Ride Report: “I Get a New Traveling Companion”
Alternate Title: “Who Let the Cat Out of the Bag?”
Title if the wife (acquired later) named it: “Honey . . . You’re an Idiot”
Title if best friend named it: “Well, OK. Two Cokes.”
My first coherent thought of the day was “This is a desolate place.”
The second thought was along the lines of “What the HELL am I doing out here?”
The third . . . I think . . . was something about trading a soul for a breakfast. Probably not good.
I was astride a beautiful piece of mechanical crap otherwise known as a 1981 Suzuki GS750E. I was rocketing through the New Mexico desert’s predawn light. I was cold, exhausted, hungry, and lonely. I also had a deadline. I had to get back to Dallas . . . and soon.
Suzuki made two models of the 750 in 1981. The “E” model, which had a more squared off, more modern look and a larger gas tank, and the “GL” which had the “Cruiser” look. Due to a moment of weakness, and a really good deal, I had one of each. The problem with these bikes was that although they were absolutely beautiful machines, mechanically they were crap. They would run, and run well . . . right up to a certain point, then you pushed them over and left them beside the highway where they had left you. I had selected the 750E model for this mission, mainly due to its larger capacity gas tank. Extra stops were a luxury I could not afford on this trip. It also had hard bags that I had gotten from a bone yard and made to fit. The slightly wider seat was an added but previously un-thought of benefit.
Several relevant facts should make themselves known so folks do not misunderstand (or do misunderstand–whatever their pleasure). First, I was a LOT younger than I am now, thus the apparently foolish nature of the errand. And second, any perceived “slowness” or inexperience on my part is probably due to the fact that . . . well . . . I was inexperienced . . . but mainly that I had left Dallas less than 24 hours ago. Yep, Dallas to Pikes Peak and back into the New Mexico Desert in about 18 hours. On a 750. 18 hours of high speed travel on any motorcycle will dull anyone’s brain. Most probably wonder why at this point . . . let’s just say it was on a bet, and the only cargo I was carrying back with me was a set of official Pike’s Peak salt and pepper shakers, and a Park Service Receipt saying I had driven to the top. And I was cursing the day “Smokey and the Bandit” came out.
Riding is the point, yes?
Anyway headed back I was ‘booking down I-25. I was supposed to catch US 64/87 in Raton, New Mexico and cut across to Dalhart, Texas. I had apparently gotten into “cruise” mode and it finally dawned on me that even though the last town I gassed up in was Raton, I was still ‘booking south on I-25. Kept driving for another 10 minutes or so while my brain ground out possible actions to take. Hmmmm. Whipped out the map and found some back roads and zipped out into the flat desert plains.
Watch out for the sand traps if you ever do this. Apparently this area flash floods during heavy (but infrequent) rains . . . and the places where these torrents cross the roads are not bridged . . . they are just a concrete road about 400 feet long that is lower and narrower than the regular blacktop road. It is what we would call a “wash” here in Texas. Would not be a problem to drive through, except for the 6-12 inches of sand accumulated there from the last deluge. Real bitch to drive a 750 street bike through . . . especially if it looks like regular road in your headlight and you enter it at 70+ MPH. Lots of mule deer out here too. Especially when you hit a sand trap at 70 and suddenly end up “off-road”. The deer are easy to spot though, ’cause there is absolutely nothing else out here.
The sun finally came up so life got a little better (it gets COLD out here at night, even in August). Finally came to the rather fundamental and somehow surprising conclusion that there is only so long a man can go without taking a piss. Had to find a place to stop, the leathers suddenly had to come off anyway (it gets HOT out here in August, even if it is just after sun-up). I belatedly realize that all I have had to eat in about the last 20 hours is some undetermined number of “Twinkies” and probably an equal number of “Ding-dongs”, all washed down by massive quantities of Coca-Cola. I got pretty good at doing this while I was pumping the gas, like I said . . . stops were a luxury I could not afford. Ever eat a “Twinkie” in a full-face helmet?
