Oh, the places you go and the people you meet on a motorcycle. Tracy Hatch rode from Manitoba, Canada to Joshua Tree California on her old shovelhead making her the winner of this year's Longest Distance and S&S Cycle Choice Award at over 2,500 miles! Read all about her mechanical mishaps, riding through snow and desert heat and all the experiences the road has to offer. Tracy shares her journey with us. This is what its all about babes!!!!!
Pipe Dream to Reality – The Pas Manitoba Canada to Joshua Tree California
Just weeks before Babes Ride Out 5 in Joshua Tree California, I decided to change out the 80” troublesome shovelhead engine in my 1982 FLHS, whom I call Olga. I found a rebuilt 80” replacement on Facebook in Edmonton and had my bro-in-law pick it up and haul it home to Manitoba. Twenty one days before I was to leave, I began the change-out; I’ve never done an engine swap on anything before – but I had nothing to lose and so much to gain. Within three days, I had the new-to-me rebuild in with only the clutch and ignition system left to set up; as well as the carb, outer primary cover, floor boards and exhaust to install. Most of the second day was spent waiting for the starter housing on the backside of the inner primary to be welded up as the final drive chain had rubbed a hole into it. The next day I drove the 5 hours northeast to my job as a Maintenance Planner at Wuskwatim Generating Station with Manitoba Hydro.
After returning from my camp job west of Thompson Manitoba eight days later, and a quick road trip to Winnipeg with my boyfriend Gerald, we finished the remaining work and fired Olga up. After a short road test, we found the oil pump body leaking against the crank case; the screw with the little ball valve beneath it oozing oil; and a tap tap tap coming from the front rocker box once she got warmed up. After some tightening of bolts and changing of O-rings with no resolve to either oil issue, Gerald and I finally just pulled the oil pump off the original engine and installed it on the new-to-me rebuild. Two days later and much cussing, this seemed to do the trick!! Hallelujahs and high fives all around! It’s time to take her for a ride and get that initial 100 mile break in period over with, if anything will go wrong – it’ll happen sooner than later. It was a cold wet day, perfect temperature for breaking in a new engine and Gerald followed me in his VW diesel Bug towing the custom built motorcycle trailer ‘just in case’ Olga had to be hauled home. I was apprehensive but my ol’ shovel did awesome. She sure sounded good when you fired her up cold, but the nuisance tap reappeared once she got hot and the oil leaks came back with a vengeance; however, I got the 100 miles in and did the oil change. I was out of time as I had to go back to work tomorrow. I knew my Olga and what I didn’t know, I would figure out.
The weather held out and it was a beautiful, unusually warm fall day on October 11th with no snow on the ground as of yet. I had purchased a 2-man junior tent and a sleeping bag from the Canadian Tire in Thompson and hauled it back to The Pas, where Olga was. She needed new shocks, but I’ve ran out of time so the tired stock shocks were going to have to suffice. I found a collapsible yellow cooler bag and filled the bottom with various gaskets and seals, the next layer was the HD manual, then spare bolts, JB Weld, length of 12 gauge rubber-jacketed electrical wire, assorted electrical connectors and lugs, Teflon tape, blue Loctite, spare spark plugs and on top of that was my hand tools and open end/box end wrenches, ratchet and sockets. I strapped the yellow cooler down to the top of my rear fender. It sounds like a lot, but this is my third summer riding this shovel and I only carry the essentials and everything in that cooler was essential. I loaded up the saddlebags with my new sleeping bag, rags, Lucas 20W50 oil, 80/90 gear oil, primary oil, DOT 5 brake fluid and a spray can of brake cleaner. I tied the tent, a collapsible kids chair, my rain gear and my small duffel bag onto the rack at the back of the bike. Inside the windshield, I tied my leather vest and spare bush jacket. I was ready to go – Olga wasn’t.
The garage was cool where she was stored; the temperature was set to just above freezing. Her new engine was tight and the oil was cold, and she wouldn’t turn over. Ugh. The portable battery booster didn’t have enough oomph to start her, so Gerald and I boosted her with my mother’s car. This is not a good start to the first day of my three week ride but I did realize the problem I was going to face. Overnight temps were forecasted to be below freezing for the next few days of my road trip, if Olga wouldn’t start in my garage, then how was I going to start her in the morning? Gerald suggested buying a magnetic block heater and tarping her overnight; this was enough to get me thinking.
