It was a torrential downpour. Hail bounced off the motel roof as every depression in the earth filled with water. After the rain finally let up hours later, I walked across the street to a restaurant. Flowing water could be seen rushing by everywhere. I overheard someone talking about how golf ball sized hail had damaged their car.
"Man, getting stuck Out There in large hail would hurt." I thought as I realized I was strangely afraid. I felt an unusual sense of dread about what lie ahead. I just kept imagining mud like the kind I saw in Oklahoma. I imagined getting stuck, getting soaked, and being pounded by hail out in the open.
"I can't do this." as my mind raced through endless scenarios that would really suck and likely hurt. It happens rarely but sometimes I am gripped by a panic that makes my chest hurt as it takes over my mind. I imagined the very real scenario of having to over exert myself out in the muck getting shaky tired as I sometimes do, at which point I am my own worse enemy. Fatigued, my judgement falters and I often make very basic mistakes. I pondered how many more miles I "have" to go and how little progress I've been making. The knowledge that it's going to get cold in the mountains kept entering my consciousness.
"Snow would suck."
"Ice cold freezing rain would suck."
"Breaking down or running out of gas in the cold would suck."
"Freezing to death would suck."
My shoulder hurt so badly and my whole body was sore that I could just imagine getting to a point where I couldn't ride at all.
I stayed in this dark place for some hours that evening my mind tormenting me with horrible scenarios of my untimely demise. The temptation is to give in to these narratives. They take on a life of their own and your emotions get invoked. The two enter into a vicious cycle and won't let you go. Your spiral down into Darkness.
When this happens I have learned to pause. I have practiced forcing myself to ponder, artificially, a different narrative as my mind races.
"This ride is elective. It's not important. The are Big Problems(tm) in life and nothing about this trip is a Big Problem. No one's life is on the line. I can go a little ways, over to the next hill, and stop there. I can go in a different direction. I can just stay here where I am in this dive motel. I am only bound by the stories I tell myself about what any of this means. By itself, it means nothing."
And with this different narrative, I remembered a feeling of standing on the side of the Dalton Highway with a broken motorcycle. It was a scenario I had feared so much but when it came, and I remember this feeling vividly, there was a sense of calm. It was actually one of the better moments on the trip.
In each adversity lies opportunity.
And with that the tempest in my mind settled and I was able to fall asleep but had fitful dreams. The next morning I woke up relatively late. The bike had been running very poorly. I usually get around 48 miles to the gallon but on the last tank I had only gotten 32. I thought the air cleaner had maybe been clogged or maybe I had a bad tank of gas. The mechanic who installed my new tires said it was the altitude. I was surprised but he assured me everyone runs into this problem. He suggested drilling a few quarter sized holes in the airbox to lean out the fuel mixture. I checked online and read that people often just remove the airbox cover for the same effect.
So I opted to remove the cover and give that a try.
I've started paying very careful attention to fuel consumption. At 32 mpg I don't have as much range as I would like even with a 6.6 gallon tank.
Next, because I fear the mountains and wrong turns, I carefully prepped the Colorado section in my rollchart holder and resolved to get comfortable using the rollchart because my GPS hates me and is trying to engineer my demise. This took a distressingly long time. Getting that ridiculously long piece of thin paper rolled into the holder is fiddly and takes longer than one would think it should.
Having finished that task, I pull all my gear back on the bike and rolled up to the gas station to fill up. If there's gas available, I'll get gas which is completely contrary to how I usually travel. "Measure twice." I thought as I carefully calculated my fuel economy.
36mpg on that last tank. That's just ugly. I'll have to keep an eye on it.
I rolled out and headed towards Branson, Colorado to pick up the start of the Colorado section of the trail. I've bypassed the 72 miles of New Mexico and the last dozen or so miles in Oklahoma. I don't feel the need to be pedantic about following the trail. There was standing water everywhere.
"I can turn around." I reminded myself.
