In case you have any confusion about the quality of fuel produced by large amounts of agricultural welfare payments, check out this video on what ethanol does to aluminum and rubber parts:
This is pretty enlightening, too:
And, finally, a motorcycle guy tosses in his several cents:
With all of that said, I have been only marginally careful with my “end of season” fuel. I have used Stabil since the late 80’s, anytime my bike is likely to be unridden for more than a few weeks. In my carb days, I often disassembled those damn pieces of plumbing for various reasons, mostly altitude changes. The inside of every one of my bike’s carbs were spotless. Seriously, they shined like they’d been polished. The same goes for my snowblowers and lawnmowers. They are the only carbureted motors I own now and I do an inspection at the end of every season. I do try to keep non-ethanol, non-oxygenated fuel in those motors or run them out with Stabil in the last tank before I store them.
I had my own special boiled frog moment this week and it reminded me of how easily we settle into to what we’re used to and how quickly we can compromise what we think we “like” or expect from things we use. I’ve been riding my 6-year-old ebike (a late-2016/early-2017 RadPower Rover) since my grandson trashed it badly enough to give it to me in late 2018 in pretty much barely-salvageable condition. He’d commuted in Minneapolis/St. Paul for the year he owned the bike, crashing on the icy roads often, doing little-to-no maintenance, and doing the Millennial thing of ignoring problems until they become insurmountable obstacles. (If I believed in an afterlife, I’d be looking forward to seeing how that characteristic plays out in the long run. I’m still betting on robots over humans.) Over a couple of 2018 winter months, I chased down the non-functional electronic causes, repaired and replaced a lot of obvious mechanical problems and broken parts, and got the bike back to working bit-by-bit. One aspect of getting familiar with a complicated product in that manner is that I sort of reset my expectations as each bit “came on-line.”
Since that initiation, I’ve continued to upgrade the bike and maintain it, sometimes discovering problems that weren’t obvious to a newbie early on. The battery had been particularly abused by sub-zero storage and operating-temperature operation along with crash shocks. When I first started riding the bike, I was using the throttle a lot and, as a result, my range was fairly limited. Over the last 4,000 miles, I’ve learned to use the throttle sparingly and to count on the Pedal Assist System (PAS) to determine most of the bike’s power contribution. A couple of years ago, pre-Covid, I was making 40-50 mile trips on at least a monthly basis. In the last two years, a 20-25 mile trip had become my norm for a long ride, with most days in the 10-15 mile territory. Other than putting the bike chargers on a timer, I don’t do anything special to maintain the batteries.
Last week, Mrs. Day gave her 2019 MiniST a battery "test." We were about 8 miles out when she was stung by a wasp. She’s very allergic and, I thought, freaked out, turned around and went full throttle back home and to head for our local clinic. My Rover was already down to 3 bars (from 5 on the battery status indicator) just from riding at PAS2 to that point. Mrs. Day is a minimalist and always rides in PAS3 and 3rd gear on the derailleur. To try to keep her in sight, I kept the Rover in PAS3 and pedaled hard. She was clearly running full throttle (20mph) in full motorcycle mode and she vanished into the distance. I figured she was so freaked out that she wasn’t watching the battery status, but I was wrong (again). She still had 4 bars on her battery when she got home. I had been on one bar for the previous 4 miles.
I began to suspect that might need to replace my almost-6-year-old, 5,000 mile battery.
After the big wasp run, I “re-engineered" my grandson’s discarded Mini battery bracket to mount on the Rover and, now, I have a newer far more powerful battery on the Rover. The Mini battery, when new, has about 150Wh more capacity than the Rover “dolphin” battery. Over the last few years, my range has been steadily declining and shortening my range to the point that I was pretty much starting to think anything over 25 miles was risky.
I needed to do a LOT of maintenance to the Rover and the cool weather and that battery comparison experience finally motivated me to do it. I cleaned and packed the rear hub bearings and lubed the nylon gears (1st time for that in almost 5,000 miles), cleaned and packed the front bearings, swapped the worn out rear tire for one of the old originals (the front is still ok), installed new brake pads and cleaned and roughed-up the disks, cleaned and lubed the chain and derailleur bearings, repacked the bottom bracket bearings, and generally cleaned and lubricated anything that caught my eye.
For the battery installation, I had to drill mounting holes for two of the 3 battery bracket screws (harder than it sounds because the holes also needed fairly precise countersinking to allow for the Rivnut heads on the bottom side of the battery frame. I installed 45A Quick Connectors in a very tight space between the bracket and wiring entry to make battery replacement fairly simple. Time for a test ride.
It’s probably psychosomatic, but the bike feels way more powerful. That could be real because the internal series resistance of the old battery cells has been increasing, which is the actual cause of battery depletion with age. As I mentioned, the Mini battery has about 150wh more capacity than the original Rover battery and is slightly lighter. I came home, after at least 12 miles of PAS3 operation (a total of 18 miles) and a couple of block-long full power uphill runs with 3 bars remaining (while at power). I think Cannon Falls is back in my range. Over the next several days, I took on tougher rides with more big hills and longer trips. It was obvious that the old battery was on its last legs.
It is also obvious that this is another example of how we become used to what we have and if what we have degrades slowly we won’t notice the degradation until we’re either forced to compare it to something similar or we suffer an outright failure.
I’d been on the road (as a cage passenger, sadly) sans-electronics for a few days and when I came home my email inboxes were filled with the usual crap. I don’t know how people survive with cell phones and the inability to automatically screen callers, texters, and email. I flag practically everything as “spam” and I still ended up with more than 150 pieces of crap in my email accounts after 4 days and, at most, there were a half-dozen things to which I actually want or need to pay attention. And all that is after my spam filter has automatically trashed about 50% of everything sent to me. One of the things that caught my eye was from a local motorcycling (not biker) group. One of the members linked a few pages of the jury decision in the case of a truck driver who crossed into the oncoming lane and killed 7 bikers. WebBikeWorld has some additional information on the case here. where it is noted that “One of the motorcyclists had a BAC nearly double the state’s ‘too drunk to drive’ limit.” The poster speculated that the jury found Volodymyr Zhukovskyy to be innocent because “the jury was filled with idiots. Or the prosecuting attorney was an idiot and didn’t present any of this [drug use] information to the jury. Or maybe Westfield Transport is run by the mob and they threatened to harm the family members of the jury?”
Possible. But I have a different theory.
Since the trucking company has bankrupted due to civil payments to families and survivers, I think this case is pretty much done in civil court. It could be the state will bear some liability due to the driver’s past history and the fact that he shouldn’t have had any sort of commercial license. Somebody else’s problem.
