Big Bike Adventure by Dan Russell, 200313

“Daddy, I want to dance with you when you get back,” my six-year-old daughter called to me as I put on my helmet. “Daddy, I love you!” 

A bit of trepidation jumps into my head as it squeezes into my Shoei helmet. The brand new white 2015 BMW GS Adventure looks husky, able and seductive before me. Am I able? She weighs a little less than 600 pounds; and, I a little less than 160. She competes vertically with my 5′ 5″ height. My feet reach desperately for contact enough for balance on level ground. I’ve been on only one ride with this big bike, two days ago. I dropped the motorcycle that day on only a slight incline, fortunately nearly at a standstill. I’m scheduled to go to RawHyde’s BMW Academy in three weeks. It’s over 2,000 miles round trip from home, so I have to get 600 miles quickly to get that initial break-in and service behind me.

“We’ll dance when I get back, Honey. I love you, too.”

I stand alongside and lean the GSA into me and back her out of the garage and down the driveway to the street. I’m careful to stop where the camber is toward the kickstand, but not too steep. I had wanted to buy a GSA nine months ago in 2014, but there was no way that I could reach the ground well enough. Instead, I bought a Harley Davidson Fat Boy where I could flat foot easily. Shortly afterwards, BMW answered the plea of us vertically challenged and for 2015 offered us a low suspension, low seat that put the ground near enough to reach the wallet for this intermediate rider. The Harley sold and became history.

What a dream to ride the GSA! People always told me that I had to ride a BMW to know what they admired so much. I took it a couple hundred miles on the Alsea Highway to the Oregon coast and looped down to Florence and back to Eugene via Highway 36 by Triangle Lake. I couldn’t believe how good this bike felt. There wasn’t a hint of heaviness when rolling. She wound through the corners like I was a better rider than I am. I felt some confidence build, until I fell at a stop sign. I think I hit the front brake too hard when nearly stopped, and the incline that I had not perceived eluded my left foot when I looked for traffic to the right. Splat!! I picked myself up and hit the Kill switch. Two attempts to lift her with my back to the bike and doing leg thrusts accompanied by imagined, perhaps vocalized, karate yells up-righted the bike. Barely a scratch on the engine guard. Whew! It was good to know that I could raise her if I had to, but I didn’t want to learn this way or this soon.

The trusty GS before on the Alesa Highway.

Now, it’s the day before Easter and I’m headed to get about 300 miles, mostly curvy, break-in style ones. I put my daughter’s desire to dance to the side of my mind, and feel the GSA come alive. I adjust the temperature setting on my heated jacket liner to thwart the morning chill and aim toward the 15-minute freeway ride to Creswell. I exit and join the backroads toward another small town, Drain. A sign guides me onto the Upper Smith River Highway. I’ve never been on it; only a section of its sister, the Lower Smith River Highway. Well maintained highway leads into an uphill climb, into curves with vistas of cloud shrouded evergreens on mountains. No hint of houses or people. I stop for a picture and feel isolated enough to relieve myself along the road. Take a picture. Climb aboard, reattach the heated liner, push the ignition on, carefully lean just enough to raise the side stand, check for no traffic and accelerate toward the hairpin that reverses and continues the climb. Perfect break-in road.

Burned stumps clothe a nearby mountainside. I wonder if a black bear might be camouflaged among them. I’m beginning to sense adventure. I summit the area and stop to “check” in with my wife and daughter. There’s cell signal here, but doubtful as I descend ahead. My daughter is excited to hear my voice, as I keep my promise to not call her as often as she wants, but enough.

The temperature drops to 39 degrees Fahrenheit at the summit, but I’m toasty in my First Gear electric liner. I go and go and go. I put the city of Reedsport into my GPS for my destination. It tells me to go back the way I’ve come. I press on, sure that this road will eventually come back to the main highway before I reach the coast. I glance at the scroll of bars indicating my ample fuel level. I’m comfortable knowing that the GSA carries 7.9 gallons of fuel. No problem reaching a point of no return; at least, not due to fuel. Perhaps trouble if I goof up again and don’t keep the bike upright, or if I hit a deer. There doesn’t appear to be any traffic at all to assist if necessary.

The road splits and I choose the fork that says “Smith River.” The road narrows, and winds, and seems to get more and more remote. I fight off the thoughts that maybe I’m wrong about where this all leads. I even worry that I might get myself where I can’t get the heavy bike turned around without dropping it.

I note my newly-purchased SPOT tracker and take some relief that despite no cell service that I at least have a way to let people know where I’ve been and, if necessary, that I’m in trouble.

Potholes occasionally occur, but are readily identifiable. Logs have been cut clear since their fells have obstructed the route. Moss grows on either side of the single lane road and down its center. A waterfall gently cascades near the road’s edge. The road further narrows and there are tempting this and that “Creek Rd” signs back toward the south, toward the main highway. But they are likely gravel, and I’m not ready for that yet, not yet. I keep a very active scan for deer, and finally I’m on the Lower Smith River Road. Eventually, the Motorrad shows a connection to a road I recognize that is paved and aims south toward the Smith River Falls area.

On my way, I find a little café in the middle of nowhere. That’s much preferable to waiting until Reedsport to eat amidst civilization again. I pull in, relieved that I’m getting where I’m going, slowly gathering miles for my 600-mile service. I want to get to the southwest coast of Bandon if I can with enough time and energy to get back to Eugene. Right now a hamburger sounds good.

