Monday, September 05, 2011

Heat, Courage and the Jack Riepe Show

Note: Please accept my apologies for the decidedly untimely nature of this post. Circumstances beyond my control have me behind in my writing, riding and other creative enterprises. Hopefully this will be a welcome reminder of a summer fast evaporating and the real riding weather to come...

Staring at the concrete underbelly of the grandstand I was wondering if the ride to Bloomsburg to witness Jack Riepe was a good decision. The air was thick and the BMW rider sitting in front of me must have been one of the unfortunate souls who combined an all the gear, all the time philosophy with temperatures soaring near one hundred degrees and life in a little tent pitched on the scorched earth of the Bloomsburg Fair Grounds. With tears in my eyes, unprepared for the fragrance of a serious rider, I got up to explore other photographic vantage points.

Three hours earlier I met my friend Dan, a committed BMW rider, at the Pump Station in Boalsburg. We would be riding together to the BMW International Rally in Bloomsburg. At 6:30am I was already baking and feeling sheepish that I had abandoned my armored pants in favor of jeans for the ride. Dan has made the blood oath to always ride away fully clad and armored regardless of situation or circumstance.

Along the way we pick up two more travelers, Dave and Jeff, friends of Dan and also adherents of the German way of road life. Sixty miles down the road I sensed a tear in the BMW space-time continuum as the Vespa intruded on a host of German motorcycles. The heat was rising when I made this picture. Telltale fogging on the left side resulted when the wide lens which had been stored overnight in the cool, dry, environment at home fogged when exposed to the hot humid air. It wasn’t even 9am and the temperature was in the 90s. I had to remind myself of why I was out in weather that I normally avoid. One reason—The Jack Riepe Riepe Show. He better be good.

Dan, Dave and Jeff.  Real BMW riders. You could see these three faces along the Autobahn or in a small cafe in the Bavarian Alps.  Except for the Bellefonte baseball shirt.

Jack Riepe is the author of the Twisted Roads blog and monthly contributor to The BMW Owners News (Dan "forced" me to subscribe) with his column Jack the Riepe. Riepe was at the rally to expand the creative skill and consciousness of would be writers, bloggers and motorcycle adventurers from across the continent. To pass up the chance would be like passing up the chance to have a guitar lesson with Eric Clapton, photography advice from Ansel Adams, or a talk on writing from Hunter S. Thompson.

This was my first motorcycle rally. And maybe my last. While I could see the attraction for riders at this well organized event I generally move in the opposite direction of gatherings of more than five people. I found myself mumbling about the decision that had me standing in the heat.

Thankfully there was no line at the registration area as we moved through quickly and we were through and on our way towards the grandstand. Parking was available just a dozen yards from the door and I began to get nervous at the prospect of meeting the man himself.

Stumbling in about 15 minutes early I could see Riepe posing for pictures with who I later learned were some of his ex-wives. I thought they would be banned from attending but there must have been some sort of last minute reconciliation. Except for the Russian one who still must bear a grudge. As I walked towards this scene he must have recognized me and indicated his excitement at my arrival by elevating his middle finger to signify that I was number one in his book. He exudes kindness. Had I been a bit faster on the draw I could have recorded the moment with my camera.

I didn’t count heads but attendance had to be in the hundreds. Things were getting close and the roadies where frantically trying to get the computer to talk with the projector so we could view the performance that was about to occur. To make matters worse the sound system was not working either. Riepe waited patiently, his eyes sweeping from his notes, to his watch and across the gathering throng of riders and would be writers and bloggers gathered from across the globe. As the minutes ticked by the screen lit up with his presentation leaving the roadies to wrestle with the lack of audio. I saw Riepe’s jaw clench once, twice and then him rise in front of the audience and roar through the hall, “Can you hear me in the back!?”

In the heat, above the din of voices, the roar of fans exchanging stale air for hot, I suddenly realized he was going to address the crowd like a traveling evangelist in a tent on a hot Alabama night using only the power of his voice and the strength of his will.

The teutonic riding gods must have smiled at the scene because the microphone suddenly came to life, Riepe settled into a more comfortable posture, and the mass hypnotism began.

