Back on the highway now, accelerating through the gears with some well deserved music filling my ears. All those human noises and that commercialization at the gas stations can really bug my inner self sometimes. It seems people make noise just to hear themselves, I reckon I am not excluded from doing this but, all the machines, air conditioning, freezer, lights, all humming at different frequencies and timbres, none relating to each other. Then the darn gas pumps try to talk to you with a screen, yeah screw that crap, that’s just dangerously distracting. Combined it all makes for a symphony of a mind numbing, brainwave interrupting mess. I can only stand it for so long then I have to get back on the road and back to my zen.
I’ve been listening to The Allman Brothers and other great rock music since I was in my Mom’s tummy. My Pops used to share the records with me via headphones, the same set of headphones that I still have and rebuild several years back. Using them all through my younger years and college days until my then teenage Daughter procured them from me appropriately as our children seem to do with our stuff. I’m glad she is enjoying them, they are the real, big comfy, old school realistic deal. At the end of the day you either have kids or you have all your stuff, I like my kids.
Heading northeast, somewhere near a township park called Moaba it seems. I reckon most would stop and figure out exactly where they are but I just don’t have the time for all that right now. A little sad I know but all part of this road race, time to simply enjoy the beauty of it all from this interstate. The route I am traveling will eventually lead me to other highways then, to the other side of the country, at least that’s the plan on the map, and I am hoping to make it there in one piece.
Motley Crue, “Wildside.” Girls, Girls, Girls, Elektra Records, 1987
We were giving the set route at 6 p.m. last night, copied on a 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper was a picture of the United States with a black line drawn on the route and a few written navigational instructions in the margins, some legible, some not so much, that’s half the fun, doing my best to figure out the written route without the wave points or pin points or whatever they may be called on a fancy gps unit. This guy named Nomad Charlie writes and squiggles all over this map to give direction, yeah, I hate that guy, and he hates me back, crap he hates all of us competitor types, he is just set to torture us with this race we call the Stampede. Charlie is the guy who puts the race map together for us, inspects our chopped skoots and takes our money. Without him, this little hop across the country would not exist. He also writes about it in a chopper magazine called The Horse Backstreet Choppers, glorifying it for all it is worth and forcing people like me to fall in love with it. Most of this is his fault, without his writings, I would surely not be here, I’d be home, watching T.V. that is if I had T.V. and just dreaming of riding my skoot to places and not, actually racing. Damn this Charlie guy knows how to write and, race. For several years he has come in first or second. His smaller well built frame astride one of his many righteous chops and his not give a fuck about much attitude usually gets him the trophy. Yeah ok, I have a lot of admiration for this guy and, through this race and our lifestyle of riding all over this country, I have had the luxury of becoming good friends with him and his Ole’ Lady Jill. They are also good friends with F Bomb and have known him a lot longer than I have and live near each other around Phoenix Arizona. So yeah, we all kind of get to know each other and share in each others passion for building, riding and racing until the flag drops, then it’s all business and every competitor for themselves, HELL YEAH!!!
I have this paper map in my clear map holder on the top of my tank bag, between my legs. I won’t really need it till the end where the race jumps around on a few smaller highways and side roads, trying to figure out what exactly Charlie wrote to get to the finish line but in the meantime, it’s nice to have it staring back at me in my peripheral vision as a reminder why I am out here. I will use this time to memorize the last of the route. When the time comes to travel the route, it is doubtful my eyes or brain will be working correctly, best to memorize it all now. Keeping most of it covered up with a foldable road map of the country, I don’t need anybody seeing the route map paper especially, law enforcement and figuring out myself or any of my competitors are doing what we are doing, competing in an illegal and totally unsanctioned cross country skoot race, that would be bad, for all of us. As far as anyone knows, the Stampede does not exist! I am not racing or competing in anything! This, is a sanctuary rule we all get to adhere too with strict religious conviction to keep law enforcement from giving us any heat. I will eat the damn map if I have too to keep it out of sight of the wrong eyes. The Stampede, this race across this wonderful country on beaten up old chopped skoots does not exist.
