30 September 2015

Traveling to (and in and from) America... Part One

09 August—After a couple days in Saigon, I boarded the first of three planes that would transport me (wouldn’t it be great if Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a transporter were already realized?) to Seattle via Hong Kong and Los Angeles. It would take about 33 hours including a short stay in an LAX hotel. I now know that I will return home after a full schedule and an eventful 29 days including 5000+ motorcycle miles. The trip qualifies as a vacation because I returned in need of rest…

As written previously, the main focus of this trip is to improve my riding skills for current riding and, more importantly, because I'm considering leaving VN and embarking on an extended motorcycle journey on at least two (other) continents. The improvements will be via two Puget Sound Safety classes—the PSSOR (off-road) BDR Training Tour and the on-road Advanced Street Skills (A.S.S.) Level One course, in which they teach the S.M.A.R.T. method. Before you ask, I got no discount for being a natural smart ass, perhaps because the instructors are all also well-qualified in that skill area?

My great friend and amazingly patient hostess Liz collected me at SeaTac baggage claim and shepherded my thrashed corporeal vessel to her house. Over my previous and current objections, Liz graciously granted me her bedroom and spent the next almost month sleeping in her cozy (with a very low ceiling, at least for me) upstairs bedroom. Since my months-earlier decision to make this trip, I had, with Liz’s permission, ordered a large quantity of individual items to bring back to VN, from individual-use tubes of Super Glue to a portable battery powerful enough to jump start a V8 to a complete new set of riding gear including wool underwear and Gore-Tex boots. Each item I brought back is either unavailable in VN or prohibitively expensive. Though I never counted the boxes, they took up a hell of a lot of room… I’m certain there were at least 40 and it took a concentrated effort over two days and nights to get all opened and sorted. Then I returned a few things and ordered more. Liz never flinched.

As is my habit, I traveled out with the maximum checked luggage allowance. Even though many things were either given to friends (e.g. Da Lat coffee and a 30” peppermill) or sold (little-used and like-new motorcycle gear) or returned to family members (family heirlooms), there were enough new items to fill two more suitcases on the return trip. For a guy who divested of 95%+ of his possessions less than two years ago, I sure still have a LOT of stuff!

The three days between arrival in Tacoma and departure for the first motorcycle course/adventure passed VERY quickly. Taking priority was outfitting and checking out the Suzuki DR650 I’d purchased sight-unseen from afar via’s free classified ads. Yeah, I know... last time that's happening! The bike wasn't as-promised. I should've known that someone who feels the need to advertise his "religion" in his email address ( could possibly be (is probably?) a charlatan. The battery was DOA and emails to the seller only got me, "put it on a charger and it will be okay." Guess he thinks a battery that won't hold a charge is good-enough... and it might be if you didn't mind pushing it to start it every fcuking time! In my opinion, he sold his integrity for the $50 it cost me for a new battery because he never answered my subsequent emails. If you ever have a chance to buy something from Daniel, currently at "For God's Glory Farm" in Stockton, CA, run the other way.

The battery wasn't even the worst of it. As soon as I saw the tires he'd advertised at being 50%+, I felt the need to take it to Hinshaw’s in Auburn for a new—$500 installed—set of rubber

(that I didn't even bother to try to recoup after his failure to sell me a bike that fcuking starts) and an oil change. The oil change was mandatory by the time I arrived because the oil filler cap decided to bail at some point during the 20-minute ride to the dealership. I knew I had a problem when I put my right foot down at the stop light just before the dealership and it (my foot) slipped away from me. There was oil ALL OVER my new boot and the bottom of my new riding pants (first time I ever wore either of them), as well as the entire right-hand side of the bike behind the oil-fill cap. SHEESH!

My guess is that I neglected to sufficiently tighten it after needlessly opening it in search of an oil level. The DRZ has a dip stick on the cap and I thought the DR would also. Nope! It has a glass window that only needs to bike upright to give an accurate reading of the oil level. Fortunately, Service Advisor Pat was able to find another cap lying around, for which he didn’t even bill me. What a great guy!

13 August—A late afternoon departure for Hood River, Oregon and the Hood River Hotel. With an 8 a.m. Friday morning meet-up for the three-day BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route) Training Tour, I wanted to arrive refreshed and NOT after a four-hour ride. My hope was to get out of Tacoma with time to get to Hood River before dark... didn't make it. I rode the last hour in twilight-to-dark and for the final 30 minutes on I-84, I got to ride with bazillions of flying long-legged bugs of some kind. Unfortunately for thousands of them (and me), they were flying west and I was flying east.

The Hood River Hotel is on the National Historic Register and a very nice place.

