“How long are you going to keep this streak going Drew?”
“Until the bike fails, or I do…”
Saturday, July 22nd, Approximately 2:30 PM
I pulled up to the intersection of Chimney Top Rock Road and KY-715. I gently pressed down on the rear brake to avoid skidding in the gravel. A couple of the guys pulled over into the shade to get their gear settled how they wanted it while one of the guys went through the menus on his Street Scrambler to re-enable the ABS and traction control as we were getting back on to pavement for the rest of the day. I shut the bike off for a moment while everyone got settled. A couple minutes went by and everyone was finally ready to head out for an afternoon of twisty Kentucky two-lane. I turned the key, pulled in the clutch, and thumbed the starter.
I thumbed the starter again.
That’s weird, maybe I left the LED lights on for a bit while the guys were getting settled; I pushed the bike down the hill, popped the clutch and Rosie fired to life. I guess it was a really hot summer day…
27 Hours Earlier
I finished the last e-mail, shut down all my CAD software, and booked it home to get the bike packed for the big weekend. I “pre-packed” all the stuff I needed for the big “Red River Scramble” weekend the night before, including a few “dry run” packing configurations, but wouldn’t you know it, nothing seemed to fit on the bike as planned. I fussed with stuffing my sleeping bag and the last odds and ends into my Biltwell EXFIL-80 tail bag and finally got the bike loaded to my liking.
After just a few short miles on the freeway, I peeled off onto a state route and just after passing through Lebanon I was finally blessed with the bliss of empty rural two-lane as I headed for the Ohio River. It had been a trying week, so I was looking forward to the solitude of long stretches of country roads, dotted with nothing but cattle and cornfields for as far as the eye could see.
That plan was going pretty well until I discovered yet another road closure on US-68 just north of Aberdeen (I swear half the bridges in Ohio are currently under construction…). Not long after turning onto the detour, I noticed I’d received a text from my buddy Jeff who left just a couple hours ahead of me; apparently he got a flat just north of Maysville. I tossed out my (complicated) plan for a new rural adventure through northern Kentucky and burned down to Maysville as fast as I could.
Jeff is no stranger to wrenching and riding solo, so I wasn’t concerned about him handling the situation, but I figured a second set of hands wouldn’t hurt. Just as I was pulling up to the intersection in Flemingsburg, my phone rang. Jeff waved from the Taxi “cab” in front of me and let me know he was headed back to Maysville to swap a tube at a shop there. No problem, I could at least babysit his (almost) fully loaded bike on the roadside until he got back.
Two hours into “the weekend” and desperately clinging to what little shade I could find, I had a couple thoughts. One, when the plan goes awry, that’s when the “Adventure” begins (It’s all about attitude right?); and two, it’s absolutely sweltering out here… it’s going to be an interesting weekend.
With a new inner tube installed, Jeff and I got to the campground without a hitch, and even scored an upgrade to a “cabin” for the weekend (air conditioning in July… it matters…). We rolled up to Miguel’s Pizza a little before 9 AM to get ready for inbound guests to the gorge. This was the first time I’d ever had breakfast at Miguel’s so I was a bit confused about how to properly fill out my order sheet. The girl behind the counter was like “You want three standard breakfasts?” I told her, “Sorry, I thought that was three eggs.” At any rate, the standard breakfast is stellar, two eggs, a generous pile of home fries, along with thick, juicy, bacon served exactly how I like it for $7. A little Texas Pete sauce and I was in hog heaven.
Just before 10 AM the first few guys starting rolling in. It was a really interesting exchange, finally getting to meet people in person you’ve only chatted with via Instagram for months. Before long we had a Street Scrambler from Nashville, a Scrambler from North Carolina, a CB500x from Louisville, a couple Beemers and a KLR from Cincinnati, a Versys650 and DR650 from Maryland, and of course my buddy Jeff and his KTM 990 Adventure. We got a little bit of a late start, but considering this plan was hatched just a few weeks prior, I think folks were still good with shaking hands and mixing it up a bit before we finally headed out onto the “road”.
