Chopper Charlie: Extra Layers and U-Hauls

Article By: Chopper Charlie

Originally Published In The February 2020 Issue Of Cycle Source Magazine

“You’re going to freeze to death.” “You’re insane.” “Why would you do that?”. These are just a few of the comments I heard from people when telling them my plans of riding from Colorado to Ventura, California, for the David Mann Chopperfest…. in December. These negative responses, of course, did nothing but fuel the fire. I felt more inspired than ever to make it happen as I’m always up for a good challenge. In classic Colorado form, though, it snowed nearly two feet just six days before my departure date. Things were looking grim. I started obsessively watching the road conditions from my home to south of Albuquerque, where I knew the mercury would begin to rise. I even, and this is no joke, spent hours shoveling and salting the sidewalk from my house to the main road where it was beginning to clear up. My neighbors peered out their frosty windows with puzzled looks on their faces. Our road was sealed under a six-inch layer of ice at this point, so riding the sidewalks was my only option.

December 3rd came around, and it was time to bundle up and roll out. The plan was in motion. I gave myself plenty of time to reach Ventura, four days instead of the typical two, knowing that my route would be anything but direct in order to avoid ice and snow. My wife, Kayla, gave me a hug and a kiss goodbye with a look of “only you would think this is a good idea” on her face and watched me work my way down the sidewalk. I then slipped and slid my bike across the final patch of ice and onto the main road, bringing traffic to halt in the process. “Here we go,” I thought to myself, “I hope this works.” My plan was simple, ride straight south until I saw Mexico then turn right until I saw the Pacific Ocean. That’s exactly what I did. The ride from Colorado to Santa Rosa, New Mexico, the first day, was relatively straight forward. The roads were clear and dry at this point and the temperatures in the low 40’s were manageable. It was on the second day that things began to get interesting. I had found a series of two-lane roads that would take me south to El Paso, Texas, where I would ultimately pick up County Road 9 along the border. It was this ride that reminded me of why looking at topographical y map is never a bad idea. I left Santa Rosa thinking I was in the clear, and 60-degree sunshine would soon be upon me. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Within an hour, I was reaching elevations of nearly 8000 feet under thick cloud cover and temperatures hovering around 30 degrees. It wasn’t long after this that the rain/snow mix began falling, raising concern about the condition of the road underneath me. With literally no place to stop, I had no choice but to press on. My fingers were going numb and I was conjuring the ways of the Monk to control my body temperature. “Feel no cold, feel no cold,” I kept telling myself. You would be surprised at how well this works. Soon though, the elevation numbers on my GPS began to get smaller, and it did eventually warm up to what felt like a balmy 60 degrees.

There it was; the Mexico border and my cue to begin heading West. I could literally ride no further South without my passport. As stated earlier, I opted to explore New Mexico Country Road 9. I chose it purely on the fact that it traveled directly along the border; it pointed west and that I had never ridden it. If you ever find yourself in that part of the country, I highly recommend taking it from El Paso to Animas. It ranks as one of the loneliest roads I’ve been on, rivaling Hwy 50 across Nevada, and keeps you hugged tight along the border. Be warned though, the second half of this road is not rigid friendly so check your welds and your spleen in Animas. If you have a 2-gallon peanut tank, you had better carry spare fuel as well; there’s nothing out there but cactus and Border Patrol. Speaking of Animas, I had to start making real decisions about my route at this point. Essentially the road splits here and forces you either north to Interstate 10 or south to Bisbee. I was much in the mood to go through Bisbee, mainly because I’ve ridden all those roads not long ago, and I very much had Slab City on my radar. If you don’t know much about Slab City, it is essentially a lawless community along the Salton Sea occupied primarily by old hippies, uber eccentric artists, and a collection of not so savory individuals that have more recently moved in. There are no legitimate “houses,” most everyone lives in a trailer of some sort, the majority of which look condemned, but everyone seemed friendly and welcoming none the less. The art installations are literally everywhere, mostly made of old throwaways such as appliances, bottles, car parts, you name it, and most of which were trying to suggest a social idea or opinion of some sort, not all of which were obvious. All this, keep in mind, is in the middle of a barren desert but is accented by mountain views to the east and the Salton Sea to the west making for an incredible sunset. Slab City has been on my bucket list for years so to finally get the opportunity to spend a few hours exploring it may have been the highlight of my trip.

 

Ventura, California, was finally within my sights after 1700 miles of dodging winter, and I was very much looking forward to seeing Kayla, who had flown in, and countless other faces I had not seen in a long time at Chopperfest. Here’s the thing with me and chopper shows. I’ve never considered my bike a “show bike,” so if you see me parked in the show area, then you can assume that I did it for one of two reasons. Either I was asked to or because I viewed it as secure parking for the day. I’m not much for leaving my bike out in a parking lot unattended. In the case with this show, it was the latter, so you can imagine my surprise when they awarded me 1st place in the modern chopper category. As taken back as I was by this, I was incredibly flattered, so I extend a thank you to the judges for taking notice of my dirty and tired motorcycle.

And just like that, one day my bike is on my side and the next it is not. The morning following the show, I immediately started having problems. I stripped the teeth off my starter ring gear, which led to a trip to the Rivera- Primo factory to grab a replacement, this held me back for a day. Two days after that, my Lithium Ion battery gave up the ghost in Mesquite, Nevada, and ultimately wiped out my entire electrical system. This is the fifth Lithium Ion battery I’ve destroyed, and it will be my last. I’m going back to a trusty lead acid battery. Through this endeavor, though I need to extend a huge thank you to a fellow named Brandon from St George, Utah who ran parts down to me, welcomed me into his home for the night and, along with another gentleman by the name of Jason, eventually helped me load my bike into a U-Haul truck. This is the second time this year; my poor motorcycle has come home in a U-Haul. As frustrating as that is, it is also the motivation I needed to finally gutt my wiring harness, where most of my issues stem from and start replacing everything with new for a fresh start. Over a decade’s worth of roadside wiring patchwork had finally caught up to me. I spent my day yesterday tearing the bike down and beginning the rebuild. I have just 6 weeks to have it ready in time for the highly anticipated Cycle Showcase show in St. Louis, Missouri. I will be there one way or the other, regardless of weather, so I truly hope to see all of there, it will undoubtedly be a fantastic event. Until next time my friends, happy trails and I see you on the road! To follow my travels in real-time and for more photos, follow me on Instagram @charlietravelingchopper

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