Monday, June 14, 2010

Silencing The Genii In The Tank...

There is nothing more disturbing than sudden, strange, and persistent sounds emanating from a motorcycle that usually runs exactly the same way, day after day, year after year. It is disturbing on two levels: first because it is a departure from what you have come to expect, leading one to doubt the stability of the universe; and second as it is generally the prelude to writing a new chapter in your checkbook.

Hearing a new and peculiar sound always involves some measure of disbelief. I remember the first time I ever brought a woman to orgasm. She’d been a friend long before she’d been a lover and I was astounded at the sounds she was apparently capable of making. (I initially thought I’d broken something.) It is always at the end of a long day, when I am exhausted to the point of hallucination, that some strange noise materializes from my bike — leading me to wonder if I just imagined it, or if my riding technique has brought the bike to orgasm. And even then it is normal to go through a period of denial, either dismissing the sound as a freak occurrence, or reassuring myself it is something less than $300.

It is never less than $300.

BMW introduced the legendary K75 (750cc) in 1986. They built the last K75 nine years later, in 1995. I had a bike from the first manufacturing run, and now I am riding one from the last year these machines were made too. Both of these motorcycles had several things in common: a distinctive whine, a pronounced clunk when shifting gears, and a wind-up that eventually becomes very reassuring. For me, those sounds are the equivalent of a bra snapping open or of a woman’s lips on my ear. (Though my 1986 model, “Blue balls,” is gone forever, the number of running K75s from that year is fairly high.)

"Blue Balls"— My 1986 BMW K75 (With rare Sprint Fairing) sidebags not mounted.

"Fire Balls" — My 1995 BMW K75 (with Parabellum "Scout" Fairing), sidebags mounted.

I had only had my current machine for two months (back in 2007), when I was out for a ride with Dick Bregstein, on one of the hottest days of the year. It was in July and the heat danced on Route 30 (Lancaster, Pa) until it hit 95º (f). We were stuck in stop and go traffic and the fuel pump on my K75 started to scream. I could clearly hear the noise over the traffic. A young woman driving parallel to me in a convertible looked over and said, “That motorcycle must be a piece of real shit to sound like that.”

Handling the crisis well, I shouted to Bregstein, “What does that shit sound like?” We lane-split through the traffic until I could get to a shaded spot on the shoulder. Dick is half-deaf under the best of circumstances and he thought I said, “I have to take a shit on the bike.” His response was, “Do you need me to hold it for you, or can your feet reach the ground from the gas tank?”

Neither Dick nor I know the first damn thing about motorcycle engines, so listening, looking, and speculating produced no workable solutions. We were hunched over my bike when an Amish elder in a buggy pulled up and said, “I’d shoot this fucking horse right now if it made a noise like that.”

Located in the gas tank, the pump is cooled by the fuel. Yet on that day, the tank was heated by the engine underneath, and the sun above, until it had the feel of a hot radiator to my bare hand. My thought was that the heat had something to do with it. I put 2.5 gallons of cool gas in the tank and the noise stopped. Months later, I ran into *Mac Pac rider Jimmy Robinson at our club’s Christmas dinner. Robinson fired up his vintage K100, and it made that same sound.

“I’m nearly out of gas,” said Jimmy. “That’s what that noise usually means, as the pump is struggling to suck gas off the bottom of the tank.” Robinson later admitted he’d been riding the bike with the gas warning light on for two days. Heat could not have been the problem in his case, as the outside temperature was barely 32º (f). I assumed it was a fluke and forgot about it.

My fuel pump went into the shrieking mode twice the following year. It was a hot day and the gas warning light had started to glow on both occasions. In each case, I topped off the tank and the noise went away. I’d mentioned this in casual conversation with other riders in the Mac Pac, and at least one other person claimed to have a pump that made similar sounds.

BMW riders seldom discuss their “dirty laundry” or mechanical challenges with outsiders. A common complaint about the K75 is that the gas warning light comes on too soon. In my case, it used to come on at 140 miles, leaving more than another 100-plus miles in reserve. I never minded stopping for gas at 140 miles, as my knees and back normally needed to stretch out by then. But I didn’t like being forced to stop to prevent others from hearing that fucked-up screeching sound, which either indicated a design flaw or a poorly maintained bike.

