Winter Ride to Carolina
Maybe I should have seen the signs, but then again I am not a believer in signs anyway. But it is creepily eerie the stuff that was conspiring to mess up my perfectly planned trip to see my brother in Inman, South Carolina, just 15 miles shy of the North Carolina state line, and to do a couple days of deer hunting.
It had not been long since my return from a trip that had taken me from Lake Wales, in central Florida, to Barber Vintage Festival near Birmingham, Alabama, to northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri, and back. During that trip I had worn out my rear brake and rotor and the miles had ticked over 12,000 on my Bonneville, which meant maintenance was due. That trip had also seen the last of the middle tread on my rear tire, so that had to be done before much more riding.
I tackled the brakes first then turned my attention to the 12,000 mile scheduled maintenance which included new air and fuel filters, and valve check and adjustment. I pulled the cam case cover and dutifully checked the valve clearance, hoping with the short time I had before leaving for Inman that I would find them all in spec and all I would have to do was simply replace the cam cover and stick the filters in without further fuss. I was not so lucky.
The exhaust valves were all out of spec, loose from where they should be. The intakes were spot on and needed no work. The Bonneville uses “shim and bucket” valve adjustment; where a “bucket” sits atop the valve stem and on top of this, inside a short lip, resides a “shim”—a 25 millimeter disk of varying thicknesses. By changing the shims to thicker or thinner you adjust the gap to be within specification. Which means you have to pull the existing shim to see what you have, so then you can determine what you need to get the correct cap.
To get the shim out you have to remove the camshaft. With the camshaft out, of course, the bike is disabled until you can get new shims and reinstall them. I didn't have another bike to ride while the Bonnie was down because the CB350 was disassembled for restoration and its parts were scattered around the small garage. While at home I could, if necessary, borrow my wife's car, but of course, to get to Inman I would need my bike. Time was ticking and I had to get this job finished.
I pulled the exhaust camshaft and shims, measured them and calculated what I would need in new shims, and put my order in at my dealer. Meanwhile, the oil and filter had been changed. When the shims arrived, so did the fuel and air filter and those went in without a hitch. Then I measured the shims I had received; none of them measured what I had requested and were not close enough to do a proper job. I knew the dealer was going to send me what they had on hand so I was not surprised that a couple were used and one was rusty; that would not affect their utility at all, but what would was the thickness, which just didn't measure up.
I had already waited a few days, with the countdown clock ticking away for my departure for Inman. Now I was back at square one. The bike wasn't going anywhere without the proper shims. I had always had good luck ordering from Bike Bandit and generally received my stuff lightning fast, so instead of trying the dealer again, who had already disappointed me once, I went ahead and ordered new shims from Bike Bandit. However, I had missed that fine print saying parts for Triumph may take up to ten days. I didn't have ten days. I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Time crept on and panicking I started calling other Triumph dealers, but none had the shims I needed.
I ordered a new rear tire and waited some more for the shims, but as time passed and no change in the “On Order” status appeared I grew more frustrated. I vented my frustration on the Triumph Facebook page about what I thought should be a maintenance part that dealers should have on hand, they being a regular maintenance part, being checked or changed every 12,000 miles. Soon, a representative of Triumph replied and offered to help out. We talked on the phone. I told him what I needed and the very next morning four shiny new shims, unused and in the correct sizes, arrived at my front door. I went back on Facebook and gave kudos to Triumph for their great customer support and got back to the job at hand, two days before the appointed day to leave for Inman.
The bike was done, I buttoned her up again, and hit the start button. I could hear the fuel pump repriming and watched the gauges go left to right then back to left again, then thumbed the starter and the bike roared to life. Success. I turned it off, and then turned the ignition back on and went through the ritual again of waiting for the gauges before starting it again. I could still hear the pump with its raucous repriming sound, but when I hit the starter the bike lit right up. No engine light or unusual sounds were coming from the engine. The next day the tire arrived, was mounted, and I was ready to go. The next morning before light I would head north for a one day ride of close to 600 miles.
Or so I thought.
