Tuesday, December 21, 2004

2005 BMW R1200GS shake-down cruise: Santa Rosa to Las Vegas

2005 BMW R1200 GS at Panamint Valley, near Death Valley
This is taken above the magical Panamint Valley, near Death Valley

2005 BMW R1200 GS at Panamint Valley, near Death Valley
New bike! The 2005 BMW R1200GS.

2005 BMW R1200 GS in Nevada desert near Nellis AFB test range
Along U.S. 95 out in the Nevada desert, adjacent to the Nellis Air Force Base Test Range. Somewhere out there in the background is Yucca Mountain, site of the proposed nuclear waste dump.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Maiden Voyage

10:30 a.m.

Home. Anxious, because I'm not sure if Jessica is going to pick me up or not. Left messages for her, but I haven't heard back and, for that matter, have no idea when I'll hear. It's frustrating when one has to rely on youth! (Then I turned this frustration and anxiety back upon myself. How often do I leave others wondering whether I'll follow up on a commitment?)

It rained last night and this morning, raising more concerns about picking up the motorcycle today. My body tense and achy, more stress than anything. Dona has a couple over helping to clean her house and yard, so I've got activity around my "cage", which also sets off the animal. (It doesn't like being observed in its domicile.) Oh, and there's a full moon out there somewhere, tugging at the body and brain.


Jessica finally called around 11:30. She was feeling better today and all was right with the world again. Jess and Sergio showed up around 1:00. I called Jeff at BMW of San Francisco and said we'd be there between 2:00 and 2:30, which was fine with him. That would allow him to take care of another test ride.

Jess drove to the city, Sergio and I exchanging travel tales. He talked of his experience in Thailand and Laos. I gave Jessica a hard time for approaching 80 mph.

"Maybe you should set a better example," she suggested.

"You're supposed to learn from your parents' mistakes," I shot back.

I asked Sergio "do you ride?" completely forgetting that he has a Harley Sportster. I also forgot about where his family lives (Santa Rosa), and numerous other facts. I was pretty distracted.

An incredibly crisp, clear day. As we approached the Golden Gate Bridge, I could see a quarter-mile-long line of traffic waiting to exit to the Vista Point at the bridge's north end.

I was impressed with Jessica's driving in the city, especially negotiating the hills. Arriving at the BMW dealer, my new motorcycle was staged outside the showroom with several other bikes. It was all set up with panniers and top box...and it was intimidating. I looked it over with Jess and Sergio, almost afraid to touch it.

Jeff was with another customer, so I went to the parts department to collect the helmet I had ordered. It didn't look quite as "attractive" as I originally thought. Jeff gave me the keys and invited me to load up my things. Jessica and Sergio (who I began to notice look quite cute together!) went across the street to the Harley-Davidson dealership.

Fiddled with the bike, uncomfortable with my ignorance and lack of confidence. Practiced taking it off, then putting it back up on the center stand while standing alongside it (until Larry came out and - somewhat anxiously - told me that I should get up on the bike before rolling it off the stand.)

Jeff provided the delivery run-down. I didn't have questions. My mind was kind of a blank. I know there will be many...later. He didn't have a cover in stock that was large enough for the bike with mounted panniers. I'll have to take a "rain check". But I gave him the agreed-upon two bottles of wine in trade.

Both Larry and Jeff stood by as I prepared to leave. (Did I look hesitant? Well, I was.) I could delay no longer. Climbed aboard, started 'er up, nodded "good-bye" to the fellas and took off. At the first intersection, half-a-block away, I encountered a wrong-way driver.

A half-block further (out of view of the dealership, I made sure), I had to pull over. My face shield was fogging up. "Okay. Settle down!" Jeff had suggested a restaurant called Polkers restaurant over on Polk Street. Jess and Sergio had gone on ahead to find a parking spot.

