Great Cars Loved and Lost – and others

Great Cars Loved and Lost – and others

I’ve been a car and motorcycle enthusiast since I first became aware of such magnificent creations.  Recently, while watching an auction on TV, I was amazed at how many of the classics on offer I could relate to in a personal way. There were so many that I’d owned or driven or spent considerable time with in some fashion.  Many are now worth a fortune, and our personal assets would be pretty amazing today if we’d kept everything owned in the past. Here are my stories of the ones that got away, and some I was relieved to see go.

1962 or so.  1957 Mercedes-Benz Gullwing Coupe.  This car was in a local body shop in the Minneapolis suburb where I grew up. Someone had brought it in for a fender dent repair and a complete windows-out paint job, and then had scuppered out of town.  There must be a story there.  The body shop had it for sale for $5,000.  For a couple of grand more they could have finished the paint job and put the car back together. My Dad thought about it, but declined.                           Current value:  $1,000,000 to $2,000,000.

Early 1960’s. My father made occasional trips to New York City on business, and whenever he did he made time to visit Inskips, the New York Aston Martin dealer.  The Aston dealership was on the 14th floor, and an Aston Martin DB 5 cost about $14,000. A good American car was perhaps $4,000.  Surveying a curving arc of pristine British glory, my Dad asked the salesman what would happen if he did not like any of the colors they had. The salesman replied, “Mr. Preston, for $14,000 we will paint your Aston any color you like.”  My father could have purchased one, and certainly should have.  But – that would have meant a loan, and loans were anathema to him.                                     Current value:  $700,000 to $1,900,000.

1962 Sunbeam Alpine. My father’s first sports car.  The Alpine was a lovely design, and a tad more sophisticated than the MGA it competed with.

It was in most ways a better car than the Sunbeam Tiger, which was an Alpine with the meek 4 cylinder engine replaced by a Ford small block V-8. Yet another Carroll Shelby idea, and he once commented that the Tiger was a better car than the Cobra that made him famous. On the other hand, a friend who owned one found that the V8 engine would torque the chassis so much that at times a door would not open, and at others open as the car went around a corner.

Dad owned the Alpine for about 5 years. He made various improvements, such as removing the cylinder head and drilling new cooling passages on the metal lathe we had in the basement. Didn’t everyone?  The wire wheels were painted black, as the stock silver paint chipped off easily. It was always kept spotless, in no small part to my washing and waxing it every other moment.

He sold it for $850 if I recall. I was in agony, as the guy who bought it brought a friend who was an “expert.” The friend had a very tired Porsche 356 he’d paid $3,000 for, and it seemed to me that the Alpine was a far better car. The “expert” drove the Alpine with me as the passenger, and failed to impress me with either his knowledge or driving ability. The Alpine was pretty much perfect, and also underpriced. My father thought that everyone maintained their cars as we did, despite ample evidence to the contrary. The “expert” knew it was a better car, even without the price difference, but could not bear to admit it.

Dad never let me drive the Alpine, feeling I would put it into a ditch within 5 miles, which was a bit harsh. I certainly waxed the red paint a lot, and loved going on occasional rallies as the navigator, where Dad would actually drive the car with brio, as it was designed to do. My Mother, on the other hand, drove it that way all the time, and rides with her were much more fun. On one occasion, I was allowed to start it in the driveway and drive it – 20 feet forward to park it in the garage. That was it.

As life turned out, he should have given me the Alpine instead of the 1963 Mercury he left with me when Boeing, after years of trying, head-hunted him away from Minneapolis. This was in the dirge of life that followed my Mother’s untimely death from cancer at the age of 49.

He felt a bit guilty at “abandoning me” (I was 20), so the Mercury was added to the Yamaha 250 motorcycle I’d just purchased.  In truth, the Mercury was far more practical, and the Alpine would not have done well sitting outside in the three Minnesota winters that passed before I moved, but still…

Current value:  Maybe $6,000 to $10,000

1969 Camaro Z28.   Truly the one that got away. Once I’d been offered a teaching job at Rose Hill Junior High in Kirkland, I spent the last two months of college in Minnesota mooning about the new car I’d buy when the money began to roll in. $7,200 dollars a year!  My God, what a munificent sum! My preferences boiled down to a Mustang or a Camaro, and I settled on a Z28 Camaro in yellow with the black stripes, and of course a 4 speed. This would have cost about $3,500, and I was set to take out a loan for 50% of my salary in September. Instead, I crashed my Yamaha three days after arriving, and spent the summer with my arm in a sling with my separated shoulder healing after the surgery. This also cost me a great summer job one of my new colleagues had lined up for me without even meeting me. No money, no Camaro.

On the upside, I met Susan two years later and learned that she really did not like this car. At all. It made her think of mullet hairdos and disco.  I actually liked the mullet, which was not a popular thing to admit even then, and I always liked disco.  Oh well.  I have yet to drive one!

Current value:        $35,000 to $60,000 depending on condition.

1958 Corvette. Actually the first car I purchased for real. My Dad sold me the Mercury shortly after I arrived, because I’d crashed and destroyed my Yamaha and was making noises about purchasing a new bike and a $500 clunker to drive when needed, and he did not want me to die in a death trap car. He sold me the Mercury for $1,500 with low payments (and interest) -much less than what it was worth.

The Corvette was purchased in 1972, a month after we were married, and about two weeks after I learned that Susan loved “old” Corvettes but hated new ones. Knowing that she was an enthusiast, I sold my new Honda 500 4 motorcycle (which was actually such a perfect motorcycle it bored me to tears) and purchased a 1958 Corvette with…“needs.”  It had been painted a sickly blue with rattle cans, and white racing stripes applied with – a brush. The interior was in dark gray plastic metal flake material, if you can imagine that, with a tear or two in the seats repaired with bright green tape.  The chrome front wheels had been stolen, and narrowed black rims from a Nova were back in there somewhere.  I paid $800, and driving home on a warm summer evening listening to the 283 burble through the leaking glass pack mufflers,  top down and rowing through the 4 speed transmission –  it was love.

Within two months I’d purchased two new chrome front rims, had the car painted a butterscotch color, and had the interior redone in a dark tan with matching carpets.  Much better!  I removed the spare tire and put a can of Fix-A-Flat into the trunk, which I lined with scraps of tannish orange shag carpet cut and glued into place. Appalling, but it was 1972.

To the dismay of Corvette enthusiasts, a small hood scoop was installed at the time of the paint job, in order to clear the Edelbrock high rise and Holley carburetor, right in the middle of the washboard ripples on the hood that were a 1958 only styling feature of the Corvette.

We used this for our 2nd honeymoon of that year. The first was in March, the week after our wedding, and involved a 5 day ride down the coast of Oregon on the Honda. It did not rain, as I had promised my fiancé it would not.  The 2nd was a two week camping trip with the newly fettled and farkled Corvette into Canada, where we parked on the shore of Lake Louise and went for hikes each day.  The top stayed down for the entire trip. Bliss.

All of a muddle with excitement, I joined a Corvette club, although Susan warned me it would not turn out well. Sure enough, most of them were into modern Corvettes with panel paint jobs and big stereos.  I got my revenge for several social snubs at a Redmond High Homecoming, where the club provided the cars for the parade. All of the students gathered around mine and ignored the new ones.

At a club picnic, I was standing in a group when the topic turned to rain. I exclaimed that I loved driving in the rain, because I could make a turn from a stop sign and go down the road half sideways for 200 yards.  Most of them, it turned out, did not drive in the rain.

At all.


Someone asked why I did, and I replied “I have to. It’s our only car.”  Suddenly I was standing all alone…

At this time I was working Sundays as a drag race announcer at (then) Seattle International Raceway. One day, after the racing was concluded, the crew decided I should race the other announcer, who had a …Pinto wagon. We pulled up to the start area, both in the same lane. I did a burn-out in reverse to switch lanes, which was well received. The “Christmas tree” starting lights had been stored, so the start was an old fashioned wave of an arm. To make it a “fair” race, the Pinto was given about a half track lead. I took off and the car reared up on all four wheels and really got after it.  I won.

The next week I found out that the front suspension was about to fall off the car…

A year later the oil began to turn a milky white, the sign of a blown head gasket. After replacing the gaskets, twice, to no avail, an engine strip down was taken on. To the shock of Roy Urban, my friend who ran a repair shop (I was his first customer, and the signed check for the clutch job hung in a frame on the wall), the engine had a porous block. With a flash light and the block on a stand with a hose connected to the water intake, you could state mesmerized as drops appeared as they oozed through what appeared to the naked eye to be a solid cylinder wall!  We also discovered a notch in one of the cylinders, the result of a mishap in former days as a drag racer, and forged 12.5 to 1 compression pistons!  I did not have the money for a set of headers, which probably would have added 100 horsepower, and ended up with a lot of intake capability, tons of compression, and stock headers which acted as a cork. Oh well.

The car was a heater and radio delete car, another hint as to its drag racing original intent. I purchased a heater from a wrecking yard, and it sat on the shelf for a year while I mustered the courage to attempt what I thought would be a mammoth job.  During that time we drove to Vancouver for my father’s 3rd (of 5!) wedding, with Susan wrapped in a blanket against the cold and clearing the mist from the inside of the windshield with a towel.

In the end, installing the heater required removing and replacing 4 bolts and hooking up the linkage. Took about an hour.

We also used this car for our first attempts at sports car rallies.  This was a bit of a challenge, as the speedometer did not work, but I could usually guess our speed pretty well. We gave up after an event where one of us (our versions differ) was so mad at the other that he (or she) was pounding on the dashboard. We returned to rallying 20 years later and began winning almost immediately, mostly because the driver (that would be me) had learned to just shut up and do what she told me to do!

When Dorine was born in 1975 the Corvette had to go.  It was our only car, and you cannot put a child safety seat (then the new hot thing) in a Corvette. By that time the flaws of the car were beginning to get to me. It was not really all that fast, did not corner well, had mediocre drum brakes, and ate premium fuel at about 12 mpg. An enjoyable 12 miles, but still. It looked and sounded gorgeous, but it needed to go.  We sold it for $2,700, close to what we had in it, and I watched the new Canadian owner drive away with his 9 year old son. I was actually relieved to see the car go.

On the wall of my classroom for decades was a 3’ x 2’ foot black and white blown up picture of the Corvette, which students always marveled at.  They would ask whose car it was, and were gob smacked when I told them it had been mine.   Their amazement deepened when I told them I had sold it when our daughter was born – teen age boys could not imagine such a sacrifice.

Current value:                  $35,000 – 75,000 depending on condition

1967 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe.  This was a brilliant car. An airy cabin offered great vision out; although I’m sure the roof would collapse if you were so crass as to roll it.  A willing 4 cylinder engine, four wheel disc brakes, and a perfect 5 speed manual transmission.  The most fun car to drive I’ve ever owned, and that includes the Corvette and the Porsche 911.  The only thing it lacked was about 70 more horsepower, which the chassis could have handled. Ours was perfectly reliable, except for the fan switch, which failed every two years.  Fortunate, as this was one of the very few repairs I could make myself – in about two minutes. I do not know what I paid for ours, or what I sold it for, or when, but it was a treasure.

Current value:        First, you’d have to find one!

We also had a Fiat 124 Spider from about 1984 to 1992.  It was, I think, a 1968, purchased from a friend who’d purchased a 2nd one that was newer, and then a 3rd to be used as a parts car.  Ours was a bit of a George Washington’s axe, and had well trundled over 200,000 miles when we bought it. It also had Fiat mags, a roll bar, and the preferred red paint.  Our kids loved the car, until they grew taller and began to bonk their heads on the roll bar over every bump.  We went on a couple of rallies in this car and did very well.

One of the last adventures with that car was when it got shot. A miscreant student, who later died after committing a dozen or more felonies in his short life, brought a stolen high-powered BB pistol to school.  To show off to his friends, he went out to the parking lot and shot my car several times. Ironically, I parked my car away from all the others to keep it from getting parking lot dings.

At that time the state had a victim’s compensation fund, so I put in for a replacement driver’s side window, outside mirror and convertible top.  I had to stay on top of the case and write several letters, but 9 months later I got a check for the damages. The repairs themselves were made the weekend after the assault with pieces taken from my friend’s parts car.

