Many years ago, I had a recurring dream. I stood alone next to my motorcycle on a desert slope that descended into a great flat valley with tufts of green grass dotting a brown landscape bounded by mountains on either side. The road, shimmering in the distance from the heat, descended to disappear in the expanding flatness. It was silent except for the sound of the ever present wind. There was a profound sense of ending, of loss, as if this scene would be my last moment.
The vision from my dream so long ago continues to haunt me from time to time.
I've always been strangely drawn to places with dark names. At one point, days earlier, along the coast, Yun and I came across a place named Cape Disappointment. Upon seeing the sign, Yun knew this would bekon to me so we had to go take a look.
It was nothing special so, in effect, a disappointment. I was pleased.
There's a place in the Southern Chesapeake Bay called the Great Dismal Swamp. I have always wanted to go. Apparently, there's a canal you can take a sizeable boat through. At some point, I must go.
It's for this reason, I think, that the Badlands have always held a fascination for me. Want me to be interested in going somewhere? Name it appropriately. I hear there's a place called Mordor in New Jersey somewhere. If ever I find out where the Point of No Return is I will go. So clearly, if it's called the Badlands, it's some place I'm going to want to see.
I spent some time mapping out a route to Badlands National Monument that involved as little Superslab as possible. The BMW MOA guys had suggested I ride route 16A south of Sturgis. I believe it's called Needles Highway or some such and includes a 360deg loop through a little tunnel. This was a must see for me. The Badlands were not far from there. I was actually looking forward to the Badlands they've been on my to-see list for years now.
Alas, it was not to be.
I left Red Lodge relatively late in the morning. Aside from an impressive climb out of Red Lodge, the route I had chosen turned out to be much faster and straighter than I had thought it would be. These roads were surprisingly empty as I ventured into the desert. Tufts of grass dotted a brown landscape. Clouds hung low over the mountains the bounded this scene.
There really wasn't much out here. Towns were sparse. Abandoned buildings told the story of the former presence of people long gone.
I came across a little town where the GPS routed me along yet another section of unpaved road.
A tractor trailer could be seen coming from the other direction, so I pulled over. The dust cloud it was kicking up was impressive. To my right there was a helpful sign.
150 yards. I wondered what the range of an average weapon was. To my surprise as the tractor trailer approached he slowed down to a crawl allowing the dust cloud to dissipate before he reached me. Very cool.
That has been something that has really struck me about people in Montana. They pay attention and take others into account in their actions. There's this odd sense of cooperation, of togetherness, even with lives that are completely separate in this vast aloneness. It's nice and something one can get used to very quickly. In many ways, the behavior of people out here seems to match my own values.
I rode out of this town along what amounted to a two lane highway. The mountains on either side of this valley began to part as the road descended into a plain. Looking to the horizon not a single vehicle could be seen.
I didn't notice the scene when suddenly, alone, far away from civilization, it suddenly felt as if I was riding on rumble strips. The bike started vibrating violently. I looked down at the road surface and noticed it was smooth.
Dispassionately, I thought, "Oh, this ain't gonna be good" in my best Gomer Pyle inner voice, as I pulled in the clutch and rolled over to the side, the vibration now turning into a loud klunking sound. I came to a stop and the sound stopped. With the engine still running, I sat there for a moment looking at the descending desert road wondering how far away the nearest town was.
"Now I have a problem." I thought, again completely dispassionately. There was nothing to consider. I was thousands of miles from home and large hard parts inside my motorcycle have failed catastrophically. There was no repairing this Out Here. It was now a matter of getting home.
I thought back to Spokane where I had towed the R1100S out of the desert and that completely preventable mishap happened that had damaged something in my drivetrain. I had mistakenly thought it wasn't going to be catastrophic. I thought about the degree to which I sacrifice myself for others. It's a thing I do repeatedly as if in an insance attempt to justify my own existence; a way to show to myself that I am not like my namesake. It's as my own worth is defined in terms of what I do for others. The very fact that I was on this trip was in response to a request for help. I have spent most of my life for others. I fear that no matter how much I do for others; how many sacrifices I make; how far I push myself, it will never be enough for me to rid myself of this feeling.
