Rider going the distance for fallen friend

In August 2008 Greg Hagel began a ride he never finished. This year, in memory of his long-time friend, Bernie Dougherty plans to complete that journey.

Bernie Dougherty holds an honorarium presented to Greg Hagel after he was killed in a motorcycle accident during the 3 Flags Rally several years ago. Dougherty

Bernie Dougherty holds an honorarium presented to Greg Hagel after he was killed in a motorcycle accident during the 3 Flags Rally several years ago. Dougherty

In August 2008 Greg Hagel began a ride he never finished. This year, in memory of his long-time friend, Bernie Dougherty plans to complete that journey.

The Summerland resident and other members of the Okanagan Motorcycle Riders Association were expected to leave today at 3 a.m. from San Ysidro Calif. on the 90-hour, 3,600-kilometre 3 Flags Motorcycle Rally to Penticton.

Hagel, who ran the family upholstery business on Eckhardt Avenue, was only several hundred kilometres into the rally that year when something went wrong and his motorcycle left the road.

“I heard about the accident within about two hours after it happened,” said Dougherty last week as the anniversary of his buddy’s death approached. “It was in the early hours of the morning and he’d only got from the Mexican border to just outside Barstow, Calif. Nobody knows what happened; an autopsy showed there were no drugs, no alcohol. There was just no given reason for it.”

As a measure of closure for himself, when the opportunity to participate in this year’s trip came along, Dougherty quickly signed up.

“I also just thought it was appropriate to finish this ride for Greg,” he said. “We were almost inseparable for over 30 years; him and I put on a lot of miles together.

“He was quite a remarkable character, he was the first guy who would always help somebody. He had a wry sense of humour, he was a biker first class and there’s probably not a day goes by I don’t think about him.”

Billed as the premier motorcycle rally in the United States, this is the 36th year of the ride which touches three borders.

Organized by the Southern California Motorcycle Association, just over 200 bikes will make the trip stopping at designated checkpoints along the route.

There is another component in the 3 Flags this year called — for obvious reasons — the Iron Butt mini rally.

The optional add-on is for those who want to spend even more time in the saddle.

Using a digital camera and GPS, participants will document their side trips, with the greater the distance bringing more points and the all-important bragging rights.

Riders are expected to arrive Monday at the Lakeside Resort between noon and 9 p.m. where the motorcycles will be on display.

The following day an RCMP-escorted ride to Okanagan Falls and back is scheduled beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Although Harley Davidson remains the bike of choice for Dougherty, the model he has now is somewhat different than those he rode in the past.

“I’ve gotten away from the old chopper style — I was getting too old for that crap — the Glide has got my stereo and all the bells and whistles,” said the 61-year-old. “I like my tunes and I like my comfort, after all we’re not getting any younger but I have gotten a lot wiser.”

His Penticton riding companion Alex Papp, also on his inaugural 3 Flags, agreed on the comfort factor: “You have to prepare for it and I put on some long miles on some long days so I sort of get my butt used to where it’s supposed to be.

“But the thing is just go for it, forget about the bad things and enjoy the things you’re going to see.”

So for Dougherty while there will be a sombre note attached to the ride it will also be a two-wheel, open-road celebration of his friend’s life and he plans to enjoy every minute.

“Greg would definitely want it that way,” he said. “Will he be with me on this trip? He’s always right there beside me and this one we’ll finish together.”