Over the next 14 days, Ray Phelps and Rebel, his 13-year-old toy poodle, are embarking on a motorcycle tour of North America.
Phelps, 57, leaves from Key West, Fla., at noon Sunday with Rebel and his long-time friend Bill Cody for a trip across the plains, mountains and forests of the lower 50 states and Canada to Alaska by July 4.
Although his ride is part of the 2010 Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, Phelps said his own purpose for making the trip is to enjoy the company of his friend and dog, and to see parts of the countryside he's missed over the years.
Cape Coral resident Ray Phelps leans on his Harley Heritage 1600 one day before beginning the 2010 Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge. In his hands he holds his riding partner, Rebel, the toy poodle.
"(Alaska)) is the one state I've never been to," said Phelps, who had his motorcycle license for the last 35 years. "An opportunity to ride a bike up there and it ends in a town where I have a long-time buddy."
His friend Cody lives in Homer, Alaska, the end point of the motorcycle challenge. Cody flew down from Alaska Thursday afternoon and the two left for Key West that evening. Weeks ago Cody brought his own motorcycle down to Phelps' home in Cape Coral to be ready for the challenge.
"We talked about this last fall," said Phelps. "We will ride back together, get to visit with him and spend some time in Alaska."
The Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge is a huge cross-continental trip to support the individualism and spirituality of the biker, and to raise money for veterans charities.
Historically, the term "hoka hey" was shouted out by Lakota warriors before they went into battle. The annual motorcycle challenge has taken on the term, loosely translated to mean, "It's a good day to die," for the thousands of fearless bikers who take the trip across the continent.
The Lakota people live in the region making up modern day Wyoming, Colorado and Montana. The nation was made famous by the exploits of Crazy Horse, the legendary warrior who not only refused pictures of himself to be taken, but also led a resistance against the U.S. government as it forced the Lakotas onto reservations.
Over the course of the trip, bikers will cross 62 mountain ranges, 33 Native American reservations, 25 national forests, eight desserts, six national parks and four swamps, according to organizers of the Hoka Hey. More than 1,000 bikers have registered for the event and will travel a total of 7,000 miles to Alaska.
The man or woman who reaches Homer first wins $500,000 worth of prize money.
Riders will progress to different legs of the race separated by approximately 1,000 miles of terrain. Phelps said the first leg will be from Key West to Mississippi, at which time he'll get a map of the next leg, and so on until the end. The course steers clear of interstate highways and one of the main rules is that bikers can't use navigational devices like GPS.
"They say they're going to make it difficult," said Phelps, who expects the route to twist through the dreaded Death Valley.
When asked what he expects the most challenging part of the race to be, he answered, "To me, I think the heat in the beginning and being able to stay in the saddle long enough every day to make sure we get a 650-mile minimum."
Rebel the poodle, outfitted with a leather Harley Davidson jacket, a miniature helmet about the size of a side dish bowl and goggles, will spend the ride laying comfortably on a doggy bed which Phelps affixed above the fuel tank of his Harley Heritage 1600. He owns a total of five toy poodles, he said, but Rebel is the only one calm enough to handle the trip.
"He weighs about 6 pounds and has as helmet, goggles and ear plugs. He pretty much curls up and takes a nap," said Phelps.
Each rider pays a fee to participate in the motorcycle challenge. Later, a portion the fees will be donated to a number of charities: the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Warrior Weekend, Disabled American Veterans, American Gold Star Mothers, Vietnam Veterans of America, American Indian College Fund, The Red Cloud Humanitarian Fund and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Some other bikers are also donating to various charities of their choice, said Phelps.
Traveling straight from Key West to Alaska is approximately 5,000 miles, yet riders in the challenge will log over 7,000 miles. Although it is going to be a difficult, Phelps said the focus is on the safety of the bikers.
And this won't be his first long-term trip.
When he was 20 years old, Phelps rode a bicycle across the world for over one year. He saved $1,000 and purchased a high quality bicycle that could withstand a longer, more arduous journey.
Phelps flew to Portugal and rode his bicycle through North Africa and Southern Europe, before heading east towards Asia. After arriving in Calcutta he boarded a flight to Singapore - at that time he wasn't allowed inside Burma - and turned south to Australia. From Australia he took a cargo ship to Panama and rode his bicycle to Belize before booking another flight home.
"There were four of us, we dropped one within the first week or two, dropped the other the week after and the other fellow I was riding with, we split up," Phelps said. "My budget was $100 a month, including everything. I could only camp out, slept under a lot of bushes and bridges over the years."
His world-wide bicycle tour gave him the chance to see the world, but he said he expects his trip to Alaska to be easier now that he is more experienced, and the fact that he'll be on a motorcycle.
The city of Homer, Ala., will host a Fourth of July extravaganza once all the bikers arrive.
For more information on the challenge, visit hokaheychallenge.com.