Monday, November 23, 2009

The Cassiar Highway

I left Whitehorse on August 1st, a Saturday morning. I had been in Whitehorse for a week, and while it had been an overall enjoyable week, it had put me a good deal behind schedule. I had my ticket to Burning Man which started on September 1st, and I still wanted to make it to Death Valley and the Grand Canon before then. I had a lot of miles I needed to cover in between now and then: At least 8,000, by my best guess.

With that in mind, I headed south, back down the Alcan. It was clear, warm, with just a breeze and no traffic to speak of to interrupt the ride.

Only about 60 miles south (actually more east, but whatever) of Whitehorse, I started to see signs of why the road had been closed the previous day. Forest fires, off in the distance for now, but in the direction I needed to go.

This is what driving through that smoke looks like:

Very pleasant.

Midway through the day I stopped at a gas station/motel/restaurant type thing for munchies. It was your typical burgers 'n stuff place, but one of the menu options was some sort of bacon double cheeseburger thing. Well, I never wanted to live past the age of 40 anyway, so I took a gamble on it.

Holy dog balls, they weren't kidding when they called it a double.

How the fuck was I supposed to eat this thing!?

Seriously? I think I had to dislocate my jaw to get around it. I wish I could remember where I'd gotten this, but I neglected to take a picture or jot down any notes about the place. I did take advantage of their wi-fi to update my iPod of various podcasts though.

While I was trying to figure out a way to shove this burger into my face, I ended up chatting for a while with this guy, who was on his way up to Prudhoe. He had seen my bike sitting outside, the only muddy cruiser in a sea of dual-sports, and figured that someone in the building must be as crazy as he was, to try and take a cruiser all sorts of places where it shouldn't go.

We talked for a while about the road, what it was like and what he should expect on a cruiser-style bike with fairly smooth street tires. I advised him just to take it easy and slow, and while he might be cold and wet for a lot of it, he'd make it there alright as long as he didn't try and maintain 70mph the whole way. I know that we'd exchanged contact info, but as I look through the notes I took on the trip, I can't seem to find his. I hope he made it there and back alright.

With a belly full of food, I kept on heading south (or east, at this point) down the Alcan, finally making it to the Junction of Highway 37, where I went south into British Columbia.

When you're heading north, once you've left the line-of-toothpaste of civilization that's mushed against the US border in Canada, there's two main ways to get up to the Yukon and Alaska. There's the well-known road, the Alcan, which is pretty dull until you get all the way up to Fort Nelson. But if you're adventurous, or just seeking to spend an extra day or two on the journey, there's a far better way to get from the North to the South

The Cassiar Highway.

View Larger Map

While the Alcan mostly stays to the east of the Canadian Rockies until it's almost in the Yukon before darting west, the Cassiar highway runs right down the middle of them through British Columbia.

And after riding this, I can't fathom any reason why someone would take the Alcan when this road is an option. It's FAR more remote, much less developed, and while the Alcan did have it's pretty bits (especially by Muncho Lake), the Cassiar is 500 miles of this.

Sure, it's not nearly as civilized as the Alcan, and there's much longer stretches in between towns and gas stations. The northern 50 miles or so alternate regularly between pavement and pretty decent dirt/gravel, and when it is paved, there's no lane markings or anything.

To put it mildly, there were mountains.

(Thumbnailed for easier scrolling)

I was getting south in a hurry, and was getting surprised by this whole "sun setting before 11pm" thing. I was running on the reserve on the bike's main tank, but I still had both spare tanks full, so I figured I had plenty of range to find gas the next day. And it was late enough that if I did find a gas station, it would probably be closed. I decided to call it a day, and turned down an almost comically steep gravel road that seemed to head off in the direction of a lake.

Pictures can't convey how steep it really was, or how scary. It was VERY loose and most of the gravel was the size of fists, making traction a precarious affair. Looking back up the hill from the bottom, although it got steeper after it curves into the trees;

I was right, this road did end right at a lake. And what a place to set up camp, I thought as I walk back from the bike to take this photo.

I walked back to the bike to start pitching my tent and

Wait, what the fuck happened to my gas cans?

Aw shit

I guess this had happened quite a ways back and I'd not noticed, the tire had worn clear through one of the tanks. The second tank, thankfully, was undamaged and still full of fuel. Although now I realized I had perhaps 80 miles worth of gas left, when previously I'd assumed at least 150. Crap.

