Monday, August 9, 2021

Shark Week & the Journey Home

Shark Week is mainly an event wherein riders from all across the country gather to ride the iconic routes in and around the host area all day and then hang out talking about it all night.  With beer.  But what do you kill time if you're not riding?  If you're a social butterfly like me, you sidle up to other attendees who are grounded.  For me, this was the aforementioned Joe and Susan.  Joe had recently had surgery but didn't want to miss the party, so he and Susan drove in.  Joe is also a multiyear Shark Week sponsor who ponies up a generous donation of AMSOIL products for our raffle and his donation usually draws the highest amount of raffle bids.  A portion of the raffle proceeds go to a local charity, which this year was the local Boys and Girls Club to whom we gave a $3,000 check.  But I digress.

The Three Amigos

Fortunately for the three amigos, the Lake Tahoe area offers a great deal to see and experience; even in a car.  The scenery and twisty roads leading into and out of Lake Tahoe were matched only by the conversation and laughs with Joe and Susan.  The breathtaking views alone were worth the trip.  Adding interesting stops and the peculiar local people to the mix completed the experience.

If memory serves, We drove around the lake a few times over a couple of days.  My memory is fuzzy because I was loaded up on pain killers in a vain attempt at not looking injured in front of my Shark Week peeps.  I am extremely grateful for the time Joe and Susan spent with me.  I know that a little of me goes a long way, but they did not  appear to get tired of me hanging around.

The Temptress in Red

Thursday was group photo day at the local Harley dealership that sponsored us.  We are fortunate that dealers always pony up free food, drinks and discounts on parts and apparel at each year's event.  The reality is they probably make a fortune on shirt sales alone and just about every year, somebody trades up to a new bike.  I cast my eyes on a bright red 2020 Road Glide temptress that was calling out my name.  Maybe the pain was making me delusional, but I haven't looked seriously at another bike since buying Hester eleven years ago.  My crowd was encouraging me to buy it and for a brief instant, I could actually see myself signing the papers.  Then multiple realities set in.  I had a wrecked and ugly bike that wouldn't have brought squat for trade and I had a trailer full of camping gear to haul home.  Hester and I have history together that I can't just cast aside.  But foremost, I have a very clear goal of retiring (or at least having the financial option to) in 2025 and dropping $30,000 on a motorcycle just doesn't fit into that financial equation.  Someone remarked that if just $30,000 stands between me and retirement four years from now, I won't be financially ready to retire anyway.  Perhaps, but it's more a matter of exercising financial discipline to me.  Retirement changes one's spending habits and since habits are formed over time, there's no sense in not starting to practice them now.  In the end, common sense had overridden my friends' encouragement and I walked (limped, actually) away.

Photo by Run Cushing
The group photo is always a challenge.  Just getting all the riders to the dealership is a task and then once they arrive, lining them up for the photo is the ultimate cat herding exercise.  It's a start-stop-start-stop process as the bikes line up and slowly file in.  It's typically not a physical ordeal, but my starting and stopping and holding the bike up with a broken leg while steering to navigate the tight spaces with a broken collarbone and pulling the clutch with a broken hand proved to be a grueling task. The last thing I wanted was to drop the bike and earn another Shark Tooth, so I concentrated and plowed through it to my parking space.  One of our Shark Week Board members (Ron) is an accomplished and talented photographer.  Getting the URL to Ron's photo archive is always an anticipated moment for the attendees after Shark Week.  His art checks all the boxes in terms of composition, depth of field, and juxtaposition.  Along with random candid shots throughout the week, Ron always captures the procession of riders filing in for the photo and (mostly) following directions from the cat herders pointing the way for each bike to line up.  The photo above is one of Ron's captures.  He caught my expression of pain with the crystal clear reflection from my glasses, the thousands of miles of bug splatter on my mirror, and surrounded me with a blurred background.  It's a great pic; not because I'm in it.  He's just a great photographer.  The photos were taken, hotdogs were eaten, backs were slapped, and hands were shook.  Foremost, the temptress in red remained on the showroom floor.  I felt really uneasy as I rode Hester back to the hotel from the Harley dealership.  Something didn't feel right and I couldn't be certain if it was Hester or just in my head.

