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Notes From The Road

by Terry Turnbeaugh

Tuesday 7/30/96 8:45 PM
Bozeman, Montanta

The sun was just beginning to rise as I gave the machine one more inspection&emdash;oil level, air pressure, shock preload, etc. I did all of this the night before, but I do it again. I’m all loaded up and read to go. As I head for I-70 and other arteries leading out of town, I do what I always do for the first ten miles. I mentally go over an imaginary check list. No matter how carefully I plan and pack, I never fail to leave feeling like I’ve forgotten something. By the time I’ve put ten miles between me and the front door step I conclude (as usual) that I haven’t forgotten anything that I cannot buy along the road. At this same moment I look down at the odometer just in time to see 117,000 miles roll over.

Back in 1984 and 99,000 miles ago I bought this 1976 R90/6 from some guy who lived in Tulsa, OK. I had never owned a BMW before. I was on the verge of buying a Harley FLH when a friend of mine talked me into looking at this BMW. He preached the gospel of German craftsmanship, shaft drive (no adjusting chain), and reliability. I just couldn’t get over how butt-ugly it was! However, the price was right and my budget was lean so I decided to buy it. I could always sell it if I didn’t like it. I didn’t know I was going to fall in love.

This is a day for blasting up the super slab. The plan is to get as far North and West in Montana as I can. I’ve never done a 1,000 mile in a single day, but I’m probably good for 700 miles and that’s what I’m shooting for. With new 75 mph speed limit, I’m flowing with the traffic at 80. I think about all the things my motor is doing every minute and about how many minutes it has on its clock, but I don’t worry. This is what it was made for&emdash;blasting down the open road.

I enter Wyoming and my brain settles into the familiar “I’ve got a long way to go” meditation mode. One part of my brain is taking care of the business of riding&emdash;another part is simply musing. It is a little like what I used to do when I was a lot younger&emdash;watching TV with the volume turned off and the stereo on (unlike some prominent politicians, I did inhale). My vision takes in the vastness which is Wyoming while the audio portion of my brain is tuned to something else, and yet, they seem to be connected. Now and then (just like back then), I’m startled into blurting out, “Oh wow,” when the audio portion seems to exactly coincide with the video. Far out.

The last one hundred miles are the longest. I’m not really worn out, but I’m ready to make a nest somewhere. Even with Montana Interstates being the closest thing to an autobahn in America, Bozeman is not getting close enough fast enough. My speed keeps creeping up to . . . well let’s just say that I’m not sure I am within the state mandated parameters of “reasonable and prudent.” Oh what the hell — Warp 9 —Engage!

I went 720 miles today. Not bad for me. Tomorrow is a red letter day. If all goes well, I’ll roll over 118,000 miles&emdash;for me, a 100,000 miles of therapy and fun. Not bad for a 20 year old motorcycle.

Wednesday 7/31/96 10:31 PM Pacific Time
Colton, WA

While checking over the bike this morning in the motel parking lot, I was greeted by the couple next door. They have a beautiful six cylinder Gold Wing with a matching trailer. He walks over and starts talking about a buddy of his who also has a BMW only it is a 750. He laughs when he talks about how he went with them to a Gold Wing rally and got an award for the smallest motorcycle at the rally. Then he says a little condescendingly, “He *did* keep up with us pretty well, though.” I look up from my tire gauge and take it all in – the bike, the trailer, the stuffed animal on the trunk, and their cute little matching Honda shirts and I give an involuntary snort. I know he means well, but now he’s gone and pissed me off. I don’t say anything because I know it won’t do any good – he just doesn’t understand. Next thing I know, he handing me one of those CMA (Christian Motorcyclist Association) tracts. Ah, so that’s it&emdash;he wants to save my soul! I give the tract back and tell him thanks but no thanks.

