary roads, many with 45 mph speed limits in the first few states. The entire route had less than 100 miles on interstate highways in the lower 48. We saw things from glaciers in Alaska to the Grand Canyon in Arizona, Gator Alley and the Everglades in Florida to Mount Judah in Arkansas and Monument Valley in Utah.

The ride rules said we could not sleep indoors. I pitched my tent (in the following order):

o in the yard of a Baptist church in Georgia

o a Jehovah’s Witness parking lot in Arkansas

o a truck stop in Tonkawa, Oklahoma

o the parking lot of a Harley dealer in Farmington, New Mexico

o the parking lot of a Shell gas station just north of Globe, Arizona

o the parking lot of the Harley dealer in Rock Springs, Wyoming

o a truck stop in Belle Fouche, South Dakota, where, for $5, I took the only shower I had in the 12 days of the Challenge

o a rest area just north of the Canadian border

o the parking lot of a gas station at Pink Mountain, 143 miles into the Alaska Highway

o the next night it was raining so I slept sitting on my bike on the side of the road

o the parking lot of the Harley dealer in Fairbanks

o after I got to Homer, I turned around and headed back to Anchorage. I slept that night in a rest area before finishing the ride back to Anchorage.

Through the 12 days of the race, I only ate four meals in cafes (breakfasts in Rock Spring, Canada and Alaska. And Taco Bell in Fairbanks.) I never drank a single Diet Coke (and haven’t since the race ended.) I drank water and coffee all day and chocolate milk for breakfast. I ate apples, bananas, Powerbars and breakfast bars, all while riding on the bike or in the parking lots of gas stations. From the time the race started I didn’t drink a beer until enjoying a steak dinner in Butte, MT, on the way home.

And yes, I stayed in motels on the way home.

I saw lots of great countryside. And I learned, in my opinion, all things considered (the quality of roads, the scenery, the hills/curves fun factors, the weather) the single greatest place to ride a motorcycle in North America, hands down, without a doubt, is Montana. The road from Butte to Missoula to Flathead Lake to Kalispell to the Canadian border (which was part of the ride) and then the road from the border down through Shelby, Great Falls, Helena and Butte is beyond breathtakingly beautiful. And we didn’t even see Glacier National Park. The place has made it to my MUST list for future vacations.

Interesting Discoveries

The only road to Key West starts in Miami. It is largely a 45 mph road that stretches for 150 miles. The only road to Homer starts in Anchorage. Also largely a 45 mph road, it takes 211 miles to get to Homer.

The Alaska Highway is 1365 miles long, from Dawson Creek, BC to Delta Junction, Alaska (it was 1461 miles to Fairbanks, about the same distance as from Houston to San Diego). On the way home, it was about 1600 miles from Anchorage to Dawson Creek. I find those distances absolutely mind-boggling.

The Alaska Highway was initially built in 1942 in only 9 months by 30,000 soldiers and civilians. It has been much improved since then but still travels through absolute wilderness and, in places, really stinks.

I saw moose and bear every day I was in Canada, both coming and going. Also buffalo, elk, caribou, deer and wolves. I missed being hit by a moose by only a couple of feet on my return trip. On the way there, I pulled my bear spray out when I was unclear about the intentions of a large buffalo blocking the road. I stopped my bike. He took a few steps toward me and stopped. When his herd had moved enough to please him, he left the road and I darted past.

I hit one pothole in the Alaska Highway so hard that it literally knocked the helmet off my head! But the Harley stayed in one piece so it was all good. The helmet? Not so good.

The Yukon Territories (186,272 square miles) has a population of about 31,000 people of whom 24,000 people live in the capital, Whitehorse. (Compare that to Texas which covers 268,601 square miles with a population of 24,800,000…and still feels largely empty in many places.) Alaska is 2 ½ times the size of Texas.

Alaska has only one road you can drive to enter the state, the Alaska Highway. Past that, it has only 3 roads in its interstate system – the Alaska Highway passes Tok and continues through Delta Junction to Fairbanks. Another road to the west links Fairbanks to Anchorage. The third road goes from Anchorage to Tok. An “interstate” in Alaska is a paved two lane road with sections of gravel. Road repair is constant.

On the first leg of my way home, I rode 714 miles to get from Anchorage to Whitehorse. At that point I saw a chart in a gas station that said I was still 924 miles from Dawson’s Creek. I couldn’t believe it! I HAD to get to Dawson’s Creek because that is only where any other road could be found. Driving from Anchorage to Dawson’s Creek is like driving from Houston to San Francisco. The scale of the size of those places amazes me.

The last leg of my trip home – I left Cheyenne, WY, at 9:30 am central time. I rode 1111.5 miles in 19 hours, arriving in Houston at 4:30 am.

Trip Stats

24 days away (but not all vacation days because of weekends and July 4th)

1689 miles to Key West (3 days, 563 miles/day)

2 rest days in Key West before the race

9223 miles to Homer in 12 days (769 miles/day)

4797 miles to home in 7 days (685 miles/day)

Total trip: 15709 miles (around the world is 24,900 miles)

I was arrived in Homer on Thursday, July 1st, about 4:30 pm. I finished 58th – although, unlike many of the 57 riders who got there before me, I rode the whole route. We’ll probably never know the real finish positions among those who rode the whole ride.  Two of the first three finishers were disqualified for skipping checkpoints or taking shortcuts.  The first two who got there only rode 8400 miles – it seems more likely that those did the whole route rode 8900-9000+ miles.

Other Thoughts

I entered this Challenge because I felt compelled to. It would be a vision quest for me. A time to learn new things, a spiritual journey. For me, that part was a complete success. I look forward to writing more about the lessons I learned on the Hoka Hey.

We will never know the whole story of this Challenge. We will never know how many bikers crashed – at least 16 but that cannot possibly be all of them. We won’t know for sure even how many died – the latest is two confirmed deaths.

But at the end of the day, it was a heckuva ride, the road trip to end all road trips, and if another ride like this is scheduled again, I’ll be the first to sign up.

The moment I finished was pretty cool.  Because of the intensity of the trip, and often because of lack of cell phone coverage, I had been calling Kelley about once a day to update her.  Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to answer, she only called me one time.  As soon as I crossed the finish line on the Homer Spit and pulled my bike to a stop, I realized my phone was ringing.  It was Kelley, wondering how close I was to the finish line.  Amazing.

Thank you to my beautiful and understanding wife, who made it possible for me to do this ride and who supported me throughout. Her insistence that I bring “Wet One’s” was more important than you could ever know.

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