Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Post 042 - How did I get here? Part 1

What follows is my answer to the rhetorical question, "How did I get here? How did I wind up in Butte, Montana, sleeping in a public park, awaiting a new tire?"

I had hoped to make it across America on air and sunshine, skipping and laughing all the way. However, Moto Fabini needs gasoline and oil. I need food, sleep, and an occasional shower. Sometimes the sun is too hot by a magnitude of ten. Sometimes it rains. The miles are many and I have laid rubber on more than 6,000 of them. Rear tires wear out.

Jim, who I shared a campsite with in Worland, Wyoming, made a face when he saw my rear tire that said it all, "Dude, you needed a tire a long time ago." His actual words were more gracious. The point was made. I must locate a motorcycle dealer with a tire in the size I need, who is willing to install it on my schedule. A new hurdle in this coulee's flow.

This coulee has been flowing well, meandering between all its major landmarks. The Devil's Tower and Yellowstone are two landmarks. How I get from one to the other is determined usually the day before I go. Often, I am clueless about the distance between landmarks. Here, I see it will take me two days. The highway map indicates only the Interstate as a westerly route, but conversations with locals informs me of a side road paralleling the Interstate. It is the original highway, Route 14. It is also Route 16, my planned route. It's paved all the way.

In the town of Gillette, Route 14/16 leaves the Interstate and heads north. It is all open grazing land, treeless and windswept. Eighty miles on, in a place called Ucross, the roads fork. Route 14 goes north then west, Route 16, south then west. My plan was to follow 14.

I pulled over at the shadeless fork in the road to check my map and notes as I always do. I was parched and gulped down my remaining warm water. I made the decision to scrap my original plan and follow 16 south. This would take me to the town of Buffalo, which appeared large enough to have at minimum an auto parts dealer and maybe a motorcycle shop. The city of Sheridan was larger, but several more hours away if I took the northerly route.

At that time, what was on my mind was not the rear tire, but Moto's engine. I was losing power and starting had become problematic. Something was failing. In truth I knew it was all just wearing out. My first fix would be a new spark plug. Maybe that would solve all the mechanical issues in one fell swoop. I can install a spark plug myself.

[All the behavioral psychologists among you will recognize that I either romanticize or catastrophize my situations. I am aware of this. I'm working on it. Give me another 60 years.]

I rolled left and south through the hot brown barren undulating grazing land. Finish today and then only one more day until I am out of the Plains and in the Rocky Mountains. Oh the Rockies: trees, hills, moisture. A wonderful landmark indeed.

Over a hill I spotted smoke. Over another undulation and I could see flashing emergency lights far down the road. Fire. From what I have been hearing second hand, America is on fire. Entire regions are burning. Out here there is nothing but dry grass and wind. There is nothing romantic about prairie fires, they are catastrophes.

I approached the scene. Rolled bails of hay and a field burned. Firefighters were dousing it with water and foam. A fork lift picked up the bails and moved them into a previously burnt area where they were broken open and thoroughly drenched. Firefighters raked, dug, and hosed along the field's fire line.

I parked and pulled out my camera. Another spectator had pulled over. Otherwise there were about 10 firefighters and the fire. A woman from the parked car acknowledged me and indicated the fire started from an errant cigarette. I walked toward the edge of a burnt area. A voice from inside an SUV advised me to go no closer. It was the sheriff. I told him I would not and shot half a dozen photos from my vantage point. That was close enough. I'm no war zone documentarian.

I walked back to my bike. The woman from the car approached me. She was about my age and height. She had curly white hair and this will sound odd, but understand it's coming from a man who has been living on the road for six weeks; she was very clean. Her name is Nancy. She lives in Buffalo. She knows the owner of the hay. She looks Moto Fabini over and says she used to ride motorcycles. Hasn't ridden for a while now, but seeing a scooter on such a long journey inspires her. I suggest she throw caution to the wind, sell all her possessions, buy a bike, and join me.

Nancy, finds humor in my request, much to my relief. I never know how people will react to my impulsive suggestions. She demurs and asks if I would send her copies of my fire photos. I say I will and she writes her name and address on a small sheet of paper. She has perfect handwriting. I don't know why I spend time thinking about this as I stand there, but her presence is rather angelic.

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