Thursday, April 05, 2007

False Start

Slow to crawl out this morning. Awoke before 7:00, but lingered in bed. Listened to the news, ate the last of the peanut butter drizzled with some honey on multi-seed crackers. The cupboards were now officially bare.

Packing dragged on. The intent to leave by 8:00 a.m. was quickly abandoned. Targeted 10:00 instead. Loading the bike, I couldn’t remember the exact tie-down strap configuration previously used. Packed and repacked several times. Included in the load, three half-bottles of wine.

Once everything was outside, I returned to vacuum the floor, leaving a “pristine” appearance to greet my return.

On the road at 10:30. 75,870 miles on the bike. $1,070.00 in cash. The packs were not perfectly lashed down, but I’ll get better. “Man, there’s a lot of stuff.”

The front brakes grabbing a bit, apparently a sign of warping rotors once again. (This is more obvious when the bike is fully-loaded.)

Impatient with the slow-moving traffic in town. “Now stop that!” (I had to talk myself.) The trip begins. The new consciousness begins. (Right?)

Visited the Kenwood post office to start out with a clean mailbox.

Couldn’t pass up “Artisan Bakery” in Sonoma since I was going right by. The owner, Craig Ponsford, was apparently guiding a group on a tour of his operation, but the place really doesn’t look tour-worthy. He has never been fastidious in his maintenance of the bakery. No butterhorns remaining (big disappointment!), a small coffee and two “triple chocolate” cookies would have to suffice.

On toward Napa. It was warming up nicely, a good day for a ride. With about 800 miles to Seattle, I was aiming for 400 today, given the late start.

Turned onto Jameson Canyon Road and was just taking off ahead of a wave of traffic when the engine stalled, as though the gas had been cut off. Quickly moved to the shoulder. My first thought: fuel pump electronics again. But unlike the last time, I was able to start it up again. It ran briefly then sputtered. It could be the fuel pump.

I waited for a break in traffic on the heavily-traveled highway. At an opening, I fired it up and was able to get across to the opposite shoulder before stalling. Another attempt. It started and kept running. I headed back for Napa, and it seemed to run fine. After half a mile, I turned around again and continued east. “Let’s keep going.”

A mile or so beyond where it had first died, as the road narrowed, the bike pooped out once again. Now I had an even longer hike back to “civilization”. Resting a bit allowed some accumulation of fuel in the lines. With a short burst, I crossed over to the westbound shoulder of this more treacherous section of road. Using this method of pausing several minutes, then trying to start the bike, I was able to roll maybe ten yards with each “swig” of gas. I wasn’t ready to start pushing the bike. It was too warm, and too hilly. Where possible, I coasted the downhill slopes, but had to push it up the hills. Still, it was nothing like my Mexico experiencing. Just embarrassing.

I finally coasted into the warehouse complex behind the old “Hakusan” sake brewery in South Napa. Surprised to learn the building I had pulled up to was “Collotype Label”, the same vendor we had rejected in the Robert Mondavi label contract bidding. Now I had to appeal for their help.

In "Collotype's" reception area, a sign announced “Welcome Constellation Wines”. “Who’s coming in from Constellation?” I asked the receptionist. “Josh (my former co-director) and Colleen (from NY),” she replied. It was 1:00 p.m. when I borrowed their phone to call BMW for roadside assistance. (Learned that I have until November on my 3-year roadside service contract. Despite my many times being stranded, this was the first reliance upon insurance coverage.)

Returned to my bike to await the tow truck, and sat on a curb, looking over the bike. Noting, at 75,000 miles, all the things that need work: brake rotors, struts, drive shaft, fuel pump, starter, clutch. Who knows what else. Not the durable machine one would hope, nor the economical and efficient mode of transport one might expect. Of dubious environmental benefit as an alternative to a car. It seems to pale in comparison to my old Honda Civic, even if that vehicle got 33% fewer miles per gallon. The Honda had well over 100k miles before it required repairs, and those were relatively minor (water pump and alternator.) This motorcycle seems to be creating a significant scrap pile of used-up parts. (Consider the amount of energy that goes into mining, refining, manufacture and distribution of these parts! It makes the relative fuel economy pale in comparison.)

