Mid-Week Rides: BMWMOA's 39th National Rally Trip Report
The pics start here
Johnson City, Tennessee [July 16-19, 2009]
The plan for this year’s National Rally was to ride up to Brainerd MN and pick-up my perennial riding partner, Marv Bohn and we do the rally together, but with the understanding I had to beat a straight path home. Marv and I have been doing the National Rally together now for well over twenty years. However, during the Northern California BMW Club’s 49’er Rally in Auburn (Memorial Day weekend), I had a chance meeting with Les Katz, a CPA from Arroyo Grande (near San Luis Obispo), who expressed and interest in riding to the National. Les was told of my plan to ride the collection of state highways all numbered 200, each connecting with another and picking-up Marv. Les explained that he too had to beat a straight path home so as to vacation with his wife. An agreement was reached and a lasting friendship was thus born.
Les arrived at the ‘cabin’ in Old Station on the afternoon of July 3rd and we departed on the morning of the 4th. Les has several motors but for this trip he chose his GS, the same one he used for an Alaska junket less than a year ago.
We rode out to Alturas in California’s NE corner for breakfast, stopping just briefly to view the Pitt River Falls. Here we picked-up US #395 for US #20, a route that took us around the barren but large lakes, Lake Abert and Goose Lake. Our immediate destination was the greater Ontario OR area where we were to meet up with Pat’s Cousin, Harvey Brooks. The planned lunch stop at Juntura OR was closed (holiday’n all) so a large, late lunch was put-off for Vale OR. Harvey arrived in the area the day previous and we connected via phone, we agreed to meet at the Pilot truck stop in Ontario.
One of my former partners lives in Payette ID just across the state line and agreed to give us floor space for in-home camping. Roy Hicks now lives with his widower son-in-law, Marty. The five of us gathered around Roy’s pool table for drinks and Pee-Ball, a fun game at 25 cents a round of play. Harvey, who claimed not to have played in some seven years cleaned house. He went to bed some $3 plus change ahead.
We cleared Payette after taking Roy to breakfast locally and headed up the Idaho ‘spine’ on US 95. I introduced both Harvey and Les to the old road at Whitebird Pass, where the word ‘switchback’ takes on clarity. Harvey left us at Grangeville; he was headed up toward Moscow in quest of a ‘65 Mustang spotted at a barn while hunting last year. Les and I were left alone to find our way to Brainerd. We rode Lolo Pass (US#12) from Kooskia stopping to visit the long since decommissioned Forest Service Outpost along the way. The station pre-dates the highway’s construction and is now a museum. Our Docent was the son of one of the last Station Chief’s posted there in the early 1950’s.
Les and I dinned Chinese in Missoula and picked-up our route, MT#200. We ended that first day in Lincoln MT at the City Park where I’ve stayed numerous times, this in the same campsite, #21. Lincoln was made famous by the Unibomber who ‘headquarted’ here till his capture. I’d told Les that Ft. Benton was worth seeing, though it would add some extra mileage. He expressed an interest so it was down the east slope of the Rockies for Ft. Benton, the ‘capital’ of the territory before the ‘54-40 Fight’. Fort Benton was a trapper’s town and was geographically important as steam boats coming up the Mississippi and then into the Missouri, could go no further into the ‘heartland’ because of the ‘great falls’ (at Great Falls — gee!). Fort Benton sits down in a canyon carved by the Missouri and is otherwise bypassed by main highways, you have to want to go there to see it.
Eastern Montana and North Dakota for that matter were much greener than I’d previously experienced. Perhaps it was the excessive moisture, some of which was then chasing us across Montana. We took a break in the five’er six mostly deserted buildings that comprise Moccasin and took a couple of pics. It was quite windy and the sky looked troubling.
We paused again under darkening skies in Winnett MT, a hard-scrabble little community of about 25 buildings. We were able to find a really neat, clean little motel with a large overhang in front. We were off the motors when the thunder, lighting, high winds and copious rain descended upon us. We’ d bought libation at the State Liquor store in Fort Benton and didn’t feel like watching the radio (no TV). We put our chairs outside and supped liquor while over an inch of rain fell. The storm had mostly passed when we ventured-out for vitals on foot. We found a bar’n grill in an old building and ducked-in. There were three locals there and the bartenderess. Les’n I were the center of attention. We ordered-up a sandwich and drinks and pretty soon we were all sharing stories and drinks kept showing-up. At first we thought one or the other of us ordered these but it later became apparent we were being fted by the locals.
We did a good ride the following morning into Jordan for breakfast and then another stint into Center where years ago I took-in the county museum. It was open and we stopped. People in the country value their heritage and throw away nothing! This museum had a number of buildings, the old train station had been moved here and barns with old tractors, fire engine and combines abound. It contained an extensive collection of firearms and a section for military weapons. The curator gave us a tour, the museum having been established by his father. He said he was in need of combat boots from WWI to finish a mannequin and could we help? (No, but could you?)
