Another Rookie Went to Alaska

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by 72 Yamaha RD350, Jan 3, 2020.

  1. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I appreciate that.

    You quote Bobcat Goldthwait in your signature line. By chance last Sunday I watched "World's Greatest Dad" which he wrote and directed. His good friend Robin Williams played the lead role. I don't know if you've seen it, but the moral of the story is that people will re-write the narrative of a lie into a truth if it suits their purpose. That's really heavy stuff for a guy who got famous by creating a neurotic stage persona.
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  2. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I appreciate the compliment and I'm glad that it made your week.
  3. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Ride Reports come in different flavors. I acknowledge that mine is quite different than most and will not be everyone's cup of tea. I'm fine with that. The pictures are cool to look at, the experience of the ride itself ranged from fantastic to complete misery, but in the end what I get to hang onto forever is all of the independent random events and people that were each a piece of my Alaska puzzle.

    No small part of that puzzle are the inmates of ADVRider who publish RR's (previously acknowledged) and Jim & Elizabeth Martin of Adventure Rider Radio (ARR) podcast. Without both it never would have occurred to me to fulfill that childhood dream by riding to Alaska.

    I read Ride Reports and listen to ARR not because I will ever ride to Ushuaia, Mongolia, or Round the World, but because the firsthand experiences of people who ride in those countries inform me of the people, the culture, and the history of those places. They continually remind us that governments are not reflective of individual citizens.
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  4. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I didn’t expect the motorcycle ride to Alaska to make me a better rider. How could it - just rolling along day after day for hours on end of mostly straight four lane and two lane tarmac. I’m sure it didn’t for the first three days.

    Beginning the third day, though, the AlCan required more of me. It required me to focus on the pavement type, as it changed frequently. The weather, as already mentioned, made even that simple task difficult at times. Every gas stop, rest break, and pull off was unfamiliar terrain. Is it paved? What size gravel is it? How deep is the gravel? How big are the potholes? How muddy is it? Which side of the pumps is preferable? Where can we park the bikes out of the way? I encountered these situations in my rides at home once a week or maybe once a month, but on the AlCan it was several times per day. They were little things, but repetition began to sharpen the mental and physical skills.

    As we made it further north road construction zones entered the picture. How muddy is this going to be? Do I want to be in the lead or at the rear? What following distance is appropriate for these conditions? Did they just scrape it down to hardpack or is there a layer of gravel? A little bit of gravel - or a lot of gravel? Did it just rain or did the water truck just come through? Yet further north warning signs and flags became numerous. “Loose Gravel”, “Motorcycles Use Caution”, “Bump”, “Damaged Pavement”, “Motorcycles Use Extreme Caution”. The mental and physical skills got even sharper.

    Then I came to the first grated bridge, not short but several spans long. We’ve all read about them. We know what to do: relax, loosen your grip, breathe, let the bars move inside your hands, keep your head up, keep your speed constant, look ahead, relax. How much pressure do I apply when I find the grate pulling my front tire to the left or the right? Is that really the sound of the tires on the grate. How much longer does this bridge go on. Finally - we’re done until the next one.

    Eventually the frost heaves became constant, every forty feet, of varying severity. Usually it was just a break in the pavement similar to what you’d find in any northern state. Further north the breaks got wider and taller with signs or flags placed adjacent to them as a warning. Other times the entire pavement sank one or two feet without breaking - seemingly stretched over a hole underneath. The low to the ground seat height and unobstructed view ahead of the Road King allowed me to see the least disrupted path.

    I began as a passive rider with me and the bike absorbing the incessant pounding. It began in earnest north of Haines Junction - approximately 60,000 frost heaves from Fairbanks. There had to be a better way. It didn’t take me long to make a conscious decision to be an active rider and, absent traffic (which there was little of), lean and skirt my way around these spine jarring obstacles. Avoiding the worst of the pavement imperfections became a challenging game - a 60 mph skills competition that went on for hours.

    I commute daily on the Road King. I noticed it on my first ride back to work - my hand-eye coordination was improved, my motor skills were better. I hadn’t ridden the bike in several days yet my riding skills were tighter and more precise than ever before. I know this Spring I will have to start building those skills all over again, but going to Alaska made me a better rider for a season
  5. HuckIt

    HuckIt Adventurer

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    As others have said, great ride report! Very humble perspective which makes it easy to relate to and follow. Thanks for taking the time.
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  6. 8lives

    8lives Dharma Bum

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    I need to update my profile, I'll ponder that.
  7. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    The trip to Alaska was not my first experience with riding in foul weather - that came decades earlier on the RD. Some motorcyclists claim to enjoy riding in the rain. I agree there is a certain novelty to it in that Goldilocks zone of not too wet and not too cold that is peaceful and calming. But, of course, we don’t get to choose the conditions.

