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Old 06-21-2002, 02:48 PM
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Post XS/XJ 1100 Northwest 1999

XS/XJ 1100 Northwest 1999

September 17-19
Kent, Washington, U.S.A.

By Gary Berg, with photos by Mike Hart and Denny Zander

"The ride is the objective, the destination is the excuse"

The XS/XJ 1100 Owners Association is a loose-knit group of motorcyclists who own the original Yamaha muscle bike, the 1978 XS 1100. The model was quite popular in it's day, and several versions were sold from the original XS 1100 "Standard" and "Special", through the 1982 XJ 1100 "Maxim". Many of these bikes are still on the road today. The Owners Association provides an Internet mailing list where owners can share stories, provide maintenance tips, and make new friends. A group of these list members from the Pacific Northwest recently got together for the first ever Northwest Rally.

The Plan

It all started innocently enough. There were XS/XJ campouts all over the continent during 1999. Toronto, Chama, the Smokies, Revelstoke, but nothing on the west coast. Denny Zander was the first to complain out loud, and suggested we try to get something going in the Pacific Northwest. I was crazy enough to say "Yeah, how 'bout my house!" Doug Heinen spoke up too, and we soon discovered that we only lived a few miles apart.

Vicki (SWMBO) was understandably reluctant to invite a bunch of biker scum from who knows where to stay at our house for the weekend. Persistent nagging on my part paid off, and she eventually said "maybe".

Doug suggested that the instigators get together for a little planning session. After days of playing email tag, a date was decided. Denny and Glenna Zander came up from Oregon, and Vicki and I joined them at Doug and Sherry Heinen's house for dinner. It's funny how you can meet people for the first time, and with a few common interests it's like you've known each other for years. We all had a great evening, and Vicki's "maybe" turned into a "yeah, let's".

A date was set for mid September, a time when soggy western Washington usually enjoys some lingering summer weather. An announcement was made to the XS1100 list, and a few people committed to come. We would have a few staying at our place, and a few more staying at Doug's. Vicki and I began our planning for The Feast by ordering up a half case (25 pounds!) of Alaskan salmon.

The Arrival

The big weekend finally came. The travelers arrived Friday night. Denny and Glenna stayed at our house, and they were joined by Chuck (the) Wildman who came all the way from Scotts Valley, California. (whoa!) They unloaded their stuff and we were off to Doug & Sherry's for dinner. We were met there by more travelers, Mike Hart from Seattle, Sid Clarke from Ladysmith BC, and Tom Varga from Campbell River BC. For most of us, this was the first time we would meet our weekend companions, and the first time we could match up faces and handshakes to many names from the XS11 list. While Doug barbecued the chicken, the rest of us enjoyed the sunset over Puget Sound from the deck. It was a beautiful evening, and lots of new friends were made. It proved to be just a hint of the day to come...

The Ride

The plan was to meet at the Denny's restaurant in Auburn for breakfast. Our group rolled in at the same time as Doug's, just to find out the place was CLOSED for remodeling! Within a couple of minutes Jason Raley from Tacoma showed up too, and knew of another Denny's on the way. (What is it about bikers and Denny's?). Del Zander (Denny Z's dad) took off from Portland at dark:30 in the morning and was there waiting for us when we arrived. Off we went with Jason leading a thundering herd of 10 glimmering XS's. We found the restaurant and filed in for breakfast. The sky was clearing, the air was warming, the anticipation was electric.

After breakfast we headed south toward Mt. Rainier. We stopped in Elbe for gas, the last little town before the park. It was about then that everyone started realizing just how cool it was to have 10 XS's in one group. We lined up all the bikes in a row and spent a good half hour taking pictures. Glenna finally said "Let's do it", and we were on our way.

It was a short trip to the park entrance near Longmire, and a short distance further to the first visitors center at Paradise. Along the way were some incredible views of the mountain and the first of many miles of winding mountain roads. The visitors center at Paradise has a lodge and nice restaurant, and most of the group settled into the lounge for a toast. We wandered around outside for a while, enjoying the weather, and of course taking more pictures.

A few more winding miles, and we stopped at Box Canyon. There is an arching stone bridge over Stevens Creek, where the river has carved a trench through the granite nearly 200 feet deep, and only 20 to 30 feet wide. Quite an incredible sight. And guess what? More pictures!

From the Box Canyon the road winds its way down the south side of the mountain. Then we headed north over Cayuse Pass, and finally took the turnoff to the other visitors center at Sunrise on the northeast side of the mountain. Denny led the herd through this section, and kept the pace enjoyably brisk. It was an amazing sight to see such a group of similar bikes snaking its way along the twisting roads. Everywhere we went people would stop, look, and wave.

We gathered up just past the toll booth at the base of Sunrise Road, and warned the first-timers that they were about to ride one of the best motorcycling roads in the state of Washington. Denny led the way again as we climbed to 6400 feet in 14 miles of tight switchbacks and zigzags. We were hard on the throttles the whole way, and people in cars were kind enough to pull over when we came up behind them. The scenery was spectacular as well, as the forest gave way to high alpine meadows and views of jagged rocky peaks and Mt. Adams in the distance. We arrived at the top, and helmets were removed to reveal some of the biggest smiles I've ever seen.

It was here, with Sourdough Ridge and Mt. Rainier as a backdrop, that each and every one of us posed for pictures with our trusty X-bikes. This may have been the best documented XS event ever! With the photo session complete, we did a little wandering. Some folks went in to check out the visitors center, some had lunch, some just enjoyed the scenery. Doug laid down on the asphalt, and with his helmet for a pillow, took a nap!

