Saturday, April 07, 2007

An odd little jaunt

Another roadtrip. Pausing near Mt. Shasta

During the night, I woke up choking. Had I swallowed a bug again? Perhaps the third time it has happened while sleeping in this apartment. (Are spiders or other bugs drawn to an open, snoring mouth?)

Jeff woke me at 8:00. (I had been avoiding reality.) He found a discussion on the Adventure Rider website that stated a faulty crank sensor can create the symptoms I described.

Henry and Charlene again loaned me their phone. By 8:30, I was on the line with Issa at BMW of San Francisco. He said he was busy, but would call back in ten minutes. Two hours later, I called him again. He had forgotten, but his day had quieted now, so we could talk. He thought the problem was the fuel pump, not the crank sensor. “It’s about $400 for the assembly.” But, of course, they don’t stock it. He said he could get it to me tomorrow if I let him know by 1:00 whether I wanted to go that route. I had to think about it. $400 would be a serious hit to my finances.

I was about to call him back and order the pump assembly with electronics module when I remembered the electronics unit that had failed in Mexico. Lester (of Dave’s Motorcycles in Essex Junction, Vermont) had said these units sometimes dry out. And so I had hung on to the part.

“Just for fun, let’s try that old unit, and make sure I’m not overlooking something simple.” I found it buried in the closet. Henry came out to see what I was up to, and I told him about this hair-brained idea, and that there was virtually no chance of it working. Removing the electronics module in the bike, I noticed it showed signs of a short, the plastic insulation being slightly melted. Apparently that was an electrical fire I smelled yesterday!

A few minutes later, the old unit now installed, I pressed the starter button. The motorcycle started right up. I had trouble releasing my “I’m suffering” expression. “What does this mean? A solution that cost me nothing. Does that mean I should continue with the trip?”

Decided that today’s “sign” was pointing me in a different direction than yesterday’s. “Okay, I’m going.” Called Drew and Susan to announce I should be there for Drew’s birthday party. Called Jess and left an update message. Called Issa to tell him that the problem was solved. Then I e-mailed Drew, Jeff and Jess with an explanation. Henry was delighted to see the adventure was once again underway.

I had not unpacked much, so re-loading was a simple task. Meanwhile, it had grown considerably warmer.

Knowing that the fuel pump electronics module now in the bike had failed once, I would be sure to replace it at the first opportunity. (And, of course, keep it as a back-up!)

8:00 PM

Denny’s Restaurant, Grant’s Pass, Oregon.

(Maybe it’s just the Denny’s crowd, but it strikes me that there are many very-heavy people here!)

A nagging headache. It may be from lack of caffeine - withdrawal. My body run-down, a slight twinge in the throat.

Left at 1:20 p.m. today, Henry wishing me luck. It was very warm. Followed a different route this time, up through Lake County to highway 20, then east to Williams. This probably was a mistake, since I became quite aggravated by traffic and the challenging, winding roads. And I probably pissed off a few drivers with my carefree passing. (One of the great perks of motorcycling: almost nothing keeps you back in the line.)

Hours later, passing on bridges over Lake Shasta, I thought how strange that we permit so many people to boat across our water supply, no doubt releasing harmful chemicals into the water. What an odd concept. Stopped at the Weed Airport to take a self-portrait with Mt. Shasta as backdrop. Only I didn't want to unpack the tripod, buried deep in one of the panniers. So, no self-portrait. Just the motorcycle and mountain.

A thunderstorm crept over the Trinity Alps to the west and threatened to catch me near Yreka, but the highway skirted around it. Took note of the quaint town of Hilt just south of the Oregon border. It's tucked into a beautiful valley, with the Trinities as backdrop. I'll return for a closer look some time in the future.

It was cold over the mountain pass to Ashland. A weather front blowing in from the southwest, but I seemed to be outrunning it (though there were also flashes of lightning northeast of me.)

Slowed down after crossing into Oregon. The roads are better, but there is a real or imagined increased police presence. Oregonians drive very close to the speed limit. (Which, to a Californian, is strange and irritating behavior indeed!) In service stations, cheery attendants ask how I’ll be paying, clear the pump, then hand me the nozzle to pump my own gasoline. (Oregon state law prohibits customers pumping their own fuel, but because motorcyclists don’t like anyone else pumping their gas, they’ve apparently arrived at this compromise.)