Current value:  These are actually pretty common, and the ones on the west coast have not rusted to dust. They make up a healthy percentage of the Fiat club I belong to, in states of condition from perilous to perfect.  $3,000 to $8,000 depending on condition, and a great way to get in to classic sports cars. We sold ours to make way for a 1975 Porsche 911 S Targa – the worst mistake of my car ownership life.

Hillman(s). I actually had the pleasure of driving two of them. In high school my parents owned a 1959 Hillman four door sedan that was available to me if I needed a car, but not for riding to school every day on a perfectly good bus. My first experience with a four speed shift on the floor, and I learned that you could not simply downshift into 3rd entering a corner at 50mph.  Good thing, as the engine would have over-revved and blown up if I had succeeded.  My favorite summer was when the exhaust pipe rusted through, and I begged my father not to repair it as it sounded so marvelous.  I had a street drag race with a Triumph TR3, where the extremely low first gear shot me ahead, and then it was over.

While we owned the Corvette I found a 1959 Hillman “Husky,” a 2 door station wagon.  Ours was in a parlous state. There was no headliner, so you could bang your head on the roof and make a sound like a wrench in a metal sewer pipe. The seats were not attached at the back, so hard braking would see you tilting forward. Susan drove this everywhere at about 70mph, despite my warnings that the brakes were not that great. On one occasion there was a wiring fire behind the dash. I ripped apart the dashboard, which was cardboard with a plastic “wood” surface, and put out the fire with a rag. Some duct tape and it was repaired.

We sold it for not very much to a young man as his first car, despite his older brother arguing against it. They were back in 30 minutes, as the car had died and “failed to proceed.”  A friend and I grabbed a tool box and went to investigate. The lead from the coil had fallen out. My friend found a small twig on the ground and put the coil wire back in with the twig as a shim. Success!  The new owner drove off with pride.

Current value:                  Not much, but good luck finding one.

1975 Porsche 911S Targa.   Better known as the disaster. The short version: Purchased for $10,500, put another $20,000 into it over the next eight years, and sold for $7,500.   That, my friends, is ugly. When shopping I ignored all of the advice I’d been giving others for years. It was red, it was magic, and we agreed to buy it in ten minutes. On the way home I found that the master cylinder was peeing brake fluid all over the floor. I knew the tires needed to be replaced.  Did not bother to check that the Guards Red paint was not the original color.  It was wonderful when it was well, but when anything went wrong it ranged from expensive to you have got to be kidding. I did a lot of rallies in it, with Susan or Will or Dorine as navigator, and we had a lot of fun and did very well.

Will was a fantastic navigator, capable of doing complex feats of math and timing calculations in his head. On the occasion when we got off course, which became more and more seldom over time, he would figure out how to get back on course and calculate how much time we needed to make up before the next check point. In a rally you do not know where the next check point is, so he would say “balls to the wall – have fun.”  After a few minutes of excitement he’d decide we were back on time and tell me to back off.  I was worried for years that he would become a mad hatter of a teen age driver, but he did not.

Showing my flat learning curve, I joined the Porsche club. Other members were not impressed with my car (again!), and expressed horror at the small bubbles of rust at the base of the hood. On one occasion I drove it to a club concours. I did not want to enter; just to park in an obvious spot and enjoy all the anal retentives having the fantods as they looked at my car.

Susan has pointed out that we owned this car while our kids were in their teen age years, and once in a while we would sneak away for a romantic weekend at a B&B on Whidbey Island or some such.  She points out that those were terrific times.  Since the car cost us about $3000 a year to own, I should hope so!

Overall, the experience left me not wanting to own a Porsche ever again, whereas I would love to own a Corvette again.  Not the car’s fault, but mine for being the idiot who purchased the wrong one.

Current value:        Has gone up since I started typing this. With all of its many needs attended to, a 1975 Porsche 911S Targa is now $35,000 – $50,000.

From the mid-1990s on I’ve been fortunate enough to have purchased only new cars, with the exception of an ancient Mazda pick-up purchased for very seldom use. None of them are likely to become classics in the future, although I suppose our 2012 Fiat 500 Sport will be valuable about 20 years after my death, if I live a long time.

Do I regret not keeping all of these cars, even if I could have? Not really.  One of life’s cruel ironies is that when you get into an older classic car you realize in short order how good the new ones are.  No creature comforts, little power, iffy brakes, suspect handling, and frequent needed maintenance are all facts of life we do not deal with today.

Besides, there is my friend Mary McGee. Mary raced sports cars and motorcycles for about 50 years, and may not be done yet. She raced a Mercedes Benz 300 SL as her first race car (!), (see above), and also XKE Jags and several race Porsches, including an RS 500.  She did not own any of them, but if she had they would be worth several million today.  Doesn’t bother her much, so why should I besmear these fine memories with regret?

Of course, when I win a big lottery…

Copyright 2014                          David Preston

Posted in Cars, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Car Color of Choice – the Dumbest Research Project Ever

The Dumbest Research Project Ever

Confession: I like to just sit and watch cars go by.  This started when I was very young, but peaked in 1969. Recovering from a broken shoulder, I was staying at my father’s house in Bellevue. The woman he married on the rebound after my mother passed away was a virago who was, quite literally, crazy.  When he went to work I was stuck with my arm in a sling listening to her cheap shots – like why didn’t I get a job?  This was nonsensical since I’d been told by the surgeon to do nothing for about 6 weeks while the shoulder surgery healed and besides, my teaching career would start in 9 weeks.  To escape her peculiar brand of insanity, I would walk down the street and sit in the sun on a grassy expanse overlooking I-405 and simply watch the cars.  Looking back, I think I was a pretty sad and lonely young man. I had no friends, having crashed my motorcycle three days after moving, and no money at all.  Still, it passed the time and was enjoyable.

A few years ago I read an article about the use of color on new cars, and what colors are popular in different time eras.  In the late 1950’s most cars had two color tones, and many had three. More recently there has been a steep rise in what I would call the “non-colors” of white, silver, and black.  Since I do not like any of them, I was curious as to what percentage of people would choose colors that I would eschew for me.  This requires placing to one side the fact that we’ve owned three black cars, because Susan likes them!

On visits to my daughter and her husband, then living about 50 miles north east of San Francisco, I’d go for a walk to sit and smoke my pipe. I began to note the % of cars in those three non-colors – adding the numbers in my head in groups of 50. I also did this on visits to sister-in-law Meghan’s place in Los Gatos, as Susan and her kids and Meghan would often be shopping or at the movies. I had lots of time to hang out at the local exotic car emporium or sit in the downtown park and – watch cars go by.

Weird, but a relatively harmless affectation.

When I worked at Ride West BMW I would often take my lunch to a bench in a park about a mile away and continue my “research.”  I also did a lot of this on my recent motorcycle ride to Minnesota and back. A good way to unwind from the mental focus required to ride a motorcycle all day was to sit in the evening and meditate – while counting cars.

After several years of this and a data bank of many thousands of vehicles, some conclusions can be drawn, if you’ve not fallen asleep yet.

First of all, I did not include taxis, huge trucks, or “commercial” vehicles. Any car or small truck with graphics on the side was eliminated, as many of them are ordered as a fleet in some blah color or non-color. I made an exception for something like a yard maintenance truck that had clearly begun life as a consumer purchase.

As it turns out, the percentage of vehicles that are white, silver, or black will rise and fall depending on the economic status of the region.  Out on the Interstate, where the traffic is a mix of locals and vacationers, the black, white, and silver cars will make up about 66% of all vehicles. In a high-end area, such as Los Gatos, it will rise to over 70%. This is even more telling in Los Gatos, because there are an abundance of exotic cars, which are usually in a bright color, but their numbers are dwarfed by fleets of Mercedes and Porsche and BMW vehicles, almost all of them in black or silver.

Near Ride West, an area with a much lower demographic economically, the percentage declines to the high 50’s, and the cars are older.   In a small and relatively poor town like Lewistown, Montana, the percentage is 50%.  That low number was replicated in East Spokane, also a relatively poor area.

In East Spokane I was sitting on a bus bench that was only a foot or two from the curb, and a new data consideration emerged. Not only were the cars and trucks of color about 50% of the total, but an amazing number of them contained people smoking cigarettes. Here in Western Washington, a cigarette smoker is a person almost defying political correctness, and pretty rare.

I’ve noticed recently that brand new cars and trucks are swinging the other way. Ford pick-up trucks are now made in a brilliant dark blue, and in my research that appear to be selling in huge numbers in North Dakota, Montana, and Idaho.  New cars also seem to be joining the trend – which I find heartening.

Not all colors are created equal. I like yellow cars, but it must be a “good” yellow. Porsche and Ferrari use a great yellow – pretty much identical to my 2000 Ford Focus. When we purchased our Fiat, we passed by the yellow shade because it was too bland. Besides, it’s an Italian car, so it should be red, all things being equal. But they seldom are, and the Fiat red was not inspiring either, so we paid extra for “Rosso Brilliante,” which is a darker red with some brightener in it – much better.  The new model Corvette comes in a wonderful deep metallic green that I bet few people would order.  I would, but I am not all that fond of the car. The previous Z06 model comes in a great shade of yellow or an even better shade of metallic maroon.   Come on lottery ticket!

And what does all this mean?  Pretty much nothing, unless you work for a car company judging consumer buying trends and color preferences.  Bring on the reds, yellows, metallic greens, blues, and deep maroons, I say!


Copyright 2014                            David Preston

Posted in Cars, Rants and Raves | 1 Comment

Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt III

Riders for Health Scavenger Hunt III – August 15th – 17th,  2014

This year’s edition of the Scavenger Hunt would be different for me – my first time attending as a participant instead of as the representative of Ride West.  I ended up taking on the task of corralling most of the door prizes, and we ended up with more than ever.  Possibly because I no longer felt awkward about contacting friends at other dealerships who are competing with Ride West!  Accordingly, I gathered large boxes of cool stuff from Nelson-Rigg, Lynnwood Triumph, Smokey Point Cycle Barn, and I-90 Motorsports.

A special note for Kerry Deaton at I-90, who forgot all about the door prizes until too late Thursday night. Instead of accepting my “That’s OK – next time,” he chose to get up early Friday morning, ride with the door prizes from his home to where some of us met for breakfast to deliver some amazing gifts, and then turn around and ride to work at I-90 in Issaquah – probably about 80 miles all told. Full respect!

I was certainly assisted by Ride West, as I took them the door prizes Thursday morning, added other prizes and some Riders stuff, and also dropped off a large bag with my camping gear.  All of it went in the Ride West events van. This was such a help, as taking camping gear on a Speed Triple plus door prizes plus… won’t work.

Three of us left brekkie together, while Bill Hucks chose to take the short route across the pond on the ferry.  Bill is the techno-whiz source for the event, and had earlier delivered his computer and assorted accoutrements to Deb Shiel, who’d be taking her truck.

Donna Gaross was to go with us, but a late emergency at work meant she had to take the ferry later in the day.

And so we were off.  Tony Basile with his Ural sidecar (which also carried his pizza paddle for duty Saturday night), Robert Okrie on his BMW R 1200 GS Adventure, and me on my trusty Triumph Speed Triple, which would cross the 40,000 mile mark during the weekend.

The initial plan was to follow a complex route Tony had laid out that would take us east and then south – skirting the traffic horror that is I-5.  Just in case, I placed an old school actual paper map in my tank bag.  Good thing, as Tony and Robert’s “smart phones” proved to be having an idiot day and would not show the route.

As is the theme for my trips this summer, it was raining – counter to all the forecasts. Still believing in the forecast (and why?) I did not put the liner in my Rev’It! jacket, and was soon entertained by water soaking into my turtleneck and shirt combo.

Additional amusement came from following Tony. For one thing, he would often loft the right wheel of the sidecar just for fun. Even better, his tail lights featured a Ural-specific “random” function. Sometimes both taillights would work, and sometimes only one. Sometimes there would be a brake light, and sometimes not.  Took me a while to figure out what I was seeing, or not seeing.

