Interviewer: Jim Martin | Photos: Dimitrios Tournas
This transcript has been created from the original audio episode released January 4, 2018. This transcript may have been modified to make reading easier. As Adventure Rider Radio shows are meant to be listened to and not read, the following script may contain some grammatical and other errors. You can also listen to this interview by downloading the episode.
Jim (narrate): Dimitrios Tournas is from Greece. He now lives in the US. And he’s got an intense passion for life. It shows in his bucket list. Because Dimitrios’ bucket list is so long (it’s over 800 items), that he’s gonna have to hustle to complete it in just one lifetime. But that’s a kind of fuel for a guy that walks into his first day at an off-road riding school (with no previous experience), walks up and tells the instructor that: he’s there to learn to ride so that he can represent the US in the International GS Trophy.
Dimitrios: My name is Dimitrios Tournas. I was born in Kavala, Greece. I am currently a field engineer for a very large IT company (Dell). And right now I live in Temecula, California.
Jim: Dimitrios, welcome to Adventure Rider Radio.
Dimitrios: Thank you, Jim. It is absolutely great- it is an honour to be here.
Jim: You’ve got a really deep passion for riding motorcycles and for achieving things with them. But what is it that got you started with bikes to begin with?
Dimitrios: I guess that the first thing that got me to riding was my mother. My mother had a Yamaha T80 Moped- it’s like a scooter. We call it the Duck in Greece. What happened was that, I thought that she didn’t know, but every now and then I would get the bike from her and just go on a ride and just see what it is. So, what happened is that, at some point, my mom finally decided to tell me that, you know, I know that you’re secretly riding the bike. So, instead of punishing me or grounding me, she actually told me that, you should get the bike and go on a trip and see if you like it (and, maybe you like it). And, that’s what I did. So, in 1994 I believe, right before I went to the military, my mom gave me her Yamaha Scooter T80. And I went for my first national motorcycle meeting in Greece. It was actually on a small island called Thasos, right across from the city where I was born. I went there with a friend of mine who was riding a Vespa 200. So, that wasn’t what really got me into motorcycles, rather than what happened the day that we were getting there. So, on our way there, we got pulled over by a local police. Actually my friend got pulled over just for a regular check. I kept riding, and just a few miles down the road, I stopped my bike and I was waiting for him. A short period of time later, I heard a couple of bikes coming towards me, and some guy just stopped, took his helmet off and he asked me if I was okay. And that was new to me, I mean, I don’t know this guy and he just came out of nowhere and he’s asking if I’m okay. And then I realize that this is what motorcyclists do. They just care for each other. And I thought that, you know, this is something that I want to get involved in. And after that I was into motorcycles forever.
Jim: It’s funny, the one thing I like about this, Dimitrios, is that it’s sort of like... we’re all the same anyways, it’s just that we have a common interest. I’m sure that if you were out golfing and, you know, somebody else came along, you had a problem, the other golfers are gonna connect with you. You know what I’m saying? And that’s the thing with bikes, is, we just connect through that one common interest, but it really does speak volumes for how similar we all are.
Dimitrios: Absolutely, absolutely. That and it really does not matter what kind of bike you are riding, what style riding you are doing. It’s as long as you are on a motorcycle, you are part of that amazing group.
Jim: So you, you started off really from stealing your mom's bike, getting caught, but not getting in trouble.
Dimitrios: Yeah, yeah, pretty much.
Jim: Your mom is obviously very relaxed, and probably very open minded, if she sort of encouraged you at that point.
Dimitrios: She’s... yeah, she’s an amazing woman. She’s the reason why I have done everything that I have done in my life. Or at least part of everything.
Jim: So after this, you ended up going, and I guess becoming, a street rider. How long did you do that for?
