Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Lightening Strikes Twice

This week I was accused, by more than one individual, of being… well, the sort of person I wish I was.  Huh.  I found that to be a bit of a head scratcher.

Some years ago, when I decided I wanted to join the brethren of two wheeled riders, almost no one in the world supported me.  Rather, my desire was met with a fierce and enduring resistance on nearly every front.  One person, someone I didn’t know particularly well, took the trouble to mail me a card, cheering me on when almost no one else would.  I keep that card under my motorcycle seat, in the little pocket meant for the necessary insurance and registration papers, as a talisman of sorts.

Today, I’m adding something else to that spot.  Sorting through the daily mail, I found yet another notice informing me I have to reapply for a job I’ve had for almost a decade, and an envelope with photos of me on the Ducati, accompanied by a handwritten letter and quotation so deadly accurate, my voice cracked as I read it aloud in the silent gloom of my house, shuttered against the heat of the day.  How can someone I hardly know possibly see so deeply into my heart?


It feels almost mystical to have these thunderbolts coming, not from those closest to me, but from people and places far and wide.  Would that I could be the person some people think I am!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Yamaha XT225 Oil Change, in 27 Easy Steps (so far)

As much as I despise working on my motorcycles, it is a necessity, and, over the years, I have, if nothing else, become competent enough to handle simple operations, such as oil changes, without much ado.  I’ve been working on kitting up the Li’l Burro with luggage and other accessories to make it a bit more tour-worthy, so it only made sense to address its routine maintenance needs at the same time.  Let us not forget, as big summer trip phase two machine, it's going to have to earn its keep in July.  Since I hadn’t changed the oil on this particular model vehicle before, I carefully studied the manual and watched a tutorial video on the procedure, hoping to achieve at least a small degree of calm regarding the great unknown.  I was verging on confident while watching the video, thinking that even I, perhaps, had finally risen above the need for such a detailed (three parts!) explanation  of this simple process.

Step One: Figure the time needed for the job.  Use the following remarkably accurate equation for such calculations: for every hour the job should take, plan on one full day.  In this case, give yourself half a day for the job.  Perfect!  You should be able to get the work done while you still have shade, and probably before outdoor temperatures reach 100 degrees.  These instructions assume you are working in a similar facility: a hot and dusty back yard equipped with a small tool box.

Step Two: The night before, hose down the bike, to avoid the possibility of dirt, mud and dust working their way into the engine or contaminating various threaded parts.  By doing so the night before, you give the big puddle a chance to dry, and you slowly ease yourself into the idea of dragging out the tool box in the morning.  Reward your excellent work by dining upon sweet potato gnocchi* with pesto, accompanied by good glass of wine.  Job well done!

Step Three:  Wake up and eat an enormous bowl of the coconut almond muesli ** you assembled earlier this week.  Don’t forget the cafe au lait.  Call your mom, because it’s Mothers’ Day.  Think ahead and make a quart or two of iced tea.  With today’s weather, you are going to need it.

Step Four :  Congratulate yourself for remembering to apply sunscreen.  It’s a bit easier to remember when you are still healing from the seven basal cell carcinoma sites frozen, scraped, burned and/or cut from your flesh over the past two months.  Be grateful it’s no big deal, but grumble about the bills, anyway.  While putting away the sunscreen, a glance in the bathroom mirror will remind you that when hosing down the bike last night, in the tight corner next to the  partially dismantled evaporative cooler and the ladder you somehow (you can’t quite remember how, exactly) scraped your nose.  That scrape is pretty, um, noticeable.  Job well done, indeed.

Step Five: Warm up the bike.  Meanwhile, heave a big sigh and your toolbox outside, along with all your other projected needs.  Accidentally tear open the bag of charcoal, making a big mess, while rooting around your storage bin.  Celebrate that, a few days ago, you found a few quarts of Mobil One in the bin, probably left over from your deceased car, with a  weight and viscosity about right for your climate, so you won’t have to agonize over the controversial decision of which oil to use.  This time. Shut off the bike and the fuel supply.  Safety first!

Step Six: Remove the skid plate.  Check! This is going well!

