Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Old cars and fast bikes

Fast Bikes
I'm so sorry about my delay in blogging. This whole life thing is much more time consuming than one can imagine! (Of course, perhaps I'm the only one who reads this blog. If that's the case, I'm actually talking to myself. That's probably not a good sign, right? At the very least, I hope I won't answer.)

I've come today to share the latest saga in my motorcycle and 101 list journeys. Troy and I recently returned from quite an adventure over the Labor Day holiday weekend! My advice for those of you truly thinking of reading this whole post: grab a cup of coffee, a nice little snack and get comfy! It was quite a BUSY weekend!

We started our adventure on Thursday, August 30th with the usual rousing early (5 AM) trip to the gym. I was certain that with such an early start, we would be on the road before most of the other weekend traffic, but we seem to run on an alternate schedule when we're on vacation. Originally when I had told my dad that we planned on being on the road by 8 or 9 AM, I had actually thought we would be loooong gone by then. HA! Perhaps it was the trip to Au Bon Pain after our workout that slowed us down. After all, you HAVE to set the right tone for vacation and breakfast IS the most important meal of the day!

At any rate, by nearly 11 AM, we were on the road headed west for St. Louis, MO with a few diversions planned along the way. Our first stop was Terre Haute, IN and the Terre Haute brewery to cross it off of our list of Abate motorcycle stops in Indiana. With that brief detour finished, we were pressing hard to make it to the Moonshine Store in Martinsville, IL. It is a little hole in the wall that is the destination for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of motorcycles in April every year. They come from as far as Canada to enjoy the famous Moonburgers flipped by Helen Tuttle. She and her husband Roy Lee bought the little run down store in 1982 and Helen has been flipping burgers ever since. On an average day, she will make about 140 burgers. The record is 712 a few years ago when all those motorcycles showed up. She flips all those burgers herself, but only until 12:30 and we were hoping to make it in time. After out late departure and detour through Terre Haute, we pulled in at about 12:15. Just in nick of time!

As we were seated on the old church pews around the middle of the store, enjoying our burgers, Helen cleaned up and we were happy to have a chance to chat with her and the other "regulars" sitting near us about the area and what their lives are like. I asked if I could take her picture and told her about the blog of our adventures. As we lapped up the last bits of our lunch, she showered us with swag emblazed with the Moonshine address information and told us to tell all our friends about their little neck of the woods. Well, Helen, we certainly will! We certainly will!

After a lovely lunch, we set out for St. Louis on the way to the Iron Butt Rally. We usually try to ride about 100+ miles before we stop for gas and a drink of water, but about 30 miles down the road, my body was more interested in digestion than paying attention to the road and I started to get a bit sleepy. So, I decided to pull over at a gas station for a bit of water and some gum. Gum is my secret weapon against drowsiness while riding my motorcycle. The act of chewing somehow keeps me awake. Amazing!

As we pulled into the the gas station, we saw another motorcyclist. Lo and behold, it was Ardys Kellerman! For those of you who may not remember, she is the 75 year old woman who rode over 100,000 miles in 2006. As we enjoyed a little bit to drink, we chatted with her. She was on her way from Rhode Island to St. Louis for the end of the Iron Butt Rally as well. I hope I'm as spry when I am 75!

After we left Ardys and put on another 100 miles or so, we stopped for dinner at a Cracker Barrel east of East St. Louis. We were trying to avoid the rush hour traffic, which we assumed would be especially bad on the cusp of a holiday weekend. So, we enjoyed a leisurely dinner, hopped back on the bikes and proceeded to start out of the parking lot. But as we did this, I noticed that something on my bike felt different. For those of you not acquainted with the Yamaha V-Star 650, it isn't really known for it's smooth ride, to say the least. However, at this point I noticed an EXTRA bit of vibration in my feet as we came to a stop. We pulled over into another parking lot so that I could assess the situation, but since I'm not a motorcycle mechanic and I couldn't really explain what I was talking about to Troy, we decided to proceed with the last 40 miles of our journey. Apparently my bike had other ideas!

