Saturday, June 26, 2010

All Hail Kansas


After three days of rest in Colorado, Rod and I parted company. He went north and I began to head east toward home. My plan was to make it home as quickly as possible on I-70, a major highway which runs more or less straight from Denver to Baltimore, but my trip began to take a somewhat Sherpherd-ian turn at this point, beginning before I had even made it out of Colorado, in the part of that state which should rightfully belong to Kansas.
At highway speed, the bike began to die on me, as if it was running out of gas. I pulled off the highway, first at a gas station, then at one of the few places that afforded shade-- under an overpass-- where I unpacked and disassembled the motorcycle. I had settled on a handful of things to check, with the telephone assistance of my friend Mountain Eagle in Colorado, and I didn't want to do this twice, so I checked vacuum lines, gas lines, and the spark plug all in one go. Something seemed to work, and after a few hours by the side of the road I had everything back together again, and it ran fine.
When I got somewhere for lunch, I borrowed a wi-fi network and checked one of the KLR sites and found this under "known issues":
"Gas boiling in fuel line (if it's very hot out, generally over 100-105 deg F, and if side shroud vents are covered)."
Which sounds ridiculous to me, but it was around 110, and I believe my tank panniers were covering the vents before I stopped, but not when I re-packed the bike. I think that was probably what fixed the problem.
After lunch somewhere in Kansas, I took time to admire the cloud formations up ahead.

They turned out to be less attractive up close. As I continued, I was suddenly hit with a blast of wind and rain that blinded me completely and nearly forced me off the road. I made it to the shoulder, and the storm stopped as suddenly as it arrived while I put on my rain gear.
I caught it again a few miles later, and this time when it cleared, traffic had stopped for a tractor trailer that had jack-knifed and overturned across the road. I went around it, and the rain became more constant, so for the first time in my life I found an overpass to take shelter from a rain-storm.
There were already several cars there, and a few motorcyclists. As I removed my helmet I exchanged a sort of "Holy shit" glance with a nearby Harley rider, and we both laughed and shook our heads. It turned out that he was 30,000 miles into a "trip around the country," and we both wondered if we were about to witness a tornado. Then the hail started.
After about 20 minutes of cowering under an overpass, with weather threatening from the east, west and south, I decided to take a smaller road-- route 24, that headed north for a bit then paralleled I-70 for a long ways, said goodbye and headed out.
As sunset approached, the road passed through Colby, Kansas, and I found a cheap room in an old-style motor inn and a cold beer at the B Hive tavern, which I was told was owned by the mayor of Colby.
Colby looked just like the hundreds of small towns I had passed through, developed along the rail lines and later the highways. It occurred to me that the "See America" movement, of which Shepherd had unwillingly been a pioneer, had left its mark on these towns, in the small family motels and service stations that lined the roads, before they were abandoned in favor of the monstrous I-70s of the world, which promised faster travel and the homogeneous comforts of the giant strip mall that crosses America along its current major arteries. A few miles away, Holiday Inn promised travelers a night of comfort as uniform and standardized as a Budweiser and a Big Mac for $80 a night. I stayed at the Country Club Drive Motel for $30, and was glad of it.

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