Saturday, July 1, 2017

01 Adv Touring - Introduction

    I wrote the first of several freelance adventure touring stories for the American Motorcyclist Magazine in the latter part of 1985. My first manuscript sat on the editor's desk for quite a while because he didn't know me and he apparently thought the article was a little too incredible for publication. Then one day my friend Al Eames, who also worked there at the time, came by his office. Knowing that Al was familiar with many of the New England dirt riders, the editor asked Al if he knew me, and "is this guy for real?" Al looked over the article, said he knew me quite well, and he knew that I had ridden to Alaska alone at least a few times. After discussing the editor's credibility concerns, my first story, "Surviving the Last Frontier", which included my first three solo trips to Alaska, appeared in the March 1986 issue of the American Motorcyclist Magazine.

   For a little personal background, I was born in June 1925 on a small farm in Buchanan, NY where I still live today at age 92. My parents and ancestors on both sides were full-blooded Frisians from northern Holland. After graduating high school in 1942, I served for 3½ years in the US Navy during WW2 where I became an Aviation Radioman First Class with active duty in Surinam, the Northern Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, and later in Leyte Gulf during the Philippine Liberation. Soon after being "mustered out" at age 20, I enrolled in an accounting course at Detroit Institute of Technology, mainly because I studied business in high school. When I realized through extensive aptitude testing during my first semester at college that I would do much better in engineering, I left Detroit Tech and began post-graduate studies at Cass Technical High School in Detroit for several individualized courses in math that I needed for re-entry in college with an engineering major. I could go through high school math there at my own speed, handing in the solutions to all of the quizzes at the end of each chapter as I finished them.

   After also working half of the nights on my studies, I completed the first three semesters of algebra in less than two months. I loved the subject, and the instructor commented that my aptitude for it was high. But that happened around the same time that I took a short ride on a friend's 1946 Harley Davidson, which I couldn't get out of my mind. Halfway through geometry I decided to leave Cass Tech and go back to NY to think over what I really wanted to do with my life. I had just turned 21, and I was pushing myself hard without a specific goal in mind. I've always been in favor of the journey as opposed to the destination, but this particular journey was getting tedious without knowing where I was actually headed. I eventually decided that if my life was to become a constant struggle for wealth and the "finer things in life", whatever they may be, and if I were to end up devoting my life to amassing a fortune to spend on some kind of luxury, then I was on the wrong track. As long as my family and I were happy and healthy and enjoying life like people did when I was a boy, then that's the way I wanted us to live, and I vowed never to lose sight of it.

   One of the first things I did when I got home was to buy a new 1947 Harley Davidson 74 OHV, which took a chunk of what I had left from my mustering out pay, but I decided it was time to take a break. When I arrived at Jack Tracey’s in Yonkers to pick it up, I had to make a U-turn with it from where it was parked, something I had never practiced. This particular turn involved crossing two sets of streetcar tracks and some rough bricks on a major city street. I began by engaging the clutch far too fast with far too much throttle, making the machine lurch forward and literally roar across Broadway with me barely hanging on. I had almost regained control to complete the turn when the right crash bar hooked the front bumper of a new Nash parked on the other side. The bike then jammed itself between the Nash and a ‘37 Packard coupe and threw me clear over the handlebars onto the roof of the Packard, where I continued to roll across the hood and into the gutter. Bill Tracey came running across Broadway yelling, “I thought you could ride that thing.” With great embarrassment, I said, “So did I.” After visiting the local Nash dealer with the car’s owner, and after Tracey's mechanic replaced a few bent and broken parts on my new Harley, I was off again. There was still a good-sized dent on the roof of the Packard, but I never did find the owner to make the proper reparations.

   I left for Detroit in the morning to pick up some of my things at Cass Tech and the YMCA where I had been staying. I had two more accidents on the trip. One was in Ontario during my return when I flew over the handlebars again; this time in the dark at 60 mph, which did considerable damage to the machine. I was still able to ride it home that night, but it was a real mess when I brought it back to Tracey's for its 1,000-mile checkup with 2300 miles on the odometer less than 10 days after I bought it. My carefree country boy image had already begun to change into something that resembled Marlon Brando in The Wild One. I also rode a few enduros with the big machine before realizing it was far too heavy for getting through some of the deeper mud holes. I got a small job to help finance my new lifestyle, but soon afterward, in the fall of 1947, while riding with a huge group, I met Lillian. She and I eloped on the bike eight months later, in the spring of 1948, and we went on to enjoy the sport together for the next 52 years - up until a month before she lost her seven-year battle with breast cancer in 1999. One of the first things I did after meeting Lillian was to get a better-paying job to support a family, which we talked about possibly becoming large.

