Sunday Cycle Ride and Beating Murphy's Odds

Submitted by: Roy Bryan

Last Sunday I decided to take advantage of the last of the good weather and go for a day-ride up into the Cascades on my Harley Sportster 1200. Being Sunday I thought that heading into the mountains on a sunny day would be the next best thing to being in church, choosing to sit on a cycle seat rather than a pew. I wanted to ride my favorite little road, Oregon Byway 11, which heads south off of Highway 22 a couple of miles past Marion Forks. This road is totally paved, at least MOST of it; depending on the severity of previous winter weather and local highway department budgets. The plethora of 'unknowns' typical of most backwoods roads of Oregon guaranteed dramatic curves, narrow, single lane curves in places, most likely sunken grades, pebbles or fallen rocks on the roadway, and the occasional idiot you meet on a tight curve that believes him to be the ONLY person on the road! An hour or so out of Salem, I finally spotted the sign turning onto 'Straight Creek Road' that marked the beginning of the route. I adjusted to the mental state of "aloneness" and settled into focusing on the intricacies, condition of the road, and occasionally stole a glance at the beautiful vistas. After about 2 miles of peaceful negotiation I had to hit the brakes suddenly when I met a GEORGEOUS sleek older car on a sharp curve, followed closely by a total pack of 8, all classic (and very expensive) Corvettes! Shaking my head in wonder, I marveled at the possibility of being the owner of such a car and whether I would risk the chance of a scratch or dent on a road like that.

I continued on, enjoying the sights following Highway 11 as it meandered 45 miles down into the back-waters of Green Peter Reservoir along the course of Quartz Creek. The weather was cool on top but sunny, the Fall leaves just starting to turn, and the road condition was fantastic! It was hard not to catch a bug in my teeth due to smiling so much. I made the marvelous trip down the winding road without any incidents or problems and arrived at the Green Peter Reservoir just past noon. After intersecting Hwy 20 I rode towards Sweet Home a short distance away. Tired and hungry I was satisfied that I couldn't have ended the riding season any better by making what would be about a 190mi. loop by the time I got home. I spotted a promising little Mexican restaurant just before Sweet Home and pulled in to eat. The food was excellent! I made a call to my wife before leaving the restaurant, told her I made it safely out of the mountains and would be home in another hour. After paying my tab I walked back out into the sun to get on my bike. I leathered up again, threw a leg over the seat and pushed the starter button. That's when I met Murphy. The engine made a sound like I might make trying to get up some mornings; something between a low growl, a wheeze, then the deadly chatter of a starter trying to engage; the death-knoll of a battery.

Now anyone owning a Harley and being in that situation, still 60 miles from home, a warm garage and in panic mode, has the potential to excel in doing something that would make the mentors of his past unbelievably proud. Either it be a surge of Adrenaline induced "fight or flight" thought, or just pure logic, he fully analyzes all the possible scenarios and alternatives instantly and without equivocation! First, however, he wants to fall to his knees thanking GOD this hadn't happened 40 miles ago while he was still meandering through the pucker-brush out of cell-phone range! Jerked unceremoniously back into reality he then tries to calm his breathing and heart rate so he can think more clearly. I"m aware of people talking to me as they pass by complimenting how nice the bike looked so I tried to remain cool and in control as they were probably wondering why I just quietly sat there, all dressed up for the Ball but going NOWHERE! Anyone owning a Harley ALSO knows that one can NEVER carry enough tools to actually 'fix' something out on the road. What is usually tucked away in a few dusty compartments on the bike is akin to a 'When Johnny Grows Up He Wants to be a Mechanic' STARTER KIT; a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a 6" crescent wrench! The tool conundrum is part of a 'tool denial' phase of Harley owners caused by the realization that, in order to actually REPAIR something on a Harley, one must take MOST of the bike apart; a situation NO ONE wants to be party to! Nuts, bolts, parts & pieces laying around on the side of the road next to a bike only prompts one to imagine any passersby to shake their heads in complete apathy, and one can only imagine a child observing a scene like that asking their parents "Why did that Man"s motorcycle blow up?" Never mind the worst case daydream, back to the mechanical assessment to try to save oneself. Figuring at most a bad connection causing the dying battery I quickly checked anything obvious that I could see that could be the cause of the debacle. Seeing nothing I sought other alternatives.

