When I left my comfortable town home in North Eastern Colorado Springs on a beautiful late fall morning a few days ago I never imagined that I had departed on a ‘Trip from Hell’, not literally, of course, because I don’t believe in ‘Hell’, but that’s another story!
My plan was to make a one day trip, with an overnight camp-out possible, to the Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Co. I had packed my Can-Am Spyder ST frike (that’s my name for my three wheeled ‘trike’, but with the two wheels on the front, hence the front wheeled trike, or frike) and the tow-behind trailer with all the supplies that I needed for a single day’s ride with a possible overnight camp-out at the Park.
The trip South down I25 to Walsenburg was event free, with the ST’s cruise control set at a comfortable 72 mph, traffic was able to overtake and pass me without my causing a backup in the ‘slow’ lane. A turn West onto highway 160 toward Alamosa, and the Park, which is North and East of Alamosa, some thirty miles, nestled up against a mountain range to the East of the Park. I turned North from 160 onto the road that leads to the Park, some 15 miles South of that turn off. As I entered the parking area at the base of the unbelievable mound of sand close to that parking lot I heard a thump-thump-thump, a sound that I knew to be a totally flat tire on my tow-behind trailer, since the ride on the frike was still smooth and steady.
I continued a few yards into the parking lot, stopped and looked back at the right-side tire of the tow-behind trailer, a tire that was totally flat, with the rim of the tire almost touching the asphalt pavement of the parking lot. Any time I’m pulling my tow-behind trailer I frequently check the condition of each tire by taking a look at each tire through the rear-view mirrors of my frike. My first thought was how could a tire get so flat so quickly from some sort of puncture from a nail, screw, or other object? I quickly found out how when I walked back to the trailer to inspect the tire, to see that the tread at the center line of the tire was completely gone, with the thread showing, and with a huge hole visible through that frayed thread! No amount of tire repair kit material, tire pump or trailer jack that I carried in the trailer was going to fix this tire!
A picture of the tire taken at the tire shop is included below!
The first emotion I felt was a total, complete and stressful PANIC! My trailer was immobile and I was some thirty miles from the nearest town (Alamosa) that might have a replacement tire at some retail tire store. The good news was that it was a weekday and a few minutes after noon, so stores would be open and I had some five hours to fix this problem.
My initial reaction was to unhook the trailer, get on the frike and ride to Alamosa to find a replacement tire. Thankfully, I fought off that initial reaction for a more thoughtful plan. There were several other visitors to the Park around the parking area, and one or two came over to offer help. While I was explaining my plight to a very nice gentleman driving an RV I realized that even if I found a replacement tire in Alamosa I didn’t have the tools necessary to remove the old tire and replace (it) with a new tire.
The brand new, never used, scissors jack that I carried along with tire repair materials allowed me to raise the trailer off the flat tire and remove that tire. I recalled that I had added a length of rope to my emergency kit prior to this trip so I retrieved that rope and used it to secure the flat tire and rim to the passenger seat of my frike. A small piece of scrap plastic protected the passenger seat from damage.
Before I left for Alamosa with the flat tire I locked the trailer hatches, front and rear, with the jacket I was wearing taken off during the heat of the tire removal and stored inside. As I headed out the parking lot toward Alamosa I realized that a jacket was still necessary to be comfortable on the frike. I turned around to go back to the trailer to get the jacket, and as I put the jacket on I realized that my wallet was in the jacket pocket, that wallet containing the credit card necessary to purchase a new tire! This was the first, totally random, occurrence of what I term blind luck in a day filled with blind luck, and one instance of very bad luck!
I found a tire store in Alamosa but unfortunately the tire size of the two tires on the trailer was unusual, and not available in inventory at that tire store. I actually needed two tires since an inspection of the other, still inflated, tire on the trailer back at the parking lot revealed it too had extreme wear, with some threads also showing along the center-line of the tire. The lady at the tire store who was trying to help me called every other tire store in Alamosa to find replacement tires to no avail. My situation looked hopeless! I didn’t want to leave my trailer at the parking lot for an extended period for obvious reasons but at the time it seemed that I would have to ride to another town, Walsenburg, much further away!
At that point the lady, Charlotte, asked me how much clearance there was between the fenders of the trailer and the existing tires. I had done some trimming of those fiberglass fenders to improve the fit and appearance so I knew there was some, but not much clearance between the tire and the fender bottom edge. She suggested a much more common tire size that was some half-inch larger in diameter than the original tire. I really didn’t have a choice…. I had to take a chance that the tire would fit. I purchased two of this larger tire, had one mounted on the rim I had brought with me, and took the second, unmounted tire with me just in case the other trailer tire failed on my trip back to Alamosa to have the second tire mounted on the other rim of the other, almost failed, trailer tire. I found out days later when I purchased a spare tire of the same size that the purchase price of the two tires was a bit inflated! (Pardon the pun!)
So I headed back to the park with the mounted and unmounted tires tied securely to the passenger seat of my frike. It was a bit over thirty miles and seemed to take forever! When I arrived back at the park my trailer was still there and untouched, although the parking lot itself was almost deserted of visitors. It didn’t take long to install the new wheel, and after removing the jack I could see that there was going to be some rubbing between the fender and the new tire. No matter, I had to get the trailer back to ‘civilization’ where at least I could secure it inside one of the tire company’s bays if it made the trip without another tire failure.
After what seemed like an eternity, watching the second tire for a total failure and checking the new tire for the amount of damage to either the trailer wheel well or the tire from their trying to occupy the same space, I made it back to the tire shop in Alamosa. There was significant damage to the sidewall and to the fiberglass fender edge from their confrontation, but according to the (tire) lady, Charlotte, that sidewall damage would not interfere with the wear of the actual tread. After waiting for my turn for service the second trailer tire was removed and replaced with the new, larger tire. On that side the fender barely touched the sidewall of that tire so there was only one fender to attempt to modify.
