Buying a vehicle is exhilarating for me. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Ford Festiva I’ll retire in a couple months, a bike, or a car I’ll keep forever, few things get my heart racing like a new vehicle purchase. Of this, my favorite types of vehicle purchases are ones that are long distance. If a vehicle is close enough, I’ll take an Uber or rent a U-Haul trailer, but too far and I get creative.
I’m no stranger to buying vehicles long distance. I’ve been doing it at least once a year ever since 2016 when I got my dream smart fortwo. Despite loving the excitement of doing things with friends or in a crowd, I love making my vehicle buying trips solo. There’s something about flying to another state, buying a new toy, and driving it home all by myself that just hits the spot. I see it as an extension of the part of me that loves to explore and challenge myself.
Until now, every one of these vehicle buying adventures have been for cars. The formula is simple: I find the absolute cheapest way to get to the vehicle, bring a minimum amount of tools to get it home, then send it. This has worked for myself four times before and twice getting home the toys of Gambler friends.
Unfortunately, this time I made one small oversight that ultimately set me back nearly a thousand dollars.
Setting Up the Purchase
A member of the Oppositelock car forum was selling his girlfriend’s Suzuki Burgman 650. It was offered up to me as my first fuel injected motorcycle. While I was interested in the scooter, I had plenty of my own toys to play with, so it was a solid maybe.
That all changed when my reliable Suzuki GS850G decided to stop being so easy to own. It left me stranded in the cold in Kenosha, Wisconsin after its carburetors picked up something nasty in the fuel tank. Thankfully friends came to my rescue, but it was enough for me to write off carbs in their entirety.
Suddenly, the maybe that was obtaining that Burgman became a certainty. In the moment, it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime. I’ve never taken a vehicle acquisition journey on a motorcycle before, but it couldn’t be too much different, right?
The idea was that I’d buy the scooter on a Saturday and ride 12 hours home, arriving just after midnight at my place. Easy ride.
Getting to Pennsylvania
I booked my flight, arranged a ride, and arrived at the airport early. My long travel day was going to be pretty cold at night, so I wore 4 layers of tops and 3 layers of bottoms. I also brought along my helmet, two different types of gloves, basic tools, and cold gear. Thankfully it all fit in the carry-on!
After arriving in Allentown around 2:30 PM, the seller and another from Oppositelock joined me in a fantastic old body style Ford F-Series. On the way to his house, the seller asked if I needed to pick up any tools or emergency kit. I thought about it and nothing came to mind. This would come to be a mistake that would change this trip later on, I just didn’t know it yet.
My First Fuel-Injected Motorcycle
Upon arriving at the seller’s house he gave me a tour of the scooter, we exchanged money, and the plan was to take me on about an hour ride up to I-80. This would be the highway I would take all the way back to Illinois.
The scooter itself is marvelous. This particular Suzuki Burgman has more storage than one even knows what to do with, a 12V socket for charging, fuel injection, a massive windscreen, and the 650 cc engine is remarkably powerful. I got acquainted with my purchase riding around the Lehigh Valley, with a Yamaha Riva 125 (wide open) following me and a FJR ahead of me. At lower speeds, the Suzuki Burgman is surprisingly agile. So much that you may forget it weighs over 600 pounds wet and has a wheelbase like a Honda Goldwing. Interestingly, that’s not the only part of this scooter that’s like a Goldwing.
After carving some sweet corners through the Lehigh Valley, the seller got me to I-80. One rubber gloved fist bump later and I was on my way, rocketing towards home.
Making Great Speed
If you’ve transitioned from driving an old car to driving a new car, you may have noticed how the new car seemed to drive so easy that if you weren’t paying attention, 60 mph will actually be 80 or even 90. That was this scooter. I cranked the throttle to what I felt was going to give me 70, but I looked down and the speedometer showed 95 miles per hour and climbed! This is a scooter that not only can do triple digits, but wants to. A Suzuki Burgman is so easy to ride and so comfortable that it somehow feels more comfortable the faster you push it. You literally start it up, crank that throttle, and enjoy a two wheeled throne with more power than any scooter should ever have. The closest comparison I can think is that this scooter has the ride comfort and ability to eliminate fatigue of a Goldwing while also being about as agile as a sport tourer.
I found myself making pretty good time. Outside temperatures were colder than I preferred, but I found that with every fuel stop (every 100 miles) I could warm up just enough to last to the next fuel stop. And with the speeds I was going, I was on track to getting home early!
