Don Hundsdorfer started riding a motorcycle before he even had a driver’s license.
“I would crank (the engine) from my home to Marine Road, just so my parents would hear it,” said Hundsdorfer, who grew up on Deck’s Prairie, just west of Highland.
Now 85, Hundsdorfer no longer rides. He sold his bike earlier this year.
“I quit driving my motorcycle while I was ahead… But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss it,” he said.
After all, Hundsdorfer spent a lot of quality time on his two-wheeler. It’s how he and his late wife Helen, who passed away in November 2014, saw the country — all 50 states.
“She was the navigator,” Hundsdorfer said.
It was a journey that they started decades ago and finished in 2008 with a trip to state No. 50, Louisiana.
Hundsdorfer said he didn’t intend to travel to all 50 states at first.
“I never even thought about it,” he said. “I just traveled to where ever. Next thing, you are looking at a map and you say to yourself, ‘Hey, I’ve been there and there. I’ve been everywhere but Louisiana.’”
While Hundsdorfer has hung up his leathers, the tradition continues with the next generation. His three children all ride. His son Steve now owns a Honda Goldwing 1800. His other son, Wayne, has owned several different bikes.
“My first two wheels was a AMF moped that I got in 1978, the summer before I left for boot camp, and then I bought a Yamaha Route 66 250 in 1988, when I was stationed in Japan,” said Hundsdorfer’s daughter, Kay Whitecotton, who lives in Highland with her husband, Rex.
Kay was in Japan while serving in the United States Navy, another family tradition. Her dad and brother Wayne are also Navy vets. Her son, DC, is currently serving.
“I think growing up with motorcycles and knowing how much Mom and Dad enjoyed riding made me want to ride my own and enjoy the freedom,” Kay said.
Like his father-in-law, Rex used to ride before he was old enough to do it legally, too. (His older brother had a bike.) Not long after he and Kay married, he took it up again.
“He didn’t have a bike when we dated back in high school or when we rekindled our relationship in 1997, but it didn’t take him long to get one,” Kay said.
Kay and Rex were married on May 1, 1999. Don found Rex a Honda 1100. The family was soon hitting the road together.
“We did a family ride — Dad, me, Rex, Steve and Wayne — all on our own bikes one year. It was fun,” Kay said.
The Hundsdorfers’ accomplishment of all 50 states also front-doored the idea for the Whitecottons.
One by one, they too started checking states off their list. The final one was marked off a few weeks ago. Ironically, the Whitecottons also made Louisiana their final destination.
“How in the hell we did that, I don’t know?” Hundsdorfer said.
The Whitecottons did take the scenic route to the final destination in their quest, putting about 2,400 miles on the odometer, before they finally reaching The Pelican State.
“You have to want to go to Louisiana, especially on a motorcycle,” Kay joked, who now rides a Honda Shadow 750. “Poor little Louisiana.”
Like his father-in-law, Rex said he never intended to travel to all 50 states on a motorcycle.
“We were just going on a vacation,” he said. “Our first two vacations were to Arkansas and Missouri. Then we went down to South Carolina, where Don’s son was at. That was our first big long trip together.”
The Whittecottons traveled to most states on separate motorcycles. But on a few occasions, they have traveled together on Rex’s bike, including trips to California.
“It was so blooming hot when we got to Las Vegas,” Kay said. “I remember the temperature being 118 degrees when we were riding on a motorycle in stop and go traffic on asphalt. I finally told Rex, ‘You have to find us a place to stay — quickly. I am having a heat stroke.’”
“We stayed at the Mirage (in Las Vegas),” Rex said and grinned.
It took the Whitecottons 11 years to see all 50 states. To document their journeys, they took a picture in front of each state’s welcome to sign.
Rex said he will never forget traveling to New Jersey over the Hudson River, where they were 24 toll booths and thousands of cars. But only one of the toll booths took cash, he recalled.
“I remember asking the woman at the booth where a route was. She said it was ‘two miles ahead, on your left. Good luck.’”
In total, the Whitecottons trekked more than 150,000 miles to reach on their two-wheel tour of the nation. It took them eight days to travel to Alaska last July.
“While we were riding in Alaska, a bear ran in front of us,” Rex said.
“(But) we have never had an accident traveling,” added Kay, knocking he knuckles onto the table. “We never had any close call.”
The only bike problem was a flat tire, Rex said.
“That’s the only issue, ever,” he said.
The openness of “feeling the wind, rain, looking up and seeing the clouds and the sun,” makes a motorcycle a great way to experience new places, Kay said.
“When you stop for gas, or for the evening, people tend to come up to you and ask where you’re from and where you’re headed,” she said. “Not many people talk to you if you’re in a car. Riding a motorcycle isn’t just about the final destination but about the journey getting there.”
It’s a journey the Whitecottons hope to continue and to pass along to their posterity.
“There are many places we haven’t seen yet, and God willing, we will get a chance to see it all,” Kay said. “I also look forward to sharing journeys with my grandkids, Donald and Ella, and maybe passing on our love of riding two wheels to them.”