Now while it looks like this was an idyllic camping spot . . . what I didn't bother taking a photo of made it not so. To the left of the frame in the photo of the lake, there was another higher clearing that had a few pickup trucks and cars parked in it, and a bunch of people my age milling about and messing around in the water. While I was setting up, I was assuming they'd be leaving as it got dark and they'd leave me to my peace and quiet.

Boy, I was wrong. The bad techno music started at 11pm and didn't stop until 6am. And at one point, some (very drunk) guys managed to stumble over to my tent and make an offer of beer, and then hollered "NICE BIKE" as they shuffled away back to the party. I was pretty pissy about it at the time, but . . . I mean, they were there first. And if they're going to have a drunken loud all night party, the middle of nowhere is a pretty good bet. If I'd know they were going to be there all night I would have picked somewhere else, though.


Anyway, the next day I was so sure that I was going to loose it on my way back up that hill that I made sure I had the camera rolling. Luckily I didn't fall over, and made it up without problems, although once (you'll see in the short vid) I did have a pucker moment as the rear wheel stepped out on a patch of very loose rocks.

(It's not actually that interesting of a video, just me riding over a rough gravel road)

Even though I wasn't very well rested at all (And I'd have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!), I kept on going south on the Cassiar. And found horses!

And after the horses, there was more of what British Columbia has in droves; more mountains.

I know that many people reading through this are pretty damn sick of seemingly endless pictures of a road winding through endless mountains. But I'm pretty sure that anyone who's done long-distance bike touring isn't.

I'm quite sure that as they're reading this, anyone who's been on a long ride before, hell ANYONE who's ever ridden a motorcycle before, is picturing themselves, on the bikes of their choice, on these roads.

They know exactly what it feels like, exactly what it SMELLS like.

They know what the barely perceptible drop in air temperature as you go past a lake is like. They've felt the thermal-clines as you go up hills and down into valleys.

And I know that anyone who's been on a bike before is probably staring at these photos and mentally planning their next big trip. Or even their first big trip.

And hopefully, those of you who've never ridden before are looking through these and thinking about what your first bike is going to be. Because we have places on our world that look like this, and seeing them through a windshield with walls of metal around you can't ever do them justice.

Sure, you can stop and get out of cars here and there, but you're forced to on a bike. You can't eat on the movie, so you're forced to pull over at places like this for lunch.

A bike FORCES you to interact with your environment, to be part of it, to really experience it (Unless you're on a Goldwing, but that's cheating). This place had some of the clearest water I've ever seen outside of Antarctica, and I wouldn't have found it if I was able to carry enough water with me that I didn't have to get more from this lake to boil for lunch.

And this has to be one of my favorite photos of this whole part of the trip:

How much more picturesque can you get?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fixing the bike

As much as it sucked being stuck in northern Canada with a broken motorcycle and an unclear path home, I couldn't have picked a better place to have it happen.

I really ended up liking Whitehorse as a city. It's a small town that does feel like a small town, but not in the kitschy way that Dawson City or many of the other places I've gone through felt. It's large enough that the businesses exist not primarily to carter to any tourists that pass through, but to serve local residents. While there are some places that are touristed-up a bit, it's not that bad and retains a very real, functional feel. It's big enough that a number of national chains have operations here, and while I know a lot of people might bitch (fairly) about Wal-Mart being everywhere, after a weeks of plodding through tiny towns and trying to find the stuff I needed at absurdly expensive little general stores, that ugly blue sign is a welcome sight. There's also the staples of any small city there, Safeway, NAPA, an REI-type place, and even a Starbucks (Which I avoided in favor of a nicer coffee shop down the street).

The place is a good size; large enough to be convenient with easy access to stuff you need/want, but small enough that traffic isn't worth mentioning and you can walk just about anywhere you need to go. And for getting into the city from the outlying suburbs, there's a surprisingly comprehensive bus system, which was how I got downtown from where I was staying at the Motel/RV Park. The operator had taken pity on me in my situation, and let me pitch my tent in a little wooded clearing area behind a couple of the buildings.

I had damaged the bike on a Friday night, spent most of Saturday taking the side of the engine apart so I could get an idea of the damage, and then Sunday (while the dealer was closed) I mostly rested and searched around online for some ideas of what to do in my situation.

On Monday, when the dealer opened again, I went in to talk to their techs, and showed them the damaged crankcase cover to get their opinion on if it could be repaired, or if I needed a new one.

