Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chapter Five: The BuRP Rally -- The Ride That Changed My Life

The truth be known, I don’t pay attention to directions when I am following someone. I’d been following my old pal, Rick Matz, for about two hours and it was getting late in the day. I had no idea where we were in relation to our final destination -- Maggie Valley, NC. The heat in my helmet had fried my brains and my eyes were smarting from the sweat that occasionally trickled down my face. The pain in my knees had become constant and a bit of a distraction. Rick had checked out Maggie Valley the week before (as he lives in neighboring Tennessee), and I mimicked his maneuvers, forcing myself to concentrate on the traffic ahead of him as well as behind me (where Wayne Whitlock and his wife Lucy followed).

Rick, Wayne, Lucy, and myself had been in the saddle all day and it was time to get off the bikes.

Rick triggered his Honda’s left turn signal and pointed to a little motel drifting by. We were on the main drag of a little town framed by mountains. I had spent 19 years living in Lake Placid, New York, which is a mountain resort of the cushiest sort. I was expecting something on that order and couldn’t imagine why Rick was turning.

“What the hell is he pointing at,” I asked myself. There were bikes parked in front of the motel and it was then I realized the sign said, “Laurel Park Inn.”
Every Kind of Bike Was Represented At The 2006 BuRP Rally 
And Parked Outside The Laurel Park Inn.
Photo Courtesy of Walter Kern
© Copyright Walter Kern 2006

I confirmed the turn with my own signal, banking across traffic into the parking lot. Wayne Whitlock and Lucy were right behind me. We switched off the bikes for the last time that day and the resulting silence was better than a naked woman whispering in my ear.

A mob of folks surged out to meet us, and more than a few said, “It’s Vindak8r.” Not since I played Santa Claus for a thousand little kids at a roller rink did I feel so warmly welcomed.

“I thought you never met these people before,” said Rick.

“I haven’t.”

“Then how do they all know you,” he asked. "And why do they seem happy to see you? Do they know they're welcoming a rum drought?"

These were folks I’d met in an online forum, under the aegis of Walter Kern. And now, Walt was stepping up with his hand extended. He tossed me two little cookies that were as brittle as hard plastic. I started chewing on one, and Walt said, “Those are to put under your center stand so it doesn’t damage the new parking lot paving. But I think you’ll need a sheet of plywood under each tire too.”

Ricky slapped the back of my helmet and I spit the puck out onto the ground.

Folks crowded around my Beemer and I felt like a celebrity. It wasn’t until the next day that I discovered they just didn’t want me to fall over and knock down the whole row of bikes. I was so tired that I couldn’t stand up, and spent twenty minutes just leaning over my bike. Danny, 50 percent of the couple who owns the motel, asked me to shift my position every few minutes, to redirect the fountain of sweat pouring off me onto another stand of flowers.
I Was So Tired, I Couldn't Do Anything But Lean On The Bike For 20 Minutes After I Arrived.
Photo Courtesy of Walter Kern
© Copyright Walter Kern 2006

It was like attending a reunion at a correspondence school. I had been communicating with these folks via the internet for two years, and suddenly, each of the electronic personalities had a face and voice. Surprisingly, some individuals were very different from their online personas. Walter Kern (poppymoto), who can come off as somewhat abrupt in his posts, is as warm as a Roman candle. This is contrast to his wife Jane (Customkat), who is always like the birthday present with the best wrapping.

Carrie (ShadowRebellion) has been hosting an online column for as long as I have known her. I felt like I was meeting a new chapter in a book. She is a mileage and weather-be-damned biker. Carrie rode what I remember to be about 500 miles with her mom on the pillion. Scott (Solobear) has been a fan of my writing for a long time. I met him briefly at the beginning and the end of this event.

Brenda Wheatley and Bill Wood are a big part of the driving force behind the BuRP Rally. They rolled out the red carpet for me and made me feel as if I was the reason all these folks had come together in the first place. That wasn’t really true, but they worked hard to disguise that fact.
Bill Wood (left) and Dan (SCRUFFYD2) Pretend To Welcome Me. 
They Will Severely Beat Wayne Whitlock Later For Making Sure I Arrived Okay.
Photo Courtesy of Walter Kern
© Copyright Walter Kern 2006

Sammye, (Granny2Wheels) rode in on a machine named “Dirty Sally” from Oklahoma. In conversation with Sammy, she will alternately refer to herself as “Granny” or “a squaw,” as she has a proud native American heritage. You could weld steel with the fire in this woman’s eyes. And that fire heats a passion for riding and an amazing sense of humor. Sitting next to me on the second night, Granny offered to trade a lap dance for rolling papers. (She changed her mind when I got up to dance in her lap.)

