The online Adventure Rider community is tight-knit, though most of us have never met. Even so, the forum is a place to share adventure plans, to appeal for technical guidance, to arrange to meet fellow enthusiasts as you ride through their turf… and on the forum there is a history of total strangers dropping everything to come to the aid of a fellow rider in trouble far from home.
That community spirit would come in handy on this day.
Duncan, a fellow sidecarist on the forum, and his wife invited Barley and me to breakfast. Always delighted to meet new people and pick their brains about our shared interests, I accepted. The diner was an immaculate and very dog-friendly place tucked among artsy stores in Hood River. Barley, on his best behavior, ducked under the table and laid on my feet. I listened raptly as Duncan described a car tire modification to his rig, along with a narrative of his installation woes. He and his wife asked about the route Barley and I would be taking out of town, and offered some excellent suggestions on more scenic routes. One can pour over maps and online resources, but nothing beats the advice of local riders. As they talked I took careful mental notes.
They described the town and pointed out some local history on the way back to our hotel, where we said our goodbyes and made plans to meet up at the rally in a few days. Barley and I went in to pack up our belongings, fill up our small ice chest, and load the rig for the day. I checked voice messages on my iPhone and found one from another adventure rider who lived in the area.
Jeff and his wife, Shelly, were going our direction and would be waiting for us at a wide spot in the road near a town I’d never heard of. No matter, it was on the way. We set out on the scenic route Duncan had described, hoping it would pass the spot where Jeff was waiting. It did, as luck would have it. Shortly after I got my first glimpse of Mt Hood, I spotted a pair of dual sport motorcycles at the side of the road. Jeff and Shelly, a thirty-something couple, were waving a greeting.
Barley enjoys few things more than a butt scratch from a pretty woman, so he was soon leaning into Shelly and happily telling her all about his grand adventure! And when he gets going his vocals are truly inspirational! There wasn’t much time to talk as they had to be somewhere soon, but again I got some excellent route advice before we set off, Shelly leading the way. After several miles they signaled for a left turn and waved for us to continue straight, so I waved goodbye in passing and we continued alone.
We left the pavement at the point they had described, and headed past Timothy Lake on a dirt Forest Service road. After a break in the shade of a majestic pine grove we continued several more miles to pavement, then turned south through sparse pines toward the volcanic peaks known as The Sisters.
When I was a kid growing up in San Diego folks paid a lot of money for red volcanic rock. They used it for landscaping, sometimes for footpaths. And here we were in Oregon riding through miles and miles of the stuff! The terrain looked like NASA photos from Mars, save for the occasional conifer struggling to survive. It was surreal, beautiful, desolate. It was also very sharp, too sharp for Barley’s unprotected paws, so we stayed on the road and safe in the sidecar.
And what a road it was!
I love curves! On two wheels I will happily drag footpegs for hours. On three wheels it’s more of a physical workout (due to the inability to lean) and also a more technical ride. I also have to be prepared for sudden changes should Barley spot a rodent. Still, I managed a few power slides coming down the incline into the valley below. We had a blast! It was also getting much hotter as we shed altitude, and once the road leveled off I pulled over to let Barley play in a stream.
Ten minutes after we got back underway I was doing 65mph on a straight section of road when I heard a muffled POP and the rig became instantly difficult to control. I am a religious checker of mirrors, so knew without looking back there was nobody behind me. I also knew that I’d lost the rear tire, and instinctively stood up on the footpegs and leaned forward and to the right to lessen the load back there. No brakes, roll off the throttle smoothly, arc to the left where providence has placed a small church with a large parking lot. It’s afternoon, and the lot is empty as we lurched to a halt.
Dismounting, I stared at the ruined tire, then cuddled Barley and gave him some cool water from the ice chest. We sat on a rock and share a granola bar, waiting for my pulse to return to normal. A few minutes later we walked over to check the rig. Barley sniffed the tire and looked disgusted. If the pannier hadn’t been in the way he probably would have peed on the rig. We were in McKenzie Bridge, Oregon. Small town. No services. Sunday afternoon.
It was not looking good for the home team…
I’m not sure why I did it, but this year, before leaving on this trip, I signed up for the Good Sam Club Platinum Plus program. In the way of insurance I never expected to use it, but figured the modest introductory payment was worth it simply for peace of mind. I pulled my membership card out of my wallet, tapped the Where Am I function on my GPS, grabbed my iPhone and called the toll-free number.
“Are you in a safe place?” was the first thing the woman on the other end of the phone asked me. Not my name or my membership number. “Are you safe?” I liked these people right away. I gave her all the information about my location, the type of vehicle and nature of the problem, and the fact I was traveling with a dog. She told me I should expect a flatbed truck in half an hour. Fifteen minutes later she texted me pushing the ETA back another forty-five minutes. After texting Duncan a quick note of our situation I gave Barley a few treats and refilled his water bowl, then hunkered down with my Emergency Snickers Bar.
Chocolate helps in these situations.
Right on time the flatbed arrived. Randy, the driver, quickly winched the rig aboard and strapped it down securely. Barley got the back seat while I rode up front with Randy. He had come all the way from Eugene, nearly sixty miles away, and that’s where we were headed. It was a fun trip, not exactly how I intended to travel, but his running commentary on the region was entertaining and educational. He even dropped us off at a hotel right across the street from a tire store, a very nice gesture.
It was brutally hot by this point, so I checked into the hotel, fired up the air conditioner, got Barley situated in the coolness then began schlepping all the stuff into the room. We were in downtown Eugene, just a block from the Greyhound station, which to my mind meant drunks and derelicts all over the place. I had visions of everything not locked up being stripped from the bike, and only the flat tire would prevent the entire rig from being stolen. But downtown Eugene proved to be a remarkably nice place, full of friendly people, clean… not at all the stereotypical downtown I expected. And when I checked the forum I found several offers of help from total strangers! Duncan had broadcast our plight to the Adventure Rider forum and several were offering help in the form of a place to stay, help changing the tire, and even a trailer to transport us wherever we needed to go! I reassured all those great people that we were okay, and had things under control.
We had dinner and slept well, Barley and me. In the morning we walked across the street and into the tire store the moment it opened. They wouldn’t help! They did not do motorcycles. The fact that I had a car tire on a car rim made no difference. The Firestone corporate policy was that they would not touch any tire unless it was on a rim and a vehicle for which it was designed. Cowards! Scratch Firestone products from my list of approved suppliers!
About a mile down the road was a place called the Tire Factory. They had the tire I needed in stock, and had no qualms about mounting it to the correct sized rim no matter what that rim was bolted to. Roy, who had a pronounced Robert Duvall thing going, got me right in. In fifteen minutes we were heading back to the hotel with a brand new tire!