Non-Ride From Hell pt 1
The Non-Ride From Hell
Today, just for today, I hate small towns. Sure they’re charming, full of history and on average have a much higher percentage of friendly people than the city. But to be stranded in one as we have been for a week now is an entirely different matter. A person can’t get things they need in them. Particularly if what one needs is a 12 mm hex tool for a torque wrench. Above a certain elevation they don’t even know they exist. But I digress.
A week ago my wife and journalism partner and I took off for Northern California on a magazine assignment with high hopes of a wonderful week on two wheels which would be both stimulating and profitable. Fate obviously had other plans.
In retrospect there were omens from the beginning this trip could turn out badly but I chose to ignore them. Because of circumstances beyond our control departure was delayed a day.
In spite of that the ride got off to a great start, we left the South Valley at five AM and beat the worst of that heat. Excited and optimistic we had a double magazine assignment and a couple weeks off of work. To make our schedule though we had to ride from Bakersfield to almost the Oregon border in one day…600+ miles…no big deal have done it before.
Traveling up the San Joaquin Valley is largely an exercise in boredom. Interstate five is one long piece of slab and the sameness of the farmland soon turns into wallpaper. Things do get interesting traveling along the California Aqueduct though. Whether you approve of it or disparage it, undeniably it is an impressive piece of engineering.
The California Aqueduct is amazingly impressive and it’s easy to see why it’s such a point of contention. That is Lot of water to be siphoning off from the North.
Having never driven the Five farther north than the San Francisco turn off driving through Stockton, Ca took me completely by surprise. I kept seeing signs for the Stockton Harbor, which I kept thinking was some kind of metaphor. It was a shock, to say the least, when the bike started rolling over a very large bridge and there were huge ships below. Big ships that look as if they should be in the ocean. A river port, of course. Hadn’t even thought of that.
The character of the ride really changed after going through Sacramento. The word that keeps coming to mind is less muscular, as if, finally not having to move all that water the land and the people could relax a little bit.
The ride proceeds nicely until just short of Redding Ca. My wife and Pillion, Patti, usually the trooper of troopers signals me urgently to stop at the upcoming rest stop.
A good idea actually as I had been feeling the bike being not quite right for a number of miles. She gets off the bike and when she takes off her helmet I see that she is shaking and weeping. A combination of too much caffeine, not sleeping well the night before and just plain fatigue. I was obviously upset and fatigued too because when I went to put the RT on the center stand I tipped her over. She went down on her right side and when we picked her up found the drivers peg broken off. Not Good. Redding was only a few miles away but it was getting late. We jumped on the bike and I managed to drive her in with my heel on the peg stump.
Stopped on the outskirts of town to inquire about a bike shop. Got some vague directions and finally managed to find the Harley dealer….Closed. We rode down the street and Patti spotted a Cycle Gear. Perfect. Tricky entrance thought and ended up back on the freeway.
After finding a place to turn around and getting headed back in the right direction, before we even get to Cycle Gear we spay a KTM/Adventure bike shop. Perfect, they should have a little bit of everything, right? Closed on Monday! Damn. Back out on the main street, and with a lot of help from Patti we get maneuvered through what is now Rush hour traffic on a main drag back to Cycle Gear…. Open, perfect and a nice big one.
A very amenable young man at the front desk listened to our story only to inform us that he had “sold his last set of highway pegs yesterday; however he could call around the shops.” Good. The calling turns out to be of little value as most of the shops are closed on Mon. That left us with one final option, the Honda shop.
Mercifully open on Monday and until 6 which was particularly important because we are now fighting impatient, home bound, traffic every step of the way. Make it to the Honda dealer. And, again, greeted by a most amenable young man at the parts counter who most regretfully informed us that he just didn’t have any pegs. When pressed he agreed to go to the back room and look in what he called “Honda Stock.” For something.
He’s gone for a while, so leaning as calmly against the parts counter as I can to wait, I notice Patti off in some dark corner of the shop rooting around for something.
The young man comes back with a peg that looks very much like it will work, albeit awkwardly. Together we stroll back out into the merciless sun to check out the bike.