Tony Luna and I had ridden before under the aegis of “Perdition’s Socks,” a secret society whose members are identified by a mystical gesture and a hidden symbol. (Wayne Whitlock and Mack Harrell were part of the original cabal.) Little did anyone know that Tony would become the focus of an intense lifesaving operation later in the week.
Tony Luna -- Member Of Perdition's Socks -- Was One Of Two People I Knew At The BuRP Rally.
Photo Courtesy of Walter Kern
©Copyright Walter Kern 2006

Scott Bensen (DocMeteor) provided lots of interesting conversation and led several rides later that week. Yet there were a lot of people there that I was even chatting with for the first time. They were Alicia and Dan (AliciaDan), Bill T and Judy, Bob, Carol, Frank Vanek (Frankjv) Scott (Voyager), Scott (Voyager) and Tony and Laura. And I apologize if there were others that I missed (and I’m sure I have). This was their party, and they all made me feel like I had something useful to say and that I was a guest of honor.

I wondered what these people thought of me. I looked like a cartoon version of my electronic signature.

The Laurel Park Inn is the perfect location for a genteel motorcycle get together. The property is built in the classic, roadside motel style. That being said, the maintenance and care this motel receives would put many chain properties to shame. My room was utterly spotless, comfortable, and nicely appointed. Everything worked as advertised. That means the air conditioning had a “cyclone” setting and was adequately sized to lower a tropical temperature with corresponding humidity in about 4 minutes. This is important when you weigh as much as a neutron star (I do) and give off 15,000 BTUs every minute.

The second guest benefit was put in specifically for this event -- high-speed wireless internet. A growing number of riders are carrying laptops with them to get work done, or to simply stay connected while on the road. I don’t really like to ride in the rain, and will opt to work in my hotel room rather than get soaking wet when on a trip. Some hotels offer an an ether net connection. Other’s claim to have seamless wireless connections but don’t. Still others places just have it in the lobby. Some very swanky hotels in Vancouver, Montreal, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles have great wireless internet for only $10 per day.

The little Laurel Park Inn has fantastic wireless internet, that functioned flawlessly, for free, and made me feel like I had dozens of options. Some of my gentle readers may be put off by my initial physical description of this property. The Laurel Park Inn may have the lines of a traditional roadside motel but the exterior decor goes far beyond that. The place is covered with beautiful flowers that give it a unique “your-kind-of-people” stay here look. There is a delightful verandah that runs the length of the building, with a couple of comfy rocking chairs by each door.

If you think the rocking chair bit is for an older, nearly prehistoric clientele, you are sadly mistaken. At the end of a long day, 8 hours or so in the saddle, where your ass has taken on the contours of a motorcycle seat, there is nothing like kicking back in a comfy rocker, and relaxing on a cool evening. Trust me on this one. My bike at the time was a 1986 BMW K75 with a Corbin Comfort Seat. I believe this particular seat was designed by the North Korean secret police. After sitting on it for two hours, the most hardened criminal would sign anything. I fell into the rocking chair outside my door, and wondered how I could get this mounted onto the bike. The verandah became the impromptu meeting place to discuss the day’s adventures, to plan the next days rides, and to trade death-defying lies.
The Verandah On The Laurel Park Inn Was The Scene of Many Impromptu Biker Discussions.
Photo Courtesy of Walter Kern
©Copyright Walter Kern 2006

This motel also features an outdoor pavilion with complete party facilities, which made group gatherings for pizza, a barbecue, and birthday cake a snap. Once again, after a full day in the saddle, it’s nice to be able to get together without starting up the bike one more time. There is a pool in the back and I would recommend this place as the premier guest house in Maggie Valley.

I collapsed into a chair, and somebody gave me a cold beer.

“Don’t give him a beer,” screamed Ricky. “He’ll go into a coma and we’ll need a fork lift to move him.” He pried the beer from my hand (no easy trick), opened my topcase, and pulled out a Sigg bottle. He passed the bottle under my nose a few times until my eyes opened wide. The scent of warm rum brought me back to full consciousness.

“There you go, big fella,” said Rick. “You’ll get another sniff when you get your bags off the bike and into the room.”

The rest of that evening became a party. Everybody had a story to tell. And every story was great.

The tale of the BuRP Rally is the story of the people who ride to it. And I only know my own perspective. In 2006, the BuRP Rally was a summation of riding styles, unique personalities, cool bikes, and folks who revel in meeting each other year after year. I arrived with all the finesse of a whoopee cushion at Thanksgiving Dinner, and no one seemed to mind.

