Monday, January 30, 2012

#97 Asleep on the Wheels (April 2010)

Back in 1985, I was living with a friend in Austin, Texas. After being evicted from an apartment and living first in the car with the wife and eight-month-old baby daughter, and then on the frigid streets (that year anyway) of Austin, I was earning enough doing day labor to share a roach-infested motel room in the evening, leaving just enough left over to buy baby food. I eventually scraped together the money to send the wife and kid back to Michigan to stay with the in-laws while I got our life together in Texas. I got a better job and acquired a Kawasaki 440 LTD to get to work and back while I was staying with this friend, and I decided it would be good to go and visit the family in Michigan one weekend. I still had very little money, but I reasoned if I metered it out correctly, I could make it. I had enough to stop mid-way on the way up, but I knew that coming back, it would be a non-stop affair.
The trip there was fairly uneventful, if painful. The LTD’s seating position caused incredible pain and raised large red welts on my backside. I arrived at the in-laws house all proud of myself that I had made the trip without incident… and promptly wiped out on the soft sand driveway 20 feet from my destination. After a day to recover, it was time to head back.
It was 1,571 miles there, and I assume the same back (didn’t keep track). I extended my day some by forgetting to return the petcock to the “run” position after I had switched to reserve last time, and so ran out of gas on US 31 in Indiana a few miles south of Kokomo. I just popped the gas tank off and started walking with it under my arm. Must have looked comical, but someone stopped and gave me a ride to the gas station.
Anyway, things were uneventful after that until I got to the stretch of I-40 between Nashville and Memphis. It got dark, I was tired, and there was not a lot of traffic on the road, and even less in the way of stuff to look at. I started feeling really tired, so I got off at an exit and walked around, etc. Made me feel better for a couple of minutes, but then I was nodding again. Bear in mind the Kawa 440 LTD is not exactly the most exciting motorcycle ever, nor was it well suited for distance, but I was super poor and it was a real bargain.
I pulled into a rest area; I had determined I would have to sleep a little. This place had big concrete picnic tables, so I stretched out on one and started drifting off... but the local insect population had other ideas. Within minutes, there were squadrons of incoming skeeters, apparently unable to resist the huge meal laid out on the picnic table. I was able to cover my head and arms with my leather jacket, but the armor-piercing capabilities of these superbugs continued to drill through the rest of my clothing, so that within ten minutes I had abandoned the attempt. I figured the little bastards had got me wide awake and pissed off enough to make it to Memphis, and hopefully the lights of the city would give me something to concentrate on. I hit the road, wide awake... for about another five minutes anyway. But this time I saw no alternative but to press on.
Obviously I don’t remember actually falling asleep. I do remember waking up as the front end went off the shoulder and hit the grass on the way to the ditch... I have NO IDEA how I kept it upright or what I did there, but I was back on the freeway totally freaked out and doing about 40 mph for a while. The fear of doing THAT again kept me awake until Memphis, and I was able to make it the rest of the way without repeating the problem. South of Dallas, it was hot (August). I hit every rest area and stuck my head under the faucet, which was good for about a mile and a half before the fatigue set back in. It was like riding into a big hair dryer. The engine started making a horrible ticking noise (oil level was good), but I made it back to Austin without further incident. Looking back, it was a dumb idea; no preparation, under-funded, and the furthest I had rode before that was probably 300 miles, tops. But, it’s something I’ll always remember and unless I suddenly decide to do the Stampede, I won’t be that unprepared again!

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