The pump did not make the sound at all in the year following service by legendary BMW wrench Tom Cutter. But I think that may have been purely coincidental. This year, the engine oil and the fuel filter were changed in my garage at home here without challenge. The fuel pump started to scream on every ride — regardless of the gas level, and the fact there was a brand new fuel filter on the gas line.

The logic of consensus said the noise was coming from the pump as a result of significant back-pressure. At no time did the engine falter nor stall. I hit 111mph on the clock during this period (with the pump running silently) only to have it start screaming louder than ever two hours later in 90º (f) heat, at only 65mph.

Perpetual Boy Scout Mike Cantwell was riding with me that day. “Goodness gracious,” he exclaimed. “What the fuck is that noise?" Cantwell heard the sound over his running engine, over my running engine, and through the flip-face, modular helmet that covered his head.

I cannot stand to have anything on my bike that is a hair off factory specs. Plus there was a real performance concern. An increased load on the pump could cause a fuse to blow or simply burn out the unit. I do not need to explain to my fellow riders what the sudden loss of fuel pressure would mean if it occurred during a fast low curve, or pulling out into traffic. So I asked more than 300 riding buddies at how many miles did their K75 fuel pumps fail and what did they pay for the part?

Not one of them had had cause to replace a fuel pump.

I ordered the part from the dealer ($333) and a buddy of mine offered to put it in. The pump came in two variations. The first of these included the pump unit complete with the vibration suppressor, the collar, and other stuff, including a nylon screen/gas strainer on the bottom (not the fuel filter). The second was just the pump canister itself ($222), enabling the mechanic to scrounge the ancillary parts off the original, thereby saving $100.

I ordered the complete pump.

My reasoning was that all of this stuff had been sitting in gasoline laced with ethanol for 15 years. I heard stories of the nylon screening dissolving and being sucked into the pump. I also heard stories of the vibration suppressor dissolving in the gas. In the final analysis, it just wasn’t practical to have the mechanic come over to the house and pull the pump prior to the 68-mile ride to dealership — and have him come back on another day to install it —just to save $100.

Das Fuel Pump ist das part on der right. Part #1 cost me $333.00 at the local BMW dealer. I could have saved $100 by just purchasing part #2 and salvaging the rest of the stuff from the original pump. Who wants to worry about 15-year-old part transplants? The vibration supressor, part #5, is $79 by itself. It is hard rubber and I did not feel like twisting it around, until it likely broke in my hands. Part #3 is the nylon gas screen. The fuel filter mechanism is on the left. It is $29, and they have been known to last years, or until the first shitty batch of gas. Neither is in scale to the illustration of the fuel tank, bottom right.

A retired nuclear/electric engineer, Brian Curry is regarded as a K75 Guru in BMW circles. He has taken K75s apart and rebuilt them thousands of times as a hobby. He had the old pump out in 15 minutes. I was expecting it to look like a battle-scared, gas soaked, worn-out piece of equipment. It was almost in pristine shape. The nylon screen/gas strainer on the bottom was intact and strong. The rubber vibration suppressor was as solid as it’s new replacement. There was no sign of the scum from rotting ethanol as I was led to expect. Worse, my gas tank was as spotless and shiny inside as a brand new, empty beer can. (I had half expected to find a piece of paper wrapped around the gas strainer, or to discover the strainer had dissolved and been sucked up into the pump.)

Certified Beemer wrench Tom Cutter asked me if I routinely used gas stabilizer in the tank during long periods of inactivity in the winter. I began to stammer, to which he replied, “I thought so.” Cutter explained that for fuel pumps left sitting in untreated gas for long periods of time are more susceptible to getting lined with old gas/varnish. He further explained that while the gas strainer on the bottom probably looked good, it could have been nearly clogged with varnish, while still looking serviceable. The fact that my pump had begun the death screech could have been an indication that damage had already been done.

Curry rolled his eyes as he handed me the corpse of the fuel pump. The unspoken bad news in his eyes read “Maybe the noise the pump is making is a symptom, and not a cause.” (There is a reason why Curry is not invited to weddings nor christenings.)

