Backfire

Friday, June 28
Louisville, Kentucky
89° Low Humidity, Crystal Clear

After returning from South Carolina and unpacking, I dove back into working on Ruby. She had been sitting in the back of Jane’s manufacturing business. (Jane makes a unique wheelchair. Check them out at: Merlexi Wheelchairs)

Ruby sat among cardboard boxes and wooden pallets waiting to be broken down and recycled. (Boxes or Ruby or both?) She dried out like an exiled drunk while I was away. She started right up, but idled unevenly.

I fiddled with some wiring and the engine stopped immediately. There was a short. I reworked the wiring, adding some insulation and wrapping it in tape. Not perfect, but substantially better, I turned my attention to changing the oil, checking the transmission oil, cleaning the air filter, and adding some Gumout fuel system cleaner to the gas tank. Finally I cleaned the entire bike. When you are this kind to a mechanical object it should respond to your desires quickly and obediently. Ruby did. She started immediately.

Getting Ruby out of the work area was interesting. There is a loading dock about six feet off the ground. Trucks with hydraulic platforms back up to it. There is no ramp. I ended up clearing a path through the warehouse and pushing the bike through the front of the building, through the front office, and out the front door. Ruby sat shining in the humid sunshine.

My test drives started small and grew progressively longer, first around the parking lot, then down the street, then out into the country, and finally a 40 mile out-n-back into the countryside. Ruby was idling oddly. I turned the throttle set screw in a quarter turn. That improved things, but if I came to a quick stop the engine would cut out. It would immediately start again when I tried it. I stopped coming to quick stops.

Driving out in the country, away from the metro traffic and commercial buildings, was refreshing. Ruby handled well. Road construction stopped traffic and Ruby sat idling as she should. It was sunny, I was happy.

On the way back I had a two mile stretch on a highway with heavy traffic. It was downhill. I opened Ruby up to 60 miles per hour. She cruised at a high rpm without vibration. I rolled to a stop at a red traffic light while Ruby’s rpms calmed down and the engine idled appropriately. I was very pleased.

I turned left for a short ride to a country lane about a quarter mile away. Then it happened. The engine backfired. Never has a small single cylinder engine backfired on me. It misfired again. It cut out. I was coasting. I pulled off the road into tall grass next to a deer carcass. It smelled. Flies buzzed around. Traffic flew by inches away.

When traffic lightened I pushed the bike out of the grass, past the carcass, and onto pavement. I had about an eighth of a mile to go, a little downhill to a large gas station. I made it physically unscathed, I cannot comment on my mental state. I have no objectivity.

I rolled Ruby into a shady spot under a tree next to the gas/convenience station. I turned the key and pushed the start button. Whirring, but not starting. I stopped and went inside for refreshment. A few minutes later I returned with an Arnold Palmer ice tea. Ruby sat sparkling in the light looking ready to bolt over the horizon. I pulled out my Swiss Army knife with its handy screw driver blades. All my tools were in the warehouse. I unscrewed the plate in front of the engine exposing the spark plug area. I fiddle with the plug connection and then reached my fingers up inside where the newly wrapped wires lay. I tickled them.

A push of the start button and the engine fired up immediately. Hosanna. I finished the ice tea smug with my abilities to get Ruby running.

About the backfire, here’s my theory: Gumout plus high & hot rpms caused gunk in the engine to come loose and ignite. It’s like a cat with a hairball, at first nothing then coughing and choking and finally a clear passageway. I drove feline Ruby back to L-ville without another incident.

Time to repack and get back on the road.

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There & Back Again

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Tuesday, June 25
Louisville, Kentucky
90° Hazy Overcast

I took a 650 mile side trip to Beaufort, South Carolina with my friend Jane to visit her home there. The visit included home maintenance, yard cleanup, packing, and moving. A season’s worth of leaves and moss had to be shoveled off the roof. My New England snow shoveling expertise came in handy. But I must say it is a striking difference shoveling moist leaves and moss in 95° and 99% humidity, than moving snow in 5° weather.

