Aug 2008

Henk's gonna try again...

Henk's transmission is fixed and good to go! Ten days after the engine explosion, he's equipped with new bearings, sprockets and splines, and has had his engine flushed clean of metal shards.

I have a collection of shattered internal parts and a couple of rear view mirrors with which to build an art piece called "100,000 kms with Henk".

I gave up on my northern adventure with time running short after ten days of idling and Henk in desperate need of a rebuild, so now it's just over to Vancouver, a six or seven hour ride from here, then a winding trip back. If I make it past the Bermuda Triangle of Rock Creek, I should be sailing, but I'll have to baby Henk a little. He now has quite a messy oil leak in his head gasket and the temperature in southern BC has been an oil-burning 37 degrees C.

Yes. You can control what you can - the steering, your posture, your breath - but ultimately, you just empty and ride.

Zen and the art of being stranded

I mourned for a few days; then, knowing there was nothing else to do, I finally abandoned to play.

Scott was trying his hardest under the circumstances. Grand Forks is not exactly Grand Central, so when parts are ordered, they're put on the Greyhound and chugged over mountain passes slower than molasses.

It's been a test of my patience, but over the weekend, Kevin built a sauna - as much to take my mind off Henk's demise as to increase his property value and personal wellness. Three nights in a row we all piled in for sweaty test runs past midnight. It worked. It's not exactly the solitude and magnitude of the north, but when everyone has gone to sleep and the world gets really still, I can almost imagine I'm in the bath house at the river hostel in Dawson City.

There's an unhurried pace around this home that encourages contemplation; and if you're able to surrender to the stillness, you can find yourself soothed by the rhythm of the mundane.

Ravens wake you at dawn with their high-pitched calls in the high pines, but there's no need to rise before nine. When you do, Kevin's ready with the best cappuccino in Christina Lake. You take it outside and sip it slow.

There's a single pale pink lotus flower in the centre of the pond that opens before your eyes in the morning sun while you're tossing fish food to the bright orange koi and petting a purring cat.

Somewhere around 10, Lauren emerges wearing pink panties and a smile. She offers you a sip of mocha milkshake and sucks you in to her six-year-old world of salamanders, inchworms and frogs.

Leah makes pancakes with maple syrup and blueberries and whipped cream and breakfast is sweet and satisfying and leisurely.

The rest of the day, it seems, disappears in the southern BC desert heat with a swim in the lake, yoga in the shade, or some writing.

After the sun has peaked and the pine needles have been swept from the trampoline, you jump for an hour, bouncing Lauren higher than she dared last year. You teach her to do a seat drop with a half twist and a full standing spin. You giggle like you're six, and when she has to pee, she goes on the lawn so you giggle even more.

Sometime around 4 or 5, spices of India start to waft from the kitchen and you know a fabulous dinner of chana masala or palak paneer is being created. Kevin usually cracks a bottle of local chardonnay and evening has officially begun.

After dinner, you jump some more with Lauren, keeping her occupied so her parents can test out the new sauna together. You lay on the trampoline, spent, staring up at the emerging night sky with its ancient evening star and recite together "star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight..." You wish for nothing, but try to make out her wish whispered behind her grinning lips.

The sauna is gentle and cedar-scented. You can stay for hours with a full jug of water and frequent breaks into the cool air under the rising moon. It's not exactly the adventure of the wild north, but when everyone has gone to sleep and the world gets really still, you can feel your heart pounding like a prospector who's struck gold.

Henk the Buell

Henk loves rainbows
I am not my motorbike. But once a year, for a few weeks in July, August or September, Henk and I become one.

So when I saw him ripped apart in the shop in Grand Forks the other day I could have cried. Had my friends' 6-year-old daughter not been there, I would have.

I don't expect many people to understand this. If you saw WALL-E and felt a tear well up when EVE was taken away, perhaps you'd be close. My friend Harmen (who understands everything) will tell you I anthropomorphize Henk. I'm not sure who's made whom more human.