My 1947 Harley Davidson 74OHV soon after I bought it
The same Harley in the Yonkers Turkey Run Enduro in Nov 1947

The same Harley, a year later


F51H Mustang Fighter Interceptor
   I held several odd jobs including auto mechanic, army tank mechanic and sometimes even night watchman, process server, security guard and several menial jobs for short periods. I also worked as a freight brakeman on the railroad for about a year, and as a guard/farmer at the local penitentiary for another year. I never had a problem getting jobs or keeping them, but since I was already good at aviation radio repair and I had 3½ years experience doing it, I joined the New York Air National Guard and got a job with the US Department of Defense as a civilian aviation radio maintenance technician with the 137th Fighter Interceptor Squadron based in White Plains, NY. I loved working with the F51H Mustangs, and the pay was good for the size of our family at the time. But in the 7 years since I bought the Harley, I had accumulated far too many moving violations; and as a result, the local police and judges were getting totally fed up with me and my behavior on the public highways with and without a driver's license.

  I was 27 at the time, which was long past when I should be cleaning up my act and becoming a responsible adult. The last judge not only revoked my driver's license indefinitely, but he also notified the troopers and local police, which meant I had no way to get to work, and I had a family to support. We also had a 5-year-old daughter Kathleen by then, and I had vowed when we were first married that Lillian would never have to work a single day outside the home to support our family. I had to do something fast if I hoped to make good on that promise. We talked it over and decided that I should see what the Air Force had to offer. We might even get to travel to far-off places together if it worked out well. I'd have to give up motorcycling on the road for a while, which didn't sit well with either of us, but it taught me a valuable lesson. After working with the NY Air National Guard for more than 2 years, I asked the CO to deploy me from that job into the Air Force for two years. He was able to do it easily because the Korean War and Cold War were both going on at the time, and my job code was critically needed all over the world. I had to fight for weeks to avoid being sent where my family couldn't go, but I still found myself on the "DEW Line" in Newfoundland soon afterward as a Tech Sgt in a fighter-interceptor squadron servicing F-89 Scorpions.


    It took a lot of wrangling to get Lillian and Kathy to join me there, but I managed to do that too, and we enjoyed the two-year experience a lot. After completing the two-year deployment in Newfoundland, it became obvious that the Air Force had far too much control over our lives and there was no guarantee they wouldn't eventually send me to Saudi Arabia, Korea, or northern Greenland where Lillian and Kathy couldn't go. So as soon as that two-year commitment was up, and as much as we enjoyed the life, we decided to return home and make a go of civilian life. When we first returned, carrying an addition to the family, Donna, who was born at the base hospital in Newfoundland, one of the first things I needed was a driver's license, and fast, in order to get to and from work. For that I retained the most prominent and most well-respected attorney in Westchester County who got it back for me in a day.

   I then got a job with IBM as a computer technician working on the largest scientific supercomputers IBM was making at the time. I applied with my 7½ years experience in electronics and got the job easily, in spite of my lack of an engineering degree; and I began what would eventually become a successful 25-year career with IBM. In the beginning I tested the largest supercomputers in the world as they left the assembly line, which was a huge challenge technically, but I enjoyed the work and I soon excelled at it. Later I held management and technical staff positions for many years at the Poughkeepsie plant and later at several manufacturing headquarters locations in Harrison, White Plains and Port Chester. I retired from IBM in 1980 at age 55 after 25 years so I could spend more time with my family as well as my motorcycle. We had five children by then.

   Soon after joining IBM, I reestablished my enduro competition career with a small Harley Davidson 125cc Hummer. I vowed to put a lid on my earlier unrestrained behavior on the highways and I took it out on the rocky and muddy trails instead. I promptly won first place in the novice lightweight class at the annual Yonkers Turkey Run in my very first enduro with the little Hummer. After several class wins, I was upgraded by the AMA to Expert Enduro Rider. I then bought a 165cc Harley to replace the Hummer. This particular well-used, highly-modified 165 was originally designed and built at Puckett Motors Harley Davidson dealership in Orlando, FL by Dick O'Brien, who later became Harley Davidson's highly successful racing manager from 1957 to 1983. I won the Expert Lightweight Class at the District 5 Championship Enduro in NJ with it the same year. After several regional wins in the Expert Lightweight Class, I bought a 250cc Villiers-powered DMW and won First Place in the Expert Lightweight Class at the 150-mile National Championship Enduro in Cayuta, NY, followed the very next month by winning First Place in the Expert Lightweight class at the Covered Wagon 200-mile National Championship in the Berkshires Hills of Massachusetts.