Friday morning at five o'clock, I drug myself out of bed and into my riding clothes and out to the garage to release the waiting bike, already loaded with baggage the night before. I rolled the bike outside in the cold and climbed on board, turned the key, and hit the starter. To my surprise, I saw the ominous orange “Check Engine” light glaring back at me from the speedometer. That wasn't there before! I turned the bike off and what followed was hours of pulling the tank and looking for loose hoses, reinstalling the tank, and trying the motor, only to see that hateful light glowing on the speedo again, pulling the tank again, trying something else, then getting the same results. The bike seemed to run fine, but that little light kept telling me something was wrong. I rode the bike to the gas station, thinking perhaps the tank was not full enough for the pump to fully prime and filled her up, but the light keep glaring back at me, defiant of everything I tried. I called the dealer for ideas at nine o'clock and got nothing I could use. By ten o'clock I gave up. The bike was still under warranty and if I had ridden the bike in spite of the light's warning and something serious would have happened on the road I could be sure the warranty would be void. I reluctantly called the dealer again telling them I would be there in two hours.
I pulled the trailer around to the garage and loaded the bike. then headed southwest the hundred miles to the dealer.
Arriving at the dealer just before noon, the bike was unloaded and rolled into the shop where the computer was hooked up to it. The bike was powered up and we waited for it to warm so the diagnosis could begin. The engine light was reset and now stayed off, but the computer gave no clue of what had happened. The mechanic and I tossed around ideas, and I settled on the idea that when I had first started the bike after installing the fuel filter and putting gas in the tank, that the pump must have not fully pressurized the fuel system and had sent the error message to the ECM. I knew to always let the gauges cycle before hitting the starter because not doing so could cause electronic errors, but apparently waiting for the gauges to cycle was not enough. I should have waited for the buzzing and rattling sounds from the fuel pump to stop before starting the bike. And come to think of it, when I did start the bike the second time, I recalled hearing the pump still priming, which is a different sound than the pump normally pressurizing the fuel system. Why the light didn't come on then is still a mystery, but that diagnosis was the most logical.
Now the bike was ready, but I had another two hours to get it home, and then I would have to reload all the gear before going. I almost abandoned the idea of going, but I figured I could still salvage the ride by going as far as possible that day, and making the Saturday ride short. That would still leave me at least three-quarters of the hunting time I had planned on.
My departure time had changed from 5 am to 3:30 pm, when I finally I rolled out of the driveway with a new route planned to make up for lost time. I would head up on the turnpike and Interstates instead of the more direct country road route I had planned through Ocala National Forest and southeast Georgia into South Carolina near Augusta. Going up I-75 gave me the option of crashing at my friend's house in Valdosta if I was exhausted by then, or if not I could roll on to Macon where I could easily jump off in the morning and make Inman, by mid-morning.
I was only two hours into the ride when darkness fell. I roared on in the darkness at 70 plus miles per hour on I-75. As I rode the temperature kept falling.
By my dinner stop at Valdosta, where I would eat and decide if I could continue or needed to stop, I was freezing. I had my regular underwear and T-shirt on with thermal long underwear over it, followed on the bottom by leather-lined riding jeans and on top by sweatshirt, fleece-lined nylon shelled jacket, and thermal liner in my mesh riding jacket. Around my neck was a fleece hunting gaiter.
By the time I had eaten a hearty dinner of stew, cornbread, and coleslaw, I felt sufficiently warmed and called my friend, Julie, and told her I was going to be going on. Figuring that along the freeway I could easily stop from time to time and grab a coffee to rewarm myself.
I raced north on I-75 through the dark Georgia countryside. Normally, I would not ride after dark in Georgia. For the likelihood of deer strikes in the country Georgia stood in second place. On the Interstate I felt relatively safe, however, and I could stay on that until Macon, then look for a place to stay the night—a mere 216 miles from Inman. With luck, I could do that distance in four and a half hours. If I left around five in the morning I could make it mid-morning to Tim's and our hunting grounds behind his house.
I got to Macon late in the bitterly cold night and took a jog onto I-16 and exited almost immediately again onto US 129. I had been telling myself that surely I could find a place to stay where 129 and 16 met. I took my exit and within minutes was in the countryside, with nowhere to stop for the night. With no other choice, I moved through the night expecting any time to have a deer jump into my path. My eyes darted left and right watching for my deadly enemy and for any sign of a motel at which I could stop and rest for the night. I had come on a mission to get a deer but now the tables were turned and I feared instead the deer would get me.