Dimitrios: So, what happened is that right after I got back from the military, I purchased a Honda Translap 600, and I was using the bike to deliver pizza. That’s not a joke. I was actually delivering pizza. We had a cute box on the back of the bike. And going through the traffic, trying to do this with a huge 600cc motorcycle. Then after that, I purchased a brand new Honda Deauville 600 (that’s a cruiser, it’s like a smaller version of the Pan European that we have here in the United States). So, what happened is that when [I] purchased that bike, I was doing a little bit better financially and I wanted to buy a leather jacket. I decided that, I’m just gonna take the ferry, and go across in Italy, and I will go to the source of my favourite brand: the Dainese jackets. So I get the ferry, just like that, on a Friday (I think it was a Friday). And when I started riding in Italy, I realized that, you know, people here pay attention to motorcycles. So, it’s not as difficult, and it’s not as dangerous as it is in Greece. So I started driving a little bit more and then a little bit more, and then before I knew it I ended up doing about 3-4000 miles in Europe for a couple of days (I think it was about a week). And that was my first trip on the street. But, it was absolutely only street, there was no dirt involved anywhere.
Jim: Well, you ended up, at one point, you got in a crash with your... that was with your street bike.
Dimitrios: Yeah, so... here’s what happened. I was- I’m really careful when I’m riding the motorcycle; [I’m] always been wearing all the gear, all the time [and] I was extremely conservative. I wouldn’t go on a long trip except the one in Europe. When I was in Greece, I wouldn’t go on a long trip, because I was afraid. Drivers are crazy there- I’m telling you. And I can say that, because I was born and raised there.
Jim: But, why? Why are they so crazy in Greece, and not in Italy?
Dimitrios: Because, I guess that they don’t really have the proper training or the... yeah. I guess that they really don’t have the proper training. They just don’t pay attention. I think it’s in the culture. I really don’t know, I really don’t remember anymore. But it’s really dangerous to ride in Greece. It’s the same thing in India. So if you’ve ridden in India, (which I haven’t, but you know, I’ve seen in videos) if you’ve ridden in India, you see all these crazy movements around the cars and between the cars. And you know, it’s the same in Greece. They just don’t pay attention to you. So what happens [then], I was going toward the city that I was born from, where I was living, and it was about a 100 mile ride. It wasn’t anything big. But it was a road that I have done so many times, I literally knew every turn, every pothole in the road... everything. And I was very conservative. So what happened is, about half an hour/forty five minutes before I would be at my destination, I tried to pass a semi. And at the very same time that I was passing the semi, the driver-
Jim: This is a legal pass, by the way. Like, this is fine, you were doing everything right.
Dimitrios: That is a legal pass that I was in what we back then called an interstate in Greece, which was two lanes (one each direction) and it was a straight line for about 10 miles. And apparently there was a forest road or something where that semi wanted to go, and he decided to take a left turn right as I was passing him. I don’t remember much of it... I just remember standing up and just getting my dust off my brand new Dainese leather jacket (that I still have in my wardrobe). And I also remember that the, I remember the bumper of the semi turned into 90 degrees from where it hit me (just about an inch behind my leg), my right leg. When the driver came out, started asking where's the second guy, and I told him no it’s just me and he insisted that there is somebody else there. That was about 13 years ago, it was 2004. And since then, for about 9 years I didn’t even want to think about getting on a motorcycle again. And what happened after that was, I was at home (we actually moved to Colorado, with my wife), and after I got here in there United States: a friend of mine from the group that I was riding with back in Greece connected with me on Facebook. And I started, you know, going into the groups that he was on, and we started talking about motorcycles. And it’s actually kind of funny because, what happens is that Facebook targeted ads towards my profile, and I started seeing motorcycle related content. And one of that was the Long Way Round documentary. Which, you know, I started watching, and then once you start watching you realize that there is a lot of motorcycle movies out there. So I started watching everything. And you know, if there is a motorcycle movie, I watched it; Long Way Round, Long Way Down, On Any Sunday. You know, whatever there is out there, I actually watched it. And here I am, on a beautiful day in Colorado watching the Why We Ride movie. And I’m thinking to myself: why am I watching a movie and why am I not making one? Not in the literal form, but, why am I not doing what I am seeing all these people doing?
Jim: You get all excited watching it- why not get out there and do it?
Jim: Yeah, makes sense.
Dimitrios: So, I walked into the BMW dealership, and I walked out with a brand new 2013 BMW 1200GS.
