Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Great Bike Trip - Day 7

My final day was likely the most adventurous, although not the good kinda adventure.

After a surprisingly restful night of sleep in the back of the pickup, I was awoken by the first of the mechanics rollin' in on his bike. We exchanged pleasantries, and I filled him in on the previous evenin's activities and shot the shit for a little while. The shop manager soon arrived with the keys, so I got the bike pushed around the back as the rest of the staff arrived and got the shop opened up. I'd shot a message to the service manager the evenin' before while I was waitin' for the tow truck, so he wasn't surprised to see me when he rolled in.

After gettin' the shop opened up, they got the bike and and went right to work. We decided to scratch the first tire, so a brand new tire and tube went on. The mechanic himself took the bike around the loop to make sure the wobble was gone and to make sure everythin' else was kosher, and by 10, I had a clean bill of health. I was prepared to pay for the second tire, as the staple the caused all the trouble in the first place sure wasn't the shop's fault. However, the service manager shocked me by tellin' me that they wanted to help me out, and there would be no charge for the second tire. To say I was shocked would have been an understatement. Not too many places would take care of an out-of-towner like that. To the fine folks at Jacksonville Powersports: Thanks for puttin' up with me. To have a staff like yours that was willin' to take care of me and my bike while away from home meant alot.

As I was on a first-name basis with half the shop at this point, I went through and said my goodbyes, crossed my fingers, and once again headed for the interstate.

One of the trip highlights happened just as I got back on the interstate. As I rode along, I noticed somethin' out of the corner of my eye. I looked to my left, and there, barely 40 feet off the ground, was an eagle flyin' along right beside me. That just about beat all I've ever seen.

Another feature of Florida is that they don't skimp on their bridges. This was another gem that I crossed shortly after I saw the eagle.

State aesthetics aside, I won't lie... I was really, really damn happy to make the Georgia line. With a little over 800 miles to go and on my last day, I fell into the I-95 groove and pushed hard for home. The weather got nice again, and I was feelin' purty good about the rest of my journey.

When I got a few hours from Fayetteville North Carolina, I texted my friend James, who I was supposed to stay with the night before. My arrival in his neck of the woods worked out with his schedule, and we were able to meet up a the local Cracker Barrel for a quick dinner.

When I went to start the bike after dinner, she barely cranked over. I was just about to panic, when all of the sudden the engine took and fired to life. I wasn't sure what the issue was, but the bike was runnin', so I kept headin' North.

As the sun dipped below the horizon, I started noticin' my neutral indicator light flickerin' on the dash. That purty much told me that my issue was a little bit more complicated than a deceased battery. Some sorta electrical gremlin had taken control; not a good thing with 400 more miles to go, and less than ten hours until I had to return to work.

A quick back story here... Most bikes have what's called a reserve tank. It's not really a reserve at all, but it's simply a petcock control that releases the fuel left in the lower section of the tank. For the last year or so, when my bike gets close to that level, it tends to just cut out. The aforementioned petcock is controlled by vacuum via the carburetor, and I guess the vacuum isn't quite strong enough. When it cuts out, I simply wait a minute or so, choke the bike and crank it 'till she fires back up, then find the nearest gas station. It's a hassle, but not to the extent that I've spent the money on fixin' it.

Fast forward to my current situation, and now that little tidbit was more than a hassle. With my battery bein' drained, I needed to be a little more prompt about stoppin' and toppin' off, so she didn't have her little hissy fit and leave me sit along the highway.

Well, sure enough, my dumbass pushed her just a bit too far, and there I sat with a dead bike along one of the most brutal interstates in the country, in the dark. I was less than enthused.

Once again, I called my insurance to line up a tow, but in the meantime, I started pushin'. The fuel station I had been plannin' on stoppin' at was about three miles up the road, so I figgered if the tow truck took as long as it did the night before, I'd make the station before the truck got to me.

I finally noticed that I was on a slight downhill... maybe just enough to be able to push-start it. I popped open the fuel door with the key, so I didn't have to turn the bike off at the gas station, and started rollin' her up to speed. Sure enough, I popped the clutch and she fired to life. My challenge now was to keep her runnin' the remainder of the trip home.