Day one, Wednesday, and I’m finally riding south down #10 highway with Gerald following me in his grey VW Bug towing the trailer. (It’s Murphy’s Law, you bring the trailer and you won’t need it.) A couple hours later, he waves me over and said that I have a trail of smoke following me – it’s the oil leak between the oil pump body and crankcase burning off the exhaust pipe. I’m wearing my rain pants over my chaps, jeans, long johns as its cold – and it proved to be the right choice as I was covered in oil. I made a quick call to John of Howler Custom Cycle in Kamsack, Saskatchewan and he’s going to have a look at the oil leak for me. Fingers crossed him and Dustin (his colleague) would figure it out… and of course they did! John found that I had used the wrong gasket between the oil pump body and the crankcase. (I had a spare gasket in my yellow cooler – it was used but it was the only one we had.) One little oil port near the top of the oil pump didn’t have a gasket around it, therefore the oil was seeping out; the only concern was of the nuisance tap – was this why it was making noise? Because it wasn’t getting the oil to the top end as it should be? There’s no definitive answer and I didn’t care; I was still riding my bike until I couldn’t fix her and was forced to call her quits. Whether it was a hundred miles from now or a thousand, I was going – come hell or high water. The screw seemed to quit seeping oil too. It was late in the day, but Gerald and I found a 4” x 2” magnetic block heater at the local auto store, and after walking up and down the aisles of the small Kamsack Home Hardware, I found an extension cord and a length of insulating bubble wrap, about 30” wide and 10’ long – it was perfect; exactly what I needed!!
The next morning, I picked up the spare rotor and stator; complete S&S Hi-4 single fire electronic ignition system (same as I have in Olga now); and the extra oil I had previously ordered from John and stuffed it in my saddlebags, balancing the weight. I thanked John and Dustin for taking me in last minute and working late to keep me on the road. It’s Thursday and it’s overcast, just a few degrees above freezing and threatening to drizzle. Gerald has to head back north for work, so we said our good-byes a few miles down the road where I had to turn south; he wished me good luck and we parted ways. Ten miles later, feeling awful that I’ve left my best riding partner behind, I lost my speedometer…. What the hell!? I just installed a new speedo gauge a month ago – the nut holding the cable into the speedo must have loosened off – I better stop and catch it before it falls between the tanks. And nope, that’s not the problem. The tab broke off that sits inside the wheel hubcap and spins around… and then I remembered I’d done a temporary fix on it earlier in the riding season by cutting and bending a tab after the original one had broken off. There’s no easy fix now and I don’t really care. I know how fast I’m going by what gear I’m in and her RPM; I don’t need no stinkin’ speedo.
I made it through US Customs with no problems and rode 366 miles (589 kms) to Bismark North Dakota. It was past dusk and somewhere along the way I lost my rear brakes, but I was too cold to care – I just wanted to get as far south as I could. I was stopping for fuel and refueling myself with cheese and pepperoni sticks. I had to make the miles, no time for anything else. At one point, I thought I was going to get frost bite on my cheeks, right below my sunglasses. The last 36 miles into Bismark, I counted down each mile, patting her tank and coaxing her to keep going; if I was going to break down, I didn’t want it to be in the cold, oncoming darkness where I was unfamiliar. I could see the hotels on Highway 83 coming into Bismark, but I couldn’t figure out how to get to them – there’s no left or right turn directly into their parking lots and my eyes were sore and blurred from being cold. I was frozen and didn’t care where, or how much I spent on a room that night, as long as I was warm, and soon. I finally found a road into a hotel, and as I turned into the parking lot, I lost a cylinder – my only thought was ‘I hope a room is available’. I walked around the parking lot looking for an outside receptacle so I could put Olga to bed for the night – and couldn’t find any – don’t people plug in their vehicles in Bismark in the winter??!! Apparently not!! Not one receptacle for vehicle block heaters!! I booked a room and explained my dilemma to the front counter fellow, and he found me a place to park at the back of the hotel, along with an extension cord which was more than adequate in length as mine was too short. I pushed Olga to the back and wrapped the bubble wrap around her engine twice, using bungee cords to secure it. I stuck the magnetic block heater inside the cocoon and had to hold it in place with tie wraps as the engine is aluminum and it wouldn’t stick. I was satisfied with my handiwork and now I needed to find food and get warm; I was starving. There was an Olive Garden in the adjacent parking lot; I had supper and called it a night.
The third day, Friday, the morning temps were below freezing. I had places to go, and a bike to fix before I could go anywhere; so up and at ‘em. The sun will look after the frost on the road and there was plenty of blue sky. I had dumped the contents of my jacket pockets out the night before looking for something, and as I was packing up to leave the room, I realized I had pennies! How strange and nice to see pennies again as Canada phased them out a couple years ago. After the continental breakfast, I hauled my gear out to Olga. I shoved my hand inside the cocoon and it was toasty warm. Perfect. With the sun being out and no wind, I wasn’t worried about her losing too much heat by taking the wrap off, she would be warm enough to start. I rolled the wrap up carefully as oil had dripped onto it; the oil pump screw with the check ball had started leaking again yesterday – and it was a steady seep. Today, I would have to find some different O-rings and change it out. I quickly fixed the broken wire to the coil that caused me to lose a cylinder, and then I had to figure out what was wrong with the rear brakes. There was lots of fluid in the master cylinder, but I topped it off with a bit more and secured the lid. I pumped the brakes with my hand, realizing that the mechanics of it all wasn’t working properly. I discovered the pin connecting the plunger in the master cylinder to the brake pedal had fallen out. A simple fix of a ¼” bolt with a nylock nut to hold it in place was all it needed. I continued with my maintenance, adding a liter of 20W50, checking the primary chain tension, primary fluid, rear chain tension, tranny oil and signal lights and all was well. I packed up and headed southbound on Highway 83 wondering how far I would get today. It didn’t matter, the sun was out and the temperature was slowly climbing – it was a chilly 4 above Celsius (39 F) when I left Bismark.
