Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quell's Maiden Voyage: Day 1

or, In Defense of Rednecks

This first report was written in a motel in Belfair, Washington, Thursday, July 12.

I spent the night in a motel, after a routine stop to make sure my tires were maintaining the proper air pressure ended with me flooding Quell. All the usual starting tricks for a flooded 2-stroke were of no avail. Oh, he'd start up for a bit, but would die as I warmed him up, or when I tried to put him into gear and get underway.
It had been a long day, and not only had I missed the ferry that would get me into Seattle in time for the Kymco cruise, I'd also missed any ferry that would get me there before my harried hosts, Mage and Gretchen, retired for the night. I'd be better equipped to tackle the situation with a good night's sleep and a full belly.
Day 1 of the maiden voyage ended with me watching Willie, Waylon, and Kris Kristoffersen in a Western on the Hallmark Channel, in an air-conditioned motel, stuffed with Chinese food.

Did I say it was a long day?
It started with the expected hurried preparations and packing. Tightened up some nuts and bolts, loaded up the top case, and I was off at around 10:30 am. I took Madrona Beach (always a lovely drive) to the Steamboat island turnoff. Topped off the tank, and got my tire pressure dead-on to the specs. Chugged a bottle of water, and pulled onto Highway 101. The highway wasn't as bad as I expected. It was a bright sunshiny day, with little wind at this point. Quell happily cruised at 50 mph in 4th gear. Since he only started the day with 513 miles on his engine, he still wasn't broken in, so I was trying to follow Piaggio's run-in recommendations.

Made another stop at the gas station by Little Creek Casino, for reservation priced smokes, and continued on to finish the 101 leg of the trip.

Turned off 101 onto 3, and faced Quell's first city traffic. OK, so Shelton is certainly not big-city rushhour traffic, but Quell handled all the stoplights, sudden gear changes, and lane changes admirably. It was a few miles the otherside of Shelton, when my troubles began.

A couple of miles before the turnoff to Sky's farmhouse, Quell's rear tire started feeling squirrely. I pulled over onto the shoulder. Sure enough, the back tire had lost half of it's pressure. The valve stem seemed a little weird, and I figured it just didn't reextend properly after being topped off back at Steamboat.

Sky was home, but his car was having issues. So I secured the scene and started trapsing back down to a Chevron I'd passed a couple miles back. My spirit was unfazed by this set back. It was a gorgeous day, and the situation was nothing I couldn't handle. My mindset was buzzing with adventure, this independent road trip being the first in many years. I was in such an adventurous state of mind, I even tried hitch-hiking.

Now, I haven't hitch-hiked since my early twenties, when I was prone to the occasional continent-crossing wanderjahr. But if there's anything to get you feeling young, it's a larger displacement Vespa, and the open road. I tried to thumb down the first few groups of vehicles that flew by with no luck. No big deal. My karma's alright, I pick up hitchers in Oly sometimes, where they are usually harmlessly eccentric Greeners or hipster kids. But I suppose I can understand why no one out in the boonies wanted to pick up a guy with "V for Vendetta" facial hair. So there's a tip for you would be hitching steampunk gentlemen, a Snidely Whiplash 'stache is probably not so good.
Anyway, only a few minutes after I give up thumbin', a big extended cab, extended bed, six-wheeled pickup pulls over in front of me. "Was that your bike back there?" asks a cheerful older redneck from the cab. It wasn't the last time that day, that I silently thanked the Universe for friendly country-folks.
The driver had to go into Shelton for some plumbing parts, and so apologized for not being able to give a lift back to the bike. "No sweat," I tell him, "I'll get a big bottle of cold water with my fix-a-flat, and the walk shouldn't be too bad."
I did, and it wasn't.
At least until about two-thirds of the way back to Quell. There I hit a hill that was no big deal on a 200cc scoot, but weren't too much fun on foot, in the sun, with an already finished bottle of water. Luckily, at about this point, another, different white Ford pick-'em-up pulled over. "Need a ride?"
This driver was named Mike, and he younger and more chatty than the first guy. When we got to Quell he offered to haul it back to his shop when he came back this way in a few minutes. I told him "sure," if I was still struggling, but I figured the fix-a-flat should solve it.
Mike informed me that you aren't supposed to use fix-a-flat on cycle tires. Hmmm...
Once Mike pulled away, I got out the fix-a-flat... Yep, it says right on it "not for use in Motorcycle tires." Well, I thought, the P's tires are different from normal motorcycle tires... plus I just needed to able to limp it up to the Book Farm, where I could air up the spare and put it on. (Note to self: from now on check pressure in, and air up spare, when checking other tires.)
The can of fix-a-flat was really a booger to get connected. While I was fumbling with it, another white truck pulled up, this time it was a State Trooper, who politely asked if I needed assistance. I chatted with him for a bit about Quell, and let him know I had the situation under control. He then took his leave of me.
Mike returned right as I had finally gotten the fix-a-flat connected. I explained to him that I just needed to get to my buddies house, and if I'd ruined the tire, it just gave me an excuse to get some whitewalls. We chatted for awhile about the paint job on the scoot, and he asked about getting some smoke painted on his rear window. The tire filled up and I was on my way. I turned off of 3, and started down Pickering to the Farmhouse.