The peg initially looks like it will work just fine. Next task, get the remaining piece of peg out of the beemer. This turns out to be quite the task as the fall had bent the pin that holds the peg quite badly. After making several trips back to the shop area for various tools the pin finally gives up its grip, only to discover that it was one of those, close, but no Cigar moments.
As this young man and I sat there among our tools and broken Beemer parts more or less pointlessly scratching our heads Patti shows up with a purple blister package containing a very shiny pair of chrome, Victory brand highway pegs.
The young man in question was very surprised to see them, but Patti in her usual detailed and systematic manner had searched the store and found them abandoned on a dusty shelf somewhere.
They fit almost perfectly with the pin alignment just slightly out. The boys in the shop made short work of that problem with a slightly smaller bolt and a couple of washers.
Still hot as hell and apparently, at least to us getting more humid.
A retreat into Denny’s across the street brought much relief and we mounted Black Beauty for the final 45 miles into McCloud. Inside the Denny’s I learned yet another lesson in the quality of my character judgment. We had asked for one of the big corner tables so we could spread out our helmets and jackets and maps and all the other stuff motorcycling entails. We were put into a dark, corner table, which was perfect actually.
I kept eyeing, in my judgmental way the threesome at the other corner table across the restaurant. It looked to me like an unscrupulous televangelist with a guitar was trying to do the conversion number on a hapless older couple. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
After I thought they had left I went out to get something off the bike and the “televangelist” was hanging around outside leaning on the railing with a cigarette looking for a light.
Turned out to be, in my mind anyway a pretty tragic case. A middle age man suffering from depression living with his parents and taking guitar lessons. And, we had lived near each other in Michigan. Extraordinary.
After a days ride of over 500 miles up the length of the great valley some real motorcycling at last. Redding is basically at the bottom of the ascent up to Mt. Shasta. Interstate 5 turns from a soulless slab at last into a real motorcycle road. At the beginning of the ascent is Shasta Lake. Shasta Lake has a fractal-like shape with many long fingers extending for miles. This makes for a lot of bridges and many great views. A visual feast of a ride with great twisties thrown in for good measure.
The bike is not right though, something is catching and grinding. Power is still being transferred without interruption to the rear wheel, but I can tell. A turn off of Interstate five onto highway 89 quickly deposits us at our destination. Finally able to unload the heavy pannier bags and trunk the bike can be center-standed and the rear wheel raised for examination. One thing is immediately apparent rear brakes are metal to metal. Not sure if this is because the tech who changed the rear tire just before we left did not properly torque the calipers or because I rode the brakes while riding on a peg stump or a combination of factors. Unfortunately in the attenuated tool kit I brought on this trip I did not have a large enough hex tool to remove the calipers so it is impossible to tell at this point if the grind is just brakes or if, God Forbid, another rear drive is failing.
We ground into the parking lot of The McCloud River and Ski Lodge and dragged ourselves into what appeared to be the office. By our standards we had arrived early, but by their standards. As we soon observed and later confirmed the lodge is run by a 40 something harried couple. The wife acting as barmaid/waitress and front desk person.
The front desk actually being a corner of the bar, informed us we were late and would just have to wait our turn. Fair enough, and gave us a chance to survey the place and get a feel for local culture. Inside the restaurant/bar/lounge was very attractive having the feeling of a Yosemite lodge with unfinished pine construction and old west and American Indian decorations. At the bar sat a number of middle-aged men sporting pony tails and overalls or dressed in fishing regalia. I had one of those Uh Oh moments and the theme music from “Deliverance” started playing on my mental soundtrack when one of the first comments I heard from the bar was, “There’s only one kind of beer and that’s Budweiser,” A comment that was met with general agreement along the length of the bar. Finally we were given the key to room number 4 and were able to retreat to our own company.
Awoke at dawn and watched the sun come up on the eastern face of Mt. Shasta. Got some stunning pictures as well. At 6 AM the Chevron across the street opened and I found out that there is a hardware store nearby where I may be able to get the appropriate tool. Also found out there is no wireless service in town, the nearest being in the town of Mt. Shasta. Am going to need the wireless to track down the non OEM part equivalents for the brake pads. Keeping this on a spiritual level though God reminded me of the words of the Tao Te Ching.
