Be Careful What You Wish For

Apparently winter in Quartzsite is the two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s. It’s warmed up the past couple of days, hitting 60s and even 70s during the day, and barely dipping below 50 at night. This is the weather I came to Arizona for.

To celebrate, I took a motorcycle ride yesterday. I plotted a nice loop that would take me from La Posa North to La Posa South LTVAs on trails I have GPX tracks for. It felt nice to take the liner out of my mesh jacket, in January, no less. I was even wishing for my mesh pants at times, as the textile ones were a bit warm.

I took the power line trail alongside Route 95 from the South to North LTVAs, then followed the little red line on my Garmin through it and beyond. It wasn’t a difficult trail, which is great. I’ve turned around when the going got too tough for me in the past. The surface was a bit loose and gravelly, but I’ve been getting better at handling it, with lots of practice during the past month or so.

The trail took me to the mountains east of Quartzsite, and I began to weave between them. A couple of slightly rocky sections and crossing a wash were the only particularly challenging sections for me. I have a much better time tackling a single brief obstacle, then returning to an easy trail than I do on consistently difficult ground. This was fun.

The trail began to intersect with a few others, and I knew I’d reached the area I particularly wanted to explore. Now the real fun would begin — or at least, it was supposed to. Instead, I heard an unusual gurgling sound above the quiet engine. My temperature gauge was not quite to the red zone, but far higher than I’d ever seen it before. After dealing with the cold the past few weeks, suddenly my problem was overheating instead.

I immediately stopped and turned off the engine. It was eerily quiet. The radiator fan, which is supposed to turn on automatically when the engine reaches a certain temperature, wasn’t running. The temperature was well above where it normally turns on. Still, I caught the problem before I caused any damage to the bike, which was good. I waited a little while for it to cool off, thinking through the problem and enjoying the scenery. I also sent a text message to my friends back at camp letting them know I was fine but had encountered some difficulty — just a heads-up in case I needed rescuing later.

As much as I prefer doing a loop to not repeat the same territory, circumstances had changed. I decided to go back the way I came. Though I hadn’t ridden this particular trail before, I had now, and it was fresh in my head. I also knew there were no particularly difficult obstacles on the way that could cause me a problem or a long section of slow riding that would add to my overheating issues. Finally, it seemed to me that while there’s nothing wrong with stopping to cool off the engine, the other way was to keep a good flow of air moving through the radiator. That meant riding a bit faster than I was used to. It was as good a time as any!

I’ve heard this wisdom for a long time, but it took a situation like this to get me to actually try it. On the loose ground, speed is your friend. It’s a similar idea to getting a boat fast enough to skim over the top of the water rather than cutting through it. I’ll be darned if it didn’t work once I finally built up the nerve to try it. The ride back took far less time than the ride out. I found that as long as I could maintain 25 mph, I was fine. The only times I couldn’t were when I got stuck in traffic at the LTVA entrances. There’s no reason to go 7 mph, even in a 15 zone. I hopped onto side roads to keep up my momentum until I got back to camp, none the worse for wear.

Today I did some troubleshooting and narrowed the problem down to the temperature switch at the bottom of the radiator. When I grounded the wire directly to the engine, the fan ran perfectly, which means the fuse, the relay, and the fan itself all work fine. The only problem was this switch. It’s going to be a pain to get one, and even more of a pain to replace since I have to drain the radiator to do it.

I had enough bits and pieces kicking around the van to rig up an alternate solution: a manual switch. It’s basically the same thing as grounding the wire to the engine, except doing it in a way that I can control while I’m riding. I’ll have to pay more attention to my temperature gauge, but if I know I’m going slow for a while, like being stuck in traffic or hitting a section of difficult terrain, I can turn the fan on to prevent it from getting hot in the first place. I remember the subtle ways the bike acted and sounded when it got too hot for comfort yesterday, so if that happens again I’ll turn on the fan.

It’s not a proper fix, but it’s definitely good enough to keep me going safely. When I have access to better facilities, without the risk of dumping coolant that’s harmful to wildlife all over BLM land, I’ll see about doing a proper fix. Though I’m tempted to leave my manual switch wired up as well so that either can turn on the fan, either automatically or whenever I want to manually.

Tomorrow will be an adventure of a different kind, not involving a motorcycle. I’m taking a road trip, and despite the clickbait nature of the statement, you truly won’t believe what happens next. I’ll post real-time updates on Instagram (and, from there, to Facebook).


  1. Hi Justin,
    Good job diagnosing the overheating problem and coming up with a temporary solution!
    BTW, Mom and I read EVERY one of your SmokeyDaVan posts. We really enjoy them, and they make us even prouder of you for your independence and ingenuity.

    Liked by 1 person

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