Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A Sad Goodbye to Bee

The problems with Bumblebee continued to get worse. When we arrived in Houston, we went straight to British USA so they could replace the fork seal that mysteriously started leaking again a month after I replaced it the first time. That plus a new front tire cost me $500.

Less than a month later, she began to have a starting problem, and in under 24 hours had stranded me in Pasadena. I had a passerby give me a push through a long parking lot to try to bump the engine, but after he nearly crashed me by pushing on one side of the bike, the engine wouldn't go. I had her towed ($180) up to Stubbs, who told me they didn't have the necessary diagnostic tools to troubleshoot her. Rogue picked me up and then brought me back with the jump-starting kit, and we limped her to British.

She was there for two weeks waiting for parts, and another $600 later we rode out with a new rectifier and stator. The auxiliary lights put on an obnoxious strobe show with the new hardware installed, and I returned to British and asked them to fix it. They poked around and announced that it was a loose connection. I said I could replace that myself, so I went home and replaced all the connections. The strobe show continued.

As long as I had her apart, I decided it was a good time to fix the gas leak, as well. I removed the tank and used JBWeld to epoxy every possible crevice, let it cure for the recommended 24 hours, and put her back together. Then I rode out to Bandera to go to a friend's wedding, and when I put the first full tank of gas in her, she started leaking again.

The oil leak was continuing in steady fashion, too. Every time the light came on I added a quart, and occasionally I wiped off the engine. Full Throttle had told me it was the valve cover gasket. And of course there was that mysterious case of metal shavings in the oil that I'd been ignoring since January...

I took her for an overdue oil change at Stubbs, and while I was there I inquired about a trade-in value. It wasn't quite time yet, but it would be good information to have.

The mechanic took his sweet time going over her, and when I got the report, it sounded like this: "Are you actually riding this? 'Cause we're concerned for your safety." Apparently all the seals in the engine were dried and cracking, and it was only a matter of time before she ejected all her oil.

I poked through the used bike lot and test drove a KLR650. It felt lazy, and the knobby dirt tires wouldn't lend themselves well to the kind of riding I do. "I don't love it," I told Justin, the salesman. "I want to love it."

I drove a Versys, Rogue's dream bike - it also felt sluggish, both in the throttle response and in the cornering. One round of the parking lot and I shook my head and put it back. On the showroom floor, I found a brand new 2015 black Honda NC700X. I'd done some reading on the CB500 and NC700 (sister styles of bike) and decided to take it for a spin.

It was on. I forced myself to park after several circles of the track-like area in the back of the parking lot. It was light, it was responsive, it was quiet, it was beautiful. They offered me $2500 on trade-in for Bee, Honda made a $700 down payment on my behalf from their "seasonal kick-starter" fund, and I signed my life over to Honda financing for the rest. This is how one goes in for an oil change comes out with a new motorcycle.

Bee on the left, unnamed NC700X in the front
I gave Bee a hug (and uninstalled a few accessories) before riding away. She was really fun while she lasted, and I'll miss the face-melting acceleration and high suspension. But I won't miss the constant problems.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Houston: Water Wall

Things are on pause for a little while. Neither of us are independently wealthy, and when we planned the trip it was with the knowledge that eventually we'd run low on money and have to stop and work somewhere.

We made it stretch as far as we could, doing work for an array of mystery shopping services to get free meals, staying in as many free campgrounds as we could find, and generally being penny pinchers. But bikes don't eat for free and sometimes hotels are necessary. We ran out of funds in Houston and set about finding work.

We'll be here for a while, but we do fit in some sight-seeing here and there. In mid-March we found the Water Wall in Uptown (and Rogue nearly got arrested for photographing the office building nearby. Why? They wouldn't say).

Blogging Reboot

"Travel doubts" apparently led to "tired of blogging" doubts. Let me take another whack at this.

We spent a weekend in Sour Lake with Amber and Rock. She showed us around town and took us out for gator and catfish. The group of us spent an evening toasting marshmallows and shooting off fireworks in the backyard.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Arrival in Sour Lake

We found Amber's house without trouble, at the end of a short dirt road. We parked on the concrete skirt of the garage, behind a stable of Harleys, and she and her partner Rock came out to greet us. He prefers to be known as "that asshole biker," but "Rock" is shorter, so I'm going with that.

Amber's daughter Sofia showed us to the cabin in the back yard, an adorable gamer cave that was occupied by Amber's oldest when he was home from school. With a private bathroom, air conditioning, a mini kitchen, a sofa, and a comfy bed, it was heaven to crash in after so many nights in the tent. Her younger son Eli came over as we were getting our laundry together and introduced himself too.

When we had gotten comfy - which for me meant exchanging my riding boots for flip-flops - we joined them in the kitchen of the main house. Rock was making chicken schnitzel, which Amber told us was his specialty. I asked if we could be of any help. Amber said absolutely not, and Rock said his bike needed a wash.

