Before we begin, we’d like to make it crystal clear that we do not recommend anyone reading this attempt a similar ride under similar circumstances. Riding such long distances, in such terrible weather conditions, in such little time, is very unwise and very unsafe. That said, people are going to do what people are going to do, and since a guy we happen to like a lot just completed a pretty crazy ride, we might as well at least document pieces of the story. Again, don’t try this at home. No, seriously. Don’t. -Andrew/Vespa Portland
As long as we’ve known Tim we’ve known he’s the kind of guy who gets a result when he puts his mind to something. Whether or not said result is desirable is the question. So when he walked into Vespa Portland to get the first service completed on his new 150cc Vespa Primavera Touring, it wasn’t a huge surprise to hear his plan to ride from Portland, OR to Reno, NV to visit friends for Thanksgiving. I think most of us assumed he’d stop somewhere in the middle, making a two day trip out of each leg of the 1064 mile round trip journey.
Well, you know what they say about assuming. Tim’s plan was to do it straight through.
It’s not that 532 miles one-way is impossibly far. People tour on scooters more than you might think. For example, people cross the entire United States, coast to coast, on the biyearly Scooter Cannonball Run. In 2015 some friends of ours in San Diego, CA rode Vespas all the way to Puebla, southeast of Mexico City, for an annual national Mexican scooter rally. Both of those rides are well over 2000 miles. The Cannonball often surpasses 3000. Scooters may never be the go-to vehicle for people undertaking such long rides but they can handle the distance. Vespas especially can handle it. The question is, can the rider handle it, in late November? That’s a lot of saddle time in some awful weather.
We wished Tim good luck and forced him to take a spare rear tire with him as he left our shop. If you get a flat tire on a long scooter trip, chances are you’ll find someone who can help you change it before you’ll ever find a brand new scooter tire just laying around in some small town, or you know, in the woods.
Two days before departure a drunk driver backed into Tim’s parked scooter and damaged the front fender. Thankfully there was no frame or fork damage that would have derailed the entire trip. As a bonus, Portland Police witnessed the hit and run and arrested the driver immediately. He blew a 1.6.
Around 11am on Wednesday 11/21, Tim posted a picture of his loaded up Vespa on Instagram and hit the road. In addition to his personal belongings, including a ukulele strapped to his back, he took a one gallon gas can, the spare tire we lent him, and a liter of oil.
Google maps showed the route taking 9 hours which of course does not account for gas and rest stops.
All of us at the shop were excited for him and of course a little worried. We sent requests for status throughout the day and the gaps in between felt like Houston waiting for a response from a wayward Apollo mission.
The first message we received around 2pm read, “It’s been raining in sheets since the moment I left. Ain’t nothing gonna stop this ginger!”
Three hours into the ride Tim was drenched with all three layers completely soaked through. He eventually stopped at some backwoods diner to grab a bite to eat. It was the kind of place where everyone inside is a regular and no one from out of town ever shows up. He enjoyed his meal as a group of 6-7 elderly locals just stared at him the entire time he was there. Waving, smiling, and saying hello elicited no responses at all. Real friendly around these parts!
Back on the road, still in the pouring rain that would last all day, he told us every bit of the ride was focused on getting as far as he could before stopping at a gas station to fill up and to warm his hands under the dryer in the bathroom.
When he hit the Umpqua National Forest it was a good three hours of no cell phone service. His music cut out and Google’s offline maps kicked in. Friends at home watched the weather reports and when he got back to cell service his phone was blowing up with voicemails and texts. At the next gas station he spent a little while letting everyone know he was, in fact, still alive.
Three hours later when we asked how it was going the response was, “Cold and wet and a ton of fun.”
He rolled into Klamath Falls at some point in the early evening. That was the make it or break it halfway point; the last chance to either turn back into the same driving rain he’d been dealing with all day or keep on rolling through more of it. At a gas station he asked the attendant for four garbage bags; two to cover up his saddle bags and two more to wear as an additional layer over completely drenched clothes. As he neared the Oregon/California border it began storming harder than at any point in the day. Then, right as he crossed into California, everything stopped. The skies cleared. The sun poked out. And then 20 minutes later it started pouring again.
By this point, about an hour south of Klamath Falls, it was beginning to get dark and was of course still miserably cold and raining. This was the only time in the ride when he had a real gas scare in the middle of nowhere. With the low fuel light holding steady he decided to fill up on the side of the road with the gas can. Maybe 10 minutes later he came upon another gas station where he stopped to refill everything. He walked into the station for the hand drying routine covered in garbage bags “like a crazy trash walrus.”