The weather was simply gorgeous. It was cool with cotton white clouds making their way across a blue sky.
The route to Branson through the hills was pleasant and curvey. In the distance I saw what looked like a small volcano. Signs to that effect appeared. The volcano was a national monument. I could see a road leading up to the top.
There was a small entrance fee, $5 I think. I paid it and then made my way up the side of the volcano. Riding up the thing, the walls were much steeper than they looked from a distance. There was no guard rail and the drop to the right was quite serious. "No right turn." I thought. Normally I am not all that affected by heights but with the wind I was a bit tense. It was, however, absolutely beautiful with a fantastic view.
Before long it was time to go.
It was only 50 miles or so to the start of the Colorado route. Along the way I saw some railroad construction equipment. I had never seen anything like this before.
In a small canyon pass I came across an ancient toll booth.
Before long I was at the Colorado section of the Trans America Trail. There was a little ancient jailhouse.
Within yards, the pavement ended and I was on gravel roads. To my great relief the roads were completely dry. There was hardly an evidence of the previous days deluge. I'm guessing this area must have been spared.
This was also the first hint I noticed of real mountains in the distance. This first area was largely flat and as there has been so often on this trip there were abandoned buildings at seemingly regular intervals.
The trail continued to follow the plains below the mountains. I found myself wanting to turn left but the trail kept going off into the distance.
The new tires, a Continental TKC-70 Front and TKC-80 Rear, are not as confidence inspiring on gravel as the Mefo Explorers I had previously. The front seemed to want to wander more. I often say "Beggars can't be choosers" when asking people for help and the mismatched tires were what I could get without having to wait days. I would have thought that tires for a bike as popular as the Suzuki DR650SE, a bike that's been made for two decades now, would be easier to come by. I have been proven wrong.
Purchase the Continental Twinduro TKC80 Dual Sport Tires at RevZilla Motorsports. Get the best free shipping & exchange deal anywhere, no restock fees and the lowest prices -- guaranteed.
These are also available from Dual Sport Touring and it might be much more convenient if you're in the Maryville, TN area to just go over there than to wait for Revzilla.
I had really liked the Mefo's. They are in my humble opinion exceptional tires and gripped on pavement to a degree that has to be experienced to be believed. They are also very predictable off road. The only place where they falter that I've experienced is in deep mud. For the Trans America Trail, especially the first half, they are a good choice.
I was told that it will get more challenging as I make my way further into Colorado with more mud and sand so the TKC's, being more biased to off road use, would be better suited.
To use the rollchart I needed a way of keeping track of distances. The roll chart marks each turn and then a distance to the next turn. As you reach each turn you rotate the handles on the rollchart holder to bring the next turn into view. I had tried to just use the trip odometer but it's a hassle to reset each time and I like to use it to keep track of how far I've gone since the last fillup. Keeping the numbers in my head proved daunting so I started using the new useless "Fuel odometer" on the GPS. It has the advantage of being very easy to reset.
I quickly became comfortable with the rollchart and, as others have pointed out to me, I should have started using it some time ago. On a couple of occasions the route on the GPS would flake out as it has often done and the rollchart proved invaluable. It got to the point that I just kept the fuel odometer screen up on the GPS and ignored the map completely.
Using the rollchart is, however, slower than relying on the GPS. At each turn, you stop. You turn the holder gadget to bring the next section into view and then reset the Fuel odometer. This would likely save me from a crash some time later.
I followed this ritual for some time when rolled up to an intersection. As I did on every other turn I stopped, turned the holder and reset the GPS. I paused as I looked at a strange installation across the road. It then dawned on me that I was looking at a rather large solar farm installation. Contractors could be seen going in and out of the fenced installation in trucks. Each time they went by they would kick up clouds of dust.
The route would take me left right in front of the installation. I let the clutch out and it felt like a wheel was coming off. Initially, I wasn't sure what was wrong. The bike was wobbling frighteningly.
