This week we’re diving into the IM vault to bring a story from a past issue of Inside Motorcycles to life on our website. For this week’s installment we’re not going too far back, opening up the files on Volume 16, Issue 09 (Jan 2014 issue) to bring you “A FULL THROTTLE TOUR” by Wally Klammer. A fun motorcycle road trip with friends in the western US takes a serious twist.
A Full Throttle Tour
By Wally Klammer
The streets of John Day were quiet at 6:45 am except for the rumble of motorcycles slowly heading east out of the sleepy Oregon town. Once clear of habitation we picked up the pace, breath fogging our visors in the four degree morning. Then we picked up the pace some more. The mind’s camera captures the scene: straight ahead, a huge blood red sun in the deep blue haze of wildfire smoke, a black highway snaking to the right through parched grass and deep green pines, the four bikes ahead banking into the turn at 90 mph, engines wailing into the stillness of the surreal landscape, adrenaline pumping and feeling oh so alive.
Dwight, on his Yamaha FJR, kept a quick pace through high altitude forests. Signs warned of snowmobile crossings as the temperature dropped to -1, but the road was dry and twisty and flowed with a rhythm that demanded throttles be kept hard on. We stopped to catch our breath half an hour later, Cliff hunching over his Yamaha FZ1, gloved hands clutching exhaust pipes.
“Had to turn the heated grips down on the Ducati,” I remarked innocently. “My palms were getting sweaty.”
He removed one glove just long enough to show me a single digit.
Now was that called for?
We were on Day 3 of a two week tour of the western states, and life couldn’t be finer. A great mix of backroads, funky and historic small towns, fresh scenery unfolding endlessly, and some good friends to share it all with. Yet two weeks ago, I thought I’d have to miss this fifth annual September tour. I had done a lot of dirt riding that summer, and seemed to be unusually tired all the time. My back was out of alignment again and an old rotator cuff injury was acting up. Chalk it all up to the hard miles this body has endured over 64 years. The chiropractor got the spine in order, and I got revved up once more.
After a while the temperature rose, the road straightened out, and the pace dropped to 10-15 over the limit. You pick your places to play. We’d already dodged three tickets, the most blatant of the money-grabbing, speed tax collectors setting his radar trap on a five mile straightaway on a county road in the middle of nowhere. We each put $20 into a pot, the lucky winner being the first guy to get a ticket.
Come early afternoon we stopped at the last gas station before Nevada, a lonely prefab outpost in a landscape of dry grass and sagebrush, where we met six cruiser riders.
“My rich buddy bought ten acres on the internet,” one of them said, “and we’re going to see it.”
“Rich buddy!” the weathered female attendant snorted. “I’ve got 80 acres and it ain’t worth shit!”
A remote outpost on Nevada’s Highway 50, “The Loneliest Road in America”.
We rode through 97 miles of flat, desolate country, 50 of it burnt, smoke heavy in the air, before crossing the border into Nevada. More flat, desolate country. Gassing up in Winnemuca, we noted there were almost no bugs on the windshields after a full day on the road. This land is so tough, even bugs have a hard time making a go of it. You had to wonder about people living in those rusty trailers, some patched with plywood, junk strewn all around, on acres of sagebrush in the middle of freaking nowhere. What did they do for a living? Sell ten acres at a time on the internet?
A motel with a pool was located, directly across from the cemetery. “This is perfect,” Cliff noted. “We’re in the dead centre of town.” A few cold ones to celebrate the day’s ride, then a refreshing swim and a walk to the pub for dinner and a sampling of craft beers and specialty wines.
This pattern was followed every night, and it never got old.
DAY 7, SUPERIOR, ARIZONA
We’re settling in at the Best Western, just a few miles out of Phoenix, and I’m washing down ibuprofen with a beer, slipping an ice pack into the freezer for later. It’s been a hot and uncomfortable 1,480 desert miles, but we’re still having fun.
Of the five of us, Jon has got to be the toughest, cheerfully running his short-wheelbase Buell Lightning in forge-furnace heat or freezing cold or driving rain with no weather protection. He thinks raingear is for wimps. I’ve ridden his bike, a hoot for an hour or so, but neck and shoulders are soon straining in the windblast. I’m spoiled by my Ducati Multistrada, and don’t know how he puts in those 400-500 mile days at highway speeds and still steps off with a smile on his face.
