Albuquerque, NM, to Seattle WA
November 18-19 1999

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So, what _did_ I do? [Loooooong ride report...! My apologies, it started as just a quickie report, and somehow blossomed into that monster below! I first talk about preparation, about the bike, then, about the ride itself. The quickie version: New Mexico to Seattle, great ride; the R100 GS, great bike; Dominique, big smiles. I want to go again. And now, for the Cinerama version...]


I flew down to Albuquerque NM to pick up a nice '89 R100 GS w/ 9000 miles that had been advertised for sale on the GS list. I _was_ planning on heading to San Diego and ride up along the coast, but a sick kid at home, and poor weather forecast all along the coast made me change plans. I took the short "quick" route, up through Salt Lake City and Boise. I left Thursday AM, and the WX forecast called for snow Friday PM and Saturday in the mountains, so I had extra incentive to make good time.
I am still slack-jaw at how well the GS behaved! I didn't waste too much time (slight understatement -- it took me less than 36 hours to run the 1420 miles, including 2 hours of troubleshooting by the roadside, and a 5-hour rest stop :-) and pretty much ran the bike full out the whole time. Only a couple small problems: the left carb overflowed almost right at the start of the ride (of course, right when I had just switched to reserve in the middle of nowhere in NM, and was trying to nurse the little gas left so I could get to the next gas station, wherever it might be...) (as it turned out, it was only 2 miles :-) It never overflowed after that one incident, but I kept seeing gas seeping out and wetting the outside of the carb... or so I thought! Gas mileage was lousy - ~25 mpg usually, and I didn't dare go more than 100 miles on a tank before looking for gas (pfff, where's the 9+ gallon tank of the PD?!) That got me sweating a couple times going through the more remote areas of NM and Utah. I attributed that to the leaky carb... but it seems now that the high speed + high winds encountered, all this while going up and down mountains, might have been enough to justify the crappy mileage. That, and a vacuum tube to the right carb that I never noticed had gotten disconnected (I don't have those on my 91 PD, and didn't pay attention to it, kinda focusing on the "leak" :-) Well, I'm still keeping an eye on that.


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Other incident was the light bulb that burned out in the middle of the night. Low beam craps out -- no big deal, just whack the headlight down a bit, and go on till it's time to stop for the night. Oooops, NO lights at all now! Luckily, that was right as I was exiting a gas station, so quick U-turn and back to the station. Still no big deal, I had brought spares, it's gonna take me 10 mns to swap bulbs and hit the restroom again, and I am on my way. Ah! 1 1/2 hour later, I was putting everything back together: the Parabellum windscreen and the handlebar had to be taken down to get to the light bucket, then the forks were just high enough off the triple clamp to prevent the screwdriver to get to the screws that hold the housing together... AAAAARGH! I managed to get it all torn apart with a lot of swearing and some waving of hands in the air. The wiring harness had some shorts, as the light and blinkers would turn on and off when I fooled around w/ the wires, so I wiggled wires here and there, tied 'em back up, cramped connectors, sprayed everything w/ waterproofing magic potion... Well, the truck drivers hanging out at the restaurant had a good time w/ all that :-) Interesting tidbit: it was a 55/100W bulb that burnt out, to be replaced by a standard 45?/55W: weeeeell, I did not see much, if any, difference between illumination before and after the swap. (That is, it was pretty much just as dark afterwards as it was before :-)
The bike was somewhat loaded down, but not outrageously so: It was carrying a set of Aerostitch tank paniers, a BMW tank bag, a big waterproof bag strapped to the passenger seat, that could work as a backrest, and a small (BMW?) leather bag on the luggage rack, but no side saddlebags. Not really knowing what to expect out of the bike, I had brought 1/2 of the Tools dptmt from Sears and 1/2 of the Parts dpmt from RideWest w/ me, plus 5 rolls of duct tape (darn it, didn't use any.) The tank paniers work GREAT, they do shield the wind a bit, and carry weight fwd and low. NOT water resistant, even though I had sealed the seams. The BMW tank bag worked fine, it swallows a huge amount of gear, and is quite sturdy -- and offers a solid enough platform to rest when leaning fwd out of the wind, hiding behind the Parabellum :-) It zips open from the base to provide quick access to the gas cap when refueling. Waterproof w/ the nice orange rain cover. The cute leather thingee on the rack is, well, cute, but holds not much more than some spares and a lock and chain.