I rode into Herried South Dakota, stopping for gas, cheese and pepperoni sticks, and a coffee; it was 12 above Celsius (54 F) with beautiful sun. After asking a local farmer where to purchase O-rings, I found the place, bought a few, and changed the O-ring out again. Hopefully this is the fix. A mile down the road, I knew it wasn’t but I wasn’t stopping; I would just watch my oil level. The seep wasn’t that bad, but it was steady and when oil is hot and spraying in the wind, it makes a hell of a mess. At least my right leather saddlebag was getting a good waterproofing!
I found Peterson Harley Davidson Honda in Pierre South Dakota as I figured I better stock up on more engine oil since this oil seep was not going away. I purchased two quarts of SAE 20W50 HD oil and shoved them in my saddlebags and backtracked to the main drag to find a gas station. I filled my tanks and had a quick look at the oil tank dipstick; it was good. I was walking back to my bike after paying inside, and I noticed a fellow sitting in an older white Chevy S10 checking out my bike; he had the look of old school biker. I could tell he knew what I was riding and sure enough he got out of his truck and we started chatting, first about the bike and then about me. He told me I looked like I ride and wrench on my own, and I said I did. He had seen me at the Harley dealer and followed me to the gas station – he wanted to give me one of his books, a book of biker poetry he had written. I was floored and so honored. I snapped a quick selfie of us and the book and thanked him profusely, and he thanked me for being a shovelhead rider. Being that the gas station was busy, and Rich didn’t seem to want to stay and chat; I put the book in my saddlebag and moved Olga out of the way and he was gone.
340 miles (540 kms) after I left Bismark, I was in Valentine Nebraska. I’d decided that it’s too risky for me to ride past dusk, as Olga has a mind of her own. A quick check and I discovered she lost an exhaust bolt off the rear head. No biggie, I have extra in my spare nuts and bolts stash and I’ll replace it while doing my morning maintenance. I was able to find a motel with a plug in on the outside of the building that was adjacent to a fenced off garbage bin, which was perfect, because no one walking on the sidewalk would be tripped by my extension cord. I built Olga’s cocoon and tucked her in for the night, and after dumping all my gear into my room, walked to the local truck stop for some grub. Nothing fancy, just hamburger steak with mashed potatoes and unsweetened iced tea. I noted for future reference to remember to tell the waitress ‘well done’ when I ordered hamburger steak – I ate it anyway; I was starving.
After maintenance on Saturday, Day 4, where I had to add more than a quart of oil, I headed out onto the drizzly, misty, overcast morning on Highway 83. I needed to try to fix this oil seep, it was a mess and I was losing oil. I had already stopped and changed out the O-ring four times by 1pm. At a gas station, I googled motorcycle shop, and found Mike’s Motorcycle Repair in North Platte Nebraska – and discovered he would be closed before I could get there. Mike didn’t know which O-ring I needed specifically, and his Harley mechanic was gone for the day, so he offered to leave his O-ring kits outside for me along with four quarts of engine oil. Since I was going out of my way to find O-rings, I might as well get engine oil too; it’d save me a stop in the future. I found the place and sure enough, there was a cardboard box sitting outside the back door with two kits and my oil. Thank you Mike! I added a couple different style O-rings to my collection and changed it out again. Fueled up and 15 miles south of North Platte on 83, I lost a cylinder. Argh. This is frustrating – this is the sixth stop of the day; I’m not making any miles!! On the upside, I met Tom, an older rancher-looking gentleman, who came to the end of his driveway to offer assistance. He was surprised to see a woman repairing the wire on her shovelhead’s coil, and said so! We chatted for a bit and I was off – only to lose a cylinder again a few more miles down the road due to the same wire. The 20 gauge wire bounces up and down while the lug is secured to the coil post; therefore the wire breaks off at the lug. This time, I decided to omit the lug and just wrap the wire around the post. A young cowboy gentleman cruising by in his beater car with no muffler, u-turned around on the highway, and pulled up to offer me assistance. I politely declined commenting on the red mud all the way up to his knees; he said he had just gotten off work. I noticed the cowboy boots, spurs and pro rodeo shirt, but he wore a baseball cap with a flat brim. It seemed odd attire, but I’m sure people look at me and think I’m odd too. I had a good chuckle at myself. Such wonderful people in Nebraska!
Olga and I called it a night in Liberal Kansas after 439 miles (706 kms). The electric start on the handlebars has quit working and so has my left front signal light. Ah well, I will look at those problems during morning maintenance. It was the first night that Olga didn’t need her cocoon; finally far enough south to warrant warmer temps. Thank goodness.