"Flat tire? Wheel coming loose?". I looked at the front. All seemed in order. I looked at the rear ...
It was completely flat and the bead had already come off the rim.
I stopped and looked around. Practicing removing a motorcycle tire using tire irons was on my long TODO list that did not get done before I left.
This was one of the scenarios that I had feared. I could just see being stuck here for hours stranded.
I got off the bike and carefully moved to a position off the road. A contractor from the solar installation stopped to see what I was up to.
The sun was a bit brutal but it was relatively cool. I took off my helmet and jacket. I carry a hat for just this situation. I've learned a hat can do wonders for making it easier to tolerate the sunshine. I suspect they are the all rage with the vampires these days.
I had thought it was overkill but I had purchased a "tire change mat" with some extra tire irons and a bead breaker. Motorcycle tires form a chemical bond with the rim called the "bead". Separating tire from rim, especially if the tire has been on the rim for a while, can be quite a challenge. This was a brand new tire that had just been put on.
I looked around to assess how bad my predicament was.
"Humans present." check.
"Water in the camel pack." check.
"Tire patch kit." check.
Upon reflection, it became clear to me what I had here was a first world problem and the only thing really at risk was time.
What's the worst reasonable case?
I might have to abandon the bike. I could walk to the solar installation. They would probably let me get in out of the sunshine. Even then, chances are someone there might help me get it or might know of a towing company that could come out here.
I could try to repair it and have it fail in which case I might have to do it again.
But I had no sense that I was in any danger. I looked around. No big spiders. No nope ropes. (snakes).
I can sacrifice time.
I slowly and methodically set about taking everything off the bike. Owing to the strong wind, dust and dirt got absolutely everywhere. Every passing truck would make the situation worse. I had bought these large combination axle bolt wrenches/tire irons.
Both the mat and these tire irons turned out to be good purchases.
The rear axle bolt is tightened to 79.5 foot pounds. There was no getting it loose by hand but a simple application of foot pressure and I soon had the nut off and the rear tire removed.
Given how tough the tire is I was very concerned about getting the tire over the rim so I could pull the inner tube out. I have very little in the way of physical endurance and this took a huge amount of energy but I managed after some time to get the inner tube out.
On recommendation from Megan, I had added some "Ride On" to the tube. These were heavy duty tubes. I reused them when the TKC's were mounted. "Ride On" is similar to slime in that it's goo you inject into the tube and it seals small holes.
I looked at the tube and noticed an area that was a bit wet. I soon discovered why the tube lost air. With a gash this large the tube would have lost all its air in seconds. I suspect this happened while I was stopped futzing with the rollchart holder. If this had happened at speed it would likely have resulted in a crash as the tire would have come off the rim completely.
It has been over two decades since I've patched an inner tube. I took out my trusty patch kit and opened the instructions to refresh my memory.
The instructions in the tube patch kit were for a tubeless patch kit. I remembered to clean the area around the slice and to roughen up the surface. I applied the glue and then applied the patch.
The first patch did not hold air so I repeated the process. I carry a small compressor that I got from Aerostich. It's a bit fiddly but the thing is awesome and very very small.
This is the smallest, lightest compressor we carry and one of the most efficient you ll find for its size. This stripped-down mini fits in the palm of your hand and will inflate any motorcycle tire in a couple minutes. When a larger compressor is too much
I used the pump to inflate the tube a bit and let it sit in the sun. I thought the heat might help the thing cure.
I took a close look at the tire and found the slice.
I started the arduous task of putting the inner tube back in. Getting the stem into the little hole involved repeatedly getting my fingers pinched painfully between ring and tire.
One of the contractors stopped and asked if there was anything he could do. I mentioned the flat tire. He said he had some "slime" for just such a purpose and he gave me the bottle but wouldn't accept any money for it. I mentioned that it was clear he couldn't use it on his truck. "I carry it in case I come across guys out here with flats." He mentioned that with all the construction on the solar plant the cattle grates were getting pretty beat up and they were having a lot of problems with flat tires.
