The Hoka Hey Challenge

(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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20 Responses to “The Hoka Hey Challenge”

  1. Doug Miles Says:

    Thanks for the update, have missed your devotions. Not everyone could make a trip like that. GodBless

  2. Cindy Says:

    Hello
    Thank you so very much for sharing your adventures.
    Late night for me –was so surprised to see “Daily Devotional” I had to read before signing off for the evening, and a great read it was!
    Wow—better bedtime story than I had planned on.
    Nice to hear from you agian! THANK-YOU for the many years of devotionals!
    God Bless you and yours!
    CJ

  3. leila Says:

    Excellant! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Kathy Boor Says:

    Dear Pastor Kerry,

    I LOVED reading your Hoka Hey story! I looked the Challenge up when you wrote us about it and thought “WOW, wouldn’t that be a great thing to do?!?” I was also daunted as I read re: the route, rules, where you could sleep, etc. But the excitement about it never wavered for me. I am sorry Kelley didn’t get to go with you to Florida and I admire her for her excitement and support…and I totally understand about Wet Ones. I’m glad you had a safe journey. And I look forward to reading whatever you share with us, whenever you do that, about lessons, observations, etc. Thank you SO much for choosing to use the Daily Devotions site and allowing us who normally wouldn’t have been “in the loop” to hear about the journey.

    Sincerely,

    Kathy

  5. Terri Henry Says:

    I am so glad you had such a wonderful time! I am sure much of what you learned experienced will be used in the future and shared with many. Get some much needed rest!

    Peace,
    Terri

  6. Hyla & Richard Lee Says:

    What a great ride/adventure. As fellow riders we hope to do that challenge one day soon. You MUST send your story to one of the motorcycle mags…”Rider” perhaps? I know other riders would enjoy your take on this challenge!

    God’s Blessings!

    Hyla & Richard Lee (BMWMOA)

  7. Bill Wagner Says:

    Wow, what a trip. As a biker I can truly appreciate the immensity of your undertaking. Only one day have I ridden 500 miles and that was more than enough – and you averaged way more than that!

    You could have had a nice bed with breakfast at my daughter’s home in Homer. We just returned from their on July 22.

    Thanks for sharing your story, it was fascinating to me!!!
    Bill

  8. Dan Says:

    I enjoyed reading your story. I would like to read a more detailed account when you finally get it all down. Sounds like the event was pretty disorganized in that directions were terrible and they changed the rules at the last minute, screwing riders who had intended on following the rules. Also, who won? How many finished in total? How long after the winner finished did you finish (hours)?

    Two quick edits:

    “Homer, AL” would be located in Alabama. AK is the abbreviation for Alaska.

    Also, the last sentence in your “Trip Stats” seems jumbled; I just can’t make sense of what you’re trying to say.

  9. Georgene Thompson Says:

    I am so thrilled by your journey and thanks for sharing it on Daily Devotions. If you hadn’t, I would never have been aware that I “knew” someone on the challenge.

    The longest journey I’ve done on my bike is 200 miles each way…your experience is awe inspiring. I’ve driven (not ridden) the AlCan…it was a bone jaring experience and we had multiple flat tires on the car. The dog also got pregnant…but that’s another story.

    Thanks for being you…I’ve missed the devotions, but feel like I’ve reconnected with a friend.

  10. Karen Kress Says:

    I thought our 5,000 miles (some through awe-inspiring Montana) was a lot until your staggering numbers. So glad you were blessed in spirit by this pilgrimage. May God multiply your blessing by its sharing.

    P.S. I miss the devotions, too.

  11. newjourneyslc Says:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to write about your trip! You know if we had still been at Ft. Meade, I’d have met you with something delicious to eat from Paul! Also, very interesting that you were probably in Whitehorse/Dawson’s Creek while my daughter, Jana, was there! (check out her blog http://indianajana.blogspot.com/). And, yes, I agree, time at Glacier is a MUST!

    We’d still love to see you here at the ranch. It would be a quick trip compared to your last excursion. So grateful prayers were answered and you made the trip safely.

    Keep in touch!
    Jean & Paul

  12. Glenda Reinert Says:

    WOW!! Incredible Congratulations

    Thanks sharing, looking forward to the devotions.

  13. Rider Fan Says:

    Great story! Thanks for sharing. The candor and tone makes this story a joy to read. Well written

  14. Irv Bostwick Says:

    Hi Rev. Kerry,

    It was great hearing from you again; I also miss your daily devotions.

    Although my wife won’t let me have a motorcycle, it was very interesting reading the summary of your adventure.

    Please include me on your list for future Hoka Hey reports.

    May God continue to ride with you on future adventures.

  15. lori pilatzke Says:

    Who won the $500,000?????

  16. Arnie Walter Says:

    TWO CONFIRMED DEATHS!!
    I’m just thankful to God you made it back in one piece.
    And you did it on a “for real Harley” following the rules,
    pride points if nothing else.
    I’ve missed your posts and no mater how infrequent I’m
    looking forward to any posts in the future.
    Christ sent out his disciples two by two with no pack
    of provisions, they had to depend on the charity of those
    they met. I’m absolutely sure you have stuff , revelations, lessons, to be shared.
    Even if it’s the ones where you shook the dirt off of the bottom of your shoes as you left.
    God bless you well.

  17. Lise McFarren Says:

    I grew up riding motorcycles on the West Coast. From Tijuana to Vancouver more times than I can count. This Hoka Hey sounds unbelievable! I can’t wait to tell my husband about it!

    So good to hear from you again! My heart feels the joy of the ride with yours!

    God Bless!

  18. kerry west Says:

    hi!! i have been going to key west since about the age of 8-9… i live in england. my mum n dad went to keywest this year when u guys were down there with ya bikes. im a massive fan of harleys and its a dream of mine to do a ride in america on a harley. my mum took about 100 pics of all the bikes whilst she was there. the hotel we stayed at i can remeber the name as we usually rent from a couple called craige and sindy own a house in coral hammock.. but we stayed in the hotel u guys were at, beach side and rented from craig and sindy again as they have a private property in there 2.. if i remeber righly.. did u go visit the hogs breathe in duval street i love that bar.. any who got all excited when i saw ur artical.. random i no..

  19. jimmy choo shoes outlet Says:

    Just kidding. I’ll be new to this discussion board but have belonged to your great deal of other people. Want for getting capable to help a number of you and be expecting you could guidance me must the will want crop up.

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