Some quick math, the answer was twelve minute refuel at the last stop. I will have to do better and get a little faster in the very near future, for now let’s blame my face shield failure on the slow stop. I know small inconveniences like that are going to happen, I plan for them and carry a lot of tools, spare parts, duct tape, hockey stick tape, electrical tape, and other cool shit in preparation. Repairs both big and small just take time and I will have to make good judgement calls when they happen like; if I want to even repair them or just go without, whatever they may be, only time will tell.
Damn this is some pretty country, starting to wonder if I’ll get to see any purple sage on the road ahead this time of year? I think it would be many miles ahead in the middle and northern parts of Utah but, I just can’t seem to remember right now. Crap I wish I knew, my Pops would know the answer to this. Could try to Google it but, yeah not at this speed or in this kind of turbulence. I have my phone mounted to my handlebars in front of me and I can see it is kind of freaking out. All the vibrations of the rigid ride is making it go a little haywire. Will leave the screen shut off and just check it periodically to see if I have missed anything important.
I have great memories of being in this part of the country as a young boy with my Pops, sitting in the passenger seat of one of his big Caprice Classic Station Wagon company cars and asked what all those purple colored bushes were on the side of the road? He reached in the back seat like a Dad does, only it was usually to hand out a spanking but this time, with a happy look on his face, he handed me a paperback book and said, “here, read”. An old worn down novel graced my hands and eyes, a book by someone called Zane Grey, “Riders of the Purple Sage.” I started to read, and kind of made myself sick with how much the word gentile appeared but slowly I made my way through the first chapter, with a thousand questions for my Pops as a young boys would have. It did not take me long to learn and know that other worlds are out there, all there for me, and those worlds are in books. My Pops consumes several books a month, now I got to really understand why. Being back here in the land, reminding me of all those great road trips my Pops and I got to experience together is quite the treat reminding me that anything is possible in my small life, even me writing this book.
Where the Nevada desert kisses the north west corner of Arizona and into the south west corner of Utah. The monuments start rising and the color changes to that pretty tan red that artists strive to recreate in landscapes. They get pretty darn close, but being in this scene, on this land reminds me that these colors and rock formations are truly awesome, and can only be made by our universe on this beautiful planet. Being on my skoot, running up this road, being part of this scene is just pure livin for me, L I V I N, and just what the Doctor ordered. Damn I could spend all day and night running up and down this stretch of highway never tiring or wanting for much more in my life.
Back to the business at hand, I have newly full tanks of fuel and about 250 miles between needed fuel stops. Sure better gas mileage is available if, slower speeds are obtained, but yeah, that’s not in the cards for me right now. I will be cutting that a little short in hopes of not running dry as sitting on the side of the road without fuel would really eat up precious minutes however, I know stopping too often will eat up the same precious minutes as well. Not having a speedometer or trip gauge on this skoot to aid me in this, I did bring a g.p.s. but it’s an older model and really acting up. It never gave me this kind of issue before but, guess if I were a small electronic device mounted to a rigid machine going this fast down the highway, I would cut out and lose power as well. The big reason I brought along the g.p.s. is to scroll out and see what’s in front of me and around me. It is good to see whats infront of me in hopes of being able to find a good gas station when needed. This is a game of skill and science and sometimes just dumb luck. Depending on if I need just fuel or fuel, coffee and a pee break with maybe a side of beef jerky and trail mix will really be the deciding factors of where to stop. Of course crowds play a big part in this as well. If a gas station is crowded with kids and cagers all standing around waiting for something to entertain them, well let’s just say that scene is to be avoided. I would rather starve and go without then deal with lines to the restroom and comments about the foreign but needed attire I adorn. It’s good to see what’s around me with a gps, especially at night. Mostly I would love to see my elevation and if there are mountains around in hopes of being prepared or not surprised by bad weather or worse, deer. Aw yes, lovable cuddle deer that grace our american roadway. So beautiful and magical, and my worst nightmare here on the road, next to falling asleep behind the handlebars. If I can see mountains and hills around me, the deer might be there and luckily the highway departments occasionally puts up signage. Yeah, very few things make me sit forward and pay attention like a deer crossing sign. Personally I have not hit a deer or fallen asleep but have come pretty darn close. I have heard horror stories from friends though like, F Bomb has told me a story of riding back in the state of New York at night with a buddy in staggered formation and a big north country deer ran across the road and between them, Wow! It’s stories like those that remind me, how much the universe has blessed me.Wonder how F Bomb is doing, and my other competitors for that matter? I suspect Bomb is a few miles behind me now, moving slower but well in this beautiful cool and calm weather. No news is good news. I won’t be worrying too much about him as he is a grown ass man and has gotten this far in life and, has a lot more experience, dedication and sacrifice to this race than any of us here running it today.
