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12 June 2018

NEW (to me) Motorcycle and Road Trip — Aug 2016

August 2016

The US government forced me to leave ViLa at home in Dalat by denying La's visa application WITHOUT explanation after $180, three months, and a one-question interview.

Yes, they can do that. What they unfortunately don't understand is that NEITHER of us has any interest in living in the US—me because there are so many other places to live when you have White Privilege and a US passport; her because "it's too expensive" and she'd miss her family too much.


I flew to Saigon and then to the US, though only after promising Honey every 20 minutes when she asked, "Yes, con gái (daughter), Daddy will come back to Honey and Mommy."

To which she always replied, "Are you sure?"

"Yes, Honey, I'm sure."

I was, once again—if memory serves, this is number 10—going to meet and pick up my new ride and have some fun:

"She" is a 1989 BMW R100GS BumbleBee (note the paint scheme) and the best-fit-for-me bike I've ridden in the entire 3+ years since I bought my first. What a bike! Very comfortable to ride and in great shape. The R100GS is an "airhead", meaning the engine is air-cooled. It is also the original Adventure Bike and the grandpappy to the current very popular R1200GSA.

I bought the Bee from Dale in Spokane, Washington through an advertisement on ADVRider. He was the third owner and had most of the maintenance paperwork from Day One. Dale has another BMW and a sidecar rig and sold this beauty because he wasn't riding it anymore in favor of, mostly, the hack. He was very accommodating, to the point of holding the bike for me in his garage for four months until I could get back to the US after I sent him a $1000 non-refundable deposit. He met me at the Spokane airport; drove me to his home where he took the time to go over the bike completely with me; gave me a box of spare parts and special tools; and helped me box up and send the stuff I didn't need for the 1000+-mile road trip "home" to Tacoma.


Dale led me in his truck to a UPS store where I shipped the boxes and then to a DOT licensing office where I transferred Bee into my name and paid the taxes. That gave me a license plate and registration; the title came later in the mail.

Now that I'm the legal owner, I can head out of town and ride mostly south before turning west. I had a couple days to get to the Rally in the Gorge just outside of Hood River, Oregon, where I'd meet up with friend Rick and 100 or so other motorcycle enthusiasts for a weekend of camping, riding, talking, and learning.

The first night, I stopped at a campground near Lewiston, Idaho and ended up a few sites down from a Harley guy who wanted to know why I wasn't riding a Harley. Really??? Have you ever ridden anything else?

I wanted to answer, "Because I'm NOT a sheep (follower)!", thought I managed to hold my tongue for once and said, "Because I'm riding this beautiful classic BMW that can go anywhere I have the stones to take it." This is definitely a bike on which I will run out of talent LONG before I've reached its limits.

As is my habit, I took the scenic route,


avoiding highways and straight lines as best I could, and enjoyed every bit of it.





Those are actual full-size aluminum canoes in the sculpture
Eventually I pulled along side the Columbia Gorge

and, after one more photo stop to capture Mt. Hood,


turned into the Hood River Fairgrounds.





The Rally was a good weekend that would've been better had the food vendor honored their contract and showed up to do breakfasts. Instead, we got to ride 15 minutes into town for meals and then 15 minutes back for events. No dealbreaker, but a PITA. The organizers did manage decent dinners and one evening put together a pretty good dessert bar with peaches, ice cream, and assorted goodies.


My second-hand-and-like-new Redverz Atacama tent

was a big hit with the crowd, in part because you can stand up inside it and because the center section is a "garage" for the motorcycle that doubles as a refuge from bad weather. Within a few minutes of his first sight of mine, friend Rick (at right in one and at left in another of the above photos) decided to 86 his "yoga tent", seen here on the left edge of the photo, as soon as he could find a second-hand Redverz. He called it the yoga tent because, he said, getting undressed/dressed was about equal to one yoga class.

I had a yellow Atacama that I'd shelved when I bought the green one and told him that if my friend Gee back in Vietnam didn't want yellow, it was his. I later found a green one for Gee, so Rick is now the proud owner of his dream tent. As are Gee and I.

One of the reasons I went to the rally was to ride Maryhill Loops Road—a private, gated road with an interesting history that is only open by appointment and payment of a sizable fee.


I'd driven it many years ago in the 2005 MINI Cooper Cabriolet I still miss and figured this would be my only chance ever to ride it on a motorcycle. If you ride, you can see why it is worth going out of your way for.

