A lurch. Check the mirrors, good–no tractor trailers behind me. A silence. Then a loud POP.Â Navigate the bike off the road.
Wind gusts around me, laughing it seems, as I forlornly turn to stare back towards the small town in the distance.
Circle, Montana. POP=600. Highway 200W.
A beautiful but lonely by-way through desolate, dry Eastern Montana. Small towns, mainly for fueling, speckle the map just about 100 miles apart. The night before,Â I rode into Circle just as all traces of light disappeared from the sky. The day’s ride had clocked 353 miles.
468 miles ahead to the next vector, Missoula, MT. Half a mile back to the town I had just left.
Kick start the bike. Nothing. No tools, no parts, no sounds except a choking from Audrey. Switchboard (Daphne) tells me there is a cycle shop 65 miles east of me. The call is made and I discover there is actually a motorcycle shop closer, in Circle. Hang up, try again.
Eissenger’s answered my distress call, immediately. No sooner had I taken a seat when they pulled up-in a big truck. Then they pulled out an arc shaped ramp with rungs, about 2 foot wide. Still curious. I probably annoyed them by repeatedly asking if that thing could really work. I unloaded Audre and miraculously she went up the “ladder”.
Only 17 minutes had passed. That’s service.
Of course, I doubt there was anything else happening in Circle that day. Just kidding, well, no, I’m not.Â But they got there fast because they are good people. They were also probably somewhat intrigued by the description I gave them. Turns out Jerry, the owner of Eissenger’s had seen my scooter parked outside the Traveler’s Inn early that morning. For whatever reason, probably just that “I’m far from home feeling,” and “there’s no Genuine dealership for hundreds of miles,” a bit of anxiety had kicked in.
I also knew that questions would be directed my way any minute. What am I doing 5,000 miles from Virginia on a scooter. Where am I headed?
Would they be ultra conservative? Would they think the P.E.A.C.E tour was anti-patriotic? Would this be an awkward day? Would they know how to work on the bike? I was at their mercy, basically.
I got a big lesson on how to keep the faith. People are treating me really well out here on the road, despite our differences. I keep finding we aren’t actually all that different, really. I keep finding good people, because I believe the world is inherently capable of good.Â It is almost as though my belief, “I’m not focused on how we are different, but how we can make a difference,” provides a safety blanket.
Genuine Scooters has a guaranteed roadside assistance program. It’s solid.Â It would have covered my tow up to 150 dollars. But that part was already taken care of, now I needed a good mechanic. The next certified Genuine mechanic was 468 miles down the road, in Missoula, MT.
I was a bit panicked by the ill timing and location of my breakdown. Genuine came through for me in immeasurable ways–as did the crew at Eissenger’s in Circle. In fact, everyone in Circle, MT did.Â Jeremy, the mechanic strolled in from lunch about half an hour after we had arrived. Immediately he put me at ease. He is a small engines wizard. We started with a check list of possible scenarios; easy stuff first and worked our way up. Audrey began surgery. Sparkplug changed, no water in gasoline, jet alright in carb, oil levels fine. His testing ruled out many possibilities-and then it was time to test for spark.
Audrey wasn’t making any. This was unsettling. Electrical stuff meant Genuine parts, which would mean more time in Circle. It was a bad week to break down. My friend from Maine was coming out to Seattle for a visit and I had 4 days to get there, with a stop in Missoula. I got Genuine on the line and put them in touch with Jeremy. There were a couple of scenarios that could be going on-the CDI box or the stator.
It was agreed that Genuine would send a handful of parts and we would send back whatever wasn’t used. This impressed Jeremy, who said an attitude like that was unheard of. Genuine had 15 minutes to overnight the parts and triumphantly did so! Rock on! Still, none of us expected the UPS truck to arrive in Circle by the next day.
The boys seemed surprised that I had a good attitude. I told them this is part of the adventure. There was a lot of fun banter about the situation, which made it more entertaining for me. Josh kept me laughing with his wisecracking. Our conversation became heavy once, when he bust out with, “Maybe that sticker should say, Screw Peace-Give War a Chance.” I was stunned for a second and retorted with, “Josh,um, we are-we have-not so successful. Jeremy was a good conversationalist and I enjoyed him telling me so much about his life. He was also really cool about answering my bike questions. It was a good opportunity to fully inspect her insides, since she was wide open. He said he hardly ever has to fix a stator, and it must just be a fluke for it to happen at 5,000 miles. Genuine has never had a problem with the stator on the Buddy before, either.
It was a really random situation, perhaps some Divine sign from God that my life would be incomplete without another night in Circle. And really, who knows the mysteries of circumstances, perhaps it could have been worse ahead-maybe this was fate intervening. I tried to get them to loan me an Arctic Cat four wheeler for the night, but they weren’t road legal and offered me a car instead. I said no to the loaner and they kept insisting-maybe they think I have a problem with cars. But I just felt really past due for a long walk.
