The riders rumbled across the finish line just after 6:30 p.m. on Sunday. 50-year-old Jeff Kohn of Davie, Florida was the first to cross, followed immediately by 53-year-old George Jackman of Hope, Idaho and Southern California.
Kohn stopped his ride just feet past the line. He cranked up his speakers, jumped up on his seat, and started to sing.
The Hoka Hey is a several-thousand mile long motorcycle challenge that started in 2010. The route changes each year. The first year was similar to this year, which takes participants on a 7,500 mile ride from Key West, Florida to the end of the Homer Spit.
Riders left Key West at 6 a.m. July 20th. For Kohn and Jackman, that meant riding an average of about 1,200 miles per day to make it to Homer in a week.
“I can’t believe we’re done," says Kohn, "Too many days. What a great time, long ride.”
Kohn has ridden in every Hoka Hey since it began. He says this victory was a long time coming.
“I get to say it finally," says Kohn. "Oh my god. It’s a really tough day. From yesterday, I kind of figured I might get it and it just made it harder.”
Despite being neck in neck for the last leg of the journey, Kohn and Jackman are very friendly with each other. They shake hands, embrace and say this ride isn’t a race- it’s a challenge. So, they came up with a strategy.
After riding near each other across the Alaska-Canada border, they decided to finish together. They agreed that Kohn would keep his lead and cross first and Jackman would follow second.
“He put up a hell of a ride," says Kohn. "I know if we wanted to really race to the end of this thing, it could have been a real shootout. Somebody would have been hurt for sure. We’re both pretty good riders and I don’t think either one would really have succumbed to traffic, slow cars, dipping around stuff. But, I’d rather be here than doing it that way. That’s what this event is really about. It’s a lot of strategy. If you get five of you clumped up at the end, you just didn’t ride hard enough at the beginning.”
Originally, the pact included other riders who got into trouble with flat tires and more near the Mat-Su Valley. In the end, it was just Jackman and Kohn.
So far on the challenge, one rider has been charged by wildlife, a few others have crashed because of mechanical issues or potholes, and many have lost gear along the way.
Kohn says this Hoka Hey was incredibly challenging, and he might have a bent rim on his motorcycle, but it was not as hard as the first Florida to Homer trek.
“I was really surprised," says Kohn. "When we were in Destruction Bay, that was my expectation- killer frost heaves. I thought the bikes were just going to be beat to hell, bottomed out. In 2010 that’s how it was- brutal. You’d come over them too quick and you’d catch air. I can’t even tell you how many times the bike would just bottom out and slam down. In 2010 there was a lot more construction, a lot more heaves, a lot more roadwork, big earth-moving equipment. This year, no.”
Aside from road conditions, weather can be a major factor when doing long-distance rides like Hoka Hey. Kohn says the weather was fantastic the second half of the ride.
“First half of the ride you were cooking, you were so torched, burnt up, hot, dehydrated, couldn’t keep enough liquid in you," says Kohn. "Once we broke Big Sky, Montana, the weather started getting better. It was very cold up in Yellowstone.”
And then, there’s sleep- or, lack thereof. Kohn says in the past, he’s sprinted the first few legs, riding hard, not sleeping, pushing his body as hard as it would go. He says that works the first day. Day two of no sleep starts to catch up with you. Day three comes and you’re down for the count. And that brutal method has cost him first place in the past.
“My plan totally changed this year," says Kohn. "I finally grew up and got mature and figured you can’t be such a beast. You’ve got to do it patiently. It worked. My plan change totally worked. I was on my game. I definitely got it down. The long days are not it. Slow and steady wins the race. That turtle- he’s a smart guy. That rabbit just doesn’t get it. You’ve got to be the turtle. The turtle wins every time. It’s amazing. Patience in life, young grasshopper.”
Jackman says that’s how he got through, too.
“For me it was the most fun because no pressure," says Jackman. "I rode like I did when I rode in Idaho. I just rode. I just went through the motion.”
Aside from the pain, the exhaustion, the risk, both say they’ll do it again next year. It’s gets in your head, says Jackman. Once you start to ride, you never go back.