At one point Tony turned on a small highway I was pretty sure dead-ended in the middle of Mt. Rainier, but I’d never actually followed that highway so maybe…  As we passed Carbonado and a sign saying “No Gas from here on,” I realized Tony was directionally challenged, so I caught and passed the two in front and whoa-ed us all down for the first of several U-turns.

For the rest of the day I relied on my map, gradually turning to mush inside the Nelson-Rigg tank bag, which is water proof but not humidity proof. I was determined not to lead the ride, as I did that for 14 years. Whenever I knew an intersection with a turn was coming I would pass the pair in front of me again, lead them through the turn, and then wave them by.

In this fashion we managed to make the 80 mile trip (if you use the ferry) into a 230 mile day of great fun!

Once at the Cove RV Park and Store, we set up camp and met up with friends old and new.  Tracy Jeffries had already arrived with the Ride West van and all of the stuff for the event was set up, so all I needed to do was fetch my gear bag out of the van and erect the tent, etc. Spoiled!

By evening many of the participants had arrived, including Mary McGee – the “star” of the event. At the age of 77, with more than 50 years of racing on her resume and personal friendships with virtually everyone of note in sports car road racing, motorcycle road racing, and motorcycle off-road racing, Mary is a treasure horde of stories that go on forever. I knew she would inspire all Saturday evening with her stories, as she did last year.

We used Deb’s truck and Mary’s rental car to ferry those interested to the Gooeyduck restaurant for their $14.99 prime rib special. A great time, assisted by watching the end of a Mariner’s game  (they won), and then the first half of a Seahawks pre-season game that looked more like a highlight reel as they crushed San Diego.  We had a lot of time to watch, as the service was beyond slow and finally reached full ineptitude status.   My little group was served first, so I’ll leave the bitter complaints to others, but I doubt we will return.

One of the fun aspects of the evening was getting to meet “Flank Steak Kay’s” new fella. She earned the name the first year (she’s an amazing cook) and each year brings ever more of her famous flank steak for the Saturday night potluck, and it always disappears in minutes.  We teased her that we had not met this “Rory” person yet and had not “approved” of him. That went away in very short order. What a nice man!

We spent the evening watching last week’s Moto GP on the “big screen” attached to a wall and played from Bill’s computer.  With his Moto GP subscription there are no commercials, and we even substituted the commentary (which we could replicate with more wit) for a background of various funk – jazz music.  Awesome!

Saturday morning again this year Kay volunteered to make breakfast for all for a donation to Riders, and Rory was there to help. In addition, one of Rory’s sons and his wife drove in to assist, and the 4 of them fed thirty of more people an amazing repast – with Riders for Health getting the entire take of the donations.

For the actual event, you could choose from a variety of street or off-road routes, or make up your own.  You can ride in a group, as almost everyone does, or go solo. You get a list of “targets,” with varying point values, and in the evening you sit down with a “judge” (either Bill or Deb) to go over your pictures.  Creative cheating and bribes are encouraged.

My street group consisted of Tony with his Ural,  Mike with a 2nd Ural  (how many events have you attended with TWO Ural sidecars?), Donna on her Ninja 500, Bill Hucks on his Honda CBR 250, Phoenix Rudner on his BMW R 1200GS with his dog Tapas in a backpack, and me on my Speed Triple.  Eclectic.

I recommended that we first stop at a flea market fund raiser for the local fire brigade – 8 miles or so down the road at the fire station. My group had stopped there last year and had a fun time and also scored a lot of points with pictures of items.

You might think it would be pretty easy to find a flea market at a fire station right on the road you are riding, but Tony made it more complicated. Eventually they all joined me there, as after Tony’s 2nd wrong turn I chose to just ride to it and wait for them.

We were heading for Lake Wynoochie, which I’d never heard of.  Actually, I had heard of it last year, rode part way there, and promptly forgot all about it. Part of the way there I figured out that my map did not actually show all the roads – hmmm.  Accordingly, in a remote area Tony paused at a house with a fellow with a Harley in the front yard and asked him for directions. He informed us that there was a boring way and a great way.  The great way featured lots of twisties, but also “about 5 miles” of dirt road, but he assured us it would not be a problem.

The Honda CBR 250, the Kawasaki Ninja 500, and the Triumph Speed Triple are not your first, 2nd, or 83rd choices as dirt bikes but hey – let’s check it out.  When we got to the dirt section Tony on his two wheel drive Ural and Phoenix on the BMW GS 1200 led off. If the going got rough they would see it first and we could always change our minds and take the boring route instead.  As it turned out – no worries – and we rode to Lake Wynoochie for a lovely break and fantastic scenery.

On the way back I was being a good boy and following obediently, as I had been for two days.  But really, the road was perfect, there was no traffic or population, and the Urals cruise at about 50mph.   This does not abide…

Finally I pulled out and passed and headed down the road at a pace more suitable for a Speed Triple.  Phoenix caught my drift, and followed me and then passed me, which made the GoPro video I was creating much more fun!  Eventually we came to the turn back onto the dirt, and I turned sideways and stopped in the middle of the road for the others behind to see me when they arrived and for Phoenix, when he came back after blowing by the turn.  We regrouped in a few minutes, traversed the dirt section, and had a pleasant cruise back to camp.

We spend a lot of time consuming a lot of incredible food. Tony made several pizzas in the outdoor oven, there was Kay’s flank steak, and the owners of The Cove RV Park donated a couple of hundred dollars’ worth of fresh crab!

As Deb and Bill did their judging duties, Deb asked me to come up with “Special Awards” for folks who did not win the contest.  She wanted 3 or 4, but I came up with about two dozen.  After representatives from the two winning teams (there was a tie) duked it out in a spirited game that involved tossing two balls attached by a string and trying to loop them over one of three horizontal cords on a rack (harder than it sounds) we began to dispense the special awards.   I don’t recall all of them, but the ones I do remember will give you the flavor.


Highest Speed Attained Award:              Phoenix

Loudest Riding Pants Award:                  Kurt (this was actually a compliment. Kurt wears orange and white off-road pants and primarily white boots. They still looked that way when he returned.  If I’d ridden off-road for a day I’d look like someone dragged by a horse through a swamp)

Best New Boyfriend Award:                    Rory

GQ Style Award:                                        Tony and Me (matching shirts and shorts)

Best Photographer Award:                     Gary (a perennial award)

Best Inappropriate Language Award:      Mary McGee

Most Farkles Award:                             Tad (Also meant to be a compliment, as he’s added a lot of function to his BMW GS 800 Adventure.  Later I was told of the chrome made-in-China highway pegs he’d added –   oh good grief!)

Tardy Award:                                             Ruth – who arrived after all had returned

Best Ural Technology Award:                 Mike (fuel injection!)

And many more…

I think every person got something in the way of a door prize (one of my goals) and after that I auctioned off several items that had been donated by the participants (!), including two bottles of “Dirty Girls” wine, and four (!) bottles of Scotch, Brandy, etc.

And then for the highlight of the evening, as Mary McGee entertained all with stories of the famous and infamous from her decades of racing. As she did last year, she mesmerized all.  Amazing human being.

As the night ebbed on we watched more motorcycle videos from Bill played on the wall, and enjoyed the bonfire with a wagon load of wood also donated by The Cove. Conversations flowed back and forth, and I am sure the dirt riding folks have many a tale to tell that I missed out on.

Sunday morning was a treat that I’m kicking myself I forgot. For those who remembered to get up at 5am, or were able to, Bill played the Moto GP race from Brno LIVE.

People got up at their own sweet pace, and packed up slowly, still enjoying the whole atmosphere. Tad made individual cups of his “2nd Crack” home roasted coffee, with all the French press and filter and etcetera ephemera he’d brought with him.  About the time it occurred to me to help pack up the Ride West van I realized that others had already done all that!

Many went up the road a bit for a farewell breakfast, but my group chose to just ride to the ferry. Even that was special, as the crossing was slowed several times by – we never found out. The ferry would slow, or even stop, and the fog horn blew repeatedly. There was intense fog, and a lookout crew member at the bow. When we finally reached Edmonds a crew member was pointing with his arm, as evidently he could see the pier better than the captain could in the command house.  Eerie sunshine lit up the fog and made it all look like a movie set.

But no worries – we were ashore and then home.   And now the wait for next year.

There are many things that make this event special, but what stands out to me is that everyone brings something special to the party.  As I picture each person in my head, I see them smiling, and usually helping out in some way.  Display areas are erected, food is prepared, clean-up takes place, and a multitude of tasks are completed with ease, but never alone and never with the need to be asked.

In addition there is the generosity. People pay the entry fee, bring more to the potluck than they can consume, donate additional items of value to be auctioned off, and participate in the auction.  Gary Stebbins even raised his one bid for one item because he thought it should bring more!

Mary has promised to return, and healed from shoulder surgery, she will be riding a street bike next year.  What do you intend to do when you are 78?


David Preston                              Copyright 2014



Posted in Motorcycles, Rants and Raves | 2 Comments

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part VII

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part VII

I reached Lewistown, Montana in the mid-afternoon, and stopped for fuel and to inquire about any reasonably priced motels with outdoor pools. I was told I could have one or the other but not both, and was referred to a Super 8 a mile or so through town.

Resigned to a blah experience, I idled through the small town and suddenly – there it was. The “Trail’s End” motel – a virtual time capsule of the 1950s motels I loved as a child. A U shaped small business with a small office at the base and only about 15 units. The elderly man at the counter was the caretaker, on temporary duty for the manager. I explained my joy at finding such a place, and stated that I’d never had a bad experience with a motel like this.

“Well then, this will be your first,” he replied. But he was kidding.  I pushed my bike ten feet from the office to my room, and soared back in time. A small room with one bed, a small bathroom, and a TV and small fridge. Perfect.  The “smoker’s area” was a pair of chairs right outside the door.

How old was this motel? Your room is opened with an actual metal key.  How quaint! The key, in fact, did not work, as I could not remove it with the door locked, but it seemed churlish to mention it. I just left the door unlocked.

Unpacked and changed into shorts, I reposed in one of the chairs and basked in my good fortune. A few doors down I noticed and man and a woman that were either Amish or Mennonite by their attire, which was intriguing.  Eventually I wandered across the street to the old school drive in, and dined in style with an excellent cheeseburger, Dr. Pepper, and fries.  Bliss.

Back to my chair for the evening, the gentleman I’d noticed earlier came by and sat down to chat.  I asked if he were Amish or Mennonite, as I knew the Amish were not allowed to drive. He explained they were Amish, and had a driver for the white van in front of their room. They’d come West with their daughter and a friend of hers, and a non-Amish driver. The intent was to help a friend in a nearby Amish settlement move.  On the way back they would take a meandering route, and I believe he mentioned the Grand Canyon. I asked if he’d take pictures and then put on a slide show for the community, and then asked quickly, in case I’d offended, if they were allowed to use the technology of slide projectors.  They are, and he explained it would be quite something.

Chatting with him was fascinating.  He was interested in my Triumph, and although he knew nothing about motorcycles, he could tell it was not the typical choice for a touring bike. I explained how it worked for me, and we both enjoyed the talk.  I noticed later that the van had business plates, so evidently the Amish purchase vehicles for use as needed, to be driven by others. Interesting compromise.

I think this is one of the finest aspects of traveling alone on a motorcycle. Everyone you meet is friendly, most want to talk, and all seem willing to help you if you have any problems. Would I have taken in this experience if I had been in a car? Maybe.

The next morning dawned rain free (at last!) and I romped into Great Falls for a McDonald’s breakfast that, as usual, was fast, inexpensive, filling, and utterly unremarkable.

After breakfast I rode to the intersection with Highway 200, a route heartily recommended by my friend Walt Greenwood at one of the meetings of our small breakfast group. Highway 200 twists and turns its way all the way to Missoula, and it was every bit the delight Walt had predicted. A gorgeous day, and light traffic. Some semis, some locals, and the occasional pair or trio of motorcycles, all of them cruising at a rate slower than me.  A fantastic way to spend a morning.

Until the construction zone…

I knew I’d been lucky so far. The only construction zones that got in my way had been in Minneapolis, where Susan and I drove around in a rental car looking for places important to my youth we were constantly stymied by an amazing number of Road Closed and Detour signs. As I was already unsure of where I was going, this grew to comic proportions – so much so that when I got home and pulled into the garage Susan had made a sign for me that said “Road Closed – Detour!”

