After two fantastic rotations in Alberta (rural family medicine and neurology), I am now back on the road for my return trip to Toronto. My plan was to head south through Montana towards Yellowstone, where I intended to linger for a day or two. Then I wanted to head east across Wyoming and visit Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse in South Dakota. This would have still left me enough time to spend a couple of days in Chicago.
Apparently my motorcycle did not agree with this plan, however. I even gave her some TLC by changing the oil and replacing the chain in Lethbridge before setting out. The first sign of trouble was when the dipstick snapped off and fell into oil reservoir in the frame. There was no fishing it out. Could I ride with it in there? I perused the internet and found that this had happened to multiple other DRZ owners. No one was successful at removing it, and everyone ended up continuing to ride with no incidents. There was no way for that 5 inch piece of plastic to get past the strainer into the oil pump or engine. Or so I hoped.
The ride along the number 2 highway, which crosses the Alberta-Montana border just south of Cardston and continues through the Blackfeet Nation skirting the east side of Glacier National Park, is one of the most spectacular rides in North America. The narrow twisty road winds its way from the rolling foothills high up into the mountains, along lakes, and then back down onto the plains with breathtaking vistas of prairie and mountains. There wasn’t a dull moment. The road was built for motorcycles.
I camped at Black Sandy State Park just outside of Helena, Montana. After my hypothermic experience on a glacier in South America, I have a keen dislike of cold weather camping. This time I was lulled by how warm the day had been, and naively factored neither the high elevation nor the lateness of the season in my decision to pitch my tent. That night I barely slept as the temperature plunged to well below freezing and coated the hills with a hard frost.
My woes continued the next morning when my chain snapped on the Interstate about 15 km south of Helena. The masterlink that I had thought I had done such a good job installing the previous morning had come flying off. The chain got doubled up on my front sprocket and my plastic chain guard was broken in two. I was lucky the damage wasn’t worse. Before I had even finished composing a text message to Houston (aka Erwin) asking for the name of a Suzuki dealership in Helena, a guy riding a brand new Harley Ultra Classic pulled up. It turns out it was the same guy, Neil from BC, that I had had a conversation with at the gas Station in Babb, Montana just the day before.
He gave me a ride back to Helena where I bought a bunch of master links hoping that they would fit my chain. None of them did. So Neil gave me a ride back to Helena again, where this time I bought a new chain. He helped me with the installation. It turns out he had been stranded on a Buell rally when the belt broke on his Lightning and he said it was a nightmare to fix (you have to split the frame). Certainly chains are easy in comparison with belts.
Neil said he would follow me for the next 30 miles or so just to make sure everything was alright. It was not. About 15 miles down the road I started to hear an awful clunking sound from within the case. Then I lost power and pulled over. My chain was intact. This was a new problem. My clutch cable was extremely loose and even with it adjusted for maximum tension there was still over a cm of play. Was my clutch burned?
I had to go heavy on the the throttle just to get going again because of the loose clutch cable. I was able to ride along until I put it into 5th. No drive. Back into 4th. Was it the clutch? Or had I somehow broken 5th gear? I was disturbed by an image of the broken dipstick lodged into the teeth of 5th gear. But there was no way for it to get there. Right?
Neil followed me all the way to Butte with his hazards on. I could not go much faster than 50 mph in 4th gear without red-lining it. This was a bit scary because the speed limit on the Interstate was 75 mph and most people in Montana still drive as they did back when there were no speed limits. As I write this my bike is being torn apart. The best case scenario is that it is the clutch. New plates should get here by tomorrow. So I will be here for another day at least. Luckily Butte is actually a nice place to be stranded.