The BMW R100GS from the nineteen eighties. Every time I see one these I think they look like my ideal bike. Twin cylinder – comfortable – not too heavy and as previous Paris/Dakar winners they have off-road capability.
Well that’s what I understood about the breed when I put in a bid for one from a Florida based seller on American e-bay in late 2005. I had received an unexpected windfall of a lump sum payout when I accepted early retirement from a local warehouse job I had taken on my run down to full retirement. The work involved twelve hour shifts on a concrete floor with plenty of heavy lifting at awkward angles – a far cry from my previous warehouse job operating a high lift stacker truck in the aisles of a cold store.
My back and knees had suffered and I was pleased to get out of there clutching a handfull of loot after three years service. Recovery was quick and I came up with the idea that I would use my unexpected windfall to buy a bike for sale on American e-bay in Florida – ride it west through the Gulf states and down into Mexico. It wasn’t as if I was going to have to walk and it seemed like an interesting way to spend the winter months.
After losing out on the bidding for a beautiful low mileage R100GS in the outskirts of Orlando I got the bit between my teeth and when a similar bike was advertised for sale up Michigan way I went after it. This time I won!
She was a high spec bike with very few miles on the clock and had useful extras such as an after-market single seat plus panniers and with a tall screen fitted she appeared to be spot-on for an extended road trip. This was November – an ideal time to set off round the Gulf States.
A phone call from my old cottage on the Welsh border to the seller dampened my spirits a trifle when he told me that Michigan State up on the Canadian border by the Great Lakes was snowed under and the roads would not be passable by bike until the following April!
No worries – the bank draft went off with UPS and reached it’s destination. UPS were a pain though – instead of the £32 charge quoted for delivering an envelope containing a bank draft they charged me £72 for a 2kgs package. They must have slipped a house brick in with it! My fight with faceless bods at UPS carried on for a long time before they finally accepted that I was right and even now after all these years it wouldn’t surprise me to receive a bill for the balance in the post.
I had a few sleepless nights and a partner questioning my sanity while I fretted about leaving the GS with the seller over winter. He turned out to be a diamond! Like many Yanks he was a military buff and just wanted me over to fire off a few rounds on his collection of guns. I got the feeling he owned half the state of Michigan.
His invitation read – ‘Come over and we’ll run off a few belts.’
An M60 with belt type ammo —
My man is obviously not just out to shoot a few ducks 🙂
With my mind at rest I booked my trans-atlantic flight for 23rd April then collected maps and guide books to put a route together for the following summer. Mexico was forgotten about when I decided I would ride coast-to-coast from Bar Harbor, Maine in the east to another quaint township on the Pacific shores of Oregon. Then, for added interest I tagged a visit to Niagra Falls and ride up Mount Washington to my itinerary between Chicago and Bar Harbor.
As if that wasn’t enough I would turn right when I reached the Pacific coast and head north through Canada to Alaska. I had the idea that this would be my last big ride and I had better make it a good one.
Reading guide books is a bad idea. I’ve done it before when I over planned a ride to the Nord Kapp. By the following summer I had lost interest in going north and went in the opposite direction ending up on the outskirts of Dubrovnik down on the Adriatic instead.
Mount Washington – New Hampshire —
This time Lost Planet scarred me with gems like ‘Albequerque is no longer a wild west style frontier town but a hundred mile spread of fast food outlets and used car lots’. A trawl round the American Adventure Biker websites also brought up some beauties like – ‘Where do you carry your piece?’ That’s easy – I usually carry my flask and piece (packed lunch) in a tank bag or strapped on the back of the bike.
Only in Scotland – over there ‘piece’ means gun and one hero rides with his firearm stuffed down his boot. He claimed to be able to switch on his cruise control and loose off a whole magazine in so many seconds. He didn’t say if he hit the target or how many innocent by-standers he whacked in the process or even if he managed it without shooting himself in the foot! No matter as long as he felt good about it!
After a couple of months of planning I had a choice of three routes coast-to-coast. I’m never one to travel on main highways, preferring to dig out interesting back roads and felt a need to travel the high passes through the Rockies. My final route would depend on when the snow cleared on the mountain passes.