I autobahn over to Missoula and then head South a ways to pick up U.S. Hwy. 12. Listen friends – I have seen the light – this road is the meaning of true motorcycle salvation (hallelujah!). This is the road the Voni Glaves told me that when her and Paul finished riding it one way, they turned right around and did it again. When I crossed over the Lolo Pass going West, the sign said, “Warning, Winding Roads Next 77 Miles.” It should say, “Welcome to Motorcycle Nirvana.” I’d like to tell you what I was thinking as I rode along or describe what I saw, but I can’t. I was in a trance or had a vision and I didn’t come out of it until I got to Lewiston.

Heading North out of Lewiston up U.S. 95, the road rises rapidly up to the top of the 6000 foot high Lewiston Hill. From the top there is a breath-taking view of the whole world, well at least a good bit of this part of Idaho and Washington. The Snake River shimmers below. I feel the sun and the wind. I see the light fluffy wisps of clouds in the blue, blue sky. I behold the city, the hills and dales below. I feel peace – my soul was saved again today by the gospel of the open road and the two-wheeled journey. Amen!

Thursday 8/1/96 10:43 PM Pacific Time
Mountlake Terrace, WA

I wake up this morning with the sound of a crop duster buzzing the area. My host said he couldn’t understand why he was crop dusting this time of year. Crops were ready to be harvested. Unless, he said, it was for the bugs which were getting to the trees.

It is a photo perfect day as I head north out of Colton. I feel rested, fresh, ready for another day. The giant, round, golden hillsides are awesome. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. My helmet shield is up and I am letting the cool morning air . . . splat!!!!!!!!!! A bug of monstrous proportions and body fluid content splatters itself right between my eyes.

Captain: Red alert! Shield down! What is our status Mr. Data?

Data: Captain, we seem to have collided with a small life form. The outer skin of the hull has sustained no permanent damage, but there is a copious amount of some sort of sticky fluid.

Worf: Captain, I recommend we power up the phazers and photon torpedoes.

Captain: Stand down, Lieutenant , let’s see what they’re up to.

Another bug hits my face shield directly in my field of vision.

Data: Shield is holding, Captain, but the life forms are so small that sensors are failing to pick them up.

Captain: Get us out of here Ensign. Warp 9. Engage.

Later, I move up the Wenatchee River on US Hwy. 2. As I pass Cashmere I look for BMW riders and sight of the rally which is to be held there this weekend. I want to stop, but I’ve decided that I need to spend time with a friend in the Seattle area. Rallies, as good as some are, come and go, but a true friend is rare. I need to be with my friend this weekend.

I’ve heard of theme parks, but the little town of Leavenworth is a theme town. Although I’m told that there is no real German heritage in this town, the whole town has been converted to resemble a quaint but commercially sly Bavarian village. It is a neat little tourist trap and worth visiting, but for me the road really starts to get interesting after I leave and continue West.

US 2 winds and rises towards Stevens Pass towering 4,061 feet above sea level. Geez, I live in a town on the edge of the plains which is higher in elevation! But the Cascade Mountains are just as beautiful as the Rockies. Besides, you get to ride down almost every bit of that 4,000 feet as you cruise down to sea level in Seattle.

Just on the outskirts of town I’m buzzed again, but this time it is a sea plane not a crop duster. Welcome to the Northwest Maritime.

Monday 8/5/96 9:17 PM Pacific Time
Grants Pass, OR

In case any of you were wondering what happened to me, I was spending some time with a close friend in Seattle and didn’t think that part of my journey would be of much interest to the list. In spite of the unseasonably cool weather, I did enjoy my stay there.

With apologies to those from Seattle or San Francisco, Seattle reminds me a little of San Francisco. I especially loved the wharf area in the Pike St. district. It is touristy, but I liked it anyway. There were tons of people down there with Sea Fest (?) going on. I especially appreciated the beer store which caters to home brewers and will soon be the site of a micro brewery. They have a great selection of micro-brews in their coolers.

One side trip I took was to Mount Rainer. For any of you planning to travel to the Seattle area, this is a must see. The forest is lush and dense, like a rain forest. Mount Rainer rises majestically some 14,000 feet above sea level and compared to the 6,400 foot elevation where I was standing, it was an incredible sight. The roads are twisty, but don’t try to play Ricky Racer up there&emdash;too much traffic&emdash;take it easy and enjoy the scenery.