As I got through the first third of my trip home, light was fading and I was hungry. As I approached DuBois, PA I considered getting off the highway for some food. I decided to make the best of the remaining light and push on to the next fuel stop. I would come to regret this decision only three miles later.
After I passed the DuBois exit, I picked up a little more speed to carve the upcoming curves. As I passed slower vehicles I noticed the rear end felt really “wobbly.” I initially thought it was just fatigue but it got worse very quickly. Sensing something was wrong, I pulled over.
As I feared, the rear tire was flat. I quickly found myself in an impossibly bad situation. Checking my map, the DuBois exit was 3 miles back where I came and the exit ahead was also 3 miles. Worse, the exit ahead had absolutely no services and led to absolutely no civilization. It was here I realized the first two mistakes of my journey. As the tire wasn’t punctured, the tire probably just had a slow leak…a slow leak that could have been fixed with tire sealant. I should have picked some up. I normally carry a spare tire on long trips in cars, why didn’t I carry any sort of tire kit with me on this one? Had I decided to exit in DuBois, I would have discovered the flat at the fuel station, which possibly could have had tire sealant.
Feeling down about these two mistakes, I had to make do with the situation I was in at the moment. I pinged a group chat full of close friends for ideas. Sadly, they were just as lost as me on what to do. One suggested using an Uber to the fuel station, picking tire sealant, then beating it back. Well, I ended up so remote that there wasn’t a single Uber in the area.
Without a way to help myself, I decided to try to get someone to help me. I turned the hazards on and started waving my arms like a drowning person. Not a single vehicle stopped. Not a single vehicle even slowed down. Worse, as I had stopped at the crest of a hill at the end of a turn, vehicles didn’t see me until they were already on me. And even worse than that, once the remaining light was gone it was pitch black. I’m talking so dark that anything not illuminated by the bike’s lights was impossibly black. Quite a few semis came far too close for comfort.
Getting to Safety
My ex-girlfriend Aline suggested I call the non-emergency police. I thought of that as an option, however I first wanted to get to a safer place. State Police officers have been killed by highway traffic under far better circumstances, so I decided to risk damaging the tire to get myself to safety. I started limping the Burgman to the next exit, hoping there would be someone or something there to help me.
A few blocks from where I originally stopped, I saw a broken-down semi. Its engine was running and the driver in the cab on an iPad. “I’m saved!” I thought, “no way he’d let me freeze out here.” I parked my bike in front of his truck and for a solid 30 minutes he ignored my entire existence. When he sensed I was just going to walk up to his truck and ask for help, he disappeared into the sleeper.
At this point, the tire could still have been saved, but the next decision I would make would seal the tire’s fate. I could have called non-emergency police, but I was determined that I could fix this myself without involving police. I decided to limp it to the exit then call my insurance company.
Life at the next exit was even worse than where I originally stopped. While I was no longer in danger of getting hit by a semi, this exit was such in the middle of nowhere that the solitude itself began hitting me. The world beyond the Suzuki’s headlights was pitch black, the highways next to me empty.
Asking for Help
I called my insurance company. Infuriatingly, even though I had roadside assistance on my insurance they refused to help me because the towing coverage supposedly doesn’t go live until the day after my normal coverage does. Okay, whatever. Thankfully, my insurance company gave me a list of all the towing companies in the area. Only one of them offered roadside assistance to motorcycles. I figured I could just bite the bullet and pay for roadside… whatever got me headed towards home at this point. I gave that tow company a call and for whatever reason, they said they could only offer a tow, no roadside. They were the only company on the list of ten to answer. I told him I’d give him a call back in case I needed to.
Around this time I spotted the familiar headlights of a Ford Explorer. I started flailing my arms. As I thought, the car was a Pennsylvania State Police unit. The car slowed to the point where I thought they were going to stop and help me…but ultimately the officer started pulling away. Desperate, I started screaming, flashing the bike’s lights, and honking its horn. I was devastated by the failure but I was determined to win this. I checked the time and realized I only had to wait roughly two hours until I could supposedly use my roadside assistance on my insurance. Well, I could wait two hours. All I wanted was air in the tire, surely someone could help with that, right?
Solitude Sets In
The two hours felt like two days. Countless vehicles continued to roll by, including tow trucks, roadside assistance vehicles, and a rescue semi for the broken down semi I encountered earlier in the night. None of them even acknowledged my existence. By this point, loneliness began setting in. I checked my map and aside from the small town 3 miles to the east there was nothing. No houses, no roads, not even cabins in the woods. There was not a single bit of life to be found for miles. I pinged different Gambler groups and my country-wide support system. Not a single person was within even four hours of me. I never felt so alone in my entire life.
