This is the first part in a three part series about ‘Road Trip: 2010’.
Maybe I wasn’t ‘born to be wild’.
I woke up early and got myself and my bike ready for the road last Thursday. I had emptied out my saddlebags of their usual bit (later to my dismay) and loaded them with food, drink and other road essentials. I strapped my bag of clothes to the rack on the back of my KZ650SR and I was off.
The riding was cool in the morning. Eighty miles an hour with an air temperature of 70 degrees is cold. I should have worn my heavier leather coat. It was too late to turn back.
I worried about being on the road for such a long time, on my own, on a motorcycle. So I did a few maneuvers while riding, to test my alertness and the bikes’. She handled well and I wasn’t tired, yet.
After 100 miles into the trip, I stopped for gas. My tank can get me anywhere from 120-150 miles if I run it down to fumes. I figured I wouldn’t risk it, especially if I was coming up on Chicago traffic.
Speaking of Chicago, it was the part of the trip that was most worrying for me. I have a tendency to get lost easily and Chicago is just a maze of roads. I only had to stay on I-90 to get through the city and I still got lost, twice. My problem was that I jumped into the express lane and I didn’t know I where had to get out. I missed an exit and doubled back. I’ve learned for the next time; the fast lane is too fast for me.
I made it past Chicago and into Indiana. It went from a concrete jungle to open space in the blink of an eye. It was odd and depressing at the same time. I didn’t see much of Indiana on my ride, not much more than the farms so I can’t comment on it much. I can say that they have the nicest ‘Travel Plazas’ on I-90. Everything you need is there so you don’t have to stray from the interstate and pay the tolls to get off.
Ohio was more of Indiana with a different name until I got to Cleveland. Cleveland made me wish I had time to get out and explore it. It seemed like a blown up version of Madison–a large city but trying to hide the fact with natural nature. If I get a chance to probe its inner depths, I have a feeling I’d want to move there.
I drove a ways past Cleveland into Pennsylvania to find a bed for the night. I ended up a few miles from Erie. Right under 600 miles and more than half the distance to my destination. I soaked my soar limbs in the hot tub before passing out for the night.
The next day I had a rousing breakfast to try and settle my stomach (I think I ate some spoiled mayo on my sandwich from dinner the night before). I loaded up my bike again and let her warm up. I worried that she wouldn’t start much the same that a computer which ran fine when you turned it off wouldn’t start up the next day. The bike was running fine the night before, but I had no guarantee she’d run that morning. To my relief, she did.
I jumped onto the road and instantly the cool morning air of Pennsylvania woke me. I gave the bike a little extra throttle just out of celebration.
Before I knew it, I was in upstate New York. From what I saw, it was little more than rolling hills, mountains and hidden little towns. Oh, and construction. It was pretty to look at, but I would not want to live there. I’d be worried that I’d have to drive thirty miles just to get gas or food or something.
The mountains were great, better than I expected. I was worried about sharp corners on narrow roads overlooking falls to my death. That wasn’t the case. What scared me more in the mountains was the bridge construction over bodies of water. I was on a two-lane highway and both lanes had the chance of driving off the shoulder and hitting water. I usually straddle the inside of the bridge because my mind plays out scenarios where I drive to my death. New York’s bridges made it hard for me to avoid it. I had to breathe deep, focus only on the road ahead and gun the throttle until I was across.
Highest elevation on my trip: 2110 feet above sea level.
I made it into Massachusetts and read my directions, Take Exit 4…. Now in Wisconsin, if you are told to take Exit 4 and you’re starting at mile one of the highway, you know you only have to drive four miles to get to your exit. Not the case in Massachusetts. Exit 4 is the fourth physical exit, not the fourth mile mark. So I had no idea how long I had to be on this godforsaken road before I reached my destination (I was going just over the Mass. border into Connecticut). You know what? I never found out how far I had to go.
Just after Exit 2 (I later found this out and really had no idea where I was at the time), I feel the all too familiar feeling of an engine losing power. I’d felt it before when I had a clogged fuel filter and when my battery died while riding. My tank was a little less than half full and my turn signals were working better than ever. Clunk. I actually heard the engine make that noise right before it shut itself down. Fortunately, I had room to coast to the shoulder and out of traffic.
When I stopped, I could tell the engine was warmer than it had been. Out of instinct or something in the back of my mind, I checked the oil level. Let me correct that. I checked the oil window–there was no level to speak of. I suppose I had a slow leak or burn somewhere in the bike. Just so you know, I topped the oil off two days before when I took my spare oil out of my saddle bags to make room for my meals.
Turnpike patrol stopped for me, I told him my problem and he gave me a ride to the previous exit to get some oil. I got back and dumped it in. I thanked the patrol and he took the empties with him. As he was driving off, I hopped on the bike and tried to kick it over. The kicker wouldn’t budge. I threw all my weight on the lever and nothing made it move. I panicked and called Ben, my go to motorcycle problem guy, even though he was a thousand miles away. He mostly confirmed my fears but gave me a few suggestions to troubleshoot. I thanked him, hung up and proceeded to troubleshoot. I pulled the first spark-plug (the fourth cylinder) and it looked bad. There was melted and cooled metal bridging the gap. I looked in the plug hole and saw a melted piston. No amount of oil was going to make that piston move while on the side of the road. I was somewhere between 30 and 50 miles from where I was trying to go.
Don’t worry, I made it to my cousin’s place eventually. I had the bike towed (for an arm and a leg) and I left it to deal with later in my trip.