Day 254: Gushing gas, losing faith
It's not the best start to what will have to become a real friendship with the bike. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
IT'S a rare case that a motorcycle gushing gas in a city like Nairobi is a blessing. However, the world is composed of rare cases.
The gas is cold against my finger when I press the tip of it against the overflow valve, where the gas is coming out in a steady stream. The the flow stops.
It's hard not to smile, picturing myself attempting to drive through Africa folded in half so I can keep one finger on the valve to prevent it from leaking gas.
After a bit of back and forth with Michael about what might be the cause of the leak, it's starting to sound like it's too big of a deal. Most likely, the floater in the carburetor is stuck – an easy fix.
A security guard appears in the unlit entrance of the dumpy, glass-sided Kencom Building off Mombasa Road, which houses the office of Chance Wright Insurance Broker Ltd. It's why I'm here, though, through a Nairobi miracle, I'm only a block or two away from the official Yamaha dealership.
“Yeah, I have no idea,” I tell him, as he approaches to see what the issue is. “Is it okay if I leave the bike here while I run up to ask about insurance?”
I neatly print my name in a dusty, thin guest logbook and hand a pile of my motorcycle gear over to guard before skipping up two flights of stairs to the office. A white plywood door to room 202 has a small sign hanging on it. The sign reads: open. Propped up above the doorway is a larger, uncentered sign. It reads: Chance Wright Insurance Broker Limited. The “W” and “h” in Wright are missing. However, the glue that once held the letters in place is still visible.
Inside, a middle-aged woman with thick weaves plated to her head like Medusa's snakes at ease quotes a fair prices after a bit of back and forth with regards to whether or not I should include theft insurance.
“So, is the bike registered in your name?” she asks.
Unlike what Sam was telling me when I forked over the pile of cash a few days ago, it's impossible to get the bike in my name without a Kenyan Tax ID number. Instead, Venus, the beautiful spirit that rolled around with me on the coconut husk floor of the shower at the Kilifi New Year's Eve Music Festival, is allowing me to put the bike in her name.
“So you'll need to fill the insurance out in her name,” the woman explains.
“Perfect! Let me go get cash. And run down to the Yamaha store to sort something out. Then, I'll be right back. Is there an ATM nearby?”
This whole time my Yamaha DT175 has been steadily pissing gas out onto the wide street behind the Kencom Building. I figured that either way she was going to come close to draining herself, so there was no point in rushing.
One thing at a time.
One thing at a time.
With the kickstand up, I do what I do best with a motorcycle – start pushing.
“Muzungo!” someone calls out. “What you need?”
It's easy enough to ignore the calls from the street mechanics working on cars or selling hapazard assortments of tools and car parts on tarps alongside the street. A line of industrially dull buildings claim to house genuine parts for numerous brands of vehicles, but most if their shelves are probably stuffed with cheap Chinese replicas.
On the far side of the Honda building, which houses the Yamaha shop, I'm ushered through a security checkpoint. A tall man in a dark blue security uniform waves a magic wand around me, before I hand an ID over to security and am given an orange vest to wear while in the secure lot.
A Honda car mechanic goes out of his way to lead me through the lot toward the back, where the motorcycle shop is.
Welcome to the Yamaha shop. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
This is where Yamaha DTs come to die, I think. It's a DT graveyard. Two long rows of the white tanked, blue saddled bikes are crammed up against each other, some wrapped with cardboard and tape.
The facility is exactly what a person would expect from a Yamaha or Honda shop anywhere in the world. The employees all have matching polo shirts with Yamaha embroidered on the breast pocket and there's a line on the floor between the lobby and the shop beyond which customers are not allowed.
Beyond that line, there are the lines of old DT motorcycles on one side; on the other, there are modern motorcycle jacks at four work stations.
The mechanics roll my still unnamed DT 175 into the shop while I settle down in a chair with industrial upholstery.
I stand, walk up to the line and peek at the bikes. I sit down for a couple more minutes before getting to my feet again. The plan was to be on the road yesterday. The departure date was shuffled forward to today, which clearly isn't happening either.
Maybe I'll leave on Saturday. Once this is sorted, I still need to get a rack and saddle bags sorted.
“Basically, nothing is easy or straight forward,” I hear myself say into the camera as I pace the small, concrete floor of the lobby.
