Challenging Roads

Sitting at the computer in the morning – upper back and neck muscles stiff and sore, bad right knee a tad tender, and low on adrenaline. This is terrific! Why? As a result of a great ride on winding back roads in what can be charitably be referred to as “challenging” conditions.

The ride in question was “ABTOR IX;” the 9th edition of “Anywhere But The Oyster Run.” Some explanation is in order.

The “Oyster Run” is the largest motorcycle event in the state of Washington, held every year on the 4th Sunday in September – not on the last Sunday, which is occasionally the 5th Sunday and can cause confusion. This is a more or less organized event (although not officially) by a 1%-er motorcycle club (few are aware of this) where everyone and their brother-in-law rides to Anacortes by any of several thousand routes to fill the city with 15,000 motorcycles, aftermarket vendors, dealers, so on and so forth. It’s an event every motorcyclist should attend at least once. I have attended twice, which was one more than I needed.

Problems? If you don’t like large crowds, braggadocio, traffic jams created by motorcycles, and noise, it is not so much fun. Most of those in attendance are riding Harleys or other large V-twin iterations of the Harley theme. No problem there, except that a depressing splurge of those in attendance appear to be people who ride about twice a year. Some have expensive custom bikes which are not all that utile, ridden by the sort who enjoy possessing a machine more than riding it, preferring to stand around basking in the reflected chrome glow of their creation. Skill in operation is optional at best. The first year I went my eyes were seared by the remains of 6 motorcycle crashes on the way in to town – more crashes seen than in my other 44 years of riding.

An additional part of the tradition of the Oyster Run, for many, is to stop at taverns and bars along the way to sample oysters and beer – at times to excess. Mix alcohol with large motorcycles customized toward appearance and away from function, stir, and you create a cocktail of disasters large and small ready to be served.

Perhaps I am merely jealous, like high school envy for guys who were better looking, more athletic, and (mostly) equipped with wealthy parents who supplied them with a brand new Corvette or GTO or Honda 250 Scrambler that I would have looked so much better on or in!

How many of the things we ached for in youth are we now so grateful we did not experience? Wealthy parents who coddled, the women you did not have sex with, the job you deserved but were not offered, the woman you proposed to and did not marry (her idea) – years later many an audible sigh of gratitude is to be heard in contemplation. Often what we don’t get is more important in the long run than what we do get.

No matter. Years ago some customers who had been there and done that asked if I could develop a ride to anywhere but the cacophony of Anacortes, and a friend supplied a wonderful back roads route southwest of Bremerton, around the location of the Navy submarine base where he was stationed. Thus was the ABTOR born.

The first year entranced with incredibly scenic roads devoid of traffic, but the directions in the window of the tank bag were so complex I had little idea of where I was. At one point I was following the wife of the route developer, and she made a wrong turn on the route she had helped lay out. Reminds me a lot of… me.

The 2nd year saw a correction or two to the directions and began a long series of edits over the years – apparently I would never be able to get it quite right. This year the directions were fine, but on one occasion I missed a turn and on another the road had been closed for construction, so the tradition continues.

I had 17 folks signed up for the ride, but on the day a total of ten machines came out. Not hard to see why, as everyone now has computer weather forecasts close at hand, usually on smart phones, and the predictions were for not only rain, but also high winds and perhaps “severe weather.” Such circumstances can disrupt (as in cancel) ferry service, which would make the day longer.

We cancel these rides if there is a likelihood of snow or black ice, but in this case it was merely rain – or maybe more – so the ride was on. One of those who chose to stay home was polite enough to call me and explain he was not all that confident of his riding in rain and high winds on his new Victory Vision (the model for people who wonder “What ever happened to the 1958 Buick?”) and I applaud his responsibility and honesty. The seven who stayed home made a wise choice – but wow did they miss out!

We ten gathered on the ferry dock and the weather was disarmingly lovely, but dimmed as we churned across Puget Sound. As we headed west and south from Bremerton it got darker, and then the spatters began. The roads got tighter and twistier, and the rain began in earnest. We paused in Seabeck, a “town” only in the fevered imaginations of local boosters, so that everyone could don whatever they had for what seemed to lie ahead. The rain paused and the sun came out just for this purpose, it seemed.

Off we went to the “famed” Dewatto Road. This road bedeviled us for years, because we had a crash on it… every year! I rarely ever have a problem on the rides I lead, but this one road seemed to be cursed. After several years it was pointed out that 1.) All the crashes were occurring in the space of about two miles on the same road and 2.) Most of them were on corners that were downhill. One of them, referred to as “the corner” has it all. A downhill, double apex, decreasing radius with a reverse camber corner – seemingly designed to cause a crash. However, since the route on Dewatto was actually a loop, by changing the direction of the middle portion of the directions we created a route with some increasing radius uphill corners – much better.