It was cool in the morning of Sunday, Day 5 and I was in the motel lobby when I overheard one fellow say to another, “That’s a tougher man than I that can ride that bike”. There was only one bike in the parking lot, so he was talking about Olga; I smiled. I am excited about today, as I would travel States I’ve never been to – as long as my shovelhead cooperates. I’ve admitted defeat and will live with the oil seep from the oil pump screw. Oh well, sometimes you lose some – just like my electric start. During morning maintenance, I had found a broken wire under my dash and after repairing that, she still wouldn’t start from the handlebar switch. A couple years ago I wired up a push button directly to my starter solenoid for back up – who wants to kick a shovel if you don’t have to!! I resorted to this means of starting Olga for the time being – it works. The other old shovel I ride, an ’83 FLHS named Elvira, has the same set up, and is actually the only way to start her, other than kicking.
Passing through the Oklahoma panhandle, Olga and I make it to Texhoma Texas!! It’s really hard to believe that my ol’ shovel is doing it – she’s getting me to Babes Ride Out 5 in Joshua Tree California! I fueled up a few more miles down the road and after some thought, I decided to check the ignition connection to the starter motor – I’m not sure why I didn’t check that out this morning while I was trying to fix the electric start. Sure enough, the nut backed off the starter motor post and the wire is hanging in the air. That’s why the electric starter switch wouldn’t work!
By mid-afternoon, I’m in New Mexico! This is definitely picture worthy and I took her pic of her in front of the Welcome to New Mexico sign! Olga is running strong and I’m so proud of her. I’ve turned off Highway 83 and am heading a southwest direction to Tucumcari New Mexico. The single lane 75 MPH highway has soft sandy shoulders and is full of long-haul semis, but I’m only slightly nervous because Olga has been doing so well. I patted her tank and tell her she’s doing good, then, it happens, and I’m confused. She is running on two cylinders but she doesn’t sound right; what the hell? It was only a split second thought process, but it seemed to take forever. I realized that I had lost an exhaust pipe, while I was sandwiched between two semis going at least 70 MPH with no approaches to turn off. My thoughts were: Please don’t drive over my exhaust pipe; please don’t have flown into the ditch where I can’t find it; I wonder if there’s venomous snakes in the ditch; where’s a damn turn off?? I had slowed down and used my hand signals and signal light to let the semi behind me know I was looking for a right-hand turn – and finally there was one. I found a break in the traffic and doubled back to find the place I had mentally marked – but I was lucky, the left exhaust pipe was lying on the highway shoulder in plain view. The traffic wasn’t as heavy in this direction and I was able to slow down, pull over and tie the pipe onto the back of the bike. I got onto the highway and turned around, looking for the approach I’d found earlier. Turning in, I stepped off the bike, next to a dehydrated snake carcass – oh my. I was in New Mexico and now I had the heebie geebies. I was going to get bit by a snake or stung by a scorpion; I was sure of it. I took a couple jackets off and made sure they were lying on the bike and did not come in contact with the ground. I didn’t want any sort of critter nestling into my clothes, only to come crawling out while I was wearing it, or sleeping at night. The exhaust pipe hanger had broken, and thus the exhaust pipe had fallen off at the first connection after the head. I separated the back fishtail half of the exhaust pipe, connected the front piece and rigged it to the frame using hose clamps and the barbed wire. A year or two ago, my son had given me the rusty old barbed wire and said that I needed to put it on my bike; who was I to argue? So instead of heat shield, I had barbed wire wrapped around the pipes – it suited Olga and added to her character, and now, it was of good use.
When I had left Liberal Kansas in the morning, it was still cool; and now, I’m wrenching on my bike in sunny, blue sky New Mexico desert wearing long johns, jeans, black chaps and a black Under Armor base 4.0 thermal long sleeved shirt that I stole from my son before leaving northern Manitoba. I am soaked in sweat and not wanting to dig a shirt out of my duffel bag that’s tied onto the bike, never mind having any privacy to change with the highway full of semis screaming by. I tied my fishtail pipe onto the bike and rode the 7 miles to the next town, Logan. One of the first businesses you come to in this small town is a good sized restaurant and pub – I bee-line for the pub and buy a green t-shirt that would fit me (there was no black in my size but I didn’t care). Changing into it and taking off my long johns in the pub bathroom, I looked in the mirror and I realize I’m getting some sun – and some sunburn. Too funny – the second day I thought I was going to get frost bite and now three days later, I’m getting sunburn. I question the barmaid that sold me the shirt of any weld shops in town – and it being Sunday, the one and only is closed. And the fellow that works out of his home is not in town either. I called up Gerald and we chatted, he said to take the exhaust pipe off the other side so the engine has equal pressure, which I did and headed to the gas station with my two fish tails strapped to the top of my bike.
Being from Canada, my bank cards don’t work in the most of the gas pumps to pre-pay, so I have to go inside and pay at the till. It’s there that I meet Two Dogs, an older 70-something gentleman, with tattoos covering his arms and face, as well as plenty of white hair and long white beard. He asked about Olga and he told me he liked my bike as it was “function over fashion”. That made me laugh – as he managed to sum up how I feel about her in so few words – why didn’t I think of that! He had inherited his dad’s ’48 pan shovel in 2004, which his dad had bought brand new. Two Dogs was offered two brand new Harleys in trade for that ’48 but he declined – too much sentimental value. (I know what he means – Olga is priceless!!) He also has a ’66 shovel. Two Dogs introduced me to his buddy, Dave, who offered to weld my broken exhaust hanger, but his weld shop was 200 miles due south – and I needed to start heading west. I would’ve liked to visit and had a couple bevvies with Two Dogs; he was a very interesting fellow!