However, I wonder if the real takeaway from this decision is that the jury, like most Americans, are fed up with motorcycles. The general impression of motorcycles and motorcyclists are taken from the unnecessary and arrogant noise, regular well-publicized bad behavior, and the general impression that most motorcyclists are dangerous, sub-human, psychopathic gangbangers. A more successful tactic for the prosecution might have been to spend a lot of time bringing in experts to establish that motorcyclists are sorta (at least closely related to) humans. Hardly has worked pretty hard to create the sub-human image. You’d think/hope there would be some downsides to promoting anarchy, violence, and chaos.
About 20 years ago, I was on the MN Governor’s Motorcycle Safety Council. A friend and co-worker, who was also on the Governor’s council and was an ABATE officer (most of the council was made up of ABATE gangbanger wannabes) were walking to lunch in downtown St. Paul and talking about motorcyclists’ public image. Most of the kids I knew at the school thought motorcycling was for "old people and assholes," but my friend disagreed with that general image.
His disagreement held up until a couple of noisemakers went past us and pretty much everyone on the street said something along the lines of "crash and die assholes." Once exposed to the real world, his take on many of ABATE’s positions changed enough that he quit his club office and took a back row seat in most of ABATE’s key political positions.
So, back to my take on the jury decision: Since police are clearly terrified of bikers and their gangs, maybe the jury just decided legalizing motorcycle highway carnage is the only way to get the bangers off of the street?
For calibration purposes, we got back last night about 9PM after a long vacation return trip (long for us). Went to bed about 11pm and spent the night being noise bombed by nitwits on Hardlys (and other garbage fish) on our un-policed county road well past 2AM. Personally, I keep hoping Amazon will sell a hand-held holographic projector sometime soon. People living in those noise traffic zones could project deer, moose, bears, cops, baby carriages, etc on to the streets in front of the local idiots on blubber-mobiles and entertain themselves watching the goobers try to remember where their brake levers are. My street is decorated all summer long with morons and their unmuffled, 2 hp bikes, and 4 hp sound systems. "If wishes were fishes" there’d be a whole lot of Hardlys buried in half-rotted carp.
A couple of years ago, a friend and I were talking about the herd of anti-vaxing, science-denying goobers who were (and still are) decorating hospitals with their dying breath and crazy conspiracy theories. I’m not a big fan of humans and so my take was “That just seems like the usual price for stupidity.”
His response was, “Being stupid shouldn’t be a death sentence.”
“Dude, that is always the result of being stupid,” I said. In fact, that is exactly how evolution works, it’s the whole point of the Darwin Awards.
Likewise, after 75 years of Hardly’s convincing every white male that looking like an unreconstructed off-on-bail convict on a last binge before a couple of decades behind bars is “manly,” we have a problem. Minnesota has a “road guard” law that allows a moron with a reflective vest and a paddle to stop traffic indiscriminately for any unreasonable amount of time to allow totally useless, law-breaking, and decadent bikers to parade through any street or road in the state. You don’t think that tactic creates animosity? I’d bet it generates enough hate for motorcyclists from at least 50% of the inconvenienced population that you wouldn’t want them on a jury if you wanted that jury to convict anyone of killing a motorcyclist with any kind of weapon. Sit through two of those clown parades and you’ll be running them down yourself.
I’ve had a line of stuff available on Zazzle.com for several years and I appreciate the business many of you have sent my way through that company. I have a couple of Geezer shirts and I wear them, often, to piss off as many people as possible, whenever possible. However, as spiffy as the Zazzle stuff is, I have never thought it accurately reflected the real “Geezer attitude.” So, while I have had a good time creating this line of “irritating-wear,” I’ve kept my eyes open for something more appropriate to the intent, purpose, and style of an old guy who desperate wants to be a motorcycle hermit.
In Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, I met a kindred spirit; Jeff Ducatt. Jeff is a crazy-assed hippy artist who has colorized most of southern New Mexico with his tie-dye art, signs, and art (Believe me, without Jeff most of New Mexico would be nothing but large swathes of tan and brown with tiny spots and squiggles of blue and green.)
The shirt in the pictures is a prototype. Fortunately, every shirt Jeff makes will also be a prototype. I have to cough up some setup money for the Geezer logo, but he’s willing and planning on making every shirt an original piece of artwork (That’s bad if you want one exactly like mine, but cool if you want an original.) The text and logo on the front will be exactly like mine. The quote on the back can be any snippet of the multitudes of idiotic things I’ve said in print. For example:
If you can’t ride, I don’t care what you think [per prototype]
Go Places, Meet People, Burn Their Fuel
Motorcycles. Until you can ride, I don’t care what you think.
Some Guys Will Whine about Anything
Yes, I Am A Motorcycle Bigot
A Hermit Has No Peer Pressure
Loud pipes don’t save nearly as many lives as not being drunk and knowing how to ride.
Anything else you’d like printed on the back is fair game. Jeff prints the shirts in two passes, so while the front is going to be replicated, the back can say anything you like. And I mean “anything.” As for colors, you can certainly give Jeff some general directions, requests, and beg for your favorite colors, but the man is an artist and he definitely marches to the sound of his own drummer. For example, I wanted a black, brown, and grey tie-died shirt full of New Mexico petroglyph symbols. There is some black, a bit of grey, and probably some brown somewhere on that shirt, but . . .
If there is enough interest in the shirts to warrant paying for the setup charges, I’ll get back to any of you who write me with a more precise price tag. For now, I think it’s safe to assume the shirts will be around $30 shipped. The more I can order, they cheaper they will be. Price breaks come at quantities of a dozen.
August 2022: This is another old one, from the Geezer blog (never published) in 2008. I thought enough of the title to turn it into a t-shirt and I still wear that shirt often. I sent this one in from “the field” as I was on my way back from a Canadian trip and was a little too close to worn out.
Got up early, hit the road in the wrong direction, made a u-turn, and headed back down Vermont 17. Turns out my excursion to the inn last night was actually on my GPS plan. Once I’d started looking for a place to stop, I quit looking at the GPS, which must have frustrated the electronic biddy in the box, but I’d turned where I was supposed to turn by accident. Not knowing that, I reversed directions and headed back to 100. My GPS kept telling me to make a u-turn, but I figured it was stupid, or something. Finally, I stopped, looked at the map, realized the GPS was smarter than me, and went back up the hill. Sorry, east coasters, the mountain. Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s a little, tiny, rounded top, tree-covered mountain.
Vermont 17 is a blast. The speed limits are totally cowardly, but the road is good, the scenery is tree-lined but occasionally nice, and the ride is a good morning workout. I’ll be ready for breakfast after 150 miles of this. My GPS plan kept me off of main roads and on fun backroads all the way through Vermont into New York. I am amazed at how little traffic and how few houses there are in this well developed part of the country. I went through a town called Moriah that was celebrating its 200th birthday. Amazing, 200 years and they still haven’t found the time to build a restaurant. Makes me feel much better about coming from a younger part of the country. We may be new at this business of civilization, but we’re better at it. We don’t talk funny, either.