I made the fuel station and topped off, then called and cancelled the tow. Once again, I crossed my fingers and headed up the road.

I quickly realized that havin' the fuel door propped open, in addition to the up-draft caused by the windshield, was not a good combination. The fumes from the tank were blowin' directly in under my helmet, which made breathing a lot more interestin' than I wanted. If I turn up with cancer in a few years, now you know why.

Fumes aside, I was runnin' purty good until I hit Richmond, VA. A local tow truck pulled up beside me and started flashin' his lights. It took me a moment to realize what he was tryin' to tell me, but then I looked back and saw my taillight was out. To the gentleman from Hanover Towing that alerted me to this: If you happen to read this, thanks for lettin' me know. Not havin' a taillight on a bike, with Richmond, DC and Baltimore to get through, is damn near a death wish. It was a hard decision to make, but I decided to pull off at the next gas station, shut her down, and try to find the source of my wirin' woes.

Naturally, I wound up at the sketchiest damned gas station in Richmond, but I didn't really have a choice. I shut her down, and purty much tore her down right there. A half hour later, with no luck findin' anythin' obvious, I put her back together. I got out my flashlight, said a little prayer for some extra battery life, and duct taped the light to the tail light lens. It wasn't perfect, but it was damn sure better than nothin'.

Shortly thereafter, I discovered that damn near nobody in Richmond has a set of jumper cables in their cars. Givin' up on that option, I cussed and fussed for a half-hour tryin' to push start her on the flat lot, but to no avail. I finally pushed the bike up to road to another gas station, where I finally found an awesome chick that not only had a set of cables, but knew how to use the doggone things. We got the bike runnin' in short order, and off I went again.

Despite the finest efforts of several construction zones around DC that had a surprisin' amount of traffic at a stand-still in the middle of the night, I finally pulled into the driveway around 3am. To my surprise, I had a welcomin' committee waitin' awake for me. After the long road home, it sure was nice to give that girl a kiss again. I had just enough time to take a shower and cook breakfast before I headed to work for one of the longest 12-hour shifts I'd ever worked. I was flat out whooped.

In seven days, I'd traveled 4,756 miles, covered 14 states, burned around 120 gallons of fuel and only got nabbed for one ticket. I got to have a few brief visits with friends and family along the way, and the gremlins thankfully stayed at bay until after I'd accomplished my goals. Most importantly, I'd covered the distance without meetin' an untimely demise, saw some of the greatest things our country has to offer and got lots of quality thinkin' done. It was truly an awesome experience, and nothin' can beat the memories that will last a lifetime.

For the two of you that read all my ramblin's and checked out my pictures over the last few days, I thank you for followin' along.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Great Bike Trip - Day 6

Florida was already much more of an adventure than I'd anticipated, so I was ready to make my escape. My sixth day was set to be a leisurely trip to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to stay with some more friends from my newspaper era.

When I finally arose from my slumber, I threw in a load of laundry and took a nice, long shower... both were badly needed. When the laundry was done, I got my things together and let myself out.

By now, I had over 2,000 miles on that used tire I'd picked up in San Antonio, and from the looks of things, tryin' to get the rest of the way home on it wasn't the best of ideas. As it was just after lunchtime, and I only had around 400 miles to go that day, I decided to nip it in the bud and get another thrown on. I jumped on the internet, made a few phone calls, and found a shop just north in Jacksonville that could take care of me. I loaded the bike back up, and off I went.

I found Jacksonville Powersports with no problem, as it was right off I-295. Within 15 minutes, they had the bike on the lift, and I was walkin' out a happy customer 45 minutes later.

Then, once again, the day went to shit.

I'd no sooner got back on the interstate than I started to feel a wobble. I yanked the bike to the shoulder... sure enough, the new tire was flat. I called the shop and explained my dilemma, and before long they had a runner there to pick me up.

With the bike back on the lift back at the shop, they quickly found the problem... somewhere in the nine miles of the new tire's life, I had picked up a staple, and it had punctured just enough to shred the shit outta the tube.

The old heads of the shop got together, and decided that the tire could probably be resurrected, although there was a little bit of damage from the tube spinnin' around inside of it. Twenty minutes later, I was on my way again.

