Or A Tragicomedy In Eleven Parts
It all started off so well, as it so often does. My flight from SF arrived in Denver 15 minutes before Sony’s flight from LA and while waiting I managed to pick up a free flight anywhere Frontier Airlines flies for signing up for a Credit Card with them. Plus they threw in a stuffed bunny. With an auspicious beginning such as that, how could anything go wrong?
We took a taxi ride to the funeral shop and learned from the driver that the brown cloud hanging over Denver isn’t in fact smoke but is ‘haze
’ caused by the wind.
We arrived at John’s Funeral escort business and he gave us a ride to the warehouse where our new bikes were. They looked decent, some rust and body damage here and there but all in all, good enough. I was surprised how nice the side car looked. The upholstery was in near mint condition. John gave us the option of riding them back to his shop and if we still liked them, we’d do the paper work there. All was well, the little stuffed bunny did seem to portend great things ahead after all.
We did the paper work, paid the fee, and headed out into the great blue (brownish) yonder...right after a stop off at Walmart to pick up water and a gas can, and various other sundries. Al hail Walmart! Where you can get a gas can, a bandana, a case of water and eat at subway without leaving the air conditioned building!
The trip started off well. The first 100 miles seemed great. The handling of a side car according to Sony, is significantly more different than either a motorcycle or car. It involves lots more leaning around on the bike. Turns are much more hairy. A side car rig is like a trick car, cool too look at but not so cool to rid for, say, 1000 miles.
But the first sign that the Bunny of our Good Fortunes was letting us down was in the very long tunnel on the outskirts of Denver. Apparently Sony was loosing power and could only cruise at about 30mph which is freaky when:
A) You are on a highway where the speed limit is 70mpg
B) Cars are going significantly faster than that around you
C) You are in a tunnel with no way to pull over
All of these things are not good. But as we exited the tunnel Sony’s bike seemed to kick right back in.
We took the next exit to fuel up and discuss the problem. We, through expert application of our considerable intellect, determined it was simply the altitude that was affecting the motorcycle. You see, the thinner air made it a problem for the engine to combust the gasoline. It was so simple! Nothing to be concerned about. Well there was also the fact that Sony had lost one of the five brackets holding the side car to the motorcycle. Apparently the rust we had seen on it at the warehouse combined with the wind and vibration of the bike was enough to dislodge it. No matter! I knew for a fact such ‘safety’ mechanisms were over engineered by exactly 20%. Losing one bracket meant nothing!
So onward we road. Sony had another brief power issue at a summit which seem to confirm our previous high altitude theory, and so we continued on. Incidentally, as you might have been aware of if you lived anywhere in America last couple weeks, it was very, very hot. We were riding in 100+ degree weather wearing helmets and jackets (note: weather is measured in the shade, so 100 degrees means maybe 130-150 or more in the sun on asphalt). We cooled off by pouring bottles of water down our jackets and pretty much anywhere we could.
By now the power issue had become intermittent and dangerous. It’s just bad riding at 30 on a major free way and having traffic pass you at three times that speed. Additionally I saw at least one, possibly two three more parts come off Sony’s motorcycle. We pulled off the side of the freeway to try to figure out what the hell as wrong and what we were going to do about it.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit, the shoulder of a road freaks me out. I’ve heard too many stories of Cops and Caltrans workers with their cones out and lights blazing, being mowed down by motorist, to trust that little white line to protect me from the onslaught of traffic only inches away. I asked that we maybe we take the next exit, which was 100 yards away, and deal with it there. Great, except Sony’s bike won’t start. No anything. No lights, nothing. Dead. So we push it off the freeway and basically try to think it through. I try some of this and some of that to zero effect. We notice some oil seeping from the engine block but can’t imagine that is and electrical issue. At a loss of what to do we try to push start it and it works! So I pack up my tools, hop on my bike and we head back out. Again, the lack of power issue comes up now and then but we get to Grand Rapids.
The first motel we find is directly across the street from an automotive store and a gas station (Sony’s bike is now getting about 18 miles a gallon, which is not right at all). I run over to the car shop and pick up a set of spark plugs. Sony thinks it’s the ignition system, I’m thinking electrical. Spark plugs seem like a good middle ground.
