Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting the bike rolling again: The trip's early stages

June 10, finally taking off over Catamount Mountain, our first of many mountains to climb
It's been a while since our last update, in which I promised to begin to tell the full story of our trip, complete with plenty of pictures.  And now, after a couple of weeks of reluctantly shedding our hard-earned nomadic traits, and settling back into domestic life, we've finally been through all the pictures and have even compiled a sequence of where we were at the end of each day.  This combined with looking over the map we brought will allow me to remember roads, places, people, and happenings so that I can share with you all.  And so it begins, the official account of our 2010 cross country motorcycle tour.  The trip officially began the weekend of June 11th, but what happened before the trip is interesting and relevant enough to merit some attention here.
Preparations for the trip were moving along swimmingly by the beginning of May.  Juli and I had plenty of route ideas, most of our camping gear together, and I had the bike almost ready to go, excepting the addition of our luggage system.  I had completed many repairs and upgrades (see previous posting "Shakedown Street") but had yet to ride the bike any number of miles, during which I would normally fine tune things like the front end suspension, carburetors, and ignition components.  We also both had to finish our school semesters, and Juli had to move out of her Long Island apartment and studios.  Crunch time was upon us, as I had a recording project to finish and had yet to fabricate the luggage mounting system for the bike.

To help fund all this work and the trip itself, I had been working in the hardware store at home on the weekends.  One glorious New Hampshire Sunday morning, I rode the Honda four miles down Catamount mountain into town and to the hardware store.  The bike was running and working well and I remember thinking how nice it was to be riding.  Sunday mornings are kind of weird in that the store opens at 9:00 but the customers are always pounding the doors down at 8:40.  So I pulled into a very busy parking lot, mentally preparing myself to deal with the lovely public.  Suddenly, without warning, I was introduced to the front of a very large pickup.  It turns out this large and ugly truck was piloted by a real meat-head who didn't like to look in his direction of travel while driving.  The truck struck me on my left side and I was thrown down, landing next to the bike on the pavement, which was better than landing beneath the bike.  I got up and tested all my limbs and muscles and determined that I was just fine, and moved on to freaking out about my motorcycle.
What a lovely machine a modern truck is
My little Honda had taken the worst of the hit.  The bike was thrown down with some force, leaving many parts broken, dented, or bent.  The handlebar was badly bent, and it came around and dented the gas tank badly.  Both headlight ears were bent to one side, the left footpeg was bent around, and the front fender was dented.  Perhaps the worst part of the damage was the puncturing of the stator cover, on the left side of the bike's engine.  The plow frame of the idiot truck struck this part of the bike, mashing the stator into a mess which prevented the crankshaft from turning.  This particular bit caused me to wonder whether this bike would ever run again.
Somehow none of the lights were damaged and the bike's frame and front end came through without having been bent. 