His brother Chris is another tough Buell rider, but his Ulysses was at least designed for the long haul. He doesn’t believe in raingear either, and is always up for a challenge, checking the map for dirt road shortcuts the rest of us don’t want to take.
Cliff started out as a Buell rider two years ago, but it had a wiring problem they couldn’t seem to fix under warranty. I lent him my old FZ1, and the power and reliability turned him into a Yamaha rider. He’s a competitor who hikes, bikes and runs long distances and doesn’t like to get passed.
Dwight is the leader of the pack on his FJR, by virtue of having made up the route and carrying the only GPS, and when you try to pass him, he takes it as an invitation to play. He’s over 70, but still a kid at heart. He always blips the throttle at lights or when it’s time to go, just to hear the throaty rasp of his Two Brothers exhaust.
Not a wussy in the group.
Unique and funky shop along the famous Route 66.
There were a number of sites worthy of a visit on our way to Tombstone, which we had decided was this year’s destination. The Hoover Dam was built partly in Nevada and partly in Arizona, and the engineering and construction are quite impressive. Further into Arizona, Route 66 through Seligman is a touristy, nostalgic trip. Montezuma’s Castle, with its story of a people who prospered before vanishing in the early 1400s, is intriguing. The copper mine at Bisbee closed in the 1950s, but the town has some nicely restored historical sections.
Rolling south towards the Mexican border at Douglas, we saw lots of police, some of them giving out tickets. There was a roadblock 40 miles from the border, and another one just outside of Tombstone. In our visit to Arizona, we had passed five state prisons and the Homeland Detention Facility before being treated to more flashing blue lights in Tucson. Law enforcement is a major employer down here.
Tombstone at last. It’s been cleaned up and restored, with gunfights in the streets and at the OK Corral every couple hours, but a bit too Disneyland for my taste. Still, it was fun to walk around and check out the shops and sights. Lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon was good, as was the shot of Wyatt Earp’s favourite whiskey.
At the Best Western, I finish my beer. I’m getting stabbing pains in the back, feels like pinched nerves. There’s a nasty rash on the ribs under my right arm, which burns like it was being swept with a propane torch. Tomorrow I’ll have to get some medical attention.
Reassuring sign above a urinal in Tombstone.
DAY 11, LOS BANOS, CALIFORNIA
Another day of awesome twisties, the mind’s camera clicking again! But first, let’s back up a few days…
The chiropractor in Apache Junction sorted out my back, and we got on the flat straightaway that is Interstate 10 to California. At the state border, the cactus and scrub brush desert became lush green fields irrigated by canals. The miracle of water.
That rash was still on fire the next morning, and I went to the clinic in Borrego Springs. The doctor took one look and pronounced: “Classic shingles.” He wrote three prescriptions and I started popping pills with side effects listed as “drowsiness, blurred vision and dizziness.” No worries. The next section was classic California canyon carving, our first really twisty section in days. Feeling no pain, with a grin courtesy of that wonder drug called adrenaline, we rolled it on through the corners.
More great mountain roads. Highway 74 from Lake Elsinore to Perris was endlessly twisty and scenic. The Angeles Crest Highway had it all, minimal traffic, great sightlines, smooth blacktop and non-stop curves that got the heart pounding at 60-70 mph. No wonder it is a favorite with the California bike magazines.
The next morning we left Mojave at our usual time, just after sunrise, looking for a forest service road shown on some maps. We got directions at the gas station in Pearsonville, population 17, and took the route the locals use. Narrow, steep and strewn with loose sand that got the bikes twitching, a series of paved roads took us from the Mojave Desert to Giant Sequoia National Park, over Sherman Pass (2,804 m) and back down through the pine forests of California Hot Springs to the grasslands of Tulare County. 60 amazing miles, at least four major ecological zones and thousands of feet in elevation change — all before breakfast.
There were more outstanding roads around Pine Flat Lake, so many we got lost and almost ran out of gas. At the motel in Los Banos, we celebrated another great day to be alive.
These dunes near Borrego Springs are in a popular OHV park.