    The RD was primarily a local bike and I was rarely caught in the rain for more than three miles. Without benefit of accurate forecasting available today, I relied on the sky to discern the weather. My rides were frequently short and the appearance of threatening clouds was usually sufficient for me to avoid bad weather.

    I attended the University of Evansville my freshman year of college. It was September 1983 and the distance was 172 miles from home. This provided an opportunity for me to make the trip once on the RD before winter. The ride home was uneventful. I departed for the return ride at three on a Sunday afternoon - just enough time to arrive at my destination before dark.

    I exited onto US41 in Terre Haute one hour later - on schedule. Traffic in front of Honeycreek Mall was congested and it took seemingly forever to go the next five miles. I was barely south of town when I noticed dark clouds in the western sky. Riding along, I kept a close eye on the storm's movement and debated for a few minutes what to do. It didn’t take long before I pulled over and put on my rainsuit.

    Back in the day, Rider magazine was a higher quality print magazine than it is today - it was more like today’s RoadRUNNER with high quality print photography on thick paper. I had found a reputable rainsuit in the advertisements for $75. I purchased it more for wind protection as outerwear fabrics back then were far more limited than they are today. I don’t recall what material it was made of, but it was banana yellow in color and somewhat thicker than today’s typical nylon variety. It also had elastic bands at the bottom of the legs to hook beneath my heels and a separate jacket. I had a pair of gauntlet gloves that went nearly to my elbows making the enclosure at the wrists irrelevant.

    Having dressed at the side of the empty four lane road, I proceeded only a couple miles before the storm arrived in force. This region of southwestern Indiana is flat and agricultural with few people. The two cars sharing the road with me both pulled to the shoulder when the wall of rain hit. I was initially blown to left and countered to bring myself to a stop between the cars. Visibility was non-existent for them too even with windshield wipers. These had been the only cars I could see ahead or behind me as far as I could see before the storm hit. Even though it should have still been daylight, the storm clouds made it as dark as night. I flipped on my headlight, as did the cars, and sat there on the side of the road, out in the open, being battered by the storm in darkness broken only by sporadic lightning. I remember thinking that it was comforting having those two cars around me.

    There is one overpass in this stretch of 110 miles and it’s in Vincennes - some 30-40 miles away. There are no towns, no shelter anywhere - just farmland. Fortunately, the rain suit is doing its job. I am completely dry. The day started out warm and humid but this storm has dropped the temperature to comfortable levels. It’s just a matter of waiting for the rain to subside enough for visibility to improve which it did about the time my impatience triumphed over prudence. The car in front of me pulled back onto the roadway when it saw me doing the same and the car behind me likewise. Lane markings were still difficult to see - the taillights of the car in front being an easier reference. I was able to get out of second gear but the rain was still too heavy for me or the cars to go any faster. We arrived in Vincennes about an hour later in the darkness of true nighttime.

    I pulled aside underneath the only overpass to assess the situation - not that I had any choices. In the days before smartphones, there was no weather app for me to consult, no one to call for a lifeline, no camera to record the moment. I took a few deep breaths, relaxed for a moment, and screwed up my courage to brass it out fifty more miles.

    The cars had exited at Vincennes. It was now just me, the RD, the darkness, and the pavement. The rain let up enough in a few miles for me to ride safely in fourth gear. Just as one would expect, the rain turned into a sprinkle as I passed the Whirlpool factory north of Evansville. The city lights were a welcome site as I made my way to the university where a dry room and bed lay waiting for me in Hughes Hall room 307.
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  8. Booghotfoot

    Booghotfoot Been here awhile

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    I stayed there too in 2017. He is a great host. Lots of stories about what it is like to be a Canadian from Germany(?). I met some Norwegians staying their on their trip. Wish I had time to spend a whole day there.
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  9. gianttrack

    gianttrack Adventurer

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    Brilliant ride report! I just found it today and read it front to back. You have a very unique style and provided a lot of fodder for thought. It did make me a little uneasy when you described my garage (R1200GS, SUV, truck), but I am doing my very best to contain the pretentious asshole tendencies that don't serve any of us well. And so true--none of us are as good as we think we are. It is helpful to share our mistakes with others. It struck me that your riding improved so much from this trip. The same thing can be said for riding off road. Thanks for sharing your journey, your perspective, and your sense of humor with us. PS--I'm older than you are.
    Dave
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  10. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    @gianttrack:

    I appreciate the kind words and am truly sorry that you are older than me, but the upside is that you heard more good music in your youth than me. [“Muskrat Love” by Captain & Tennille still haunts me to this day.]