It was exceptionally nice of him to stop.
Taking the tire off was difficult. Putthing the damn thing back on took a huge amount of effort and was honestly difficult. The challenge is that the inner tube keeps trying to commit suicide by getting between the rim and the tire iron.
I was starting to get tired.
But I managed to get it on. I used the trusty little Areostich pump and inflated the tire. The bead popped into place. I pumped it up to 31 PSI, guessing that it was probably a decent pressure.
The tube was holding but now that it was at pressure it had visibly opened up the gash in the tire. I had initially thought that maybe I could continue on my way with this tire but this tire was toast.
But it's not that big of a problem. I was facing a first world problem. All it involved was time and money. I knew there would be ways to find a tire or have one delivered. Maybe I would have to wait a few days. But in the grand scheme of things this wasn't a real problem.
I would later hear from Tom Cutter of Rubber Chicken Racing Garage. He is arguably the most experienced, intelligent, knowledgeable mechanic/engineer/wizard I have ever met.
He suggested a number of ways to improve a solution. A section of old inner tube could be used to cover the hole. Duct tape could be used. In the worst case, if no tube held the tire could be filled with something to help keep its shape. There is a world of improvisational knowledge for a whole range of typical problems that I simply have no experience with.
It made me think of the stories I've heard of guys down in South America doing road side transmission repairs and improvising solutions one would just never think of. I mentioned to Tom that he should teach an "Improvising on the Adventure" course.
But here I was in the first world and instead of trying to limp along for the next thousand miles on a compromised tire, which apparently can be done if you absolutely need to, I would just find a way to get to a shop and have it replaced.
At this point I was pretty tired. Not shaking yet, but tired. I put everything back on the bike, checked the pressure one last time and proceeded to cautiously make my down the route with the intent of making it to the nearest town.
It seemed to be going pretty well when I started to notice a wobble. I had made it may a mile from my previous location.
The rear tire was completely flat and I was quite tired.
I carry a spare front inner tube. I have been told by several people that in a pinch you can use the front tube in the rear. The sun was setting.
I repeated the previous steps. I pulled everything off the bike, pulled out the tools, and removed the rear tire. Slime had gotten all over everything. I was a mess. By this time I was starting to shake.
Over exertion is my enemy.
"Tired Yermos make mistakes." Audrey warned via text message.
I paused, drank a lot of water, and ate an apple that I had with me. I rested from a bit and then set about putting the front tube in the rear tire.
Another couple of contractors stopped as the sun was setting. They told me that the security detail at the solar plant was there 24/7 and that if I needed to I should just walk the mile back. They then gave me their number and said if I was stuck out here too much after dark that I should call them and they would come and get me.
The kindness of strangers. I thanked them profusely and told them I suspected I would be ok but that I would let them know either way.
After some time, I managed to get the tube in and the tire on. I inflated the tire and it seemed to hold air but it took forever to develop any pressure. I was starting to get nervous because it's a 21 inch tube in a 17 inch tire. I'll have to research how much air to put in the tire in this context. I inflated it to 18psi, which as I mentioned, took forever. I slowly rode off quite very tired at this point. The sun had set and it was dark.
I stopped and checked the pressure. It was holding. Interstate I25 was just ahead. The GPS, who hates me, listed a gas station a few miles up the road. I cautiously got up to 55mph and kept that speed while I was carefully paying attention to how the bike handled and was ready to stop at a moments notice. The gas station was an ex-gasstation. The next one was 20 miles further up the road.
So further up the road I went and after some time made it. I texted the kind souls who had stopped to let them know I was ok. I explored motels but there was nothing much in the area. Pueblo Colorado was only 43 miles further up the road and, doing a quick check of Google Maps, there was a Suzuki Dealer there. In the worst case, it was a pretty big town and would make a good place to hole up for a few days.
Riding those 43 miles took seemingly forever. I found a motel, checked in, and took a very long hot shower. My whole body ached from the exertion.