I loved the ride, I loved the trip. Two different parts of a journey like that, and so sweet when they both mesh and turn out great. The "Ride", that's the pleasure of running a smooth bike, enjoying the engine, the handling, the feel of the road... The "Trip", that's the scenery, the people, the discovery, the adventures, little and big... The ride is part of that pleasure, but they don't necessarily always peak together. They did for my trip.

The road, like the terrain crossed, was very varied. Long stretches of straight 2-lane roads in NM, twisties going through canyons, and fast sweepers going up and down mountains, in Utah. Super and not so super slab riding here and there. The GS went through it all, full out, handled quite well, never gave me a scare that wasn't more rider- than bike-provoked, and then in such cases would be very forgiving and reassuring. The engine has quite a bit of oomph one up, even w/ a fair load, so passing cars and trucks even in tight spots was never an issue. Gobbling up 10 % grades w/ long curves was an exhilarating blast. The bike feels light and rather quick when you start leaning back and forth in the twisties, and still very stable in the long sweepers, even going over the so often less than optimal road surface. That 21-inch front wheel and lush suspension give you lots of control and comfort when you start hopping over potholes and tar seams! Although "sport" suspension on road bikes are much tighter, firmer to avoid wallowing, in order to provide better control of the bike, the GS took it all in and never lost it. It _did_ wallow at times, but never gave me any grey hair. I thought I could hear a satisfied inner snicker waft up to me: "pff, you call _those_ bumps?! Come on, now, give me some _elephant_ potholes to swallow so I can wake up and stretch myself a bit, for crissake!" I soon found a fairly comfortable position, the classic leaning forward over the tank bag, one hand on the handlebar, the other over the bag, actually holding up the chin of my helmet that kept sliding down in that slightly awkward position. I had mounted a throttle lock before taking off: I had never used one before! This is GREAT. The only disconfort I had after the ride was my right forearm. I can't imagine what it would have been, had I not had the throttle lock to take over for me most of the trip (although, I probably did strain a bit at times, as I would not disengage the lock to speed up or slow down momentarily, and had to fight the friction a bit. Still, I think it's much better than holding the **&^%$# throttle non-stop.) I mounted the flip-lever type, which makes engaging and disengaging the lock a snap (pun intended.) Sadly, it seems that it will not clear the tank when/if I install a PD or other mega-tank (ya betcha, as soon as possible.) The other piece of equipment that proved invaluable was an inflatable Thermarest pad that I tied to the seat. It's a small rectangular pad, a small version of the camping self-inflatable air pad so popular among outdoors enthusiasts. I had read about it on an Internet moto list as a cheap alternative to fancy saddles, had tried it once, didn't figure out how to work it, and had chalked it up as an unsuccesful experiment. I read one more glowing testimony about it, and what the heck, I tried it again: yeap, it does work if you keep at it. I secured it to the seat w/ a simple belt cinched around it and under the seat, and fiddled a while w/ inflating and deflating it till I found the right balance: not so aired up that you bounce and roll around, not so under-inflated that you hit bottom. It can move around a bit when you get on the bike, or change position, so I had to rearrange it at times. No big deal, but I'll try to add a second belt, and maybe glue some anti-skid rubber mat on the bottom. Cheap and reliable, and you can use it for extra relative confort when you take a snooze or have a bite to eat by the roadside. The bike had come with a custom Corbin dual seat, so it was fairly well shaped for support to start with, and the pad really added the necessary edge in comfort, for a very affordable price. When I ended up the trip, I was rather tired, but my body felt fine! No backache, butt was just dandy, no numb hands or feet... just the sore forearm.