The three great treasures are Patience, Simplicity and Compassion.
It seems to me the best way to practice those principles right now is to wait until the hardware store opens at eight and see if I can get the tool. Once I have the calipers off I can know more accurately what I am dealing with.
Rode to the hardware store, a general store really and in name. This is the kind of place where contractors start taking materials and loading their trucks before the owners arrives if the owners are later. The kind of store that has a Christmas section set up full-time and has a rack full of books about fishing comedy, but no eight millimeter wrenches. Come back to the hotel just to let Patti know I’m going to risk the ten miles or so into Shasta City for a wrench. Got suited up and ready to go but when I got back to the back I knew the worst case scenario was upon us. A thick stream of green-black fluid had run over the bottom of the rear wheel and tire and left a sickening looking pool of expensive muck on the pink brick work. Catastrophic final drive failure again!
There is no wiggle room in such a case, only one basic decision to be made. How am I going to change this and where am I going to get the parts. The where factor was exacerbated by the lack of internet service. I rely on copies of emails to keep my contact information and history with people in. But all this extensive data is rendered unavailable with not internet connection.
There was also a lot of internal debate about whether to buy a new final or another used one and Boomer and I had the discussion about the systemic nature of this problem. No real conclusions to draw there and really not even any particularly useful speculation on either of our parts.
A flurry of phone calls to get numbers then more phone calls began to net results, in fact, God or Providence or whatever you may care to call it was with us because the parts began to fall in line at the right price. Patti roused the owners of the inn, which is technically closed on Tues and got us another nights stay…turns out stay 2 get one free so that worked out perfectly.
Got on the phone in the morning and tracked down a new drive and bearing. Now all these parts are coming but what to do with them…replacing the final drive in an oil head is not a particularly long job or hard job but it is a Big Job. Even thought I didn’t think it was going to work, I called someone out of the BMW Anonymous Book.
The call was successful and Lee turned out to be a mechanic with a lift and tools.
Perfect. Called around and found low mileage final drive which was shipped to the hotel next day as promised.
Good as his word Lee showed up the next with jeep and trailer and we hauled “Black” to his garage about 20 miles away. Got the bike up on the lift removed rear tire, then first of many roadblocks of the day. Lee has every imaginable tool in his garage…he’s an electrician…except and 12 mm hex tool to remove the carriage bolts. Much frustration ensues until we finally take a half inch Allen wrench and carefully grind it down.
Turns out the Lee, for all his bravado is really not much of a “wrench” A fine electrician he may be but seems to have little patience for busted beemers. He made a telling comment early on, “Yeah, I like wrenching on bikes, just not ones I’m going to ride.”
To him, what was going on in his garage, next to his perfect, shiny LT and perfect shiny 1150 RS and perfect shiny quad, etc was almost an act of sacrilege. He definitely is from, as Persig put it in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintains.” From the “Groovy” dimension, meaning that, to him, bikes should just work and he didn’t want to see the dark underbelly of garage style motorcycle repair. Almost like he was being forced to watch a surgical procedure and had no stomach for it.
It didn’t help matters either that things did not go well. In addition to the lack of the 12 mm hex tool he also had a faulty MAPP torch. I think that embarrassed him. When the final drive did come off it was immediately apparent there were much deeper problems.
The drive came out hard and pulled the driveshaft out with it and inside the swingarm a sprinkling of little needles. The driveline and final drive U joint were fused and the outside carrier bearing was in little pieces. Nothing to be done except drive us the 30 or so odd miles back to the hotel.
I noted mentally yesterday and the feeling continues again today that this experience is taking on the character of a spiritual retreat. It has that character in the sense that there is nothing to do and no place to go. Interesting also to note the profound sense of isolation it creates when there is no internet connection available. Come to think of it we haven’t even turned on the TV. I got the feeling even more so when I got up this morning to shoot my customary dawn shots. The lone cloud around Mt. Shasta this morning makes it look like it creates its own gravity.
Speaking of Mt. Shasta, Patti and I went walkabout last night and picked up a lot of the local printed freebies. One of which being the “Mountain Spirit Chronicles.”
