Throughout the trip, I had posted small updates to an online motorcycle forum and several of its members had replied to my situation, including one in Salt Lake City who was offering to drive all the way down to help out. But before I would inconvenience anyone like that, I needed to see if my Band-Aid solution had worked. I knelt beside the bike and carefully removed the vise grip from my footpeg. The shifter remained in place. I lightly rocked it up and down, and saw the shaft rock with it. Then the big test. I climbed onto the bike, squeezed in the clutch, and pushed down on the shifter with my foot. It dropped onto the ground. My fix had failed.
A few people had commented about welding the shifter in place, and although others had expressed concern about damaging the nearby oil seal and causing an even worse problem, I felt it was worth the gamble. A quick look online had revealed a welder nearby, and I drove to see what could be done. The guy looked at the part I handed him, and shook his head no.
He looked at me in my gear, then out the window at the bike with all the gear on it. I could see the gears turning in his head as he tried to think of a way to help. “Let’s go look at it,” he sighed. He knelt beside the bike, much like I had done earlier, and looked. “Well, you still have enough of an extension here, that it might work. Pull it into the shop,” he said and walked away, still holding the shifter. A short time later he reappeared holding my shifter with a new shaft poking through it. “Plan B,” he said, and explained how he had left over parts from an older Honda he had bought years back for a project, including a shaft that happened to fit perfectly into the lever. “We’ll cut this down, and weld this onto your bike. It may stick out an extra inch or so, but at least you can get home.” Less than an hour later, and my wallet $35 lighter, I was on the road again, bike successfully repaired.
followed the GPS’s purple line, I soon saw a brown sign read “Blackbird Park.” I had forgotten about that, thankful I was simply following a premade route instead of trusting my memory for navigation. I slowed as I approached the parking lot. The gates were shut. It was closed, apparently only open on weekends. Finding a spot to put my kickstand down, I hopped off the bike. This was another one of those times I was glad to have brought a small camera instead of my large Nikon DSLR, the lens able to fit between the bars of the fence.
The Concorde has always been my favorite civilian airliner, a supersonic marvel built in a time before computers, and forced into museums because of boardroom politics. But while the Concorde may have been an icon of engineering, the Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird topped it in every way. Designed to fly at the edge of space and to out fly any missile, it flew both higher and faster than the Concorde. Subsequently, it too became a victim of politics, now confined to sit in the desert outside of Edwards AFB and be captured by the sensors of my Olympus camera.
After a few moments, I realized the gate wouldn’t magically open, so I got back onto the bike once more. I drove on, passing the time by trying to think of what the scenery reminded me of. In one direction were farmlands reminding me of Oklahoma. In the other, rolling mountains similar to the Appalachians. Everywhere, orange flowers bloomed. Overall, I decided, it looked like Italy, or maybe even parts of Greece.
With my bike working as good as new, I chose to stay on my pre-planned route, the twisty CA-33 through Los Padres National Forest. The two lane road climbed, and as I passed a mile in altitude, I wondered how steeply it would descend before reaching the ocean. I descended down, but not below 3000 feet before climbing up again, back to 5000. The ocean had to be close.
I made my way around another turn and caught a glimpse of something in the distance. My eyes widened as I recognized what I had seen. It was the ocean. I had done it. I had ridden a motorcycle from one end of the country to the other. I made it to the Pacific! The road continued to take me closer, and soon I was riding along the coast. I stared out the water, seeing waves crash into rocks, and my mood soared, elated in what I had accomplished.
With the sun starting to set, I checked in at the inn on Vandenberg AFB and rushed my way to the coast, rush being a relative term when the majority of the base’s roads are 25mph. Passing through the gate, I turned onto the main road and twisted the throttle, the bike instantly responding with a burst of speed. I sped the base’s perimeter, the fence line marked with the usual warning signs. A few minutes later, the sun was on the horizon and I felt the adrenaline surge as I raced to make it to the coastline on time. As I hit the parking lot at the end of the road, I realized I had failed, seeing a train station instead of the oceanfront. Worse yet, the evening train was just arriving and blocked my view even more. I went back to the base to find my room.