After pressing through the rainy mountain pass, one gas station at a time, he rolled through Susanville where the turns came more rarely, with 80+ miles between. Eventually the switchback mountain roads gave way to sharp drop offs and no guard rails to keep anyone from going over the side. At this point the rain finally stopped but black ice appeared in the deep tire ruts on the unused road and it was a hair raising balancing act to stay in the dead center of the lane between the two rivers of ice. With how bundled up he was his face shield fogged up badly, bringing visibility way down, so he resorted to riding with his high beam on which thankfully illuminated the black ice on the road. Sketchy, to say the least. From there it was one long straight line and then, BANG, there was Reno. When he arrived at his friend’s house he dropped everything in the living room and took the longest, hottest shower of his life.
When I woke up on Thanksgiving morning, I had a message from Tim sent at 2:46am. “Made it down to Reno. No problems.”
Fourteen hours. Straight through. Wild ride.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, he didn’t touch the scooter the entire time he was in Reno.
Three days later he hit the road again for the same route in reverse. The ride home was totally different. He was able to see the cliffs that had been right off the side of the road in the dark on the way in. It didn’t rain as hard or as consistently. Later on while riding through the wilderness he noticed a steaming body of water right off the side of the road and pulled over to park. It turned out to be a hot tub sized hot spring so he tossed off clothes in full view of passing cars and chilled in the random hot spring for awhile.
After Klamath Falls the sun just died and it was another 31° degree pitch-black mountain climb. It had been raining on the way in but turned to snow up the mountain, falling on a layer of snow already on the ground. Nature added more black ice for good measure, so the high beam went back on to help easily spot its reflective sheen. Thankfully there was a large truck in front of him the whole way, so he stayed a safe distance back from it and paid attention to the brake lights. As the truck and man-on-scooter made their way out of the mountains, Tim waved a thanks to the driver for leading the way. Just a bit up the road he stopped for gas and could not understand what the attendant was saying to him because his ears were so plugged up from the abrupt 4500 ft drop in elevation.
From there, the ride became much easier. It was just a matter of getting to Eugene, hopping on I-5 North and getting back to Portland. Upon return home he was glad he had done laundry and made his bed before he left. After a shower he crashed out and was at work at 6am the next morning. Success!
The ride back to Portland was twelve hours straight through, two hours shorter than the first leg, which Tim attributed to not having to stop at every gas station bathroom to warm his hands under the dryer. A few gas station attendants recognized him on the return leg and said things like, “Oh, you survived huh?”
This was Tim’s first really long ride. Before this epic trek, he had simply ridden to the Oregon Coast which seemed so far away at the time. After completing this 1064 mile round trip he now feels like the Oregon Coast is right down the street.
As expected, the Vespa ran flawlessly the whole way. Tim never had any issues with starting the scooter, on-road performance, or even a loss in tire pressure. He checked the oil twice on the way down to Reno and both times it was clear as day. He says it was a dangerous lesson for him to learn that 14 hours at full throttle didn’t destroy the bike or cook the oil. More long rides are sure to come, perhaps to Denver, CO when the weather is better.
Unfortunately the only pictures he took on the trip are the ones included here. It was a long, cold, and wet ride and he wanted nothing to do with stopping if he didn’t have to. Once the sun went down, in the rain, photos were simply not a priority.
When asked what he’d do differently if he did the ride again the answer was simply to find a way to be warmer. As fun as it was to do a seated dance on the floorboards to keep warm, heated gloves, heated grips, heated jacket, heated socks and perhaps a full face helmet instead of a ¾ with a face shield would have been the better option. Maybe he’d bring a floodlight mounted to the bike somehow, or some actually waterproof clothing since all the fancy stuff from stores like REI and Columbia Sportswear soaked right through. The only thing that held up was a pair of waterproof boots from the Andy and Bax surplus store.
He says he’d definitely still do it straight through now that he’s done it once (Did we mention that we don’t recommend you, the reader, ever do this? OK, just checking.) and that overall the ride was very therapeutic for him. “You find a way to clear your head when you have bad visibility, black ice everywhere, bad rain, and a goal. Like, what have I been worrying about in my regular life?”
Lastly, it cost less than $40 in gas. 5 gas stops, each time $3-5 to fill. “If that’s not a reason for someone to get behind a Vespa I don’t know what is.”
You’re the man, Tim. We’re glad you made it there and back safely.
Twist the throttle. Reclaim your freedom.
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