Ron Gets the Shot
My Drone "Icarus" Got His Shot"
Shark Week continued with the usual events; the raffle, Thursday night's banquet, and voting for the Shark Week XIII host location in 2023.  For the record, next year's Shark Week XII was voted on last year and will be held in Appleton, Wisconsin.  Thursday night is the last official Shark Week evening with most of the attendees riding out before sunrise on Friday.  That was my plan.  Was.  Thursday night is also the "goodbye" night.  I hate goodbye night.  I hate saying goodbye to the people to whom I've awaited a year to see and I get genuinely bummed out, so I just don't do it.  I mingled around, talking with friends new and old and then quietly slipped away to my room to finish packing for my own predawn departure.  The exception to this habit was a heartfelt goodbye to Joe and Susan without whom, I would have just ridden home on Monday.
The Look of Pain Mixed with Aggravation
Friday came early; 4:00am to be exact. I had packed Hester and Pearl Thursday, thus had very little besides my riding gear left in my room.  I backed Hester and Pearl into position, attached the hitch, secured the safety chains, and connected the lights.  I had performed an oil change on Hester in the parking lot on Wednesday and she was good to go.  I fired up my mighty 110 cubic inch motor and headed for the hotel parking lot exit.  I made a U-turn in the parking lot and damn near dropped the bike.  It occurred to me that if I had dropped the bike, I most likely would not have been able to lift her and if it happened hundreds of miles away, I would really be screwed. I rode about five miles and then pulled over to weigh my options.  My rear tire had developed a slow leak and while I knew I could plug it with the kit I kept in my saddle bag, I decided that with a 1,000 mile ride ahead of me to Albuquerque, it would be wise to get it looked at.  I remembered passing a small independent motorcycle repair shop on the main drag in Carson City and decided I could stop there and wait for them to open.  I pulled in, dismounted, and leaned back against their front door to catch a nap before they opened at 8:30; about three hours away.  While I didn't sleep, the unscheduled slack time gave me a chance to replay the events and experiences of the previous three weeks in my mind.  Most of them were pleasant, but honestly, I cold live with forgetting a few of them. As the sun began to rise, I looked up and noticed something taped to the door above my head.  After slowly getting to my feet, I was simultaneously shocked and pissed at myself for not looking closer before my "nap".  My initial thought was "well shit. I just wasted three hours."  I slid back down the wall onto my butt and started trying to determine my next move.  I had resigned myself to the fact that I would not be capable of riding home.  Now I had to figure out some other means of getting there.

 As the sun continued to rise, I noticed a U-Haul sign in the distance and it struck me that this might be an option.  I slowly rolled over from my concrete couch and got back to my feet, mounted and started Hester, and rode to the gas station that housed the U-Haul trucks. I was encouraged when I saw that there was a panel van in the parking lot.  I wandered in and the guy who ran the rental operation (Jimmy) looked at me as if I were a zombie extra in The Walking Dead"Maaaan, you look rough, dude!"  I feigned a smile and asked if the van I saw was available.  He responded that it was, but added that the previous renter reported that the air conditioning was "intermittent".  He checked the U-Haul system for a better option, but said there was nothing available within 100 miles.  I explained that I was a thin-blooded Texan and I could take the heat.  He said he could help me out on the price if I could wait thirty to sixty minutes so he could make it a reservation as opposed to a walk-in.  Knowing I was going to be screwed fees for 1,700 one-way miles, I was up for any discount.  I had already lost five hours, so one more would be inconsequential. While he was entering my information into the rental system, it occurred to me that I would need help loading Hester and Pearl into the rig.  I decided to swallow my pride and ride back to the host hotel and raise the distress flag.  I headed into the parking lot and was shocked to see it was almost devoid of motorcycles.  I then slow-rolled over to the registration area and found a few bikes and riders basking in the shade under the overhang.  I approached them; some I knew; some I didn't, and did something I rarely do.  I asked for help.  I hate asking for help.  I'm the guy who rallies the troops to help others, but I was beaten, both physically and mentally and I was out of options.  My facial expression must have been really grim because my friends Curtis and Lisa both sprung into action, saying not to worry, that they would find all the muscle we need.  I told them where the U-Haul location was about one mile away and headed to a nearby auto parts store to purchase some tie down straps.

U-Haul Jimmy
I returned to the U-Haul yard and Jimmy had my contract ready for me to sign.  We were doing our walk-around when the sound of several Harleys in the distance grew louder.  The Cavalry had arrived.  There were at least ten people hopping off their bikes to lend a hand.  I was happily surprised, but I suppose I shouldn't have been.  Shark week is more a family reunion than a bike rally and attendees are more like family who look out for each other than just bikers.  I knew this; I just had never had the occasion to leverage it.

We aligned Hester behind the truck and extended the loading ramp, which was not steep, but it was narrow.  As such, there was insufficient width to walk up an 850 pound motorcycle with your feet on each side of the ramp for balance.  Pushing the bike up with people on each side was also too risky.  There was only one way Hester was getting in that van and that was to ride her in.  As I saddled up, Curtis' wife Lisa spoke up and said "Wouldn't it be better to have someone without a broken leg and hand ride it up?"  At that point, every guy there looked away...any way other than at me or Hester.  I totally understood their hesitation.  Nobody would want to risk crashing someone else's Harley off the side of that narrow loading ramp.  I started Hester's motor and yelled for Lisa to start her camera because this could be an epic fail.  If it was epic enough, maybe the YouTube revenue would buy me that shiny new red bike in the dealership.

The reality was this was simple physics.  All I needed to do was maintain sufficient speed and momentum to ascend the ramp without balancing aid from my legs and feet, yet not ride so fast as to crash into the forward wall whilst trying to brake and slow down on the slick metal floor.  Piece of cake.  We positioned a couple of guys inside the van to help me keep upright and stop once I cleared the ramp and was inside the truck.