    I haven’t written anything with a purpose of being inflammatory. If one is lucky, he arrives at age 50 with an opportunity to reflect on his personal successes and failures compared to his own aspirations. Maybe some wisdom gained there provides perspective on how our society has changed in our lifetime, for better and for worse. I think the pivotal moment for me was reading “Walden” (or “On Walden Pond” as I occasionally call it) by Thoreau right before I got the RD. I still think his minimalism was somewhat fake, but the enduring lesson was: all because I can - should I? When is enough truly enough. I think that’s an easier question to answer after you’ve lost loved ones or experienced tragedy... when less often becomes more.

    Where I realized the benefits of the Alaska trip most was on the golf course. I’ve always been a relatively short distance (180-220 yds) but straight driver of the ball since I took up the game at age 46. My playing partners were as shocked as me when I began driving the ball 40-50 yards further when I got back. It seems that swinging a leg over the Road King seat a dozen times a day had stretched my hips allowing me to rotate further in my swing. And my eye-hand coordination was vastly improved making it possible for me to consistently make contact with the sweet spot of the driver face. Who would have thunk it. So there you have it: If you want to improve your golf game - ride a motorcycle to Alaska!

    I had a chance to go to Estes Park back in 2015 with my youngest son. We toured RMNP and did some hiking. I’ve been going to Colorado off & on since I climbed/hiked Mt. Elbert in either '79 or '80. (back row, second from right in picture below) You live in a beautiful state. I probably should have moved to Colorado thirty years ago but I’ll have to be content skiing there for a a few days each season for as long as I am able.

    elbert.jpg

    Mainstreet of St.Elmo back in the day.
    St_Elmo.jpg

    We hiked up to an abandoned mill for an acclimation hike a few days prior to tackling Elbert. The mill was near Leadville. [The fellow who owns the mineral shop in Leadville told me the name a couple years ago.] I assume these structures have since decayed into non-existence but it would still be a fun off-road ride. I regret not having pictures of the mill and the tramline over the mountains. [The mill was in remarkably good condition despite being nearly 100 years old at the time.] If any inmates know where this is - speak up!

    precarious.jpg

    cabins.jpg
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  11. gianttrack

    gianttrack Adventurer

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    Haha! I didn't take anything you wrote to be inflammatory. Yeah, sucks to be old, but I am riding better than I ever have and just added a new KTM 690 Enduro R to the toy box to keep it that way. Moving to Colorado made me take up riding after a long absence. I would enjoy showing you some of it if you get a chance to ride out this way. Your pictures are a perfect example--there are more ghost towns and abandoned mines in Colorado than you can shake a stick at and they are all connected by some of the best unpaved roads anywhere. It always amazes me how our forefathers discovered these places and then built roads and railroads through the mountains. And of course, the scenery is breathtaking.
    Thanks again,
    Dave
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  12. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I appreciate the invitation. I tend not to get out to Colorado in the summer time anymore, but I regularly worship at the church of The Holy Lifts in Summit County a few times every winter.

    Back in 2000 I did drive a Jeep over Ophir Pass one summer. I always dreamed of doing Black Bear, Mosquito, and Engineer Passes in a Jeep. I don't think that's going to happen... but day trips on a dirt bike would be cool as hell to dream about. Tell me, what is the smallest displacement fuel injected dirt bike that would haul my 165lbs to those heights? Would a CRF250L be barely sufficient or would I really need a DRZ400 or DR650 class FI bike for those altitudes? I am aware of a Rocky Mountain ADV Rally that is held every year - I've watched YT videos of participants.

    Edited to add: I got a flat tire on Ophir Pass at pretty close to the maximum altitude on the ascent. It sucked, or should I say, I sucked - I had to fight the urge not to push the Jeep off the side of the trail and let it roll 2,000 feet to its demise. The jack was one inch short of being tall enough to lift the flat tire off the ground. I had to dig the talus out from underneath the tire. Truly sucked at that altitude.
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  13. gianttrack

    gianttrack Adventurer

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    A CRF250L would certainly be sufficient. Lighter is always better in the more technical sections. A bigger bike would be better on the highway or on long open smoother roads, but you can go too fast with a 250 in a lot of areas. A modern carbureted bike should do fine at altitude. You might not even need to rejet since most are already set pretty lean for emissions. Jeeps require more patience than I have. They almost always move over to let motorcycles go by, because they are so much slower.
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  14. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    Although Rick and I work in the same building, we don’t run into each other often. I had reason to bum a ride into work yesterday and he obliged. We talk mostly about all things mechanical and our maintenance/repair experiences. There is an anecdote from our trip I haven’t previously disclosed and now seems just as good as any to lower the bar even further.