Getting the debris off the roof means picking it up from the yard, decks, and walk ways. That took some time. Then the yard work began: cutting back the overgrowth, trimming shrubs, and finally mowing the west 40. I pulled the cobwebbed mower from the back of the shed, a 160cc Toro. That’s 10cc’s bigger than Ruby. An encrusted semi-filled 5 gallon gas tank sat nearby. With some manly persuasion and the use of a manual choke the engine roared to life. All of the engine is used to spin the blade, none for driving the wheels. I pushed that mower through the overgrown west 40. It took two days.

It was not straight forward mowing. The yard was littered with branches and moss. Another six weeks and the property would return to lowcountry primeval, good only to gators, snakes, and pirates. I had to walk around picking up sticks and matted moss before running the mower through. New fallen moss was easy. It sits up like it is ready to be blown somewhere else. But it doesn’t blow anywhere. It stays where it is. It may be a little sticky or it may employ a velcro evolutionary track, I don’t really know, but I learned this on the roof: Spanish Moss stays where it is. No tumbleweed this.

Older moss turns translucent gray and lays flat. Other ground cover grows up through it. It can easily go unnoticed. I used a small 6 inch shrub rake to grab hold of this moss and lift it up. I would expose several square feet of soil and a stick. There is always a stick under the moss. I deposited the catch in a large plastic gardening wagon I pulled around. I felt I was fruitlessly disturbing the natural order of things. If I stood still long enough moss encircled my feet and returned my work boots to earth.

I expanded a creation myth while interacting with moss. I now know in the beginning Spanish Moss spread across the firmament’s universal stick until it covered everything. Then, the Mighty Elk walked upon it. In it’s antlers rested a tortoise… but you know the rest. The lowcountry plays with your mind.

As I said, it took me two days to mow the west side of the house, plus the front out near the road, and one little hidden place with a statue and a bench. There was more to do, lots. I ran out of gas for the mower and energy for my body. My every pore was pumping out water as fast as I could drink it in. It’s a sensation I really like, having felt so little sweat in New England. Unlike New England where weekend warriors plan to mow grass and clean gutters at three in the afternoon, in the lowcountry one must stop heavy outdoor labor in the afternoon. The effect of heat and humidity is debilitating.

Jane wants to sell her Beaufort, SC home. Her business is in Louisville, KY now. On this trip she cunningly planned to have me come along and drive a truck of her furniture back. I agreed. She organized a truck rental and for two men to come and load it. The first problem was the truck. It beeped. It was signaling something wrong, but not flashing anything on the dashboard. The 1-800 customer service provided no service at all. The mother and daughter truck rental company had no other trucks. The beeping was intermittent so we decided to chance driving it rather than waiting two days for a different truck and reschedule the loaders.

The loaders were a father and son team. They were eager and good natured. Despite his size, dad was out of shape and son was inexperienced. Additionally, dad expected everything to be packaged in boxes ready to be rolled out on a commercially sized hand truck. Jane had packed kitchen pots and pans in one overloaded box. There was no hand truck. When she pointed out what was to be done, dad, whose name is Roger, almost quit on the spot. There was large stained glass to be taken down, a bed the size of Rhode Island to be dismantled, couches, end tables, wicker porch furniture, and a motorized steel chiropractic table, all to be hauled out into the truck.

Jane went off to locate a hand truck. I assuaged Roger by letting him vent both words and sweat as we carried the small light things out to the truck. I showed solidarity. I sweated. Moving is hard. It gets harder with age.

Large framed stained glass panels had to be taken down from their ceiling hooks and somehow safely packed in the truck. Given our amateur abilities I had no faith whatsoever they would make the trip whole. Additionally, there was a chiropractic adjustment table. It is a complex motorized steel contraption, something only slightly tamed from the inquisition. It weighs a ton. We lifted it up on end and onto the commercial grade hand truck Jane acquired. It was a tenuous balancing act, over lips, ledges, steps, and across uneven walkways. Toes and fingers in tact we got it into the truck. Lastly came the enormous mattress, an unwieldy mass of comfort.