Others, like that happy bastard Clyde Jacobs, (who waited until I had already made the 136-mile round-trip to the dealer), also suggested that a faulty fuel regulator could be damaging the pump. This is a $135 part that lurks at the end of the fuel rail, and which probably takes 18-hours to get at. Watching Curry install the fuel pump was like observing Ray Charles play the piano. Curry had to attach the hoses and internal connections by feel, as the opening in the tank is far too small to see what you’re doing, or to even use both hands. So he did it blind.

The whole process took him less than an hour. He pressed the starter button and the K75 roared into life. The pump was again silent, but it always started out that way. I’d have to take a long ride on a hot day to put things to the ultimate test.

It took my friend a little longer to install a “Back-Off” illuminated license plate bracket on “Fireballs.” The K75’s rear running light is a dim bulb that was once used to illuminate Vatican interrogation dungeons. This same bulb casts a murky light over the numbers on the license plate. A second bulb of about 20 watts serves as the brake light. I was on a run one rainy night when the running light crapped out. Mac Pac rider Rob Haut was on my tail and claimed a bad situation was instantly worse, as far as rearward visibility went. Haut warned me about the blown tail light in the same tones that public health officials talk about clap. His tone suggested that my slipshod approach to life had something to do with the bulb failure. I hit my flashers for the brief 10-mile ride home. (The Mac Pac is southeastern Pennsylvania's charted BMW riding and eating club, and is well-known throughout the world for its accomplishments with regard to putting exotic things in its respective mouths.)

Dual LED License Plate Frame -- From Signal Dynamics. This is offered in chrome or black, with one model coming complete with amber turn signal strips too. This unit is $79 and comes with the wiring harness. Extra are the black mounting bolts for $12. It struck me as a neat way to improve rear visibility through a cool piece of farkle. Signal Dynamics offers a full array of motorcycle accessories and lighting options. They are a delight to deal with.

I have since made two significant alterations to the K75’s rear lighting. The first was the installation of two groups of 16 red LEDs on each side of the stop light. The rear lens on the K75 has two empty compartments that seem tailor-made for this application. The LED pods (which are rectangular) fit nicely in each, and have a factory-finish look to them. So I have the benefit of bold lighting on the back, without wires going all over the place, nor electrical tape holding up fixtures that look like LEGO blocks. Hitting the brakes causes both pods to flash aggressively — and cleanly.

There is an additional chip that lets them flash for 20 seconds, before going to steady on. I didn’t bother with the chip and these lights flash constantly the entire time the brake is on. This is illegal, as only emergency vehicles are allowed flashing red lights to this extent. I’ll take my chances with the ticket in favor of a light show to alert drivers coming up behind me. This puts the power of 32 red LEDs into my stop signal.

The “Back-Off” license plate bracket is from Signal Dynamics and costs $79. Mine is powder-coated black and has a line of 18 red LEDs top and bottom. All 36 LEDS glow at 50% power when the bike is running. They go to 100% when the brakes are applied. So as I come to a stop, 32 LEDs are flashing, and 36 others are on constantly, in addition to the OEM 20-watt bulb. When riding around, 36 LEDS are at half power as running gear. The fact that these are LEDS mean an almost negligible power drain.

Do I think that any of this additional lighting will prevent an asshole from rear-ending me? Not a shot. But it can’t hurt. I was out and about the other day, when dusk came at the usual time. There was a guy ahead of me on a cruiser and I watched as his single, chrome-framed tail light got lost in the sea of red ahead of me.

“Wow,” I thought. “And mine was dimmer than that.”


I was on the road for a four-day motorcycle ride through rural Pennsylvania last week. The riding temperatures were perfect, a high of about 73º, and the distance was a modest 200-miles. The fuel pump performed to spec and didn’t make a sound on the entire run. At some point, on an undisclosed road, in an unnamed state, I “pulled the ton” for about 90 seconds, but routinely hit the mid-eighties on the clock. Neither the machine nor the pump faltered once. Some guys ride because they like their bikes to make noise. I prefer the sound of silence... The mantra of precision German stealth.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The “Lindbegh Baby” (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain — PS (With A Shrug)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

If You Can’t Stand The Heat, Stay Out Of Centralia!