Four miles down the road, on the interstate, going about 80 MPH with a semi right behind me, my bike stopped! Luckily I had pulled the clutch in and moved into the right hand lane! I pulled over to the shoulder of the road and got it stopped. Troy had been leading and when the bike died, I tried to honk the horn, but under those conditions, I don't think it made a sound. Even if it did, those weany little horns are impossible to hear on the interstate. So, with Troy long gone, my bike at a complete stop on the shoulder of the road and semis whizzing by me at 70+ MPH, I had a decision to make. What do I do now? I was certain that I didn't want to stay there. I didn't feel it was very safe, so I decided to see if the bike would start again. When it did, I decided to, once again, continue. This time I chose to go MUCH slower. With Troy long gone, I didn't have to worry about keeping up with him, so I took my time. I kept it around 65, but the bike started to sound and feel awful. It was getting quite warm on my leg and the noisest that were eminating from the chassis were bordering on alarming. My goal at this point was to just find a safe place to pull off. The problem with that plan was that I had just entered what seemed to be a spaghetti bowl of interstates. Every exit seemed to only be for a different highway and I decided that staying on 55/70 until my next official turn off would be the wisest move. At least I wouldn't have a broken bike AND be lost.

As I merged from 55/70 onto 64/40, which was supposed to take me to my destination, the bike again stopped. This time, however, I was only going about 55, but there was no place to pull over and there were semis all around. In a moment of desperation, I decided I had to try to start it while I was still moving, so I pulled in the clutch, shifted down to first gear and just kept hitting the start button until the motor again revved. With the clutch still pulled in, I then shifted back up to fourth so that my engine speed would match my road speed. Unfortunately, restarting it had apparently angered the motorcycle gods and the bike started to make such awful metal-grinding, ear-splitting sounds that I was certain it was going to explode while I sit astride it!

With my attention back on the road, I noticed that the highway had now become an elevated interstate and was merging down to one lane because of construction. At that point, I knew I HAD to get out of a situation that was obviously going very quickly from bad to worse. That's when I spotted the sign for Busch Stadium, where the Saint Louis Cardinals play. I thought, SOMEONE has to know where I am if I say I'm near the stadium! I made my way slowly, carefully and LOUDLY down the off ramp, found an empty parking lot within eye shot of the stadium and came to a very welcome stop.

At this point, I think dating someone who is such a stickler for details and good in a crisis came in VERY hand. I've never been so level-headed in a stressful situation as I was that night. With my bike in a safe location and cell phone within easy reach, my first four phone calls were to: 1) Troy's cell phone to tell him what had happened, where I was and what my plan was. 2) Troy's sister, Tricia, to get the number for Troy's other sister, Kendra. 3) Troy's sister Kendra. She and her family used to live in St. Louis so I wanted to find out from them if I was in an okay neighborhood or if I had reason to be scared for my safety. Finally, 4) AAA motorclub. Troy and I pay $140 a year for AAA coverage that includes towing the bikes, so I expect excellent service for that amount of money. Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly the case this time. First, the customer service rep that I spoke with explained that even though I get 4 tows per year, we only get one per incident. So, once they towed it to the hotel where we were going to be staying and where there would be TONS of other motorcyclists, they would not tow it anywhere else unless I paid for the service. Whatever! Second, I explained that I was on a motorcycle and that I was alone and it was getting dark. She assured me that I was at the top of the priority list and that they would be there within 45 minutes. Because of this, when Troy called, I told him not to come back to meet me because by the time he got there, I could be gone. Ha! I called them at 8:00 PM and they finally arrived JUST as my cell phone was going dead at 10:30ish. There is a BIG difference between 45 minutes and 2 1/2 hours.

