When she will arrive very soon at the end of her “Road To Sturgis“, independent film maker Alystar McKenneh will have ridden her motorcycle for 26,000 miles during the last three months. Part of her road was between Key West, FL and Homer, AK where she was a participant and a last minute videographer for the Hoka Hey Challenge. About what became a very controversial motorcycle event, I just asked her “Alystar, What’s Going On?”. Although exhausted by the road, she took the time to send me the following long letter expressing her feelings about the Challenge, the way she lived it and also the controversy she got herself into after a TV interview she gave.
I told her about my admiration and respect for her accomplishments, that her point of view was the one of a rider, as emotional as it should be when a biker is doing his (her) thing on a very long road. I also told her that at the same time she was riding and filming, some organizer statements and facts checking by other riders and observers that she may still not be aware of, were from my point of view many other reasons for the intense controversy surrounding the Hoka Hey Challenge. With her authorization I publish her point of view from the road she followed.
Added July 16, 2010. At 1:20:03 PM EDT I received an email from Alystar Mc Kenneh. She writes “When I spoke with the reporter who called me from the Rapid City Journal and I referred to that woman, she said her name is Jeri O’Bbarr. So I see I have maligned that woman. And I need to apologize to her”
Hi Cyril, “Yeah a “shit storm” has been converging on the Hoka Hey since Jeri O’Barr was spoken rudely to in the riders press conference prior to the ride and it hasn’t stopped yet. While I was in Key West Gina Woods introduced me to a man, Jon Compton who was the EP of a feature length documentary being shot on the Hoka Hey. He asked me if he could hire me to shoot for him. I said Yes. They outfitted my motorcycle with their cameras and I headed out with the riders.
I rode, I shot and after my motorcycle broke down they brought me with them. There were two other units that I met in Key West and on the road shooting as well. It was a heck of a crazy but good time. Unfortunately from the get go when Ms. O’Barr was in the riders room during the press conference, she walked in looking for a fight. Prior to her entrance the riders asked questions, Jim Durham and Beth answered them. They even answered them twice, you know how those things go. There were numerous times when the riders cheered and knocked their coins on the chairs hooting and hollering. Jim Durham response to the question of “how many riders were there” was “I don’t know exactly yet because we still have riders who are signed up but who haven’t checked in. We have been called about breakdowns and the Australians weren’t here because of a flight problem.”
We were about 45 minutes into the Q and A which covered everything from the use of chase vehicles to gas stops to speeding tickets when Ms. Obarr said “Why are you being so vague about some of the issues?” Jim Durham “Like What?” O’Barr “The numbers!” Jim “I don’t have the numbers for Gods sake, I just said they haven’t all checked in.” Another man “How many are signed up?” Jim “750.” Jim “Let me ask you something, why is that number so important to you?” O’Barr “I like to have numbers and facts.” Jim “Are you racing?” Another voice “Are you a rider?” O’Barr “No” Voice “Thank God” O’Barr “May i ask you something? If I’m a support team to a rider and I’m here and I support that rider…” Jim “Then you need to concern yourself with that one person, your rider.”
O’barr continued talking about how her husband was a rider, how there were no unintelligent questions and people just asked questions around her. We heard O’barr went to the States Attorney to file a claim against religious freedom because she said Jim said we were going to Native American graves to collect souls of the dead, and said that the entire thing was a hoax.
Actually what he said was, “We are going to the 7 places by which the most horrible mass murders occurred here in the US”. When he said he lied to us, it was, ” I did lie to you, it’s not just about the challenge, it’s about bringing water to my people because we can’t do it alone anymore.” There was a standing ovation and people in the room were yelling “Hoka Hey” ‘Hoka Hey”.
Once we left that room and O’barr made the claim that Jim was stepping on her religious freedom the entire web got crazy. Riders were calling in from the road to Beth to ask if it was a hoax. We heard that riders were quitting the contest because of it. Riders came into the second check point fighting and cussing about it. The entire thing was getting crazy.
I just continued to shoot. I shot the fights, I shot the guys who were angry about all the talk on the web, I shot the support crews who were looking for some reassurance that this was not a hoax and then all the talk of deaths and taking down of signs and just plain horse crap began to spin these riders around. O’barr was a huge contributor on the HH site for this shit storm and on the web. We were praying that these already physically battered riders didn’t get killed because of her rhetoric.