    It was the afternoon of Day 4 - Montney to Liard Hot Springs. Up to that point it was the most miserable day I’d ever had on a motorcycle, but hey, I was riding the AlCan to Alaska - how bad could it be! Every time we stopped, we would commiserate by saying, “It could be worse - we could be at work!” and we’d have a chuckle at both our stupidity and good fortune.

    It is 190 miles to Liard Hot Springs from Fort Nelson. The road twists and turns through the mountains with at least one narrow and curvy section where one’s speed is reduced even under ideal conditions. The weather through this section was foul and, to make it worse, chip seal gravel had been dumped in abundance. Signs warned of the gravel and I adjusted my speed accordingly. Between the curves, the rain, poor visibility, and the gravel I was comfortable at 30 mph and I could see Rick close behind in my mirrors.

    RVs and riders got scarce on the AlCan after leaving Kim (from Calgary) at Fort Nelson. Nobody wanted to be on the road in these conditions. It was cold, it was wet, and it was foggy - ruining some of the best scenery even for those warm and dry in their vehicles. As a consequence, we hadn’t seen any vehicles of any type for quite awhile.

    At this point in the ride I was aware of Rick’s injuries sustained on Day 2 but I didn’t fully comprehend the limitations they presented. Of course, I chose the worst way to find out.

    We had been riding for probably two hours at this point and, all things considered, I wondered how Rick was doing. I don’t have a Bluetooth communicator so I can’t just ask him - that would be too convenient. [In his defense, Rick has a UClear so he’s absolved of blame in what transpires.] Since this is a narrow mountainous section there are none of the ubiquitous pull-offs typically found every few miles on the AlCan. There is not even a shoulder of any width. Having not seen anybody on the road going either direction for an hour, I do what any true southerner does: I stop IN-THE-ROAD. [I may be from Indiana originally but my mother is from Kentucky therefore I partially qualify.] Now not full Southerner IN-THE-MIDDLE-OF-THE-ROAD mind you, but hybrid Yankee Southerner IN-THE-RIGHT-HALF-OF-MY-LANE middle of the road..

    What I didn’t take into consideration was that I was on a Road King with a twenty-six inch seat height and can flat foot this 800 pound machine with a basketball between my ass cheeks and the seat. Rick, on the other hand, has thirty-four inches of seat height (in the lowest position) and has nary the space for Abraham Lincoln’s head on a penny laying flat on his seat if he’s going to get his tiptoes down. On flat ground… this isn’t a problem… but the AlCan is rarely flat. And where I’ve chosen to stop is decidedly not flat.

    We all like to watch those YouTube videos of impending vehicular disasters in Third World countries. Those trucks in India and Peru so overloaded the front wheels are often not touching the ground. The Cambodian standing on the ladder stacked upon chairs, themselves on top of a table in the bed of a mini-pickup truck. You’ve seen them. We, the sophisticated and educated, wonder how people can be so ignorant of Physics. Yet what happens next on the remotest section of the AlCan is a similar fate of Physics.

    I pull to a stop. Rick pulls up next to me on my left. The pavement is sloped steeply to the right. Before he can get his right foot down to the pavement that is further away than what is under his left foot, the top heavy weight of the Africa Twin falls to the right knocking me and the Road King over like a domino. Fortunately the RK has crash bars and it has only gone over a few more degrees than its shallow lean angle. But the AT is all the way over and has my left ankle shackled such that I can’t get my foot out. So here we are, in the remotest curvy section of the AlCan, in the rain, with both bikes tipped over fully blocking the right hand lane. I can’t get off my bike to help lift the AT and Rick can’t quite get off the AT either. Laurel and Hardy could not have pulled off a more implausible gag.

    I found it somewhat funny thinking this would be the perfect time for a grizzly bear to come out of the trees and feast on two incompetent motorcyclist... with their bear spray tucked just beyond reach. Rick wasn’t quite so amused. Despite having not seen anyone for God knows how long, it was only two minutes before a pickup truck pulled up behind us. A man and his wife got out and offered to help. I can only imagine the story they have to tell about, “... one day on the AlCan …”.