My 1955 Harley Davidson Hummer
My Highly-modified Harley 165 would run more than 70 mph on gravel roads.
My Villiers-powered DMW
500cc Triumph T100C
   I continued to move up in the standings with a 500cc Triumph T100C, racking up many High Point wins throughout the Northeast where I became known as “The Master of New England Rockery”. I dominated the New England enduro heavyweight class with Triumphs throughout most of the 1960s, winning the annual New England Heavyweight Enduro Championship in 1965, '66, '67, '68 and '69. In 1966, I also won the overall New England Enduro Grand Championship over a huge field of expert riders, most of whom competed with much lighter competition machines that were considered to have a considerable advantage in the rocky New England terrain. I also won the "Woods Class" Championship of the NY Metropolitan Sports Committee in 1973, '74 and '75, as I continued to compete and win in the Northeast, as well as many first place finishes in national championship events in the Medium and Heavyweight classes in the Northeast and Midwest; and more of the same later in the Senior Class. One of my most cherished wins was the Heavyweight Championship at the 2-day, 350-Mile Canadian National Corduroy Enduro in Ontario in 1967. I was working with IBM during all of that time, and I never missed a day of work. 

   I became known for occasionally riding my competition bike to the event, followed by riding the enduro with it, and then riding the same bike home. I did it as far away as Maine and the Canadian National Enduro in Haliburton, Ontario. At age 70, I rode it to and from the Bee Hive Enduro in southern NJ. In 1980, my enduro teammate Bud Peck and I conceived of a ride we called, “Nine Days in August”, in which we rode our enduro bikes 1,040 miles over the New England trail system in four states to reach the coveted 100-Mile National Championship Enduro in Middlefield, MA. After being on the trails for seven days, we serviced the bikes on the eighth day, including a tire and oil change, and servicing the chain, and then competed in the championship event the next day with the same 500cc Honda motorcycles. I won the Super-Senior Class Championship that day while Bud finished second in the same class. I was 55 at the time.


Left to Right: Bud Peck, Al Eames and Piet Boonstra
   I belonged to and became president of three different clubs, the Westchester Cavaliers in 1948, the Crotona Motorcycle Club of White Plains, NY in the early 1960s, which was one of the oldest AMA chartered clubs in the country, and the RAMS M/C of New England, also in the early '60s where I later became and continued to serve as president for almost 30 years. Soon after I joined the RAMS we organized a top enduro team that won several national and Canadian national team trophies and awards. Our club put on as many as five events per year during the 1960s and '70s. We also helped to provide financial support for many New England enduro riders who were scheduled to compete in the ISDE overseas.


Crotona Midnight Run with Triumph TR5T Trophy Trail

   I won “High Point” several times at the famed midwinter Crotona Midnight Run, which was a timed road enduro starting at midnight where the temperatures often dipped well below zero during the event. On some occasions I competed and won in snow, sleet, freezing rain, and once in a torrential downpour most of the night with the temperatures in the 30s all night. My most recent High Point win there was in 2003, at age 77, against a field of 80 younger competitors. During the 1970s, I influenced several IBM management people at my workplace to get involved with the sport; after which, they bought motorcycles, learned to ride, and organized the Cathuds Motorcycle Club, a trail riding and enduro competition club in the Catskill/Hudson area of NY.

  In 1977, at age 51, around the time that many motorcyclists consider giving up the sport, my enthusiasm was never greater, as I turned my primary interests from competition to a combination of long distance adventure touring and dual sport riding, and I became one of the pioneers in that branch of the sport while continuing to compete in many of the local and national enduros. In 1995, at age 70, I rode an invitational six-day ride in the Berkshires with six veteran European enduro riders and six past New England Enduro Grand Champions, using many of the trails from the 1973 International Six-Day Trials. Riding a 21-year-old 1974 500cc Triumph TR5T, I was able to consistently impress the Europeans with an ability to still go fast over 1,000 miles of rocky trails at age 70. Of 12 starters, the other 11 of whom were much younger and rode much more modern enduro motorcycles, I was one of only six to complete the entire 6-day, 1,000-mile course.

