The Last Minute Murphy
- Flash = David Braun - September '01

My friend in the Bad Apple, Shank, has this theory... make that, observation, about motorcycle trips he calls "The Last Minute Murphy." I guess I never really took notice of it before he pointed it out, but I'd have to say it certainly appears valid to me. "The Last Minute Murphy" is that thing that goes wrong, right when you think you were all set to leave on a motorcycle trip of any duration, that requires some running around to get or fix or arrange or deal with some heretofore detail you thought was covered, something which is totally impossible to let slide.

I live in Colorado, in a subdivision. When I exit my subdivision onto Colorado highway 68, I can turn left or right. If I turn left, in two miles the road takes me up about a thousand feet in elevation. If I turn right... I probably have to go fifty miles to go down that far. For this reason, the idea of riding across Kansas or Oklahoma to find curvy roads is absurd. > BMW has made motorcycles since 1923. One of the hallmarks of BMW motorcycles has always been the fact that they have a shaft drive. At least, that was true until 1994. In 1994, BMW contracted with Aprilia, an Italian motorcycle company, to produce a 650cc, single cylinder, chain drive motorcycle, using an Austrian Rotax motor. This bike is the F650. A model specific club has been formed by the name of "The Chain Gang." We're not members, we're Inmates. And the annual rally is called "The Jail Break in the Clouds." Said rally is held in Arkansas, outside Mena, in the mountains, with curvy roads.

The Chain Gang has a VERY active website. Word has it that it gets the most hits of any motorcycle club website that does not feature advertising or pornography. But our member number one said that will soon change... too bad we won't be getting pornography, too. There is a message board on the site, where I am pretty active. I have many virtual friends there. The Jail Break was an opportunity to meet some of them in person, maybe go for a ride with some, maybe sell a few copies of my book, too. (That last angle makes the whole trip a business expense.)

MapQuest informed me that if I took the interstate, from my town to Mena is 1012 miles. Bummer. That trip consists basically of: leave my neighborhood and turn right, turn right at I-25, turn left at I-70, turn right at I-35, turn left at I-40, turn right on US 71 and stop at Mena. We are talking "boring a hole in the horizon" here, all the way across the not-so-Great Plains. A little extra inspiration was needed. Enter the Iron Butt Association. (Somehow Iron Butt Ass. just looks like a better, though more redundant way to write it.) If you ride 1000 miles in 24 hours, and can provide the proper documentation, you can become a certified member of the association. OK, so there is my incentive.

The IBA site has a link to 25 tips, containing 32 tips. One of these mentions NOT making any modifications to your motorcycle right before leaving. My assumption is that this is to ward off any last minute Murphy bullshit. OK, good. Another suggests leaving late at night, so when you're really tired, it is LIGHT not dark. Sorry, but that one is just stupid, imho.

I figured out a plan. I figured that my body tells me to go to sleep at somewhere between about 10 and 11 PM. I figured out that if I arrived in Mena at 10AM, Mountain time, that would be 11AM Central time, a good time to arrive. I figured out that if I started at 10AM, stopped for the night at 10PM after making 750 or more miles (somewhere past Oklahoma City), then I could get up at 5AM (Mountain) and have five hours to make the last 250 miles, after essentially a normal night's sleep for me. The only flaw in the ointment that I saw was heading dead east on I-40 at eyeball-searing dawn. But there were several routes I could peel off south on and make my way east on the two-lanes if need be, after eyeball-searing time was over. OK, that's an Iron Butt plan. Since the rally is Friday-Sunday, I'd leave Thursday at 10AM and the head back home Sunday, allowing Monday, too, just in case my ass was tired.