Turns out the “Vortex” people are here!! However, unlike the Sedona Vortex people they don’t seem to be producing any specific maps, merely the vague sort of notion that The Mountain is some sort of powerful source of spiritual energy. Actually, they may be right.
Bought a couple of used books, “Sky Masters” by Dale Brown to study dialogue writing and “Riding the Iron Rooster” by Theroux which I am unexpectedly finding to be a profound experience.
The next day while waiting for parts explored our little corner of McCloud on foot. My first impression of the town was solidified by sights such as old men in dirty overalls towing fishing boats that looked like they would not float bearing such names as “Bull Ship”
By now important rations are running low. Although we are still Ok on money. My rations of nicotine gum and meds had been based on the assumption and timing of a trouble free trip which, or course, didn’t happen. Stretching my gum out as long as I could, but was out by early morning. Lee and Jane had suggested we move hotels from McCloud to the town of Yreka where more services and other items would be more readily available within walking distance. That, however, had to wait for the next day.
Nicotine gum now gone and had to go looking for smokes…got some of those Black and Mild pipe tobacco cigars which are unsatisfying in the extreme and ended up giving me a headache. Such is the nature of nicotine addiction that it didn’t matter, better that than suffer withdrawals.
On the other side of town is a large old building in the throes of being re-modeled. Inside we found the ideological other side of McCloud. Started off with sugar free Mochas at the Chocolate Café which Patti thought was great jus because of the name…and they did have good Mochas. Had sort of a wide ranging discussion on everything from the relative merits of the mochas to God to the history of the railroads in the area. Something Patti is particularly interesting in because of the research she is doing for her novel.
Back to the coffee shop. The inside of the Café Chocolate was cute within cute and I don’t necessarily mean that in a bad way. On some days I think it would but me but on this particular day I just saw a bunch of industrious people taking an old building and trying to build a life and a business for themselves. Café Chocolate is decorated in the cutesy style of old-time Americana. Although I enjoyed being there, my tolerance for cuteness eventually hit critical mass.
Down the street was a wonderfully greasy hamburger joint where everything was, well, greasy. One ordered through a small, greasy, window from a young lady who looked as if she had had a number too many of the double bacon cheeseburger specials. In the back was a very mawkish but amiable young man cooking and wearing rubber gloves with which he touched everything. One made ones order than sat down at a, you guessed it, greasy, table to wait for the number on the ticket you were given to be called.
In the corner was a metal table upon which rested a very shaky looking mountain of well worn magazines devoted entirely to the topics of hot rods and fishing. Wonderful stuff.
Best burgers I’ve ever had by far.
Back to the café then and the bookstore next door, the McCloud Book Gallery. Here one begins to discover the more eclectic nature of McCloud. Patti in her usual, personable style began chatting it up with the woman behind the counter. The little bookstore is run by five women who have bought into the co-op of the building and run the store as a labor of love. Patti engaged the woman in a conversation about the novel she is writing and the two of them became quite animated and engaged while I engrossed myself in my own research on the water history of the area. It became apparent after eavesdropping on their conversation for a while that McCloud is not all about Budweiser and Bull Ship.
It occurred to me, always thinking I am, this little bookstore might be a place where some souls might actually be interested in The Flow. I showed the three minute video to the woman Patti was talking to and she immediately suggested I show it to a certain Nancie who ran the store next door.
Nancie runs McCloud River Mercantile Company. One of those places that tries to recreate, in this case quite successfully, the look and feel of a turn of the century general story. I had to wait a few minutes for her customers to clear out but I knew after just a few minutes of listening to her interact with people shoe was one of us….the artists.
Although she didn’t look the part her speech gave her away. Regardless of the kind of customer she was dealing with her speech was laced with phrases like, “far out” and “thanks man.” She was quite taken with “The Flow” video and agreed to put some CDs and books in her shop as well as inviting us up to perform in their beautiful new performing arts center. It’s beginning to look like maybe we’re stranded here for a reason.
Checkout at McCloud was 11 and Lee would not pick us up until five or so.
Hung out at the Lodge Bar and chatted it up some more with the owner.
