Dead Meat Riding
"You don't want to stay there," he
told me, gesturing toward the rest area down the road, "That
place has been closed ever since those people got murdered."
I gawked at him, dumbfounded. I'd been hoping
to get there since my bike had started farting out on the way
home from Tennesee. I'd gotten a late afternoon start after a
weekend at a music festival, and was headed north determinedly. I
had to get to the Harley Rendezvous by Wednesday at the latest,
and it was now Monday evening in Tennessee. I'd been somewhere on
the northeast side of Knoxville when my bike had started skipping
and sputtering and I thought I might have picked up some bad gas
as it and I hopped our way down the road until, with a great
popping gasp, it futtered out and would not start.
It was something electrical, I was sure of
I looked at the load of camping gear and random
detritus I had acquired from the festival, and felt a heavy sigh
come to the fore as I contemplated unloading all of it to get to
the circuit breakers and wiring under the seat. This did not look
And I had to pee.
I hurried off into the woods on the side of the
road to take care of the first order of business and emerged,
soon after, relieved at the minor crisis avoidance and chagrined
at the larger one in front of me. I faced my bike and thought
unhappy thoughts about it. Bike starts sputtering, fires
intermittently, sounds at times as if it's running on one
cylinder; the problem wasn't a lack of gas and I didn't see
anything obviously mechanically wrong. I contemplated and did
some quiet cursing as I considered options. It had to be
electrical. I wished I was better at understanding the mechanic's
multimeter I carried.
It was nearing dusk, and I wanted to be off the
highway to try to repair whatever was wrong. When my bike had
last worked, it and I had been making a desperate run to the
aforementioned rest stop. I had seen signs announcing, "Rest
Stop Closed" but I figured, under the circumstances, I could
stay at it for the night and at daybreak try to repair whatever
was wrong. Or if I couldn't, figure out a plan from there.
I idly sat on a guardrail and thought these
things, staring at my bike. I was trying to decide if I should
push it the remaining half mile or make a preliminary stab at
fixing whatever could be wrong where we were.
As I considered these things, two Tour Glides
pulled over behind me. Two deeply tanned, southern men dismounted
their bikes and came up to investigate. They gave the traditional
greeting: "Scooter givin' you troubles?"
This takes us to the current point in this
story, whereby my bike doesn't run and I'm standing by the two
rather cute Tennesseans, trying to figure out what to do.
Staying at the rest stop was obviously out.
I unbungeed all my gear so we could get to the
circuit breakers under my seat. I was frantically thumbing
through my service manual, trying to find a magic entry akin to
"If your bike suddenly starts to fart and then dies, here's
exactly what you do," and tracked my way down the
Troubleshooting section to arrive at the part where I'm
instructed to check the starter relay. Which sounds simple.
Except then I found myself minutely examining a square electrical
switch, which attached to my oil tank. It looked fine. Very
rectangular. Exactly what, I fumed out loud, was I supposed to
check on this?
The larger of the Tennesseans showed me how to
pop the top of the starter relay and to watch the switch move as
I pushed the starter button. Well, if it worked, which it only
We checked circuit breakers and jiggled wires
and cursed a lot, and eventually decided to see if we could start
my bike by popping the clutch. I sighed, and got aboard my bike.
This was not the first time it had been started in this
They pushed and sweated and the most my bike
would give out, after they got it to their top speed and I let
out the clutch, was a gasping fart before it would lurch and
shudder to a stop.
It was beginning to get dark, and we were still
out on the highway. Near the rest stop which had been closed
since those people got murdered. I had to be at the Rendezvous by
Wednesday at the latest, and it was approaching Monday night. I
was still in Tennessee about nine hundred miles from Duanesburg.
I began considering options.
The Tennessee bikers were discussing friends of
theirs who worked on bikes, and how they would get me to where
they were, and when people could help with my bike and if the
bike shop would be able to get me in on short notice when the
decision got made:
They stopped and looked at me.
"I think I just want to get up to New
York. I've got a thing I've got to be at Wednesday and I'll never
make it if I don't get on the road tomorrow. Do you know where I
can get a truck? Maybe a U-Haul or something?"
They knew where a hotel was located right next
to U-Haul about two exits down the highway. We considered more
options including having one of them stay with me and my bike
while the other went to get a truck, as we stood around by the
road, less than a mile from the rest stop that had been closed
since those people got murdered. Night was getting closer.
"If we had a rope," mused one of the
bikers, "we could tow ya."
"Hey," I told him, "Hold on a
I'd carried two ratchet straps crossed over my
rear fender load since buying them to tie down my bike on a ferry
ride across Lake Michigan the year before. They were for
stabilizing my load and to use as needed in emergencies. Later
that same year they would combine forces to almost kill me, but
that's another story. This time, they saved the day.
I detached them from my fender and we attached
the end of one to the rear of one big twin's frame, and its other
end to the front of my frame.
I got on my bike in a panic.
I had never been towed on a bike before, and
didn't know quite what to expect. I supposed I would go forward,
and was fervently hoping I would end up forward with no downward
component to my travels. Road rash is no fun thing, especially
miles from home.
