Sipapu On My Mind...

Or, Two Tech Tips I Hope You Never Need!
by Dave Howe

Miz Betty, Beezer the Wonderdog and I headed on up to the mountains the other day for my first BMW rally. This was the Bavarian Mountain Weekend at the Sipapu ski area, 22 miles southeast of Taos, New Mexico. Mountains. Curves. 8,000+ feet elevation. God’s country. No jobs in the area I could afford to take...damn.

It was not just the way l initially planned this trip. Except for the BMW tank badge on the bike a casual observer might have thought I was toting the Hog up to Sturgis. But since I do like to have somewhere soft and dry to sleep, and someone to sleep with after I get there, I had our new pop top camper in tow, the Mystic hot rod in the back of the truck and beer to spare. And some BMW “goodies” to sell as this was also a working vacation. Miz Betty had earlier scotched my most excellent plan of her driving the truck and meeting me and the “R100SS” at the rally. Hmmm...

We arrived on a gorgeous Tuesday afternoon, before the rally started on Friday. Since I would have some work type duties during the rally, I wanted to make sure I got a heavy daily riding fix and had plenty of fun in that glorious cool mountain air (Fort Worth had been 109 degrees the last few days before we left - lovely).

Tuesday’s rides only allowed enough time for some short hops until I got the jetting of the Mikuni flat slides “close enough” for the mountains. Then a quick blast over to Taos for gas, and a cruise over to my friend Arturo Martinez’ way cool bar in Black Lake for a cold beer (more on this later!) Man, I swear you can hear a BMW yodel in the mountains!

Wednesday was “doing my duty day” as we took the truck to Santa Fe for some tourist stuff. ‘Nuff said about that. After we returned I thought it wise to take the bike out for a bit of a spin, not wanting the tranny bearings to rust up from non-use, or anything like that. Cover off. Gas on. Switch on. Starter button on. Zippidy Doo Dah. Zilch. Nada. Dead battery.

I had no battery charger (dumb) and couldn’t find one to borrow. Off (by truck) to Taos to find a charger. On the way I recalled the battery was the OEM 6 year old variety and likely had problems requiring more than just a charge. And I didn’t want to take the chance of a seemingly full charge, a ride the next day to God knows where, and have another dead battery. The plates are probably sulphated, shorted and dead. Sometimes I know how that must feel!

So I checked in at Wally World and found a dusty lawn tractor battery that almost matched the oddball BMW battery dimensions I (for once) remembered to check before I went out for a replacement. It even had the positive & negative terminals on the correct ends. I had read somewhere that this was real important. Now this $19.95 battery was READY! No steenking box, no bothersome acid, no extra terminal bolts, no vent tubing, no stupid instructions, no nothing. I asked the Automotive Department Customer Service Representative if the battery was dry charged and/or needed acid. “Nope“. I asked if it needed to be charged before use and how long it had been there gathering dust. “It don’t matter, just put ‘er in your tractor and the generator will charge ‘er right up”. OK...

I noticed that the vents were actually two little oval shaped snorkels, one on each end of the battery. Back to the “Employee of the Month” and he says “Nope. We don’t have no tubing. Nope. No other place in Taos this time of night that would have it - looks pretty small to me”. I grabbed a trickle charger, bent over at the cashier’s station and down the road.

By the light of the moon and a small flashlight, I hooked up the trickle charger. With no info on how long to charge ‘er up (and no tractor to put it in for a ‘correct charge a la’ Wally World‘), I went to bed planning to let ‘er charge until my second pee brake during the night. Now pee’ing late at night in a campground is no biggie for Beezer and me but you might ask Miz Betty about getting busted!

Tech Tip No. 1 That I Hope You Never Need

The next morning I still was uneasy about a freshly charged battery of questionable origin and condition with no vent lines going into my newly finished custom bike with chromie pipes. About the time the second cup of coffee kicked in, it came to me in a flash of what passes as brilliance for me. “Betty! Do we have any sponges I can have”? “No”. “Hmmm...Well, do you have any of those ’sanitary napkin’ thingies you women carry around”? Assuming I was going to throw a quick wax job on the truck and needed buffing materials, she says “Well yes, but not the kind you mean”. So I says “You don’t know what I mean, woman...Whatcha got”? To which she shows me some of those little flat, thin thingies that look kind of like a great big Band Aid with no stickum. “Fine!” says I, “I’ll take a pair”!