I do a late night tune up after which we grab some food at a Mexican joint where I teach the waiter how to make a Kalimocho
. We take a dive in the pool at the hotel (did I mention the heat), arrange a wake up call for 5:00 and pass out due to exhaustion.
Our plan is get up early, get a head start on the rest of the trip. Oddly, throughout this entire trip with one exception I remained wildly, ridiculously optimistic. Everything would work out I was sure, because, well, everything always does.
We woke up before dawn, packed everything, put on our gear and...Sony’s bike won’t start. I start doing more diagnostics. We hotwire the ignition thinking it went bad, that isn’t it. I go through the manual and can’t find anything to explain the symptoms we’re getting. So we wait till 8am and then call John. He suggests swapping the batteries, maybe the new one he put in was defective. While I’m at it I swap out the ignitions just to be sure we didn’t screw anything up while hotwiring the ignition. Nothing. So I call him back and we run through a couple things on the phone. None of which is the problem at which point he says he’s got two options. He can A) let us die in the desert or 2) grab a trailer and come get us and take the bike back to Denver to work on it.
Let me just pause and explain that involves him riding four hours from Denver and then four hours back, on a Saturday. Any hint that we may have gotten scammed were gone. I’ll say right now, that if I sold someone a bike and they broke down halfway to LA, well, I’m not sure I’d have been as good a man as John was.
So we killed time mostly by sleeping. We tried to figure out some options. Sony could go back with John and fly home while I road the rest of the way alone (Sony vetoed that), Sony could rent a car and we could swap riding and driving all the way to LA. And, about 20 minutes before John was due, we thought to check Uhaul rental prices. It was only al little more expensive than a car rental and it would certainly be cheaper then renting a car AND shipping the bike back.
We decide that might be the best plan when John shows up. We talk about this and that, and he checks the fuses, which I would like to mention I have already checked. I only mention this now because, in fact, it was the main fuse that was the problem. Tthe fuses weren’t blown. Rather the box that held the fuses was plastic, and the metal prongs that fastened to the fuses themselves would heat up and over years of heating and cooling the plastic would separate and cause the prongs to not snugly fit around the fuses, causing intermitted lost of electrical power. John jumped the fuse and viola, the bike started no problem. After some chit chat, we said god by to John and were off!
...To as far as the border with Utah (40 miles). Apparently the electrical problem was not the same problem as the one causing the loss of power (and neither were related to the pieces falling off problem which had its on unique category). In any case, we were screwed. John is an hour away by now and we aren’t going to call him back (it was his 35th high school reunion that night). So we turned around and Sony dropped me off in the first town we hit (Mack, Colorado) with his bike, takes mine and heads back to Grand Rapids to pick up a Uhaul.
While he was off doing that I found a shady spot and removed the side car from his motorcycle so we could load it in. This operation is made easier by one of five attached braces having removed itself previously.
From there we drove till 1 AM in the Uhaul with both bikes and the side car securely tied down until we stopped, exhausted, somewhere deep in Utah.
The next morning we woke up bright and early, and covered the rest of the distance to Barstow, CA by noon.
In Barstow we remove my bike and bade adieu. I rode east across the Mojave desert to the I-5 and headed north while Sony continued on to LA.
I managed to put in 420 miles from noon to my arrival at 10 PM. (I did have to stop once to take a nap).
All said and done, it was quite an adventure, and while the story is nearly over I’d like to go back to one point I made earlier which was, through the entire trip, despite all the obstacles, the only time I stopped having fun was when I was taking apart the side car and by brother was picking up the Uhaul. The separation bred anxiety and melancholy. Upon Sony’s triumphant return, it all evaporated. And I don’t think it was that particular circumstance that fazed me. Rather I think it all goes to demonstrate who you choose to share your adventures with is key. The right attitude can overcome nearly any obstacle. Or at the very least make it manageable.
John did email us back asking how it went. I let him know today, (I’ve been in Wisconsin) and imagine I’ll be hearing back from him.