Sorta Mad Sunday

The story you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to protect the goofy.

Once a year, I wheedle Pretty Wife into letting me ride the Isle of Vashon TT, a bumptious fundraiser for the VME (Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts, which you should join, Loyal Reader, if only to be annually apprised of its semi-secret run date and also because it’s cheap and fun and offers cool, non-poseur t-shirts without a single faux-ny Iron Cross to be seen). Actually, I wheedle her into one thing or another practically daily, but they only throw this event once a year.

For once, Pretty Wife planned to ride with me. Possessed of an interesting motorcycle and notable skill set, she makes a fine riding partner. She would bring her Triumph 675 Street Triple. We schemed an outing with Jay and Elle (not their real initials), who would join us with their bizarrely functional R1200C sidehack rig. A new friend from old times would link up with us on the island, blatting merrily along on his Moo Glide.

Did you know there was a Moo Glide? It has a cowhide seat, hair on; much cooler than a Holstein-painted Mini Cooper. Mac (not his cow name) came up from Gig Harbor on his first bike, for his first TT.

Due to atypical and unforeseen clouds of mosquito-scything blue smoke issuing from deep in the bowels of my sweet old Honey bike (BMW of destiny, charmer of Pretty Wives, and entrée défendable to the VME), I would be riding Homewrecker, a vicious little crumpet of a motorcycle, passably vintage if you squint until the tears squirt, that arrived at our home equipped with a two-inch straight pipe and an exhaust note to fracture G-D’s teeth.


Homewrecker’s original stubby.

Homewrecker had been recently re-rigged with a spiffy Kerker can by Jay Himself during a three-month ordeal that involved measuring, detaping, welding and bending by local muffler man Mike (real name, ‘cause he’s good at what he do; talk to Shoreline Muffler to get new work done right, proper and quick), multiple forays across the Snoqualmie Valley by all parties, and a fair bit of sneaking about through piles of parts at Bent Bike. She wore a new, carefully fabricated mounting tab pinned up through the corner bolt of her oil pan, proudly lofting the new alloy can above the raspy asphalt of North City streets. With the muffler in place, the audial toll of riding Homewrecker for more than six minutes at a stretch was reduced from “unsustainably agonizing” to merely “painful” – and with silicone earplugs in place; just a dull roar, really, and no stronger than a storm tide pounding holes into the back of a littoral cave on Akun Island – while you’re in the cave.

So we were all set, then. What could possibly go wrong?

On Saturday, I seized on a lightweight errand as an excuse for a “shakedown” trip around town. “Shakedown” on Homewrecker is defined as romping around, blowing out the eardrums of passing children and driving dolphins to beach themselves on distant shores while wheelying through handicapped parking spots with one hand on the throttle and the other flying a proud one-finger salute… OK, that may be overstating the atrocity level, but it’s at best optimistic regarding the maturity level of my uniquely delinquent brand of errand-running style. (Also run-on sentence, that’s how I roll, why don’t you try it if it’s so easy?)

Off I went to pick up a DVD from local hot candy drug and porn dealer S.U.B., where a distinguished master wrench emerged from behind stage-lit racks of well-fettled and exotic motorcycles to comment that he finds very few bikes worth coming out curbside for a closer look. Homewrecker just naturally has that effect on people – grown men set aside their tools to gaze and wonder as she goes by, and gather in muttering circles wherever she pauses, pawing at the ground and sniffing after she sashays off.

“I just don’t get it,” Pretty Wife often says, squinting at the tight, pert little bike and shrugging. Husbands of the world, take note: that is not the moment to attempt an explanation. Nor is any other moment.

Emboldened, I blatted over town to Ride West, where once I worked (FSDO “work”) and where some of the people who know me don’t automatically bolt the door at my approach (particularly if they don’t recognize the exhaust note), and where one writing/riding buddy had asked for a closer look at the rascally little bike.

Unfortunately, by the time I pulled up into my accustomed spot (i.e. close enough to rattle the door glass), I didn’t recognize the exhaust note myself. About three blocks out, the wall of sound became intense enough to liquefy the scraps of cartilage remaining behind my patellas and when I pulled up and shut off the gas to park, the bellowing and lean pops were revealed to be the work of a blown-off muffler, twisted 120 degrees off kilter to leave unshrouded a vestigial, unbaffled header pipe even shorter than the straight pipe it had replaced.

Well, darn. Service Manager Ben (his actual name, as Ben bears no fault in this sordid saga) rejiggered the mounting bracket inside of three minutes, after closing time (note to self: must… take… doughnuts…), and sent me once again rattling and romping through the innocent streets of north Seattle. Crossing 125th, the street was scalped all the way across the intersection so I blipped the throttle as I hit the far side bump to loft the front wheel… and HW’s engine died.

