Saturday, April 24, 2010

A bike guy delivers in the clutch

I pressed the button to light up my watch. 11:25 a.m.? Had I slept right through checkout? I squinted. 4:55 a.m. That's better. Rolled over for another 90 minutes. Got up, showered and found Dave Harrison outside readying to go find a shop to help him fix his muffler.

He suggested we take a couple of photos of the bikes all loaded up:

Green bike went north; red bike went south.

I wasn't sad to leave Carlsbad behind. There's a reason they don't call it "Carlsgood." It left me with this impression: a scruffy collection of franchise restaurants and motels shuffled together with run-down mobile homes and metal sheds. Friday's wind storm didn't help.

The winds had calmed down to 20 to 30 mph with 40 mph gusts -- I could handle this and stay in my lane when the big Peterbilts rolled by at 75.

First town of any size I reached was Artesia. After Carlsbad, I had low expectations and was blown away by the town's apparent prosperity, organization and beauty. Some benefactor had underwritten three or four epic, larger-than-life western bronze sculptures, a la Remington, that were strategically placed at the entrance, middle and exit of the historic and bustling downtown. No Walmart in sight, but there were headquarters buildings for several petroleum/energy companies.

West of Artesia, a snow-capped mountain appeared on the horizon.

Miles of empty desert, occupied only by an occasional cow, stretched westward from Aretesia, but soon an ominously white shape appeared on the horizon. Spring had not arrived on that particular mountain. Meanwhile, there was me, the KLR, the road, a fence and lots of nothing for as far as I could see -- except for that white mountain.

There was a whole lot of nothing out in the desert.

Eventually, the road began to curve, trees appeared, then hills, then a stream running alongside the road. Then pastures opened up -- green pastures. Willow trees grew next to the stream. The road rose higher and higher through the Lincoln National Forest and the Sacramento Mountains. A chilly morning became a cold morning. I stopped and zipped up the vents in my jacket and riding pants.

At 8,500 feet, I came over the top of the pass through Cloudcroft, a lively ski resort that was packed with Saturday morning activities -- and covered with snow.

The main drag in Cloudcroft on a chilly Saturday in late April.

I stopped to fill the gas tank and noticed an old guy climbing a ladder with a broom to sweep snow off the awning of Dave's Cafe.

I never figured out why sweeping snow off this roof was necessary.

The footing up there wasn't as good as the old guy expected and I pulled out the camera figuring I could document his downfall. He changed his mind and stopped sweeping.

From Cloudcroft, I headed down. Around a turn, the distant valley appeared -- blanketed in white! More snow? Snow in the valley?

Arriving in Alamogordo, I discovered it wasn't snow after all. It was White Sands, the National Monument and Missile Range. Up close, the sand was a light tan, but from a distance, it looked like snow.

More desert, another mountain range and I was in Las Cruces, then Deming, where I had lunch at a Wendy's, deciding not to tempt Montezuma to return for more revenge.

I turned northwest on a windswept, incredibly straight, flat road -- NM 180. Vehicles materialized as blobs on a shimmering horizon like boats on an ocean, taking shape and becoming real as the distance narrowed. I hung off one side of the bike to counteract the cross wind, like hiking out to sail a dinghy upwind.

Silver City reminds me a little of what Boulder, Colo. must have been like 30 years ago -- well, if there had been a Walmart in Boulder in 1980. Nice little town with a funky main street, Broadway, lined with cool shops selling organic foods, gifts, ferns, seeds and berries. At the end of the main drag was Gila Hike and Bike. I was looking for a road map and considered stopping at the bike shop to see if they had one, but decided to go to Walmart instead.

Map in hand, I rode out into the nearby mountains toward Gila National Forest, where there was a campground. The scenery was great and the twisty mountain road through the woods was a relief after 400 miles of desert.

The campground, when I found it, was a little too rustic. The facilities were an outhouse, some concrete picnic tables and metal hoops for campfires. To get to the campground, required fording the foot-deep Little Cherry Creek -- there was no bridge, just a rocky creek bed.

Only two campsites were inhabited. I asked myself if I wanted to be out here alone in the cold with the cougars and bears tonight, or back in a nice warm motel room. The motel won.

THEY TELL YOU to pack a spare clutch cable when you take a long motorcycle trip. I didn't.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the Silver City Motel 6, I stalled the bike. Strange, I thought. I checked in and got back on to ride around the corner to my room and stalled again. The clutch wasn't engaging enough to free up the transmission. I turned the tension adjuster on the clutch lever and watched as the last few strands of clutch cable broke.

Stuck. It was 6 p.m. on Saturday in a small mountain town in remote southwestern New Mexico.

The motel manager suggested I call autoparts places. I called several. No luck. The local motorcycle dealer had gone out of business. The fix-all-brands Harley shop was closed until Tuesday.

The thought crossed my mind: I will be staying in the Silver City Motel 6 until Tuesday, the earliest a new cable might arrive by FedEx.

I remembered when, in 1973, I stopped for the night at a motel in Edison, N.J. and the key snapped off in the ignition of my Saab 99. I spent three days in that motel waiting for a replacement key to arrive from Saab of America. I'm not sad they are going out of business.

Then, I remembered Gila Hike and Bike. Bicycles have cables for brakes and shifters. One of those might work. I called.

20 minutes later, Jay Hemphill arrived at Motel 6 with a selection of bicycle cables. "Oh, wow, a KLR," he said when he spotted the bike. "I used to have one just like it and took it for long trips. One day I went outside to ride it home and it was gone. Somebody must have come with a truck and just hauled it off."

Jay Hemphill, owner of Gila Hike and Bike, my saviour.

One of the cables fit the clutch lever well enough and was long enough to reach the transmission. After thanking Jay, who had been working late after his shop closed, I pulled the broken cable out and threaded the new one through.

There should be a fitting on the end of the cable where it attaches to the clutch. I tied a couple of knots for a Q&D fix.

With the new cable rigged, I rode to Walmart and bought some wire rope clamps to replace the knots I'd tied in the clutch end of the cable. The clamps should secure the cable well enough to make it to a Kawasaki dealer for a replacement.

The metal pin that attaches the clutch cable to the lever broke off.

The fates continue to treat me gently. If the clutch cable had parted 20 minutes earlier, I would have been stranded 15 miles up a dead-end canyon. Instead, it broke in the motel parking lot, two miles from a bike shop run by a really nice guy who used to ride a KLR and was happy to drop it off on his way home.

Oh, the cable cost me $3.

Jay threw in free delivery.

The 2010 Wobble, so far.

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