More beavering through the guide books indicated that bears could be a big problem while crossing the National Parks and definitely were to be taken into the equation on the long lonely trail from Vancouver to Alaska. Maybe the guy with the gun in his boot had it right after all.
Trawling the biker websites came up trumps when an ex-Carlisle rider offered me the use of his log cabin when I reached Alaska. Being a deep-sea Alaskan fisherman his cabin was empty most of the time so that was ok. When he found a buyer for my bike too I was on cloud nine. Selling the BM up there would mean I could fly home from Dawson City after the big ‘Dawn to Dusk’ rally held every year at mid-summer.
My trip was all pulling together and didn’t sound like such a madcap scheme after all.
Well it was ok dreaming about riding through the Rockies and bears raiding my tent on my way to the Yukon but I would be leaving my partner at home so by the end of January I thought I had better build up a store of ‘brownie points’.
My first job was to concrete a ‘step’ in the backyard that was responsible for cracking the roof of her sporty Clio. The hard top was weakened by the large factory fitted sunroof and would crack as the car came over the step on three wheels no matter how often it was sent back to the dealer under warranty.
The answer was simple. I would mix and lay a couple of cubic metres of concrete to change the step into a gradient. Problem solved!
I may have solved one problem but I gave myself another. I had ripped something in my pelvic area when operating the long, heavy tamper I had made to level the concrete. Bad news but like a fool I ignored the pain and got on with the next task I had set myself. Building raised veggie beds and laying decking in the garden.
I was going for it now and my next bright idea was to install a wood-burner stove in the old cottage. The stove was the easy part. My first job was to build up the front door to my left in the photo as that was the corner of the lounge where the stove would sit with the chimney coming out through the new wall at 45 degrees then straight up above the roofline.
That wasn’t all. We still needed a front door. So-o — there was nothing else for it but to break out the wall beneath the windows and have patio doors installed opening onto new decking. My pickup came in useful for hauling big blocks of sandstone from a nearby farmyard and for other tasks associated with my ‘grand design’.
That old cottage has walls 2-3 feet thick and it was tough work but I got there. Then I laid a stone hearth in the corner – installed the new fire – et voila – the fire was lit and all was sweet in the Old Bakery!
And yes – that photo reminds me that I laid that wooden floor too. I must have been a one man army – not bad for a first time builder with a torn pelvis. But – I did get a friend in to plaster my building work behind the stove. The hardest bit for me was climbing the ladder that last time to fit the top section of chimney. I wasn’t exactly skipping by this time and I remember it well!
Adrenaline can only carry you so far and I was starting to fade but I managed to build a state-of-the-art logshed by the gable-end of the cottage and fill it with ash logs I cut and hauled from a wind ravaged forest over the Welsh border. Midge and I stacked the overspill in the yard.
Midge – my little helper could do everything except climb ladders.
That little cottage had everything – even a brook with wild ducks and occasional otters at the bottom of the garden —
The brook had been prone to flooding but I built up the flood walls and kept the riverbed clear under Midge’s supervision. A result! The flood water remained within the banks even when in spate —
Hey! I can just see my shiny new chimney going up the wall in that last photo! I was so proud of that job! 🙂
‘Pride comes before a fall’ was one of my mother’s favourite sayings and like most mothers she was seldom wrong. My pelvic pains had become worse by the day during several weeks of hard physical work. With only a month to go before my flight to the States I was persuaded by my partner to take a break from my DiY programme.
I fell into bed – and couldn’t get out of it for three whole days and that was only to struggle down to the local orthopedic hospital for x-rays. I should draw a veil over what happened next because you couldn’t make it up! Somehow I managed to crawl into the Clio at my back door but there was no way I could get myself out of the little four door when we reached the hospital. The staff weren’t allowed to help – ‘Health & Safety y’ know.’
Even when I rolled myself sideways out onto the pavement in desperation they were unwilling to help me up into the wheelchair. When the porter managed to run my wheelchair into the only grating in the yard while wheeling me over to the x-ray department the whole shooting match went arse-over-tit throwing me onto the pavement in a screaming pain-filled tizzy! Subsequent x-rays were inconclusive and it was decided that I would be transferred to the main county hospital. When a wheel flew off the ambulance on the way there it was just par for the course.