Unfortunately, they were of the opinion that there wasn't much of a way to repair this, by welding or epoxy, just because of where the cracks were right around a bolt hole. And truth be told, I kind of suspected that the moment I took the cover off.

This left me in need of a left crankcase cover for a 1997 Yamaha Virago 750, which wasn't available through the dealer in any reasonable time frame. They said they could probably get one from Japan, but it would take at least 2-3 weeks and I'd be looking at $350 just for the part. With that in mind, I spend the rest of the day turning to the wide world of the internet for help.

Of the number of motorcycle forums that I'm on, the one that came through for me in this regard was the Virago Owners Group. I posted a thread about my situation and what was broken, and only a few hours later I got an e-mail from a member who happened to have the exact part I needed! Three of them, in fact, laying around his garage. I can't tell you how happy I was to hear from him, and we quickly made arrangements for him to ship one of them ultra-express up to the Yamaha dealer that I had my bike at. I also ordered all of the various seals and gaskets that I was going to need from the Yamaha dealer, which were available on-continent and they said would only take a couple days to get in.

I spent the next few days mostly hanging around the RV Park, taking the bus into town, poking around the internet and generally un-winding. I couldn't have picked a better week to be stuck there: It was warm, almost too warm, getting up to 85 degrees almost every day, and hardly a cloud in the sky. On one of my trips into town, I went to the large sporting-goods store to get a replacement pump for my camp stove, which over the last few weeks had been acting up and not working very well.

Fast-forward to Thursday, and I wandered over to the Yamaha dealer, and look what was waiting for me!

Marty, I owe you one. If you're ever in Chicago, steaks are on me!

Because I was kinda far outside of town (And hadn't thought ahead when I was downtown), I was stuck buying all the stupidly overpriced chemicals that I needed from the dealer's parts counter. Five quarts of oil, brake cleaner, WD-40 clone, liquid gasket and all the various seals and gaskets that I needed totaled up to over a $100 to the Yamaha guys, and just the shipping on the crankcase cover was $100. Ah well, at least I had what I needed. I camped out in the parking lot and got to work.

And I'm not going to lie, at this point I was feeling kinda smug. All day there were people bringing their various bikes into the service department for really minor things, guys coming in for oil changes, brake adjustments, tire swaps, all kinds of little maintenance things that they were dropping the bikes off to have the techs do. And while they were writing checks, I was sitting in the parking lot happily taking apart the left side of my engine.

I felt pretty damn bad-ass :D

But my sense of smug-ness was dampened a bit later in the day, when a guy came in on a big Yamaha dual-sport, in the background here:

As he set about taking off his front wheel to get a new tire mounted, I struck up a conversation and asked him where he'd ridden from.

Now so far on this trip, whenever I asked another rider where they'd come from or how long their trip was, they'd inevitably puff up their chest and say something like "I rode all the way from SEATTLE" or "I've done a whole FOUR THOUSAND MILES!". And I smile and nod politely and probably compliment them on their shiny, clean, farkled up bikes, and then casually mention that I was the better part of 18,000 miles into a 27,000 mile trip. And then I would feel cool because my motorcycle-penis was so much larger then theirs.

So when this guy pulled in on a dirty, well-used bike, I asked him where he'd started his ride from. I wasn't prepared when he pulled off his helmet and said to me, in a thick accent: "Switzerland!"

. . .

Well that put me in my place. He was doing basically the trip I want to do in a few years, only in reverse. Started in Switzerland, went across Austria, Slovakia, the Ukraine, Russia, all around Japan, and now he was heading down to South America. And I thought I was hardcore, I mean goddamn.

Check out his website here (In German, but has a google translator):

I salute you Markus, for being way more badass then I!

Anyway, as the day wore on and I kept working on getting the crankcase cover re-attached (having to re-do it once when I forgot to put part of the clutch assembly in the correct position), the sun moving was quickly depriving me of my shade. I had to keep moving my workspace so as not to get roasted while working.

That evening, I managed to get everything together, started the bike up, and HUZZAH! It all worked! No leaks, everything was holding, and damn did I feel proud of myself. I even cleaned off the old cover just to take another picture of the hole I'd managed to punch in it.