For 10 years, Henk has been my loyal companion, my trusted steed, my freedom warrior. We've covered 105,000 kms alone together - three times across Canada from Banff or Vancouver to Toronto, three times up the Alaska Highway to the Land of the Midnight Sun from southern BC or Los Angeles and back, three times up and down the Klondike to the gold rush town of Dawson City, once through America's vast south west - the Million Dollar Highway of Colorado, the jaw-dropping red rocks of Utah, and New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment - and countless winding turns around spectacular Rocky Mountain passes and parkways, spring, summer and fall, over smooth dry pavement, pockmarked freeways, potholed, chip sealed highways and dusty gravel roads, under perfect cloudless skies, through raging rain and hailstorms - even in snow.

Yes, Henk and I have been through a lot together. He carried me naked out of Banff when I needed to flee, empty-handed and chronically fatigued after a restaurant sale and a divorce. He's provided me with solace and solitude and silence when life has become stormy and raucous and loud. He's given me balance when life has become too comfortable. He's delivered me safely on special occasions to the home of a lover or a dear friend and brought me happily home time and time again. And he's taken me on adventures of a lifetime I couldn't have dreamed up without his spontaneous spirit and ready heart.

Henk's hung onto hair-raising corners any other bike would've lost. He's accelerated and decelerated effortlessly and instantly out of certain death countless times and pulled off fancy maneuvers a lesser bike would envy. He's stuck stubbornly to the road when ladders and canoes were being blown off cars. He's posed for hundreds of photos and starred in dozens of videos. He's charmed customs officers at the BC/Alberta/Washington/Montana and Alaska border crossings, campers at KOAs across western America, hedonists and runaways way up north. And he's been the object of much admiration in Toronto, Los Angeles, Dawson City, Santa Fe, Vancouver, Whitehorse, Banff, Aspen, Moab, Prince George, Christina Lake, Jasper, Bellingham, Edmonton, San Francisco, Nanaimo, Bella Coola and everywhere in between.

Even though he wasn't made for touring, Henk's hauled more miles than any of his contemporaries - and he's done it all without a complaint.

Sure, he's dropped his drive belt a couple of times. You would too after all those miles. His primary chain has needed tightening on occasion, the oil changed often and the air filter replaced every 10,000 miles or so. He's gone through so many rear tires I've lost count, burned up two or three batteries, continually shakes loose his carbon fiber fender, almost lost his right rear signal, once had his ignition switch and stator replaced and just dropped his right rear view mirror the other day.

But Tuesday marked Henk's very first serious internal problem. It requires some serious surgery. There were metal shards shattered throughout his engine from a blown bearing, and deeper inside, a broken transmission drive sprocket from a worn out spline. He's chronically fatigued, and in need of some extended TLC.

I've left him in the caring hands of Scott at
Kaotic Custom Choppers in Grand Forks, who's doctored Henk before and is doing his best. But the prognosis is not good. He says he can get us back on the road, but that this should be our last trip.

So yes, every day is great. Love your loves while you have them and when part of you dies, may you be blessed with friends like Kevin and Leah at Christina Lake who pull you out of mourning by making good food, pouring good wine and building a sauna.

Blew a gasket

I'm at the Petro Can in Rock Creek sitting on my saddlebags, laptop propped on my tank bag, watching people come and go, other bikers filling up, cowboys picking up 12-packs of beer, three beautiful brown horses in a trailer, hopefully not en route to a rodeo, families heading home late after a long weekend of play in sunny B.C. It's a hot dry cloudless day and I was loving the ride until all of a sudden, when gearing down for a corner, my engine seized up as though it had just swallowed a mountain of gravel.

I pulled over right away, thinking I was dragging my back fender or my exhaust pipe, but when I checked, everything was perfectly intact. There was some splattered oil in the engine and I wondered if I'd let my oil get too low. I'd checked it before leaving Christina Lake, and it was indeed low, but I'm on my way to Kamloops for a new back tire and I thought it would be enough to get me there.

