Sunday, January 31, 2010

BBFO'10 - Day 3

This morning we had breakfast down the street at the Chuck Wagon. The group was a little smaller as some had decided to sleep in, so the waitress was able to handle getting food out reasonably quick.

After breakfast, people started breaking into various groups headed in various directions. Chuck decided that he wanted to split the ride home into 2 days so he was leaving. Doug, John, Fred and Dan wanted to check out the fort so they stuck around town. Gary, Tony, Ben, Dick, Andy and myself wanted to go ride the river road so we headed to Presidio to run it west to east.

I ended up ride leader so I tried to keep the pace just a little bit above the 75mph speed limit but not so far above as to worry about any law enforcement problems. We stopped in Marfa to top off the tanks and then continued down to Presidio. When we rolled into town we stopped off for a motel site survey. The Riatta Inn just north of town looks to be a newly built single story motel with a nice parking lot, friendly staff and clean rooms. The rate was less than $75/night for 2 people. They have wifi if you get one of the rooms closest to the office. It looks like next year we'll be staying in Presidio one night to allow folks to completely explore the park or wear out the river road if they like.

After the motel stop, we headed through town onto FM170. I told Andy to take the lead once we got on the river road because I didn't think I would be riding at his pace. Sure enough he passed me once we got out of town and Ben followed. They were definitely faster than me but they never really got out of site. The GS was sticking to the road and I was really having a good time. When we got to the look out point, everyone stopped to let the group gather back up. Gary and Tony were in the rear and they weren't very far behind.

With everyone together, we talked about what we wanted to do next. Gary and Tony wanted to go eat in the park at the Chisos Basin so we decided that's what we'd do. Of course, there was still some river road left over to Stude Butte so we geared up and took off with Andy and Ben in the lead. This time though, they never really got away from me. I hung with them the whole time and felt totally comfortable with the pace.

We stopped in Stude Butte for gas and then headed into the park. We got to the basin restaraunt by 1 and enjoyed a great lunch. Order the Texas Beef Chilli if you go to the park. It's not spicey unless you chop up the roasted jalepeno included on the plate. During lunch we talked about what to do next and Ben suggested going to Boquillas Canyon which is on the east side of the park. It was about 25 miles from the basin so we paid our bills and headed east.

Once we got to the canyon parking area I realized most of the group wouldn't be going to see the canyon as it required a hike up and over a hill. So Ben and I took off up the trail with Gary in tow while the others hung out watching the bikes. Gary decided he was done when he got to the top of the hill and turned around. Ben and I got all the way down to the river and walked up into the canyon until it got difficult to walk on the large river stones. I was getting nervous as there was a singing mexican across the river and once we passed him I saw a mexican pop up out of the weeds on our side of the river and then the singing mexican came across in a canoe. This was shaping up to be a bad situation.

Ben took some pictures of the canyon and we turned around. As we did there were more people walking toward the canyon so I relaxed and figured there were too many people for the mexicans to cause any problems. We hiked back up the trail and regrouped with the gang. It was 3:30 by the time we were done and with only 2 and half hours of day light left we started planning how to get back to Ft. Davis.

It was decided we'd go all the way across the park to Stude Butte as it was the shortest distance through the park, plus it would get the western travel done while the sun was still up and out of our eyes. Dick took the lead and picked the pace up above the 45mph limit. Since we had left the park rangers at the canyon and since it was Sunday we figured patrols would be light. Well, that didn't turn out to be true. Dick encountered another park ranger on the west side while he was going 60 but the ranger didn't seem to want to stop us and just kept going. I guess he knew we were leaving the park and maybe he realized we were racing against the sunset. Whatever the reason, we kept moving but did slow the pace a little.

In Stude Butte we stopped for gas and then it was back on the road running up 118 toward Alpine. I was in the lead at first until Andy just couldn't take it and he cranked up the speed and took off. I didn't feel like going over 80mph in a 75mph posted area. So I just let him go and no one else wanted to follow. We encountered 2 sheriff deputies with their radar on. I just knew Andy was pulled over but it wasn't the case. We finally caught up with Andy at the Border Patrol check point where he said he'd only been waiting for 3 minutes. He took the lead into Alpine and then on up to Ft. Davis. The last stretch from Alpine to Ft. Davis was the slowest I'd ever seen Andy ride. We were actually going under the posted speed limit as he was searching for any deer that wanted to jump out in front of us.