Falling into photographer mode I moved around the crowd to find intriguing vantage points and to try and keep myself insulated from the magnetic pull of the speaker. The gathered mass of faces followed his movements like a cobra charmed on the streets of Calcutta.

“Don’t give ride directions in a story!” boomed Riepe. Several times during the presentation I became nervous when I thought something I’d written would be used as an example. Stressing how boring a long list of routes and turns can be I was reminded of how often I see it done in magazines and on blogs. I’ve done it a few times myself.

No more.

Magazine editors are notoriously hard cases, skeptical of everything and assume everyone is trying to violate one of their fervently held laws (things they read in the Chicago Manual of Style. The AP Manual if they are heavy drinkers). Mary Baker, editor of the BMW MOA Owner News was right up front, smiling, laughing and acting in a manner that could have her editor card revoked in the wrong setting. I guess she was glad to hear Riepe charge would be writers with writing interesting first sentences and to have a little respect for readers. Weave an interesting story.

If you would like to learn more you can download Riepe's BMW Rally Handout.

After the presentation jack had one more trick up his sleeve. I don't like to apply the term "hair-brained" but this situation came close as Riepe introduced the "Twisted Roads Enforcer" helmet.

 As all good things come to an end so did the presentation. It took a long time for the crowd to filter out with everyone seeming to want a piece of Riepe. After the crowd filtered out, something that took a long time because everyone wanted a piece of Riepe, a few other bloggers and myself cornered him for lunch.

Writers have a voice, a persona projected from the page streamed to the minds of readers creating a real or imagined experience. It’s hard to know what’s real or what’s created, true or false. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Still, I’m always interested in the man behind the curtain. Especially this one, weaver of tales, silver tongued devil, who bridges the gulf between a mainstream column and a more jagged presentation on his blog.

The heat dogged everyone the entire day. Under a tent serving apple dumplings with ice cream, pulled pork sandwiches and bottles of icy water George, Richard, Jack and myself sat down to solve the problems of the motorcycle world and rationalize why we spend our time laboring over a blog. The discussion dissolved recognition of heat and sweat gave way to stories of people, places and rides to come. Our lunch together was worth the price of admission.

From left: Jack Riepe (Twisted Roads), Steve Williams (Scooter In The Sticks), Richard Machida (Richard's Page), and George Ferreira (Riding the USA).

Vanilla Riepe

Regular readers of Twisted Roads will be familiar with the battered baby seal, a legendary look so powerful that it reduced women to putty in his hands. Like a vampire glamoring a helpless human. Amidst the heat and humidity I asked for a demonstration. Riepe looked over at me and switched it on.

 Battered Baby Seal

Two waitresses working nearby cooed involuntarily, caught in the energy flow. They brought him free bottles of water and soda and more had he wished it.

After George and Richard departed Riepe and I continued to talk for a couple more hours. The MAC-PAC, machines, life, family, challenges, health, writing, and postulations on why we do what we do. Despite the temperature near 100F I was happy to be there.

Later in our conversation Riepe expressed concerns that his audience might not have been engaged with his presentation that morning. I’ve been to a lot of talks over the years and in this instance, the crowd was mesmerized. The message, the delivery and the performance were perfect.

No need to tell him that though.

Dan, Dave and Jeff were somewhere on the sprawling fairgrounds. Phone calls and text messages finally brought us together at the GIVI tent just before 4pm.

A BMW rally is a massive coming together of like-minded people, connected by style, culture and machines in a manner unimaginable to anyone not impassioned by something. Vendors of every possible real or imagined need wait patiently to sell their wares, plant the seeds of desire, do their part to support the civilization of BMW riders.

At the Wunderlich tent gazing at the mesmerizing display of finely machined parts and pieces to build a better motorcycle I wonder what I’m doing here. Everyone looked normal. No bikers or tattooed scooter riders. Nothing weird. Despite Dan’s best efforts to explain the strategy and meaning of the event I am left feeling like I’m at the mall.

I never go to the mall.

Still wanting to make an appearance at the Kissell Motorsports pig roast and eventually find the living room couch for a long nap I parted company with the guys and struck out to find my Vespa. I felt a little bad not spending time with the guys, especially Dave and Jeff who I had pretty much just met earlier in the day. Perhaps on another ride we can get better acquainted.