This is a story I wrote back in 2007. It was the second piece I ever had published in the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America’s magazine — “The Owners News.” This story predates this blog and many of my current readers have yet to see it. I don’t hesitate to run it again here, for the first time on this blog, as it remains a favorite of my long-term readers.

The Earth was cast in fire and intense heat. Every now and again, it takes itself apart, little by little, in the same way. In 1962, a rubbish fire ignited an exposed coal vein in Centralia, Pa. The fire found its way into the rich coal deposits under the town and began to burn with an unsuspected intensity. It is thought that shafts drilled to monitor the fire’s progress and to vent gas actually accelerated its combustion. Buried far beneath public view, the fire jumped from one vein of coal to another — never becoming more than a smoldering red glimmer.

Centralia was incorporated as an anthracite coal mining community by Alexander W. Rea, a civil and mining engineer in 1854. It grew into a bustling little town of a 1,000 people, with stores, saloons and two churches clustered around a main street. It supported a school, a fire company and a number of mines that followed the rich veins of Pennsylvania coal almost to the next town. The community was a hotbed of the Molly Maguires, a secret pro-labor organization of passionate Irish miners, who thoughtfully shot and killed the town founder (Alexander W. Rea) one night, to illustrate a point.

The Mac Pac Eating and Wrenching Society (chartered MOA Club #289) is a concept, a movement, and a quasi-religious order dedicated to mileage and calories. The lure of adventure and culinary abandon have sent Mac-Pac riders on transcontinental pilgrimages for the ultimate fried chicken (Nashville, Tn), the consummate Tex-Mex chili (Abilene, Tx), the creamiest ice cream (Strasburg, Pa), the most piasanic pizza (Chicago, Il), the freshest lobster (Kennebunkport, Me), the best breakfast (Auburn, Ne), and the most succulent Rocky Mountain Oysters (shuck ‘em yourself, Fort Peck, Mt).

The preoccupation with eating is manifest in the club’s logo, which prominently features a wrench and a fork against a disc background. It was long thought that the disc motif represented a spinning airplane propeller. But a meeting of the group’s historical committee led to the announcement that it is actually a dinner plate. Yet the Mac Pac’s commitment to food becomes clear when you get a look at many of the group’s GPS units. Numbers on the screens have been replaced by pictograms illustrating drumsticks, ice cream cones, pizzas, flaming sombreros, and cows holding their groins. Open any map case on a Mac-Pac bike and you will discover folded menus.

It was this obsession with eating that recently led to one of the most peculiar rides in Mac Pac history.

The fire spread like a stupid idea in congress. In 1969, the first three families were moved from Centralia. Basement temperatures began to soar in many homes and residents were sickened by coal gas and carbon monoxide. Homes over the hot spots were equipped with special meters to monitor the gas. Eleven years later, the US Bureau of Mines declared the fire “uncontrolled.” The first significant collapse created a hole 4 feet wide and 150 feet deep under Tom Domboski, who was pulled to safety by his cousin. Authorities claimed the heat and gas would have killed him instantly, if he had fallen just a little deeper.

The Mac Pac meets for breakfast at the Pottstown Family Diner on the third Sunday of every month. Service at the PFD is ruthlessly quick and the management has given the group a back room with its own entrance. This provides a buffer between the Mac Pac and the regular customers, who may not be accustomed to the violence of watching hyenas feed in their natural habitat.

At one breakfast early last spring (2007), BMW Motorcycle Owners of America Ambassador Brian Curry stood on a chair and called the assembly to order. The atmosphere was instantly filled with bits of toast, fruit rinds, balled up napkins and half-spent creamers propelled toward the speaker in a reflex action triggered by his “official” voice.

Curry waited stoically until the air was free of detritus, then stood like a bizarre admiral, with an epaulette of orange peel on one shoulder and a bit of buttered English muffin on the other. Then swelling like a blowfish about to sing, he began to speak.

