Friday, April 15, 2016

The Road No One Wants to Travel

This has been one of the most challenging blogs for me to write.  I've been back from my trip out to Alpine, TX for a few months now.  I had planned to blog during the trip, but things happened and I just couldn't write about it while I was living it.  This trip was actually three trips in one and two of them were just about as perfect as a day on the bike can be.  That middle trip though....Maybe that's the one I should start with.

After a great weekend of off road riding with Mr Man, I got up super early, loaded the bike, fed myself, and hit the road just as the sun was coming up.  I didn't have a real long day to Alpine,TX but I really wanted to beat the heat.  The trip started great.  I hit I-10 for the first time in my life and was really enjoying the 80 miles an hour through some pretty lovely scenery (at least it was still lovely until I hit about Ozona).  I made sure to get gas at Ozona knowing that Ft. Stockton was about 90 miles away.  By the time I came close to Ft. Stockton, I was so over I-10.  The novelty of 80 miles an hour on a highway had worn off about 20 miles ago and I needed gas, a bathroom, and food in that order.  My gas light came on about 14 miles out of Ft. Stockton.  I contained my panic because that light should mean I have about two gallons left.   Plenty of gas tot get me there.  As the first exit for Ft. Stockton Cam into view, the bike started sputtering and surging.  Well shit, I thought, my gas mileage must be awful right now.  I pulled off the highway as the bike continued to surge and sputter and I continued to downshift to give myself some more torque (it doesn't have to make sense, I was panicking).  The bike died on me at the last intersection but fortunately I was facing downhill.  The weight of my bike coasted me into the gas station and up to a pump.  I was still a little panicky and suddenly realizing that my skin felt like it was going to vibrated off me so please excuse me for not realizing that the bike was not acting quite like it was running out of gas.  I also noted that I put in 4.25 gallons of gas into my six gallon tank but the significance of that fact escaped me until later.

Facebook was my friend during this whole trip
After I gassed up and watered myself, I decided I was still to frazzled to get back on the road and should have some lunch first.  I found something that passed as a restaurant and ate something that resembled a burger then got back on the road for my last leg.  At this point the bike was running normal and she started fine.

I turned on to HWY 67 for my final leg.  I had about 79 miles on the long, straight road of desolation and broken dreams and then I would be in the gorgeous Holland hotel debating dinner and drinks and thinking about a pretty ride tomorrow.

I looked down and saw a dash light on.

My first thought was that it was my oil light so I started to IMMEDIATELY pull over to save my engine.  Before I got stopped I looked closer and saw that no, it wasn't my oil light but my battery light.  So I got back up to speed and kept going.  I figured if I stopped I might not start again so I should get as close to civilization as I could.  The first gas stations of Alpine were in sight when the bike starts to sputter and surge again.  This time, I knew it wasn't lack of fuel, it was my battery...or something related to it.

I didn't make it.  She died about half football field from the nearest parking lot in Alpine.  I started to push the pike down the shoulder.  After a while a Sheriff stopped and helped me get her into the parking lot of a taxidermy office.  They proceeded to call the one bike shop in town,  Alpine Motorsports and Alpine Motorsports agreed to come out with a trailer.

The most important thing to know is that from the moment the Sheriff pulled up I was safe.  I was in no danger from anything except my own anxiety and stress.  Of course, any the folks I interacted with could have been dangerous to me including the Sheriff.  But they weren't.  I was lucky.  And I know it.

So the guys from Alpine Motorsports got the bike to their shop and got to the battery.  They really thought the connectors were the problem.  They were terribly corroded.  They started to charge up my battery and replaced the connectors.  They drove me to my hotel and were going to pick me up in a few hours to give the battery a chance to charge back up.  I showered and caught up with Mr. Man then went back to the bike shop.  Per Mr. Man's advice, I asked them to be sure and check my alternator. Well, check it they did...and the alternator was not charging the battery.  I called Mr. Man to discuss our options.  We would have to get the alternator to the shop but they were happy and capable of installing it once that happened.  This was certainly going to delay my trip.  Mr Man suggested that they check the alternator belt.  I instructed them to take the front cover off the bike.  When they did, the belt fell on the ground in pieces.  We all rejoiced.  We would still have to get the belt to Alpine but once it was there, replacing it was going to be a much quicker job that replacing the alternator.  Not to mention cheaper.  They drove me back to the hotel with plans for me to start calling around the next morning to see about getting a part over-nighted to me.

