Zen and the Art of Motorcycle WTF


A few weeks back we were on standing off to the side of a four-wheel drive road in the San Juans, taking turns looking at one of the five parked motorcycles. We had just basically started the day’s ride, about 40 or so miles from camp, and only five miles into the dirt. “Wow, your chain is really loose,” I expertly remarked. It turned out that John made an adjustment to his bike earlier at camp, and forgot to tighten the rear axle nut. The nut worked itself off of the axle, and the axle in turn, over the course of the few miles we just covered, began jellying itself out. When the rear wheel got squirrely and the chain fell loose, that’s when he noticed the problem. Normally, the inability to secure an axle and therefore a wheel onto a bike while in the middle of nowhere, is considered a big problem. I also tend to worry over much smaller things, and should have therefore been extremely concerned for John and his bike, but I really wasn’t. We nonchalantly, in an almost dad-joke tone told Pat, the new friend in our group, that this is just normal for these trips. It was after Dexter took off back down the road to try to find the nut, that Pat remembered he saw what he thought was a rock at the time, bounce off of where the axle nut would have been and fly across the road into a ditch. That was back at Ridgeway. I still wasn’t worried. We continued taking turns looking at the bike, me nodding my head and saying “uh-hmm” a lot, pretending I knew what was supposed to go where, as I remembered a time on a bike trip that I was a lot more worried.

A few years back we were about 15 miles from Green River, Utah where we had camped the night before, taking turns looking at one of the eight parked motorcycles. This one looked about medium-rare, and was just recently seconds away from being burnt to a crisp. The first 10 miles that morning were on a gloriously fast and easy gravel road. We needed easy. We were two thirds of the way into our 10-day trip, and had already experienced conditions much more challenging than expected, on top of numerous flat tires, broken panniers, and other mechanicals. As one almost laughable patch of sand turned into two then three much more serious sand pits, I ran out of talent and started dropping my bike. The third time I dropped my bike, I decided throwing a hissy-fit about my lackluster bike handling skills was in order and was just beginning to do so when Lee, who was behind me, started yelling something about a fire. I was still sitting on the ground when Lee and Dex were already at my bike, frantically kicking and scooping sand on the flames that were coming from my motor, both their bikes laying on their sides as they didn’t bother with kickstands. The sand worked, they smothered the flames quickly, while I began panic-sobbing. When we assessed the damage and looked for a cause, it turned out that my overflow lines that have been cracking and breaking over the years, were too short to serve their purpose, which was to prevent gasoline from spilling onto a hot engine. As the guys were checking the bike over, I already was dreading having to leave my trusty steed to die alone in the desert while riding away in the seat of shame on the back of Lee’s bike. A few seconds later, the bike started right up. Dex and Nate offered to ride back to town to see if they could find a hardware store to sell them some new line. I had an hour or two to sit with the rest of the group and think about my carelessness and how that almost resulted in the end of the bike and the end of the trip. Dex and Nate returned. In this tiny, middle of nowhere town, they found the right hoses. Lee changed them out, rerouted and secured them, and now my bike was no longer at risk of catching on fire every time I would drop it in the future. The sand proved to be too much. We ended up backtracking onto pavement to continue our ride, but at least I was still on my own beloved bike.

Back in the San Juans, Lee ended up going after Dex to let him know that looking for the nut on the dirt road was useless. When they came back, I was still rummaging through my tail bag, digging through compartments I haven’t opened since the Utah trip, looking for anything that may help in our current little predicament. I found a permanent marker, parachute chord, duct tape, wet wipes (fully dried out), all of which were rejected by the rest of the crew for some reason. And that’s when I finally had my idiot-savant moment. I found three retention clips. Not sure why I had three of them, I only meant to keep one spare, in case I messed one up changing the front sprocket, but there they were. They fit onto the axle thread just snug enough to hold it in place, along with some bailing wire that Pat had in case his homemade luggage racks started to come off. I made some sappy comment about how our group can deal with pretty much anything, and about how the people make these trips amazing, as the other guys nodded in agreement. Anyway, that’s why I wasn’t worried. Lee, Pat, and I continued on towards Telluride, as Dex escorted John back to Ridgeway to look for a more permanent solution. The improvised axle-and-nut combo they later found at a hardware store got John’s bike through the rest of the trip, and I think he’s still riding with it while he’s waiting for the  right parts from KTM.

Published by Veronika Hewitt

Writer. Cyclist. Cat Lady.

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