Jim (narrate): Well, I’m just gonna jump in here and explain what happens next. Dimitrios felt like he bought the wrong bike. He went to the dealer to buy the GS Adventure model.
Dimitrios: I really, really wanted the GS Adventure model.
Jim (narrate): And it wasn’t in stock, the dealer didn’t have it yet. But, the salesman sort of talked him out of it.
Dimitrios: Yeah. The salesman actually told me that it was too tall for me. Now, I am 5’9”.
Jim (narrate): The salesman told him that, Dimitrios is just too short for the Adventure model (which stands taller than the standard), and that his bike is the standard GS.
Dimitrios: Yeah, exactly, yeah.
Jim (narrate): So Dimitrios buys it, he leaves the dealership, but he doesn’t feel good about this purchase at all. Then he stumbles across a video about a guy who’s even shorter than he is.
Dimitrios: That was Gaston Rahier- he was 5’5” tall.
Jim (narrate): This guy races the Dakar and wins.
Dimitrios: The 1984, and 1985 Paris-Dakar…Gaston was 5’5” on a good day, with all the boots and all the gear, and his bike was twice as tall as him.
Jim (narrate): So, off he went, back to another dealer now. He trades in his almost new GS for a GS Adventure. And then has the bike of his dreams. And this is where the adventure really starts to begin for Dimitri, because he has no off-road experience. And that lack of knowledge or skill, plus the blind faith he puts into his motorcycle, almost gets him hurt right off the bat.
Dimitrios: You know, so, here's what happened. When I got the bike, the dealer installed a small plug underneath the seat. So, that small plug enables a special mode on the GS adventure which is called the ‘enduro pro mode’. The enduro pro mode allows you to have ABS enabled on the front wheel, but completely disabled on the rear, as well as disabled the traction control. So it’s what he told me: this is how you ride off-road. Unfortunately, I took that literally. So what happened is that, I put that mode in, I went to a forest road, and I almost killed myself. Because-
Jim: You thought that mode was gonna make up for your lack of riding skills...
Dimitrios: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. So I’m like... okay, this is how I ride off-road. Let’s do it! So that’s what I did, and I literally almost killed myself. In a forest road, a graded forest road, somewhere in Colorado. I mean, I like... I love riding. I just absolutely love riding. And I really wanted to go into an epic adventure, just like, you know, Long Way Round, or Long Way Down or all of those great epic movies that we have seen. But I realized that, you know, I have to learn how to drive, how to ride off-road. And I decided that it is time for me to go and learn how to ride. And there is no better way, no better place to learn how to ride, rather than going to an actual professional. So...
Jim (narrate): Well, you’ve heard of binge listening or maybe binge drinking… Well, Dimitrios went for binge training. And he quickly racked up some impressive training hours.
Dimitrios: …gathered 280 instructor-led training hours.
Jim: That’s an impressive amount of hours by anyone's gauge, and that’s not just at one school.
Dimitrios: Yeah, four different schools. I have been to the BMW US Rider Academy in South Carolina, the Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Training in Pahrump, Nevada, the Tom Asher Adventure Riding Academy, and a 101 class at the Trials Training Centre in Tennessee. And I’m still learning.
Jim: To put that in perspective: you’re talking over 3 and a half years… is that what this… 280 hours of instructor-led training?
Dimitrios: Yes. That’s over…yes.
Jim: Some would say that's an obsession, Dimitrios. That’s a lot of training!
Dimitrios: It is a lot of training, but you know what Jim? Here’s what I found out from going to all of this training and through all of these trainers: every single trainer will be able to teach you something differently than the other ones. Most of them have the same curriculum, but the way that they teach is different. And what will actually stick from each one of them might be better from one instructor to the other. All of the instructors will teach you about balance. Every single one of them... the first thing they talk about is balance. But until you actually talk to the balance master (as I want to call him Jimmy Lewis), you won’t know what they’re talking about. I mean, it’s every... it’s that thing... every instructor will have to teach you something different in a different way, and it will eventually stick with you. So, it might be an obsession, yes... alright. But, every single one of them taught me something different in a better way.
