In July, when Owen first proposed this trip, I was neck deep in my own planning disaster: my girlfriend (who went to college with Owen and I, and was well accustomed to our hijinks) and I had decided that we would be moving to Philadelphia at the end of August. In order for this to happen, we had to make several trips down there to find a place to live, I had to quit my job (in the midst of a worsening job market), move everything I owned in one shot, and find a new job. So, based on the fact that the prudent decision would be not to take a vacation to ride across the country, I decided to go for it.
With approximately 8 weeks to go, I set out to buy a bike. Owen was already several steps ahead of me, as he had since acquired several more motorcycles: a Yamaha 426, and a Honda XR 650R (with baja designs equipment), which he would be using on our trip. Given the limited timeframe, I hit craigslist, and bought the first reasonably appropriate bike: a badly neglected 1988 KLR 650, in the "rare" "sough-after" Tengai trim, meaning more broken plastics and less compatible parts. Perfect! It only needed a new tank, a carb cleaning, replacement plastics, new tires, a chain, new cables, suspension work, a valve clearance adjustment, new fluids, fork seals... No matter thought, I had 8 weeks to take care of everything (and put everything I owned in boxes, find a place to live, get a job, and move).
The KLR in all of its glory:
With the bike running, I set out to put some miles on it. While I had plenty of miles on pavement, I probably had only 20 hours of dirt riding experience, all of it on a 125 2-stroke, and I figured any time I could get on the bike off-pavement would pay off big-time; it did, although perhaps not the way I expected.
My first long ride (up through Sandwich Notch, NH) went reasonably well. On smooth fire roads, the bike was a hoot to ride, 1988 tires aside. After a few hundred miles, I returned home, made a couple laps of the trail on my father's property, and did a celebratory burnout in the driveway, at which point the bike began making noises that sounded like a handful of change had been thrown into the combustion chamber. After a teardown, I found that this wasn't too far off.
So, about 6 weeks to go, and the engine on my bike is junk. Perfect!
Figuring that time was short, I ordered an oversized piston and ring, brought everything down to the local machine shop, and asked if they could turn it around in a week. They didn't quite do that, but a week and a half later (about 4 weeks until the move, for those keeping track), I had the bike back together, and set out to break in the new rings.
About 20 miles into my first ride, 5 miles from home, the bike quit.
On the side of the road, in the decreasing light of dusk, I diagnosed that the bike had no spark. I pulled the tank, checked all the connections at the coil and ignitor, and gave up. I was lucky to be able to reach one of the few childhood friends who was still living in the area (and owned a pickup truck), and he came down and picked up the bike around the time I got my 1,000th mosquito bite. 4 weeks to go, and the bike doesn't run again.
Umpteen hours of troubleshooting later, and I figured out that the bike's coil pack was broken. And the stator. And the ignitor. I'll never quite understand how all of these broke concurrently. In any case, after a week of troubeshooting, and another week to track parts down, the bike is running again. With less than 2 weeks to the move date. With 20 miles on a fully rebuilt engine, and only a few hundred miles on a new bike, I was not confident.