Once bedded down in the ward my consultant impressed his entourage of young doctors and students when he handed me over with a flourish to what he called his ‘pain ‘team’. Their answer was to hand me bottles or phials of morphine to sip on demand throughout my stay. I never did find out what was wrong with my pelvis because when I eventually weaned myself off drugs after taking it upon myself to heal at home the pain had gone!
But – the ‘pain team’ had turned me into a junkie! By this time I had missed my flight to the USA and was in no fit state to ride a bike. It was to take many more weeks – months even and outside help before I got myself off ‘cold turkey’ and back on track.
To re-cap – it was now the month of May. I was the owner of a bike I’d never seen gathering dust in Michigan, USA and I was struggling with my head and fitness back in blighty. I’d written off the cost of my flight and thought it would be like throwing good money after bad to go over there and pick my bike up. Instead I would import the Beemer to the UK.
I had paid about $3000 for the bike and reckoned as a tidy appreciating classic it would fetch at least three grand sterling if I was to sell her in the UK. The difference in the exchange rate would just about cover my outlay and by this time I had a hankering to ride the thing.
After trawling the internet I had a good price from a nice lady in California to have the bike collected from it’s home in Michigan and transported to New Jersey. Once there it would be lashed to a pallet – forklifted into a container and shipped to Thamesport in Kent a few miles downriver from London.
I almost had kittens when the previous owner sent me this photo of my bike on the transporter about to leave his house —
She doesn’t look too bad there but wait till you see the rest of it —
No worries – the guy seemed to know what he was doing for the bike arrived at the warehouse in New Jersey as planned. The warehousemen at that end weren’t so clever at strapping her to the pallet though. When I eventually got a call to say she was ready for collection from Thamesport I went down with the pickup truck and found her lying on her side – still on the pallet in a forlorn corner of the warehouse. She had slipped through her tie-downs in transit and was resting on the rocker cover of her twin cylinder boxer motor.
I wrestled her off the pallet and a quick inspection showed only a few scuff marks. Switching on and thumbing the starter more in hope than expectation saw her chime in on one cylinder and I rode out of there down the yard to my pickup wearing a cheesy grin from ear-to-ear.
I had a nominal sum to pay to cover Vat & Customs Duties and I was out of there. Next thing was to check her over at home and take those side facing rear reflectors off before seeing her sail through an MoT test. No problems there then and it was just a case of sending the certificate off to Swansea for the DVLA to issue me with a Road Tax disc. Magic 🙂
My dreams of riding to Alaska were well and truly over. The American based insurance company I was using to cover the trip had a cut off at 65 years of age so it had been now or never. Granted I had found some anomolies in the process for in some states insurance wasn’t compulsory but for long distance travel I wouldn’t leave home without it.
No worries – for all intents and purposes I had a nice bike and the whole of Wales was right on my doorstep. The fact that she broke down with a flat battery about 50 miles into our first ride didn’t bode well. Another ignominious collection in the pickup truck and a new stator sorted that problem. It seems that ‘they all do that sir’.
The other bike in my shed was my XJR1300 – a real tough smoothie! The Beemer had a hard row to hoe if she was to take over from her. But a few ‘do you really need two bikes’ comments from the fair one and the XJR was sold. It broke my heart to part with her but to be honest I was struggling a bit with the heavy Yamaha as I was still a long way off full fitness.
With hindsight I know I sold the wrong bike! The R100GS was old technology and even in her day she had been overtaken by superior Japanese built machines. ‘Agricultural’ would best describe her but she did introduce me to photography for I would stop at any photo opportunity while out for a ride.
She even gave this Welsh thistle her moment of glory —
and got her tyres wet in the sea with the collie dugs by Barmouth on Cardigan Bay —
It wasn’t to be. She would have been fine for the trip to Alaska and no doubt we would have bonded on the long ride – but – when it came to chasing sportsbikes on a Sunday she was out of her depth. All it took was a decent offer from a guy down in Cornwall and she was off to a new home. A shame really because she would be worth well over five grand now.
My American Adventure – or Not