A few weekends ago a friend posted a photo on Facebook of a motorcycle ride he’d taken in Death Valley. The picture was a group of friends in their riding gear in front of a sign that had teakettles hanging all over it. It marked Teakettle Junction, which I’d never heard of before.
Now I can’t get the image out of my mind. The more I Googled to learn about Death Valley and looked through photos, web sites and blog posts the more it became apparent that I must go there. Aside from the rugged beauty of the National Park environment itself, there is something sweet about those dangley teakettles that I simply must see.
Bucket List? Say hello to your new friend from Death Valley.
Well, I’ll tell you. But, let me preface this by saying I am not trying to bad-mouth anyone and not recommending a company be avoided. I am just telling the story from my point of view. It was a crap situation. Shit happens.
When Kenny and I rolled out of Shelter Cove, I felt a little melancholy because it was our last full day of riding our rental Triumph Tigers before they were due to be returned.
No surprise, the day started out beautifully. The weather was gorgeous, the sun was shining. You know, it was northern California.
The day’s route would have us following the coast towards Timber Cove where we would be staying for the night. We decided on a nice leasurely ride with plenty of time to stop and look at things throughout the day. I wanted to stop at the Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, zip inland to see a Muffler Man in Willits and to try to catch lighting in a bottle twice by having a lovely lunch in Mendocino. We did all of those things.
Kenny and I saddled up after having lunch in Mendocino and started to make our way south along Route 1 toward Timber Cove. About 10 miles south of town, I blew the right turn that follows Route 1 at the intersection of Routes 128 and 1. I slowed down and pulled a quick U-ey and started heading back for it. I looked in the mirror to see Kenny on the side of the road. He hadn’t made a u-turn yet. I slowed and waited… and he still didn’t move. Weird. I rode back to him and heard that his bike was not running.
“The bike just cut out. It won’t start.”
He hit the starter button and the bike just made a whirrrrrr-chrp. It was a disengaged sound that made the little man who quietly pads around in your brain drinking coffee until there is an emergency hit the big red alarm button with gusto. ::whooooop::whooooop:::
Kenny pushed the bike down and across the road into a small turn out. He took off his helmet and began the process of trying to rationalize what could possibly be the problem. It seemed like the bike wasn’t getting any compression to turn over.
The time was about 2:30pm.
What did we know?
The bike had full electrics, lights, dashboard – check. The bike cut out when Kenny was on the gas going about 50mph. There hadn’t been any visible smoke at any time during the trip. Nothing was leaking. There hadn’t been any idiot lights on. The bike never had any trouble with hard starting or lazy cranking like a weakening battery.
When we left the rental shop, the agent made sure to go through the trouble of circling the telephone number to call should we need roadside assistance on our contract. So, that’s what we would do.
Unfortunately, we were in a spot that had no cell service. Kenny made the executive decision to have me ride back to Mendocino to call the rental place. He didn’t want me to stand on the side of the road alone with a dead bike to surely be eaten by a mountain lion. I’m far more meaty than he is. That boy is always thinkin’.
I tried to get as much information about what happened from Kenny to relay to the company and off I went. I watched Kenny fade in my mirror as I rode back to town to go about the business of calling in the trouble.
I parked across from a gas station, sat on the curb and called the rental desk. I did my best to explain the troubles we were having with as much detail as possible. I described how the bike cut out while Kenny was doing about 50mph, there was no smoke, all lights and the dash are working fine. When you hit the starter button, it made a whirrrrr-chrp sound like nothing is engaging to start the bike.
“Sounds like the battery.”
Now, I openly admit that don’t know much about mechanics – but I felt very strongly that it wasn’t the battery and said as much. The bike was lit up like a Christmas tree, died under power and there was that sound…
I know that it is difficult at best to make heads or tails of what is really happening to a motorcycle based on what someone is telling you over the telephone. So, I tried to be open to what they were suggesting.