Pulling out into traffic on Van Ness Street, I felt completely vulnerable. On Polk, as Jeff indicated, there are actually free motorcycle parking stalls. "This is great!"

Polkers is a "gourmet burger" shop. It's pretty good. The "youngsters" were hungry. Jess ordered a "Mushroom Swiss" burger and caramel shake, Sergio a Bacon Cheeseburger" and beer, and for me, a "Chicken Burger". Outside the restaurant, we split up. They were meeting a friend in the city.

The moment of truth. It was now dark. I really didn't want my first ride to be at night, but there was no choice. Fortunately, I found the bike's lighting to be excellent.

A very cold night, with a strong north wind. I was protected enough by the small windshield to still find the ride fairly comfortable. At Penngrove, I pulled off the freeway to don my new electric vest. I didn't really need it tonight but wanted to try it out. Continued on to A'Roma Roasters in Santa Rosa, the vest actually becoming too warm by the time I arrived there.

Found a new parking spot for the new machine, alongside the Visitor's Center. Went into A'Roma's and got a coffee to go. Only after exiting the coffee shop did it occur to me "what am I going to do with this coffee cup on a motorcycle?" Walked over to the bike and stood by, drinking my coffee.

Drove out Bennett Valley Road, and up Sonoma Mountain exercising extreme caution. Too many deer up here. The motorcycle handles very nicely on the rough and winding mountain road.

Squeezed the bike into our carport alongside my car (and slightly scraping the car in the process. The bike takes more space than I expected.) Removed the panniers. "Now what do I do with these?" They ended up on the bedroom floor of my tiny apartment, along with the 20 cases of wine, 5 or 6 folding chairs, rolling suitcase and other "crap".

My legs were well-chilled. Only now was I aware of it, but it immediately brought back that old familiar feeling of being chilled to the core. I talked with (brother) Jeff tonight. He's jealous, and now must buy an R1200GS.

I also talked with Drew. A check he was expecting from his publisher failed to arrive on schedule, so there's some anxiety about this month's bills. Meanwhile, here I was spending $20k on a "toy" (several people have now referred to it as such, though I beg to differ.)

Saturday, November 13, 2004

R1200GS Test Drive...and Purchase

Today I had a 10:15 appointment at BMW of San Francisco to test drive a new 2005 BMW R1200GS.

Stopped by Starbucks in Santa Rosa in hopes of catching a glimpse of my daughter. The place was packed, about ten people ahead of me in line, another half-dozen waiting for their orders to be prepared.

Jess was behind the counter, racing. Moving faster than I've ever seen her move! A study in perpetual motion. Every movement had a purpose. At one point, she filled a blender jar, put the lid on and shook it. The lid popped off and she was doused down her apron front with the frozen coffee concoction. She expressed shock, mopped off with a towel, then kept going.

Ordered my "tall double cappuccino, dry-style", greeted her, then got on the road.

Arriving for my appointment at BMW, I met Jeff, who is coincidentally from Fairport, New York, hometown of Constellation Brands, the folks who are negotiating the purchase of all, or part of my employer, Robert Mondavi Corporation.

Larry said we were waiting for another rider - a woman.

He allowed me to borrow a helmet off a manikin. I was a bit anxious. This is one of those "moments of truth", reality confronting fantasy. I had never ridden a machine like this. My last motorcycle was a 1972 BMW R75/5, which I had purchased new and then sold late in 1974, after about 40,000 miles of travel.

Larry would be taking us out on the test drive circuit. He was suited up in racing leathers, as was the woman who had just ridden in astride a Ducati. I had my borrowed helmet, "Eddie Bauer" down winter coat, jeans, hiking boots and flimsy tan cowhide work gloves.

The bikes were set up out in front of the BMW car showroom: the R1200GS, a new 650 "Dakar" and an 1150 GS. Larry mounted the 1150, the woman the Dakar and I would be on the R1200GS. I didn't even know how to properly remove it from its center stand. First, lessons from Larry, then a quick run over the controls and instruments. ("I hope I can remember this stuff five minutes from now!")

