I can’t remember how many days into the trip this was, but I remember being to the southwest of Mobile, Alabama. The night before, I stayed at a little motel somewhere on the north side of the city. The next morning I ventured down for the free breakfast and accidentally struck up a conversation an employee. We got talking and before long she tells me about her trip to Key West with her husband. She then proceeded to show me pictures of the two of them wearing straw hats and drunk. A simple ‘hi’ lead me into an hourlong conversation about Panama hats.
I eventually hit the road and didn’t make it far before I started to notice a slight loss in pressure from my front brake. I continued cautiously. With each application I’d lose a little more until finally, in the middle of trying to outrun some good ‘ol boys in a pickup truck, I completely lost my front brake.
I found a gas station up the road and pulled in to examine the damage. My front brake was completely covered in brake fluid but I couldn’t determine where the leak was coming from. I doubled back towards a small engine repair shop I passed a few miles back. I pulled in and was, I wouldn’t say greeted, but stared at by a man with a huge belly. Not a pot belly. Something more like a cauldron belly. He stood there with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other while I explained my situation. Another man appeared from the shack. A few moments later truck pulled in behind me with two more men inside. They all had dead eyes and blank faces. It was weird.
Unceremoniously I was directed up the road to a motorcycle shop. Great news! I rode through their property to turn around. It was littered with boats. Lots and lots of boats. I waved goodbye and crossed my fingers.
I found the motorcycle shop without any trouble only to find out they were closed for New Years Day. Did I tell you this was on New Years Day? It was. I hung out in their parking lot for a while trying to figure out what to do next. I passed a few auto parts stores earlier, so I decided to head towards them. My only chance was that someone there rode motorcycles or knew a guy with a shop I could work in.
I struck out at the first location.
And the second.
I called a handful of other places just looking for a lead.
I came up to an Advanced Auto Parts store and pulled in. I was immediately addressed by the salesman, John. I couldn’t even get my whole story out before he was on his cell phone calling people he knew with motorcycles. When we struck out there, I asked if it would be okay if I did some work in a corner of their parking lot. At least I could buy tools and supplies if I needed to.
John assured me it was fine, so I began taking apart the front brake. Every now and then he would come out and check on me. It was no longer my problem, but our problem. When I tried to buy a tool, he led me behind the counter and gave me unrestricted access to every tool they had. When the tool I needed wasn’t in the toolbox, John would take it off the shelf, rip off the tags, and give it to me to use. I think the only thing I paid for was brake cleaner. After disassembling and cleaning the caliper, I was able to get it to hold fluid. Somehow. I wouldn’t uncover the real problem until Tucson, Arizona.
John asked me where I was headed next.
I didn’t know.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting photographs and blurbs contextualizing them from my cross-country ride this past winter.