I carefully duct taped those hummers over the vent snorkels on each end of my new Wally World tractor battery and in she goes. I figured if the battery did puke a bit, the big Band Aids would soak it up and hold it just fine until after the rally. I tried not to think too much about what would happen if there was a LOT of venting and the acid ate up the big Band Aids. I was here to ride not worry.

It worked great and the only problem has been that now I can ride for 28 days, but I have to recharge for 4.

The Thursday ride saw us happily & quickly ride through Taos, to Eagle Nest and on to the end of Cimarron Canyon for a Coke and a look at what the little rain cell was doing that we had been watching all morning.

Then double back to Red River where we had planned to have lunch. But the little rain cell had become a big one and was headed our way so we just had a quick ice cream cone and were back over the pass and gone. Playing tag with rain cells on a bike, especially in the mountains, if you don’t have to be anywhere and are in no hurry to get there, is one of my favorite sports. When it works. And it did.

We headed back through Eagle Nest, and past the Viet Nam Veteran’s Monument. If you haven’t seen this amazing place you really need to. This is the effort of a local family who lost their only son to the insanity of Viet Nam and built an incredible monument on their ranch land dedicated to him and his comrades. I think this monument moved me more than the big one in Washington D.C. Be sure to spend a few minutes in the chapel and read some of the messages the living vets leave for their fallen buddies. Heavy stuff. Try to go to the monument when you have plenty of time as this is not a place you should hurry.

So, on up the road towards Taos. Soon after the neat series of tight switchbacks that makes everybody feel like Kenny Roberts, we come to a work convoy running a hot 12-MPH. At the rear is a big truck with yellow lights and no sign. I could see civilian cars and trucks in the convoy, obviously “leap frogging” their way through, so off we go up to about 3 vehicles from the front. As I pulled back in I gave the proper quick glance at the mirrors and...My God - I’m leaving two yellow stripes! Up on the pegs and peering over the bars reveals yellow road paint on the front tire, fender, headlight, etc. Chit!

Now I could see the lead vehicle was a big ugly flat bed with flashing lights, a “Wet Paint” sign and a big double-head re-spraying the double yellow line. Another rider on a red R1100RSL leap frogged into our spot and it was obvious he was going to continue on. I managed to get his attention on the wet paint but he took off and was gone in a blaze of yellow paint and double stripes. I found him later by just watching for the red and yellow RSL.

I am not a patient person, especially on a bike and I was not enjoying this. I thought about passing again but then considered the pleasures of twice the amount of thick yellow paint. And like my hero Archie Bunker used to say, “Patience is a virgin” so I hung in there. For a while.

There are lots of double yellow stripes in those mountains but for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why they were re-painting these - the new ones and the old ones looked just alike. Must have had some paint left over and some local pork barrel scheme to keep the boys working. Anyway, the locals typically use the double yellows as an aiming point for where to place the hood ornaments of their old pickups on blind corners. So it was pretty funny watching the truck painting those lines actually meet the locals coming ‘round the blind corners, nearly always well over the center stripes! No collisions, but lots of near misses. The locals aren’t too bright in their choice of driving methods but their reaction times when seeing that big ugly truck in “their” lane would make Mario Andretti proud!

Tech Tip No. 2 That I Hope You Never Need

Finally, this whole dumbo convoy pulled into a roadside clearing and we got past. We stopped in Taos for gas and met some K75 boys who heard the Mystic pulling in and came over to see what all the racket was. I asked them if they had any idea how to remove that thick, tough stripe paint. One said “Goop!” - I just thought he was retarded and talked funny. Then he said “Goop Hand Cleaner will take anything off anything” and I thought he was pretty smart, recalling I had read this years ago as a good way to remove over spray, tar, bumper stickers, etc. Back to Wally World where old “Nope!” was glad to see his favorite, or at least most amusing customer. I scored the Goop, some mineral spirits, 3M Tar Remover and car wash rags and we were down the road to Sipapu once more.