Hot isn’t the right word for that afternoon. Brutal, oppressive, deadly seems more appropriate. I stopped under a water sprinkler and thoroughly drenched myself and the scooter before departing. Sprinklers were everywhere to help people keep cool and out of the emergency room. The ambient temperature reading on the Vespa measuring the air just a foot from the pavement indicated 109F, the highest I’ve ever seen. I’d been advised to hydrate carefully, without a windshield the air would be eliminating body moisture quickly.

Eight miles down the road I’m bone dry, lips parched, teeth, gums and tongue dry. Heat strikes my face and chest like a convection oven with no airflow relief at 60 mph. During the 80 mile ride home I’ll stop four times to drink a 16 ounce bottle of water and pour another over my head.

The heat remained steady with the temperature readout rising to 114F on one stretch of black, newly paved stretch of asphalt. I began to wonder about my blood pressure when I stopped in a patch of shade for a drink. Later in the day, when I arrived at home, my pressure was 116/72. The heat didn’t seem to have much effect on pressure.

 I don't usually drink from roadside springs because they aren't tested and these days who knows what might be in the water.  But the heat allowed me to abandon my reservations and enjoy the icy cold water.

Other than a handful of riders close to the rally I only saw one other motorcycle when I stopped for more water in Centre Hall. I made this picture because I saw a dog driving a VW Jetta. Look closely, click on the image, you can see him in the distance. It was only the next day when I downloaded the images that I realized I captured the woman and bike in the picture. Her boyfriend had gone inside for a few bottles of water which he devotedly poured over her head and back. As hot as it was, you’ll never see me riding with so little protection.

Bob and Tom. (Serious riders-- Bob on a Goldwing and Tom on a BMW RT1200)

They had ridden from Bloomsburg to the pig roast at Kissell Motorsports. And that was after they rode from Seattle to Bloomsburg. Serious riders. We talked and when I asked how they knew about the pig roast they told me they read about it on Scooter in the Sticks. Turned out they had been reading for years. It’s always odd to meet people who actually read this stuff. Tom and Bob are intrepid riders and have had adventures I can only dream about for now.

It was a long day made longer by the withering heat. I’ve not fully recovered yet. Might explain the dearth of postings of late. Or maybe it’s all Jack Riepe’s fault that I’ve not written much. He set the bar so high in my head that I can never bring myself to hit the publish button on the half dozen pieces waiting to appear.

He should have talked more about courage. That’s what a writer needs.


George F said...

I was beginning to think the heat had gotten to you and you had completely wiped out the event from memory :-)
Great post and writing, your description of the heat and day are spot on. Thanks for the mention ;-)

Charlie6 said...

A very descriptive narrative of the heat and Mr Riepe's lecture to his adoring fans.

I wish I'd been there, except for the heat part, that I can do without since I also ride ATGATT. Though, to be honest, I have been known to forego the riding pants on short neighborhood rides in the sidecar rig.

"With tears in my eyes, unprepared for the fragrance of a serious rider, I got up to explore other photographic vantage points." His effluvience was that pervasive eh?

"I sensed a tear in the BMW space-time continuum as the Vespa intruded on a host of German motorcycles." Surely there were other scooters there?

Ya know, in a previous life, I could see Mr Riepe as a traveling evangelist, though he'd be the kind who breezes into town and takes the rubes' money, then hightails it out of town, scantily clad women, outraged husbands and town folk not far behind.

As to not posting directions in one's posting, guilty. Thanks for the rally handout though, I must peruse it closely.

Not sure to thank you re the "wounded harp seal" look though...must be effective only on women.

This past weekend, while riding in the heat, was the first time I've drank from a ill effects yet and the water felt good. I can fully empathize with your need for cooling water in the face of overbearing heat.

As to Mr Riepe's high writing standards, notwithstanding his sage advice, I look forward to more of your postings as well.....


Redleg's Rides

Colorado Motorcycle Travel Examiner

RichardM said...

The oppressive heat/humidity almost caused me to block out those days from memory. I don't know how many people ended up visiting the hospital due to the heat but I heard that it was significant. Quite a difference from the rally in OR where you saw bikes everywhere enjoying the roads.

