November 28, 2020•1925 words
For some reason I keep expecting things to slow down, but it was a surprisingly busy week. On Saturday morning I ordered a new engine for Punkin, a Lifan 125cc with a semi-auto 4-up transmission and electric start built in. Then it was time for my first car-driving practice with my dad. The plan was to take a load of trash and recycling to the collection center, come back to pick up my mom and take her to her weekly Nia class, then run some errands in town and take her home on the way back. Although it was a frosty morning, we were going to be driving with the windows down and masks on. But when I tried to roll the windows down, the already sticky mechanisms were frozen in place, and the stalled motors drained the battery enough that the car refused to start. Kiddo to the rescue! While my dad set up the jumper cables, I ran to the field, rode back to the car, unscrewed the battery cover, and was able to quickly get the jumper clips on thanks to my practice run with those three Latino guys at the motel. Once again the car started right up, but because of the delay we had to squeeze my mom into the back seat with the recycling. Cramped, chilly, and with a novice driver, it must have been like the world's worst Uber ride!
But driving a car came easier than I expected. My anxiety of former years was mostly gone, I was fairly familiar with the rules of the road, and I had no trouble staying focused after several thousand miles of scooter travel. In fact, the skills I needed to work on were just the things that are different between a car and a motorcycle: going in reverse, letting go of the wheel to let it spin straight, placing myself in the left side of the lane, turning so that the long wheelbase tracked correctly, and maneuvering with a massive read end. Some habits created a weird sensation, like expecting to lean on turns and then having the irrational feeling that the car would fall over because I couldn't lean it. Some habits were kind of counterproductive, like looking over my shoulder before turning, which makes a lot of sense when "driving like you're invisible" as motorcyclists are well advised to do, but not so much when you're taking up the whole lane anyway. I also noticed that being relatively invulnerable in a metal box makes speeds seem slower; at one point I thought I was driving quite slowly but was shocked to look at the speedometer and see that it was up around 55 mph. But overall it was mainly a matter of re-calibrating and getting comfortable with the controls. At the end of my trip when my mom (who is a bit inclined to anxiety) said she felt safe, I figured I couldn't be doing too badly.
Back home I headed to the garage to disassemble and clean Punkin's gas tank. This was done by vigorously shaking it with a little gasoline and a piece of chain inside, which by the way is a great workout. During the process I discovered that the red paint on the tank is soluble in gasoline, so I ended up with sticky red hands that looked like I'd murdered somebody. This explained all the red on the underside of the seat, which is hinged to the gas tank, and the sort of drippy appearance of the paint job around the gas cap. RM and I debated whether someone had made a massive mistake when choosing the original paint or whether a previous owner had repainted it. I half-seriously speculated that the tidy Japanese engineer had never dreamed that anyone would let gasoline dribble around during a fill-up. But eventually the tank got nice and clean on the inside and I washed my hands, which came out cleaner than when I'd started because unlike my tent, the garage has running water and orange-pumice soap. I went back to the tent for dinner and then returned to the garage to measure things and order parts. It's been slowly dawning on me that this project might involve at least as much time with my hands on a keyboard as on a wrench. I'm very lucky to have the original shop manual, but even so it can be tricky to figure out which parts will actually fit when all you have to go on is a few photos and a dubious description on ebay. Even if the part fits, I also want to avoid the twin traps of overpaying for parts aimed at purists (who want their bike to resemble the original as much as possible) and overpaying for parts aimed at gearheads (who want their bike to have "top of the line" everything). And it's not just about money, the more I can use generic parts, the easier it'll be to replace them if I break down on the road.