We pulled into the parking lot of the motel around 5:30. It had been a great day of riding with some spirited sections along the way. The day's mileage was 361 miles over an 11 hour period. Once everybody put up their bikes and changed into more comfortable attire there were adult beverages to be consumed. And since I had gone hiking I figured a sip or two wouldn't hurt much. Well I drained my flask and then started working on a bottle of crown. So much for my sip or two.....

Saturday, January 30, 2010

BBFO'10 - Day 2

Great news! Chuck rolled into the motel last night at 9:30pm. It was dark, cold and he was tired, but he made it. We walked across the street to get him some food from the deli. Then a little more visiting and we both crashed out.

This morning we were all up before the 6am alarm clock. I packed up the bike and visited while we waited for 7:30 to come. As it got close to time we all started our motorcycles. Well almost all of us. I tried cranking and cranking but the bike just wouldn't get started before the battery gave out.  So then I started looking for jumper cables and Doug came to the rescue. Dan was the nearest with a running bike so he graciously pulled his access panel and we started my bike up without any problems. Folks were heading to the cafe and Gary told me if I wasn't there in 15 he wasn't coming back to check on me. Since it was so cold I figured I'd let the bike idle for 10 minutes or so to let the engine get really warm. I rode down to breakfast without incident and nervously ate breakfast. When I turned the key back on the temperature gauge hadn't moved a bit and it fired on the first try. I knew I'd be good for the day. Tomorrow might be another story but for the rest of the day I could enjoy my ride.

There's a saying among our group that when Fred gets up to put on his jacket you'd better get your gear on and be ready to ride. Well, I came up on the short end of the stick this morning after breakfast because he pulled out of town while I was still getting dressed. At least I had the bike running so I wasn't too worried and figured I'd eventually catch up with him. Chuck and Dan hung back with me and when we started cranking up the speed to catch them, Chuck was doing all he could to ring some speed out of that Vulcan 800. We did finally catch up with them before we got to Marathon where Fred stopped to let some of the bikes top off their tanks. Again I was the last one out because I ran inside for the restroom. It just wasn't shaping up to be my day.  Chuck hung with the group so I was able to twist the throttle and catch up in a few miles.

We had turned onto 385 south in Marathon, and then turned left onto FM2627 to go to the Black Gap canyon. When we turned onto the road I saw a sign for the Hallie Stillwell Hall of Fame Museum. I thought it was odd to have a hall of fame museum out here so I keyed up the mic and asked if anyone knew who Hallie Stillwell was and why she had a Hall of Fame museum out here. Well Fred didn't let me down. He told us the Stillwells were a well known ranching family out in the area and they had been there a long time. Fred had met "Old Lady" Stillwell before she passed away. And told us that she served one mean burrito that had him and the bathroom on intimate terms for a week. (OK, those of you who know Fred realize he didn't say it quite that nicely.)

We stopped at the Stillwell Museum / Campground / General Store and then proceed down the road until it dead ended at the river. The group had spread out along the 20 mile stretch and by the time everyone had gotten down there a fella on his Harley pulled up and started visiting with us. It turned out he lived just up the hill and provided security for the wildlife management area. He invited us up to his landing strip for a better view of the area. It was a great view and I hope my Sony camera does it justice. The guy lived out there alone and I think he enjoyed the company as much as we enjoyed the view. But like all things when traveling with a large group, those of us who road up to the strip had to cut it short and get back down to the group.

