Voices from the Road

The Garden Isle Grand Prix: Making friends and memories on a Hawaiian motorcycle adventure

When most people envision a vacation on the Hawaiian Islands, an image is instantly conjured of sedentary days spent in the sun with a fruity cocktail in hand. Perhaps a luau comes to mind, complete with a synchronized set of dancers spelling out longtime traditions. By contrast, there was nothing of the sort on this journey. When my merry band of misfit friends and I planned a trip to Kauai, it became nothing less than a logistical monster of dinosaur proportions as we rallied together to ship 25 motorcycles from the mainland to race on the outskirts of the real-life Jurassic Park.

It all began with a simple question from a motivated pal named GT: “Garden Isle Grand Prix – Interested? Yay or nay?” This cryptic inquiry piqued the interest of both myself and my boyfriend, Jorma Vik, as neither of us is ever inclined to turn down an adventure. As details arose, we understood the trip to consist of shipping our 50-year-old British dirt bikes from Southern California to the island of Kauai for a vintage motocross race. What we didn’t realize is that we signed up for a once-in-a-lifetime voyage and an unanticipated trust-building exercise. So we loaded our bikes into a massive shipping container, crossed our fingers, and sent our two-wheeled fun machines on a leisurely cruise across the Pacific Ocean.

Two people on vintage motorcycles on a sandy beach with a blue sky and ocean in the background

An oceanic adventure

Three weeks later, we packed our best Hawaiian party shirts and departed from chilly Ventura, California. Leaving the first 2,600 miles of the trek up to the mile-high professionals, we landed at Lihue Airport on a balmy September evening and soon learned that our hotel was a short, romantic beach walk from the motocross track. Reunited with our motorcycles after unloading the container, we stood in awe at a tantalizing line of bikes poised against a dreamlike sunset. My 1966 Triumph T100C was one of the most senior in the group among the formidable ranks of predominantly two-stroke race machines from the prototypical years of modern-day motocross. 

A twilight walk along the track stirred butterflies in our stomachs, as turn after turn revealed technical terrain that would demand every ounce of performance our ancient bikes had to offer. Racing jitters would be put on hold, as whispers grew louder of an ocean adventure the next day.

A row of vintage motorcycles

At first light, we bathed in sunscreen and boarded a rigid bottom inflatable boat with 12 others from our racing group, and departed from Kikiaola Small Boat Harbor. Having no idea what to expect, we latched on to the safety ropes and took off at a breakneck speed along the southeast side of the island, bound for the Nā Pali Coast. Our guides, Go Blue Adventures, charted a stunning, 50-mile round trip course. We cruised along with a school of dolphins, swam in the crystalline aquamarine waters offshore Kalalau Beach, and did aquatic donuts in the Wai’ahu’akua Sea Cave.

The scenery of the Nā Pali Coast cannot be captured accurately in a photograph, nor articulated fully by words. It can only be felt, while fully submerged in the bathtub temperature water, bobbing up and down with the tide, and gazing up at the 4,000-foot sea cliffs punctuated by cascading waterfalls. After a man-overboard incident and a choppy ride back to shore, we rounded out the day with fresh poke from a local market, and mai tais by the hotel pool.

Riding through Jurassic Park

The following day, heat races were scheduled at the motocross track, but Jorma and I decided to warm up our riding skills with our venturesome friends Joy and Hayden in the jungle terrain of the Līhu’e-Kōloa Forest Reserve. Clad in a minimal amount of riding gear, we set out into the forest canopy with rain clouds looming in the not-so-far distance. Hayden and Joy were riding on his Triumph TR6 Desert Sled, dubbed “Slowpoke Rodriguez,” so I thought we were in for a mellow day’s ride. I thought wrong. Among the gargantuan trees and foliage, the rain began to beat down, puddles began to fill with mud, and water crossings began to ominously rush. 

The trail we chose traversed through some of the original Jurassic Park film locations, and we half expected to see a velociraptor pop out of the brush at any moment. My natural propensity toward safety led me to slow down at each hazard, but it was the encouragement from the group that got me and my little T100C successfully through each section. Absolutely doused in mud, and grinning from ear to ear, we fortunately found a local to help us through a locked trail gate and onto the main road toward town. 

A person covered in mud wearing a helmet

Embracing the aloha lifestyle

Sunday was race day, and the Kauai locals showed up in full support. The passion and collective teamwork of Club Moto Kauai shone brightly throughout the day, and racers and track workers pooled resources to hold a spectacular event for us haoles. Our mainland group experienced the essence of vintage racing, meaning that every bike can and will break right before a race. Fast friends were made in the pits, as racers trusted strangers to assist with repairs and quick fixes to get each other to the line in time to see the flag drop.

Competition was fierce in the Vintage Twins class, but I was floored by the female turnout in the Women’s Vintage class. Riding the track with other very fast girls was the highlight of the race day for me, especially when I realized that I was riding with members of the same family—mother and daughters racing alongside each other. It felt as though I was watching the love for motorcycles being passed from one generation to the next. It’s not often that I ride with other women in the Vintage classes, so this feeling of family was a treat beyond my wildest dreams. 

After some dicing back and forth on the track, I came out of my races with one third place finish, but no podium overall. Jorma walked away with a third place trophy in the Vintage Twin class. After the races, the organizers held a banquet for all attendees and welcomed our entire group into the ‘ohana, or family. The passion, collaboration, and generosity of the Kauai locals were evident in every second of that evening, and we are fortunate to have been welcomed to race on their home turf.

As quickly as it all began, the end of our adventure loomed as we loaded our bikes back into the container. 

A week exploring Kauai felt like a month packed with activity, but we barely managed to scratch the surface of this magical land. The true meaning of the aloha lifestyle became a tangible feeling to us all, as this trip brought together a few dozen new and old friends.

Meet the Roadtripper

Tamara Raye