PEOPLE

 

 

PEOPLE

As Gregory travels around and through the motorcycling world he meets many interesting people. Some he likes to write about, others he photographs. Some of his written articles appear in magazines while his photographs appear widely in the motorcycling press. Some are reproduced here, while others are unique to this page.

BIG DOG RIDE 2000

"WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH…..THE HAIR OF THE BMW GS BIG DOGS IS THERE" (Themocolise, circa 800 AD)

"THE ANSWER IS BLOWING IN THE WIND"
(Bob Dylan, circa 1965 AD)

"BELIEVE NOTHING HE WRITES"
(John "Little Dog" Richardson, BIG DOG RIDE Historian 1990)

"THE TRUTH IS BLOWING THROUGH THE LEAVES, JUST LISTEN CAREFULLY" (RIDE SCRIBE 2000)

(DENVER, CO) I have always liked tough guys. John Wayne was a tough guy. So was Ira Hayes, Jim Bridger, Ed Kretz, Walter Zeller, and Slim Williams (Williams was the first guy to ride a motorcycle from Alaska to the United States, in 1936!). I think if Elvis were alive today he would be sedately cruising Main Street on a Harley, but if John Wayne were amongst us he would be flogging a BMW GS over the world's toughest goat trails. Tough Elvis was not, but nobody could beat the Duke.

Tough guys got me interested in the BMW GS "BIG DOG RIDE," an "invitational" motorcycle event which usually takes place in August. For ten years some of the most skilled, and toughest, GS motorcycle riders in the world have been chasing each other back and forth across North America's Rocky Mountains.

It is said the officials at BMW wince when they hear the BIG DOG RIDE is again taking place. Rumors have it that while their slick advertising agencies portray the BMW GS model as an off-road type motorcycle, the BMW movers and shakers never really believed buyers would spend $15,000.00 to $20,000.00 on such a motorcycle, then actually put it to the tests of endurance by crashing them over 200 foot cliffs, submerging them in ice swollen streams or jumping and bashing basketball sized rocks. Those feats the Bavarians figured would be for their professionally paid Paris-Dakar racers on highly modified $100,000 models not available to the general public. They forgot to take into consideration guys like Rod House of La Veta, Colorado.

BIG DOG RIDE 2000 found House chasing motorcycle roadracer Jim Johnson, a BMW automobile service manager from Albuquerque, New Mexico over some of the highest gravel roads on the planet, at speed. Both Johnson and House, mounted on R1100GS models, knew they were dangerously close to testing their personal health insurance coverage as they slid the nearly 500 pound robo-monsters through high speed turns, but both had seen those glossy ads put out by BMW showing Paris-Cairo racers jumping similar models over sand dunes. No one had told them they "could not, never, no way, nope, can not do it" with their stock bikes. So there they were, egos pushed flat to their personal motorcycling envelopes, throttles to the stops, following another roadracer and off-road expert, Tim Sundgren on a BMW F650, which weighed nearly 100 pounds less. Sundgren, a veteran on numerous Colorado 500 "Ride of Champions", knows well the cost of a hospital visit, something he seemed to have forgotten in his effort to show House and Johnson the way home on the first day of the BIG DOG RIDE 2000.

Some entrants, like Bradford Duval and Scott Cocking, knew no boundaries as they muscled their HPN and R100 over the treacherous Pearl Pass. Cocking, whose only other motorcycle in life had been a Vespa, was able to keep Duval in his sights as they pulled well away from the rest of the field in their race over Pearl. Duval lost ground to Cocking several times as Duval's feet and hands made contact with rocks after flying through his instrument pod Plexiglas. Cocking and Duval did manage a 1st and 2nd place finish in the overall event, but not without numerous bruises and broken parts.

First time entrant Ted Hall from Belmont, Vermont said he had made numerous modifications to his 800cc BMW, but "not enough." He vowed to be back after more changes. Running at speeds in excess of 80 mph at altitudes above 12,000 feet were more than one can expect if tuning in the rolling farmland of Vermont, something cow master Hall came to learn in the land of elk and bear.

