Karen Thomson - Edelwiess Motorcycle Tours

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Karen Thomson

RIDER! Profile

Karen Thomson is a guide for Edelweiss Tours.  She has ridden and leads rides around the globe. Today, she makes her home in Snohomish when she's not out working and playing.

Place and year of birth: 1952, Hollywood, CA (Though I've always been a Washingtonian. My family returned to the Seattle area when I was 9 months old.)

First bike you ever rode, where and when:  When I was in my early teens my older brother, Kit, gave me a ride on the back of a friends' Triumph. When I was a kid he used to put me on his bicycle and tear down the hill on our dead-end to see how much he could scare me. The Triumph had no rear foot pegs. My feet were dangling in the wind, I had no protective gear and was hanging on to Kit for dear life as we flew down the quarter-mile long road at about 70mph. When we rolled up the driveway and I got off I think Kit was pretty disappointed to see a smile on my face instead of the terror he had intended.

Current city and state of residence:  I now live in the country outside Snohomish, Washington

Current Motorcycles owned:  1996 BMW R1100RS (purchased "new" last July from my dealer-friend Ozzie in Chico, CA) It still has only about 3,000 miles on it since I do most of my riding on one of the Edelweiss Bike Travel fleet of new BMWs. 1958 BMW R26 (single cylinder, 250cc which has taken honors of "Best Unrestored" at Isle of Vashon TT and "Best European" at the Snohomish Antique and Classic Motorcycle Show (half ownership with my husband, Burt Welch).

Current Occupation:  Dual occupation Freelance AutoCad drafter specializing in the geoenvironmental/geotechnical industry (it pays most of the bills) and Edelweiss Bike Travel Tour Guide (mostly for the fun of it, although it can be an enormous amount of work).

Past lives:  Horse enthusiast, Art major, private pilot, photographer, perpetual student (I like to study anything that interests me and hope I never stop learning about new things and more about the old things).

I have approximately 200,000 miles on BMW motorcycles, much of which was obtained before I became a tour guide. It is harder to keep track of my mileage now that I end up riding motorcycles besides my own. A large percentage of these miles were accumulated while solo sport touring. I like to tour on my own. Being a solo female rider opens up a lot doors. Most people aren't afraid to approach you and I can hardly ever get out of a gas station out-of-state without someone striking up a conversation with me. It's great when an 80ish-year-old couple tells me that they always wanted to ride and they think it looks like great adventure! I do a lot of communing with my inner self during long days in the saddle alone, and I don't want to have a radio, cd player or communicator to interrupt my self-searching process. I have had many mental awakenings and made enlightened observations on the seat of a motorcycle.

I also like to tour with my husband, Burt (he rides a 1995 BMW K1.) In fact, we met on motorcycles, on the freeway. It just so happened we were going to the same place and he came on the freeway just as I passed his onramp.

I have been a MSF instructor for the last 15 years and have enjoyed my tenure. I have learned a lot and I believe people have learned from me. It has been gratifying to teach new riders or meet up with my experienced students who tell me how what they learned in a MSF class saved their bacon in some dangerous circumstance. Of course, when I teach, I try to give them the skills to be able to predict and prevent as many of those situations as possible.

For a long time Burt and I were VERY involved with the Washington State BMW Riders Club. We are both past presidents. I was the first woman president of that club, but I am proud to say that they have since had 2 or three other women presidents. I helped Burt and our friends put on the Washington State Cascade Country Rendezvous rally for many years. We have not belonged to the club for a few years now, mostly because of being so busy with other things that we don't have enough time to do the club justice.

Favorite ride in the world:  Sorry, I can't narrow it down to just one. Deals Gap is the quintessential motorcycle road. It has tight twisties through semi sweepers with every curve properly banked. The last time I was there was about 5 years ago. I don't know how it is now-a-days. Most of the area's cops also know about this road.

I have spent many a joyous hour in the saddle in the southern Sierras in California. It is a hard area to beat for quantity and quality of motorcycle roads. Some of my best riding has been there and I spent some time there learning riding skills from a friend who has been an instructor for Reg Pridmore's C.L.A.S.S. track school.

