Septuagenarian set to ride Harley in 6,000-mile fundraiser

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By Laura Lewis, Reporter

Tom Hunter is ready to ride.

The life-long motorcycle rider, who turns 70 in September, left his Ocean Isle Beach home last week to take part in the third annual Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge, a 6,000-mile, cross-country charity event. He is participating to raise money for Hope Harbor Home and raise awareness about domestic violence.

The retired domestic-violence and homicide detective, who serves on Hope Harbor’s board, was at Beach House Harley-Davidson in Shallotte last week getting his Harley checked out before leaving Brunswick County on July 27.

After reading about the challenge in Full Throttle magazine, Hunter decided to take it on “because my daughter told me I was too old,” he said, as technician James Knight inspected his black 2003, 100th-anniversary Harley Classic Touring Electra Glide.

The Freeport, Maine, native and longtime Brunswick County resident planned to make a few stops along the way before arriving in Las Vegas to begin the challenge. It starts this Sunday, Aug. 5, and ends 6,000 miles later in Irving, a town in western New York state. He said participants are supposed to be in Las Vegas by this Thursday, Aug. 2, for inspections to ensure no modifications have been made to their bikes.

As for how long the challenge ride will take, “I don’t know,” Hunter said. He speculated the ride that he and as many as 1,000 other bikers from throughout the U.S. are embarking on will take about a week.

Riders won’t know where they’re going next until they arrive at each checkpoint.

Hunter said the route would proceed “all over the country, and it will be all back roads” through a number of states, federal parks and American Indian reservations.

Participating bikers have to stay on the route and can’t break any traffic laws.

“This is not a race—it’s an endurance run,” Hunter said. “It’s not a bunch of wild motorcyclists taking off on a wild race across the country.”

Participants, he said, have been told to “expect the unexpected” during the challenge.

Knight said he’s rooting for Hunter because he’s the man.

“That’s my homie,” Knight said as he checked Hunter’s Harley.

Hunter isn’t sure exactly how many riders will be in the challenge, but he signed up in January and he’s No. 706.


Follow No. 706

During the ride, Hunter will have a camcorder strapped to him, and people will be able to follow him on Facebook, according to LeeAnn Politis, administrative assistant for Hope Harbor Home. He said he also has a GPS tracker on his bike.

“You can click on and you can see where I’m at, at any given time,” Hunter said. “I’m going to be able to post pictures on Facebook. My sister is going to show me how.”

Starting this Thursday, Aug. 2, people will be able to follow Hunter’s progress on the Hoka Hey website at www.hokaheychallenge.com. Just type in a search for rider No. 706.

He said there’s also “something about YouTube. I don’t know what the hell that is. My grandchildren are going to help with that.”

Last week, Hunter had packed his Harley with a sleeping bag, sunscreen, spare motorcycle parts and tools, a cooler and clothes. He planned to ride out Friday evening when it wasn’t so hot.

Before he reaches Las Vegas this week, Hunter planned to make a few stops, visiting his sister in Birmingham, Ala., a Vietnam buddy in Tulsa, Okla., and more friends in Albuquerque, N.M.

“One of the nice things is my daughter, who lives in Oceanside, Calif., is going to visit me in Las Vegas,” Hunter said. So will his grandson, who’s stationed with the Marines in Twentynine Palms, Calif., and his son, a long-distance truck driver based in Minnesota.

“We’re going to have a family reunion,” Hunter said. His beautician wife, Marie, meanwhile, is staying at home in Ocean Isle Beach during his cross-country adventure.

“She’s not a motorcycle enthusiast,” Hunter said. “She doesn’t like wearing a helmet because it musses her hair up.”

As for her nearly-70-year-old husband’s long-distance journey, Marie is “not real enthused,” he said. “But she is backing me. She made sure my life insurance is paid up.”

Hunter said he’ll know more about the challenge when he gets to Vegas.

“From the time Tom leaves Ocean Isle Beach and returns, he will have traveled 10,000 miles,” Hope Harbor director Lynn Carlson wrote in a recent email to the Beacon.

The ride, she added, is dedicated to two causes—Hunter’s own septuagenarian “bucket list,” and to raise funds for Hope Harbor Home’s shelter for abused women and their children.


“You was the man”

Hunter has been riding motorcycles for 55 years.

“I got my motorcycle license on Sept. 19, 1957,” he said, citing the time of his 15th birthday.

He bought his first motorcycle—an Indian—before that for $25 at an auction.

“My father was not happy,” Hunter recalled. “I was 14 years old and didn’t even have a driver’s license.”

He was not discouraged, however, “because in the ’50s, if you had a motorcycle, you was the man,” Hunter said.

Those were also the days when riders would tinker with their motorcycles for three hours just to ride for 20 minutes, he said.

Hunter’s current Harley is his fourth bike. It had 135,000 miles on its odometer as he prepared for his cross-country trip.

“I’ve done nothing but regular maintenance on it,” Hunter said.

The upcoming challenge will not be the first road trip for Hunter, who says he’s already visited every state in the nation.

“Once or twice before, I got to Sturgis, South Dakota,” he said. “That’s the biggest motorcycle rally in the world.”


Settling in Carolina

Hunter first came to the Carolinas in the late 1950s while serving with the United States Marine Corps. The Vietnam veteran worked as a detective with the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Department major case unit and also as an investigator in the District Attorney’s Office’s domestic violence unit.

He joined Hope Harbor’s domestic violence shelter board in 1996. He also served as chief homicide investigator for the District Attorney’s Office in Wilmington for 11 years. He retired last year after 44 years in the criminal justice system.

Hunter has served as chairman of the Brunswick County Domestic Violence Task Force. He’s also a licensed private investigator, a licensed pilot, a member of the Elks and American Legion, and—oh, yes—the Brunswick County Harley Owners Group.


Challenge info

Hunter said they’ve had great support from people who have pledged donations to his ride and charitable cause. Even 50 cents will help, he said, because “that’s 50 cents we didn’t have. You don’t have to pledge the entire 10,000 miles. It can be from here to Las Vegas, or from Las Vegas to New York, or Little River to Shallotte. Yeah, anywhere. It doesn’t have to be a penny a mile. We’ll take a dollar a mile.”

Hope Harbor has pledge cards providing more information about the fundraising ride. Details are also available at the Hoka Hey website or by calling the Hope Harbor office at 754-5726.

Donations can also be mailed to Hope Harbor at P.O. Box 230, Supply, NC 28462.

Carlson said they’ll accept pledges, sponsorships and donations from now until Hunter rides back into town.

“I’ve known him for 20 years,” Carlson said. “I have no doubt in my mind that he can and will finish this thing.”


Laura Lewis is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email llewis@brunswickbeacon.com.