Monday, July 27, 2015

2015 Blogger to Blogger Tour - Departure

The night before I leave is never truly restful. I become apprehensive. The rut of daily life feels deep, and the comforts of home weigh on me as I think of the looming launch. The risks and uncertainties drift around me, like shifting banks of grey fog, as my imagination conjures reasons to stay safely put.

I emerge slowly from my restless slumber and the reality of the trip begins to dawn on me as the rising sun bathes the bedroom in shades of pale grey.

The warmth of the shower, the cascade of cleansing water, drenching my body, washes the doubts away, clears my mind. Reality is the antidote that sets me free.

The final pieces come together, I pull on my armoured pants, snap the buckles down on my boots. I look up to find Susan in the doorway, still sleepy, smiling. We hug and kiss. That seals the launch. I feel myself floating almost free.

I pull on my jacket and helmet, wrestle the tour-laden Vespa off the centre stand, and hit the starter. I roll down the driveway. "Turn left on Beaconsfield Boulevard" the Garmin commands. That's how my 2015 Blogger to Blogger Tour begins.

I was so preoccupied with the departure details that as I hit the highway and my mind relaxed, I realized that I had neglected to take a photo of the adventure-ready Vespa. I hopped off the highway and took the lakeshore road until there was a suitable place to take a picture.
With that out of the way, I got back on track headed to the border. Thoughts of risk were not completely banished.  The specters of risk rose to mind as I crossed the Champlain bridge to Montreal's south shore. I stuck to the middle lane. A few weeks earlier a motorcyclist was killed crossing the bridge when the impact of a crash launched him off the bridge, plunging him hundreds and hundreds of feet to the river below.

The border crossing was quick and easy.

I was headed to exit 29 off I-87 right in the heart of the Adirondack exits.

While there is plenty of beauty to behold on stretches of the Northway...
...  I was anxious to leave the Interstate and head west into the mountains.  The Interstate twists, and alternately climbs and dips as it heads into New York State's mountainous upstate playground.  I was riding wide-open throttle. The speedometer indicated just over 120 km/h, while the GPS, set to miles, reported a slightly more modest, but dead-on true, 74 mph.
Had I been more vigilant, I would have moderated the pace given that the temperature gauge was edging closer and closer to the redline.
But that detail had managed to escape me.

Exit 29 was finally here, I eased off the throttle and coasted off the freeway.

Looking down, I noticed water on my right knee. Huh?

Once off the exit ramp I pulled onto the gravel shoulder.  The sun was shining brightly.  Sweat beaded on my neck and down my spine as soon as I spotted the mess on the floorboards.  Coolant.

Was this the end of my adventure? Over before it had really begun?  Should I bail?

I knew that my Vespa's motor would be toast within mere minutes if it ran without coolant.  I looked at the temperature gauge.  The needle was at the midpoint, perfectly normal.  My mind raced, like a cornered animal, looking frantically for a way out, a path forward.

The amount of fluid on the right floorboard indicated a serious leak.  Since there was some fluid on the left floorboard as well, and anti-freeze had leaked from under the bottom lip of the glovebox, there were indications that it was a massive leak, likely a series of leaks.

Having taken my Vespa apart on a number of occasions, and having dealt with a previous coolant leak, I imagined the hose issues that might cause the cooling system to lose that much coolant. But how did the anti-freeze land on my knee and thigh? And with a massive hose or clamp failure, I would still be leaking anti-freeze. By now the temperature gauge ought to have been pegged at the top, not sitting  at the normal midpoint.

Aside from the fluid pooled on the floorboards, everything seemed paradoxically normal. All the clues pointed to a leak from the top of the reservoir behind the right kneepad.

The big question that loomed unanswered was, did I need to scrub the mission?  Did I call for a tow? Should I limp on and hope for the best? Move on, or retreat?  Was a catastrophic failure looming? Much as I wanted to continue, scrapping my Vespa was not an option. Still the heat gauge pointed to normal.  The check engine light wasn't lit. The motor sounded fine.