Excuse me…?

Just in case I’d plumbed the bottom of her g-string of a tank, I swung the petcock lever to Reserve… nothing. A concerned squint revealed that the plug wire had popped off. Apparently, my dirt trackin’ homage, my rough ‘n’ ready roadster is not certified for, uh … bumpy roads.

Re-fired, I blasted home only to find that the muffler mount had also fallen off, and it was after 5 p.m. on a Saturday. That made three mechanical failures in 17.6 miles of city riding. At least I only burned a gallon of premium, which meant she was clocking slightly better mileage than our ’75 Ford truck.

We had plans for Sunday morning, plans made with friends from across the valley and across the water. I had one bike that ran but may have a cracked piston ring, one bike with a broken wire somewhere in the RFID-enabled ignition harness, and Homewrecker with her drooping muffler. Pretty Wife, finally possessed of the most reliable motorcycle in the household, tried not to gloat as I crashed around the garage, searching for anything that could hold the damned thing on long enough to ride around a small island without total embarrassment. My eventual solution was to shove a rat tail file through the mounting tab, run a hose clamp over it and horse the whole business over to the left lower frame loop.

Pretty Wife's guzzi is a pleasantly distant memory. Her Triump Street Triple is everything Sal never was.

Pretty Wife’s guzzi is a pleasantly distant memory. Her Triumph Street Triple is everything Sal never was.

While under there, I discovered that the proximate cause of departure for Jay’s elegant muffler mount was the disappearance of the pan bolt that had held it. Now I had an explanation for the oil weep all over my spiffy new alloy muffler.

At four minutes to seven, I crashed through the door of Tweedy and Popp hardware, demanding an M6X25 metric socket head cap screw, stat.

“I’m trying to get out of here,” the clerk reassured me. “My daughter is in the hospital!”

Slapping two bucks onto the counter, I expressed my sympathies by leaning close and speaking slowly and intently.


I made it out the door by 18:59, but I had to unlock it myself. Two screws to replace the one missing because the whole damned engine is studded with those things, and it does shake a bit, after all.

We were off early enough the next morning to meet Elle and Jay at the Salvadorean Bakery and Restaurant, which if you haven’t been (and you haven’t; admit it) offers delectable pupusas and quesadillas that don’t matter much, and strong rich coffee from Vashon Island Coffee Roasters (which does). Passing strangers stopped to ogle Jay’s sidehack rig, Pretty Wife and Elle, and Homewrecker in that order, while the cute and competent Triumph sulked alone. Before we left the parking lot, I tightened up the rat tail shank with my handy Leatherman Wave, friend to soldiers, thieves, and motorcyclists the world over.

A truly beautiful confection of a sidecar.

A truly beautiful confection of a sidecar.

Over the boat, then, and one small wheelie off the ferry ramp (an accident of torque, I swear – also, you may reassure yourself, Patient Reader, that the spark plug cap remained in place this time) on our way into town for the famous and extravagant VME Isle of Vashon TT, the envy of Pebble Beach Concours AND the Monaco GP… in our minds, anyway. Our poker run darts netted the usual junk, I poured another gallon of high-test into my 1.4 gallon tank, we linked up with Mac on his Moo and gaggled south out of town together.

Though with no front brake at all Homewrecker has the worst brakes of any of the four bikes I’ve TTed upon to date, I was so paranoid about stopping that we crept up on the hairpin left at the real estate office at about 20 mph. That’s the beauty of the TT: no one gets to rush you along. It’s a waltz pace, by decree. Jay pulled the hack over and motioned us past in the twisty section just past that turn, none of us realizing that was the last we’d see of him for quite some time.

Drawing a different junk card at the first checkpoint, I chatted with Pretty Wife and Mac while we waited for the sidecar to trundle up the road. And waited. And waited. And shucked our jackets, helmets, and gloves. Pretty Wife gently persuaded me that pant removal was out of the question.

They never showed up.

“They’re fine,” I assured her. “Jay knows what he’s doing.”

“What if they’re in the ditch? There’s all kinds of places they could have gone off the road, into the bushes…”

“That rig is the size of a microbus! You could see it from space with drugstore binoculars.”

After reassuring her in my manly way for several minutes, we headed off down the road – back the way we’d come, searching the bushes. This continued for three or four passes – including a brief romp to let the Ducati guy know that you don’t need two cylinders or even two brakes to get around corners – until I heard the scraping on left handers.