It’s now late afternoon and I decide to continue on and ride to Tucumcari, which wasn’t too far down the road; there were more weld shops and garages there, and it was closer to my final destination. Today I made 202 miles (325 kms) from Liberal Kansas, definitely not as far as I had wanted to travel but that’s what it worked out to be. I found a motel across from a cool ol’ school garage with lots of rat rods parked out front; hopefully they will weld my exhaust hanger for me in the morning.
I’m done my morning maintenance, and pacing outside of the motel at 8am on Monday, Day 6, watching the gate of the garage across the street; finally, a fellow opens the gate and drives through. The welder is not available for a few more hours as he had some prior commitments this morning, but Will, of Junior’s Garage, was willing to weld it for me after he was done with his present customer. He suggested an old school diner for brekkie and by the time I return, he had it welded up with fresh black paint. He assured me it’ll hold as he “banged it on the cement a few times to see”. With the exhaust pipes back on, I bummed a couple nuts as I didn’t have the proper thread in my stash for the starter motor lead that had fallen off. Now Olga is back to her old self and I’m heading west on Interstate 40. Little did I know what was in store for us…
Interstate 40 cuts right through the center of Albuquerque – and it’s a fast, multi-lane freeway with overpasses and underpasses crisscrossing every direction. Add to it the miles of concrete road with deep grooves a few inches apart running the same direction as you’re travelling, causing Olga’s tires to snake back and forth underneath me. If you’ve ever rode asphalt that’s been stripped to be ready for re-surfacing, you know what I’m talking about. There’s no escape on this freeway, only forward and I prayed she wouldn’t break down; please not right now. Thank goodness the exhaust pipe fell off yesterday, because there would be no going back for it today. My heart is in my throat and finally, I’ve made it through Albuquerque and the traffic is diminishing so I pulled into a Flying J to recoup. I could’ve downed a couple whiskey shots right then and there, my nerves were shot. Olga’s old iron, I need to be prepared to stop and tend to her needs anytime – and I just rode a half hour of shit roads with no escape. I won’t be taking that same path through Albuquerque again! Lesson learnt!
I end up in Holbrook Arizona, 404 miles (650 kms) later that evening. I found a cheap motel and the East Indian lady at the counter looks me square in the eye and informs me ‘it’s not a fancy room’. I guess I looked high maintenance, but I reassured her that would be fine. And the room was not fancy, and being that my ex-husband and I once found $1100 under a mattress in a hotel room years ago, I lift up the mattress, and find four old cupboard doors laid out on the box spring. I guess the mattress dipped in the middle a wee bit, and this was her fix. It didn’t matter to me, the room was clean. I rode west to the restaurant down the street; it was a stunning sunset and you could see the Benchmark fire smoke on the horizon. Hamburger steak, well done, and mashed potatoes for supper. With any luck, I will be in Joshua Tree California tomorrow.
I’ve been adding just a little more than a liter (quart) of SAE 20W50 each 400 mile day; and the morning of Tuesday, Day 7 is no different. While the engine was hot, I swapped out the oil filter at a gas station three days ago. I figured if I’m adding a liter+ per day, I don’t really need to do an oil change. The primary is not leaking at all, my tire pressure has been good, and I’ve only had to tighten up my primary chain once. The left front signal light consistently fails; I’ve cleaned out the socket but the bulb just rattles loose. Maybe I’ll put some LED signal lights in her this winter. I’m gaining hours with the time change heading west and it’s making me a real early bird, and I’m outside packing up my tools when a 60-something gentleman starts loading up his pristine powder-blue 1960 Ford station wagon, asking me if I’m having trouble with my bike – nope it’s just maintenance! Larry and I chat, he asks me about Olga and I ask him about his car – and I ask what his wife’s name was, as she was hauling bags to the car. He hummed and hawed and said ‘yes, this is my wife Vicki’, and I asked if I could take a picture of the two of them in front of their car. She bolted into the motel room and opted to not be in the photo. I laughed!! ‘Uh huh, that’s your wife Vicki!’, I thought to myself. Oh well, they’re having fun riding Route 66 heading back to Texas.
I’ve heard of Flagstaff Arizona, I think it was in a country song, so I strayed from my disciplined routine of pepperoni and cheese sticks, and a quick shitty coffee at the gas station, and pulled into a McDonald’s. I like McDonald’s coffee and it was close to noon, so I decided to have French fries too. It would be quick and easy I thought while I was standing in line, when someone said “You’re a long ways from Saskatchewan.” I was floored – who the hell in Flagstaff would know where Saskatchewan is, let alone be able to say it!?! I told him I was impressed, and he said he had hunted and fished up there with his buddies over the years. He also told me he had a 100 year anniversary Indian in the back of his ’64 Ford…. Well now, I have to check this out! Mike had purchased the truck and bike from his brother’s estate, who had recently passed. Mike and wife were on their way back home to Ohio. Safe travels!
