I do not do drugs. I do not smoke. Hell, I don't
even take aspirin for a headache. But I think I know how a junkie feels
when that first rush of euphoria from a hit cascades into and overwhelms
the senses: I am wandering again. Ahhhhhhhh. My motocyclene deficit has
been kept in check by the day rides one could enjoy through the mild California
winter, but like an Alaskan husky I yearn for the pull of the sled and
the urge of the next turn in the trail before me.
Where to this time? Well, if I knew for sure it wouldn't be a Wander, would it. But there are some points on the map ... the McComb Mud Bug Boil, the Branson Blast, the Luling BBQ Lunch and Kingsville Seafood Dinner (only LDRiders would pick two spots to eat in the same day that are 300 miles apart) - and some personal visits along the way. It looks like 40 days and 40 nights before I see SF again. Considering the way it has been raining in California this winter, that seems like an appropriate number. Are you ready for a long ride?
It is easier to pack for a long ride than a short
one. A few changes of clothes and an open mind - that's all you need. I
was asked again why I do this ... "why not?" was the answer. Time is going
to pass whether I stare at the computer at home or at this one in some
distant motel. I can 'afford' the time, so how better to spend it. Again,
it is the ride, not the destination that calls (just ask the huskies!).
So from the question of why? comes the title of this Y2K trip.
After a couple of errands, I turned my mind and the bike toward the open road while sitting in the middle of Haight-Ashbury. What a colorful start. Pink volkswagens still abound here. And it seems all the purple paint sent to die from the rest of America has found its resting place on the victorian homes here. You can still see some hippies, some still in dreadlocks and tatters sitting on a stoop smoking a doobie (60's terminology is still in vogue ... or they never caught up, dunno which). But in premonition of what I am sure to see as I visit places I've been to years before, the Haight is becoming upscale retrograde chic. There is now a Gap store at the corner of the two streets which define the neighborhood, Haight and Ashbury.
'Traveling' is somehow different than traversing.
It makes you - or at least lets you - see things you might otherwise ignore.
I have been through Oakland more times than my life has really needed for
it to be complete ... but because I am now 'traveling', this time I saw
something I've missed for who knows how long. The big building close to
I-580 that used to be The Sawmill now has a sign California Hotel. Or is
it Hotel California? Like the song (you can check out anytime you want
but you can never leave), I think California does have an aura to it. At
least this New England boy has been drawn back again and again. For some
it is the weather. Yeah, I like that. For some it is the scenery. Yeah,
that too. For a motorcyclist it is both those AND the seemingly endless
roads. Texans makes a big deal about the 876 miles across I-10. Did you
know it is more than a thousand miles (1028) by freeway from the northwest
corner of California to the southeast corner?
Alas, the endless road of the day is I-5. If all there was to riding a motorcycle was I-5 between SF and LA, I would gladly be in a car. The first and last 75 miles are decent. It is the 300 miles of vegetable bowl in between that are mind numbing. I once heard that the short version of teaching someone to ride a motorcycle is "sit here, twist that". Well, on a venue like I-5 with a throttle lock engaged, you only have to do half the work. Sit. I-5 indeed is one of the few places I do use a throttle lock. (Little games we play to keep amused:) The furthest I've gone without adjusting the throttle at all for traffic is 11 miles.
Obviously through (and 'observation' was where I
started this thread), mine is not the only mind being numbed. You must
constantly watch the drivers around you, for they are seeking distractions.
Like the young woman rooting in the glove box for something and not seeing
that huge tire snake that scared the bejesus out of her when it thumped
through both wheel wells. Not knowing which way she might swerve or the
snake might jump, I slowed severely to leave a cushion. The woman took
all three lanes of the two lane freeway to recover.
Another distracted driver made me laugh. Tan Ford Taurus, middle aged guy, who has had his share of burritos, using both hands to eat from a yogurt cup. He was scraping and digging and totally ignoring the road. I watched him for more than a mile and he never once looked up. Finally I pulled alongside to pass and you would think I appeared like a UFO. His startled look - with spoon midway to mouth - betrayed the surprise of being 'caught' when you thought you were alone.
I saw two things today I thought I'd never see, neither
of which are things you want to see. One was the CHP using radar on I-5.
Ever since I came to California there has been this mystique about the
CHP being prohibited by law from using radar on freeways. Well, I finally
looked up the law a couple of years ago. They are prohibited from spending
any money to purchase radar devices. Where citizen groups have purchased
units for police to reduce speeding on local portions of state highways,
the CHP have used radar for years. But never on freeways. What citizen
would want that? None. None except the citizen insurance company. The CHP
have been funded by some who-us-interested-in-our-bottom-line? companies
in the interest of public safety (suuuure), and now there is some mighty
surprised public who I doubt would say they feel more safety. One of the
last sanctuaries of speed is gone. The CHP were ticketing for 80+ in a
70. Traffic on I-5 seems downright sluggish these days.
The other 'thought I'd never' was more than $10 to fill the stock tank of a motorcycle. Regular gas at a 'discount' station along the freeway (next gas 37 miles) was $2.15. Wow. No wonder the SUV driver at the next pump was scowling ... I didn't even look at the price of premium.
The sun went down just as I was ramping up to climb
the Grapevine. (My GPS told me sundown was at 6:13 pm and damn if it wasn't
like a switch was flicked at 6:11!) If you've never seen it lit in the
late day sun, the section of I-5 that swoops back and forth up to Tejon
Summit looks like a wound grapevine on a distant trellis. In the two minutes
before sunset, the 'vines' went from green through orange to purple as
the shadow of the Sierra Madre raced the traffic up the hill. It was like
watching the fast forward maturation of an entire season. Two minutes like
that can make the previous five hours of droning worth every second of
being there. That is why I like to travel.