The ride back out to US385 seemed to go quicker. Then we turned south and headed to Big Bend National Park. Now I'm no fan of traveling the 26 miles on the eastern side of the park and today I ended up as the caboose. But with just a little extra touch of throttle the ride seemed pleasant and I was pulling into Panther Junction about 30 minutes later. We took a short break, I'm sure for the guys in the front it seemed like they had been there 30 or 40 minutes already. Then it was time to ride west through the park and stop at Stude Butte for gas and some food. We decided not to stop for lunch at the Chisos Basin since we had at least 17 bikes and the restaraunt isn't the zippiest service in the area to begin with. But you don't ride in the park for the food anyway, it's the scenery that makes a 45mph speed limit bearable.

We rolled into Study Butte and stopped as planned. At first I wasn't going to eat but then decided that maybe a salad would be a good thing. I asked the waitress for a salad with grilled chicken. And she fixed me up with a great salad. It was huge but good. The Ft Bend riders decided to head up to Ft. Davis and call it quits for the day. That would end the day around 300 miles and get us off the road at 4:30 or so. Just before we got to Alpine the guys had pulled off for a break to wait for Chuck and I who were bringing up the rear. When I pulled over I announced that I need to spend some time in a bathroom (No I didn't say it that nicely either) and then I took out in a spirited manner. There's some great twisties on that 10 miles stretch of 118 going into Alpine.

My initial plan was to push for Ft. Davis where the motel was but, I saw the golden arches when I got to Alpine so I figured that would be acceptable. 10 or 15 minutes later I was back on my bike and heard the guys on the radio. I pulled some money out of a near by ATM and then stopped at AutoZone to get some parts to work on my throttle lock issue. Then I hussled toward Ft. Davis trying to catch Chuck who was bringing up the rear. It turned out that I didn't catch him until he stop at the Exxon gas station in Ft. Davis. I guess I spent more time than I thought at Autozone.

We checked into the motel and then unpacked. Tony let me borrow his Battery Tender Jr to see if it can keep the battery charged up over night. I'm hoping it'll crank in the morning without incident. Then while everyone was sitting around imbibing adult beverages I worked on my throttle lock. I had a washer that was just a little too large and needed to be filed down. That seemed to take longer then planned but I got it done while the sun was still up. Then I made a hot cup of tea and joined the conversations.

Some of the parts of the ride weren't at quite the spirited pace that I like to ride when I'm out here. But other parts were great and spirited. Then there was the bumpy start to the day that made wonder if I was even going to stay out  here this weekend or give up. I came to my senses quickly enough though. All in all, it was a great day today and I had fun. We rode 309 miles over the course of 9 hours. No one went to the hospital and no one went to jail. This was a good day in my book.

I think the nearly 800 miles Chuck put in over the course of the past 2 days has worn his butt out. He's talking about leaving tomorrow and splitting up the ride home over 2 days. But he came and he road more miles on the Vulcan in a weekend then he's done since he bought the bike.

Friday, January 29, 2010

BBFO'10 - Day 1

Don't let the title fool you, this won't be an epic month long journey, only a 5 day trip. But considering the time of the year and the little things wrong with my bike that's probably a good thing. More about bike issues later.

This weekend is the annual Big Bend Freeze Out, aka the BBFO. Fred says he's been coming out to the area for at least 24 years. When he's feeling nostalgic he'll talk about what it used to be like out here and how much it's grown up over the years. To listen to him talk the River Road (FM170) wasn't much more than a dirt road back in the day. Now it's a fun, twisty 2 lane with the occasional patch of gravel in the corner. This will be my third year coming out here, I've been looking forward to this trip for months.

Just like any night before a trip, I had a very fitful night's sleep. I had set my alarm clock for 4:15 with plans to leave by 5am. Well, at 1:15 I woke up ready to leave because in my dream I had over slept. The next 3 hours were an excercise in futility but I figured it was best to try and rest as much as I could. When the alarm finally went off I sprung out of bed and got dressed. Everything was packed on the bike so there was no reason I shouldn't have been able leave on time. That is except I sat down in front of my computer, oops! The next thing I know it's 5am and I still have to move Reagan's bike out of the way, gear up and go. I kissed Reagan good bye and ran out to the garage. By 5:15 I was on the bike and pulling out of the drive way.

