Joined: Jan 2007
Location: Previously, Camel City Carolina, now Denver
With the Wing pointed North West, I took off toward Roanoke and then onto Covington, VA and then into Warm Springs in Bath County VA.
That night, I crawled into my tent just as the rain drops turned into a torrential downpour. My tent has an orange rain fly and the spectacular lightning strikes made a cool glow in my 10 year-old Eureka Apex 3XT. Having spent a year’s worth of nights in the tent before the trip, I knew it wouldn’t leak a drop. Unfortunately, I’d not properly staked it and the whipping winds pulled a stake from the now soft soil. Not wanting to get my clothes wet, I stripped down to my bare ass and grabbed my axe and went out to re-stake the tent. With the lightning, it was as bright as high-noon, but who would be outside in such weather to see me streaking?
I crawled into my tent, had a good laugh at myself and drifted off into the kind of sleep that only comes in a thunderstorm.
Before I’d parked the night before, I’d noticed a vibration and thought I’d warped a front rotor. So I used the rear brake more (something I never do) but with the linked braking system, there was still a slight wobble. I hadn’t gone too far when I noticed it had gotten worse. Inspection didn’t show anything unusual so I just kept the speeds down so I wouldn’t have to get on the brakes too much. After a couple of hours, it had gotten really bad. Every time I hit the front brake, the whole front end lurched into a frightening shudder. I was convinced it was a bent rotor. What a way to start the trip. Breaking down was my biggest fear because I just didn’t have the budget for it. The only thing that would end my journey would be mechanical problems (or crash induced breakage.) In Elkins WV, I saw a bike shop and pulled in. It was a KTM / Yamaha dealer but I hung a U-turn and nearly lost it in the process, the front end was FUBAR. Beside the shop-front was a steep ramp that led to the garage. Clearly not intended for customers, I rode up and stopped directly in front of the garage door. The mechanics were clearly not amused. They ignored me until I spoke, and then walked over coldly to look at my bike.
I’ll never forget the next 45 seconds as long as I live.
The mechanic’s expression and attitude changed suddenly. He turned white as a ghost. His hand started shaking and in a very different tone of voice he turned to his buddy and said: “This guy almost died.”
He turned to me: “You almost died man, you… you… I can’t believe it. You almost died. Holy… look at this” he said to the other mechanic.
One of the U-Clamps holding the axel to the forks had fallen completely off!!! The other was held on by only one nut which was hanging on by two threads!!!.
The remaining U-Clamp had lost three of the four nuts that held it on and the one remaining was unthreaded by a dozen threads, clinging to the forks by only two threads.
Of the eight screws, sever were gone. Of the two clamps, one was gone and the other was super loose and barely there.
One bump or seam in the asphalt and my front wheel would have fallen clean off.
You can imagine the ugly result of losing a front wheel while riding.
I was in shock.
On a side note, you’re the first people to hear this. I never posted the details on my blog for fear my parents and friends would freak. I left Elkins with a different perspective. If it had been my time, I would have been gone. For the next 30,000 miles, I never went long without remembering that moment. Even in scary situations, I felt like it wasn’t my time. Anyhow, back to the story.
The other mechanic was a big ass dude. A prison guard is his second job. Huge. His name is Angel. I couldn’t get over the “sign.” I was being helped by an Angel. This experience really shaped my trip, as you’ll read about later.
Angel makes some calls, and the soonest Honda can get a part here is a couple of days later. Then, he says “how about that guy that’s got the chopper shop across town, doesn’t he have some old Honda rusting out back?” Evidently, that guy doesn’t have a phone, so off Angel goes to track down an axel-clamp. He comes back with a clamp from a ’70 something Honda and says “close enough.”
He puts it on, and then puts a second nut on each of the eight studs for safety. Then, torque specifications be damned, he took that wrench and put them on such that I’d need to find a 250 pound guy to help me get my wheel off next time.
Total time at the shop, less than two hours. Cost: $50. The two guys said sincere goodbye’s and wished me well on my way to Alaska. It was hard to believe that I almost didn’t make it West of WVA. Rather than get on the highway and have time to really think about what happened, I went straight for the tiny mountain roads without painted lines. A bit of hard riding allowed me to focus on what I had to do, which was ride hard, ride carefully and keep going.
Next stop – Johnstown, PA
I rolled into Johnstown in the early afternoon. I’ve been a Johnny Cash fan for years and love the song “The Night of the Johnstown Flood.” I went to the memorial to fully understand that tragic night.
I knew the flood was deadly, but had no idea how many people died. Over 2,200 people died on May 31st, 1889.
From there, I pulled into Punxsutawney.
I stopped into a watering hole to take the parch off. It was a biker bar and I was out of place, but had fun nonetheless. After a cold Bud, I went out to gear up and hit the road. A guy came out and went up to the totally chromed out Road King parked next to my ugly Wing. A mini-van pulled up and out jumped a cute little boy. Grandpa lifted him up and put him on the Harley.
I turned and said: “That’s good, get him into motorcycles early. If you’re not careful, he could grow up and get a Honda!” They had a good laugh. Harley guys always treat me great. “It’s not what you ride, it’s that you ride.” I’ve heard a Milwaukee devotee say it a hundred times.
Even after the escapade in Elkins, I still got in over 350 miles, and spent time at the Flood memorial, all without the aid of the Eisenhower Interstate system.
