July 07, 2003 GMT
Installment 2 5500 mile Trans America Offroad Trip

To all,

Bike's knackered so I've now got some time to tell the whole story so far! Again.............

Hmmm..... sound familiar, this trip is now going to be officially known as the 'Destined to Fail Trans Am Trip of 2003', We have broken pretty much anything that can be broken and as usual are waiting for parts. This allows me to catch up with you all in the local library (free internet).

I left you on Sunday sitting at Stacy's place eating a lot of food. The part was ordered on Monday and I was waiting for a replacement on Tue at 11am (or so they told me...)

Tue 24th

I got up and hung around waiting for the 11am phone call from Stacy's mum who was waiting an hour away to pick up the part. I fixed Stacy's starter motor and time dragged. At 11:15 I phoned Judy to check all was well, it wasn't. The order would arrive between 11 and 3 not at 11. So I waited some more. Luckily Judy didnt seem to mind sitting in a car park for ages and waited for me, lovely lady. At 12:30 the wrong part arrived. I had been talking to some other adventure bikers on the internet an one of them suggested welding the offending part. The problem was the size and composition of the piece, this was going to need an outstanding welder. I spoke to Stacy and he assured me that despite the area looking as if we were in Waltons, if you knew where to look, excellent tradesmen could be found. Stacy made a call and we rushed to see a friend of his who owned the most excellent workshop/piece of land/house/canyon. He was really busy when we arrived making some stuff for a holywood film being made in the area. It was about a local welder who made sculptures and was also involved in drug production (apparently the smell of making amphetamines is identical to that of a chicken house! and Arkansas is the US's hot spot for production). When we arrived Billy Bob Thornton (the films star) was being taught to weld and Stacys friend was welding up a huge sculpture for the set ( all in an open garage thing). The guy turned out to be a genius, he used a tool called a plasma cutter to cut a hole in a hardened piece of steel no more than 1/4 inch across. He then welded it to the base and voila, job done. It took only 3 mins and would get me at least as far as Stef and Jon by nightfall.

I set off at 3pm and rode for 4 hours through some stunning country, I would have loved to take photos but stopping wasnt possible. Althought the clutch was fixed I really didnt expect the makeshift repair to hold for long. In 130 miles I used it only three times and arrived safe (if a little deaf) at 7pm. It turned out that extended road riding was not a good thing on a tuned xr400 with a a loud exhaust, seat like wood, knobbly tyres, and a motorcross helmet!!

By the time I reached Stef and Jon they were pretty glad to see me. They had discovered that small town america isnt the best place to get stuck for a few days. The good news was the 6 litre pickup they had rented to head to out to Tulsa for the day. It was airconditioned and had comfy seats! We entertained ourselves all night by seeing how many things we could do that night without getting out of the truck. Answer: in a land of drivethroughs, everything!! You dont even have to get out of the car to get money out of a bank!

Wed 25th

We set off early next morning glad to be on the move, We had left Arkansas and were now in to the start of the flat plains covering areas including Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. If all went well we would be reaching the rockies in four days after covering over 1000 miles and seeing nothing but flat plains.

The navigation was really simple, at each left/right turn we would cover 30 miles west to around 2/3 miles north. Sam had said that we would be riding for 10-12 hours a day, but this section was flying by. The fields along side the route were huge and full of massive combine harvesters cutting the wheat and creating massive dust clouds! The view wasnt exactly inspiring but the riding was simple and we made excellent time. By 11am we were over half way through our route. Jon was putting up a punishing pace and Stef and I were eating a lot of dirtand dust, thoughts of air conditioned hotel rooms were foremost in our thoughts as the temperature soared to over 100 degrees and the heat sapped life and will.

When we arrived at our fuel stop the station had clearly been shut down for some time and we needed fuel badly. We had foregone an earlier stop to keep the pace up and were now suffering for our choice! We finally found a small town station within riding distance and headed out on a due south bearing which led us straight there.

American petrol is generally of a very low quality ,only around 83 octane for all you tech heads out there. This means that we cant use the regular 'Gas' but need the very best stuff we can get (our bikes are quite highly tuned and ideally require at least 90 octane or the performance is awful and engines sound as if they are destroying themselves due to preignition). Most stations sell a range of fuel, this one didnt! Stef and I dutyfully filled up and moved off to await Jon.

The next section of the route was a short one and completed in only one hour. It was 1pm, we had finished the route for the day and 20 miles away awaited our air conditioned room and showers!

Sadly we didnt quite make it that far. Jon in his wisdom had decided to fill up with as little low quality petrol as possible and 12 miles into our hotel run ran out of fuel. We switched to reserve and ran another 200 yards!!! (KTM reserve's are NOT to be taken seriously!!) We were stuck in the middle of nowhere with no shade at 1pm in searing heat. Jon was not popular.

But then neither was I when I told Jon that whilst staying with Stacy I had posted back our team 'Syphon Tube' to the UK as a weight saving measure.........

To cut a long and hot story short we called Jon talentless, took his bike apart and raided his fuel brether line from his bike. Luckily it was about 3ft long and allowed fuel transfer to take place. By 3pm after a steady rebuild we arrived at a crappy motel with poor air conditioning. The town was another example of 'nothinhgshereville' and food was a dodgy mexican restaurant which gave me stomach problems for the next 4 days. Not a great end to our day.