I pulled back onto the highway to try again, this time more slowly, afraid the engine would seize up completely. Again the engine ground through the gears. I pulled over and flagged down a biker heading my way. Jim Moon Jr, on his way back home to central BC from Sturgis, smiling as though he was having the best day of his life, stopped and got off his bike.

"What can I do for you little lady?"

I told him the problem.

He was mystified, but suspected a "tranny problem." He suggested I ride in front of him and he'd follow me to Rock Creek, just another 4 kms down the road where I could get out of the burning sun and at least top up my oil if I thought that was the problem.

"Thanks so much for stopping," I said.

"Of course! Harley riders always stop for each other. People stop for me."

I'm not exactly a Harley rider, but I'm grateful today for Henk's V-twin.

We rode slowly to Rock Creek, Jim in my left rearview mirror (my right mirror, rusted through, broke off this morning when I went to Jimmy Bean's for coffee).

When we pulled in to the Petro Can, he said he could hear the horrible grinding of the engine and see the bike lurching. He crawled underneath and looked around, attracting another bike enthusiast who got in on the diagnostics. One of them pulled a rotted strip of rubber from somewhere and said I'd busted a seal and that would explain the splattered oil, but neither of them was a mechanic, and neither of them could really help.

Kelowna is an hour from here, Kamloops, three, and I'm just an hour down the road from Christina Lake, where I've been staying the last four nights with my friends Kevin and Leah, who have extended their hospitality over the years so much that it feels like home.

I told Jim I'd be ok and thanked him for his help. He gave me his contact info and told me to give him a call if I wanted company on the Alaska Highway. He's ridden it once already this season and said he got rained on every day. I waved him off and said have a great day. He smiled like he was having the best day of his life and said "every day's great!" and he was off.

I picked up the payphone and called "home." Leah answered, and without hesitation, said Kevin would be here to get me with the truck. Then Kevin got on, sounding almost happy I'd broken down.

"I was just looking for something to do anyway. I'll be there in a little over an hour!"

So here I sit at the Petro Can in Rock Creek.

Yes, every day is great.

L.A. to the lake

I rode through a landscape painter's dream. There's a color I don't think of until I'm in it: haystack gold. It's not buttercup yellow and it's not yellow gold, nor is it taupe or sand or copper or even mustard; but when the sunlight hits it at the perfect angle and there's not a cloud in the sky or a shadow to mute it, it's haystack gold and it's all over Central Oregon.

Then there's sage green. Not the sage green you'd see in a Starbucks washroom, but the real sage green, the color that is actually a hundred shades of grey and three hundred shades of green, from avocado to zucchini and even a few shades of black and white and everything in between; and when the warm wind blows in just the right direction, the earthy scent can penetrate every cell in your body like a good gin martini, dry, with a green olive.

Speaking of dreams, I have a big, grey, male cat slipping into slumber on my left thigh as I type. Tim. He was just a newborn last year when I was here. Now he stands taller than the matriarch, Boots and her offspring, Kali, both substantial felines. Tim is a formidable force. He found his way into the Spirit House and made his presence impossible to ignore by rubbing his chin on the edges of my screen, purring like Henk, stepping over the keyboard, rubbing against my cheeks - and drooling. Tim likes to play; he's still a kitten at heart. I'm happy to have a bedmate for the night.

Four days from Venice to Christina Lake is a bit of a marathon. Five or six would be more sane. I rode pretty much 10 hour days, only stopping to fill my gas tank, pee, have a quick drink of water and a quick bite of manna bread. By the end of the day the last two days, I was ready to dismount. The weather's been perfect, but all that bright sunlight and hot dry air can be exhausting inside the helmet and leathers. If I'd had more time I'd have stopped for a hotspring or a leisurely dinner in California's wine country - but the call of Canada was strong so I raced on.