While riding Maryhill Loops Road was the most fun part of the rally, learning how to properly set up the bike's suspension was the best part of the rally. Jesse from Truitt Motorcycle Education helped us understand sag and the difference between static sag and free sag. Then he worked with us to set ours correctly. Doing so did make a noticeable difference in how the bike felt and responded on the road.

If you'd like a copy of Jesse's worksheet (he gave me verbal permission to share it), send me an email and I'll get a PDF copy to you.

After the rally, Rick and I rode down to the beautiful Timberline Lodge at Hood Mountain. Built in 1937 under FDR's Works Progress Administration (WPA), it is one of the National Park lodges designed by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood. It was used as the model for the lodge in "The Shining" movie, though the movie was filmed on sets in England. More on its history is available here.

There was a wedding reception on the stone patio, so we were unable to go out there. The one lingering memory I have of the place is the very ripe-smelling backpackers congregated in the sitting area so that the wedding guests got to walk through them to get to the reception. Since we didn't have gas masks with us, our stay was relatively short.

Rick and I parted ways after the lodge—he went directly back to Seattle and I took the scenic route to Tacoma via Mount Saint Helens.


Mount Hood
Mount Saint Helens
Mount Saint Helens

I was headed to a special, rarely visited, Mount Saint Helens overlook when the new-to-me airhead carburetor starting pissing gas all over my left boot—at about the furthest north point on this route (blue line). I'd heard of this issue, though I'd hoped that when it happened, it would be somewhere closer to home base. When I removed the carb bowl, I saw the gasket was broken—and me without a spare.


I matched the cut gasket up with the bowl rim as best I could and reinstalled the bowl. It seemed to hold, BUT it was getting late and I was NOT in the mood for either wild camping or getting stranded without backup gas canisters (which I now carry everywhere), so I turned around and headed back south because the closest campground to the south was a LOT closer than any to the north.

Just about twilight I passed the Swift Forest Campground,


turned around, and went in. After paying for the site and setting up camp,

I put the bike in the "garage" because two sites down there were a couple pick-em-up trucks of unsavory-looking characters  who showed an unusual amount of interest in it. "Out of sight, out of mind" as someone once said.


I went to take a shower... and found only a bathroom. DAMN! When I went to the campground caretaker to ask where the showers and camp store were, he said with a straight face, "About 5 miles down the road at Eagle Cliff." WHAT??? He was less than thrilled with my suggestion that he disclose this when people arrived and paid the fee. I was pissed off that I'd have to sleep dirty. Hell, I shoulda wild camped.

I woke up early the next morning and hit the Eagle Cliff store where I was able to fill up the tank, take a shower, and grab a few things for "breakfast".


Clean, less hungry, and full of fuel, I headed up NFD-25—a tight two-lane road full of frost-heave that's closed in the winter and well worth the effort to get there. After a fun and challenging 45 miles, I made it to Randle, WA, almost due south of Mount Rainier. From there, it was a short hop to Tacoma and what passes for civilization. 


My next goal was to open the dozens of boxes

of things I'd ordered from Amazon, eBay, and advrider.com and that Liz very gratiously held for my arrival—things I can't buy in Vietnam and I'm going to take back with me in a month or two.

It's kinda like a self-funded Christmas.

Once the boxes are open and contents sorted, I'll head to Montana for an Airheads Workshop where I'll spend a weekend learning the intricacies and pitfalls of wrenching on the BumbleBee.

Or so I thought...


05 June 2018

Fly 'n' Ride 'n' Fly — Sept 2016

I'm VERY behind in my blogging, so this is a post about events from 2016. There are two more posts coming "soon" from BEFORE this that are partially written, then a major life-changing event after this (on October 1, 2016) that is still unresolved as I write this in June 2018. My goal is to get caught up within the next few months; we shall see...

Mid-2016—Always on the lookout for motorcycles and motorcycle-related adventures, I was very interested in a trip report I saw on the advrider.com web site about a guy who'd taken a long weekend to ride vintage motorcycles in Eastern Pennsylvania, just outside Philly. It sounded interesting, so I looked him up on-line at www.retrotours.com.

