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Death Valley Daze III And Back, John Arnold

by John Arnold

Background: For a few months prior to leaving for DVD III, I’d been keeping the Village Idiots and my internet wrench-consulting team of Don Eilenberger, Wes Jackson, David Brick, and Paul Glaves posted (and quiried) on my progress of removing the heads and cylinders from my ’83 R65 due to a case of exhaust valve recession. For me, this was quite a project since I’ve only been riding motorcycles for a year and a half and have never been much of a mechanic. In fact, it was only last June when I adjusted the valves on the R65 myself — the first time that I’d ever done this on *any* motor, cage or otherwise.

There was a bit of suspense in waiting for the heads to be returned from rebuild in time for me to refit and leave for my long-planned trip to the Village Idiot/IBMWR annual winter gathering in Death Valley, CA. There was also some suspense for *all* attendee hopefuls in wondering how the El Nino-influenced winter weather might play out over the weekend of January 31/February 1st.

I need also to thank Chris Wenzel, Fulton Martin, and SJ BMW/CC Products along with the people responsible for making possible the IBMWR and The Village Idiots — without whom I’d never have gotten the heads on and off the R65 nor would you be reading this Idiot’s star-crossed trip report.

I will attempt to limit my longwinded and tangential proclivities by *trying* to keep my focus on the ‘bad stuff’. You’ve probably had enough smarmy Death Valley Daze trip reports of camaraderie and libidinal connectedness anyway. Time for some good, wholesome, bloodsucking, morbid satiation.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, I got the heads reinstalled in time for the trip.

Rode the bike to Salem for a former BMW mechanic to give it the once over. Everything seemed to check out. As a few of you from the DVD gathering know, from the time I re-installed the heads, I had a very intermittant “cutting out” of one cylinder. Mine, the mechanic’s, and others’ speculation was that it was some kind of fuel problem — water in the tank, snoose spit in a carb. This symptom, which would last only seconds, may have been related to bigger problems to come.

But first… I left Oregon under the foreboding forcast of “rain and windy” which was supposed to last all the way to the Bay Area. I got to Eureka early that evening without experiencing any rain or even any wind, to speak of. This changed the next day after arriving in ‘sunny’ California. I must say that for only a year and a half of riding motorcycles, it seems I’ve spent half of it getting waterlogged in and around Eureka and the Trinity Alps of northern California.

Along with Mark Etheridge, who had caught up to me in Eureka the night before, I headed south to the Bay Area on 101. It was raining. 30 miles or so south, the big mobile marquis reader boards, courtesy of Cal-Trans, advised that US 101 was closed just north of Legget thereby effectively cutting off a detour via Hwy 1 down the coast. Mudslides. Inquires with the locals at Rio Dell confirmed the closure but uncovered a 36 mi. alternate route to the coast that a fellow in a 4×4 had just gotten done traversing over the boonies from Hwy 1. Re that road he said “It’s bad”. I said “Let’s go”. Mark said “No.” Fortunately the new rider’s lack of sense is equalled and compensated for by a lack of influence.

CA-36 to I-5 was also mucked up so we headed back, north of Eureka to catch some extra hours of detour on CA-299 thru Weaverville to Redding to get to Berkeley and Roozbeh’s by means of ‘scenic’ I-5. Mark uses the term “frogstrangler” to describe the weather on our route to Redding. We tried to salvage things by a RAT (Road Anomalies Tour) Run opportunity in Williams but no born-and-raised locals, who also happened to be truck drivers, had ever heard of “Beemer Rd.”, an alleged RAT destination.

We finally redezvous’d with Brother Dan and Roozbeh that evening and had a nice visit which was made even more enjoyable by John Mulvihill’s presence, an unexpected phone call from FXRS Joan “Roadrash” Oswald, and Rooz’ 2 boa constrictors.

The marker at the
ghost town of Ballarat

An already reported fine Rooz-led ride from Berkeley to Death Valley, including my own unexpected ‘scenic’ off-road dusk excursion up Wildrose Canyon and over Emigrant Pass, found me, finally, eating a fine meal with Darryl Richman, Robert “Delf” Del Favero, and Mark at Furnace Creek. Oops, sorry, that was a good thing. Uh…, well, it was overpriced, beers couldn’t be transferred from the saloon to the restaurant and in California you can’t smoke in a bar.

Only three instances of the possibly unrelated “cutting-out” symptom in one of the cylinders occurred on the way down. Each for just a few seconds.