The Sunday before the Thursday of my trip, I made Chinese food for dinner. I had this packet of Szechuan sauce mix. I mixed it up and tasted it. It was sorta bland. I had these two jalapeno peppers sitting on the counter. So I diced them up and put them in with the vegetables. Dinner was darned tasty, if I say so myself. Of course, I washed my hands about seven times during the preparation and after and while doing dishes. When I was getting ready for bed, I pulled my contact lenses out. That HURT. I thought maybe my eyes had just been real dry and that when I put them back in in the morning, they'd be fine. Next morning, when I put the lenses back in my eyes, said orbs began glowing like Rudolph's nose. I had apparently managed to get jalapeno oil on my contacts four days before my Big Ride. I wore my glasses to work Monday. I called the eye doctor who I had visited about two weeks previously. They did not have any of my lenses in stock. But, I recalled that a past doctor had written "Acuvue" on my prescription form. Acuvue are the disposable lenses. I recalled that Acuvue used to have a promotion where you could get a free set of lenses to see if you liked them. I asked my eyedoctor's office about that and they said I could do that. Meanwhile, I ordered a new set of "real" lenses. And picked up the Acuvues, good for two weeks. The Last Minute Murphy thwarted?

The 18,000 mile service was performed by me in my garage at about 18,200 miles just after returning from a trip to Utah. Besides the stuff on the Maintenance List, I performed a few additional tasks. One of these items was setting the float levels in the carbs, per the factory manual. Another was to remove the side stand switch and short the junction in the cabling with some wire. When I departed on my Saddle Sore 1000 (that's what they call a thousand miles in 24 hours), the bike had 18,654 miles on it. For some unknown reason, I thought I had shaken out everything there was to shake out since the service. HA!

During the two weeks between that trip and this trip, I had put about 450 miles on the bike. The only real high-speed run I had had was up US287 toward Wyoming. It is always very gusty on that road. The Monday before my SS1000, I had taken the bike 40 miles down the interstate to attend a soccer game in which my son was playing. It seemed to be sort of vapor-locking during the trip down and the trip back. I got off to get gas and the bike stalled at the bottom of the ramp. I figured that the fuel filter which I had not changed at the 18k service was either too dirty or too big and replaced it with a tiny one I picked up at a bike shop on Tuesday. Last Minute Murphy?

Tuesday on my way to work, I pulled into a left turn lane at a Big Intersection and the bike died. It just DIED. The lights were still on, but mashing the starter button did naught. I pushed it to the side of the road, pulled off the seat, wiggled a bunch of stuff and it started right up. Damn. It occurred to me that this just MIGHT be some trick being played by my side stand cutout switch removal. Last Minute Murphy?

Wednesday, I was riding to work, being careful, thinking to myself, "All I need TODAY is for some idiot to run into me." As I stopped at the last stop sign before entering the plant where I work, I noticed that the exhaust on my bike sounded odd. When I got parked, I pulled out an old, tired dollar bill and waved it around the various exhaust joints. Didn't see or feel anything leaking.

Working on the assumption that I had a gasket gone bad, I called around. My local BMW dealer had the one where the collector joins the muffler, but not the all-important ones where the header pipes enter the heads. The BMW dealer in Denver had those. If I had to stop in Denver in the morning, that would certain throw my schedule out the window. Shank, my friend with the LMM theory suggested that I try Aprilia. DOH! My local Aprilia dealer happened to have the header to head gaskets in stock. I picked them up on my way home. Between Speedino's and my house, the bike was backfiring now and then and seemed to be cutting out a bit. I chalked this up to a leaking exhaust.

As soon as the exhaust system had cooled enough to touch, I did. And when I went to remove the fart-sucker tube from the right header pipe... the pipe came right out of the collector. Unfortunately, this meant that my collector was BROKEN. The pipe had broken all the way around, just above where it was welded into the collector. And the swedge into which the other pipe was supposed to clamp, was also starting to crack above the weld. It is 6:00 PM, sixteen hours before my scheduled departure. THIS is a Last Minute Murphy of Major Proportions.

Fortunately, I know a world-class welder, and he lives and works about a mile from my house. Phil Wilson can weld pressure vessels, high vacuum vessels, and I believe with the right rod he could even weld toilet paper. I called Phil over at Alliance Welding and Machine. To make a long story short, he said he could do the job and would call me when it was ready, by about 8:30 PM. At 8:33 my phone rang. By 9:00 PM I was attempting to start the bike for a test ride. Only... pushing the starter button did not crank the motor. I realized that perhaps the nub of my removal of the side stand safety switch was maybe needing a little more permanent jumpering. I soldered the damned wires together inside the connector. She started right up. The test ride was uneventful. Yet another Last Minute Murphy, trumped.