This was the little plug of metal that the rock had so efficiently dislodged. I meant to hang onto it as a token/memento of my trip, but as I dig through all my pockets and containers now, it seems to have vanished. Ah well. : \

I rode the bike around town a little bit more, just making sure everything was holding, when I noticed another problem. Once the engine was running, it ran fine without problems, and there were no leaks best I could tell. But something was up with the starter, or the solenoid, or the starer gears. About 3/4 of the times that I tried start the bike, the starter would spin, but somehow wasn't engaging with the flywheel, it wasn't turning the engine over. I found that if I took off the little solenoid cover on the side, I could pop the gear into position using an allen wrench as a lever, and then the starter would engage and the bike would start just fine. Weird.

At this point, I had no idea what was wrong, but I was ITCHING to get back to riding. I had the Cassiar highway to take me back south, which I was really looking forward to, and I'd been sitting idle for way too long. And because I could at least get the bike started by bump-starting it, or popping the lever manually, I figured I could at least limp back south to where parts might be easier to find.

I was planning on leaving Friday, but ended up delaying another day because the road was closed to the south because of forest fires. When someone mentioned that to me, it finally clicked in my head that all week I'd been seeing these strange red airplanes taking off and landing like clockwork, and only then did I realize they were tankers, refilling from the river to drop more water bombs on the fires.

So that Saturday, exactly a week after I'd rushed into town in a cloud of blue smoke and oil squirting everywhere, I packed up the bike to head south.

If you're ever in Whitehorse, people, stay at this motel. The operator is a sweetheart, the rooms are nice, and every Saturday in the summer they grill out. I don't know what I would have done if it weren't for these people.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Getting back into Canada, and breaking my bike

The evening of July 21st (or 22nd, I can't really remember found me at the northern end of the Taylor Highway. I'd done a lot of miles that day, making it from south of Tok, and finally ended up in the "Town" of Chicken, Alaska.

View Larger Map

And when I say "Town" I mean that best I could tell, there was a general store/burger joint, campground/RV Park, and I think up a bit off the other side of the road were a few more buildings of some sort. Chicken exists as a mining destination, the area is fairly rich in gold deposits, and that was what drew the first people here in the 1900s. The town got its name, legend says, from a native bird that made good food, but had a French-derived name that none of the miners could pronounce. Story says that eventually, one of the miners said "Aw hell, let's just call it Chicken".

The large-scale mines have mostly moved away, but a lot of private individuals still have claims up there for recreational mining. I had stopped into the campground place hoping to get a sandwich, but when I saw that for $10 they'd give you a pan and some dirt and show you how to get the gold out, I figured it sounded like fun.

I spent that evening panning for gold, spend the night in the campground, and then most of the next day panning as well. Panning is something that takes years to really master, and everyone has their own technique, but even in my bumbling through it, I managed to get perhaps $10-$15 worth of the shiny stuff. Not enough to do anything with, but hey, I gots me some gold!

After spending most of 7-22 panning as well, I elected not to pay for another night of camping, and packed my stuff to head out. It was getting dark by the time I did leave, but there was still enough light to take pictures.

This place was absolutely spectacular.

Stunning views looking out over long valleys with rivers winding through them. For reasons I can't quite explain, I was reminded very of New Zealand, the terrain just had . . . that sort of feel to it. Something about how steep the hills were without turning into cliffs, just the way the vegetation grew and the way the rivers were running, it looked like someplace right out of Lord of the Rings.

I only did about 60 miles that day, and I couldn't have gone much farther if I'd wanted. The border crossing back into the Yukon closes at 8pm, so there wasn't much sense in pushing all the way there. I followed a little side-trail off the road and camped for the night near what looked like a long-disused piece of mining equipment.

I awoke the next day to the sound of rain on my tent. I waited it out for a couple of hours, for it to slow down to a lazy drizzle before packing up. I could still see the rain clouds off in the distance.

For almost all of the day, there was a constant rain cloud somewhere on the horizon, but with some very short exceptions I managed to stay out of it the whole time.

The paved road had run out before I got to Chicken, and the gravel ran out sometime after that. The road was a hard-packed clay, but all the rain overnight had turned it to mud.

Once you get to the USA/Canada border crossing (Which reminded me a lot of my home in Antarctica), the name of the road changes to "The Top o' the World Highway". The name comes from the fact that the road skirts the top of the hills and mountains through the area, giving perpetual views for hundreds and sometimes thousands of feet down to the valley floors. The more cynical people say that they just named it that to try and get more tourism to the area, but in my opinion, the name is well deserved.

It was like this for 150 miles without a break.