Now, my motorcycle was broken and broken badly; the poor thing had broken it's back in the service of another at my request. Almost immediately, I was aware that something inside me had broken badly as well.
My motorcycle is broken and this bothers me much more deeply than I'll even admit to myself.
I checked the GPS looking for anything close by. There was one gas station 14 miles away in a small town called Bridger. "The bitch lies." I thought as I considered the number of times my lying bitch of a GPS has led me astray. "I've got pretty much one chance." I thought. The bike would still go but only slowly and with a tremendous amount of clunking. "I'm going to do more damage to it, but getting a tow truck out here is going to be nigh on impossible." I thought.
"It's already dead, Jim"
So with four ways on, I slowly rode on the shoulder the 14 miles to this gas station hoping that it existed. The noises the bike would make would change. At times the clunking would stop and at other times it felt as if the bike was going to come apart. This went on for almost an hour.
I failed to take a photo of the spot where it all ended, my mind occupied with thoughts of dealing with the task at hand. (Bruce would be proud.) I did try to snap one left handed while riding but failed miserably. (Bruce would not be proud.) I couldn't take my hand off the accelerator and coming to a stop was a very risky proposition.
Eventually, I came up on Bridger.
It's a very small town with a population of 704. There are things we take for granted in the more populated places on the planet. Access to help is one of them. Need food? Call delivery. Need to go somewhere? Call a taxi. Need something delivered? Call Fedex.
What if you find yourself in a place where such things are not readily avialable? "Shit gets real." as they say.
I rolled into a Cenex gas station and thankfully there was a covered picnic table out front. I stopped the bike and turned it off. That would be the last time, on this trip at least, that it moved forward under it's own power. Thankfully, there was cell service which makes a world of difference. "What if this had been in one of the truly remote places such as the middle of Mongolia? How does one handle that?" I pondered thinking about the really Hard Core guys (and women) that are circling the globe right now.
So I had basically two problems. I needed to get the bike back home and I needed to get myself there too. Based on my conversations with the trucker in Spokane, getting the bike picked up and shipped from here would likely involved a multi-day if not multi-week delay. I thought maybe I could find a place to store the bike for a week or two while I try to get a shipper to come out. It looked like there was a community airport close by so maybe I could take a puddle jumper to a larger airport and get a connecting flight or maybe I could take a bus.
Were there even busses available?
I posted on the BMW MOA page on Facebook and got a ton of suggestions. Given that my bike is now Unreliable(tm), I will henceforth be travelling differently, but that's another topic. Yun suggested that I rent a Uhaul and take the bike to Missoula or a similar town. I might have better luck getting it shipped. Some commented that I might be able to get it fixed somewhere but the problem is availability of parts. If something needed to get ordered it could take weeks, then I would have the repair costs plus shipping costs or a return flight to pick it up, etc. No, it would need to get shipped home and I would have to deal with repairs there.
As it turned out there was one Uhaul dealer only about 20 miles away. I thought if I'm going to rent a Uhaul to take the bike to some town several hundred miles away, maybe I should just take it all the way home. It'd probably be about the same cost. After over an hour on the phone with Uhaul, I managed to secure a truck. They won't rent vans one way so it was one of their smaller box trucks. In addition, in order to be allowed to put a bike into the box, all the fluids have to be drained. "No problem. It'll such but I can do that." I told the Uhaul guy on the phone. "Oh, and you have to buy the motorcycle adapter for the truck for $150.".
"Ok, I can do that."
Everything was set, I had gotten the last truck available anywhere in the area when the guy said, "the motorcycle adapter has to be mail ordered. I'm not sure but I can check into express mailing it. You might be able to get it Monday or Tuesday."
"Ummmm, what about a trailer.".
"Yes, there happens to be a trailer at the same location."
Again, I couldn't rent a pickup or a van one way, so my only option was to rent the box truck and the trailer. The trailer, it turned out, was only $100 more than the "motorcycle adapter".
