USA The Ride: Part II

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Adventures in Mechanics

After riding hundreds of miles without repose or nourishment, one is want to be quite ravenous when pulling into a Sonic Drive-Thru. I was in such a state, and was so busy contemplating whether I would order fries or tots, that I neglected to turn off my steed – which dutifully drained my battery.

This happens every so often, and the solution is simple: push the bike to a trot, jump on, kick her into second gear, cough, choke, jerk… and you’re off! However, as I had 200lbs of gear on the bike, I was in for quite a workout and test of balance. Usually once you get the bike going the alternator will recharge the battery, but for some reason my alternator decided to take a vacation, so a jump-start was how I had to start… every time.

A few days later I found myself alone, in the middle of a huge prairie – The National Bison Range in Montana. The cool of the mountains from my morning ride had turned to a blaring late summer heat in the vast golden expanse of the range. All was fun and sweat, until a fateful moment when I heard the clanking of a chain and felt the loss of forward velocity.

I quickly engage both brakes and sat breathless for a moment trying to figure out what the hell just happened.  I looked over my shoulder toward where my chain should have been snuggly resting on my sprockets, only to find it dangling like a wilted flower. Suddenly the grandeur of the mountains, and the breathtaking expanse of the range, were but shadows in the light of this small catastrophe. If I let go of the brakes the bike will likely roll down the hill and go tumbling into a herd of horned beasts; if I shut it off I will have to kick start it up a hill (not possible);  and yet I couldn’t sit there in the hopes of being discovered, as I was utterly alone.

I put out the kick stand and prayed that the friction would be enough to keep the bike from rolling back. As I laid down beneath the four pipes blasting their heat and exhaust in my face, I contemplated what would happen if the bike were to fall over onto my face. Within a minute I started to feel a little sick and light headed. I was trying to reach around the pipes in order to hook the chain onto a few sprockets, but those pipes stood guard against my efforts with a thousand degree heat that instantly and permanently brands skin upon contact. I tried desperately not to think about being in a place full of rattle snakes, spiders and bison, none of which I could hear because of the pipes.

But calm is always the order of the day when on a motorcycle or in the wilderness, so I very calmly, with only occasional exclamations, and prayers that the bike wont slip and burn my face off, wriggled the chain onto one sprocket tooth at a time. I could only attach 3 links as the rest of the sprocket was inaccessible.

I climbed back on the bike which had so graciously not gone rolling down the hill, said another quick prayer, and curse for the mechanic who did not adjust my chain, put her in gear and slowly, very very slowly, rolled back on the throttle. I started rolling back slowly, then a little forward, about half a foot, before the chain fell off again.

My racing heart, and neglected breathing made it very difficult to stay calm. Did I really have to do that all again? Will the steed stay upright again as I try to re-hook the chain? Will I have to walk God knows how many miles for help?
With all the to do, I completely forgot to remove the, what felt like a thousand, layers of clothing I was wearing, and was drenched with sweat. Still dizzy from the pipes, more dizzy from the heat and dehydration, I climbed off to do it all again.

10 years of venturing into mountains, wilderness, the open road, and  streets of New York, have engrained the necessary calm that allowed me to get under the bike again. You only truly fail when you stop trying.

As I remounted and rode over that hill, through the rest of the range, and to the nearest shop to replace my battery and alternator, the overwhelming beauty of the West re-emerged from the shadows of memory, and I was again overcome with gratitude for being able to do what I am doing and continue my journey.

(Next Post) USA the Ride: Part III >>