Fortunately we were way down at one end of the campground as I didn’t really want everybody ogling my new two toned paint job and the Goop bath that lay ahead. I tried the mineral spirits and the 3M stuff first. Very little success. But the Goop - Wow! I wanted to go get some more yellow paint for fun and practice...well not really, but it did work very well. The body paint and other smooth, slick surfaces were easiest. I just put a glob of Goop on a rag and rubbed lightly. The (yellow!) paint just slid right off. The mufflers and pipes were smooth but the baked on paint took just a bit more rubbing.

Rough places were not so easy. Rough places with crevices were the pits and required scraping with a hard-edged object after letting the Goop soak in. The time required to clean my neat deep oil sump with hand polished fins required more beer than available and I had to re-stock. Under the fenders was beyond the scope of my campground cleanup. Some parts will require disassembly and sand blasting. You get the idea. Get Goop.

Friday started out as a workday and that part was fun. I met some great people including a wonderful 80-year-old lady named Mary Worthing who had been riding bikes since 1946. Started out on Indians, raced Goldstars and rode all kinds for 54 years. Sadly, she was there selling her last bike. Bad knees and hips. She said “Hell, I can still ride the damn thing, I just can’t get on and off of it”! I found another hero.

That afternoon Ralph & Tommie Delmar and Greg Holt blew in from the Land of Perpetual Blast Furnace Summers. They were planning to stay the night at Sipapu then venture on to Colorado for some serious vacationing. They looked parched and I knew just what to do. It was off to Mora, then north through the “Enchanted Forest” and on to Black Lake, just South of Angel fire. Or at least that was the plan.

Black Lake is the location of Arturo Martinez’ bar. It has no name but the locals call it Poor Man’s Country Club. A couple of years ago my brother and I found Art’s place quite by accident. Boy, am I glad we did! It sits on top of a hill, looking out over Black Rock Lake and Valley with the mountains beyond. If you saw the movie “Lonesome Dove”, remember when they finally arrived in Montana? That was actually filmed right there in Art’s “back yard” and he said it was a hoot drinking with Robert Duval, Tommie Lee Jones and the others after filming each day.

Thirty five years ago, Art used to bring his family camping under the giant Pine that now grows up through his deck. He bought the property and spent about 25 years building the combination house/bar. A good and proper “Zen spot”. I once told him that he would get more business if he would put up a sign. He said “Oh yes, you’re right - that’s why I don’t have one”. If you are ever in that neighborhood, do yourself a giant favor and stop in. Arturo will be glad to see you, even though he has no sign. Tell him you know the crazy Texas gringos in the red Corvette.

So there we were, Betty, Greg, Tommie, Ralph and me hauling ass to Art’s place for a brew. As soon as we came out of the forest we knew we had screwed up by ignoring the ever darkening sky. Major storm just ahead and off to the side. Must have been right over Art’s place. We U-turned it and really hauled this time but to no avail. High winds. Lightning. Heavy rain. Hail. Ralphie Boy in short pants. A local in a work truck determined to run us off the road. Rain gear safe and dry back at camp. Big fun.

Later, the beer was cold and the burgers were hot and we decided it had been a pretty good day after all. Art’s cold beer will have to keep for the next trip.

I don’t know if the Sipapu rally is typical of all BMW rallies, but we really enjoyed it. There was no bike show like the many other rallies I have attended and I guess I was a bit disappointed at first, or at least surprised. But the purpose of this gathering was totally focused on riding and socializing with little regard to how “show worthy“ the bikes were. And that should be no surprise really, given the marque of choice for the event. There was a larger vender presence than I am used to and that was good. Also a lot more showers and restrooms and that was VERY good!

The rest of the weekend was devoted to camping, riding, working, rallying and heading home. The trip home to a nice 103 degree day was uneventful except for a lengthy stop to make friends with the Police, Fire Department, a wrecker driver and trailer repair shop operator in Vernon. But that’s another story...

Dave Howe (Diagonally Parked in a Parallel Universe)

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