Strangely enough, I’m riding along with no problems. I had butt-spliced about a 12 gauge wire with a rubber, flexible jacket onto the 20 gauge ignition wire that was chronically breaking and giving me problems. It seemed to resolve the issue, as I hadn’t lost a cylinder in a couple days. I finally pass through Arizona and make it into California – I could actually make my destination today! I continue to head west on I-40 from Needles California, as per Google maps. It’s 35 Celsius above (95 F) and I’m climbing a 6% grade for at least ten miles now and I know Olga is hot and tired, and I’m getting worried about her – when does this climb end?? I have to get to the other side of this little mountain soon – and I did, just in time to find my exit to the right which clover-leafs to the south – and then the road ended. There’s a fenced electrical station with desert beyond that has the occasional bush poking out trying to survive where there’s supposed to be a road! What the hell? I didn’t see any traffic on the overpass but I thought maybe it’s just a road not well traveled – but to just end? I would need a burro to go any farther. It was 22 miles (35 kms) back to Needles for the alternate route, so I’ve now added 44 miles onto today’s leg of my journey. Dammit – I wanted to get to Joshua Tree today. Then I realized, it’s still 30+ C temps and I’ve got that mountain to climb again. Turns out there wasn’t much of a climb as I really hadn’t gone down in elevation before turning around – so it was an easy downhill ride back to Needles, where I headed south and rode one of the loneliest, beautiful, eerie highways of my journey – Highway 95 from Needles to Vidal Junction, California. I realized there’s a whole lot of hot, dry desert and if I did break down – the shoulders are soft sand and there’s only a couple hours of daylight left; I just didn’t feel comfortable riding this stretch of highway. I started patting her tank, counting down the miles to the next gas fill and telling her she was doing a good job; after all, I was depending on her entirely and it is 36 Celsius (97 F) now. Finally we make it to Vidal Junction, to find the gas station was overhauling their gas pumps – and had no gas for sale. Really? The store is open but you have no gas? I was flabbergasted, what business, when their primary purpose is to sell fuel, wouldn’t have a temporary fuel tank set up during a gas pump overhaul? I asked the Mexicans doing the maintenance if they had any jerry cans of fuel – they had slip tanks of diesel, but no gas. So, I decided to head east to Parker Arizona; goodbye California! That didn’t last long.
I splurged on a fancy hotel room; I was hot and tired, and only accomplished 396 miles (637 kms) today. I needed to eat and do laundry, and as luck would have it, a football game was on so there were complimentary tortilla chips and salsa for the hotel guests in the main lobby. I pigged out; it was a perfect supper while washing clothes. I parked Olga next to some palm trees – to anyone else it didn’t mean anything – but to me, it was the farthest my rotten ol’ shovelhead had taken me and it was a personal accomplishment.
Day 8 and I wake up to find that Gord Downie, lead singer of the Canadian band, Tragically Hip, has passed – brain cancer I believe; it’s a sad day for Canada.
Leaving the border town of Parker Arizona, I’m back in California. It’s overcast and beautifully mild; Olga loves the cooler temps and its only 100 miles (160 kms) or so to Joshua Tree and Babes Ride Out. I passed the Shoe Fence and Tree west of Vidal California – what an unusual site to see an insane amount of shoes haphazardly strewn on a fence, and a tree, and for no particular reason.
As I ride into Twentynine Palms, there is so much sand; the roads to the homes are plowed much like snow would be to a cabin. How strange! I see windmills and water tanks at some of the houses and realize that living in the desert has to be difficult. I’ve never had a lack of water, but then again, the folks down here don’t have to worry about going through the ice on a lake or freezing to death.
Early afternoon, Wednesday, October 18th, I rode into Joshua Tree California. Two Provinces, nine States, 2,474 miles (3,982 kms) in eight days and I have made it. I am so overwhelmed on this sunny, hot day in the desert of southern California. Olga and I did it. I found the Joshua Tree RV and Campground and snapped a couple pics. Next, I headed to Yucca Valley to find a room for the night and a car wash. I wanted Olga looking her best and she was covered in oil, so I stopped at Napa and picked up some degreaser and got directions to a car wash. Hours later and I’m covered in oil, but Olga was looking damn fine with her powder coated red rims and chrome exhaust. I met Don at the car wash, an older 80-ish gentleman dressed in a threadbare, white V-neck t-shirt and khakis. In 1952, Don rode his 1947 Indian 3,000 miles from Maine to southern California on Route 66! Sometime after that, Don had his bike slide out from under him in a corner, landing with his back on a fire hydrant – and he didn’t ride anymore. I told him I was from Canada; he said “Oh yah – I used to go to Montreal when I was in the Navy.”
It was later in the evening before I found supper and re-organized Olga and myself. I wouldn’t be on the road tomorrow – I would be setting up a tent and attending Babes Ride Out 5! So exciting – I could barely sleep.
