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The devil in the details

By Terry Roorda

“The Iditarod of Harley-Davidson!” and, “The best thing to happen to Harley-Davidson in 50 years!” These are some of the breathless pronouncements used to describe the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, an absolutely incredible event being organized by the Medicine Show Land Trust. According to the Medicine Show’s website (www.hokaheychallenge.com), the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge will convene 1,000 Harley-riding “warriors” in Key West on June 20, 2010 and send them off en masse on a 7,000-mile jaunt up to Homer, Alaska, where the first rider to arrive will find a really cool prize—a half million bucks worth of Alaska gold—awaiting them. Along the route, which is a closely-guarded secret, the competitors will stop at seven or eight checkpoints to have their VIN inspected and their mileage checked and their identity confirmed, and then they’ll get a map to their next checkpoint. Speeding is verboten, as are a number of other things including sleeping anywhere but on the ground or in a tent. The organizers caution that they’ll have “ghosts” posted along the route alert for speeders and other scofflaws. Two weeks later, there will be a big Challenge wingding on the Fourth of July in the hamlet of Homer. Also in Homer, we’re told, there will be trucks to transport the competitors’ bikes back south as far as Sturgis. The price of participating in the odyssey is $1,000, and of the proceeds received, the Medicine Show Land Trust vows to donate “a portion” to a number of charities benefiting service veterans and Native American causes.

As a jaundice-eyed journalist who remembers all too well the ill-fated 2002 America’s Ride cross-country “charity” event conducted ostensibly for the benefit of victims of 9/11, I received the news of the Challenge with some skepticism and read through the website and followed various discussion threads on various Internet forums and came away with a sense of foreboding. But that’s just me, and the exercise has been entertaining to say the least. And I sure don’t want to spoil anybody’s fun by playing the role of a wet blanket here, especially when there’s so much fun to be had just reading through that material, which I highly recommend everyone doing. I also recommend, for the fun of it, suspending disbelief, taking every claim at face value and then enjoying marveling at the breadth of the undertaking and speculating on how it could possibly come to pass as advertised.

A good place to start in your speculations is the daunting logistics of the deal. For starters it’s fun to imagine the hiring frenzy that must occur when the relative handful of people comprising the Medicine Show begin to staff up for the extravaganza; to not only register, entertain and stage 1,000 riders in Key West, but also to man at least seven checkpoints at secret location across the continent for 24 hours a day, days on end. They’ll be needing trusted employees, of course, lest word of the locations leak out. And they’ll need a lot of “ghosts” too, presumably armed with speed guns, to birddog a thousand riders over 7,000 miles. Then they’ll need a crew in Homer to prepare for the big celebration and banquet there, as well as to log in the finishers who will be arriving, realistically, at all hours over the course of a week. The biggest spectacle in little Homer, for my money, will be that fleet of transporters amassed to haul as many as 1,000 bikes back to the 48.

I get goose bumps just thinking about it all, and doubtless so do the many readers who are personally familiar with the degree of preparation and number of helpers it takes just to pull off a successful local charity poker run. But wait. There’s more. For those of you who delight in poring over contractual fine print—and who doesn’t?—there are entertainments awaiting at the Medicine Show’s website on the Terms and Conditions page where you’ll discover this nugget: “For the avoidance of doubt, if the Organizer, acting responsibly, decides to call off the Event, either before the Event or during the Event due to an incident (such as for example, a death or serious injury in connection with the Event, or an event that naturally detracts from the Event), such event will be considered a force majeure event in accordance with this Clause and the Organizer will have no liability, in particular and without limitation, to refund the entry fee or any part of it to any participant.”

Wow. Sure is a lot of room for interpretation there, I’d say—except the part about no refunds. But, hey, who wants to fret over minutia when in Homer, “there lies a Half Million Dollars in Alaska Gold for whoever reaches the final checkpoint first”? And it’s not like they don’t already have the money, either, and it’s not from the entry fees of the competitors. According to a posting by the organizers at one forum, “The $500K comes from a group of private, philanthropic individuals who have chosen to remain anonymous.” Sounds reasonable to me. Though judging from an entry on the Medicine Show’s blog, the dough will be lying there for quite a spell, since, they write, “Processing the nationwide DMV check, drug screening & payment options will take some time, but we expect to award the prize money within 30–60 days of the Challenge completion.” That’s a handy bit of information to have in case you were counting on your winnings to finance your trip home from Homer.

There I go being skeptical again, and I apologize, but this whole entertaining exercise is probably moot anyway, since by the time you read this the organizers will already have their Challenge filled. They told the Homer News back on September 24 that they expected to have all 1,000 entries signed up within 60 days, and that date’s gone past.

That’s an impressive achievement, and I doff my do-rag to the Medicine Show Land Trust. They’re not just warriors, they’re warriors with big dreams and a killer business model. And now that it seems that the Challenge must surely have all the competitors it needs, I’m eager to experiment with a business model of my own. So here’s my deal: Everybody send me $1,000. Show up in San Francisco on June 20 at a bar to be determined, and we’ll all ride like the prairie wind cross-country to the Brooklyn Bridge. First one there gets to keep it.

It’s all right here in the diaries.

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