I mean, goddamn.

This silver post marks the actual border proper between the two countries. The crossing was uneventful; Asked my named, checked the passport, told me to have a nice day.

Looking back at the border crossing from the Canadian side. Those little specs of blue buildings there are the crossing, on the right.

All the literature about the area claims that the road is paved on the Canadian side, but I found that to be a half-truth. I don't know if it was construction or what, but I'd guess at least half the road was gravel or dirt, in patches. There'd be a couple miles of pavement, then a couple miles of gravel, then pavement again, and dirt, on and on.

Even up this far north in this remote of an area, there were still little side roads that spurred off the highway and wandered up into the hills. I followed one for a couple of miles before remembering that I was quite low on gas, and didn't have the range to go exploring.

Much to my disappointment, I will say. I still find myself drawn to these tiny unmarked roads in the middle of nowhere. It means that despite appearances, there is SOMETHING out there. Roads don't exist without a reason, they always have to go someplace. I wish I could find out what that place was. I think on my next trip I'm going to make sure to bring a bike with a bigger gas tank.

With the fuel light on, I refilled the main tank from my spare cans.

Don't let the lack of everything being wet fool you, it was still damn cold. Even with my nice new gloves that I'd gotten in anchorage, my fingers were still going slightly numb from cold, so much so that I had to use my leatherman to un-tie the rope holding my gas tanks on. On northern sloping hills, there were still large patches of snow and ice, even in the middle of "summer".

I did take the opportunity to try out the auto-panorama mode on my little point-and-shoot camera. I haven't re-sized the source image, so click it below to see full size. The result isn't as good as what I'd get out of a program like Photostitch, but it should give you an idea of the road.

You can see the road heading off to the right, before going left and heading down the hills into the valley. It was breathtaking.

A hundred-something miles later, I got to the outskirts of Dawson City. It was a big gold rush town in the beginning of the last century, and now I guess thrives mostly on tourism, selling the kitschy tourist-version of the wild northwest.

Looking down through gaps in the hills afforded views of the Yukon River, where the city itself was located.

A slew of tourist-info turnoffs provided information about the area, mostly about the large caribou heard that used to live here. The "Forty-Mile Herd" was almost wiped out in the early 70s, with numbers dwindling down to as little as 6,000 head. Today, with reconstruction efforts, population is edging back up, up near 35,000, which is a big improvement.

But still not near the 600,000 that the herd numbered as recently as the 1950s. *sigh*

Dawson City sits on the other side of the Yukon River, which is serviced by a free ferry in the summer. In the winter, the river freezes solid enough for heavy vehicle traffic to navigate it without problems.

Other then tourism, I'm not sure Dawson City has much going for it. It's the only city of any size in the northern Yukon though, so I guess that counts for something. They've definitely played up the frontier tow aspect of it though, so much so that I found it kind of kitschy and annoying.

It had been a long, cold and wet day, and I was starving. I hadn't bothered to cook breakfast that morning, wanting to take advantage of the temporary dryness to get packed, and I was in no mood to make dinner again in a pot. I decided long before I got to town that I was paying for food.

I'd had a conversation with another biker on the ferry, a guy who's name I can't remember who was riding a big BMW 1200GS. He'd been to the area before, and said that at this time of night (it was almost 9pm) there wasn't going to be much open, but I should try this place. Wasn't like I had a whole lot of other options, so in I went.

Oooooo food. Food food food, how I love you. Love you so big when you're going into my belly.

The food was great! The service, not so much. It wasn't even close to busy, but I actually had to go and find a waiter when I needed a refill on my water, and the food took seemingly forever to come. Or maybe it just felt like forever, as I was literally getting stomach cramps from not eating.

All told, the meal cost me almost $35, and they even had wi-fi. I poked around on the internet some on my iPod, downloading some new podcasts and things to listen to, and went on my merry way. By the time I did leave it was almost 11pm, which left me with a big problem.

I had been so hungry when I got into town that I'd not bothered to get gas before I did, and now all the gas stations were closed. The shell station closed about five minutes before I got there, and despite my desperate tapping on the windows and waving my arms at the bike and pump, the lady inside locking up wouldn't even authorize them for a CC transaction. Bitch.

I had about ~30 miles worth of gas left, so I figured I'd probably have to head out of town to find somewhere to camp, and then come back in the next morning to fuel up. But as luck would have it, on the way out I found, buried in some industrial area, one of those un-manned automated fuel depots for semi trucks, complete with a credit card reader. I happily gassed up, (At about $5.50 a gallon) and was on my way.

