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First ride of the Oldsters: A retiree and his airhead explore the American West

Thursday, June 29, 2017   (11 Comments)
Posted by: Bud McIntire #200264

One of my first goals after retiring was to embark on an extended motorcycle adventure while my health and most of my marbles were still mostly intact. My friends weren’t so sure about the marbles part! The idea was to take about two months and tour in the western and northwestern U.S., visiting eight to ten national parks, make a couple of jogs into Canada to visit friends, and make the centerpiece of the trip the BMW MOA Rally in Billings, Montana.

Billings was my first rally since joining MOA earlier that year, as well as the first big motorcycling adventure for me and my 1983 R 80 ST, which I bought with this trip in mind. Of course, envisioning and preparing for a first trip like this could well have run headlong into the reality of 60 days on the bike. Would we both hold out? What happens on a remote, two-lane road when the 32-year-old bike or 65-year-old rider gives out? Would I settle into and enjoy camping? These and a thousand other niggling (and not so niggling) questions bounced around in my brain.

After fitting Hepco-Becker panniers, a Corbin seat and a Parabellum windshield, I figured I was good to go – right up until the time that the one-piece adjusting collar on the original rear shock fell on the floor in two pieces. A quick call to Rusty Gill at Max BMW found the nearest new ring to be two weeks away in Germany. After talking the problem through with Rusty, he referred me to the Beemer Shop in California; they specialize in BMW shocks. A call to them directed me to Jeff Favorite, who was a great help and, as luck would have it, they had an YSS shock for the R 80 ST on the shelf. Overnight shipping to Colorado Springs had the part in hand. I called my local BMW dealer about installing the shock, but received the curt reply, “We don’t work on older BMW’s.” I pulled out the Anonymous Book to see if there was any help to be found in the club. Unbelievably, Airhead guru Matt Parkhouse lives just two miles from my Colorado Springs departure location! Matt installed the shock and gave the ST a once-over which, given his experience, was invaluable. I was set to leave and pulled out under a clear blue sky on Saturday, July 4th, which I thought was appropriate for a retirement departure.

The first stop was the Black Hills, South Dakota, area followed by Devils Tower, Little Bighorn, Cody, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons before backtracking to Billings for the rally. The roads and scenery all along the way were just stunning. The old ST was running well, my butt was holding out and, other than a close encounter with a bison and constant bear warnings, all was off to a great start.

Arriving in Billings on Wednesday afternoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Come Thursday morning, to say that I was stunned by the number of bikes, the seminars, the friendly volunteers and club members and just the whole atmosphere would be a great understatement. Like most first-timers, I was racing from one seminar and bike display to another, not to mention visiting all of the outstanding vendor displays. I just had no conception at how large and well-run an event this would be. I was pleasantly surprised to find the oil change and bike wash facility, as it was time for a 3,000-mile oil/filter change.

After the rally, my route went north to Kalispell and Glacier National Park via the Chief Joseph Highway. Next was Beartooth Pass, then west across northern Idaho and Washington. In Kalispell, I touched base with an old friend of my dad’s, who invited me to a vintage motorcycle enthusiasts lunch the next day. What luck! Who would have guessed that Kalispell would have more than 25 die-hard riders with some really great Ducatis, Enfields, Nortons and other classic brands? I followed one member who rode a pristine Ducati 250 café racer and could barely keep up. I discovered later that he is 84 years old.

Over the prior week or so, I noticed the rear tire starting to cup and the handling feeling a little squirrelly. There were also small oil splatters on the rear wheel. A few calls in the area had me headed to BMW of Seattle. Kevin Weeks in their service department worked me in and even had a set of new, correct-size Continental Classic tires in stock. I arrived around 4:00 pm without knowing the area or having a place to stay for the evening. They provided a loaner bike, gave me directions to motels in the area and told me the work would be done early the next afternoon. The new tires greatly improved the handling. They also replaced a gasket in the differential while the wheel was off, and this fixed the slight leak.

Off I went with many thanks, ending at the ferry to Whidbey Island, which was a beautiful place to explore and rest for a couple of days. I had the one near miss experience of the whole trip on this leg. Riding along a two-lane road, movement caught my eye at about the 11:00 position coming toward me. I caught the flash of wings, quickly ducked my helmet behind the windscreen and an osprey dove across, evidently after a critter. Had I not moved, he would have hit me in the face shield at a closing speed of close to 80mph.