Veteran entrants like John Hudson and John Richardson of Evergreen, Colorado knew what to expect, and yet both seemed to have forgotten. Richardson crashed hard on Hagerman Pass at speed, ripping gaping holes in both valve covers. Hudson was seen stewing in his own sweat and body fluids inside his riding gear, while wallowing through the mud of Italian Pass above Crested Butte with his R100 PD. He was ready to throw in the towel and DNF after a series of get-offs moved him to the back of the pack in the A Class competition. His inner toughness over rode his bruised body and he manhandled his behemoth Beemer off the pass and into Gunnison Colorado, the finishing point for the first day. Richardson, known as "Little Dog" for his puppy-like excitement, rapidly used epoxy to seal the holes in his valve covers and went on to finish the two-day event with one of the uglier repair jobs done on the course. No man for detail or fine finish work on his motorcycle, Richardson declared it ready for his trip to Ushuaia, Argentina.

And then there are ironmen like Bob Cunningham from Livermore California who, after thrashing his R1100 GS over Taylor Pass, wondered why he was missing a rear turn signal and mud-scraper. The hole he had worn in his front fender from hitting the bottom nut on his suspension was also unexplained. Maybe an oversight in Bavarian planning as the lederhosen designers never imagined a 250-pound rider would attempt to ride a 500-pound bike over Taylor Pass?

The Bavarians also forgot to plan on a guy like 180-pound Richard Miller on an R1150GS from Pineland, Florida. Miller forgot to turn off the ABS as he started down a steep (30 degree) hill. Rain had made the trail a mudslide, and slide in the mud is what Miller did. Riding atop the beast like a rodeo cowboy on a 500-pound bull, Miller saw his life pass before his eyes (and that of the life of his pocketbook) as $15,000.00 worth of German pride gained speed as it approached the wall of rocks at the bottom. Miller, tough as he is, could not help but be crumpled when he hit bottom. He probably has a few words about the Bavarian ABS on/off design for the beer-swilling engineers in Munich if he can catch one.

John Tolliver, known to use other riders (especially females) for berm in an effort to stay with the leaders, skillfully showed how his self-installed 21 inch front wheel on his F650 greatly enhanced his handling in tight turns. Mark Reilly, a MD from Utah, showed how deft he has become at repairing R80's. His entry, a virgin 1981 R80G/S, had experienced a complete transmission failure (complete means broken housing), but time, skill and money brought back the concours level R80G/S to Hagerman, Taylor, Imogene and Engineer Passes with the front runners both days.

Wolfgang Glaeser, on an R100 GS, produced a fine run over Taylor Pass, attributed much to the fact that instead of using GPS readings he opted for age old maps from Indians which showed unknown short cuts around mud wallows and streams. Gordon Pairman, from Tucson, Arizona on an R100 GS, crashed out of the lead while performing a wheelie over Taylor Pass. He was not disappointed with his DNF in the wheelie competition, vowing to win the year 2001 competition. Dan Vitaletti, on a highly modified R80 GS, suffered from high altitude breathing problems when the interior walls of his muffler collapsed causing poor running. He repaired the problem with a borrowed hacksaw blade by cutting the entire muffler off by hand!

Jim Griffitts, an R80 GS entrant from Boise, Idaho, moved from the front of the pack to the back as he attempted to travel lighter this year, leaving his filled coolbox of swill at the finish line. This "carrot on a stick" theory worked fine until Griffits stopped to eat the carrot. Some observers opined that Griffitts, an economist, should next year use a dollar on a stick. Smiling, with a cool beer in hand at the finish of the event, Griffitts retorted, "Goes to show what those guys in the press know. I am out here to win, not make money."

Paul Taylor and Bill Daigle, both BIG DOG RIDE veterans, claimed 1st place in their respective classes for the wheelie competition. Taylor trashed his R1100's rear drive but was able to borrow a F650 from an unknowing donor and take the crown in the Single Class. Daigle used cunning and technical skill to sweep the Boxer Class.