When I finally arrived at the hotel at 11 PM, I was simply exhausted. I was also wound up because the impending dilemna that was my bike. Since we were at the hotel to see the participants return at the end of the Iron Butt Rally (an 11-day, 11,000 mile motorcycle race), I scoured the hotel lobbies asking if anyone knew of a good motorcycle mechanic there at the hotel. We were directed to Mr. Paul Glaves. Many of you may remember that Troy and I attented his tech session on motorcycle mechanics at the BMW MOA rally this year and last. Unfortunately, he wasn't actually staying at the hotel. I was told that he would be arriving around 3:00 AM. So, I went to bed and set my alarm for 2:30. I got up and nabbed him nearly the second he arrived. He very graciously agreed to listen to my bike and recommended a good motorcycle shop just two miles from the rally hotel. After thanking him profusely, I went back to bed until a more reasonable hour.

The next morning after breakfast and a call to the mechanic explaining the situation, Troy and I limped the bike over to the shop and waited while they checked out the mess that was my poor baby. Since we had a few hours to wait (they first had to wait for it to cool and then they had to take it apart to inspect it), Troy and I lazed around the showroom looking at bikes and talking. Part of our inspection of the wares for sale revealed a few used bikes. Two of them that sparked our interest were a Honda ST that Troy thought looked great and a Yamaha V-Star 1100 that looked QUITE similar to mine.

Since we had time to kill, we asked if we could take them out for a test-ride. They copied our driver's licenses, handed us the keys and away we went. I chose not to follow Mr. Speed demon because I didn't want to wreck a bike that wasn't mine. Instead, I chose a little side road for my test ride. The 1100 was like night and day to my 650. The dual front disc brakes made it stop on a dime. Also, where my 650 feels like you're riding down the road on a jackhammer, the 1100 was smooth as glass. As I brought it back to the shop, I thought it had been great fun, but I had no intention of buying a new bike...........

That was until they basically told me that my old bike was dead. Although I had put nearly 20,000 miles on it in about 2 1/2 years and been to the same dealership for service over a half a dozen times, no one mentioned to me that the 650 wasn't really made for long distance riding. Apparently, it's made to go around 55 MPH most of the time. The stress of riding at 70 MPH for hours on end had caused the engine to force most of its oil out of every possible nook and cranny. Despite my making sure that the regular service intervals were done and routinely checking the oil level in the sight glass, the engine had basically seized up from lack of oil. Being told this news was like being told a relative had a mortal illness. I was crushed.

I asked what could be done and what it would cost. When they told me how much it would be and that it would take a week minimum to rebuild the engine, I decided being stranded 250 miles from home with a bike that wasn't serving me well was not a good position to be in. Luckily, over the past few years, I've been setting money aside in a special savings account every time I filled up the tank of either my car or motorcycle. I was doing it so that I could buy a new car, but who needs a car in Indiana, right? Life without a motorcycle, on the other hand seemed a grim proposition to me. So, after a bit of haggling, I told them to keep my 650 and that I would take the 1100 off of their hands! We arranged for them to switch the saddle bags, windshield and tachometer and, within a few hours, Troy and I were riding back to the hotel - him with his reliable BMW F650 GS and me with my shiny new Yamaha V-Star 1100 Silverado.