They say life is about choices and my next decision was based, not so much on logic, but as to how much patience I had. You see I have towing insurance on the thing. A simple call on my cell phone would gain me access to a tow truck, and a windless unfettered ride in the cab back home. But then I remembered the last time I used the service with my car. It went something like this: the call is made to an automated attendant; you are told to wait for a call back from the insurance company to verify coverage, and then wait for an ADDITIONAL call from the tow truck company with an estimated waiting time. The whole process as I recalled was be like going to the emergency room and waiting 3 hours while you bleed to death before you get help! Hanging out in the back lot of Los Dos Amigos Restaurant looking cool and acknowledging people coming and going for possibly 3 hours was just not in the stars for me either. I pictured after a time strange looks from suspicious customers or employees, eventually prompting a visit from one of the local overfed law enforcement officers asking, in that small-town redneck accent, "Where you from Boah an' how long you plan'n on be"in heah". God knows that a biker in dusty leathers, road-dirt and a panicked look on his face is a prime suspect even before he TRIES to explain himself! With that image fresh in my mind I looked up to the heavens for that one glimmer of hope, the epiphany that would quickly solve all my immediate problems. Low and behold, I noticed behind the restaurant, on the other side of the restaurant, a residential road going UP behind the restaurant. A HILL! Why this is easy, I think; just roll the bike over, push it up the hill at bit, turn it around, put it in 2nd, get it rolling, pop the clutch and VOILA...power! I begin to push 'the Beast'(so renamed due to the imagery of my bike soon resembling a one-eyed Cyclops with horns!) across the parking lot over towards the hill. As the incline slowly got steeper I made this instantaneous connection of all my past physics lessons that went unlistened to until that instant gravity REALLY DOES SUCK and pushing 1000 lbs on level ground is TOTALLY different from pushing 1000 lbs UPHILL! I can do this I say to myself; I'm in decent shape (for my years), have a brand new knee, and the will to get out of the evil clutches of Murphy"s Law. I manage to forge ahead, setting my eyes on a point at least 75ft up the slope, knowing that if I stop at any point I"d never get it rolling again. Up I went, focused, legs burning, determined and not even getting distracted by a guy on a riding lawn mower working on his lawn by the road. I even gave him a nod and a smile like I did this sort of thing every day. He just stared at me probably thinking he was pretty cool sitting there on his little tractor moving under power where I was NOT.

There! That's far enough. I turned the beast around, pointed down the slope, swung a rubbery leg over the seat and sat there collecting myself until I could control my gasping breath! Not bad, I"m still alive, hopeful, and ready for the test. I turned the switch to ‘on", tapped into 2nd gear and let it start rolling. The beast was reluctant at first, but finally, as my heart was thudding away, the beast gathered what I felt was enough speed. I let the clutch lever go and VROOM!....IT STARTED! Life was GOOD all over again! Now I"m also a realist of sort, and even though I was seemingly safe and at least MOVING in the right direction, my mental review of the Law of Murphy, "what can go wrong will" was still a threat. I knew that the evil Murphy was out of his cage and on the hunt for anyone whose biorhythms had tanked and whose fun meter had just pegged out. My shields were up and I was looking for more mischief from Ol' Murph as I started heading out of Sweet Home.

Riding along I was racking my brain thinking of ways to out-smart Murphy and only one consuming issue stood out. I wished I could have gotten my fuel tank filled while I was in Sweet Home; part of my original plan anyway. Too late, I couldn't risk turning the engine off while refueling and I couldn't turn the engine off now without going through another near heart attack trying to start it again! I roll on, thinking wonderful, gas-conserving thoughts ,wanting to just GET HOME!