I stumbled on a convenience store/restaurant/campground on New York country road 84. I was entertained with an incomprehensible “upstate New York” dialect that combined with my single unplugged ear turned ordering breakfast into a Laurel and Hardy routine. I could have sworn he was saying ‘have some home fries,” but he was saying “don’t have home fries.” Turned out, his wife is the official cook, but she was occupied with getting the kids sorted out. He did an ok job with the sausage (“I like sausage.”), but the pancakes were burned and a bit flat (“I don’t like pancakes, you should have ordered an omelet.”). Later, he tried to convince me that I needed ice cream to go with my breakfast, since it was a balmy 45F outside that morning. I think we entertained each other enough, so I am on the road again.
New York speed limits are some kind of testament to the conservative nature of old America. What New York considers to be a 25mph corner, Colorado would label 45mpg. New York 35mph corners wouldn’t be worth the trouble to label or even put up a turn sign in the west. I kept seeing twisty corner signs and being disappointed with gradual curves hardly worth pushing on the bars. I guess that goes with calling 2k bumps “mountains.”
I kept going through New York the coward’s way, I90. After slogging my way through zillions of dots on the map jokingly called “towns” with the usual 4 miles of 30mph speed limits and no buildings or residents in sight, I gave up on “seeing New York” and decided to blow through every thing from Rochester west. I missed many valuable history lessons, I’m sure, but at least I wasn’t bored. New York freeway drivers are challenging, even if the freeway is a freeway (except for the $11 toll I paid to be on the US taxpayer subsidized interstate system). I whipped though most of the tiny bit of Pennsylvania the same way. I’d lost interest.
I was aimed for the Cleveland home of an old friend and I made it to their general territory about 8PM . I’ll be there for a day or two. I have a vicious plan for the last couple of days of this tour. Stay tuned.
August 2022: Another old one that didn’t find its way into this blog. This is a 2008 Geezer column that was inspired by the zillionth time someone asked me about a “beginner’s bike.” I don’t like the question much because it implies a small motorcycle that will quickly be replaced by a larger, faster, less competent bike that will, likely, rarely be ridden.
One of the common things about being an MSF instructor is getting asked, “What’s a good beginner’s bike?” This is a question that every experienced rider has attempted to answer dozens of times.
Kids (people younger than 30) ask straight-forward questions, expecting straight-forward answers. When a kid asks me this bike question, I count off a list of mid-sized, practical motorcycles that I’d recommend for a beginner with a reasonable expectation that they will look into and consider some of the bikes on my list.
All questions asked by “adults” (people older than 30) are a double-edged, convoluted, culturally-loaded, context-sensitive questions. When I was a kid, you started riding a motorcycle when you were a kid. I didn’t know anyone, in 1965, who decided to be a motorcyclist when he or she was approaching retirement age. Now that the English language has lost all sense of proportion, being “young enough” to take on a physical skill can apply to anyone. After all, we pretend that 50 is “middle aged,” owing $200,000 to the bank is “home ownership,” our prisons are part of a “corrections and rehabilitation” system, and some folks even think being called “conservative” is a complement. When an “older person” (people over 50) asks the bike question, I give them my usual answer, but I rarely expect them to consider the bikes I recommend. Old folks usually don’t want answers to their questions, they want “affirmation.”
In the current Baby Boomers in Decline climate, my generation is desperately seeking to restore a deluded self-image. They want to move insanely fast from being rank beginners to “experienced” and respected riders. What they are hoping for is knowledge and skill “transference,” not training. In fact, older people starting a new physical or mental activity are at a disadvantage due to physical limitations and mental “stiffness.” With that in mind, my small light beginner bike recommendations might be toned down to mopeds and scooters for adult newbies, but I know that’s not what they want to hear. They see themselves in a completely illogical light and expect the rest of us to play along with their fantasy.
I’ll use, for example, a guy (who we will call AC, as in “Advertising Consultant”) who sent his wife to a Minnesota Basic Rider Course a few years back. Apparently, this dude is not from Minnesota because he was astounded and irritated at the fact that basic riding classes are held rain-or-shine; and it rained. She was lucky it didn’t snow. In an attempt to impress me with his insight as a motorcyclist, AC bragged that he was the new owner of an “Anniversary Edition of the Heritage Soft Tail Classic” and had passed down his old Harley Sportster to his wife. I think he might as well toss her a hand grenade with the pin pulled. A 1200cc (even considering the Sportster’s modest 50hp or the 883’s timid 43hp), 500+ pound motorcycle is not a beginner’s bike. The only beginner quality you could assign to the Sportster is the 29″ seat height. Throw in the “stable” cruiser steering and you have a bike that will be easy to roll into traffic. Once she gets on the road, making emergency maneuvers is a different matter. AC and his wife see themselves as something other than beginners and their choice in motorcycles reflects that delusion.
This is typical of the kind of starter bike affirmation that old beginners want. Motorcycle Consumer News published a letter from a 60-year-old new rider who thought his MSF training “250cc bikes were ridiculously small.” After struggling through the course, he had his “big Harley” delivered to his home because he knew he “wasn’t prepared to take it into traffic.” He terrorized his neighborhood for three weeks until he finally “hit 40mph in second gear.” After three months of additional self-instruction, reading, and watching videos, he had convinced himself that he could “put the bike anywhere [he] wanted.” I’d be surprised if he could pass a basic skills test on his big Harley. Of course, if that old beginner had the wisdom to to start off with a beginner’s bike (instead of a motorcycle that many experienced riders would avoid), he might have had a positive and effective learning experience.
When you are 60 years old and are desperately looking for evidence that you’re still a virile, active male, considering a real beginner’s bike is a hard sell. A typical overweight American adult looks comical on, or in, anything short of a farm implement. (I’m feeling your pain. “Friends” say I look like an overstuffed, over-aged sausage on my bike and in my Roadcrafter.) Regardless, an identity crisis and peer pressure are poor justifications for buying exactly the wrong beginning motorcycle.
When I was a kid, 55-185cc bikes were as common as “custom” Harley’s are today. Adults often rode Honda Trail 90s around town. A 305 was big enough to take on two-up long rides across the country and a 650cc bike was considered a large and powerful motorcycle. While the technology of those motorcycles was miles below all but the worst bike available today, the power and weight of the typical mid-sized bike was about right for a beginner motorcycle.