Comfortable chair

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Alright, to round up the equipment review on what worked great, and before jumping on to the actuall ride report, two more items. I had recently bought the BMW Goretex road boots, and the BMW Goretex winter gloves. You need to get your banker to float you a loan to cover the cost, but it was worth it. I believe that this is the first time I end up a trip in cold, and eventually wet, weather, and my feet and hands were just toasty, and dry. I wore polypro liners under the gloves, and polypro and wool socks in the boots, and was happy as a clam (but much drier :-) I also got an electric vest before leaving, a luxury I never indulged in before (oh, OK, that's _three_ items I'll be jabbering about :-) Worked like a champ, I was toasty even in below freezing temperatures, going like a bat out of, well, hell after it's frozen over. Bodily comfort is rather important when you're on the road for a while...
Oh, let's mention a (fourth) item : I had taken my Garmin GPSIII+ with me, w/ a Touratech mount. (Comment from the NM seller and his neighbor, hardcore HD riders, as I was mounting the bracket on the handlebar: "Hell, I love Beemers guys, they always have all the toys!" I had mapped out my itinerary on the PC before leaving Seattle, and uploaded waypoints and routes into the GPS. It worked great, was nice to get reliable speed and trip odometer, to check average speed, and to have a handy clock. Oh, and it was cool to have a handy map, and the waypoints to boot. Time and distance to go are not too reliable, as they are reported "as the crow flies" on the III+, not following the road, but can give a fair idea in some of the more "straight" parts of the country. It did save me from riding a few miles the wrong way at least once, when I went left instead of right, and the arrow to the next waypoint was pointed at my belly button... Gadget, gadget, gadget, not necessary, but, fun and actually functionnal, and it kept me nicely occupied fiddling w/ it on the loooooong boooooring stretches of road w/ nothing but rocks and sagebrush to spit at.


Enough of the hardware and the gadgets, let's ride!
I'd never been down to the central western states, and I will be back! I had planned on taking a quick side trip through Monument valley, but the "leaky" carb made me rethink that, and I stuck closer to whatever civilization was out there. The weather was gorgeous ... till I hit Yakima ! It was cold (below freezing on the high plateaus -- 7500 feet max elevation noted -- in gorgeous sunshine, and at night past Salt Lake City, Boise, under the stars...) Hurray for electric vests! NM and Utah are just like I'd seen in the movies, loooong stretches of road, not much but rocks on the side, massive chunks of rocks jutting straight up just like in John Wayne's movies... Low traffic, clear roads, you can blast through there at a decent rate of speed if you are so inclined. The roads are a nice combination of fairly straight streches of roadway, w/ some twisties now and again. The scenery was enough to keep this tourist happy. One slightly disconcerting thing was the "tumbleweeds": at one point, they weren't tumbling, but flying 4 to 10 feet above the ground... I had ducked crows on take-off in the past, but never low-flying tumbleweeds, head-on or across the road... When you see that, you suddenly notice that you're leaning right 15 degrees going straight, and you know that the winds have got to be pretty fierce :-)