There was one tour left for the year AND it would fit into my upcoming scheduled trip to the US, so I sent Victory-rider and best-friend-from-college Rich an email and asked, "Are you in?" He replied the next day in the affirmative, so we booked the "Redneck Gyro IV" from September 10-12, 2016: "Gather a group of 6 enthusiasts, put them on a half dozen Italian twin cylinder motorcycles of the 1970’s, and enjoy switching bikes and covering close to 1,000 miles in three days of riding from southeastern PA to the mountains of West-by-God Virginia and back."

Upon arrival in the US, I was picked up by my good friend Liz, who graciously allowed me to stay in her spare bedroom AND borrow one of her fleet of vehicles. THAT's a friend! About three weeks after arriving, I headed back to the airport for the flight to Pittsburgh, PA, Rich's life-long hometown.

Rather than have Liz do another Tacoma-SeaTac Airport round-trip, I had Capitol Aeroporter pick me up at the house. Usually I like to keep to myself on these shuttles, BUT there was a guy aboard who just had to keep asking questions. Something about him felt wrong, though as much as I wanted to tell him to fuck-off and mind his own business, I didn't. At first.

Twit: Where you headed?
Me: Pittsburgh.
Twit: For business?
Me: No.
Twit: Then why?
Me: To ride 40-year-old motorcycles through the hills of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland.
Twit: You ride?
Me: Yes ("Doh!" went unspoken)
Twit: Do they have helmet laws in Pennsylvania?
Me: I don't know. Anyone who rides without a helmet has no brain.
Twit: The government shouldn't be able to tell us whether to wear a helmet or not.
Me: Okay.
Twit: It's about personal responsibility.
Me: Really?
Twit: Yes!
Me: I'm assuming you don't wear a helmet?
Twit: I have to in Washington state.
Me: When you ride where there's no helmet law, do you wear a helmet?
Twit: Hell no!
Me: Since you say, "It's about personal responsibility", I'm sure you have a $10 million insurance policy, right?
Twit: Huh?
Me: Is that a no?
Twit: Yes. Why would I have $10 million insurance?
Me: You're young, do you have a family?
Twit: Yes.
Me: Since you're all about Personal Responsibility, I thought you'd actually be personally responsible for your actions. I guess you're just another right-winger who thinks others should be personally responsible, but not you.
Twit: What does that have to do with insurance? (This is when he earned the name, "Twit")
Me: When your head hits the ground and cracks open like a melon, you're gonna either need a LOT of expensive medical help or a funeral. Then your wife and kids probably won't have enough money to pay the rent or buy food. A $10 million insurance policy would ensure that I, everyone else in this van, and thousands of others won't have to waste our tax dollars supporting your family because you were Personally Responsible.
Twit: (crickets)
Me: (smile)

He didn't say another word the rest of the trip, though he did give me the finger as the van drove away after dropping him at the terminal curb... which I took to mean he knows he's a twit. I'm betting he happily voted for Dolt45 (Trump).

After an uneventful flight (the best kind), Rich picked me up at the airport and took me to his house. We had a nice dinner with Robin, his very nice girlfriend of whom I'd heard a lot over the years, but had never before met.


Two mornings later, we drove to the Steubenville, Ohio, FBO (small airport) where Rich keeps his single-engine plane. 




Once our luggage was on-board and Rich's pre-flight inspection complete, we rolled down the runway and into the air.

I LOVE FLYING in small planes and Rich is an excellent pilot! He started flying back in the 70's, I think while we were still in University, and it's obvious that he loves it.


We landed at a small FBO about 10 minutes from the Kennett Square, Pennsylvania home of Joel and Lynn Samick, the owners of Retro Tours. Once we were on the ground, we called Joel; he came by to pick us up and take us to the house where we settled in our assigned bedroom and met Chuck and Robert, two of the three other participants in the weekend's ride. We also got to check out Joel's workshop and stable of bikes.






Most of the bikes have a special "Antique" license plate no longer offered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

Joel is a former champion motorcycle racer and mechanic and maintains all of his bikes himself.

He runs Retro Tours with the help of his wife, Lynn, who's one hell of a great cook/hostess.
Rich, Lynn, and Chuck
Since the tours start EARLY in the morning and end in the late afternoon/evening a couple days later, Joel and Lynn offer a bed in their home AND a couple home-cooked meals that are NOT to be missed, for a mere $50 extra. If you take one of their tours, opt-in for this.

