Pushing the limits

Camas resident rides his Harley 9,000 miles in the adventure of a lifetime across the U.S.

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Greg Laird poses in Key West, Fla., the starting point to the Hoka Key Challenge. The 9,000 mile race, in extreme conditions, took 12 days for him to complete.

There is a quote that comes to mind when thinking about people who do any kind of extreme racing activity.

“Even in the most crowded races, the point is reached when fatigue drives us back into ourselves, into those secluded parts of our souls that we discover only under times of such duress and from which we emerge with a clearer perspective of the people we truly are.”

Camas resident Greg Laird understands this quote all too well after finishing the Hoka Key Challenge, a 9,000 mile trek with people described as “some of the world’s most fearless riders.”

Laird, a vice president of consulting for Datalink, has been riding a motorcycle since 1976.

“I’ve done some pretty interesting and goofy things,” he said. “I participated in the first authorized Harley ride in China in 2003, and I’ve gone on ‘iron bike’ runs, where you ride $1,000 miles in a day. I’ve even ridden the ‘loneliest highway’ in Utah.”

Laird was searching for his latest adventure when he happened upon a poster in a Harley shop, advertising the Hoka Key Challenge.

“I thought, ‘I can do this!’

The prize money was tantalizing as well, with half a million going to the winner.

With an application fee of $1,000 and the preparation that goes with it, the trip was not cheap. However, Laird received sponsorship from Datalink and All American Cycle.

Approximately 3,000 people applied for the race. Of those, 750 applicants were accepted and 680 left the starting line in Key West, Fla. on June 20. However, just 180 made it to the finish line in Homer, Alaska, and of those, only 50 rode the entire course.

“Several participants forgot, or never fully understood, that the organizers weren’t going to be giving that half million away,” Laird said.

“Someone was going to have to earn it. This was never meant to be a joyride.”

The hardest part of the journey was trying to navigate through rural areas in Georgia and Mississippi.

“You’re riding through the back roads, exhausted, and the directions are such that it is just a navigational nightmare,” Laird said. “For me, this was tougher than anything I’ve done before, except the military. It was also physically tough because I was not prepared for the humidity.”

With missing road signs, temperatures that often topped 103 degrees, and riding 20 hours a day, many riders found it too much to bear.

“There were lots of people who gave up and just went home, or got back on the highway and rode to Alaska,” Laird said.

Fortunately for Laird, he ended up riding with Rod Paschke of Woodland, Calif., whom he met in Daytona, Fla.

“Navigation was key to this trip and it took both Rod and I to do it,” he said. “More than once, Rod stopped me as I passed turnoffs.”

After 12 physically and mentally exhausting days, Laird and Paschke crossed the finish line in Homer together. Although they didn’t win the prize money, they gained the experience of a lifetime.

“Early in this challenge, it was obvious to me that many of the riders had realized they were not riding for the prize money,” Laird said. “It was more than that. It was about brotherhood, self-discovery, beautiful scenery and bragging rights. Most of the riders I have spoken with have stated that they would not trade their memories of the Hoka Key for any amount of money.”

The only regret Laird had was the lack of time to prepare for the race.

“I only found out about it six weeks earlier, and I wish I would have been able to train much harder,” he said. “Also, my Harley (a 2005 Deuce) has a five-gallon tank. The newer Harleys have six-gallon tanks.”

Laird said he is looking forward to next year’s race.

“I loved the camaraderie of the riders,” he said. “It was an intense competition, but I saw a lot of people help each other. Most cried when they got to the finish line. I will never forget the experience.”