The construction zone on Highway 200 was several miles long, and seemed much longer than that.  It started with a stop for a time, and the fellow in front of me got out of his pickup truck to retrieve a bottle of water from the cooler in the bed. He raised a 2nd bottle toward me and asked if I wanted one.  People are so nice to solo motorcyclists.

Eventually a pilot car arrived and we set off. The surface was gravel and hard-packed dirt, with lots of chuckholes, and I wandered back and forth trying to find a line least likely to bend or fracture a wheel rim.  It would seem to get better, and then worse. Finally the pilot car pulled off and we were back on pavement – for about 100 yards.

Then we were stopped again. The 2nd stretch had no pilot car, and the road gradually got worse, become soft sand and rocks in places.  I thought of all my friends who tease me because I do not enjoy dirt riding very much, and knew they would be telling me what a great time I was having.

Eventually I escaped unharmed and made it to the small town of Bonner, where I celebrated with a long break at a gas station with a deli sort of thing.

The previous day I’d been flirting with altering my route from here to home by going North and riding West across the North Cascades.  After all, I was now almost a full day ahead of my rough pre-ride schedule. Then I remembered that there’d been serious fires in that area when I’d left almost two weeks ago. I could assume that things were better, but when we assume…  Eventually I was overcome with “horse going to the barn” syndrome and simply wanted to be home again.

West of Missoula it got hot – and then it got much hotter.  By the time I reached Post Falls I could tell I was heating up, but even in my leather pants I was not all that uncomfortable. My Rev’It! jacket kept an amazing airflow running through my upper half.   In Post Falls I was riding on a lane of fresh asphalt, and the heat simply baked into me like a potato in an oven.  At the motel later I learned that it was 107 degrees in Post Falls when I rode through – warm enough for sure.

Nearing Spokane, it dawned on me that Spokane would have a rush hour, as the freeway traffic was thickening apace.  It was obvious I would get home tomorrow, a full day early, so what was there to prove?

I chose to veer off in East Spokane, and found the most modern and largest Motel 6 I’d ever seen.  After unpacking and changing, I let the air conditioned room work on me for a bit and then took off for a walk.  Five blocks down was a gas station, where I purchased two cans of cold Budweiser – 25 ounces each – and two small bottles of milk.  On the way back to the motel I paused at a Wendy’s for two big cheeseburgers and some fries.  Back in my room I astonished myself by consuming all of it in short order, except for saving one of the bottles of milk for later. Since I usually do not drink more than two beers, a bit over four was unusual, but a good way to take care of any dehydration.

The last day was a simple romp across Washington on I-90. Many people hate this route, but I kind of like it.  On a Wednesday the dreaded back-up East of Cle Elum did not appear, and I sped home unimpeded.

On trips in my youth I was always worried the last day. Much like what I’ve read that winning race drivers experience on the last lap, I’d hear phantom sounds of mechanical mayhem from the engine. Paranoia raged that serious problems would rear up in my face. This time not so much – the Triumph had run perfectly the entire way, was in fact getting better mpg than when I left, and seemed to strut its way the remaining 300 miles.


A word or two about the Triumph Speed Triple: When you own a Triumph you always hear remarks about oil leaks (“marking its territory”), or electrics (Joseph Lucas – Prince of Darkness), all of them stemming from the Triumphs of the 1960s, and all of them deserved at that time.

But now?  My Triumph is a 2006 model with almost 40,000 miles on the odometer. On this trip I never bothered to check the oil level, water in the radiator, or tire pressure.  To write this I did check the oil, and the bike consumed about ½ a cup of oil in 3700 miles.  That works for me.

All in all, the trip went pretty much exactly as I had imagined it would, for over 40 years.

I’m now pondering the when and where of the next one
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part VI

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part VI

Every trip seems to have “the day,” a day of difficulties that you remember more for what you survived than the pleasure of the ride. Sunday the 27th started out well, however.

I left Chanhassen riding North on I-494 and then I-94, heading for Fargo.  The road was pleasant, and the sun gradually warming things up and the morning rain, which by now I sort of expected.

I was distracted at one point by a sign indicating a turn for “Lake Wobegone Trails,” which I discovered just now is named after the fictional town on “Prairie Home Companion.”

As I approached Fargo I had a dilemma.  Two decades ago Susan and I had befriended a first year teacher, Michelle Moore. She had just moved West with her Microsoft husband from Iowa and Iowa State University, where Michelle had gained All-American status both academically and as a fast-pitch softball player. She’d been hired to teach and be the head coach of the JHS softball team.  In November, her 3rd month of teaching, one of the parents approached her and volunteered to be one of her assistant coaches. She thought about it for a couple of days and then told the parent that since this was her first program, she preferred to put together her own staff. The man replied with “That’s fine, but this is Juanita. If you do not make it to the state tournament you will probably not be back.”

I was appalled and really angry. This was a first year teacher!  I told Michelle that what she needed was an old crusty fart to stand between her and the parents.  I did not know diddly-squat about fast pitch softball, but I could hit fly balls to the girls and do other minor chores.  I would volunteer to be her unpaid assistant.

What followed were two years of mostly terrific adventures. For one thing, the team did make it to the state tournament the first year, and just missed out the second. I could never be bothered to learn the myriad signals sent to the batter, so I was the 1st base coach, responsible only for warning the runner if the 2nd base person was trying to sneak behind her for a tag.  Since I got bored, I began making up signals to send to Michelle, many of which cracked her up.  I also actually won and argument with an umpire, probably the peak experience of this career.  The batter took ball three and the umpire mistakenly said “Ball four.”  The batter walked to 1st base and the runner on 1st walked to 2nd.  Then the umpire realized his error and instructed the batter to come back and the runner on 2nd to retreat to first.  I leapt in and complained. The runner on first had actually stolen 2nd, albeit while walking. He agreed, the runner was returned to 2nd, and I was amazed.

I invented a drill for my outfielders. I made a stick figure and put a shirt on it to represent the cut off person.  I would hit a long fly ball and if the girl could catch it and then hit the cut-off, she would receive a Snickers bar as a reward. That cost me several Snickers bars, as the girls were very good. The drill was so popular that the infielders wanted a shot. Then I went a step too far.  I painted a large GO REBS on the shirt.   Fine, but from a distance the G and the O looked like two big breasts. The girls thought this was hilarious.

I also had the best batting average on the team. One day at practice it was decided that I should try an at bat. We had two pitchers who both went on to college on full-ride scholarships, which was a significant factor in our success.

I’d played some baseball and softball, but never faced a really good fastpitch softball pitcher. The ball leaves her hand at about knee height and then explodes upward toward you!  Her first pitch was, I think, her changeup, and I swung about a day late. Strike One. The second pitch was the same – Strike Two!  For the third pitch I think I started to swing while she was in her wind-up and I drove a line drive right up the middle for a single. Everything stopped. This was a girl who gave up one or two hits a game against some of the best players in the area. Nobody moved and nobody spoke, as what had happened was inconceivable.

I was smart enough never to go up to bat again, and “retired” with a 1000 average. Later, one of the players went over with me, in detail, everything I had done wrong. I stood at the back of the box, as you do for hardball. Wrong. I swung off my back foot. Wrong. I held the bat – wrong. It was all great fun.

The first year I had great fun with the umpires. They would show up and assume I was the head coach.  We would chat for a while and then they would ask for my line-up. I would explain that they would have to talk to the Head Coach for that.  They would always look around in confusion.  Who would that be?  I would direct them to Michelle, who was usually doing warm up exercises with her team, and with a hat and a pony tail and sunglasses looked exactly like one of the players.  Eventually they all knew exactly who she was, because our team was so well coached and had such success.

More importantly, Michelle was the only person in my life that has ever been able to explain to me something wrong without creating resentment.  I had coached about 30 teams over the years and was hardly a rookie, but I handled a couple of situations that Michelle did not approve of.  Each time she explained what she had seen, what she did not like about it, and how she would prefer I handled a similar situation in the future. Here was a 25 year old explaining to the old guy, in ways that were perfectly acceptable, how to change his behavior.  Remarkable.

Brian and Michelle had moved to Fargo several years ago and we had lost touch.  Did I want to stop and see if I could find her phone number?  Ironically, I messed up a confusing freeway exit while stopping for fuel and rode by the Microsoft office building – twice.  I decided not to bother her, and two days after I got home she called me, for the first time in several years and said “Guess where I am?”  I responded with “Guess where I just was!”  They were in Juanita on a vacation, so we had dinner at our house with Michelle and Brian and their two fantastic sons, and it all worked out well.

West of Fargo the drudgery began.  It never really got warm, and the rain came and went in that frustrating pattern where you are dealing with road slop kicked up onto your face shield. It would be far easier to ride in a steady rain. Worse, the wind picked up – a lot. When my nose is touching the chin bar of my helmet the wind is really strong.  Given the conditions, there was little reason to stop at rest areas or for fuel more than absolutely required, and as a result rode 556 miles – my longest distance of the trip.  An almost total absence of corners for the entire width of North Dakota did not help.

I ended up in Dickinson, North Dakota, almost to the Western border of the state.  I stopped at what looked like a 2nd tier motel, and the woman at the desk could hardly be bothered to look at me. I asked for a room on the first floor, as motorcyclists like to be near the bike and be able to see. After a long pause while she looked at her computer screen with abject boredom, she announced that the room would be $122.

For the first time in my life, I said “I think I’ll keep looking.”  That was fine with here.  Four blocks up the street I found a Rodeway Inn of the same apparent level of “unposh,” but the rate was $57.

Dickinson is in the oil boom going on in North Dakota.  I fellow motorcyclist later mentioned that I was wise no to choose the northern route on US 2 I had considered, as the semis and oil rigs trucks were no numerous it was one big traffic jam all day.  Dickinson is a town that might be described as “hardscrabble,” although I do not know what that word means literally. The people work hard, and are hard. I had never had a motel room with a small safe in it for your valuables and guns!

I parked my bike right outside the window and left the window open all night so I could hear if anyone was messing with my bike. That was a greater worry than someone breaking in to my room.  It was the longest and hardest day of the trip. My left forearm ached from holding on to the bike in the wind, bringing worries about how the two severed tendons in that elbow would make their absence known, and felt, the next day.

In the morning I suffered through what the Rodeway provided as a “breakfast.” It was truly horrid, bur for a $57 room you really can’t expect all that much.

Now the highway began to rise and fall through North Dakota’s version of the Badlands, and it was wonderful. And no rain!


Thirty miles west of Dickinson I paused at the “Painted Canyon Rest Area” that was utterly spectacular. The vistas spread out in all directions, the colors a panoply of delight. Another “Beware of Rattlesnakes” sign added some zest, but I did not see any.  My left wrist hurt some, which I expected, but it was not debilitating.

Into Montana, and a turn off I-94 at Forsyth for a stretch of US 12 I had been looking forward to.  Over 100 miles long, with virtually no population at all, so I made sure the fuel tank was full.  And I learned that my mental state had changed in forty years.

In my youth I’d loved roads like this. Ignorance is bliss. Now, while I cruised along at 85mph, I began to ponder what I would do if a problem arose.  A deer strike?  I would be sitting there injured or dead for a long time before anyone came along. What if I missed a turn?  Flat tire?  The logical side of my brain argued back. I was unlikely to miss a turn as all of the turns I came to could be handled easily.  If I had a flat tire I could take out the tire repair kit and air compressor in the pack and fix it, for crying out loud!  Still, the voices of paranoia would not be stilled – voices I never heard when I was 22 because I was young enough and had such ignorance that the possibility of a problem or two never entered my head.

Desperate to break the cycle (pun not intended at all) and think of something else, I began to rehearse a short speech to be given as a toast at the rehearsal dinner for our son’s wedding in September.  That did the trick!   I gave the speech over and over in my head, making it shorter and refining it, and that got me all the way back to the relative security of Highway 87 – a “red line” road on the map and thus a more major road.

By the late afternoon I’d reached Lewistown, and it had been a great day.