Thinking more about the dynamics of travel and how it seems our world never stops moving, I drifted easily up through the chain of struggling trucks. Using the power to weight benefit of the motorcycle, it was like dancing a tango through a room full of people doing a slow waltz. At last I was "riding" and not just driving a two wheeler. I crested the last dark ridge and the entire panoply of LA spread before me. (ok ... so it was only Santa Clarita, but it was pretty.) There the spirit of the trip came and settled on me. There my sense of adventures yet to come overcame that nagging feeling that "it's not too late to turn around" which surreptitiously packs itself into your suitcase at the last moment. There I said out loud to myself - I like this bike.
So it is what, 80 miles across the LA basin? And now it is close to 8 pm. And yes, I am using the 24 hour car pool lanes because otherwise traffic is moving like hay through a cow. Clumps here and there, slowly changing form, producing frequent bellowing and much exhaust. Thank goodness for the pool lanes. For a better image I'll say they are the spaghetti straps on the evening gown of transportation. If you can wear them they are sleek and racy. (Lose one though, and the results might be similar. :)
Captain's Log, Stardate -323233.71
Even though no one else asked, I have to ask myself
- Why Chino? It does not have a sign that says "Crossroads to Everywhere,
Gateway to Nowhere", but it might. I chose Chino to try to fit between
a motorcycle safety instructor's meeting I had to attend, and the St. Humbert's
Day Campout I wanted to visit. Once again I learned the nascent lesson
of the L.A. Basin: it is a long way to anywhere unless you are already
there. So Chino was perfect, no?
Actually it wasn't bad. On the way to the meeting I got to ride through Carbon Canyon, CA142, and I recommend it as a side trip if your trip has no center. It is such a quintessential Southern California dichotomy to have a gnarly canyon twist and sinew for 10 or 12 miles then dump you out like a pelican that lost its lunch - right into the heart of some congested mall utopia. Seeing such a rapid change, one can understand why classics like the Twilight Zone originated hereabouts.
Then on the way to the Airheads gathering in Prado Park, I happened to pass through Yorba Linda. Tricky Dick! (No, young persons, there was someone else who held that name while President years ago.) Without getting TOO political here, I was warmed and pleased to see the sign that said Richard Nixon Birthplace and Burial - the sign did *not* say President. Here I was going to find out who St. Humbert was and why the Airheads are celebrating him ... and I was thinking August 9 each year should be celebrated as the day The Constitution Worked (the day 'he' resigned).
Backing up a bit ... for those who do not know, I Am An Airhead. Not a bimbo, and not a blond, I do however own an air cooled BMW. It is an "air head", and de facto presumpto so am I. The Airheads are a group who revere the airheads. Some of them severe, rather than revere, but that is another discussion. The Airheads were gathering for a campout and hey, like the Taco Bell Chihuahua - I Am There. Clinton (no that THAT Clinton, it is the first name of the head (air)head at the party) tried very hard to keep the rowdiness organized. At least he managed to keep it localized. Oh yeah. St. Humbert was the only name on the calendar when they chose this weekend for the camp. Hence the honorarium.
One other unexpected pleasure of staying in Chino
was that my path outbound led me past the place of the forces that set
me out wandering more than 3 years ago. The company I worked for moved
its data center from Walnut Creek to Corona. I thought 400 miles one way
was a bit much of a commute, even for California, so instead I became 'of
leisure'. (And thus you are able to suffer these treatises.) Riding past
the data center now I felt so right, and in a way sorry for those inside
still chained to their Sisyphean chores.
On the other hand, I couldn't wish a worse place on them than Corona. It is where the smog of L.A. piles up against the hills. In the 30 or 40 miles from Chino it seemed the sky was slowly becoming opalescent, as though under the penumbra of an eclipse. It seemed if the smog got any thicker, you could wave a stick in the air and have it collect in tendrils like cotton candy in a carnival machine.
And then poof. Through a cut in the hills toward Lake Elsinore, suddenly the air was clear and the sky was blue again. All I could think is 'what a tortured land this is'. The hills are wracked by tectonics; what hasn't shaken, burned, or slid away has been buried in shopping malls and like-waves-of-grain houses to the horizon, each about 8 feet apart. (If you haven't seen California 'development' you wouldn't believe it.)
But yes there is a good part to this day. I am following the old Butterfield Stage route CA79 from Temecula and then S2 into the Anza Borrego desert. This is the setting of dozens of cowboy movies you have seen. I swear I recognize some of those rocks from Roy Rogers and Lone Ranger shows! There are still some historic stage stops preserved and at least one museum I whizzed past. I'll have to come back. In passing I'll mention if you are a LDRider ... this is the turf of the Fish & Chips Rally in September. Want to see the real old west, come ride the F&C.
Slowly, the great rubble rock of the weathered fracture zones still doing battle with San Andreas gave way to the undisturbed tabular plain of the Mexican deserts. The desert was smiling today - all the ocotillo cactus were in bloom. Bright red tips on waving fronds in the wind. Go Sam! Spring is out there! Find it!
Spend any time in California and you begin to speak
Spanish even if you don't understand it. There is "San ..." this and "De
La ..." that all over the place. But even with my limited grasp of the
language, I was greatly amused to come upon a truly beautiful overlook
of a canyon timeless in its serenity whether or not you understand the
name it was given. Stop sometime, throw some thoughts and see if they echo
in Canyon Sin Nombre.
Pitooie. Spit out again into civilization. Did I take I-8? Noooo. Did I go any slower on CA 98 than I would have on I-8? Noooo (except through Calexico - another one of those quaintly named both-sides-of-the-border towns). Was there any more to see? Noooo (except for 2 or 3 dozen border patrol vehicles. Geez they must cause a traffic jam at shift change).
Ok, kiddies. Today's safety lesson is "Always Ask Why?" If you don't know why that vehicle in front of you suddenly brakes, ask yourself: why? Merging back onto I-8 after a gas stop, I was close behind a Bronco or Blazer - one of the little brother boxmobiles before the Expeditions and Escalades took over (hmmm. is E a bigger letter than B ?). Looking for a slot in the fast left lane traffic, I took my eyes off the road ahead to do a head check. On return of heading, I saw the Boxmobile braking hard - then let up. Why? There was no one in front of him. Oh @#$% he is going to run over something!