Let me pause here to talk about the hotel I chose.  Alpine has a couple of hotels but The Holland Hotel is the only one walking distance to food.  So of course that's where I stayed.  My room was gorgeous. 
My home while stranded in Alpine
 The lobby had many places for sitting and relaxing and even had a few private side rooms with chairs and couches in them. They served breakfast every day and had a decent but expensive
One of the small private rooms where I curled up with a book for a while

restaurant attached.  They were also across the street from an excellent pizza place and a block away from a great little Tex-Mex place.  But it was the people who really made the place stand out.  I often find that traveling alone on a motorcycle as a woman brings out the best in hotel staff.  They get to know me and they watch out for me and for my bike.  Once the staff realized I was having bike problems, they offered to extend my stay.  I let them know that I may not need to that since I would hopefully get my part in time. They suggested that I go ahead and extend my stay one more day just in case and if I didn't need that extra day, no problem.  I was going to be there three nights already.  One more night would put there the day before the labor Day Weekend.  They did warn met that getting any room in Alpine over Labor Day weekend would be almost impossible so I knew I had three days to sort things.  In three days someone could come and get me in a truck if I had to do that so I wasn't worried. 

I got into Alpine on Monday night.  After a meal and a drink, I fell into bed too exhausted to be worried about anything.  I got up early on Tuesday and went down for breakfast.  After a really good breakfast and just about the best coffee I'd had in a while, I went up to the room and started calling Motorcycle dealers.
The couch in my room where I spent a lot of time on the phone getting my part.
I had a few options.  Lonestar BMW in Austin was my first choice.  I know the guys, they know me and I was pretty sure they had the belt.  My next choice was El Paso because it was closest to Alpine.  Both of those shops opened at 9:00 and my third choice, San Antonio opened at 10:00.  

I’ll just get to the outcome and bypass several hours of frustration at people who didn’t seem to understand that I was STUCK IN ALPINE and I needed an answer ASAP about overnighting a part. I really like Lonestar BMW and I really admire several people who work there but they have recently merged with a new management company into a new location and it hasn’t been smooth or trouble free. They lost some employees over the move and the ones they gained don’t quite yet understand BMW riders and our rather high expectations of service from our dealers. I’m choosing to believe they will understand this as some point. Let me just say that Lonestar had the part and I decided that the most trustworthy way to get it to me was to have Mr Man leave his super busy and important job and take it to FedEx himself. He did this of course because he knew I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t have to and I know who his first priority is (hint: her name is Sidecar Adventures). So my part was shipped and would be to me Wednesday by 4:30. I checked with the local shop and found out that yes, if they had the part by 4:30 they could get it in that day and I could be on my way on time. I spent the next two days resting and poking around Alpine. It would have been great if I wasn’t wound up and stressed about my bike the whole time. With no one else with me to share any of the burden, I couldn’t let go of the stress. I’m grateful to Mr Man who provided me much support via texts and phone calls and also to my dear Zippo who provided me dinnertime conversation about our mutual bike woes via Facebook.

Sure enough on Wednesday afternoon my parts came in. They were quickly installed and I went to get the bike. When I got there she was running wide open with the throttle lock on.   I had never even had the throttle lock on although I knew in theory I had one. I didn’t really like the sound of her but the alternator belt was clearly fixed. I also felt like I had reached the end of the shop’s knowledge about my bike. They did a great job but they aren’t BMW mechanics and they aren’t real familiar with modern bikes.  I payed them an obscenely low amount of money got on the bike and took off. She ran horribly. I had a hard time keeping her going at stops and she still kept sputtering and surging slightly. But not like there was a charging problem. It felt like riding a very, very badly tuned bike. This made no sense because they didn’t touch anything like that while changing out the belt. I took her to get gas and rode her around town a little to see if things would settle out. Nothing settled. I parked her in front of the hotel and began plan Z. I went to the front desk and got the number for the nearest U-Haul place. I had one more step to take and if that didn’t find any solutions, I was riding her into the back of a U-Haul and taking her home. I sat in the lobby and called Mr. Man. After a few moments of trying to tell him what she was doing I finally said, “If it were the R90 I know several things that could be wrong but they don’t make sense on this bike.” 
“Tell me” he says. 