Another great post and my favorite photos are the underside of the bleachers and the roadside spring. I don't think I will attend another rally where it will be 100+ and humid as the weather was making it pretty miserable. Then again, one of these days I should actually ride to a rally....

It was great to meet you again and I have to agree with Dom on the "patented battered baby seal look". The world could've done without that image.


bobskoot said...


I don't blame you for not riding in the extreme heat. RichardM must have forgotten that it was 100°F in Bend, OR last year. We were sweltering, until we rode over to Lincoln City where it was cool at 18°C . I am not a fan of heat either but gear on the highway is essential

Riding the Wet Coast

RichardM said...

It's not the heat but the humidity. Hot and dry isn't bad, hot and humid sucks the life out of people...

Keith said...

Great post, Steve. What seemed, at first, like not a good time turned into a hell of an adventure for you. Thanks for the story!

Keith said...

And the photo of the spring certainly made me thirsty! I drank from a spring at my greatgrandmother's house all the time. A pipe came out of the hill in the back of her house and there, hung from a broken branch on a small tree by the spring, was a green coffee cup that was used by ALL of us to take drinks from the pipe -- at least those who refused to bend down and drink directly.

Steve Williams said...

George F: It was good to have a chance to meet you and sit down and talk about riding and blogging. Hopefully next time we meet the weather will be more comfortable.

And thanks for he kind words about the post. How can I go wrong with such subject matter??

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: Mr. Riepe definitely has fans but not surprising in the face of his quiet humility and warm spirit.

The heat was just bad. I almost didn't go because of it. Glad I went but it was a miserable trip. Give me 0F any day.

There weren't a lot of scooters there. I saw four or five as I wandered around. I think there must have been some sort of quota system in place.

Drinking right from a creek is tempting in the right situation. I've done it a few times myself thinking the water looked nice and clean. One of these days it will catch up to me though.

Steve Williams said...

RichardM: I'm so glad I could restore your memory of time spent in Pennsylvania. To help ensure it lasts you could print out the battered baby seal picture and keep it in your wallet in case you feel the memories slipping away. I bet it would bring them back.

Steve Williams said...

bobskoot: I think the ride to the rally was the hottest trip I've made. And next time I will wait for the cover of darkness before making it again.

For me, as soon as the temperature rises about 80F I think it is miserable. My favored riding range is 35F to 65F.

Steve Williams said...

Keith: Even the bad trips can make for good stories. I learned that from Mr. Riepe. In fact I think he suggested that the quality of the story is inversely proportional to the quality of the ride. My only struggle was I didn't really want to relive it when I was writing.

There really is a nice sense of nostalgia about drinking from a spring alongside the road. Those experiences and opportunities are rapidly disappearing.

Orin said...

The seriously belated arrival of summer in Western Washington has meant I only last week had the opportunity to ride in shorts and a t-shirt. When it gets really hot, I wear the piss-pot I keep handy in case I meet cute girl. I know the ATGATT disciples will gnash their teeth and rend their garments at such a revelation, but I do this only when I'm riding on the same roads, at the same speeds as would be the case if I were on a bicycle.

I always wear a helmet (even if it weren't required by law in WA and OR), and only wear close-toed shoes, because such things as flip-flops and Crocs® require toes. I dunno, I've always thought heatstroke would be far more dangerous than a lack of crash protection.

I enjoyed your account of the rally. My original Grand Master Plan called for gaining riding experience with my Vespa ET4 before trading up to a Beemer R1100RT. The current economy kinda put the kibosh on that plan, unfortunately. My only hope now is for a big media company to buy my blog and hire me as Managing Editor...

Scootin' Old Skool

Bill Fin said...

Excellent Post Steve, don't know how you stand the heat.

All the best,
Bill Fin

Bill Fin said...

Excellent Post Steve, I can't emagine that amount of heat.

All the best
Bill Fin

irondad said...

Great post. You make me want to become a better writer.

Steve Williams said...

Bill Fin: I can only imagine riding in Scotland. Seems perfect. The weather, the terrain, all of it.

irondad: You make me want to be a better rider.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

Never have so many flattering statements been written before and after my name. I am speechless (almost, but not quite) with gratitude and emotion.

