Tuesday, July 17

BMW International Rally--July 12-15, 2007

Day 1—Friday night

I should be sleeping now, but my excitement about what the day promises precludes that. I am at the BMW International Rally in West Bend, WI, approximately 41 miles northwest of Milwaukee, which is where “home base” is for me. I couldn’t get a hotel any closer.

This is not meant to be a long ride report. Just wanted to convey my initial impressions. Well, I’m loving it! Nothing like that other rally I attended a few weeks ago…let’s just say, I can definitely see myself attending another BMW rally.

Right off the bat, I felt comfortable rolling in the Washington County Park Fairgrounds. My head to toe gear-wearing preference was inline with seemingly everyone else. Needless to say, I didn’t stick out. Serious brand loyalty exists among the BMW crowd too, but it is not over the top and fringes don’t seem mandatory. And riding my SV650 here is a non-issue; in fact, I got many positive comments about my bike. Many non-BMWs showed up, which conveys, to me at least, a level of tolerance that I certainly didn’t experience at that other rally.

Several highlights: Although I arrived Friday and the event started Wednesday, many intriguing seminars are left for me to participate in, leaving me feeling as if I’ve not missed all the great stuff. When I arrived Friday afternoon, I did so only fifteen minutes before the “Women who Ride” seminar. It was great! Unfortunately, I missed, “Women who Ride Alone,” which Helen Two Wheels presented earlier that day. Tomorrow, I plan to attend “Women of the Iron Butt” among many other sessions. Much to select from—almost too much.

One joyous highlight: I finally met D.Brent Miller! He’s at the rally on behalf of Road Runner magazine. Two minutes into my search for him (the grounds are mammoth), I found his vendor spot. We read each other’s blog and have chatted via phone a couple of times. I’ve admired his work in Road Runner (RR), and his beautiful photography. Before I even knew Miller, I had read one of his RR articles and enjoyed it—what a small planet to later be in the company of Brent! In between promoting RR, we chatted about magazines, photography and family. Brent’s one of those souls who makes communicating easy. As a former professor of journalism, Miller has that gift of meaningful gab. When talking to him, one can’t help but learn some new, intriguing and useful things by the conversation’s end.

Another amazing super-highlight: Drum roll, please…I met Ardys Kellerman! Visualize me with my arms extended above my head, waving them from side to side--or imagine me flicking a Bic lighter in a darkened room as they do, I’m told, at rock concerts. Kellerman was part of a woman’s seminar panel. Her information and humor kept me on my seat’s edge. She is just too cute for words! I also met her daughters, Susan and Ellen. I’ll share this: I gladly would have paid far more than the $35 rally fee to see Ardys Kellerman! I now understand what it must feel like to be a groupie. I had a momentary urge to toss an undergarment. When meeting Ardys Kellerman, I felt myself in the presence of greatness. She is one of those rare sprits who walks the earth. She is exactly how I imagined her to be: kind and friendly with a warm face that is lined with adventures that a week of telling about couldn’t do justice. Meeting Ardys was like connecting with someone you’d swear you’ve known all your life.

I look forward to Day 2 and more joy.

Day 2

Saturday started with a nice 41 miles to the rally site—what a great way to start and end each day! Given my distance from the rally, I wasn’t about to arrive at 4 a.m. to queue up for a demo ride, which one of the BMW folks said would guarantee me a spot. If I’d brought my tent, I might have camped out but alas, I didn’t. In the end, I didn’t miss being unable to take demo rides. The rides were conducted in small groups, under the auspices of a ride guide—too much like a group ride to me. But hanging out at the BMW tent, talking to BMW owners, picking their brains about their bikes, saddling up to Sylvia, a BMW super employee, and learning about the bikes was a huge plus—probably more valuable than a demo ride.