This was my first multi-day motorcycle rally and it has spoiled me by setting some high standards. The accommodations were delightful. The company was fun, pleasant, and polite. The conversation was always interesting. No one's behavior was inappropriate.  The ride was challenging, but doable. The destination offered a lot to see and do.   The bikes covered the whole motorcycle spectrum, from tricked out trikes to pimped-out Goldwings, from techno Euro tourers (not mine) to sport bikes, and from gorgeous Japanese cruisers to royal Harleys. Yet the only time a marque came up in conversation was when someone else admired it, which was often. Only two women followed me into my room at night, and I am forever grateful to the one who did that thing with the waffle iron. 

The next few days would offer a full agenda. The rally split up into group rides, or went off exploring, or hung around in little discussion groups. It was the most seamless matching of personalities I have ever encountered with a group this large. If there was disagreement, it was certainly handled discretely.

There would be challenges all week. Wayne’s Harley blew its last fuse and was towed off to the dealers. The culprit would be determined to be a chaffed wire coming into contact with the frame under a chrome cover. Wayne handled this like it was nothing. I have never seen the man get angry nor frustrated. It would take a few attempts before the local Harley dealership would get the problem straightened out, but Wayne was confident they would.
Wayne Whitlock Decided To Trade His Harley Ultra For A Handful Of Magic Beans. 
The Kid He Traded It To Will Later Return With An Attorney.
The Ultra Is Loaded Onto A Trailer.
Photo Courtesy Of Walter Kern
©Copyright Walter Kern 2006

Scott (Voyager) found his magnificent Aprilla was eating a rear drive bearing. He had a huge ride home (to Wisconsin or Minnesota, or someplace like that) and determined he could make it. What amazed me is that all of these guys had no problem taking stuff like rear drives and transmissions apart -- and putting them back together again.

No one can watch the great Christmas movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” without feeling good at the end. Jimmy Steward understands what his life is worth and Clarence the angel gets his wings. I got my wings pulling into the Laurel Park Inn. Everyone seemed delighted that I had made this ride, despite the fact that everyone else rode farther than I did, and had real adventures getting there too. But this group understood what this trip meant to me as a “push-your-luck,” overweight, arthritic, advanced middle-aged, reentry rider. And this group celebrated the personal triumph it was for me to get there.

Yet a strange tempering process had begun. My limited reentry riding ability was being heated and beaten with the sledgehammer of experience. Changes were already taking place that would alter my perception of riding, and how I wanted to ride. But I didn’t know it at the time.

Next week: Chapter 6 -- I Meet The SteelHorse Rider And North Carolina’s Mountain Roads Attempt to Devour BuRP Riders

The author would like to acknowledge the photography of Walter Kern, who made the pictures in this chapter possible. Mr. Kern's extensive motorcycle knowledge and biker columns can be accessed by clicking on "Motorcycle Views," under the "Destinations" heading on this blog. Mr. Kern was the first person to encourage me to write motorcycle-related stories. I suggest you address your complaints to him directly.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2008
AKA The Lindbergh Baby (Mac-Pac)
AKA The Mighty Vindak8r (Delphi)
AKA The Chamberlain -- PS (With A Shrug)


Art said...

Great write-up Jack ... from another OWAAMARR -"overweight, arthritic, advanced middle-aged, reentry rider" ... the slowest moving market segment of the motorcycle riding public

Anonymous said...

"Yet a strange tempering process had begun. My limited reentry riding ability was being heated and beaten with the sledgehammer of experience. "

My favorite line.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Art:

Thank you for writing your kind note. It was the highlight of my morning. The BuRP Rally literally changed my life. It eliminated a lot of stupid fears and misconceptions. And it fed a growing desire to ride farther and to newer places on a motorcycle.

It also gave me a deep sense of appreciation for the BMW K7, which now that I have a second one, I have really come to love.

Thanks for dropping by, Art.


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

My favorite line was, "Slowly, she took my zipper in her teeth and tugged it open." I was compelled to remove this paragraph as it had little moto content and proved distracting to some readers.

You are the subject of the next chapter. You'll like the part where I give you pointers on how to take a decreasing radius curve.


Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Excellent write up! Talk of the BuRP Rally on the forum always intrigued me. What an interesting collection of personalities...

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sharon:

The BuRP Rally can be a challenging location for a ride (close to Deal's Gap), a great mix of people, and a tremendous opportunity to share three days of dialogue with people of a similar mind. I'd go again in a heartbeat.

Fondest regards,