I'm not a quitter, and I'm not timid. Press on. Find a gas station, top up the coolant, keep an eagle eye on the gauge. Don't max out the throttle, spare the bike. The decision was taking shape. The whole time I sat there, not a single car went by.  Other than the rushing sound of passing cars on the Northway, I was alone.

Acutely conscious of the risk, I pulled off the shoulder and headed down the road. The one thing I didn't do was check the GPS to see where the next gas station might be.  Go figure.

It was a good thing. Had I checked, I might have second-guessed myself.

Blue Ridge Road,  eventually merging with Highway 28N miles away to the west, climbed and twisted its way west into the Adirondack National Park.  Two lanes of asphalt ribbon hemmed in by towering walls of evergreens. Mile upon mile racked up, no sign of habitation, certainly no service station. Eventually the road began a long downhill stretch with twists and turns, and signs warning truckers to slow their rigs.
The ride was spectacular, and would have been dreamy, but for my ultra-sharp focus on the temperature, and monitoring every other aspect of the bike's performance, nursing it up hills, and riding deeper and deeper into my commitment to the ride. While I rode I turned the coolant leak over, and over, and over in my mind.  I was slowly concluding that the cooling system had overheated and the coolant spilled out of the reservoir. That was the only theory I could muster to explain the amount of spilled coolant, the persistently and counter-intuitively normal operating temperature since, and the fact that the Vespa was no longer leaking coolant.

Thirty-seven very long miles later I came to the crossroads where 28N and 30 meet at the village of Long Lake New York.
 The gas station at the intersection was a sight for sore eyes.  I parked the bike at the pumps, and strolled into the gas station convenience store.  "Do you have any anti-freeze?" I inquired, my fingers secretely crossed in my pants pocket. My heart sank briefly as the cashier looked around the store with a furrowed brow. "Oh sure honey, check on that rack over there." I must have looked casual, but inwardly all I could think was "Yes, yes, YES, YES!!"

I eagerly grabbed the two litre jug, shelled out $15 dollars, and headed back to the bike.  I unloaded the gear, refueled, reloaded the gear, and moved the bike to a parking spot next to the convenience store. I unloaded the bike again, strolled over to the pumps and came back with the windshield squeegee, using it to clean up the coolant mess on the legshield and floorboards.

With the environmental clean-up out of the way, I dug out my  tool roll and a rag, and set to work. It took only seconds to remove the right kneepad to reveal the top of the coolant reservoir. I gingerly and slowly twisted  the cap counter-clockwise.  After a quarter turn it hissed softly.  That was it, the pressure subsided and I was able to remove the cap.  The bike had cooled enough that there was no gush of hot liquid. I peered into the neck of the reservoir with the aid of my super bright flashlight. Clearly the coolant was below the 'min' mark. I added anti-freeze slowly until the level was above the minimum mark and closer to the maximum.  In all, I estimate I added about a cup or at most a cup and a half of coolant which roughly matched the amount of coolant I felt I had lost.  So far, so good.

I made a pit stop in the restroom and refilled my water bottle.

I was now reasonably confident that the rest of the trip would be uneventful, at least as far as the Vespa was concerned.

I turned left and headed south on highway 30.  The miles to the Adirondack museum counted down on the Garmin.  Soon I rounded a bend, and down the hill there it was in all its glory.  I pulled into the parking lot and circled around looking for Stephanie's blue Vespa. She wasn't there. Not that she should have been. She had estimated reaching the museum between two and three o'clock. Even with my little coolant misadventure, it was only one o'clock.

I picked a spot in the parking lot where I could keep an eye out for Ms. Yue.
I got my camp chair out and settled in, desperately trying to get internet service so I could monitor messages.
The sun was hot, and I had to maneuver my chair in an effort to stay in the shade cast by the small tree at the edge of the lot.  I gazed at the passing cars. I looked at the clouds.