The scariest encounter with our four legged enemy is from Valarde Gonzalez, ad I mentioned earlier. He has hit 2 deer on his laid back chopper we now dub, the deerslayer. Hitting one and getting the bike off the ground and then a year or so later ramming through another one always busting himself up a little but, he keeps going. Maybe it’s the long girder front end or the high center point of his frame or maybe he is just overly blessed. I am not sure of all the dates and times and circumstances as Valarde is definitely the type of quieter man who does not like to boast. He has hurt himself during these incidents as well but will keep quiet about it as he would hate for anyone to worry about him. And yeah hee has also cut through a car and a tree as well, that we know of.
This engine on this Cop Chop of mine has not had any sort of issue in the last few hundred miles since I rebuilt it and that, is promising to me right now and lowering my Anxiety levels 10 fold. A few years back in this race on this machine we were riding highway 10 from west to east and somewhere in the middle of Texas, I started losing a ton of power. On top of that at the Louisiana border I hit a torrential rain storm that brought blinding sheets of water right to my face shield and neck, breathing was hard with all the water shedding off my face shield at speed and slamming my precious windpipe. I pulled off the highway, figuring ripping my carbs apart and trying to figure what the hell is going on would be a much more productive use of my time. So there I am, in a rain storm, in the parking lot of a motel where I got a room, under my handy 2 dollar tarp I always carry, ripping my carbs off and apart in the motel room. I found nothing obviously wrong or out of place so I put them back on, took a few hours worth of nap, a shower, and continued on, more than a thousand miles at 4 thousand r.p.m.’s in 4th gear, which equalled about 50 miles an hour on a flat road. Just for reference, most highways across this country have a 65 or 75 m.p.h. speed limit. And by the way humidity, from a rainstorm, really keeps the smell of gas hanging in a motel room. No amounts of fans or open windows and doors could of getting rid of that petrol smell from that poor room, good thing I paid cash without a receipt. Moving slowly as I was everyone’s Mother, GrandMother and even a few street sweepers passed me but, eventually after a lot of patience and learning to ride while watching my rear view mirror, I finished the race in Rockingham, South Carolina, 16th place out of 40 some odd competitors that year, in just under 3 ½ days. Good lesson that moving well and fast involves more on the moving well side. Ya gotta keep going sometimes and eventually, you will get it done even, 16th place.
I rested for a few days and enjoyed the festivities of the chopper show there known as “The Smoke Out”, always having to use starter fluid to get the bike running again after it sat for more than an hour and cooled. Luckily, my friend Nomad Charlie who puts on these races had a can of starter fluid to loan me forever.
The next Monday after the weekend festivities, I jumped on a plane to get west and back home to my family in California and had the bike shipped back to me. I literally left it at a dealership in Charlotte, North Carolina who charged me nothing to park it there for a week till the bike shipping company showed up to pick it up and bring it back to me. Yes, there are shipping companies who use cool old Nascar double decker trailers to pick up and drop off skoots all over the country. Give em a few weeks and they can get your bike anywhere, scary how many people do not ride their bikes around but have them shipped. For me it was simply the last resort just short of selling this machine on the east coast for parts. It was a pricey service but, after all this skoot and I had been through, I was ok giving it a little love, shipping it back to myself and keeping it.
