Ah, vintage motorcycles - No matter how well you plan and prepare, nothing seems to quell the mischievous nature of the little gremlin that seems to reside in all things carbureted. An irksome imp whom I oh-so fondly call #*@%^$ occasionally visits my 1978 Kawasaki KZ650C. Unfortunately, the little rat decided to check in just two days before Kathy and I were to leave on our long-awaited tour to historic Williamsburg, Virginia.
Despite a weekend of head gasket replacing, general maintenance, and double-checking by longtime friend and mechanic extraordinaire, Gary Yates, the above-mentioned Puck still managed to maintain an obdurate toehold within my KZ. I swear I heard cackling when we finally traced his whereabouts to a vacuum petcock that suddenly lost the ability to say no to the flow. The result was a pool of gasoline on the garage floor and a crankcase full of fresh 20w50 that now smells suspiciously like the fluid in a parts washer.
Oh well, it's important to note just how long that faulty gasket has been cheating gravity's good work. Around the time it was installed, I was probably sitting agog, listening to that unknown Van Halen guy wailing on guitar and trying to figure out why Roxanne was putting out a red light in the first place. With no way to regulate the flow from the fuel tank and no way to procure the necessary replacement parts in time for the scheduled departure, the KZ had to be placed on the injured reserve list.
Thankfully, our publisher Christa offered a perfect last-minute substitution in her 1972 Yamaha XS650. As one of the few motorcyclists in that 40-ish age bracket who has never ridden an XS650, I jumped at the chance. Well, that and the fact that my lovely wife was quick to remind me that she wasn't going to use her last vacation days of the year sitting at home. Problem solved, we packed the sporty Givi Arrow soft bags, threw them over the Yamaha's seat, and hit the road.
From our offices here in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Kathy and I decided to make our first stop the place you come to after hanging a right at the hyphen. Salem, better known around here as Old Salem, is a restored Moravian community that was once the central town in a 98,000-acre tract of land known as Wachovia. Having migrated south from their first settlement in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1753, these missionaries began work building an outpost in the North Carolina wilderness. Once they had established a foothold in the area, the Moravians then began construction of their planned central community in 1765. This village became Salem and it served as a center of manufacturing and trade for the increasing number of travelers and settlers coming to and through the area. Today, Old Salem offers visitors a realistic, "living history" look at Moravian life in the 1700s. Different buildings throughout the town highlight the trades and institutions that allowed Salem to flourish. Everything from the shoemaker and gunsmith shops to the bakery and the tavern where George Washington once stayed are there for exploration. It doesn't cost anything to stroll the streets of Old Salem, but to take in the tours and demonstrations, you'll need to purchase tickets at the new Visitor Center located at 900 Old Salem Road.
Another bit of tasty trivia relating to Old Salem was cooked up in 1937. Vernon Carver Rudolph used his last $ 25 to open a little doughnut shop in downtown Salem, right across from Salem Academy and College. From this hole in the wall, the world was introduced to what is arguably one of the few examples of that which is good and right in the world, hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
After paying homage to our hometown's unique origins, we hone in on the real traveling. The XS eagerly sputters to life and quickly settles into a comfortable, throaty idle. Kathy boards pillion and off we go with the old Yamaha's clattering exhaust note reverberating from building to building but not loudly enough to disturb the eternal rest of the old town's ghosts.
We head west out of Winston-Salem in search of Virginia Highway 40, a road that should take us nearly all the way to our destination: Colonial Williamsburg. Even though the sky is socked in with low, milky clouds, we're in a great mood; and when the rain threat fails to materialize there's true joy in sharing the Yamaha's classic basso stylings with anyone in earshot. It's obvious early on that we're not riding a modern machine. The power is there; you just have to bang a few more gears to realize it. Thankfully, the tranny is still smooth and precise because a good bit of shifting is required once the Carolina foothills begin their transition to mountains.