Eventually he shows up and off we go to our new temporary home
The next day proved both frustrating and interesting. After spending the first part of the morning getting caffeinated and bonding with Boom I took off with the laptop looking for a wireless signal to upload some pictures and information. Once I got outside I realized my primary purpose for the day was finding a 12 mm hex tool. Not to be had. I must have been quite the sight walking through town in my sort-of biker garb carrying my laptop case.
Truly the meaning of leather and laptop I suppose.
Took a break in my walking tour of Yreka to stop at the only coffee shop in town with wireless, The Daily Grind. Behind the counter a most unlikely couple. A very tall thin man in his late 30s early 40s maybe somewhat longinsh blond hair that fell on both sides of a widening part. His wife short, younger looking with a very business-like pony tail and demeanor. Only a couple of other customers in the place quietly reading and enjoying their morning. After ordering a breakfast sandwich and diet coke a conversation ensued. I briefly entertained him with my tale and he responded with a picture of his old K75, stolen, and his 1150 RS, sold to start the business. His favorite tale began with “yep, scared the shit out of Tom Cruise on that thing one time” Apparently he used to work for Boeing and would freeway split every day and passed Mr. Cruise at some point.
An amusing bit. Got a little scary when he added, “Yeah, would have taken a shot at him too if he had looked at me wrong.” Things that make you go hmmmm…..
While eating sandwich balding reader comes over and tells me he has a construction crew nearby and they may have the tool I need and to wait there for him. I did for an hour and he never returned. Left business card with owner, no call
The next day the parts are delivered on schedule, this time to Yreka and a call to my new friend Lee brought him around once again to pick me up for another ‘round of wrenching. Lee picks me up and we both have high hopes and good spirits. Our high hopes turn to ashes almost immediately when the simple job of changing the brake disk from one drive to the other proves impossible.
While I am becoming discouraged by this task Lee makes the discovery that the new bearings are defective. I’m frustrated and I can tell my new friend is losing patience. (Who could blame him?) Plus he had to leave for the weekend to race his car.
. Lee’s patience with the situation obviously starting to wear thin and my patience with his insecure arrogance. He was helpful in his way though. Turns out the guy from the cycle salvage had send me only the outer race of the bearing I needed. As Lee predicated on the drive to his garage, inner races shot. Decide to put bike back together and drive it home and then replace bearings. He did show me how to properly grease bearing though…that was useful information. Then another disaster. Screws on brake disc won’t budge. Lee’s patience becoming palpable, then he gets emergency call. Reluctantly he left me in his garage. With all the patience I could muster I heated and reheated the bolt. Could feel the corners starting to round out under the tool. Finally they stripped and I was done. Called boom and told her to get rental car, my idea was to drive a one way rental car back to Bakersfield and get the truck to come back and get the pieces of the bike. Jane drove me back to the hotel.
Posted by Cameron Weckerley at 05:17 AM
Meeting Henry (Miller)
Meeting Henry (Miller)
It was colder than expected the morning we got up to meet Henry and we were tired. One of the cats had been sick the night before so Patti, in particular, was up late worrying about him. She had not wanted to fall asleep too hard in case he should prove to need immediate medical attention in the middle of the night. However, she had decided she needed to get some sleep and had taken her pills late. We needed to have rubber on the road by 5:30 and when the alarm went off at 5AM she was, well, there is no other way to say it really… still narced. The morning had also proven to be colder than we anticipated so that entailed attaching the Pannier bags to the bike and finding and packing some extra layers. Which is no small feat if you have seen our bedroom.
We were late and Patti was narced, I actually wondered for a few minutes if I was going to have to bungee her to the back seat. Our ever good natured traveling companions thought proved true to form and were pleasant and ready to go when we got to Taft. To get out of Taft one must take the ever pleasant highway 33. 33 can be wonderful or horrible depending upon ones point of view I suppose. The landscape is one big desert populated only by and endless array of oilfield equipment. Which in these time is half inoperative. Patti sort of humanized the equipment by noting that the pumps which were not working looked forlorn compared to those that were. Eventually Highway thirty-three joins with Highway forty-six, the infamous “Blood Alley.”