“I would like to challenge the people in this room to put together a ride that substitutes the metaphysical for the menu... The scientific for the sausage... And the epic for the epicurean,” said Curry. “I want you to conduct a ride that sums up everything the Mac-Pac stands for.”

“You want us to ride to Hooters?” asked a voice in the back.

That was the first time anyone had seen Brian Curry cry.

The fire had spread under 582 acres by 1991. Worst case scenarios predicted it would continue to spread to 3,700 acres and burn for 100 years. Nearly 1100 families were relocated and all but 13 houses were razed. Smoke, gas, and steam rose from fissures all over town. A local highway heaved, buckled, and split. Streets collapsed in places. Centralia became a place of bizarre legend. It has been removed from many maps.

My proposal was simple: a ride to one of the strangest places on earth. A place devoid of restaurants. A place where the fires of an underground hell could be felt in the soles of your boots. A place where the Mac Pac could cook their lunches by simply wrapping them in foil and placing them on the ground. I wanted to do a ride to Centralia. My premise was that the heat generated by this underground fire was being wasted. With all the concern for global warming, here was a place where the already warmed globe could be put to good use.

I presented this concept to the group and waited for the usual suspects to respond.

The usual suspects are a nice bunch of guys who tolerate my “leaning” disability. It is whispered behind my back (and sometimes to my face) that I have never leaned my bike 10 degrees beyond vertical. Tom Cutter claims that the chicken strips served by the Pottstown Family Diner show more wear than mine. Another vicious clique says that following me through a curve is like trailing behind a sleepwalker on a treadmill. Among the Mac Pac, where mercy regarding riding technique is sliced thin, it is generally acknowledged that a statue of a biker can take a turn tighter than I can.

(Above): A typical street in Centralia. Note the odd appearance of the house above. It is incredibly narrow. If you look, you'll see it is the width of one upstairs window. This house used to be "attached." The buildings it was attached to, and all the others have been knocked down. Curbstones are periodically pierced for driveways, that are long gone. That is Dick Bregstein's brand new F800 on the left in the foreground. It was totalled the next year.

The usual suspects did not respond. The peg-draggers did. The guys who turned out for the Centralia Cook-Off were the afterburner crowd. And there were 10 of them. These are the riders whose necks have a permenent 45-degree bend in them... They can only see straight leaned over in a screaming turn.

(Above): The boys pulled over to tell me how unimpressed they are. I am the fattest person in the picture, wearing a black tee shirt. This ride will not have a happy ending unless I come up with a good idea fast. I tell them we will go to an area so potentially dangerous that they must all sign a waiver. They are taking a vote to see who will shove the waiver up my ass.

I deferred to local boy Chris Jaccarino as ride captain. He offered to chart a route described as both picturesque and challenging. While it wasn’t exactly the Dragon’s Tail, it wasn’t the Dragon’s barstool either. According to Chris, if you don’t hit a curve every 60 feet, then you might just as well not ride. I insisted on riding dead last. Conventional wisdom places riders of my mediocre abilities in the middle, but I didn’t want to hold anyone back in the twisties. Jaccarino believes that everyone should have somebody else watching out for them in a group ride. So the ride captain had everyone draw straws, with the short straw being responsible for keeping an eye on me. The loser was Clyde Jacobs.

“Why do I have to watch him,” asked Clyde.

“Because I watched him the last 50 rides and I want to see what it’s like to use 4th, 5th, and 6th gears,” said Dick Bregstein.

My decision to hold back was well warranted as I opted not to drag my bar-end mirrors through the curves like the other guys. Jaccarino dutifully collected the entire group and waited at every intersection. There were 170 intersections, each generally situated on a blind curve or between 15-foot high banks on a country road. (I took so long to get through one of these that two guys started a chess game and another lubed his rear spines -- all while waiting for me on a hot, treeless shoulder.)

(Above) Nowhere in town is evidence of the fire's fury so clearly manifest than the pavement of the old Route 61. The pavement has been heaved, and buckled, and split by the raging subterranean flames as if it had been shelled by an enemy army. Here we are surveying the damage, with a line of magnificent BMWs behind us.