    Obviously there’s no picture or video of this incident. Rick would probably shoot me if there was and I posted it here. [He has a lot more dignity and self-respect than me.] Fortunate for us - on our Southbound leg the road crew had come through and swept up all the extraneous chip seal gravel and removed the warning signs. The weather was sunny, comfortable, and clear allowing us to take in the beautiful scenery. I don’t recall going any less than 45 mph through the same section.

    It’s just a road but the AlCan has the ability to humble you… to have you doing the motorcycle equivalent of climbing a ladder stacked upon chairs, themselves resting on a table in the back of a pickup truck.
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  15. camgregus

    camgregus riding gently now

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    Wow, just wow. I had to stay up to read it all. I’m glad I did. Thank you for this well done RR!
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  16. RJ44

    RJ44 Been here awhile

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    Over time, these are the events that can become more memorable than the trip itself. Thanks for sharing.

    Rob
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  17. legionmanchild

    legionmanchild When in doubt, throttle it out.

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    Well done, this was nice to read. You should archive this, and the other histories you've no doubt recorded, in a place that can be accessed by your posterity. A great resource for that is using Ancestry.com. You can set up your own profile and upload files, pictures, memories, about yourself and others. Then 40 years from now when your great grandchild feels the draw to connect with his forefathers he'll have a place to do it. Just a thought. Please keep posting :)
  18. AHRMA17L

    AHRMA17L Been here awhile Supporter

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    Ok, now I have got to post. Normally, I am not much into Alaska ride reports, but for some reason this one caught my eye.

    My mom grew up around Indianapolis (Flackville) and she, too worked on what she called small "truck farms" just as you describe.

    My first street bike was a 1978 RD400, and like you, after high school it and I spent some time in Phoenix--37th and West Camelback in 1985-86. I now can't believe how I used to rip down the Black Canyon Freeway and Grand Avenue and am still alive today.

    Keep it coming--great writing style and story!
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  19. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I tend to agree with that sentiment for stupid things I did when I was younger. But the older I get the easier it is to be completely honest, shed the romantic notions of adventure, and admit that some things just plain sucked at the time and no amount of nostalgia will ever improve my memories. Like climbing Mt.Elbert - we started hiking uphill at 6am; it rained, sleeted, and snowed at various times on the way up... in the first week of August. It was eight continuous hours of strenuous uphill hiking with a 20 minute stop for lunch on the side of the trail. We got to the top at 2pm when the clouds were so thick we couldn't see any of the adjacent peaks - just ourselves standing on top of the second tallest mountain in the lower 48. I once heard an old timer say, "...the experience was worth a million dollars but I wouldn't give you a nickel to do it again..." - yea, that. Exactly that.

    Some things are ok to be forgotten. The "domino tipover" is one of them - just a minor footnote to an otherwise epic trip.
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  20. 72 Yamaha RD350

    72 Yamaha RD350 Long timer Supporter

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    I never knew Eagledale was actually Flackville until I looked it up on a map. Holy cow. Tell me your most memorable occasion of riding the RD400 in Phoenix or Arizona. Did you ever ride it to Flagstaff, the Globe, Payson, or Wickenburg? I look back and realize that I missed out on some seriously awesome riding in my Arizona days.

    While you pull your thoughts together I'll share this tale of the first worst decision I ever made in life.

    Adjacent to Flackville is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. One of my uncles operated IMS for decades for his boyhood friend, Tony Hulman. (One of the roads inside the IMS property is named after him.) When I was growing up, my aunt who lived in Speedway said to me, "RD350, you need to go over and see Uncle Clarence. He will give you a job mowing grass and doing maintenance at the track." In my youthful wisdom I declined thinking that I had better things to do with my time. Yea. Sure I did.

    When my brother and I were less than ten years old, my father would take us down Georgetown Rd the night before raceday to witness all the revelry and eat at the Whitecastle that used to be at the corner of Georgetown & Crawfordsville Rd. We frequently went to practice days and time trials in the 70's. I only went to the race itself once, in 1986, when it was rained out on both Sunday and Monday and got pushed to the following Saturday. Mom, dad, myself, and girlfriend of RD350 pillion fame had seats between turns 3 and 4. I have no memory of taking this picture of my dad in the infield - maybe my mom took it (possibly even a different year and it got mixed in with my pictures). I have a couple more pictures from that day but they all show a bunch of white guys - almost none of whom are wearing shirts.

    IMS is the temple in my life. That's why you see the picture of the VStrom at IMS earlier in this thread. The Road King has also been there but I didn't take any pictures of the bike that day.

    IMS1.jpg

    IMS2.jpg
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