The few drops of oil beneath my bike served as confirmation of what I hoped wasn’t true. My shock is leaking. And without much room, it’d be only a short time before I was out. Dampening would be compromised, I hoped that the nitrogen would hold me and the bike up. I didn’t want another episode like Baja California early in my around the world trip. The shock simply gave way and I had to ride it nearly 500 miles on the spring. That’s like bouncing on a pogo-stick for two days—or longer. I replaced that shock in La Paz some 50,000 miles ago. I didn’t need this problem on my first lengthy ride since returning home in late 2008.
More riding the Alabama Hills outside Lone Pine
With its smooth granite orbs and towering pinnacles and wrinkled and beveled hills glowing amber and rich copper, Jeremiah and I cruised down from Whitney through the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine and headed north to Bishop. With the snow capped mountains to our east and the seeming endless desert baking in morning sun, now hot and begging for a thinner layer of riding gear, our goal would be lunch in Bishop, ride through Lee Vining to Historic Bodie, a California State Park and the site of a well preserved ghost town. We’ll camp in Lee Vining so we’ll have a shot at catching the sunrise over Mono Lake before taking Tioga Pass (Route 120) over the Sierras into Yosemite National Park.
As we passed through Independence, home of Manzanar one of the sites of US Japanese internment camps during World War II, I remember from our travels in South America Jeremiah’s bread stash. Pancito, the latin people called, were small bread rolls. Not very flavorful, but always somewhat crusty and filling. He’d always buy a small bag for less than a dollar, and he’d have an instant snack when combined with the peanut butter he always had handy in his panniers. “I love bread,” he’s always remind me, “I could live on bread.” When we arrived in Bishop I introduced Jeremiah to the Sin Qua Non bread of the Sierra Nevada: Erik Schat’s Bakery. Where in stone hearth ovens, the Schat’s Bakery since 1909 bakes natural bread using pure well water from the Sierras, stone ground unbleached flour, other natural ingredients depending on which of the more than a dozen varieties the sell, and of course, never any chemicals or preservatives.
I tried to get photographs inside the bakery showroom, but the staff told me the owner forbids photography, a very strange policy. To put in perspective, perhaps the most secret and protective company in the world, Apple Computer, has no qualms should anyone wish to shoot photography in any of the company’s retail locations. Certainly, Schat’s capture’s its share of tourists passing through Bishop, but more photos, tweets, blogs and Diggs etc., couldn’t hurt. Nonetheless, Jeremiah is is in breadlover’s paradise. He chooses the 150% Raisin bread and we head north.
As I downshift to make the turnoff to Bodie a dozen Harleys from Florida rumble by, each offering the ubiquitous biker wave, but no sign of Jeremiah. I busy myself sorting my gear, playing with my GPS and watching travelers pass. I reason that Jeremiah, dressed only in a mesh jacket, was feeling a bit of the late afternoon chill climbing the Conway Grade to the 8,000+ foot pass and pulled over to add a layer. Or maybe he wanted to grab a quick birds eye photo of Owens Valley and Mono Lake. Either way, I was worried after fifteen long minutes and headed back. Nearly at the top of the pass I spotted a California Highway Patrol cruiser and Jeremiah’s motorcycle. I spotted the cop tucked behind tall brush as I blazed up the pass. But these 650cc motorcycles, heavily loaded and climbing steep passes just don’t gain much speed. Plenty of other cars, trucks and bigger block bikes push MPH north of 80 climbing that pass. Was Jeremiah winding out his bike, El Viento fast enough to trip the radar of California’s finest? Not a chance.
The only photo we got at Schat’s Bakery in Bishop was out on the patio where I finally felt what it was like to ride a Harley along the Eastern Sierra.
Looks like he’s being interrogated. Nope. Just a concerned officer helping a stranded motorcyclist.
What have we here?
The CHP had to take off when an accident report flashed over his radio.
Jeremiah begins his coast down the pass – 12 miles to Lee Vining, I had to tow him the last seven.
Turns out, my shock would be the lesser of our bike problems. For El Viento bubbled over. It overheated. And Jeremiah had nearly half his bike in pieces on the side of the road trying to diagnose the problem. Perhaps the tell tale sign was the radiator cap wasn’t hot. Coolant had spewed from the overflow. Either the water pump failed or the thermostat was stuck closed. Peeking into oil reservoir, the fluid looked nearly as black as the Gulf Coast, but without the water. You see, in most cases when the water pump impeller fails, the seals go along with it—and when the seals fail coolant mixes with the oil. With the oil clean, it had to be the thermostat. The bike couldn’t run for more than a few minutes before overheating. We contemplated getting a truck to take El Viento back to Bridgeport of Lee Vining. But sitting at the crest of an 8,000 foot pass, we figured it’d be best to run the bike for a few minutes and then coast down to the valley. From there, we strung three tie-downs together and I safely towed Jeremiah and his bike back to our camp site at the Mono Vista RV Park.
Before it was dark, we stripped El Viento again and tried to figure out where the thermostat was and how to remove it. Without a shop manual or previous experience with the bike’s thermostat, we were confused. With the aid of a couple New Mexico riders towing trailers from their Gold Wings and a phone call to a friend we were ready to remove the culprit part. By now it was dark and it was clearly evident exactly how to get to the thermostat. So we cut our losses for the day and headed to dinner at the local Mobil Station: home of the Whoa Nellie Café. According to the CHP officer, it was the best food for 100 miles or more.
Mono Lake Sunrise — Lee Vining, California