While that MSF-deriding 60-year-old newbie may think that a 250cc motorcycle is “ridiculously small,” there are a passel of 250cc bikes that are more than capable of typical freeway speeds (and legal) and more than equal to beginning rider skills and needs. Several of the 125cc bikes used in the Minnesota program are more motorcycle than most of the new riders can handle. I, personally, often ride my 250cc Kawasaki Super Sherpa on the freeway and around town and it regularly hauls my 210 pounds and extra gear quickly and comfortably. I know a few experienced riders who own 400cc and smaller bikes and ride them long and often.
If you want my advice on a beginning bike, feel free to ask. If you want confirmation that your hippo-bike was a brilliant choice, ask someone else. I think beginners belong on beginner bikes, regardless of age.
Originally published in Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly magazine, July ,2008 Issue #104
July 2022: Turns out, this might have been the first article I wrote for MMM in late 1997, published in issue #13. If that’s true, I don’t know what happened to the letter that I intended to create to incite all sorts of hostile responses to prove MMM’s readership, since it had to have been published before this article.
Every year, since I moved out of Colorado, my expedition to the Steamboat Springs Vintage Motorcycle Week gets a little tougher. Last year, I flew to Denver, borrowed a friend’s Honda Hawk, and nearly missed my flight home when my luggage fell off of the Hawk in the middle of traffic on I-70, spreading my belongings and plane ticket all over Colorado. This year, I decided to ride the whole 2,400 miles. Next year, I may try walking.
My bike is a ’92 Yamaha TDM, which is a weird cross between a crotch rocket and a dirt bike. It’s probably the closest thing Japan will ever come to importing a Paris-Dakar style bike to the US. Out of some weird allegiance to my dirt biking past, I put dual-purpose tires on the bike this past winter. Because of that strange heritage and hardware, I actually hoped to do some real cross-country touring this trip. Some people do not get wiser as they get older.
Because I had a few days of vacation to burn up, I left for Denver early Sunday morning, September 7th. Steamboat’s Vintage Motorcycle Week was September 10 to the 14th. The start of my planned route was diagonally across Minnesota, via highways 169 and 60, to Sioux City. Early in the day I passed the Mennonite settlement of Mountain Lake, MN, where there is a “phone museum” and other exciting attractions. I’d always thought of Mennonites as hardworking, honest types, but this place had to be their equivalent of a Florida swamp real estate scam. There is no no mountain and no lake, as far as I could see, anywhere near Mountain Lake. I have a new sort of respect for Mennonites.
I stopped in Heron Lake for my first fuel stop. I discovered, by drenching my bike and feet in gas, that the fuel shutoff was defective. With the helmet and ear plugs in place, I nearly dumped two gallons of gas on the ground before I noticed I was creating a Super Fund site. From here out, I did my trip documentation after filling the tank. It didn’t surprise the lady at the counter though. She said, “that side don’t register, this side does,” when I told her about the screwed up pump. I kept an eye on the mirror, as I left town, half hoping for a mushroom cloud to compensate me for the wasted fuel.
Just south of Worthington, I tailed a yuppie in a Range Rover who showed no fear of Iowa’s CHP. He got me through that mind-numbing state in record time. I stopped at an interstate rest stop in Iowa where an old lady with a highway department uniform told me “I used to be in the bidnez worl’, that’s why I’m workin’ here.” I thought she meant the business world ruined her life, but she was just working for the exercise. Go figure. Just south of Sioux City, I hooked up to highway 77 and to some even less regularly maintained roads.
I used to live in north eastern Nebraska and I mistakenly thought that gave me some ability to pick my way across the state. I ended up on a newly graveled road, about 10 miles north of North Bend, that was terminated by a large crane and a missing section of road. When I stopped to look at the construction damage, my wheels sunk past the rims. My next short cut took me though about 5 miles of really deep gravel and sand. By the time I escaped that desert riding experience, my front fender had a 3″ hole pecked into the back side and my chain picked up about an inch of slack.
After relocating asphalt, I picked up 30 at North Bend and headed west. I failed the “will to live” test and stopped for a hamburger in Columbus, NE (Actually, I figured that ought to be the safest place in the US for a beef-eater, after that city’s most recent 15 minutes of fame.) Making up for lost time, I stuck with 30 to Grand Island and jumped to I-80. By the time I got to Gothenburg, NE; 630 miles from home, I was wiped out. I stayed in a truckers’ motel that night and set the alarm for a 5:00AM takeoff.
Poor road maintenance almost bit me in the butt this morning. I had a low rear tire and thought I’d developed an oil leak when I stopped in Julesburg, CO. The tire was low, but OK. I washed the engine and discovered the oil leak was just chain lube that was heating up and dripping off of the engine cases. I promised my self I would watch my oil level and temp gauge carefully for the rest of that leg of the trip, just in case. I managed to hold to that promise all the way to Denver, about 120 miles. Later in the trip, my failure to extend this pledge to the whole journey would haunt me.
By noon Monday, 372 miles later, I was in Denver. You can’t see the mountains until you are about 55 miles from the city. Mountain cloud cover suddenly becomes mountains and the air seems cooler and fresher. The last 50 miles into Denver seem to go quickly and the horizon’s view is terrific.
When I stopped, my butt hurt. My kidneys were falling out in chunks. My bike needed about 10 hours of serious maintenance. Being the high tech, serious maintenance guy I am, I lubed and re-tensioned the chain, put duct tape over the hole in the fender, washed the bike, checked for loose hardware, washed my laundry, and hung out in a bar until Wednesday morning.
Six of us left my friend’s home for Steamboat Wednesday at about 8:30AM. We were probably the weirdest collection of motorcycles on the highway that morning: a Yamaha TDM (mine), two Honda new Magnas, a ’78 Kawasaki Scepter, and an ’83 Yamaha Venture. After a few miles, we strung out across the highway in a several mile long “touring pattern.”
We intended to get to Steamboat by noon so we could catch a little of the dirt track speedway racing in Hayden that afternoon. We’ve made that plan five years in a row. Like the other years, this year we didn’t get to Steamboat until 1:30PM, our trip schedule was sabotaged by several coffee, fuel, and meal beaks. Some of the group, including me, thought the lodge’s hot tub looked more interesting than another 100 miles on the bikes. Those who stayed watched the clouds cruise the mountain tops and drank beer. Those who left got to Hayden just as the last of the racers were leaving and got caught in a short rain storm on the way back. I try to make each of my millions of mistakes only once.
The next day, I went to town by myself because none of my group was all that hip on the trials event. This is the sport with which I ended my 15 year off-road competition career. In fact, the years defined as the end of “vintage” were state-of-the-art just before I quit trying to luck into a trophy. Every once in a while, Steamboat makes me reconsider my constant fear of knee injuries and I think about buying a Bultaco Sherpa T or a Yamaha TY and doing a little cherry-picking. Steamboat’s vintage traps are almost all easy enough that a good rider could zero out on a street bike.