So I did. I told him if felt like the bike was de-tuned very badly. Like the idle was set wrong or the fuel mixture was off….way off. Or even like the throttle cable had become off-set to the carburetor. Especially that last one…that is exactly what it sounded/felt like. 

Well, he asks did you check that? 

 Silly man I think, I don’t have carburetors. What I say is that I didn’t think you could check that. I mean, where does the cable even go? The answer? The throttle cables go into my throttle bodies.

Things seem to happen in themes with bikes. Mr. Man had just finished rebuilding his throttle bodies. So we had both gotten pretty familiar with them. He talked me through finding them on the bike (difficult to do when I was so full of tears and anxiety but we managed) then talked me through checking the cables. When I went around to the sidecar side I could see that the cable was sitting offset of the little cup it lives in. The bike was very hot still so I used my key to push it back into place. The bike started up easily after that but I still thought it ran like crap. Mr Man thought maybe it was the higher altitude. I was willing to accept that although I didn’t remember it running as rough in Colorado where I was much higher.
After a very un-restful night I got up, packed, loaded, fed and hit the road….sort of. First I discover that the headphone jack that lives under my seat and pokes up between the seat and the tank was fully under the seat and I couldn’t get to it so no music for me. Next, the bike was hard to start and it wouldn’t stay running. I finally got it running enough to get on the bike and I decide to risk it. I’m close enough to Ozona that if I have to, I can be towed to my hotel and there I will sit and wait for Mr Man to come and get me in a truck. Because if I break down again, I am done with this trip.

The lack of music was hard. I couldn’t relax at all with nothing to get my brain off of my bike. At speed the bike ran fine but every single bump and rough patch in the road sent my nerves skittering away. I started singing. I stumbled into Steven Schwartz’s “Meadowlark” because it’s long and I know every word and it’s an old favorite of mine. It turned into a love song to my bike as I found myself actually singing to her to encourage her to stay strong. There were many tears and many prayers. Every time I felt overcome with fear and stress I found myself shouting Psalm 23 at the top of my lungs right at my tank. We made it to Ft Stockton again and as I rode through town I was getting the horrible rough idling I had that morning. My baby sounded almost like a Harley and that’s not right. I pinged Mr Man and then went inside for a bio break.

 While I was in the AC I googled “Rough idle on BMW GS 1150”. Everything was pointing me to the throttle bodies. I knew I was nowhere near due to have them serviced so that wasn’t it. But since the concept of throttle bodies kept coming up and since the bike had cooled down by this point, I went back out to look at the cable again.   A real close inspection showed me that while the cable was no longer off-set, it wasn’t firmly seated in it’s cup. I managed to get my fingers on it and pushed it firmly into the cup. All the way this time. I went to the other side turned on the key and the electrics, put it in neutral and hit the ignition button and….she roared to life easily and sat there in the parking lot humming along at her normal even idle. I may have hugged the tank. As she hummed along I could hear her, “Jesus Christ Mom! What took you so long to figure that out. That has been bugging me ALL day! I’ve been telling you very loudly since this morning. Sheesh!” I let Mr Man know all was right with the world and we hit the road.

The rest of the day was event free and I even had some pretty riding. I still couldn’t shake loose of my anxiety. Apparently dealing with the bike and then a rough morning of riding had used up all my nerves for a week. There was nothing to be done but accept my anxiety level and keep riding. We stopped at every small town with a gas station for me to check my idle speed and everything was normal like nothing had ever been wrong with the bike. My anxiety stayed with me like a burning knife in my belly until I reached my hotel. Thankfully, the bland sameness of the Holiday Inn was just the right amount of familiarity to calm my nerves. I had a wonderful night of binge TV watching and a fantastic night’s sleep.

 My next day would be a glorious ride almost completely off the highway into Kerrville where there would be husband, friends, and some emotional support. But that’s a post for another day.  Let me just end with this Facebook post.

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