Operation Get Goldwing

For months I had been keeping an eye out for an Orange ABS Goldwing. A couple times a day I would check Ebay, Cycletrader.com, and the For Sale sections at GWRRA.org and GL1800riders.com. One day I found an orange 2002 on Cycletrader. It wasn't advertised as ABS but a very close inspection of the pictures revealed 'ABS' on the front wheel covers. I sent the seller a message through Cycletrader asking for more information.

A few days later I returned to my desk at work to prepare to leave for our Gatlinburg trip when I saw I had voicemail. The seller had called me. The bike did have ABS and his description sounded good. I returned his call and left voicemail telling him I would take the bike if it was still available.

The next day (October 4, 2007) my girlfriend and I were slowing progressing through Pigeon Forge, Tennessee traffic when my phone rang. The seller, Kaya, was on the line. We discussed the bike for a while and I told him I would take it. He said it was mine. Yes! I was on vacation and now I had a trip to plan to get my new Goldwing!!


One of the 'for sale' pictures for the Goldwing.

That night I started researching options. I found a place in Knoxville (Trailers and More) that sells enclosed trailers. I found one I liked and towed it back home. To prepare it for motorcycle hauling I added a wheel chock, additional tie-down points, and some additional lights.

I planned on pulling the trailer with my Jeep Liberty CRD. Then one day I started considering pulling it with my Ford Superduty. On the plus side it is bigger and more stable for towing and has a more comfortable interior. On the downside it is a V-10 gas hog and has 75K miles. How would it do on a 1300+ mile trip? I prepared both vehicles for a potential tow trip. While changing the oil in the Ford I noticed the power steering had been leaking. I cleaned the area and drove it for a few days and didn't notice it leaking anymore. I was a little fearful something might break on the older Ford with their non-serviceable parts (like wheel bearings). In the end I took the Ford due to it's size and comfort.


The truck and trailer (in Rainelle, WV).


October 18

I took off work at noon. I had hooked up the trailer the previous night so we (Sarah and I) threw our bags in the truck and headed down the road. We stopped at Wendys for some food to go and headed east on US50, then south on I-65. Traffic was slow crossing the bridge in Louisville due to some construction. We stopped at a rest stop on I-64 near Midway, Kentucky to stretch our legs and for Sarah to smoke.

The Ford was doing a fine job as a tow vehicle. The long wheelbase crewcab is normally a little choppy riding but the trailer was smoothing it out. The big Ford was not affected by the air wash of the semi trucks like the Liberty is. Powerwise I don't think the V-10 Ford has much advantage over the diesel Liberty. Both have a lot of low-end torque for pulling. The Ford has a more powerful engine but weighs twice as much as the Liberty.

We were about 20 miles east of Lexington when I noticed the steering was very heavy. What the hell? Had that earlier power steering leak returned with a vengeance? Suddenly the dash started lighting up like an F-16 with an incoming SAM. I pulled the truck to the side of the road and popped the hood. The problem was obvious. The serpentine belt was shredded. Great...just great! I looked at the GPS and Mount Sterling was a mile or so down the road. We took off limping down the road as I kept an eye on the gauges. We got to Mount Sterling without issues other than the truck was almost impossible to turn without power steering. A Marathon attendent directed us to an Advanced Auto store nearby. I muscled the truck into the lot and went inside. Luckily they had one belt. We removed the debris from the old belt and installed the new one. I noticed the A/C compressor pulley was still very hot so I suspected the compressor might have locked up. I wasn't going to risk the new serpentine belt finding out so we didn't use the A/C for the rest of the trip. We drove back to the Marathon station, gassed up, and washed up. Update: The compressor was fine. I guess it was the belt's time to die.

Boy Scout tip: be prepared. Prior to the trip I had brought any tools I thought I might possibly need and it had already paid off.

The truck drove fine after the repair but now I'm burdened with that 'what's next' feeling. Just like when I had motorcycle problems on our Asheville trip earlier this year. Several times during the trip I would 'hear something' and pull over and check things. It was starting to get dark and we still had 130 miles to go to get to our hotel in Cross Lanes, WV. As we passed through Ashland, KY the refinery lights looked cool. We stopped and ate at Shoney's in Huntington, WV. I had a tasty piece of strawberry pie. We continued on to the Comfort Inn I had made reservations at. Their internet site had said they had room for trailers and such, but construction around the hotel had decreased their parking so I had to park next to a dumpster. We washed up and I checked my email and stuff on their high speed wireless.

