Wednesday, May 1, 2013

San Diego to Tucson? Not so Fast

I slid out of Chula Vista on E Street to Otay Lakes Road, which becomes California 94 or Campo Road. This road is a sport bike Mecca on sunny Sunday morning, April 28. It winds its way eastward up a canyon through Campo to Potrero.

A few miles out of the city, I saw a big sign: "Owl Boxes." Gotta stop and check this out.

Gerry says installing an owl box in your yard can be just the ticket for adding something unique and fun in your yard and in your life.
Mr. Owl Box says owning one is unfortunately no guarantee that owls will move in.

An owl box turns out to be a big, roomy bird house. Gerry Darnell, the owl guy, said keeping an owl in your back yard is just the thing to keep mice, snakes and gophers under control and prevent being overrun by baby bunnies. He puts a day's labor into each of his raptor condos and was proud to show me a write-up about his boxes in the local homeowners association newsletter, which quoted him: "Barn owls can consume up to 1,200 rodents each year."

Campo Road was a delightfully twisty meander, following the contours of a canyon -- 40 miles of ess bends and switchbacks. The only traffic was the occasional beat-up pickup and dozens of crotch rockets.

I stopped for a bite at the general store in Potrero, a popular spot for Sunday morning road racers to park under the trees and sit on the front porch to sip a drink and chat. I pulled in next to a shiny new three-wheeled Scorpion and joined its owner on the porch while the chef whipped me up a hamburger steak and a salad.

After lunch, I continued east through Campo, where the road comes close to the Mexican border and I found another surprise: a dystopian sculpture garden.




I don't know the story behind these strange, helmeted, semi-clothed, concrete creations, but they grabbed my attention.

Near Campo, the Mexican border is very close to the highway and the Big Fence is in clear view.


I took a shot of my early morning shadow in El Centro. I thought I was ready to roll, until I turned the key.

Got up at 6 Monday morning, packed up and was ready to roll to Tucson. Turned the key. Nada.

I'd parked in full view of I-8 among the big trucks, so I locked the forks with the ignition key and covered the bike before I turned in. Problem is, if you turn the key about 15 degrees too far, you turn on the “parking lights.”

Arrrgh! Apparently I turned the key too far. Dead battery.Not much you can do about it at 6:55 a.m. – so I grabbed my iPad and went to McDonald’s. Discovered an O’Reilly’s about .6 miles from Mickey D’s and gave them a call. Yes, they have YTX12-BS motorcycle batteries (or the equivalent) but no, they aren’t charged and they don’t offer charging services.

The local Battery Bill-type place doesn’t open until 9 a.m., so I hiked down to O’Reilly’s and bought a 1.5 amp charger, went back to the motel, pulled the battery and hooked it up. I had to check out by 11, so I hoped to pump enough juice into the old battery by then to start the bike.

Well, I had some website work to do anyway. Unfortunately, the dead battery meant I'd ride in the heat of the afternoon instead of the cool of the morning. My fault. It’s about 350 hot miles to Tucson.

I’m getting so absent minded. Keep forgetting where things are. Spent 20 minutes looking for my keys Sunday and they were sitting on the bed in plain sight. Left my iPad charger plugged into the wall when I checked out at South Point. Doh! Well, it gives me an excuse for being retired.

With just an hour and a half before check out. I checked to see if the battery had recovered enough to get moving. It had held a charge for nine months in storage in Las Vegas, so I thought it should still be OK. I’d buy a new one, but hauling a new battery back to the motel along with a charger on foot and then hauling the old battery back to the store was too much to contemplate.

No luck. I called AAA and they sent a truck to give me a jump start. The engine kicked over instantly. I soaked my hot-weather vest in the sink, loaded up, packed the charger and hit the road.

After I stopped for lunch in Yuma, the bike started again without a problem. Should I brave the desert run to Tucson, still 240 miles away? Is this an adventure? Of course!

So I bomb on down I-8. It's the least scenic highway in America, except for glimpses of the Big Fence. An hour later, I stop at Dateland, western Arizona's answer to Oahu's Dole Plantation. They sell "Date Shakes," date pies, date ice cream, date t-shirts, plus the usual oasis stuff, suck as gasoline, Gatorade, snacks, etc. -- you get the picture: gas pumps, convenience store, palm trees, parking lot. They also have dog cages outside for people to leave their pets when they go in to drink Date Shakes.

I park under a tree, go inside and drink a Diet Snapple, eat a bag of peanuts and cool off. A couple of bicycle dudes who look like Jim Carey are wearing shirts that say they are riding from San Diego to New York are yucking it up with the tourists out front. There was nothing between Yuma and Dateland but 75 miles of borax mines and dirt and these guys don't look anxious to leave Dateland.

I am, however. First turn of the key ... nothing. Second turn, she starts right up. Maybe the first turn was just a fluke. Maybe I'm riding on borrowed time.

