More than 60 years ago, sometime in the late 1940s to early 1950s, Larry Andrade, Shige Miyasato and Bill Yokote became fast friends because of their love of motorcycles. It was these three men who would eventually become the charter members of the Garden Island Motorcycle Club.
One day as they went for a ride around the island, Miyasato took the other two on a more adventurous path. They rode their Harley Davidson and Triumph motorcycles, which could have weighed up to 650 pounds, up the mountains of Kauai.
“The three of us went up the mountain … Once I reached the top, I thought I’d go (another way),” Miyasato said. “I went all the way until the stone wall, the stone wall is still there, but I couldn’t cross. But they had a (narrow) path on the side of the wall. I thought if I crossed this path, I could go some more.
“The three of us went up there and they followed me to the cliff. The three of us, one bike at a time … we pushed across about 20 feet or so,” Miyasato added. “We crossed and I told them to wait there and I (continued on, then came back for them). The three of us went all the way almost overlooking Wailua River. They had a cliff over there. Then we turned around and I said we can go down here. It was all plantation fields over there. I said to wait for me here and I went down. I hit the plantation roads and told them to come down. So that was the trail.”
It was the beginning of what would eventually become the annual Labor Day Hare and Hound race hosted by the motorcycle club.
“In the 60s, we had more guys … That’s how Larry started the club. He (Andrade) read this book about the hare and hound from the Mainland. I said we should try that one time. It was about 10 of us, I think. We had one race just between us guys. He found out the way to make the trail, and we all followed him … That’s how we started. We had a lot of fun. Later on, we had the regular hare and hound with prizes and trophies,” Miyasato said.
The Labor Day Hare and Hound is a race where bikers ride on the mountains and valleys on which the trail cutters create the trail. Riders collect checks verifying they passed by checkpoints along the trail.
The first to cross the finish line and show all their checks without missing one is the winner. Easier said than done.
“It encompasses every type of condition you can imagine. You’re at the mercy of Mother Nature basically,” said Garden Island Motorcycle Club president Bertram Almeida. “We go out there. We don’t know know how many checks there are. There might be 10. There might be 40 … If you come up one short, maybe because you missed the trail or missed the turn off or something, then you didn’t finish the race.”
Nearly 200 riders participated in the 60th annual race this past Labor Day weekend. This year’s winner, Kealoha Estrella, said it was the hardest trail he’s ridden by far.
“It’s totally exhausting, but you just got to keep going and not give up. It’s like a battlefield,” Estrella said. “(There were) slippery rocks … and they had some mean downhills that we had to walk down. That was pretty extreme … Overall, it was a great race. It was a good fun ride.”
These races can go for more than 10 hours continuously. This year, it started 8:30 a.m. and the last rider didn’t come in until past 10 p.m.
“There were three guys that got passed the third gas check, and they houred out. It got too dark to see,” said club member Clayton Oshita. He helped search for the three men that night. “They were in this valley that we call ‘Dark Valley.’ In sunlight, it’s dark. Imagine at 7:30 at night. It’s really dark. So they left their bicycles. They couldn’t ride anymore. They had no light. They walked out and somebody found them on the road. By the time they came in, it was 10 o’clock at night.”
Almeida and Oshita have participated in past hare and hound races and now help as trail cutters. They both helped cut this year’s trail which took nearly a year to create.
“Cutting a trail for a race requires a lot of dedication. You go out there everyday for hours and you’re not getting paid,” Almeida said. “You want to be respectful of the land … You’re cutting the trail that the land lays out for you.
“There’s a lot of people that think they’re trail cutters, but they don’t take into consideration respecting the ‘aina first. You always want to respect the land. The lay of the land will tell you how to run the course. A true trail master will not take shortcuts,” he added.
This year’s event paid special homage to the past trail cutters who have paved the way for this race throughout the years. Five men in particular who the club honored were Miyasato, Andrade, Kaoro Watanabe, Keoki Rapozo and Stanly Amorin.
Miyasato was there in person and couldn’t believe so many riders took part.
“I went with my son. He knew where the trail went. We went all the way up in Anahola,” Miyasato said. “Everybody enjoyed it. Some guys from other islands, I tried to talk to them and they say it’s terrific. This year, so many guys came. I was so surprised.”
During the awards ceremony, the club presented Miyasato with a wooden machete acknowledging him as a master trail cutter.
“Having that 86-year-old guy stand in front of me, reaching out and grab that wooden machete that we presented to him and seeing that look in his eyes, I can honestly say I have never seen an individual with that emotion before,” Almeida said. “That was it for me. That was the million dollar jackpot for me as far as why I’m doing this.”
As for what’s in store next year, Almeida said planning will start in due time.
“People are already asking when’s the next one … Quite frankly, I’m still closing the books on this one,” he said. “I’m still doing the math on the receipts, the money and everything. It’s a little jumping the gun right now, but believe me. We’re already thinking about it … That’s what happens when you got such a great event like what just happened.”