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How lucky I am - the wife of a winner!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Margaret Varlamos

What an adventure! Sheer excitement from the moment Ted Moyer from BMW MOA called to tell my husband he was a winner in the raffle to when we parked the new bike in a friend’s garage for storage until the next trip. Wow is warranted again, because it is still hard to believe even though the inaugural trip has been completed and we are home safe and sound in Anchorage, Alaska, where we will ride out the winter in our warm and cozy home driving our all-wheel or four-wheel drive vehicles when we find it necessary to go out.

It all began when I saw the advertisement for raffle tickets in an email from BMW MOA. My husband Don has been a lifetime member since 1987. I noticed that an iconic BMW motorcycle t-shirt was being given away with the purchase of each $100 raffle ticket. There is a long, sad story that I won’t go into detail about here regarding a lost BMW motorcycle on the way to Alaska back in 1978 and a boy who arrived in Anchorage with no possessions other than the clothes on his back and $25 in his pocket. The motorcycle was not insured, so when it went over the edge to be claimed by the Canadian wilderness, it was simply gone forever.

I know the story and I feel for my husband when I hear it. I thought the bike he lost was an R 90 and when I saw one of the t-shirts I could choose had an R 90 on it, I decided to buy him a $100 t-shirt in memory of the lost bike. (Turns out the bike was actually an R 75/5 - whoops!) As I perused the other t-shirts, I decided to buy myself a $100 t-shirt with an iconic K bike on it since I own a 1987 K 75 that I love. I filled out the raffle tickets, one in each of our names, ordered the t-shirts and sent them in to await the arrival of our cool shirts.

I was standing in the kitchen when the home phone rang, and we all know what that means in the age of cell phones: it was either a pollster, a political call or a scam. I answered in my usual, “you are interrupting my dinner” voice. Ted Moyer was on the other end and asked for Don. I told him he wasn’t there and asked if there was anything I could do for him. He told me he was from BMW MOA and before he could say much more, I asked him where my t-shirts were; I hadn’t received them yet and it had been a while. He chuckled and said something like, “we will get you your shirts, but I called to tell Don he won a new BMW motorcycle.” I didn’t believe him and told him so. I asked who was really on the line and thought one of our friends was playing a joke on us.

The call being a joke seemed likely, as we won a new BMW X1 car in 2015 from a raffle at our church! I should note we purchased 20 tickets a year for 20 years before we won. The tickets are $100 each; do the math: That is $40,000 and the car was valued at $39,800, so we essentially purchased it over 20 years. It should also be noted that it replaced my vehicle, a 1983 VW Vanagon. That BMW car has made me the driver God intended me to be, whereas the van portrayed the hippie side of me I was born too late for!

Ted did convince me ultimately that he was legitimately from the MOA and that, indeed, Don’s ticket had been the first one drawn, winning a 2018 BMW R1200 GS. I couldn’t believe it. Had I not just ridden halfway across the country on the back of it, I still wouldn’t believe it!

We live in Anchorage, Alaska. In the summer we operate two food businesses in Whittier, on Prince William Sound. We have owned and operated the Swiftwater Seafood Café since 1997 and Varly’s Ice Cream and Pizza Parlor since 2012. Both businesses keep us from motorcycle riding since our riding season here in Alaska coincides with our seasonal businesses. I have not ridden on a bike since purchasing the cafés. Don rode his father’s 1994 K 1100 to Alaska from Iowa 12 years ago following his father’s passing, but that was his only ride in the last 22 years.

We have talked for years about what we would like to do in retirement and the answer is always ride motorcycles, go see music and visit friends around the country. Upon winning this raffle, we decided that we should pick up the bike in Chattanooga, Tennessee, at Pandora’s European Motorsports (the sponsoring dealer) and ride it after we closed for the season. It was going to be too late in the season to safely drive the bike all the way to Anchorage without possibly encountering snow, so we asked some friends in Bend, Oregon, if we could store it in their garage.

I took the win and the kind offer from our friends as a sign from above that we should take a pre-retirement trip on the new bike and see how we did. Don was all for it, so we contacted Pandora’s and ordered the upgrades we wanted (Adventure series, bags, color, etc.) and told them we would arrive in Chattanooga on September 20, 2018. We also advised that we would like to stay in the area and ride the first 600 miles, then have them do our first service. We know that just having the shop near so we could stop in and ask questions would be helpful since Don hadn’t been on a new BMW motorcycle since he bought his R 80 RT new in 1984. Things have changed a bit!

