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Stranded in Whitehorse

If you follow along on Facebook or Twitter, you know that Red broke down around a hundred miles south of Whitehorse, the capitol of the Yukon Territories last Sunday – after nearly 10,000 miles of travel in seven weeks, quite the success.  When I left Fairbanks, I knew there were problems with my trans belt slipping (for a few thousand miles) but the plan was to baby it back to the real world where I could get replacements.  Unfortunately for me, I did a bit too good of a job cleaning out the carbs and engine in Fairbanks and Red was running incredibly well on the ride back down the Alaska Highway.

After weeks of cold, clouds, and rain, I finally started the day last Sunday in warm, dry sunlight.  I was well along the Alaska Highway, had a great destination in mind for the night (the Yukon Motel & RV Park at Teslin, where I stayed on the way up, and got to pick up some parts and good food in Whitehorse. One of the important things I picked up in Whitehorse was a pack of 1A fuses for my 12v accessory plug, allowing me to recharge my phone/mp3 player again for the first time since the fuse blew outside Valdez…  thus, the entire day was almost a perfect storm of happiness and contentment:

Red was riding fast and hard on the mostly flat section of the Alaska Highway outside Whitehorse. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and I was comfortably warm. I had tunes cranked and was rocking out for the first time in days.  My belly was stuffed with good food and I had a (rare) definite destination in mind for the evening where I knew I could enjoy a hot shower and power for my laptop. My odometer was ticking towards 10,000 miles and would hit it that night – I was already composing the blog post in my head. I was the king of the world on my scooter.

Then, suddenly, *POP!* At 50MPH indicated, the engine dies and the rear wheel locks up for a moment before dropping into neutral. As possibilities flash through my head, I turn around to see a puff of black smoke floating in the road behind me. Red coasts to the side as my mind flits from “oh crap the belt broke!” to “plug came loose, no biggie.”  Alone, on the side of the road, many miles from anywhere I try the starter and it just locks. Oh, no. The kickstart lever won’t move either, a sure sign of a massive problem.

Oddly, nearly a hundred miles away from civilization in both directions, I find that I have 1xRTT data service on my phone. I share my misery with the world via ping.fm and then settle down to troubleshoot using the service manual on my laptop. The end conclusion seems to be that the engine is dead. Time to go back to Whitehorse.

At this point I’m struggling between two very different emotions – part of me is angry at myself, knowing that I caused this. I knew Red was not 100% and I had intended to stay at 40MPH all the way down to the World, reducing load and wear on everything. Instead I got carried away and almost did everything I could to make the scooter blow up, going wide open throttle for nearly a hundred miles straight – something I’ve not done on the entire trip to date. On the other hand, I’m elated, because finally something really clearly bad has happened, something well outside my ability to isolate and fix. Something to put me outside my comfort zone, throw my plans to the wind, and force me to respond. And what are the odds it happened outside the biggest city on the Alaska Highway?

For the next couple of hours, I stood beside the road with my monocular watching oncoming traffic for pickup trucks and trying to wave them down. Most of them drove past without even slowing down, and after an hour or two it started to get frustrating – worst case, I was prepared to camp in the woods overnight once it got dark. Finally, however, I saw a truck coming back from the other direction that I remembered waving at a few minutes before – they had turned around to help out.  Within moments Red was loaded up in the back, tied down with the lightweight tiedowns I carried with me Just In Case, and we were headed back to Whitehorse.

The next morning, the Yamaha dealer said they were too busy to look at it until next week but the Honda dealer said to bring it on over.  I had left Red at the Yamaha dealer a couple miles from the Honda dealer, but they wanted $50 to drive it over so I decided to walk it.  About 3/4 of the way there a cool guy gave me a ride the rest of the way (as well as driving me around to get Mexican food, groceries, beer, then taking me home afterwards) and I left Red with Matthew Johnson at Yukon Honda.

Back at camp, I got in touch with Ryan Jefferies at Scooterworks/Genuine and he agreed to ship me up a full parts package for an engine rebuild and new belts and rollers (which, as indicated before, they had already been yelling at me to replace). The next day I got the word from Yukon Honda that the engine was okay but the belt had indeed come off, getting stuck in the clutches and causing the lockup.

So, everything was set. I had a place to stay, someone to fix Red, and someone sending me parts – now it was time to wait for the parts to get in.  To Whitehorse. In the middle of nowhere. Ugly.

It’s now five days later and I’m still waiting for the parts to arrive. I was hoping they might make it today, but it looks unlikely now. Monday is Labor Day, so that means most likely I won’t have the parts until Tuesday or be on the road until Wednesday.  This would be a nice break if it wasn’t raining CONSTANTLY, making life a bit miserable here.

Whitehorse is a pretty awesome town though, very progressive and artsy, has a feeling like a miniature (like seven by four blocks basically) San Francisco.  The downside, however, is cost – everything here is EXTREMELY expensive, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.  Dinner for one at any restaurant is guaranteed to run me $25-30+, any sort of activity is incredibly expensive, and even the cheap campground is $18/day and that doesn’t include showers or internet.  I have to avoid heading into town as much as possible because I end up dropping $50 on random stuff every time I do, so I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and catching up on tv shows on my laptop.

On the plus side, I’ve actually been active for the first time in ages, which is a nice break from feeling like a fat lazy biker.  My Chuck Taylors are starting to fall apart though, which sucks because I don’t want to buy an expensive pair of shoes here to replace them but may have to. We shall see.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to all week. Now it looks like another few days of sitting around and trying desperately not to waste money are in the pipe. Good thing I’m easily entertained!

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