Come to think of it, that's probably my all-time favorite ride - C.L.A.S.S. It's absolutely the most fun you can legally have on a motorcycle...and you're learning and honing your skills to boot! Burt and I attended our first C.L.A.S.S. at Laguna Seca Raceway. We did the normal class on Saturday and got special permission to attend the Sunday advanced class. I don't think I've ever had such an extended dose of adrenaline at any other time in my life. We had so much fun that we begged Reg to come and do a class at S.I.R. He told us that if we got enough people to fill a class, he would see what he could do and the following year we did and he did his first C.L.A.S.S. at Seattle International Raceway. I regret to say that I haven't been back to a class since the first S.I.R., but I plan to change that soon!

So far, my favorite place to ride in Europe is in the Dolomites. I have always liked the technical turns and especially chicane-type turns, where you can feel as if you are skiing. The Dolomite passes are almost all that way with many tight hairpins. These passes are packed together and it is not difficult to ride 8-12 of them in one day!

Favorite Northwest Ride:   It's kind of hard to choose. I'm not sure of your definition of "Northwest". Some of my favorites in geographical order from north to south are: B.C., Canada 99 - between Pemberton and Lilloet; Washington Hwy 20 over the North Cascades and on through Republic and Sherman Pass into Ferry County; Hwy 142 between Goldendale, Klickitat and Lyle (because it reminds me of the southern Sierras); an unnamed stretch of road between Joseph, OR and the Snake River that hooks up with Hwy 86 to Oxbow Dam and 71 to Cambridge, ID. About anywhere else in northeastern Oregon is a good bet, too.

Words of Wisdom to anyone thinking of becoming a tour guide:   It's harder than it looks. Think of serving 8 to 30 people for 1 to 3 weeks at a time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Then you start to get a feeling of how much work it can be. Challenges are: inexperienced riders, American riders in Europe, Deutsch sprechen, "high maintenance" tour members, and all the big and little things that can possibly go wrong. (Anything from broken mirrors to your trailer jumping the hitch at about 50mph or breaking its axel!) Benefits are: you get to meet a lot of people, make new friends, travel (at someone else's expense), learn new countries [Spain, Austria, Germany], ride the best and most scenic roads. You must be single with no pets or have a very patient and understanding spouse or friend.

Member of what organizations:  18 years in both AMA and BMW Motorcycle Owners of America.

 Some of the other things I've done or will be doing for Edelweiss during this year:

The whole company gathered in a gasthaus near Innsbruck in December for our annual tour guide training. I had 4 days of intense training, but there was also a lot of fun interjected. This included an evening in Innsbruck dining and drinking "Glühwine" (a hot spiced wine) at the Christkindlmarkt (an open-air Christmas crafts market) and a dinner in an Almhutte (mountain lodge) along with tobogganing back down to our gasthaus. One of our tour guides from Mexico had never been in snow before so we all had to initiate him with a good old fashioned snowball fight.

For 3 weeks in January, I was on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. This was a special assignment for Edelweiss with BMW Ag, Germany. We acted as BMW's "instructors" during their dealer introduction of the new F650GS and their new "urban mobility concept vehicle" the C1. The F650GS is a 650, single cylinder, chain drive, dual-purpose motorcycle, whose inspiration platform machine won the top honors in the Dakar-Cairo Rally 1/2000. The C1 is something totally different. It is a cross between a small car and a motorcycle. You can ride it without a helmet. It has two wheels, a roof (including windshield with wiper), crossing safety belts, engineered crumple zones, and optional ABS brakes. Before we rode them, being motorcyclists, we tour guides didn't know what to think about riding "modified scooters". But the C1s were actually a lot of fun and we all were wearing big grins by the end of our first ride.

Future tour travel for this season includes a Best of Europe and High Alpine Adventure tours in central Europe for the month of July, two specially arranged tours for high-selling Daimler-Chrysler dealers which mostly follows the route of our Alps-Mediterranean tour in southern Europe for most of September, and then I return to America to do our new Royal California Tour in October. The Royal California Tour is the culmination of research from many years past. It includes all 5-star hotels, starts and ends in San Francisco and includes the Pacific Coast, Redwoods National Forest, Napa-Sonoma and all the wine country in between!

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