Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Healing Hester Part 1 - A Piece of My Heart & a Big Pile of Parts

Battered & Bruised, But Not Beat!

Last weekend, I started the Healing Hester process by disassembling the bike.  I needed not just to remove the smashed parts for replacement, but to get a deeper look inside to ascertain the extent of the damage.  It was truly depressing.  As a boy, I was notorious for my ability to reduce anything to a pile of its smallest of components in no time and while I'm still into the geek aspect of tearing things apart, metaphorically speaking, this was like a coroner performing an autopsy on a family member. 

Radio Ouch!
I started at the front and worked my way backward.  I've disassembled Hester's front end body parts before when I had my inner fairing/console painted, but I've never gone in this deep.  The fairing removal was easier than before, probably because so much of it was cracked and pretty much fell off when I tugged on it; much like how perfectly cooked rib meat falls off the bone.  Of course, reinstalling will require considerably more effort.  The entire inner and outer fairing assembly is shot and the MadStad windscreen that was attached to the top of it, was never found at the accident site.  Once the outer fairing was off, I focused on disconnecting and removing the ganglia of connectors and cables that comprised the core of Hester's nervous system.  The outer fairing protects the gauges, radio, lights, and all the interconnections between them.  One thing I remember from the first time I removed it was that space is very tight in there and that everything has to go back exactly where it was before.  I took lots of pictures to serve as reminders when reassembly commences.

Removable Frame Extension
I must have hit the ground pretty hard because the metal frame that houses the stereo, the stereo itself, and a piece of the frame were all severely bent.  Fortunately, all are removable and plenty of each are available on line.  The Road Glide is a favorite of exotic builders and as such, is one of the most customized and tricked out bikes on the road.  Those builders often sell the take-offs - the parts removed to make room for their creations - on eBay and Amazon.  Needless to say, my list was growing and big brown trucks would be cruising my street regularly very soon.

Fenders New & Old
I removed the front wheel to make room to get the front fender off.  The fender was so mangled, it would have slid right out without dropping the wheel, but the replacement would not have gone back in so easily, so off with the wheel.  This would give me an opportunity to clean it and replace the well worn tire.  With the front suspension so exposed, I figured this was a good time to exchange the mangled lower fork sliders with a chrome pair and since that required the forks to be disassembled, I might as well replace the stock open bath damping suspension with a set of gas charged Monotube dampers.  Harley stock suspension sucks and given the amount of time I spend in the saddle on my long trips, it only makes sense to perform this upgrade now while the parts are disassembled.  I replaced the rear shocks with Ohlins a few years ago.  Those, combined with the upgraded front end and the memory foam/gel pad seat modification I installed years ago ought to make Hester as comfy as she will be cool.

Moving to the rear of the bike, I started removing the lower wind guards from the crash bar.  Props to Harley designers because the crash bar took a hard hit and literally saved my ass from being squashed under the 800-pound motorcycle upon impact.  The crash bar also saved the lower wind guards from being crushed.  The left side was scratched, but is salvageable and can be painted.

Hester - Naked, But Not Afraid
Next, I removed the gas tank and rear fender assembly, leaving Hester looking like an emaciated and naked German concentration camp prisoner.  All that's left of her right now is a black and dirt colored frame, rear wheel and chrome handlebars.  At least now I can get in and clean/polish those hard to reach spots before I reassemble my girl.

The right saddle bag and gas tank console are serviceable but will require paint, so I disassembled them as well as the replacement tour pack I had bought online and placed them in the "to paint" pile along with the body parts that were not damaged.  My Shark Week friend Tom graciously gave me a front fender that had taking up space, removed from a touring Harley he previously owned.  Another Shark riding friend David gave me a left saddle bag and an outer fairing.  Those parts will be in the pile with the other pieces to be painted soon.  Their generosity is another example of the camaraderie and caliber of people I've had the honor to meet and ride with.  I am fortunate and super grateful for friends like these.
New Parts
As usual, I traveled this week for work and since I performed the above-described work last week and as such, I came home to a pile of boxes full of parts I had ordered.  I would be a liar if I said I wasn't a bit excited to see all the goodies.  That excitement is tempered by the fact that all these boxes were paid for out of my own pocket and I'm convinced there will be more to come as I begin the reassembly process.  Throughout this ordeal, I've been as frugal as possible without compromising safety, but I am taking advantage of the opportunity to replace and upgrade some other parts that weren't damaged in the accident, but that I know will need attention soon.  Both of my tires are worn bigtime.  I got over 18,000 miles on the rear tire, which is remarkable on a Harley.  While the wheels are off, I'll install new bearings as the ones in the wheels now are the originals and have been through the worst imaginable terrain and weather in the six years I've had the bike.

