DirtDaze 2018

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There’s a particular look my wife has when I’ve been talking about bikes too long (i.e. about 5 minutes). It’s the same sort of look I suspect one has when looking at the boss’s baby photos, or when listening to the minutia of someone’s genealogy: a look of polite indifference. Then I know it’s time to change the topic. One thing among many that I like about DirtDaze is that it’s bikes! bikes! bikes! all weekend long. You talk about bikes at breakfast. You ride bikes during the day. You talk about bikes at dinner. You ride bikes again in the evening. And you talk about bikes at the bonfire. If you’ve got the jones for bikes, you can get your fix at DirtDaze.

This year was my second time down at Lake Luzerne. You can read about my first experience here. This year I was going with a lowered windscreen and, more importantly, knobby tires, so Bigby was more off-road ready. I had also since done an off road course and been practising my skills, so I was especially looking forward to the weekend. I had the bike packed and literally left from the college when the last essay was graded. DirtDaze is my conditioned stimulus for the beginning of summer and time to relax and have fun. I whooped into my helmet as I headed down the 15 Thursday evening toward the border.

That morning, with the bike fully loaded, I had looked at my headlight as the bike warmed up. That doesn’t look right, I thought. It was very dim. But I was already late for work so climbed on and rode away. Thinking about it later that morning, I realized the headlamp was burnt out. Oh well, I thought, all my riding is during the day . . . I thought. In fact, taking the 9 instead of the interstate resulted in me riding the final 45 minutes or so in the dark. Fortunately, I had a high beam or I never would have made it into camp. The Painted Pony Ranch, which hosts the rally, is on a back road with no streetlights, and even if I’d managed to find the ranch I surely would have run over somebody’s tent while finding a spot to pitch my own. My apologies to all those drivers I blinded with high beams. It was an auspicious start to the weekend.

After my tent was up and prepped, I wandered up to the bonfire and sat down beside some folks from the Rochester area. They invited me to ride with them the next day, and since DirtDaze is all about community and group rides, I took them up on their offer. If someone’s willing to lead, I’ll surely follow. So the next morning, James, Cody, Nick, Carlos, and I headed off on a ride with James leading; he had some rides from previous years saved on his GPS. Our first stop was a trail that had a mix of sand and mud leading to a challenging rocky hill climb. Almost all of us made it to the top. Or some of us almost made it to the top. Let me say that all of us made it . . . almost to the top. Little did I know this hill climb would be literally and figuratively the high point of my weekend.

Shortly after we descended and started riding on asphalt again, disaster struck in the worst possible way. No, I didn’t crash and die. Worse: my temperature light came on and the bike overheated. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know that I’ve been having a lot of trouble with my cooling system. I feared the worst, but we started with the simplest and easiest. We tightened all the hoses and started the bike again. The temp light came on. We bled the system and started the bike. The temp light came on. We took the thermostat out and started the bike. The temp light came on. Finally, we took the water pump cover off and I spun the impeller freely with my finger; the impeller was not engaged with the drive gear. I couldn’t believe my eyes: it was another stripped gear, and in the worst possible place!

Carlos got on his phone. MaxBMW in New Hampshire could ship the part overnight to the Painted Pony Ranch. James gave me a tow back to camp. By dinner, I already had two offers for a lift back to Burlington and one to Plattsburgh. Marilyn could get a trailer down there to bring me and Bigby across the border. There was hope and help, but I was pretty discouraged.

That evening I phoned my wife. She said afterwards that she’d never heard me so down. In truth, I was considering selling Bigby, but don’t tell her that. It would have broken my heart, but if she’s not reliable, I can’t trust her to take me where I plan to go. I wandered through the campsite, looking at the different bikes, thinking of what my next one might be. I was considering the Kawasaki KLR, the ubiquitous adventure bike that’s built like a tank and hasn’t changed in over 30 years. In fact, Christian Dutcher, the DirtDaze Director, lent me his KLR Friday afternoon when he heard mine was out for the count. I liked it a lot. If I couldn’t afford an Africa Twin (and who am I kidding . . . I can’t afford one), then a used KLR would definitely be an option. Someone at the bonfire was singing the praises of Suzuki. Any Japanese bike, for that matter, would be more reliable and cheaper to run and maintain than a BMW. I went to bed dreading the next day. If I got the bike running again, I would cut my weekend short and limp home, then take the bike into BMW and pay through the nose for them to figure out why the pump keeps failing.

The next morning, James, Nick and I started taking the bike apart. We laid it on its side to minimize how much oil we would lose. Here, my previous experience with the job was helpful and we had the clutch cover off in no time. I expected to find a stripped gear, was surprised to find it intact but spinning freely on the spindle. The cross-pin that engages the gear had come out! It seems that I had never completely seated the gear when I installed it in May. It had engaged sufficiently to ride to work several times and even do some light off roading in Quebec, but that rocky hill climb must have dislodged things. I was relieved to know that the failure was all mine, not a design flaw or chronic problem with the bike. In the parlance of my students, “My bad!”

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James in foreground, Nick and Cody, Danny in back. The clutch is covered with paper towel to prevent milkweed falling into it.

The rest of the day was spent mostly waiting for my shipment with the new gear. I struck up a conversation with Danny from Montreal. Danny had injured his ankle unfortunately early in the weekend and was laid up. We made plans to do some off roading in Quebec once his ankle heals. I also wandered over to the Beta tent and tried a trials bike, which was very interesting. But my mind was really only on one thing: fixing my bike and getting back to Montreal.

Finally, at 3 o’clock, the part arrived. This time we took the new gear and, rather than tap it onto the cross-pin using a hammer and socket, as I had done, James pressed it on with his thumbs. (The bike being on its side facilitated this.) There was an audible snap as it clicked into place, and we were all confident it was on properly this time. Then it was just a matter of putting the bike back together and refilling the fluids. MaxBMW had shipped a litre of oil and I filled the rad with water. I ran the bike and the temperature light did NOT come on. I gave it a ride around the area to be sure. A few adjustments to the clutch cable and shifter and Bigby was good as new. What a relief!

I asked the boys what their favourite beer is, then bought 3 6s which we proceeded to kill at the bonfire on the final night. Sometime into my fourth, or was it my fifth, beer it occurred to me the gear came out not in the worst possible place but the best. If you’re going to suffer a breakdown, it’s best to do it on a ride with two mechanical engineers and within a community of riders who have each other’s back. I know I kind of ruined the morning for these people who had invited a stranger onto their ride, but they stuck with me to the end, even helping with the repairs. I have to thank Carlos for finding the part, James and Nick for their mechanical help, Cody for her patience and understanding, Christian for lending me his bike so I didn’t lose a day, Ken for his offer of a lift back to the border, and the lady at the gate the entire weekend (I didn’t even catch her name, to my embarrassment), who watched all day for the FedEx truck and even reimbursed me for the guided ride I missed.

And that’s really what DirtDaze is all about. It’s an off-road rally, but at its heart is a community of riders that could serve as a model for all communities: good people, having fun, helping those in need. The riding is pretty good too.

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