Then we were off. Well, first I stalled, then we were off. And immediately out onto the congested surface streets of San Francisco's Mission District. Everything was new to me: the bike, the controls, the helmet, the riding position, and even the feel of the streets.

I just tried to take it easy, following Larry's lead. We soon turned into a freeway on-ramp and headed south toward Brisbane on U.S. 101, the Bayshore Freeway. Larry wanted to take us up Guadalupe Canyon.

I never felt in control of this machine. The throttle was very sensitive, and the engine extremely responsive. There was more vibration and the ride was rougher than I expected. At times it felt the bike was running away from me. I held on tightly.

Still, we (too) easily got up to 90 mph going up the urban canyon road. A rough shifting of gears inside a turn caused a bit of "squirreliness" in the rear end that made me sit up and take notice. Guadalupe Canyon Road climbs up over a mountain, then descends toward the Pacific.

After a few miles, we pulled over and shuffled bikes, so the other rider could also experience the 1200. Larry suggested I try the 1150. It had a modified exhaust system. I didn't like it nearly as much as the 1200 (which was probably Larry's point.)

I too was "vibrating", from sheer nervous energy. Returning up Guadalupe Canyon I followed Larry as he pulled to the shoulder. I had not even noticed the police car pursuing us, so preoccupied was I with just operating the motorcycle.

The sergeant suggested that if we were going to drive 60 or 70 in a 50 mph zone, we should look in our mirrors more often. Larry was quick to intervene, speaking on behalf of his customers, and himself. After a brief conversation, we escaped with only a warning. As the officer returned to his patrol car, Larry walked back to his bike, discreetly flipping the policeman off for having the nerve to interrupt our test drive.

Back at the dealership, Jeff worked up a quotation for the R1200GS. I browsed the store, looking at helmets and other gear, all the while trying to sort out in my mind the next steps in this process.

Finally, I left the showroom, and went outside to my car, where I telephoned Jeff in Vermont. "I'm running out of excuses. I don't see any reason not to buy it."

Jeff didn't help. "Do it!" He was excited.

I went back inside and told (salesman) Jeff I wanted to buy a bike. He was now handling another customer, but I was in no hurry. I told him I'd return in 90 minutes. I was hungry. Found a popular burger place called Flippers and ordered a bleu cheese and mushroom burger. Leafed through a newspaper that had been lying on the seat next to me. It was full of fairly shocking (to my sensitive mind) gay classifieds. To this point, I had been oblivious to where I was!

Returned to the dealership. Jeff was still busy working up another sale. "No problem. I'll browse." I did so for perhaps another hour and a half. ("Am I a sucker?" I began to wonder.)

As the shop was beginning to close down, Jeff turned to my deal. There was no negotiating of price. There's too much demand for this new model. I wrote a check for $18,609.00. That included BMW panniers and top box.

"Well, how about throwing in a cover?" Only if I brought him a couple bottles of wine! Jeez. I guess that could be arranged. It must have been about 7:00 when we wrapped up.

Jeff was leaving for Hawaii tomorrow (thanks to me?), so I told him I'd just pick up the bike in two weeks, when he returns. (I wanted him to personally walk through the preparation of my motorcycle.)

Drove back to Santa Rosa, and stopped off at A'Roma Roasters for some coffee. Surprisingly fatigued by the day, the short ride and the general stress of making such an important decision. I thought about the date: the 13th. Not the most propitious sign. I hope it doesn't bode ill!

Sunday, September 19, 2004

One step closer to a motorcycle driver's license

Seated at "my" window table in A'Roma Roasters. A breathtakingly beautiful day. A day to be out on a motorcycle!

Actually, I was. Awakened early this morning by the sound of rain. A welcome sound. Autumn is arriving early, I hope. Very chilly, this storm clearly being out of the north. Immediately, the air is amazingly fragrant. "It smells like Halloween!"