Time passed, slowly as it does when you wait.  I sipped my water.  I watched more clouds. I baked in the afternoon sun. I wished I was thinner. I checked the cell service, barely there, mostly useless. I listened to the  birds and cicadas. I wished I had brought a hat. Then I remembered a time when I was nine or ten. I went for a hike with my Dad. He had showed me how to make a hat by tying knots in the four corners of a kerchief.  As it happened, I carry a couple of kerchiefs in the glove compartment.  I fished one out and made myself a hat. Much better. I watched more clouds. I fiddled with taking selfies thanks to my camera's WiFi remote iPhone app.  Thanks Bob.
And then it happened.  A bike rounded the curve at the bottom of the hill to the south.  Could it be?
Of course it could!!!
And there she was, in the flesh. Stephanie Yue and her blue Vespa with the Rhode Island plates, most recently hailing from southern California.
Stay tuned my friends, there's more to come.
PS:

I just got Stephanie's photos.  Here are two of me that Stephanie took soon after arriving. I wore the T-Shirt that Bill Leuthold sent me. The perfect attire for the trip.
Copyright - Stephanie Yue
Copyright - Stephanie Yue

32 comments:

  1. David, you really brought a lounge chair along? And on the scooter no less?

    Glad you got the coolant issue fixed. A friend of mine wasn't that lucky, and toasted the bike. There was major repairs and cost involved to get his Vespa on the road again...

    I also easily forget to pack a cap or hat but my Buff, which serves as a scarf can easily converted into a hat.

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    1. Sonja, the chair is a Mantis camp chair that packs really small. It travels in the large drybag with the tent and cooking stuff.

      Ha! I forgot! I also had not one but two buffs. Endlessly useful.

      But the kerchief thing has a pirate look to it ;)

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  2. The handkerchief pictures are worth the price if admission. Fantastic. Glad you aren't in South Florida - you'd melt!

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    1. Michael, I'm so glad to oblige. Of course, the price of admission is $0, so...

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  3. /me goes to check his coolant, which has not been checked in a bit.

    A good ending to a good adventure story. I look forward to more.

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    1. Rob, I have to say that there was the potential for a ruined trip.

      It's times like that when the fact that you do some of your own mechanical work and regular maintenance, really pays off.

      I had the advantage of being able to picture all the parts of the cooling system and that was hugely helpful in allowing me to take the calculated risk of pushing on.

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  4. Have to admit I'd never thought of packing a chair when on a road trip. Great pics though of a very relaxed looking David patiently waiting, cloth cap and all (Monty Python comes to mind.)

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    1. You're too kind Dave.

      Here's a link to the chair (Sonja will get to borrow it): Click here.

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  5. David, I was on the edge of my seat while reading this. Good thing all is ok! I have a soft billed cap that I roll up and take with me to hide my scary helmet hair.

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    1. There's no such thing as being too prepared Dar :)

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  6. Great telling of your tale, David! I eagerly anticipate the next installment.

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    1. Thanks Ry! You are Dar's dirt coach, yes?

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    2. Though it would be my honor to cross paths with any of the moto-bloggers out there, my prayers (for what they're worth) would be with anyone aiming to pick up dual-sport dirt-riding skills from me: Likely they'd end up with a damaged ride and an injured body and wounded pride... ;) (As well as, maybe, an abundance of awesome, irreplaceable dirt-riding memories.)

      Unfortunately, I am not the Ry Austin who had the privilege of introducing Dar to dual-sporting. Best wishes, Dar, on the gravel- and dirt-riding: Beware, it can be just as addictive as riding fine, paved twisties.

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    3. Too funny... I guess Dar's lucky then :)

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  7. It's not an adventure if everything went too smoothly. Looking forward to the next chapter. She's quite an interesting person.

    I finally got around to reading your retirement post, congratulations!

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    1. Thanks Richard. I couldn't agree more.

      As for retirement, I'm finding it a challenge to keep up with the bloggosphere. So many fascinating posts, it will take forever to catch up.

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  8. Who is the old retired guy in the selfie?