Thu 26th

Realisation that our bikes may not really be up to the task in hand slowly dawned as the sun rose over a supposed 6:30am start. Taking stock we realised that my bike had no clutch, Stefs engine was good but his tyres were shot after only five days, and his sprockets were going to need replacement soon. Jons bike was busy eating everthing it could get its hands on. Air fliters, tyres, and sprockets, were to name but a few.

Our route took us nowhere near anywhere and we needed a Honda/KTM dealer badly.

Jon's vallient attempts to use the US phone system had us all in hysterics as he tried in vain to get anyone to tell him where a honda dealer could be found. By 10:30 am (yep, thats right, four hours later!!) we still had nothing except a really frustrated team and no dealership or spares in site. It was time for an executive decision. We were going to have to cut north, head to dodge city, and hope there was something in the only decent size town within 400 miles of us. I navigated that morning through some of the most beautiful grasslands I have ever seen. The praire reserves are stunning rolling grasslands full of wild roaming buffalo, gazelle, and good old cows. The road wound in welcome curves over the gentle hills and hid small farms and water pumps. A good slow scenic ride. Partly to preserve Jons bike, partly because it was so stunning. By 3pm after 70 road miles and a trail short cut we arrived in dodge city. The first thing we saw was a Honda/KTM dealer. The Gods were smiling down on us today.

Inside the dealership were some serious off road enthusiasts. Although they had none of the parts in stock, that didnt stop them dismantling just about every bike in the shop to get what we needed. By 6pm we had three working bikes ( although I still had no clutch we had arranged for a part to be sent to Trinidad, Colorado, and I was hoping to pick it up and finish my bike on Fri ) and information that a local dried up riverbed headed 70 miles in the direction of the trail.

Dodge City would have been great if the town council hadnt decided to pull down the original buildings and replace them with a car park in the 70's. I'm not saying the disney like replicas of the old buildings and daily 'gunfights' were a little tacky.........................but I think the originals would have been just fine!

We took lots of stupid photographs and went home to a huge steak and bed (well, what else could you eat in Dodge Citys 'Boot Hill' area restaurant?).

Fri 27th

The dried riverbed turned out to be some of the most technical riding I have ever done. I was incredulous at the mechanics stories of 80 mph crashes and super long wheelies. It was all I could do to stay on the bike at 40mph. The bed of the river was soft sand and this mingled with tight twisty turns and blind curved made life hard. If I was having a hard time Stef was most certainly not a happy bunny. At the first 7 mile stop Stef, who isnt really known for his emotional outbursts, stated his position quite clearly. '**** this, I'm getting out the first chance I get!!'.

At 15 miles we exited the river bed. Jons bike was producing about 30 percent of its supposed power, both Stef and I had come off and we were all shattered and sweating like manicas. We decided to make up our own route and headed for Trinidad 200 miles away, we had a days riding to make up. It was 11 am and the day was just starting.........

20 miles down the road Jons bike stopped. It had been running badly all morning and had decided that enough was enough. An hour later fuel starvation due to a badly replaced breather tube was diagnosed and fixed. We set off again. Although initially ok Jons bike soon bgan to lose power again and a lunch and rebuild stop was planned. The local Esso station picnic table had probably never been used as carb rebuild platform before ...........but theres a first time for everything, we stripped the bike fuel system down to its component parts. A fouled plug and seriously dirty air filter didnt help, but then neither did the huge jets fitted to the carb by the Canadian dealer to cope with Jons new exhaust system . We were running at over 6000ft on the high plains and the bike was running far to rich on petrol that was just too poor...

A plug clean saw the bike a little happier and we set off west again towards a town called 'Liberal'. Initally we were hoping to push through to Trinidad 120 miles further on, but continuing problems from Jons bike, my lack of clutch, brain numbing riding along flat plains, and a broken spoke on Stefs bike soon stopped those plans. At a small town Jon bought three spare plugs, we entered colorado, the time zone changed to mountain time and we gave up. The only motel room in the small town had a one single bed. My stomach was still cramping badly. We ate and slept.


Sat 28th

Jon left for Trinidad at 6am. Sleep hadnt been forthcoming and I was also up and about. I had started to develop my own engine problems and suspected I had a broken valve spring. A loud ticking from the head area could have been tappet related, but a quick inspection revealed no obvious solution or diagnosis. We needed to get to a larger town and dealership, again! We debated hiring a car to take our bikes but couldnt find a hire place. We could either rebuild here and wait for spares, or head on to trinidad, risk futher engine damage, and pick up the clutch spares I desperatly needed. A toss of the coin saw us riding west again.

Trinidad is a nice place. Its cool here because of the altitude. We have been here for a few days now. My part hasnt arrived yet, our time is running out. Jons bike is fixed, we have a spoke waiting for stef in Moab, Utah. We just have to cross the Rockies to get it! After a total top end engine rebuild the closest thing I can diagnose the fault as being is the decompression system, but I'm not sure. I have to go and pick up my clutch part in 10 mins and so will have to tell you about my day out yesterday in the next istallment. It was a good day, I took the bike to 12000ft and although it lost power we are hopeful for the three days ahead.

Things not looking so rosy this time but we have some beautiful riding to do. We are at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and just the sight of something other than plains is cheering me up.

Hope to tune in again soon with more details of the land and less of the technical bike faults

Dave

Posted by David Lomax at July 07, 2003 09:41 AM GMT
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