Durangoan Tom Thompson, a longtime amateur motorcycle competitor, will represent the U.S. at an international challenge held by BMW in Mongolia this summer.
Thompson, 55, will compete in the BMW Motorrad International GS Trophy challenge as part of a three-man team in an eight-day event that will test off-road riding skills and unexpected challenges that count toward a team’s score, he said. Previous contests have included kayak races, raft races and estimating the number of bamboo trees in a grove.
The contest is open only to amateur riders and can help them rise to the professional level, Thompson said. After competing, some U.S. competitors have started their own riding schools, he said.
Thompson and his teammates are likely to compete against teams from about 18 other countries, although not all the teams have been announced, according to the website.
“My goal is to be on the podium,” he said.
If successful, it would be the first time the U.S. has placed at the event since the contest began in 2008, he said.
While the route remains a mystery, Thompson expects to ride between 1,500 to 1,600 miles. He is preparing for the sand dunes of the Gobi Desert by training in Arizona and Aztec.
“It’s brutal. Riding a 500-pound motorcycle across the sand is not easy. ... You just have to be aggressive to keep the bike on top of the sand. It’s like skiing powder, you just have to commit,” he said.
Motorcycles have been a lifelong passion for Thompson, who excelled after he started riding a motorcycle when he was a preteen.
“Before I dreamt about riding a bicycle, I dreamt about riding a motorcycle” he said.
Crashing is part of the learning curve, and as a teenager, Thompson learned how to ditch his motorcycle and protect his head and neck.
“You have to know how hard you can push and still maintain control,” he said.
He’s ridden in endurance races and trial contests for many years. On trials, competitors ride obstacle courses and are docked points if their feet touch the ground, or if the bike’s engine stalls, or if riders lay the bike down or hit a course marker.
He competed less while his daughter was in school and started to get back into it more seriously in 2011, when she left for college.
Thompson, who owns a plumbing company in town, bought a BMW motorcycle in 2014 and learned about the BMW challenge through an email he received from the company in 2015.
He thought at the time he had the skills to compete and did well at a qualifying race in October 2015, he said.
“I thought, ‘I can win this thing,’ so I took what I learned and I practiced what I had trouble with,” he said.
In 2017, he entered two of the three qualifying events held in the U.S., one in Missouri and one in California. He qualified for the Mongolia trip by a single point at the event in Bixby, Missouri, and rode for fun in the California contest, where he tied for first. About 100 people in the U.S. competed in the qualifying events, he said.
“Word needs to get out that there is an opportunity for amateur riders to compete in this,” he said.
Among his teammates – David Vaughan, 29, from Florida, and Matt Kelley, 40, from Ohio, – Thompson is the oldest. He will be 56 for the Mongolia trip. To help compensate for the age difference, he is working to be as physically prepared as possible. He plans to leave for Arizona in January and ride everyday until April.
Thompson’s wife, Rebecca Thompson, is a registered nurse and a former bodybuilder who helped him train and get him into the trial running as part of his training.
“She just keeps me going to be physically fit, to eat right,” he said.
Once he returns from Mongolia, he might take a job as a coach with Rawhyde Adventures, a California-based company. He doesn’t have any plans to leave the sport.
“I’m just going to ride till I drop,” he said.