The selfie video plays in front of me as I talk to the camera. My hair, still tipped blond from when the dice decided that I should bleach it so I could have pink and blue hair, is in disarray. Long patches of facial hair have made unruly adjustments to the contour of my face. And, somewhere in my eyes, there's a flatness, the reflection of the sun off mat gray paint.
At some point, I've crossed the halfway marker of Dice Travels, but I'm not sure exactly when.
What's happening to that confident smile? Photo: Julia K.
“Feel kind of low key about the entire Dice Travels thing in general,” I tell the camera. “I'm not rolling enough, feel pinned in. Not pinned in by situations – just sucking. Hopefully, hitting the road will start opening up options again.”
There have been lulls before, moments that it's hard to understand why I left everything back in Phuket, for what I risked it all. What's the end game? Where does Dice Travels lead? More importantly, why am I not risking more? Given that everything has been pushed into the middle of the table, why aren't the options on the dice more extreme? Why am I not flinging myself off ocean cliffs into the unknown below?
The answer, I guess, is a simple two-parter, if not inspiring in the slightest: 1) Because I don't have enough money – I'm already on the edge and have months of travel ahead of me. 2) Because throwing myself off a cliff is outside the 40-60 percent range.
If I had a partner in crime, that might all be different, each one of us nudging the other closer to an edge. But, as it is, my only partner in crime is my motorcycle, which is so afraid to get out on the road with me that she's pissing herself.
One of the mechanics pulls me outside, to show me a different DT175 – in case I want to buy another one.
The man in charge, calls me to the front desk, it's been nearly an hour.
The problem is not simply the float.
“There are a few problems. The petcock needs replaced to stop the gas leaking. There's also a sound that gives away the fact that the piston set is bad. So, that also needs to be replaced,” he says from behind the counter.
Pet cock on left. Petcock on right. Cock: Isaac Stone Simonelli / Petcock: Wiki
“Okay, so how much will all of that be?”
The new piston set is going to costs a fortune, as they have to pull the engine out of the bike, machine the block, fit the new piston and then bolt it all back together. Even the petcock, this stupid little lever that switches the tank from the the regular to reserve, is going to cost 80 dollars for a genuine Yamaha part.
I call Sam.
“You said the piston set was brand new,” I say, after bringing him up to speed.
“Why did you take it to the Yamaha shop?” Sam wants to know.
“Because the bike you sold me started gushing gas when I was only a couple blocks away from the shop. I was lucky. They say the piston set needs to be replaced man.”
“Listen, don't buy anything there. Take the bike to Mike and have him take a look,” Sam says.
“Man, Yuri vouched for you. I trusted Yuri on this one, you've really got to make good on this,” I say. We both know that Sam's entire Yamaha side hustle works because he's got a good connection to the expat motorcycle community in Nairobi through Yuri. If that reputation is tarnished or destroyed, his business takes a huge hit. At this point, it's the only leverage I have to ensure he does me right.
“I'll take care of it. I promise you'll be happy that you got the bike from me,” Sam says. “If you wait and take it to Mike, I can cover the costs, but I'm not paying for anything at the Yamaha dealership.”
Sam's already leveled with me about the fact that the only reason he's able to re-sell the bikes for a profit is that he often finds used or Chinese parts to fix them with, which is why the Yamaha parts are not a viable solution for him.
Standing there with the phone pressed against my ear, I want to believe Sam didn't know the piston was shot. That he didn't lie. That he wasn't about to send me out on a five month Africa road trip with a bad engine. If I made it even 100 kilometers outside of Nairobi, there would be nobody who could get the part and fix the bike – it's the one major drawback to getting the Yamaha.
I explain the situation to the Yamaha mechanic. He understands.
They'll just put it back together, put the passenger foot pegs on, as requested, and let me drive the bike away.
A mechanic gives the bike a quick test ride inside the compound, before handing me the keys. I kick one leg over and start the engine.
The mechanic waves his hands at me, pointing at the engine.
She's gushing again.
“Let me take it back in really quickly,” he says.
Back to the industrial upholstered chairs next to the coffee table with an assortment of uninspiring magazines for me.
Fifteen minutes later, the mechanic rolls the bike back out.
“So, I went ahead and just pulled one of the old petcocks from another bike and put it on this one,” he says. “No need to replace it now. It should be fine for awhile. But you need to get that piston fixed.”
He doesn't charge me a single Shilling more – my bill was already drawn up and paid.
“Thank you, thank you so much,” I say, shaking his big hand before getting onto the bike.
Mike can't see the bike until Friday.
Perhaps Friday will bring better news that today.