Step Seven: Lay hands on your wrench and a 19mm socket.  Wish you had a 6 point socket, because 12 point tools have an annoying and inconvenient tendency to sculpt bolts into beautifully rounded shapes that might as well read "Abandon All Hope, All Ye Who Have Rounded Out This Bolt."  Umph.  Oof.  The bolt doesn’t budge.  No sense in knocking yourself out.  Head back to the tool box for the breaker bar.  You need an adapter for the breaker bar, your wrench and socket being a 3/8” drive, and the breaker bar being a 1/2” drive.  Hm.  Where is the adaptor?  The others are right here…

Step Eight:  Slowly it comes to you, rising from your long-term memory like an ominous and asphyxiating smog.  The adapter you need has been stuck on a 12mm allen socket for about two years now, and has been sitting in a little plastic cup on your desk, mocking you, ever since.  As if you hadn’t done it all before, yank at it with vise grips, spray generous doses of WD-40 in its crevices, wedge at it with a flat blade screwdriver, poke at the spring loaded pin with a allen wrench in a blatant mis-use of tools (use the SAE one, since you never need it anyway), tap it lovingly with a rubber mallet, and apply all the swear words you know.  Nothing.  Except a big bruise on the heel of your hand.  Post an SOS message on  Gripe about it on Facebook.

stuck socket and adaptor
Yup, good and stuck.

Step Nine: Go to yoga class.  Immediately.  Breathe deeply.  It's a vinyasa class, so you will have many opportunities to become one with the bruise on your right hand.

Step Ten:  Spend an awfully long time looking for the maligned adapter, which you had secured in a safe place before stomping off to yoga class.

Step Eleven: Bring the obstinate components to the hardware store, the employees of which also can not disengage the offending pieces, enact Plan B of buying a 6 point 19mm socket with a 1/2” drive, only to find they do not have one. Wonder why 6 point tools are so hard to find.  Ride your bicycle back home, reapply your tools and swearwords, add to the mix a pipe wrench and the hands of your neighbor and… pop!  Gasp! You can’t believe it, but you are now looking at two separate pieces.  And they’re not even broken.

Step Twelve: Apply a lot of grease to the adapter ball bearing, and look at it skeptically for a long while before deciding it might be okay to use again.  Wonder why you didn’t ask your neighbor to help you with this when it happened two years ago.  Make and eat some Korean rice sticks with spicy garlicky pork***.

Step Thirteen:  Apply more sunscreen.

Step Fourteen: The project so far has taken long enough that the heat and sun mid-day have come and gone, and now you have shade again.  Warm up the bike again.  Meanwhile, wonder if you should admit that the adapter you wrestled with all day was the wrong one.  Turn off the bike and fuel supply.  Safety first!  Sheepishly put your 19mm socket on the correct adapter (which had been right where you looked this morning) and onto the breaker bar.  Umph. Bolt still not moving.  Lean into it.  Smash your knuckles a few times.   Burn yourself - twice, second degree - on the exhaust.   Realize you are in danger of rounding out the bolt.  You know enough to know you really, really don’t want this to happen.  What you really would like is a 6 point socket.  Give in, call around, find one, go buy it.

Step Fifteen:  Triumphantly put your shiny new fresh-from-its-packaging 19mm six point socket on the adaptor-that-was-never-stuck-in-the-first-place (you couldn’t find a 1/2” drive socket) and onto the breaker bar.  Umph.  Bolt still not moving.  Employ a dousing of liquid wrench.  Employ the rubber mallet.  Still nothing.  Instead of throwing the wrench across the yard, thereby risking damage to the Ducati which is parked over yonder, call your neighbor in for his second assist.  He manages to loosen it, but only by applying a 6 foot length of pipe he just happens to have laying around.  Hah!  Take THAT!  Your neighbor’s socket is, of course, now stuck to the drain bolt.  Ignore that for now.

Step Sixteen:  Clean the screen, spring, bolt (no extra charge for also cleaning the socket that's still stuck to it), threads, and gasket (which is in remarkably good shape!).  Remember the time your car engine oil pan threads were stripped, likely by a mis-threaded drain bolt (but, for the record, probably not mis-threaded by you).  Remember how it ruined your trip to California, and how much it cost.  Proceed with caution.  Delicately seat the parts, wedge off the misaligned socket, and use a torque wrench to tighten the bolt, because you never trust yourself to get this right on your own. Feel relieved that you no-longer have to borrow a torque wrench from your ex-husband, since you were recently gifted a hand-me-down one, even if it is just a beam type. Wonder about beam type torque wrenches, since you’ve only used your ex-husband's click type in the past.  Think to yourself that the guy on the tutorial video is awfully sure of himself to re-install the skid plate before checking for leaks.  You know better.  Leave it aside.