It was time for Les to make a decision while there in Center as our route Hwy#200 splits into a 200N and a 200S. What’s it gonna be Les? I explained the differences, the north route takes the rider around through Sidney and past Theodore Roosevelt National Park North, while #200S runs down to Glendive and joins Interstate 94 for Theodore Roosevelt National Park South. If you want to learn about the early life of the President, go south. However, if you want to see the scenic beauty of these badlands, go north. Les opted for North. The roads into either section of the park (they’re separated by about 25 miles), are dead-ends.
We rode into the North Section after Les paid his fees and I flashed my ‘Old Fart’s Pass’. The first seven miles were under construction and tricky in spots but we got our pictures and left. We crossed the Little Missouri and picked-up our second time change.
We made the 90 degree turn E. at Killdeer and stopped downtown for a
proper steak dinner before knocking down some miles before camp. We
passed a collapsed barn that I’d photographed a couple of times in
earlier passings. I can only assume it suffered one too many
snowflakes this past winter. Just east of the barn photo I hit a hard
bump and my right mirror popped-off. Yes, one SHOULD have retainer
wires on these but a horse on me! We cut-up one of Les’ business cards
to tighten the spring clips and we again ‘ off’. However, the ‘repair’
didn’t hold and thirty or forty miles later another bump took it off
again. This time the mirror broke, as did the bulb inside. No right
side mirror or right front turn signal for me. Fecal matter happens!
A stop in a nearby town provided a new bulb for the turn signal and a large ‘paste-on’ concurve mirror, secured with much duct tape, had me legal again. Later that afternoon, in Mercer County, with Les out front and setting a brisk pace, a Deputy Sheriff took issue with the ‘pace’. He wasn’t keen on our 77 MPH in that zone. However, he liked cops’n former IRS Agents (Les was an agent way back when), as he cut us loose with direction to nearby camping on the shores of Lake Sakakawea, at a place called Bethel Bay (near Hazen).
We found the campground at dusk and were recommended to a campsite down a dirt (currently mud) road. Les gave it the ‘GS Try’ but it was unsafe, and if down to the campsite, one might not get back-up. It took two of us to get his motor turned around half way down and a dicey slip’n slide back up the hill to terra firma. I said ‘nuts’ and took over a covered concrete slab that covered about six picnic tables. My tent’s tired zippers started acting-up, a recurring theme throughout our camping experiences. The morning gave us a nice view of the lake, formed with the damming of the Missouri River; it also gave us a stiff breeze which made take-down difficult as there were no tent stakes on the concrete. And, Les’ air mattress wasn’t holding & he had a tough night.
We crossed the dam at Pick City and beat a path on ND#200 for the Red River crossing into Minnesota. Here we paused to stretch, something I usually do when passing this way. The Red River, only one of two in the Nation flows north into Canada. It is ‘red’, this from the silt it carries. We were on the bridge when we saw the largest turtle I’ve ever seen in the wild clamor-up a very steep mud bank. From head to tail-tip, this turtle was all of three feet long. It went into the bushes but briefly before trying a decent to the river but it rolled and tumbled into bushes. The creature extricated itself but just before tumbling into the current (fast) and disappearing downstream. I did get one decent photo of the critter. Now in Minnesota, I wanted to show Les the headwaters of the Mississippi at the Itasca State Park. I was thinking we could camp there, forgetting that Les’ Big Bertha air mattress wasn’t holding air.
We visited the headwaters where I’d been once before when Marv showed me round the area, back then you could step across the Mississippi without getting wet. Not now! River starts in Lake Itasca and there was a decent flow, maybe 8’ across. We took pictures. We needed to call our respective wives (Les’ anniversary that day…), but found neither cellular service nor a working pay phone. We back-tracked out of the park to a gas station/convenience store we’d passed on our way in. No pay phones here but the lady clerk was willing to let us use her phone for our 800 numbered calls home. She was also nice enough to track down the nearest motel for us in Prince George.
Our motel in Prince George was an old one, our accommodation being the most expensive with a loft, full kitchen and a lawn area… the only one at the motel. We sipped cocktails and shared Les’ cigars till well after nightfall.
Back on Hwy 200 (MN’s) we rode into Walker and had breakfast at the Outdoorsman’s Cafe, this while a rain shower passed over (great timing)! We left Hwy #200 just below Walker, were MN #371 intersects. Marv and Carol Bohn live on a frontage road to Hwy#371, about 8 miles south of Brainerd. Going down and through Baxter (suburban Brainerd) was the first real traffic encountered since leaving Missoula.