When I left Seattle this morning it was (surprise) raining and chilly. I elected to take I-5 south because I needed to meet up with some friends in Medford, OR. Although I missed the Oregon coast road (which I have never had the pleasure of riding), it was perfect weather for cruising down the Interstate. I know Interstates get a bad-mouthed by many of us, and rightfully so, but sometimes it is nice to just cruise and think. The scenery on this portion of I-5 isn’t too bad either.

Now when I say “cruise and think,” I don’t necessarily mean that I’m thinking up a cure for cancer or contemplating the Process Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. As a matter of fact, among the many little brain farts I had involved the omnipresence of espresso stands in Seattle.

Everywhere one goes there are espresso signs and stands. They are in gas stations, tents, carts, motels, convenience stores and it wouldn’t surprise me to find them in funeral homes. When I say they are everywhere, I mean everywhere. The weird part about that is the people of Seattle, for the most part, strike me as pretty laid back. Parts of Seattle convinced me that I had gone back in time to 1972. Now I know that all the hippies didn’t just go to Boulder, Colorado. You’d think this city would be wired with all the espresso that’s available, but no, most people seem pretty mellow. Maybe it has a paradoxical effect like some “speed-like” medications have on hyper-active children.

I was almost to Medford, OR to meet up with my friends when a lady in a RX7 caught me musing absently in the passing lane. She laid on the horn and I moved quickly out of her way. As she passed, I shrugged, waved, and mouthed, “I’m sorry.” She, on the other hand, flashed a single digit salute and was clearly talking at me in a very agitated and rude manner. Geez, maybe what she needs is an espresso!

Tuesday 8/6/96
Corte Madera, CA

A perfect morning – that’s what I saw when I looked out on the world for the first time today. A little cool, but clear blue skies were overhead. I got up early so I could make the 80 some odd mile dash from Grant’s Pass to Crescent City before the lumbering beasts have awakened (RVs and motorhomes).

At Crescent City I picked up US 101, the Redwood Highway. Awesome, silent, ancient giants lined the highway. They have watched many a traveler pass through the centuries, from Native American wanderers to Jedediah Smith to little old me. They seem immovable and invincible, jutting straight out of the ground like Greek columns. When you walk through the mossy shaded groves it is as if you are walking though some ancient temple where only the pillars have survived. Their age, strength, and beauty filled me with a peace – the cathedral of the earth.

If you ever get up this way, I recommend you get off US 101 and take the old highway, the Avenue of the Giants. Take your time and leisurely glide along the twisty road through the groves of redwoods. You won’t forget it.

Assortment of Village Idiots at Tom & Nancy’s summer party, Corte Madera, CA

By the end of the day I was in the driveway of one of our illustrious presidents, Tom Childers. He and his wife Nancy treated me like long lost kin (Thanks again Tom and Nancy!). The end of a perfect day.

Wednesday 8/7/96 8:00 PM PDST
Santa Maria, CA

I knew that I was going to loiter today and it felt good. Once I made it alive through the San Francisco morning commuter traffic, I knew I had a lot to live for and made a bee line to the coast. I turned down Hwy. 1 at Monterey.

There was fog – did I care? There were driving impaired rubber neckers – did I mind? There were the dreaded motorhomes – did I bitch and moan. No, no, and no. Instead, I loitered. I would ride for a while and then pull off – just sitting and staring and drinking it all in. I was in no hurry to go anywhere. When I saw something that I wanted more than a glance at, I stopped, even if it was just a small piece down the road from where I last stopped. I don’t know how many times I pulled my helmet off and on today, but I’m absolutely sure I must have set a record for it. I was so mellow that not even a land yacht (Battlestar Galactica sized) which stopped in the middle of a curve to take pictures could make me freak.

By the time I got to Santa Maria, I was tired but with a sense of satisfaction and completion. This is what I really needed – a little decompression. Maybe I’ll just loiter some more tomorrow. I’m not getting anywhere fast because my head has already arrived.