Jim: Well, I think before we go any further in this story, we have to talk about Dimitrios’ bucket list. Because his bucket list is unlike anything I’ve ever heard of. Dimitrios, I think you’re gonna have to start there. What is this bucket list you have?
Dimitrios: Ah, gosh. Um, yeah. The bucket list was actually… it started the day of my accident. Actually, the day before the accident. Back in the early 2000’s, I had a relationship with this girl that her parents absolutely hated me. I mean, you know... they just hated me. Let’s just leave it there. So, at some point, I was... you know... we were living together, with the girl, and at some point, in actually the summer of 2004- the summer that I got my accident…
Jim (narrate): Well, as you can imagine, well Dimitrios went and told his girlfriend's parents (who didn’t like him anyway) that he was leaving, they were no longer gonna be together, and he was gonna go off and have this great life. They basically laughed in his face, and said, you’re never gonna get anywhere.
Dimitrios: Not even out of the border.
Jim (narrate): So you can imagine that got under his skin. But the very next day was the day that he got in the accident (the one he told us about, where he went to go around the truck and it turned in front of him).
Dimitrios: So, you know, I get up after literally facing death, for a few short seconds, and I’m like- you know…this is it. This is... this my sign. Now I know that I have to start doing things. I have been given a second chance.
Jim (narrate): So that was a game changer for Dimitrios. He decides that he’s going to make his life into the ultimate life.
Dimitrios: So, yeah. I’m gonna have a great life, and I’m gonna leave from Greece, and I’m gonna go to another country, and I’m gonna go into this huge adventure. And just sit there and watch me. And that's how the bucket list started. It helps me set a goal of things to do. And, although the bucket list is private, for the most part, I will tell you that right now the last item is item number 808.
Jim: So, do you actually have a written bucket list?
Dimitrios: Yes, I have a written bucket list.
Jim: This is far more detailed than the average person. You have over 800 things on your bucket list.
Dimitrios: That is correct.
Jim: Wow, that's…I don’t even have a bucket list. I mean, I might have some vague ideas in my head…but you know what really great, I think, about a bucket list (I know some people sort of chuckle at a bucket list), but the really great thing is that a bucket list is really it’s just goals, isn’t it? You’re just making a list of goals. Things that you wanna do in life. Not necessarily, because I think that a bucket list is often associated with like sort of an ego thing, or just, putting a notch in the belt. Saying, “Yep: been there ,done that, and got the t-shirt”, and off you go. But really what you’re looking at with a bucket list, and I’m thinking that this is what you’re doing with it, is that these are goals you’re setting for yourself. These are your life goals.
Dimitrios: That is exactly what it is, Jim. And it really doesn’t have to be something epic. It doesn’t have to be… and I can just give you an example. A very simple one was just to listen to BB King live. And I don’t even like jazz. So, I set up a goal that at some point, I’m gonna go to Nashville, Tennessee (where he used to play before he passed away), and I’m gonna walk into the place that he’s playing and I’m just gonna stay there for five minutes. And that was a goal. And that was it. And I actually completed that item, I believe in 2012.
Jim: So, what, motorcycle related, was driving you on your bucket list to do 280 hours of instructor-led training?
Dimitrios: That would be the GS Trophy, yes. So when I got my bike, I actually saw a flyer that said about the GS Trophy, and that was in the BMW of Denver for motorcycles…
Jim (narrate): Well, in case you don’t follow this- the GS Trophy is a motorcycle skills competition that BMW puts together and runs specifically with BMW motorcycles.
Dimitrios: Yes. Which is not a race, I have to say that.
Jim (narrate): No, but it is a competition. And it’s a pretty intense competition. A bunch of people from a bunch of different countries get together to compete for their own country, and regional and national, and then going on to the international competition. It’s quite a big deal.
Dimitrios: It’s very close to the Camel Trophy for motorcycles. I don’t know if you are familiar with the Camel Trophy.
Jim: Oh, very much so. I applied to it, oh, many years ago…probably…30-some-odd years ago. In any case, I was 18 or 19 when I sent in an application for Canada here.
