Sunday, June 15, 2014


With cell service, I was able to check the advrider tag, which was in McVeytown, less than an hour from camp.  Maps and GPS couldn't find it, due to the poster mis-naming the road.  After a little struggling, I grabbed it.

GPS plotted a route back to camp which I confirmed contained squiggly lines pointing south - which meant over the mountain.  This wound up a highlight of the trip: farm roads, mountain tracks, gravel paths thru the woods, over a ridge, down into a valley, over another ridge - all off pavement.  It being noon on weekday, the only car I passed was a DCNR truck.  PA is a beautiful state, and I've seen so little of it.  I wondered why I bother to leave it on trips.

I broke camp and loaded up for the trip home.  Wanting to duplicate the success I had with fast-moving two lane roads (and avoiding rt 81), I plotted some waypoints to get to Hamburg.  I chose poorly - it was a parade route with a 40-45mph limit thru every little town between Harrisburg and Pittsburg.  I was stuck behind a carload of Mennonites who didn't get above 35mph for many miles.  Frustrated, I bailed, routed to 81, and blasted to Hamburg.

In Hamburg, I had lunch and planned to check out Hermey's and Cabela's.  First stop: Hermey's.  Loaded and covered with WV dust, I figured I looked 'legit' enough to test ride the new GS1200 wet head.  For $22k, I want to my head to explode with awesomeness.  It was a nice bike, but honestly, just doesn't seem 'worth it' to me.

When I got back to the shop with the GS, a guy was pushing bikes into the garage.  I asked if they were closing - he said, "no, there's a bad storm headed here.  Hail.  Maybe 20 minutes."  With that, I bolted for home, which is tricky because it involves riding past Cabela's and not stopping.
I pulled off rt61for an OCD key and luggage check, and noticed my ABS light was lit when I re-mounted.  Having bounced the bike around for days off pavement, I assumed I had a dirty or loose ABS sensor - the sort of thing to check when I get home.

I got on rt 78 just in time for rush hour.  In heavy traffic, I got in the left lane to overtake a semi.  I noticed my turn signal didn't seem to fire.  About halfway past the trailer, I took inventory: no turn signals, no 4 ways... hmmm, maybe a relay or something.  To confirm it wasn't my worst fear, I cupped my hand over the display to confirm backlighting... and instead confirmed my worst fear: dim lights. My charging system had failed.  The whole bike was running off the now-quickly-dying battery.  I IMMEDIATELY tried to get around the truck and back into the right lane, because I knew the ignition was on borrowed time.... and I IMMEDIATELY lost ignition, and immediately pulled in the clutch.  It seemed a long shot to drop 6 gears and come back up 1 with a dead gear indicator, so I just held the clutch in.

"So there I was..." coasting, on a dead bike, with no signals, 70mph, in the left lane alongside a semi, with rush hour traffic crawling up my butt.  I briefly considered pulling onto the narrow shoulder between the white line and the median, but decided that was no place to be stuck.  In a few seconds, I'd slowed enough that the truck was now overtaking me - I planned to duck in behind him when he passed me... but the flipping jerks behind me, seeing me slowing, changed their strategy from 'tailgate the motorcycle' to 'change lanes and pass the motorcycle on the right.'
I know they didn't know I was dead at 65mph, but that pissed me off anyway.  I started waiving my right arm wildly, chopping my hand at the right lane and started coming over.  Someone let me in and I went straight across to the shoulder.
With nothing to do but try and coast as far as possible, I rode it all the way out - coasting slower and slower, dodging an unreasonable amount of tire skeletons and rusted metal car parts in the 'shoulder', until I finally came to rest a 20 feet from a break in the guard rail for a drainage cut.  I pushed the bike up to the break in the guard rail to gain a few precious inches of space and took stock.

Standing on the left side of the bike, traffic was blowing past at 75mph only a few feet away.  Working on the bike here was beyond impractical - it was deadly.  And in a few minutes it would likely be hailing on me.  I quickly abandoned any plans of roadside diagnosis or repair attempts.  I grabbed my phone and a waterproof box, and a hat, covered the bike, and walked down the cut.

The cut was STEEP, and led into unmolested woods: tree roots, thick undergrowth, invisible footing... I slowly and carefully planned a route down the slope, picturing the agony of adding a fall and a broken ankle to my plight.  A few minutes later, I emerged in a farm field, spotted the house, and started trudging towards it.  Two dogs started alert barking from near the house, one of them charged me - which scared me for a second before I remembered I was a dog expert - I made friends with him and kept plodding towards the house.  The front of the house was screened by some serisously over-grown trees.  The grass seemed a foot high and there was no evidence that anyone had been to the front door in quite some time.  The front windows were obscured from the inside by piles of random objects.  I started wondering if the house was abandoned, then wondering how to account for the dogs if that were true.

As I stood there perplexed, a voice cracked from behind me, "can I HELP you with something?"  I turned to find an older woman who clearly belonged to the property.  I explained that I had just broken down on the highway and had come down the ravine to walk to town.  She got a little animated - apparently 3 people had been killed just a few weeks prior in exactly the same situation: a breakdown with an inadequate shoulder, a passing truck... tragedy.

She offered help, I thanked her said I was going to follow the old road to the next town, which I thought was a mile or two away.  With that, she was gone and I was walking.   It had been maybe 20 minutes since I lost power, and right on schedule, the rain started coming down.  I'd only gotten 30 yards up the road.  It was clear it going to be a major storm: high winds, black sky, big raindrops.  The old road paralleled the farm, so I headed for the nearest outbuilding, which appeared to be the woodshed.  The skies opened up.

Snug in the woodshed, and with 15% battery, I decided it was time again to admit defeat and call in an airstrike.  My wife would be at work for another hour, and then would need to drive the ~ 30 miles to where I was.  With some time to think, I decided the bike would need professional extraction.  I called Hermey's and made arrangements.  I can't say enough good things about this dealership.  They dropped what they were doing to pick up my bike, haul it back to their shop, store it for a week free of charge... for $44.  And I'm not even riding a marque they sell.

Trying to be pro-active, I next called the state police, who wished me good luck.

Somewhere in there I got the frustrated, "OK, where ARE you?" text and soon I was in the car with my wife heading towards Hamburg to get back on rt78 to strip the bike and meet the tow.  The shoulder seemed a lot wider than I remembered... I loaded gear from the bike to the car and waited for the tow.

Before long, a pickup truck pulling an enclosed trailer stopped some 20 yards ahead of us.  I started pushing the bike towards the trailer, reaching a jogging pace.  By the time I reached the trailer, the driver had the gate down and I rolled right up into the trailer without stopping. He had it chocked and strapped in before I caught my breath, and was rolling in literally about 1 minute after stopping.

As he rolled away, it briefly occurred to me that a stranger with a trailer had just loaded and left with my bike, and I had no receipt, no paperwork, no license, no ID... not even the guy's name.  I hoped it was legit.

In 4 days, I'd ridden 1016 miles; 25 more and I'd have made it home.

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