A Memorial Day Ride to Remember

Memories of the Future

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis, Malia Alyssa Lewis

Most years, I do something for veterans on Memorial Day weekend. The federal holiday honors our nation’s war dead (still stacking up), but this year was for family. A man should keep his family close.

Mine isn’t, so I picked up a K1600GT road warbler from South Sound BMW in Fife, Washington, and headed south toward Daughtergirl’s house in Oregon.

Around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I eased up next to a Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, new enough to sport a paper license plate from Destination H-D, just across the freeway from SSBMW. Other than launching from the same town at about the same time, we were motonomically polarized. Alongside the internetworkable GT, this heck-for-leather Harley looked like the surrey with the fringe on top (and saints preserve me from ever strapping silver conchos across my ass), but we had the weekend in common. Also new bikes and sunny roads—and his pair of vintage, polished Corcoran jump boots said Memorial Day meant as much to him as anybody.

At a claimed 703 lbs. ready to ride, the “GT and a half” qualifies as a Big Damn Bike, but it’s as light on its feet as Fred Berry in his prime. Packing a couple hundred pounds less Wing loading than Honda’s sixer, the GT will cut a two-up U-turn tighter and more confidently than most bikes will solo.

In white livery, it also packs the presence of a cop bike. I found this out when I eased up on a Suzuki V-Strom around Vancouver, checking out the LD appurtenances and its rider’s grizzled pink Aero-stich. He immediately slowed and moved right, then glanced carefully over and finally waved. At the next exit, Kermit the Lunatic Adventurer demanded answers I was unqualified to deliver: “How would the six do for slaying continents twice a week?”

“Too easy for you,” I told the only guy to officially finish an Iron Butt Rally on a Honda Silver Wing, “and it doesn’t carry enough fuel.”

“How much?”

“’Bout 6 gallons, is all.”

He grinned, but I only clocked 32 mpg on my first tank.

Skimming over the Columbia River in light traffic, with rain on my windshield and plenty of gas in the tank, I fizzed straight on through Portland, out the south end and down to Newberg to hand-deliver a Mother’s Day present (late, as usual; call it “the personal touch”) and some European licorices to my stepdad Paul. I’m steadily bribing him in the hopes that he’ll show me how to rebuild the tranny on my R69S, a real BMW. Seriously: six cylinders? That’s three whole motorcycles’ worth!

Sure makes the road easier, though.

Back to Portland, then, where Daughtergirl graciously moved to the sofa in deference to her old man’s old back. My kid is everything, and not just to me: Teamster, motorcyclist, student, activist, caretaker. Her walls are asplash with protest posters the way a toddler’s bed overflows with stuffed toys, but her friends seem kind and there is real laughter in that house. A father couldn’t ask for more.

Well, maybe one thing more. With four college women in a one-bath house, one wakes early or pees in the backyard, but what a feast they laid on that night! For someone’s birthday, skirt steak from the corner carniceria joined asparagus, pineapple, onions and yams on the grill, backstopped by zucchini fritters, barbecued chicken and chocolate cake. I sure don’t remember eating like that when I was in college, walking to school through the snow, uphill, both ways...

Maybe it’s just that I couldn’t cook worth a damn.

Today’s collegians even have microbrews, which may salve the sting of not having much of an economy to graduate into.

The next morning, the two of us climbed aboard the Beemer and crossed back into Washington, sailing east along Highway 14, tracing the north shore of the Columbia. Between Camas and Washougal, I watched a man in a faded red fiberglass runabout set a fishing line for his son. I should have taken Daughtergirl fishing more instead of leaving that to her grandfather, but regrets have no redeemable face value and it was hard to regret anything at all while on a motorcycle trip with my daughter.

Not impossible, though.

Dropping a buck on round-trip bridge tolls, we brunched on bacon cheese-burgers and chocolate malts in Cascade Locks. We bypassed the tourist-friendly Char Burger and joined a line of locals at the greasy, tumbledown, peerless East Wind Drive-In, where no skinny person ever worked. The first time I ate there, I was in college myself and out on a motorcycle trip with Mom and Paul, on a BMW. They’re pretty good for traveling, those Beemers, old and new.

The tollkeeper’s smile was a warm memory from visits past, though it faltered and cracked when I mentioned that to her. She’s aged gracefully, but no smile lasts forever. Perhaps it’s good that we appoint a day for remembering that.

Not for nothin’ is the Columbia Gorge de facto world headquarters of wind-surfing, but the K1600GT’s articulated windshield bracket carries strange magic in its rocker switch, which lets you tune out wind force just like trimming the pressure off a Cessna’s elevator.

There’s also plenty of poop for breasting headwinds. Still governing the ADV sector it invented with the R80G/S, BMW rocked the world with the S1000RR, and now there’s this dynamo. Der Motor. For a kid who grew up leaping onto kickstarters with wafflestompers, swooping along on the K1600GT in a Schoeller variable-porosity suit feels like impersonating Tony Stark.

Ich bin … Eiserne Mann!