When I was walking in from the parking lot my cellphone rang. It was odd anyone called me on it. I also didn't recognize the number. My hands were full so I had to juggle things. I answered it, and to my surprise it was Susie Gilstrap. We used to work together on the ambulance. I hadn't talked to her forever. It had been at least a year. It was nice to hear her voice. She was in Las Vegas with a coworker, and she had been drinking (bad girl). She said she had been missing me and decided to call. We talked for several minutes. It was funny that she called me from Las Vegas and I was in West Virginia. The next time she talked to me she said she thought I wasn't happy to hear from her cause I seemed hurried in my conversation. I told her it wasn't that, but I was standing in a chilly parking lot being weighed down with luggage. Talking to her that night added another fun dimension to the trip.



October 19


The next morning started off rainy and cloudy. We left the hotel around 9:30'ish. Our first stop would be at the Cracker Barrel across the street for breakfast. The windshield wipers made about three swipes before the left wiper blade went flying into the parking lot. I got out and reattached it. We both laughed and hoped that was all the problems we'd have today.

After breakfast we headed to Charleston. Traffic was slow for a while. When we crossed the bridge into Charleston we dropped off the interstate and worked our way to US60. We'll take this road and eventually end up at the New River Gorge bridge. Next year this route might be part of our 2008 bike trip and I'm prerunning it.


US60 is scenic as it winds through the Alleghany river valleys. You see railroads, coal mines, houses just a few feet off the road, and the trees are turning colors. The road gets curvy as it climbs the mountains and reminds me of the Dragon in Tennessee. It alternates between tight turns and sweepers. The mountain top views are beautiful. There are lots of waterfalls and roadside streams. Eventually we peel off onto WV16 and there is more of the same. These would be great motorcycle roads. You could spend a whole day exploring the area.

WV16 leads to Fayetteville and the New River Gorge bridge. Fayetteville is larger than I thought it would be. Unbeknownst to me, tomorrow is "Bridge Day". They close the bridge and allow people to bungie jump and parachute off the bridge. Today one lane is already blocked so they can prepare the bungie cord.


I have to admit driving across the bridge was kind of a disappointment. You really don't get that feeling of height. The views are cool though. I had only planned to drive across the bridge and then continue on with the trip. They have a visitor's center on the north end of the bridge so we stopped there at Sarah's encouragement. We spent nearly an hour and a half in the visitor's center and taking pictures from the viewing platforms.


From the bridge we headed north up WV19. It's 4-lane all the way back to US60.


Back on US60 we got behind a Schneider truck. He was going slow, especially around some of the tight turns. He was crossing into the oncoming lane trying to negotiate the tight turns. One time he came close to hitting another semi.

We pulled off at an Advance Auto in Rainelle. I wanted to pick up a spare belt 'just in case'. It also allowed the Schneider truck to get ahead of us. While we were there we stopped at Hardees for a bathroom break. 15 miles or so down the road we joined up with I-64. A side benefit of taking US60 was bypassing the toll part of I-64.

When we rejoined I-64 we still had ~225 miles to go to Kaya's house. I had emailed him the night before with the optimistic estimated arrival time of 2-4 pm. It was closing in on 1:00 now so the goal now was to cover ground, and that's what we did. The mountains were pretty with the changing leaves. We stopped at the Virginia state line for a break.


As we passed Waynesboro we crested a mountain at the northern end of the Blue Ridge Parkway it completely enveloped in fog. We turned north on US29 at Charlottesville and headed to Warrenton.

I exited at Warrenton and turned onto what I thought was the correct road to Kaya's. It wasn't and ended up being a deadend cul de sac with no houses. The cul de sac was small and it took forever to get the truck turned around with the trailer. I thought I was screwed for awhile. I didn't know it at the time but I dented the trailer with the fender. Around 5:20 pm we eventually arrived at Kaya's.


Kaya and my new Goldwing.

Our mission is half over.

More Goldwing pictures

We spent 30-45 minutes talking to Kaya. He showed me the bike and its features. Too soon the rain that had been pestering us all day arrived so we loaded the bike in the trailer, said our goodbyes, and started our trip homeward. We got several miles up the road when I realized I'd missed the turn to US17. I pulled off behind a convenience store, rechecked the straps for the bike, and even added a few more. Can't be too careful. It would be embarassing for Sarah to see me cry if the Goldwing fell over in the trailer. We backtracked to US17 and headed northwest. Soon we were on I-66.

