In which I turn off my scooter with a Swiss Army knife

During the course of my master’s degree, I would spend an extra weekend a month going into the mountains with my professor or classmates to help catch birds. This required a number of people to set up nets and retrieve whatever bird was unfortunate enough to fly lower than a few meters from the ground on those particular days. There is a ton of useful information that can be gathered about birds this way, and they are generally unharmed by the process. It is certainly an interesting task since birds as a rule have much better sight than we do and can fly, which makes catching them in a word, difficult.

One of the bird catching locations was Luo Shao, a farm located in the middle of Taroko National park (grandfathering for the win). I keyed my professor and classmate into this as a good place as it was one of my observation sites. You only had to take a little road a slope of twenty or so degrees to get up to it. This is doable with a good car, by hiking, or my complete disregard for what scooters should or should not be capable of.

On one particularly rainy occasion, I went up to help the lab with their bird-catching, but decided to drive my own scooter so that I could still teach English beforehand and continue on with my own research afterward. I got everything ready including my backpacking backpack which went in the front of the scooter where your legs really should go. The raincoat then went over the backpack to keep it and me dry (you turn it around backward for this, but most of the water comes at you from the front when you are scootering anyway). Between the two, they took up most of the room in the front and I had to wiggle my hand in to get the keys into the ignition.

The keys had been slowly loosening in the ignition to the extent that I could take them out while the scooter was still on if I tried. This had been happening for the last few months with little more than a curiosity for me, so I figured I was set. With the backpack-raincoat combo pressing the keys in, there really should not have been any problem, right?


Somewhere along the windy mountain road up to Luo Shao, the keys silently decided it was time to make a bid for freedom and leaped fearlessly free of the scooter. I kept driving. The curiosity of being able to remove keys from the still running engine meant that I had no idea at all that something had happened…until I got to the top of the steep road.

I jumped off the scooter, pulled it onto the kickstand and was prepared to victoriously declare my arrival (my lab didn’t really believe I could do everything I said I did with the scooter). I slid my hand down to the ignition, and found a distinct lack of key. I stared at the scooter stupefied for a moment or two, tried again, then pulled the backpack off the scooter and looked again. I looked around in all the outer pockets of the backpack and raincoat where the key could have slid into, but to no avail.

My scooter was still happily putt-putting away.

I had lost my keys! This included all the keys to the scooter, lab, house, etc. I left the scooter running and wandered up into base-camp. My victorious entrance was tinged by my need to explain that I was here, and the scooter was running fine; however, I had no way to turn it off. I suppose I could just let it run out of gas. I thought.

My professor proposed that he could drive me back down the road to look for the keys. I shamefacedly accepted and he went to get ready as I wandered down to get my stuff. When I got back to the scooter, I thought again about letting it run out of gas. Then I remembered that my wallet and all the important things were in the scooter seat, which required the key to open. I tugged on it a bit to no avail.

Brilliantly, my pocket knife flashed into my mind. I may or may not have used pocket knives in the past to get into doors that were unfortunately locked on me, so this seemed to be a perfect opportunity to employ my lock-picking skills.

I extracted the pocket knife, found the smaller blade, inserted it into the scooter seat-key hole, and a few wiggles later, I had access to my wallet, kindle, and a few other rain-sensitive items. SCORE!

It occurred to me that if it were that easy to get into the seat, maybe I had a solution to the still-running scooter. I hesitated. The pocket knife was entirely metal, and the thought of electrocution occurred to me. It was also raining, so the pocket knife and my hand were wet. I pried open the seat again and dried my hands with a towel for drying the seat off. I then boldly inserted the knife into the ignition.

It didn’t electrocute me, so I wiggled the knife a few times and felt the tumbler start to move. A few more patient adjustments, and the engine died. I got the scooter ignition into the off position, and pulled the knife out. YES! I totally just turned my scooter off with a Swiss army knife. This cements them as the single most useful tool in the universe.

My professor and I drove down the road slowly looking for any hint or gleam of metal that would herald the departure station for my keys. We didn’t find anything and worried that the rain, which was steadily getting harder had washed them forever away. My professor called the national park headquarters to report the loss, and we turned around to do research. The next day, the national park headquarters called because someone had found the keys and turned them in. YAY! We went for another trip down the road and back, and I was able to get the keys, get my scooter back running, and take it straight to the mechanic for an ignition/key replacement set. The scooter continued wander up and down the mountains and on and off roads for another year with no further keys jumping ship.

BTWs: I promise I have only picked locks that I have the right of entry for.