Launch control, we have confirmed launch.
Deer carcass (previously dead) is airborne.
Execute Swerve Left Immediate.
Practice swerving, kiddies ... you never know when -
I've written a fair amount about the desert in past trips. Somehow it always impresses anew. Somewhere between Yuma and Casa Grande there is - nothing. Yet I was awed by how there is so much to look at while there is nothing to see. This day burned in some images in the 80 degree heat. Vermilion sandstone cliffs rising from the flat expanse 'just over there' but probably 50 miles away. How open, how unclaimed. How different from what I know I will yet see on this trip - the swamps of Louisiana, the forests of West Virginia, the rigid domestication of midwest farmland. It may be trite to say this great country is awe inspiring, but the more I see of it the more I want to.
Chino CA60 I15 CA79 county-S2 CA98 I8 I10 Tucson
There. In three characters I have spoken an entire
day. I-10 as in: sit still for 6 hours in 2 hour increments. I-10 as in:
been there, done that, don't want a T-shirt. It is only 350 or so miles
from Tucson to Alamogordo, but as for any mental stimulus, it may as well
still be the Jornada de Muerto the pioneers named the crossing of the White
Sands desert. (Journey of Death)
The trouble was worth it, though. I had a nice visit with friend Karen, her four cats and two goats just off of Dog Canyon.
2K or not 2K, that is the question. I am still thrashing for a proper title for this trip. I can't bring myself to call it 2K. I glommed on to computers at an early age and absorbed their ways as my own. I still D98581844081958440E69989A385 in hexadecimal. So to me a K is not 1000 (and even though I ride a K75 ... I'm not talking BMW here :), it is the binary value for 1024. It won't be 2K for another 48 years. There's no hope for us geeks. (The text string above is: Read_and_Write)
Today was one of those extreme-to-extreme days that
makes a trip exciting - the kind of day you expect but hope not to have.
It was terror and boredom, freezing and searing. At 9 am there was ice
on the road; four hours later it was 89 degrees.
Karen split off for work as I turned up the mountain toward Cloudcroft. We could see dark flat strata clouds above the crest and she predicted I would "get some sprinkles" near the top. But sprinkles of what?
Just as I passed the town limit sign at 8,960 feet it started snailing. Yes, snail. Snow hail. If a pellet hit something hard it burst into a large flat splat of snow. If it hit something soft ... like the layer of flat snail already on the ground, it stayed hail. Within 1/2 mile, the road was covered with close to an inch of snail. Now think about this for a moment. It is not just ice on the ground. It is ice in the shape of marbles. Slick enough for ya? As they say in Minnesota, youuuu betcha.
I slowed to a crawl but was afraid to stop, both for worry of footplant and for fear of not regaining what little traction I had. Luckily there was no other traffic. None except for that pickup truck about 1/4 mile ahead of me. When said pickup suddenly spun out after tapping his brakes, I swear I tail-swallowed half my Russell seat. Fortunately the road was not sloped much where he slid, so as soon as the tires hit the dirt he popped back on track. And I stayed right in his tracks (waaay back). I learned today just how precisely I can control the throttle of a K bike. VERY precisely, and very very smoothly. Thank goodness this isn't a surge-prone oilhead.
Large snowflakes sting! How they managed to find the only 2 inches of uncovered neck skin is beyond me, but these suckers were so big that four would cover my faceshield.
The squall lasted all of about 5 miles, and by 20 miles later the sun was out in a clear sky, the road was dry, and I was stopping to take off the extra layers of clothing I had worn prepared for the top. Weird.
Traveling long distances in open spaces like this,
there are not many opportunities to 'meet and greet' except during gas
stops. At one, this morning, I rolled the bike over to the deli to take
time for coffee. An old time cowboy with facial creases as deep and as
worn as the creases in his 10 gallon hat stepped out of his pickup and
asked "Where ya headin?"
He about choked. "On THAT ?!"
I nodded and he asked again "Where ya come from?"
Care to guess his response? "On THAT?!" He just shook his head and walked in. By the time I got in, his buddies were speculating how long it would take. Five days? Six?
"Nope. I'm going to be there Thursday afternoon, but I don't want to take Interstate, can you recommend a good backroad to Austin?" That got them to arguing sufficiently long enough for me to finish my coffee and make my own decision.
On the east face of the range, the map may say New
Mexico but the land says West Texas. It may be another 100 miles to the
border, but the high plains are indistinguishable for as far as you can
see. And here begins the wind that will slake the land for a thousand miles.
Gathering speed as it rolls off the slopes, it kept me tilted over while
riding straight. The MSF teaches a bike has to lean in order to turn, but
today proved again a bike does not have to turn in order to lean.
The wind at my back played havoc with my mileage. After more than 100 miles on the clock the FuelPlus was telling me I still had 180 miles remaining. Not even if you dropped it out of the space shuttle could the bike get that kind of mileage, so I was trying to calculate where to stop for gas.
I blew it.
Coming off a side road from Artesia I saw a sign "Eunice 54 miles". Oops, I only have 62 miles left in the tank - and considering the wind, leaving a cushion of single digits seemed like pushing my luck after slidelessly surviving the snail storm this morning. So I turned around and headed to Carlsbad. Right into the wind. Oops again. That 62 miles remaining degenerated to 24 miles by the time I pulled up to a pump - and the pump was only 17 miles from where I turned around. You do the math.
At least the downwind return to my route was fun ... ever play tumbleweed slalom? One or two jumping into the road is just debris. Ten at once is like threading through a video game.
Interesting sign at the beginning of NM360: This road subject to sinkholes and subsidence. (The road crosses right over the US Potash Reserve.)