It was dark now and it seemed to me my lights weren't as bright as they should be. We pulled off at the next exit, stopped at a gas station, and I parked under a night light to see what was going on. It was a simple problem. I have an auxiliary battery in my truck which is charged by the alternator via a solenoid. The wire that turns on the solenoid had a little corrosion on it and the auxiliary battery wasn't charging. A quick scraping of the contacts and we were good to go and headed back down the interstate.

Sarah wanted to go to Walmart and get some comfortable sweats. We came upon a well populated exit so we pulled off to investigate. There was a Target down the road so we went there. As we were parking the truck a major rain hit and we got soaked by the time we got inside. While Sarah was trying on some things I asked the lady monitoring the fitting rooms if there were any hotels nearby. She said there were several down the road. We got to talking about our trip and bikes and she said she rode a Harley.


By now it was 8:30'ish. When Sarah got done with her clothes we decided to stay there for the night. We checked out a TGIFridays near Targets but they had a 30-35 minute wait. We continued into the town, eventually getting a room at the Cool Harbor motel. It's a neat older motel with a neon sign and lots of parking space. That's important when you're pulling a 16' trailer with a 22' truck. Sarah had been wanting Chinese food for some time and there was a Chinese restaurant across the street. We stuffed ourselves then walked down the road to the 7/11 and got some Cokes to take back to the room. It has a refrigerator, microwave, and I was very happily surprised to find they had very fast wireless internet even though I didn't remember seeing it advertised.

Until we came back to the motel I didn't know what town we were in. Walking back to the room through the lobby I saw a sign..."Welcome to Front Royal". Cool! If you ride a motorcycle you're probably familiar with Front Royal. It is the northern terminus of Skyline Drive. Skyline Drive goes south for 105 miles through the Shenandoah National Park then turns into the Blue Ridge Parkway at Waynesboro. As a biker it was cool to be staying the night in Front Royal.

Sarah went to sleep almost immediately. I washed my face, put on my pajama bottoms and slippers, fired up the air conditioning and laptop, and checked my email and planned routes for tomorrow. All of this in a cool old motel with a new orange ABS Goldwing in my motorcycle trailer outside. Life is good.



October 20

I was up a couple times during the night due to stomach queasiness so when the alarm went off at 6:00 I set it to 8:00. Sarah didn't mind. Eventually we left the Cool Harbor motel around 10:30. We stopped at a McDonalds in Winchester and Sarah got some breakfast. Sarah offered to share her breakfast but it didn't sound good. Then it was back on the road. I-81 into Maryland to Hagerstown, then I-70 west. Near Hancock we branched off onto I-68...a scenic highway.

Since I lifted my truck it has had a slight drivetrain vibration that comes and goes. It gets more noticeable when towing something. After loading up the Goldwing the vibration was more noticeable during certain speed ranges. I was thinking to myself the vibration seemed worse than usual but I attributed it to the trailer weight messing up the driveline angles. We were just east of Cumberland, Maryland coming down a hill when BAM! and the truck started vibrating like crazy...almost to the point of being undriveable. We were approaching an exit so I turned off the interstate and found a place to pull over. I looked for the problem and it wasn't hard to find. The rear U-joint had worn so badly that one ear had come out of its cap.

I unbolted the rear end of the driveshaft. My truck has a 2-piece driveshaft so I slid the rear part off the slip joint and put the driveshaft in my bed. We put the truck in four wheel drive and drove the truck into town using the front axle. I pulled into a tire store that was closed. There was an auto repair shop next door so I went and asked if there was an auto parts store in town. The lady there directed me to the nearest AutoZone several blocks away. Luckily they had a big, flat parking lot for me to park in. I went inside and got a couple new U-joints (always buying an extra now) and went to fix the driveshaft.


The trashed U-joint. You can tell the U-joint hasn't had grease in it for years. Thanks to Ford for using cheap, non-greasable parts in their 'superduty' trucks. The replacement U-joint is greasable.

Using my tailgate as a workbench I attempted to remove the old U-joint. I got the retaining clips off, but I couldn't budge the U-joint. It was too rusted in place. We drove back to the auto repair shop and the owner, Mike Ostrander, said he would change the U-joint. I do 99% of my own work but I was glad to have him do it. It took him over an hour to get the old U-joint out. He ended up cutting it out with a sawzall. When he went to install the new U-joint it was the wrong one. I went back and got the correct ones. They had given me U-joints for a V-8. The V-10 has a more robust driveline. Mike got the new U-joint in and even greased it for me.


Mike charged me $49, but I gave him $100. I appreciated him stopping what he was doing to help out a guy from Indiana. Mike is just starting his own business and I wish him all the best. If you're in the area give him some business and enjoy watching the trains roll by.