Step Seventeen: Loosen the oil filter element cover bolts.  Marvel that they seem to be willing parties to this operation. Plan to keep them in the cover, since they are all different, and you’d rather not mix them up. But the cover, of course, is stuck.  So take out the bolts, laying them in a careful configuration, rather than waiting for them to fall out in a jumble.  Work on the cover, breathing deeply all the while.  Eventually, after being bitten by a number of ants, to which you are highly allergic, and after running for the Benedryl,  you will succeed.  Put the bolts back in the cover before it gets turned around and you forget which bolt goes where.

Step Eighteen:  Now it’s time to remove the oil filter element.  Decide that a reusable oil filter element is a cool idea and wonder what one looks like.  Continue to wonder, because it’s stuck in its recess.  This certainly didn’t happen in the video tutorial, did it?  Work at that for a while, neatly slicing around the entire circumference of your pinky as you do so.  Bleed some.   Bleed some more.  Remember that the helpful guy in the video warned you not to let the gasket get stuck in the engine.

Step Nineteen:  Lo! The oil filter element is free at last! The gasket, predictably, is stuck in the engine.

Step Twenty: It’s important for hypo-glycemics to maintain steady blood glucose levels throughout this procedure.  Safety first!  Have a bowl of Cheerios.  Go easy on the milk, because there's not much left, and the only thing worse than not having enough milk for breakfast is having to change the oil in your motorcycle. 

Step Twenty-One: Consider how to remove the stuck gasket without ruining it.  Root around your silverware drawer for some plastic utensils.  This small victory is sweet.  You always knew the Yamaha, unlike the Ducati, could be repaired roadside with a plastic spork.

Step Twenty-Two: Clean the filter element, the gaskets, the cover.  You are less impressed with the reusable filter element now, because you can’t really clean it up to your standards without running the risk of tearing it.  Bzzzt! on the reusable element!  On the flip size all the gaskets appear content, happy even.  Bow your head in a small prayer of gratitude.

Step Twenty-Three:  Replace the filter element, the cap, the bolts (you remembered how it all goes!).  Even though the bolts only require 10nm of torque, use your also relatively newly gifted hand-me-down mini-torque wrench anyway, because you know what happened last time.  Find yourself relieved it’s a click type wrench, because the beam one was kind of weird.

Step Twenty-Four:  Excellent!  Now all you need to do is pour in some oil, start her up and check for leaks!  Discover your funnel is too big for the XT, but attempt to use it anyway.  Uncap your oil and joyously let the rejuvenation begin.  Remark to yourself that the oil looks awfully black.  That would be because it’s already been used once.  Make a big mess yanking it all away before you pour a quart of used oil in your engine, since you really, really do not want to see that drain bolt again so soon.  Admit that perhaps a teeny dribble (or two) did go in the engine, but declare you’re not removing that drain bolt again, even if you were wise enough to leave the skid plate off.   You’re still ahead of the game once this is done, right?  Right.  Promise you’ll do the next oil change sooner rather than later.  Realize it's getting dark and all the auto parts stores are closed anyway.  So much for the accurate one hour = one day equation.

Do not ride this Yamaha!
Just in case I repress the entire episode and decide to ride to work in the morning.

Step Twenty-Five: Wish you had remembered to cook the artichokes**** that you set out, and realize you are too hungry to wait for them now.  Realize you are too hungry to function enough to decide on dinner at all, much less prepare it, so start with a first course of Cerveza Pacifico Clara.  Decide to write this blog entry, because it puts your mechanical inadequacy to good use, and besides, it cracks you up (especially after the beer), even if no one else reads it.