gas station

The seller of "my" bike had warned me to "get gas whenever you see a station." Alright, come on, this is _America_, this is _the 90's_, shouldn't have to worry too much about that, right? Wrong! I had to slow down to try to optimize mileage a couple of times after having switched on the second petcock and reserve. I filled in w/ 5+ gallons both times, which on this bike doesn't leave much left over for comfort. Speaking of gas, I did stop at the epitomy of "desert" gas station. About 50 miles past Moab, Utah, I stopped, even though I didn't have to fill up (once burnt... :-) There was no Chevron, 76, Conoco, or any other known logo to be seen: "Gas here" was it. There was a rickety building, more like an old shed w/ some siding put up back when Carter was wondering if he should run for president, an awning in front, covering two old rusty pumps, glass front all busted up, no credit card reader to disgrace their rugged plainness, to be sure. Next to the station, the front half of a Jeep, and the rear half of some truck, and a strange scooter contraption, made of plumbing tubing, and parts off of a lawnmower, it seemed. I was wondering if it even was open, but after a couple minutes a cowboy hat and a shiny belt buckle show up at the door, both adorning a burley fellow who greets me w/ a wide grin that had been missing a few teeth for apparently a number of years. Meet Roy. Ranches from that mountain over there, to that mountain over here, cattle and horses. Was born in Moab, but had to move out, 'cuz that place is just too damn busy and full of nuts. Put together the gas station 'cuz he got tired of all the tourists getting stranded here, and figured he might as well make a buck out of helping 'em. Got on his place one of seven cold water geysers in the world (carbon dioxide makes it gush), used to be noted on tourist maps, but he got that taken out, 'cuz it's too much of a nuisance... The place was in a couple movies, one of them on the life of Jesus (I assume that it was the surroundings that were used as backdrop to some burning-bush-in-the-desert scenes, maybe, not the gas station, but what do I know?) I bought me a postcard of the geyser, checked out the wares in his shack (from books on gem hunting to aspirin that expired back in 1992), took Roy's picture and his address so I can send him a print. One of the pumps doesn't work, he's only got one grade of gas, but doesn't really remember which it is. I wondered a bit about how _old_ and how rusted up it would be, but what the heck, the GS is a bike made for that kind of stuff, hey, and I don't know how far the next gas would be (actually, 10 miles, I think :-) I'll be back some day so I can take the 5 mn walk to see the geyser, and check out if Roy is still plumped up on his sofa made of welded horseshoes, in front of his old crackling black and white TV. All in all, a great 10 mn stop.
Other "human interest" aspect of the ride. The night does belong to truckers out on the road. Daytime, they might be a wee bit less conspicuous, but at night, that's all you meet at rest stops, truck stop (well, duh :-) or gas station. It's a different world, very alive at 2 AM. Guys bullshiting around a cup of coffe, all wearing the trucker's uniform (cowboy or work boots, jeans, shiny belt buckle, flannel shirt, quilted vest, greasy ballcap, can of Copenhagen in back pocket, 5 o'clock shadow -- well, 5 _AM_.) Country music blasting through the restop. One 300-pound, biiiig feller interviewed me on my riding suit for about 10 minutes, and wanted to know all about it. (it's actually a bright yellow maritime "survival suit", with reflective tape all over it, which, worn over 1/2 dozen layers, makes me look like the lost Michelin brother from Citrusville.) I told him everything he wanted to know. I'm glad he didnt want to try it on. Most guys were shaking their heads at the folly of being out on a bike in the middle of the night, in freezing weather. All were friendly, but none offered to swap rides. The sight of a hundred plus trucks parked one next to the other, running lights running bright, engines purring softly at idle, w/ the driver asleep inside, I suppose, is something else.


