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A Guest Motorcycle Blog
by John Huval

* May 2006 blog * * April 2006 blog * * March 2006 blog * * February 2006 blog * * January 2006 blog * * December 2005 blog * * November 2005 blog * * October 2005 blog * * September 2005 blog * * August 2005 blog * * July 2005 blog * * June 2005 blog * * May 2005 blog *

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Saturday, June 10,2006:

Friday, I spent some time putting a few miles on the bike after I picked it up from service. I wanted to check and see if it was ready for an extended day of riding. My plan was for a Ĺ Iron Butt --- 500 miles in 10 hours. That goal was thwarted by a single 1" #6 sheet metal screw.

My plan was to travel up Highway 59 from Houston until I got to Interstate 20. Then I would decide east or west depending on the time of day and my energy. East was to take me through Shreveport, Alexandria, Lake Charles, Beaumont and home. West was to take me through Tyler, Palestine, Huntsville, Livingston, New Caney and home. Either route would have gotten me over 500 miles for the day. I left at 8:00 AM after checking the tires and reviewing the map. Averaging 50 MPH, I would expect to be home by 6:00 PM --- earlier if I made good time. Since Iíd be home early, I didnít take anything but my cell phone, map, and wallet.

The trip north was pleasant, if uneventful. There was little traffic and lots of thinking time. There are some very rural areas in the Piney Woods of East Texas. I passed the Harley shop in Nacogdoches. I fueled up in Garrison and got something to drink. I reached Marshall Texas just after Noon and stopped to rest in a McDonalds parking lot. I spent some time thinking about my decision --- east or west. After consulting the map again, I chose west only because I've seen Louisiana. I checked the tires, the oil, and saddlebags for the next segment.

Hereís where I think I went wrong --- leaving McDonalds, I needed to turn left onto the boulevard. Given the traffic, a right turn was easiest, intending on making a u-turn a ways down the road. As I got on the street, I noticed my helmet strap was loose and decided to pull into the median area marked with yellow stripes. I didnít pay much attention to the amount or types of debris in the median, but I could have picked up the sheet metal screw there. Helmet secure, I checked for traffic and turned around heading south to get to the I-20 ramp, just a few hundred yards ahead. I entered the ramp, and got on the freeway, proceeding west for a few miles before I noticed things getting mushy.

At first I thought it was the pavement --- I was on soft asphalt and there were noticeable dips or tire grooves in the pavement from heavy trucks and the bike was handling funny --- it started wandering in the lane without steering input. Then I thought it was the front end or front tire and even looked at the front tire to see if it was going flat. Soon it was apparent the rear was going flat and I checked traffic to make sure I could pull off safely. Fortunately, the leak was slow, so I had some time to get the bike stopped. By the time I did, the bike was sitting a couple of inches lower than normal and I had a time setting the side stand.

I quickly locked my helmet to the bike, secured the ignition, locked the steering head, and got myself off the shoulder --- the traffic was passing close and fast. I knew I needed to call either AAA or the Harley Owners Group (HOG) for assistance. I wasn't even sure that AAA would cover motorcycle breakdowns, but I knew I could call HOG as a backup. There was an exit less than a mile away, but I didnít want to damage the tire by riding further (what I didnít know yet was the tire was already ruined). I had to walk about 100 yards down the interstate to find a spot on a side road and off the interstate where I could hear the phone and make my calls.

Nadine was at her annual girl's pool party weekend, so I didn't want to disturb her unless absolutely necessary. Around 1:00 PM, I called AAA and after a long conversation that was barely audible given my proximity to the highway, I finally got confirmation that they were sending a tow truck. Then I called the HOG road assistance number to find the nearest Harley dealer, but we got cut off. HOG called me back about 10 minutes later with the information I needed about area dealers. There was a dealer located just 15 miles away in Longview. So then I went back to the bike. Fortunately, there were some trees on the side of the road and I was able to stand in the shade. I stood up the road from the bike a few yards distance --- that way if the bike was hit, it wouldn't fly into me. At 1:30, I got a message that somebody would be there by 2:00.

