The Glass is Half Full

Is the glass half full or half empty? I'm such an optimist that to me, it's half-full. I tend to look for the positive in every situation. I've run into some more problems with the bike, but hopefully it shouldn't hinder my ability to get back home. And I don't know if it's good luck or just the way of the road, but I've run into Nick Scholtz again (one of the riders that helped me with my tire on the Dalton Highway) and he's helped me diagnose my issue. More on that below.

The ride from Denali to Anchorage on the George Parks Highways wasn't that interesting. The scenery was ok but the road was quite boring. Anchorage itself was a nice city. Population is less than 300,000 and it looks just like any other small city state-side. I was told that there's a saying that Alaska is only 15 mins away from Achorage, because even though it's a full flegded city, the Chugach mountains and other outdoor havens are right next door. I stayed with my friend Mark, whom I know through another friend in Chicago. I had planned to head down to Seward to take a glacier boat tour, but the weather wasn't aggreable and I had a few tasks to do on the bike. I changed the oil, wired up a spare 12V plug (I lost my original one), fixed my headlights (bad ground wire) and fixed a bolt that sheared off from my luggage rack. I rearranged the packing on the bike to reduce the load on the side panniers as my food package is the heaviest piece of luggage I have.

The ride to Valdez on the Glen Allen Highway was very enjoyable. It's very scenic and has nice flowing turns. Quite a few sport bikes were out. The town of Valdez itself wasn't that exciting, but the ride there from the Glen Junction was outstanding. The road crosses a mountain range, which is right on the coast and the weather can get really iffy. The tree line on the mountains was at only like 2 or 3,000 ft and the peaks were still snow capped. And of course, going through Keystone Canyon with the snow melt waterfalls was quite a sight.

This is about where my problems with the bike started. My muffler end-cap was rattling loose a few days into the trip and I thought I fixed it up after I left Vancouver, but the fix didn't hold and the whole cap worked itself loose. I didn't know any better and ran the bike for about 300 miles without the end cap and I soon learnt that without the proper back-pressure in the exhaust system, the spark plugs get fouled up real quick and even close in on themselves producing no spark. I think this problem has been growing since the end cap started rattling loose towards the beginning of this trip. I got the cap strapped on there with the help of a local biker and made it to Tok and the Alaska Highway.

I still had lots of holes in my exhaust and the back pressure was probably not correct, so the plugs fouled up again just outside Tok. I decided to spend the night here and try and figure out what the problem was, because I was out of spare spark plugs. And Nick pulled in right next to me who offered to help diagnose the problem. Nick was part of the crew that helped me with my rear tire on the Dalton Highway. He's a Professor of Applied Physics in Toledo, Ohio and is an automotive training consultant for the car companies in Detroit. Is that some good luck or what, eh?

I explained my issues and we started looking for what was causing the spark plugs to foul up so easily. A new set went bad within 80 miles. We looked at all the valve stems, the valve seats and the piston but didnt find anything really out of the ordinary besides wet black residue on the piston head, meaning the bike has been running rich (more fuel than the correct fuel/air ratio). Oh and when I changed the oil in Anchorage, there was only about half the correct quantity of oil in the bike. I've been checking reguarly but I think with the rear tire problems, I might have overlooked it. I went to a local snowmobile mechanic in Tok and he said that maybe not running the proper back-pressure in the system for so many miles might have damanged the piston rings (leading to reduced compression in the chamber) and that would allow oil to burn up in the chamber leading to the back residue on the piston and the fouled-up spark plugs. He suggested I run a little hotter spark plug to fully burn all the fuel and maybe burn up the residue on the piston and also to use premium fuel to help clean things up a bit.

The bike's running good now and I've plugged up all the holes in the exhaust with an exhaust sealant and I have some heat resistant exhaust bandage tape that I'll wrap around all the parts with holes to try and have the proper back-pressure in the system. Nick is waiting on a friend, Matt (who was also part of the crew that helped with the rear tire) and they plan to ride down to Whitehorse, back in Canadia and I'll stick with them till Whitehorse at least to see how the bike is holding up. If it's not doing good, I have the addresses of Suzuki dealerships in Whitehorse and along the way into the states. If the exhaust holds and I'm not burning too much oil or fouling the plugs again, then I'm good to head home.