Their First Suggestion:
Ride back to Kenny, take the battery out of my bike and try it in his bike. Then take the battery back out, button up my bike and ride 20 minutes back to Mendocino where I could get a cell signal and call them back to tell them if it worked. Then if that worked they would call someplace local to find a battery for me. Based on the time and my gut feeling that it really wasn’t a battery problem, I let them know that I wasn’t doing that.
I again pressed that it didn’t seem like a battery issue. The rental agent pressed back, based on my description of the events. They were going to talk more to their tech and asked if they could call me back.
So, I sat on the curb waiting for their call and wondering if Kenny had been abducted by Bigfoot. I kept the tiniest particle of hope in my heart that he would come wheeling in to town like Prince Charming but, he didn’t. Instead the clock just ticked… ticked… ticked… When you’re waiting for something, the time slows to to a glacial pace.
Their Second Suggestion:
When the shop called back, they again pushed that it sounded like a battery issue. They told me that they’d found a battery 10 miles north in Fort Bragg and asked me if I wanted to ride there, pick it up and bring it to Kenny to try it out. I reiterated that it didn’t seem like a battery problem and if I ride back to Fort Bragg, get this battery and it doesn’t fix the problem – the rental place will have closed and we’ll be futzing around in the quickly approaching dark on the side of the road. I wasn’t doing that.
Now, I wasn’t trying to be difficult but my gut was telling me it wasn’t the battery. I really just wanted them to come and get their dead bike. Unfortunately I got the distinct feeling that coming to get their dead bike was the last thing they wanted to do.
I suppose one of the things that really rubbed me wrong about the whole exchange is that it was just a matter of circumstance that we were two travelers together. If he was alone and had gotten a lift into town from a stranger, would they have asked him to thumb a ride to pick up a frickin’ battery in Fort Bragg to try out?
Third Suggestion - Mine:
I am all for trying to get yourself out of trouble but it was apparent to both Kenny and myself that we weren’t fixing whatever was wrong with his bike on the side of the road. I asked them to send someone to pick the bike up. I knew they were absolutely saving this as a last resort and I suppose I can’t blame them. But the reality was that it wasn’t our fault that the bike shit the bed.
They agreed to come and get the bike. I described where we were since I had a good indicator as I had just blown the turn for Route 1 at the intersection of 128 & 1.
They asked if they could call me back again. ..tick..tick..tick…
Based on where we were the rental agent said it would be about 5 hours before a flatbed would reach us. They mentioned that it would be ideal if we could wait with the bike but they would understand if we didn’t. If we were going to leave it, that we should lock it up and roll it to a safe place.
There was no way that we were going to be waiting 5 hours for a flatbed to pick it up. I told them we’d be putting all the luggage on my bike and continuing on 2-up and that we’d see them the following day when our rental time was up.
When I got back to Kenny, a little more than 2 hours had passed since I’d left him. He was on the side of the road, jacket off, luggage off the bike, pacing like a caged tiger. I relayed what went down on the phone and his first words were – “it isn’t the fucking battery.”
He then looked at me and said – you were gone so long, I started to wonder if something happened to you. I have no way of calling your phone, you couldn’t call me, I’m stuck here wondering. I hadn’t considered that angle but I could see his point. How romantic.
Do You Believe in Small Miracles?
In the grand scheme of things if we were going to run in to trouble, we really lucked out. When I thought about some of the remote northern areas we’d been in that also had no cell service, we really could’ve been a lot more “stuck” than we were there near Mendocino.
Not only that, but we were due to return the bikes the following day. We’d gotten nearly our full week completed.
And as it turned out because Kenny and I chose different luggage options, we were able to put all 3 Givi cases on my bike. We didn’t have to leave anything behind. He had chosen 2 sidebags and I opted for only the top box. Whew!
Now Comes the Terror – I am a Terrible Passenger
Kenny sat astride my Tiger. I was supposed to somehow get myself onto the back of it. Hmm. The Givi sidecases rendered the passenger pegs almost unusable. A graceful ballerina-like pivot up onto the pillion seat landing as softly as a butterfly would not be possible.
