That guy in leather bent over a shiny black Harley on his way to Okeechobee via U.S. 98 just might be the big cheese at the Okeechobee County extension office.
Pat Hogue, who took the director position three years ago, loves the freedom of flying down open roads on his 2012 Heritage Softtail. "Whenever you are riding a motorcycle you've got to concentrate on riding and the traffic around you," said Hogue, adding that it takes his mind off of other worries.
A member of American Bikers Aimed Toward Education, Hogue sports a "Watch for Motorcycles" sign by his driveway in Sebring. It's a decent ride to Okeechobee from his home and ranch, and Hogue knows the dangers of motorcycles firsthand.
"My future son-in-law was coming back from Leesburg. An older couple pulled right in front of him. They didn't even see him," reported Hogue. The young man did not survive.
Hogue's brother is a Harley mechanic, who has given him some advice: every time you throw your leg over it: Fear for your life. Does he? "No," said Hogue, adding "I'm a little hesitant when I'm approaching intersections if I see someone and they don't seem to be slowing down."
A second piece of advice from his brother: Sometimes you just have to lay it down. Hogue has only had to do that once.
The thrill of the unknown out on a bike may be more glamorous, but Hogue's day-to-day job as director of the Okeechobee ag office mirrors that experience in a way.
"Every day is different," explained Hogue, who said he might spend one day helping a rancher choose the right piece of land to purchase for a specific type of cattle operation and the next day diagnosing the reason why another rancher's cows are dying.
Hogue, who earned a double bachelor's degree in animal science and agronomy (pasture and forage management) and a master's in agronomy, didn't think as a young man that he would go into the agriculture field, although he grew up on a farm in Arkansas. First, he dabbled in business, accounting and pre-veterinary medicine.
"Eventually you go back to your roots," the straight-talker remarked.
Both of his grandfathers were farmers, and Hogue's parents had milk cows, beef cows, pigs and poultry. On two acres, the family grew everything they ate and had enough left over to sell, he said.
Then one day, a tornado ripped across the property, destroying everything. Hogue remembers it vividly.
"We were sitting in the car in the driveway, and it went right over us. We could feel the rumbling," he recounted. Hogue, his parents, two brothers and a sister watched as the huge twister ripped apart everything except the house and the car. Hogue said his mother had left the home's windows open, and that may be why it wasn't destroyed.
Hogue has worked in extension now for more than 30 years. In addition to working as director and an agent in Okeechobee, he served as director of the Highlands County extension office for five years. He also did a short stint in Suwannee County and started his career in extension in Arkansas.
This cattleman and forage expert plans to take a well-deserved break this summer — a Harley road trip with his brother out to Arkansas, then Colorado to spread their deceased brother's ashes across one of his favorite mountain climbing spots. Hogue will then turn northwest to Portland to visit family, and they'll come back across the northern part of the U.S.
Hogue's own piece of motorcycle riding advice might be applied to life in general: "There's one thing you never do when you ride a motorcycle, and that's look at the ground."
"If you look at the ground, you fall over."