ACCEPT THE CHALLENGES SO THAT YOU CAN FEEL THE EXHILARATION OF VICTORY
– George S. Patton
Yvon Chouinard, the dirtbag climber, mountaineer and founder of Patagonia outerwear is famously quoted as saying, “It is not an adventure until something goes wrong.” The same truth applies to motorcycling and for us, the adventure started before we left our hometown of Wenatchee, Washington.
For some random reason, instead of meeting at a gas station or someone’s house to congregate before our annual Canadian tour, we decided to meet at the local motorcycle shop where Todd Shiftlett, longtime powersports mechanic (a.k.a. The Carb Whisperer) was a former employee. My father Don on his Honda ST1300, my son Matt on his 1991 VFR750 and me on my 1998 VFR800 pulled into Doghouse Motorsports. Good thing. Trevor Alexander, Todd’s brother-in-law decided it was time for new rear brake pads for his 2006 VFR800.
This would normally be something easy to ride around on a sportbike, but with the VFR’s linked brakes, using the front brake only technique was not an option. Todd simply rolled the VFR to the parking spot nearest the garage bay and got to work replacing the wafer thin pads. As Todd ?nished, I took a humorous glance at my rear brake pads before donning my helmet. I should never have looked. I needed rear brake pads too and mine were thinner than Trevor’s. However, I am grateful that rear brake pads were the only thing amiss.
No one has ever seen his face since it is always buried in a bike or in a helmet. Some say his eyes light up when he brakes, and that the part of his brain dedicated to bikes is big enough to have its own gravitational ?eld. All we know is he’s called The Carb Whisperer.
The bike was totaled just 1 month before, I had only assembled the bike the day before we left and it had not even been test ridden after re-assembly. Some parts of the bike were literally held together by superglue, but that is another story for another time. Todd just sighed. So the adventure began. All I can say is thank goodness for center stands, single sided swing arms and Todd Shi?ett. The Carb Whisperer had them changed in NASCAR-like pit stop ef?ciency and we were ?nally read to leave. What else could go wrong?
My VFR800 a few days before the trip. The new OEM fairings from Bike Bandit (shameless plug) would not arrive in time for the trip. So the old ones were superglued together for Canada.
The ride from Wenatchee to Wilbur is ?at farmland and we used it to make up for lost time, using none of our new brakes whatsoever. Turns out this was a good thing since, due to a wiring issue, every time my dad hit his brakes, a fuse blew taking out his driving lights and dash, which meant no electronic speedometer. This explained why his saddlebag contained about two dozen 15 amp mini-fuses. Ironically, the oldest bike on the trip was having no issues whatsoever. My son Matt had outgrown his old Kawasaki Ninja 500 and was loving his ?rst tour on a bulletproof 1991 VFR750. It was much more reliable than his old Ninja 500 which we resurrected from near-dead, earning it the nickname The Zombie Ninja. That bike had a well earned reputation for spontaneously ejecting things as he rode. Exhausts mainly. Sometimes a face shield. Often gasoline.
After riding north along Seven Bays road, then east to Usk, we turned south away from the Canadian border to ride Flowery Trail Road. Flowery Trail Road is the main route to a local ski area, and is as twisty and wooded as you like. Here, we ?nally used our brakes. Thoroughly. The relentlessly thick evergreen forest echoed back our baf?e-free exhausts in every direction, which is likely why Washington’s ?nest heard us coming a long way off. At the end of the road, the trooper simply sat at a side road watching us approach and he showed no interest in pulling out. It had the intended effect, and we all breathed a sigh of relief, especially my dad who had unfortunately used his brakes meaning he had blown out his dash and truly had no clue how fast he was going. I’m sure state troopers hear that all the time.
Scenery like this makes it all worth it. When I stopped to take this photo, the whole group turned around assuming I had broke down. Wrong, but not a bad guess.
We rode north and that night found our usual digs at the Adventure Hotel in Nelson, BC. After stuf?ng ourselves with prime rib, beer, and tales of how the trip was already developing its own morbid personality, we rested for the next day. Good thing. The next morning we rode north to Kaslo and visited the farmer’s market where I get the same peach danish from the same local baker every year, kind of my pastry good luck charm. Todd didn’t get one, which was a bad move.
The road from Kaslo to New Denver along Canadian Highway 31A must have been designed by an engineer who rode motorcycles. If there is a straight stretch in the road’s 28 miles, I have yet to ?nd it, which makes passing near impossible. We had a few miles of clear highway, but quickly caught up to the trio of cars in front that were in no hurry to go anywhere. I could literally feel the pain from riding so slowly. Nothing on this trip was going right.
Notice all the photos with Todd in this position? This is how you whisper to carbs on 22 year old sport bikes. After 10 minutes of this, the bike started right.
After a full decade on 31A, we ?nally made it to New Denver and gassed up. Then things got even more interesting. While exiting New Denver, Todd’s classic 1993 CBR900RR decided it was nap time, and quit running to take a roadside nap. Like a good dad, Todd decided to push this classic Honda uphill to a paved pullout for a better sleeping spot. We all watched Todd push uphill for about a full minute or ?ve before we decided that he had gotten enough of a hamstring and glute workout and helped him push the bike the rest of the way. We further assisted Todd by peeing on the side of the road and staring off into the distance, admiring the peerless Canadian mountain range.
