When my motorcycle coughed, sputtered, coughed again, juddered, coughed a few more times, and finally rolled to a stop by the side of the road â€“half way up the AlCan- I thought it was because my motorcycle was jealous. Jealous of the cute little Yamaha 100 I had rented in Nepal the month before, and she was just now paying me back.
Once on the side of the road, I looked for anything obviously wrong. Everyting seemed in itâ€™s correct place, so I tried to start her. She started and ran perfectly.
I continued down the road, thinking that it was just a little glitch, and wouldnâ€™t happen again.
My â€™77 Yamaha XS750 was the top of the line sport bike of its day. Now it is just old, underpowered and overweight, but she fit me perfectly.
The styling was moddled on the British bikes of the sixties. Long straight seat, upright handlebars, and an upright sitting position. The old time, simple way to ride a motorcycle, rather than te new style of leaning all the way over with your weight on your hands.
This Yamaha is also a very tall bike, which suited my six foot three frame. With most other bikes I felt like my knees were around my ears.
She had one other wonderful trait; she was simple. Engine, carbs, tires, brakes. No computers or modern do-dads, just the basics, which should make her easy to fix if there were any problems.
As I rode down the road again, all my senses were working overtime waiting for the bike to stall again. I listened for a change in exhaust note, felt for a misfire, smelt for leaking gas, looked for problems.
Well, almost all my senses, because I didnâ€™t taste anything. That would just be wrong.
She ran beautifully. Eventually I realized that it was just an odd hiccup that happens with machinery ever once in a while, and relaxed into the ride and the scenery again.
She stalled later in the afternoon.
I had spent a few years working as an auto mechanic, so I knew the problem must be in the fuel system. If there is an electrical fault, the vehicle will just die, there will be no warning, no cough, no sputter, just dead silence on the road. But because the bike sputtered its way to the side of the road it must be a fuel problem.
But the fuel system was wonderfully simple. It was just a fuel tank, with two rubber hoses feeding the fuel by gravity to the carberators.
It must be dirt in the carberators, I thought.
By the side of the road, I checked the obvious things, and the bike started right up.
It was an hour or two before she stalled again.
The next day she stalled a few more times. So by the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, I took the bottom off the carbs to search for dirt, I didnâ€™t see any, put them back together, and she ran perfectly again.
I thought she was fixed as she went the rest of the day without a hiccup.
But the next morning it happened again.
As I continued my journey, the bike stalled with no rhyme or reason. One hour it would stall three times, and then run perfectly for four hours.
If only she would completely die and not restart. If this happened, I could find the culprit. But this intermittent problem made it impossible to diagniose.
After a few days of checking the bike each time it stalled, I finally gave up. There was nothing I could do until it completely failed, so I just kept riding.
I used the stalling bike as an excuse to take a break. Telling myself that it was good to get off the bike more often. It gave me time to listen to the land, smell the trees, drink a Mountain Dew, smoke a cigarette, and release the used Mountain Dew on a nearby tree.
As I slowly got closer and closer to Anchorage, the stalling became worse and worse. By the time I was thirty miles from the city, I had to get off at every exit and wait a minute for it to restart. There is nothing like seeing the final destination after an 11 day journey, and not being able to get there.
On those last few exits before Anchorage, I swore at my bike, I told her she was a piece of shit, not worthy of the scrap yard. I told her that I never wanted to ride her again. I even stupidly considered the idea to just leave her there and walk the rest of the way.
But finally I was riding along Fifth Avenue, through Downtown Anchorage. The road went down a little hill and terminated at the water, just a few blocks from downtown. There was a little park, so I parked my bike and looked out over the water.
I had made it, and suddenly all that tension that had been with me for the last few days, the tension of not knowing if the bike was ever going to start again melted away.
I had arrived. And my bike had arrived.
Now I could relax, because all I needed to do was find a place to live, a job, and hopefully some new friends.
That night I stayed in a hostel, then a few weeks in a weekly motel, and then finally I found my little studio apartment, on Sixth Avenue, just one block from the little park where I spent my first few moments in Anchorage.
Over the next few weeks I rode the bike around Anchorage searching for a job and a place to live. On almost every trip, the damn thing would stall. Each time, as I stood by the side of the speeding traffic, at those people with their wonderfully reliable vehicles, I would curse the day I bought her. When I was done cursing, she was start up again until the whole process would start again.
During this time I had had the tank off the bike, cleaned out the petcocks, cleaned out the carberators (three times) and still had no idea of what was happening. I was at the point of throwing parts at the bike. Which never is a good idea. Throwing parts at a vehicle is a technical term mechanics use when they are stumped at what is wrong, and just start replacing parts until the problem goes away.
This is never a good idea, because of Murphyâ€™s Law states that you will spend an infinite amount of money on parts you donâ€™t need to replace, only to find in the end that it was a simple two dollar do-dad.
One afternoon, while stuck on the side of the road, I undid the bolt holding the gas tank down, pulled it up an inch, looked again for anything that could be wrong, and because I had been taking the tank on and off to try to fix the problem, left the bolt out.
The bike ran fine. It stopped stalling and ran perfectly. What the hell was this? How could removing this bolt make the bike run better?
Then, suddenly I knew what the problem was, and just as suddenly felt like a complete and utter idiot.
In the motel parking lot, I inspected the little rubber hoses that I had changed just before leaving for Alaska. Each one was kinked ever so slightly and I knew what was happening.
When I had replaced the hoses, I had made them a little bit longer so it was easier to lift up the fuel tank to get to the hose clamps, and that extra length made them kink and slowly cut off the fuel supply to the carberators.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. This whole thing was my fault, and all that time I had been mentally yelling and screaming at the bike. I mentally apologized to her for my unfounded anger, patted the tank kindly with my hand, cut a quarter inch off each hose, and from them on, the bike ran wonderfully.
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Road to Alaska: Section VII