I still think this is a great bike for how easy it is to work on and how reliable it is generally. I'm pretty sure this problem arose due to the bad muffler. I'm not sure why this muffler end cap started rattling off. The mount to the bike is solid so maybe it's just a defective pipe. Who knows. I'll figure it out when I get home.

Oh and the best part about this latest breakdown was a great conversation that was had last night around the campfire. Nick was in Germany for a while and has a German license plate on his bike and two Germans staying at this campground came over and started talking. They both work for the German Diplomat Service and are just making a tour of Alaska in their VW Toureg. They were interested in the bike problem and I tired to explain what we were doing and they helped by providing some of their tools. While slowly working on the bike into the night, us four had a great talk about a wide variety of topics: culture, politics, nationalism, religion, science, gun control issues, immigration, etc. One of us was a practicing Christian, another agnostic and another an atheist and we discussed our views very openly and had good healthy arguements. We didn't solve any problems with the world, but it certainly was pleasureable to discuss. Nick said our grandfathers probably sat around a fire and had some great talks and we hoped our children would also have the opportunity to sit around a campfire and talk into the night.

So to me, it's been proven over and over that there's a positive side to every situation and focusing on that keeps me going.

The Nenana River in Denali that I rafted down.

The highest gas prices I've seen in the US. This is at Denali (tourist price gouging). But it's still higher in Canada. The gouging is evident when it's a dollar cheaper in Anchorage.

From the George Parks highway looking towards Denali National Park. Mt. McKinley is somewhere in those clouds. It's such a tall mountain at about 20,000 ft and it's so prominent in the landscape that it creates its own weather and is cloudy for most of the time.

Sea Planes are common in Alaska as there are more lakes for them to land on compared to developed runways.

Reindeer Sausage breakfast in Anchorage. Mmm mmm good.

Comet, Mark's dog that likes to sit on the dash in his van. You have to yell (cause he's a little deaf), "Comet, Snack!" and he looks your way.

Michael, a Round-The-World traveler who was doing some maintenance at the BMW dealership. He's taking about 3 years to do his trip. He's done all of Asia and Australia and after heading through the Americas, plans to ride up Africa.

The road to Valdez. Notice how the vegetation stops at a distinct line and the snow peaks are right there. The road was very scenic.

Bridal Veil Falls in Keystone Canyon, close to Valdez.

Worthington Glacier near Thompson Pass. Looking ahead of the glacier (behind me), one can see the path where it's done its work of shaping the land over the eons.

My muffler end-cap finally giving way and rattling itself loose. This is not good for the engine.

And this is what happens after running without the proper back-pressure in the system. There's no gap for the spark to spark and the engine dies.

I put the end cap on and sealed it with some JB-Kwik and used some copper wire that was found near a service station to make a cage to retain the cap.

The lady at the service station told me about this biker up the road who might be able to help me. The JB-Kwik didn't hold for too long and Thumper here (a Harley rider) screwed some metal straps to hold the end-cap on. Great guy.

auDRey thumping along towards Tok with Mt. St. Elias in the background. That's another huge peak at 18,000 ft and is also shrouded in clouds most of the time.

Nick (the professor) helped me diagnose my problem and Constantine (a German Diplomat staying at the same campground) having a look past the exhaust header to check on the condition of the exhaust valve stems.

Nick is definitely quite resourceful. Here we're looking with my rear-view mirror into the intake plenum to check on the condition of the intake valve stems. Everything looks good. That's the carbeurator housing to the right of the mirror.

I put some exhaust sealant on top of some JB-Weld to ensure that all the holes in the muffler are sealed up. I'm going to wrap some exhaust bandage tape over all this.

I know they say the adventure starts when things stop going to plan, but my adventure already started a few days ago up on the Dalton and looks like it's going strong... Let's see if I can make it to Yellowstone.


lavanya said...

thats does not sound good. whats ur plan B?

Jammin said...

Plan B was to ditch the bike and fly home, which happened without too much issue. I used airline miles for a free ticket.