This is also the day where the “geezers on Beemers” sub-title for Steamboat really becomes appropriate. There seem to be an incredible number of retired executives, military officers, and other non-working class types doing the vintage-bike gypsy tour. They live in 40’ luxury campers and tow bike-trailer/work-shops that make my garage look puny and unequipped. A few of them even have trophy wives in tow. Since most of these guys are pretty near my age and I don’t have any of that stuff, I try not to make too many comparisons or I’ll get discouraged.
I really get a kick out of seeing how many ancient bikes have been modified for trials. I didn’t even know BSA or Greeves made a 125 or that anyone was riding trials pre-WWII before my first trip to Steamboat. This is like a dirty, live-action museum with some dirty, active museum caretakers riding the exhibits. It rained a little about 10:00AM, just enough to send me back to the bike for my jacket. As soon as I had two arms full of stuff to carry, the weather got hot and I spent the rest of the morning sweating and grinding dirt into all of my body parts. I don’t know who won, probably some geezer with a collection of Beemers and a Yamaha TY in like-new condition.
Friday is vintage motocross day. Another of my favorite events. Again, I was up and out before the rest of the group. I spent the early morning walking through the pits, taking pictures, listening to experts talk about the history of various, long-dead motorcycle manufacturers. It’s still hard for me to reconcile Rickman, Bultaco, Ossa, Norton, BSA, and the rest of the deceased as being not only dead, but long dead. Seeing these bikes back in their prime, sometimes much better than prime, is a lot of retrospective fun.
Speaking of deadends, three other TDM’ers showed up for Steamboat. We belong to an Internet maillist for our bike and some of us have been writing each other for a couple of years without ever putting faces to names. I recognized a couple of the guys by their bikes. Yamaha orphaned the TDM after importing it to the U.S. for two years (1992-93). Most of us have done a lot of little things to personalize our bikes and it was fun getting to see the mods I’d been reading about. Everyone got a good laugh of the state of my front fender and the general condition of my bike compared to those whose owners, intelligently, avoid dirt roads. We experienced our “fifteen minutes of fame” when another biker recognized us as “those guys who met on the Internet.” We took pictures, talked for a couple hours, and headed in four directions for the rest of the weekend.
The actual races are almost anticlimactic. It’s always a kick watching Dick Mann win. He was a Baja hero of mine when I was a kid. He’s still heroic at sixty-something. Dave Lindeman, a Denver fireman, put on a good show in the Open Twin Expert class, dueling and beating Rick Doughty’s zillion dollar Rickman/BSA on a cobbled up Yamaha XL650.
But lots of the actual races are pretty boring. There are wads of timid, over-forty wannabes who barely turn their bikes on in the straights and come to a lethargic near-stop at every corner. The race to the first turn is often more humorous than exciting. Everyone is so concerned with avoiding contact and a crash-and-burn that they barely make it to the turn, let alone work for a decent position on the other side. In the bulk of the races, there is rarely more than two half-decent racers. The other two dozen geriatric cases are nothing more than track obstacles when the fast guys start lapping them. The upside, for me, is that I regularly get pumped about buying an Elsinore and stealing a trophy. The downside is after making a couple of deep knee squats, I remember why the majority of the riders are going so slow. Getting old is hell. The body can’t even remember how to do what the brain told it to do.
Fairly late in the afternoon, the races are over. We cruise the streets of Steamboat, looking at bikes we will never own. This really is a BMW convention. I doubt there is a bike BMW ever made that isn’t represented here. Seems like there are more Harleys this year, too. Maybe that’s why the local paper doesn’t have a single word about the events. In years past, I could read about what I’d seen the previous day in the local rag. Not this year. There must be several thousand bikers in town and the only mention of motorcycles was when a local biker got smacked by local cager. It’s not like this is a pack of Outlaws, tearing up the bars and defiling local women. A pair of women, climbing out of a Jeep Cherokee on their way to lunch, asked one of my buddies if we were a “biker gang.” He told them, “Yeah, after our nap, we’re gonna take this town apart!” That’s about the speed of everyone at Steamboat. Sedate. Old. Mostly intent on finding a good restaurant and a decent hotel. I guess we still found a way to scare them.
I didn’t cruise much Friday night. We really did find a great place to stay and I headed back, well before dark, to sit in the hot tub and watch the clouds and the mountains flare and fade in a crimson tinted sundown lightshow. Beer, a good book, a hot tub, and tired, old aching joints really go well together. If a local female stripped herself and jumped into my hot tub, I might have defiled her but I’d have more likely been pissed that she got my book wet. I bought my beer at the Clark Store, so I didn’t even have a chance to think about trashing a bar. I’m a pretty poor excuse for a biker, I guess.
Saturday is vintage road racing and the first opportunity we have to look at the concourse. We buy pit passes, which are $20, and head for the pits. I’m not much of a connoisseur of street bikes. In fact, I never paid any attention to street bikes at all until I’d been riding and racing for almost 15 years. I still don’t really know one cruiser or crotch-rocket from another. I don’t much care about cars either. But there are some really neat, loud noises coming from the pits and one of my friends has a great time describing all the bikes to me. I lecture on the dirt bike days, he does the street day.
About two hours into Saturday, I got bored. This is a terrible thing for a “reporter” to admit, but I’d have rather been riding than watching. When I fell asleep and lost track of where the rest of my group had gone, I decided it was time for me to hit the road. I’d planned on leaving that day, anyway, and it seemed like the time to do it. I wandered around the course for another hour, trying to find everyone, with no luck. I stuck a note on a friend’s seat and started getting ready for the long ride back to Minnesota.
Sunday is the modern road race. I have been going to Steamboat for 6 years and I’ve never stayed for the modern road race. My justification for leaving early is that I can watch modern crotch rocketing any weekend during the summer and I never do. Why blow a good day of riding watching someone else have a good day of riding? Like all the years past, I left on Saturday and missed the really fast guys. They’d just discourage me, anyway.
The real reason I wanted to leave early was that I wanted the extra riding time so I could go back the long way, through Wyoming and South Dakota. I retraced my trip into Steamboat back over Rabbit Ears Pass. About 30 miles east of Steamboat, I turned north on Colorado 14. This is one of the prettiest roads I’ve traveled in Colorado. It’s a neat combination of mountain plains and ranch land. The road isn’t particularly twisty, but it does curve its way through a beautiful section of the Rockies. The road is well maintained and completely unoccupied by cage or cop. I made good time to Walden, where I picked up 127 and continued north to Laramie, WY.
