The Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge was awesome! Let me start off by saying that when Jim Red Cloud said this would be a "Challenge" he meant every word of it. Nothing like a good ol' challenge to go along with riding from Key West Florida to Homer Alaska on all back roads with a fourteen day time limit for my first cross country motorcycle trip. I decided to make the trip even more challenging by not putting a windshield on my Night Train and using an open faced helmet. I've never liked nor used windshields.
Seven hundred and fifty of us headed out of Key West around 6:30 a.m to a great sunrise with lots of folks cheering us on all the way to Homestead which was cool. I never been a big fan of riding in Florida but I was impressed with the back roads in the Homestead area. The first accident happened a few hours outside of Homestead when two Hoka Hey riders traveling in the same direction somehow crashed causing the road to be shut down for about an hour. Those in front of the wreck were able to put some distance on those behind the wreck. Once we got rolling again our next logjam came at a toll road because we had to get a receipt from the toll lady who was not prepared for the rolling thunder. She probably would've called in sick if she knew what was coming that day. After that there was one more wreck when a rider high sided after missing a turn and letting off his rear brake after locking it down. The rest of the morning/ afternoon was pretty calm till around 4:00 p.m when the bottom fell out of the sky. When the rain started it didn't let up and it rained hard (Sunshine State my ass!!!).
It was kind off comical watching a fifty deep pack of Harley's riding on these small backroads making countless turns and splashing through water puddles. The rain quit just outside of our first checkpoint which was Destination Daytona. Checkpoint 1- 616.4 miles.
I got my next map and headed out in the darkness. Navigating at night sucks-wrong turns galore. It would take me to New Mexico to learn to quit trying to navigate at night (more on that later). I got close to the Georgia line and seen a group setting up for the night so I pulled in and set up my tent. I didn't sleep much that night seeing how it was my first time ever camping as every little noise woke me up. This would be the only night I would have trouble sleeping the entire trip. I got up around 5 a.m and got rolling and entered Georgia and continued through to Alabama. As the sun came up this day it got very, very, hot! The hottest day of the whole ride to me. By the time I got to Alabama I was roasting and on top of that I had a scare when my tank bag holding my directions blew off when I was passing a semi. Luckily I found it on the side of the road back where I was making my pass, I was afraid it may have stuck to the semi as I was going by it since the tank bag was magnetic. While in Alabama I was having real hard time following the Hoka Hey map. I kept taking wrong turns and having to backtrack which was not alot of fun in the heat. It was at this time myself and probably the majority of the riders realized we could not depend on just our given map and none of us were really prepared for it. Before this ride started almost everyone, including myself, had certain expectations and ideas as to what this ride was going to be like and what challenges we were going to have to face. We were prepared for our endurance and riding ability to be challenged but we were not prepared for our navigating ability to be challenged. The biggest thing that really shook us as far as the directions was that we did not know how far we were supposed to travel on a given road. We may have to travel twenty miles, we may have to travel five hundred miles. When you were tired or not sure you were on the right road paranoia would set in and you would start questioning whether you had missed a turn and should you go back to check or should you keep going so that you didn't waste miles. The fear was that if you missed your turn and kept going you would have to go back that much further to get on the right road or if you went back and realized you didn't miss your turn you just lost time by adding unnecessary miles when you should have kept going. This was where alot of people came to a crossroads on this ride. You had the harleybabies who started pissing, moaning, and whining because there wasn't a pink ribbon attached to each sign where we were supposed to turn (I suppose these people seeing half a million slipping through their fingers had something to do with them being pissed off) and then you had those that came to ride and realized that the organizers were very serious when they said this would be a CHALLENGE! I decided to embrace the challenge part and walked my happy ass into a convenient store and asked directions, actually we all did. I suck at navigating anyway. My nickname is wrongway JJ. We realized we needed to use all resources available which meant asking the locals if we were on the right track. One thing I learned on this trip is that there are alot of good people in this country as well as Canada. One guy even flagged us down and had us follow him in his personal vehicle to get us on track when we were all wondering around a small town lost because the city had changed the names of the street signs after our maps were printed. Store clerks were always extremely helpful as they would go as far as getting a local map out to show us the way. This became a regular routine the rest of the trip. So we bumbled and stumbled around till we finally made it to our next checkpoint in Mississippi, Southern Thunder H-D. Checkpoint 2- 905.1 miles.Day 3 had me heading through Tennessee into Arkansas which is as far west as I have been with the exception of Sturgis twice and a small ride in San Diego, CA so I am know in uncharted territory. Arkansas was a pretty nice ride and was not as hot as the south and if I knew what was coming I would have enjoyed it more because I was about to enter a very miserable part of this ride- Oklahoma. Oklahoma blows, literally. The crosswinds were terrible, the roads were terrible, and the scenery was terrible. Straight, flat, bumpy roads and crosswinds that would knock your head off. I cannot tell you how happy I was to get into New Mexico. New Mexico was a good, bad, good situation for me. I got out of motorcycle purgatory in Oklahoma and got into Motorcycle bliss in New Mexico. The scenery was beautiful, and the riding was great! This was why I was on this trip, to see places like this. At this time I was riding alone and feeling pretty good so I wound up riding for twenty three hours that day. Unfortunately I was riding alone and feeling pretty good so I wound up riding