It seemed like I hit every light along 90A and 99 leaving the Sugar Land area. Plus it was raining so visibility wasn't great in the dark. On more than one occasion I ended up behind slow drivers taking up both lanes of the road. I wasn't so annoyed at the slow drivers as I was with myself because I hadn't filled up the night before and I didn't want to be the reason the group got a late start. I finally made it to Brookshire a few minutes before 6am and filled up my tank. I had passed Andy along the way so I knew we had at least one more rider to wait for. He was at the pump before I finished filling up.

At 6:03am, in the dark and with a light rain, 6 of us donned our rain gear and mounted our motorcycles. The first leg of trip was 60 miles to Schulenburg for breakfast at Franks. Since I hadn't been at a Sunday breakfast many weeks earlier I was assigned to be the ride leader. So I set the pace and tried not to run into anything in the dark. When I left my house it was around 65 degrees, when we were still 30 miles away from Franks it had fallen into the upper 40's. I was OK, but not exceptionally warm. As planned we got to Franks about 7am and they were open for business.

Breakfast was good and service was quick. While we ate the rain let up and the skys seem to clear a little but the temperature was falling. Everyone decided to put on their electrics and change out some layers. Then it was back on the bikes and down the road. The next stop would be the Bucky's gas station in Lulling as Tony needed gas sooner than the planned stop in Seguin. The rain had all but stopped for this leg of the trip and the sun was coming up although it was hidden behind the dense cloud cover. At least we were able to see the road as the wind knocked us around.

We arrived in Lulling and pulled off of I-10. For those who have never been to a Bucky's, it's a mega-gas station for automobiles. They don't cater to semis like truck stops do. The nice part about stopping at a Bucky's is there are plenty of pumps and the restrooms are very clean. So everybody was able to get to a pump and fill up pretty quickly. Gary and I finished first and moved our bikes out of the way. We walked under some cover 10 feet or so away from the bikes and then when it appeared no one needed to go inside for any reason we began to get ready to leave. This is where the first comedy routine of the day occured. Appearantly when Gary got off his bike he put his key in his right pants pocket, or so he thought. When he couldn't find his keys several of us began searching all through out his bike and around it on the ground but there were no keys. He checked his pockets and his rain suit several times without luck. Finally Doug started to pat him down like a police officer would do a criminal and Doug found the keys in the bottom of the right leg of Gary's Frog Toggs. It was entertaining to watch, I wish I had thought to pull out my phone and take a movie.

So with keys found and bikes running we pulled out of Lulling and resumed out westward trip on I-10. The wind knocked us around but the sky was clearing and the roads were drying. When we were still a few miles east of San Antonio we saw a rainbow to the north east. The sky was getting bluer and bluer by the mile.

In San Antonio we picked up 90 and continued west toward Sanderson. We stopped at the rest stop a few miles west of Hondo. As with most state rest stops, this one had WiFi so I pulled out my netbook and checked on the other group who had left the day before. They were a few hours ahead of us but the plan was to meet up with them at the Pecos river.  From the rest area, our next stop would be Brackettville for the final fuel stop and to grab stuff to eat at the Pecos river over look.

It always seems to amaze me when I ride through towns in West Texas. It seems like people out here haven't seen motorcycles before. I wonder what sort of reaction Reagan's Spyder would get. I mean when I'm riding through town and people are staring at me it sort of makes me nervous. But I digress, our ride to this point was pretty uneventful. We got through Del Rio with only 1 wrong turn and that wasn't really a wrong turn so much as it was a delayed turn. We rolled into Bracketteville and stopped at the Valero for gas and snacks.

As guys would fill up their bikes they would move them out of the way. By the time I finished and moved away from the pump, Gary was already taking off his gear to make some adjustments. he was trying to put on some suspenders and had himself all tangled up. It was quite a site to see, finally it was Doug to the rescue (again). I had gotten a report from Fred and the other group that it was too windy for them to stay at the Pecos river so they were heading up the road to Langtry. Then the question was what did everyone want to do for lunch? The decision was made to eat next door at the Crazy Chicken Grill.