Considering how emotionally and physically draining this ride was, my production crew went out of their way to reassure riders that no one was out to trick them. That we were all there with them. And they were tired and burned and angry. We shot it all but we also worked to combat this emotionally needy woman’s poison. The riders were so scattered around during that first week, 647 over a five states area, that many of them didn’t see anyone for most of the ride. And if they were privy to the internet or a cell phone, then they were getting ugly reports from their people. We drove extra miles along the route looking for riders just so they could see us and know they were still part of something. Especially in Canada where there was no cellular phone service.
The riders we found, we would search them out just to make certain they got some face to face with us. Even the three cops who should know better than to believe trash talk, ran up and hugged me once they recognized me getting out of the truck in the Canadian Yukon. One of them said they hadn’t seen another rider since Montana and they were starting to worry that it really was a hoax. It was taking a toll on them emotionally.
In Alaska the channel 2 news interviewed everyone standing around the finish area. I was doing the exit interviews. I was interviewed as well. When the woman asked me where the prize money was coming from I said “the Lakota”. I did not say nor did I mean, “the Lakota Nation.”But it was interpreted that way. My interactions with the Lakota who put this run on were fraught with “us and them” episodes. It’s natural. I think every time white people have interaction with any body it’s always an us and them. We were told about the terrible trials their people had suffered because of our ancestors. It’s almost natural for us to have to undergo the ritual of what your great great grandfather did to us. We are all used to it. I probably should have said the Hoka Hey people, but for me it was the Lakota people, the riders and the film crews. Those were the 3 distinct players in my game.
The answer to that question seems to be of concern for everyone. I don’t know why. I was just a shooter. Why what I have to say should be crucial enough for the Lakota Nation to write a press release refuting a camera person’s statement is beyond me. I was told that Chief Oliver Red Cloud, this sweet man in his 90’s was under attack by his own people for my statement. So I can’t help wondering what is really going on here. I’ve had newspapers call me. Hate mail coming my way and again I have to say…what is the real deal? Why make a shooter the focus and why is the focus being redirected. Is there a larger question at hand about the water issue? Because for me the water issue was all consuming. I shot the riders but at night I studied up on the water problems in SD.
I believe that the Durhams are just a couple of people who created a run to bring attention to the fact that there is no water in many of the homes in their community. How Americans can live without water in 21st century America is amazing to me. I believe they are not media savvy and they could have run the press better but these people have no idea how it’s done. They actually hired a woman on the internet to write the first press releases because they didn’t know how. This was a grass roots effort on their part to tell the world that the Uranium mining in their area is killing people because their aquifer is polluted with Uranium. This is no secret but it is not being being talked about either. I saw no wrong doing on the part of the people who put this thing together. Their one failure was that they did not anticipate the winner arriving in Alaska three days earlier than they expected. But the run was done the way Jim Durham said it would be in the press conference. This run was created to be run in 2009 and a lot of the old rules and regulations were changed and I think some of the folks who signed up then had a problem with the 2010 rules and changes.
So many ugly angry weird things have been said on the internet. I believe it was mostly due to a lonely attention seeking woman who takes absolutely no responsibility for the havoc she created. I don’t doubt some of the wrecks can be attributed to her because these emotionally and physically exhausted riders were reacting to the crap she was spewing on line instead of keeping their focus on the road. The fact that the small newspapers carried her rhetoric with out looking at footage of the actual meeting was obvious because the statements were convoluted and out of context. And in some cases outright lies. I understand small newspapers are not held to the same standards of reporting as the NY Times of the LA Times. That is of course why the Hoka Hey Challenge and all the scavengers words did not appear in any of them. But I did take issue with these reporters on line and in one case called them out.
The Homer paper reported that there were missing riders. Can you imagine how hard the state police would have come down on the HH if that were true. One paper said that road signs in Florida were being removed. That made me laugh. The entire pack left in one huge bunch. Who do you think stopped in the middle of that pack and got out a screw driver. who was left to see him do it as they flew past. Who gave up their front spot to get that pesky sign out of the way. These of course were all state road signs so which sign to choose.
I am probably the only one who recognizes the shit storm for what it is. A good opportunity to really take a look at the water problem in America, I pray everyone uses this moment wisely. Way too many people were caught up in the sophomoric behavior of these adults that really should be under a doctors care.
For me. All in all it was an amazing run. Men were made, little boys were culled, the integrity of people was tested; unfortunately too many failed, I shot everything I could, from riders cheating to riders doing what I believe they do best…no man left behind. Once the last rider was in Homer I handed my footage over to Jim Durham and headed back to finish my own Road To Sturgis run.” Alystar McKenneh