Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Royal Enfield adventurer turns for home

Brian Wittling's Bullet at Great Sand Dunes National Park.
Part Three

By the fifth day, it was clear that Brian Wittling's effort to ride a Royal Enfield to national parks in the American West and back to Missouri in only 10 days was impossible. Running out of time, he turned back without reaching Los Angeles. But bike and rider, worn and hurt in a crash, still had to make it home. And he continued to document his journey by having his national park passport stamped at each one. His log of his 2003 journey resumes:

"Day 6: Hit Hoover Dam, up through Lake Mead NRA and then to Utah. At Zion I pass one of those roadside radar things that show you your speed. It says 25; my speedo says like "45". I get out my GPS, and sure enough, learn that my speedo has been reading 20-25 mph TOO FAST! No wonder it seemed like it was taking FOREVER to get anywhere!

At Zion, I'm sweating like a hog. I go from there to Cedar Breaks (10,000-plus elevation) and freeze my ass off. Totally worth it. I was the only one there and Zen out for what seemed like hours until a very nice (and pretty) ranger came by to check on me and let me know she was closing up for the night. They are expecting a storm also, so I'd better get to some lower elevations for the night unless I enjoy riding street bikes in the snow.

Day 7: Rain, cold, more rain, colder yet. Suffer miles of dirt road/construction at Bryce Canyon. Freeze over a mountain pass soaking wet all day long. And I mean FREEZE. So cold I could not feel my hands other than occasional pins and needles.

Day 8: More rain, cold. Get to Four Corners, where I have to chase down the guy with access to the stamp. He stamps my book with the wrong month/day. Made it to Mesa Verde, where I was told I came in right after some other biker in full motocross gear came in looking for the stamp, and totally went berserk to the point that the checkout girls went into their "safe room" while a ranger asked him to leave.

Started having MAJOR difficulty with clutch dragging, can't shift, can't adjust cable any farther. Install new heavy duty cable, no joy; call dealer, instructs me on how to adjust the adjuster. OK for now. More rain, cold. Now it's dark, 40F according to town bank sign. Go over Wolf Creek Pass in steady rain, freezing cold. Road work, no pavement, rain, oncoming traffic blinding and hogging road. Stop at FIRST motel I see. Little old lady takes pity on me, sits me next to wood stove and cooks up the BEST stew I've ever had.

Day 9: 45F when I set off for the day, get rained on a little more, over another pass, visit Great Sand Dunes. Still VERY hard to shift. Closing in on Garden City, Kan. discover week-old headlight is burned out. No low beam. Ride through town looking for hotel with no clutch at all. All I can think of is a Pizza Hut pan pizza with bread sticks and a dinner salad. Check into hotel, go to Pizza Hut, they are OUT of pan dough, bread sticks and lettuce. I wanted to cry. Clif bars and MRE's for nine days straight will do that to ya I guess.

Day 10: Ride all the way across Kansas with no clutch whatsoever. I got REAL good at power shifting and making unplanned right turns. After visiting Tallgrass Prairie NP, old man in truck frantically signals to me to pull over. I look down to discover brake pedal dragging down the road below me. Stop, re-assemble stupid linkage for right-hand brake conversion and also notice that the drive chain has about 5 inches of play in it, so much play it's dragging on the frame of the bike. Get out tools to adjust chain, discover that the factory tool kit does not provide the proper tools to perform this most elementary of maintenance tasks. Now the clutch is loose again. I don't care. I ride on to Iola, Kan. Calmly, like a Zen Master.

I proceed eastward into the darkness. At Fort Scott, Kan. I hit the brakes to turn, and ALL the lights go out. There's a short in the brake lamp.

Day 11: Call mechanic/dealer, who convinces me my ride is over. It's still 173 miles to Rolla, Mo., where he is. Rent huge U-Haul for $200 to drop off bike at Interstate Motorcycles, and continue to St. Louis. Get home and unload the casualties from the back of the truck: leather saddlebags, scorched, burned, abraded and oiled; Aerostitch Roadcrafter, oily and stinky; helmet stinky, bugged up and a few new scratches; boots with a LOT more crud and stink than a week ago; and the brave magnetic tank bag, road-worn and ejected so many times on the trip.

But you know what? It still KICKED ASS."

Next: Looking back.

Brian Wittling's Bullet after his ride.

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