OSBMWR Rally - Jack Riepe

Submitted by Roy Jackson ,  Colonel in the Secret “K” Club

.An Honest Report Detailing The Strange Goings On At The Gathering Of The Clams Rally...

The Gathering Of The Clams Rally — hosted by the Ocean State BMW Riders ...— has got to be one of the best kept secrets in the Teutonic moto sphere of influence. It is conducted at a traditional camp, on a cove that opens directly into the Atlantic Ocean. I arrived by a moon so bright that it nearly dimmed the huge campfire, ringed by a hundred faces. It was the first cool night of the fall, and dancing flames of the fire, nearly five feet tall, felt great on my face and hands.

I was welcomed by club leadership, who apparently thought I was someone of some significance. Determined to let this misimpression ride for as long as possible, I kept my mouth shut, and took my place at the fire in unaccustomed reticence. I had planned to arrive much earlier, but the insular nature of Rhode Island added time to my travel schedule. The Ocean State is not an island in the traditional sense, that is a body of land surrounded by water. But most of it is surrounded by Connecticut, the southern part of which consists of a vicious traffic conspiracy, in which an endless conga line of steel cages extends from Westchester County in New York to with 30 miles of Lil’ Rhody.

The traffic is bad when someone from New Jersey bitches about it.

The Gathering of The Clams campfire was a study in human communication. Stories, jokes, and observations spontaneously erupted and flared, like the flames themselves, as riders who have known each other for years renewed bonds forged over miles of asphalt. You knew this was a BMW rally, as nearly everyone was sitting in a Kermit Chair. I was being ushered around by Roy Jackson, an expert on the local weather.

Jackson is an authority on many things, and the club relies heavily on his judgment. He stood looking at the moon, occasionally sniffing the breeze, and said, “We may get a little rain around around 7am, but it will blow out of here an hour or so later.” It was refreshing to be around a BMW club where no one received this pronouncement with scorn and derision, which would have been the reaction in the club that I love deepest with all my heart.

Jackson then escorted me to my cabin, a cozy accommodation on a hilltop that overlooked the ocean and the rest of the camp. A sign on the cabin read, “Reserved For Jack,” which made me feel like royalty. I travel with some limitations and the Ocean State Riders took all of these into consideration. I had one of the few cabins with full shower and bathroom. And it was here that the gods dealt me the only snag of the trip, which also became a really funny episode the next day.

My bed was a typical camp bunk, made of reinforced plywood, framed by two by fours. It sported an industrial-strength prison mattress. I had failed to read the fine print that mentioned I should come with a sleeping bag… And sleeping bags are “de rigueur” among all BMW riders. I used my pack as a pillow, slept in my clothes, and wrapped up in a long sleeve shirt. There was heat in this room and I turned it up to 75. In the morning, I was the human knot…. But made it to a great camp breakfast. It was there that I met Steve Pelletier.

Steve bought a copy of my book recently — Conversations With A Motorcycle — and rode down from Maine to hear me speak anyway. He rides a majestic GS, as most of the runs throughout Maine require pulling agricultural devices. Pelletier stands 6’1” and has a handlebar mustache that overhangs the bars on the GS by a foot on either side. Pelletier took Jackson at his word and was among the multitude of riders that evaporated into the charming Rhode Island countryside. The rain did not materialize at 7am, nor did it leave at 8am. But the temperature was in a steady decline, and it was necessary to wear something appropriate for the lower 50s or high 40s. The wind expressed itself through little gusts just to let us know it was there. I spent part of the day chatting with Siouxann Harris, Karyn Kachadoorian, and her husband Harry. I’d met Siouxann a month before at the Finger Lakes Rally.

The atmosphere turned to mist around noon, and we huddled under the administration canopies, sipping fortified spring water and eating the first apples of the season. There were restorative New England-style crackers as well. At 2pm, rally chair Carl Soccoccio announced that lunch was served under “the big canopy.” This was a parachute-sized tent which spanned a number of tables and seats for about 25. There were 12 of us. The centerpiece of this celebration was a cauldron of Rhode Island clam chowder. Neither red nor gooey white, this chowder was champagne-colored broth rich with the flavor of fat, fresh clams that had been dozing in the sand hours before. This chowder was not encumbered by unnecessary clumps of vegetables to confuse the clam count. It was the best chowder I had ever tasted. There were local hot dogs too… But fate would rob me off the opportunity to judge the tube steak.