Soon after I got back to the bike, Ronny from Tyler, Texas, pulled up on a Goldwing. He had an air-compressor, tire plugs, glue and everything we needed to get me rolling again --- except tubeless tires. You meet the best people out on the road, and Ronny offered to put me up for the night if I couldnít get my tire repaired until after the weekend. He gave me his number, directions to his house, and then rode off in the direction of Tyler.

I waited until 2:30 and decided to check with AAA to make sure somebody was coming and started walking off the highway to a place I could hear the phone. About the same time a voicemail message beeped in. I got a call from the tow truck driver --- but he left an inaudible message. I was able to call him back and confirm my location within a few miles --- AAA had given him the wrong place to look.

It's a good thing he showed up about 15 minutes later, because I didn't know how many calls I could make with my low battery. After a few long calls with AAA and HOG, my phone battery was getting low. He lowered the truck bed, we aired up the rear tire and I rode the bike up the inclined tow truck bed hoping there was enough traction to keep me from sliding backwards. I rode up the bed of the tow truck, grabbed a fist full of front brake, and I was able to steady the bike until he raised the truck bed level. I helped him tie the bike down and after about 20 minutes we drove to the Harley dealer in Longview.

When we arrived at the dealer I went in to talk to the service writer. I knew from the looks the service department was giving that getting the tire repaired late on Saturday afternoon was a long shot. After a few minutes, they generously agreed to get me rolling again and we unloaded the bike. Just as we're backing the bike down the bed of the tow truck, we spotted the screw stuck right in the middle of the tire tread.

At first they replaced only the tube, but when they put the wheel on the balancer, the tire was all wobbly and misshapen --- I had ruined the side walls and the tire needed to be replaced. So it took another 30 minutes to get the new tire mounted and the wheel back on the bike. Bill paid, I thanked the crew at The Harley Shop in Longview for getting me going again in just over an hour.

I was loading my purchases into my saddlebag --- I bought a t-shirt and some perforated, summer-weight riding gloves --- when I noticed the saddle-bag support was loose. I'm in the habit of checking these bags before every ride because I'm not impressed with the mounting design. In this case, the mechanic hadn't refastened the saddle bag support back onto the bike. He had to unbolt the support and one of the mufflers to remove the rear wheel axle and didn't reattach it when he mounted the rear wheel. We were all glad I had checked my ride before leaving --- that could have been a disaster if that support had gotten stuck in the rear wheel at speed. That was quickly resolved and I pulled into the parking lot to double check the bike a final time before leaving Longview.

By then it was 4:30 PM and I had to adjust my plans. I could double back down 259 to Lufkin and take Highway 59 home and settle for about 300 miles or I could take the route through Tyler and Palestine and go for most of the 500. I did trim some miles off the plan, intending to make it up closer to home if it wasn't too late. What I didn't account for was the time it would take to drive through all those small towns and find my way down a route I'd never traveled before. Additionally, I didn't go above 60 MPH for the first couple of hours to make sure the back wheel was okay.

It took me about 20 minutes just to get back to I-20 from the shop. I headed west on I-20 for Tyler, exiting on 271. Tyler was a lot bigger and busier than I expected. I stopped to top off the tank and get something to drink. I checked the tires and found too much air in the rear. I bled that off until it read 38 psi. The front was fine. Checking my map again, I verified that I needed to find 155 to Palestine. I had to double back after missing a turn --- the map I had along didn't include sufficient information, so I kind of guessed where I would pick up 155. The missed turn, lots of weekend traffic and lots of stop lights cost me on time. I finally picked up 155 after a few more miles and headed south to Palestine.

On 155, I crossed Lake Palestine on two separate bridges --- beautiful. Texas sure has its share of beautiful lakes and this one seems to go on for miles.

With my gas stop and the delays in Tyler, I recalibrated my clock and anticipated travel time and started thinking that I might not hit I-45 before dark. The afternoon sun was dipping and there were long shadows cast across the roadway by the trees. Although much of the drive was on divided highway, there were many miles of rural two-lane road ahead.