My body heavy and aching. Slowly "moved into gear", making some breakfast, straightening up around the apartment, then turned to cleaning out e-mails, disposing of about 70.

As I prepared to leave for "the range", I had no idea if the motorcycle training class would be canceled. Up on Sonoma Mountain, the rain was torrential, falling in big drops. The thirsty ground was drinking it up, however the roads had turned into streams.

Coming off the mountain, I could see blue sky to the southwest, the direction of Petaluma. By Penngrove, the rain had subsided, though the northern sky remained ominously dark.

Class was on. I was too late to see the morning session ending, and to hear how it had gone for others.

Today, we focused on negotiating curves, swerving, braking and confronting obstacles. Occasionally a shower would overtake us, but nothing severe enough to stop the class.

There was no locking up the front brake today. We concluded with a skills test: executing a figure-8 inside a small rectangular area, a swerve test, a braking test and a curve-handling test. In this last test, I stalled out while waiting at the starting gate, having forgotten to turn on the fuel petcock. Despite a few missteps and widespread nervousness, we all passed. I had a couple points deducted from my score, but came through with the second-highest score and some reassurance that, twenty-five years on, I had not totally forgotten how to ride.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Riding the range

The first step to Alaska and Tierra del Fuego is getting a motorcycle driver's license, in California, an "M1" endorsement on my regular driver's license. I opted to sign up for a three-day "Basic Rider Course" provided by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF). This alleviates the need to take a Department of Motor Vehicles driving test. And since it has been 30 years since I've owned a motorcycle, a refresher is highly advisable.


After a classroom session Thursday evening, motorcycle rider training began "on the range" in Petaluma today. I showed up at Kennilworth Junior High School at 12:30 p.m., wearing an "Eddie Bauer" winter coat, jeans, my "Merrill" hiking boots (from Vermont) and a pair of leather work gloves, hardly the appropriate biker fashions.

The first order of business was a simple written test, derived from the classroom lecture and training booklet. "Aced" the test.

We then went out onto the expanse of asphalt behind the school to meet our machines. For those of us who were not already outfitted riders, loaner helmets were offered. I selected an old battered full-face helmet. The bike I would be riding was an aging Honda 125. The equipment was pretty beat up, yet adequate for training purposes.

We were introduced to the controls. (I don't think they even had "kill switches" when I rode in the early 70s!) The instructor thoroughly explained and reinforced starting and stopping procedures.

During pauses in the action, I continued to gaze around the school grounds registering the sad deterioration. A testimony to our fiscal neglect, that began with California's Proposition 13, and continues with the selfishness of those now in power (all of us).

The longer the class went on, the more impressed I was by the content of this $198 course. It should be mandatory for riders, not just an optional track to a license.

And the longer it went, the more proud I was of my daughter Jessica, who had quietly undertaken the course before me.

There was one embarrassing moment when I locked up my front wheel during a braking test, but generally, things went well. We adjourned after 5:00, with our final session tomorrow.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Starting to get serious

Visited "BMW of San Francisco" today, meeting "Larry" the motorcycle division general manager, and "Jeff", one of his sales associates.

I studied the two 2005 BMW R1200GS motorcycles they had on display. Both were aready sold, and there was a waiting list for future arrivals. By November, they expect to have inventory on the floor.

We talked about bikes and traveling and, specifically, what I might need for my hypothetical trip to Alaska and South America.

I know so little of bikes now, that I listened with great interest to their advice and stories of the road, some passed on from other adventurers who have traveled my imagined path.

One thing Larry said I should seriously consider: contacting an acquaintance named Jim Hyde, who operates an off-road training camp designed for riders of these big bikes. It's called "RawHyde Adventures".