At the junction of highway thirty-three and highway forty-six, truly in the middle of nowhere lies Blackwell’s Junction. A dumpy little which claims to be the last stop James Dean made before fatally crashing his porche into a tree a bit further down the road
Paid cash for beef jerky and a couple of monsters at Blackwell’s and went to wolf them down in the parking lot. Lewis had searched the rather tatty looking map looking for the elusive, but fabled to exist alternate route across the mountains to Big Sur. The guy behind the counter at Blackwell’s, who looked like he had grown there, when queried about the map he seemed to not even be cognizant of its existence. “I don’t know nothing ‘cept where 46 goes,” he drawled. Pretty typical for a place that also sports what could possible the worlds cheesiest sign, a 40 foot tall James Dean Head made out of wooden tiles. By this time the drugs in Patti had started to wear off and she was feeling less narced, and hungry.
Highwy 46 in spite of its colorful name is for many miles just another indescrimiante long flat slap that passes alternalely through desert terrain and artificilay watered aqriculture. Impatience is the watchword of the day here. Much breath has been spent towards the cause of widening the road, however it remains largely a two laner with lots of unsafe passing going on
So on to Paso Robles and the every popular Denny’s there
After breaking out the dueling laptops at Denny’s in Paso to search for the secret passage across the mountain through the Ventana Wilderness we believed we had found it. Highway 101 to the G18 looked like the likeliest route. At the corner of 101 and G18 lies the small town of Lockwood there’s a dumpy little store run by a dumpy little man who charged me way too much for an energy drink and wouldn’t let anybody use the bathroom. I wouldn’t recommend stopping there. We did however get somewhat cryptic directions to the next turn, the mysterious Fort Ligget.
Indeed down the road was a very official looking turn off for Fort Ligget which led to a very impressive looking checkpoint with gun-wielding soldiers. Heart sank as Patti and I pulled up to the checkpoint. In front of the guard shack was yet another very official looking sign stating all visitors onto government property must submit registration, proof of insurance and drivers license. That certainly seemed to leave me out. Lewis and Christine were parked on the other side of the checkpoint, sitting in their ‘dub looking at us quizzically. Putting on my best charm I explained the situation to the gentleman at the guard booth. He seemed skeptical, and even more so when I produced and expired insurance card, just barely expired but expired nevertheless. Incredibly he wrote out the requisite little blue pass and let us pass. Very strict speed limits posted along government road along with other ominous warnings. So, since Lewis always drives like he’s moving farm equipment, it seemed the safest course to follow him through the “forbidden zone”
Which, although, being forbidden was quite engaging... The road itself was of high-quality and there were small streams and lakes interspersed between open meadows and forest canopies. A nice place NOT to speed through actually. At the other end of the fort was another checkpoint where the blue passes were turned in and then the road takes on a completely different character. It gets much steeper and narrower as it ascends deeper into the Los Padres national forest. Steep, narrow and full of switchbacks, defiantly a first and second gear ascent working the way up was technical and difficult riding and can be wearing. Until that magical moment when one reaches the crest of the hill and the whole Big Sur Valley and Coastline comes into view.
The descent is shorter than the ascent but it is equally steep and technical. It is problematic in the sense that there are so many good pictures to take and no place to pull off the road to take them. Also a little treacherous on the descent because there have been many recent washouts which haven’t been entirely cleaned up.
Meanwhile, people’s bladders are getting very full and there is just simply no place to empty them. I found out later that Lewis in the car ahead of us had been regaling his wife Christine with tales of how Henry Miller used to like to come out to the cliffs of Big Sur and Urinate over the edge. Nice guy that Lewis.
Eventually reached the bottom of the hill and met up with the bustle of holiday traffic on Highway 1. Then headed north looking for the nearest bathroom which happened to be at Lucia Lodge. The girls got in line for the outside restroom, mercifully not too long of a line. Lewis and I surveyed the interesting collection of cars and bikes parked out front and debated whether or not to stop there for lunch or continue briefly north to Nepenthe.
Lucia won the day when we went in and found more bathrooms.
The view from the patio of Lucia lodge is unbearably beautiful
....To be continued
Posted by Cameron Weckerley at 01:17 AM
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