Stained glass was precariously put on the mattress surrounded by pillows and cushions. The last small items were wedged in and the door closed. We rolled out of Beaufort at 3 p.m. Roger and D (the son) were in high spirits at the end. It was a job well done. I enjoyed having the opportunity to talk with someone from the lowcountry whose family had lived there for generations. No more authentic dialect could possibly be heard. I also appreciated the truck’s air conditioning.

The drive back took two days. I cringed and worried with every bump. We arrived in Louisville about 24 hours after we left South Carolina. I parked the truck at Jane’s office. She recruited to men for unloading through a temp agency. We would do that tomorrow.

The next day the two men did not show up. I enlisted a strong young fellow from Jane’s apartment complex. She got the fellow from the office next to her, to join in too. The four of us unloaded the truck’s contents into a rental space. Not as hot as SC, but the sweat poured out of all of us anyway.

Jane and I returned the rental truck. One last fill-up. The gas cap was missing. It had always been a loose fit. I assumed it was the cause of the beeping. The truck company man wanted to charge $22 for a new cap. The frustration and stress of moving came over Jane and she let him have it. I felt sorry for the guy. He insisted the cap was not the cause of the beeping or a light would show up on the dashboard. We pointed out that there was no gas cap at all and nothing on the dashboard indicated a problem. He gave in and waved the extra fee. Jane deflated exhausted. It took me a few hours to unwind. We both fell asleep on the sofa about ten minutes into some movie. The move was over.

No glass was broken in this move. The moss and the elk and the tortoise all worked in harmony.

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SCB

During a rest and repair period in Louisville, my friend Jane suggested we take a trip to her home in Beaufort, South Carolina. A long day trip of 640 miles. We did, tag teaming the drive in 2 hour segments. It took 11 hours.

For those who do not know, Beaufort is in the “Lowcountry” along with Hilton Head and Paris Island. Jane’s house is a modern cottage surrounded by large Southern Oak dripping in Spanish Moss. There are 10 skylights and each room opens out onto a porch or deck. It is on an estuary where the sun sets on the Intracoastal Waterway. Southern Coastal Bliss.

We are enjoying the property and environs. There was Pickin’ In the Park, with live string music along the marina, a farmer’s market, visits to antiquities, and art galleries. In the oppressive heat and humidity of the afternoon there were Mint Juleps on the porch. Okay, it was a cold beer, but the enjoyment could not have been greater. Beaufort does not exist in Northern New England, nor any other region. It is unique and beautiful in its own way.

We are here cleaning and packing. Jane will have some strong folk move furniture into a rental truck and I will drive it back to Louisville. This piece of Southern Coastal Bliss (SCB) is up for sale.

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The Big Chill house, not Jane’s

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Shrimp Boats where Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise were filmed in Forest Gump

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Day 15 – Generosity

David, the fellow who offered to drive me to Stanton and I talked about my plans to rent a truck and haul my bike to Louisville. He offered to drive me there in his truck. We struck a deal. He drove me back to the campground where I got reorganized while he went home to get some straps and his nephew, Cameron. We loaded the bike, lashed it down, and took off for Louisville, about 135 miles away.

It was a quick NASCAR-like drive up two Interstates in sun, rain, and one torrential downpour. We drove to Jane’s manufacturing business and unloaded the bike at her dock. It only took a second. From a day starting out wet and hopeless, to a finish in a warm, secure, friendly home, I could not have written a better script.

My eternal thanks go out to David and Cameron for their authentic generosity.

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Day 14 – Gang Aft Agley

Rained all night. In tent for 12 hours. Plan to ride to Louisville today, end phase one of trip, visit my friend Jane. On way back from shower checked bike. Ruby started right up. Broke camp in rain. The air is very warm. Loaded Ruby, turned the key, nothing.

