They’d been awake for almost 49 hours. Their eyes were glazed over, their bodies were aching, but Michael Jenkins and Mike Hart had dug in for the long haul.
At stake: a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle, worth $18,000.
The last person standing with a hand on the large cardboard crate would go home with the bike.
Except during breaks, both men had kept one hand flat on the crate since 7 p.m. Friday, taking care not to lean, relax their hands, or surrender to the mental lapses that, one by one, had eliminated the other 10 contestants.
They stood inside the Mid-America Harley-Davidson dealership in Columbia, kept alert by piped-in rock music and the smell of new leather. Their bleary eyes rested on dozens of gleaming motorcycles, some turning slowly around on pedestals.
Neither man knew which 2005 model was in the crate. It could have been a Night Train, a Road King, a V-Rod, a Heritage Softail or a Fat Boy.
Both Hart, of Brazito, and Jenkins, of Fayette, had been up since around 4 a.m. Friday — Hart going to work at a Jefferson City sanitation company and Jenkins at a concrete company in Columbia.
The contestants were allowed a five-minute break at the top of every hour, 15 minutes for breakfast and lunch, and 20 minutes for dinner.
During breaks, family members massaged contestants while they reclined in lawn chairs with their feet up on coolers, some smoking and some stretching. They drank energy drinks, highly caffeinated soda and coffee. After hours on their feet, a few sent spouses out to buy gel insoles or fluffy slippers.
Hart’s wife, Patty, and their 10-year-old daughter Megan had stayed there almost continuously since the start of the contest, taking cat naps in their car.
Hart said he’s always wanted a Harley for his 40th birthday, which is in a year and a half. If he won, he joked, he’d park the bike in his garage and “crank it up now and then.”
Joe Boozer of KCMQ, one of the sponsors, provided periodic updates on the radio.
Boozer said he’s watched similar competitions in Kansas City and Anchorage, Alaska.
“It’s like being at a human zoo,” he said. The most interesting part is watching how dependent the contestants become on their surroundings and on each other, he said.
In this case, the dependency paid off.
As night approached on Sunday, which marked Hart’s 12th wedding anniversary, the two finalists faced their third night of standing in the dealership.
Jenkins was declared the official winner, but he didn’t take home the Harley Fat Boy inside the crate.
Instead, he agreed to trade it in for two silver 1200 Sportsters: one for himself and one for Hart.
“We made a deal,” Jenkins said.