Despite my continuing along the same Interstate Highway 5, Oregon is one of those states with its own unique brand of freeway engineering. (“We don’t need no stinking cloverleaves!”) The highway 140 interchange in Medford is a bizarre and confusing example.

Medford repels me, with its huge lumber mills and utterly stripped mountainsides, where homes now scale the slopes, partially disguising the devastation.

Should I ride all night? That would get me to Mukilteo about 4:00 a.m., though I’d be totally wasted.

The coffee helps my headache, perhaps confirming my suspicion. No tax on the meal (waffle, sausage and coffee). But at $10.72 plus tip, the cost seems as high as the same meal at any other Denny's where taxes add 7 or 8% to the bill. Not a bargain.


In the dark, I traversed an undulating landscape between Grant's Pass and Roseburg, up and down the mountain folds of this unusual terrain. Between 11:00 and 12:00, I passed turn-offs for Dundee and Richard Camera’s invitation to stay over at his place. “It’s too late to barge in.” Instead, I targeted as potential campsites two Washington state parks shown on the map.

Entered the suburbs of Portland, where brilliant sodium and mercury vapor floodlamps turn night into day. Freeways, interchanges, auto malls, parking lots and shopping areas magnificently illuminated. Most of the energy serving no purpose at this late hour. Why do we need this? How has such waste become "acceptable", the norm?

Across the Columbia River, I ran into a few light showers. The night was growing cold. A familiar pain shooting through my upper back, but I still felt I could ride for hours if necessary. In the dark, smells become more prominent: fertilizers, chemicals, lumber and sawdust, and water in its various forms, each with its distinct aroma: rain, clouds, ponds, rivers, lakes.

North of Kelso, I exited the highway in search of Lewis and Clark State Park but ended up lost in a maze of rural roads. Finally, I found a convenience store and asked directions. The campground was three miles away. I found it, gated, but I drove around the barrier and wandered through the rustic site.

Few campers. The individual campsites appeared to be crudely cut into the woods and understorey, with the cuttings pushed back into the perimeter growth. The ground was soggy. I didn’t want to erect the tent in this muck, so I took out a plastic tarp and lay down on top of it, still wearing my riding suit. Pulled the sleeping bag over me and listened for creatures. I was more exposed than usual, especially my head and face.

Then I started to hear a few rain drops. Increasing. I was just starting to warm up, but realized I couldn’t stay here. Quickly stashed everything and strapped it on for sudden departure. The rain grew steady. I needed to get to the city, where I imagined the lower elevation and the urban heating would diminish the rainfall.

Returning to the Interstate, and driving again at high speed, it was just a matter of time before my suit would be leaking and I would be freezing. (If this were daytime, I would have been better prepared for rain, unpacking my rainsuit.)

At Tumwater, the rain subsided and by Tacoma it had ceased. Passing the “South Tacoma Way”, I was reminded of a great Neko Case song of the same name. It was 3:30 a.m. and traffic heading into Seattle was surprisingly heavy . My “plan” kept changing. I drove directly to Mukilteo, where the Whidbey Island ferry departs. I stopped by the ferry ticket booth to inquire about departure times.

“You can’t stop there. You’ll get a ticket,” warned the agent.

I looked around. It was 5:10 a.m. The streets were empty.

“I just have a question: when is the first ferry?”


There was time to go find a coffee. A couple miles away, the Mukilteo Starbucks was open and humming with activity. (I was amazed to find the store opens at 4:30, and equally amazed by the staff of 4 or 5 bubbly young people.) Ordered coffee and a piece of coffee cake.

Only a few dollars for the ferry crossing. When the ferry arrived, at least ten motorcycles from Whidbey Island rolled off. I hear it’s a popular and economical way to commute from the island.

Tapped on Drew and Susan’s window, waking them before 7:00. They sleepily greeted me, then it was back to bed for everyone. I took Alana’s room (which was barely navigable among the heaps of clothes, bags, shoes and all manner of stuff. She had left it in chaos, as she headed off to school in Southern California.) Just stretched my sleeping bag atop the mattress.

Alex, I'm told, had stayed on “the far side” (the mainland) last night. Crawled into bed. It felt great.

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