Lessons learned went to Don Sanborn and Bill Schaaf. Sanborn, on an R1100 GS, buddied-up with Jeffrey Greening (R1100 GS) of California, while keeping a close eye on his GPS. Several weeks prior Sanborn had discovered a GPS is far from foolproof as he wandered around the Utah desert following erroneous readings. Greening, a veteran of numerous aimless wanderings in Mexico and Central America, proved that a nose in the wind is as good as a satellite signal for getting you home. Between Greening's nose and Sanborn's GPS, the two entrants were able to be the last riders to report in Saturday night, five hours later than any of the other riders. Schaaf, an experienced trials rider, knew Pearl Pass and said, "No way, I've been there, done that, but with a dirt bike." Age and wisdom, horsepower verses weight, speed and pain. Some BIG DOGS finish each year, often well ahead of the rabbits.

Scott Rapp (F650) and Jim Campbell (R80GS), both veteran BIG DOGS, took advantage of a southern route through Tin Cup to move ahead of the rest of the field. Saturday found Rapp pitted with Campbell while Campbell searched for a replacement for the dead electronic brain on his R80. Both were able to finish in time for the two-inch thick steak dinner banquet.

First time entrants Mark Jensen (F650) and John Huntress (R100) wisely opted to avoid the dangers on Pearl Pass. Day two saw both riders well ahead of the field as they raised plumes of dust across high-speed sections of the route to Lake City where they took the jeep trails towards Salvation and Telluride.

"Lesson not learned" award went to long time BIG DOG entrant Dori Capitani (R80 GS) who noted that a borrowed tube was flat in the morning of the second day. The tube, borrowed from a competitor, had been previously patched. Ignoring the possibility of sabotage, Capitani aired-up the flat and sped off with the leaders on Day 2, only to eventually have to stop and make a time consuming repair. It was an especially painful lesson for Capitani as the repair had to be made on top of Imogene Pass in a cold late afternoon rain.

Two entrants who avoided the limelight and press in Gunnison were Steve Taylor (R1100 GS) and Dennis Stajic (R1100 GS). Both riders, well accustomed to notoriety and photo-ops, avoided being filmed under their motorcycles either in streams or mud wallows.

No-shows this year were Bob Higdon, Shaun Powell and Peter Fonda. Fonda was rumored to be making up with Dennis Hopper for a sequel to Easy Rider. Higdon has vowed, "The only way you'll get me on the BIG DOG RIDE is if someone carries my ashes!" Although listed as a "possible entrant" in early press material for BIG DOG RIDE 2000, insiders claim Higdon opted to accept an invitation for dinner at the White House on the same dates. Others claim the slippery GS rider may have been waved off from appearing by an ominous fortune cookie reading, a suggestion scoffed at by both Republicans and Democrats. As for South African entrant Powell, also known as "T-Bone," unconfirmed reports had him missing a departing flight to the USA due to legal problems arising from having killed a cow in Botswana with his R1150GS. There was also no confirmation that the two-inch thick T-bone steaks served at the BIG DOG BBQ were imported from Africa.

Randy Meyer, who last year broke several ribs after a crash on Mosquito Pass with his R100, avoided using the same "secret tire compound" brother-in-law Miller had provided the year before. Meyer was able to finish unscathed in 2000, whereas Miller's R1150GS looked as though someone had pitched it off a moving flatbed truck at 60 mph.

Dan Haft, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, on an R1100GS, spent both days blessing his recent training in a racing school. His transcendental experience this year riding over Taylor Pass left him nearly speechless, an unheard of situation for a lawyer. When asked what he thought of the rain, hail and thunder at speed, he answered, "Unbelievable!"

Another new DOG, Jim Key, on an R80GS, was searching for replacement parts after the second day. While his motorcycle was still running strong, bits had fallen off along the route causing concern, more so for those following him who noticed Bavarian stamped parts whizzing by their heads.

David Brown, on an R100GSPD, found mud to his disliking over the high speed flat sections of the route. He solved the problem of his phobia by stopping to put on his rain suit. As soon as he did it quit raining. Second year entrant Tim Wise, from Minnesota, managed to finish both days well up in the field. However, his perfect ride was marred by an equipment failure on his return home. His bike wheezed it's way to a stop along a paved section near Grant, Colorado.