Except I wasn't. I felt one helluva rear tire wobble as I left the parkin' lot, so I turned around and went right back. By now, they were officially closed for the day, but I managed to catch the service manager and the mechanic as they were leavin'. We yanked the bike back in, but after pokin' around for a half-hour, we couldn't find anythin' that would be causin' the wobble. I decided that I could live with it to get home and that I'd take my chances, so we hemmed it up and off I went.

Well, this time I made it about eight miles, then... flat again.

I weighed my options, then finally called my insurance company's roadside assistance for a tow back to the shop. In hindsight, I shoulda just pushed the damn thing. By the time the tow truck got there almost three hours later, it had long since been dark and the skeeters were feastin' on me somethin' fierce.

After gettin' situated back at the shop, I finally came to the realization that in all the excitement, I'd never really had anything to eat or drink all day. With that thought in mind, I bit the bullet and walked up the street to a Waffle House. As hungry and thirsty as I was at that point, I'da paid a million for that junk food. It was phenomenal.

After gettin' my fill, the only thing left to do was to wait 'till mornin'. I didn't really want to draw any undue attention to myself to the local gangbangers or law enforcement, so I set up shop in the bed of the parts truck out front, where I couldn't be seen. With a saddlebag for a pillow, I commenced to gettin' a surprisingly good night's sleep after a purty much worthless day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homebrewed broadhead target review

Takin' break from chroniclin' my motorcycle odyssey for a day...

A few weeks back, I set about whippin' up a cheap broadhead target whilst gettin' ready for the bow season.

Well, I commenced to sendin' some arrows through it the next day, and somethin' bad happened.

On my ninth shot that day, I heard a weird noise upon releasin' the arrow, and felt a slap at my wrist. Sure 'nuff, I'd gone and blown the bow up.

Granted, I've got nobody to blame but myself. It'd been at least nine years since I'd had a new string put on the ol' gal (the powers that be recommend a new one every two to three years). I've sent thousands of arrows a'wingin' in that time, so that ol' string didn't owe me a thing. I just got lucky and didn't get hurt when it decided to go.

But, back to the target...

I managed to get nine shots on target before the bow blew. The first three arrows almost knocked the target backwards, so I took the target back into the shop and added a few small 2x4 lengths to the back of the frame to help brace it against the ground. After that, it worked flawlessly.

At eight inches thick, it had no problem stoppin' my arrows from punchin' through.

The only special treatment it's gettin' is that I'm takin' the practice heads off the arrows before yankin' the arrows back out. This not only makes it easier to remove, but it'll help the insulation panels to last a little bit longer. Also, to help distribute to wear a little more evenly, I'll shoot at the small dots in the corners at closer distances, rather than the large center dot. That helps keep me from bangin' up arrows as well.

The only downside is that the insulation leaves a bit of a film on the arrows after a few shots. I know a lot of the 3D target shooters use a special (expensive) arrow lubricant on their arrows to avoid this. Since I'm cheap, and I already have the practice heads screwed off, I find it just as easy to use the blunt edge to scrape the junk off.

I picked the bow up from the shop after my trip, and have since thrown close to 150 arrows through that target with no problem. Based on the current wear rate, I imagine that I'll have to replace a couple of the center panels every 300 shots or so.

Overall, for around $10 and the time to build it, plus a few bucks and a half-hour to replace a few panels here or there, I got a solid, portable broadhead target. Not too shabby at all.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Great Bike Trip - Day 5

The fifth day was set to be a long but adventurous day. I would be headin' from St. Pete to South Florida, then ridin' through the Everglades en route to the Keys, then back to St. Augustine Beach in the northern part of the state to stay with another cousin and his wife.

After three quick hours of sleep, I slammed a cup of coffee, got my things together, said my goodbyes and headed out. First thing's first though, I was about due for an oil change. I yanked it into the nearest Hellmart, got the items needed, and changed the oil right there in the parkin' lot.

That done, I jumped on I-75 and headed south.

The weather had made a full U-turn from the night before, and it was about a purty a mornin' as I could ask for. There were palm trees and gulf water as far as I could see as I crossed the lower Tampa Bay... definitely a right purty place.

I saw three bald eagles on the trip, and all were in Florida. I didn't get any pictures, but as I don't get to see but a few of 'em a year, I tend to remember the sightin's well. The first one I saw just north of Naples, which made a bright and beautiful mornin' even better.