The room was quiet and clean and the lobby restaurant did a good job with the complimentary (i.e. included in the $100 or so you pay for the room) breakfast.

I left early enough the next morning to make the 8 a.m. rendezvous, though the Columbia Gorge's massive morning headwinds (east to west) almost slowed me down too much.

If you're going to ride a motorcycle along the Gorge and are on a schedule, do what you can to ride downwind. It's a LOT easier, too.

Day one of the BDR class was almost all technical skill improvement. They took us to a dirt hill with a track up that put most of us horizontal at least once. My ego was happy that I wasn't the first. It was a very good, positive, and humbling experience that I would do again with the proper (read same) instructors... I learned a LOT. Due to my failure to take my time in separating my gear, both my camera and my phone were in the bag riding with the support vehicle, so I have no photos from Day 1. Brett, PSSOR's owner and lead instructor took a lot, and he warned us that it will be a while before they work their way to the top of his to-do list. Once I get them, I will, with his permission, post a few.

Day 2 was AWESOME! We rode the WaBDR from Stevenson to Packwood through the beautiful Gifford Pinchot National Forest and almost exclusively off pavement.

There was a LOT of gravel, mostly well-packed,

though there were plenty of opportunities to break a rear, or even a front, wheel loose (a good thing if you're paying attention). Prior to the previous day's instruction and experiences, I was tentative and tense on gravel; today, I was confident and relaxed. It made a HUGE difference! Even before we broke for lunch, I caught myself enjoying some rear slippage and specifically remember thinking, "That was really cool AND I'm still upright and jammin'!"

There was also some pretty amazing scenery and a waterfall stop that I surely would've missed had I been flying solo because this was the only sign/indication from the road
A short walk past the sign and through the trees rewards you with this view
and fortunately for most visitors, only one time was this the view (yes, that's dust/dirt on my nose ;-)

For a while I ran with the significantly more experienced guys, and that night at dinner, Rick from Atlanta turned to me and said, "You were really shreddin' it today!" I could almost feel my chest swell with pride as I temporarily forgot that once we were back on pavement and headed to the night's accommodations, I experienced what I call pilot error, slid on some wet leaves and loose gravel in a corner, and did a face-plant at about 40 mph. Had I been wearing anything but a full-face helmet, the slide would have been on my left jaw.

My medical insurance only covers me in 191 of the 192 countries in the world (can you guess which country's medical system is so out-of-control that it's the outlier?), so without the full-face helmet, I'd probably be facing uninsured plastic surgery to repair the left side of my jaw—after six months or so with my jaw wired shut.

This is only one of the reasons I ALWAYS wear a full-face. Are you reading this, Clint?

Both nights' accommodations were very nice, though I would've preferred camping the first night as we'd signed up for, instead of the large house with many bedrooms and a nice view of the Gorge.

I wanted to camp because I'd purchased a complete complement of camping gear for the trip. I never asked, though I'm 95+% sure that camping was taken off the agenda because we had six (or thereabouts) participants who'd won the PSSOR WaBDR Experience in a contest sponsored by Triumph motorcycles. The got airfare, expenses, the $1285 fee paid, and use of a brand new Triumph Tiger to ride... but not camping gear. It's okay, I'll get to use my new-to-me gear five consecutive days the following week (see Part Two).

Day Three was Leg 2 of the WaBDR, featuring more technical riding including some single track and "baby heads" or rocks about the size of a baby's head. There were a couple of us who'd sustained minor injuries the previous day including one "young stud" who insisted on riding beyond his ability and fell HARD at least three times off-road before he listened to the instructors and slowed the fcuk down (my words, not theirs). Everyone was given the opportunity to opt out of Leg 2 and, instead, stay on-road and ride to Sunrise at Mt. Rainier before meeting the Leg 2 group for lunch and farewells.

I chose the non-Leg 2 option because although I'd fallen on my left side the previous day, my right thumb had somehow sustained the only physical damage and hurt like hell. Medical professionals tell me I stretched or tore a ligament and as I write this seven weeks later, it still hurts. Since I'd lived in the PNW for many years and was familiar with the area, I was originally chosen to lead the opt-out group of four. Then one of the instructors decided to go with us, so I was freed up to take some photos along the way without worrying that I was holding others up.

The cruiser riding past was not part of our group
All-in-all it was a great trip with instructors and support group to match. Special thanks to Kyle (pictured on the deck in a photo above) who did an outstanding job of wrangling everything necessary to ensure we were all well-fed with very good food!

Part Two will be up soon... certainly sooner than seven weeks!

1 comment:

  1. The pictures are incredible, John, thank you for sharing. The stories are informative and entertaining, as expected. Pretty good selfie!