Looked closely at my map . . . and again at my watch . . . and incredulously back at the map. My fuzzy brain eventually ground to the conclusion that I had gained some time. Apparently the lack of observed speed limits on the back-roads had enabled me to bring Einstein’s relativity equations into play despite the sand traps. Had to be, ’cause I know the 750 can’t really go that fast . . . um . . . well . . . maybe. Always seemed to me as if it needed another gear. Anyway, I was ready to kill for breakfast, and some of the many mule deer I was dodging were starting to look pretty tasty. I decided I could afford a stop for a real, sit-down meal.
By this time I had reached some roads I recognized . . . namely US 87, so I stopped at the first town and gassed up. Here is a little uncertainty . . . I am pretty sure I was still in New Mexico . . . but honestly, sometime in the night I had entered a time-warp and really had not a lot of clues as to what I was doing or where I really was. I just knew I had to get back to Dallas. Anyway, I can state with reasonable certainty that I was either in Clayton, NM or Texline, TX . . . I hope. After fueling (and resisting the somehow very strong urge to violently destroy the Hostess display in the store), I moved the bike across the street to “Debbie’s”, which was advertising “Foo” on her sign . . . the “d” long having vanished. I figured I could use some “Foo”. The place looked pretty good . . . several truckers parked there (they don’t eat at crappy places), and enough other miscellaneous type of vehicles were scattered about that I was reasonably sure I would be given a table. Also, and maybe this was the deciding factor–it had a tree to park the bike under. The Suzuki “E” tended to shoot gas into your crotch if you left it in the sun for very long with a full tank. Suzukis can be testy at times. Works pretty good for getting rid of Jock itch, but not really highly recommended (particularly if you are four or five hundred miles from the nearest accessible shower).
I stumbled in and sat myself. Without a word “Debbie” or her substitute handed me a menu and a cup of coffee. Normally I don’t drink coffee . . . but this I needed. Good place. Good coffee.
She finally asked “What’ll you have Hon?”
I was somewhat surprised to find that I could not read the menu. Seems it just would not stop vibrating. I even tried laying it flat on the table and holding it down with both hands. Nothing seemed to work. When I started to weight the corners of the menu down with my coffee cup and the sugar dispenser, all the while staring intently at the table she asked, “You all right?” (“You all” was said as one word . . . but was somehow different from the Texas “Y’all” that means . . . well . . . y’all).
Debbie was definitely NOT vibrating (I don’t think I could take it) so finally I gave up and ordered what I was hungry for,
“A dozen scrambled eggs, a half-pound of bacon, toast, jam, and Iced tea.”
To Debbie’s credit she did not comment. She did not even blink. “Sure thing Hon.”
Exactly 6 minutes later I had the biggest and best breakfast I had ever had in my life. Like I said . . . good place. I polished it off in record time. The bill was just over six bucks. Guess I can hang onto my soul.
For future reference, this was the only place/time in the entire journey that the bike was out of my site for more than a few seconds. That is important later.
Back on the road again. Alive again. Wow. What a difference a good breakfast can make. Jammin down the road. The tape player was dying again. This was the last of the batteries too. Did not really matter, I had listened to the same (auto-reversed) tape for about 15 hours now. Was beginning to hate REO, and that is a bad sign. Interesting phenomenon observed here . . . when the batteries start to go dead the tape, and thus the music, slows down. I did not notice. Magically, the motorcycle speeds up. The way I could tell the batteries were dying was that my hand began aching from trying to twist the throttle past its stop.
Somewhere north of Amarillo I threw the completely dead tape player at a pick-up full of teenagers that tried to run me off the road . . . twice. No big loss, and all in a good cause. One tape player for one windshield. Seemed fair to me. Really cooking now . . . and not just speed. It is hot out here. Somewhat south of Amarillo (and a gas stop later) my bike let out the most ungodly howl that I have ever heard from a machine. Something in the rear was going to let go. Pulled over and checked around. No unusual heat, nothing seemed loose. Hmmmm. Put it up on the work stand and exercise the drive line. Nothing unusual, chain tension ok. I stand up and turn 360 degrees looking at the horizon. There is nothing out here, and no cars have passed since I stopped. No real choice. Time to go on.
I get another 10 or 15 minutes before the noise starts again. I play with the bike a little this time. The sound varies in pitch and volume, but does not seem to be related to speed or throttle position. Definitely coming from the rear. This is really weird. I have always wrenched all my own work, and I have never heard anything like this.