Thursday 8/8/96 4:00 PM PDST
Brea, CA

Brea, CA in the Los Angles area was my destination today and I was in no hurry. I didn’t get on the road until 9 AM and when I finally did, I headed west to see if I could find U.S. 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

The road that goes west out of Santa Maria toward Guadalupe passes through billiard table flat farm land filled with vegetables and migrant workers. They were in the fields harvesting some kind of crop. They were bent down, working fast, and throwing the harvest into some kind of hopper. Oh baby, it looked like hard, hot work. According to some people, those Hispanic workers are putting “real Americans” out of work. Yea sure, we’re all just lining up for that kind of back breaking work. Then I thought&emdash;woe&emdash;I can’t share that with the list. A sarcastic crack like that is bound to piss someone off. I might get accused of being off topic or too political or whatever.

It seems to me that the reason why we sometimes stray “off topic” is because we don’t just bring our love for motorcycling to the table. We are not cardboard cutout motorcyclists. We have depth, texture, personality, opinions, and convictions. When we post to the list, we come as enthusiasts who have been shaped by our culture, families, politics, education, and religion (to list just a few). We simply cannot help being ourselves when we write to the list and I think that’s a good thing – which leads me to another thought.

Just as motorcyclists are not just about motorcycles, so motorcycling is not just about the two wheeled machine. If all we had to talk about was the machine, its performance and function, it might entertain us for a while, but it wouldn’t last too long. Fortunately, we do not only talk about the machine itself, but about the people and the places of motorcycling. Now I realize that some threads tend to take on a life of their own which seem to be entirely independent of motorcycling in general and BMW motorcycling in particular and probably should be avoided. However, some of those things are simply motorcyclists sharing a pattern out of the unique fabric of their lives. I’ve always thought that some threads are transformed into “off topic” not because they have nothing to do with us as BMW motorcyclists but because they create too much heat. That’s ok&emdash;I’ve got no beef about that – I suppose there needs to be some kind of boundary. After all, there’s no reason to afflict the entire list with something that interests only a few. But, when somebody complains about a comment or a paragraph being “off topic,” maybe it is not that far off. Maybe it just struck a nerve or on the other hand, struck nothing at all. Perhaps it is just motorcyclists getting caught in the act of being themselves and that’s cool.

Friday 8/9/96 8:30 PM PDST
Kingman, AZ

I had business which kept me in the L.A. area until close to noon which is an idiotic time to head out into the desert, but then my 2nd grade teach always said I was a little slow. I don’t know how hot it was today in the Mojave Desert, but I passed a clove hoofed gentleman with a pitch fork hitch hiking outside of Ludlow, CA.

I’ve crossed the Mojave by motorcycle quite a few times and this is my tip for crossing the great Joshua treed expanse. Douse yourself down with water and then cover up. I know some of you desert-wise Presidents will know how to do it better, but I usually wear a thick cotton t-shirt and jeans. The cotton seems to soak in the water good. For a cover I wear a light bicycle wind breaker which has vents. The evaporation provides a reasonably good cooling system. You have to stop now and then re-douse yourself, but it beats broiling along uncomforted.

One thing I had never noticed until this trip was that travelers through the years have literally left their tracks as signs of their passing. Well, maybe I should have said their tread. The side of the road is littered with the tread and carcasses of tires that couldn’t take it any more. I’m not just talking about a few retread strips left from tractor-trailers. Rubber garnishes every foot of the side of the road from Victorville to Kingman.

The Mojave is one serious desert. By the time I got to Kingman I was ready to holler “uncle.” When queried, the motel desk clerk told me that the best steak in town was at the Dambar Saloon and Steakhouse. I didn’t try any of the other places in town to compare, but they definitely know how to prepare dead cow. There were at least three local calendars prominent displayed (see “Blue Highways” by Least Heat Moon) and the clientele was local yokel. I consider both to be a good sign of eatable roadside grub. If you ever through that way around supper time, check it out.

