Due to circumstances beyond his control, bj was unable to write his column this month. We are running an earlier piece he wrote and I’m sure you’ll agree, it qualifies as a “best of”.
by bj max
Last Saturday, about daybreak I guess, I stepped out to get the morning paper and the wind almost blew me down. What an awful looking morning, I thought. It seemed as if the dark, ominous clouds were hugging the ground as they scudded off to the north; the remnants of a cold front that moved through during the night. Great day for flying a kite, but not my idea of perfect motorcycling weather. But the weather terrorists have assured me that there’s no rain on the horizon and good weather will be along in a couple hours, but I’m not totally convinced. I wonder why?
I despise the wind and evidently it despises me ‘cause it tried its best to blow Sugar Booger and I off the Interstate as we made our way to Bull Frog Corners to meet the crew. This will be our jumping off point, no pun intended, for a little trip up to Paris, Tennessee and the Worlds Biggest Fish Fry. We make this little jaunt almost every year; a rite of spring you might say, and normally there’s a good turnout. But today, with twenty mile an hour winds and gusts pushing forty, I figure we’ll be the only clowns dumb enough to show up.
But I was wrong. Ten bikes and seventeen souls gathered for this little party proving once again that we can hold our own when it comes to attracting dummies. With the gale force winds and low ceiling I am pleasantly surprised and pleased with the turnout, and glad I showed up. Otherwise I would have never heard the end of it.
At our appointed time, we saddle up and hit the trail. At about the half way point, the clouds actually start to break up just like the weather terrorist said they would and now and again the sun burns a blue hole in the sky and things are startin’ to perk up.
Springtime for most folks is a time for planting and renewal. But for motorcyclists, after being cooped up all winter, it’s a time for impatience. Everybody’s chompin’ at the bits and a little wild at first, making me feel like I’m riding in a herd of stampeding buffalo instead of a seasoned and disciplined motorcycle group. But eventually things settle down and even though the wind kept trying to blow us to Kingdom Come, we were determined to enjoy the trip.
Paris, Tennessee, home of Hank Jr. and the World’s Biggest Fish Fry originally began as Mule Day way back in 1938. But when mules and horses slowly began to be replaced by tractors, the Jaycees started looking for a new theme for their annual festival. And, since Paris was right on the banks of Kentucky Lake, one of the best fishing reservoirs ever flooded, a fish fry was a natural. So in 1950 Mule Day evolved into the World’s Biggest Fish Fry. Don’t know if it’s made it into the Guinness’s World Book of Records or not, but they do fry over five tons of catfish and feed it to a hundred thousand hungry folks every spring.
We made our way into the paddock reserved for motorcycles and it was jammed packed. Motorcyclists, well those in the south anyway, love catfish and never miss a chance to ride and dine on this southern delicacy. Kentucky Lake insures that the fish served here is top shelf.
And, as usual, a big crowd is on hand today for this 71st rendition and by the time we arrived the sun had popped out and fed more energy to the southern winds that threatened to blow the fish tent down. But there was plenty of catfish that needed eating and plenty of people eager to eat it and they weren’t gonna’ let a little breeze stop em’.
After a couple hours of eating, socializing and kicking a few tires, somebody pointed out that the blue grass singer was startin’ to sound a little screechy and, since we had all eaten our fill of catfish and hushpuppies, we decided to pack it in. So we jumped on the bikes and skedaddled to McKenzie where we topped off with fuel and took on a few gallons of ice cream, then blazed a trail for home.
After clearing the McKenzie city limits, we throttled up and were soon cruising along at seventy or so, enjoying the sights and smells of spring and half drunk on the rich fragrance of Honeysuckle and Lilac. Life is good. But just when you think it’s a perfect world, you are rudely yanked back to reality by the distressed voice of alarm crackling over the two-way. I glanced in my mirror and saw a cloud of dust and motorcycles scattering in all directions. My first thought was that somebody had wrecked so I slowed, pulled to the shoulder, set my flashers and disconnected.
Expecting the worst, I trotted back towards the crowd that had gathered. But nobody was down so what was all the ruckus, I wondered? Then I noticed Stan kneeling next to his bike checking out the rear tire that I now realized was flat as a flitter. Seems he had experienced one of our worst fears as motorcyclists, the sudden and complete loss of air pressure. Eye witnesses said his bike was running straight and true then for no apparent reason went into a violent wobble, twisting and bucking, then veered off onto the gravel shoulder. But, thanks to thousands and thousands of miles, several MSF refresher courses, and a cool head, Stan managed to bring his crippled machine to a safe stop.
Charlie, our resident mechanical expert, determined that the valve stem clip had either come loose or somebody had forgotten to snap it back in place correctly during the last tire change. This clip, found on all Gold Wings, is a brace for the angled valve stem fitted on these bikes and it holds the stem in place when you air up the tire. Without that clip, the valve stem bends backward and over time, the stress eventually causes it to fail; triggering a complete loss of air pressure. Some call it a valve stem blowout, but I call it flawed engineering. It’s a sobering thought when you realize that your life may very well depend on a two bit piece of plastic.
Stan will be eighty two years young his next birthday, but you would never know it by the way he handled that motorcycle. Years of experience with several MSF refresher courses under his belt undoubtedly saw him through this close call. But despite his scary mishap, it was a good day. Nobody got hurt, we all managed to put on a couple more pounds, and Stan’s virtuoso display of motorcycling skill made it a memorable ride, too. One we will not soon forget.
Ride to Work.