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    1. Ha ha ha Ken.

      Wait till we meet, and it will happen, my lens will be merciless.

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  9. Ah yes, the initial panic when one detects something "wrong" with one's ride. But as RichardM said, if it all goes smoothly, it's not quite as good for the eventual story. Still, you dealt with it well, and seemed methodical in your troubleshooting.

    Glad it all worked out. Are you going to carry anti-freeze now as onboard supply item?

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    1. You know Dom, that's not a terrible idea.

      I carry alcohol for the stove Bob gave me, and propane for the other stove Bob gave me. I could easily add a litre of coolant.

      I think I'll add that to the touring list.

      Thank you very much!

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  10. I add my voice to the chorus. Glad it worked out and you're still on your way. May all the rest of the surprises the trip brings be pleasant and stress free.

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    1. Keith, there were other surprises, most were only good.

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  11. Nice reporting of what looks like a great trip. How far south are you headed? i will gladly head north if you are getting anywhere near the Mason Dixon line. I love seeing the shirt. I am pleased that you like it.

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    1. Bill, furthest south on this trip was the Adirondack Museum.

      Eventually I'll be back in Florida and we'll have a shot at meeting somewhere in the Sunshine State.

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    2. David, best to take the Shadow down to Florida... and I'll pick 'er up and bring 'er back after ;-)

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  12. You made it ... no worries. We knew you would ;)

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    1. Karen, there's never a dull moment. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

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  13. What a pleasant tale to read with breakfast!

    Your departure resistance is familiar to me though not for riding. When I used to backpack I would experience similar feelings. In Colin Fletcher’s famous books “The Complete Walker” he referred to it as “Fletcheritis”, a condition that would take him to the doctor. Once on the path though everything was fine. Your description of the hours leading up to rolling out of the driveway was a textbook example of Fletcheritis.

    Looking at the load on the Vespa I’ll comment that you could really make productive use of a front rack. More storage and would help balance the load forward a bit.

    I understand your consternation surrounding the coolant leak but wished you had stopped at least once to share some visual evidence of “the ride was spectacular”. The Adirondacks is a magical place.

    Your selfies cracked me up. While you credit your dad with the skill to tie the head gear I have to think your cruising motorcycle is responsible for the lapse in fashion — you’ll never see that in a Vespa ad!

    Looking forward to the next installment in your trip and your reflections on meeting Stephanie — and adventurer.

    Steve Williams
    Scooter in the Sticks

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    1. Fletcheritis, I'll have to remember that.

      The key thing is overcoming the urge to drop out. Over time I've slowly learned that once you cross the threshold, there are usually great things in store.

      Fortunately there are more photos to come, some video too. My GoPro cooperated for a change on this trip.

      I just saw Revzilla's review of the Sena 10C, Bluetooth headset combined with a camera, and a load of great features. Maybe that will be on my Christmas list.

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    2. On the topic of the front rack, as you can see, Stephanie has the front rack. I'm sure it improves stability, and it means less stuff on the saddle, which makes gassing up a lot easier.

      That said, we both had serious wobbles. No big deal though, as long as you keep both hands on the bars, it's all good. Plus once you hit 45-50 miles an hour, the wobbles disappear.

      With a throttle lock that means you can use your right hand for scratching your nose, or adjusting your right-hand mirror.

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  14. I haven't been around on the blogs for awhile, so I had no idea that you were retired or planning a trip. Congrats!

    Glad your coolant problem got resolved the way it did. I am sure that was a nerve wracking episode that you prefer not to repeat.

    That chair, that chair...I have often wished for that chair on long rides where I can sit out under the shade trees and rest. Now I am on the hunt!

    Meanwhile, looking forward to following your journey...

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    1. Deb! Nice to read you.

      My life is so seriously busy trying to get retirement going in earnest, that I managed to miss your comment.

      The chair is a Mantis chair. Here's a link that might help.

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The copyright in all text and photographs, except as noted, belongs to David Masse.