Providence, Nevada

today's upi column

So There I was...

In the middle of Nowhere, Nevada.

I was riding my Kawasaki Vulcan Motorcycle from Salem, Oregon to San Antonio Texas to preach at a Women’s Clergy Conference. It was April 1998, and I was about a third of the way there when my first major adventure occurred.

There was a whole lot of nothing out on route 95. It’s about 300 miles long, from east of Reno to Las Vegas. It runs between several Air Force testing grounds and the California border, with Death Valley just on the other side. The scenery is remarkable, if you like stark and barren.

There are about three towns out there, two just big enough to have a gas station. At one station I actually had to crank the pump manually. In the largest of the towns there is a place called the Mozart Piano Bar. The building sports a painting of a skeleton, and a caption reads, “This guy drank water”. The notion of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart reincarnated in a honky-tonk in Nowhere, Nevada, tickled my funny bone. In the smaller town there is a man who has a yard collection of dragsters, VW Bugs, an airplane and a sign that declares “Nothing for sale”. Nevadans seem big on pithy signs.

The longest stretch of road was about 120 miles of serious nothing. At about 4 p.m., I was about half way across this stretch when my bike, Rosie, short for Rocinante, choked. She was at full throttle, then just a hint of warning, in the form of an acceleration loss, then dead, nothing. I coasted to a stop. She re-started, but sputtered and died again almost immediately.

I got out my cell phone to test my emergency system. I had a service called Mo Tow, if you break down anywhere in the continental US, and call them, they will come get you. I wasn't ready to call them for a ride yet, but I wanted to know that they were there. This is when I learned a fundamental lesson about cell phones. They don’t work without a cell tower. I was deep in the middle of 'no service' land. If the Air Force was out there listening in Area 51, they weren't answering. Rats.

I was contemplating what I was going to do. It was too far to walk. I could not imagine abandoning my bike and gear and hitching a ride into Vegas; however, waiting all night in the desert cold for a state trooper, who probably wouldn't come, didn't seem like a good idea either. There were no ranches out here, and I hadn't seen another vehicle ahead or behind me for at least 30 miles.

I took out my spare 2 qt gas can and put it in the tank; pure superstition, as she had half a tank in her, but it seemed to cheer her up a bit. She started and stayed started. It was two hours until dark and I had 150 miles to go until I hit anything like civilization, even what passes for civilization in Nevada. We took off, but at full open throttle the best she could give me was 25 mph. It was going to a long cold ride, and that if I was lucky. I started up a long hill, just waiting for her to stop again.

I started to pray, and I prayed hard. The road was rising precipitously. Rosie fighting like the ‘Little Engine that Could’ to get us up. Then I topped the ridge and looked out over a huge caldera; a natural basin at least fifty miles wide, ringed by mountains. The sun was getting pretty close to the western slopes. Then, "Lo and Behold", as they say, out in the middle of the valley, I noticed a bunch of people and cars, tiny, like ants out on the plain, but clearly people and vehicles. I started down the slope. As I got closer I saw that there were motorcycles! Dirt bikes out in the middle of the desert, racing in circles.

Rosie sputtered again and I started to coast. I could see the nearest group of vehicles. Sitting there by the side of the road, like a mirage, was a semi-trailer that read “ Team Kawasaki - Race Team 1”. I was thunderstruck, but I swear I heard the angels laughing. It started to sink in that there in the middle of the stinking desert, within a few miles of where my Kawasaki had trouble, were the best Kawasaki mechanics on the planet.

I rolled on in like a pit stop at Indy; well, like a ghost into a pit stop in Hades because I arrived by gravity power, silent. Now, if I was surprised to see these guys, then I have to say that they were at least as surprised to see me. They were testing new bikes against team Honda and some others. Professionals only, no public invited. They had finished for the day, and they had won. They were celebrating, with enthusiasm, as they packed up their equipment. They were almost ready to roll off to the nearest hotel for the night.

I found myself surrounded by 10- 15 guys, most in their early twenties. Now, motorcycle mechanics run the same gamut of humanity like everyone else, some are bad characters but most are genuinely nice folks. As a lot, however, they are not particularly known for their couth or communication skills. I stopped Rosie in the dust and whipped off the helmet. I was grinning like an idiot at my good fortune, and they were grinning like idiots at the sight of me. Their first attempt at communication was to offer me the Jim Beam. I thanked them and declined. I tried to explain my predicament. After a little good-natured jesting they tried to listen to my description of the mechanical trouble. Then, just as I got to the part about the acceleration loss, they all, to a man, fell over laughing - I mean hysterics. I had absolutely no idea what I had said that was so funny. So I waited, and the most mature of the lot finally pulled himself together and said this:

"We know what's wrong with your bike."

"Great", I said. "Is it fixable?"

"Oh yeah, no problem."

" What's wrong?"

"Well, Lady, (Laughter), you got problems with your petcock."
(riotous laughter all around)

"I didn't actually know I had a pet cock," said I,
(Now they are on the ground again).

You may not think this is all that hilarious, but then, dear reader, you are not, thank Goodness, a drunken motorcycle mechanic.

Eventually I found out that there is a spring-loaded vacuum valve between the gas tank and the carburetors, called the petcock, which stops or starts the flow of gas. If this valve becomes jammed for any reason, gummed up, or vapor locked, no gas flows and you stop. The cure oddly enough, was to open the gas tank and depressurize the tank. If this failed, you got off the bike, knelt by the side of the engine, unhooked the vacuum hose and sucked and blew the line clean.

The Kawasaki boys made sure that they instructed me in this practice and seemed to enjoy the spectacle. They checked out the rest of the bike, found me a plain old Coke somewhere, topped off Rosie’s gas tank and assured me that I would get to Vegas. They sent me off with a big cheer. All in all they were nice fellows. Never say that our God does not have a sense of humor, or cannot use whomever He chooses for whatever his purpose.

As I topped the next rise, I had the distinct feeling that if I turned around that they would have all disappeared. It was a real “Twilight Zone” moment, if I had seen Rod Serling standing by the side of the road, I would not have been surprised. But then I bet those poor guys woke up the next morning with hangovers, and not sure if a woman on a Vulcan had really ridden in to camp yesterday afternoon.

But I have never, since that day, ever had an excuse to doubt God’s providence. My God can, and does, meet my needs, in every circumstance, and with quality and humor.

Uh oh, I thought it was "all that hilarious." I probably shouldn't let anyone know, huh?
Having been stranded in the vast, empty spaces of the Desert Southwest by car trouble on several occasions, I know a little about how you felt when your bike quit.

And Woman, (dare I admit this?) I actually cried with joy for you as you topped the rise and your Salvation was at hand.

God, Karma, Fate, whatever - it's All So Beautiful, isn't it?
Hey, I'll admit that I thought it was pretty funny. Not falling down funny but laughing out loud.

I meant to tell my dad this story last weekend but didn't get the chance. He too was once or twice a drunk motorcycle (stock car, boat, tractor, aircraft) mechanic, not for Team Kawasaki or anything, but he will get the joke.
I "get" the story, and it's VERY cool, but my mind keeps returning to the part where you actually TURN DOWN firewater from above.

Surely a wee sip o' the Beam could only have further heightened your appreciation of God's goodness!
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