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Pasco biker dies 100 miles from his dream

NEW PORT RICHEY — The seed was planted in an Irish pub on State Road 52.

There it was, in a magazine the bartender handed to Ken Green: An article about a 14-day motorcycle ride from Florida to Alaska, just the ride Green, 63, had hoped for years to complete.

"I found my dream," he told Lisa Cheatham, the bartender, over a plate of fried chicken livers and a Bud Light draft.

Starting in late May, the Vietnam veteran came to Mac Daddy's nearly every day to eat and talk to Cheatham and the bar manager, Eddie Littlefield, about the rides he'd done and the bikes he'd ridden. Once he had ridden 6,000 miles through the United States and Canada; another time, he rode for more than 10,200.

Soon all he could talk about was the 14-day Hoka Hey Challenge, which would take Green and about 1,000 other Harley riders from Key West to Homer, Alaska, to raise money for veterans charities.

"He was one of those people who you love to see him walk through the door, you're sad to see him leave," Littlefield said.

Littlefield and Cheatham heard about how he couldn't afford the $1,000 entrance fee, then how a soldier's father was sponsoring the trip for Green.

A few days before Green was to leave New Port Richey, where he had been staying with his ex-wife and her husband as he recovered from a leg injury, he stopped by Mac Daddy's one last time. He wanted to show Cheatham his bike — equipped with his tent, sleeping bag and saddle bags — and take a photo with her to post to his MySpace blog.

That way, he said, everyone would know who had inspired him to take the ride of a lifetime.

Then he said goodbye and rode away. He left June 14 for Miami to visit his sister. On June 20, all the riders set off from Key West.

He promised to keep in touch. But they didn't hear anything until earlier this month, when ex-wife Toni Schultz came in to tell them Green had driven off the road and died July 4.

He was just 100 miles short of his destination.

Alaskan authorities said his 1998 Harley-Davidson was rounding a horseshoe curve on Glenn Highway, where Green lost control and drove onto the shoulder. His body was thrown about 275 feet. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Although witnesses reported that Green had been speeding, Schultz says other witnesses have told her he had lowered his speed. She says up to two other riders also died in the course of the ride, which crossed dozens of mountain ranges, American Indian reservations and national forests.

The ride of a lifetime had been a long time coming.

Cheatham and Schultz — like Green's three children — had worried about his safety, but they said he was determined to go through with it.

The Miami native, who also left behind four grandchildren, sometimes mentioned that his grown son had told him not to go, Cheatham said. And he had left Ocala, where he lived briefly, this spring after being thrown from his motorcycle and breaking his right leg.

"I'm no longer sure that this is the right thing to do," he wrote in his MySpace blog a few days before leaving, "BUT I'M STILL GOING!!"

But he promised Cheatham to take the 7,000 miles easy. He told her and Littlefield that he just wanted to ride, not compete for Hoka Hey's $500,000 prize.

"His whole thing was whether he finished first or last, just to complete, that was his dream," Littlefield said of the man they called "Magoo" for his thick, round glasses. "It was the open road that he loved."

For Green, riding was a lifelong passion. When he and Schultz met as teenagers in Miami, then married after he came back from Vietnam, Schultz would ride around on the back of his motorcycle all the time, she recalled. The two divorced at 26.

During his second marriage, to Kim Fielder, which lasted 24 years, he did not ride bikes at all.

By the time Schultz offered to let him move in with her, though, he was back on a bike. "I follow the motto: I Live to Ride and Ride to Live," he wrote to Hoka Hey officials in his ride application.

Late on July 3, the night before he died, Green sent Schultz a text message from Alaska. "I'm having the ride of my life," it said.

Vivian Yee can be reached at vyee@sptimes.com or at (727) 869-6236

Pasco biker dies 100 miles from his dream 07/24/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 24, 2010 2:03pm]
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