I got ahead of the story. Back to Day 3, we're still in California, the not-so-secret hot springs along the Kern River.
We'd had our morning soak to take the chill off--temps dropped below freezing again last night, water bladders froze--hiked back and made breakfast, packed up, anticipating rolling into Death Valley that afternoon. Bryn had never been there before and this was something I was eager to show him. We make last minute checks of our gear, swing legs over the bikes, and I hear.............nothing as he punches the starter.
Crap, dead battery on the DR. One of the things I'd worried about before the trip was the battery. The bike was 5 years old, a well cared for battery normally lasts no more than 4-5 years. I'd checked it, seemed strong, it wasn't the original battery and there was a charger pigtail on the bike so I figured the previous owner had taken normal care here.
(Note: a recurring theme here...guess what? No photos of this day's struggles. I realized much too late in the trip that my camera stayed in my jacket pocket at all the best opportunities, i.e., when things
went to hell
didn't go according to plan. Which was Most of the Time. I guess my only excuse is that I cut my ride report teeth on rec.motorcycles.dirt which is(was?) a text-only usenet news group. Yeah, like WoodsChick would ever buy that excuse...)
We did manage to get it bump-started but the DR was running like crap. Wouldn't idle, poor acceleration. Figuring we could at least ride the bikes to the nearest town to look for a new battery we headed for 178 & the town of Lake Isabella. As we made the turn from the frontage road onto the crossover Bryn almost high-sided--the engine died in the middle of the turn and he left a 15 foot arcing skid before he got the thing under control. Hmm. Maybe there's something more here than a dead battery?
We limped back to our campsite and removed the battery. I packed it up and rode to town and found a Carquest auto parts store. They tested the battery, the tester indicated it was good, but just undercharged so they put the battery on a charger. An hour later we put the battery back in the DR and headed off. Still ran like crap.
WoodsChick, right before we left, had offered her and her husband's cell phone numbers...just in case...and I swallowed my pride and gave Eric a call. Eric is pretty much a motorcycle genius. 'Nuff said. Could a bad battery make the bike run like crap? Well, yeah it could
, but maybe it's a fuel issue. He knew about the ridiculous in-line filter Suzuki puts in the carb inlet (hadn't noticed that before), advised me to drain the bowl, check the filter, make sure it was getting fuel. Everything checked out fine, but it still ran like crap, and by now the battery was dead again.
OK, the most obvious problems were 1) a bad battery or 2) a bad charging system or 3) both or 4) entirely something else. I went with 1). Now, where to find a battery. Found one at CycleSmiths
in Kernville. (HIGHLY recommended, btw.)
By this time we were resigned to spending another night on the Kern River, so we filled the battery with acid in the parking lot of Carquest (Cyclesmiths was actually closed when I rode up, but by coincidence they happened to be driving by and saw me forlornly looking in the shop window puzzled by the OPEN sign they'd forgot to shut off; they opened the shop for me on their day off and sold me the battery!), got Carquest to do the initialization charge, and while we waited bought some groceries and then limped back to our same campsite from the day before. It wasn't quite so much fun setting up camp as it had been yesterday but we had food and beverages and a hot spring. Poor us.
Luckily we had cell phone coverage even at the campsite and were able to let everyone at home know we were OK and what was going on.
The next morning the bike fired up on the first try with the new battery despite the freezing temperature, and seemed to run perfectly. I was still concerned there was a charging issue so we rode out to Kernville where Wendy at CycleSmiths tested the voltage--14.4 VDC (gear lesson #2, a small voltmeter is a good thing to have in the tool kit)--so I put that worry out of my mind and we were off to Walker Pass and Death Valley.
We rode around the north side of Lake Isabella since we'd made the detour to Kernville.
Saw people playing golf outside Kernville. They were------determined. 45°F, 30 mph winds, and the greens were the color of, well, dead grass.
The road up and over Walker Pass is a great twisty piece of tarmac.
Of course as we climbed to the pass at 5200' we were riding alongside snow--
--yeah, it was cold of course. We were just warm enough to ride thanks to our grip heaters, the only piece of electric riding gear we used. A heated jacket would've been nice but having warm hands was a necessity. Just to have one warm place to focus on made all the difference.
We dropped down onto highway 395 and turned north to reach 190, the western entrance to Death Valley.
The road winding down through Rainbow Canyon is one of the top bits of twisty tarmac that I've ever ridden.
As we got closer to our destination we could feel the air warm up and by the time we reached Panamint Springs it was, for the first time on this trip, downright comfortable.
I love this place.