Toxic Tour: Adventure Touring on a Yamaha 1971 RT360

"Do I smell something burning?" The First Annual Blue Haze Across America Two-Stroke Motorcycle Tour

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Joe Gresh

Today the wheels fall off. The 360 is burbling along Highway 11 toward Bakersfield, Texas, for a short rendezvous with Interstate 10. All is right with the world when a slight rattle tells me the bike is running low on fuel. I pull over to dump in my spare gallon--and all hell breaks loose. Thorn bushes wrap around my front and rear wheels, puncturing both tires. In Texas they mow the roadside thorns, allowing a thin covering of weeds to remain. In this manner they are able to conceal nature's perfect spikes beneath a carpet of green.

I limp into the Bakersfield gas station on two flats and proceed to patch both tubes, all the while cursing Texas, George Bush and the Alamo. When I tell her how it happened, the lady behind the counter shakes her head and says, "Never pull off the road in Texas, honey. If it doesn't stick you it'll sting you."

The next morning I crank the RT up to 5000 rpm and leave it there all day long across Texas' plains, making up time from my tire debacle. After reeling off a flawless 350-mile run we pull into Jasper. The rear tire is still leaking, but it's a manageable 10-psi-a-day leak.

In Jasper I hit up the local Wal-Mart for another load of Castrol made for air-cooled, oil-injected, two-stroke motorcycles. NAPA is the other place you can find the stuff from Valvoline. I am usually cleaning out the last two soiled jugs on the shelf. An extinct motorcycle searching for extinct lubricants made from extinct animals.

From Jasper east you enter the hurricane zone. All the hotels and motels are full of Katrina/Rita victims or Katrina/Rita workers. I cross the Mississippi River on a ferry boat and keep riding east through countless burgs and burgettes. On and on the Yamaha pops and stutters through wrecked towns that smell of rotting garbage. In the evening I start checking for rooms. Every motel has the same story: No vacancy; try going north.

I head east as night falls, a fine rain mixing with the bug guts on my faceshield to prevent all light from entering my helmet. The Yamaha's 6-volt headlight waves a flaccid beam into the gloom. I lose the road completely in the dazzle of oncoming headlights. This ride has become the Bataan Death March.

Finally, a break. I run up the back of a bunch of pot smokers in a bent-up Honda Civic and follow them for 30 miles. They merrily weave across the road at 45 mph as the smell of burning socks wafts out their windows. I settle in safe behind them. They have headlights and will take the impact from the seemingly inevitable head-on collision. I use the dopers as a stoned immaculate battering ram until they turn off onto a dark dirt road. The mist stops falling and the night clears. I ride 450 miles to Mobile, Alabama, before finding a motel with an available room.

Five kicks and the big two-stroke is rasping away once more. The farther east I go the easier the bike is to start. Is it the thick humid air, or has the contact point rubbing arm worn to achieve the correct ignition timing? In Crestview I pull up next to a young woman in a Toyota Prius at a light, the 360's rpm surging fast and slow before settling down to a loping environmental catastrophe. Inside her car she sniffs the air as if to say, "Do I smell something burning?"

Cross City, Florida. The miles roll by fast and furious because I'm now on home turf. No need to stop and smell the roses when you've run over 'em a hundred times before. The RT responds to the challenge by putting in a 530-mile final day. That might not seem like a lot to Gold Wing fanatics, but at a steady 60 mph it's the most I've recorded on the trip.

Back home, the 360 sheds its touring clothing and becomes the only working transportation we own. It carries my wife and I hither and yon until a rental car can be procured. Touring bike to grocery hauler, the sturdy 360 never falters, and by virtue of its stellar performance it earns a permanent place next to a slowly rotting V-Max in the palatial Gresh family tool shed.

My midlife crisis? It disappeared sometime during that rainy night in Mississippi. I beat it using a steady diet of petroleum products, incompletely burned. Ten days of droning along with not a care in the world but keeping the bike running and finding gas has erased my mind and reset my mental breakdown. I'm done. Finished. Sated.

Although, heck, I did see an early Suzuki GT750 water buffalo on eBay today. Very cool bike. Truthfully, I need something a little bigger than the 360 if I want to take a long ride. -MC

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