Coming in Part VII                  The best motel, a great burger, and chatting with the Amish
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part V

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part V

The all years’ reunion for Minnetonka High School is held every four years. It began in 2002, which was the 50th anniversary of the opening of the school. For the class of 1965, thanks to the tireless Sharon, there was an additional treat – a three hour boat cruise on the lake for Class of ’65 alumni and assorted spouses.   When we gathered at the marina in Excelsior for the cruise, Sharon had printed up stick on name badges for all, with the graduation pictures. This was very helpful to me, as I was not able to identify everyone on sight as I had Charlie the previous day.

The cruise was fantastic. Sharon had set it up with a cash bar and a buffet of fantastic sandwiches and shrimp, encouraging people to “mingle” and not get stuck in place at a sit down dinner.  I had dozens of conversations with old friends and heard a lot of stories about me in high school that I had long forgotten.  Most of these people seemed to have photographic memories, while I had moved away and left the past, even though it was happy, in the past.

I am not sure something like this could take place in the Seattle area. I’d never heard of a high school with an alumni associate, complete with glossy quarterly magazine. The school has a wall dedicated both to a staff hall of fame and a student hall of fame. The majority of my classmates had never moved very far away, and even many of those who had seemed to be in very close contact with everyone they grew up with.  As I’d never been to a reunion, I was often a bit lost. Susan was terrific, and enjoyed lots of short conversations with friends from my youth, who were all warm and gracious and welcoming to her.

I had a chat with my brother in law’s partner about this last week.  He grew up in Indiana and feels that this retention of high school contacts and memories is a Midwest thing.

In any case, the boat cruise was three hours of mingling and chatting and listening to fabulous stories.  All of them were positive, and most were funny.   I suppose it’s natural that only those with positive memories would want to return for such events, but even so, getting over 100 people (including spouses) onto a paid boat excursion 49 years later is really impressive.  I recall that there were just over 400 in our graduating class.

My oldest brother graduated #1 in his class of 1960. My second brother graduated #2 in the class of 1961.  I was #96.  I exclaimed to my parents that they must be proud that all three of their sons had graduated in the top 25% of their respective classes.  As they had spent years wondering at the disparity between my standardized test scores and my actual grades, they were not all that amused….

One of my friends from childhood was Gary Mosiman. He reminded me of a fond memory, in a surprising way.  When we were in grade school, ever winter recess was spent in massive snowball fights, which were allowed back then. High banks of snow pushed up around the parking lot by the plows made natural forts. The two “teams” in those days were the Indians vs. the US Cavalry.   My mother, in a fit of genius, sewed a yellow stripe down the outside of each pant leg of a pair of jeans, and I had – Cavalry pants!    Gary told me that those pants made him virtually sick with envy every time I wore them. He begged his mother to make him a pair, and she refused.  I had no idea.

I also spent some time with Jerry Marquardt. Jerry and I had combined our lives several times in different ways. In 7th grade we ran against each other for class president. I won, and I was told the reason was that some of the kids from Jerry’s school did not like him, and voted for someone they did not know at all instead. Whatever the reason, being the President of the 7th Grade Class was fun, and also got me the chance to meet and spend time with Olympic Champion Jesse Owens, so I am very glad Jerry lost!

My senior year in high school the basketball coach watched me in gym class one day.  I was a mediocre or less player, but on that day I was hitting every shot I took.  He asked me to turn out for the team.  I knew I was WAY out of my depth, but gosh, when the coach asks you…  I was one of those cut from the team, and should have been, but the team won the state title, so I can always claim I was cut from the best team in the state that year!   And by the way, this was before the complexity of ranking by size. There was no A or AAA or 4A classifications – just one team was the champion – Minnetonka.

During tryouts I lasted long enough to take part in a scrimmage. I was to guard Jerry, and he dribbled down the court looking at me with a silly smirk on his face. I could hear his thoughts in my head – “I may go to the right, or to the left, or just straight over the top of you, but it makes no difference because you can’t stop me.”  So true.

In the state title game, the opponents decided to slow down the high-powered MHS offense with a full-court press. The way you beat a full court press is with a lot of quick and accurate passes.  You do not give the ball to your all-state guard and let him dribble around and through the press.  Unless it was Jerry. He destroyed their full-court press all by himself.

At the end of the game the best looking cheerleader rushed up and leaped into Jerry’s arms, and my jealousy soared.  Three years later it got worse. I was sharing a house with four other guys, and three blocks away Jerry and his gorgeous wife were in their rented house. In the driveway sat a brand new Triumph Bonneville. Envy doesn’t begin to cover my emotions.

Years later I learned from Jerry that the Triumph had been stolen when it was two months old, and that he and the cheerleader later divorced. There’s lesson in there somewhere. I suppose.

Jerry was my lab partner for Chemistry.  Because he had exceptionally quick hands, whenever we needed a piece of equipment for an experiment he was just as likely to snatch one from another table than to use one checked out to us.  When it came time to check in our stuff at the end of the year, I was shocked to see we had multiples of almost everything!  Jerry just smiled.

But the best story is one I was delighted to hear that Jerry has been telling people in the same way I have for 49 years.  One day in class the teacher was back in his office. I was sitting on the lab counter for who knows what reason, when we noticed that the tall chrome water faucet was leaking at its base.  I put my hand on the top of it and wiggled it back and forth and said “Jerry, this is loose.”  At that moment the pipe fractured at the base and came off in my hand!  The stream of water shot straight up to the ceiling and then sprayed out and rained down on the class, who were screaming and running for the walls.   In panic, I tried to stem the gusher by placing my thumb over the pipe. Now the water was shooting out sideways, giving me a nice wet crotch for my efforts.  The only part of the story I did not recall was that the teacher dashed back into the room and yelled “Marquardt!” because he assumed Jerry was the culprit for this disaster.

After three hours of socializing both of us were utterly spent.  We drove back to the Inn and woke up the next day still exhausted. I learned something here.  For all the years I worked in the motorcycle industry I would occasionally lead groups of customers on rides lasting from three (most of them) to five to nine days. I had a terrific time on all of them, and nothing ever went seriously wrong, but I was always useless for a day or two after – totally drained of adrenaline.  I always assumed it was due to the stress of riding a motorcycle far and fast for several days, and in fact I was a little worried about my stamina for this trip. Turns out it was not the motorcycle at all, but the strain of being social and nice to everyone and trying to make sure everyone was OK and having a great time that was so debilitating.

Saturday we planned a relaxing morning, and drove into Minneapolis to Lake Harriet, a small body of water that contains a walking track all around it and a bandstand and concession stand at one end. I have fond memories of attending evening concerts there as a child, and a couple or romantic dates in college. I would rent a canoe, eager to show off my prowess and a canoeist, and the young lady and I would paddle around listening to the concert and gorging on some delicious fresh taffy. I lifted the entire scene for my novel Mourning Ride, but placed it in a fictional town in Kansas.

Like everything else, it had changed a lot. The bandstand was all new and rotated 90 degrees.  My musician older brother told me that evening of one big improvement. The old one had the musicians facing directly into the sun, and there were many pieces where the director could not be seen at all!

I will probably use the current one in some fashion for the current novel, so in a way it is good that it is different.

Back to the motel for an outstanding lunch outside a local spot, and then a brief rest to prepare for the evening.

We left early to drive to Minnetonka High, where a shuttle system of buses has been set up to deliver celebrants to the event. Arriving in Excelsior before the event opened, we adjourned to another outside eatery downtown and had a fantastic light nosh.  As we watched the hustle and bustle, it occurred to us that this was the whitest crowd we had ever seen.  We were surrounded by tall and quite good looking men and women of all ages, especially the women.  I may be biased there.  Eventually we decided to count the non-whites, if we could find any. Eventually, two black people strolled by, and then a family of five Asians. That was it.  Amazing.

We arrived as the event was just starting. It was held in a long rectangle of lakeside park down a ways from the marina of the night before. Inside there were several large tents and a schedule for 30 minute time periods for two year grouping of alums to meet up. Expansive lawns provided standing room for several thousand people aged 20 – 85.There was also a huge tent selling MHS t-shirts and even used football jerseys.  These were tempting and reasonably priced, but since I had never played for the team I decided that would be stupid.

Although I’d played center on offense and center linebacker on defense through 9th grade, and been a co-captain in 9th, when my grades for the fall quarter came home my parents abruptly retired me from football.  In hindsight, that was for the best.

And then things got decidedly weird.  My brother Jim is 4 years older than me, and I had not seen him since my wedding day – in 1972.  Estranged from my father, Jim also stopped communicating with me.  No good explanation was ever offered. I sent him Christmas cards and letters for 25 years with no response. When my father moved back to our area when he was about to die and knew it (so he could be closer to me), Jim never offered any words of support or anything else, and allowed me to deal with the funeral and all the attendant horrors of dealing with my father’s 5th wife, who was a real piece of work. He has never seen or spoken to my 39 year old daughter and 36 year old son. I had sent both of my brothers (eldest brother George lives in Auburn, California) an e-mail several months ago to say that I would be riding to the reunion on my bike, the dates I would be there, and my phone number.  George replied that he was not going this year, although he had been to the one four years ago. No response from Jim.

During my years at Ride West BMW I was paid a couple of visits by my classmate Nancy Carlson and her husband Bob Manders.  They would be visiting relatives in Bellingham, and would drop by Ride West on their way through Seattle with doughnuts for coffee and amiable conversation. During one of these sessions I learned that Nancy and Bob were good friends with Jim and his wife Judith!  I explained our family dynamic, which probably sounded weird – because it is.

As we strolled across the lawn we ran into Nancy and Bob.  Nancy told me that Jim was there.  She had asked him if he had seen me and he responded with “No. He’s been in town three days and has not even called me.”  At that point Susan blurted out “That’s total bullshit!”  She immediately apologized and was mortified, but I laughed as I told Nancy that I had sent my brother my phone number but that I did not even know his.  She asked if I wanted her to take me to see him and I declined, explaining that I’d played this game for forty years and that I was done.

We moved on to the tent where the Class of ’65 was to gather, and as we approached Susan elbowed me and said “That’s Jim!”  Remarkable she should pick him out, as she had not seen him in 42 years either and he looks quite a bit different.  And not all that healthy, really.  We chatted for a few minutes, but I was really uncomfortable even talking to him, and I realized I had a lot of rage inside me that I’d been glossing over for years.   We broke away and wandered off.

After a few minutes I felt badly. I would probably never see him again, after all, nor hear from him, and surely I should take his picture and make more of an effort. I left Susan in an unconscionably long line at the beer tent, and soon found Jim at one of the food vendors.  I took his picture and we chatted, quite amiably, for several more minutes.

After that the event began to lose fizz for me. I had already spent time with most of the old friends I had wanted to see.  Class President Don Mark (I gave him nomination speech) had gone on to a fabulous and storied career, and was rumored to be in line for a seat on the state Supreme Court. We enjoyed some time on the Friday night, but he did not think he would be able to get away from other commitments to attend Saturday.  As it turns out, he did manage to get there, shortly after we left. A shame.

We were “socialed” out, and also needed to get up before dawn for Susan to catch her flight home. As for me, I was eager to get on the bike and not talk to anyone for a while. We chose to amble over to the shuttle bus stop.

Jim again!  He had also used the shuttle, and was waiting for the same bus. We chatted all the way back to the school, and as we debarked asked if we would like to go somewhere to get a beer.  I was confused, but really, what kind of a jerk would say no to that?

We followed his lovely Audi A4 (with a stick transmission – some family traits are stronger than others) to a restaurant and had some nice dessert.

On the way back to the motel, Susan felt this had been monumental, and now everything would change.  I disagreed, and predicted nothing more would be heard of it.  We shall see.  As a last point of oddness, when I got home I decided to be a big boy and sent Jim an e-mail thanking him for waiting at the tent for us.  No response from him, but Judith wrote back to say she was sorry she had missed us and had hoped to get together Sunday; not realizing we were leaving.  Since I’d sent our itinerary to both of them months before, the event ended as it started – with me confused.

Back at the motel, we did some packing and reflected on a wonderful weekend. With all of that – it was time to go home.