for twenty three hours that day. This was where whatever minute chance I had at winning this thing went down the toilet. Our directions for New Mexico were to ride north and then west paralleling, but not entering the Colorado state line. I kept riding north in the dark because the road I was on was supposed to intersect to another road to head west. I figured I had not made it far enough north yet (remember we didn't know how far we were supposed to travel on any given road) so I kept going not realizing I had entered Colorado- bad. There were no state line signs posted on the road I was on. So I camped out at 9900 ft elevation freezing to death and sleeping in everything I had including my rain suit and woke up to even colder temperatures. Making yourself get out of a warm sleeping bag into the cold is not easy. After packing up I kept heading north til I needed gas. Once I gassed up I went in the store to warm up and noticed there were maps of Colorado everywhere. I asked the clerk where I was and she said South Park Colorado. Yes, that South Park. I then asked her how far from the New Mexico line I was and she said at least one hundred and fifty miles. I cannot begin to express the sick feeling that came over me at this time. At this time the temptation was to cut across Colorado to Arizona and get back on track there but that wouldn't be right and I couldn't say I completed the ride if I knowingly took a short cut. So I started backtracking to get on the right road and even though I was pissed at going so far out of the way I seen even more beautiful scenery while riding through Colorado- good. It was also as this time I came to the revelation that I didn't need to ride at night for two reasons: 1) I suck at navigating 2) I would miss seeing this country which was my main reason for doing this. Once back in New Mexico I got back on track and made it to Arizona trouble free. I would have a hate/ love relationship with Arizona as well as the rest of places I went for the rest of the trip. I would hate the first part of the state/ country and love the second part. The first part of Arizona was long, straight, endless, crappy roads in unbearable heat-not as bad as southern heat but close. I would crest a hill on one straight, endless, crappy road hoping for something different but there would only be another long, straight, endless, crappy road as I headed down toward Show Low before going back up toward Flagstaff. When I first entered Arizona I was on the Red Rock Hwy looking for a turn that never seemed to materialized. To make matters worse along with the heat was road construction and I was getting pelted with rock and sand. Feeling like I missed my turn I pulled off where a flagman was standing to check my atlas to see where I was. The flagman asked me if I was looking for a road. I told him yes and he said I passed it about 20 miles back. I don't think I was the first biker he saw looking for that road. Once again, great people in this country. I got back on track and kept going and so did the roads. It was in Arizona though that I had the good fortune of meeting a future friend- Greg Darby. Greg was on an Ultra and had some serious navigation skills so I rode with him as much as possible the rest of the trip. The second half of Arizona was fantastic. Sedona was beautiful and the Grand Canyon massive. The red rock in Arizona is truly unique. We headed on in to Utah and was in awe of monument valley and the surrounding mountain areas. I would definitely like to visit Utah again. We left Utah for Wyoming in the home stretch for our next checkpoint Flaming Gorge H-D. I checked my rear view mirror to find Greg when we got off the exit to see him in sliding off the road headed for a concrete drainage ditch after sliding on a patch of dust on the ramp. The irony was that we had just rode through a boatload of mountain ranges with steep grades and curves with no trouble and here he was about to eat it on the exit ramp. He went down the hill and I waited to see an explosion of plastic dresser parts fly up in the air but to my surprise up comes Greg on the other side with the bike laid down riding it to a stop and then does the first thing we all do when we crash even it we're lying...jumps up and says "I'm o.k."...thankfully he was and so was his bike. People helped up get the bike up and on level ground then we rode on to the checkpoint. Checkpoint 3- 2753.7 miles.
Once arriving I left Greg and went on as he had to go over his bike and have it serviced. I was pretty sure I'd see him again. Now I know Wyoming has some good areas to ride in which is why I'm going to rate it higher than Oklahoma but not by much. After getting back on the road I rode in nothing but straight, boring roads with high crosswinds with increasing elevation which made it cold. Hot weather I can handle, but I despise cold weather especially when I'm not expecting it. Civilization was nowhere to be found for the longest time causing fear to creep in of running out of gas. I made it to Casper where I packed it in for the night. I was tired, cold, and disgusted because I hadn't ridden half as far and I was starting to really miss my wife and children. I called her to check in which only made things worse but after I hung up with her I had a message from a longtime close friend who had left me some good words of encouragement. It's funny how the right things can come at the right time. The next morning I continued the ride of boredom into South Dakota where things got better. We had the privilege of going to Chief Oliver Red Clouds home which turned out to be a surprise checkpoint also (Checkpoint 4). I had buffalo stew and Indian pudding for the first time and was honored to be at his home. We were invited to stay and rest up but I decided to get back on the road. Our route led us through The Badlands, Spearfish Canyon, and Deadwood before taking us through another small part of Wyoming then into Montana. I tried to make it through the straight and boring part before stopping and actually spent the night on an Indian Reservation outside of Billings. Once into the mountains Montana was very impressive and the roads were in good shape too. While cruising along taking everything in I noticed a black fairing coming up behind that looked familiar. Sure enough it was Greg. Montana was a very enjoyable, relaxing ride. I was hoping to see a bear on this trip but so far no luck. We cruised on in to our next checkpoint at Montana H-D in Missoula.
Checkpoint 5- 1351.6 miles.
JJ Phipps, Hoka Hey Competitor #111
More to come, Part 2 of The Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challange. Thanks a ton JJ, this write up was amazing! Just another thing to add to the "To Do" list of life!