Originally Appeared in BMW Owners News April 1987 page
Long Way Home By Dal Smilie
(Bike is a 1967 CL77 305cc Honda Scrambler)
It all started innocently enough when I took possession of a new BMW K100RS
on September 6, 1984. This marked the first new motorcycle I had bought since
1977, and the first time in my life I could actually afford one.
when you were young and you got a new football for Christmas? Remember
how you didn't want to stop playing with it? Remember how you took that
football to bed with you? I felt just like that about my new bike; I
wanted to be riding it all the time.
Even though it was turning into a typical Montana Fall-cold and blustery with
plenty of early snow-I took a long ride each day after work. One advantage
to Montana riding is that there are long loops that can be put together with
almost no stop signs. Also, the de facto speed limit is 75 mph. I got in a
lot of miles before the motorcycle season ended and ski season began. But it
wasn't enough: The bike was still irresistible when the roads turned impassable.
1 was in severe trouble.
I n the depths of winter, I even entered the annual mileage contest sponsored
by the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America group for the coming season, although
I was sure 1 had no hope of winning. After all, the people who enter those
things are fanatics. I told myself that I was too mature to care about racking
up miles merely for the sake of having a shot at an award, too mature to join
the subculture of motorcyclists who are odometer watchers.
The stereotype says that BMW owners comprise the majority of this breed, but
I've found them on all types of machinery. ( had never considered myself a
part of such foolishness. After all, riding a motorcycle is something I do
for pleasure, not as a competitive sport.
But Spring came early, and it got me thinking. With six months open for contest
mileage, I wondered just how many miles I could accumulate. I even set for
myself the outlandish goal of 50,000
miles. I knew 1 couldn't do it; after all, 1 have a full-time job. And I knew
that Montana's weather wouldn't stay nice enough for the entire six months.
Besides that, how does a grown man explain wanting to ride a motorcycle 50,000
miles in six months?
For whatever reasons, riding a lot felt good that Spring. I admit I did enjoy
the stares of the Ski Patrol when I met my wife Jane, for lunch at a ski area
in Bozeman, almost 100 miles from our home in Helena. I also enjoyed the shock
factor of passing other motorists in snow flurries. Poor Jane, she thinks that
skiing is the thing to do in the snow. Maybe that's why she only rode 16,167
miles that Summer on her BMW. (Not that I was counting, of course. I'm not
immature enough to be one of those odometer watchers.)
There aren't many record-breaking things an average motorcyclist can do anymore,
particularly if you're a road rider. People have ridden from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska,
to Tierra del Fuego; they
have been around the world; they have ridden 1,000-mile days. They may not
have ridden underwater to Tasmania, but it was unlikely that I was going to
tackle that one. On the other hand, I told myself that it was just possible
that I could ride 50,000 miles during the contest. And it was just possible
that 50,000 miles might win the contest.
Riding as much as you have to ride to cover 50,000 miles in six months requires
a different approach to using your motorcycle. You can't set new, and interesting
destinations for every ride, since you run out of destinations long before
you ac-cumulate enough mileage. Instead, you just get on your bike and ride-new,
roads, old roads, intestates, two-lanes, whatever. What I discovered is that
I don't mean going someplace on a motorcycle, but just riding. It gives me
time to think and dream. While rolling through long days, I think great thoughts.
I'm never able to put any of them down on paper as it seems that all my great
thoughts vanish when I turn off the key. But I remember that I had them, and
that's good enough.
Spending every available minute on the bike proved to be a great way to see
the seasons. You may not think that you can commune with nature at 70 mph,
but in a way you can. You get to see the winter ice breaking up on the rivers,
the fullness of the summer, the fall harvest. If you live in Montana, you also
get to see winter on both ends in six months.
I watched foals take their first halting steps, newborn calves staying always
close to their mothers and lambs growing their first coat of wool. I smelled
new-mown hay, ozone before a rain and fall leaves burning. You may not be able
to stop and smell the flowers, but you can at least get a quick whiff as you
Riding, riding, always riding. A grown mature person doesn't have to keep up
such a silly pace. What began as an impossible goal became just barely possible
because the weather stayed mild and dry, And the miles continued to rack up.
Montana was in a terrible drought. By midsummer, I had only worn my raingear
a couple of times. The midpoint of the season passed and I was on pace for
50,000 miles. By then it seemed a shame to "waste" the previous miles
by backing off. I was achieving my goal. As the days clicked by, riding became
a necessity, then a chore as the Montana weather took an uncharacteristic early
change for the worse in August. My new possession was now possessing me. I
lived in my raingear. Still-somehow-riding was fun.
Such a marathon riding required some changes in style. I had never been one
to dawdle about during gas stops, but now I had it down to the to the level
of an Indy 500 pit crew I started "breezing" road-riding events by
checking in for a few minutes, getting the pin and leaving-and I like road-riding
events! I was fourth person to start the Oregon 500 at 4 a.m. I finished two
hours early and was gone. I stayed at the AMA District 17 Tour all of 15 minutes.
