The ride was tediously boring until the multilane interstate began its climb into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Long sweepers suited the big Z-1, and again the engine’s power kept me ahead of any traffic. I stopped for a photo op at Donner Pass, and curiously at about that same time hunger pangs gripped me. Later I ate at a roadside joint that’s probably no longer there, saw way more cars than I cared to see in the Harrah’s collection, and rode back up the mountain to Lake Tahoe where I snuck into a closed campground for the night. I made a mattress of pine needles, crawled into my sleeping bag and gazed at the stars overhead. Moments like that help you appreciate who our Creator is, and soon enough I was out like a light.
I’ve always been a fan of the Old West, so a visit to Virginia City, NV, was next on my mini-bucket list. The Cartwright family’s old haunt in the television show “Bonanza” turned out to be a major tourist attraction, and no doubt Ben, Adam (no relation to Adam the First), Hoss, and Little Joe would be disappointed, as was I, so I didn’t stay long, hitting the road south taking Highway 395 home. The ride from Carson City, NV, to Mammoth Lakes, CA, included some interesting curves, allowing me to swoop left and right aboard the big, 545-pound bike. Seven years later I’d take this same route home aboard a 1980 Suzuki GS1100E, when I missed by inches hitting a coyote that had sprinted in front of me just north of Bridgeport, CA.
By now I was adjusting the big Kawasaki’s drive chain every day. O-ring chain technology was still in its infancy in 1973, and despite the 640 chain’s massive links, the four-cylinder engine continued to stretch it after only three or four hundred miles of riding. The routine was to adjust the chain and lubricate it at the end of each day, and that’s what I did in the motel parking lot in Bishop, CA, when I noticed a peculiar odor. I passed it off as something from the locals, but next morning it returned after the Z-1’s engine reached operating temperature. Was it a cracked battery? Anxious to get home, I didn’t stop to investigate, and charged out of Bishop. Ah, the folly of youth.
About 10 miles out of town I heard a loud pop, almost like an explosion, and the exhaust noise grew more intense. This happened three more times, and it was on the second pop that I stopped to examine the pipes. The baffles had blown out of two mufflers, and within a few more miles all four pipes were breathing freely. The baffles’ spot welds had come loose.
Let me sidebar here for a moment: Initially I figured the welds were simply inferior and that Kawasaki engineers would improve their production procedure—end of story. For years I lived with that scenario, but only when I began writing this article did I arrive at another possible explanation, one that could have involved some engine tampering by someone at Kawasaki.