New Mexico is one of the few states which still marks
every passing zone with a road sign. Even way out in the most desolate
open spaces where it is unlikely two cars are even on the same road at
the same time, the sign says PASS WITH CARE. Somewhere between Carlsbad
and Eunice I stopped for a necessary nature visit. As I was, ummm, observing
nature, I glanced up at the sign near me. It was very weathered and sandblasted
from the wind. The first letter A had most of its right side obliterated,
so it looked like an italicized I. How appropriate. :):)
If what I saw in West Texas is any indication, the new dust bowl has already begun. There has been some speculation about fallow land contributing to conditions similar to the beginnings of the dust bowl of the 1930s. I rode through two dust storms today that were so dense you could barely see the road surface. The tops of these curtains reached high enough to begin 'topping out' like cumulus clouds. And there was an eerie added warmth inside the swirl from the dust holding the sun's heat. Only hours ago I was bundled against snow and hail, now I am sweltering, bundled to keep dust out. What a crazy day.
Clipping off miles was easy on the 70-means-80 Texas
backroads. Because I wanted to take some extra time to study a Texas map
before I got 'deep in the heart', I decided to pull up early and aimed
for a motel in San Angelo. As I swooped into the lot and parked for registration,
a roughneck cowboy stopped his loping amble toward his truck and came beside
me. "Are yew fixin t'get a room?", he said.
If I were still in my city dweller trim, I would immediately have engaged Scam Alert. But the guy seemed neither in need nor tense, so I just nodded and said "Yep, if they have one." (The lot was empty but for one car.)
He said, "I just paid for my room but I got a call and I can't stay. You can have it for free. Let's go in and I'll tel them to give it to you." He did. They did. They were as amazed as I was. I thanked him and he wouldn't take anything for it.
I understand this. On several occasions I have stopped to help motorcyclists or motorists in need. Rather than accepting a gratuity I tell them - return the favor by stopping to help someone else when you can. Eventually it comes back to you. Karma, neh? Hai, dozo.
Alamogordo US82 NM360 US62 NM176-TX176 US87 San Angelo
Clear sky, 72 degrees, the rolling curves of the
Texas Hill Country, no traffic, and the roads bracketed with a cerulean
carpet of the famed Texas Blue Bonnets in full bloom. Who wouldn't want
to ride today? 'Twas sweet indeed.
San Angelo is still on the plains, although they aren't the high plains anymore. Then a few miles east of San Angelo the land suddenly rises and rolls like a rumpled blanket, shaken and thrown down. The Hill Country extends from here for about 150 miles, but I intended to cross it diagonally to stretch that part of the trip to about 250 miles. The route I followed may seem convoluted - and it is! This is a wander, remember.
The first town I passed east of San Angelo was Wall, Texas. Couldn't help but wonder if there was a drugstore in town, but I chose to leave it as one of the unsolved mysteries.
Not long after Wall, I passed through the tiny community of Grit. True! Another unsolved mystery - how do some towns get their name. I'll bet there's a story there somewhere.
Biscuits (and gravy) in the Willow Creek Cafe in Mason were real raised and pan baked. Heavy food in the morning can make the bike noticeably sluggish (or is it me?) so I only had the 'half order' - two biscuits each about 4x4x3 inches and a half pint of gravy ... $1.65. Good coffee too.
The restroom in the back of the cafe has a taxidermy large mouth bass mounted on the wall. I thought it looked a little strange because the skin appeared rubbery, not scaly. As I leaned toward the wash basin, I set off the motion sensor and the bass "started singing". It played a tune that was either a popular country song or may be a gospel song, I'm not sure. At the chorus "Take me to the river ..." the fish's tail wagged back and forth. At the refrain "Put me in the water ..." the front half of the fish turned toward you, mouth open. This sucker has a 6 inch or more reach. Goodness, I can just imagine a had-one-too-many cowboy leaning over and having a singing bass groping two inches in front of his nose!
Although I've been there before, since I was going
right past Lukenbach I stopped for a short visit. There is a hardwood dance
hall in a barn that must be quite a scene when there is a show, but otherwise
it is just an 1800's post office done up as a souvenir store. The back
half of the store is a bar, and a singing cowboy usually tends during the
day. Business was slow and he was really into his music. He played a couple
of songs and the 4 or 5 people hanging around didn't acknowledge him at
all. Then he started this really honkin hammering beat on his boxtop 6-string
"I wish someone would put a tip in the jar
I know you've come so far in your car
Just to hear me sing here at the bar
I wish someone would put a tip in the jar."
This tune was so lively it couldn't be ignored. It got their attention. They applauded. Did anyone put a tip in the jar? Nope. Except me.
Inland southeast Texas is new to me. As I continue
my diagonal toward Galveston, I pass nearby more towns with wonder-how?
names: Smiley, Cheapside, Cost, Nada, Runge, Nursery, and one that is just
too restrained - Sublime, Texas.
It seems I-10 has been drawn across the top edge of the coastal plain, for not much below there the land becomes table flat and obviously benefiting from a humid climate. It reminds me of lower Georgia, but with close stands of oak instead of pine.
Overall not much to say about 8 wonderful hours in the saddle. A great day, a good ride. It is good to feel this earnest tiredness and know it came from what those of us who have the motorcycle affliction can only hope for again and again: miles.
San Angelo US83 TX29 US87 RR1376 RR1888 US281 FM32 TX80
US183 TX111 FM2431 TX35 FM547 FM521 TX332 Clute
(RR is Ranch Route, FM is Farm to Market. These roads are almost always well paved and usually two lanes. The FM roads have very wide shoulders for farm machinery.)
Wisps of pleasantly chill morning mist slowly swirled
upward from the placid surface of Big Darbonne Bayou. The silvery Spanish
moss draped from tree branches to trail in the gentle current. A carpet
of bright green vegetation and water moss diffused the boundary of land
and water, rippling every now and then with the leap of a frog. There is
a ready dampness in the air, waiting to make its own leap to humidity.