Two hours later and a lot of fiddling Ruby started. I reloaded, and pulled away. Two hundred yards down the road the motor cut out. I pushed it back to the shower building where I had been doing my mechanics out of the rain. Try as I might nothing worked.

I left the campsite and hitchhiked down the road to the gas station/cafe. I walked a mile before a young couple (the 4th car to pass) gave me a ride. At the station, I started talking to everyone coming in. With my iPad I located a U-Haul dealer up the road in Stanton. A fellow said he’d give me a ride to Stanton in an hour. So I ordered two fried egg sandwiches. This may just work out.

One last complication, I forgot my glasses. It’s impossible for me to read anything on the iPad. One of the women running this place had a pair of glasses hiding in her hair. I asked if I could borrow them. She said sure. Not quite a shirt off a back, but the generosity is still there. Oh, the sandwiches came on plain white bread, not even cut in half.

Will John make it to Louisville? Stay tuned.

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Day 13 – Calm Before Storm

Sunday, June 9

Layover Day at Red River Gorge
Daniel Boone National Forest – Kentucky
Night 64° Day 79° Mostly sunny

A great night of sleep. I awoke at dawn, but didn’t get up and drifted in and out of sleep. Dreams came and went. Eventually I walked over to the shower building. No one else was up. The cold, never to get hot, water was brisk. Exactly as it should be in the woods on a warm morning.

On the way back I went to the bike and uncovered it. The clock said 6:55. Perfect. I dressed for a morning ride and rode out of camp by 7:15. I headed to a convenience store/cafe that told me the day before, they open at 5:30 for breakfast. They were closed. One other small gas station was closed too. The next possible place was in the opposite direction. I headed back past the campground, over the mountain, through some tight twisting turns (I traveled this way yesterday) to a Shell Gas Station. They were open.

I bought a small coffee, which is jumbo size in this place. It was surprisingly very good. A young fellow who sent me into another county yesterday for additional supplies was opening. He remembered me. He now directed me to a town with actual restaurants that he knew were open. This plan caused me to reverse direction on the circular route I was planning around the Geological Area. That was fine by me. So off I went, had breakfast, found some photo ops, and made it onto the large loop road while the weather was still delightful.

The Geological Area is interesting to me as all geology is. However, this is not, knock your socks off Grand Canyon style geology. Over eons of time different sediments were laid down and compressed into massive rock layers. Over millions of years, uplift and erosion occurred. Valleys and gorges formed. The rock layers weathered differently depending on how hard they are. In this area, at the tops of many cliffs, you will find large arching rocks forming bridges over the worn away rock below. Some of these bridges are very large. You can walk across them without any concern for their stability. Underneath the bridge is perfect shelter for hikers caught in a storm or an Indian hunting party.

What makes this geologic area less well known than some others is biology, specifically flora: trees, shrubs, bushes, and undergrowth. The state is covered in greenery. You can’t easily see the geology for the forest. Think about it: if the Grand Canyon was completely covered in trees, would it be as spectacular?

This area of the Daniel Boone National Forest has many hiking trails allowing access to the vast interior and its hidden treasures. As pleasant as it is riding a scooter through its dense woods, experiencing the Red River Gorge Geological Area is best done on foot.

In time I made it around and back out onto the main highway. I was near the convenience store/cafe that was supposed to be open at 5:30. It was open now. I stopped in, bought an ice tea in a can, and sat at their one of three booths without an ashtray. Obviously, the non-smoking booth. This place has wifi. That’s the kicker. It has electrical outlets too, but they are overloaded with plugs to neon beer signs. I eyeballed the lines and decided to unplug one that appeared not to be on. I made sure not to unplug the Open sign. It worked. I answered fan mail, made pithy, astute comments on all the best political sites, refuted a few op-ed pieces in the Times, and generally set the world right.

With the ice tea finished and nothing to do, I headed back over the mountain past the Shell station to Natural Bridge State Park where I would find some good photo opportunities. Things changed.