Coming in Part VI                                                        Heading Home
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part IV

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part IV

I headed East into Minnesota after breakfast with Robert, and into yet another batch of rain. By now I was pretty much expecting it.  This was to be a short day, so I picked a perhaps less than shortest route by turning North on 23 to cruise to Pipestone.

I recalled Pipestone from my youth as an area where Native Americans gathered in centuries past, as there were clay deposits there that provided raw material for peace pipes. Thus the name. I’d never been there, but assumed it would now have all sorts of touristy spots vending pipes made of – clay.  A new pipe would make a good souvenir of my trip. In addition, I was out of tobacco for my pipe, which constituted the largest problem I had on the entire trip. Surely if there were stores selling pipes there would be a tobacco shop as well.

Oh, the irony. After seeing Mt. Rushmore and the Corn Palace ruined (to my eyes) by tourism, I got to Pipestone and found – nada. No tourist stops at all. I paused to refuel and survey the small town – indistinguishable from so many others. As I left town I noticed a sign stating the Pipestone Monument was 5 miles ahead on a side road, and I chose to skip it. That may have been an error.

I rolled along, reveling in a pleasant morning. The sun came out, the rain went away, and well-kept farms provided a continuing assault of pastoral views and odors both pleasant and… not so much.  A lovely time.

A ways up the road the map indicated the small town of Marshall a couple of miles off the main highway, and I decided, based on a total absence of data, that it would have a tobacco store.  I pulled into town and at the first stop light there it was – a large tobacco store on the corner. Feeling as smug as you do when you’ve made a nonsensical choice that works out, I got off the bike and walked to the door.

What?  It was just after 10am!  Looking inside I was not sure if the store was being re-modeled or was closed permanently. I chose to stroll around and chatted with a local about the store. Although he did not speak much English, he indicated in mime that the store owners were probably still asleep.  Hmmph.  After a few blocks of taking in the town, I tried again when I got back to the bike. Success!  A woman responded to my knocking on the door and let me in. They were re-modeling, in fact, and were just opening.  I purchased a large bag of pretty much crap tobacco and was on my way.

As a side note, the “good” tobacco is sent to me every 7 weeks from an emporium in Illinois I have never visited.  Been a client of theirs for 37 years!

Eventually I turned East on US 212. As I meandered through the very small town of Sacred Heart (odd name) I happened to notice a “City Park 2 blocks” sign with an arrow to the right. A stab of the front brake and a deft swerve to the right (a Speed Triple is very good at such things) and I idled to the park. An expansive lawn, tennis courts, a covered area with tables, play areas for children – and not a single person present.  Fine with me. I sat at a table taking notes and eventually figured out what was missing.  No rest rooms? Really? A park capable of easily handling several hundred people at a time with not a single rest room.  Perhaps everyone just walks home when needed?  Of course, pondering the issue raised an urgent signal from my brain for a rest room.   I finally looked all around at the dozen or some homes facing the park and could still not see a single person moving.  Eventually I chose to water a tree for the city park – in full gear with my helmet on.  That would have made a fun story for the local magistrate, I’m sure.

As I neared Minneapolis, the map showed me a Highway 5 that appeared to run through Chanhassen. My room for the next three days was to be found at the Chanhassen Inn – owned by a high school classmate and her brother.  With more of my hopeless naiveté and optimism, I placed a small typed piece of paper with the address into the map section of the tank bag and assumed I’d be able to figure it out.

Along in here came both of my interactions with law enforcement.  West of Minneapolis I was speeding along, a bit literally. As usual, I was following a “rabbit.”  I picked up a Minnesota State trooper heading toward me, and could tell by the nose down attitude that he was hard on the brakes.  OK, I’ll slow down and see which of us his radar locked on.  He came up behind me, passed, and pulled over the rabbit in front. The system works – again!

The second time was funnier, but could have been serious.  I was behind a pickup truck on Highway 5 and nearing Chanhassen. I was not speeding, or tailgating, but suddenly the pickup put on his brakes and pulled to the shoulder. OK, that happens a lot. Nice people see a motorcycle behind them, assume the motorcycle wants to go faster, and pull over to facilitate. I pulled out and passed, waving my thanks. As I pulled back to the right I glanced in the rear view mirror.

Ye Gods!  TWO police cars all lit up racing up behind me!  That was why the pickup pulled over.  Hard braking and a swerve to the right and both swept by and disappeared ahead at a high rate of speed.  Glad they waited for me.  Of course, if they’d turned on the sirens it would have been easier, but we can assume they had good reason not to.

In Chanhassen I put my head on a swivel to find a side street with a number close to the one I was looking for, but at every intersection the cross streets had names, not numbers. After about ten intersections I began to doubt my optimism, but suddenly there it was – the Chanhassen Inn fronts Highway 5!  A left at the next light and I pulled into a space at the end, and with unbelievable timing Susan pulled into the next space at the exact same time in her Chevy Sonic rental car. She had just arrived, checked us in, and the spot I picked was closest to our room.   I am so fond of good luck.

I was interested in the Sonic because it was one of the 3 or 4 finalists on my list when we purchased our Fiat 500.  I finally turned it down because I wanted a two door – vanity must be served.  Having said that, the rear door handles on the Sonic are so well disguised that Susan did not believe it had four doors until I pointed out the shut lines and the door handle hidden in the rear pillar. Had the Sonic SS that came out the next year been available it might have been a different story, but Susan loves the Fiat so it’s all good.

In use the Sonic is a marvelous little car with one serious deal-breaker of a flaw. It is exceptionally quiet in use, as long as the windows are not open. I drive with at least the driver’s window open at virtually all times, and the tire noise was unbelievable.  I think the rental car comes with cheap (hard) all-weather tires, and with more suitable rubber it would probably be fine.

The Chanhassen Inn is a lovely place. It does not have a pool, which is fine with me, but the grounds are covered with immaculate lawns and trees.  The rooms are of ample size and spotless, and the provided breakfast was the best of the trip.  A free morning paper allowed me to resume my daily habit of the morning crossword puzzle. Even better, a varied selection of restaurants and stores were all within three blocks. Perfect!

We returned to our room Friday afternoon to find a note under the door.  We were worried that something was wrong, but the note explained that two of the staff were to be married Saturday, and most of the staff were to be in the wedding or attending it, so services would be hampered. Who could complain about such a thing?

While Susan took a nap I repaired to a table outside the front are to sit and relax.  A car drove up and parked, and Charlie Wilson got out of the car with his wife.  Charlie and I played hockey on the weekends all through high school and into college, and he was one of a group of 5 of us who rented a house together for our junior year.  I’d not seen Charlie in 45 years, and even though he weighs about 100 pounds less than he did then (and looks fantastic I must say) we both recognized the other immediately. Isn’t that weird?

We “ate in” for dinner with our friend Sharon in her room at the Inn. Sharon is the sainted individual who has taken it upon herself to keep track of the entire Class of 1965 through Facebook.  She had organized the lake cruise for Friday evening, among thousands of other tasks. We walked across the parking lot and brought Domino’s pizzas to her room, where she provided wine and beer and a large computer with hundreds of pictures of my classmates from previous re-unions. This was very helpful until they all began to run together into a muddle in my head, but it was still good preparation for a major day of déjà vu on Friday.

Sharon provided one of the most crushing blows to my ego in high school, and yes, there were several.  I got very sick just before Christmas after walking across the lake after a day of hockey – soaked through with sweat in temperatures now below freezing. I had not taken the car because I had crunched a fender the night before and dared not ask for it.  (Never “yump” a Hillman Minx over a sharply crested little wooden bridge if there is a little old lady turning left VERY slowly on the other side) Instead, my older brother Jim was home for the weekend and took out the car and dented the same fender much more comprehensively!

The result of my folly was pneumonia and an enlarged pericardium around my heart. I was in the hospital for a week, and after the Christmas break missed three weeks of school.  When I returned, I sidled into my Advanced Math class and sat down in my usual spot, in front of my friend Bob Abel, the center on the basketball team I was cut from that would win the state championship, and behind Sharon, who was the apple of the eye of every male in the school.  In my best cool guy voice I said to Sharon “Well, did you miss me?”

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Oh – were you gone?”

What a great one!

Some background for the Friday. I lived in a house on Fairchild Avenue from the age of 6 to the end of college.   The house was designed by my parents; both engineers.  A historical note of interest:  in 1953 they had to go through 5 contractors before finding one that would agree to attempt to build a house designed by a woman. Even the man they finally chose said he would take the plans to an architect to have the blueprints drawn up. My father corrected him sternly, informing him that Mary Jane had drawn up the plans exactly, and the house was to be built so as to be identical to what she had drawn. Period.

During construction we lived in a rented house in Minneapolis, and my parents made weekly visits to the construction site to halt “improvements” the crew thought should be made, and to explain, patiently, why the house details were as they were.  For instance, the entire house was slanted about 10 degrees away from being parallel with the road, so that several large oak trees would not be disturbed.

I moved away the day after my graduation ceremony at the University of Minnesota in 1969.  I had been in Minneapolis a couple of times since, but never back to my home area.  Forty five years later, the plan for Friday was to drive around in the Chevy Sonic and tour the sites of my youth so to speak, as Susan had never been to Minnesota.

Things did not begin well. When you return to an area after so long, the roads are just familiar enough to delude you into thinking you know where you are going.  You do not, as I discovered after driving about 10 miles South on 101 when I wanted to go North.

The second attempt went better, and without planning to we were driving by my high school.  Swerve!   Minnetonka was a big and excellent school then, and now it is almost beyond belief.  It resembles a small college more than a high school.  When I was there we are all excited because the school put up two outdoor hockey rinks, and we moved our weekend games to those “real” rinks after years of hockey on the lake in front of my house, with snow banks for boards.

The school rinks were where I got in the one serious hockey fight of my life, which would have been a lot more serious if my friend Bruce “Black Knight” Koranski had not come to the rescue of his friend David “Red Baron” Preston –  my nickname a product of the red sweat pants I wore over my shin guards.  I did not know who this guy was, but in a scuffle along the boards his elbow swung around and neatly snapped my glasses frames in two. I was not hurt, but I knew I would be in serious trouble when I got home.  In my fear of parental disdain rage swelled up. I skated up behind him and rammed him head first into the boards.  He came up swinging, and Koranski saved me from a severe beating.  Fights were not one of my talent areas.

Later that day, my opponent had a “one on none” break, with me serving my turn as the goalie. I had no protective equipment except for shin pads, a normal hockey stick, gloves, elbow pads, and a helmet with no facemask. Once again I figured I was about to die, as the fellow would surely take his revenge with a slap shot at my head, or worse.  Instead, he got to about ten yards away, nodded at me, and tapped the puck toward me at 5mph.  I was totally confused.

The next week I asked my friend Harley, who knew such things, if he knew who the guy was.  Yes, he responded in a whisper – that guy had just been released from “Juvey” prison – for beating up a cop!  As I tried not to faint in the hallway I realized why the guy had tapped the puck toward me.  It was a mark of respect, as nobody had taken him on in a fight since he was in diapers.  Of course, if I’d known who and what he was, I would not have either!

The two rinks are still there, with one major alteration.  They are indoor.

The football field is now a football stadium. It sits next to the baseball stadium.  Inside the school there is a store – not a student store selling pop and candy – more of a university level store selling shirts and hats and all sorts of things.

After touring the school for half an hour or so and marveling at the size and scope, we moved on.  Back to our car, I gazed out at the large student parking lot. I could recall with crystal clarity waiting to get on the bus while the cool kids climbed into their cars, or, most achingly, a fleet of the new Honda 250 Scramblers. Oh how the envy surged in my puerile veins.

As a student today, you can have a spot in the parking lot for the full year – for $400.  (!!!!!)

We drove to the small town of Excelsior, which is the only town in the large area known as Minnetonka, to scout out the location for that night’s Class of ’65 boat cruise, and then drove by my old junior high (now an elementary and other things) and finally the site of Groveland Grade School.  I did not expect it to still be there, as it was an old building when I attended over half a century ago.  We drove through the parking lot and then set off to drive from the school to my childhood home.  I remembered riding my bike back and forth on some days, and occasionally walking.  It seemed like quite a journey then.