Sunday 8/11/96 6:00 PM MDST
Silverton, CO

I spent the night with one of our noble presidents, Ira Agains. For some reason I was so tired that I didn’t even attempt to pen a “Notes From the Road.” I think maybe it was just accumulated weariness from being on the road for almost two weeks. Besides, the company was so good and gracious, and I was so content that I felt no urge to write. I just trundled off to bed and slept like a rock without typing a letter.

I got up to a Ira Agains “special” – pancakes and sausage&emdash;yum! (Thanks again, Ira.) The sun was shining, the sky was blue and I had two more days of vacation to play. What better place to play than the mountains of Colorado? So I headed north to Chama and Pagosa Springs. This is a delightful road through Northern New Mexico and into Southern Colorado. I’ve never been on it when it was crowded and today was no exception. I just cruised serenely enjoying the landscape.

Every day of this trip has begun with some kind of sign or omen and I was not prepared for what it was to be today. As I was going north on U.S. 285 when I saw (I swear) a guy coming in the other direction riding on a Harley wearing a robe and a turban. He looked like a billowing ball of saffron on a FLH. Woe! Easy rider karma! This had to be a great day. Even the swamis were out today!

My objective was predestined. I was headed for Silverton, CO. I don’t know why this place is so special to me, but it had to be my destination today. For one thing, I *have* to ride U.S. 550. For those of you who went to last year’s MOA National at Durango and availed yourselves of this road, no explanation is necessary. For the rest of you poor deprived moto-computer nerds, this is a road not to be missed. For me, there’s simply nothing like coming over the pass and down to Silverton and seeing it in the valley far below. I stopped at every turn out and looked over the edge until I felt that wild feeling in the arches of my feet that travels up through the gut and blasts out of the top of my head. Whoo-eee! This is the Rockies babeee and I love it!

There is another reason to make the pilgrimage to Silverton. It is Romero’s on the main drag and George’s margaritas. Romero’s is a family Mexican restaurant with the best margaritas I have ever imbibed the world over. Now I know that some of you may argue with me on this, but trust me, after two or three of these, you will agree (if you’re able).

There is a wonderful old hotel there (The Wyman) which holds some fond memories for my wife, Linda, and I. The power of memory and the story of our journey is the elixir of life. It will carry us through the mundane plains and the desolate deserts of life. I know that you can never really retrace an old trail exactly as before, because every journey has its unique place in the space/time continuum, but you can travel over familiar trails and bask in the aura of the past and commune with friendly ghosts.

Tomorrow I will get up and ride mountain roads traveled before and give my regards to sweet journey’s of the past and I will drink it in for the present. And at the end of the day, I will descend upon home where the love of my life is waiting patiently for me to return and my journey will be complete, for now.

Monday 8/12/96 9:00 PM MDST
Aurora, CO (home)

As I was winding my way home today it came to me that, in one way of thinking, no journey really ends or begins. Of course, we have ways of setting aside and marking segments of our greater journey. For example, I meticulously plan and estimate the cost of each trip with its own name with my computer. This makes it seem like a self-contained unit, but when I crank up the bike tomorrow to run some errands around town, the odometer keeps on turning and the journey continues.

I suppose the reason why this thought is important to me is because it gives value to the every day and seemingly mundane parts of my journey. When I think about it, trips like I just completed make up only a fraction of the mileage on my Beemer. Most of the mileage has been racked up going from here to there as a part of my weekly routine. Although gliding past majestic redwoods and barnstorming down Hwy. 12 in Idaho transforms that part of my journey into something special and memorable, just because I parked the bike in my garage this evening does not mean the journey is over. It just became more localized, that’s all.

Just before sitting down to write this, I went out to the garage for something and I stopped (as I often do) to admire the gorgeous black machine in her little notch in the garage. Besotted with kamikaze insects and road grime from several Western states, she still has the power to turn my head. I’ve always known my Beemer was feminine, but I could never come up with a name for her. Every time I tried to give her a name, she just shook it off. A while back I finally realized why. It is because she is the “mystery woman.” She doesn’t tell her name, but she feeds my highway fantasy and whets my gypsy desire. I may never know here name, but I know her through the places she has carried me. And tomorrow, we will meet again to continue our journey.