I jumped off I-75 onto U.S. 41 at Naples, and headed off into the Everglades. I saw my second eagle floatin' above me somewhere in there, but I was disappointed that I didn't see any panthers or gators. The Glades themselves are very vast and beautiful... another place I wish I could have taken more time to explore.

As I rode along, I saw some rain developin' up ahead. It didn't look to be anythin' more than a few drops, so I donned the helmet and left the raingear in the bag. Questionable decision... twenty minutes later, there wasn't a dry thread to be found. However, it was in the 90's, and it was a warm, tropical rain, so I damn near enjoyed it. I rode back into the sunlight, and was dry again within a few hours. All things considered, it was the only solid rain I ran into the entire trip, so I can't bitch too loud about that.

On the other side of the Everglades, I saw signs for Key West, so I followed 'em. They took me to Homestead, which is more or less the last outpost before you head out to the islands. By this point, it was early afternoon and I knew I wasn't gonna get to cousin Nate's house anytime soon. I thought briefly about scrappin' the islands and just headin' north, but I'd come that far so I decided to push on. I topped off the tank and was on my way.

I prolly shoulda done a little more research. When I was thinkin' about ridin' out to Key West, I was envisionin' a few small islands and a lotta bridges. Boy, was I wrong. It's 127 miles from the mainland to Key West, and most of it is island with 35-45mph speed limits. Couple that with construction zones and cops everywhere, and it was very slow goin'. In other words, it was damn near seven hours straight of continuously monitorin' my speed so I didn't get pulled over again... very stressful on the brain. While I'll treasure the memories of doin' it, I have absolutely no desire whatsoever to do it ever again.

All that said, it was hellaciously purty out there. I've never been to the tropics before, so to finally see the turquoise water in person was neat. In hindsight, I shoulda stopped for a few minutes and dipped my feet in for a little bit, but at the time I was too overwhelmed with how late I was runnin' and tryin' not to get yanked for speedin' again. The bridges I encountered were fun to run, and it gave me warm and fuzzies to stare out over all that purty water.

It took a little doin' to find it, but I finally got to the Southernmost Point of the U.S., and spend a few minutes there takin' pictures. Not too many folks get to do that on a bike, so I was rather pleased to have made it.

Once again, I got to take in another gorgeous sunset as I headed back across the Seven Mile Bridge.

I got back to the mainland well after dark and stayed north on U.S. 1, and that's when my penchant for avoidin' toll roads when possible bit me in the ass. Let's just say that downtown Miami is purty much batshit crazy, even at 9:30 on a Tuesday night. After narrowly avoidin' an untimely demise several times, I finally was able to jump onto I-95 where I had some room to breath again.

By then, I had exhausted my supply of road snacks, and I was startin' to drag ass. I knew I was in for a long slog up to Nate's place, so out came the headphones blarin' Pantera and gum to keep me awake. Even still, I had to stop several times in addition to my fuel stops to clear the cobwebs.

I finally rolled in to Nate's around 3:30am. As Nate is a former Texan, I was again greeted with a handshake and a cold beer. The late hour be damned, I thoroughly enjoyed that beer, and another, as we caught up for an hour or so. He finally decided to head back to bed for an hour before he had to leave for work. By then, his wife was already up and gettin' ready for work, and I passed out on the floor while waitin' for her to get outta the shower. Bein' on the floor didn't matter... I was wasted tired and still slept like a baby. It was a fittin' end to a fustercluck of a day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Great Bike Trip - Day 4

The fourth day was when things finally started to get a little rough.

It all started by fightin' the alarm for an extra half-hour. While I certainly needed the rest, I had over 1,000 miles to ride to St. Petersburg, Florida that day. Seems like anytime I start the day off late, the rest of the day follows suit (Spoiler alert: it did).

To add insult to injury, my cousin's apartment complex is gated. Well, shore 'nuff, my little KLR wasn't enough to trip the sensor that opens the gate. My cousin said to call and wake him if that happened so he could trigger it, but damned if my phone calls woke him. So, there went another twenty minutes until another tenant mercifully decided they had to leave, and I was able to follow them out.