Just before arriving at the Bohn’s we paused at the rest stop where Marv works part time, this to arrive ‘refreshed’. We met a very nice gentleman who works with Marv and knew about me. Here, at the rest area, there is this large statue of Paul Bunyan (this is Minnesota remember!), and I took Les’ picture. We arrived minutes thereafter at the Bohn’s. Carol, as is her custom, went out of her way for us, we each had separate bedrooms and the washing and drying machines were made available to us. The bad news? Marv was out the day previous playing with his off-road scooter and crashed. He was suffering from cracked or broken ribs and was thus ‘out’ for our ride. Marv’n Carol’s granddaughter, Leah was visiting and what a powerhouse of energy. She enticed Les into shooting hoops and me into hopscotch.
Whew! We laid-over one day during which I dismounted my rear wheel so Marv could drive us into Brainerd’s big motorcycle dealer for a new tire. Marv wanted some help adjusting the valves on a late 80’s RS which he’d won at the National Rally two years previous. It ran fine said he, but difficult to start. I talked him through my valve adjustment after which the motor would start right up. Marv even let Les take it out on the highway and Les returned much impressed with a ‘classic’ (his word). We took the lot out to dinner that night and I bought Carol a bottle of Bailey’s White Chocolate which she seemed to much enjoy.
The next morning saw us off and on the road sans Marv. We didn’t like the situation anymore than Marv himself. We were headed to another friend’s place for the night, this in Roscoe IL, just south of Beloit Wisconsin. We were given directions to Mille Lacs Lake (a big one… can’t see across), but I made a wrong turn (imagine?), and we picked-up our route without ever seeing the lake. We were headed for Taylor Falls, across the St. Croix from St. Croix Falls, WI. We crossed into WI, soon picked-up the Interstates for Madison and Beloit. Our GPS units directed us off the Interstate just before the dreaded toll road (read ‘last exit’); at the state line (Illinois). We arrived at the home of Gary and Mary Ann Akerman where we went out to dinner on my nickel, just as planned. The Akerman home, a $1.75 - 2.25 million dollar property in the Bay Area, sits on the banks of the Rock River, where the front lawn is big enough to be a Par-3 property. Gary has a BMW RS1300 which Les was offered a test ride and he took it. Again, Les was found smiling beneath his face shield. I had stayed here once before with Marv years ago when I was delivering a gun to Gary, only then the downstairs of the property had yet to be developed. This time it had, big time!
Mary Ann fixed a sumptuous breakfast in the morning and we were again on the road.
Gary drew us a map to get across nearby Rockford and avoid toll routes. He was a good map maker as we made no errors following it. We wanted to avoid Chicago and did, spending that night NW of Indianapolis, but where? Mind draws a blank right now! The next day we found ourselves along the Ohio River where nuclear power plants abound. We found a charming route, US#52, a two lane twisting path which runs along the north shore of the Ohio River (across from Kentucky), and after a couple tries found a trailer park near Utopia where the attractive single hostess let us set up adjacent the showers for $20. She proved to be a good nurse too as I got a nasty cut when my parked motor toppled-over in the soaked sod and was a bare to get upright.
Our timing was good; we were slated to arrive at the Rally Site, the county fairgrounds about sixteen miles outside Johnson City TN and had some time to dawdle. Les wanted to experience the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia; he also wanted to experience a motorcycle only campground. The country here is mountainous, the Appalachians, they aren’t tall, but very heavily wooded and very steep. The woods are all broad-leaf and only the occasional evergreen can be spotted. It was easy to understand why these mountains were an impediment to westward expansion in Davey Crockett’s time. The roads were all great, both their surface and curves. There are lots of small picturesque farms in the valleys. We found a motorcycles-only campground early in the afternoon and the place was ‘jumping’, mostly with BMW rally goers and most of them, with the Yankee Beemers, a Vermont based BMW Owner’s Club. We met another Californian here, fellow from Pleasanton who grew-up in Pacifica, Dave (Grast ‘sp?’). The three of us rode to breakfast and met-up again at registration the following morning.
This was a well planned affair, registration and seminars were held in a grammar school adjacent the fairgrounds. Volunteers (the whole operation is done with volunteers), were needed and Les’n me, we volunteered to man the Charging Table. See, I knew from experience that the charging table would be indoors and most likely air-conditioned. The charging station is where riders can bring their electronic devices and chargers which we plug-in and monitor. We had everything from shavers to cell phones as most attendees camp and there’s no electricity out in the campgrounds. Three huge tents were erected for the beer hall, this adjacent a portable sound stage used by the entertainers. The rumor was that BMWMOA got the first site license issued for the dispensing of beer, this in an otherwise dry county.