I got the bike transported and delivered to me by one of these cool big rigs full of shiny new full dressed Harleys and, my broken down road dirty Cop Chop. I have to admit the driver of this awesome rig was a pretty righteous dude. He had to meet me in a church parking lot around the block from my house as I live on a smaller dead end street. When I walked around the corner with my then 5 year old Son in tow, the driver was all smiles and telling me how he picked my bike up in Detroit and had a few good questions about it make and purpose. He explained also that he had to lower my bars to get it to fit correctly on the bottom level of the trailer etc. On top of this he noticed I had left my coffee tumbler in its holder and took the liberty to wash out the old, creamer filled coffee. Apparently my famed tumbler had developed a smell. I had to laugh and thanks him profusely while tipping accordingly. My Son and I then pushed the skoot around the block and back to the home laboratory. Ok I pushed, my Son just kind of rode.
We made quick work of it getting it up on the bench. Now when I say bench, I mean my standard looking workbench I made out of 2x4s and some plywood. It’s 2 feet deep and 7 feet wide only, it’s short, about 20 inches tall. I put a ramp on one side, push the skoot up on it in the middle of my little carriage shed of a garage and can sit in my chair and wrench away as needed. I hit the cylinders of my poor beaten engine with my compression tester and as I suspected I had lost a ton of compression which equalled losing a ton of power. Out of 4 cylinders, there was full compression in number 1, half compression in number 2 and zero compression in cylinders 3 and 4. This wonderful 1000 cubic centimeter cop engine had killed itself pushing me and itself across country, very admirably. I was sold from then on that my love affair with these engines and specifically this one, was going to last a very, very long time.
I made quick work of ripping the top of the engine apart, ordered some oversized pistons and rings and had the cylinder jugs bored out accordingly to accommodate them. Then I had the same machinist do a valve job for me, I mean heck, why not splurge and let a true professional get it as right as right could be, right?!? I blue printed the engine and totally emerged myself in all the cool details to keep this engine going for me. It’s like arts and crafts with oil and a lot of measuring and re-measuring of cool metal parts that work together to keep the engine sucking, banging, powering and blowing. I put it all back together and fired it up. It ran, but seemed a little, off. Taking it for a test ride, I got a few miles down the road and one of the valves really started knocking followed by a ping sound, followed by a grinding sound. Holy heck I must of done something very wrong and really messed something up, crap! I had to stop the bike and push it a few blocks home.
Putting the poor skoot back on the bench, I tore my recently completed work apart again. As I pulled the valve cover or, H cover as it is sometimes called on these models of engines because it looks like the letter H, it showed to me very quickly that one of the top intake cam half bearings had fallen out of place and went straight for the transmission, exploding shrapnel all over the inside of the engine.
“This has to be your fault Bob” damnit!
I had to rip the bottom of the engine apart, crawl under it and really clean all these very small pieces of bearing from every nook and cranny of the engine and transmission, they are one of the same on this engine. I also pulled the head to check the valves as one of the plugs showed me somehow, it had some oil in it already. One can tell alot of what’s going on inside the internal combustion side of an engine from the spark plugs. Mostly checking spark plugs can tell ya how the carburetors are running but to already have some black from some oil, that made no sense. One of the valves was already bent and scratched, I pulled it off and realized the guide was broken, an entire piece of the guide was missing and nowhere to be found. If it had broken off, lately, the broken piece would of sat there in the spring under the grommet but that was not the case.
The machining company that was hard to find in the first place in the next town over of San Bernardino had broke it and put it back together anyways. I was terribly disappointed and it reassured me that I just need to do all my work myself, that way when something goes wrong I know exactly who to blame. I make this statement so bold in life lately as I have learned the same to be true, it has to begin and end with me, in all aspects of my life. I am responsible for me, and all that happens to me and all I do for me and mine.
So here I am, in the middle of the open road roaring fast and loud with an engine that I rebuilt mostly myself, on a bike I rebuild myself and I am in awe it is working so well. I feel totally in tuned with this, my machine, my stuff. It just wants to go and go and, take me with it.
Toto, “Africa,” Toto IV, Columbia Records, 1982.
