Ted and His Crew/Family Run Their Annual Fall Ride North of the Border
Nothing keeps the Wild Rose Squad from Canada. Undeterred by years of attempts ruined with rain, terrible traffic or broke down bikes, this smaller, quicker offshoot of the Wenatchee, Washington based Mild Hogs touring group always returns. Despite life’s determined pull to keep us shackled to our daily drudgery, we break free and head north during the same time window each year.
We go because fall in the Canadian Selkirk Mountains is an intoxicating mix of cold and sun, mountains and valleys, rivers and roads, speed and silence. During September when Mother Nature can’t decide whether to make heat or snow, she gifts us fall by default. And while she is occupied, we sneak across the border and invade the roads, though the hands of fate try to slap us back.
Sport bikes are our poison of choice, a family bonded by our love of motorcycles and each other. We adopt derelict bikes from questionable Craigslist sellers, from backyards of mobile homes or from under apartment building parking garages when common sense would dictate a wiser purchase. A few bikes are pristine, but many have issues or have been wrecked. Mine twice.
But we ride them because they are the admission ticket to our high velocity family reunion. Anyone not making the Wild Rose Squad’s annual northern migration is ridiculed mercilessly for months or in some cases, years. So we clear the schedule, get the time off work, ditch the excuses, fix the bike and say goodbye to home.
We left Wenatchee, Washington that Friday morning in September and headed north on highway 97 as it hugged the mighty Columbia, flanked by orchards presenting their fall best. Ill fate came as an unwelcome guest, attempting to pick us off one by one.
Dave Wensveen, my cousin, rode his VFR800 despite having lost his identification days earlier. Canada let him in, but the U.S. made no such promise. Later, he hit a frost heave so hard it dislodged his GPS wiring.
My brother-in-law Trevor Alexander rode his VFR800 despite a bald rear tire. He mentioned something about only needing the sides.
My father Don Edwards rode his ST1300 with no issues, but friend Bill Motsenbocker’s BMW K1200GT suffered a dead battery, requiring strategic parking at inclines for a bump start.
I tried to escape fate by putting on a new rear tire before the trip only to find that it had spun a quarter turn on the rim as we left. Then my heated grips died.
But in the northern farm town of Tonasket, Washington, fate bit one of us particularly hard, my step-brother Todd “The Carb Whisperer” Shiflett the chosen victim. Todd is called “The Carb Whisperer” because he was genetically wired from birth to be a power sports mechanic. Rumor has it that his ultrasound showed a TIG gun in his right hand and a prefrontal cortex in the shape of a carburetor.
His 1993 CBR900RR made it to the northern farm town of Tonasket before the bike died. Todd had replaced stator wiring before the trip, hoping it would keep bike gremlins away but all it did was move them to the fuel pump, which quit while leaving Tonasket’s gas station. Luckily, Tonasket is just barely big enough to have a NAPA which of course, didn’t have a fuel pump for a 1993 CBR900RR. It wasn’t necessary.
In what went down in Wild Rose Squad history as the world’s most miraculous roadside repair, Todd bought a generic agricultural NAPA fuel pump, bolted it to the stock location, married mismatched fuel lines, spliced the wiring together and revived the CBR. Few people, if anybody, could take a fuel pump likely designed for farm equipment and make it work on a classic Japanese sport bike using only the tools they carried in their saddlebag.
“If The Carb Whisperer can’t fix something, we are all screwed.”
But that’s Todd’s legend. Someone once said, “If The Carb Whisperer can’t fix something, we are all screwed.” Most people would have quit, called a tow truck and gone home. Not Todd. He fixed the CBR and rode it the rest of the trip without fail because he knows the rule: nothing keeps us from Canada.
We turned east along the Crowsnest Highway, disrupting it’s mountain zen with RPMs and hollow sport bike exhausts that should have been repacked years ago. In Nelson, BC that Friday night, we dined on prime rib and savored the best part of the trip, each other’s company. As we retired to the hotel’s outdoor deck and swapped stories, I recognized that life’s brevity is best savored in moments like this: family that become friends fused together by the bikes beneath us.
Our group knows that few things in life are as swift and severe a punisher of mistakes as fast motorcycles. Many of us, at some point, have made a costly mistake. I still ride with a crash-dented exhaust and look at it before every ride, my reminder that the fun can end in a heartbeat.
But our family never lets our fear of something make us sit at home and do nothing. The bikes that might break down us or simply break us, also bond us. Adversities encountered on the road bring us together instead of breaking us apart. So as aging bikes and monster miles join forces to cause havoc on our group, it only gives us obstacles to tackle together, making our family stronger.
As we gathered on the deck that Friday night, that is exactly what we talked about: trips gone well, trips gone wrong and what trip is next. Every story told with a laugh and a look only we understand. In all of my years of going to Canada, despite rain, traffic choked roads, derelict bikes with shocking odometer readings and nights spent on small beds or sometimes no bed at all, I would repeat every trip with my family because that is who we are and this is what we do. Also, because there is just the slightest chance that my dreams of Big Saturday will come true.
I call it Big Saturday because in all of my travels across the west, there is no better combination of roads, weather and scenery compressed into one day. No matter where I have been during the riding season, regardless of what I have done during the year, if fate stays away, Big Saturday has the ingredients to be the climax.
On this Big Saturday morning, we woke to a brief rain that washed the sky clean, leaving a fresh smell we had not experienced in our months of breathing forest fire choked northwest air. The sun played hide-and-seek games with clouds, delivering the perfect mix of chill and warmth while we mounted our bikes and headed north on Highway 31A, hugging Kootenay Lake to Kaslo. At this lakeside town, I followed tradition and bought the group our traditional lucky pre-ride pastries from the farmer’s market, hoping for the best.
It worked. As we rode west to Vernon on Highways 31A and 6, Mother Nature left the thermostat stuck in perfectly blended fall, cars stayed out of our lane, the pavement had all the grip we needed and all of our bikes (for once) worked flawlessly.
The next four hours was a barely muffled six bike blur as we assaulted asphalt on the best roads any of us have ever seen. The only cars we saw came in the opposite lane, participants in the “Going To The Sun” vintage car rally, a rolling parade of museum worthy Ferraris, Porsches, Jaguars, Aston-Martins, Maseratis, rare Detroit muscle and the like. It almost made us slow down to take a look.
Because this group can ride. The Wild Rose Squad’s motto is “turning gasoline into noise and speed”, which we did for four extraordinary hours. The Canadian Selkirk mountain roads served up long sweepers, linked hairpins, brief straights, banked curves and roller coaster elevation changes that kept coming at us like a video on fast forward. Not one car held us back. During the rare long straight, our right wrist shortened it.
When we arrived at Vernon later that afternoon I was wrung out, but smiling and laughing with my family at what we had just done. We took no videos and few pictures, but the memory will thrive in our retelling the next time we gather, fodder for more laughs and looks only our family understands. My dream of the perfect Big Saturday came true, and might never happen again.
But if it doesn’t, I don’t care. Because for one superb slice of time we had the perfect fusion of Canadian fall and cheap Japanese speed that actually worked. For that moment in time, for that Big Saturday, for once, we had it all. We also had the most important component: each other.