“3,700 miles … 11 days … on scooters.”
That’s the introduction to “Slow Ride Home,” a documentary featuring eight members of the Seattle-based Soldiers of Destiny Scooter Club as they ride across the country, from Florida to Washington, on scooters that top out around 61 miles per hour.
Released in 2019, the movie would become an official selection at the 2019 Ellensburg Film Festival and win “Best Feature Documentary” at the 2019 Rendezvous Film Festival before nabbing the “People’s Choice” award at the 2020 Portland Motorcycle Film Festival.
Camas native Joe Hammill, one of the eight scooter riders featured in “Slow Ride Home,” says he and his friends thought the Portland people’s choice award was the pinnacle of their adventure.
Then, another opportunity presented itself.
“Winning people’s choice? We thought that was the top,” says Hammill, a 1994 Camas High School graduate who went on to work in radio for more than a decade before moving into his current role as a senior event booking representative for the Seattle Center. “Then Amazon Prime happened, and we thought, ‘Here we go again.’”
Amazon Prime viewers can stream the documentary and see for themselves what happens when eight guys — all wearing latex animal helmets to show their “spirit animals” — Hammill’s spirit animal is the deer, a creature he saw often and said he respected during his childhood years in Fern Prairie — take to (mostly) Yamaha Zuma 125 scooters and begin what turns out to be an often hilarious trek across the country.
“When we first sat down and talked about doing this, I was turning 40 and I’m always kind of up for an adventure,” Hammill recently told the Post-Record. “So for me, it was instantly a ‘yes.’”
The scooter club members had already been together for several years at that point — Hammill joined in 2013, about a year after he started riding a scooter to get around Seattle faster while only spending about $5 a week for gas — and they’d already been on long-distance rides throughout the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.
When they found out about another scooter group’s “Scooter Cannonball Run” ride across the country, they decided they also wanted to attempt the ultimate two-wheeled American road trip.
Hammill says he and the other riders envisioned every possible problem they might encounter on the trip.
“We were thinking through every worst-case scenario,” he says. “I definitely thought there was going to be some critical ‘Black Hawk Down’ moment … but the reality of it was that our minds created more problems than we ever would have experienced.”
That’s not to say the group had a 100-percent smooth ride. There were definitely a few bumps along the way — including a breakdown 10 minutes into the ride, bugs everywhere and an epic thunderstorm on the group’s first day out of the gate.
“It was like watching a Slinky try to go down the road,” Hammill says in the movie of the group’s first day riding out of Florida. “A complete catastrophic departure.”
On that day, Hammill told the film crew the ride seemed like it might turn out to be the “worst decision of (his) life.”
Things did get better, though. By day two, the riders rejoice over lush forests and curvy roads in the southeast. By day eight, they were marvelling at the wild beauty of the Badlands. And by day 11, they were hooting and hollering as riders from the Seattle area joined them in eastern Washington for the final leg of their grand adventure.
Hammill says the worst part of the ride was the sheer boredom of being on the back of a scooter for most of the day.
“You get so bored,” he says. “I was so bored, I started dragging my feet on the pavement. Then I caught one of those little reflector bumps in the road and hurt my toe so bad. There’s just nothing to do, so you do stupid things like that.”
One thing that did help pass the time was the fact that the group all wore communication headsets and were able to talk to each other during the ride.
Group leader Justin Barnes would tell stories, Hammill says, and the rest of the group “would be like preschoolers, listening to a story book.”
Seeing the country made Hammill appreciate his home state even more, he says.
“There were a few really beautiful places and cool spots. Montana was like a mirage, like, ‘Oh, we’re home. Nope, we’ve got a long way to go.’ Montana is huge! And coming up out of the Badlands, in Wyoming, I think, we climbed a 9,000-foot elevation gain. Our bikes were dying, but when we got to the very tippy top, there were patches of snow and you could look back over the world. It was a pretty amazing summit, especially on scooters, ” Hammill says. “But Washington state? Coming back made me realize we have the best of everything right here.”
The riders have had screenings of their “Slow Ride Home” movie throughout the West Coast, and Hammill says he would love to see the movie screened in his hometown, at the Liberty Theatre in downtown Camas, once the pandemic is over.
“The Liberty has definitely been on my mind,” he says. “We’ve been thinking about doing a hometown tour, where we visit all of our hometowns. I’d love to ask the Liberty to show it.”
Although the Soldiers of Destiny members aren’t exactly known for their serious sides — “We never take ourselves seriously … ever,” says Barnes at the beginning of “Slow Ride Home” — the group did have a serious goal in mind when making “Slow Ride Home.”
“One of the things we wanted to do was to (raise money and awareness) for … the Eluna Network,” Hammill says. “They’re this wonderful nonprofit that helps children affected by either loss or addiction.”
The Eluna Network bills its Camp Erin as “the largest national bereavement program for children and teens grieving the death of someone close to them.”
To find out more about Eluna Network, visit elunanetwork.org.
Photographer Jesse Morrow came along for the ride and shot photos of the Soldiers of Destiny riders — Hammill, Barnes, Ron Araya, Paul Green, Sean Porter, Elliott Snyder, Derric Tanner — for the “Slow Ride Home” companion book. To see some of those photos and read about Morrow’s introduction to the project, visit jessemorrow.exposure.co/slow-ride-home.