The route to Centralia was divided into two parts, with a stop at Hermy’s BMW (Port Clinton, Pa) in the middle. Here it was decided that managing 11 riders (including one who acted as a sea anchor) was a bit much. I announced that I would lead a more sedate group of butt draggers straight up the far less adventurous Rt. 61. (I figured none would go for this and I could cool my heels in true biker fashion at some topless joint.) To my surprise, three other riders joined my cadre. These were Dick “Bermuda Triangle” Bregstein, Clyde “Short Straw” Jacobs, and Dennis “Suspenders” Dooces.

(Above) The Mac Pac boys get ready to cook. (From left: Rich Cavaliere, Dennis Dooces, Tom Kramer (in fissure), John Clauss, Mark Davies, Chris Jaccarino, and John Langsford III. Note popularity of suspenders. The guys couldn't get laid in Times Square.

We beat the peg draggers into Centralia by a good 25-minute margin. A fast reconnoiter of the sizzling landscape made us realize how parched we were, and we retreated to a gas station/convenience store in nearby Asheland. It was here, sipping cool water in the sparse shade of stark gas pumps that we watched our seven peg-dragging pals zip by us. In true Mac Pac fashion, we shrugged and did nothing. Fifteen minutes later, the entire mob passed us again, headed the other way. It was on their third foray up the main drag that one of their number noticed our bikes and signaled the others.

(Above) At this spot, the ground temperature measured 160 degrees!

There is only one part of a two-group ride that gets on my nerves: listening to the white-line dancers go on about their harrowing adventures. There were the stories about hairpin curves that looped back upon themselves like cobras... The spine-tingling recounting of a road that turned to gravel, then to broken glass, then to steel spikes sticking three feet out of the ground. And finally, the finale of how seven hulking street BMWs all “caught air” cresting some hill that ended in a flaming hoop!

I countered this tripe with details of an adventure of our own, explaining how we stopped to help a stalled charter bus of Victoria’s Secret brassiere models who had all developed a sudden allergy to Velcro.

“Did that really happen?” Jaccarino asked my posse.

“Yes,” replied Dennis Dooces. “I now have Velcro burns over two-thirds of my body.”

It was at this service station/convenience store that John Clauss noticed his brake light wasn’t working, and making an audible buzzing sound when he attempted to activate it.

“What does that sound like?” asked Clauss.

“About $300 at the dealers,” someone replied.

Forty-five years after the fire started, the remains of Centralia tell a sad story. Sidewalks trail off to nowhere. Streets appear laid out in an empty grid. Curbs are pierced for driveways long gone. Power lines seem shredded where splices used to be connected to homes. And odd little steps to nowhere tell of stoops and porches that once overlooked streets filled with activity. The handful of buildings that remain are oddly narrow, until you realize these solitary structures were once row houses, standing in a line like dominoes. At last count, there are 13 residents left in Centralia.

(Above) Straddling the fissure, Author Jack Riepe's clothing filled with hot coal gas, inflating him to five times his normal size. It is rumored that he has a 32" waist whenever he gets a hard-on.

I first passed through here in early winter. Smoke, steam, and vapor were easily discernible in the cold air. White plumes could be found streaming from the hill above town, outside the cemetery, and from the remains of old Route 61. Devoid of vegetation for the season, Centralia had a certain bleakness that matched its strange history. Even with temperatures in the 30’s, sidewalks and streets still felt warm. A sign in the old dump warns of eminent collapse and the presence of gas.

Yet on this occasion I led the Mac Pac into Centralia on the hottest day of the year. It was 91 degrees. No smoke was visible anyplace. No vapor trailed off into the sky. No haze rose from the greenery. In fact, the entire place had a peaceful park-like atmosphere that suggested benign serenity.

(Above) At the fissure, From Left -- (Back) Clyde Jacobs and Tom Kramer; (Middle) Mark Davies, Rich Cavaliere, John Clauss, Dennis Doose, Dick Bregstein, and Bob Cook; (Front) Chris Jaccarino and Jack Riepe.

“This is what you brought us to see?” was the first remark I heard. The crowd behind me was about to turn ugly. I showed the boys the unusual landmarks and told them the story of each, but a certain blank look was beginning to glaze over their eyes. I heard several muttering the words, “Dairy Queen.” In a minute, they’d begin drifting off in twos and threes to graze.