Two groups parted ways from Miguel’s to tackle their respective interests; I “led” the guys more interested in sticking to more manicured surfaces while the second group shed their camping gear and headed up to tackle the Daniel Boone Backcountry Byway. Considering this was the first time most of these guys had been to the gorge, I felt it only proper they “scramble” up to Chimney Top and take in the sights.
Sometime After 3:00 PM Saturday
After taking in the gorgeous vista at Chimney Top Rock, and making the mandatory stop at Sky Bridge, we twisted down the rest of KY-715 and through Nada Tunnel headed toward a fuel stop. I let the car in front of me have a little extra space but I noticed it seemed a little darker in the tunnel than I remembered. I reached up to my helmet and confirmed, my inner sun visor was indeed up (everyone accidentally leaves their sunglasses on at least once in Nada Tunnel). I hit the switch for my auxiliary lights and they went off; I guess it wasn’t that. I hit the switch a second time, nothing happened. Pressed it again. Nothing. Auxiliary lights not working; that’s odd. Less than a mile down the road, the gas light came on, the engine lost power, and Rosie coasted to a stop.
I’m that guy…
Have you ever been on one of those motorcycle rides where someone just can’t keep their bike running, and you have to keep stopping to fix something, scorching in the heat, shuffling through all your gear and tools. Yeah… it was apparently my turn.
Fortunately, on the advice of my new buddy Tim, we parked in the shade behind the Jackson (Kentucky) Wal-Mart and swapped out the battery. After a few jump starts and skipping “the tour” down KY-1812, we booked it for Wally-World hoping a new battery would do the trick. I unhooked the myriad of electrical trinkets I had connected to the old battery (maybe that was the problem?), and dropped in the fresh cell; Rosie cranked right to life.
Fresh battery installed, we headed back into the much needed breeze for a “spirited” ride down KY-52 and up to “Big Andy Ridge Road”, KY-2016. As our group of five started to carve up the unmarked twisties, I complimented the guys on the intercom. I was exceptionally impressed with how well a group of otherwise strangers really “gelled” on what I view as respectably “technical” Kentucky backroads.
Not long after passing a wild turkey darting off the roadway, I noticed the fuel light come on again. That awkward feeling started to settle into my stomach. There was undoubtedly plenty of gas in the tank, but like clockwork, I started losing power, and the Scrambler coasted to a stop, about three-quarters the way up KY-2016.
Another Jump start and we made it back to Miguel’s for dinner without incident. As everyone rolled in for Pizza and a healthy session of “lie swapping”, I learned I wasn’t the only victim of calamity. Apparently the Versys suffered a nearly deadly blow to the oil pan, courtesy of a sandstone “staircase” on Chop Chestnut Road; meanwhile, the 990 decided to shed a few pounds by dropping a piece of a clutch lever somewhere on the trail. Trying to find the source of my electrical gremlins, I spent a few minutes searching for a shorted or smashed wire under the seat of the Scrambler; all the while thankful that my issues were minor compared to patching an oil pan with JB Weld on the side of the trail.
From the sounds of it, everyone’s experience that day was “exciting” and unplanned, I couldn’t wait to see more of the photos as they appeared on Instagram in the coming days. It seemed to me that the sentiment was that everyone took it in stride and was looking forward to the more adventure in eastern Kentucky again next year.
Rosie cranked right up for the short trip back over to Miguel’s for breakfast. Jeff and I joined my new buddy from North Carolina for another helping of Miguel’s breakfast before we all parted ways for the “long” ride home. Back at the campground, I loaded all my gear on the bike, put on my camelbak and donned my helmet for the ride home. I turned the key, pulled in the clutch, and thumbed that starter.
Jeff and I push started the bike twice; after firing and idling for a few brief moments, she sputtered and died both times. At that point, I called a buddy with a truck and waited.
