By JOHN J. BURO
OLD BRIDGE – Though their lives are radically different, there is quite a bit of symmetry between Jim Raffone and Jeff Wyatt. They had met about a decade or so earlier, on a construction site, while pouring concrete. And, even after the job was through and they ultimately parted ways, their bond was still as solid as…well, that very same concrete.
Between intermittent phone calls and the popularity of the Internet -with its Facebook, Skyping, texting and e-mail options- the two men stayed in touch. When Raffone -the 47-year old force behind JAR of Hope- spoke about his Duchenne-afflicted son, Jamesy, Wyatt -a 49 year-old Hillsborough resident by way of Saint Francis, MN- listened intently.
Ordinarily, the nine year-old’s various medical reports are met with either sympathy or prayer. But, in keeping with the tenor of their friendship, Wyatt went beyond the ordinary -all the way to taking it personally.
And, how could he not?
The happily-married Wyatt has been blessed with two healthy children -one in college, one in high school-, both of whom he has coached in their respective sports for more than a decade, and immediately recognized his good fortune.
For many of us, September 13, 2013 -the day that Jamesy Raffone was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy- was just another day on the calendar. But, to the fun-loving Wyatt -a motorcyclist with more than 30 years on the road who is lovingly known as ‘Riot’ by those close to him- that day just happened to be his 45th birthday.
Spurred by the glaring fact that boys with DMD might never reach such a milestone, Wyatt decided to do what bikers are wont to do: support the cause with one unforgettable road trip.
The conclusion was a no-brainer.
“This was so much more than just the thrill of an open road, or the view from the handlebars,” he said by phone. “This was what can be done for Teamjamesy.”
To that end, Wyatt has trained relentlessly. Hoping to shed a few pounds, his regimen now consists of running and hiking, while incorporating sporadic long-distance rides. That last part is nothing new for him. He has already cruised the country, riding through 35 of 50 states; his personal best was a 4,000+ mile jaunt, which took all of a week to complete.
However, the Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge (HHMC) is an absolute beast of a competition. It is the cyclists’ equivalent of the 170-mile G2G Ultra, which Raffone and his team attempted last September. Wyatt describes the HHMC, with its rigorous time element, as “the last hardcore endurance race in the country.” For the event, he will travel on a recently-purchased 2016 Harley Davidson Electra-Glide cruiser which, at 7,000 miles, is barely broken in and, therefore, primed for this 10,000 mile exploit.
Wyatt and his running buddy, Virginia native John (Spook) Maynard, represent the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club and are just two of 100 cyclists who comprise the field, which will convene in Medicine Park, OK on July 15.
The Boozefighters MC, with chapters throughout the world, has long encouraged its brotherhood to back a cause. That Wyatt selected JAR of Hope was, undoubtedly, the easiest part of his saga.
All that’s known about this year’s Hoka is that it will encompass sojourns through the lower 48 states before leading all travelers back into Medicine Park two weeks later, where ‘An End of the Road’ party awaits them.
Still, it’s the unknown which absolutely terrifies; the riders will be given instructions containing an off-road route and… that’s all. Under no circumstances will they be permitted to use major access roads. Furthermore, any electronic navigation aids -commonly known as GPSs- are forbidden; in lieu of the honor system, organizers will monitor a bike’s movement with an independent tracking device. And, should the thought of a comfortable respite dare enter the minds of these weary road warriors, it will be immediately replaced by one more harsh stipulation: they must sleep alongside their respective wheels after settling in for the evening. Non-compliance with any rule results in forfeiture.
For the privilege of competing, entrants covered a $500 buy-in and endured a series of background checks, including a lengthy written application that asks everything except blood type. They’ll spend the bulk of two weeks on unforgiving backroads, which Rand McNally may not even know of, and test the boundaries of loneliness during a one-month sabbatical from their families. Additionally, they have each been asked to raise $10,000 for their charity; and, while a dollar per mile doesn’t sound like a whole lot from a donor’s perspective, the mileage will add up very quickly -even on uneven asphalt.
Along the way, there are many things that can go wrong -from mechanical issues with the bikes to the psychological effects of averaging 1,000 miles per day over a 14-day stretch, to an litany of both nature and weather-related elements that can easily curtail an otherwise noteworthy trek through the country.
Still, Wyatt relishes the opportunity to do this on behalf of his friend and for a child whose life hangs in the balance.
“(Each of the riders) are in for an extreme battle for those weeks,” he foretold. “But, it’s nothing like the extreme battle Jamesy -and those other boys- face every day.”
Wyatt gets the urgency. To a child with Duchenne, nine is as important a benchmark as 45 was -and 50 will soon be- to a healthy man.
Even for someone who answers to the name ‘Riot’, this is no laughing matter.