I was up too early the morning of Day 9, Thursday, October 19th – today would be the day. My anxiety and nerves and fear and excitement were running full bore. I was sure I was going to get hit by a bus before I actually got to BRO 5 – oh well, I’d made it to Joshua Tree. Of course I had time to kill so I found a seat in the Joshua Tree Saloon where I could charge my phone. I had over an hour to wait and I’d already had breakfast. Bikes were rumbling by, and the majority of them women riders; so empowering!! It was time to head out and I tried to pay for my club soda, but was told it was free. Oy! I felt bad; I’d sat at the table and didn’t order anything, so I gave the waitress a $5 tip.
I turned north onto the highway to the site of Babes Ride Out and I was overwhelmed. As I was riding, I had to put my hand to my chest because I couldn’t breathe and I was sobbing. I couldn’t believe that I had made it – I was actually doing this. My head was pounding, my eyes were blurred from the tears and the highway was full of ladies riding to BRO 5 – and I was a part of it. I had no idea a few weeks prior to leaving Canada, if I was completely crazy thinking I could buy an engine off of Facebook, swap it out and ride my ratty ol’ rotten shovelhead to Joshua Tree California – alone. Hell, when I bought my ticket to attend BRO 5, I thought it was a pipe dream, but I’d done it and now I’m riding to the venue with so many other ladies. A few minutes later, I’d gotten my composure together and turned into the Campground. Riding in sand was new to me and I was cautious; I didn’t want to drop my bike now – of all stupid things to be going through my head. My name was stroked off the admittance list and the lady handed me a BRO 5 patch. I just wanted to jump off my bike and hug her – she had no idea what this meant to me; I was still close to tears. I was directed to the camping area and began setting up my tent on the north side of some sort of desert bush that I’d hope provide shade. It was just past noon, and there was a steady stream of bikes coming into the campground – so many ladies yelling greetings to each other and hugging; it was exhilarating. I knew then I had made the right decision coming here; this will be a weekend I’ll never forget.
I pitched my tent, stripped my riding gear, my yellow cooler full of tools and parts, and luggage rack off of Olga and threw it all into my tent that I’d hauled all the way from northern Manitoba, Canada. Olga looked so good! Zipping the door shut, I was going to go for a walk and meet some of the ladies. Or so I thought I was. The tent door was still open, even though I zipped it shut – so, I zipped it shut again. Oh FFS. The zipper on my brand new tent that I’d hauled close to 2500 miles was defective. Lord love a duck. After 15 minutes and some cussing, I’d managed to zip the tent shut; I knew this was to be my challenge the whole weekend.
I wandered through the campground, met some wonderful ladies from all over the United States who asked me to move my tent over and join their campsites (I stayed where I was); purchased some swag; signed up for a tattoo; and basically familiarized myself with the venue. It was mid-afternoon and the place was filling up quickly. I met three beautiful ladies, who are Lita’s of St George Utah – Katie, Jenn and Michelle. (Lita’s are an international ladies riding group.) I had no idea how sad I would be on Sunday, when these ladies would be riding home and I would have no idea when I would be seeing them again.
Friday morning, the St George Lita’s and I were going to be riding through Joshua Tree National Park – I just had to be back in time for the bike show mid-afternoon. I loaded Olga up with her luggage rack and yellow cooler of parts and tools (never leave home with it) and rode over to the girls’ campsite to wait until we were ready to leave. It was then I met Savannah, who was in charge of social media for S&S Cycle – and she asked to photograph Olga. “Of course!” was my answer, and then I realized Olga had her yellow cooler strapped onto her fender. Ugh. Ah well – not much I can do about it now!
We made it back in time to enter Olga in the bike show, and hours later, Katie, Jenn, Michelle and I were waiting in the audience for the results. Olga didn’t win People’s Choice; she didn’t win the Vintage Class – but we won the S&S Choice award! How truly exciting! I forgot to be nervous about getting on stage to accept the award, I was just honored to be acknowledged – I don’t think anyone realized how hard I’d worked to get here; it meant the world to me. Anya introduced herself to me on stage, and told me not to go too far – the Iron Butt Award (longest distance rider) was next. There were five of us girls called onto the stage and asked how far we’d rode to make it to BRO 5. The ladies had come great distances, but I’d come the farthest! I had won! I couldn’t believe it – and Anya had asked me a question right after I received my Iron Butt Award and handed me the microphone – and honestly, I cannot even remember what she asked me, nor do I even really remember what I said. It was all so surreal. I do remember telling the ladies that I was Canadian and I felt so welcomed to their beautiful country and I felt I had a new family. The ladies cheered and started chanting my name; I was still in awe – all I’d done was ride my shovel! By the time I had made it off stage, I met Julee – Anya’s mom. I had been posting my adventure to BRO 5 in an unofficial Babes Ride Out Facebook group and Julee had seen what it had taken for Olga and I to get to Joshua Tree. Shortly thereafter, Anya announced that a fellow rider had gone down and didn’t survive on the way to BRO 5. What a roller coaster of emotions – we paused for a moment of silence in respect for our fallen rider. Later on in the evening, I met Lara, who’d actually rode 2700 miles from Maine and had just arrived to Joshua Tree. Lara is an incredible lady and an Army veteran; I have a feeling our paths will cross again!