The Cavalry
Before I knew it, I was in the van and still upright.  Curtis' son and another rider "caught" me, preventing a collision with the front wall, and then helped me ratchet strap Hester securely into place.  The video made it look easy and perhaps it was, but I have to admit to experiencing serious butt-pucker for a few seconds.  With Hester secured, the guys manhandled Pearl into the rear of the van and we ratcheted her down.  That was it.  In about an hour, I had gone from near despair and uncertainty to arriving at the cusp of the final leg of this three week journey.  I know what it's like to plan a schedule and the importance of sticking to it.  I know firsthand how frustrating it can become when my schedule is interrupted.  It was not then - and still is not lost on me that the Cavalry shared the same mindset, yet they interrupted their plans to come to my aid.  I admit that I had thrown a nice pity party for myself when all the while, the answers were never really far from me.  All I had to do was ask.  I remain humble and grateful.  It was 11:30am and I was finally ready to hit the road.  I hugged it out with the guys and then did something I never do.  I said goodbye to my friends at Shark Week.
U-Haul Sleeping Accommodations
With a tank full of gas, a passenger seat full of snacks and drinks, and an air conditioner that I would soon learn was devoid of freon, I headed south towards Las Vegas.  By now the midday summer sun was blazing and the temperature inside the cab was not much cooler.  I rode with the windows rolled down, which was like riding a Harley across Death Valley in the summer with no windscreen.  I had actually ridden Hester across Death Valley in 2010 and the temperature reached 130°.  For the record, I did have a windscreen.  But I digress.

I felt like I was driving a convection oven and I was the meat.  To add to the fun, the van had no cruise control, meaning I would have to use my broken leg for the next thirty hours.  The AM radio didn't have a USB port, but I had headphones and plenty of audio books to keep me entertained.  All I had to do was focus on getting home and I knew I could complete the1,700 mile trip and get there the next evening.  The van was about as fuel efficient as a Sherman tank and it seemed I was stopping for gas more than I was driving.  I suppose the breaks did me good though as they allowed me to shake off the monotony of staring at a double yellow line for hours on end.  Once I passed the Las Vegas rush hour traffic, the sun was setting behind me and the cab cooled off to a chilly 95 degrees.  It had been 108° outside while crossing Nevada and Arizona and I was really missing air conditioning.  I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was saving gas and probably losing water weight with every mile I drove.  I managed to drive about 900 miles before succumbing to the exhaustion that accumulated from the stress of my pre-dawn epiphany, the heat, and driving with broken bones.  It was midnight and I had finally crossed into New Mexico on I-40.  I was never as thankful to enter New Mexico as I was then.  I could write an entire article about the shithole of a road they call a highway that is I-40 in Arizona.  Again I digress.

I pulled the van off the highway into an area where several big rig trucks were parked, set my phone alarm for 4:00am, and settled in for a nap.  If I got back on the road by then, I could make it home before dark.  Time zones were working against me as I was losing two hours driving west to east.  With the windows rolled down, a cool desert night breeze blew through the cab. I was actually relaxed and getting quite comfortable...except for that smell.  Something stunk.  It was a musty, damp odor that
seemed to hang in the air like a stale fart, the gas from which was so thin that the wind blew right through it.  After a few minutes, I realized it was me.  I was ripe from hours and miles sitting in my own sweat.  I was helpless against my own odor, so I loaded an OMD playlist to help me relax and as I sat listening to the 80's pop-synth tunes, I figured there was little chance I would actually get any sleep.  Still, I closed my eyes and tried.  Seconds later, the alarm went off.  In a flash it was 4:00am.  I must not have moved an inch because every bone in my body snapped, crackled, and popped like a bowl of Rice Krispies in a bowl of putrid spoiled milk as I climbed out of the cab to pee. By 4:02am I was on the road heading for Albuquerque, which had been my goal destination for the previous day's drive.  My five hour departure delay has spoiled that plan, but I was on the road and over halfway home.  I rolled through Albuquerque before dawn and before I knew it, was back in the great State of Texas.  I still had a twelve-hour drive ahead of me, but just seeing the sign motivated me to press on. Highway traffic was heavy and law enforcement was thick because the next day was Independence Day.  Law enforcement presence didn't affect my driving as the van barely ran the speed limit, but it caused other drivers to be very reactive and jumpy.  The miles clicked off and at what I determined to be my last gas stop, I actually had a spring in my step.  An odorous spring, but a spring nonetheless.  I imagined that I looked like the character Pigpen in the old Peanuts comics.
As I rolled through my gate, I began to wonder just how I was going to get Hester and Pearl out of that van.  Actually, Pearl would be easy.  I could extend the loading ramp, center Pearl over and in front of it in the van, and then gingerly push her backwards allowing the wheels to slowly roll off the edge.  Pearl would balance on the ramp and gravity would do the rest.  It worked like a charm. 9.8m/s2 isn't just  a good idea; it's the law. Hester would be a different story.  I would need help as there was insufficient room to turn her around inside the van and ride her out and down the ramp.  That would have made a great video.  Fortunately, I had guests coming for Independence Day, so I left Hester in the van for the night.  We managed to slowly roll Hester backwards down the ramp without incident.  I was finally home.  It was finally over.
I'll have some final post mortem thoughts to post soon.


P.S.  I could have been this guy...