A bar sits to the right of the café. I glance in, only a lone man waiting for business. Not me; not while riding. Straight ahead, a menu.

“Hi. How ya doing?” I greet the lady, probably the bar tender’s wife.

“Good. How are you?”

“Doing well. Got any hamburgers?”

“No, no hamburgers.”

“Oh, I see,” as I look up at the menu hung from above. “Looks like you got some fish and chips. That’ll be good.”

“Well, it’ll take a while to heat up the deep fryer,” she informs me.

“Hmmm. Well, what do you have that wouldn’t take long to fix,” I query knowing that I have miles to get.

“There are some hot dogs and some burritos.”

I look down at two hot pots. One with a couple Polish sausages; another with premade burritos wrapped in foil. “What kind of burritos? Any chicken ones?”

“Well, I’m not sure. They’re probably beef, maybe …,” she says as she begins to open one.

“That’s okay. I’ll have a hotdog. Sounds good.”

She tells me to have a seat and fix a bun from a sack on the picnic style table. I start to go to the bench that will give me a view back toward the windows. But I can’t. There’s an extension cord going to the heated pots blocking the bench seat. I resign myself to sitting on the other side of the table, looking at the small working end of the room and note the signs on a half-open door behind the counter: 


I look at my glove-blackened hands, and ask if there is a bathroom.

“There’s a Porta-Potty out front there.”

“Oh, okay. Does it have a sink?” I naively ask.

“It should have some sanitizer. If not let me know and I can let you in the back.”

“I’d just like to wash some of this stuff off my hands,” I suggest. She stays silent. “Do you have any water to drink?” I ask. She tells me that there’s bottled water, then offers me a choice of just some tap water, which I elect.

“We’re kind of in the boonies out here,” she clarifies, as if I had some doubt.

“That’s why I’m here,” I tell here, feeling the happiness of the experience, if not the satisfaction of choice.

Two Polish sausages nourish me enough to let my obsessive compulsion to ride take over. I ready myself by the bike when a pickup pulls up, and a large man says, “Nice bike. 2014?”

I tell him that it’s brand new, a 2015. He tells me that he’s had a lot of motorcycles and that BMW was his best. He proceeds to tell me what the “worst” bike out there is. I leave that private to avoid starting any wars here. He tells me he and his young buddy have been out hunting bear and cougars. No luck though. I knew I was in the right area. Remote.

No cell service yet, so I continue on until Reedsport to check back in at home. Highway 101 continues south to North Bend, and then I follow the “curvy” route selected by the Motorrad with a destination of Bandon. It routes me toward Charleston where I find familiar grounds from my high school surfing days, stopping to rest by a marina.

A sedan passes by me standing alongside the GSA. It U-turns and pulls to a stop by me. An older chap with his wife asks where I’m from, and I tell them Eugene. He chuckles and says that they figured I was from a long way away. It must have been the look of the bike, even without the panniers; or, perhaps, I looked that worn out. His face is full of scars from skin cancer removals he reveals. Just back from six months in Yuma. I’m thinking this motor-biking and helmet stuff isn’t all that bad after all.

I check the time and trip meter and figure I need a few more miles headed away from home. The Motorrad turns me south toward Sunset Beach. I don’t remember ever going to Bandon that way, but think maybe the “curvy roads” routing has an idea. When the GPS tells me to turn off to the Bastendorf Beach parking area, I oblige but know something is awry. Sure enough I’m routed up the hill and it wants me to enter into a maze of parking spots through a park gate. Definitely curvy, but not how I want to add miles. I venture down along the beach drive, then back out and turn to Sunset Beach. I came here as a kid, and it’s still as beautiful as ever.

It’s time to head back toward home. US 101 to Florence, and Hwy 126 back to Eugene. I stop at the Gingerbread House that is under new ownership. It’s busy, friendly staff, and I’m told the gingerbread is “homemade” again. I order up three to go, knowing that my 6-year-old daughter will be delighted after adding whipped cream at home.

During the ride back, I reflect on the day. The bike: nimble, winding through curves like a porpoise through kelp. Rolling left, rolling right, and back. Going exactly where you tell her. Smooth in every respect. No vibration anywhere. Smooth throttle, positive and anti-lock braking. Absolute, jet propulsion when called upon for passing. Quiet, no sense of the speed. Lots of fuel, visual tire pressure indicators, plenty of electricity for heated liner and all the electronics. And after this day, I’m feeling progress on learning to manage the hefty size of this bike with my limited leg length and weight. I stop at the service station, 290 miles after leaving home and 307 miles since I topped off the tank with clear (no ethanol) 92 octane. She takes 6.4 gallons into her 7.9-gallon capacity tank, costing $23.34. It’s the best gas I can buy. Not sold everywhere, but I was able to make it all the way back where it’s always available at my home station.

At the door is my daughter, waiting for her dance. We do and the next day is all hers, Easter Sunday. My 600 miles are nearly complete. In a couple of weeks, I will ride 1,100 miles on beautiful Highways 101 and 1 along the Oregon and California coasts to RawHyde’s BMW Academy for Off-Road Riding. Then back along the East side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. This big bike will get smaller with good training and experience.

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