I could imagine other riders asking, "Who was that masked man?"
I had always been into motorcycling, like some are into religion, but one friend
noted that I appeared to be in some sort of "motorcycle frenzy."
In addition to my quick pit stops, my whole life became a well-choreographed
rush, so that I could string together the maximum hours for riding. My dealer,
Rich Gates in Missoula, developed a love/ hate relationship with me. He loved
my frequent 5,000-mile check-ups, but hated the short lead time I gave him
to schedule them. Without his eager attention, I couldn't have made it. Can
you imagine the trauma I went through when my instrument cluster (including
odometer) died in the rain on the return from "breezing" Sturgis?
How can you rack up 50,000 miles with a dead odometer? Luckily the fix was
no problem, thanks to BMW's warranty.
I would go to work early, take a short lunch break and get off early to ride.
It stays light until about 10:15 in Montana during mid-summer, and I coveted
every minute of sunshine. I had a routine down for quick-changing into my riding
clothes. I didn't even scrape the bugs off my riding jacket. The insect patina
that resulted caused AMA President Ed Youngblood to remark, "1 see that
you've taken to raising chickens on your shoulders."
As in the past, I still walked to my job as an attorney for the state of Montana,
but when I had to make out-of-town court appearances I occasionally rode the
bike. Besides a drought, Montana had a grasshopper infestation that summer.
When lots of grasshoppers impact on chocolate brown western boots, they look
a lot like scrambled eggs. Federal judges often wondered why the state's learned
counsel had the apparent remains of breakfast on his shoes. And federal marshals,
who provide security for federal courtrooms, were surprised to see an attorney
carrying his motorcycle helmet into the courthouse. I think they believe only
terrorists ride motorcycles.
How much is enough? I had never had enough of motorcycling before, but now
I know how much is enough. Jane, my riding partner and spouse, flew off, to
New Jersey for a week of work, so I decided to ride to the AMA Life Member
Convention in Columbus, Ohio. I left in a miserable 35-degree drizzle, hoping
to travel far enough fast enough to beat worse weather behind me. In spite
of that I chose to ride around the north side of Lake Superior and through
the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the way to Ohio. I averaged 770 miles a
day for six days. Needless to say t do not have one picture from that trip.
Most people might think that a byproduct of a very good riding season would
be the accumulation of a large number of miles. In my case, the by-product
of accumulating a large number of miles was that I had a great riding season.
I crossed the mid-section of the country on old and interesting highways. Jane
and I toured much of British Columbia very late In the season. On Labor Day,
with the coolness of the season coming on, our two BMWs were waiting for the
ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, B.C. I felt sort of foolish going farther
north at such a late date and suspected we would be the only motorcyclists
on board. But no, three more bikes eventually boarded--all BMW riders. Possibly
it's just BMW' riders who are so foolish.
Such a season created many statistics for the odometer watchers. I completed
three 1,000-mile days, none of which were initially intended to end that far
down the road:
5/29/85-Helena, MT, to Webster, SD, via Missoula, MT.
6/2/85-0'Neill, NE, to Helena, MT.
9/11/85-Columbus, OH, to Mitchell ,SD.
I used up at least eight front tires and nine rear tires. Tires, I learned,
are not cheap. I was hit by three birds; one right in the face. Apparently
I also hit an anonymous nocturnal animal that destroyed my right saddlebag
cover (never knew I hit anything until checking into a motel at 1:30 a.m.
at the end of one of my 1,000-mile days.
Another first-time experience was that of getting real sideways on a wet interstate
straightaway. I believe that the flat section rear tire I was using coupled
with too much speed caused this fine experience (I think I saw God). I received
(I hope my insurance agent doesn't read this) three tickets in the U.S., one
ticket in Canada and one warning. One ticket was for an embarrassingly high
speed. The cop was a Yamaha XS1100 owner, but even he couldn't forgive that
much speed. I was lucky l wasn’t removed in chains.
Six months in 182 days, and my final total of 51,526 miles means at 283 miles
per day. That is 2,000 miles per week for 26 weeks; nearly 8,600 miles per
month for six months. Even I couldn't believe it! I also couldn't believe four-and
five-page Visa bills. All those little tanks of gas sure add up. At an average
of 50 mph (ho, ho, ho) it would take 1,031 hrs to ride those miles-almost exactly
40 hours per week. That’s a full-time job. I did it-I made my goal. My
right wrist has now quit aching. I have re-learned what l always knew: You
have to stop and smell the flowers. Jane and I have had a chance to see each
other in person rather than side by side at 70 mph. The big Visa bills are
getting paid off. And I had fun, but I don't believe I'll do anything that
silly ever again.
Did I win the contest? Just barely, A California rider, Dave Mishalot, got
nearly 50,000 miles In during the same period.
Anyone want to buy a very new, somewhat used motorcycle? It was only ridden
one summer, honest.