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Northbound in Mid-October—Part Nine

The Push Home

On the following morning it was time for me to start the several hundred-mile ride back to Florida. I grabbed a breakfast biscuit and a couple cups of coffee at the office, then settled my bill, climbed onto the Tiger, and crunched across the gravel out to the road, bound for Valdosta, Georgia, for the day.


I didn’t bother with maps, as much of the territory I’d be covering I had ridden many times before. I did turn on the GPS, punched in “Valdosta GA”, and hit “GO,” in hopes that the “Avoid Interstates” option would keep me well clear of Interstate 75 and the huge and busy area around Atlanta and get me south of the Interstate 85 corridor, running between Atlanta and Greenville, South Carolina. If I could avoid those areas and get south of I-85, I would be on familiar roads that would make navigation easy. But as I rode south, it became obvious that the GPS was sending me straight into the very area I had wanted to avoid. I abandoned the GPS route and headed southeast toward Dahlonega, where I could pick up US Highway 129, and from there no map or GPS would be needed at all.


Getting past Athens, using its simple and familiar circular bypass, sent me straight into the heart of Georgia farm country and eventually, to Macon.


This day was the longest distance I’d cover on the two-day jaunt home, so I decided, to save time and ensure an arrival before dark, to take the Interstate south from there all the way to my friend Julie’s house, just west of Exit 18 in Valdosta. I ramped up the throttle, set the cruise control at five miles per hour under the speed limit to minimize my fuel consumption, and sped south in the right lane.


I started to regret leaving my sweatshirt on under my riding jacket as the day warmed into the 80s. Luckily, other than a stop for gas, the continuous wind from my forward motion kept me cool enough to make it all the way without a wardrobe change. It had been eleven days since I’d left temperatures in the 80s and had headed out into ever increasingly chilly air, but now I was back in the South and the heat.


I pulled into Julie’s driveway just as the sun was setting and parked the Tiger in the open garage. Inside, I shed my outer layers, was handed a beer, and ordered to relax, while Julie grilled thick steaks. Her brothers, Dan and Steve, and I chatted until the call to dinner, when I hungrily wolfed down the hot sirloin, potatoes, and vegetables, after not having had a bite since leaving Tellico early that morning.


Julie had an early class to teach the next morning at Valdosta State University, and I was exhausted, so we called it a night early, and I trundled down the hall to “Mike’s Room.”


Julie was already at work when I awoke in the morning. I gathered all my things, geared up, and loaded the bike for the last time. As I got on and started backing it out of the garage, the Tiger felt odd, like it was heavier than normal, although it was loaded exactly as it had been when I had arrived. It took considerable effort to roll the bike backwards out to the driveway. I had the same feeling I'd had had back at Rainbow Family Restaurant on the way north on the first day. I got off the Tiger to find a flat back tire and a shiny spot of metal in the tread.


I’d taken my time, getting up late and loading the bike in no particular hurry. After all, I was only twenty miles from Florida and 267 miles from home. I thought I had plenty of time to spare to get home before nighttime. Now that had all changed. I knew from the first day of this ride, when it had taken from nine o’clock in the morning to two o’clock in the afternoon to get the tire repaired by a shop, that a dealership may not be a timesaver.


I filled up the tire. It seemed to be holding air. The nearest motorcycle shop was only a few miles away, so I thought I could ride there and get it repaired much more quickly than I had before, when I'd had to wait for a tow truck for hours to be taken to a shop quite a distance away. I gave the closest shop a call.


“Nope, don’t have a tube that size.” I tried calling other shops, one a dealership further away, but had no success. I started to pull the wheel, thinking if Dan would just drive me to a shop wheel-in-hand, then I might have more luck. I called a dealership when they opened at ten o’clock, only to be told by the service department that they did not have the tools to work on a Triumph. Yeah, right!” I thought, “They don’t have metric tools in a motorcycle dealership service department—unlikely.” They offered to look for a seventeen-inch tube—no luck. Another shop referred me to one that did work on tires and was not too far from where I was. I rang them—closed on Mondays.


By then, I had the wheel completely off. I did carry the tools to fix a flat, in case I had one in a very isolated area where I had no other options…and that seemed to be the place I was currently, even though I was in the fairly large city of Valdosta.


I sat the wheel down on the old carpet I’d been given to use and went to pull the valve core to deflate the tube completely. I reached for my tire tools—no valve core tool. I always have at least one, but now that I needed one, it was gone. I suspected that when my experimental tire tool tube I had suspended from the panier rack’s rear crossbar had cracked, the tool must have shaken out. I had abandoned the tool tube and relocated its contents to my left pannier, not noticing the missing tool. I had my doubts that I could get enough air out of the tube to enable me to pull it out to repair it by only depressing the valve, but I would give it a shot.


A Final Challenge


Easily enough, I popped the tire off the bead on one side, then began the struggle to pull it over the rim so I could access the tube. When I’d try prying it over the last bit, the tire would constantly reseat on the bead on the opposite side, instead of staying in the middle groove of the rim that would give me room enough to get the tire over the rim, and with the opposite side in the wrong position no prying would pull the tire over. Again and again, I tried, constantly paying attention to the location on the opposite side, trying not to let it reseat. Finally, after an hour or so, it plopped over the rim, and the inner tube could be reached.


There was the tube, still inflated enough to defy my pulling it out through the narrow slot between the rim and tire. All I needed out was the side on the far side from the valve, because luckily, the puncture had been there and so could be repaired without completely removing the tube. I tried letting out a little more air by depressing the valve and squeezing what I could reach of the tube inside the tire. I did that several times, until with a final mighty tug, the tube came out.


I’d not lost my patching kit from the tool tube when the valve tool had made its escape, so after pulling out the offending nail from the tire, I roughed up the area of the puncture on the tube, coated it with cement, waiting for it to dry as instructed, then placed a patch on top, rubbing it vigorously to ensure good adhesion. I waited a few minutes, tucked the tube back in, then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best as I spooned the tire back over the rim.


Now all together again, I attached the little portable compressor and plugged it into the bike’s power lead. Slowly, the tire expanded, and finally, with a couple pops, the beads on both sides were seated. I continued airing it up until I had reached the recommended pressure, and then waited…and waited some more. When I applied the pressure gauge to the valve, I got the same value I had when I had first inflated it—success! It had been a dirty job and had consumed a couple hours, but I was satisfied with it and my ability to get it done on my own. It had been the first time I had unmounted and remounted the wheel on the Tiger, but I didn’t run into any snags, and in fact, it had been easier than the same job had been on the Bonneville.


It was well into midday when I had reloaded the Tiger and climbed back on board, bound for central Florida and home. It would be a challenge, again, to make it in before dark. I headed back to the Interstate and decided that accepting the lower gas mileage that would entail was worth the time savings I would get in return, so I stayed on it, flying past the many “We Bare All” strip club signs approaching Micanopy, Florida, and continuing almost to Bushnell, where I struck out across the flat countryside, once again on old familiar roads all the way back to Lake Wales.


The sun was down when I first sighted Bok Tower on the horizon, and by the time I rolled into the driveway at home, 4,461 miles from when I had left, the skies had darkened into night. I’d been as far west as the Mississippi River and as far north in Michigan as it was possible to go. Other than the two flats, I had no problems with the Tiger and had become quite acquainted with its features and with riding it. The best part was simply getting back on the road for an extended time after the long recovery of virtually doing nothing motorcycle-related after my crash on the Blue Ridge Parkway in April. The only regret I had was not having more time to ride further and to explore more in-depth some of the places I’d gone. In time, though, there will be more opportunities to get away and more places to see. I’m looking forward to that.