Dinner was wonderful. I stuffed myself until I had regrets, and then we sat around a large fire on the back porch and toasted marshmallows and drank wine. Four bikers who all ride a lot and like to talk will do so for hours. There were stories of rain and snow, good roads and bad roads, breakdowns and strange encounters and late-night rides. It was easily midnight before it occurred to any of us to go to bed.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Riding Photography

Rogue takes really cool photos. These were on route 76 in Indiantown, Florida.

Travel Doubts

It was over that lovely Cajun food in the Blind Tiger that we looked at each other and went, "What the hell are we doing?" We were six weeks in and neither of us had an answer.

Travel is hard. It's exhilarating, it's exciting, it's educational and fun and exhausting. You meet great people who become friends for life, and you meet assholes who make you want to stop meeting people. There are riding roads and there are roads that just go places. I've been thrilled to ride on a gorgeous day, I've been disturbed by a semi-deserted town that was full of bad juju, I've looked forward to the next town, and I've wanted to quit and go home - all in one day.

If you asked me why I took this trip, I'd say something vague about "getting away." I can't tell you what I want to get out of it, because I don't know. Rogue wants to go back to Massachusetts when it's all done; I don't.

All the towns look the same after a while. Setting up the tent and starting a fire have become automatic and somehow vaguely irritating. This again? Didn't we just do this last night? For the first time I understand why Dad hated camping; he had done it too many times in the Marines and probably felt that he had earned a real bed, damn it.

In a moment of trying to convince myself to push forward and not turn around, I messaged Jon, another biker who's doing long-term road travel around the US. We met in a Tiger group on Facebook, although his touring bike is a Honda (that actually looks remarkably like Bumblebee).

He told me that 4-6 weeks is when the honeymoon phase of travel ends. He'd been on the road for 13 weeks when I messaged him and was taking a break with family back in England, which he admitted was a welcome recharge from the mental toll the road takes. His goal is to hit all 50 US states and his blog (On Your Bike Tours) gives him an "obligation" to visit interesting places. Reading through the blog, a difference in our travel styles caught my attention: he seeks out locals and asks for things to do, using the internet only as a last resort. This is the opposite of the way I've been doing things, and the next time we land in a new town I think I'm going to try it that way. It may be a little different for us girls, but we can certainly take care of ourselves, so I'm willing to give it a go. Obviously something isn't working as is.

Rogue asked what I would do if she left. I said I'd be surprised.

"Really? Why?"

"What are you going to do - ride back to Massachusetts and live on your motorcycle in the snow?"

Quitting now would be pointless at least for me, because if "gave up," I'd still want to visit my friends in Texas and ride around before going home, which is exactly what I'm going to do in the context of the trip, so giving up means nothing at all. It would be more difficult right now to ride the 1,800 miles into the cold and try to find a job and a home than it is to stay here and keep doing what we're doing.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Northern Louisiana

After a couple of very welcome showers, we saddled up and wandered into Minden to explore. It was a strange town. The main street was paved in brick, and large banks and expensive-looking dress shops rubbed shoulders with stained car repair garages and empty buildings with broken windows. When it seemed that we had seen everything that was open - and it wasn't much - we went into Habacu's Mexican restaurant for lunch.

The bar was decorated with Marvel superheroes. Deadpool, Captain America, and Iron Man stared out from between the Johnny Walker Blue and the giant jars of flavored margaritas. The salsa was excellent and so were the tacos de calle - soft corn tortillas filled with spicy pork and pineapple.

The afternoon saw us walking through the woods to the boat ramp, where we stretched out on the dock with our sketchbooks and enjoyed the sunlight. It was windy, and when we returned to camp we found our mess kits, towels, and other various things blown all over the place. Despite the wind, we tried again to start a fire, and this time it worked. The wind riled it up and blew the smoke into our faces and luggage, so that two days later we were still discovering things that smelled like campfire that normally don't, like the inside of Rogue's helmet.

If you know where to look, you can see our tent in the trees.

When we were in Beaumont, Texas back in September for the Lace, Grace, and Gears rally, Rogue befriended the woman running the snow cone truck, whose name is Amber. She's in charge of entertainment for the upcoming rally, and they began talking recently about Rogue and I doing a fire show there. When she learned we were traveling the South, she invited us to come visit.

Between Minden and Sour Lake, Texas, where Amber lives, there was Shreveport. Trip Advisor recommended the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, which was free and had great reviews. We showed up and were welcomed into the circular building, which was filled with really amazing dioramas depicting scenes of crop farming, harvesting, and oil drilling. There was a large array of taxidermied animals, including foxes, otters, a raccoon, an owl, an armadillo, a bobcat, and a whole pond full of ducks.

We were determined to get real cajun food before leaving Louisiana, so I Googled "best cajun food in Louisiana." That search led me to the Blind Tiger.

The "Cajun sampler" got us a selection of gumbo, crawfish etouffee, meat pies, fried corn, blackened catfish, fried crawfish tails, and dirty rice. We mowed through that, a side of cornbread, and a dish of bread pudding, then considered the mertis taking a nap instead of riding to Texas.