Dimitrios: Okay, so, I was obsessed with Camel Trophy. And never wanted to go and participate, but I was absolutely obsessed by what these people are going through, and what they’re doing to their vehicles, and pulling it through. And when the world trophy got right next to the world GS, it just, you know, it just clicked. And I’m like, this is exactly what I need to do. And then right after my, you know, almost dying on a forest road, I realized that, you know what? This is what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna go for the GS trophy and I’m gonna get training for that. And that’s how I’m going to become a better rider. So, I went to the BMW performance centre and I walked into the instructors and I told them: listen, I have absolutely no experience riding off-road. However, I do want to participate in the GS trophy, and represent the United States team. It has been my goal, my biggest goal, since then.
Jim: What did they say when you told them that?
Dimitrios: There was little bit of a smirk, but it was very subtle and I totally understand. I would have done exactly the same thing. But, you know what? I will never forget when I participated in the first qualifier in 2015. I believe I ended up 9th for the GS Trophy. My instructor came up, at the parking lot, and told me: I wish could tell you how proud I am. Because he was able to see from no experience at all to 9th. And everything that I’ve done.
Jim: That’s pretty amazing. You come in off that street, not knowing anything, you come in 9th. That's gotta fuel you for more.
Dimitrios: Oh gosh, yes. That became an obsession, absolutely. I had been training non stop for the GS Trophy. And at the same time, I had been promoting the GS Trophy because I don’t want it to end before I get to participate in it. You hear that, BMW? You’re gonna have to wait. So...
Jim: What you’re saying is, you don’t want them to cancel the program before you get a chance to go into it.
Dimitrios: Correct, correct. Yes, exactly, yes. I’ve been doing my best to promote the event as much as I can. And I think I did a really good job. But, fast forward comes 2017, where we had 3 more qualifiers. I ended up, I think, 14th in California. 9th in Missouri. And 3rd in South Carolina: 18 points away from the first rider. Those 18 points means, that I dropped the bike 3 times in that period of 3 days, or hit 5 cones. That was it.
Jim: So, where do you go from here?
Okay. well, I moved to California. My wife and I moved to California about 6 months ago. And, yesterday, I rode. And it was a beautiful 55 degrees. While my friends in Colorado are getting started for the first snow. Which means that I am going to be riding as much as I can. There is a beautiful riding area nearby my house. I don’t have to put the bike on a trailer or anything like that. I can just go and ride as much as I can. And I’m gonna keep practicing, and I’m gonna keep practicing, until I actually make it. And proudly wear that US flag on my arm and represent team USA for the GS Trophy.
Jim: So what one are you going for?
Dimitrios: What was that again?
Jim: Which GS trophy are you going for?
Dimitrios: So, the next one is going to be in... the one in 2020. So, the qualifier is going to be in 2019. The GS Trophy is every 2 years in between the actual years of the trophy. We have the qualifiers for every country that wants to participate. So my next goal is the one for 2020, since I did not make the team this year. And that means that I have 2 years more to practice.
Jim: So what's the deal with that? As far as qualifying goes. Give us an idea of what these obstacles are like, or what the whole program is that you have to go through that you have to win at to end up going to the final GS Trophy challenge.
Dimitrios: Okay, so. What we do at the GS Trophy, is we learn how to ride in very difficult, tight situations. And prove that this bike can do almost everything. While some may say…well, why do I have to go over a 2 by 4 log for 30 feet without losing my balance? Because I will never have to ride over logs for 30 feet, you know? Well, yes you will. If you’re going through two very deep ruts, and you only have, you know, like one foot right on an ant hill, well, there it is. So, this is what the GS Trophy…the GS Trophy takes us into a course and they put all these obstacles with cones and rocks and gravel and sand and they just throw us all there, in the controlled environment, to show people what these bikes can do. So, what happens is every country has a qualifying event. and it’s totally up to the BMW Motorrad of that county how they want to organize the qualifying event. In the United States, we have 3 qualifiers, 3 locations. The first qualifier takes place in Greer, South Carolina at the BMW’s Rider Academy. They have a great area there with mostly man-made obstacles and some trails. And that is the east qualifier. Then the second qualifier takes place in Bixby, Missouri at the Midwest Trail Rider's Association, which is, I think it’s like, 6/700 acres of off-road... OHV area. And, that is extremely difficult terrain, I’ll tell you that. It’s actually kind of funny, because BMW approach them and they, you know, all trails, riders, and Hero Scramblers, and they said... Okay, we’re going to bring these huge bikes here, give us a course. And that was quite a combination. So, that was the second qualifier and the third qualifier takes place [at] the RawHyde Adventure Ranch in Castaic, California. So, what we do, is we take the best rider from each location, and these riders will make the team of 3 that will represent team United States. And then they are sent to that location, wherever it is (the next year is in Mongolia).
