Categories: Features
March 5, 2020
| On 5 months ago

2019 Endurofest: Broken Bones and Broken Bikes

North of Payson, Arizona and just a few miles past the town of Pine, there’s a steep grade that climbs into the mountain range below the city of Flagstaff. Ahead, an older Chevy truck moves slowly through the trees. The Chevy is one of those faded metallic burgundy ones, the ones where General Motors’ ablative-burgundy topcoat survives only in the shady areas. Lower fenders and door sills, any body shape that falls downward and inward towards the centerline still had a glossy wine red finish. Whatever topside paintwork survived the sunlight consisted of chalky peeled silver. The hood and roof were littered with rust and the cargo bed rode at a 20-degree angle to the rest of the vehicle. Taken in its entirety, the auto-scene reminded me of prehistoric valley rubble deposited by a receding glacier.

The Chevy was struggling mightily on the grade. It sounded like the throttle body fuel-injectors had dropped their tips into the plenum, and raw fuel was pouring into the intake manifold. Rich black smoke flowed out of the Chevy’s tail pipe. From 150 feet back, I could hear the engine stuttering. It was like following an AMF-era Harley Davidson.

Brumby, my 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder Jeep smelled blood. This was my first and best opportunity to pass a car on the entire 500-mile trip to Endurofest. A series of tight corners opened into a short straight. I dropped Brumby into 3rd gear and gunned the 2.5 neatly slotting Brumby alongside the old Chevy. I could see the driver of the Chevy now. He was long-haired and thin. He wore no shirt. He resembled a back-woods reality TV star, and when Brumby’s hood hove into his sightline, his facial expression changed from complacent anger to hate.

Deliverance Man gunned his Chevy and noxious clouds of almost pure dinosaur squeezings engulfed the road behind us. Damn it! That Chevy was picking up speed! I slipped Brumby into second gear and mashed the throttle to the floor. The Chevy dropped a car length back. I needed more. I needed to clear the motorcycle trailer hitched to the rear of Brumby. The two trucks dueling at 15 miles per hour made for a syrupy, slow motion road rage.

Beautiful trails north of Flagstaff. I hear a famous moto-photographer lives here.

If you haven’t already heard of it, Endurofest is an annual gathering of last century’s motorcyclists infected with the two-stroke Yamaha Enduro strain of vintage motorcycle sickness. That Chevy took about 75 miles to pass. So, me and Hunter arrived late to Flagstaff. As we pulled into Endurofest’s Motel 6 headquarters, several cackling two-strokes were already on their way out for an evening exploration of the town.

We unloaded our bikes and gear then walked next door to a combination Subway sandwich franchise and massage parlor. I thought that was pretty cool. Hunter and I passed on going to the massage parlor after eating a foot-long veggie delight. I had pretty good cell phone reception. So instead, I argued politics with total strangers on Facebook.

Seven old Yamaha Enduros showed up for the first group trail ride of Endurofest-in-Flagstaff, and the sound of those dirt bikes was magical. I could listen to that carbon-based music all day long.

Our first stop was a gas station to top up. One of the guys knew a short cut through town, and we were going to follow him. In all the gassing up and bikes moving around, I kind of lost the plot. I took off down the road following a guy on a motorcycle that I thought was one of our group. That bike turned out to be a 1000cc V-Strom Suzuki, not an old Yamaha Enduro. So, I pulled off the road and waited. And waited. Several motorcycles passed by but no smoking old two strokes. I turned around thinking, “Where the hell is everyone?”

I went all the way back to the gas station, but everybody was gone. I figured I’d make another slow run to see if I could find them, and if not, I would just go for a ride on my own. On my second pass through town, I caught a glimpse of a bike down one of the side streets, and it turned out to be one of our group. He led me back to the gang. They were not exactly glad to see me.

I try not to be That Guy, but sometimes, being That Guy finds you. “Rule one: If you don’t know where you’re going don’t go!” They told me in no uncertain terms. I felt bad holding up progress and all. I tried explaining how I followed another motorcycle, but it was pretty lame. Hunter had gone off looking for me. We waited and waited. It got pretty quiet. I managed to turn the group ride thing into a cluster, and we had not even made the first turn.

Hunter returned, shook his head in disgust, and we headed into the mountains north of Flagstaff. The trails were fairly smooth, but you had to stay alert because often a big rock would be in the middle of the trail. Also it was hunting season so a gigantic, lifted pickup truck might round the corner from the other direction, and you don’t want to end up a hood ornament.

With all seven strokers ripping through the woods, I’m sure more than one hunter drew a bead on us after we spooked the game they were stalking. Don’s 1973 hot-rodded 175 Enduro broke its kickstarter spring stop, and the lever was bouncing against the frame making a hell of a racket. He strapped it tight with a bungee cord. We push-started him for the rest of the weekend.