I can see mountains on the horizon and I'm thinking that it's cooler in the mountains. I get back on I-8. The speed limit is 75 mph. I had been cruising at 65, but I start to push it. Soon, I'm doing 80, passing the big trucks and the bike feels good. There's a tailwind. Gila Bend is coming up on the GPS.

I'm deluded into thinking I can stop at Walmart in Gila Bend, buy a new battery, take it with me to Tucson, charge it overnight, and Bob's your uncle.

But there's no Walmart in Gila Bend. There won't be a Walmart in Gila Bend in this century. I look it up later and discover the population is 1,953, but it didn't look that big. Someday, Dateland might open a branch there, but there are no batteries for V-Stroms for sale in Gila Bend.

So, it has to be Tucson. The scenery improves as I cross the Sonoran Desert National Monument. There are mountains, but the highway just goes around them. Saguaro cacti are everywhere, including two with arms wrapped suggestively around each other. I'm making good time, too.

I reach the I-8 intersection with I-10 and can turn left to Phoenix or right to Tucson. I go right, wondering who decided how to spell those names.

My destination is Catalina State Park, about 10 miles north of downtown Tucson. I exit I-10 and head directly east toward the park on a two-lane desert road with lots of dips and signs that say not to use the road when it's flooded. Doh!

Catalina State Park has great views and trails, clean bathrooms, hot showers and a Walmart within walking distance.

The sun is setting and it's getting dark as I pull into the campground. The headlights aren't helping. I flick on the high beams just to check. Zilch.

I'd reserved campsite A-31 on the park website, which included a map, and I think I know where to find it. I feel my way through the dusky campground and find the site. The journey is over. I turn off the ignition knowing I might be here for a long time. I can tell that the battery under the seat aint going to be starting no more motors.

Happily, there was a Walmart open all night within walking distance – well, it was a mile from the campsite to the highway and the shopping center entrance and Walmart was another mile into the mall. Geez, they build big parking lots in Arizona – it was probably a five-mile hike, half of which lugging a battery. Multi-level garages have their charms.

Anyway, by 11 p.m. I owned a new, uncharged battery. By midnight I was back at the campsite, poured the acid into the cells, put the battery on the charger, ate some cold Spam and canned green beans for dinner and sacked out.

There was a McDonalds in the Walmart, but it closed while I was standing in the check-out line to buy my new battery. Hence, more exotic cuisine.

Woke up at 6 and the “fully charged” light was glowing on the charger. Swapped the battery out of the bike, turned the key and she started right up. Still no headlights, though. Yet, tTe fuses were OK. Puzzled, I looked online for help.

That little light on the charger indicated the new battery was at full charge.

Apparently, losing the headlights is a common V-Strom failure. The first StromTrooper diagnosis was corroded contacts in a connector located behind the radiator that links the starter button with the headlights. I took the right side of the motorcycle apart to try to get to that connector without success.

Getting to the suspect connector meant removing the right fairing and detaching the capacitor and radiator. After that, the instructions said, things get tricky.

The second diagnosis was corrosion in the ignition button. Actuating the starter button turns off the headlight until the motor starts but when the contacts are bad, the headlight stays off. That was easier to work on. I took it apart and the contacts did look burned.

I sanded and cleaned them, reassembled the button, switched on the ignition and the headlights were back.

The starter button proved to be the culprit. I suspect the contacts were burned when I tried to start the engine with the almost-dead old battery.

It took until 12:30 p.m. to get the lights on, reassemble the right side of the bike, pack and head to downtown Tucson for lunch and I didn't get out of town until almost 2.

At lunch, I checked out the route and found a place to stop -- there was no way I was going the whole 330 miles to El Paso that afternoon. I decided to stay overnight in Willcox, about 100 miles east of Tucson. That gave me time for a side trip to Saguaro National Park.

The loop road in Saguaro National Park would make an excellent go-kart track, but you wouldn't want to spin out into the prickly pines.

At the motel in Willcox I met a guy who now rides a Honda Valkyrie (the cruiser version of the Gold Wing) and has been into Japanese and British bikes since the 60s. He said the run down the Rio Grande from Big Bend to Brownsville will be a great ride and that I should take the bridge out to Padre Island, ride north as far as I can and then take the ferry back to the mainland. Sounds like a plan.

Turning the ignition key that extra 15 degrees cost me a morning getting out of El Centro and another morning getting out of Tucson, plus a five mile hike to buy a new battery. I ended up in the cheapest Motel 6 ever -- $32.95 plus tax – watching the Nuggets embarrass the Clippers on an old analog TV in Willcox, Ariz., 220 miles from El Paso.

I called cousin Sue In El Paso and we agreed that I’d shoot at getting there in the late afternoon or early evening Wednesday. Sue said she’s taking Thursday off so we can have fun and I’ll stay two nights before doing my Texas tour.

On my not-so-fast ride I began in Chula Vista (A), almost touched the border in Campo (B), killed the battery in El Centro (C), had just enough juice to restart in Yuma (D), arrived in the dark in Tucson (E) and sacked out in Willcox (F). Click the map for larger image.

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