Week 18 - Hadley, Carrboro

I'm not feeling in much of a storytelling mood this week but some important things happened, so I'll just hit the highlights:

I finished Punkin's air, exhaust, and electrical systems and RM and I started the engine. There was a problem at first because gas was leaking out of the carburetor, and after we'd called the quality of the cheap carb into question and removed the float bowl, we figured out that I'd plugged the fuel line into a vacuum port (in my defense it did not come with documentation of any kind). After that the bike started right up, but the throttle was adjusted way too tight, and I fumbled the kill switch, so the engine was racing and smoking until I managed to shut it off properly. But after RM helped me recover from my anxiety that I'd ruined it somehow, all was well and we idled the engine for a while to start curing the exhaust paint. A couple days later I rode Punkin for the first time. I was pretty nervous since a lot depended on the quality of my amateur mechanical work, and I kept to the back roads near the garage so it wouldn't be too hard to push back in the event of breakdown. There was one stall but no breakdowns, and apart from a few things that need tuning it felt awesome. Lots louder than Kiddo, but not in an unpleasant way, and very fun to ride. I tried how high a gear I could reliably take off in (3rd and often 4th), tested the ergonomics of riding standing up (very comfy), and hit a couple of potholes on purpose to check out the suspension (nice and bouncy). That night I got all excited and started looking at maps for the first time in a while.

Punkin got inspected by a License and Theft Bureau inspector. On the phone she was so discouraging about my chances of getting a title that I did some research and formed a backup plan of registering in Vermont, which is apparently what a lot of people do with old small motorcycles, since they don't require a title for anything over 15 years old or under 300cc. But as it turns out, when she ran the VIN through the system, Punkin doesn't exist as far as the state is concerned, which is strange but actually makes the bonded title process possible. And when she arrived at the garage for the inspection, I think she was either charmed by Punkin's good looks or influenced by the presence of Ganesh (remover of obstacles), because she gave me some good advice about wording and said it would be a shame to keep such a cool old vehicle off the road. And best of all, she explained that I don't actually have to wait for the title, but can get plates and a year's worth of registration as soon as I submit the paperwork. So if all goes well I should be legal next week.

I got my first tattoo! It's a line all the way around my right forearm that spells out "courage" in cursive on the inside, upside down so I can look down and read it. It's a bit meta since I've been afraid of getting a tattoo for a long time, not because of the pain (which was sharp but bearable and didn't last very long), but because of the irreversibility of the decision. But it just felt like something I needed to do, mainly to sum up what I've learned in the past year and keep on reminding me so I don't forget. Courage is something I can have no matter what the circumstances: courage to allow myself to feel difficult emotions, to try new things that might fail, to stay present through unpleasant as well as pleasant sensations, and to reach out and connect with the people around me. And without it freedom wouldn't be worth much, because true freedom usually scares me a little and it requires some courage to take full advantage of. Anyway, courage feels like a value that's solid enough to warrant a mark as permanent as I am.

While I was thinking I might need to wait for months to get a license plate, I reserved a place to stay 25 miles north in Graham from mid-January to mid-February. Then I found out I could get plates sooner and the place wasn't refundable, but the more I thought about it the better of an idea it seemed. Between my job, working on Punkin, my social life, and surviving the weather, I haven't had a whole lot of downtime. It'll be good to have ample time to rest, plan, test new gear, and put finishing touches on Punkin. I'll probably be coming back down to Chatham County on most weekends, and going back and forth will be a nice gentle break-in process for the new engine, which needs to run gently for a couple hundred miles so all the parts can get to know each other and wear into a good fit.

Things I Learned

  • Indian investors are buying up classic British motorcycle brands like BSA and Norton and planning to establish some factories and R&D in England. Royal Enfield was a bit of a pioneer here, because their Indian arm split off and kept operating long after the British arm had closed, and lately they're starting to make really good and innovative motorcycles that are also cheap because of the massive scale of their home market. Indian billionaires creating British jobs: the process of colonialism begins to reverse itself.
  • In the early 1800s, there was a form of entertainment called an ether frolic, where a lecturer would dose an audience member with diethyl ether or nitrous oxide and everyone would laugh at their dopey antics. It seems silly but the fact that volunteers would sometimes injure themselves and not notice actually led to the development of surgical anesthesia.
  • I've been afraid of touching creosote from my wood stove because I thought it would give me cancer, but apparently it's not all that toxic and is in fact what gives smoked meats their flavor. Coal creosote, which is what used to be used on telephone poles and railroad ties to keep them from rotting, probably is somewhat carcinogenic. Wood creosote does kill people, but mainly through chimney fires, where it burns so hot inside the chimney that it lights the house on fire.
  • The pandemic has brought on some welcome innovations. I've been seeing a lot of devices that allow you to easily open bathroom doors with your foot or arm. Also all the crosswalk buttons in Chapel Hill and Carrboro now have a sign that says "don't push the button!" and explain that the signal has been made automatic. Maybe the only change is the sign, because I hear a lot of those buttons were already placebos anyway, but still. It's always annoyed me that if you arrive a little late and push the button after the walk period has started, it will make you wait a whole cycle until it says it's safe to cross. It should have been this way all along.

Wonderful Things

  • Driving through the smoke from a fireplace that just got lit with Christmas tree branches.
  • Driving through icy cold air scented with early-blooming breath of spring.
  • The crispy crackle of properly made bánh mì bread.
  • Coyote poop on the trail near my tent, after the rain washed away the brown part and left behind delicate white swirls of animal hair.
  • The rainbow-colored starry twinkles when the sun shines through tall icy grass. I think they're an artifact of my astigmatism (because they go away when I put on the glasses I never wear), but still very pretty.

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