We arrived in Chattanooga on the 20th and immediately drove to Pandora’s. The guys were great! They had the bike in the showroom, ready to go. Everyone seemed to come at once to congratulate Don and talk about the bike and all the fantastic features it has. Luis gave Don a review of the bike’s features and how to operate them properly. He was patient and knowledgeable as he explained all the modes, the braking system, the suspension, the computer and more. Stephen was so excited to see us and greeted us warmly. We were able to put a face to the salesman that helped us through the long-distance process. Craig, the sales manager, was awesome. He spent a lot of time explaining the bike and demonstrating different features as well as describing some rides in the area we could do to get the first 600 miles before the service and before we set out across the United States.

Matt, who was instrumental in getting us the paperwork necessary to obtain Alaska license plates, came over and introduced himself as well. Those Alaska plates helped start some nice conversations with other travelers out on the road. Terry, the parts manager did so much to make our trip great by suggesting some much-needed items: a battery tender, a cover and other small, but awesome accessories. He even suggested a way to get a more comfortable seat and sent me product information to make it easy for me to order.

Finally, there was Keel, who talked motorcycling with such a calm demeanor that I felt like I could just take the bike out for a spin without even refreshing my skills. I didn’t, but felt like I could have. Keel was instrumental in convincing us that the front brake is your best friend and not an evil enemy if you are not careful, contrary to everything we learned before motorcycles were fitted with ABS and all the other wonders that have been engineered into BMW motorcycles. He was out hang gliding when we said our goodbyes, but will be remembered always.

The trip from Chattanooga to Bend started by heading north to Louisville, Kentucky, through a thunder and lightning storm south of Nashville. Due to a severe weather pattern moving into the area, we decided to cut our stay with friends in Louisville short and head west toward St. Louis. We encountered a bit of rain, but nothing like the storm outside Nashville. Then we continued west to Kansas City, Missouri, where we turned north to Omaha, Nebraska, to spend a couple of days catching up with friends and family. We are both from Omaha originally, but have lived in Alaska more than half our lives. Then, we set out from Omaha on a chilly morning that just got colder and colder until it was below 40 degrees just outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, when it started raining. We stopped for the night at the first sign of lodging and survived a night in what we not-so-lovingly called “the roach motel.”

The next morning it was a beautiful 70 degrees and we cruised across Wyoming, enjoying seeing hundreds of pronghorn antelope along the way. Dropping down into Utah, we were amazed at the red rock canyons and beautiful hills. We spent the night just north of Ogden, Utah, and set off the next morning for Boise, Idaho, and one more night on the road before we hit our final destination in Bend. Like the pre-retirement trip, it was meant to be; we listened to a jazz band at our hotel that night in Boise and relaxed knowing we were doing what we loved and that this trip was proving to be a testament to our retirement dream.

On the final day of travel we again set out with a blue sky and temperatures in the 60s and headed west on highway 20 to Bend. Highway 20 is the longest continual highway in the United States and is a dream (across Oregon, anyway) to drive on. It is curvy and well maintained with speed limits up to 65 and not too many stops. We arrived at our friend’s place happy and content with only one regret - that the trip was at its end. We washed the bike and put her to sleep in their garage, watched over by the trusty battery tender and sleek new custom-made cover.

While I spent the trip riding behind my courageous, strong, loving husband rather than driving myself, I kept us going in the right direction (most of the time) and was a second set of eyes and ears to our surroundings. Next time we ride, I will be on my K 75 and he will be on the new R 1200 GSA, but I will never forget the feeling of riding on that bike and how it made me feel, free and alive. We now know that our retirement plan is a good one and we have every intention of sticking to it. Had it not been for winning this bike, we may have discarded it, feeling too old and out of practice.

Thank you to BMW MOA and the entire staff. Thank you to Pandora’s European Motorsports and all the great guys and gals that work there. Most of all, thank you to God who saw it fit to give us this great gift that has allowed us to dream and to live that dream.

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