DAY 13, ROSEBURG, OREGON
We’re back in Oregon, the boys are next door having a last drink before dinner, and as usual, I’m jotting down notes in my journal.
The Santa Rosa Mile flat track race we attended the previous day was excellent, with the crowd of about 20,000 frequently on their feet roaring. The thunder reverberated in your chest as the pack blew past the grandstand, tossing their bikes sideways at 100 mph, handlebar to handlebar in sandblasting roost.
Heading north after the races, we pulled into Willets for dinner. A fellow customer with a full beard, colorful tunic and sandals struck up a conversation. He eyed my tie-dyed t-shirt and said, “Remember that we are the dope growing capital of the US.”
It was dark when we left the restaurant, and Jon was surprisingly adamant about not riding at night. The reason for his reluctance soon became apparent: his Lightning headlight cast less illumination than that of my 1955 BSA! But with Cliff leading the way, Jon on his taillight and Chris close behind, the three were soon up to speed, blazing through the night in a tight formation.
The next morning we got on the gas early, knowing that this was the last day of real riding. Tomorrow it was Interstate 5, with heavy traffic and radar. We rolled past coastal redwoods, turning east towards Mad River and the high mountain forests.
Breakfast was at a typical small town café, with huge portions and down home friendliness. My appetite had been poor lately. I was unable to finish more than half my dinner for the past week, and that was the smallest entrée on the menu. The boys were exchanging banter with the waitress and ordering the Sasquatch Breakfast and the Grizzly Bear Feast. I opted for the Junior Ranger Meal off the kids menu, and they started ribbing me about it.
“And don’t forget the crayons,” Cliff reminded the waitress, to general laughter.
“See what I have to put up with?” I exclaimed in mock exasperation.
She gave a knowing smile. “You are a very lucky man.”
The best sport bike road of the day was between Happy Camp and O’Brien. The hydrocodone I’d taken earlier had mostly worn off, leaving me with a clear head and flaming ribs. Once clear of any sign of residents, the speeds crept up. The pavement was new, the traffic non-existent, and the corners just kept coming as the road snaked over and down the forested mountains. In a kind of eye-of-the storm calm, the Ducati was tossed left-right through non-stop corners, pegs touching down in tight off-camber turns, heart pounding in total concentration, alive in the moment, launching ahead to eagerly reel in the next twist of asphalt.
When the road straightened, the spell was broken, and I pulled over to the shoulder. Three years riding the Multistrada, and in half an hour I had just doubled the number of times the pegs scraped. There were no chicken strips on the tires. There was a sudden flood of emotion, a mix of triumph and fear, as a personal-best goal had been reached — but at a no-margin-for-error risk.
The motel door swung open and Dwight announced it was time for dinner. It will be our last together on the tour. One adventure was coming to an end, and I didn’t know it then, but another was about to begin.
NORTH DELTA, BC
We kept the rubber side down for 5,300 miles (8,480 km) through five states, with no mechanical woes, no personality conflicts and, surprisingly, no tickets. All great fun, but I was still hurting. Off to see a series of doctors, who came up with a diagnosis an earlier CT scan and blood tests had failed to discover. The fatigue, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps and even the outbreak of shingles, were all symptoms of a body breaking down from battling a much bigger foe: colon cancer.
I spent nine weeks in the hospital, with a botched surgery leading to a near fatal infection and 11 days in a coma. I did exercises to recover the strength needed to feed myself and take that tentative first step, then had to learn to live with an ostomy bag and try to regain lost muscle tissue while undergoing chemotherapy.
Right now, as you read these words, I may be cruising with my wife past vineyards and medieval castles on the Rhine, a glass of Riesling in hand, or ripping down single-track trails and lonely asphalt with my riding buddies, or taking my grandsons for a hike along the rugged shoreline of Lighthouse Park. Or, maybe I’ll just be sitting on the porch at home with an aromatic dark roast coffee in hand and a Hunter S. Thompson book on my lap, looking up now and then to watch the wind in the trees cast dancing shadows on the lawn.
No one has to tell us riders to live fully each day.
We already do.
— By Wally Klammer
The boys at Hoover Dam (right to left): Cliff Mantei, Chris Carey, Dwight Harris, Jon Carey, Wally Klammer.