Now the Crazy Chicken Grill isn't some high class fancy smancy joint like you might find in a metropolis. No this was a country grill built on to the side of a gas station. The waitress/clerk took your order and just over her shoulder was the fry cook with a large flat skillet top and a deep fryer. The waitress talked me into the fajita special instead of the taco salad. Diet? What diet? I don't need no stinking diet....

Well the food came out slowly at first but everyone finally got what they ordered. The conversation went from the president's speech to alternative energy sources to the silliness of making ethanol. It was quite and interesting lunch. Oh, and the food was decent. 

With everyone fed and the  bikes filled, we hopped back on 90 heading west toward Langtry.  The wind seemed to have increased it's intensity for that last stretch and I was feeling it. Along the way, Gary comes on the radio asking if something fell off his bike. Then I hear Doug confirming that indeed something had and he was picking it up. "Dougie" to the rescue! Andy and Dan come on up to where I'm stopped and tell me we are to go on and that Gary, Doug and Tony will catch up. So we take off and a few minutes later I hear Gary talking on the radio and a few minutes after that we are all back together at the Pecos river bridge where they are still doing construction a year later. After a breif wait at an automated traffic light for a one lane bridge, we resume our travels.

We took the turn off for Langtry and pulled up to the Judge Roy Bean Museum. One of these days when I have time I'd like to come back out and check it out, but today was not that time. But there was time for a bio break and then our small group of 6 became a larger group of 9 with Fred in the lead.

I hung toward the back and just watched the country side as the miles rolled on. With the exception of passing one orange Schieder semi it really wasn't an eventful ride. We pulled into Sanderson just after 4pm and checked into the Outback Oasis Motel, then went across the street to the gas station to fill up. The day's ride had come to an end, for my group it was a 433 mile, 10 hour 44 minute trip together.

As time passed in the late afternoon more and more of this year's group showed up. I got to see people I'd met from past rides and met some new folks too. But the one person that was missing was my buddy from Ft. Worth.

A quick blurb about Chuck, my buddy from Ft. Worth. He called me this morning at 8:45am to say he was just leaving. And then he called me at 4:20pm saying he was in Brady, TX and the GPS told him he had another 4 hours to go but he didn't believe it.  Huh??? It took almost 8 hours to go from Ft. Worth to Brady? I'm no routing genius but that's about 200 miles and should've only taken 4 hours, maybe 5 with long breaks. But it had taken him almost 8hrs and the GPS was saying he still had 4 hours to reach Sanderson. As I write this it's 5 hours since he called from Brady and there's no sign of him around here.  Chuck is a big boy and hopefully has the common sense to pull over for the night and find a place to stay. As it is he's riding at night, in the cold, without electrics, in deer country. Any 2 of these ingredients can spell disaster, all 4 are definitely not good. I'm hoping to have a funny update for you on Chuck's adventure in tomorrow post.

Well the guys have contacted the cafe owner down the street and she's agreed to open tomorrow morning at 7:30 for breakfast so it's side stands up at 7:30. Fortunately it's only 3 blocks down the road. But since I didn't get much sleep last night and because I'm tired from today's ride I think it prudent to get some sleep now.

Oh and one more thing. The wifi internet at the Outback Oasis Motel is squirrelly. At first it worked fine when we got here. Then there were problems on the eastern side of the property. Now there's problems on the western side of the property. I don't know what they've got here but it's definitely not very good if it can't handle a few netbooks at one time. Thank goodness I have my sprint card, or this post wouldn't get published tonight.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

AK '09 - Post Trip Wrap Up

OK, so I have to apologize to those folks who were following the blog as I meant to finish this trip write up back in November. Why November you ask when Reagan and I arrived home in July. Simple really, I didn't get my bike back until November 4th. Yep, I was without my beloved ride for 4 months. And then with work, motorcyle teaching, deer season, Nascar and a little surgery I found myself all the way into December with a bike sitting in the garage that still needed to be rewired following the brutal disassembly performed in the Fairbanks BMW parking lot back in July. Not to mention I had to fix a few things damaged by Fairbanks BMW when they crated my bike up.