As I sped through the night I realized a couple good things about riding in the cold. The first is when you are freezing to death it is hard to get sleepy. I rode through the frigid night with eyes wide open. The second good thing is that when your core body temperature has fallen below the ambient air temperature your visor doesn't fog up anymore. So, wide awake and seeing clearly the road ahead illuminated by my headlights, I kept on until thankfully spying a Days Inn in Gray, Georgia. I pulled in, disattached my frozen limbs from the motorcycle, and stumbled in to request a room.
The room arranged, I walked back out and lifted the luggage from the bike and drug it with me to my second floor room. It was now a half hour past midnight and the plan was to go right to sleep, bypassing the niceties of a shower that such rooms provide and instead pass right out. In the morning I'd throw everything back on and get out as quickly as possible. Still shivering from the evening ride I climbed under the covers.
I think I fell asleep before my hand reached back from turning off the bedside light. I awoke a few times in the night, each time feeling itchy all over. I was too tired to care and each time fell back asleep. In the morning, in spite of the bed looking nice and clean when I jumped in it last night, I expected to find other hotel guests peppered across the sheets, but they were still spotless. Then it hit me; it wasn't bed bugs, but the ice crystals in my skin cells returning to their liquid state that was making me itch.
I had the television on just long enough to catch the temperature the night before. The local channel said it was 41 degrees, but I had my doubts, unless they meant 41 degrees below absolute zero. They said the temperature would be the same in the morning. As I rode the frost was on the fields and grass, and cars I passed parked beside the road, and I know for water to freeze like that it must be less than 32 degrees. As I rode away, I wondered what the wind-chill produced at 65 or 70 miles per hour would reduce that to.
I was back again, riding on the Georgia back roads in the dark and the cold. I tried to stay behind occasional cars, using them as a kind of shield against deer strikes and also utilizing their headlights as an auxiliary to mine, which in spite of being adjusted time and again, generally light the cloud bottoms when turned on “bright” rather than the road ahead.
Eventually the sky lightened, and I was struck by how long at these higher latitudes it took to go from pre-dawn glow to full sunshine compared to the on-off dawns of Florida. With the light, I would have thought would have come warmer temperatures, but of course, as the day progressed I was progressing northward and to cooler climes, negating any increase in warmth the rising sun might have imparted.
It wasn't until north of Athens, Georgia, that dawn finally became day. I rode the loop around the city and out the other north side onto US 441. Within a half hour I had come to Interstate 85 which aimed me northeast toward Spartanburg, South Carolina, and my turn-off to Inman.
Crossing Lake Hartwell and entering South Carolina brought traffic which thickened as the day went on. It was now Saturday, however, so I was spared much of the traffic around Greenville and made good time, spying my exit onto I-26 north soon after. I was almost there with only three exits to go. Finally, I turned onto Asheville Highway and immediately took a left on a small side road, finishing the 620 mile trip with a two mile ride down the winding dirt road, arriving at Tim's place in a little clear pocket among the woods at around 9:45 am.
A quick hello and I pulled my camo over the clothes I had ridden in. I assembled the shotgun I had strapped behind me on the back of the bike and off into the woods behind the house we went. Tim took the ravine to the east that followed the creek and I walked downhill to the north, climbing to the tree stand Tim and I had built a few months ago on an earlier visit, that looked down across the creek and up the wooded hillside toward the house. Then it occurred to me that I had ridden exhausted in the cold to get here and then climbed exhausted into the stand to sit for hours in the cold. Now, that's a vacation.
Tim and I used to hunt deer in Florida, but I gave it up after hunting for seven years and bringing one deer home about the size of a greyhound and when Tim had moved away. All we had to hunt on was public wildlife management areas and they were under such pressure that it was rare to even see deer, let alone put some meat on the table. Tim now, however, had bought some acreage that included woods and a stream. The first day he had bagged two deer, and another had followed not long after that. So as I sat and shivered in my tree, I had high hopes of finally having some venison in the freezer. If I was successful, Tim could haul my catch down in a few weeks when he came south for his daughter's graduation from the University of South Florida.