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Checking out the BMW R1200GS

2004 BMW R1200 GS brochure
Add caption

Stopped at the BMW motorcycle shop in Santa Rosa today. Finally took a look at the new R1200GS motorcycle, considered the perfect bike for traveling the world. The salesperson gave me a glossy sales brochure picturing the new bike taking on the wild mountain roads of Peru.

It's a remarkable machine, but HUGE! Perhaps it would be the best "equipment" for a 20,000-mile trip around the Americas.

I browsed the displays of riding gear: clothing, boots, helmets. You "need" $1,500 in accessories just to ride these days. Am I just being a typical "American"? We need to be properly equipped to face all eventualities. The mere thought of outfitting myself for such a trip is daunting.

Maybe I could just do it on a bicycle?

Sunday, May 16, 2004


Dropped in on Jessica unannounced. She was preparing for finals. "When do I get to ride your bike?"

She had purchased a Suzuki 250cc "Ninja" on E-Bay and had it shipped from Pennsylvania. She gave me the key, and a few pointers on operating the motorcycle.

I climbed aboard. (It was a little like sitting on a small scale train.) The last time I rode a motorcycle was in 1982 or 83, and then only briefly, delivering my brother Jeff's motorcycle from Santa Barbara to North Hollywood.

Awkwardly drove around the apartment complex parking lot, and eventually out into the street. Riding with a fairing was something new to me, where leaning into a turn, it looks like the bike is still going to go in the orignal direction of travel.

Less than ten minutes in the saddle was enough.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

A dream of travel

11:45 a.m. Waiting in my car outside the Village Barber Shop, fifteen minutes early for my appointment. I feel strange, numb, and tense.

The frenetic movement of people and traffic in Santa Rosa, the congestion. For some reason these things are bothering me more than usual. I feel disconnected, detached and lacking others' sense of purpose.

I don't have anything in common with these people, yet I have everything in common.

I had stopped in at the local Safeway supermarket. Inside, it's a barrage to the senses (and sensibilities.) The carefully constructed, and controlled corporate environment, the advertising that silently screams for your attention,the subtle manipulation that makes your choice their choice. (In this emporium of things, or stuff, choice is an illusion.)

Just a few minutes inside is enough to send me hurrying for the door. Final, parting assaults come in the form of outrageous tabloids, displayed for the entire family to enjoy as you await your turn to be "scanned and checked-out".


5:45 p.m. seated at "my" window table at A'Roma Roasters coffee shop, Santa Rosa. After having my hair cut, I drove out to Sugarloaf Ridge State Park for a hike. A windy, cool day. Perfect. It was a vigorous hike up to Bald Mountain, without stops. I probably hurt myself again, as heart and lungs worked to capacity. (Something doctors warn against: infrequent, but heavy exertion.)

My mind kept drifting to thoughts of doing that long-dreamed-of motorcycle ride from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. Take a 4- to 6-month sabbatical (or, if necessary, resign.) Maybe my daughter Jessica would like to go?

I started thinking of the timing: head north in May or June, then turn south from Alaska in June or July. August and September passing through the Southwest and on through Mexico? Awfully hot! It's complicated. Maybe it would be from June to November?

And I started thinking about the gear required, about carrying a gun, about contacting the State Department for travel advice.

2005! That would be the time.

Half-consciously, I noticed pale yellow wild irises growing beneath the oaks and madrones. "That's odd. They're usually pale purple."


Yesterday, coincidentally, I finally arranged to look at a used BMW R1150GS motorcycle. For months, my friend and co-worker Josh has been nagging me to look at the bike his neighbor had sitting in his garage, rarely used. Josh claims his friend's wife wants the bike disposed of.

It was BIG! But I was intrigued by reports of a new model being rolled out by BMW: the R1200GS, which would actually be both lighter and more powerful than the 1150.

Monday, May 03, 2004


This on-line blog was actually launched May 30, 2005 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Posts prior to that date were added later and were taken from journals, e-mails and other media.

For more on this adventure, see the later post: Some Background on This Journey.