About this time a “Picnic Area” shows up beside the road. In Texas a “Rest Area” has a rest-room, a “Picnic Area” can mean anything from tables and benches to a gravel parking lot. This one had 1 table and a bench. There were several other “covers” where there were supposed to be tables, but there was just an empty concrete pad under each. There were several army trucks and an RV parked in the lot. With a sigh of relief I pulled into the shade under one of the covers and stopped. I was astounded when I turned off the engine and the noise continued.
Quick diagnoses revealed that the noise was decidedly animal in nature, and was coming from my left hard bag. I tried to open it but what looked like a stick had been shoved in the lock and broken off. The bag had not been locked, but this was the type of latch that had the keyhole in the center, with two protruding metal tabs out the edges that you had to squeeze together to open it. The stick was preventing the thing from working.
In the mean time, the noises had occasionally resolved them selves into cat noises. I got my tool kit out and started to figure out a way to get the bag open. I did not see a way to do it. The hinges were between the bag and the bike, and you could not dismount the bag or the rack without opening the bag and pulling the pins. If I had the bag open I could easily remove the lock . . . but . . . well . . . you can see the problem. I had found a suitable rock that I thought might be able to bash it open (a big rock, these bags were tuff) but I really did not want to hurt whatever was in the bag. I was not really a cat person if that’s what it was, but it did not ask to be there either. I was not really too happy about bashing my bike with a rock either. The moron that put it in the bag . . . now that is something I could cheerfully bash with a rock. In a last ditch effort to avoid what looked to be massive destruction I decided I would ask the army guys if they had any tools that might help. They had kind-of been looking my way anyway. Apparently they are not used to such strange noises from a machine either. I hate to think what they would have thought if I HAD started bashing my bike with the rock. An exorcism maybe?
Boy did I luck out. These guys were machinists, and were basically a mobile workshop. Let me tell you, they were good. They whipped out an ungainly looking piece of power equipment that was basically a sideways drill press. They clamped it to the bag frame, and set it to drilling out the hinge pins. Inside of 10 minutes they had the pins removed. Not a scratch, even on the hinge bodies. Only the pins were destroyed. By this time the folks from the RV had joined us, and two other cars had stopped and disgorged onlookers. Twenty-two people were watching as the machinist finished the last pin. He removed his machine and reached for the cover. Twenty-two people had a brief impression of motion as the cover exploded outward and the something small and brown seemed to vanish into the tall grass.
Between all of us we decided it was a kitten. Nobody was really sure. Twenty-one of us went prowling through the grass looking for the poor thing. The twenty-second (lady from the RV) went off to fix us lunch and Kool-aid. We must have been a sight, a bunch of army guys and a few civilians prowling through the grass crying “Here kitty, kitty, kitty”.
About this time a State Trooper zoomed by on the highway. We could hear the tires screeching and see the cloud of dust as he turned around just down the road. I must have looked anxious as the army guy nearest me said with a grin “Don’t worry, we can take ’em out.”
The trooper was friendly enough and listened to part of the story before starting to lecture about loitering at a picnic area (uh . . . what else do you do at a picnic area?). Anyway he was taken aback by our matronly RV lady that handed him a glass of Kool-aid and a sandwich and said . . . and I am quoting “Shut up and eat your sandwich.”
Now we were really a sight . . . a bunch of army guys, a State Trooper, and a few civilians prowling through the grass crying “Here kitty, kitty, kitty”.
Finally the consensus was that we would never find the kitten, but that it was at least better off here, than where it had been. The army guys were packing up to leave. I sidled over and asked one for a little duct tape. He instantly produced a roll of it but asked why.
“I need to tape my side-bag shut.”
“Why would you do that?” he asked as he pointed to the bag. The stick was out of the lock and the hinge pins had been replaced with shiny newly made ones. “Your bike’s full of gas too, have a safe trip.” Like I said, these guys are good.
Something like an hour later I was approaching Childress. I spotted a police cruiser parked beside the road at the horizon. I let off the gas and glanced at the speedo. This is the point that nearly ended my motorcycling career, and is as close as I have ever come to getting injured or killed on a motor. You see, there was a furry head poking out the nook between the gauges and the sport faring. It had large, ungainly ears and large whiskers. It was looking at me.