Other veterans who exhibited the wisdom of their prior entries in the BIG DOG RIDE were Ron Spicer and Barry Finch. Spicer, a test rider on new F650GS's, entered the event on an R100 GS which he rode to and from California as a warm-up to the event. Finch spent nearly a year preparing for the 2000 event, testing several bikes, adjusting to high altitude and undergoing extensive bee-stinging to toughen his body and mind to the rigors of passes like Mosquito.

Two front runners for both days were Wendell Duncan (R100) and Rainer Stammler (R80). These veterans exhibited their knowledge of the BIG DOG RIDE by employing time saving applications. Duncan wears tennis shoes knowing valuable time will be wasted if he stops to empty water filled boots. Stammler is the master of shortcuts, often veering off the route to move ahead where others fear to wander. Some speculate Stammler tries to get others to follow knowing they will crash or damage their equipment thereby being unable to finish or be considerably slowed. Both Stammler and Duncan are known as "old dogs full of tricks."

Gregory, worn out...One of the wildest entrants is "Mad Dog" Mike Miani of Escondido, California. He spent nearly a year competing in death defying events with an R80GS where he was desert racing against hordes of 250-350 cc dirt bikes. From California come tales of seeing Miani airborne; body horizontal to the bike (and the ground) at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. He is the one BIG DOG RIDE entrant who arrives at the starting line each year frothing. Some foolishly judge him as deranged. Fellow competitors know not to fall down in front of him. The best place to observe Miani's riding style in the BIG DOG event is from behind, far behind, which is why he often leads.

Another veteran BIG DOG sometimes misread as crazed is Neal Graber from Red Lake, Ontario, Canada. Graber, on an R100 GS, warms up for the BIG DOG RIDE by blitzing a highway run into the event of over 2,000 miles. Some claim he stops only for gas, does not sleep, and eats birdseed out of Baggies he keeps in his tank bag. When other veteran riders see Graber roll into the pits before the start they know one of the toughest of the tough has entered. Graber often leads portions of the event on grit alone.

Steve Dance, (R100) got his first taste of running with the BIG DOGS this year. Dance, an auctioneer by trade, was stuttering at the end of the first day. He attributed it to the 12,000-14,000 foot altitude of the mountains crossed but sources closer to him say it was the breakneck speeds that left him tongue tied.

Winner of the Prototype Class (Pre-1980) was Mark Shelton of Cheyenne, Wyoming. Best classified as a "ringer" or "sleeper," Shelton trounced the competition with his 800-cc prototype GS. Smiling from ear to ear at the finish, he admitted to having only three of his four gears working the entire weekend! It seems that he had no time since last year, when fourth gear packed it in, to repair the transmission, but knew his Class and route would seldom reach speeds over 80 miles per hour, which kept him well within redline for third gear. His smile was from knowing how much time he saved by not having to shift from third gear to fourth.

The BIG DOG RIDE is not for everybody with a GS. It takes a special breed and toughness to wrestle 400 plus pounds of motorcycle over 12,000-14,000 foot high Rocky Mountain passes like Pearl, Mosquito, Engineer, Black Bear and Imogene. It is one thing to do it slowly and carefully, quite another to do it with a howling group of some of the world's most talented riders nipping at your heals. Imagine, looking behind you as you are carefully protecting your body and machine while creeping up Taylor Pass and you see Mad Dog Miani screaming up the trail. His bloodshot eyeballs are plastered to the inside of his face shield, neither foot is on a foot peg and drool is atomizing as it flows out below his chin guard. God or the Grim Reaper has sent Mad Dog Miani on a mission and you are in his way. As the saying goes, "If you can not run with the Big Dogs, then stay on the porch."

One final note on the BIG DOG RIDE: the entrants laugh. From beginning to end they are laughing. It is not a giddy laugh or false laugh, but an honest reflection of people having fun. They are having fun riding a type of motorcycle they love, over some of the very best motorcycling ground in the world, and with some of the best people on the globe.

RIDE SCRIBE 2000
(For information on future BMW GS BIG DOG RIDES, contact bigdogbmw@yahoo.com. Invitations are limited, it's not free, but it is guaranteed to be fun.)

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