The Tale of the Draggin’

I don’t know whether today was a great day that ended up lousy, or a lousy day that started out great. You can’t make this stuff up.

I left the motel this morning about 9:30 for a day-long tour of the Smoky Mountains and the surrounding area. Jen had given me a map of the region with a couple of loops highlighted on it (the map comes that way), with one taking about 3 hours and the other taking 5. Both loops use the Tail of the Dragon segment, so I thought I could do both loops as a Figure 8 and hit the Tail twice. As it ended up, I actually traversed the Tail three times – you’ll find out why as you read this.

The three-hour loop (not the tour on the S.S. Minnow) began with the Cherohala Skyway. That is an absolutely beautiful ride, but it took me two tries to get there. I aborted the first try after about 2 miles when I decided to go back to the motel and put on another layer or two of clothing. (It was chillier than I thought!) On Try 2 I found the Skyway and cruised it with no problems, stopping here and there for pictures:



After a while I rolled into Tennessee:


And 24 miles later I reached the end of the Skyway in Tellico Plains, TN.

The next part of the loop was a local road, which I missed the first time because I wasn’t looking for it. But I was a good boy and stopped to look at my map, after which I turned around, found the route, and rode it to its other end on US 411 in TN. About a mile later, I turned right onto TN 72 to begin the return part of the first loop.

I never got to the end of 72.

I was cruising down the road at about 55 (it’s straight here and there…) and all of a sudden the engine just … quit. I couldn’t quite believe it, because I only had about 110 miles on the tank, but I figured it must be out of gas, so I switched to the reserve. No change. The engine didn’t catch, and I kept going slower, and slower, and slower… (does this sound familiar?). But this time there was no traffic to try to get around, so I safely pulled onto the shoulder.

Well, obviously, my first thoughts were about the fuel. I was concerned that (a) I had a leak somewhere and that (b) something was wrong with the reserve selector. But when I parked the bike, I heard fuel sloshing in the tank, so I opened the gas cap and actually *saw* gas sloshing around when I rocked the bike from side to side. So I knew it wasn’t a lack of fuel. It still could have been some other cause of fuel starvation, but …

I didn’t want to try cranking the engine too much, because I remembered how quickly it went dead last week. But I thought I could try it a little bit, because maybe sloshing the fuel around in the tank had filled up whatever dry pocket there presumably was. I turned it on and pushed the starter button, and … NOTHING. No grind, no click, no nothing. Hmmmm, this would indicate it’s not a fuel problem. Must be electrical. Kickstand up? yup. Transmission in neutral? yup. Ignition switch (key) on? yup. Battery power? (try the headlight and the horn) yup. Starter? nope nope nope.

Well, crap.

About this time a man on a Honda Gold Wing stopped to see if I need help. While I was explaining the problem and what I had already tried, a woman on a Honda crotch rocket stopped. I ‘splained again; we all introduced ourselves (I’m Dave; he’s Jimmy; she’s Rhonda – yes, Rhonda on the Honda. I told you I can’t make this stuff up.); and we tried troubleshooting things. Off came the seat; the battery leads are tight. Rhonda checked the fuses; they’re fine. Jimmy wanted to push-start the bike, but since it wouldn’t catch while turning over at 55 mph I discouraged that attempt.

Finally it came down to: it ain’t gonna start. So Jimmy offered me a ride back to my motel (ultimately a distance of about 41 miles through the Tail and a couple of other segments), and Rhonda took off. I accepted Jimmy’s offer and we were off, too.

An hour or so later, I was back at the motel after having my ear talked off by Jimmy. We managed to put a little road rash on the underside of the Gold Wing (it has air shocks and they weren’t adjusted for 2 riders), but no untoward incidents otherwise. I gave Jimmy $20 for gas and beer and thanked him profusely. He said “you’re welcome” multiple times, and then we parted ways. (Oh, one of his stories was that he had just gotten the Gold Wing a short time before, so he wasn’t super used to it. He was even less used to having a passenger on it. And to top it all off, he hadn’t been over that road in about 30 years before today’s trip.)

