Jerry James's trip of a lifetime came to a crashing halt 6,760 miles too soon.
The Cooper Landing resident was only 240 miles from Key West, the start of the 7,000-mile, cross-country Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, when he lost control of his 2007 Harley Dyna on Sunday. It was only the first day of the race.
James, 63, said he approached the 55-mile-per hour turn cautiously, because he wasn't accustomed to riding on Florida's sand-splashed roads. James said he slowed down to 50 miles per hour, but it didn't help.
"It was just like hitting black ice," James said. The crash occurred outside of Naples, Fla. "The bike slipped and rolled and threw me."
Unfortunately, because of Florida's 100-degree weather, James was only wearing a T-shirt instead of his leathers, and he remembers everything from losing control of the bike to skidding across the pavement to landing 10 feet from his Harley.
"Oh, I was conscious. It felt like somebody rubbed me with a big piece of sandpaper," James said.
At least he was wearing his helmet.
James remembers lying on the blacktop and watching insects swarm to his bloody leg. He was transported to Lee Memorial Hospital and treated for lacerations and cuts. Doctors told him it will be three to four weeks before he can ride his bike again, meaning his cross-country challenge ended almost as soon as it started.
About 500 riders began the race, which goes from Key West to Homer, and three other riders also spilled on the first day. Charles E. Marble, 59, from Anchorage, crashed in the same spot as James about five minutes before him.
The racers are expected to arrive in Homer around July 4.
Cheryle James, James's wife, made the trip to Florida with her husband and planned to ride her own bike across the country. Because she was not an official Hoka Hey participant, she could not ride with James, so Cheryle set out a day ahead to stop in Panama City, Fla., and visit a friend she hadn't seen in a long time.
Cheryle James was eating brunch with her friend in Panama City when she heard the news.
She was able to reach Jerry. "I said, 'Are you jerking my chain?'" Cheryle remembers. "I thought, 'Oh my God.' I could hear all this commotion in the background. He said he didn't know where he was. But at least he was alive."
So Cheryle left her friend in Panama City and drove the 11 hours back to Florida's east coast, where the Jameses are staying with friends until they fly back to Alaska. (Some of the Jameses' children are going to cart the bikes from Florida to Alaska in a trailer.)
Hoka Hey, a phrase meaning "it's a good day to die," was the call of the Sioux warriors who rode into battle with Crazy Horse at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
James says he likes the challenge those words present, especially after not letting them come true.
"You can't really get upset or mad. It happened, I'm alive," James said. "I beat the odds of dying.
"I've crashed many many times before. My sister says, 'Brother, you're the only man I know that's a cat of nine lives that's used up 13 of those lives,'" James said. "I guess this one's the 14th."
James has been riding since he was a teenager.
"It gives me freedom. You're letting the breezes blow in your face, and the sound of the motorcycle going down the road gives you a different feeling of what's happening around you."
That's why James says he'll be back on the bike as soon as possible. And if he's got another chance for a cross-country challenge:
"I would probably end up doing it. I've not got a lot of smarts upstairs," James said, chuckling.
After all, while Hoka Hey might mean "it's a good day to die," the race's official slogan is "it's a good day to ride."
Andrew Waite can be reached at email@example.com.
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