Motorcyclists in general are not easy to surprise. Even exhausted you are on the lookout and alert for unusual things happening on the road, or the traffic around you. Your equipment is intimately familiar to you, and any unusual noise or vibration, no matter how subtle, will bring you alert.
That said, I challenge any of you to have a . . . uh . . . less . . . um . . . enthusiastic reaction than mine.
Trust me. Absolutely nothing can prepare you for a kitten coming out of your speedometer. I am not often given to profanity, but “Holy Shit!” I think was exactly what I screamed (not yelled, screamed) as I let go of the handlebars and actually nearly climbed off the back of the bike. The bike violently veered across the entire road and back onto the shoulder before I got it back under control and stopped. I hit the kill switch, kicked the stand down, staggered into the grass, and sat down, trying to get my racing heart and breathing under control.
(art by Ron Lee)
All these antics of course attracted the attention of the cop (another State Trooper) and he cruised my way. He was not the least impressed by my explanation.
“See for yourself” I said as I pointed to the bike. There was no kitten to be seen, but this time I knew better. We carefully peered toward the afore mentioned gap, but due to the glare of the sun, could not see inside. He was still sure I was joshing him so he tapped the speedometer. The reaction was immediate.
Out of the gap flew the kitten, grabbing his finger. The Trooper (Troopers are also very professional and hard to surprise) let out a wild girlish scream and was standing 20 yards away in the middle of US 287 with his gun drawn before he regained control of himself. I had hit the dirt when he jumped and the gun appeared, and I was of course crying because I was trying so hard not to laugh. I think he appreciated it . . . first because he did not shoot me, but also because he let me go after giving me a small blue towel to put in the gap so the kitten would not slide down on top of the hot headlight case. He also gave me a very small teddy bear (what would be called a “beanie baby” now) for the kitten to play with (they carry teddy bears of all sizes and shapes in case they encounter children in stressful situations . . . and they take them donated if you are looking for a good cause). Turned out that this was the perfect arrangement. The blanket gave the kitten the height to look out when she wished, and she could lie down and sleep when she was bored. Mostly she liked to watch.
On my next fuel stop when I walked away from the bike, the kitten jumped off and in about two leaps climbed . . . well . . . me . . . and perched on my shoulder. This was to be her custom for the remainder of the time I knew her.
My ever present and crucial deadline told me that I could stop for another meal. A “Kettles” in Denton provided the answer. As I left the bike, “MotoCat” (yeah I named her) assumed her position.
The waitress noticed and asked “Did you know you have a cat on your shoulder?” Interesting question, that.
“Oh . . . well . . . uh . . . well . . . um . . . We can’t have a cat in here.”
“Okay.” I said as I sat down. I was at that moment, 300-pound, hungry, sweaty biker dude. I didn’t figure they would throw me out. I was right.
I had been trying to give MotoCat water at every stop. She would not take it. I could only assume that she was not thirsty. Did not know how she could not be, but again, I was not a cat person.
I ordered a burger and a Dr. Pepper for a change (Cokes were starting to taste bad). MotoCat attacked the Dr. Pepper, lapping it up as fast as she could. She also ate a healthy portion of my burger. I had to order another burger and drink so there would be enough for me.
The waitress evidently decided to have a sense of humor about it all, as she came by the table and asked “Will that be separate checks?”
To this day I wish I had said “Yes.” Oh well.
The journey was complete. I made the deadline.
The bet: Dallas to Pikes Peak to Dallas on my bike, in under 40 hours. As I presented the Salt and Pepper shakers to my then roommate and still best-friend he nonchalantly stated “You’re three hours early.”
Then . . . “Did you know you have a cat on your shoulder?”
The stakes: Well . . . a Coke. I told you I was a lot younger then. It would take at least a case of Cokes (Diet) to get me to agree to that bet now. Somebody (on another bike) would have to ride with me also. Also . . . I am pretty sure he never paid up.
As for MotoCat, she soon was too big for her nook in the fairing. But after I put a leather pad down the center of the tank she would nestle in my lap and dig her front claws into the leather. She loved to ride, and I had to sneak out of the house if I wanted to ride sans cat. We made many miles together until she passed away (leukemia) in 1991. She was 8.
And I must admit. Now I am a cat person.