On Sunday morning RW and two of her woofers visited for a tour of the mud hut and other dwellings on the land. They were eager for any and all information about homesteading and self-sufficiency, and they ate up my parents' tales of living in a bus and building community. It's interesting how, when you hear old stories told to new people, you catch fresh details or emphasis. This time it struck me how both my parents tried to recreate favorite aspects of their childhoods. My dad wanted to live in woods like the ones around his great aunt's house, who along with her husband had proved up a 160 acre claim in Michigan during one of the Homestead Acts. My mom wanted to have a community like the suburbs she grew up in, where the kids could run around and play freely on long summer evenings. Not having experienced the originals, I can't say how well they did, but they seem happy with what they've created, and there's no denying that it's beautiful land that only gets more so as the years go by, with the trees growing taller and grander, and the underbrush thinning out to open up the sight lines. Our visitors left with big smiles, carrying the old family grain grinder that I'd converted to pedal power ten years ago, an ancient copy of the Village Technology Handbook, and the carcass of what RW was sure was a flying squirrel that we found in the driveway. In the afternoon I drove with my dad to visit JW at his new twelve foot square cabin in Snow Camp, and we talked about the state of the world from the top of a little rise in pretty woods bordered by bright green hay fields and blue skies.
During a lunch break in the short work week, I explored the surrounding woods some more, including the M land where they've started surveying and cutting an access road for a 175-lot development. It's kind of hard to believe but the suburbs are coming, and the long commutes along narrow, winding roads that were previously a restraint on rural growth may soon be a thing of the past. Of course they've scheduled the public meeting about this development to be outdoors and after dark in December, with no clear mask policy, perhaps hoping to scare off any aging hippies who might raise objections, but we'll be there nonetheless. I practiced some night driving and perpendicular parking, doing some driving every day of the week but one. It got more comfortable and natural, but now I'm even more sure that I don't want a car, because it's just not nearly as much fun as riding a motorcycle. My dad got new solar panels and, using scrap wood and some electrical odds and ends he had lying around, I installed three of his old ones on top of the star tower. Now I don't need to be so miserly about power usage since my battery can get a full charge even on a cloudy day, and it also allowed me to move the battery system and cellular hot spot and antenna into the tent, so I don't have to climb up and down a ladder to turn the power and internet on and off. I dug a new latrine trench next to the old one... I guess that's one way of marking time.
Thanksgiving brought a four day weekend and apart from a nice chicken and potatoes dinner with my parents and hanging out around the fire with AP, GB, A, and BF, I've been spending most of my spare time in the garage, pulling apart both drum brakes, removing all the grease in the parts washer and ordering new shoes, seals, and bearings. I'm learning a lot from just having my hands on the parts and absorbing little tips and background knowledge from RM. I ordered a few books about motorcycle engineering so I can really get deep-dipped. It felt like a major triumph just to finally identify the designations of all the light bulbs on the bike: the numbers PX15D, BAY15D, and BA7S cost me several hours of research to arrive at, and in the process I learned more than I ever wanted to know about bayonet fittings. The new engine was on the FedEx truck for delivery on Thursday, but didn't show up, then on Friday a truck showed up but with no packages to deliver, and now it's supposed to arrive Saturday... we'll see. I've been literally chopping wood and carrying water like the Zen master advised, and now I'm starting to get into the same sort of mindset with my mechanical project, listening to music while I scrub away grease and rust with a toothbrush, and trying to relax into the fact that no matter how many rookie mistakes I make, the job will get done eventually and I'll be back on the road with a one-of-a-kind bike that's partly my own creation. It's an often frustrating process that pushes many of my anxiety buttons hard, so I'm pretty sure there's some spiritual growth in it as well as a new motorcycle.
Things I Learned
- Chickens can hunt mice, at least some chickens can.
- According to the manual, the 1968 CT-90 was supposed to get 178 miles per gallon riding at 25 miles per hour. I always think of 60s automotive technology as gas-guzzling, but people were getting three-figure gas mileage, you just had to go slow on a light vehicle.
- Food runs out surprisingly fast when you eat the same thing every day. When I ran out of oatmeal, I found that Triscuits make an acceptable porridge if you crumble them up and mix in hot water. But eat it fast because it's pretty gross and gluey when cold!
- Steamed eggs are amazingly easy to peel.
- Mossy old cedar stumps in the woods. I think some of them rival the best sculptures I've seen, and as a kid I once tried to take one home, but to move them is to destroy the magic.
- The aroma of motor oil, gasoline, parts washer fluid, and Liquid Wrench. These kinds of smells used to repel me a little but at the moment I find them exciting.
- Mullein leaves with dew on them. As a kid it used to amaze me that a plant can be so soft and furry, and it still does.