I was trying to think of some woman I could call, so I could read your blog aloud (with the attempt to impress her), except the ones who would take a call from me would suspect you'd been duped.

I am out on the road — on a kind of writer's retreat — and have been without internet for the past two days. I checked into a motel tonight, as opposed to a rustic cabin, and your blog episode jumped to my screen.

I was delighted to meet you, George, Richard, Rick Slark, and Nikos, despite the hellish heat.

There are actually very few secrets to telling a good story... But there are a million ways to blow a punchline, or to lose a reader through attempts to be more specific.

The most important thing is to make the reader feel what you feel... To bring the reader with you... To leave the reader feeling breathless. Many great riders, who've been to great places, and who have had the greatest adventures fail to understand that the story doesn't begin with, "This is what I did," but, "Hang on."

I wonder what you would have thought of me during my presentation if you knew that I start every piece thinking, "Who the hell wants to read this shit?"

And the end of a great ride is always hard to record... I am always last in line so I can see the posse riders peel off, one by one... And I can never write anything that does justice to the time and tale they've given me.

By the way, you never saw the "battered baby seal look." It cannot be photographed. Did you see that little fire cracker hanging over me in the photograph in your bog episode? (She is labelled a former wife.) She gets the battered baby seal look (both barrels) and she is immune.

By the way, I'm headed out by you for breakfast one Sunday — on Fireballs. What place has the best pie, and home fries.

Thank you again for this kind piece.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Brady said...


I didn't think much of this event before reading your summary. In heat, I would have loved to make it. I own three bikes, and only one is a BMW, so my brainwashing is yet incomplete. Still, meeting other writers and road-warrior maniacs would have been a real treat.

Secretly, in my brain, I called it the 'Jack Riepe Show' as well. Though I've never seen it in person. I love secret names, especially when someone else uses them, too. I have a friend who had secret names for everyone. Ross was Rosstiovski, and I, Brady, was Bradiospielen.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

Steve Williams said...

Orin: I have the same fantasy of economic windfall from my meager efforts on Scooter in the Sticks. If not a corporate supporter would it be too much to hope for a patron? Artists and craftsman used to have them so why not a blogger??

Don't let go of your dream of a BMW 1150RT. Very nice machines despite my preference for more open and naked motorcycles. Your GTS is the RT of the Vespa world anyways.

Steve Williams said...

Mr. Riepe: Thanks so much for the comments but I still have to thank you for the writing and blogging insights. Like anything else I guess it's easy to get cocky and think you know everything you need to know. Over and over, whether riding, writing or photography, I am constantly reminded by some young upstart like yourself that my actual skill falls far short of my image of myself.

So you offered the chance to acquire a big dose of humility. That's hard to come by these days. For me anyway.

Ride carefully in the submerged eastern parts of Pennsylvania.

Steve Williams said...

Brady: It certainly was a show. It's not often you see such a performance without being in a theater or in front of a tv. Jack Riepe should go on tour.

Speaking of tours, I hope you are going to make it through the Alps before the snow flies. So many beautiful rides there and I traffic will plummet as the tourist season ends and the skiers haven't arrived yet.

Good luck and ride safe!

Brady said...


I don't know what I'll be able to get to this year yet. There is a scheme in the works to get a motorcycle shipped over here, we'll see how that pans out.

Behind Bars - Motorcycles and Life

rivernan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rivernan said...

It seems as if your camera caught me in the front row of the RIEPE SHOW at Bloomsburg. You can read my directions included... In BMWON: Feb 2011 Riding 2up on Arty and this coming December Bucks County Covered Bridges...

Tuscan foodie in America said...

I have often said it and I will say it again: motorcycling is most enjoyable in cool weather, although most people who DO NOT ride motorcycles think that Summer is the right season...

Daniel said...

Hi Steve,
Please contact me by email (


Steve Williams said...

Brady: I wish you luck in finding something to ride while in Germany. Seems like an opportunity not to be missed.

rivernan: That's for the head's up on your article in the Owner's News. I'll have to track down a copy of that issue.

Ronman said...

I can always count on your for inspiration Steve. Geez now I'm wondering if I should read Jack Riepe's blog or not? Oh well when you're at the bottom there is only one way to go.