We all know that as a society we have turned from doers and shakers of our own world’s to debt ridden consumers that just, well consume, no matter what the cost sometimes. The motorcycle industry is no different and has suffered in some aspects and thrived in others because of this. Today you can hit the showroom floor, sling down a good job and credit rating and get all you need to look like the Americana folklore idea of a born to be wild biker. You got the jacket, the boots, the big black motorcycle and, you can add all the bolt on parts your credit card can handle to “customize” it and make it unique, like everyone else is, around you on the showroom floor. Every Saturday morning you dress up, saddle up and cruz 11.2 miles to your favorite breakfast joint for your favorite chicken fried steak and eggs meal, maybe even meet up with a few buddies. Don’t get me wrong, I am always happy to see men and women out enjoying recreation but this is not what my life is about nore is it truly what skootin on a skoot is about, in mu humble opinion. I don’t have a warranty on my skoot, hell I don’t even have an auto club subscription or a towing service, I have me, and my skill. Sometimes this includes tens of hours of concentration and maybe a little frustration to figure out a problem but I am totally in tune with my stuff, my machine. I have taken it all apart and put it all back together, sometimes more than once to get it right. I spend my money on good parts not cheap chrome bolt on accessories. This is my passion for how I enjoy my life and the cool stuff in my life like my old home, or the mechanical workings of my home, and my trucks, it’s all the same. I work smart, not hard and have a good time finding the problems and working them out to resolve a solution that works for me and my stuff. It is a great relationship I like to set up with my stuff. This is just me, no better, no worse than the next man who lives preferring to owe for what he has rather then get too involved in it or pay cash. My Pops is big on this always reminding me that “You can’t beat a man at his own game Son”. Thanks Pops but, watch me compete and try! Although it has to be added that my Pops, is the laziest man I know and will always stop, look at a problem, find the easiest solution and get it done faster than the next guy, including me. I said he was lazy, not a bum. I can go on and on about this subject but it’s better if I simply recommend the writings of Matthew Crawford in his book, entitled, Shop Class as Soulcraft. Read it, know it, live and love yourself and your stuff more from it.
At the end of the day I am so thankful for the community of riders we have in this country. Without them, I would not be able to do what I do. Rather it be the trickle down effect of cost on the used machines I purchased or, the respect I get from most people driving with me on this road, seems everyone out here in a cage probably has a loved one who rides even if it’s just on the weekends. I owe a lot to everyone who rides, no matter what they ride or how they ride and yes, this includes pedal bicycles and all the up to big trikes and sidecars.
It always amazes me how quick this highway goes from big wide brown desert to a 2 laner with a little green here and there. I have gotten out of California a while back and that always makes me feel good but always a little, well, indifferent. I may still be in a desert but, no longer in the familiar California Desert.
I was born and raised in Southern California, Riverside to be exact in the Inland Empire they call it, and still own my little house there, across the street from the home my parents owned when I was born, calling Riverside, my home. I was able to purchase my current home in my early 20’s from my family, it’s always been a family home as far as i knew, hell most of the neighbors still call me Bobby, thinking of me as a little dude racing my BMX bikes up and down the street. I still do that, only now my bikes have engines and make a little more noise. Usually the neighbors peek out their front doors to see what I’m riding or what I may of rebuilt that day. I guess I just don’t know any better or different or want for anything else. I have a good job with the County there as a Building Mechanic where I get to fix things all day long for my fellow Riverside County Employee. Mostly locksmith and door type of tasks are assigned to me but nothing is beneath me and everyday is different. Pay is good, the benefits are good, my Boss is awesome and I get time off to do sqwirley shit like this.
My background in life albeit, a little rougher than most is not all that different from most people on this planet. I always thrived and worked hard for all the traditional important things in life sold to us on what we like to call The American Dream. So way back when I was a young man, I meet a wonderful woman in my early 20s, courted her in the current typical fashion, and then she said yes. We had the most wonderful wedding, the best I had ever attended anyways, however like most things, it was not meant to be forever. She simple got to a point where she no longer wanted to be married to me. After much debate, some arguing, pleading and eventually acceptance, I had to let her go, granting her the divorce she wanted just a few years ago. Lately my life events had lead to where I am today, a single Dad dating a much younger woman and racing my skoot across country. Wow life can change so quickly in such a short period of time, no matter what ya plan for.