The truck's plow frame hit here, about 9 inches from my foot.
The terrible driver was good enough to hang around while a member of our town's fine police force filled out a pseudo accident report using a blank D.E. form.  I got insurance information and took careful notes and pictures of the damage.  I was terrified that I had just lost everything, since a 1971 CB500 in mediocre condition has a Blue Book value of not very much. This incident weighed on me heavily, but in the end was resolved reasonably well.  The insurance company actually acted in an honest and reasonable manner; its adjuster totaled the bike and I was given a decent sum in compensation.  This amounted to less than I had invested in the bike, but I got to keep the bike to salvage or whatever else I decided. 
Nope, those aren't ape hangers.  The handlebar
was well bent and the tank got a nasty dent
What a scary, nerve-wracking thing to happen!  It goes to show you that you must, as a motorcyclist, ride as if every driver is actively trying to kill you.  Car drivers are stupid and are ignorant of the presence of motorcycles.  It also goes to show you how important your safety gear is.  This was a low speed accident, but I was banged up bad enough and the bike well messed up.  
I was, as always, wearing my helmet, riding jacket, leather gloves, jeans, and hiking shoes and came out okay.  Injuries included a scrape on my wrist, a bruised hip and shoulder, and not much else to speak of. It wasn't until later that night and over the next couple of days that the pain really hit me.  My arm and shoulder hurt and it was kind of hard to walk for a couple of days.  After a visit to the college campus medical office, I was deemed complete and not broken, only bruised. 
So after a few days of recovering both in mental and physical health, I once again began to prepare the bike for the trip.  Juli and I were determined not to let a little incident like this halt the trip we'd been planning and looking forward to for so long, even if we weren't able to leave on time.  So I started ordering parts online and got working.  I must admit it was a little emotionally taxing to start fixing, replacing, and repairing things again.  Much of this I'd already done earlier in the season, and the bike was 98% ready before the accident.  
One morning, during my daily coffee and craigslist ritual, I stumbled upon this little darling:  a 1972 CB500/4 complete and original but sitting for 25 years and with a stuck engine.  I called right away and left a message, then called my older brother to borrow a truck.  We came home with the bike the next evening and I had a pile of good parts.  The tank and side covers were immaculate, and I also got the stator and cover, handlebars and controls, and some other various bits.  The poor bike had been sitting so long that none of the chrome was still chrome and the engine really was well stuck.  I felt bad tearing this bike apart because it was so original.  Everything was as Honda had originally made it.  This was a great educational experience, though, as I got to see how cables and wires were intended to be routed, among other things. 
So the green CB500 became brown and was put back into service in a matter of weeks.  
During all of this, we had been planning to attend the Rhinebeck Grand National Supermeet in Rhinebeck, New York.  This was a large vintage motorcycle fair, which we had attended last year.  Julianne sold woodblock prints of old bikes there, and for this year we were to have prints and t-shirts (You can see her work on etsy).  The plan was for our family to come with us, so they could haul all of our vending stuff and spend the weekend together at the show as my brothers and father are gearheads as well.  Juli and I wanted to use the Rhinebeck show as a springboard for the trip, meaning the bike and luggage had to be ready by June 10.  
So the race was on and we had very little time to get everything ready.  Thankfully my older brother agreed to help me fabricate the luggage mounting system.  I don't have a welder or know how to use one.  So I dreamed up a system of square tubing and brackets and he welded them up for me.  By the morning we were supposed to leave, we still had work to do and my father and I literally finished making the attachments for the cases that morning.  Julianne was loading camping gear into the boxes as we were attaching them to the bike!  
Leaving our yard
Finally, by the late afternoon on the Thursday before the Rhinebeck show, we'd finished figuring out the luggage and suited up for the trip.  Rhinebeck is in the Hudson valley about halfway between New York and Albany, and is a 250 mile drive from our home.  We'd planned on taking the day to make the trip on back roads, but time did not allow for this now so we took the highway the whole way down.  The first 3 hours of the 4.5 hour trip were done in heavy rain, limiting our visibility and comfort.  Yes, the gods were really testing our conviction to do this trip!  But we soldiered on and arrived in Rhinebeck just after 10PM.  We were too late to get into the fairgrounds and had to sleep in the field outside the gate.  Pitching a tent somewhere and calling it a night would be a common theme throughout the trip.  Between the heavy rain and having taken the highway the entire way, this first leg of the trip really was a good test run or shakedown of the bike.  It ran great and all of our luggage stayed attached and dry.  
Our table at Rhinebeck, with the Honda
on display and a map of our route
The weekend at Rhinebeck was fantastic!  We had a great time looking at old motorcycles and Juli sold a fair amount of t-shirts and prints.  I enjoyed seeing the vendors' tables, looking over old parts from all types of bikes.  I even picked up a couple of items for my future scrambler project.  At Rhinebeck we also met Andy from Boston, a forum member at the Honda SOHC4 forums.  These are the forums I referred to countless times when rebuilding and repairing the Honda before the trip.  Andy has traveled extensively on his Honda CB750, the big brother to our CB500, so it was especially great to meet him as he had lots of technical and route advice for us.  
Putting on our rain suites before departure
Our vending spot was right next to Tim Baer's, which worked out well because he was selling Indian motorcycle prints and we had prints too.  He turned out to be a great guy and had also traveled on his motorcycle many times, so he had lots of great advice as well.  Tim's dad Butch was there and asked us, as many people did, if we really thought that our old Honda would make it across the country and back.  He then proceeded to tell us about a cross country trip he and two friends did on 1920s Indians a few years back!  

So on Sunday afternoon, we suited up and got ready to begin the trip.  Crossing the Hudson River would be a milestone to me.  Indeed any time we were to cross a major river I made sure we got a picture or took note of it.  So now, after a tumultuous running-up, the trip really was ready to take off, and on time at that!  We were packed, suited, and filled with plenty of advice and knowledge from people we'd met at Rhinebeck.  We took a couple of family pictures before leaving (see top of page) and boarded the Honda.  
Our plan was to ride as far as the Delaware Water Gap and find a campsite there for the night.  This would be a reasonable distance to complete in the late afternoon and we wanted to see a bit of that area as well.  So off we went to our first wild campsite!  

That's how the trip began.  It was exciting, scary, and hectic, but we were able to leave on time and are glad we did.  Next I'll probably describe the luggage for the bike and some of our routines that developed throughout the trip.  Then I'll move on to describe what we saw and did in Pennsylvania over the first couple of days.  
So that's it for now. 
Good night! 
Jeremy B

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