Twelve hours later, at ten AM, I was at Fort Collins BMW - Ducati - Moto Guzzi getting my Official Start Witness Form signed, all loaded up and ready (so I thought). A few minutes later, I was heading south on I-25 at 98 miles per hour. A few moments after that... I was heading south on I-25 at 80 mph. That was all she'd do. It felt sort of like it was running out of gas riding along with the throttle at the stop. Also, I later realized that if I kept the revs up when I exited the interstate... it would stall at the bottom of the off-ramp. Clearly my float levels were set too low. Damn. For a brief moment I thought about stopping to strip and adjust the carbs, but decided that 80 is, after all quite a nice speed to travel, particularly across Kansas which is posted 70. Oh well, I'll fix it tomorrow.

My original plan called for 750 miles in twelve hours. Of course, I was hoping to make more miles in less time, allowing for more sleep once I quit for the day. This was not to be. Heading south on I-25 at 80 mph, I remembered the thing I forgot to do before I left home... eat. I don't eat breakfast and usually have only a snack for lunch. But keeping the ole furnace stoked is critical on an Iron Butt ride. I stopped in Limon, 140 miles from home at about noon for some "fast food." Unfortunately, the McDonald's I picked was staffed by a slower than normal crew. It was 12:30 before I was on my way again.

I figured since I could not make up time with speed, I would make it up with short stops. In Brewster Kansas, I thought I was in luck. There were no cars at the pumps of the only gas station at the exit, a Stuckey's. I filled up and hustled inside. Grabbing a candy bar off the rack, I ripped open the wrapper and handed the attendant my card. Suddenly, time sort of stopped. He ran my card. The machine beeped. He looked for and then located his glasses. He opened the earpieces of his glasses, cleaned the lenses, and put them on his face. He squinted and read the display. "Says here, 'Check Printer.' Heck, I just CHANGED the paper in there a few minutes ago. Hmmm..." And he began to futz with the printer. I entered a state of suspended animation. I could feel my candy bar being digested. Each second banged by, as loudly as the beats of my pulse in my earplugged head. I decided to visit the men's room, whether I needed to or not, to take what advantage I could of this wrinkle in the passage of time. When I returned, he was still futzing with the paper. Finally, after what seemed to me like a Hollywood full-on blizzard of flipping calendar pages, he asked me for my card to try to run it again. It didn't work the second time either, due to the same printer fault. By now, a line had formed behind me. I reached into my pocket, retrieved the exact change and placed it on the counter. I said to forget the charge card and take the cash. He said, "But I STILL have to get my machine fixed. Besides, all those folks behind you have charge cards, too." Again, I asked him to take the cash, and could he just give me the register receipt. He indicated that the sale had already been rung up as a credit card sale and so he could not give me a register receipt. In as kindly a voice as I could muster, I said, "I am on a schedule and require documentation. Would you please write me up a hand-written receipt with the date, time, place and amount." I thought he was going to lick the tip of the pen when he finally found a piece of paper to write on. He carefully wrote out each and every letter on the slip of paper. Then, he slid it across the counter to me. As soon as the paper was in my hand I was headed out the door, thanking him over my shoulder as I passed through. That "fast stop" only took twenty-two minutes.

I passed through Salina, Kansas and made the turn south. Shy of the Oklahoma border, it began to get dark. At a gas stop in Newton, Kansas just after 8 PM (Central Time), I exchanged my bug splattered tinted shield for the fresh, clear one, sitting in my tank bag, wrapped in a cut-off arm from an old sweatshirt. Somewhere between there and Perry, Oklahoma, full dark was upon me. Full dark... and a big-ass thunder storm over to the east. I watched the light show, hoping I would stay dry. It began to rain. I rode through light rain for about ten minutes. It was not really heavy enough for me to consider pulling over to don rain gear over my Aerostich. The rain quit, but the road was soaked. I rode through the spray of my fellow travelers for about another half hour. For the rest of the evening, the road was merely damp, not even spray. I do NOT like seeing those diamond shaped deer signs, at night, in the wet, in a construction zone, on the interstate. Tough.

