By JASON SCHREIBER
Union Leader Correspondent
PORTSMOUTH — Randy Tefft's 3,500-mile journey from Portsmouth to Malibu, Calif., got off to a sopping wet start Wednesday morning.
The Keene man was pelted with raindrops as he rode away from Peirce Island to begin his quest to become the first person to cross the United States on a New Hampshire-made Rokon motorcycle.
The 59-year-old Tefft said he's taking the trip to raise awareness for the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity organization that assists injured servicemen and women.
Tefft said he wanted to find a way to help veterans.
"I know our veterans are kind of getting a raw deal in a lot of ways. I thought this is my way of helping out," he said, adding, "I enjoy the freedoms every day that veterans provide and I appreciate that."
Rokon motorcycles are made in Rochester and are the second-longest continuously manufactured motorcycle in the country after Harley Davidson.
While Tefft has a Rokon of his own, the company donated the motorcycle for the trip and will auction it off at the end in Cornell, Calif., on July 25. All proceeds from the auction will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.
Tefft said Wednesday's travels would take him just over 100 miles from Portsmouth to the American Legion Post in Keene, where an open house was planned to mark his arrival.
On Thursday, Tefft planned to continue to New York, then Ohio, and other points west with several stops along the way during his 20 days of riding.
With a top speed of 35 mph, it'll be slow going on the Rokon. Tefft's journey will take him along thousands of miles of back roads. He'll average 150 to 200 miles a day and should get about 50 miles to the gallon.
"Generally, it's not something you would associate with going across the country on, but it's a New Hampshire, U.S.A.-made product, and I live in New Hampshire," Tefft said. "I've had great support from the community, local businesses, car dealerships and so forth."
Tefft has taken motorcycle trips across the country before, but never on a Rokon.
He's taken a month off from his part-time job as a driver for Cheshire Oil in Keene.
"They were great. They gave me the whole month off, and they gave me a nice donation, too," he said.
Tefft said his only concern about taking such a long trip is safety on the road. He'll wear bright-colored gear and has a flashing light on the back of the bike.
"I want people to see me," he said.
The motorcycle, which has been made in New Hampshire since the 1960s, is known as an off-road bike that can handle all types of terrain, but Rokon program manager Brad Blais said Tefft's trip will show that it's good for the road as well.
"Randy's been a long-time Rokon owner and supporter of Rokon. When he approached us with this idea we were 100 percent in from the beginning. It's for a great cause, and it's a great test showing the Rokon's true all round capabilities," Blais said.
People can follow Tefft's journey on the Rokon Across America Facebook page and on Twitter at @RokonRandy.