Apparently, in the past four decades someone has shrunk the sites of my childhood to the size of an HO model train layout.  I could not believe how short the distances were now!  So much so that when I turned down Fairchild Avenue, I learned that the steep hill at the end of it is actually a small rise. Everything was so close together that I actually drove by my own house!  Susan had seen pictures of it and said “I think that was your house.”  I replied “No way.” And then realized I was now driving by the neighbor’s house three doors down.

The house of my youth was another disappointment.  Imagine four acres on a site 15 miles West of Minneapolis. A small rural road bisects the property. On the high side sits a two story four bedroom house with a two car garage. The back yard slopes down to what was either several acres of cattails and grasses leading back to Minnehaha Creek (or – the playground of the Gods for young boys) on in other years, almost a lake with frogs and herons and other birds and truly terrifying snapping turtles.  Across the street a large lawn with many trees sloped down to Libb’s Lake, which like everything else was smaller than I remembered.  Susan and I walked down the path next to the lawn to the lake, and I showed her where our baseball field was. My older brother pointed out to me the next day that the baseball field was not actually on my parent’s lot – it was just vacant land on the shore of a small lake.  Now, of course, it has a house on it.

My parent’s plan was to build a 2nd house for their retirement in a few years on the lake side and then sell the first one.  Unfortunately, cancer had other ideas. My mother died when I was twenty. My father could not stand to live in the house where literally every brick reminded him of Mary Jane, so he caved in to the Boeing people who’d been trying to hire him away from Honeywell for years.  He left Honeywell 6 months before he would have been vested in their retirement program.  He arrived in Seattle in early 1968, just in time for the great sucking sound as Boeing dissolved most of its staff over the next 5 years. This was just one of many serious tactical errors he made in the last two decades of his life.

And the house?  The 13 year old very well designed home on four acres with lake front footage and expansive lawns?  Sold in late 1967 or early 1968 for $32,000.

As we walked around and took pictures it was all quite sad. The house has not been maintained all that well by the 2nd or the 3rd owners, although there is now a fabulous home on the lower lot, as my parents envisioned.   The current owner did not seem to be all that curious about my memories of the house and how it was built, and did not invite us in. Just as well, as I could see some of the architectural changes that had been made.  The whole look of the house had been messed up, and looking inside would have been worse.

Back to the Inn for a nap in preparation for seeing my classmates from the Class of 1965

Coming in Part V                                 1965 – 2014 – Evidently not that long at all

David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part III

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part III

The Rapid City late afternoon was interesting, as I watched the TV weather reports growing ever more dire.  Heavy storms had Rapid City as their target, with threatened high winds, rain, hail, and possible tornadoes.  Every fifteen minutes updated radar images showed the approaching end of the world.  I would go outside and confirm with my own eyes while relaxing in a lawn chair, and chatted with some guys who were on their way to the national BMW rally in St. Paul. Eventually I suggested that moving their bikes onto the sidewalk under the eaves of the motel, as I had just done, might be a good idea, but they were not too concerned.

I woke for the first of many times to see sheets of rain attacking the parking lot, which was covered in small hail stones.  The wind raged, but I don’t think the hail was heavy enough to damage the bikes of others not as paranoid as I.  The lightning was intense, and continued on for several hours, a near constant barrage of flashing light up in the clouds and thunder claps that rolled over each other so you could not distinguish one from the other. I slept in short bursts of an hour or two, and every time I woke up it was the same. I had never experienced lightning like that. At a guess it was a constant show for seven hours.

Once again, the morning brought relatively peaceful weather, with drying roads and rain showers now scattered around the brightening sky.  I rode to East on the “old” highway that winds through the Badlands for what was to be my favorite day of the trip so far.

And here is yet another reason not to use GPS.  The old road ran straight east from Rapid City and then began to meander back and forth as the terrain grew more fascinating and remote.  Soon I was all alone, just after dawn, cruising on a wet road and scanning the horizon. There were obvious rain storms to the north, east, and south, with shards of rain descending. It looked like the rain was evaporating before it reached the ground in some cases, but not others.  With GPS I would have known exactly where the rain was, but in my techno-ignorance I had the constant fun of watching the road for ten miles ahead as we headed straight for a storm. Then would come a turn and it looked now like I would sneak through between two storm systems, and then a turn back and now we’re heading straight for it. And then not. The uncertainty made it so much fun!

Eventually I stopped where some rancher’s driveway came to the road. Eyes and brain absorbed the spectacle in serene peace. It was not raining at the moment, although the road was sopping wet.  The clouds raced along in front of me, and the views in all directions were gorgeous. In about twenty minutes, only one car interrupted the solitude.

Back on the bike I came to the entrance of Badlands National Park, and waited patiently for the car in front of me.  Finally the ranger motioned me ahead; as the people were having trouble locating their senior park pass. Not me!  I’d located mine earlier in preparation and had it right inside the tank bag.

I remembered the Badlands from my youth from my first motorcycle trip  in1968 as a wonderful place, and now it was even better. The occasional rain intensified the colors and made everything even more magical.  At one scenic vista I paused for a picture of the “Beware Rattlesnakes” sign, because Susan is not fond of snakes and I knew she would like it.

When you sit on a bench in the morning air and gaze at the “Badlands Wall” that bisects the prairie for many many miles, you have to marvel at the fortitude of the pioneers, and the Native Americans before them. They figured out, at great human expense and effort, how to get around or through these areas on foot or horseback or by wagon.  We’re pretty spoiled these days.

After a chat with an Albertan on a Honda ST 1300 heading West, I rode through the rest of the park and back onto I-90 east, as the sun settled in and banished the rain for the rest of this day.

Next up was several hours of 80-85mph straight lining on a freeway, which was never really boring because there was a lot to see and a lot going on. The wind got to be a bit much, so I had to be mindful of a probable decline in fuel mileage.

At another of my frequent rest stops my attention was grabbed by a large pickup with a 5th wheel trailer, and behind that a 2nd trailer with a custom Harley. I strolled over and took pictures, explaining to the owner and his wife that I have a character in my novels who builds custom Harleys, and that he would really like this bike. That was sort of mostly true. Bartholomew would approve of the slightly larger front wheel and the extended bags, but would look askance as the “Dreamcycle” logos airbrushed on the side of the tanks to go with the mild orange and blended cream paint scheme.  Lovely bike, and the owner explained he was re-routing the tie downs because the bumps on the freeway had caused the handlebars to rotate in their mounts.

It was a little weird to be looking at things through the eyes of a fictional character that has utterly no similarities to me, but I have experienced some oddness like this before. When entering both my daughter’s and sister in law’s homes in California, both of which I’ve used in my novels, I’ve been confused for long moments because they looked different. The fictional version of their homes in my head was more “real” to me than the reality.  Here again, I found myself re-painting this bike in the style my character would like, and I came up with a dark metallic green and cream design.   That will be Bartholomew’s bike in the current novel, where some portions of trip will appear in suitably fictionalized form.  Fiction and reality combine and separate in odd ways at times.

But wait, there’s more. Ten miles further on I noticed their rig pulled over to the side, the bike reclining to the right on the trailer. I did some fancy brake work and pulled over to to see if I could help.  The tie downs had slipped off the highway bars where he had tried to re-position them. Fortunately the bike had not fallen completely off, but there was a small ding in the bottom of the right hand bag. I helped him get it upright (not an easy task) and then he pulled out the ramps to roll it off the trailer and then back on to try again.  With their gratitude in my ears (I don’t think she could have done what I did) I was off again – streaming toward Sioux City at high speed.

I stopped in Mitchell to see the vaunted “Corn Palace,” which has impressed me greatly as a child.  Disappointment again, as the success of this venue over the years has seen it gradually surrounded by building devoted to schlocking tourist geegaws to all and sundry, to the extent you really can’t see the building until you are right in front of it. In truth, it is merely the local civic arena and basketball court, adorned inside and out with huge murals made entirely of corn husks and other corn pieces.  Impressive, but not as cool as it was a half a century ago.

The Motel 6 I found in Sioux City was perfect for my needs. My room and the bike were around the back, away from curious eyes.   Old towels provided by the fellow at the counter saw the bike well-cleaned; there was a pool, and a restaurant next door.

I relaxed by the pool and watched as two couples played with their children in the pool.  What made it better was that none of the adults were particularly attractive. One of the men looked like a graduate of a street gang, and not someone I would want to have an argument with.  However, both of the couples were so clearly enjoying their children, and each other, that it gave me hope for the world. Roald Dahl as a passage in one of his books about people with “wonky” noses and “stick-out teeth” who find each other and become beautiful, and that was surely the case here.

Even better, a former student of mine from 1991-93 now lives in the area and wanted to get together.  As it happens, this day was his 10th wedding anniversary, so he dropped by for a cup of tea at the restaurant next door while I dined on a rare excursion into sanity – a Chef’s Salad.  Robert came back early the next day for breakfast with me, and it was just terrific.  I think it was fun for him but very meaningful for me.  When a student from two decades ago wants to see you (and buy your breakfast) and share his life with you and remind you of what you did for him – that does not happen every day.

When Robert was a sophomore in my class he was also playing tackle for the Juanita High School football team.  I was the home game announcer.  In those days JHS was a football power under Chuck Tarbox, who recently passed away. Robert was not starting yet, but he was getting a lot of playing time, exceptionally rare for a sophomore.

He also had, and has, utterly huge feet. Because he was my student, I made sure I announced his name whenever he entered or left the game, and referred to him as “Bigfoot Wilson.”  One day in class he asked, with great politeness, why I was doing that. I explained that if he was getting significant playing time as a sophomore, he would become noticeable to college talent scouts by the time he was a senior, and I felt that scouts would remember a player with a nickname better.  In time, he went off to Willamette on a partial scholarship, but we’ll never know if my efforts were a factor.

There are some students in your class that impress you as people, and Robert was one of them. One of the very few who could take part in the violence of football while being a kind and gentle and thoughtful person away from it. I just knew he would turn out to be a fine human being as an adult, and he has.  I won’t offer more detail, as he will read this and I do not want to embarrass him, but our visit was a real highlight of the entire trip.

Coming in Part IV   Back to my roots in Minnesota – can you really not go home again?
David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014

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The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple: Part II

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part II

I awoke on Monday to a pouring rain, further antithesis to the weather predictions I had been following so carefully.  It was 5am, or actually 4am by my Pacific Daylight Time body clock. However, the rain looked to be abating, so I took my time getting packed and so forth.

The bike had been cleaned a bit the night before, using the WD40 I had brought for the chain lube on the rear wheel after a fresh application.  I used a new concept here – when staying at a motel you check in, and then go back later and ask very politely if they have any old rags or shredded towels they do not want to see again, because you want to clean you bike and do not want to ruin any room towels. This works a treat!  In this manner the chain got a fresh application of lube each evening, and the rear wheel was cleaned and the entire bike wiped down for the new day.  I am sure nobody on the trip ever noticed the pristine rear wheel, but that is one of my minor obsessions.

One of the advantages of my expensive room was that I could take advantage of the indoor pool (one of several) and spa (one of several) the previous evening – a good way to soften the muscle kinks in back and arms. The 2nd was the provided breakfast.  Some motels have nada but bad coffee (Motel 6), and some have a “Continental breakfast,” which is usually pastries and bad coffee, but your high end place will offer fruits and waffles and sausage, etc. Even better, this place had it all ready to go slightly before 6am.

By 6:15am the rain had stopped and the freeway would probably be dry. This became moot in two miles as I caught up to the rain and rode through it.

The morning was uneventful but gorgeous, as the weather gradually improved to perfect and then ventured into hot. The miles rolled by at about 80mph. Mornings were consistently my favorite leg of the day, cruising at speeds that would put you in jail where I live and watching the scenery roll by, enhanced by wildly evolving weather conditions from excellent to dire.  Lovely.

I began to realize how terrific it was that I was by myself.  There is camaraderie and enhanced safety in traveling with one or two friends, but how many people would want to do “touring” the way I was choosing to do?  Leaving at the crack of dawn, I would ride for ten or eleven hours, and start looking for a motel between 3pm and 4pm.  Worse, my Speed Triple can do 150 miles on a tank, or a good deal more in ideal conditions, but I preferred to start thinking about a fuel stop at 100 miles, and often refilled after 110 or 120 miles. This would drive most people with much longer ranges utterly nuts. Worse, I was really enjoying stopping at rest stops in between, usually for a half an hour or more, smoking my pipe and writing and digitally recording notes.  As I expected, the majority of the pictures I took show the bike with a rest stop in the background.