We headed back to the hotel where our real reason for being in St. Louis was - the end of the 2007 Iron Butt Rally. It is an 11 day, 11,000 mile journey for some serious long distance riders. This year's 96 competitors had had to proved their long distance meddle in order to be allowed to compete in this event, but even that prior experience couldn't really prepare them for this year's IBR. This year's event started and finished in St. Louis, MO. At the start of the event, participants were given a list of bonus point destination that spanned 35-pages. Each participant is also provided with a small towel with their entry number, a polaroid camera and LOTS of film. They then have about 8 hours to get some sleep and plan a route that they think will net them the most points over the next 4 days. They set out at 10:00 AM on Monday, August 20th, 2007 and over those next four days many attempted to ride to Canada and back, some to Key West and back and LOTS of places in between in order to rack up lots of points. (If you want to see a list of the bonus point destinations, click the IBR link to the right.) They then had to return to the hotel in St. Louis by 7:00 PM Friday, August 24. For every minute after 7:00 PM that they were late, they were docked 50 points. For those who arrived after 9:00 PM, the race was over and they received a DNF (Did Not Finish). Those who successfully made it in were then able to get a little bit of rest, make any minor repairs and simply breathe for a moment until 4:00 AM on Saturday, August 25. That is when the NEXT list of bonus destinations were handed out. More planning and they set out again. This time the west coast and Alaska was the destination for most. Finally, all the riders were again to return to St. Louis by 7:00 AM on Friday morning. Those arriving after 9:00 AM again received a DNF. Most of the competitors made it back some time in the middle of the night.

These competitors had ridden a LOT of miles in just a little under two weeks and their bikes showed it! I have never seen so much mud, dead bugs, grease and road mung. This is NOT a crowd that is worried about their bikes staying clean! One rider had ridden so many miles that his tire was dangerously close to wearing through. Let's hope he got that fixed before heading back to wherever home is.

By the time we arrived after purchasing a new bike late on Friday afternoon, the competitors were in, the scores had been tabulated and everyone was waiting for the winners to be announced with baited breath. Those winners are announced at the Finishers Banquet, which is also held at the hotel. While we were not competitors, there were some banquet tickets available to non-competitors, so we splurged and join the crowd as we tried to live vicariously through them.

While we were standing in the buffet line, we were affored the very great opportunity to get to talk to a few of the competitors. One gentleman in particular asked if we were in line and when we said yes, he joined the line behind us. We asked if he had competed and he said yes. When we asked how his ride was and how he thought he had done, he explained that he had a pretty good ride and felt he had done fairly well, but he was beating himself up because he had just "left 6000 points in the middle of the road." We asked what he meant by that because we knew that they had to keep track of lots of little pieces of paper like gas receipts, gift shop receipts from certain locations, polaroid pictures of the destinations, etc. We wondered if maybe something had fallen out of his bag. He explained that while he was finishing up at one destination in Chicago, he was anxious to get out of town and if he had just gone across the street and taken another picture of a different destination, he would have gotten an additional 6000 points. He hadn't realized the mistake until he was a few hundred miles away. We empathized with him and told him we hoped that didn't hurt his standings in the competition. To our surprise, when Mike Kneebone asked the top 10 finishers to join him at the front of the room in no particular order, our new friend, whose name was Marty, was one of those top 10. As the competitors were counted down from 10 , Marty continued to stand there waiting for his name to be called. Finally, as 10 dwindled down to just two and the 2nd place finisher was called, Troy and I looked at each other when we realized we had been talking to the WINNER of the 2007 Iron Butt Rally! Marty, despite having just left 6000 points in the middle of the road, still ended up the victor by over 11,000 points!

The next day, with the 2007 IBR behind us and visions of perhaps competing in the 2009 or 2011 event, Troy and I set out for our next destination: Fort Wayne, IN. At a distance of about 400, I thought it seemed like a great way to break the new bike in. The day and the ride couldn't have been nicer! The sky were sunny and bright, the temps were pure perfection and the new bike was like riding on glass! It was so great to be able to twist the throttle and feel like I was going to start to fly at any moment! Even getting a late start and taking our time getting there, we made it to Fort Wayne in what seemed like no time at all.

Old Cars

The reason for our trip to Fort Wayne was two-fold. 1) It was Labor Day weekend and that's when the Annual Auburn Cord Deusenberg Festival is held and 2) it was my birthday during the upcoming week and I was looking forward to spending time with my family and a cake from my mom.