Bound For the Island of Misfit Parts
So now I have three piles of parts; pieces to be painted, pieces to be installed, and pieces to be trashed.  As I stare at the piles, I'm torn between a sense of accomplishment over my progress thus far and sense of sadness over the fact that this is all happening in the first place.  I know Hester will look and ride great when I'm finished, but I've yet to shake the constant replaying of the crash in my mind and wondering what more I could have done to prevent it.  I'm not one to dwell on the past.  It's time to look forward and make Hester 2.0 better than ever.  I have a private goal in mind that I'll disclose later, whether or not I achieve it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hell Hath No Fury....

Like a Woman Scorned - William Congreve

Perhaps you saw this...

...and then read about this.

In either case, I am aware that I am very fortunate.  I know this because, 1) everyone tells me and 2) I was there.  I know how badly this could have gone.  I dodged a bullet by swerving to the right, away and out from in-between the cages in front of and behind me.  Still, I caught said bullet’s proverbial shrapnel when I clipped the rear passenger side of another cage in the right lane and lost control at about sixty miles per hour.  Hester went down hard on the left side and I was slung backwards to my left and wound up on my right side underneath Hester as she slid a good fifty feet or so before coming to stop underneath a bridge.

If you haven’t read them, the details are in the link above.  This series of articles is not about the accident.  These entries will detail my efforts to rebuild the bike.  I’m sure this seems silly to many people; after all, it’s just a motorcycle.  If you’re one of those people, this is a good point to do your part to conserve Internet bits and close this page.  I’m sure I will return to my usual satire and political diatribe soon enough.  It’s not like there isn’t plenty of fodder out there in this elections season.

Since you’re still reading, you know that Hester is more than just a motorcycle to me.  She has opened my eyes to adventures and associations which I would have never experienced had I not bought this Road Glide.  Most who know me already know this, but for those who do not, I’ll explain the name.  Harley-Davidson calls the color Scarlet Red and since every iconic transportation device needs a name, I chose Hester in homage to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s protagonist in The Scarlet Letter.  I case you never read the book or have forgotten your seventh grade literature, Hester Prynne was an adulterer back in Puritanical times who was sentenced by the local church judiciary to emblazon all attire she wore in public with a Scarlett Red letter “A” as a notice to all of the naughty act she committed.  I can see where on the surface, it would appear that I named my Road Glide after an infamously loose woman.  It actually goes a little deeper than that.  By the end of Hawthorne’s story, Hester Prynne was recognized as a wise and virtuous woman by the people in her community and had become a trusted and loyal confidant to many.  In a way, bikers get the same rap from our society.  People look at the leather, the tattoos, pony tails, and patches and quickly discount the rider wearing them as mere scooter trash; someone to be avoided, sometimes feared, and usually looked down upon.  But those who are capable of putting their judgmental tendencies aside and actually take the time peek behind the book’s cover and get to know us find that most bikers are loyal, hard-working, and trustworthy individuals whose most serious societal infraction is not giving a shit about what others think of them.  My concern for what others think of me can actually be measured in micro give-a-shits.  But I digress.

Following the accident, my two primary concerns were being able to continue to condition myself for my Australia trip and what would become of Hester.   I took a couple of days after the wreck to collect my thoughts and begin to heal my wounds.  I had serious road rash on my knees that my six-year-old granddaughter aptly described as “smushed strawberries” and I was bruised from head to toe.  It seemed that new bruises appeared somewhere on my body every day and these were accompanied by a host of new aches and pains.  Despite these facts, I actually only took one day off from my physical training regimen.  Once I was confident that I had no broken bones, torn muscles, or damages ligaments, I immediately got back to my rowing and elliptical routine.  The hardest part was stretching the scabs so I could adequately move and flex.  If I sat idle long enough, the scabs would harden and subsequently tear when I bent my knees.  This was not only excruciatingly painful, but it reset whatever healing had taken place.  I figured out that if I softened the scabs up with Neosporin, they would stretch and give enough to allow me to reach my three miles rowing and another three miles on the elliptical.  The best part was I had these gym quality machines at home in my man cave.  I had all the motivation to do the work and none of the excuses to avoid it.  I had dropped 45 pounds and several inches from my waist in the four previous months and could logically attribute the fact that I wasn’t more seriously injured in the accident to this conditioning.  Once I was confident that I wasn’t going to exacerbate my injuries, my attitude became “Fuck the pain.  Work through it”.  I left myself no excuses to slip backward.  But enough about me.  This series is about Hester.