This is a peaceful place. Bud's home is a former sportsmen's club "get
away from it all" lodge at the edge of the Great Atchafalaya Swamp. Ya
done good, Bud.
As I saddled up to leave, Sassy, his big black lab watched me with attentive curiosity. If dogs invented vehicular means of travel, I'm sure something like a motorcycle would be prominent in their choices. She looked like she yearned to go, but she settled for a mournful howl in tune to the freight train crossing the grading on the levee road. I howled with her as I rode off.
Yesterday and today were relatively short days with
a lot of slow back country sightseeing. From Clute, I finished the few
miles to the very shore of the Gulf of Mexico and rode along the beach
to and through Galveston. The miles of sea wall and beach walkway south
of the city have weathered their transition from semi-isolated vacation
spot to attract-the-masses family-fun-destination relatively well compared
to other locations in the US. It still seems greatly overdeveloped from
the last time I visited years ago, but that is the way of life in America.
Follow the Bluewater Highway to its end, and a free ferry completes the link with US87 on the other side of the bay. If you are not in a hurry, this is a nice diversion from city traffic through Houston. From there heading east, the road to Sabine Pass is still closed from whenever the last hurricane decided there should no longer be terra firma there. A jog up to Port Arthur was necessary for me to follow the beach road back into Louisiana. As lovely as the open spaces are, this section of our continent should be more properly called the Chemical Coast instead of the Gulf Coast. I lost track of how many refineries, glycol plants, and 'industrial solvents' production facilities there are.
When mapping out my path, I tried to look for the tiniest roads I could find in StreetAtlas which passed through what appeared as white space on AAA maps. AAA generally shows only "tourist acceptable" roads, whereas StreetAtlas shows goat trails. The problem is identifying which goats are paved - StreetAtlas does not indicate paving. Sometimes I guess wrong. This time, I guess right about LA690 which does not show on the paper map. It is paved ... except it does not exist like it shows on the computer map. If there ever was a bridge across that bayou where the screen phosphors show a solid line, someone sure did a fine job of obliterating all traces. Oh well, it's only 20 miles to the next bridge over the Vermillion River.
Speaking of 'vermilion', I am reminded now of that image in Arizona where I said it would compare and contrast with swamps. How short a time for being a world away. One undeniable aspect of travel is to give definition to the transience of what we perceive as permanent in nature when we see the same thing everyday.
Up through the center of Cajun country I swayed with the roads following the Bayou Teche. Picturesque St. Martinsville, Breaux Bridge, and Arnaudville are all worth a visit.
Clute TX332 Bluewater Hwy TX87 TX124 TX73 LA82 (LA690)
LA14 LA675 LA182 LA31 LA741 US190 Bayou Cortableau
The calendar tells me it is March, but I keep seeing
June. Corn farmers have a saying "knee high by the 4th of July", which
means in June it ought to be tickling shins. It was at least that high
already in southeast Texas. Then the weather reporters are saying these
are normal temperatures - for June. Then the parking lot at the breakfast
diner where I stopped this morning is covered with - June bugs. The little
diner in Livornia is nothing to write home about (but I will anyway :).
It is so old, the 'golden oldies' from the 60's playing on the sound system
are probably 'current' hits. And the happy chef sang to each of them as
she danced back and forth at the grill. It is barely 8 am and the etouffé
for lunch is bubbling on the stove, filling the room with a most enticing
I wish I had more time to sample local items. Then there are those I just note in passing, such as a sign in Pointe Coupee: Hot Pig Tails and Turkey Wings.
For many the Mississippi River is the dividing line
between East and West. For me, that line is the appropriately named Continental
Divide, but crossing the Mississippi somehow always seems significant.
Today I chose to take another ferry, from New Roads, LA. Very interesting.
This is the first side loading ferry I've ever seen. Because the river
current is so strong, the ship has to always face upstream to keep moored,
so a front loader would not work. As traffic rolls on, it makes a circle
around the wheelhouse which sits like a maypole dead amidships. When the
circle fills up, the long loads (trucks/trailers) come last and face straight
across. Nice system.
The deckhand warned me not to leave my bike on its stand when we docked. He said it often hit with quite a side jolt. Boy was he ever right! Even prepared for it I nearly lost balance - it was as someone giving a mighty sideways shove. Be careful!
This ferry is marked on the map as "toll". Since they didn't collect on board, I figured there would be a road booth. I did pass a sign that said "Toll effective July 1 1989", but that must have been the only day it was because there was no collector.
McComb is a pleasant small town in the farmland of
central southern Mississippi. I'm sure most of the people are pleasant
also, but my first impression was that at least 1 in 4 enjoys being unfriendly.
I arrived before motel check-in time, so I went to a local shopping center
to wait and rest. I parked the bike at the end of the lot near an empty
building, sat in place, and leaned back to rest my head. Literally every
fourth driver going through the exit either blew the horn, shouted "wake
up", or screeched tires to startle me. One teenager in a car full threw
an empty soda can against the wall near me. Funny how his humor wasn't
funny to him when thrown back as his car had to stop at the exit.
Luckily, I have met the good people of McComb - represented by Shane and Karen who are hosting a little feed for 250 of their friends. Shane claims to have 650 pounds of crawfish ready for Saturday night. I've been meeting lots of faces matching names on the IBMWR and LDRider mailings lists, and re-greeting friends from past events. So far, Jeff and Bill have been telling the best stories. Oh yes, I learned I already knew another native son whom McComb may claim among its fame - Mr. From The Bunker himself: Bob Higdon - who is here, he claims, for his annual carburetor adjustment.