It should be noted that Carl Soccoccio presented me with a special serving of the famous Rhode Island Stuffie. Though sounding somewhat obscene, these are clams that are chopped (to a degree) and combined with a nicely seasoned stuffing, then served in vacant clam shells. In previous dialogue with club treasurer Tracey Karasinski, I challenged her to explain the difference between a Rhode Island Stuffie and clams casino. She couldn’t and finally admitted that she hadn’t had the state specialty all that often, and that she was a transplant from Michigan, so the hell with it.

The Rhode Island Stuffie is indeed a state delicacy — on a par with Jersey tomatoes — and nothing like clams casino. I was touched that this club would find it for me.

Then the storm hit.

Approximately 12 billion gallons of rain fell in about 40 minutes. Not over the whole state, just on this pavilion. The wind picked up and the lightning flashed like hell’s headlines. The concussion of thunder left our ears ringing and this rampage of nature got even worse. Eleven of the ill-fated twelve under the tent resorted to canes, poles, sticks and brooms to keep the water from pooling on the vulnerable fabric. (I concentrated on my chowder, knowing how this was going to end.) Every 30 seconds or so, one of these dedicated survivalists would drop 20 or 30 gallons of water off the roof. They did this in systematic rotation, until the canopy collapsed.

Did these BMW riders panic?

They did not, but went about repitching the tent, from the inside. I was reminded of a clipper crew, setting the sails in a gale. I did my part, in wolfing down my bowl of chowder, until the wind upended it on my shirt. (I would later eat that shirt in darkness.) Everybody was laughing like hell, until we realized the tent was a circular array of aluminum poles and that we were all grounded in expanding puddles. A fast series of lightning bolts drove us into the dining hall.

It was here I ran into Steve Pelletier again. He was back from his ride and pleased with the watertight integrity of his leathers, which were uncompromised, except for a small area at the crotch, where 40 or 50 gallons had seeped through. I asked Steve to accompany me to the local Walmart, to help me secure a pillow, a blanket and a pillowcase. I had found the place earlier, but the mob in the parking lot, the wet floors in the store, and the pain of my arthritis forced me to seek assistance. Steve could get in and out of the Walmart far faster than I could. Yet he was in the store far longer than I expected. This is because he was enlisting the support of the sales staff to supply me with a “Barbie” pillowcase, a “Barbie” blanket, and other “Barbie” logo stuff, he thought appropriate for a “K” bike rider. In the end, he just got me what I needed, plus a “Barbie” tiara.

The pičce de résistance was the Saturday night dinner. Every rally participant was served a steamed Rhode Island lobster that had to be in the two-pound category. This was accompanied by roasted new potatoes, fresh corn (shucked that afternoon) and broccoli. One hundred people were served, at a proper table setting, in about ten minutes. The kitchen crew, all volunteers, worked like trained infantryman. Nobody got in anybody’s way. This is because no one asked me to help.

My lobster was flawless, succulent, pre-cracked, and served with élan. It was the first time I had ever filled up on lobster. All of the meals represented the craft of master chef Vasilios Kourakis. The chef personally came out to ask individual tables how they liked the meal, every meal, and he was especially solicitous of me. (I was also invited to sample super-fresh striped bass, caught by “Slater” and prepared by Chef Kourakis.) Shortly thereafter, a mystery woman presented me with a slice of apple pie that came from the hand of God. She did too.

Then it was my turn to speak. I opened my presentation with Secret “K” Bike Riders’ Club Business. Tracy Karasinski was appointed the second “Colonel” in the Secret “K” Bike Rider’s Club, as the first women member to actively join the group. Roy Jackson was also appointed as a Colonel in the Secret “K” Club, despite the fact that he can’t get beyond two horizontal cylinders. Roy will serve a lifetime term as the “R” bike liaison to the “K” bike community.

I then spoke anecdotally on how motorcycles are perfect tools for building strong relationships in third and fourth marriages. I mentioned the three signs of impending relationship failure: 1) The dog dies after you let it taste your lunch; 2) Your spouse covers her ears whenever you start the bike; 3) You ride past a thrift store and all your clothes are “On Sale” in the front window.

There was only one downside to this whole weekend. I stood up in front of a hundred people and poured my tortured heart out to them… Then they laughed in my face. I hope I get invited to this event again next year. I would like to thank OSBMW Riders President Tom Kostka, VP Steve Forand, Treasurer Tracy Karasinski, Club Storekeeper Joe Tatulli, Chef Kourakis, Rally Chair Carl Soccoccio, and all of the other club officers who extended every consideration to me. And I would like to specially acknowledge Steve Pelletier and Roy Jackson, who are going to get everything they deserve.

 Jack  Riepe
jack.riepe@gmail.com.