I got up early. Checking the rear tire I noticed that it had lost significant pressure overnight but it wasn't completely flat. I added some air and then, skipping breakfast, made my way over to Rocky Mountain Motorsports Plaza which, coincidently, was only 2 miles from my motel.
I walked in and talked to the service writer, Bryan I think his name was. Awesome guy. He said if the parts department had a tire they would install it the same day and get me back on the road.
I went over to parts. I described my plight and that I was looking for a 120/90-17 rear tire and tube to put on my bike so I could get back under way.
The parts guy looked through various sources and after a good long while said.
"Sorry. The soonest we can get you a tire would be Tuesday."
It was Friday.
I was hungry so made my way to a nearby Denny's where I ate and looked around to see if anyone had a tire. I called several shops.
Megan of Dual Sport Touing had mentioned in a Facebook comment the previous night that she might be able to hook me up with a tire so I called Dual Sport Touring in Friendville, TN. ( http://dualsporttouring.com). Francois answered. Megan had mentioned my plight to him. "I'll do some searching and call you back." he said.
Some minutes later he called back and asked how far I was from Rocky Mountain Cycle Plaza.
"I was just there. They told me they didn't have a tire that would fit."
"They have a tire in stock that'll fit. A D606 130/90-17"
I went back and asked about that tire. "Oh yea, that'll fit."
Why didn't you tell me that when I was here before?!?
I called Francois back and thanked him profusely. In the meantime he had found another tire in Colorado Springs in case this one didn't work out. Fantastic.
There's a difference between answering a question and solving the larger problem.
Bryan in service hooked me up. He got a tech to start working on the bike within the hour. Two or so hours later the bike was ready.
I didn't know that size would fit. I can't thank Francois and Megan enough. They just saved me from a four day oversight.
It is, however, a BEAST of a tire. "Beggars can't be choosers."
It was around 2:30 in the afternoon. I figured I could make it the 60 or so miles back to the trail and then do the 50 or so miles to the stop in La Veta where the maps say there's food, gas, and motels.
I was still sore from the previous day but not feeling too badly. I hit the highway.
My shoulder, which had eased up a bit, cramped up almost immediately. I got gas 20 miles from the trail, just in case. Riding South I noticed rain clouds in the distance. There was sunshine everywhere else except in the direction I happened to be heading.
While the previous day had been spent in the plains the route immediately went up into the mountains through water cut little canyons with steep walls.
There were a seemingly endless array of cows in the road. I would slow to a crawl lest one of these stupid beasts gets spooked and runs out in front of me.
There were also more critters in a shorter span of time than I have seen anywhere else on this trip.
Elk. Deer. Turkeys. Some weird gazelle like thing that was running at probably 30+mph.
There were also all manner of abandoned old buildings.
At one point, my luck ran out and it started to rain dramatically. Sunshine was everywhere except where I happened to be.
I did come across a rainbow that seemed to end right in front of me. I was tempted to go looking for gold.
The rain ceased and the scene opened up to tall mountains in the distance. The sun started to set. I would ride so slowly stopping to look at the various sights along the way taking it all in.
It was simply glorious and by far the best riding of the trip so far. I would slow down nervously as I crossed every cattle grate. It's funny how one runs into one problem that's a bit painful and suddenly a repeat of that one event, an event you've not worried about in decades of riding, occupies your consciousness.
I made it into La Veta just after sunset and found a dive RV park/Motel. La Veta is a strange town. At night it looks like something straight out of a horror film but perfectly normal during the daytime.
Some work issues came up so, still hurting from my day of tire changes, I decided to take it easy today and spend the day exploring the town a bit. It's a funky artsy little town and warrants further investigation.
I plan to get up early tomorrow and see if I can't make it to Salida. 175 miles of trail should be doable.
I've got to figure out a way to say more in less words. If you've made it this far, brave soul, I thank you.
Click on the maps for an interactive version.