So I started looking for deer, given my recent conversations with Donald. And what you look for, youíll usually find. Sure enough, as I left one particularly woodsy area, I noticed something moving ahead on my right. It was a young deer that was heading for the road. Startled, it turned and hopped around in a complete circle before pausing to give me a look. I donít know whether the car in front of me or my engine noise scared it, but was grateful that the deer decided to wait until crossing. That was the only deer I spotted, but later, I did cross paths with a couple of dogs eyeing the other side of the road.

The drive through Palestine was uneventful and I found highway 79 easily. This was the last stretch before reaching I-45, but it was a long one. There were a few small towns, lots of ranches and open spaces. The highway reached some places so remote that the county doesn't even clean the animals off the road way --- on one bridge in a particularly remote area, I passed the skeletal remains of what looked like a dog --- or maybe a velociraptor --- but I wasn't hanging around to find out. The trip was to I-45 was taking longer than I anticipated, so I stopped at a roadside park to check the map again. I was closer, but still about 30 minutes away from the interstate.

Later, as traveled down the road I saw two buffalo standing in a field just off the road --- and just before I spotted the sign announcing my arrival in Buffalo, Texas. I don't remember seeing buffalo before except in zoos. Of the three of us, I was the more impressed. They were big and brawny and completely unconcerned with me or my bike. Buffalo, Texas, was where I picked up I-45 and I was relieved to finally reach the interstate. Content that I had enough gas to get me to Conroe, I got on the ramp heading south. The road was smooth and wide and there was only moderate traffic. It was almost 8:00PM and the sun was sliding down towards the horizon.

Some miles in front of me, I made out the faintest image of the moon coming up over the horizon ahead --- and it was a full moon. After a few more miles, in a view I knew Donald would appreciate, I could see the view of the full moon ascending directly ahead of me, and in each of my rearview mirrors, a view of the setting sun directly behind me. It lasted only a few minutes, and soon it was dark. Had I passed that spot at any other time that day, I would have never seen that view.

Originally, I was going to take 190 east to Highway 59 --- that would have put me over the 500 mile mark. But now it's dark, and that would have taken me through too many rural, wooded areas. Some miles later I passed the exit to 190 where I would have turned east towards Livingston and I proceeded on towards Conroe. Just north of Conroe I stopped for gas. Before I knew it I was in The Woodlands and heading for FM 1960. I took my exit at FM 1960 and headed east for the last stretch, finally rolling into the driveway just past 10:00 PM.

It took 14+ hours to complete 475.9 miles for the day for an average speed of barely 34 MPH. Given the hour, I didn't try to make the last 25 miles --- I'm saving that for my next 1/2 Iron Butt. Although I didn't make my time or mileage goal, I picked up some good practice and information for planning the next trip. A good day.

I've decided for the future that any day trips beyond our normal Houston/Galveston/Hempstead/Livingston comfort zone, I'll bring a tour pack with essentials necessary to survive overnight including rain gear, water, a change of clothing, personal items, extra contact lenses and solution, an extra phone battery or extra phone, first-aid kit, tools, motorcycle tie-downs and a tow strap, either spare inner tubes (so any motorcycle shop can make the repair) or a tire repair kit (if I decide to get the cast wheels and tubeless tires) and my HOG travel booklet. I'm also going to test using my phone with a hands-free device with my helmet on -- being able to hear the phone next to the highway would have saved lots of time and frustration. Oh, and finally, I'm going to stay off of unfamiliar, yellow-striped medians (something I should know by now).

See you down the road and don't forget to think --- or to check your ride!

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For the May, 2006, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the April, 2006, blog entries, click here.

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For the March, 2006, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the February, 2006, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the January, 2006, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the December, 2005, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the November, 2005, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the October, 2005, blog entries, click here.

* * * * *

For the September, 2005, blog entries, click here.

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For the August, 2005, blog entries, click here.

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For the July, 2005, blog entries, click here.

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For the June, 2005, blog entries, click here.

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For the May, 2005, blog entries, click here.

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*Note to Law Enforcement:

All statements of speeds on various streets are simple estimates, and solely for novelity purposes. Actual speeds vary, but are always lower. I'm sure that legal speed limits are never exceeded, anything in this blog to the contrary nowithstanding.

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