An Idiotic ‘committee’ did the overseeing of the re-torque and valve adjustment. Eric VanDenHoek actually got his hands dirty. The unsolicted and caring assistance from his experienced hands instilled confidence. It’s my understanding that even after 100 proof Southern Comfort is coursing through the veins, the solidity of South Dakotan farm boys can be trusted to prop up those with less auspicious foundations, or so it seemed later that evening when Joe Denton addressed an almost attentive audience of Idiots and Presidents around a campfire.

Tiredness and the head re-torque precluded my visits to several points of interest in DV on Saturday. I won’t mention lunching with Darryl Richman and Karin Jones in Stovepipe Wells or our ride to Scotty’s Castle. Way too pleasant for this report. I made up for my Saturday losses by an intentionally late (post noon) start home Sunday and went with Dan and Duner to Zabriski Point on their way south to Baja and then caught up with Mark at Dante’s View. Mark headed back to camp another night at Furnace Creek in the company of the Nelson’s and I began my trek home. (Thanks for the spin on yer R80, Bruce. Too nice to speak of here.)

Somewhere east of that quaint and picturesque hamlet of Trona, one of John Mulvehill’s favorite pastoral resort destinations, I stopped and photo’ed the bike in front of a landmark for a RAT Run destination. Well, it’s not actually an official site but the ghost town of “Ballarat” should at least count for uniballers. I’ll send the photo to The King and see if he agrees.

I stopped for fuel and a quick bite of dinner in Ridgecrest on CA-178. It had begun to rain. The light was fading.

From my view to the mountains and Walker Pass from Ridgecrest, things looked dark and felt forbidding. Inyokern, west of Ridgecrest, sits on a desert plateau at around 3,000 ft. Walker Pass on CA-178 is over 5,000.

I stopped at a CHP office just outside of Inyokern and asked about Tehachapi Pass further south on CA-58 which sits at well under 4,000′. Interestingly, The CHP officer confirmed what locals in Ridgecrest had told me: “It doesn’t make sense but if it’s snowing in Walker Pass, it’s worse over Tehachapi.” The patrolman’s eyes could distinguish snow flurries from rain as he looked off to the mountains and saw flurries a little to the north. His best quess was that there was no snow at the pass now but said I could easily run into some when by the time I got there. Anticipating 18-wheelers over the Tehachapi made the decision and I donned the rainsuit and headed up to Walker and Lake Isabella beyond.

When I got to the summit, the light was gone and the rain had turned to wet snow. Nothing sticking to the road. Over the summit and it was soon back to mere rain. BTW, I found that the yellow version of my otherwise magic FogCity Proshield sucks a big one in the dusk and dark. Gotta go with a clear one for night riding.

I made it past Bakersfield to Buttonwillow on I-5 and then crapped out in a motel. Still pouring rain. ….And still raining in the a.m., I headed up I-5 hoping to get at least to Red Bluff, if not home.

I was reminded that Hope is a good breakfast that makes for a lousy dinner …or lunch. I only made it to just south of the intersection of I-5 and Hwy 269 — about 50 mi. The “symptom” happened again but this time it wouldn’t go away. I may have heard a single ‘pop’ or other noise after it started in this time but it was hard to say due to the earplugs, rain, and semi-trucks now roaring by. Meantime, I’m riding at half power trying to stay on a ribbon of pavement between the right lane fog line and the mostly flooded shouder. I limped off on an exit and to a gas station that was mercifully close by.

I got some advice from a fellow in Lemoore via the BMWMOA’s Anonymous Book. Also first learned of Robert Caruthers’ BMW of Fresno dealership from this same fellow. Robert was well-regarded. (Never got the Lemoore guy’s name; thank you very much.) I did some tinkering, but now the bike wouldn’t start, even on one cylinder.

Another Anon call to Jan and David Dahlke of Coalinga was most helpful and Jan and Dave *very* responsive. For them it seemed a simple matter of “beemer rider down; we’ll do what needs to be done until we’re assured he’s taken care of.” While Dave tried to borrow a truck to haul me and the bike 75 mi. to Fresno, I got the bike started on one cylinder. I’d already cleaned the float bowls, made sure the fuel tap screen was clean and refreshed the bowl gaskets. Now that the motor was running again, I was able to determine that it was the rightside cylinder that was dead. In the process of switching spark plug leads to rule out a faulty plug wire being the problem, the coil connector of the rightside lead virtually fell off the wire and stayed in the coil receptacle. (No, I hadn’t been tugging on them). These leads were new for the trip. “Aha!”, sez I, “the problem’s electrical”. Turned out that the known good lead didn’t fire the right cylinder. Uh-oh.