As I was trying to get my bike back to Napa, I had smelled something electrical burning, but could not locate the source on my bike. Now it appeared to be something in the air around the business park.

Strange to be back in this environment (sitting outside a wine label print shop.) “I don’t want to return to this world. It’s so empty.”

I thought about the trip. Should I continue? Or, re-think the whole concept?

David Busey came outside. “Do you remember me,” he asked? I had to be reminded. He had led the team trying to acquire Mondavi’s label business. He could only talk for a few minutes before returning to work. Pressmen exited a back door of the warehouse on smoke breaks and chatted with me between drags on their cigarettes.

Across the way, in a utility company equipment yard, someone said over the loud speaker “did you hear me? Is that the doorway to heaven?” (In my early spiritual wanderings, that would have been recognized as a message from the gods specifically created for my personal evolution.)

I returned to the reception office to borrow the phone once again. (For the past several years, I’ve avoided the purchase of a cell phone, having no interest in subscribing to services that inevitably seem to manipulate and abuse the customer.) Called “BMW of Santa Rosa” for a price on a new fuel pump: $350. And for the electronics module, $78.50. Of course, they don’t stock any of these. (It seems most BMW dealers have reduced parts inventories to a minimal level, knowing they have access to central warehouses, with overnight or two-day delivery – at customer expense both in terms of time and cost.)

They said I could have the motorcycle towed to their location in Windsor, while they order the parts. I would have to think about it.

Josh and Colleen showed up. Josh recognized my bike and was looking for me. It was good to see him, even if he hasn’t changed a bit. (Always the clown and trouble-maker!)

Returned to my bike, and continued the wait. For two years now, I’ve basically done whatever I wanted. Maybe it’s time to not? To go back to work for others?

At 3:00, a big flat-bed tow-truck arrived. He was dispatched from Davis! I determined it was too late to make it to Windsor. And what would I do while my bike was stored there? How would I get around? Maybe I can do the repair myself if they courier the parts to my house?

I decided to have the driver take me and the bike home.

It took quite a bit of work to properly secure the bike on top of the bed. Very time consuming. A car, in contrast, takes just a few minutes. But the driver appeared not to mind. An immigrant from Mexico, he had an easy-going disposition. He thought it was curious that he was called for this job, but did not question it. I think he said he normally does 20 or 30 tow jobs a day in the Davis area. Before it was over, this one job would take about half his day, and consume enough fuel to have propelled me and my motorcycle to Seattle.

As we pulled up to my apartment, Charlene and Henry came out of their house, an alarmed expression on their faces. “At least you’re alright!” they exclaimed.

They insisted on loaning me their phone to make any necessary calls. Called “BMW of Santa Rosa” to advise them of my decision to bring the bike to the house.

Called Whidbey Island and told Susan about my situation. It seemed unlikely I'd be able to make Drew's birthday party on Saturday. "Maybe this is a sign I should not make the journey?" Drew called back later to apply some pressure for me to keep on with the mission.

Jeff called. "Should I sell my bike?" he asked. He was more discouraged than I. His bike has been problem-free so far. There had been rumors of a "bad batch" of early R1200GS motorcycles. We checked and compared manufacture dates. His bike was manufactured 10/04, mine 9/04.

I feel burned out. And I only traveled about 40 miles from home today!


A KQED "Quest" radio show featured field biologist Stu Weiss, who is studying checkerspot butterflies in Silicon Valley. He said catalytic converters can be too efficient reducing NOx, producing ammonia instead. (This apparently encourages a certain ammonia-loving plant to grow along roadsides, a plant that attracts these particular butterflies.) “10% of cars put out 50% of the ammonia,” he said. It depends on make, model and maintenance. This may explain what I smell following some cars on my motorcycle.

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