In areas with trees, the shadows on the trail made it hard to see rocks. It all looked like rocks! Hunter nailed one and it knocked his front wheel sideways. The bike went down, and Hunter landed hard. I was the 4th rider to arrive at the crash site. Hunter was on his knees hunched over cussing. So, I figured he was OK. We kind of stood around, asking Hunter if he was OK. He just cussed.

“Help me up.” We got Hunter vertical. I knew he was hurt bad because he said we better call an ambulance. This wasn’t good: I’ve seen Hunter ride a dirt trail 30 miles one-handed with a broken collarbone. We got the ambulance on the way. Hunter asked me, “Can you go get my Jeep and take my bike back to the motel?” Another rider, Larry, and I headed back to town. It was a rough couple of miles to get back on the pavement, and I was thinking about how that ride in the ambulance would feel.

Four-tenths of a mile from our motel, Godzilla died. No sputtering, no hint anything was wrong. It was like someone turned off the key. I kicked the bike until I could kick no more. Then Larry gave it a few hundred kicks. It was dead. I could see Endurofest’s Motel 6 headquarters, but to get there, I had to push a great circle route down Prospect Street over to Butler Street. It was a round about way because fence lines blocked a direct route. By the time I got back to the motel, I was gassed.

We drove Hunter’s Jeep back out to the crash site. Hunter was gone, but the boys were still there waiting. Hunter uses one of those bumper mounts to tote his motorcycle, and with the rough trail we were worried about breaking the thing off. Larry decided to ride Hunter’s bike back to the motel as it seemed undamaged.

Hunter’s busted Yamaha. Maybe the frame broke and caused the crash or maybe the crash caused the frame to break.

Everyone made it back to headquarters safe and sound. I mean, if you don’t count Hunter. Larry said, “No wonder Hunter crashed, his bike handles like crap.” It wasn’t until we were loading the bike onto the bumper carrier that we noticed the entire rear section of Hunter’s DT400 frame had broken. Did it happen before the crash, after the crash, or on the ride home? We didn’t know, but we blamed Larry, anyway.

Hunter was taken to Flagstaff’s main hospital. The crash managed to break six of his ribs on one side. I’m not sure how many ribs there are per side, but six seems like a pretty thorough job. The Endurofesters started working on sorting out the logistics of how to deal with Hunter’s stuff. I got busy stealing quarts of Yamalube oil and removing his back rim complete with knobby tire. I briefly considered removing the V-6 engine from his late model Wrangler and installing it in Brumby. I don’t like to be rushed on a project, and with Hunter’s wife flying in from Oklahoma the next day, I felt too put out to loot the V-6. There was one small silver lining to Hunter’s crash: in all the excitement everyone forgot about my getting lost and being That Guy.

What with Hunter going on injured reserve, I didn’t get a chance that day to work on the still dead Godzilla, my 360cc RT-B Yamaha. There was an early morning Flagstaff nip in the air when I checked Godzilla’s sparkplug and found no spark. I then moved on to the spark plug cap then the coil wire itself, and all seemed well. I checked the coil windings, it had resistance. So, it was probably OK. Then I cleaned the points but nothing worked: still no spark.

One thing about riding old motorcycles at Endurofest, you’ll be with a bunch of guys that know more about Yamaha two-strokes than anyone save for Yamaha. Dave Meis brought over his flywheel puller and we removed the flywheel to gain access to the points. Opening and closing the points didn’t budge the meter. It was like the points were grounded all the time. We started unplugging electrical harness wires trying to find the short, but no joy.

Don, resident Enduro Guru, took a look at our ohmmeter readings frowned and said, “Something is incorrect.” Don got down on his knees and pointed at a tiny silver piece of wire, like something from a wire brush, that was shorting against the point connection nut and a part of the aluminum boss that the stator screws into. “That’s it, take that wire out and it will run.” It took him all of 3 minutes from the time we called him over. I grabbed needle nose pliers and removed the tiny wire flake. It was 1/32 of an inch long.

Godzilla had spark! After reassembling the bike, I still couldn’t get it to start. I figured that one out by myself: it was out of gas. I switched to reserve and Godzilla roared into life. The wire must have shorted the points out at exactly the same time as the bike ran out of gas. What are the odds?

The Endurofest crew ran down to Sedona for some self-realization, crystal therapy, and trail riding while I went to the Flagstaff airport to retrieve Hunter’s wife Lori. I could have gone riding with the boys and let Lori take a cab to the hospital, but I felt I needed some brownie points with Lori. I’m not sure she’s all that into this off-road, vintage motorcycle shtick. Hunter and I are always playing around in the dirt on old motorcycles, and this is the second time she’s had to fly out to retrieve her broken husband. I’m surprised she talks to me at all.

At the hospital, Hunter looked much better. Full of painkillers, he felt great and wanted out now. The doctors had other ideas and said he would need to stay there until he mended enough to travel home. I left Lori to her charge and briefly considered trying to catch up to the the main E-Fest group, but with Godzilla not vetted properly after repairs, I decided a nap back at the motel was the better option.