Bayou Cortableau LA190 LA78 LA1 LA10 LA421 Norwood Road
LA19 MS33 MS48 MS24 McComb
The head sucking and tail pinching went on with limbs
flailing for 30 or at most 45 minutes. When the orgy was over, exhausted
men and women wiped their dripping bodies and settled down to rest. Ummm,
before you go gettin' any idea of a wild biker party, sucking and pinching
is how you eat crawfish. As Corky explained, assuming you do the preparation
yourself, every food source has a certain amount of energy necessary to
capture, render, and make ready for consumption. Every food also produces
a certain amount of energy for your body. Corky, remember, was a real college
perfesser, so only he would think of charting the relative cost to return
of the energy involved in foods. He drew a line across the table and said
crawfish rate somewhere out there near the fence for their ratio. So he
wasn't going to bother with them. BUT what he meant was, he wasn't going
to bother to get up and go to the shuckin table to get them ... he had
people bring them to him!
In separate conversations with several riders who have rebuilt replacement bikes after a crash or major failure, I began to sense a pattern of the riders emotional involvement in their machine. Without actually saying it, they clearly feel there is a soul of the machine. Not in their specific bike, necessarily, but that a spirit of riding is carried from one bike to another when parts are transplanted. This reminds me of the forms of reverence seen in many skill segments of human society, from the honor given the buffalo spirit before a hunt, to the indoctrination rituals which honored the tools (rather than the masters) of the medieval guilds, to the overtly superstitious bonds held today by professional sports players for certain talismans or pre-game rituals. But the long distance rider of today is not honoring the bike's spirit *in case* it works, he or she is honoring it *because* it works. The longer you ride - and the longer your ride is - the more you come to realize you are merely facilitating the spirit of the bike. A symbiotic state is reached. It is a religion.
Early this Sunday morning, most of us who are true
believers in the religion of motorcycling were practicing our faith and
reaping the rewards of our piety. Some only had one or two hundred miles
to go, for them a short sermon. Others were headed to either coast for
a full gospel. A few, like me, were headed nowhere. Well, 'out there' but
with no specific destination for the day. An open prayer.
I am off to make a 750 mile side trip to visit a friend I have known for over three years but have never met. That's the other most amazing revelation that comes out at gatherings like the Crawfish Boil - how the Internet is still just beginning to change our lives. People who did not know there was anyone else with interests like them are finding their personality-doubles ... and when the personality trait is LONG rides on slim excuses, well, this tool of electronic connection is just what we need to keep in touch with a wide community simultaneously. Heck, look at me. I write from who knows where ... and you are practically there.
Carol (Skert) was particularly effusive about how powerful a web page can be in getting her story out to people she's never met. She teaches people of all sizes and sexes how to pick up a fallen motorcycle. She is not tall. She is not big. She can pick up just about any bike, you name it: cruiser, sportbike, or luxobarge. I helped her put a page together, and now she has people across the continent seeking her out to tell her how it helped them. See her at http://www.ibmwr.org/otech/pickup.html
Jeff Johnson and I were reluctant late starters in the motel lot long after everyone else settled into the pew of their motorcycle seat. We chatted about our respective routes, and I commented again that I expected my rain-free streak to end this day. Not a full day of rain for me in the last 40,000 miles, but the reports were saying heavy storms from Mississippi to Ohio. So although the day was cloudy but dry, I suited up and rode "into the storm". 500 miles later I had a total of about 11 raindrops on my face and I decided to stop. It has been raining all during dinner and into the night ... tomorrow morning it looks like my rain-free streak will end. :) (See, Jeff, it wasn't a jinx.)
500 miles of Interstate is homogeneity of pavement. There was traffic, there were trees. Exits have numbers. Unseen towns nearby pass by. Minutes and miles become interchangeable, time and space adapt to each other in a special relativity Einstein never knew, for he did not ride a motorcycle. The pavement is an unmoving mass traveling at high speed, generating an irresistible force which draws the rider onward.
McComb I55 I240 I265 I24 I65 Goodlettsville
Those are the words that come to mind as I ride away from spending a day visiting f2f with an Internet friend - making reality of a virtual friendship. (For those who don't know, f2f is net-speak for "face to face".) Tranquil turmoil is what the Internet is doing to our society. It is changing us in ways eagerly sought but not yet understood. Its tranquility is the peaceable exchange of ideas with anyone willing to listen. Its turmoil is the immediate availability of everyone's ideas anywhere anytime. The Internet is the worst nightmare of a totalitarian mind, and yet it is the dream of a free mind.
I left Monica and her business partner Marcello to the tranquil turmoil of their web design business in her riparian manse on the Flat Rock River, a viable company with international reach, yet situated miles from 'civilization', virtually (and in reality) hidden from the world it serves. Commerce amongst utopia. I wish them well, but they already have it.
Tranquil turmoil is the descriptive state of travel, too. While moving, there is a tranquility of constant change. The process of making movement and the processing of the information flow it produces becomes a frozen moment that continually repeats itself. Once we get up on the wave, we remain stationary in relation to the wave as it moves beneath us - and moves us. Hanging ten over the motorcycle pegs is the riders version of the surfer's endless summer.
While moving, there is also a turmoil of constant change. Every bit of information in the flow of movement is a threat to be ameliorated, or a pleasure to be absorbed. Continually deciding which is which hones the rider's perceptual filter until it becomes instinct, riding the same wave of tranquility but just below the surface of that sea of conscious.
Being of a binary nature, I appreciate the duality of riding.
After being stationary for a day, I noticed my "road
sense" was not as acute. The tranquility of being ensconced in the trip
had been assuaged. The hone of the turmoil filter had dulled by disuse.
I was nearly run into, head on, by a driver on the wrong side of the road.
The two lane Indiana backroads through farming valleys mostly follow the edge of a field in a straight line, then curve around a hill and resume straight to edge the next field. It is a predictable straight, curve, straight, curve. Predictability leads to diminished awareness if you don't concentrate, and I was still thinking about other things.
I started a straight which was a mile or more long. A car came around the far curve onto the straight. Nothing registered. We approached each other. Something registered. We approached, now maybe 3/4 mile apart. It registered! The car was entirely in my lane and coming head on. I flashed my headlight rapidly, and of course began to slow. We approached. I flashed some more and put on my hazard blinkers. We approached. There was no shoulder to pull off, and the drop to the field was two or three feet - not an option to 'ditch' without great discomfort, yet stopping in the road would present a target. What to do? If I merely rode to the left and the driver suddenly corrected, then I would be in the same position. What to do? Is the driver in control of his faculties? Does he realize what he's doing? Because he came around the corner already in my lane and could not have known I was there somehow I didn't think it was intentional toward me. What to do?
