Too much excitement. After my little escapade to Ollon, I immediately come down with a cold. Even the weather is in on the act: the clouds close in, the temperature drops, and the rain comes down.
The timing, however, is perfect: I am still at Tony’s house. I have a roof over my head, warm blankets, time and space to rest. Such a luxury. I crawl into bed and hibernate gratefully.
At one point, I go down the road and by a papaya. I was envisioning juicy orange flesh but after stabbing it with a knife I discover that I cannot be trusted to identify ripe papaya. Inside, it’s as green a cabbage.
I’m a little depressed by that. My sinuses are clogged and I had been dreaming of fruit. Oh well, waste not, want not. I fire up the wok and fry it with chili sauce and the last of my instant noodle stash. Could be worse. It’s food in my belly. Always travel with chili sauce.
* * *
After a couple of days of sore throat and feeling sorry for myself, I see the sun breaking through the morning cloud once more. It’s my cue to get moving.
I pack my stuff and lug it back down the hill to the bike, and thank Tony profusely for his stellar hospitality. What a champion.
Then I plot a route east – I want to cut across the eastern leg of Sulawesi, drop down to its southernmost tip, and then come back up the far east coast. First, it means dropping down out of the mountains to meet the coast at Polopo. I select the windiest route available – the northernmost one, which shows on my map as gorgeous switchbacks jigging through the dense green of national park. Rock and roll.
Well, sort of. The clouds seem to be regrouping as I head for the mountains. The first section is fairly decent bitumen road, but every corner and slope is covered in drifts of chunky gravel. I watch it sluicing off the top of the load every time a gravel truck hits a decent gradient. Adjust speed and lean angle accordingly.
Soon enough I was heading up into the mountains but now the cloud is coming down to meet me. By the time I see the national park signs, the road is glistening wetly and I can feel cold drops of moisture condensing on my face.
I’ve started descending the mountain range when I smell fuel. Weird; it’s not unusual to catch a slight whiff of hydrocarbon in particularly hot weather when the fuel starts to evaporate and fumes vent out of the top of the auxiliary tank. But today, I’m just getting colder and damper. Ain’t no evaporation going on here.
My fuel light comes. It’s 100km too early. Investigation is required.
I spot some shacks beside the narrow road and pull over. The smell of fuel is overwhelming now. Oh come on, I think, not today. But then, you always think that don’t you? There’s never a day when you want to be pulling your bike apart beside the road instead of riding, but somehow they keep happening.
I pull off my helmet, stick my head down by the hot engine. The fuel leak seems to be coming from up around the injector; it stops when the bike is switched off.
I sigh deeply and start dismantling my bike.
For weight distribution reasons, I carry most of my tools at the bottom of my panniers, but it’s hardly convenient. First, you unpack half of your possessions beside the road. Then you unpack your tools. Pull the tab and seat is off. But now – the safari tank. Taps off, fuel lines off, bolts out. Taking the tank off is not a big deal, but putting it back on – well, that’s another story.
So the tank comes off, then the airbox comes off, and voila – finally – we arrive at the injector. I fire up the bike and fuel starts pissing out at the injector intake. The original OEM fuel line clamp is long gone, replaced with a standard hose clamp looking somewhat the worse for wear. No worries. I’ll replace it with a new one.
And as I reach for my spare parts, with airbox off and all my belongs scattered about the roadside, the heavens open.
The bike won’t fit under the eve of the warung that I’m parked in front of, so I grab my tent and unfurl it like a tarp as the rain starts hammering. Most of my other stuff is already in waterproof bags; I pile it up, mostly out of the rain, and retreat under cover. I’m sitting on the doorstep of the warung – it’s a little food stall, instant noodles and boiled eggs, the usual – and the lady who runs it is watching me curiously.
Up to this point I hadn’t really said much to the handful of locals who have been spectating curiously, but at a polite distance. It’s probably not every day that some crazy foreign lady suddenly pulls over and starts dismantling her motorcycle in front of your noodle stall. I’m sure they’re wondering where my husband is.
I had been purely focused on the problem at hand, mindful of the afternoon passing quickly, not wanting to be stuck on this wet mountain when it gets dark. But now the rain has forced me to stop for moment, and I remember my manners and settle down to make friends. There’s the lady who runs the simple warung, and across the road a few young men have constructed two raised concrete wheel tracks, and are making a business of washing cars and trucks using the water of the stream that cascades down the mountain behind them.