Command decision made. I would spend the cash and tow the thing back myself. This would allow me to get started today and I would avoid the hassle of having to deal with shippers, storage, and a return flight home. I secured everything with a credit card and proceeded to walk into the gas station market to let them know I wasn't abandoning the bike and ask about a taxi as I had no way of getting to the Uhaul place.
"Taxi? We don't have taxi's around here. There might be one up in Billings but I'm not sure they come down this far." the nice woman said. "Just go outside and look for someone with Montana plates. Chances are they're heading to Billings. The Uhaul place is on the way."
"Hitchhike??" I thought and I guess the expression on my face gave my thoughts away. "It's ok." she said. I walked outside. There was a steady flow of traffic in and out of the gas station but I just couldn't bring myself to approach anyone about a lift.
I went back inside and got some water and sat at the tables in the market. While I was trying to get my courage up to go walk up to some complete stranger and ask for help,a couple sat down at the table next to me. We got to talking. I told them about my plight. As it turned out they were heading up to Billings. "We don't take hitch-hikers but we'll give you a lift." they said tentatively. They finished their drinks and we piled into their car. I thanked them profusely and explained that we don't do this kind of thing out East. "I've only been East of the Mississippi once." the man said. He asked me how I liked Montana and about the things I'd seen. Then, abruptly, he turned to me and in a different more direct tone of voice asked, "So did you vote for Obama?"
"Uh oh." I thought as images of my dessicated corpse being found in some far away ditch years from now flashed through my mind. Thinking fast I said, "I've learned one thing as I've travelled across this great nation. It's best never to talk about religion, politics or brands of gasoline."
That got a good laugh out of the both of them and the rest of the ride was pleasant. Shortly thereafter we rolled up to the Uhaul center which was nothing more than an old gas station with a few trucks parked out back amongst some dried weeds. The couple offered to stay while I secure the truck but I told them I didn't know how long it would take and they'd done so much for me already.
I walked into the station and asked who to talk to. "You need to talk to the owner. He's in a lawn chair out back." So out back I walked to find a group of people and one tall thin and very weathered man. He walked and talked slowly and seemed annoyed that I wanted to rent a truck. It was a good thing that I didn't ask the couple to wait. It took well over one and a half hours to get the paper work done and the truck ready to go.
We walked out to the truck. The trailer was much sturdier than I was expecting and I was pleased to see that it had a chock cut out for a motorcycle tire. "This looks like it's going to work just fine." I said. "Do tie downs come with it?" I asked. "Nope." he replied so back into the store I went to buy a set of ratcheting tie downs.
I thought it best not to mention that I have next to no experience pulling a trailer. I pulled away with empty Uhaul box truck and trailer in tow and proceeded to bounce my way down the road back to the gas station hopeful that my bike would still be there.
In retrospect, it was good that I got the trailer as opposed to trying to load the bike into the box. There's simply no way I would have been able to do this by myself. The trailer has the advantage that you don't have to drain the fluids and the ramp is so much lower to the ground I was able to get the bike up the ramp and secured onto the trailer without assistance. It was a pain and took some time, but I was able to do it.
There was a farm type supply store next to the market. I bought a couple of more substantial tie downs and managed to get the bike secured. This bike of mine has never, not once in 21 years, been on a trailer or in the bed of a pickup. This means that I have never tied it down before. To my dismay there aren't any good tie down points and getting a sport bike tie down strap to go over the handlebars was not going to happen.
Sorry Duncan, but I had no choice but to tie the hooks straight to my beloved heated handlebar grips. Duncan had given me those for my birthday before the great Alaska trip and of all the things that had happened, needing to risk those grips to get the bike home truly saddened me. (I haven't yet determined if my heated grips still work. They did get damaged a bit in transit.)
It was a sad moment seeing my poor broken bike on a trailer.
By this point I was pretty exhausted and not looking forward to the drive back. I don't do well behind the wheel of an enclosed vehicle.
A climbed into my new prison cell and slowly pulled out of the gas station, the truck and trailer making all kinds of unsettling noises. As the sun started getting low on the horizon, ended my miles by motorcycle and began my tow of shame.