Hours passed, then a walk back to the house for a quick lunch of venison barbecue, was followed by a climb back into the tree until evening. The wind blew chill and the temperature fell again as night came on. No deer today, but we had the consolation of a fire in the fireplace and a venison tenderloin on the grill for dinner. Tomorrow, we surely would have some luck.
In the morning I awoke to deer sausage and gravy with biscuits and then we were in the woods again. We sat until noon, went in for more barbecue, and then out again until night, seeing nothing but squirrels. The hunting gods were not smiling on us and my time had run out.
The next morning, I left before light heading south now on the route I had intended to take on the way up. Google Maps estimated 557 miles, compared to the 580 miles an Interstate route via I-26, I-95, and I-4 would yield, and I would be able to ride on back roads, which I vastly prefer to freeway travel. My desire to have venison in our freezer now depended on my brother getting another deer before he came down in the middle of December.
In the dark and cold once again, I headed south on I-26, crossing my previous route and getting off at Clinton, South Carolina. From here my route was south of SC 56 to SC 39, as the light crept into the eastern sky. I was supposed to follow 39 to Saluda and SC 121, which would take me to US 25 just past Trenton and on to I-20, just east of Augusta and the Georgia state line. Instead, I missed 121 and kept following 39, which eventually dumped onto I-20, but much further east than I had intended. I reestablished my bearings and soon was heading toward Augusta where I was to take 415 around the city and join US 25 in Georgia. Again, I zoomed right past my exit and pulled off at the next one to get fuel. I swear I had not seen a sign for the by-pass, the same for 121 back at Saluda. I began to have little faith in South Carolina road signs, which must be on the bottom of the budget list of things to do when building roads.
It turned out I had exited onto US 25, so after gassing up and getting some calories in me, by means of some toast and hot black coffee, I got back on 25 and headed south into Georgia. Luckily, this route did not pass through too much of the city as I had thought it would, and soon I was back in the Georgia countryside among cotton fields and pecan groves.
US 25 flowed through the east Georgia farmland, through Statesboro, Jessup, and on to Folkston and US 1, just north of the Florida border.
By now I had been able to remove the gaiter, but that was the extent of my disrobing. I was glad to be rid of it as it had caused my neck to become stiff by not allowing my head to tilt backwards. The air was still cold, but bearable without the gaiter, but with my inner jacket's collar zipped up under my neck.
I was back in familiar territory for a while, having ridden US 1 on other trips up to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I once again split from the familiar road at Callahan, continuing on to Jacksonville and the I-295 by-pass. Back on the Interstate I sped south only as far as US 17, and after passing Orange Park and Green Cove Springs, I was out of most of the traffic all the way to Palatka.
Palatka is the northern gateway to the Ocala National Forest and checking my fuel to be sure I could come out the other side not walking instead of riding, I got on US 19 for the ride through the forest.
It was now late afternoon, and still chilly with clouds blotting out the sky and a frigid breeze working its way under my clothing. I wanted to be sure of being out the other side of the forest before darkness fell, and I succeeded and even made it through Eustis, Mount Dora, and out onto US 27 by way of County Road 561 before the light faded completely.
Now back in the dark, I was on the lookout for some food. I knew I would be home too late for cooking dinner there, so I was thinking a small steak would fit the bill nicely to finish up the trip. I kept an eye out for a place to procure one and soon came across a Santa Fe Steakhouse. I went inside, took off a couple of layers and started the rewarming procedure while enjoying my last meal on the road. A sirloin and more coffee consumed, and soon I was back on the road with only one more stop to make before riding into the driveway.
I had a traditional stop at my local hangout, Fuzzy's, a cozy biker bar a couple miles from the house, for a single celebratory beer before returning home from my trips. This is a place where I feel like Norm of “Cheers” fame, where I was usually greeted by warm shouts of “Ozzy!” when I walked in. The moniker “Ozzy” is due to a likeness I am supposed to have of the Black Sabbath singer; I don't believe more than two of the patrons know my real name.
I arrived at home about 7 pm, about 13 hours and 580 miles after I had left my brother's place, making the total mileage 1,200 miles. I learned something on the trip. I do not mind riding in the cold and I do not mind riding for hour on end, but it would be a long time before I would combine the two.
"Ride Your Own Ride"