Now with us about 1/2 mile apart, I slowed to maybe 10 mph (but I wasn't giving much attention to the speedometer, so let's call it a guess). I began weaving back and forth across the entire space of both lanes of the road, like going through a slalom. My intent was twofold: first, to give the driver an unexpected visual movement, maybe get him to focus, and second, to give me a sense of whether he would stay in lane or switch as I moved. It worked. He suddenly snapped upright and keelhauled his car into the right lane. From the force of his movement I decided he realized he had been wrong and would probably stay right. Or so I hoped.
As the car shot past, I saw it was a British car with right hand drive. The driver apparently momentarily forgot where he was driving.
Tranquility and turmoil. Let's just say my perception filter was honed razor sharp after that.
Stepping back a day, the trip from Tennessee to Indiana
more or less gets credit as a rain day to break my dry streak. It didn't
rain much, but I stayed in my suit the entire day. There was a burst or
two around Louisville (pronounced Luu-vul by the natives), but nothing
significant. I got a kick out of the looks on children's faces as we slowly
passed on the Interstate. They were intrigued by the motorcycle in the
rain. Getting an unsolicited wave from the rider usually set off a flurry
of activity in the car.
The bright purple Redbud trees were flaming splashes of color on an otherwise gray landscape in Kentucky. They are the color of "Santa Barbara Purple" bougainvillea and seem out of place here. If they are heralding spring, the horn is ahead of the parade. The ridge crest of the Ohio River Valley may as well be the Russian Front. It is still winter in Indiana (and it snowed yesterday morning!). But spring is not far behind. Finally off the Interstate for the last 30 miles to Monica's, I could smell the wetness of the fields and a ripe rich aroma of green onion. There is a wild chive that romps across the awakening untilled fields and pools on slopes near streams. Very appetizing.
Goodlettsville I65 US31 IN9 Flat Rock
After my two lane wrong lane excitement, the rest of the day was unremarkable. Towns passed by with amusing names, such as Stoney Lonesome, Gnaw Bone, and Loogootee, on pleasant two lane roads that were tight enough to be called "4th gear roads" ... no need for high speed. I began to notice the relationship between road numbers and rideability. Christening a "Rideability Index Digital Equation", I decided if the number of digits in the route number divided by the number of lanes in the road was between 1 and 2, the road has a high R.I.D.E. factor. Below 1 or over 2, it falls off either extreme of being over engineered highway or ungraded cow trail. A truly worthless metric, it was nonetheless enjoyable doing the research and field work for the theorem.
The town of New Harmony was the location of two successive and unsuccessful attempts (in the 1820s) at communal living long before Karl Marx or the hippies. It is open to speculation what really was the cause of their failure, but certainly the next town founded just down the road says what may have been on the minds of the Harmonites: Solitude, Indiana. So here I am, alone, south of Solitude.
Flat Rock IN252 I65 IN46 IN135 IN58
IN450 US50 IN57 IN68 IN69 Mt. Vernon
Southern Indiana is a land forgotten. Perhaps with
good reason. There isn't much to remember. Even some of the roads seem
to have forgotten where they go. Towns are isolated even if only a few
miles apart. At one point I stopped to ask a local if there was a bridge
anywhere near here going across the Ohio River into Kentucky. He said,
"I don't know. I don't need to go to Kentucky." We're talking about a distance
of maybe 20 miles ...
But I can always find something good to say about an area ... if you enjoy the slow life, this is the place to be. There is historical evidence that life has been slow around here for a long time. The dinosaurs must have really liked this area - it surprised me to see there are active oil fields in the lowlands near the river.
Though there is no bridge across the Ohio, there is a toll bridge west across the Wabash. While I was digging for change I joked with the toll taker. "The sign says 50¢ for autos - since I only have half as many wheels, how about a discount?" He thought about it for ten seconds or so and said "Sure." with a smile. I handed him two quarters. He handed me two dimes.
This is one of those in-between days on an undefined trip where I have to be somewhere tomorrow but have nothing to do today. The next destination is only 100 miles away. The only answer to this dilemma is: backroads. And, boy, did they go back! Taking a generally southwest track, twice I followed signed county roads deep into the Shawnee National Forest. Each road forked with neither fork going in the general direction I wanted. So, of course, each time I chose the wrong fork. The nice thing about having a GPS is that it tells you exactly where you are when you are lost. 'You are here'. Dunno where 'here' is, but there you go. First town I saw out of the forest was Humm Wye. That sorta sums it up.
Enough with the single track trails. Staying instead on roads paved within the past 40 years, I gave up the chance to visit Ragland, Needmore, and Monkeys Eyebrow, Kentucky. Woe is me.
Passing for the first time through Cairo (pronounced Kay-row, I learned), it was surprising to see at the confluence of the two rivers that the Ohio is noticeably larger than the Mississippi. Makes me wonder how the main branch of a river is determined. What if all these years we've been calling the rivers by the wrong name? Just because one is longer than the other doesn't automatically mean it gets 'the name'. After all, the Missouri is longer than the Mississippi, and it gives up its name at St. Louis. Oh well. Riding a motorcycles exposes many mysteries and gives you the time to contemplate them.
Along the outflows of the great river there are many places where the bed has changed over time. Some of them are now land locked bodies of water, which are not exactly lakes and no longer part of the river. The local name for them is Blue Holes. I passed a sign for Tom Bird Blue Hole and was curious. Later my map showed several others, like Thirty-Four Corner Blue Hole.
