Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hoka Hey Hell

Rocky waiting for breakfast in Key West, 2006.
My adventurous brother Rocky is about to set out on his beloved Harley for the mother of all motorcycle endurance rides, the Hoka Hey. Hoka Hey Challenge 2013 zig zags around the U.S. and Canada, covers 7,000 miles of road, and wraps at a giant survivors party a week or so later. Competitors’ bikes are equipped with tracking devices, so that we, the riders’ anxious friends and/or loved ones may watch their progress on our computer screens. Riders must sleep out-of-doors, if and when they sleep, and are strictly prohibited from using any performance enhancing drugs. Marijuana is taboo, too, and at the end of the race urine tests are administered to check for signs of infractions. Getting a ticket for speeding automatically eliminates challengers from sharing in the winners’ pot. Reportedly, Hoka Hey organizers will know if riders deviate from the rules, and in previous years, just to be sure, lie detector tests have been administered, which many unfortunately failed.  Riders are given directions to their next checkpoint at consecutive Harley dealership check-ins along the way.  The route is a mystery until the departure time of 6 a.m., Sunday.
          The website explains that the Hoka Hey is designed to “test riders’ abilities to navigate, endure and persevere along some of the most technical roads in North America!”
           And here I have to ask: what is a “technical road?”    
          “One with pavement?” Michael, Rocky’s brother-in-law suggests.
           Not necessarily, but in as much as that is possible, yes, the route will be on paved highway. Occasionally there may be deviations, however. Previous contestants have reported the instructions to have been very confusing.
          Here’s more from the Hoka Hey website: “Join us as we venture north into the ARCTIC WATERSHED! Traveling to places that no other competition has ever gone before!”
          “Maybe there’s a reason why no competition has ever gone there before,” Michael suggests.
           The Arctic Watershed, for those without a clue – like me, I had to look it up – is way, way, way up in northern Ontario, Canada, at the very lip of the continent. I suspect it will be cold. There are no towns in this area, only outposts.  Surely it will be lovely to see. But it’s a good thing Rocky is carrying his food, a series of high-powered nutrition shakes designed by his dietitian. I don’t think he’ll find a McDonald's up there on the tundra.
Michael, June and Rocky in Malagash, Nova Scotia, 2004.
            The challenge, as it is called, is designed by a South Dakota attorney, Jim Red Cloud, and his wife, Beth Dunham. They do this to bring attention and hopefully money to the plight of Native Americans.  In the Lakota language, Hoka Hey means “it’s a good day to die” and is believed to have been the battle cry of legendary Sioux warrior Crazy Horse. Others have interpreted the phrase to mean “it’s a good day to ride.”  The philosophy behind this is a belief in living a good life, so that when you die, you are prepared, no regrets.
           Sadly, the Hoka Hey has received some seriously negative publicity since its first run in 2010. Key West was the departure point for the trip that year. The finish line was in Alaska. The advertised first prize was $250,000 but that prize was never awarded. Those first over the finish line were plagued by a myriad of disqualifying factors. What those factors were, exactly, is kind of hush-hush. Ultimately, some cash prizes were awarded, just not the entire grand prize to one person. It was divided among those who managed to finish the run in the prescribed amount of time. And those guys aren’t talking.
          One hundred and seventy-three riders started the 2011 Hoka Hey endurance race. Of those, 11 finished in time to be eligible for prize money.  There is no public record of the 2012 statistics. And reportedly, Jim Red Cloud does not do interviews. You can go on line and read the blogs of the more literary past participants. The stories are interesting, but frightening. A lot of crazy things can go wrong on the road. There are natural disasters, traffic troubles, and fatigue. Riders are expected to cover nearly a thousand miles a day. That leaves little time for napping on the side of the road. Most of the participants are middle-aged, like my brother.
Key West Heidi and her baby, Rocky.  Ft. Taylor, one Thanksgiving.

           “The Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge is not your local poker run! It will try your tolerance for ambiguity. It will test your determination, your resolve and your stamina,” the Hoka Hey site says.
          This is a challenge my brother Rocky is apparently unable to resist. He’s has been bucking the odds since he was a little 5-year-old kid. Back then, to challenge the strength of a toy football helmet, he put the flimsy thing on his head, aimed, and ran as hard and fast as he could into the side of our house. Our mother, who’d been sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee with our Aunt Connie, thought a car had hit us. The women ran outside to find Rocky on the ground, out cold. Years later, when dared to climb up to the roof of the school and jump to the ground, Rocky complied, and broke his leg in several places. He once cut his finger off slicing Italian bread at a clam bake. The doctors sewed it back on. That was their challenge.
          Rocky was planning to participate last summer in Hoka Hey 2012. He drove to Las Vegas, the starting line. He partied with the Hoka Hey challengers. He was ready to go. Then he got a call from home that his son Keith had died of a heart attack at age 33. He didn’t do the ride. He went home to attend his son’s funeral. Rocky fell into a depression, made even darker by being laid off from his job. It was a rough time. But through it all, he looked forward to the 2013 Hoka Hey Challenge. He got a new job. Spring came, and with it, riding weather. Now it’s summer. He’s much more like his old, jolly self these days. And now it’s time.
Keith, Joey Rock, and Granddaddy Rocky. Connecticut, 2007.
          Today Rocky is camping with the other Hoka Hey contenders at the Senaca Indian Reservation in western New York. His ride is dedicated to the memory of his son. I can think of one hundred other things he could do to honor the memory of his son, none of them involving risking life and limb. But, this is Rocky, a man born to bend the laws of nature and good sense. He promises me he won’t push himself. But that big cash prize at the end of the road is pretty irresistible to my brother. How can he not push himself with his deeply ingrained American need to win? Rocky wants the bragging rights. He wants to prove himself to be shatterproof. (“I’ve already broken most of the bones in my body” he recently reminded me.)
          Sometimes I feel proud of my brother’s power, his tenacity, and his dedication to the open road. Lots of times I am very nervous. I once made him promise me were he to meet his end on the highway, he would die happy, no regrets. Hoka Hey! And he did promise. He has covered many thousands of miles on that bike, criss crossed the country a dozen times, and shown up to meet us on our own adventures in Arkansas, Nova Scotia and North Carolina. He truly does love riding, and works hard to support his Harley habit.
One of Rocky's New York friends did this a while ago.
    You can follow his ride on the Hoka Hey website  His tracking device number is 705. You can also pray for him and visualize him rolling triumphant, on July 1, back onto the Senaca Reservation, in one happy, jolly piece.
    I will spend this week thinking of my baby brother, calling him way too often, searching the Internet for weather reports, and dealing with a roller coaster ride of emotions. I will dwell in Hoka Hey Hell, and most certainly will suffer far more than the intrepid Superman, Rocky.