Step Twenty-Six: Notice that you are dangerously hungry and that several hours have passed since you sat down with your computer and Pacifico.  Make an omelet (eggs courtesy of the chickens next door) with left over grilled vegetables (courtesy of your cleverness in grilling extra earlier this week).  Eat the last of your candied orange peels, which, unlike the rugged ones you pack when riding, are dipped in chocolate.  The dark chocolate really adds something, no question.

Step Twenty-Seven:  Look at the clock, sigh and admit it’s too late to practice, and that your hands are too grubby to put on your gazillion dollar flute, anyway.  Silently thank your grandfather for subsidizing your gazillion dollar flute some 15 (or more?) years ago.  Wish you could remember to wear gloves when you work on your motorcycle.  Wish they made tiny sized chemical grade gloves to begin with.  Wish the same thing about motorcycle clutch levers.  Take a shower. You will remember, when shampooing, the big goose-egg on your head, incurred last night (again, you don't remember exactly how) when washing the bike or reassembling the evaporative cooler.  In a whiny voice, say, "Ooww."  Go to bed.  Wish you didn’t have to go to work in the morning.

You know that thing I said about being competent?  I take it all back.

*My ratio of two parts (by weight) potatoes to one part sweet potatoes made for delicious gnocchi, but next time I’d increase the sweet potato proportion.  I made them Parisian style (with an egg) and like all gnocchi, with flour as well.  They’re great with pesto, but even better with sage brown butter sauce.
**I typically buy bulk rolled oats and two or three other rolled grains (whatever strikes my fancy or is on sale at the moment – spelt, rye, whatever).  Mix the grains together with raisins, sliced almonds, unsweetened coconut, and/or whatever else you want.  I eat it (with milk) cold in the summer, and microwave it in the winter.  I prepare  about two weeks worth at a time in one variation or another. It’s way cheaper than boxed cereal or pre-made muesli, and quick, too.  It feels a bit like eating horse grain, but I’m perfectly okay with that.
***I saute leftover pork dumpling filling rescued from the freezer, add coins of soaked sliced rice cakes (supplied by my Korean flute student), cover with some broth and/or water, adding whatever seasonings I have/want/find, and simmer until I’m ready to eat.
****I had planned on simply steaming them whole while I was working, and dipping the leaves in aioli.  Oh well. Tomorrow, I hope.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Occasional Other Matters: Thunderbolts and a Random Act

Ever have one of those weeks when the thunderbolts seem to hit about every ten minutes?  Unexpected unpleasant surprises, not of the very highest magnitude, but forceful enough to knock you off your feet momentarily.  Umph!  When the symphony office said a mysterious package addressed to me had arrived, it only made sense to don my helmet and prepare for some sort of explosion.  What a pleasant surprise to find I’d been an innocent victim of a random act of kindness instead!

Speckled Pendant
From someone I haven't seen in over 20 years:  a pendant as bespeckled as my dearly departed Dalmatian.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Li’l Burro’s First Camping Trip (Gila Box RNCA and Black Hills Back Country Byway)

Almost exactly a year to the day after the Ducati’s first camping trip, the Yamaha (with joyous bray) and I (still comically overdressed in my Alpinestar Stella Bat Pants complete with knee sliders, fully zipped to my Motoport Kevlar Monroe track approved jacket) lit off for Li’l Burro’s inaugural overnight journey.  Indicative of another unexplored corner of familiar territory, the signs for Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area and the Black Hills Back Country Byway have often piqued my curiosity, and I knew that my sturdy XT225 and I (or one of us, anyway) were up to the task of more practice on unpaved terrain.

Here’s the Yamaha first draft packing system.  My new top rack arrived, predictably, just as I put on my helmet for departure, and a top box still needs to be acquired, but I managed to carry what I needed with my new saddle bags and go-to tail bag.

Packed XT225 at Gila Box RNCA Riverview Campground

Despite its loose surfaces (from my perspective, anyway), hills and switchbacks, the Black Hills Back Country Byway is still, you know, a road, and therefore a not too terribly challenging 21 mile journey from Solomon to Clifton, AZ.   The perfect path in my battle with my long held pathological fear of ground that moves beneath my tires! I toddled along, as a novice does, mostly in 2nd gear, occasionally exploring the environs of 3rd, and, in a few areas, approaching the fearsome and highly illegal speed of 30mph (indicated).*  If it had been at the starting line, I may have even beaten my grandfather’s old red riding lawn tractor by a nose.

