On the border of Virginia and North Carolina just off US RT 29 there is a small gas station that does a fair amount of business for a Wednesday afternoon in mid-July. I know this because I’ve just spent the last few hours here. My bike is doing its best impression of a statue. I am sitting in a decreasing pool of shade from a highway sign trying not to sweat too much. The last hour was spent tearing my bike down with a limited tool kit trying to figure out why I have no electrics. I finally concede defeat and call roadside assistance who assure me they will be here soon. The tow truck will take me to a dealer that should be able to help me get back on the road.
Over the years I’ve read several motorcycle travel stories where the authors assert that it’s the delays in a trip that make the journey interesting. These interruptions usually are the best stories. Every good road trip account I’ve heard or read is about the stops more than the riding. I’m fascinated by riders tales of around-the-world and around-the-country adventures. Where they went, what they saw, what they needed to do to get from where they were to where they wanted to go. Is it the adventure in foreign lands that entices me? Sure that’s part of it. Stories of far off, and not so far off, places and sights I probably will never see draw me in. More than that though, it’s the bumps in the road. It’s the stories of the places people stop, the people they meet there, and what they experience. That’s the heart of it. A unique experience being shared. On my motorcycle trips and wanderings the best, and most often repeated, stories my friends and I share are about the pauses, the struggles, and the strange things that happen on or around a motorcycle once it has stopped.
The tow truck driver is here now and we strap down the bike to the back of a flatbed tow truck. I’m lucky the driver is also a motorcycle rider. He understands how to strap down a bike correctly. We are soon on our way to a dealer about 30 miles away from the gas station. On the way we talk about the bikes we’ve owned, trips we’ve taken, and other bikes he’s towed. We cover a bit of ground in our short conversation. He’s mostly a sport bike rider and likes to stay around town. Right now he’s in between bikes but has a line on a GSXR that a buddy of his is giving up on the cheap. I can hear the excitement in his voice when he thinks about being able to ride again.
So much of what I hear in conversation at work or have when I’m out with friends is regurgitating information gathered from sound bites and headlines. In our busy lives, and because of the onslaught of information thrown at us every day, it’s an easy pattern to fall into. Glean a little information from the news headlines, twitter, facebook, etc. Then meet up with a friend, reiterate the soundbites and maybe discuss them a little. This is what passes for conversation. I think this is more information sharing than conversation. There’s a place for this type of discussion but I find too often that it’s taking the place of people sharing their own experiences with each other.
When my riding buddies get together and talk we recount stories of the time our friend got a flat tire outside Gatlinburg, TN. The time our boots melted when we tried to dry them out around the fire after riding all day in the rain. The fajitas we made at Mt.Pisgah campground off the Blue Ridge Parkway after a long day of riding. We rarely talk about the multiple miles we rode on a trip, except to maybe comment on a nice section of road. I’ve rarely gone on a ride longer than an hour and not come back home without something interesting (or even frightening) to talk about.
The tow truck pulls up next to a building sandwiched between several houses on a neighborhood street. The only indication that it’s a motorcycle dealer is the faded sign and motley assortment of scooters and ATVs lined up in the mostly gravel parking lot. This is not what I expected when the woman from road side assistance said I’d be going to a Kawasaki dealer close by. The only other dealer in the area couldn’t make room for me for 2 weeks and this dealer could look at my bike today so I don’t have much of a choice. I help unstrap the bike and wheel it into the service bay at the back of the building. The service area looks more like my buddies garage who can’t seem to throw old bike parts away. It’s complete with an old 50’s era fridge, 80’s era boom box belting out 90’s era music. The mechanics are nice guys and take the bike right in. I’m not encouraged when their first question is “What kind of bike is that?” The closest motorcycle they have in their stable to my Concours 14 is a used Ninja last seen with Tom Cruise astride it in Top Gun.
Fortunately the basic workings of bikes are the same. Based on the ATVs, Minibikes, and “custom” motorcycles waiting to be serviced, these mechanics are accustomed to improvising and thinking outside the box. They locate the source of the problem in a very short time. The issue is an overheated (partially melted) fuse behind the battery due to a bad ground. The mechanic replaces the fuse and files down the powder coat on the frame so the ground can get a better contact. Things look like they are going well until he has to drill out the screw he just torqued the head off. After fixing the screw, he reattached the ground and the bike fires right up. With well wishes on a safe journey, and an apology for the broken screw, I’m off. Total cost: $20.00.
I arrive at my hotel three hours later than I expected. After unpacking I walk over to the rally I was trying to get to all day, grab an adult beverage, and find a few friends. We catch up and spend the rest of night telling stories about our adventures over the past year. I have a few (and one new one) I’m just itching to share. My story prompts the telling of other stories about on-road fixes. 20 uses for baling wire, best fixes involving duct tape, the multiple virtues of vice grips, and many more. The story telling and conversation go on late into the first night, and the next. Great conversation is easy with friends, especially when you have good stories to share.