It seemed like things were gonna smooth out for the day. I settled onto the I-10 beat, gettin' comfortable since I knew I'd be on that road most of the day. Then, Louisiana happened.

Just outside of Lake Charles, the speed drops from 70 to 60. I was in heavy rush-hour traffic, so I failed to notice this. The nice state policeman hidin' under the overpass did take notice, however. Another twenty minutes down the drain.

I got back on the road, and things seemed to be smoothin' out again. For the record, I-10 through Louisiana is more or less just one big damn bridge. It was somethin' different, so I enjoyed it. I can see how someone would get real sick of it if they had to drive it every day though.

Then, just west of New Orleans, I passed a fellow rider sittin' along the shoulder on one of the aforementioned bridges. I've had my share of breakdowns, so I'm not apt to go rollin' past without at least checkin' in. I whipped it over to the shoulder and kicked back to him.

Turns out my new friend Malcolm was havin' issues keepin' his Jixxer runnin', which he was purty certain was some sorta faulty electrickery. Well, we played around with it for almost an hour and I couldn't find squat. I'd just about given up hope when I noticed two sets of wires runnin' tight in along the engine. Someone had just twisted 'em together instead of a proper splice, so they were brushin' against the metal and shortin' everythin' out. I yanked out my wirin' kit, and with a some patience and some real splices we had that 750 runnin' like a song. I threw my toolkit back together, and with a handshake and a hug, we were in the wind once again. I followed him to his exit to make sure he didn't have any further problems, and then I jumped back on I-10 and was eastbound again.

I'm thankful that I was able to help the lad out, but damned if it didn't back me up another hour and half.

As I approached my next gas stop, I passed a tourist trap country store that looked invitin'. I fueled up, then backtracked a few miles. It was a neat little junk store with a cafe attached, so since it was past lunchtime, I decided some authentic Cajun fare was in order. At the recommendation of the waitress, I wound up with a delicious po' boy and some seafood gumbo. I also stocked up on some pralines for my lady on the way out the door. It took yet another half-hour, but it was definitely worth the time.

From there, the day just got long.

First, I forgot about that pesky time change. Check off another hour I didn't anticipate.

On the plus side, as I got outta Louisiana, the dreary weather I'd been in all day finally cleared up... for a little while.

I made it through Mississippi and Alabama without incident, but the skies started to darken as I hit the Florida line. I stopped at the visitor's center just inside the state line to grab some fresh, free orange juice and to use the bathroom. The Blue Angels jet on display was a neat addition to the center.

For the next few hours, Momma Nature was purty much bipolar. Beautiful one second, dark and spittin' rain the next. Thankfully, I was in the clear as the sun went down, and was treated to another jaw-droppin' sunset.

Although it was nice behind me, I was ridin' into some heavy cloud cover as the sun disappeared. I felt it was in my best interest to stop and throw on the rain gear. Besides, it was gettin' hard to see outta my face shield for all the doggone bugs.

I slogged through the rest of the evenin' like I was runnin' through quicksand. I finally made it to my aunt's place in St. Pete around 1:30am, a solid four-plus hours behind schedule. My aunt stayed up just for her bear hug, and of course, we had to sit around and chew the fat for another hour. With another long day ahead of me, I finally showered and laid down for a quick rest around 3am.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Great Bike Trip - Day 3

My plan for Sunday was to spend a few hours beatin' around San Antonio, then mosey on over to Houston to spend the evenin' with my cousin and his wife.

I took the opportunity to sleep in, and enjoy breakfast with Tim and his wife before takin' off. They were exceptional hosts, and I can only hope to return the favor at some point.

I had mentioned that the tires on the wheels that I'd picked up for the trip were at about half life, and I'd been keepin' an eye on them. The plan from the get-go was to yank it into a shop somewhere and get a new one thrown on when needed. As I fueled up on my way outta Bergheim, I took a good look at it in the daylight and decided that pushin' it to Houston and beyond would not be the wisest decision that I've ever made. I started makin' phone calls, knowin' that my chances of findin' somebody open on a Sunday were slim to none. Well, lo and behold, I managed to catch Daniel at the Motorcycle Tire Shop in San Antonio takin' care of some paperwork in his shop that mornin', and although a bit gruff, he agreed to throw a new tire on as long as I got there quick. Without dickin' around any further, I banged his address into the GPS and hit the wind.