I made a few herky-jerky dance step motions trying to figure out just how I was going to hoist my elephantine self up there. Visions of me knocking us and the bike ass over tea kettle came flooding in. I can only assume that it was a swift fleet of invisible roadside ninjas that must’ve aided in my mount because I was up and we were still rubber-side down.
With one last glance back at the lame bike on the side of the road, off we went. We two on one Tiger. Poor Kenny had to put up with my nervous cringing and thigh tightening all the way.
In what could only be described as a colossal feat of strength, I managed to not shit my pants during the terrifying 65 mile ride to the Timber Cove Inn.
We made it in time to watch the sun set from our room’s patio.
Fast forward to the following morning when we pulled into the rental office. The dead Tiger was just being unloaded off of the flatbed and was wheeled into the garage when we rolled in. I got the distinct feeling that our arrival into the office was not nearly as friendly as it was when we’d arrived to head off on our journey a week prior.
Kenny again went over what happened with the bike when it died. The rental agent turned on the key and pressed the starter button. Whirrrrrr-chrp
“Yeah, that sounds like the battery. I’ve seen a dead battery do some strange things,” the rental agent said. Kenny just dropped the subject and we gathered our things and got ready to leave.
At this point, we were pretty much much left alone. We watched the tech wheel the bike back and take a few preliminary jabs at it and then plug it in to a diagnostic tool. And we two… just sat.
Finally, someone else said – “Do you need something else?”
Kenny said that he didn’t realize we were done and asked if we needed to sign anything to which we were told “Nope,” and they offered to call us a cab.
When we got in the cab, Kenny looked at me and said, “What the fuck was that? They sure weren’t as friendly as when we picked the bikes up. They made it seem like we did something wrong.” I quickly said, “Yea! I thought the same thing.” I guess it wasn’t my imagination.
I don’t know if they were pissed off that they had to go pick up the bike and eat the cost of that towing, were worried we were going to freak out or what – but it was a cold shoulder.
Whatever. We still managed 6 days of beautiful riding memories. They far outweighed the few bad hours.
Oh, right. For those of you still playing along at home – the bike lost it’s CCT and grenaded 2 valves.
I shot this photo on Route 1 in California with my GoPro during the final riding day of our road trip in September 2011. It’s a little bit of a different point of view for me. One I’m not all that fond of.
This big question of course should be – WHY? Details to follow~
When Kenny and I pulled away from the Inn at the Lost Coast on Thursday morning, there stayed a piece of me. Spending the night, watching the sun set over the Pacific Ocean will forever be in my heart as one of the most romantic, most perfect moments.
As our wheels climbed up the steep narrow road leaving Shelter Cove, though I knew it was impossible I wished we could just stay one more night and relive the perfection.
Our trip was taking us south again, back to San Francisco. It was to be our last full day of motorcycle riding in California. The day would have to have something great in store for me to keep my wheels moving.
And it did…
File Under: Everything I Ever Needed to Know, I Learned on the Internet
Weeks before we left for California, I happened to read a little tidbit of information on the web that stayed with me. Along the coast in Fort Bragg is what is known as a Glass Beach. Sounds dangerous, right? Rather than sharp shards of glass, the seaside is speckled with ocean-worn glass.
Glass Beach is a unique beach, not because nature made it that way, but because time and the pounding surf have corrected one of man’s mistakes.
Beginning in 1949, the area around Glass Beach became a public dump. It is hard to imagine this happening today, but back then people dumped all kinds of refuse straight into the ocean, including old cars, and their household garbage, which of course included lots of glass. -FortBragg.com
All along the shore, sparkling pieces of sea glass…
click pics to enlarge:
It’s pretty spectacular when you think that the ocean turned what was once became a dumping ground in to a shining jewel. All it took was time and persistence.