Grandmother’s Letter to Honda

My grandmother has always been supportive of me and my passion for motorcycles, but a couple of weeks ago she took her support to a whole new level.

After attending a presentation that I gave at my local BMW motorcycle club, she decided to write a letter…to the Vice President of Honda Powersports USA, Chuck Boderman. 😲 In it she shared details of my journey as a motorcyclist, from river crossings in Peru to my summer selling Honda motorcycles and how proud she is of me and my accomplishments. Long story short, my grandmother has now had quite a few exchanges with Mr. Boderman and people who work directly for him. We received a package of awesome Honda swag and a handwritten letter from Mr. Boderman. I am still getting over the shock that A. My grandmother would do something as nice as to write a letter about me and to send it to Honda corporate and B. That her letter actually got to Mr. Boderman and that it was so well received. What an amazing life I have! 😲

Here is the full letter that my grandmother wrote:

Dear Mr. Borderman,

I thought you would like to know about my granddaughter, Helen Tornquist. Helen, at 27, is a motorcycle enthusiast who owns a Honda Rally. She has been selling Honda motor bikes since June, 2019 at Des Plaines Honda Motorcycles in Des Plaines, Illinois.

At the Honda agency, they call her Helen the Sellin’ Machine. She helped Des Plaines Honda meet their June quota by selling 5 bikes on the last day of the month. Helen did not rest on her June laurels. Her sales record skyrocketed to 34 bikes during the 2 months she worked at Des Plaines Honda. Biking her way to her family’s cabin in Ely, Minnesota, Helen is taking a much needed vacation before returning to the Chicago area, where she is a teacher at Tallgrass Sudbury School, a private K through 12 school in Riverside, IL. The General Sales Manager at Des Plaines Honda has offered her an as needed Saturday sales position during the school year.

Helen recently invited me to a meeting of the Chicago Region BMW Owners Association, where she was the featured speaker. Before she was Helen the Sellin’ Machine, she took a year off from teaching and embarked on a 10 month trip to South America. Solo. (You can’t appreciate Solo until I tell you that Helen is a soft spoken, self effacing young lady. She labels her persona “Introvert”) After traveling by air to Lima, Peru, she bought a used Honda 2009 Tornado XR250. This motor horse was her mode of transportation as she toured 7 countries on her 30,000 mile trip in South America. Solo. During her presentation, she related her adventures as a low budget tourist, finding free shelter in homes of natives willing to house an American girl on a motorcycle, staying in low cost
lodging or resorting to the tent she carried on her Honda. You would be impressed at her ingenuity in successfully navigating a road that resembled a river. The region had gotten the most rain in 20 years and a nearby river had flooded, leaving the bordering dirt road a trail of mud. If life has taken you on a trail like this, you willl remember your tires sputtering as mud splashed in your face and you struggled to remain upright on your bike. An obstacle like this would deter more formidable riders than Helen.

The Tornado held up beautifully until the last day of her ride, 10 months after her start. No flat tires, bike working like a plow horse. All was well until she steered the Tornado toward her final destination, Cusco, Peru. In the middle of nowhere, the chain on the Honda broke. Not knowing how to fix it, she did what any lovely lady would do. Helen sat down on the road and cried. After copious tears, she calmly planned her escape. Her ingenuity kicked in and inspired her decision: Hurry up and Wait! (An ingenious decision or her only alternative?) After some time, a local ambulance driver appeared. He picked her up and they motored in the ambulance to a small town about 10 miles away. The driver dropped Helen at the town’s motorcycle shop. The shop mechanic drove her back to where she had left her Honda on the road, put it in his truck and brought it to the shop to be repaired. Helen then rode her good-as-new Tornado into Cusco, sold it and flew home to Chicago. There she bought a new 2018 Honda Rally CRF250L. In Chicago there are no rivers with muddy banks to cross, but knowing how to navigate through rush hour traffic is a must.

I am attaching a photo of Helen and her grandmother, a loyal owner and driver of my fifth Honda, a 2017 Accord. No need to change brands when you are a satisfied user.

Sincerely,
Shirley

Saying Goodbye to Shirley

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It was bittersweet as I said my last goodbyes to Shirley. Tears we shed as we took our last photo together. Call me emotional, but it really was like saying goodbye to a dear friend or family member. We had been through so much together. This bike was my only constant companion for 10 months of my life. I have laughed and I have cried thanks to this bike, but in the end, it got me to where I needed to go. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Shirley’s new owners are a nice local family. Dad is a long time rider who likes to travel by motorcycles other alone or with Mom. Mom also likes traveling by motorcycle and is currently learning how to ride on her own. Shirley will make a good practice bike for her. And 7-year-old son told me that he likes to stick to his bicycle.
I am thrilled that Shirley is now in the hands of a kind, loving family. They even said that I could come visit them if I am ever back in Cusco! The days of Helen and Shirley may be over, but we both definitely have plenty more adventures ahead of us!

