300 Miles of Open Road

Ferris headed back into the mountains with the XT in his van and I took over the Blast. There are four tie-down tabs concealed under the tail, so with 12 feet of utility rope and a couple of bungee hooks I was able to secure the big touring duffle across the rear half of the saddle. I gassed up and headed for Arizona.

The Death Valley run had sweetened the new bike right up. More power, less engine vibration, better compression braking, smoother shifting, and even the suspension stiffness had eased up.

Right out of Ridgecrest I hit more light rain and fog, so I pulled onto the shoulder and put on every layer of clothing I had. Warm and dry and waterproof, I started off the shoulder and nearly got creamed by some fool in a white car doing 75 in the fog without lights. The Blast's mirrors give a good view to the rear and I saw the hazard in plenty of time to avoid it.

I rode 50 miles through the clouds and finally hit clear weather near Highway 58 at sundown. I turned east with the wind behind me. I was hoping to ride in the clear between fronts all the way home.

There was a solid line of westbound traffic in the opposite lane. After dark their headlights made my greasy goggles worse than useless. I had a trick lens cloth in my kit, so I pulled off on a side road, had a stretch and some coffee, and got my goggles cleaned up for night riding.

The fuel stop in Barstow was as cold and windy as Chicago, desert people rubbing and blowing on their freezing hands. I had wool gloves on under leather mittens, good for 75 mph.

I made another stop in Ludlow to make sure I had enough fuel to cross the desert to Needles, and to top up the life-saving coffee thermos. I was there longer than I expected: people kept walking up to check out the Blast Gran Turismo and give me a heads-up on the weather eastward.

A white-haired biker wearing a Harley cap checked the new bike from stem to stern and was well satisfied with it. He also confirmed that I was between fronts on my way east. Another, who turned out to be from Trona, was on his way back from the races in Phoenix and said the weather had been bad all the way out and back.

I got back on I-40, put the motorcycle in high gear, and hammered it toward home at a steady 75.

It was cold enough to form black ice on some of the overpasses, but I stayed in the clear all the way. The halogen headlamp made a tunnel of light ahead; outside it was cold and black. The engine drummed low and steady and we flew through the dark.

I settled back against the duffle, and with the wind behind me the riding position was comfortable enough to last the trip. On a couple of long grades over the ranges I had to downshift to 4th to keep up the speed.

Twenty miles out of Needles the engine started missing and I switched to reserve. On the long downgrade into town it quit, fuel-starved again. I opened the tank and sloshed some gas around. It started and ran a few miles, and quit again. I leaned the bike over to get some fuel on the tap side, and got a little further. All the while I could see the lights of Needles ahead. I wound up puttering along on the shoulder in 2nd for a few miles and finally made it to the first gas station in town.

Before re-fueling, I checked the bike for engine problems. It wasn't hot, wasn't noisy, had sufficient oil. When I gassed it up it only took 1.6 gallons; 59 mpg in the 94 miles from Ludlow. The mileage seemed reasonable, but there was something funny with this particular "2.8 gallon" tank.

With the tank full the bike started and ran fine. I rode across the river into Arizona and 2700 feet up in the mountains, safe at home an hour after midnight..

The next morning I checked out the bike and found everything in good order; except 300 miles under a wet canvas duffle bag had raised quite a hackle on the Surlyn tailpiece. I gave it a little idle polishing with a paper towel and watched the gloss come back.

I took the day off except for running a few errands in town. Each trip down there is a uniquely unpleasant experience, so I usually start off in a grim mood. Riding down on the Blast, by the time the engine warmed up I was grinning, then laughing out loud. In the supermarket lot I rode in circles, like a puppy chasing its tail just for the fun of it. From grim to giddy in 15 miles. My smile seemed to rub off on people, too.

*          *            * joe@gazette9.com


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