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I've always liked riding through the night. I would have liked to have some better lights, but it was mostly adequate on the freeways I was running on after it got dark, past Salt Lake City. There is enough traffic that you know where the road is, and not so much that you can't crank it up to whatever you feel comfortable running at. It's a different experience: you don't have the "distraction" of the scenery, it's just you on the bike, w/ the road running beneath you (OK, and a few extraneous items, like 40 zillion pound triple trailer trucks ready to cut you off, or deer ready to check out what's on the other side of the road, as you approach at warp speed, but that's another discussion :-) The GS was very confidence inspiring (the gremlins were minor, the engine and the handling really felt good.) I left Albuquerque at 5:30 AM, rode a few hours in the night and watched the sun rise in NM. I descended towards Salt Lake city and watched the sun set over the mountains that surround it: wow, I had driven once through there, and didn't remember how expansive the scene is there, the huge city in the valley, w/ the huge mountains all around it. I rode for a few more hours, went through Boise and crossed over to Oregon, and finally stopped at Baker city at 3:30 AM the next day (4:30 central). The ride was so peaceful and quiet past 10 PM, just big trucks mostly on the right hand lane, and the stars, and the shadows by the roadside. Was that a castle? Or a tree grove? Or a spaceship? (afterall, I did go fairly close to Roswell :-) When I stopped at the motel, the lady there did think I had just landed from some flying saucer. I must admit I was probably not too coherent at that point, between being tired and w/ hands and jaws somewhat numb that didn't let me articulate or sign w/out a putting up a fuss. And when I realized that she was put a little off balance by that yellow monster that reeked of gas who had stepped off of some _bike_ at 4 AM into her parlor, that got me to giggling, which did _not_ improve things with her. On top of it, my credit card got turned down ("Ooooh, suspicious activity, boss, that card is being used all over from NM to OR, to buy 5 bucks of gas each time, gotta be stolen." "OK, HAL, let's put a clamp on it." Always travel w/ a backup card if you can, or call your credit card bank before your trip to tell 'em not to worry about you.) Well, I got my room anyway, and am now silently apologizing to that poor lady. It was nice to take a relaxing shower. I was going to sleep as long as I could, as I was actually signed up for the "new" day, and didn't have to check out at 11. But I woke up at 8 AM :-( and figured I might as well just get going. So I did.
I was getting closer to home, and this old horse could smell the barn. Some parts of the ride between Pendleton and Yakima were gorgeous. There is a long descent at one point, with a great view of the valley floor, but w/ loooooong curves that theoretically should prevent you from looking at the scenery... Still had to sneak a few glances over the edge of the road. Quite a few other stretches of canyon-like roads along the way. Arriving in Yakima, the rain started to fall: welcome home, Dominique. I was getting pretty tired at that point, the weather was getting worse, and I decided to head straight home, not go up to Spokane as I had planned to so as to check it out for old time sake (my first stay in the US was in Northern Idaho, and I had spent some times in Spokane.) Hooked up to I90 in Ellensburg, the rain was getting somewhat stronger, and traffic heavier. Snoqualmie pass: Hello, who's opened up the dam up there in the clouds? The rain is coming down hard (in sheets, cats and dogs, like a cow p..., er, whatever, pick the simile you want and make it ten times worse!) That had to be the worst storm I've ever had to ride through. I can't see much, and there are cages all over the place doing the usual NW motorized rain dance all over the freeway: cut sharply into the buffer hole you leave in front of you, make sure not to use your blinker because you might blind somebody w/ all the scattered light reflected by raindrops, slow way down in the left hand lane, make sure you stay level w/ whatever vehicule is in the lane next to you so noone can risk life or limb going around you. I should stop, I suppose, but I'm almost home (OK, that's a stupid-ass reason) I'm careful (mmmm, still very stoooopid reasoning), well, it just feels good (huh?? Who could even try to argue that one?) It was actually somewhat pleasant to ride: I was nice and dry, warm and cosy w/ all the good riding gear on, I just putt putted along and didn't get mad, let the karma of the ride float me on my way. The rain stings my face and keeps me nicely awake and aware (I'm riding w/ the screen up, but w/ yellow sunglasses on, and mostly hiding behing the Parabellum.) The bike just sings along. I'm mellow, I know the road well, I know I am tired, I know that conditions are not optimal, and I am deeply aware that I must not be complacent. I ride on.


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It's 3 PM when I get to the floating bridge, traffic is stop and go all across the lake, I want to get home, not count the polystyrene boxes and beer cans blown against the curb! I eventually make it with no mishap. I pull the GS next to the garage, my dear wife, Ruth, comes to check out the bike and the nutty husband, accompanied by one of our kids. Zac climbs on the "the big moto", declares it to his liking, and reads me the riot act because I don't want to take him for a ride. I go take a shower and we hop over to the neighbors to taste a bottle of '99 Beaujolais Nouveau. I had a great ride, I'm home, Zac has forgiven me, Ruth is happy that I am in one piece, Nico's (our other kid) health report is fine, there is one fine motorcycle in the garage; life is good.
Lessee, what was my itinerary? ABQ, Cuba, Farmington on 44 (or 550, depending on whose map you believe), 64 and 160 to Mexican Water (I was gonna take the loop to Kayenta and Mexican hat, but cut straight to Bluff to humor the "leaky" carb...), 191 to Monticello, past Moab, then a bit of 70, on to Salt Lake city via 6. Than 15 and 84... for a loooong time, past Boise, the OR border, to Baker city, where I stopped for the rest of the night. Then Pendelton, Yakima, and on I90 at Ellensburg... zoom to Seattle. Upstairs to the shower :-)

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