You have rambling on your mind? Perhaps a 10,000-mile road trip will take the edge off. That’s the distance Hoka Hey Challenge participants will log this summer if what the organizers say is true. The 48-state, two-country event departs Phoenix, Arizona Aug. 5 and ends at Glace Bay, Nova Scotia with $1 million prize money up for grabs. (See, ‘Calendar of Events,’ page 46.) It’s an ambitious undertaking, but the event has the backing of mighty Harley-Davidson.
The Motor Company has signed on to provide marketing and promotion, which will go a long way toward lending the road rally the legitimacy it sorely needs.
Last year, the first of its existence, Hoka Hey was dogged by controversy. There were claims that its $500,000 purse was non-existent; a spate of serious accidents plagued the Harley-only event as competitors struggled with the 7,000-mile route between Key West, Florida and Homer, Alaska; and there was even some debate as to the real winner.
Eventually (but not before a lie detector test was administered) Floridian Will Barclay was declared first past the post and a jumbo cheque was handed to him in front of a crowd at the Sturgis Rally.
At the centre of all this is founder Jim Durham, AKA Jim Red Cloud, who has taken flak for his organization and promotion of the Hoka Hey, an event that theoretically began as a fundraiser for eight separate charities including the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.
But when the charity funds were not forthcoming at the end of the event, the scandalous talk began in earnest. Red Cloud defends himself in a blog titled “Setting the record straight” on the website, hokayheychallenge.com.
“We advertised that the event would contribute to several charities,” writes Red Cloud. ”Unfortunately, the entrance fees at the reduced level of participation, net of direct costs associated with the event, did not allow such contributions. Ultimately we had to personally fund a portion of the five hundred thousand dollar prize money. Going forward we will not repeat our mistake of overpromising.”
Which brings us to the 2011 edition, and already things aren’t going exactly as planned. The initial press release had this year’s rally starting in San Diego, dipping into Mexico, and ending in Glace Bay. But organizers apparently thought better of directing an entire field of presumably well-heeled, well-mounted riders into northern Mexico where the drug wars have reached epidemic proportion.
A statement was issued in February: “Diga adiós a México,” it said. “We have carefully considered the situation in northern Mexico including riding into this area and seeing for ourselves. What we found was not very promising. It seems to us that proceeding with our plans to have the route go through northern Mexico may put our participants at substantial risk.”
Well ... yes. Mexico is a complex problem that certainly cannot be hung around the thick neck of Big Jim Durham ... or Red Cloud, if you like. Still, even my 89-year-old mother-in-law who is both legally blind and deaf knows there has been a dangerous drug war festering south of the border for several years now.
Consequently, the Hoka Hey was re-tooled with a Phoenix start point.
The entry fee for riders is a cool grand and that in itself may put off all but the most determined. If that doesn’t, then the Challenge requirement to spend the nights outdoors very likely will, even though a second entry class has been added for 2011 that allows motorcycles of all makes and models.
Mind you, that hasn’t stopped Red Cloud from publicly declaring his allegiance. “The Hoka Hey is about being the greatest endurance motorcycle event ever held and we are very excited to become associated with the greatest motorcycles ever built,” declared Red Cloud in the February press release announcing Harley-Davidson’s participation in the promo and marketing department.
For that he can be forgiven. After all, Harley-Davidson and Harley-Davidsons play anchor roles in the marketing of the Cannonball-style rally. There’s a lot of flowery talk about the “warrior spirit, “spiritual awakening” and so on. There’s an option for sponsoring a vet, and even the name itself is said to be derived from something poignant yet vaguely warlike in the language of the Lakota Sioux. Organizers take their own meaning from Hoka Hey: “It’s a good day to ride,” they say.
True enough, it is. For all the speed bumps Hoka Hey bounced across in 2010, it may well rebound as the ride of the year for everyone. Maybe the ride of a lifetime. I hope it is.
But before slapping down your $1,000 registration fee, it wouldn’t hurt to contact the organizers just to say “hi” and have them satisfy whatever questions you might have.