Aline cooked up a rescue plan. I would dump the scooter…somewhere, then she would drive 9 hours to save me, then 9 hours getting me back home. I’d then come back to Pennsylvania at a later date to liberate the scooter. I couldn’t let her do it.
Another police car pulled up. I desperately flailed and screamed. Like the previous car, he didn’t even stop. I called the non-emergency police and didn’t get an answer. With how my luck was running that night I wasn’t one bit surprised. I now put it all in for the insurance company.
Last Ditch Effort
Midnight rolled around and I called my insurance company feeling relieved. Ultimately, the news they gave me was negative. While my roadside assistance coverage technically was live, I had to wait for it to be live for 24 hours to use it. Game over. After what felt like an ultimate gut punch, I decided to give in and call for a tow. At this point I just wanted to go to sleep and deal with the problem in the morning. Friends I love to death pitched some cash in case the tow and hotel would destroy me. I called the tow company from earlier and didn’t get an answer. I did get a different tow company to answer this time, but they outright refused to help me. Without any tow company within range, I had no more ideas.
All options exhausted and the nearest place of safety six miles away, I gave up. Nobody wanted to help me, nobody even bothered to ask if I was okay. Even the police treated me like I had the plague. I couldn’t let Aline save me. In fact, Aline seemed to be upset with me for getting into this situation. No worry, I was already upset with myself. For a moment, I stared off into the darkness wanting nothing more than to be a part of it.
There is Still One Way Out of Here
After a moment of crying, I knew what I had to do. Someone at Oppositelock suggested a U-Haul. Initially I thought that was crazy, but it would actually work. I knew that even as the world falls apart, one company would be there if I was willing to pay the price. But first, I had to get to a hotel. I knew getting there would mean I had to kill the tire. I had no idea how long it would last, but that scooter was going to get me that six miles.
After I released the center stand I hopped on the scooter, passed by the rescue truck for the broken down semi from earlier, and started off on the longest six mile trek of my life.
The scooter’s top speed was first 17 miles per hour, but eventually dropped to 3 as the tire fell apart. It took me about an hour to travel those 6 miles, and every mile felt like they could have been my last. But I had to persist, I had to prevail. With a mile to go, the tire finally shredded. Thankfully, it shredded in a way that allowed the rear wheel to be protected.
I made it to the DuBois Clarion Inn close to 2am. The person manning the front desk felt so much for me he said I could check out any time later that morning without any charge. I passed out in the cheapest room they had available, safe and warm at last.
The next morning I located a 10ft U-Haul truck a mile from the hotel. I should have reserved it right then, but as I wasn’t in the best of mind I wanted someone to confirm for me I was making a good choice. By the time I got that confirmation, that U-Haul dealer closed. Unfortunately, that meant the next smallest size available was a 15ft cube truck, absolutely overkill for what I needed it for, but what choice did I have? Before anywhere else could close I reserved it. I bid a happy farewell to the front desk of the Clarion Inn, thanked them for their hospitality, then set off on my mission.
U-Haul Saves the Day
I picked up my ride home, went to Harbor Freight for ratchet straps, then proceeded to load the Burgman into the U-Haul.
Finally, several hours after I got stranded, I was finally making forward progress. When nobody else was there or even cared, U-Haul was there. Amusingly, just for extra absurdity, this one-way U-Haul truck had a bad wheel bearing. If it’s not flat tires and cold, it’s a bad bearing. Oh well, nothing was stopping me at that point.
After passing through a couple interesting landmarks I made it home around midnight. With Aline’s help I unloaded the scooter in a snowstorm and rode it into its new home, then returned the U-Haul, warning them of the bearing needing replacement.
This trip hurt me in many ways. The truck set me back $700 and the series of bad decisions made in those moments weighed on me. I learned a lot of lessons, too. Should you buy a vehicle long distance, don’t forget about the possibility of a breakdown. Even a car or motorcycle that looks snazzy on the surface can leave you stranded.
And given the COVID-19 pandemic that started to unfold right as I took this trip, I learned the emergency services or roadside assistance that sound so great on paper aren’t guaranteed. If you do travel for a purchase, bring a friend. Even if that friend ends up as helpless as you, at least you won’t be alone. Given how the pandemic has unfolded since my trip, I’d encourage you to stay home and avoid a long journey like this for a little while.
A big thanks to my friends and support system for this, it would have been much harder without them. And a massive thanks to U-Haul. Because of U-Haul, I didn’t get stranded in Pennsylvania. When nobody else was there, U-Haul offered an escape pod.