Yep, the muffler came adrift again. We sent Mac mooing on ahead, planning a link-up where the bike herd gathers at the Sportsmen’s Club, and I lay down in the grass to examine the situation. The muffler was scratched up, dented and shedding cap screws, but if I could just tug it over to – DAMN OW HOT!

“How are we going to find them?”

I set off, stomping down the pasture-lined highway in search of a spare bit of fencing. Pretty Wife texted everyone in her contacts list, including the friends we planned to visit after the rally, and then she spotted a fence with more overlap than, strictly speaking, it required. Pulling my best Great Escape routine (albeit skipping the jumping over fences part), I clipped out a piece and wired the muffler to the frame in field-expedient (née ghetto-fabulous) fashion.

Between friends and lovers, what’s a breakdown or two? My muffler had gone from spanky-new to junkyard chic in three easy lessons and we were probably past our chance to finish the TT before they closed up the checkpoints on us, but at least everything was up and running now. Quick break in the bushes for a moment of contemplation, and we elected to go back into town, find the hardware store and upgrade our liberated wire to a purchased hose clamp. I’d be the envy of every Wal-Mart shopper…

Pa-BOOM went the Homewrecker, rowdy as ever. Pretty Wife was hot, dehydrated, and fretting over our friends’ probable horrid demise when she got onto her bike, punched the starter button, and… nada. As in “nada darn sound.”  Seems the key had remained on for the duration of my forty-minute roadside repair, vandalism, piss break, and muttering session.

It was a fairly long push to the top of the rise, but I figured I’d earned it. Good thing triples are so easy to bump start.

So we never made it past the first checkpoint. Back in Vashon, I made a general nuisance of myself by revving Homewreckless in the general direction of every drag-piped Harley in town.

We decided the fix was easy and Pretty Wife should go ahead on to the Fryar’s house, where she could shut down her bike safely. The Fryars have jumper cables, battery chargers, tools, and a tractor with which to dispose of any particularly recalcitrant bikes (or churlish visitors). I was lying on my back, clipping away barbed wire when Jay and Elle walked up, cheerful, well-hydrated, and to all appearances not remotely dead.


Jay and Elle had tootled merrily past the checkpoint while we were maneuvering, Elle scrutinizing her route sheet, held carefully upside-down. Such are the perils of middle-years map reading. They did manage a couple other checkpoints, but never made it back to CP#1.

Hard on their heels came Pretty Wife, summoned by digital magic, and they all got to point and laugh while I crawled around for a few minutes on the heat-softened asphalt, doing my scheduled 7.2-mile muffler R&R.

With the muffler now redundantly hose-clamped directly to the frame – yes, it’s like the pan bolts: just shut up and buy an extra – we wandered on to the Fryars’ house for great, messy pitas full of shawarma, limoncello tasting, and hours of stories.

So that was our Sunday. We took an eccentric collection of ridiculous motorcycles, rode a few miles, got sunburnt and dehydrated, broke down a few times, ran foolish search-and-rescues, vandalized a fence, lost track of Mac (moo!), and never made it to the Sportsmen’s Club. We were on the island for about seven hours, averaging something like 1.8 mph if you count our walking. Combining dart throws and three collective checkpoint draws, Jay and I filled out one complete hand between us: six of Clubs, seven of Spades, four of Diamonds, nine of Hearts, and Jack of Mufflers.

Hell of a hand, really. We’re already making plans for next year when we will win it ALL, baby!


  1. John & Shauna Rusth says

    Thank you Jack. We’ve been missing reading something from you . Keep it coming as it is always special. John & Shauna

  2. That Elle says

    I’ve always wondered how the other side of the story went. (And yeah I still have trouble with maps.)

  3. What a wonderful story! Find somewhere to stash some mechanic’s wire on the bike. This brings back fond memories of dealing with problems and random failures on the road, especially hundreds or thousands of miles from home.

    Like having my bike turn itself off in the middle of the Nevada desert, fortunately within pushing distance of an overpass. Found a blown ignition (etc.) fuse. Careful examination disclosed where twenty years of jiggling had caused a metal cable clip to wear through some important insulation. Thanks to the litterbug whose discarded soda straw provided improvised insulation, and to the generous, thoughtful Honda engineers who provided a spare fuse right in the fuse box. Bless them and their posterity.

    BTW, how could pupusas not matter? Maybe you need to try the ones we can get here in Provo.

  4. Do links work in comments? If so, the Vintage Motorcycle Enthusiasts can be found here:

    See if you can find Jack in the back row of the pic.

  5. Sean Brendan-Brown says

    Hey, Buddy!
    Rusti and I look forward to seeing you, and hope you’re feeling better!

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