The scenery doesn’t stop when you leave Colorado. Good roads and great views all the way to Laramie, where I copped out and took the freeway (I80). After 300 miles of awesome two lanes, I80 was a complete bummer. But I stuck to it to Cheyenne, where I swapped freeways and took I25 north to Wheatland. I spent the night in Wheatland, at another truck stop. Leaving Steamboat early allowed me to knock off 250 unproductive (destination-wise) miles before I seriously head for home.
The actual route I took from Wheatland to Deadwood is up for discussion. I know I stayed on I25 for a few more miles to Wyoming 160. I know I swapped off of 160 to 270, because I had breakfast in Lusk, WY. I’m not sure I stuck with 270 all the way to Lusk, though. A good portion of that trip was on dirt roads. I mostly used the sun as a compass and tried to keep going north at every intersection. I popped out of the last section of dirt road on highway 85, just a few miles south of Lusk. I had been on reserve for about 30 miles when I filled up in Lusk. I’d like to tell you 270 to Lusk is a terrific road, well worth traveling, because it is. I’d like to tell you that I strongly recommend this route for the scenery and adventure, because I really enjoyed that aspect of the trip. The fact is, this is a route that requires a great suspension. The road (the real road, not the dirt road) is heavily traveled by farm equipment and is pretty rough. The TDM ate it up, but a crotch rocket or cruiser would deliver a severe pounding. You decide.
Leaving Lusk, I forgot to reinsert my ear plugs. Good thing. I heard several nasty noises and pulled over for a maintenance stop. You’ll probably notice that I haven’t mentioned maintenance since just before I pulled into Denver. I hadn’t done much since then. Another brain fart. The older you get, the more of them you’ll have. I discovered the front fender had a new hole, this one on the front, from poor tire-to-fender clearance and flung gravel. I pealed away pieces that were touching the tire and “fixed” that problem. I also discovered my chain was really wearing out fast, probably due to the offroad portions of the trip. It was actually hanging up at spots as they passed over the countershaft sprocket. I bought a can of WD40 and thoroughly cleaned the chain. I lubricated the chain and made some more promises to myself regarding maintenance.
The next section of the trip was sort of frightening, considering the condition of my bike. There is next to nothing between Lusk and Deadwood, 140 miles of nothing. There are some towns listed on the map, but they are barely bumps in the road. Some of them aren’t even that. But I took this route because I was bored with the trip across Nebraska and Iowa, so I figured it was worth continuing. Not that I had much of a choice.
Wyoming is a great state. I suppose every state has a motto. Nebraska blabs about some mystical “good life” that no visitor or resident has seen any sign of. Iowa yaks about “liberties” and “rights” and parks a cop on every road to make sure no one ever even dreams about freedom. Colorado’s “nothing without providence” is totally meaningless. But Wyoming is the “big country” and you don’t have to look far to find real cowboys just like the one on their license plate. Some of those cowboys drive farm trucks on highway 85. I only saw four vehicles on the road between Lusk and the South Dakota boarder. All of them were doing 90+ mph and they all waved when they went by me. I would have stayed with them, but I wanted to live through this section of the trip with chain intact. There is nothing, in any other part of this country, like the concept of “safe and reasonable” as a speed limit. It almost makes me feel like an American. Out there, Mamma Government is in short supply and nobody misses her.
The weather totally cooperated. From the beginning of this day until I hit the plains, just west of Wall, SD, the sky was clear, the temperature was in the low 70’s, and the wind was nonexistent. South Dakota’s Black Hills are a national treasure. South of Deadwood, 85 winds through the hills like the best Rocky Mountain highway. There are miles of twisty, narrow highway that parallels beautiful streams and cuts through wooded valleys and farm land. I could take a summer long vacation, traveling the roads of the Black Hills, and never grow even a little tired of it.
I made it to Deadwood in one piece. Stopped for gas, lubed the chain, washed the windshield, checked the tires, and thoroughly inspected the bike. Then I walked to the Deadwood Historical Society museum and wasted an hour looking at the coolest of western history. There are Harleys all over Deadwood. It’s only a few miles from Sturgis, which must account for all the heavy iron.
I still hadn’t eaten when I left Deadwood. I was making, and having, such good time that I couldn’t convince myself to waste any of the day in a restaurant. Slightly north of Deadwood, I struck interstate and there I stayed until Minnesota. Once you pass Wall, the home of Wall Drug, there isn’t much to say about South Dakota. Every diddly-butt town has some kind of tourist trap. None of them are worth stopping for. It’s not just that there’s nothing to see in those towns, there’s nothing to see in that part of South Dakota. It’s just miles and miles of flat, boring plains. Most of the state’s rest stops are “out of order,” probably to force travelers to waste time and money in the state’s tourist traps. I stopped for gas at Wall, Chamberlain, and Sioux Falls. There isn’t much more to say about the space between any of those cities.
The wind was killer, once I passed Wall. It was 50+mph and I felt like I was making the world’s longest right turn. 420 miles of right turn. I wanted to make Sioux Falls by nightfall, but I was forced to take a stretch break every 50 miles. My arms, back, and butt were going numb and the road never seemed to end. I swear that some of the mileage signs increased the distance to Sioux Falls as I drove east.
The only break in the monotony comes a few miles before Chamberlain, SD. The Missouri River valley almost instantly changes the scenery. It takes you from flat, barren plains to green rolling hills in only a few miles. The river is awesome, especially after 200 miles of desolation. It’s as wide as a lake and as blue as an ocean. Unfortunately, 10 miles east of Chamberlain, I’m back in a windy desert. That evening, 650 miles from where I left that morning, I pulled into Sioux Falls and headed for a Super 8.
The next morning, I tried to sight-see in Sioux Falls but failed to find any interesting sights. I left town at about nine and headed for home. I repeated the original leg of the trip by exiting I90 at Worthington and take 60 to 169, through Mankato, and on to the Twin Cities.
I got home a little after noon. I popped the cap on a beer, filled up the hot tub, and fell asleep dreaming about high mountain passes, unlimited speed limits in Wyoming, and gorgeous snaky roads in the Black Hills. I woke up, sweating, later that night when the dream turned to wind blasted, straight and boring South Dakota interstate dotted with hundreds of Iowa Highway Patrol cars.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been pretty much stuck on 2-pedaling wheels. My myasthenia gravis and the double-vision symptom are back with a vengeance and I don’t drive more than a few miles on good days and the motorcycle is likely parked until I sell it. Odds are against me that, this time, drugs will suppress my hyperactive immune system and I’ll get my life back. This Sunday, my wife got bored and decided we need to go for a drive somewhere we haven’t been for a long time; Taylor’s Falls, MN; about 75 miles north of our house. That’s a long drive for her and I wouldn’t be much help behind the wheel after the first 40-50 miles, when the double-vision kicks in for the rest of the day.