We drove back to the AutoZone lot where I put the driveshaft back on. It probably took less than ten minutes to do, then we went next door to Quiznos to wash up and eat. I was very hungry by now. Despite the problem, Cumberland was a nice town to be broken down in. It is a classic Alleghany river town. Mountains all around. Train after train rolling through hauling coal one way and empties the other. Old, historic houses on the hillsides. It was a nice place to spend 3 hours.

Cumberland pictures

Soon we were back on the highway and with the new U-joint the truck drove smoother than it had in years. That was good because we were now three hours behind where I wanted to be. The rest of the trip was troublefree. We hit I-79 at Morgantown. The sun was going down and in my eyes. We transferred to I-70 and pulled off around Washington, Pennsylvania to get gas. I also checked the fluids and washed the windshield. At Wheeling, West Virginia traffic was backed up due to an auto accident so we exited and went to Walmart to use the bathroom.

It was around this time we left the mountains. The mountains are pretty but I was getting tired of driving up and down, up and down...the engine revving going uphill and mostly coasting coming down. I was ready for some flat land so we could make some time. The steady hum of the V-10 reminded me of the radial engine sound of an old airplane.

We made a pitstop at a rest area east of Columbus where Sarah got some coffee she didn't like. We stopped at McDonalds south of Columbus. The food was well received and I needed the rest break. I-71 between Columbus and Cincinnati seems pencil straight and I was reminded of our King's Island trip back in 2005. We made the long loop around Cincinnati to US50 and got some well-needed cappucino in Aurora, Indiana. It was nice to cross the Indiana state line.

I don't know if it was the cappucino or being so close to home, but I got a burst of energy and was wide awake for the final leg of our journey. The moon was bright and led us home. We pulled into the driveway at 2:29 am. Sarah went to bed. I unpacked the truck and put the new bike in the garage. Then I took it back out and went for a quick and cold 4 am drive around Fayetteville. The Goldwing is great!



Afterthoughts

When you're staring at a shredded serpentine belt 200 miles into a 1300 mile trip and you're far from home things can look bleak and aggravating. When the trip is finished and you're thinking back, the same experience can usually be laughed at. It's all a matter of perspective. Some people panic and give up over a flat tire. I'm fortunate to have a good mechanical background and to have had the foresight to carry a good selecton of tools so we had what we needed to get the job done. I was also very lucky that both mechanical problems occurred close to towns with auto parts stores and services. Something that could have ruined the trip just turned into another learning experience.

Despite the few problems my truck did a good job as a tow vehicle. I might change my mind when I get the gas bill receipts. I've been pondering removing the lift kit and now I know I will. It's physically too tall for anything I use it for anymore and the tall tires make it harder on the drivetrain when towing. I plan on removing the 6" lift but putting on F350 rear blocks and a leveling kit. So really I'm going from 6" lift to 2" and I'll probably go with 33" tires...something along the lines of 255/85 or 285/75.

There were a few times I drove the truck and trailer into a spot I didn't know if I could get out of. There wasn't enough room to do a U-turn with the long-wheelbase truck so I had to scissor around. One of those times I backed a little too far and put a dent in the trailer with the truck bumper. The Liberty would have had the advantage in those situations. It turns on a dime. It's also hard to back a trailer in a turn when the truck is longer than the trailer.

There was a lot of driving on this 1300 mile trip. I couldn't help but think of the trip my dad and brother took when they drove one of our fire tankers back from Nova Scotia...1700 miles one way. Now that was a long haul! (I know...you truck drivers are calling me a wuss.) That trip can be found here. I also thought of the time four of us drove to Hublersburg, Pennsylvania to pick up our other fire tanker and then drove it right back. We were up for 29 hours straight.

The night in Front Royal I had decided on three possible routes home.

- US50 all the way home would be scenic but would take a long time, especially crossing the mountains.

- Interstates would be the fastest but the most bland. On the positive side...gas, restaurants, and rest areas are easier to find and more prevalent.

- A hybrid route. Interstates to Clarksburg, West Virginia then a combination of 4-lanes US50 and OH32 the rest of the way home.

In the end I chose the interstate route. It would get us home the quickest and if I had another breakdown we'd be more near populated areas. It ended up being a good call. Sarah said it would have sucked to have blown the U-joint on US50 on the curvy mountain roads.

All in all it was a great trip. We covered a lot of new ground, saw new things, met good people, and had fun. I've now covered most of the proposed route for our 2008 bike trip and know what to expect. As I like to say...just another chapter for my memoirs.


See You On The Highway

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