Leaning Into The Learning Curve, Part 4
By Nolan Davis
My next destination was Denver. As I entered into Colorado, the winds diminished and now my thoughts were focused on my front tire. I just have to get to Denver. I was forced to ride Interstate highways because many of the scenic secondary roads north of Denver had been destroyed by record flooding two weeks earlier. The President called a State of Emergency for the area as homes and infrastructure were demolished. I've got some friends in Fort Collins so I stopped by and had a great dinner. They were hosting someone who had completely lost her house to a flood. It had been a month of bizarre weather. On a lighter note, I learned that Fort Collins is the microbrew capital, but no suds for me. I wanted to make Denver for the night. The sun was setting as I left Fort Collins and this was my first extended night drive. I did not think that I needed to worry about deer on this stretch of the road. I was more worried about how I would try to react to a front tire blowout and the busy interstate traffic. But it was nice to be somewhere in the country where I could listen to FM radio through my helmet.
In Denver, I stayed with a childhood best friend, Will and his wife Liz. The next morning, Will followed me to the Denver BMW so I could drop off the bike for service. Taking the advice of the expert in Idaho, that let me use his garage, I asked the dealership to change the front tire and check the brake caliper. I also requested a check on the electrical system and to change out the recently installed USB port. Then Will and I did our own micro brew tour including a whiskey distillery. That afternoon the dealership called reported that the caliper was fine but the master brake cylinder was leaking and the pinion was leaking and the steering stabilizing rod was leaking. Seriously? Why weren't these things seen in Seattle? Maybe they all occurred on this trip? The bike did sit for many years not ridden. I was planning on leaving in the morning but now I would have to postpone a day for the parts to get there. I was told that they could change the pinion gasket but they would have to overnight the parts for the master cylinder and steering stabilizer and the work could be completed in the morning so I could hit the highway and head East. I agreed to the work. This meant I got to hang out with Will and Liz another day.
The next day I checked in with the dealership and I was informed that the overnighted parts did not make it overnight. It would take yet another day. Well, can you guess what was forecasted for the next day? Yep, a white blanket of snow over the Denver area. This was almost to the point of being comical. I was once again forced to go due to a snowy forecast. I told the service manager that I would have to take the bike and leave. I requested that the parts I had already ordered and paid for be sent to my destination in North Carolina. The service manager agreed to that but made me sign something that sad that "BMW states that this bike is unsafe for the road." He was referring to the leaking master cylinder. He threatened that when I need my brakes I might squeeze the brakes only to grab air and the consequences could be fatal. So, I called my father who is a retired repairman and a full time farmer. He can fix anything and is extremely knowledgeable about mechanics. I asked him as long as I keep brake fluid in the master cylinder and gravity kept the line full of fluid, I would not lose my brakes. He agreed. My father also strongly encouraged me to utilize my rear break for everything except when I really needed to stop quickly. I took two zip ties and wrapped them tightly around the master cylinder to hopefully slow the brake fluid leak. It was then that I realized the leak was likely due to the layover at the beginning of the trip. There was a deep scratch on the end of the brake lever. It must've broken the seal on the master cylinder when it hit the road.
I left Denver that evening because snow was forecasted for later that night. I got as far as I could until it became dark and then I found a motel near the Colorado/Kansas border. The next morning there were reports of snow in Denver but I was about 100 miles away from the periphery of the snowfall. I rode through thick fog under the speed limit for a couple of hours and then was reintroduced to my old friend, wind. Kansas treated me again to 30mph wind with 50mph gusts. At least I had some experience and some techniques dialed in. This time was less stressful and in an odd way a little fun due to the challenge. I was also using my front brake less and keeping an eye on the fluid level. I rode another 500+ mile day all the way to St. Louis. Once there I got a hotel to have a good nights rest. The local weather report forecasted the "perfect conditions" for tornadoes.
The next morning I woke up early and checked the weather radar. There was a western front fast approaching. The very thought of a tornado was disturbing. I looked at the radar for the Midwest and the predicted movements of the weather patterns and planned a route to Nashville that would hopefully dodge two bands of nasty weather. I hit the road and periodically checked the weather radar on my phone. Once I waited at a truck stop for almost an hour to allow my route ahead of me to become clear of one of the passing bands of storms.The plan worked. I hardly got wet and I did not see any tornadoes. I stayed with my friend Erica in Nashville for two nights. What a fun city.
From there I road Interstate 40 west to Memphis to spend a few days with my dear friends Lahna and Rev. They're hot on the music scene of Memphis in their band Deering and Down. Lahna also works at Sun Studios and gave me a special tour of the joint. The history in that place is amazing. It is where rock 'n roll was born. Elvis was discovered there, as well as Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash! I also bumped into the famous band The Lumineers. They were giving a concert in Memphis that night and were in Sun Studios getting the special tour as well. When I was talking to Ben, one of the band members, I told him that I almost saw them in Portland a couple of weeks ago. I did not tell him that I gave up a free ticket to have a beer with old friends.
From Memphis I headed back east and was planning on camping in Smoky Mountain National Park. In Tennessee I was experiencing what I thought maybe a cross-country motorcycle trip was supposed to feel like. The weather was great and the roads were nice. I arrived at the park entrance to find the road blocked and a ranger turning cars around. While I had been on the road, the US Government had shut down due to the polarizing parties’ disagreement on fiscal matters and all of the National Parks closed. This ranger and others were working with no guarantee of getting paid for their work. No one was allowed inside the park. I was just going to sleep in my bivy sack on the side of the road somewhere in the park. Since this was not an option, I got a motel room in the tourist town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee.
The next day I had a very pleasurable ride through the Smoky Mountains and the Blue Ridge Mountains. I arrived at the farm I grew up on in the foothills of North Carolina greeted by my nephews and nieces with my parents. It was a warm welcome.
I leave Alaska every year in the fall and come back home to spend the beautiful Carolina autumns with family. Last year, instead of couch surfing with my parents or siblings, I purchased a small pull behind RV trailer. I wanted to just have my own space where I could store things and sleep without being a burden on my family. The camper I bought was a Toy Hauler that can hold a couple of motorcycles. The purchase of this camper inspired the purchase of the motorcycle and this whole journey. It might have been a bit too much for an amateur, but it was educational. At times I was frightened, excited, and humbled. The whole journey was an adventure and I would not hesitate to do it again… but maybe a little earlier in the year.