I shifted into gear and rode off, the hotel disappearing behind my shoulder in the bike’s mirrors. I was looking forward to the day ahead. Peach Springs, being a small reservation town, didn’t have much too much to offer and I was ready to move on. Today would be Death Valley.
I rode down the same part of Route 66 as I had going into town. I passed places that might’ve once been towns, but all that remained now was only one or two buildings. Hackberry, Valentine, and others too small to notice on the way back down to Kingman.
After leaving Arizona for Nevada and traversing the long straight roads found in the state’s southern corner, I crossed the California state line. In the distance, I caught sight of a series of bright lights. Had I been a hundred miles further north, I would’ve thought it was a UFO out of Area 51. Instead, as I drove closer I noticed it was a solar farm, mirrors reflecting the midday sun into a collector on top of a tall tower, intensifying it enough that the air seemed to glow.
I followed I-15 south along the Mojave, and soon found myself needing gas once more. The first station I found happened to be the most expensive I had stopped at yet, the $4.99 price gouging a side effect of the large number of vehicles passing through such an isolated area. Sticker shocked, I filled up.
Refueled, I pushed on towards Death Valley, and eventually found myself leaving the black top for the off road trail I had chosen long ago: Saratoga Springs Rd. After pausing for a couple of moments to read a historical plaque marking the Harry Wade Exit Route, I set off. The path started as gravel, but quickly became more sand than rock. I felt the front wheel weave as it tried to find the path of least resistance, and in the back of my mind something told me that a faster speed would give the bike more momentum, easier to stick to a straight line with. It only made my fall come that much sooner.
My right leg hurt, a sharp pain in my shin. I wiggled my toes. They moved. Good, my leg wasn’t broken, it just hurt. I rolled up my pants leg to see the damage, and saw a 2-inch long cut. It hadn’t started bleeding yet, but it would. I looked at the bike, and knew I’d struggle to pick it up on the loose sand, the tires without something solid to pivot on. I took off my jacket, stripped down the bike, and heaved. The bike moved, but it mostly just pushed sand aside. I heaved again, shifted my weight and heaved a third time, unwilling to accept defeat. Gravity surrendered, and the bike was up on its wheels again. I used my foot to scoot a rock under the kickstand, giving it something solid to rest on to prevent another fall.
Giant flies buzzed around me in the afternoon heat while I reassembled my gear. Something shiny in the sand gleamed at me, prompting me to reach down and pick it up: my foot shifter. It had dug into the sand during the fall and snapped off. I looked over it. The shifter was in one piece, but part of the selector shaft was still inside it. I had broken the shifter shaft.
Fearful there was internal damage, I squeezed in the clutch and started the engine. I slowly relaxed my grip and the engine slowed, the clutch starting to press against the friction plate. Feeling I could make my way back the half mile I had gone since leaving the road, I chose to do just that. Somehow managing to do a U-turn, I traveled back the way I came uncertain of what gear I was in.
Once on the pavement, I began to realize I was in either 3rd or 4th, with top speed limited to around 50 or 55. I could do more, but I didn’t like working the engine that hard, feeling its vibrations shake the bike. I pulled into a gas station, hoping to find some pliers that I could grip the remaining length of shaft and force it into a different gear. They didn’t have anything. My phone showed the nearest town was Barstow, roughly 60 miles away by Interstate. With no other choice, I set off.
Slightly more than an hour of being passed by cars and semis alike, I made it to the town and found a parts store that sold vice-grips. I bought one, and a bright idea hitting me, bought some JB-Weld. I went back into the parking lot, locked my new tool into place and tried shifting. There was too much side-to-side motion to keep it there permanently, but as long as I was off the bike, I could change gears with it. It just meant I’d be stuck in a single gear while riding. This being a town, I chose 3rd and drove to find a hotel for the night.
I checked in at a cheap motel and brought my gear into the room. Mixing up a batch of the JB-Weld, I filled the socket of the shift lever with the paste and pressed it onto the remaining shaft, resting on the footpeg-clamped vice-grip for support. I went back to the hotel, wondering what to do if my fix failed. How would I get back home? Do I drive the truck out to pick up the bike, or would I ship it back? Would this be the end of my trip, barely 2 hours from the Pacific Ocean?