The most dramatic example of the underground conflagration is an abandoned stretch of Route 61, hidden from public view by a detour. We found it in the nick of time. The road was split in a hundred places. The pavement was violently heaved and looks like it has been shelled. Best of all, smoke and steam was issuing from a dozen cracks and vents. The Mac Pac boys were on this like physicists on an atomic pile.

(Above) This was my beautiful K75 "Blueballs," with the rare Sprint Fairing. It would be totaled the next year when some sweet old bitch ran into me at an intersection. Dick Bregstein took this picture.

You can’t throw a rock at the Mac-Pac without hitting an engineer. This works against you when attempting to attract wild nubile women to one of the club events. But just suggest something that reeks of science and these guys are in their element. Both Chris Jaccarino and Rich Sichler are geologists. Sichler produced an infrared thermometer and began taking readings of the pavement temperature.

(Above) One of the few action shots of me astride the mighty "Blueballs," in the company of some great guys. That is a beautiful motorcycle. Dick Bregstein took this shot too.

The guys were soon passing this gadget around and measuring the temperature of everything. I was bending over my bike at that moment and heard them log my butt in at 108 degrees.

“I don’t care how hot that gets, I’m not cooking my lunch there,” said Rich Cavaliere.

A series of lateral fissures have violently split the surface of the road for a distance of a hundred yards or so. Some of these cracks are two feet wide and average about two feet deep. White smoke appeared to be rising from vents at the bottom of these, but closer inspection revealed this vapor to be steam coming out of the ground.

Interestingly enough, these fissures attract something of an adolescent crowd. The snarls of ATV’s could be occasionally heard through the woods during our visit and graffiti captions the more prominent cracks in the road. One of these free-spirited expressions running parallel to a smoking gap in the road read, “Going down?” It reminded me of the line Dante penned for the gate to hell which read, “All hope abandon ye who enter here.” The simpler “Going down” seems so much more appropriate for either setting.

The fissures are filled with litter, largely tree branches and sheets of old newspapers. It seems that every person who failed science in grammar school tries to start a fire from the ground temperature, which while hot, falls well below the 451-degree flash point of paper.

“Lunch is served,” I announced. In my K75’s hard cases were 11 MREs (Meals Ready To Eat). Entrees included roast chicken with rib meat, Southern Captain Chicken, Meat Loaf, Minestrone Stew, a pasta dish, and mashed potatoes.

Rich Sichler had discovered several places where the ground temperature registered 173 degrees. Most of the guys planted their meals directly over steam vents, where it didn’t take them more then ten minutes to reach serving temperature.

Clyde Jacobs inhaled his entree, which was meatloaf. “Ambitious but not pretentious,” he concluded, “with a fine aftertaste of subterranean anthracite.”

“I’ve tasted better in a Turkish prison,” said Chris Jaccarino. His was a dish called Southern Chicken Captain. “But the mashed potatoes were good.”

Mark Davies commented that his meal would taste better if he were eating it under different circumstances, like sitting a lifeboat with sharks swimming in circles.

Bob Cook took this whole business very seriously. He went off by himself, found a steam vent, and dropped a packet into the vapor. Twenty minutes later, he was still looking at it. I later discovered he was waiting for a little bell or a buzzer to sound, indicating it was done.

John L. Langsford III pronounced his entree (minestrone stew) as tasty, but was disappointed to discover someone had taken the cookies out of his packet. This discovery raised a hue and cry, and Dick Bregstein’s tank bag was found to contain a dozen looted cookies.

(Above) The big picture.

A Mac Pac Centralia Cook Book was briefly discussed by the group but was determined to be of limited use for many readers, as preheating the ground with huge underground fires would be regarded as impractical. The 11 riders split up into three groups for the return trip. One group followed Dick Bregstein on a five-hour short cut (for a three-hour ride) until it was determined his GPS was actually a miniature Etch-A-Sketch affixed to his handlebars with rubber bands.