Saturday, October 21st was my dad’s birthday and Day 3 of BRO 5. People often wonder how I have the ability to keep that old shovelhead on the road – and I would have to attribute it to my dad. For two winters following my high school graduation, I worked in the bush building ice roads on frozen lakes for the logging semi-trucks to haul wood off the islands that were cut during the summer. My dad, Uncle and myself lived in a camp built on a trailer that was 12 feet wide and 20 feet long; we pulled it with our 5-ton sanding and plow truck to the shore of the lake we were building the roads on. The ice roads on the frozen lake had to be 300 feet wide and the ice had to be five feet thick to support the weight of the semi-trucks with a full load of trees on the trailer. We used bombardiers from the late ‘40’s and early 50’s to run an 18 inch ice auger off the power take off and drill holes in the ice. The auger would stay submerged in the hole it had drilled through the ice and pump water over the ice road. Working with old equipment in the cold, you have to be very patient and cautious – there’s no store to buy parts or local garage to do a quick weld job. I operated and drove various vehicles and equipment; and learnt so much from my Dad those two winters. I do have some mechanical aptitude – about as much as he has in his pinky finger!
Early Saturday afternoon, Katie, Jenn, Michelle and I headed to Palm Springs, California – can you believe that! Olga and I made it to Palm Springs! Never had I imagined we would get this far! Riding SoCal freeways in the heat, I was worried about my bike, but she did so well; no problems whatsoever!
I met so many ladies later in the evening, including Melissa, whom I became acquainted with through the unofficial Babes Ride Out Facebook group. She’s a true California girl and rides year round, loves camping and spending time in the outdoors! I’m so jealous of her weather!
Sunday is bitter sweet – as it’s onto new adventures, checking BRO 5 off the bucket list, and saying farewell to newfound friends. Ladies were up and packing at dawn, and I just wandered around chatting, wishing them safe travels and thanking them for the beautiful weekend. My Utahans – Katie, Jenn and Michelle, had to head out early too – and I hated saying goodbye. Who knows when we will see each other again – and I said it would be at the Babes Ride Out East Coast 2018 at the end of May in New York state; another adventure to check off the bucket list!!
I rode to Locust Grove, Oklahoma (east of Tulsa) following BRO 5 and had a significant break down in the three days it took me to get there. The 5/16” bolt inside the primary holding the starter housing backed out; therefore the starter housing and motor fell off the back side of the inside primary. It was 5 hours in a motel parking lot before I could get it fixed, and at the next gas station two hours down the road, Olga wouldn’t start after filling up due to a low battery. I found that my voltage regulator had a pin broken off so the battery wasn’t charging; thankfully I had a spare regulator and swapped it out. After buying booster cables and getting a boost – I ended up with further electrical problems, which were not related but I solved the next day as I was fed up with wrenching for the day.
Navigating Oklahoma City and Oklahoma proved to be difficult – the roads names do not coincide with Google Maps. I suffered many small electrical break downs from broken wires, my headlight quit, had to adjust the clutch and I burnt the inside of my thigh on my rocker box trying to push start the bike, but I had made it to Red and Kate Good’s, owners of Cycle One Manufacturing in Locust Grove. I left Olga with Red and Kate, and flew back to Manitoba the next day from Tulsa; winter had come and there was no riding home. Gerald and I will be driving down to visit our friends, Red and Kate, and trailering Olga back home in the New Year so I can do some maintenance and give her the shovel love she deserves.
About me: I was born in Norway House, Manitoba, Canada in 1973. I grew up in the bush, riding snowmobiles, fishing and loving the outdoors. I had the opportunity to ride 50 cc dirt bikes in my younger days, but it wasn’t until I was in my early 30’s that I started riding my own street motorcycle. After getting my license, I rode a 2000-something Fatboy; then an Anniversary Edition 883 Sportster.
I met Gerald late summer of 2014; the next day he asked me to go on vacation with him to British Columbia the following week – on motorcycle. Being that I didn’t have a bike, he offered me one of his motorcycles to ride – a black 1983 FLHS shovelhead; we sorted out the particulars and, as they say – the rest is history. I named the bike Elvira and she proved to be an interesting ride. I had to start the bike by shorting out the starter solenoid with a nail, I had no rear brakes, and I had to loosen the gas cap on the tank as it wasn’t allowing air into the tank and it would vapor lock. Gerald and I managed to solve all of these problems along the way, but when you ride a shovelhead great distances, you have to be prepared for anything and we had many adventures.
The following winter, I had been searching the internet for a shovelhead to buy of my own, when I found a ratty ol’ 1982 FLHS with a Massey Harris tractor seat in Gatineau Quebec. I knew this award winning bike had to be mine. A couple months later, she was finally shipped to Manitoba – I had bought her sight unseen and quickly came up with the name of Olga after laying eyes on her – it was a strong, determined name. With Gerald’s guidance, and words of wisdom from old school Harley mechanics, I’ve learnt so much about my shovelhead and put so many miles on her.