A found the shop, yanked the bike onto the sidewalk in front, and quickly cracked open to the toolkit and dropped the rear tire. I could tell by the front of the shop that I was dealin' with an old-school kinda guy, and that was confirmed as soon as I walked in the door. Any shop notes were written in sharpie on the wall, amidst the shelves full of Harley parts. You could hardly move without brushin' up against somethin' chrome, includin' the hog sittin' just inside the door.

Daniel wasted no time in admonishin' me for not bein' more prepared. I didn't bother to explain to him that this was all part of the plan. After we were finally on the same page, he dug around and found the only tire in the shop that would fit on my bike, which was a used front-runnin' HD-branded Dunlop. Regardless of my disdain for HD stuff, and a deep-seated hatred of Dunlop tires, my options were limited. He pointed to a chair, which I promptly placed my ass in, and he went to work. Ten minutes later, I was back out on the sidewalk and bangin' everythin' back together. Despite the gruffness, Daniel took me in unexpectedly, on a Sunday, and did me right on the price to boot. I have no complaints.

Once I had everythin' hemmed up, I turned around and headed back to downtown San Antonio. I waded through the traffic, found a cheap parkin' lot, then headed off on foot for the Alamo.

En route, I walked along what I think is called the River Walk. Between that and the wealth of history in the area, I felt inclined to take my time and try to take in as much as I could. There was plenty of neat things to see.

There's a mosaic tile plaque where Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders watered the nags and crossed the river.

There's also a smatterin' of design thrown about. I also passed several museums that I wouldn't have minded burnin' a few hours in, had I had the time.

I pushed on, and a few minutes later, I finally stepped foot into my target destination, and one of history's most important locales; the compound of the Alamo.

As an aside, CenTexTim did a fantastic writeup on the stand at the Alamo a few years back... you can check the posts out startin' here. Take an hour or two and read through it.

Much to my dismay, the Long Barracks were closed off for renovation, so I feel like I missed out on half of what the compound had to offer. Regardless, I wandered around the compound for almost two hours, takin' in as much as I could. I've been readin' about the Alamo since I was a kid, and it was special to finally be able to see the compound laid out before me. There's feelin' of reverence, the crawlin' skin, the knowledge that somethin' of extreme importance had happened there... I've lived just outside of Gettysburg my whole life, so I'm familiar with that feelin'. I was surprised at how strong that it was at the Alamo.

I finally pried myself away from the compound, and headed up the street to another Tim-recommended destination; the Menger Bar (another good history lesson here).

I ordered a Shiner from the bar maid, then hauled my ass up to the balcony and sat for 15 minutes or so. There was all sortsa fun stuff on the walls to gaze at, while the jukebox was throwin' out some old country standards from Waylon, Willie and the boys. With a cold Shiner in hand, I wondered more than once if I was in Texas or Heaven.

Alas, I had to get to Houston at some point, so I slurped down the rest of my beer and then hauled my ashes back up the street toward the bike. However, I did make one unscheduled stop... the pull of the Blue Bell logo on the door was too much to ignore.

There's gonna have to be another dedicated trip made to San Antonio in the future. There's a tremendous amount of history to explore, and other neat stuff to see, and I barely scratched the surface. That was the price I paid for plannin' the trip the way I did, and I knew it goin' into it, but I left the city feelin' like I should have accomplished more.

I made it out of the city in once piece, and enjoyed the scenery along I-10 to Houston.

I rode into a few showers as I arrived in Houston, but I beat the worst of the rain to my cousin's parkin' garage. Once again, I was greeted with a handshake and another cold Texas-brewed beer... No wonder everyone seems to like it in Texas.

I got settled in, and then we walked up the street for some grub at Demaris BBQ. While not the best of the best, it was a pretty solid BBQ joint, the beer was cold, and it had the endearin' quality of only bein' a few steps up the road from my cousin's place.

We spent the rest of the evenin' catchin' up, and I had to pretend to be somewhat interested in the Cowgirl's game (Go EAGLES!). The time for a shower and bed finally came, and once again, I was comatose in no time.