We got up and out early, mostly to take advantage of my eyesight working, usually, for a couple of hours in the morning. After a stop for breakfast, we made it through Stillwater before that tourist town’s crush began and arrived at the Franconia Sculpture Park before their volunteers even managed to put up a donation bucket. It has been at least 8 years since we visited this terrific multi-acre outdoor gallery and we almost had the place to ourselves until about 11AM. From there, we went to downtown Taylor’s Falls, found a convenient place to park, and walked to the Interstate Glacial Park for a hike along the cliffs of the St. Croix River. Around 1PM, we moved the car to a favorite local drive-in and had lunch. So far, so terrific.
After lunch, traffic was really starting to build up and going back the way we came through town was going to be a long, slow, slog while Minnesotans and other tourists struggled to crawl through the one light in town going either across the river to Wisconsin or back southwest toward the Cities. So, we went another way and wandered through the city to where we could jump the line and head back the way we came, right at the intersection of the light.
About 5 miles down the road toward Stillwater on MN95, in the oncoming northbound lane, were at least 100 blubbering, unburnt fuel-spewing goobers on an assortment of motorcycles heading for the unsuspecting, already overloaded town of Taylors Falls. The intersection of US8 and MN95 (where that one light lives) was already piled up a half-mile or more north on MNwith rural goobers, tourists, bikers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.
When that gaggle of bikers lands at that intersection, it’s save to assume that one of the idiots will be a Minnesota “Road Guard.” The 2012 Guard idiocy is one of the dumbest, most short-sighted, most anti-motorcyclist bills our half-witted legislature has ever created. "Minnesota State Statute 169.06, subdivision 4(f) authorizes motorcycle road guard certificate holders to stop and control traffic for motorcycle group riders. Drivers of vehicles stopped by a flagger may only proceed if instructed by a flagger or police officer." All it takes is $30 and "three hours [of remedial training including] . . . classroom time and practical training at a live intersection near the training site" and you can pretend to be an important asshole stopping all sorts of legitimate traffic to allow a parade of idiots on motorcycles to spew fumes and fuel, to disturb the peace with all sorts of blatantly illegal noises, and demonstrate the usual biker incompetence for as long as it takes for the idiots to waddle indecisively through an intersection.
When those morons in their rolling bowling pin formation landed in Taylors Falls, I’d bet the local psychic temperature went up at least 50oF. The town was already full, so if they stopped anywhere it would be the middle of Bench Street where they could imagine themselves to be the center of adulation while pretty much everyone in town and in any other kid of vehicle fumed and plotted against the next solo motorcyclists they found on the open road. We were glad to be out of town heading in the opposite direction and felt lucky to have avoided the bulk of the incoming disaster. We won’t be going back to Taylors Falls on a weekend anytime soon.
One of the downsides of being a motorcyclist is that when people find out that I ride a motorcycle they immediately start stereotyping me. My 12 year relationship with Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly started out when I met a young couple at a music magazine party, who my daughter had introduced to me as “people who ride motorcycles.” They were youngish, relative to me, dressed in black with a fair amount of leather in their ensembles, and pretty much fit in with the hipsters who were attending the party; although they had taken over a couch a corner of the house out of the line of party traffic. I have no clue how I was dressed. I’d driven my daughter, her year-old son, and my wife to the party, so I could have been wearing the “business attire” crap required for my corporate job or I could have been outfitted in my usual away-from-work worn jeans, long sleeve tee-shirt, and high-tops “fashion statement.”
I don’t like parties much, so I was mostly looking for a conversation near the door so I could pretend to be polite, say “hi” and “nice to meet you” and slip out the exit and take a long walk around the neighborhood until my family was ready or willing to let me get the hell out of there. Crowds of more than three people make me nervous and there must have been fifty people crammed into that house. I was not looking to strike up a friendship or even a long conversation. I got the feeling they were hoping our introduction wouldn’t waste a lot of time, either. Troy Johnson and Erin Hartman were making similar assumptions about me that I made about them. When they politely asked, “What do you ride” in response to my daughter’s introduction of me as a “biker, too” they were clearly surprised when I replied “an 850 Yamaha TDM.” To them, I was an old guy and they had made the logical assumption that I would be pirating along on some sort of Hardly or a Hardly look-alike. Likewise, I had made similar assumptions about them.
After we reassembled our interior stereotypes, we actually had a conversation that resulted in Troy’s complaining that nobody who read the magazine ever bothered to write in with either agreement or complete disgust about anything published in the magazine. I offered to write an article that I guaranteed would create response. They offered to publish it for a nominal fee if it was any good. That article ended with “We’re, on average, a freakin’ nation of posers and squids and we aren’t worth the effort it takes to run an EPA test.” The next few weeks, Troy and Erin fielded more letters to the editor than they had received “in the history of the magazine.” I’ve been a columnist for MMM since that first brief October 1999 shot across the bow of what passes for motorcycle journalism and community.
The point, of course, is that even motorcyclists assume the worst about people who ride motorcycles. And, usually, they are right. Be honest. You are hanging out at a restaurant and this guy rides up with similar looking buddies, puts a kickstand down, and waddles into the building. What are you thinking? I know I’m going to wrap up my meal and get the hell out before one of those characters sights in on my helmet and Aerostich gear and decides to have a conversation with me. If I’m lucky, they haven’t kicked over my WR or V-Strom in a little-boy “rice burner” exhibition of stupidity and bullshit fake patriotism and I can get the hell out of there without any sort of incident. For all I know these guys are all lawyers and doctors dressing up as bad boys, but I’m not looking for poser friends, ever, and there is nothing about any of the possibilities that is worth testing the waters.
When I showed this guy’s picture to my wife, she said the guy who did the welding for a theme park project she designed 20-some years ago looked just like him. I looked at the early assembly of that stuff and mentioned to the project manager that they might want to hire an independent welding inspector before the frames were covered up with fiberglass artwork. I wouldn’t trust my kids to something that guy had welded. I’ve known a few great welders and they were all as personally meticulous as they were professionally picky. If it looks like a slob, acts like a slob, and sounds like a slob, I’d assume it is a slob in all areas of life. Her “welder” was just another shop guy who’d fooled some ignorant management moron into believing he could weld “good enough.”
On the other hand, I know several brilliant musicians, a few genius college professors (physics, sociology, electrical and mechanical engineering, philosophy, music, and neurology PhD’s and MS’s), more than a few technicians and engineers (mechanical, alternative energy, and electrical engineering), and a couple lawyers who have all of the above biker’s physical and sartorial attributes except for the excess lard (although I know a brilliant Colorado lawyer who could wrap himself in that biker’s “gear” without much discomfort). The problem with stereotypes is that they don’t allow you to pick out the one-in-some-large-number exceptions. The reason we naturally create stereotypes (“profiles”) is because they are more often than not accurate. They save us time, energy, and create some safe margin of distance from people who are often dangerous or useless.