I was looking for some nightlife, so after a home cooked meal at Kay’s, I grabbed the camera and hit the main drag. The whole mile of it. Circle was really pretty. The buildings are low and the expansive Montana skies extend in every direction. The wind rages through Montana and many buildings had been worn by its force, adding character. There was a sense that the place was bustling once upon a time. Perry told me that Circle used to be a big steer town, biggest in the area. I just ambled about and talked to people. Oh, I got to meet the sheriff the night before, he was very nice. It turns out he met a 50cc cross country scooterist before, in Lake Pectin. I’m thinking this might have been Laird VanDyck, who wrote up a little bit of interesting reading about the trip. The Corner Bar had a decent crowd, so I pulled up a stool and talked to the bartender. Turns out she moved to Circle with her husband, from Chicago. And her mom, who I met the next day, drives 1 of the 4 scooters in town. I approached a fella about his snazzy Hawaiian shirt and we chatted about his days of traveling. Most conversation in the bar revolved around traveling. Some people are really interested in the trip itself, others more interested in the mission. Some people like it all.
Perry, the owner of the Traveler’s Inn showed up and bought me a drink. He also offered me the next night free if my parts didn’t come the next day-which he also didn’t think could happen. I shot some pool, by myself, and did a little electronic gambling. Then I headed back to Room 15 for some writing and a good slumber. Seeing the light on in the office, I went to tell Paula goodnight. Turns out she was online reading the blog entry on Tulsa. We talked for a bit about her life story and she let me take a cigar box from Perry’s collection-which I mailed to a friend the next day. The motel is really unique. It’s inexpensive, clean, and the hosts are colorful. The lobby is worth the visit alone, its a small museum of interesting signs and collectables. Paula was really sweet, a couple of times she invited me to meals out with her friends.
The unexpected hiatus gave me time to catch-up. I’m forever playing catch-up with the blogs. I also did laundry at the world’s best laundromat. Around noon Jeremy called to say the parts had, by grace, actually arrived. He started working on the bike after lunch. By 4pm she was ready to pick up. The problem did turn out to be the stator and he replaced the coil inside. I asked if he rode it and what he thought. I could tell he liked the ride and he said they were really easy, logical bikes to work on. Being the great guy he is, he only rode a mile, since my odometer was getting ready to hit 5,000. When Paula and I arrived at the shop, Jerry asked if I wanted to race against a Q-Link (chinese scooter) for pink slips. I said, “No, I don’t need a Q-Link for anything, thank you.”
If I was going to break down anywhere in Montana, I’m glad it was Circle. Circle didn’t seem to offer anything until I took the time to get to know some wonderful characters. Paula seemed bothered that I was leaving so late in the afternoon, but I wanted to put at least 60 miles behind me before dark.
To everyone in Circle, thank you so much for being helpful, charming and entertaining. You are all wonderful. You gave me great memories and I wish you all the best! I do think you eat too much beef though, and it would be great if Kay’s had something green beside iceberg lettuce.
Additionally, thank you to everyone over at Genuine, for jumping in quickly and professionally. Thanks for making such a kick-ass bike that is taking me the distance around our amazing country. I always enjoy my “check-ins” with Roy or Brett over at the HQ’s. All of us made it look easy! Rock on!
Now you are up to date on why the itinerary is a bit off. It would have been impossible for me to meet my friend Daphne in Seattle by Friday, so she rented a car and drove to Missoula. We just stayed put there for the weekend, so I was in Missoula longer than originally expected. Needless to say though, there is some big love in my heart for Missoula. That’s the next update.
Banter in Circle:
Josh (he’s priceless)
Oh, you should do this trip on a Q-Link.
Circle, MT, where we’re all Square
You should have Genuine just send you another bike and call it Audrey 2.0. To which I said, “but I’m a MAC user. It would have to be Audrey 10.4.10.”
“Me and Jeremy decided we are gonna do a scooter tour too. But drink a lot of beer. We need to get sponsors”
(me) “Hmm. What’s your cause?”
(Josh) Leave our wifes at home.
(me) Great! There’s totally a demographic that will identify with you.
I lost my spark! No! It’s not a metaphor. Get a grip.
“Why does she look so happy to stay here another night?”
(me) Well, because I know I can leave eventually.” 😉
(in response to my concerns about a diet of beef and wheat) “Alix, beef and barley are MT’s cash. You can’t walk around MT and diss ’em. Besides, I’ve got a wife. I don’t have to worry about my figure.
“Democracy will never work.”
“Oh, any ideas for something better?”
“Oh. Want a postcard?”
(btw Me and Josh)
They call this town Circle, but my bike is so broke that I can’t even drive in one.
“They call me the King Bachelor in town.”
“Oh, so ya going home alone again tonight?”
“Does anyone here find it ironic that I broke down in front of a rifle range?”