As we got to the more interesting sections the road evolved into twists, turns, and irregular pavement swells, plus the rain began to pelt down rather than merely sheet. The winds had brought down leaves, pine needles, and occasional branches – some of them large. In other words – an excellent exercise in demanded concentration.

This is perhaps my favorite sort of riding. The rain and wind and occasional leaves (or branches) demand utter and complete concentration. You waft along at whatever rate seems sensible, although “sensible” might be an ironic stretch, with eyes, legs, seat, hands, and brain all working in concert with the motorcycle to create an experience engaging like few others. I’ve often wondered if it is like performing brain surgery – totally focused and consumed by actions requiring all of your training and skills, and the reality that a small mistake would be disastrous actually heightens the enjoyment. No need for a cheap joke here about who bears the greatest impact of such an error.

Curving uphill around “the corner” proved the wisdom of reversing that portion of the route. It looked positively evil in the “old” direction, capable to throwing a bike to the ground even ridden at a mild speed.

Later in the ride the road winds south from Tahuya toward Belfair, snarking back and forth along the water’s edge with houses tight to the pavement on both sides. By now the rain had ceased and the sun was trying to bake the pavement dry. It reminded me of watching racers on the Isle of Man as we sashayed back and forth. If I knew the roads were blocked off and there would be no traffic or pedestrians or an errant backhoe entering the road, I think I could have thrilled myself with a speed of perhaps 70mph. The realization that racers on the Isle of Man do such roads at about 120mph – in the rain – reinforced an often noticed disparity between an experienced and eager amateur and the truly gifted.

One small irritant for me was specific to my situation. The steed for the day was a 2011 BMW K 1300S that belongs to my employer, Ride West BMW. It had been my assigned “company bike” for the summer, but was now kept at the dealership and was for sale. A BMW K 1300S with the usual options has BMW’s wondrous “ESA” – electronic suspension adjustment. I have found that on several of these I am most comfy with the suspension set on “Sport,” or the stiffest setting. I prefer to feel every bump in the road.

For the first 66% of the ride yesterday I just did not feel all that confident on the bike, especially with the front end. This happens from time to time, because I get to ride many different bikes and had recently been using my own Triumph Speed Triple, which is so sharply focused that almost anything else seems a bit vague for a while in comparison.

Only after lunch did I remember, for about the 12th time, that “my” bike was now offered to customers for test rides. Most set the ESA on “normal” or “comfort,” and I had forgotten to check. Sure enough, the ESA was on “normal,” and a push of the button and returned it to “sport” and all was terrific again. The sun had come out for good so I was able to enjoy a sporting ride on the BMW while pondering if the “normal” setting might have been the better choice anyway for the earlier dire conditions.

We sped toward the ferry, with the additional time penalty of needing to work around an unforeseen road closure and a detour into the small town of Poulsbo. Time to defer to one of my friends with his GPS set to “ferry” and follow him. GPS does have it uses, despite my own distaste for them. I never check the ferry schedule, as the time gained by making an earlier ferry can ruin the afternoon by adding pressure. Besides, there is little need on a bike, due to a wonderful policy of most ferry lines.

Motorcycles bypass the waiting lines – which stretched back over a mile in this case, and go to the head of the lane. We boarded almost immediately, leaving behind a car lot full of four wheeled vehicles that would need to wait 45 minutes for the next one. On board, we shook hands, took more pictures, and reveled in our adventure. The motorcycles were covered in mud and pine needles, while we were beaming with the glow of a great adventure and a ride well done.

My upper shoulders are stiff because I spend these rides concentrating on my own motorcycle while also trying to keep track of the 9 customers behind me. In streaming wet roads at sporting speeds this requires a lot of attention and loads stress into the neck and shoulder areas. A good cure is to reprise my wife’s training as a Lamaze instructor and spend time “releasing” various muscles – but I usually forget.

Tense shoulders, a tender knee, and the need for a day of little activity are a miniscule price to pay for great riding on challenging roads. It might have been more scenic in consistent sun and warmth – but assuredly less memorable.

Here is a 35 minute video of the more alluring portions of the ride. “The corner” is at about 12:30 seconds, and the run through the houses south from Tahuya occurs from about 25:00 on. Enjoy!

Title: Team Ride West ABTOR IX Dewatto Road clip

Copyright 2011 David Preston

About david

I am a 69 year old motorsports nut who lives in Bothell, Washington. After a 31 year career as an English teacher, I segued into a self-created job in the motorsports business. Now retired, I was involved in customer relations for Ride West BMW in Seattle, after almost 10 years of similar work for the Cycle Barn MotorSports Group. I have been married forever and have two grown children. I own, at the current time, a Triumph Bonneville T 120 , a Triumph Thruxton, a Fiat 500S and a VW Tiguan. What else would you like to know?
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1 Response to Challenging Roads

  1. An utterly fabulous ride! Anyone who didn’t go missed out on something special. I especially enjoyed the wind gusts, the “merely rain”, the pounding rain, and the sun. 🙂

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