Inside your own soul there’s a man that you’re supposed to be. Not the one that this world has molded you into. Not the one that you saw in a book and think, “I want to be like that man,” but there’s a man that God made in you and you people don’t become that man until they go to a point where they have no choice but to be that man.
¯ Jim Red Cloud
Founder, Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge
Rob Talbett hopped on his motorcycle one day in 2012 and rode from his Jamestown home to the Gowanda Harley-Davidson dealership. Upon arrival, he found a bunch of bikers who were participating in the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge.
“That was one of their checkpoints,” Talbett said as he sat in a conference room at The Post-Journal last week. ” … I talked to a few guys there and they told me basically what it was about.”
Here’s essentially what he learned — with a shout out to Wikipedia for clarity: HHMC “is a motorcycle endurance challenge. Entry is limited to riders of American-made V-twin-style motorcycles. It is named after a rallying call of the Sioux Indians and is designed to test the participants’ physical, mental and emotional boundaries.”
“I was hooked,” Talbett recalled. ” … The more research I did, the more obsessed I became.”
Ten years later, the 45-year-old father of two accomplished the unimaginable: he completed the Challenge.
All 10,450 miles of it.
In a little more than 10 days.
Oh, and of the roughly 200 cyclists who were at the start line in Rapid City, South Dakota at 6 a.m. on June 26, Talbett ended up crossing the finish line 10th on July 6, capping a journey that took him through 16 states, from the Midwest Plains to the Pacific Northwest and points in between.
“My goal was to make it to the end-of-the-road party,” Talbett said.
When he did, he burst into tears.
Talbett didn’t grow up with his father, who was a motorcycle enthusiast his entire life. Yet when the former bought his bike 10 years ago, they reconnected.
“We got as close as we possibly could get,” Talbett said.
Then the conversation turned to the possibility of participating in the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, which was first held in 2010.
“Dad, we have to do this,” Talbett said.
In 2016, the pair got about three quarters of the way through, but had to stop.
“We were rookies,” Talbett said. “We weren’t ready.”
In 2018, Talbett made it halfway; his father, who was known as “Rainman” because it was almost guaranteed to rain if you rode with him, completed it in 18 days.
In 2020, they were registered to attempt the Challenge for a third time, but Rainman passed away 10 days prior. He was 67. To honor his father’s memory, Talbett was determined to complete it this summer, but he did have some reservations.
“I was super afraid to go alone, because I wasn’t with my old man,” he said. “He’s your dad, he protects you, and it’s the camaraderie. … I was nervous to go alone, because I was nervous about my bike breaking down and I was nervous about being lost and alone without him.
“At the same time, when you go alone you don’t have to wait for anybody.”
So at the start of the Challenge last month, Talbett made sure he was at the front of the pack.
“I said, ‘You know what? I’m going to run with the frontrunners,’” he recalled. “I think that helped.”
Talbett was what he calls “pushing the pavement” pretty well for much of his 10-day odyssey, but it wasn’t like riding I-90 from Jamestown to the West Coast.
“There is very little interstate, it’s all secondary backroads, it’s Indian Reservations; it’s national parks; it’s canyons; it’s the most technical roads,” he said. “My fingers are just starting to clear up. I had blisters from using the clutch so much. You are begging for something to go straight so you can take a breather, because it’s one twist after another.”
There were other concerns beyond the physical act of riding. HHMC bikers navigate without using electronic mapping or navigation; they sleep outdoors next to their motorcycle; they allow their progress to be tracked; and they deal with extreme temperature changes.
“This builds you up and breaks you down,” said Talbett, who survived on little sleep, ate beef jerky, meat sticks and tuna packets, and drank protein shakes and plenty of water. “You have no idea how intense the feeling is of making a turn and wondering if you’re on the right road. If you mess up, you have to go back to where you were supposed to be.
“It’s a constant mix of emotions. Super, super highs and super, super lows. You have no idea how deflating it is to be on a road and the next thing you know, holy cow, I just went 40 or 50 miles the wrong way.”
Keeping him on the figurative straight and narrow was the support he received from family and friends at home.
Encouraged by his teenage sons Lucian and Meyer; his girlfriend, Colleen Scott; his friends, particularly Craig and Ellie Hartnagel; and his co-workers at Pepsi Beverages Company of Jamestown, Talbett was able to navigate all the physical and mental challenges that he encountered along the way.
“I had a huge support system,” he said. “(Lucian) was watching the tracker like a hawk. He was sending me inspiring messages at random times. When you read that it helps. And then there were random people I would try to update on social media. It was nice to see who was checking in. It motivates you.”
There were also what Talbett called “serendipitous” moments that inspired him.
The first happened as he was checking his messages of encouragement from his boys, his girlfriend and his mother. As he did so, he realized that he hadn’t heard from his stepfather, Woody, who liked to know Talbett’s miles.
“I sent him a horse emoji,” Talbett said. “I kept saying I was Secretariat, that I was running like a tremendous machine. That was my way of letting him know I felt good and strong.”
Not long after that exchange, Talbett was riding through a tiny town and he noticed a storefront.
“The sign couldn’t have been any bigger,” Talbett said.
And then there was one more moment of serendipity.
As Talbett neared the finish of his 10,450-mile ride, it began to rain for the first time in 10¢ days.
“It rained for about 10 or 15 minutes,” he said. “It didn’t get me soaked, but it was just enough, I think, to let me know.”
That “Rainman,” Talbett’s father and the man whose rides always coincided with precipitation, was watching over his son.
“That was his way of letting me know he was there. It was the perfect rain,” Talbett said. ” … I put my (helmet) shield up and just smiled. (Then) I laughed, I cried and I screamed, ‘I did it, I did it. I can’t believe I did it.’
Talbett’s motorcycle — a 2017 Harley-Davidson Road Glide — has 37,000 miles on it, 21,000 of which he put on in his last two Hoka Hey challenges.
“I’m not a hard-core biker,” he said. “I may not ride it again this summer.”
But the itch to participate in another HHMC is still there.
“I’m probably going to want to,” Talbett said. “When 2024 comes — and if I’m not in the starting lineup — I’m going to watch that thing like a hawk.”
Because during his incredible journey, he found a renewed confidence and a different outlook on life.
“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere,” Talbett said, “and then sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.”