Outside of town, I turned around for a moment to get a picture of the midnight sky.

I rode for an hour or so, finally pulling off in a clearing from the road in some gravel clearing to pitch the tent.

WHAT THE FUCK. At 4am I awoke with a start with every hair on the back of my neck standing up. Something was wrong, my spidy-sense was going nuts, but I couldn't place it why I'd startled. I listened hard for a minute, trying to figure out why I'd snapped awake so suddenly. There was something weird in the air and I had no idea what it was. While I was straining my ears trying to figure out if I could hear something, it gradually dawned on me what was wrong.

It was quiet. Eerily quite. the whole night was still and nothing was moving . . . at all. In any way.

Whenever you're outside almost anywhere in the world, there is always SOME sort of noise. Some tiny, tiny breeze, ever so slight, just enough to create an almost imperceptible rustling of tree branches, there's a bird somewhere fluttering, or here, there's the ever-present whine of mosquitoes. But there wasn't ANY of that.

It was so quiet that it had startled me awake. I got out of the tent for a quick look around. It was mind-blowing how still it was. The air temperature couldn't have been any higher then 45 degrees, but it was SO still that you weren't cold. Even the bugs seemed to have vanished. There were no cars on the road, no wind at all, just . . . . nothing. I've been in professional recording studios back when I was doing voice work, places with thick sound absorption padding and deadening materials that had more ambient noise then this place did.

It was really, really weird. Almost too quite to even fall asleep.

I remember reading an article years ago about psychological studies done on volunteers about the effects of sensory deprivation. The operators of the study removed people's ability to use one of their senses for a period of time, either sight or sound or touch, and found that the human brain is SO desperate for stimulation that when deprived of it, it will create it's own. It was so quiet that I had to put in my earbuds and listen to some This American Life just so I could get back to sleep.

It was a weird, weird night.

The next day dawned partly cloudy and warmer, much warmer then the previous day had been along the Top o' the World Highway.

While the map had indicated that this road back down to Whitehorse was paved the whole way, reality had a much different opinion, with seemingly ever-present construction and gravel roads. Now it's not gravel I mind that much; it's the enormous dust clouds kicked up by passing RVs and pickup trucks towing RVs. Seriously people, just get a fucking tent and stop trying to bring everything you goddamn own with you.

(Actually I guess that's odd of me to say, considering I was carrying nearly everything I owned)

Motorcycles were again encouraged to move to the front of the construction ques while we waited for the pilot vehicles to take us through.

Once I got out of the construction areas, and got away from the small packs of traffic that were the result, the road was simply a pleasure to behold

I did the better part of 300 miles that day. It's pretty easy not to get distracted by side-routes when there simply aren't any, so I made it into Whitehorse by the early evening. And continuing with my tradition of wasting money, I paid for food again.

Om nom nom nom nom!

Figuring that I didn't have any reason to hang around Whitehorse longer then I had to, I mailed off some postcards, and headed out of town to find somewhere to camp for the night.

Now . . . those who followed my blog in real time know what's coming next.

(Because dammit, Yakity Sax makes EVERYTHING better)

In searched of someplace to camp, I headed up what looked like an ATV trail along the side of the road that ran into a clearing for power lines. While I manged to negotiate the steep hill with no problem. I ended up cracking the bottom of the bike on a big pointy rock that I hadn't made note of when I walked the path before I road on it.

At first, I didn't think there was a problem. I'd smacked the bike on all sorts of stuff in this trip, and just assumed that the it was the crash bar that took the impact. I set up my tent for the night and had a sleep.

It wasn't until the next morning when I started the bike, and saw the oil like on that I noticed there was a problem. A further inspection of the area found the grass under where I'd parked the bike was completely soaked in oil. FUCK. The bike was empty, all of the oil had leaked out overnight. I had no idea how bad the leak was; from the outside, the damage didn't look too bad. Just some scrapes.

As luck would have it, I wasn't far outside of town at all. I scribbled a note to leave on the bike, grabbed my tank bag and my water bottles, and started walking.