The fairgrounds were generally rolling hills but the ball fields (two baseball and one soccer) were devoted to camping and no hook-up RV’s. On arrival I’d called Buell Wortham, fellow I’d met and camped with two years previous (and last year in Gillette), he directed us to his area and told me that others of our ‘association’ would be coming in later. Buell comes out of Arkansas, Nick Schultz was yet to arrive (from Michigan), and Richard Wackett, with whom we camped a number of years ago in Lima Ohio (from Long Island) was seen at registration. We’d all be together again and Les fit right into this mix.
Vendor halls (there were three), and the antique/classic displays, occupied the big ones. There was a forth which the ‘national’ took over for the charging table, the cyber cafe, the sewing booth, the Redmond Chamber of Commerce (promoting next year’s rally site) and the Country Store where rally shirts etc. could be bought and raffle tickets deposited. The grounds adjacent the vendor halls were devoted to other vendors selling motorcycle doodads and refreshments. As in years past the BMW importer was there with about forty-five new motorcycles, every one of their ‘line-up’ was available for a test ride. Les wanted to try an 800 cc version of his motorcycle and was able to get a ride Friday afternoon. I’m sorry to report he was unimpressed.
We ate but two meals ‘off-campus’, otherwise using the sundry food vendors in the fairgrounds. We took some time-off to do laundry at a coin laundry and do lunch (Subway) at the same time. I lost a tooth out of my dental plate with that sub sandwich. Oh well! I was able to buy 20/50 oil at the grocery store and used the Oil Changing Station, again manned by volunteers. Their tools and equipment; didn’t take me ten minutes. It was nicely set-up, wood chip floor with clean cardboard to lie on, free crush washers, etc.
Every year the national chooses a local charity and collects money for same selling 50-50 tickets. At the Charging Table we’d ask for donations, as they did at the sewing table. This year they added a ‘twist’, you could pay $’s and using an odd shaped softball, pay for the privilege of trying to dunk a Board Member.
Well, since I knew Les used to play Triple-A ball, I was eager to pony-up $5 for six tries. We gathered a crowd when I announced my ‘pitcher’ was a former ball player — this stimulated interest and Les didn’t let me down. It took him a couple throws to get the feel for the ball and the distance but he scored twice too many peoples enjoyment.
The awards ceremony Saturday night saw us already packed-up, prepared to knock-down some miles before nightfall. People were called down to the edge of the stage, my name was called. Before everything got underway we were treated to an air show by a local professional pilot who also flew acrobatics. He used a Pitts biplane and put on quite a show. Marv didn’t win another motorcycle (I deposited his tickets), nor did I.
We’d staged the loaded motorcycles near the exit (Nick Schultz, Les’n me), and at closing we, along with hundreds of other seeking an early start home, exited. Nick rode with us to Knoxville on Interstate 40 and peeled-off for a route north. Les’n I, we were committed to Interstate #40 all the way into California.
We knocked-down about 180 miles before finding a Motel that didn’t impress Les. Thereafter we’d have to roll-up at least 600 miles/day to make our commitment to our wives, which we did, staying in three different Motel 6’s.
Our weather was hot at times, but not oppressive as expected. We were generally comfortable so long as we were moving. We ran into brief periods of rain, first coming off Lolo Pass in Montana. We had to ride through one torrential downpour coming out of Flagstaff, where we came upon a bad accident (really two), that’d just occurred. On the left, an overturned SUV, but just past that, a small coupe blocked one lane of the curving, wooded freeway. It had plowed into the back of a semi that was off the highway. Injuries were evident.
I honked to get Les’ attention and pulled to the edge, turned on the motorcycles flashers and walked back to the ‘accident area’. Vehicles were coming up that curving hill at speeds up to 70 mph. I went past the accident scenes to slow traffic and move them into a single file. I was already in raingear, which included bright green rubber gloves. I was able to slow traffic but had to contend with one impaired driver (DUI I’m sure), who wouldn’t respond to direction, but just kept coming at me. I stayed directing traffic until two ambulances had arrived on scene and another motorist was setting-up a flare field. Les was nowhere to be seen. He knew I pulled-off. I thought he’d be waiting for me down the highway as we both needed gas.
We connected ten’er so miles down the road when I pulled into the second gas station (rode through the first), and came out to find Les pulling up. He ‘d doubled-back to the accident scene but when he got there, I’d left. We left a 4:30 am wake-up call in Kingman. We cleared the motel there about 5:05 am and rode into Needles for gas (about 60 miles distant). Then it was a 159 mile non-stop ride across the Mojave for Barstow, this to avoid the high heat. We were in Barstow before 9 am. We picked-up CA#58 and rode together till the US#395 intersection and parted company. I rode US #395 up into NV and spent the night with friends in Smith Valley. The last day, it was #395 through Minden, Carson City, Reno and Susanville where I turned west for Old Station. I arrived back at the ‘cabin’ about 2:45 Thursday.
Great ride! No problem with the motorcycle beyond the mentioned mirror.