Hodaka faithful take reunion ride into memory (Slideshow)

Riders line up for the start of the Bad Rock Trail ride Friday during Hodaka Days in Weston. More than 60 riders took part in the ride that wound through the foothills of the Blue Mountains.<BR><I>Staff photo by E.J. Harris</I>

Ed Chesnut looked out over the Blue Mountains from a spot atop Ryan's Grade, his Hodaka motorcycle leaning on its kick stand nearby. He'd just ridden 20-plus miles up into the mountain range southeast of Weston on that bike, the same bike he rode on some of these trails more than 20 years ago. Friday he rode as part of the Hodaka Days Bad Rock reunion trail ride. Years ago he rode as part of the Hodaka team, competing for the Pacific Northwest Trials, a qualifier for the International Six Day Trials, a competition to put dirt bikes and their riders through the toughest course possible.

"It's a real blast from the past on those last few miles," Chesnut said. "I can almost remember where the rocks were. It hasn't changed a lot."

Chesnut could stand at the edge of Ryan's Grade and point out where he and other riders had tested the ruthlessness, power and agility of the Hodakas. He pointed to trails and two track roads leading down to the Umatilla River. He motioned off in the distance toward Meacham and La Grande. It was part of trials and riding that ran for 200 miles a day.

The ride Friday wasn't nearly as long - only about 30 miles - or as rigorous.

Chesnut, along with more than 60 other riders, left downtown Weston at 10 a.m. Friday morning, their motorcycles sending out clouds of exhaust and sending out sounds somewhere between the roar of a hog and the squeal of a sport bike.    

All of them, and probably more, are in Athena for the 10th annual Hodaka Days reunion. Though the old Pobatco Hodaka motorcycle company was located in Athena in the 1960s and '70s, the trials often started in Weston because it is closer to the mountains.

"It's all about family, it's all about fun, it's all about celebrating a brand," said Paul Stannerd, owner of Strictly Hodaka, a Vermont company that still makes parts for the classic bikes. "It's not as much about the motorcycle as it is about the people. Motorcycles get us here but people and friendships keep us together."

Chuck Swanson of Athena worked for the Athena company starting in 1963. He said Hodaka shipped parts and bikes across the U.S. and to places like Australia and even Nigeria. For the Bad Rock trial rides, Swanson said local boys and those working for Hodaka joined national and international riders. Swanson, too, rode for a few years in the 1970s.

Chesnut said locals didn't have too many advantages, except he said he never had to worry about getting lost. But if another rider came from terrain like swamps in the south, it was a big switch to riding up mountainsides over basalt rocks.

But it definitely didn't hurt to be local. One year Chesnut earned a gold medal by finishing with a time within 10 percent of the fastest guy.

Chesnut worked for Hodaka in the '70s. He said he hung around the company so long they finally decided to put him on the payroll. Anyone who worked at the company and wanted to ride could ride to test out the equipment and improve it, he said. At the time Chesnut was in his 20s. It was a great job for a young man who was into motorcycles.

After the company closed toward the end of the 1970s, Chesnut said he took a 25-year sabbatical from motorcycles. He continued to live in Milton-Freewater where he'd grown up. Today he sits municipal boards like the city council and the Walla Walla watershed council.

But he couldn't keep from sitting on a motorcycle forever. All along he'd kept two old Hodakas in his garage and in 2004, he came back to Athena for one of the reunions. He started playing with motorcycles again.

"If this is a midlife crisis," he said, "it's not that bad. It's better than spending money on a red convertible."

When the company had closed down three decades before, a friend of Chesnut's had bought one of the bikes at auction. In 2004, Chesnut found it leaning against his friend's barn. He recognized it. It was the same bike he'd raced back in the '70s. His friend gave it to him and Chesnut set about revitalizing the old motorcycle.

"It's kind of an old friend," he said. "It's been a good old scooter."

Friday, he rode that same reworked machine up into the Blues.

"The chassis and wheels were up here back in the '70s," Chesnut said. "I know that plastic front fend was. It's so ugly you can't forget it." 

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