Well, mom definitely didn't disappoint in the cake department! She made me two round cakes, actually. One was a chocolate cake and one was yellow cake (Troy likes yellow cake and mom aims to please!) and both had PINK icing! Yeah, pink! Mom had put little items all around it that represented parts of my life. There was, of course, a red motorcycle, a computer, a house which was meant to represent IUPUI (I recently started taking a class there), a few kitties and a rocking chair with yarn on it to represent my crafty crocheting hobby. It was very cute and quite yummy! Too bad I couldn't take the rest of it on my motorcycle when the weekend was over!

On Sunday, we all got up and prepared for a day of oohing and ahhing at old cars. My dad is a huge fan of old cars and I would love to some day buy him one. In the meantime (while I'm saving up my pennies), a trip to the museum will have to do.

When we arrived, we received an extra special treat. In the parking lot of the ACD Museum, there was probably 20 - 30 old Auburns, Cords and Deusenbergs that people had either driven or, more likely, trailered to Auburn for the weekend. It was so great to get to see those cars up close and personal. They are such behemoths! They are all made of real metal, of course, instead of plastics like most of today's automobiles. These are definitely cars where the details mattered! The spare tires were full sized and mounted to the exterior of the car. I'm sure that kind of easy access was very important when the roads of the days were exactly as well made as they are today. The hood ornaments were quite elaborate and even the headlights were HUGE!

Most of the cars that were in the parking lot were most likely lovingly restored by their owners and the attention to detail was just amazing. On some of them, the leather straps, which attached the side view mirrors to the spare tires looked to be original to the cars.

These are cars that, during the day when a Ford Model T could be purchased for $400, would cost a minimum of $1500 and the average annual salary in America was around $800. This was not an Any Man's car!

During our tour of the museum, we knew that some acquaintances of Troy's family had donated a car to the museum back in the 80s and we were constantly on the look out for the automobile. We were quite surprised when we realized that an entire display had been devoted to it and the story of its restoration! It was great to see how the car had looked when the museum had received it. It was in quite a state. It had been in a family barn when it was hit by a tornado and part of the barn fell on it. It eventually took the museum and its volunteer restorers (whose average age is somewhere in their 70s) over 5 years to bring it back to its original beauty. In my opinion, it was well worth the time and effort. Looking at the old photos, it was hard to believe that the gleaming automobile in front of us was the same one that had been in such a ramshackle state when it was originally put on display.

After touring the museum for several hours, we grabbed a bite to each for lunch and then caught the air conditioned bus that took us on a tour of historic Auburn. The tour guides shared with us memorabilia including old auto sales brochures like one might get when looking at purchasing a new car today and magazine advertisements touting all of the amenities that the new Auburns, Cords and Duesenbergs had to offer. They also drove us around the City of Auburn showing off the houses of the company's founders, Executives and even some of the staff accountants and other middle management types. Although Auburn is really quite small, without the ACD company, Auburn may not have been the center of commerce that is was at one time.

By Sunday afternoon, we had seen more cars and learned more about the history of those fine automobiles. It was definitely time to get something to eat. Since it was going to be my birthday, Matt and Tammy decided to join the rest of us for a little birthday dinner. When we had left Auburn, we stopped by the building site for Matt's new house. It should be quite a nice home when it's done and that means he can share in the tradition of the moving Christmas celebration this year!

Over dinner, we caught up on stories of his house, job, and other events of each of our lives. At times, I wish that we all didn't live so far apart. It makes me sad that we only get a chance to visit for a few hours every few months.

It was a jam-packed holiday weekend and I really enjoyed myself. I hope that is true for Troy, my family and all of the Iron Butt Competitors as well.

* This last picture was put in here just because Mom doesn't like to get her picture taken and wouldn't look at the camera. Hey, I've gotta use what I've got, right? Maybe next time she will look at the camera, huh? Please?

1 comment:

Casey C said...

Great read!

Troy told me about your bike problems on the way to the IBR, must say you handled it impressively! If it was me I probably would have just been a quivering mass of nerves!


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