9:30 PM, Sunday Evening
After letting the battery sit on the tender for about an hour, I backed Rosie out of my driveway and pushed her a few feet up the hill. A good shove and several frantic “paddles”, I popped the bike into second gear and let out the clutch; the rear tire skidded for second, then the bike turned over, but never fired. Undaunted, I pushed Rosie back up the hill one more time. Once up to speed, I again let out the clutch, she chugged but never fired. I pushed her back onto the porch.
Day 161 and 7 miles short. I apparently outlasted the bike…
Reflections on 160 Days in the Saddle
Obviously I covered the first 90 days at length. It was hard admitting defeat that Sunday evening. A really good buddy (who also rescued me from Kentucky) even offered to let me ride his bike to keep the streak going. I regret that I waited until almost 10 PM to wave the white flag; sometimes that’s just how the chips fall. In the beginning, I admitted that I didn’t think 365 consecutive days was possible with just one bike (if at all). About two weeks ago I started to back off from that opinion as I had made it until almost August and things were getting easier. Lesson learned, one motorcycle is simply not enough…
Looking back at the Calendar, I found it ironic that July 22nd was day 160, the same day I brought Rosie home from Louisville last year. In a 160 days of non-stop riding, Rosie, “The Bluegrass Belle”, covered over 15,000 miles, including over 13 trips to “The Motherland”; last weekend she apparently didn’t want to leave.
In that same time frame we checked off 3 rides from the Moto Bucket List, including an Iron Butt certification, completed an entire valve adjustment in one afternoon, and finally hosted “our” first “rally”. I can only hope the next 12 months are as exciting and she is equally reliable (considering the conditions).
Getting Rosie Back Into “Fighting” Shape
As soon as I found a second the following Monday, I planned on swapping out the Wal-Mart special with a hardy Duracell battery. I let the new battery charge up while I used the $60 Chinese battery to troubleshoot. I got the bike up and running long enough to put a good meter on the various connections. From what I could tell, I had 14 volts of power coming out of the Regulator/Rectifier, but I was still only getting 12 volts across the battery terminals.
Once I pulled the headlight bowl on Tuesday, I found a faulty connector between the main wiring harness and the rectifier. Per some advice from a very experienced friend (coincidentally the local RAT Pack “President”), I spliced the failed connection and found 13.8 volts at the battery while the bike was running. As of this writing, I still need to do a good, long, test run, but I’m fairly confident I have this situation sorted.
Tuesday, July 25th, 10:46 PM
Day 1… again…
Planning for the Next Red River Scramble
Despite all of the headaches, I do hope that those in attendance will return again next year. It was ungodly hot this July, so much so, I was glad we landed the air conditioned “studio” versus the shiny new tent I actually bought for the event. Next year I’m thinking late spring to avoid the boiling temperatures. Right now I kind of have my mind set on the weekend before Memorial Day, but I need to look at a few calendars to make sure that doesn’t coincide with other major “adventure” events. Fall would be a spectacular time to go down and ride the gorge, but that is unfortunately the “busy” season and the lodging rates are the highest. I will also say that the traffic coincides with the increased rates; you probably won’t find that traffic off-road or even on the outskirt “loops” but if you’re hiking or riding through the gorge you’ll be fighting the crowds.
My plan for next year is to make Red River Scramble a Friday through Sunday event with a Thursday night meet and greet. I will probably design a T-shirt, and hopefully give away some door prizes and maybe some giveaways for “Best Scrambler”, “Dirtiest Bike”, and “Longest Distance Traveled”. I’m also going to try to nail down accommodations at a single location, whether it be a campground, motel, a lodge, or a mashup of cabins and camping. For those that attended, please leave some comments with ideas for next year, preference for lodging, and any other feedback you can think of (bring a multi-meter, good idea!). For folks that couldn’t attend this year, please feel free to comment below on when would be best for you next year, or any info on other events that I may want to avoid (scheduling conflicts are somewhat inevitable I guess).