Next was a ferry trip to Point Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, where I visited friends and spent time in Olympic National Park before heading back northeast to Vancouver for a few days to tour the city, see good friends and visit several of their vintage motorcycling buddies. With about 6,000 miles racked up since July 4th, it was also time for the second oil and filter change. From Vancouver we (by now the ST and I were a team) went south to Tacoma for The Meet/Vintage Motorcycle Festival vintage at the LeMay/America’s Car Museum. What a treat that was, with nearly 400 classic motorcycles of all ages and makes, including several outstanding BMWs as well as 2,500 enthusiasts and the three-generation Seattle Cossacks’ Motorcycle Stunt and Drill Team, whose 15 members did amazing individual and group drills on 1940s-era Harley Davidsons – and on wet grass!

It was back on the road headed south on the east side of Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood and Crater Lake, with beautiful roads and what could have been beautiful scenery except for the very heavy smoke from the many fires in eastern Washington. At some points I had to wear a wet bandana around my nose and mouth to be able to breathe somewhat clean air. This was the only no-fun segment of the whole trip, but the smoke thinned out by the time I arrived in Lake Tahoe and down to Yosemite following a two-day stop in Reno to tour the National Automobile Museum, which many know as the Harrah Museum.

By this time, it was mid-August and I was getting a little tired after camping through 7,500 miles over six weeks on mostly curvy, two-lane back roads. Freeze-dried dinners were also beginning to get a little (ok, a lot) unappealing. I began to feel like a horse headed for the stable as we turned east toward Colorado Springs. However, there was still a lot to see headed across Nevada, Utah and western Colorado, including Arches National Park, Crested Butte and the Black Hills of the Gunnison National Park and Royal Gorge, not to mention wonderful and remote two-lanes roads throughout. The ST just kept chugging along, although it was getting harder to start on cold mornings, the steering was feeling a little notchy and there was a fluid leak at the front fork seals. I ordered the parts needed from Rusty en route and had them shipped to Colorado Springs in hopes that Matt would have time to do the needed maintenance/repairs when I returned.

We pulled into the driveway in Colorado Springs on September 4th, 63 days and 8,544 miles since we departed. It was a little anticlimactic when I turned off the key. I just sat on the bike for about five minutes, letting it all soak in and feeling a sense of satisfaction to know that the ST and I made it with minimal problems. I was also keenly aware that without the expertise, help and goodwill of several people the trip would not have happened, in whole or in part. My body and brain held out well enough that I immediately starting planning next summer’s trip through Pennsylvania, New York, New England, Montreal and on to Nova Scotia. Matt took care of the needed work as well as passing his good BMW karma on to the ST, so we’ll look forward to more rallies and continued adventures.


david sharrard says...
Posted Monday, February 12, 2018
thanks bud enjoyed your story thats what it all about one with the bike and the road did one last year on my softail 7 states 4100 miles camping, i'm now 65 will take my ride this year on my 1974 r60/6 stay riding and stay safe.
Donald J. Wreyford says...
Posted Thursday, January 25, 2018
Bud, thanks for sharing your trip!! :)
Mark Johnson says...
Posted Sunday, December 24, 2017
Congrats it was a nice read and enjoyed the pictures.
Paul Kanetzky says...
Posted Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Congratulations Bud McIntire, for planning, completing & sharing a masterfully concise summary of your solo ride through those premier sights and destinations of the U.S. I'm sure you have collected a hundred interesting stories hidden between the lines of your report, which you will recall and enjoy many times over. As you likely have experienced, its a lot easier to find outstanding places to visit in those areas than it is to decide what you must skip over, even while ever hoping to catch them on a return ride. Best wishes for your continuing rides of discovery and adventure along the road. - Paul 'PieRider' Kanetzky, Halfmoon NY
Cliff Whitney says...
Posted Sunday, August 27, 2017
Loved the tour!!
Margaret A. Tafoya says...
Posted Friday, August 4, 2017
Awesome pictures!!
Ralph L. Meyer says...
Posted Saturday, July 29, 2017
Thanks for the great write up of your delightful trip! A very nice read!!!
Francis G. Jacobs says...
Posted Saturday, July 1, 2017
Bud, Thanks for sharing your adventure. It is a great country we live in with so much to see and do but never enough time.
Peter Russell says...
Posted Friday, June 30, 2017
Thanks for sharing; those old airheads are fine bikes with which to mosey along. Good to see the BMW community (owners, riders, and dealers) helped you out as needed. As you're a fan of museums, check out the Glenn Curtis Museum in Hammondsport, NY, which lies in the beautiful Finger Lakes region. Upstate NY has great roads through the Adirondacks.
Jerry Humphrey says...
Posted Friday, June 30, 2017
Great report, thanks for taking us along with you.
Gerard Gatineau says...
Posted Thursday, June 29, 2017
Nice ride and report! It would be a lot safer if you could find a friend of like mind to ride with you. I can appreciate the pluses of riding alone though. You live in an area of wonderful roads and spectacular views, so you still have much more to ride and experience!

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