Lynn cooked an awesome dinner and we spent some time after talking about the next few days' ride, expectations, and preferences.
Chuck, Rich, and Robert--they're NOT upset, it was just bad timing on my part ;-)
Sleep was a bit difficult 'cause Rich SNORES... picture the cartoons where the character's snoring lifts the roof off the house and you'll be in the neighborhood (sorry, Rich).

As usual, I was the first one up the next morning, though it was very soon after that Lynn had coffee/tea available. Breakfast was as good as dinner and more than enough to keep us going until lunch, whenever that would be.

Next, it was out front to check out the bikes; all Italian and all from the 70's:
       1971 Moto Guzzi Ambassador 750
       1972 Laverda 750SF
       1974 Benelli Tornado 650
       1975 Ducati 860GT
       1979 Moto Guzzi V50
       1979 Moto Morini 500 Strada

I neglected to take individual photos of each of the bikes, so here are five of the six...



Joel does a great job keeping his stable in great running and cosmetic condition. Although they were each around 40-years-old, they ran as well as most modern bikes and better than some. He carries the spare parts that he's most likely to need and we never had an issue he couldn't solve virtually immediately.

Our route took us from Southeastern Pennsylvania (PA) to Maryland (MD), back to PA, back to MD, to West Virginia (WV), and back to PA on two-lane blacktop and through many small towns.


One of our stops was at an overlook that is definitely scenic


About halfway through the first day, the unfamiliar riding positions started my lower back complaining a bit. An hour later, it was BEGGING for relief. When I mentioned it to Joel at one of our fuel replenishment / bike swap stops—at each gas stop we rotated through the bikes so we each got to experience each bike—he suggested I use the rear pegs as my foot pegs. This worked VERY well and my lower back stopped bitching. Thanks, Joel!

We stayed both tour nights in the same rather large cabin with two levels, four or five bedrooms, depending on how you count them, and a hot tub on the deck. It was in a heavily wooded "gated development", but we didn't have to worry about the gate 'cause the bikes fit between the gate poles and the trees. There was enough elbow room between houses that we didn't hear a peep from any of our neighbors.

Rich's body was aching significantly more than mine, so he opted-out of Day 2's riding, which was to be a big loop. Not one to leave a friend "stranded", I opted to hang out with him and keep our travels down to running into town for lunch and picking up a few groceries needed for cooking my sweet potato hash for the group's Day 3 breakfast.

We missed the crash. Robert lost focus entering a curve and ended up under the guardrail, breaking both the Laverda and his leg. He was picked up by ambulance and taken to the nearest hospital (rural WV) where they determined his condition was beyond their scope of treatment. They then sent him by ambulance to a larger hospital in Morgantown, an hour or so away.

Taking care of the bike was a bigger challenge—it was both unrideable and hundreds of miles from home. Joel found a one-way rental truck and loaded in both the Laverda and his bike, while Chuck and Charles followed on their bikes. At this point, it was no longer a riding tour, but a "let's get the hell back to the cabin and figure out what happens tomorrow" slog. Joel called us and asked us to meet them in town for dinner and a discussion on the next day's logistics. The place he picked served massive sandwiches!


They also had an art print on the wall that I wanted to buy, though they refused to even consider its sale


To this day, I STILL want that print. (Edit: Thanks to Meredith for reading this and pointing out that the print is available on amazon.com. It's now on my Wish List for my next trip to the U.S.)

Rich was still hurting from the first day's ride, so he happily volunteered to drive the rental van and two bikes back to Joel's house while the rest of us took the normal Day 3 route back. It was the most scenic day and I wanted to stop numerous times to take photos, though Joel sets a pretty brisk pace, so I felt uncomfortable making unscheduled stops and holding everyone up—one of the many reasons I've only ever taken 3 group tours in my entire life. Joel told us we should each "ride your own ride", and for me that would include stopping numerous times to take in the scenery and snap a few photos. It just didn't feel comfortable causing the rest of the group to turn around more than once to see if I was okay. So I sucked it up and rode home hard.

Here is Joel's trip report for our adventure.

Photos of the Laverda after sliding under the guardrail:




After another great dinner and breakfast by Lynn, Rich and I flew over the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside back to Pittsburgh with a short detour to our alma mater, Bucknell. It's changed a LOT in the 40 years since we left and we felt like grandpas walking around campus; maybe 'cause we are old enough to be?










One last plug for Retro Tours