Six Days on the trails in 1995 at age 70 with my 1974 TR5T 
   My competitive career, in which I won more than 200 trophies and awards, spanned seven decades. In 2003, I received the AMA Road Rider of the Year Award for a lifetime of riding achievements. I've written and self-published three books about motorcycling. The first, released in 2002, is entitled "Motorcycling Stories - Adventure Touring from the Northwest Territories to the Yucatán Peninsula", which is an earlier edition of a large portion of this "book", covering thirteen selected long tours of the many tours that I have taken. Almost 3,000 of those books are in print today. My second book, The Golden Age of Enduros, begins with my first motorcycling experience and goes on to describe how I became involved with enduros and went on to win many regional and national championships. My third book "Keep Going, The Pleasure and Pain of Perseverance", is about most of my additional quarter-million miles of adventure touring while in my 80s. Edited versions of those touring stories are also included in this book. Besides many magazine articles and thousands of books in print, I've shared some of my experiences as a guest speaker for several motorcycle clubs and other interested groups. In 2003, I was chosen to be the featured Guest Banquet Speaker at the AMA Congress Meeting in Ohio, which was attended by all of the district on- and off-road representatives, and by most of the AMA's top management team.

  During my 35 years of adventure touring in later life, I completed eight trips to Alaska, most of which were solo. I was 79 when I completed the eighth Alaska trip. I took three tours deep into northeastern Canada, including Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia; one trip to Copper Canyon in western Mexico on a Gold Wing; one to the Mayan Ruins in southeastern Mexico, and several back-road tours across and around the US, where I visited small towns from the seacoast of Maine though the horse and turkey farms of Virginia, the coal country of West Virginia, the backwoods of Appalachia, throughout the deep south to New Orleans, and many Native American reservations from North Dakota to Arizona. I toured the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to northern Canada, including Beartooth Pass, Independence Pass, Loveland Pass, Slumgullion Pass and Pike’s Peak. I visited scores of national parks throughout this country and Canada, including Glacier, Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, Lassen, Yosemite, Big Bend, Petrified Forest, Jasper, Banff and others. I rode along the beautiful Pacific coastline a number of times, where I saw the magnificent redwoods, Douglas firs and Ponderosas of the far west. Several of those tours are included in this book, along with some of the thousands of photos that I took during those tours. Many of the trips are described in this book.

  Starting with my very first motorcycle, and for the next 67 years, I rode and competed for excitement, enthusiasm, sportsmanship, and just plain fun, with no commercial interest or intent. I simply loved to ride; mostly alone or with Lillian, but also sometimes with a few good friends. I always strived to promote a positive and inspirational image for motorcycling from my 20s into my late 80s. I rode to and from many annual motorcycling events all over the country including Daytona Beach Bike Week in March, Gypsy Tours in Laconia in June, Vintage Days in Ohio in July, and the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies wherever and whenever they were held, including the last one that I rode to and attended in Las Vegas in December 2009 at age 84.

  In 2005, soon after turning 80, I contracted ehrlichiosis and Lyme Disease from the same tick bite. One or both of those diseases found its way into my central nervous system and nearly killed me. I had two agonizing hospital stays from it and I was bedridden at home for months. I was on Fentanyl patches and morphine for several months from the overwhelming nerve pain when several basic bodily functions became affected. The disease wreaked havoc with my entire central nervous system, some of which did permanent damage. There were times that I was unable to turn over in bed or lift an arm or a leg, and there were other times when I seriously doubted my heart could possibly withstand any more pain. I was anointed with oil and prayed over by the clergy of the church that I was attending at the time, and my family feared for the worst. But in early March 2006, after a partial recovery from the effects of the two diseases, and a week after getting off all pain medication, I was back on the bike on my way to Daytona Beach Bike Week, riding all the way down and back alone as I did so many times in the past. I went on to clock another 200,000 miles on several motorcycles in my 80s. Narratives of some of the tours I took as an octogenarian are included in this book.

  I've posted the entire effort here on-line, with photos, for the enjoyment of whoever would like to read it. I numbered the chapters, which are listed on the right-hand side of this blog's home page. The next of 18 chapters is "AK1 - My Rookie Tour". All of the chapters are re-writes of the stories in "Motorcycling Stories" and "Keep Going", along with thousands of photographs.

I dedicate this work to the memory of my beloved wife Lillian
(Photo by Arlene Herzog, taken in SW Montana)

Enjoy the ride!
Piet Boonstra, 2017


The next chapter is: 02 AK1 My Rookie Tour



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