Robert Carruthers oversees the R65’s arrival at BMW of Fresno

Dave came back with the truck and ramp only to inform that his boss was now disapproving of his taking the company truck to Fresno. He had, however, been in touch with Robert of BMW Fresno who agreed to stay at his shop ’til I arrived with the bike via more conventional (and expensive) transport. Dave and Jan talked highly of dealer Robert Caruthers, also. BTW, Robert’s dealership is closed on Mondays. He was at his shop for awhile on his day off and offered to stay there to help.

The anxiety-provoking ride with the friendly, competent, but star-crossed Roberto from Smitty’s towing outa Mendota would be too much to include here. Suffice it to say that missed turns and roads closed due to floods had me arriving in Fresno at 7:30pm and a mere $220 poorer. An unperturbed and accomodating Robert Caruthers was waiting as promised — even though my ETA was off by an hour. Robert brought the bike inside and then drove me and my gear to a nearby motel.

Smarmy goodbyes to the Gadfly

The next morning he had his mechanic drop everything to get me on the road. A couple hours later they determined that I had no compression in the right cylinder and had pulled the head and literally found daylight between the right exhaust valve and its seat — bend in valve quite apparent when removed. Piston ok but with a shiney spot on the valve recess where the valve had hit or had been hitting.

Robert had trouble locating even a used valve. They ordered one of almost correct demensions from Eurotech and planned to make some mods to it just to get me on the road but I would still have to deal with more permanent repairs when I got home. :^( Of course road problems and Murphy kept the valve from being delivered on Tuesday anyway. These problems and poor prospects, coupled with being braindead along with a soon-to-be day #2 of vacationing in beautiful (and flooded) downtown Fresno, had an ’86 R80G/S-PD on Robert’s lot looking pretty good. I got no money but my credit’s good. The following day, I spent even more money that I didn’t have and traded in the R65 on a new ride. It was a bittersweet acquisition under the circumstances of the previous work I’d done on the Gadfly.

Buying the bike was my idea. No pressure from Robert. He subsequently volunteered a number of accomodations and items to sweeten the deal, including a brand new set of BMW hardbags and used mounts for 300 bucks. He treated me to lunch on the way to rescuing my gear from the motel before I accrued late charges but these weren’t part of any deal-sweetening. That’s just Robert.

Hello to the R80(100)G/S-PD

The GS was actually packed with my gear before I’d even sat on it, let alone taking it for a famous BMW dealer test-ride. Robert insisted that I ride it for a few miles to see if I had any questions about its operation as well as to coach me about getting off — it’s a mite taller than the R65 and was now carrying an even bigger load than I’d had packed on the Gadfly.

I said some smarmy goodbyes and thank-yous to the R65 when Robert and his fine mechanic, Terry, weren’t looking. It’s not that men are so tough (women are tougher), it’s just that appearances are everything. :^)

I finally left the idyllic valley town of FresNO sometime after 5 pm heading north up US Hwy 99.

OK so I’m finally outa town and heading north from Fresno, trying to get the feel of the new bike. Hmmm, more power. Did I mention that it’s got 1,000 cc cylinders/pistons with just a few K miles on them, fully adjustable Fox shock with reservoir, whatever that is, and new ME Enduro 4 tires, whatever they are. Shitty little headlight, or so it seemed through the yellow FogCity. More stable at speed. Robert had the Corbin solo seat gratefully reupholstered with the same stuff they use for California prison buses. It’ll take some doin’ to take a ‘bite’ outa this stuff when carrying too much speed into a corner.

I soon realize that I’m tired, it’s dark again, and my plan for Red Bluff seems a bit imprudent under the circumstances. Nearing Galt (that’s a town south of Sacramento) I remember that Joe and Robin Denton are nearby. Yeah, I’ll just call Joe. Why should he mind an unplanned late nite call from an Idiot begging for bedspace? Besides, he musta recovered from Saturday nite by now.

I stop for a gutburger and a phone booth but can’t find Joe’s number. Rocklin, Sacramento, ain’t it all the same? I call Rooz. Good thing too since he was beginning to worry about the Idiot list traffic being a little too succinct over the past couple days. It had gotten him to wondering re my whereabouts. After discussing with me the comparison of my travels during the last 3 days with Richard Bernecker’s, who was already home in North Carolina, Rooz miraculously managed to find Joe’s number written on a tea-stained scrap of paper stuck to some sticky stuff under his keyboard.