Two small children play around the area, keeping an eye on me. I say hello and they giggle shyly. Jangan malu! I say, don’t be shy, and they giggle some more.
I’m itching to sort the fuel leak because I know it’s not going to be a quick job; it’s going to take all my strength and probably a few tears of frustration to get the safari tank back on its brackets when all this is done. I am hungry but don’t feel like eating until this is fixed. The bottom line is that I can’t leave – and might therefore be vulnerable – until I get that damn fuel tank back on the bike. I’m not in a bad or unsafe situation right now, but these are simply considerations that always lurk in the back of your mind when you travel alone and unattended whilst in possession of a vagina.
I tuck my head under the tent and try to keep working on the bike but it’s too damn annoying having a wet tent on your head. An old man is watching me from across the road, and he sees my problem. He instructs the car wash boys to go and help me.
They come over and push my bike across the road, under the eve of the little shed next to their car wash area. It’s on a steep clay slope but there’s just enough shelter to cover the engine and front of the bike, and it’s all I need. I get to changing the hose clamp. New clamp on, and I tighten it as hard as I dare – the injector intake is plastic and the last thing I want to do I crack it. Trying to find that delicate balance between a new injector and fuel spraying all over the joint. I think I got it.
Ignition on, prime the fuel pump – and no leaks! Sweet as. The car wash boys have never seen a 690cc big single before and have been inspecting with interest. Air box back on, and the storm has abated – thankfully, because I can’t reattach the safari tank here. I’m going to have to put the bike back on flat ground, and I’m going to be crouched on the wet ground using my legs and knees to push tank and brackets into place.
Why is this always such a challenge? I can only assume that the brackets have gotten bent from a lifetime of dirt naps; the tank itself has a bit of flex in it and does a stellar job protecting my radiator, so that’s all good. The thing I don’t understand I why it has never been possible to realign those brackets so that you can do up all four bolts without having to physically bend the tank and brackets into place. Every time the bike has been in a workshop, I’ve asked people more talented than myself to realign these brackets. Many people have had a go. No-one has ever succeeded. This worries me, firstly because it takes so long to get the tank back on, and secondly because I’m sure that doing up these poor bolts under so much pressure is going to result in stripped threads one day. For this reason I refuse to just jam the very ends of the bolts in and tighten them up by force – I will line up the holes properly, one way or another. But easy it is not.
So, anyone have the same problem? Anyone have a solution? Safari, if you guys are reading this, can you tell me what’s going on here?
Okay, so I get the tank back on, after an eternity of cursing and levering and partly fastening different bolts in different orders and so on and so forth. The car wash boys see me struggling and come to help, but quickly realise that they’re no better at it than me. Another of my friendly bystanders contributes some extra brute strength to the final push for the final bolt. I’m exhausted, soaking wet from rolling around on the rain-drenched concrete, and cold.
But hey, my bike’s back together, which means I’m mobile again. The fuel is staying in the fuel line. We’re all good.
Now I can eat. I retreat into the warung and feast on two minute noodles and boiled eggs and coffee. It’s going to be dark soon. As I sit, cloud descends on the mountain and visibility drops dramatically. Cars are coming through with their headlights on; scooters are almost invisible.
Most of the windy mountain road is still ahead of me.
I make an executive decision to give up on today entirely. I’m going to go back to Tony’s and start again tomorrow.
* * *
It’s a good call. As I ride back through the mountainous section, visibility is abysmal. By the time I get back onto the flatter road to Rantapao, the rain has returned with a vengeance. It’s raining so hard I can barely see. The road is underwater. It takes me hours to cover the last thirty kilometres in the dark.
It’s not raining in Rantapao, but by the time I get there, I’m so stiff that I can barely get off the bike. I’m done, I’m toast. I buy myself a martabak from the roadside and go back to Tony’s.
I’m back, I tell him, sheepishly. So much for my grand declared intentions from this morning, when I declared myself to be back on the road, great adventurer that I am.
Oh, he said, I thought you just went out for the day. I was expecting you back anyway.
Thanks Tony – a legend as ever. I hobble back into the comfort of his home and hang up my wet clothes. I’ll try again tomorrow.