I had a blast at the rally. Just studying one of the many bikes parked along the ground was enough to spark a dialogue. I met many new faces and re-connected with a few. Met Sandra H, a friend of Denise M, whom I finally met at the Galena rally in June after a year of occasional email exchanges. Sandra generously allowed me to sit on her bike while giving me an impressive, super positive review of her R1200ST. I’ve since spent hours researching the bike. It’s now made my short list that includes the F800ST and the F800GS that is rumored to be announced sometime in the fall. The folks at the rally were hugely friendly, reaching out and striking up conversation left and right. (Note: This friendly atmosphere was so contrary to the June rally I mentioned and still can’t bring myself to post what I wrote about it). The people I met from the Chicago BMW owners group, like Christy, really made the event special. I look forward to future interactions.

The number of self-educated bike historians was amazing. Every conversation seemed to gravitate to an oral history about one’s bike—I love such passion and as a history major, I appreciate the lessons. BMW folks support, through dress, the BMW brand. I watched the women. Their support manifested itself differently than the women at the other rally (sorry to keep mentioning something I’ve yet to post about. Clearly, it has left a painful thorn in my side that I can’t help picking at). No leather bras, vests, or fringes to be found. The cultures are different and the cultural expressions reflect the differences. While I won't say that one is better than the other is, I will say, from the beginning, I felt an affinity for this one over the other. Much of this can be attributed to one group reaching out to include others while the other did not. With the exception of two absolutely lovely women at the other rally, with whom I hope to stay in touch, that first rally experience was painful.

Even the unwanted attention I received at the BMW rally because of my long wooly hair, didn’t bug me--much. Ordinarily, such interest gets tiring fast, I am soon peeved, and it shows. One man asked me, “How do you ride with all that hair-what do you do with it?” I’ll spare you my thoughts. Rather than looking annoyed—my usual disposition after hearing the question the umpteenth time. I explained that I sometimes, if I don’t pony tail it with a series of elastic bands, ride like a 21st century Medusa, with tentacles flying out from my helmet. Another one touched my hair and made some statement about “cool.” It amazes me that perfect strangers will do such things. Touching without knowing or permission should be grounds for beheading but I digress…Nonetheless, the overall experience put me in a perpetually good, sociable mood.

The seminars were plentiful and impressive and extended throughout the day and into the early evening. I attended one on riding with pain, led by a doctor. Thought I might get some insights in the leg cramps I occasionally feel after 150 miles or so—actually, they’ve gotten better, but still…The session was highly informative because it talked about the effects that over-the-counter and prescriptions drugs have on riding. Microscopic changes in one’s chemistry can have macroscopic effects. The strategies mentioned on getting and staying healthy were excellent reminders. It was rather striking when the doc mentioned that in the packed room; approximately 85% of us were dehydrated at that very moment. Bingo! I know that I’m working on staying hydrated and I do believe that has helped address the leg cramps. I attended another seminar led by motorcycle guru David Hough. Just golden! No matter how good a rider one is, a corner not executed well can take you out! His graphics and lively, funny interaction with the audience really made the lessons stick. All the seminars I attended had standing room only; the overflow often extended beyond the door, with people craning to hear and see.

Another attention grabber was being one of a microscopic minority of black women present. I met, I think, all of the black males there and the other female I saw. I know what it’s like to be the only fly in the buttermilk, so to speak. Therefore, I appreciated meeting Charles and his wife from the Rockford area, Magic Scott and Rodgers and others. I look forward to seeing them again.

Overall, a spectacular rally. If I have a complaint it was that I didn’t arrive on Thursday, the first full day of the rally. Meeting Ardys Kellerman was the thrill of a lifetime! Moreover, finally meeting Brent Miller made the two days I spent in West Bend special.

I have found my people. I depart with a belly full of information, new bike knowledge, new friends and enough memories to last until the 2008 rally in Gillette, Wyoming.

Post Rally note:

Sadly, I must close this post with awful news. I now know of two accidents during the rally, one fatal. The first occurred at the gates of the rally when a rider’s back tire slipped on a road obstacle. After a few stitches, the rider is fine; the bike is not. On Sunday, when so many were heading home, the fatality occurred. A WI female, drunk driver hit an IA male rider head on and killed him. The sad story is here.

More rally pics