I stopped at the Shell station for a snack. It started to rain. I pulled Ruby under the large pump overhang near some newspaper dispensers by the front door. I stood next to her for a few minutes and it rained harder. I pushed her closer to the front door and the newspaper dispensers. I was getting splattered. I took my camera and iPad cases inside the station. There is a tall round table with three stools facing the pumps and Ruby. I sat there. I sat there for three hours.

The rain came in three varieties: downpour, heavy downpour, torrential downpour. It came in waves. Lightening blazed, thunder crackled. During this time other motorcyclists arrived, first one to a pump then three, then seven. A big white Honda Gold Wing pulled up facing Ruby. It edged closer and closer. I thought its cowling would open up and consume Ruby. It stopped. Two people all dressed in white cotton oozed off their seats. Motorcyclists on all brands of bikes appeared. Only a few had rain gear. They started crowding the pumps and overhang and front door. At the height of this deluge I estimated 60 bikers were seeking shelter like me. Unlike me, most of them wanted to stand outside and smoke cigarettes near the gas pumps.

Many people in autos were showing up too. It was a mad house at the Shell station. The staff took it in stride. They were great. If a bedraggled and dripping motorcyclist stood at their counter they handed them a big black garbage bag, no charge. One staff member would break into song, a deep religious call unique to the Appalachians. She’d only sing a measure at a time then the clamor of customers would take over. It was an unexpected genuine and authentic anchor to a place and a culture. The Shell gas station, Slade, Kentucky, 2013, who’d have guessed?

The rain lightened again and I decided to make a dash back up the mountain to my campsite. I held off going because what awaited me was time in the tent. That’s it, just sitting in the tent writing this. At the station, I was the first in from the rain and the last one to leave. I thanked the staff for their hospitality and bid them adieu. They thanked me for coming and bringing all my friends. Ya’ll come back now.

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Day 12 – Hatfield, McCoy, & Boone

Gilbert, West Virginia to Red River Gorge, Kentucky
191.4 miles
Warm & muggy when stopped, partly sunny to sunny

Motel last night, National Forest Campground tonight. A lot of miles today. The last 22 were an out and back effort to get some supplies and cash at an ATM. Last things first: I am in the Koomer Ridge Campground, in the Red River Gorge Geologic Area, of the Daniel Boone National Forest, in central Kentucky. I got the very last campsite completely by chance. I am so lucky. It is a lovely forested area with 54 sites. They are well distributed so you are not on top of one another, and well maintained. I will stay two nights.

I rose early as usual, but with wifi and a bathroom, there was no need to rush. I planned my route into Kentucky, packed my belongings, and got on the road at about 9:30. Gilbert is still in a steep and deep part of the Appalachians. It hosts group ATV tours and contains many miles of trails. The town & motel were filled with ATVers there for the Hatfield & McCoy tour.

Taking backroads through steep forests, I twisted and turned my way to Matewan on the state line. This coal town has a great history of coal miners fighting for their rights. The struggle became violent. This story is dramatically told in a movie by John Sayles, Matewan. This morning the oddly walled town with its pathetically small and isolated library was filled with runners. Hundreds of runners. All completely out of shape. Not a gazelle among them. Clearly, they were running for a cause. However, I saw no signs to say what it might be. They were a dedicated and happy lot. The miners in 1920 were dedicated, but they were massacred.
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I continued following back roads into the town of Pikeville. It is Hatfield-McCoy Central. This is where they lived, feuded, fought, killed, were tried, exonerated, and executed. I don’t know the whole story. But if I wanted to, this is the place to find out. A biker riding a big beautiful chrome Harley cornered me in a parking lot and asked if I was doing the whole tour or just part. “Just passin’ through,” I managed to say as he pointed to important places on a Chamber of Commerce promotional map. He and his friend were doing both. He was very enthusiastic. I can’t muster that much enthusiasm for anything. Okay, if Bob Dylan agreed to play a set in my living room, maybe.