In Marionville, PA, just before dark, I found a National Forest and rode a few miles of gravel to find a spot. I got there, and there was a fee, an honor system fee. I’d been told that National Parks charged to camp, but that Forests didn’t. I didn’t have anything but a $20 and wasn’t about to pay that to camp, so regretfully, I compromised my morals.
I broke camp early, just after daylight. Packed up, cranked the choke and hit the button.
Nothing. Not a click, not a single turn of the starter or the motor. Serves me right, must be the bad karma from stealing from the National Park Service. All the years of enjoyment I’ve gotten from the Park Service and then I screwed them out of five bucks. Now who has the last laugh?
I started trouble shooting. Not the ignition, not the starter, it’s got to be the starter switch. After 30 minutes, I hit the button for the hundredth time and it started. Sweet.
Today I decided to follow my new GPS to Niagara Falls. I packed up after routing to the Falls via the "avoid interstates" option. The GPS indicated a right hand turn when a left is what I expected. I followed the GPS and spent the next hour riding 15 miles of dirt roads. Nothing quite like riding a 21 year-old machine that weighs nearly half-a-ton down trails meant for snowmobiles.
The road went from gravel to deep graded gravel to dirt and back to loose stuff.
Notice the headlight is working... will make sense in a few days.
At points, the road was very wide, perhaps three lanes wide. I can only imagine flying down the road at 80 mph through a foot of fresh powder.
After getting out of the middle of nowhere, I knew I had to get to the nearest mechanic.
I made it three hours to Jamestown, NY. There was an older guy who specializes in Goldwings and rode up after a test ride on an old 1200 just like mine.
Merv grabbed a multimeter and ran some tests. Sure enough, the starter switch was shot. Honda doesn't make the part anymore and it's a huge pain to change. Something I didn't want to do in a parking lot. Merv showed me how to start my bike with a screwdriver and told me it would run like that forever. I was delayed less than an hour. Merv was fantastic. He answered my questions and didn't charge me a dime. Back on the road and off to Niagara Falls.
I took off the plastic cover that covers the battery and stowed it away. I kept a flat-head screwdriver wedged in my Crazy Creek chair. Turn the key, bridge the posts on the solenoid and wha-la. The bike fires right up. Amid a firestorm of sparks, of course.
My first stop for fuel was a bit sketchy. For the rest of the trip, I pulled as far from the fuel pump as possible and downwind. As I got better with starting the bike with a screwdriver, the resulting sparks got smaller. The screwdriver bridges the posts of the solenoid to complete the circuit. The sparkler-like sparks don't hurt anything, but are quite disconcerting while standing next to a gasoline pump.
After beginning the day with 15 miles of gravel, I couldn't resist the urge to take a jaunt through the fields for a change of scenery on the way to Niagara.
The falls were awesome. After seeing them, I was compelled to hit the road once again. ... without seeing Goat Island
From Niagara Falls, I would ride the coast of Lake Ontario all the way. Last summer, I rode along Lake Superior from Deluth, MN up to Grand Maris.
Since I was a kid, I've always wanted to see the falls. Mission accomplished.
I'd hoped to make Saranac Lake before nightfall, but that wouldn't happen. The coast along Watertown NY looked good, so off I went.
Since Merv had shown me how to start my bike, I grabbed my screwdriver and fired it up. The looks on peoples' faces are priceless.
I rode the Lake Ontario State Parkway all along the shoreline and it was fantastic.
I saw this sign and had to hang a U-Turn and chuckle.
Around 5:00, I was tooling around some back roads and saw some signs that looked interesting and then stumbled on a little coastal town with marinas and shops. I went in to grab a quick bite and a drink (if only there were sweet tea in NY.)
I walked into the bar and sat down to enjoy the lake view and the food. The people there all wanted to hear who I was and why I was there, so I obliged. A girl seated near me mentioned she had just ridden the Adirondacks on her Sportster, and that if I was headed that direction, she should advise me on my route. After 10 minutes with her and my Atlas, I had the next 6 hours of riding planned. She told me I'd never make my destination by sundown and that I should camp there in Sodus Point. After only riding 320 miles that day, I wasn’t ready to call it a day, but I also didn’t want to pass up a potentially epic night.
Next thing I knew, I was following her Jeep Wrangler down a dirt road through an apple orchard for a few miles until the road ended at Lake Ontario. The "secret spot" wasn't secret to locals, but a traveler would never find such a jewel of a camping spot. Along the gravel road, is the clubhouse of a local MC. They were all hanging out as I rode by and just gave a friendly biker-wave. I guess me riding by on a bagger, going so fast I left a huge plume of dust, they took me seriously as a rider and not some chump on a Honda who'se just out for a Sunday ride.
I set up camp and she gave me a lift back to Captain Jacks and then she took off and headed for home. We didn’t hang out for long, but she made my day for sure. A great palace to camp, and a great bar to hang out and spend the evening; I’d never have found either without her.
A bunch of cool people came in during the next several hours. I stayed until closing and partied with a whole bunch of rowdy folks. After closing, the bartender gave me a ride back to my tent. I expected her to drop me off at the end of the gravel road and leave me to walk a few miles. Nope, she took me down the road, through the field and all the way to the shoreline. She even turned her car to shine her headlights on my tent to give me a second to find my headlamp. When I set up my camp, I purposely put my headlamp in an easy-to-find place. After many hours of drinking at Captain Jack’s, I had no idea where to begin looking.
Thanks for the lift!
A little drunken nighttime photography.