Nevada now, going to kiss Arizona for a minute and into Utah, wow what beautiful country. Maybe Mormons were on to something here in this desert. How fortunate I feel to live in this place and time, to have these road to move on so well and fuel to burn. Passing big rigs with only the occasional lead foot in a hopped up sports car or some type of small compact family car they don’t mind destroying with some speed it seems. Let them pass me, they will wave off any law enforcement ahead that might view my excess of speed as an issue. If ya go just a little above the speed of those around you, it keeps all your attention up front, less distraction that way. No need to over worry about what’s behind you or even on the sides of you all the time, that is what I love about these open highways. And of course fellow competitors pass me as well but very rarely now as most of them are far ahead. The race is stretching out now and as time goes by, we are all moving at different speeds, widening the gaps between us. When they do pass me, it seems they pass me in an extremely competitive spirit as if the finish line is just up ahead a few miles, and that’s ok as well. I am looking forward to passing them in the end, one way or another, maybe.
I do pass a lot of cars and see a lot of vacationers staring out the windows as I come up on them and fly by. Of course I spend a lot of energy looking in their vehicles before passing them to see if they are going to pose any threat to me. Are they focused forward? Are they young or old? Are their kids or phones disturbing them? Do there cars seem to be in good running and maintained order like any flat tires? I have seen people drive for miles on flat or very low and dangerous tires. I pass slowly most of the time for all slow moving vehicles as not to scare them, instead weaving and changing lane positions a little so they might notice me in a rear view mirror. Sometimes they do and stare which causes them to drift into my lane, not good but I guess that should be taken as a compliment that they are looking for me and see me, “Hey you, in the tin can, get your eyes back forward on the road there, nothing to see here, doesn’t everyone have beat up old cop bikes they race down the road?”
It has to be wondered what they really think of us 2 wheel types? Sometimes I wonder if they think I am a cop on this old cop bike although, it hardly looks like a patrol moto anymore but the black and white is still there. Dangerous outlaw maybe who doesn’t give a crap about safety or others just plowing up the asphalt on this road? Middle aged underemployed rebels with too much time on his hands? Maybe, they are totally envious jealous humans who only wish they could let it all go and learn to ride to get away from their everyday life and stress? I have no idea but damn I hope they see me and don’t run me over today, or any day, like EVER! No matter how much the American folklore cowboy image races through anyone minds we and I am still very human and fragile and, break easily.
Occasionally I catch them with their camera phones taking pictures of me and my ‘differently odd looking’ purpose built race machine. They can be seen with their cameras or phones in their hands pointed at me as they curiously hang out or against windows, with their tongues a lickin. They all look as if, they are watching T.V. Kids on their electronics, parents talking or yelling at each other, they just seem to be passing through the scene instead of being part of it.
It has been well written in Robert Pirsigs book “Zen, and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” how many people riding in their cars are simply observing the surroundings and the open road from their car windows, like watching it on a T.V. screen. They are simply trying to get from point A to point B in the quickest time possible without having to be bothered by all of the, in-between. On a motorcycle, I can see it all, I am part of it, totally IN the scene. The road just a few inches beneath my feet is real and the temperature of the great outdoors and all wind is very real, as well. If you ever want to know all about my personal reasons for riding and racing like I do, feel free to read the first 3 chapters of Persigs book. If you do not read it all, that is ok, but you would have to read most of the book to figure out why.
I usually get waves and thumbs up from truckers and I always do my best to wave back. Those guys are much bigger and heavier in their rigs then I, fortunate for me, most of them ride, they have and show respect for us little 2 wheeled types flying by them. I always do my best to get along with them, on or off the road. Them and their big ass rigs with the monster trailers bombing down the highways of America bringing us just about every consumable product we consume. Oh sure we move a ton by train and a bit by ship but then, it all goes into or on a truck and delivered to a store where we, the consumer purchase it and consume it to our little hearts desire. The great american road infrastructure was funded by future money from these monster machines and put together for their use to move our economy and our goods from here to there and back again. Without these big boys on the highway with me, I would not have fuel in my tank, snack to munch on or a road to ride on. I am simply a small fish in a big ocean of big rigs soaking up the scrapes from their economic industry and I thank them every chance I can. The hard working, hard driving men and women of this country who move us and, their tax paying dollars funding this infrastructure of roads I race on.