Lunch wound down, and naturally the incontinent Nighthawk came up in conversation again. Wayli was starting to think that maybe the oil should have been checked with the bike vertical after all. Maybe. That would explain it, and conveniently wouldn't mean tearing into the engine. That made sense, right?
But that still didn't solve the oil on the back tire. The entire right edge of it was slick with oil. The worst of the twisties were behind us, but we decided to take it slow just in case, and not let Wayli go last- that way, if he took a powder, somebody else would be able to collect him sooner rather than later.
Wayli, Elizabeth and I were totally cool with that, but I think Walter was starting to get antsy- he had that date in Santa Cruz to get back to, and dragging ass because of somebody else's bike is never fun. He was totally cool about it, but did hint that he might put the hammer down on 101. Jeremy, I think, was mostly concerned with the random starting/not starting antics of the Yamaha, and was pretty much cool with whatever was gonna happen, as long as someone was around to give him a push when he needed it.
As for me... well, my ass was sore, but my bike was running gloriously well and I was in no mood to let Sunday come to an end. We had already hit the halfway point to Los Angeles, and Elizabeth and I were already joking about taking it all the way to Mexico. To be honest, I would have loved to. Employment is a terrible mistress. But after all the windy and the slow and the constant eye on the odometer, I was looking forward to some serious slab time too- just let the bike loose and howl up the freeway for a bit, no turns, no streets to look for, guaranteed gas every 5-10 miles... I was conflicted.
Walter wasn't. He wanted to go, and Elizabeth, once she got over the lethargy of sunshine, pointed out that we still had a lot of miles to cover if we wanted to get home before dark. The Bay Area freeways are a terrifying thing on a Sunday evening, and we wanted to avoid that if at all possible. Off we went.
First south, and then left at the first light (in this case, about a mile down the road, but it would have been 50 miles if we'd gone in the other direction). Highway 46 is a nice road, through the arid Coast Range, full of big sweeping turns and low passes. There were actually enough cars here to bunch up on the long grades, but not so many that we couldn't pass them.
Before we knew it, we were in Paso Robles, where Jeremy was peeling off back to Fresno. We stopped off in a quiet office building parking lot, and did the awkward shuffle you do when good friends leave. It's that moment where you don't really know what to say because half of you knows it isn't forever, and this has happened a million times before, so just tip a wave, say "ciao!" and go, but the other half just feels like pure shit because your buddy's riding the other way.
We lingered for a bit, but not too long because Walter wanted to get going. Hugs all around, and then Jeremy casually kicked Wayli's tire.
And slipped right off it. That tire was covered in so much oil that you could get absolutely no traction on it, even with a rubber sole. He finally pulled the manual out, and sure enough- it said to warm the bike, let it rest on the side stand for a few minutes so it's cool enough to touch, and then check the oil with the bike upright.
It was massively overfilled, and he'd kept overfilling it more and more to make sure it didn't run out. Seriously not good. Elizabeth did the smart thing and told Wayli she was not getting back on the road until he scrubbed the crap off. We spied a gas station down the block, and fired up. Walter completely lost patience at that point, said bye, apologized, and hit the freeway north. So long, Walter!
The rest of us fired up, except for Jeremy. His bike wouldn't start again. That was just a bit worrying, since he was about to go off on his own, but I gave him a shove and we decided to check it at the station.
We probably spent a good half hour here, Jeremy topping off his fuel just as far as it would go so he could run the 120 miles nonstop back to Fresno, and Wayli cleaning his tire.
That worked like this: go to the bathroom. Take a piss, wash your hands, take a paper towel and soak up as much soap as it'll hold, then go outside to the water hose, pump some quarters into it, and work the wet, soapy, papery mess around the back tire for a bit. Then send somebody else back for more soap. The tire was flinging oil all over his pipes, fender, blinker, license plate, bags, the sleeping bag strapped to the tail, everything. We eventually got it reasonably clean and decided it would have to do, we'd just ride slow.
Jeremy's bike wasn't starting at all anymore. He poked at fuses, tried walking it fast enough to start, but that wasn't happening- it was just too tall to get going with any sort of alacrity. It needed a second person, end of story. We looked at each other, he and I, and I think we both knew that it was completely possible to ride the entire way back without stopping for anything, but man, that would suck. What'cha gonna do? We said goodbye, I gave him a final shove, and we got back on the road.
Two exits later, he waved and peeled off. Just three of us left now.
101 was windy, but nice. It's relatively small here, and we passed through rolling hills and green, leafy riparian areas. Lots of birds. At one point near the Big Sandy State Wildlife Area I glanced over to my right, and spotted some sort of raptor really close. I looked back, and it was maybe 50 or 100 yards away, and huge. A vulture? No, bigger- and then I saw a flash of snowy white head head and tail, and knew why this bird is the symbol of the US. I've seen bald eagles before, in zoos, in the wild, and over the port of Seattle, but never before like this, flapping its massive wings over a tree-lined pond in the Central Valley. Wow. Anybody would want to have that as a symbol, I see that now.
But I had to keep riding. We were on the freeway, and the wind was getting worse. It was buffeting me pretty well, and Wayli was laid out on the tank of his Nighthawk like a lizard, keeping his profile as low as possible. Elizabeth, on that super light Ninja and her huge bags and camp chair across the back was being blown around like crazy. Then she got blown completely out of her lane and into the middle of the next lane over- it happened so smooth, and got blown so far, I thought she made a lane change, but then she changed back- with a blinker this time- and I knew it wasn't good.
I got in the back of the line and blocked cars as best I could. With the massively heavy Vulcan (relatively speaking- it's maybe 480 lbs wet and loaded) I was a fairly beefy obstacle to cars. Wayli was slowest, so he was in front with the throttle pinned, gradually becoming one with his tank.
Then it happened again- quick as a wink, Elizabeth was a lane over. Not good at all.
I cleared my left, hopped in the middle lane and came alongside. Waved. No response. Waved again- nothing. She was head down, hanging on for dear life. Finally, she looked left- thumbs up? Thumbs down. OK, got it! I rolled on the throttle and whipped the bike up to Wayli, got behind him, and flashed the brights. Nothing. Flashed again... and again... no response. I motioned to pull out- nothing. Like Elizabeth, he was too concerned with staying alive and in his lane than with the lunatic behind him.
Screw it. I buzzed him like a jet fighter, got in the right lane, and slowed it down to 45 miles an hour and let them both bunch up behind me. Then back to 50- fast enough that we wouldn't be mowed down, but as slow as I dared- and held it there 'till the next exit... that didn't come... and didn't come...
Five miles later, we finally got off the freeway. Tired, scared, tense as hell and still almost 200 miles from home and losing the sun. It was time to seriously reconsider our plan of attack.