A couple of days after the accident, I called my insurance agent to file a claim.  I had not a clue what to expect, nor as to the extent of the damage Hester had taken.  I was told by many of my friends that insurance companies often prefer to total a wrecked motorcycle rather than subject the insured to the risks (and themselves to the liability) associated with an incomplete or improper repair job.  My riding buddies were like “Woo Hoo!  You get to get a new bike!” and I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit to at least pondering the possibilities.  However, when more rational thoughts rose to the forefront, I realized that I really didn’t want a new bike.  When Harley reintroduced the Road Glide in 2015 after not selling a 2014-year model, they changed the fairing and a few other cosmetic elements and while I like the changes, I still prefer Hester’s look.  Besides, sporting the classic fairing shows the world that I knew Road Glides were cool long before 2015 and 2016 when they became Harley-Davidson’s most popular model.  Hester is now six years old and she has the miles and battle scars to show it.  She is far from cool and even further from looking like a badass Harley, or even remotely aggressive for that matter.  But, she’s mine and she has taken me to the four corners of the country, to nearly every state in-between, across Canada and up to the Arctic Circle.  It’s because of Hester that I found some of my most trusted friends.  It’s because of Hester that I found myself on a long, lonely stretch of road, somewhere on the path to Alaska.  You don’t toss out a bike, better yet a companion like that just because of a few scratches.  I know there will come a day when I will replace Hester, but today is not that day.  Again I digress.

I reported the accident to my insurance agent and asked what I needed to do to get Hester transported from the towing service yard to my Harley dealer to assess the damage.  It was at this point my heart stopped for the second time in a week; the first time being three days before when I took the shrapnel and knew I was going to hit the pavement.  My agent informed me that there was no policy on neither Hester nor Atlas (my other Harley) and that the coverage on them had been canceled almost a year ago.  After regaining my vision and my breath, I confirmed that through a clerical error or oversight, I had indeed been riding unlawfully and actuarially exposed for months.  My anger faded into disbelief and eventually dissolved into despair as I realized that I was not only on the hook to repair Hester on my own dime, but I would be liable for any damage to the cage I collided with before I crashed.  As of this writing, I still have not heard from the driver of the other vehicle and I am hoping that there was no damage.  I’m certain they have my information because I have theirs.  It was included in the letter accompanying the citation for failure to control a motor vehicle that I received in the mail a few days after the accident.

Realizing that time was money for a vehicle in a wrecking yard and that the money being spent was my money, I decided to go and bring Hester home.  I hooked up the flatbed trailer that I had rebuilt out of boredom over the Christmas holidays and went to retrieve my girl, carrying with me a pry bar and a hammer with which I could twist the fender from the front tire so the bike would roll.  After paying the towing and storage fees, I pulled up to Hester, looked her over, and cried.  After my pity party, I determined that the damage was all on the front and left side.  In fact, if you viewed Hester from the right side from the handlebars back, there appeared to be no damage at all.  This was encouraging when I needed encouragement the most.

My friend Paul had been working nearby and was on his way to help me load her up.  After prying the fender loose to free the wheel, I pushed the bike in line with the trailer and just for grins, thought I’d try to start her up.  To my surprise, she fired right up and my heart skipped a beat.  My trailer is a tilter type, meaning front of the bed actually releases from the chassis and tilts upward, pushing the rear down to the ground and allowing whatever is being loaded to be rolled onto the planks without needing a ramp.  I asked Paul to stand on the rear of the trailer bed to hold it down for me, dropped Hester into first gear rode her onto the trailer.  Now I was really encouraged.  Paul and I cinched Hester down and I headed home.  The sight in my rearview mirror was of a badly beaten and scarred motorcycle and the despairing thoughts that preoccupied my mind were of the lack of insurance, but I had hung my hopes on the jolt of encouragement I received when I was actually able to start up and ride the old girl onto the trailer.  I pulled into my back yard, caringly unloaded Hester from the trailer, and rolled her into the space I had cleared for her in my garage.  As I rolled the garage door down, I felt like I was at a funeral home viewing the remains of a loved one as the casket lid closed.  The difference here was I felt that there was a distinct possibility that this loved one could be resurrected.

Since I was able to work out, I was able to work and as usual, my work at IBM called me out of town; this time to Minneapolis for a week.  Assessing Hester would have to wait a week for my return.  Stay tuned for updates on our progress.