I made it maybe another 3 miles before I got a sinking feeling in my gut. Quell's posterior was getting wobbly again. I pulled over to the side of the road, and put him up on his center stand...
At least I tried to... The shoulder here was gravel, not an extension of the asphalt like on 3. Gravel and sloped...
Thus did Quell get dropped for the first time. I had a hold of him, so the drop wasn't too bad. But I was on gravel too, and had a hard time getting sure footing to hold him up.
As quickly as was possible, I got him righted and securely propped up on a section of the shoulder that was level and solid. Inspection proved the drop wasn't too severe. There were light scratches on the right cowl, but the barely penetrated the wax, and certainly did penetrate the many coats of clear. The rubber guard on the legshield trim served it's purpose. There were a few deeper scratches to the paint of windshield, but they fit with paint. Now it looks like scratched wood, doesn't mar the finish, so much as help reinforce the illusion of the paint.
At this point I congratulated my self prematurely on not being a total moron. This was just how I'd hoped the paint job would function.

Clever boy that I am, I'd gotten 2 bottles of fix-a-flat. So, I hunkered down once again to the rear tire to hook up the last one. I was so close to Sky's at this point, I just wanted to limp there, and deal with all this in the shade.
This time the fix-a-flat just would not connect to the valve stem. Upon closer examination, the valve stem looked like it had a chunk bitten out of it... Hmmm... Maybe it was too long? I messed around with this for awhile, refusing to accept the obvious, and dreading the idea of pushing Quell all the way to the Book Farm.

Then the fourth truck of the day pulled up. This time it was brownish yellow pickup piloted by a bright-eyed, stubbly faced Bubba who couldn't have been even 21, named Dewayne. He graciously offered to haul Quell and I to Sky's. The road was sloped up enough on that side, that Dewayne was able to pull off the road and back up perpendicular to the shoulder, his open tailgate almost level with the shoulder. We were thus able to roll the Vespa onto the truckbed, with only tiniest amount of lifting. Brilliant.
A short ride, and we unloaded Quell in the shade of Sky's garage without incident. I said goodbye to Dewayne, and reiterated my gratitude. Then I went into the Farmhouse and found one Sky Cosby in his natural habitat, ensconced behind a wall of books.

Sky and I both needed breaks at this point. I have a beer with Sky, as I was sure that between changing the tire, and cooling down both physically and mentally, it would be at least 2 hours before I'd be back on the road. Brews in hand, we went to peek at the tire.
After a brief look, Sky proposed that rather than the valve stem being long, it was probably facing the wrong way...
Did I say I'm not a complete idiot?

Sky consoled me with a quote along the lines of "an expert is someone who has made all the possible mistakes in a given field of knowledge." So at least I know I'm working towards something...
We had a nice chat about attention, mental focus, the boneheaded mistakes you make when attention wavers, and about how Buddhism is really less a religion, than a set of cognitive tools for maintaining mental focus. We checked out Sky's small but beautifully landscaped garden.
Eventually, I headed back to Quell, where I got the spare inflated and installed in a jiffy. It went very smoothly, and the tire got put on the correct way this time.
Changing tires is really easy on old Vespas, fortunately. Why, I was bragging about that to Jes, just the other day, right after ***ahem*** I put the tire on the wrong way.

Anyway... I got the tire squared away, updated Gretchen and Mage as to my progress, and got back on the road. Just as I was leaving Sky's I noticed how much the wind had increased.
But, aside from some buffeting from wind, the next few miles go by uneventfully. I wasn't very comfortable on this stretch of the trip. Two lane rural highway, lots of hills and twisties, but I was unfamiliar with it, and on a bike that was new to me, and which I wanted to break in gently. So I wanted to take it slow, but there were few places for cagers to pass.
I stopped in Belfair for a break as much as to check air pressure. Which brings us back to where this story started.

The picture above was taken Thurs. evening at the gas station in Belfair, where Quell spent the night. Sorry, this was about the only photo I took that day, since I was preoccupied by technical issues. You can see the web gallery of my Seattle AmeriVespa 2007 photos here, though. And of course, I'll be posting a lot more as the story of the Dragon's AmeriVespa Adventure continues...

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