The Carb Whisperer checked everything in his power, but could not nail down the malady. Mysteriously, the bike restarted after 10 minutes of siesta time, and we plowed on to Nakusp. Shortly after leaving Nakusp, Todd’s bike decides it’s nap time once again. We again help by urinating publicly and generally mucking about. This is what true adventurers do. The CBR again restarted after a 10 minute nap and off we rode. At least we had the golden road, highway 6 into Vernon ahead. Maybe we could salvage at least that part of the ride.
As we got off the ferry crossing that signals the beginning of highway 6 and ?nally lit the wicks on our aging sportbikes, the largest cow in recorded human history decided to take up residence in the middle of the road and not move. He was the proverbial immovable object. What’s going on here? This is the most bizarre trip ever. We rode by gingerly and only got a few miles of clean road before “she” came along. “She” was a young female with a pink and white leather jacket on a white CBR600 and she rode by us all like we were riding Trail 90s. Todd let her get a good lead and I immediately knew what he was doing. I saw his toe tap the shift lever twice, the clutch dropped on his CBR and off he shot in a blur, with my 17 year old son on his VFR chasing him. I screamed “Bad uncle!” in my helmet for Todd setting a bad example for my son and decided to set a good example by not giving chase. Instead, I scanned the road for exit marks and bike parts. None were found, thank God.
When we regroup at Vernon, I hotly scold The Carb Whisper who Matt now thinks is the coolest uncle in the world.
Our bikes at the motel in Vernon. Notice the badly cracked cowl on the VFR? That was the nice part of the bodywork.
That’s when it struck me that all of these mishaps, breakdowns and misadventures were not a bad thing, they were necessary. In essence, on a ride where everything goes as planned, adventure and story telling grind to a halt. Maladies are mandatory for a proper adventure.
Imagine asking Todd about his ride had everything gone perfectly. “Tell me about your ride.” “Best roads in North America, great food, perfect weather. Had a good time.” Boring. No one wants to hear that. In true adventure something goes wrong and gives us an obstacle to overcome, a challenge to accept, maybe even a rescue from danger. These are the origins of a good story, and good story telling. This is how it needs to be. The story really goes like this… “Hey Todd, tell me about your ride.” “Holy $#*&! We couldn’t even get out of the stupid parking lot. First, I track down a set of stock pads for Trevors’ bike and swap them out in the parking lot. No problem right? Then Ted gets a far off look in his eye and sprints back to his bike. Now he needs new pads too. Except the shop doesn’t have any, so I ?nd a similar pair and have to go to the grinder and create a notch so they ?t. Then Don keeps blowing fuses, my bike takes a crap on me…” And so on.
What comes next is a glorious story telling blended with a mixture of near misses with Washington’s ?nest, roadside cows, female sport bikers and pool injuries. As the story gets told, more beer gets drank accompanied by laughter, camaraderie and bonding. Yes, we put massive miles on old bikes that break down, however break downs become adventures. Adventures become stories. Stories become myths. Myths become legends. Legends become history, and a good story is told by all.
One of my favorite Disney movies is “The Emperor’s New Groove”, which I enjoy for one scene in particular. Kuzco and Pacha, the two main characters are tied to a log ?oating down the middle of a raging river which suddenly turns calm. Pacha then hears the far off roar of rapids and quietly mumbles, “Uh-oh.” “Don’t tell me, we are about to go over a huge waterfall.” says Kuzco stoically. “Yep” says Pacha calmly. “Sharp rocks at the bottom?” “Most likely.” “Bring it on.” That’s the attitude! Bring it on indeed.
To keep with the theme of the trip, when we got to motel in Vernon, Todd dove in the pool and immediately hurt his head on the bottom. Please ignore the person ?oating face down in the pool. Nothing to see here…
Bring on your 25 year old sport bikes. Hand me your motorcycle with rear brake pads thinner than a feeler gauge. Tour on your 22 year old CBR with intermittent fuel delivery. Put the spurs to your totaled VFR with fairings held on by super glue, duct tape and zip ties. Grab a dozen fuses for your ST with electrical gremlins. Flog your Zombie Ninja until your face shield ?ies off. No, until the exhaust ?ies off. Give me your tired, your poor, your aging sport bikes yearning to breathe free and break down, the wretched refuse of your teeming craigslist adds. Send these, those down on compression, tempest-tossed, to me. Imbibe the euphoria as they once again back?re their ?ery dragons breath. I lift my Leatherman, duct tape, safety wire and zip ties beside the golden door, for said bikes shall achieve their previous glory once again turning gasoline into noise and speed and sacri?ce their ?nal crankshaft rotation at the altar of legend. Let them bring about roadside naps. Beat on them until their exhaust pinwheels into marvelous history. Damn the photon torpedoes and warp speed ahead, riding them hard, harder, harder yet until they ?y apart.
Accept the challenge. Bring it on. Then crack open a beer and tell the story, because it’s going to be epic…
Three generations of riders: my son Matt (far left), my father Don (middle) and I in the streets of Nelson BC. This was not our ?rst (mis)adventure together, and de?nitely not our last.