A quick stop at a local hardware store provided the sandpaper that I then used to remove fiberglass from the edge of the fender that was rubbing against the tire. There was a grove in the sidewall of the tire where the fiberglass had cut into the rubber but after removing about a 1/4” of fender through the foot or so of the fender that appeared to be touching the tire any further damage to the tire would be eliminated, and I could continue my trip back to the safe confines of my home. Little did I know at the time that the ‘Trip from Hell’ had only just begun!
The ride from Alamosa to Walsenburg was uneventful with a couple of stops to check the condition of the trailer tires to closely confirm what I was viewing in my rear view mirrors. I stopped at a gas station in Walsenburg to fill up the trike tank for the remaining miles of my trip along I25 through Pueblo and into Colorado Springs. I chatted with a couple of over-the-road truck drivers who came over to where I was putting on my heavier winter coat, gaiters, heavy gloves and modular helmet. Not too many people have had a close up look at a Spyder so they seem to be curious about the bike when they see one parked.
As I entered the interstate from Walsenburg my only thought was to get home and get some much needed rest after the stressful day I had experienced. That thought didn’t last long!! I’m not sure exactly when the mechanical / electrical difficulties started but I think it was when I accidentally hit the kill switch on the right-side handle bar controls as I was trying to engage the cruise control with my heavy gloves. The engine faltered, died and I steered for the shoulder, realizing what I had done, reset the kill switch and regained the highway at speed before being run over by some speeding four-wheeler!
After regaining my composure I again attempted to set the cruise but it would not set, even after turning it on and off the button that sets the current speed as the cruise speed no longer worked. Although inconvenient I could live without cruise for the some 100 miles of the remaining trip. But the lack of cruise control quickly became the least of my worries!
Some time shortly thereafter the VSS symbol lit up in the instrument panel rpms side, a little version of the three wheeled frike with indications that the control provided by that monitoring system had been lost. Since the remaining miles were primarily a straight road, with no high speed turns losing that automated control did not seem to be a big issue…. not! Shortly after the VSS symbol lit up on the instrument panel dial a message appeared in the lower portion of the instrument indicating that some limitation in the performance of the frike would occur as it allowed me to “limp to my destination”, a message that proved to be prophetic! The check engine light was also blinking after all these instrument panel warnings.
I was cruising at around 70mph at the time these warnings began so I continued that speed, manually, constantly watching the water temperature of the frike, and being alert for any oil light that might appear, hoping not to actually damage the engine through any overheating due to lack of radiator liquid or crankcase oil. Neither appeared over the entire trip.
I continued the trip home watching the instrument panel as I rode to continue to monitor the messages and warnings that had already presented themselves, and for any new ones that might appear. Maintaining my speed manually at 70mph allowed me to maintain a somewhat safe position in the interstate traffic even though the speeding four-wheelers were passing me continuously over the miles from Walsenburg into Pueblo.
As I entered that portion of the interstate (I25) that passes through Pueblo I necessarily had to slow down as the speed limit changed from 75mph down to 60mph through the twists and turns that I25 takes as it makes its way through the “Steel City”. Leaving the northern city limits the speed limit on I25 again is marked at 75mph but to my dismay the frike now would not exceed 57mph no matter how much I turned the throttle handle! Some more of that “limp to my destination” control that the computer of the frike had established as a result of the warnings that had appeared on the instrument panel! Needless to say a maximum speed of 57mph on an interstate whose speed limit was 75mph with most other vehicles traveling at closer to 80mph or more my little frike and trailing tow-behind trailer was in some danger.
It was a harrowing and very scarey experience, with vehicles coming behind me at speed, some having no where to go with the fast lane beside them being occupied by another vehicle. The four-wheelers handled the situation much better than the 18-wheelers who, when they slowed down to my speed had difficulty moving into the inside lane to pass me. I can only imagine the profound statements that were directed my way by all these drivers that I had inconvenienced but there was nothing I could do except, of course, pull over to the side of the road to get out of the way.
I considered stopping at a rest area but quickly discounted that option since I did not know if after slowing down to enter the rest area that a new maximum speed much slower than the 57mph now set would be established. Anything slower than 57mph on this interstate, at night, on a frike pulling a small trailer would be asking for a rear-ender, with life-threatening consequences! I chose to continue the trip at the slow 57mph without stopping until I reached my home or the frike simply quit running. Fortunately I reached Woodmen Road and exited to the East toward my home without any more strange messages, or damage to my person, but with the automatic control sensors on the wheels indicating a fault and the engine light blinking as they had for the entire trip from Walsenburg.
There are no words to describe the relief I felt as the garage door to my town home raised and I was able to drive into my garage, finally, safe at home! I turned of the engine of my distressed mount, entered the kitchen of the town home and went straight for the refrigerator for a cold beer. A better tasting adult beverage I cannot remember.
I was home, safe, and had endured a day of indescribable stress.
PS: Several days after returning home from the ‘Trip from Hell’ I found out what had caused the extreme wear of my trailer tires. Before this trip I had exchanged the chrome rims that came with the trailer for a set of black rims that more closely matched both the trailer and my frike’s color scheme. The tire shop that did the dismount and mount of the old tires onto the new rims re-inflated the tires to 65 pounds. I never thought about checking the air pressure after that work but simply mounted the tires onto the trailer and admired how well the black rims looked on the trailer. The instruction sheet for assembling the trailer contained a highlighted warning NOT to inflate the tires to more than 30 pounds…. mystery solved!