The bike seems ripe for upholding such justice as a knight errant may prefer. It’s as Deutsch as Deutsch could be, with an upright riding position reminiscent of Gov. Arnie’s Terminator posture and seat perched alertly over the pegs. The only perceptible weak spot is its weirdly slothful horn button, which has such a long throw and slow action that a quick beep-beep takes the kind of dexterity and timing required to speed-shift a ’69 Microbus.

I challenge any man to ride this 60-percent-overkill literbike and remain innocent of arrogance. The GT is like that big guy in the weight room, quietly pushing 440 lbs. without even panting, let alone screaming. Spurning even Harley riders and waving only to God Himself, I felt no need of a map. Once astride Beemerus Maximus, the world revolved around me!

The Benton County deputy begged to differ, if you could call it begging. I didn’t mind the ticket so much—cost of doing business, if you’re me—but had to restrain physical commentary when his finger wagging verged into the irresponsibility of sharing risk with my daughter. Her mother and I have spent two decades struggling against crushing her with over-protectiveness.

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Walla Walla is where my daughter mostly grew up before she and her mother moved out toward Dayton. The last time Daughtergirl and I went through Dayton, we parked a four-cylinder BMW K1200GT there to stroll around “All Wheels Weekend,” which featured beautiful vintage cars, a few hot rods and some Harleys, but no motorcycles. On this trip, we noted that the new GT’s panniers still have BMW’s innovative attachment system, but no longer belly flop onto their expensively painted fronts.

From the perfectly doped ESA to its mouse-wheel menu controller, the K1600GT may be too grown-up for me. I can see owning one in a few years after stripping off the roached fairing, lashing on a Model A headlight shell with an LED bulb array and reprogramming the suspension. Hacksawing off the treyshooter muffs to replace them with little titanium beer cans should save a good 40 lbs. It’d be like stuffing a Boss Hawg with an M3 engine. It’d be like Slim Pickens slappin’ a bomb’s ass. It’d be nothing whatsoever like properly policed, Teutonic maturity.

I’d leave the funky horn though!

Between W2 and Dayton lies Waitsburg. On that earlier journey, we ate a Father’s Day meal that couldn’t be beat at the Whoopemup Hollow Café, a mecca for Cajun food served on the wrong side of the Mighty Mississip’, while Daughtergirl told me about student-directing her middle-school chorus. On this trip, she pointed out the abandoned house where she recalled partying with high-school classmates. Then we stopped off at the Laht Neppur Brewing Company and picked up a growler of their Brown Nut Ale, strictly for saddlebag test purposes.

It’s always important to get the real story.

For us, the story lay still ahead, up the road in Colfax, where the windy hill waited. Just at dusk, flowers in hand, we made it there at last. Gliding past the lines of flags and ceremonial veterans’ crosses lining the driveway, we crunched halfway down a gravel side path and cut off the bike’s quiet idle. With only the wind left for backing vocals, we stood over her sister’s granite marker and wondered.

I always suspected our second twin would be harder to handle than her sister, but who can know? That hindsight is only 20/20 when it’s penciled in and colored by imagination, the only coherent form of memory. With a conspirator in the house, Daughtergirl herself might have turned out far less tractable. The only certainties with children are a) they’ll surprise you, and b) you’ll learn more than you’ll teach.

One of my kids taught me that some regrets are legitimate. Asserting otherwise is too arrogant, even for a middle-aged guy on a BMW. It stayed quiet, there on the windy hill, and I shivered in my gear. Riding suits armor only your joints, and no matter how sunny it is, that hillside is the coldest place on the Palouse.

Finally I admitted, “I still talk to her sometimes.”

I hugged my daughter then, the one I still could. A man ought to keep his family close.

As close as he can.

A friend of Daughtergirl’s put us up on sofas in her very first apartment that night. Sofas, they have! In my day, students were lucky to have cinder blocks and boards, and we slept on those!

On Monday, we rode back into the present. I dropped my kiddo back in Portland and beat it up the interstate to finish my day at 560 miles with about 1100 regret-free miles. At more introspective velocities, economy improved to 44 mpg—better than our Toyota with damn near the storage space. Washington is a big state, but I was only slightly tired. This bike is effortless.

Our overnight hostelier called later and told Daughtergirl the road-jiggled Brown Nut was fresh and tasty. In my day, students drank Lucky lager with riddle caps—and we were happy to get it!

At their age, I had no idea where I was going, how I would get there or who would put up with me. Afraid of all the wrong things—how can we possibly raise two babies at once?—I was unprepared for everything. A perennial issue, but Daughtergirl is different from me: better and faster, moving confidently along unexpected two-lanes, apexing late and turning-in crisply.

Her life shows no burnt valves, no patched tubes or crudded-up carb. Like a six-cylinder wonderbike, she’s so brisk, so efficient, so well-finished that it’s hard to tell what went into her, what kind of blood, sweat and gear-grinding it took to accomplish this shiny, powerful, integrated vision of a girl.

She’s unafraid of adulthood. She’s not afraid of regrets. She’s not afraid of anything.

The future is hers.

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