Each day I would make use of my early stop to check in, enjoy the pool if there was on available, and generally sit in a chair and do nothing.  Dinner would be from a place I could walk to, often enjoyed in the motel room.  Not the recipe for joy most would mix, but it suits me down to the ground.  On this day the motel was in Hardin, Wyoming, and had everything I wished.   Old towels to clean the bike, a pool to enjoy, a myriad of “dining” options, and breakfast the next morning.

I spent some time chatting with a nice couple from Alberta on two Harleys – the wife’s first big tour. I asked if they were headed for Sturgis and was told yes, and no. They would ride through, but well before the official start of the rally, which features 250,000 people or so riding, or parading, or usually parking –  all manner of motorcycles, a lot of alcohol consumption, and hundreds of women wearing less clothing than ideal for their appearance.  In fact, EVERY motorcyclist I spoke to on ride east said much the same thing. None of them were actually attending the Sturgis rally. Some had been there and done that and did not need to repeat the experience, and most did not want to get anywhere near it.  Eventually I created a phrase in my head that I never dared state out loud, although people would have agreed with me.  “Sturgis is for amateurs.”

First hilarious incident of the trip.  Popping into the breakfast room at 6am on Tuesday I found a good selection of foods, including a waffle maker, and a large pan of scrambled eggs and sausages. The other diners were all wearing matching t-shirts of a construction company, and I think some of them did not speak English.  I took a healthy portion of the eggs and remarked that I hoped the motel had someone making more, as there were a lot of people who would be up soon.

The evident boss of the crew explained that they from Texas and were staying in the motel for 6 months while repairing a large generator out of town, and that one of his crew had made the eggs – for them!  I was so embarrassed, but they thought it was pretty funny, and they had all pretty much concluded their meal, so it ended well.

The second amusing incident occurred at my first rest stop.   As I packed up to get underway again I noticed a small sedan to my right with the headlights on. Inside were two women, fast asleep.  What to do?  Since they were sound asleep it was unlikely the car was one where the lights stay on for a couple of minutes after the ignition is turned off.

I did not want to disturb the women, but if they ran the battery down to extinction they might have a real problem.  I also did not want to terrify them – imagine being awakened from a sound sleep by this old guy knocking on the window. How creepy! After some deliberation, I chose to act. When I rapped on the window the driver looked as alarmed as I had feared, but as she awoke further and I explained her problem she was grateful.  That afternoon I saw them at another rest stop 200 miles down the road, and they thanked me again, so it all worked out OK.

Once again the morning ride was spectacular, and the speed limit was now a heady 80mph, and I took advantage. I almost paid for it in Moorcroft, Wyoming, where the low fuel light blinked on.  The low fuel light on a Triumph is a very bright yellow, and always gives me a start, as your first thought is that you have no oil pressure and the engine is blowing up.  My mileage for that tank sunk to 37mpg, a new low, brought about by speeds of over 90mph and a headwind. By the end of the trip I had learned that mpg would be 40 – 42 at speeds below 85mph, and drop quite a bit over that.

I turned north on 14 to take in Devil’s Tower, which I remembered viewing on my first trip in 1968.   To no surprise, it looked about the same.

Back to I-90 and into the Black Hills, where at Spearfish I turned on 14 again to enjoy a “scenic byway.”   35mph?  Really?  Surely the limit will become more reasonable out of town.  Nope.

Most of the traffic consisted of couples two up on Harleys or Goldwings, rolling along with no helmets – at 35mph.  I passed them here and there while pondering just how big a speeding ticket I was willing to risk on such a spectacular road. Wide, perfectly paved, with good sightlines and little traffic, this road deserved to be ridden at a relaxed pace of 65 – 70mph with braking for corners done simply by letting off the gas and arcing through, all the while enjoying the spectacular scenery.

It is hard for me to imagine, but all of the states that I rode in are no helmet required states.  I never got used to the creepy feeling of seeing so many people riding along, seeming able to ignore the basic physics of what happens when you bounce a skull full of soft tissue off solid pavement.  It really hampers my opinion of my fellow motorcyclists.

Eventually the speed limit rose to a dizzying 45mph, and then I caught up to a car being held up by – three motorcycles. I passed the car and then the rearmost bike. The middle one was a trike, and at the front was a man wearing one of those fake German WWII helmets   (who thinks that is a good idea, and why?) emblazoned with the usual rude stickers.  Even better, he was lolling along at 42mph in a 45mph zone, with a vanity plate on his Harley that read “WILD 1.”   Right.   I blew by him and rode on to the massive disappointment that was Mount Rushmore.

I did enjoy one of the best burgers ever at “Boondocks,” which featured several 1940s-50s era cars and a half a dozen vintage bikes in a semi-open air display.  I noticed a Honda 250 Scrambler, which would have been the ultimate fantasy fulfillment for me in high school (all the cool guys had one – I was not cool) now relegated to rusting oblivion poised on the roof.

I was spoiled as a child by visiting Mt. Rushmore in my teens. You drove into a large parking lot and enjoyed the spectacle.  Now the entire area has been turned into the megalopolis of tourist traps, and the parking area is a proprietary venture that charges $11 to park your car – or motorcycle. Even at that, you are nowhere near the actual vista, and I think they had a shuttle bus system from the parking lot of thousands of vehicles to your actual intended stop.  I passed.

From there it was on to Rapid City and a Motel 6, for a night of rain, tornadoes, lightning and hail.

Coming in Part III – the Badlands do not disappoint, a custom Harley, and spending time with a favorite student.


David Preston                                                                         Copyright 2014




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3700 solo miles on a Triumph Speed Triple – Part I

The Long Solo Ride – 3700 Miles on a Speed Triple:    Part I

A word of caution!  This will be a lengthy series of reports on my recent motorcycle ride to Minneapolis and then back to Bothell.   I am writing this series because this ride will be a plot component of the novel I’m working on. For that reason most it will be notes for my own use rather than spine-tingling creative writing. You’ve been warned!

The concept:     

This ride was homage to rides I did over 45 years ago. As reported previously, several times, I rode from Minneapolis to Seattle and back in 1968 on a Yamaha YDS3 250cc two stroke motorcycle, equipped with one of the very first Vetter fairings ever made. I think mine was #43 and it would probably be worth some serious money if it survives, which I doubt. Rather than the later “Voyager” fairings which made Vetter famous, and rather wealthy, the earliest fairings were essentially wrap around road race fairings with taller windshields.  When fitting it to the bike the lower fender stay could not clear the fairing, so I removed it, which made the bike look even more like a road racer.  This did not hurt my ego at all.  Best moment was one day when I was waxing it (again) and a fellow on a BSA stopped to ask if I would be entering the road race that weekend. Cue swelled head…  Good news: the fairing had been removed when I arrived at my Dad’s house in Bellevue after moving West, so it was not damaged when I launched the little Yamaha into a ditch the next day, breaking my shoulder in the process.  Bad news: I gave the fairing with the badly bent bike to the guy next door for $100, and lost track of all of them.

Ensconced in Kirkland I began my teaching career and renewed motorcycle ownership with an almost new Honda 450 Street Scrambler, due to the wildly generous loan requirements of the teachers’ credit union. If you had a signed annual contract (for $7322) they would loan you money for virtually anything at reasonable rates. I once asked them how they could keep their rates so reasonable and was told they had never had a default on a loan!

I rode the Honda to San Francisco and back at Christmas of 1969 (probably my most ludicrously optimistic trip) and then from Seattle back to Minneapolis and return in 1970. In 1971 I went for a ride from Seattle to St. Petersburg, Florida. The intent was to ride back, but the Honda broke its cam chain and devoured its own self in Florida. It was traded to a dealer for almost exactly the cost of a plane ticket home.

In the 14 years I worked in the motorcycle business I led many three day rides with customers, and one trip to Salt Lake City that encompassed about 9 days and over 2,000 miles, but it had been over 40 years since I had the opportunity to take a really long ride – alone.

The gear:

As seems to be my tradition, I used a bike most would consider ill-suited to the task – my 2006 Triumph Speed Triple. This is perhaps an unlikely touring bike, but less so than a 250cc two stroke or a 450cc street scrambler.  For the Triumph I have a Ventura rack system with the optional double bag, giving me essentially two large back packs sticking up behind me. I also use a Nelson-Rigg tank bag (I’m a big fan of tank bags).  I have a Triumph tank bag which is larger, but the Nelson-Rigg is easier to use at fuel stops (by a lot) and, if I may be so vain – looks better.

I wore my custom fitted black Vanson leather pants, my Rev’It! boots and textile jacket, one of two pairs of Rev’It! gloves depending on the temp, and my puke neon green Arai RX Q helmet. All of these are exemplary products and worked perfectly. I also took some Olympia rain gloves, but never needed them, even though I rode through rain at some point almost every day of the trip.  This was wryly ironic, as back in 1971 I managed to ride from Seattle to Georgia without ever getting rained on once.  This time no such luck, but it was all good except for making the motorcycle less pristine in appearance than I prefer.

Day #1 –  Sunday, August 20th

My initial route was intentionally boring by most standards, but with good reason. In the past 40 years I’ve ridden almost every great road in Washington – several times.  In addition, vast forest fires were closing off most of the northern routes I might have chosen. I elected to beat feet on I-90 and get to Montana as efficiently as possible, where I’d be on roads new to me or at least roads I do not have virtually memorized.

After several days of weather predictions for perfect conditions, as usual with Seattle the day turned out to be more problematic, with off and on sprinkles and some rain.  I left just after 6:10am and stopped at the Indian John Hill rest stop on I-90, as I always do, and settled into a pattern. I would ride 50-70 miles and either stop for fuel or a rest stop.

The first lesson of the trip was that my one health sin of pipe smoking has some real advantages. When riding alone, it is all too easy to get into a paralysis of road riding and simply refuel, ride, stop, refuel, and ride. If you’re not careful, the ride will be over and you will hardly have experienced it. By stopping at rest stops and forcing myself to sit down and smoke my pipe, I slowed down the trip and did a much better job of looking around and thinking about what I was seeing.  I also took a small notebook, pen, camera, and a digital tape recorder for pictures, notes, and comments, and those also helped me to slow down and experience the ride.

I made use, as I have in the past, of the practice of finding a “rabbit” to follow – in this case a Honda Ridgeline that was cruising at 85-92mph. Once in Montana I was greeted by a 75mph speed limit, which meant I could cruise pretty much ticket-risk free at an indicated 85mph or a bit more.  I did not get any performance riding awards for the entire trip, which was lovely!

I stopped after 490 miles in the late afternoon, and that is when I remembered about time zone changes. It was now 4pm, not the 3pm the instrument panel claimed.  My preference for these trips is to find 2nd or 3rd rate motels, not only to save money but because, for reasons I am not sure I understand, I think they’re more fun. I found a place called the “C’Mon Inn,” and with a name that silly assumed it would be inexpensive. Wrong!  It was a large and posh place, and the $128 room was in no way worth the expense. I did not really need more than one of the five swimming pools and spas on offer. Lesson learned.

One concern not present decades ago was my physical well-being. Recently diagnosed with two torn ligaments in my left elbow, cause unknown, I have occasional tweaks in my left arm that result in swelling in my elbow (some swelling is always present), or wrist, or hand.  This can make clutch actuation difficult, so I was concerned. One of these tweaks the second day resulted in a swollen left wrist for a bit, but overall my left arm got progressively better throughout the trip. I also had a crick of some sort in my upper right shoulder, and that too went away over time. Want to feel better physically? Go for a long motorcycle ride.

Dinner at the C’Mon Inn followed my usual practice – a short hike to the gas station across the street for a wholly unmemorable roast beef sandwich, chips, and two beers. I find that a beer or two at the end of the day helps the fade the intense focus needed when riding, even on a freeway, allowing a good night’s sleep.  While it rained…

Part II:  The ride gets more interesting.


Copyright 2014                                   David Preston


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