Black Hills Byway
We start down here...

XT225 on the Black Hills Back Country Byway
... and go up...


Black Hills Byway Canyon Overlook Picnic Area
... and up some more, before coming back down to the river.  Off in the distance,  Eagle Creek Canyon.
Before my return trip, I seek my reward.  Except it wasn’t.  This dish, from PJ’s Family Restaurant, reminded me why, for so long, I thought I didn’t like Mexican food.  Grey, wholly unseasoned beef, wrapped in flabby tortillas, topped with a lifeless sauce, served with beans having a surface like the dry cracked desert floor of Death Valley just didn’t do the trick.  I choked some of it down anyway, it being, basically, a matter of survival.  Serves me right for not opting for the camping standard  bacon cheese burger.  The first meal I had when I got home was chosen specifically to erase the memory.  Enchiladas of slow cooked chipotle pinto beans and freshly grilled nopalitos, inside my homemade tortillas and smothered with my favorite recipe red chile sauce.  Oh, wait, I do like Mexican food! 
PJ's Family Restaurant Clifton.jpg (2)

PJ's Family Restaurant Clifton
The burro, cooling its heels in the flowers outside my window.

The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is a cooling, trickling, burbling, thirst quenching desert sanctuary, and I find myself disappointed that my photographs don’t really evoke the miraculousness of coming across such a place after riding 150 miles across the parched and seemingly-barren desert.  It shouldn’t be surprising to discover the concentration of wildlife in these precious areas, but it’s still an amazing phenomenon to witness.  Alas, with a camera that shoots a whopping 1.1 frames per second, my time is better spent enjoying the wildlife rather than trying to photograph it.

Gila Box RNCA West Entrance Area
A sight for sore (and hot, and thirsty) eyes: first glimpse of the Gila River from the Gila Box RNCA West Entrance.

A century or so ago, Arizona was criss-crossed with these lovely life giving riparian scenes but now, while we still have the rivers, they just don't have any water in them!  The conservation area has four perennial waterways within its boundries - the Gila, Bonita Creek, the San Francisco and Eagle Creek.  That's no small thing around here.

Gila Box RNCA Flying W Group Day Use Area
The cliffs of the "Gila Box" are formed from "Gila Conglomerate."  Now I understand why it's so darn hard to sink a tent stake into the ground here!

All manner of birds I can't name live here (plus a few that I can - vermillion flycatchers, green herons, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and lots of talkative finchy looking things), several types of actual fish live in the rivers (a really weird concept, if you're from Arizona) and, not surprisingly, hosts of grazing beasts and predators big and small find the area a happy hunting ground.

Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Area
There could not be a more pleasant place to watch hawks circle like a gang of GXSRs in a Circle K parking lot: Bonita Springs Watchable Wildlife Area

Gila Box RNCA Serna Cabin Picnic Area
Cool respite near Serna Cabin.

“Scary Hill!,” I, as a moto-passenger, have deemed them, either singing or screeching (depending) from the back seat.  Yep, even though you can see the lip of this particular hill is, mercifully,  paved, most were not.   My inexperienced technique?  Lean back and raise a toast to the principles of engine braking.

19 Percent Grade
19% grade!  I am Not Making This Up.

One has to be content to let this place slowly reveal itself.  The Cottonwood Trail loops around to many interesting sites, but one would never know that if one started from the campground.

Trail?  What Trail?  Where does it go?  How long is it?  Is it a loop?  Do I have time before sunset? It's not in my personality make-up to not ask these things, and I had to consciously tell myself to shut up and walk.

Here’s an attempt at shooting blind while using a packing strap as a make-shift camera tri-pod.  Not bad, but not especially good, either. Still, I think you can see it was a lovely night, and I enjoyed the stars and the squeak and scratch of the desert critters’ serenade.
XT225 under the Stars
Li'l Burro under the stars.

Meanwhile, in the paddock, the Ducati is impatiently stomping her dainty little hooves.  A great quantity of quality time is coming soon…

* The posted speed limit for the byway is 15mph. And a good motorcyclist will always admit that, due to a quirk in motorcycle-speedometry, the indicated speed always reads slightly faster than one’s actual speed.