One of my favorite recreation-reading authors, Minnesota-ex-patriot John (Camp) Sandford, is pretty typical in his “civilian” outlook on motorcyclists. In his newest book, Mad River, Sandford has one of his state cop main characters’, Lucas Davenport, thinking about where you look to find criminals: “Davenport had spent the best part of two years building a database of people in Minnesota who . . . knew a lot of bad people. He had a theory that every town of any size would have bars, restaurants, biker shops, what he called ‘nodes’ that would attract the local assholes.”In a list of three places in all of society where you might find the worst criminals “biker shops” makes the grade. Something for all of us to be proud of? Pound your chest and whine “that’s not fair, we’re not all assholes” as much as you like, but you know Sandford is just writing what everyone is thinking. By “everyone,” I’m including us, even we think most bikers are assholes.
In 2007, I made what is going to be my one-and-only trip to Alaska by motorcycle. Lots of things went wrong with that trip, mostly because I was burned out, discouraged, frustrated, and clueless about what to do next. My employer, the late-not-particularly-great McNally Smith College of Music (previously the very great Musictech College) had fired my boss, Scott Jarrett, very likely the best thing that ever happened to that school outside of the Director, Michael McKern, who hired both Scott and me and the cream of the school’s technology group. Scott is one of the closest, best friends I’ve ever had. And when he was knifed in the back by a pack of low-life, lucky-beyond-belief academic goobers and the two eponymous nitwits who were doing their best to turn their unearned golden goose into a pile of ashes I was torn between quitting the best job I’d ever had and going my own way or keeping the job and going my own way inside their totally chaotic “organization.” I’d planned the Alaska trip as part of my usual “system” of isolating myself to figure out hard stuff.
As I explained in an earlier essay, my wife had “plans” for how my solo trip would be curated by a friend of hers who was also trying to organize a ride to Alaska. He’d been there several times before, if I remember right, and had an agenda. His agenda and mine had almost nothing in common.
After a series of clusterfucks, incredibly long days that often wore on for more than 1,000 miles, and a decision that I didn’t make that resulted in me being somewhere I didn’t want to be and a crash that prevented me from going where I wanted to go later, I ended up crossing the Copper River by ferry out of Dawson City and riding to the Top of the World border crossing without a US passport (another long story). As an Alaska tourist site explains it, “The length of the Top of the World Highway is 175 miles/281 km and connects Dawson City in the Yukon to the Alaska Highway at the Tetlin Junction. The Highway is only open from mid-May to mid-October, however, it has been known to close earlier due to snow. Many travelers use the Top of the World Highway when driving between Fairbanks, Alaska and Dawson City, Yukon, which is 398 miles/640 km. The distance from Tok Alaska to Dawson City is 187 miles and the distance from Dawson City to Chicken, Alaska is 106 miles/171 km."
The Poker Creek Port of Entry was open when we arrived there on June 10th, but G.W. Bush had changed the rules for Canadian-US travel shortly before my planned departure time and I’d decided to risk it hoping my expedited passport would get to me before I needed it. Worst case, the US wouldn’t let me back in and I’d have to settle for being Canadian. I could live with that. Hell, at the time I was considering taking a teaching job at the Banff School of Fine Arts in the desperate hope of moving to Canada before Bush trashed what was left of the country and economy. So, the threat of not being able to “go home” was pretty weak. In the picture (above) you can see Michael doing the paperwork to cross from Canada to Alaska. When I rolled up to the window, the Border Patrol guy pretty much told me to go back to Canada.
I backed up to where you see me in that picture, hauled out a camp chair, my eBook, and a canteen and granola and proceeded to get set to stay awhile. Mike, now on the other side of the border was perplexed. Worst case, I’d ride back to Dawson, find a campsite (all the hotels were booked for the Dawson City Music Festival), and worry about my next move when I felt better. I didn’t have to wait that long. There wasn’t a lot of traffic through that remote crossing and the border guy was curious enough to walk over and talk to me. When he realized I was there for a while, he started asking questions about my passport, where I lived, where I worked, and what the hell I was doing in his place blocking non-existent traffic? While we were talking, a couple of guys came through the border, twice, heading toward Canada and coming back an hour or so later. One of the guys had driven his Hardly off of a cliff and called a buddy to bring his truck and trailer to carry back the remains. I have no idea how they managed to rescue that half-ton hippobike.
So, while we watched the two guys and their load slide down the hill toward Chicken, AK, we continued to talk about my “predicament,” which was more of a problem, I guess, for him than me. At that moment, I hurt badly enough that I would have settled for a nice hole with some dirt tossed over me. My list, discovered several days later when I finally found a doc in Valdez, included several broken ribs, a separated shoulder, and a fractured index-finger metacarpal on my right hand. Pain focuses you mind, though. The stress from my situation was dramatically lower than it had been for the last year or so and I was beginning to put a lot of things in perspective. “Finally,” as Mrs. Day would say.
Growing bored with our stalemate, the border guy got more aggressive/inquisitive in his questions. His last question was “Where were you born?” My answer, “******,” (concealed to protect my personal data) was a godawful eastern Kansas town that I’m sure no self-respecting terrorist would know about or pick for any reason. He waved at the crossing gate, which did not need to be raised for me to get around it, and said something like “Get outta here.”
And I did.
Michael was waiting not that far from the crossing and seemed to be relieved that we were still traveling together. I think my wife had somehow made him feel responsible for my welfare. He is that kinda guy. The US side of the Top of the World Highway is/was a mud trail. The Canadian side was a pretty decent gravel and asphalt road. It had been raining for days when we crossed and headed down that 4500-foot section of the mountains and it was slipperier than hell. I saw several trucks and motorcycles sunk to their axles and beyond when they had missed a turn. Usually, there was no stopping to help, either. Either because the road was too narrow, too slick, or the dumbass trucker behind me was intent on tailgating me until he slipped off into a ditch himself, I more often just had to keep going. With my injuries, there wasn’t much I could do to help anyone, anyway.
The first stop on the US side is Chicken, AK. There isn’t much to see or do in Chicken, except in my case to borrow a hose and blast off a thick coating of mud and clay from my ‘Stich, boots, and the bike. The rear brake was totaled from being coated by mud, but the disk mostly seemed to be newly “machined” by the abrasive material. So, I put a new set of pads on the rear wheel and cleaned things up as best I could. We had lunch at the Chicken Cafe and headed out toward Glenallen. And Glennallen is where we spent the night in a converted railroad car that had been used as housing for the guys who built the Alaska Pipeline. The next day, Michael headed for the ferry to Juneau and I met up with my son-in-law’s cousin.