At midnight, I was in Shawnee, Oklahoma, just off I-40 checking in at the Super 8 Motel, 762 GPS miles from my Official Starting Point. As I was making my u-turn to park the bike in front of the last ground-floor room at the inn, for the first time in a long time when the bars went full left lock, the horn switch contacted my tank bag and my Very Loud Fiamm horns gave a good half second blast. This, I am confident, did not endear me to my fellow guests. The pair of dogs in the room next door to mine went berserk. After unpacking the bike, I slammed a fairly warm beer that had spent the day in my top box, strictly for medicinal purposes of course, set my alarm and went to bed.

Muddle-headed in the morning, I was slow to get packed and moving. I didn't actually get on the road until nearly 6:30 (CDT). This meant I had four and a half hours to cover 238 miles. Clearly doable, but anymore lolly-gagging might put my goal in jeopardy.

Thankfully, the dawn was quite overcast. There was no eyeball-searing sunrise, merely a gradual slide from dark to gloaming to gray skies.

I realized I was passing an Oklahoma State Trooper as I was even with his door. I was doing 78 at the time. He backed off. I got in front of him and backed off a little, too. Slowly, agonizingly slowly, he began to slip back in my wake. Finally, I passed a truck and pulled in front of him. Then I nailed it. I whipped around the next truck. After a while, my paranoia began to subside.

Eight AM found me in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, 884 miles into the thousand with three hours left to do the final 116 miles. Cake. I paused for a bacon and egg biscuit and some coffee. Not very far down the road, I came to a construction zone, posted 40 mph, for a long long LONG way. And the guy in front of the parade of eleven vehicles in front of me was doing 35. Then I saw a set of signs that froze my heart... "One Lane Roadway Ahead. Watch for Flagmen. Be Prepared to Stop. Delays Possible."

Luckily, our lane was moving when we hit the constriction. And it wasn't very far along that Mr. Thirty-Five MPH found himself being passed (in a BIG damn hurry) by a couple or three hundred cars and trucks and at least one motorcycle. When the road opened back up, I began doing some calculations for the distance and time remaining in my quest. I wondered about highway 71, was it open or covered with the orange barrels that seem to be blanketing America at the present time. (I WISH I had bought stock in whatever company it is that makes those damned things, and the cones, too.) I was thinking maybe I might just stay on I-40 east until I got my thousand miles. For, if US-71 was under construction, I might find myself coming up short (in mileage) or long (in time) of my goal. I decided to decide when I saw the turn-off.

As I approached Fort Smith, Arkansas the gray skies turned blue. I turned south on US-71 for the final leg, figuring that with sixty some miles to go, a hundred minutes to do it in was worth the risk. Seventy-one south out of Fort Smith is four-lane, without many stop lights. Then it turns mostly to three-lane, with plenty of passing opportunity. It is posted 65, I think. I booked.

At some point, I realized that the odometer on my bike had passed over the thousand-mile mark. But there was about a thirty-five mile discrepancy between that clock and my GPS. I decided to hold off "the Woo-Hoo Dance" until the GPS said so.

Doing about 75 as I approached Mena, I realized that the big SUV coming toward me wasn't sporting a ski rack. The deputy in the driver's seat of the patrol vehicle just nodded his head and threw a hand slightly as a greeting to me.

10:14 AM CST, is what my gas receipt from Mena says. 1002 miles on the GPS. I asked the gas station attendant at the Wal-Mart gas-o-mat where there was either a police of fire station. Two nice policemen were standing at the curb in front of the Mena, Arkansas police station. I pulled into one of the empty spaces marked "For Police Cars Only," dismounted and asked if I could leave my bike there for just a minute or three. They said, "Yes, but not much longer." I walked up to them, unfurling my SS1000 packet of witness forms and log sheet and such and said, "Officers, I have done something, and I need a couple of witnesses..." THAT sure got their attention. After a little bit of explanation, they both signed my Witness of Finish form at 10:30.

By noon I was bivouacked at the Queen Wilhemena State Park campground and had already removed my carbs, readjusted the floats and reinstalled them. Time for a Beer. Or three.

- Proof of the deed is at