There are two major highways from Pikesville to the Red River Gorge. They are not interstates, but in many places just as fine. Even the two lane parts of these roads are big. Plotting secondary roads, none of which run parallel to these major roads, is an interesting task. It is easy to go 200 miles out of your way. I plotted a course with no idea if I would make it to Daniel Boone National Forest and specifically Koomer Campground in one afternoon.

The best weather in a week blessed the day. I was down to jeans and shirt sleeves. I rolled through very small towns where the road and front porches touched. Where streams along the road encroached so much, they stopped painting a center line because the road was one little lane. Many roads were originally railroad access lanes created during the railroads construction. Often I was wedged between tracks and a stream. All roads were paved.

I came off a backroad into a town Salyersville, which intersected with the Mountain Parkway. I would have to figure out a new route or take the Parkway. I hoped this town would be big enough for a wifi spot. Just as I turned down main street, Ruby’s engine stopped. I coasted into a large empty parking lot between an apartment building with convoluted menacing signs and a pizza shop. I assumed I ran out of gas. It was on empty and I wasn’t paying strict attention.

Ruby’s gas gauge stays at the top of full for a long time and then begins a quick slide down until it reaches the bottom where it stays for the last 30 miles. Now, I thought it was truly empty. No worries, that’s why I am carrying two extra gallons, annoying high tech nozzle or not.

So off came the gear, out came the new gas, it certainly looked empty, I filled her up, and she wouldn’t start. Turning over, but not firing. It’s a delicate moment, you must re-prime the carburetor, but not flood the cylinder. I thought I smelled gas, so I now assumed I was flooding the spark plug. Okay, I’m a champ at pulling the plug now. It involves taking two side bolts out to get access. A minute later with only minor burning of my fingers, a hot dry plug stares back at me. I wipe it clean, turn the engine to pump out any excess moisture, and replace the plug. Still no start.

Phase three: (phase one is praying, phase two is pulling the plug) I remove the seat from the frame to access the engine. I’m getting good and quick at this too. I look at the fuel line. Both of them. I have no idea why there are two. One has the world’s smallest fuel filter, about the size of a hornet, a yellow jacket, and I wonder if the engine is getting gas. I disconnect the line near the carburetor. I turn the engine. There is fuel on my fingers. Okay, it’s getting gas.

Now I fiddle with every electrical line I can. This has worked before, but with no discernible pattern as to what is not making a connection. I try the engine. It starts. I turn it off. I try again. It starts. I dance little jig. Why not? I was successful and I’m in a parking lot of a town where no one knows me.

I reassemble the seat. I try the engine again. It does not start. No jig, but no scowling or cursing either. I take the seat back off. Again I trace some electrical lines. Specifically the one from the spark plug back to a rubber canister with two connectors in it. They are firm. Then on upward to a plastic connector which seems to be seated well. One end of this connector runs up to the safety on/off switch next to the seat.

Now here’s the thing. In Ruby, the interior lever for this safety switch is missing. Someone gerry-rigged it open with a plastic fastener. I know from experience that taking that lever off and putting it back on is a bothersome chore. However, if the lever is missing and the part it connects to is facing the wrong direction, the bike will never start. I turned the little connecting piece and tried the engine, It started right up. Was this the problem? The little missing lever was not there to hold the cable in place and over time it slipped enough to stop the engine. Sounds rational.

But then I thought about the wire I traced there in the first place. It was electrical, not mechanical. Did the lever do two tasks one mechanical and the other electrical, creating a connection that says to the engine, “It’s okay, go ahead and start”? The side kickstand has just such an electrical connection. It finally dawned on me that this switch did too. It was vibrating loose. I tightened it with my fingers. The engine started.

Here was a moment of learning. This is what adventures are about.

I drove the Parkway for the last leg of the day’s journey. I knew I would make the campground with time to spare. I did and as I said earlier, I got the very last space.

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