Joe Denton offers a toast. Eric VanDenHoek, Richard Bernecker, Jim Van Riper and Randy Scott look on.

The call to Joe soon found me in the accomodating graces of the Denton Estate. A beer was waiting, good company, the weather channel, a good bed, and Robin plied me with coffee and directions outa town in the a.m. Oops, I digress to good stuff.

No indication on local news that my route to Marysville and CA-20 to Ukiah is gonna present problems so I’m off in light rain. Just outa Marysville, a detour due to a section of Hwy 20 being closed re-routes me through flooded farmland via backroads. That’s O.K. I’ve already lowered my expectation standards: road closures are bad, mere detours most tolerable. The G/S rolls over flooded but passable sections of the Hwy 20 detour. As I near Williams on I-5 I flag down a deputy sheriff who informs that 20 is now closed on *both* sides of I-5. Can’t get to Ukiah and 101, a mere 85 mi. away. There’s more problems up north and Cal-Trans advises Idiots like me to return to the Bay Area, at least to Vallejo on I-80 where I can get over to US-101. (I-5 over the Siskiyou summit is a snow-go.)

Back south I go and cut off before Vallejo anyway and head up thru the wine country and hwys 12, 29, and 128. Most roads are still open with intermittant flooding over the roadways. I hit 101 at Geysyerville and finally Ukiah for lunch after some 300 mi. of slow-slogging, winding roads and constant, usually heavy, rain. Another 170 mi. in even heavier rain, dodging rock slides, and it’s well past dark by the time I arrive in Eureka where I throw in the towel. Like everything else, it was drenched through anyway. I redecorated a motel room with wall, chair, table, and lamp hangings. Heat on max. Brain firings on min.

I call my wife, Lorel, who advises that Mark Etheridge had called that day from a few miles from our home. He’d left Death Valley a day after me, got stuck puddle-jumping in Sacramento for most of a day, and had gotten to my place to take a RAT Run photo of Shibumi Farm’s mailbox while I hadn’t even gotten to Eureka — an obvious plot he’d concocted with Bernecker who’d been sipping brews at home in North Carolina for a couple days now.

She also advised that hurricane force winds were forcast for tomorrow in my home port of Newport. I advise that the same is predicted for Eureka and points in between. The impulse to re-pack and leave right then seemed to have gotten stuck in my backbrain and never made it to any muscle groups.

Richard Bernecker, by way of North Carolina

In the morning (Friday) there’s light to no rain but it’s blowin’ outside maybe 20-30 mph. I pack. The wind dies down somewhat about 9:30. Riding gear donned and it begins to pour. I watch, dejected, for awhile, finally manage a giggle, and I’m off.

The ride to Crescent City ain’t too bad. Wind is a concern only at the spots where the road is directly exposed to the incoming front off the ocean. Gas is needed in Crescent City. Still trying to dial in the range of the PD tank — less miles per gallon than the R65, more capacity. Still playing it conservative.

The preliminary front from the storm is now hitting town when I arrive. Eventual 90 mph winds predicted. After gassing, I park the bike on the leeward side of the station and have an espresso. My luck’s been a little “mixed” on this trip and I don’t need to hand Murphy any uneccessary opportunities.

Info from the station attendant confirms my plan: three miles outa town I scoot off on US-199, northeast over the coastal mountains and away from the incoming storm — to Grants Pass and I-5. Rain is light and, per usual, the California part of 199 is a joy to ride and beautiful enough to break hearts.

By the time I get to Grants Pass I’m on dry road for the first time in days. Patches of blue sky are seen. Ahhhh ….back in Oregon and away from toadfloating California. :^)

The section of I-5 from Grants Pass (from Redding, CA, actually) to damn near Eugene is great scenery, for a slab. The fully packed G/S surprises me on interstate twisties down mountain passes that are 50mph posted. Carving turns at 70 without realizing it is not something my confidence with the R65 would have allowed. No more rain ’til well past Eugene where it’s dark now and, just south of Albany, I’m on OR-34 and then US-20 to the coast. Wind has not been too much of a factor and the Big winds expected for Newport never arrived.

Then I’m home. In safe. During this last leg to the coast, excerpts from an old E.E.Cummings’ poem trickled into my consciousness as if in summary of the last 2 weeks …and this report:

i will cultivate within
me scrupulously the Inimitable which
is loneliness….as for myself,because i
am slender and fragile
i borrow contact from that you and from
this you….

i mean the
Rain is no respecter of persons
the snow doesn’t give a soft white
damn Whom it touches

All in all, …I love this stuff! See ya on the road.