Two hours later, I came across a gas station, where I bought six liters of oil (AT FUCKING $6 A LITER). This was your standard no-name gas station oil that no one ever buys unless they are totally fucked, as I was. I'm not joking when I say that all the bottles had a good coating of dust on them. After paying for the oil and getting a bottle of Gatorade, I began the walk back to my bike. I had gone perhaps half a mile when a guy on an ATV drove by and offered me a lift back to my bike, which I gratefully accepted. Thanks, dude, wherever you are! I had meant to snap a picture, but by the time I got off and pulled out the camera, he was gone. Ah well.

I packed everything onto the bike, put on all my gear, and as the absolute last thing I did, put in the oil I'd just bought.

FUCK. The leak was way worse then I thought. Oil was drizzling out of the engine at a constant steady rate. I just hoped it would last long enough to get me back to town. I started the bike, got back to the road and headed back to town, where I knew I'd seen a sign advertising a Yamaha dealer somewhere. I had my eyes locked on the oil light the whole time, my thumb on the kill switch, ready to pull in the clutch and shut the engine down the second the light came on.

As luck would have it, I made it the whole way. I rolled into the Yamaha dealer's parking lot in a cloud of blue smoke with the now-hot and pressurized oil literally pissing out of the engine.

I walked into the Yamaha dealer in a bit of a daze, and explained my situation. The parts counter guy said that all their techs were out for the weekend and wouldn't be back in until Monday (it was currently a Saturday), but he could at least look at it and tell me what he thought the problem might be. "How bad is the oil leak?" he asked. "Uh . . . " I replied. "Maybe you should take a look at it"

To the guys credit, he was able to mostly contain his laughter. From what we could see, I'd punched a hole in the crankcase cover, but the internal damage might be worse. Of course, a new cover wasn't available in the states, if I wanted to order it from then it would have to be brought in from Japan, at a cost of $350 and a wait time of 2-3 weeks. Well, shit.

First order of business, I decided, was to take the bike apart and try and find out exactly how bad the damage was. The crankcase cover was cast aluminum, so maybe there was a chance I could epoxy it, or get it welded. The dealership said that it was okay if I left my bike in the parking lot over the weekend, so around 1pm, as they were closing up, I set to work taking the left side of the bike apart.

Once I got it open, I did an inspection of the damage. It looked like one of the Allen bolts had taken the brunt of the impact.

And that impact had been transmitted into the crankcase . . .

As well as the crankcase cover.

By the time I got everything apart, and then straightened up my mess and wheeled the bike behind the shop, it was getting late, and I had to think about where to stay for the night. There were some pretty dense woods across the street, and down past the dealer looked to be a large lake that would offer pretty camping. But my stomach was a more pressing concern. Next door to the dealer was a nice-looking Motel/RV Park, and given that there was no place else around, I figured I would inquire there.

I found the manager, told her my story, and asked if they allowed tent camping at their facility.

"No, I'm sorry we don't" was her reply.

"Well, do you know if there's a restaurant around here anywhere?"

"Well, no, but . . . " She paused and surveyed me up and down. "Follow me!"

I followed her out to where a bunch of people were grilling burgers at a picnic area. She pulled out a chair, took two burgers off the grill, put them on a plate for me, and commanded "Young man, you sit down at this table, and eat these hamburgers!"

Now, who was I to object to an order like that?

I introduced myself to everyone, told them my story, and listened to theirs. Some of the guys here were part of the road crews working on a bridge a few miles outside of town, some were here vacationing, and others were just locals who came to hang out at this place. After much conversation and eating of hamburgers, potato salad, chips and dip, the manager called me back into her office.

"Now, we don't usually offer tent camping here", she began. "But, you're in a pretty tough spot, and we've got a lot of tasks around here that we could use an energetic young man to take care of. So, I think we can work something out, yes?"

In the end, we agreed that I could pitch my tent in a little clearing behind one of the buildings for as long as I needed to get my bike fixed and make use of all their facilities, for $20/week and $5 per shower. In addition to that, she had a list of chores around the place that needed to be done, things like cleaning the hot tub out, clearing some brush, other yardwork and things like that. I couldn't have been happier. I walked back over to the Yamaha dealer, got my stuff off my bike, set up my tent, and had a great shower. This woman was a saint!

The next day was a Sunday, and the dealership wasn't open. I spend most of the day resting and catching up on things. I updated the internet on my status and situation, did my laundry, and took the bus into town to go grocery shopping. I figured as long as I was stuck in once place for a while, I should do some real cooking.

Om nom nom nom nom!

I spend the rest of the evening checking the internet, talking to people online and trying to sort out how I was going to get out of this place.