Twenty years ago, in October of '79, my girlfriend and I took a two week motorcycle camping trip through the southwest aboard my V7 Sport. We were loaded to the max with tank bag, saddle bags, tent, sleeping bags, camping paraphernalia and general what-have-yous. There was enough to load up a Goldwing and trailer! But we did not know any better. We were motoring hard and having big fun.
During the second week, as we headed east on Arizona Highway 93 toward Kingman, I decided to flog the sporty gal and let her cruise at a comfortable 90 mph, which I thought was reasonable out in the middle of nowhere. However, an Arizona State Trooper coming the opposite way made eye contact with me and the vibes were not good. I began shedding speed and slowed to 60 mph, at which time I smelled a faint, acrid aroma of burning plastic or rubber. Puzzled, I slowed to 30 mph, at which time I noticed smoke wisping up from beneath my gas tank. Visions of my gas tank exploding in flames between my legs and immolating me and my girlfriend raced through my primitive ganglia and I panicked, taking the Sport to the highway's shoulder. I yelled "Get off the bike, NOW!" Joyce calmly replied "You're doing 30; I can't run that fast!"
By the time I stopped, wrestled the Sport to her center stand and dismounted, smoke was billowing from beneath the tank. Somehow I managed to disconnect the gas lines and remove the tank. Assorted gear, including the tank bag, tools, clothing, and helmets, was strewn everywhere on the shoulder, and still the bike smoldered from the wiring harness running the length of the top frame rails.
I was jumping around the Sport like Rumplestiltskin, trying to quench the electrical fire and swearing mightily, when I looked up to see my girlfriend laughing and snapping photos! "You should see yourself; I wish I had a movie camera right now!" she giggled. I stopped in shock and dumbfounded amazement. I could not believe she was laughing. This fire was serious! But the brief break in my nonsensical gyrations made me realize the electrical fire could only be stopped by disconnecting the battery. Shortly after disconnecting the negative battery terminal, the electrical fire abated. Gads! What carnage had been done to my wiring loom! This melted electrical system was not a good thing!
Sitting next to the Sport, catching my wind and collecting my thoughts, I looked down the highway and saw a dead steer by the side of the road. He was so bloated he looked like an olive with four toothpicks sticking out of his side.
"Joyce, this is not funny. We'll end up like that steer if I can't fix the bike. We're in the middle of nowhere!" I was picturing our bleached bones next to the Sport's silent presence.
Joyce giggled again. "You're funny", she laughed. "We're in Arizona, not the Gobi; someone will come by soon," and she snapped more pictures of the dead Sport and the dead steer.
Sure enough, someone did come by - the State Trooper. "You guys all right?" he asked. I told him we were okay but at a loss as to how to fix the bike. "Those Guzzis hardly ever break down," he noted. "It's not broken" I huffed. "I just burnt up the electrical system or something," I said in abject gloom. "Well, I'll be back this way in a few hours. If you're still here, I'll get you some help." The trooper headed for his cruiser, then stopped. Turning, he stated, "You were really haulin' when we passed each other. If you get her going, slow down - okay?" I thanked him and said we were committed to slow and easy should I get the Sport up and running.
An hour later, I still hadn't figured out the burnt out wiring loom. We were going nowhere fast. Now and again cars passed, but none stopped. We must have looked like ax murderers or the toads, so we got no help. The dead steer loomed large in my imagination; he was a very bad omen.
Just as I began to implore the Guzzi gods to send the State Trooper, a motorcyclist aboard a Honda 750 pulled up. He was from Alaska, scruffy looking in his Army fatigue jacket, and looked as if he'd ridden non-stop from Anchorage. "Looks like you've had a little mishap," he understated as he walked completely around the Sport. "Burnt up the whole show or just the wiring loom?" he asked. "I think it's just the wires, but I can't figure out which wire goes to what," I told him. "She won't start; I can't get spark, and I have no lights," I said dejectedly. "Well, that's easily fixed. You've just gotta get your ignition system sorted out and then get some juice to the lights," he said breezily.
Again, I was incredulous. Between my bonzo girlfriend and this bonzo biker, everything was just hunky-dory - no burnt up bike, no dead steer, no heat, no stuck in the middle of nowhere. We were partying hearty; I just didn't realize the fun we were having. "Look," I said a little curtly, "electricity is like big magic to me; I can't figure it out. The whole bike might as well have burnt up. I'm gonna have to get a tow." The Alaskan biker looked quizzically at me, smiled at me as if I were a kindergartner having a temper tantrum, then soothingly stated," I'll have you on the road in a jiffy." He smiled and said, "All we need is a little wire. Have you got some spare electrical wire?"
Fortunately I had a length of electrical wire wrapped around my tools. Mr. Alaska took it and went to work on my electrical and ignition system. I watched intently and was utterly confused. He might as well have explained Einstein's theory of relativity to me. Nevertheless, about an hour later he turned the ignition key and the Sport fired right up and idled merrily. I was elated. Next, Mr. Miracle, the Alaskan biker, tried the lights, and not a one worked. "Can't have this; you'll need lights, It'll be dark soon and you can't go far without lights. Got more wire?"
I went from elated to the doldrums in a nano-second. "Nope," I replied. "That was it; ain't got no more." I could just envision Joyce and I camped next to Mr. Dead Steer that evening.
"C'mon," he said, "Look in your saddlebags. No telling what you have in there. Give it a try!" And I did.
For some strange, inexplicable reason, I had left home a week earlier with an eight foot length of electrical extension cord in the bottom of a saddle bag! It was the last item in the bag. "Will this do?" I asked. Mr. Miracle took a look and cheerfully proclaimed it was exactly what he needed. Again he fiddled and sorted and worked his magic. A scant half hour later he said, "Start her up!" I did so. He then took the male end of the extension cord and plugged it into the female end and Viola! I had lights! Another miracle!
I couldn't believe it! And I told him so. I thanked him profusely and offered him some cash for beer money. He denied being a genius, refused the cash, but was only too happy to chat with Joyce and me at the side of the road. Turns out he was an electronics technician in the U.S. Army before he moved to Alaska. Luckily for us, he had decided to ride down from Alaska on his way to somewhere east of the Rockies.
"Time's a wastin'," he chirped in his good-natured way. "Got to hit the road and make some miles." "Look," he said, "I think you had some bungee cords rub through the wiring under the tank. Probably caused a short and the fire. Watch where you strap and tie stuff down. Okay?"
Again I thanked him big time, and again he played it down. "I know you'd do the same for me if I needed help. There're not too many of us out here. Ride safe and smile." He laughed as he headed east.
Joyce and I did ride safely and we smiled a lot around the Grand Canyon's beautiful vistas. Our trip went well. At night, when I plugged in my lights, I'd think of the Alaskan biker who saved our vacation. I still think of him. I hope he's happy and healthy and riding far and wide. Again, thanks! Hope to see you on the road some day.