Harley doesn't provide gas gauges on most Sportster models; a tricky way to make sure riders get to KNOW their bike"s capability by CAREFULLY calculating how far and where the next gas station lies. The oil companies execs, tow company owners, and Harley VP's play golf together regularly I"m sure to work this all out. True to form there is no gas gauge on my bike so, looking at my trip meter I mentally calculate that I SHOULD have enough juice in the tank to get me close to friendlier territory. I flip the gas valve to ‘reserve" and down the road I go, through Lebanon, smiling as I hit I-5 heading north. Things are back to perfect "so far" but I was having difficulty holding onto the handle grips while crossing my fingers at the same time.

Finally! Numerous bug-splatters later, the Salem exit! Home free! A short cruise through town then I find myself climbing the hill less than a mile from home. The surge of adrenaline through my legs, the heady feeling of success, and the power of the engine suddenly replaced by a "not so" powerful feeling of the engine cutting out! The OUT OF GAS warning light suddenly flashing through my brain! Lordy! Will Murph EVER give up?! Having an instant replay in my mind of the terror and fatigue of again pushing my bike up a hill and already being only half way UP the hill going to my home I chose to try for the gas station at the BOTTOM of the hill. I whipped the bike into a U turn, cranking every bit of power and every drop of gas out of her. Only another few blocks! Murphy is laughing gleefully from the passenger seat, as I gently coax the beast as fast as I can, the bike catching then sputtering then picking up speed again! Miraculously, before losing the engine totally, I roll to a stop directly in front of a gas pump! Hah! Beat Murphy at his own game AGAIN! But...not so fast, I was reluctant to turn the key off knowing what was going to happen when I hit the starter button again. A few minutes later, with the fuel tank gloriously sloshing around in a very full state, Murph still hanging onto the passenger seat behind me, I hit the starter. There was only a click, then nothing. I heard the gas attendant standing a few feet away mumble 'THAT doesn't sound good' before he hurried away to fill someone else's tank and to get as far away from someone radiating "trouble" and flames shooting out of their eyes!.

Again I swallowed my pride, chalked one up for Murphy, mentally asked him to get off my bike, and rolled it over to one corner of the lot. I then did what most grown men would when all seems lost and want to break down and cry, I called my wife again. I told her the situation and asked that she sit by the phone because I was going to attempt to do surgery right here in front of God and everyone at the Plaid Pantry and might need more tools! She was very understanding and probably sensed through voice inflection that Murphy had a strangle hold on me. I removed my pitiful assortment of tools from their various pouches, took a deep breath, said a little prayer, and began the operation. Fortunately, with little bloodletting, a pint of sweat, and only a sprinkling of four letter expletives, I was able to get the necessary nuts to spin using only my tiny little crescent. A bit more grumbling allowed me to successfully remove the seat and battery cover to expose the battery terminals. Aha! The terminal hidden under the seat looks like it had come loose due to vibration and started heating up, breaking the good connection between the terminal bolt and the battery and actually melting a portion of the battery terminal!. If I was REALLY careful and tipped the battery "just so" I could get a grip on the terminal bolt with my rinky-dink wrench. Being ever aware of Murphy looking over my shoulder I set the wrench to the bolt. IT WAS WORKING! I actually got the bolt to turn and tighten! Hoping I had a good connection to the battery and hearing Murphy whispering in my ear to 'go ahead and put the whole thing back together before you hit the starter again! I IGNORED his plea and decided to TEST it to see if I actually helped remedy the situation or not. I closed my eyes, feeling the sweat trickle down my neck, turned the key on and HOLY COW, the lights came on! I touched the starter button and, after a couple of growls and heart-stopping seconds! VROOM! IT WORKED! 15 minutes later with everything bolted back together the moment of truth was at hand. Had Murphy finally grown weary of this easy mark? YES! The beast started again, barely, due to a very weak battery, but with no more arguments! I quickly jumped on the thing, jammed it into gear, and tore out of the parking lot. Looking back over my shoulder I think I caught a glimpse of Murphy climbing into the back seat of someone else's car. I felt sorry for them knowing they had "just" a few surprises ahead of them as I resumed my cruise effortlessly up the hill and safely into my garage.

It was a beautiful ride.

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