Last Leg of The Trip

The day before this picture was taken was supposed to be my last on the roads in South America. The last leg of my trip from the Pantanal in Brazil to Cusco, Peru had some challenging roads. One of the things that was challenging about them was the fact that they were so remote. As a solo motorcycle traveler this can be both exhilarating and scary. Having my bike break and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere was always my biggest fear and of course, on the very last day it finally happened. A few hours into my ride, I was going up a mountain road, when I began to notice that something was off. It is always a struggle getting my bike up mountains, but it sounded like it was working extra hard this time. Just as I turned a corner, I heard a some cracking and crunching. I pulled over and noticed that my chain had broken. The closest town was about 5 mountain miles behind me and I had no way to fix it on my own. My first reaction was to go into an extreme state of panic and imagine all the worst possible scenarios of what could happen. Then I realized that it would be pretty unlikely and embarrassing for me to die just 5 miles from civilization, so I began to strategize a plan. I had seen a few other vehicles(mostly trucks) on the road, so I decided that the only way I could get help would be to catch a ride into town. After spending about an hour and a half trying to wave people down, an elderly man in an old ambulance van finally pulled over and agreed to take me. I very reluctantly left my bike with my big backpack still strapped on the back(I took my smaller backpack with all of my documents and other valuables) and hopped in his car. The whole way I just sat there full of tension and practically in tears thinking about the possibility of someone taking my bike and stuff before I could get back. The driver did his best to reassure me that it would be ok and care-freely sang along to the Quechua tunes on the radio. He dropped me off at a bike shop(someone’s garage) in town and a mechanic took me back to where I had left my bike. Luckily, it was still there and he was able to fix the chain at least temporarily. I spent the night in the town and got a new chain put on because the old one had gotten stretched out. The next day I finally made it to Cusco where I was happily reunited with my dad, who I hadn’t seen since I left the US about a year prior. When I look back on these pictures I find it funny that I made it almost 30,000 miles without any problems with my bike and then on what was supposed to be the very last day, my chain broke in the middle of nowhere. It almost seems like the universe didn’t want my adventure to end. I was also very unsure about the next chapter of my life, but one thing that I did know for sure was that after everything that I had been through, I was finally feeling more ready than ever to take on whatever new challenges that would come my way.

Latinoamérica en Vespa

When I came across a group of people on the road who were just as crazy as (if not more crazy than) me, I couldn’t help but feel a special connection with them. I met these three at a motorcycle group meet-up on one of my last days in Brazil. They were also traveling around South America on two wheels, but instead of motorcycles, they were on Vespa scooters! We were all heading toward Cusco, but on different schedules and at different paces, so I went my own way with the understanding that we may or may not run into each other again. However, considering there was really only one way to get to Cusco from where we were, we did end up running into each other again, but not under the best of circumstances. When I found them on the road, one of the Vespas had broken down and was being towed by the other. I had arranged to stay with a Couchsurfing host that night, but instead, decided to camp out with them at the closest gas station. In the morning we hooked up the broken Vespa to my motorcycle with a rope and I towed it about 50 miles to the next closest town. By the time we got there, my friends still didn’t have a solid plan for fixing their bike, but I was on a tight schedule to get back to Cusco to meet up with my dad, so I decided to keep moving forward. We had only known each other for a couple of days, but it was still very sad when the time came for us to part ways. I have serious respect for these three people. The political and economic situation in Venezuela right now is complicated to say the least, but they took it as a an sign to pursue a dream and were extremely positive and flexible throughout the trip, even despite the trying circumstances. Meeting them was definitely one of the highlights of my trip and I hope that our paths cross again some day! Viva Latinoamérica en Vespa!! 🇻🇪

Waterfalls are my favorite.

I remember the first time I went to Brazil about 10 years ago. I was visiting my sister during her year long exchange and one day our hosts decided to take us to visit some nearby waterfalls. I had seen lots of lakes and rivers and rapids before, but at that point in my life, waterfalls were just not something that I was used to seeing. Once we got to the first one, we were invited to go up to it and even go under it. I was a little hesitant at first because the movies that I had seen had made waterfalls seem very powerful and dangerous, but once I got under that first one, I was hooked. It was a magical and refreshing experience. Not to mention it felt like getting a free back massage! Now I seek out and swim in waterfalls whenever I get the chance. And now that I am aware of how great they are, I have realized that they actually aren’t that hard to come by in the Midwest! Here are a few pictures of me visiting a waterfall/swimming hole in Porto Velho, Brazil.