Author’s Note -- At the time this story took place, the abandoned stretch of Rt. 61 was partially blocked by well-worn berms that constituted inconvenient bumps. We followed a procession of ATVs and dirt bikes onto the heaved pavement, and rode about three quarters of a mile to the site. There were no advisories nor any signs prohibiting this activity. The author, the MacPac, and Twisted Roads do not condone nor encourage irresponsible motorcycle operation. I am informed that new higher and more substantial berms now block this road. A sign in the old Centralia dump warns of possible cave-ins and toxic gas. This story is presented solely for scientific content and environmental awareness. It is not presented as a recommendation for a destination and advises riders to be aware of their surroundings and local restrictions at all times.

Addendum... I meet A Fellow Blogger In Chicago.

I haven’t been writing motorcycle stories in a while. I have two viciously busy periods each year, in which I must prepare and cover a clients’ press interests from a travel industry convention floor. One of these occurred in May, and I generally give up riding for two weeks before the event. A week of recovery from working 7 consecutive 12-hour days, coupled with a failed fuel pump (next blog), further delayed my return to riding. This spring, the global industry conference I attended was held in Chicago, the home of fellow BMW rider and blogger, Sharon Hicks-Bartlett.

A lecturer at the University of Chicago, Sharon Hicks-Bartlett is also the author of
Sojourner’s Moto Tales. She rides a smoking hot blue F800S, which she nearly took right into the lobby of the Hyatt Regency Hotel — just to meet me for lunch.

“You transcend fat,” said Sharon, tossing me her helmet. “You are friggin’ huge.” She wasn’t hungry, and ordered a chicken wrap, which apparently came with a license to prey on my seared tuna appetizer. We spoke of riding, riding technique, potential destinations, and the savage beauty of Key West. Sharon agreed that BMW riders are not the result of random breeding, but are selected by a higher being according to the same plan that orders molecules and atoms throughout the universe.

(Above) Twisted Roads author Jack Riepe meets with Sharon Hicks-Bartlett in a hotel in Chicago. Sharon writes Sojourner’s Moto Tales.

Then there was one tender moment where she looked into my eyes, and insisted we speak nothing but German for the rest of this historic meeting. I asked her if she wanted dessert, and she emphatically said, “No.” This resolve lasted right up until my bowl of lemon sorbet and fresh berries was delivered.

“Mine,” she snapped, seizing the artfully presented dessert.

Fortunately, there was more back in the kitchen, and I helped her fill her saddle bags with it. This was one of most entertaining lunch meetings I’ve had in a long time. Sharon and I had planned to meet up at the BMW Motorcycle Owners of America in Tennessee last year, but she refused to set foot in a cheap Go-Go dancers’ bar (my rally habitat), and missed a great opportunity.

“Well it’s been fun, Fat Boy,” Sharon said, jumping on her bike, and going around in the revolving door twice, before doing a 300-yard wheelie on South Wacker Drive. The pleasure was all mine.

Addendum á Deaux...

I missed a great opportunity to meet with Rick Slark this week. Rick is the author of "Keep The Rubber Side Down," an intensely serious award-winning motocycle blog for riders of renown and distiction. Rick was in town for a tour of Gettysburg, about 90 miles from here, but I didn't hear of it until the last minute. Our paths may cross later this summer.

And once again...

I leave on a four-day ride through the Grand Canyon of Pensylvania tomorrow. I expect to be in pain as there isn't a strip joint within 250 miles of this place. (It will be like being held hostage by Amish extremists.) This ride is being sponsored by a popular motorcycle magazine catering to BMW riders. The editor is paying me $200 for every woman who approaches me and lifts up her shirt, providing she is under 68 -years -old. (The theme from "Mission Impossible" was playing in my mind as I left his office.)

I am riding off with Dick Bregstein, Pete Buchheit, and Clyde Jacobs. Gerry Cavanaugh was expected to accompany us on this run, but circumstances are preventing it. He will be missed. We planned to stick him with at least three bar tabs.

©Copyright Jack Riepe 2010
AKA The “Lindbegh Baby” (Mac Pac)
AKA Vindak8r (Motorcycle Views)
AKA The Chamberlain — PS (With A Shrug)