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TeamStrange members cross country to see Kno-Tah

Whispering Giants Grand Tour draws riders to Hillsboro's Shute Park


COURTESY PHOTO - A TeamStrange member pauses in front of the carved Native American statue in Hillsboros Shute Park. Motorcyclists are taking part in a cross-country tour focusing on Whispering Giants, the giant Indian heads carved by Hungarian artist Peter Wolf Toth.If not for the motorcycles, busy drivers whizzing past every day might not even notice it anymore: the giant, carved Native American head standing quietly amidst a grove of trees on the east side of Hillsboro’s Shute Park.

For the past four months or so, motorcycle riders have been periodically showing up, parking in front of the statue and posing for photographs at its base. What’s up with that?

It turns out the statue is part of a nine-month cross-country motorcycle tour hosted by TeamStrange, a world-famous motorcycle club.

Founded in 1984 by Eddie James, TeamStrange is known for its long rides, outrageous antics and more fun than is probably legal. The group puts on endurance motorcycle rallies such as the upcoming “Butt Lite” Rally and the 24-hour “Minnesota 1000” Rally. It also produced several Grand Tours based on themes such as BBQ, U.S. presidents, baseball parks, and the locations named in Geoff Mack’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” song.

Its current tour focuses on the Whispering Giants, referring to the giant Indian heads carved by Hungarian artist Peter “Wolf” Toth. Yes, there are more such statues than just the one in Shute Park — 73 more in fact.

A life’s work

The Trail of the Whispering Giants is a series of large wood carvings honoring Native Americans. In 1972, Toth began work on his first piece, chiseling the face of a Native American out of a cliff in La Jolla, Calif. He saw a haunted face in the stone and wanted to release it, which sparked his lifelong mission to honor both Native Americans and the plight of occupied indigenous nations.Courtesy Photo

Toth is not Native American, but his home country, Hungary, was occupied by Nazi Germany during WWII until liberated by Russia’s Red Army — which then began its own occupation, inflicting horrors on the ethnic minority tribes.

Toth’s first statue was followed by 73 more. In 1987, the artist spent months carving the 25-foot tall Hillsboro sculpture, named “Kno-Tah,” from the wood of a Douglas fir trunk.

Back in 2013, a Team Strange member was scouting locations for a motorcycle rally route, when she happened upon something awe-inspiring — a Whispering Giant statue in Colquitt, Georgia.

Once TeamStrange organizers learned the cross-country breadth of Toth’s art, a motorcycle tour honoring his decades of work seemed like a no-brainer. There’s at least one Whispering Giant in all 50 states and also in parts of Canada. Oregon actually has two: Kno-Tah in Hillsboro and Ikala Nawan in Astoria.

“TeamStrange is always looking for unique and distinctly American locations for its rallies and grand tours,” said Jonathan Johnson, one of the event’s coordinators. The powerful series of Native American statues is “a wonderful slice of Americana,” he said.

Show up, or not’

The “2015 Whispering Giants Grand Tour,” which started Feb. 15 and ends Oct. 31, gives participants rally flags and a custom sticker and sends them out to document as many of Toth’s art pieces as they can reach. Interested bikers can still register, at least through September.

TeamStrange gives no locations of the statues. It’s completely up to contestants to research and find the statues themselves. Once there, contestants need to include their motorcycles, rally flags and each Giant itself in a photo documenting their achievement. A close-up photo of the plaque detailing the Giant is also necessary, as well as a written account of the location of the Giant.

Contestants then send in the information to TeamStrange via email and are awarded points. Each properly documented Whispering Giant is worth 10 points, and at least 30 points are needed to successfully complete the event.

Riders with 50 points or more earn bragging rights, a Whispering Giants Grand Tour finisher pin and five entries into the finisher’s prize pool, which involves cash or gift cards. The top finisher will receive a commemorative prize. All remaining proceeds are donated to Eddie’s Road, a charitable foundation for helping abused and neglected children.

There are currently 182 participants in the Whispering Giants Grand Tour — a standard number for the group’s longer tours that require visits to multiple states. TeamStrange grand tours typically have between 150 and 400 participants, depending on the nature of the tour. Those encompassing a smaller geographic area appeal to more riders and have higher participation.There are 74 Whispering Giant statues across the U.S. and Canada, including Omiskanoagwiah in Springfield, Mass., where this photo was taken by Florida rider Shuey Wolfe. Bikers use photographs to document their visits.

The tour is staffed entirely by volunteers. Photos, questions, comments, kudos and complaints are e-mailed to a group inbox where TeamStrange volunteers score the photos and respond to riders. The process is time consuming, with volunteers scoring several thousand pictures and answering hundreds of questions during the course of a typical grand tour. TeamStrange tries to produce anywhere from two to five of these events a year.

Over the past few years, more than 50 Oregon riders have participated in TeamStrange events, Johnson said. But it’s hard to keep close track of membership.

“We have no fees, no dues and no mandatory contributions.  We also have no formal or mandatory meetings. We do not care what kind of motorcycle you ride or whether you enjoy cruising, long-distance riding or just puttering around as an occasional hobby,” he said. “We just have events and you can show up, or not.”

For more information on the Whispering Giants tour, go to teamstrange.com. To see photos of all Toth’s statues, go to dcschumaker.com/statues.htm.

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