Jim: So what’s the final event in Mongolia like? Is it even worse than the other qualifiers are?
Dimitrios: Oh, gosh, I don’t know. Have you been to Mongolia?
Jim: No, I haven’t.
Dimitrios: I have not been either, so I don’t know what they have for them. But, it is going to demonstrate…it is going to demonstrate team effort and knowledge of the environment. And by that, and you will think not of that, by knowledge of the environment I also mean, like, the history of the place. And you have to know some, you know, important things about where you are riding. Chasms for the Mongolian Region, and things like that. And then they’ve gone and put them into, they’re gonna make some challenges for them. Like, going to [a]remote area and use just nothing but coordinates and a map and compass and find those things that we have hidden for you. And then, go through another remote area on the back, which is really difficult to ride through. And then you’re gonna have to get off the bike, and then all 3 push the bike over a 6 foot obstacle or something. And then keep riding, and everything that you can possibly find on an around the world adventure trip, you need to be prepared for. So, by that…they will demonstrate what these bikes are capable of.
Jim: The only downside to it, is that you have to have a BMW to get in it because it’s sponsored by BMW, and the qualifiers.
Dimitrios: Yes, that is correct.
Jim: I mean, I say downside because not everyone rides a BMW. It’d be nice to see the other manufactures get on board.
Jim: And I mean, I love the idea because, like you Dimitrios, I remember the Camel Trophy, and I found it so exciting. I applied, but they weren’t taking a team from Canada. There was no support for it. But what they did for me, was they sent me a book back. And this was back in the day before the internet of course, and so when I got this colour book that showed even more pictures than I had seen in the magazines about the Camel Trophy, I was enthralled. You know, I thought it was just amazing. Because that kind of stuff is great. I mean, even if it’s not about proving one person better than everyone else, it’s the whole idea of this organized adventure, the organized competition. I mean, the idea, the way that BMW’s done it with the staging- where you’re doing the regional qualifiers and then you’re going into the international one... I mean, I think the whole idea is fantastic for all of us, regardless of what bike you’re riding.
Dimitrios: It is absolutely fantastic. And I really wish more, just like you said, more manufacturers will actually just step up and do something. I believe that the KTM just started doing something, in the United States. Something like series of event. I don’t know if they are going to send it to Austria, and have like, an international event. Hopefully, they will. But, yeah.
Jim: You're, you said, you're sort of... your goal at this point, near the end of your bucket list, is the Dakar. What Dakar are you aiming for?
Dimitrios: Jim, I’ll be be honest with you: I was hoping that I can do this in the next 3-4 years. And the reason was because I feel that I’m going to be too old after that. Right now I’m 41 years old. And a few months ago, I found out that Bill Conger, at the age of 51, is actually racing Dakar next year. And that helped me realize, that I don’t really have a year for that. I just, I’m just going to go towards that goal. And if I can make it, I will make it. And if not, then I won’t, at least I’ve tried. So, there is one thing that I’d like to share with you. There is a poem from a Greek poet, Kosta Kavafis. He said: As you set out for Ithaca, hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. And this is, this is what the Dakar is about. It’s not about me being at the start line, it’s not about me riding the $60 or $300,000 to participate. But it’s about everything that I have to do from zero, literally from zero, to become a person that can actually think about running the race.
Jim: Well, I love your drive and enthusiasm, Dimitrios. Great to have you on, thank you very much.
Dimitrios: Thank you Jim, it has been great being here.
Interviewer/Host: Jim Martin
Producer: Elizabeth Martin
Transcriptionist: Natasha Martin
*Special thanks to our guest Dimitrios Tournas.