A fresh new Enduro rider joined Endurofest the next day, Husky Dave on his 1975 DT400. Dave bent this bike at a previous Endurofest but had it looking new again. We managed to get an early start and were a few miles out of town by noon. East of Flagstaff’s airport is a nice riding area full of trails. Riding single-track through closely spaced trees was a new experience for me. I don’t like trees, having hit one once. The track itself was narrow, like 12 inches wide, and deep enough that if your tire got crabbing along the wall you’d have to dab a foot to keep the front from washing out. The trees were not only close, but the branches were low. Limbs would slap you upside the head at regular intervals.

We did okay there, or at least, we thought we were doing okay until a kid on a modern T-2 Husky ripped past us. The guy was just flying through those woods, sticking in the rut and dodging trees like a humming bird. It was slot car level of tracking. The tight stuff was mentally exhausting. So, I was glad when we headed back up into the mountains north of town. The trails are wide open up there and a guy can do a bit of sightseeing.

Slowly climbing a mild grade, the trail was very dusty, and it was the type of dust that lingered close to the ground. Big tree roots cut across the trail making a stair-step type of surface. I rode blind into the dust, bunny hopping over the roots until the bike jolted under me, accompanied by a scraping sound. The rear wheel lost traction, and the bike pivoted high and to the right. My right foot instinctively poked out and down to stop the toppling motion, but the ground wasn’t there. Then I was on the ground. Godzilla over centered and gas poured out the gas cap. The engine kept popping away like nothing had happened. I switched off the motor and looked back to see what the heck I had hit. I couldn’t believe the dust hid this rock. It was huge, basketball-sized, and I rode over it never having seen it.

I tipped the bike upright and restarted Godzilla. Climbing again, the motor had lost power and was bogging down. I pulled over to see that the rear brake lever had bent and the bend was applying tension to the rear brake arm. Meis stopped by to help, and we loosened the brake adjuster to allow the rear wheel free movement.

After sorting out my crash, we went through some gates, found some interesting snowshoe trails, and then circled back to Hunter’s crash site. At the exact spot Hunter’s ribs augured into the ground, Greg built up a wood and stone memorial, and we held a mock ceremony to honor Hunter’s busted ribs. Then we took the photos to Hunter.

The Hunter Memorial. I’ll return annually and eat barbequed spare ribs at this exact spot.

Hunter looked like he was going to survive. He could hobble to the bathroom by himself, each step wincing in pain. It’s always a morale booster when you can take care of that particular bit of business without assistance. When he saw the monument and photos of us standing around with our heads bowed, he called us assholes and wanted his rear wheel back. It made me happy. Things were returning to normal.

Sunday evening most of the Endurofesters left town. Hunter was still in the hospital. Dave, Larry, Don, and I were the only ones remaining. We decided we wanted a No Drama-No Trauma Monday. We took it easy on the back roads to Winslow, Arizona for lunch. Riding Interstate 40 is no fun on these old bikes, but our back road route kept running into obstacles like the road ending or a fence. We got on the Interstate when we had to and got off as soon as we could. Don, on the CT 175, was passing semi trucks and running 80 miles an hour. That bike is jacked up with performance mods. He was a small dot on the horizon.

Smoking on the corner of Winslow, Arizona. We had to kill a few tourists to get a clean shot.

Most of the day we rode 40 to 50 miles per hour and looked for gas stations. It was great not having to worry about hitting a rock. The open desert east of Flagstaff was warm, the sun shone brightly, and the burbling two-strokers lulled me into a meditative state. My mind drifted back to Hunter laying in bed with his broken ribs. I felt sad and thought of how I should have taken his Jeep engine. Ah well, too late now. By the time you read this Hunter will be all healed up. He’s called to ask me about his Jeep’s missing shifter knob and rear view mirror, and we are talking about riding the old Yamahas to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. I hear that haul road can get nasty. Who knows, I might get another crack at that V-6.

Brumby loaded for the trip to Flagstaff. Painfully slow deadheading, Brumby becomes downright tectonic pulling a trailer. I need a 6-cylinder, and I know where one is.

Smoking on the corner of Winslow, Arizona. We had to kill a few tourists to get a clean shot.more
The Hunter Memorial. I’ll return annually and eat barbequed spare ribs at this exact spot.more
Road day, no one wanted to get injured on the last day so we took it easy.more
Beautiful trails north of Flagstaff. I hear a famous moto-photographer lives here.more
Hunter’s busted Yamaha. Maybe the frame broke and caused the crash or maybe the crash caused the frame to break. more
Brumby loaded for the trip to Flagstaff. Painfully slow deadheading, Brumby becomes downright tectonic pulling a trailer. I need a 6-cylinder, and I know where one is. more
High in the Aspens planning our route to best avoid pickup trucks.more