All too soon it was time to leave Sunrise. But we had a feast to attend, and more miles of winding roads between here and there. As we began our descent, I had the pleasure of leading the herd. There is a viewpoint along the road, a tight 180 switchback with a crowded parking lot in the center of the turn. I slowed the herd as we passed through, and a couple of bikers parked there waved. I honked and waved back. Pretty soon, EVERYONE was honking and waving. Families, kids, and old ladies in the parking lot were watching and waving as we passed around the turn. It was like having our own little parade. After that was the twistiest section of road, and for the next few miles I tried to keep everyone happy. Vicki and I were the only two-up bike, so I hope was going fast enough to make everyone smile. Again, people in cars would pull over and let us by, and we would all honk and wave our thanks as we passed.

We hooked up with highway 410 and headed west out of the park. The sun was in our faces, the road was smooth, and gentle back and forth sweeping turns nearly rocked us to sleep. What a relaxing ride! We pulled into the little town of Greenwater for gas, and lined up the bikes in the shade in front of the general store. Shortly a mother and daughter on XJ-650 Maxims pulled in for gas as well. The daughter was walking toward the door when she noticed that ALL of the bikes were XS1100's and she stopped in her tracks. "What's the deal here, are you all a club?" she asked. "Internet", Doug replied. "This whole trip was planned on the internet. Most of us had never met before last night". She was amazed. I suppose it does sound pretty incredible.

Back on the road, we continued on 410 to Enumclaw, 169 north to Black Diamond, then the Green Valley Road back toward Auburn. We finally reached highway 18, and had a short 5 miles of freeway to get home. As I was still leading the herd, I made an executive decision that it was time to open up the old sleds a little. We came around a turn on the freeway on-ramp, and I cranked open the throttle. The whole group behind me did the same. What an amazing sound to hear a pack of identical 1100's running to redline together! Just as I reached for 4th gear at about 85mph, I hit the rev-limiter. That is, Vicki started pounding on my back and yelling "55". Yes, Dear.

We rolled up to the house a few minutes later. Only 9 XS's at this point as Del Zander had left for the return to Portland. We had warned the neighbors ahead of time, but I think now they know for sure that we're a bit "different". Kids were coming out on their porches to see the parade of bikes. Another group on bicycles came and found us. It was quite an entrance. I shut down the old XJ with just over 220 miles on the clock.

The XS-ive Feast

The first priority was to get the garage door open and point everyone at the fridge. With that accomplished, Vicki and I retired to the kitchen to prepare The Feast. Glenna offered to help, and I hope she didn't regret it because we put her to work. Thanks, Glenna. Others helped too, to get out lawn chairs and munchies and salads and all that. The grill was fired up and the first 10 pounds of salmon steaks went on. It took over an hour to finish up, but I hope it was worth the wait. A huge pile of salmon steaks, a mound of baked potatoes, green salad and garlic bread, washed down by a fridge stocked with a variety of microbrews. A feast to remember, if I do say so myself Nothing but the best for fellow biker scum!

A long day's ride, a huge meal and a couple of beers, and everyone was pretty well wiped out. We all sat around and visited under the stars for a while, talking tales of XS's and Harleys and crotch rockets and choppers and kids and dogs and mountain roads and travels to places far away. Doug and his group decided they better head home while they were still awake enough to ride. About 9:00 they suited up for the ride and warmed the bikes. It was a beautiful sound hearing 5 XS11's idling in the darkness as they prepared to leave. We all made the rounds to shake hands and say our good-byes. I think Sid Clarke summed it up best: "I'll remember this one for a LONG time".

The People

The ride was incredible, the weather was perfect, the scenery was spectacular, the food was great, but it was the people that made it special. Without each of these folks, the event never would have happened. (Click on the image for a bigger view)

[Photo] Gary (host, XJ pilot, obsessed) and Vicki (SWMBO, biker chick, rev-limiter) Berg, Kent, Washington.

[Photo] Doug (and Sherry) Heinen, Federal Way, Washington. The perfect co-host of the event. Never worried about himself, was always concerned that everyone ELSE was having a good time. The world would be a better place if it had more Dougs.

[Photo] Denny Zander, Hillsboro, Oregon. The guy with the idea, an excellent rider, and proud owner of several XS11's. One of the most knowledgeable with regard to the XS machines.

[Photo] Glenna Zander, Hillsboro Oregon. The better half of the Zander clan, handles her XS like a pro. One of the few bikers who I like to hug.

[Photo] Del Zander, Hillsboro, Oregon. Well, his bike anyway. Here's a guy who loves to ride. He came up from Portland early Saturday, did the Rainier ride, then returned in the afternoon. Close to 600 miles like it was no big deal.

[Photo] Chuck Wildman, Scotts Valley, California. Yes, that's his real last name, he showed us his ID. Chuck would easily win the furthest-travelled-to-be-here award, except that he hauled his bike in the back of his truck as far as Portland where he stayed with some friends, then rode in the rest of the way. The debate continues...

[Photo] Tom Varga, Campbell River, British Columbia. The guy who ACTUALLY RODE his bike the furthest distance to be here. Tom seems to have the right outlook on life. If it makes you happy, who cares what anyone else thinks.

[Photo] Sid Clarke, Ladysmith, British Columbia. An enormous guy with a crushing handshake and a deep voice. One of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. The Sunrise road made him smile like a kid in a toy store.

[Photo] Mike Hart, Seattle, Washington. Hilarious. Mike kept us in stitches with stories about his "wilder days". Something about a park ranger on a tricycle, right Mike?

[Photo] Jason Raley, Tacoma, Washington. Jason reminds me of my youngest son (also named Jason, BTW). He has this youthful enthusiasm for everything. I must have heard him say "That's AWEsome" a dozen times. I want to be like that when I grow up.

Thanks to all of you for showing up. The event wouldn't have been the same if not for each of you.

So, what do we do next year?
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