I got everything I needed to rescue the Honda and took off. I stopped at a motorcycle maintenance & repair shop I had seen while coming into town and asked what their hours were, and they said 10 to 6, so that gave me just under 3 hours (it was 3:15) to get to the bike and get it back to them for diagnostics and repairs (if possible).

I drove the truck as hard as I could through the Tail, dragging the trailer behind me. It took me 55 minutes to go the 40 miles from the shop to the Honda. Not bad, considering how twisty the Tail is – and that I was driving a pickup truck with a (small) trailer.

I managed to get the (dead) Honda on the trailer by myself, but couldn’t … quite … get it over the hump into the front-tire cradle. After several tries, I lost control and the bike fell over the right side:


Now I have a REALLY dead Honda. Crap. I’m in deep doo-doo, now.

As I was pondering what to do, another man (in a Mustang this time) stopped to ask if I needed help. Well, yeah (duh.). He thought 2 or 3 guys ought to be able to get it upright, and he knew of some men at a nearby bar. He volunteered to go ask for help and I accepted. After 10 minutes or so, he came back with a 3rd man, and we managed to get the bike upright and into its cradle so it wouldn’t fall over again.

I thanked the 2 men and gave them a $20 to go buy beer with. As I was strapping the bike down, Jimmy rode up and stopped again! So I told him what had happened and that I needed to get going to get to the shop before they closed (by that time it was about 4:40). I thanked him again and took off.

As I drove the Tail with the truck, I started thinking about what to say to the mechanic – not to exonerate myself, but to let him know what I had already done so he wouldn’t have to repeat the preliminaries. I went through each step that Rhonda, Jimmy and I had taken to try to diagnose the problem, fixing in my mind what they were and what order we had done them in, when suddenly something occurred to me. I couldn’t have… Nah. It’s not that. It couldn’t be. How would it have happened?

But once the thought popped in my head, I couldn’t ignore it, so I found a pullout, stopped the truck, went back to the bike, and checked. Yep. I *did* do that. I didn’t know *how*, but I had managed to hit the engine kill switch. NO WONDER the dang thing wouldn’t run, or start, or even turn over! Just to make sure, I flipped the switch to “on”, turned the ignition on, pulled the clutch, and hit the starter button. It fired right up.

After another 15 miles or so, I finally figured out how I had done what I did. I had been riding with my thumbs on top of the grips so that I could rest them. I remember flexing my fingers and thumbs, and that was when I must have accidentally flipped the kill switch to “off.”

So, feeling mighty foolish, I continued the drive back to the motel (I skipped the mechanic’s shop). About a mile before reaching it, I pulled into a gas station to fill both the truck and the Honda (I’m *going* to ride the Tail tomorrow!). Just as I stopped at the pump, I heard a POP-PSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! and I wondered, Oh, hell, what just went flat? (It sounded just like a super-big bicycle tire going flat.) All the truck tires looked okay, and the trailer tires looked okay, too. The trailer spare?…. yup.


The tire is held to the underside of the trailer by 2 lug nuts. Somewhere in the last 5000 or so miles, one lug nut worked itself loose and fell off, letting the tire drag on the road. I’m glad it chose a quiet place like a gas station to go pfffftttt! instead of doing it on the road where I’d never hear it, but now I need to get a new tire as well as a new taillight assembly (the Honda took out the one on the right fender). [The Honda, by the way, only suffered a slight dent in the gas tank.]

I told you – I can’t make this stuff up. Stay tuned for further foibles and foulups – and maybe some good times, too! 😀


2 Comments on “The Tale of the Draggin’

  1. Well, I’d say you got your 3 bad things in… hopefully some good things will happen, now!

  2. Pingback: The year in review | The Peripatetic Traveler

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