So what happened to the bike, what was the final prognosis? In the end I got a new transmission out of the deal but it wasn't all that easy. First the the bike didn't get to Wild West BMW in Katy, TX until August 28th. Yep, it took almost 2 months to get it home, folks in Alaska don't seem to get in a hurry to do anything. Sort of like Mexico, only colder. The dealership was nice enough to help me un-crate it and gave me some space to reassemble things as I needed to repair the fuel connector that was broken in our parking lot work. Once everything was put back together Dan, the service manager, put some gas in the tank and we fired it up. When I let the clutch out in neutral Dan grimaced and I knew it was bad. He said their tech had just recently completed the training to rebuild R1200 transmissions and he'd get the parts ordered. In the days that followed I sent him the warranty info and he got the repair approved by the company.

It took a few weeks for the parts to arrive and then more time for them to complete the work. Then in the first week of October I got the news that the work had been completed but the noise was still there. It was more than just some bad bearings. It took a few weeks for them to measure all the parts and discuss the problem with BMW North America before it was decided that a new transmission would have to be installed since some of the damaged parts were not available from BMW. So Dan got the approval from the warranty company and the transmission was ordered. Finally on November 4th, I got the word that the bike had passed it's post repair inspection and I could come get it. As I was leaving town later that day, I rushed over there with John's help and picked up the bike. Dan wasn't in the office so it was unknown how much of the $5,550 bill I actually needed to pay. They let me take the bike on the promise that I would square things up with Dan. The ride home was wonderful, I had my motorcycle back finally.

It wasn't until December that Dan got back to me on a final cost for the repair work they had done. As it turns out, the warranty company (MPP Company, Inc. aka Pinnacle Protection Plans) refused to pay for the initial repair attempt but did pay for the transmission replacement. Their lack of honor in the deal was so bad, that supposedly the dealership has stopped selling their warranty plans and won't try to rebuild any more R1200 transmissions. I paid for some of the parts and Dan said he would recoup the rest of the costs by parting out the old transmission, it was an amicable deal for both of us. I'm hoping this will be the last warranty claim I have on the bike until I get a new one in 2012. I've certainly saved money with the purchase of this extended warranty, and I don't want to see if Dan is willing to take on another warranty claim with Pinnacle.

So, now that you've read about the repair saga I can finally give you the numbers about the trip.

Total Mileage: 13,183 miles
BMW Mileage: 8,083 miles
Spyder Mileage: 5,098 miles
Tires used on the BMW: 2 front, and 2 rears
Tires used on the Spyder: Still on the original set, 10,000+ on the odometer
Days on the Road: 36
Cost of Fuel: I don't want to know
Cost of Rooms: Who cares! I was on the road for over a month.

Since returning, Reagan has really enjoyed her Spyder. By the time we returned home there was no doubt that she would be keeping it. She's taken several day trips on it and we even road up to see my parents on Christmas Eve. Boy! was that a cold ride home. The Spyder is now a part of the normal vehicle choice even, since Reagan changed jobs, she's now able to ride it to work when she wants to. She even let's me ride it now and again, but that may just be so I'll put gas in it. ;)

Talk is already under way for another trip back to Alaska in 2012. The group will have some different faces and a few of the same. The key difference will be the time spent. As part of the trip, I want to take 29 days, 23 hours and 30 minutes travelling from Key West, FL. to Dead Horse, AK. so I can say I did it twice and the second time I was able to see a lot along the way. Shucks, I might even turn it into a Four Corners ride on the way up but I'll have to see how it goes. I'm putting together the paper work today to get my UCC ride certified. I'm not concerned about the time, as far as I'm concerned it took 12 days to get there. But I'd like to get the certificate saying I completed the ride.

There's no Iron Butt rides planned for this year. I'm focused on my work so we can stash some cash hopefully. I do have some fun rides coming up like next weekend's BBFO (Big Bend Freeze Out) and this summer Reagan and I are hoping to attend the BMW Rally in Oregon. And then there's the Harley Davidson CIW instructors workshop in May. So there will definitely be more trips to read about in 2010 but I'm afraid the next month plus long trip won't be for a year or two. I'm working on it though, especially now that Reagan has her on bike.