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Jardine: Biker, 80, loves those contests

A competitor is a competitor, no matter the age or the event.

Two years ago, Modesto's Bob Jackson visited the most historic sights in California to win a contest among riders the Central California BMW motorcycle club.

Last summer and into the fall, he entered another club contest: crossing the most mountain passes from June through October.

"I got to 40 and figured that would be enough to win," he said. "Then I heard some other guy had 52."

So he kept going. And going. And going. And by the end of October, he'd crossed 64 passes throughout California ranging from 9,943-foot Tioga Pass to some lower- elevation passes such as 1,009-foot Altamont.

"I like to win," Jackson said. "I've lost a lot of contests. Mostly, I really like to ride motorcycles."

Yes, the competitive fire still burns within the 80-year-old retired educator. It's what drove him during some of rides through chilly weather to extreme heat.

During one leg, from Santa Clarita to Lebec on Interstate 5, the temperature dropped 25 degrees after the sun went down. While he carried the colder-weather gear, warmer weather earlier that day had convinced him he didn't need it. Boy, did he misread that one.

"I got cold," he said.

And his timing wasn't too good, either, he said, since he was still on the road during a busy time of day.

"Trucks surrounded me — semis at 8 o'clock at night," Jackson said. "Those trucks were like elephants, passing me on both sides."

That probably was his scariest encounter throughout the contest, he said.

Most of his other excursions were both spectacular and relatively uneventful.

"I had wonderful weather over all the Sierra passes," he said. "My favorite ride was over Tioga, east to west. Early in the morning, you look up from Lee Vining (on U.S. 395) and it looks impenetrable. It's an incredible ride.

"Same with Sonora Pass, east to west. It's so steep on the east side. Those were the two most challenging passes, and I cannot imagine going over them in bad weather."

His trips took him near the California-Oregon border in the north to San Diego County in the south; from passes along the coastal mountains to Death Valley and even into Nevada briefly to the east.

He soaked in views of Mount Shasta throughout the passes in the Cascade range.

He marveled at the view of the expansive Mojave Desert from Cajon Pass in Southern California. He was amused to find Indian casinos at the summits of many passes in San Diego County.

"There are only about nine or 10 paved passes I didn't cross," he said.

He would have crossed a 65th pass, but Angel Crest in the Angeles National Forest was closed because of a wildfire.

To win, he had to have photos of himself at every summit. His wife, Elaine, followed him in their Toyota minivan and recorded the evidence.

A longtime motorcyclist, Jackson bought his first BMW in 1980 after putting about 150,000 miles on Hondas. He's now logged 100,000 more on BMWs, including cross-country and trans-Canada trips.

"At my age, 350 miles is a good day for me," he said. "I'm not one of those 'iron butt' people who rides 1,000 miles in 24 hours."

He rode about 6,000 miles during the pass-crossing contest, which wasn't cheap. He spent money on hotel rooms, food and gas for his motorcycle and Elaine's minivan.

"I'm afraid to add it up," he said. "It was pretty pricey. I consider it a vacation."

His grand prize?

"A trophy and a $50 gift certificate to a BMW agency," he said.

No matter. It's a hobby and a passion — not an investment. We're talking a motorcycle club contest — not a bunch of millionaires building yachts for the America's Cup.

He's already preparing to ride to Oregon next summer, where he'll meet up with a bunch of other BMW devotees for a national rally.

"Most of us are older," he said. "The median (BMW rider's) age is about 53. Lots of graybeards among us."

And perhaps he'll rack up another victory in the next contest — whatever that might be.

Yes, his competitive fire still burns. Age isn't slowing him down. And there's always another summit on the horizon.

Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at jjardine@modbee.com or 578-2383.

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