One of the Tennessee bikers stayed by my bike,
making sure everything went all right as the other biker sat on
his bike, put his transmission in first gear, and began to turn
his throttle. The purpose of the guy near me was to scream,
"You're going to crash!" at me, should that eventuality
occur. It did not, though I was convinced that somehow it would,
as my bike began to move forward from the pull of the ratchet
It was terrifying, at first, to be towed. You
have no control except the brake, and woe betide anyone who
unnecessarily depresses a brake while being towed. I wobbled a
little left, and a little right, and once we got up to speed
discovered that this mode of conveyance, while terrifying to get
started, was not so bad after a speed was established.
We carefully wobbled our weird little convoy of
two bikes attached by an umbilical cord and a third one hovering
by first one, then the other, past two exits and finally ended by
stopping at the top of a downhill exit ramp where we detached our
conjoined motorcycles. I began to breathe again.
I followed them, their engines rumbling through
the southern night, as I coasted through the downhill, then blew
through a stop sign (there was no one coming) and on to the
parking lot of a hotel. We ended up pushing the last twenty feet
I put the kickstand down, relieved and
jubilant. I had been afraid I would somehow kill the towing
biker, with some kind of towee ineptness, and then be responsible
for a broken bike and a dead biker. I had been afraid my bike
would fall over, somehow, being towed. Or that those people who
had killed the guests at the rest stop were somehow waiting for
us to try to pass them by. But we had outwitted everyone and had
towed the little Sportster to safety.
The two southern bikers were as elated at our
success as I was, and we went out to dinner and a few drinks
before they headed home, assuring me I could get hold of them if
needed the following day.
I stumbled to my hotel room, walking distance
from the restaurant, and went to sleep after checking on my bike
outside the window. It was safe, and still not running.
The next day I walked to the U-Haul rental shop
next to the hotel.
I walked out with the keys to a great big
U-Haul truck, my backup plan which I'd carried in the form of a
credit card now put into action. I got behind the seat of the
huge truck, and gingerly drove it over by my bike.
The truck was huge. Large. Gigantic. Massive.
The truck was to my bike as the Grand Canyon is to a little
puddle in the woods. I had never driven anything that big. I had
also never gotten my bike into anything so big.
My bike is rarely on a truck. In fact, thinking
back through years of addled memory, I can only identify three
times my motorcycle has sat atop another vehicle. Each time was
due to a technical difficulty that could be condensed to the
words, "It ain't runnin'." My bike was, once again as
happens every few years, not running. Which presented a quandary
when it came to actually getting it in the truck.
I had pulled out the ramp that was neatly
stowed underneath the bed of the truck. I had tried pushing my
bike up the ramp, but could not get it all the way up and didn't
have enough room on the side of the ramp to walk by it and push.
I couldn't ride it up because it wouldn't run. I couldn't push it
up. I began to consider the tools I had at hand.
I was in the middle of rigging up a sort of
winch system using the two ratchet straps, the rails inside the
truck and a whole lot of hope when some other people staying in
the hotel came over and offered to help push my bike all the way
into the truck. I accepted their offer gratefully, not really
sure my winch system would have worked anyway.
Together the three of us pushed and pulled my
bike up the ramp and I secured it with the tie downs, then gulped
a coffee provided by the hotel when I checked out, and climbed
behind the wheel of my behemoth, headed toward New York.
Driving the truck took some getting used to.
Every time I went over a bump or around a curve I became
anguished at the thought that my bike might have tumbled over
sideways. It was secured with only the two ratchet straps, the
bare minimum needed to keep a bike upright while it sat in a
It started to rain at one point, several
hundred miles along in my journey, and I pulled over at the next
exit, ready to prepare for the worsening rainstorm and then sat
there, realizing belatedly that I had to stop thinking like a
biker: I was in a truck. This was ridiculous and there was no
need to pull over to put on rain gear. There I was, parked at a
gas station as a reflex, warm and dry in the cab of the truck. I
laughed at myself and continued on.
The remaining seven hundred miles or so
continued without incident. I would drive until I got tired, then
pull over and nap for a while, the rain on the truck lulling me
to sleep as I laid across the seats.
I got to the Rendezvous late Tuesday night,
bike safe in the back of the truck and me triumphantly wheeling
my nineteen foot monster down the gravel road to the camping
area, proud that my backup plan had worked and relieved that the
voyage was over. I would fix my bike later, when I had time. Now
was the Rendezvous, and time for celebrating.
I named my U-Haul "The Mansion"
during the six days I lived in it at the Indian Lookout Country
Club. I set up my bed in the attic section over the truck cab and
would begin every morning surveying my vast holdings of camping
gear, spread throughout the U-Haul.
Periodically someone would come by and call
some sort of comment favorable to great big trucks carrying
motorcycles; perhaps "Now that's the way to travel!"
while flashing a big thumbs up and a grin. I sighed or grimaced
I ride a raggedy ass, beat up, piece of shit
old Sportster that I love beyond belief. It's my best friend, my
partner in low budget travel and my fellow little rat of the
road. I stay in hotels under duress and trucks only this one
time. I call my bike "The Little Sportster That Could,"
and when it travels in a truck, it's only proving it still can
even when it can't. One way or another, it'll get me where I want