July 15, 2005 GMT
I Killed the Kill Switch

In Jasper on Tuesday night I had planned a conference call with friends in California to have our second half rotisserie baseball draft (yes, I can leave my home, my job and all my possessions but The Chumpians must triumph by season's end!). So I was on a conference call from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Jasper time--long enough to see the local girls go out and back again ("Still on the phone? Must be talking with your sweetie!" I wish.). I drafted poorly, though I can't blame the 30 degree temperatures, the darkness, and standing up at the public phone without any stats in front of me. I just had no strategy.

When something breaks on the bike you can't really have a strategy either--you have to go with what you've got and make it work. So it was when I jumped off my bike at 8:30pm to take pictures of the sky between rainstorms on the icefield parkway at 6000 feet. The bike was still running and it decided to tip over all by itself on the right side into the shoulder. The weight of the luggage makes the rear shock sag downward slowly until the kickstand (which doesn't change length) becomes too long--and over she goes. This happened once in Seattle and resulted in only scratches. My other two drops were on the left side as I was backing down a hill and once, well, I just forgot to put down the kickstand.

I shut the bike off asap. Couldn't lift it back up to the asphalt with all the luggage so I raced to take it off before more gas leaked out. Jacket off, helmet, head wrap, earplugs, gloves, bungees, gas can, saddlebags, etc. in a minute flat. Cars going by didn't stop. If there was a mangy goat by the side of the road there would have been a traffic jam of RV's on both sides of the road, but a bike tipped over, a rider in the grass and luggage stewn everywhere?--"Eh, he'll be fine."

Well, I wasn't fine. The bike wouldn't start. I noticed the kill switch was busted out and i could see four little copper contacts inside the housing. The biggest piece of the red plastic kill switch was easy to find in the tundra/grass on the shoulder where it fell but the tiny springs and copper contacts that were apparently attached were now gone. I couldn't think of any way to bridge the contacts--if I even knew which ones needed bridging. I hunted in the grass some more and finally found one of the two it apparently had. I jammed it in and tried holding various combinations until the bike started and stayed running. If I shut it off I would need to bridge the contacts again, but to keep running it seemed to do OK on its own. I found the first campground I could find and got out the duct tape and the electrical diagram. Managed to set up the tent and "fix" the problem before the rains started again. Not sure what the other contact was for, as all the lights and everything seem to work with the one I've got in there now. But no more kill switch. Having already overridden the clutch safety and the kickstand safety, this bike starts in any gear and now won't stop unless the key is turned off. I also have a nice duct tape silver accent wad on my right control unit.

I also killed the battery the night of the baseball draft by leaving the heated grips on all night. After a near heart attack trying to push start a cold bike with 20w-50 oil, I got two guys in their 60's and one in his 20's to give me a push start. Seems to be fine now. Don't know about the 60 year-olds though.

The drops, the fixes, the oil changes, the setting up and taking down again are all part of the trip. When I was riding with Ivan he put it quite eloquently; you enjoy those things because they go with the adventure. I've heard other riders complain about the drudgery of an oil change or the general maintenance. I love it. You can't do a trip like this without doing these things, so you either hate them--and the trip--or you smile and laugh and enjoy it as much as everthing else. "I'm not having fun," Ivan explains to his friends back home, "I'm having good times." Meaning (I think), that everyday brings a general happiness and freedom from stress. We aren't having a laugh riot so much as we just look forward to each day and each new turn in the road. Anne and Ivan and I reflected on our trip so far when we shared a cabin in Keno City. We grew up in very different places (France, Argentina, USA and the Pacific Rim) yet here we were, all restless for the same motorcycle trip round the world. We all wanted to sustain our optimistic/positive feeling whenever we got back home. The danger is you crave the road so much you never go back home--you become a vagabond rider going from job to job and town to town round and round the world, not knowing how to stop or where. To some that is heaven. I just want to enjoy every day as much as I do now. I often think of the movie Groundhog Day, in which every day was the same (for Bill Murray's character and for the locals in Punxatawny), until he learned to incorporate new skills, make new friends, and generally try to make every day a new adventure even if he had to be stuck in the same place. Having grown up moving so frequently from place to place, I think I try to relive the "trauma" of being the new guy in school, in town, or the new guy on the job; and never more so than on a trip like this where I am the new guy everyday, everywhere I go. My new goal is to finally stay put somewhere and still make every day as different and rewarding as when I ride from province to province, state to state. Easier said than done, but if I employ all the enthusiasm, ingenuity, determination, creativity, strength, planning, self-reliance, and good judgment that I have used on this trip, I'll be fine. A fellow rider commented on my pictures, saying that I must be vain to have so many pictures of myself. Perhaps. But I think I just can't believe that is ME in all those places, doing this trip. It is so unlike me, I want to be able to log on a year from now and see myself to remind me what I was doing in case I lose my way.

So anyway Jasper was nice, if wet, and there was a vivid rainbow after one storm. The digital photos do not do it justice. Mt. Edith Cavell was spectacular, if wet, as was Maligne Lake. I spent some time at the laundrymat drying clothes and trying to work out my bank snafus--someone has been using my card without authorization and it is impossible to reply to a written claim form sent to my former address.

Lake Louise--beautiful. Banff--beautiful. Bow Lake Parkway--a great ride. More rain expected in Banff tonight and tomorrow. Canada makes Oregon look like a desert. Not sure whether to head Canada's Glacier Nat'l Park and for Nelson, BC, or take the 40 (a forestry road) south along the Continental Divide for 100 kilometers then head for Yellowstone. I could always do like John the Snorer and race back to SF in 4 1/2 days like he did, but I think I'll find something in between. I'm now looking for the most scenic roads South with the least amount of traffic. The best rides and the best times of this trip have been spent on obscure roads with no traffic in any direction and no other riders around.

The bike is otherwise running well and with my earplugs out I can hear a pretty good growl from the engine. I tightened up the chain and I think it will last a couple thousand more miles. I was told at 8000 that the chain and sprockets needed changing. I have 14500 on the bike now, after some of the toughest roads in AK and YT, so you can imagine it looks a little long in the tooth now--literally. I need an oil change NOW, and will take care of it as soon as possible, maybe today if someone will let me dispose of it properly. A new tire is due too. The kill switch will stay on life support until home.

UPDATE: I've ordered a chain, front and rear sprockets, front and rear brake pads to be delivered to my aunt in Jackson, Wyoming. I should be able to spend a couple days there doing maintenance. May have a rear tire sent there too.

By the way, if you are considering a ride like this, email me at jim@mochamail.com. I have lots of opinions about gear and parts and what works and what doesn't. I don't have any sponsors so I won't advertise here, but if you need advice I'm happy to help. I will say that my boots have been the number one decision I could have made. Warm, dry, tough, excellent. Keep the feet happy!

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Posted by James McPherson at July 15, 2005 07:03 PM GMT

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