One last place to visit to stretch the day. Being a resident of San Francisco, I have an understandable interest in earthquakes, so I found my way to the location of the strongest known recorded quake in the US - New Madrid, Missouri. In the early 1800s there were few people living in this area, so there aren't any believable 'on the scene' reports, but the quake is estimated to have been between 8.9 and 9.5. (The great SF quake of 1906 was between 8.1 and 8.7.) The New Madrid quake was strong enough to instantly change to course of the Mississippi River. There is no monument in town to mark the epicenter, but at least the local museum acknowledges it occurred. New Madrid claims to be the oldest town "west of the Mississippi", but then goes on to admit the original town site has been consumed by the river. Oldest town "in the Mississippi" might be a better claim.
What should you feel when when you pull up in front of a police station and you are aggressively approached by the Chief of police? If the town is Chaffee, Missouri, you should feel welcome because Keith Carr is an enthusiastic BMW rider. His may be the only Chief's office wallpapered with vintage motorcycle posters. Being vigilant, dedicated, and on duty, Keith decided some local backroads needed patrol and we rode to visit a surprisingly good small winery in Commerce. Later Keith's lovely and gracious wife Nancy didn't even flinch when he dragged in another rider for dinner.
288 miles (which I'd call a good stretch from the direct route of 100)
Mt. Vernon IN62 IL141 lost IL13 IL1 lost IL146
cr1 IL145 US62 I57 I55 US61 MO77 Chaffee
Some people are natural leaders and just collect
an entourage as they go. Keith decided to go to Branson for the Internet
BMW Riders gathering and couldn't get out of town without three riders
following. His friend Sam from Illinois, and Carlos from North Carolina,
joined the parade across the Missouri hills. I commented yep, we're BMW
riders: four bikes, four different states, both coasts represented.
Our first rest stop was at one of the four remaining original covered bridges in Missouri. In New England where I grew up, covered bridges were fairly common out in the country, and none had been preserved as historical items. (Maybe now ... not then.) This park had the requisite educational displays about local history, millworks, and one on bridge building. Here was answered for the first time the question I often thought but never asked: why cover a bridge? Do you know? No, it is not to provide shelter for people crossing, although it may do that. No, the primary reason is not so animals unused to bridges will enter what they think is a barn, although that is mentioned as beneficial side effect. It is to extend the life of the bridge by protecting *it* from weather. When debris collects in exposed seams and wood is attacked by the elements, the average bridge lasted 10 years. Covering the bridge raised the average to 50 or more years, and relatively minor maintenance could extend that to 100 whereas by the time an open bridge needed maintenance, it was impracticable. 'Nother mystery solved.
Keith grew up in central Missouri, so we were playing in his backyard. He managed to stretch the 200 miles to Branson into nearly 400 which if graphed would look like the flight of a humming bird. We hovered over some great little roads that even Mo-DOT might not know about. It seemed we spent more time going north and south than we did heading west, which was the supposed direction of our destination. We were so far deep in the backwoods that, as he said, "They don't get Saturday Night Live until Sunday afternoon."
There were literally too many road changes for me to list them all. My GPS track, which can last an entire day on a normal tour, filled and wrapped about every hour. Except for one other scenic rest and several gas stops, the day was a blur of hills, valleys, forests, and fields tightly wrapped by a lace curtain of pavement. I might have liked to see some of the views ... but my attention was forced to focus on that tiny point where the road keeps disappearing into the curve ahead - and that point kept whipsawing back and forth from full left head turn to full right head turn about as fast as you just read this.
We arrived tired, wind blown, and happy into a world
that must have confused the other guests who were stepping off the shuttle
bus to enter the hotel. Picture a grand foyer colonnaded entrance driveway
- completely covered with two hundred or more BMWs of every imaginable
(and some not!) color, style, and age. It was thicker than the sandwich
packing a dealer does to get all the bikes inside at closing time. If anyone
was moto-phobic, it would be a traumatic nightmare to run this gauntlet,
but of course the crowd is so happy and effusive in making and renewing
contacts that you would almost not associate the distinguished (read: aged
:) and well to do (read: corpulent :) clientele with the pile of vehicles
out front. Plus, from the non-riders point of view all those crazy people
seemed to be wrapped in the same kind of protective material (goretex)
so they can't get out easily and bother normal people.
Somewhere around 300 stalwart riders have assembled here from all corners and climates. This is what Voni calls the Mid-Coast Unrally. That is a sufficiently improbable description for an excuse to meet. As she would likely say, if you need a reason then you're in the wrong place, but we're glad you came anyway.
It is fun matching faces to names having "seen" only what your mind conjures from a written-word personality, except of course, no one looks like what you expected. Gee, you don't look anything at all like your email id!
For such a varied group of iconoclastic individuals, you might expect strong expression of uniqueness. Not so. We are all individual elements of a self chosen community, and it is amusing to see we have assigned ourselves to wear a uniform - something few powers on Earth could force upon us. People were lined up across the lobby to get their one-of-a-kind, never to be made again RED Branson IBMWR T-shirt. Yeah, me too. Too bad I don't wear T-shirts ...
Not that I was trying to get long distance acknowledgment or anything ... but it has taken me 4,292 miles to get here since I left home 15 days ago. And I have 4 more weeks yet on the road.
Chaffee parts of ssrA, ssrC, MO49, MO21, MO19 ssrK,
MO106, MO17, US60, MO76, US160, US65 Branson
Athens, Rome, and Paris.
There is an old country song that sings of the differences between the lives of the upper class and the common folk, and the duet promises to take each other to the above named exotic locations. But they turn out to be Athens, Texas; Rome, Georgia; and Paris, Tennessee. Now that I've seen Pair-ree, I'd say it's pretty darn exotic compared to another town I passed through today: Fifty-Six, Arkansas (coincidentally, population 156). How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm, indeed.
A couple miles outside of Paris is the Roadkill Taxidermy shop. One wonders why. Perhaps it is easier to stack flat trophies. At the edge of town is the Hungry Wolf BBQ shack. Now serving: goat. Umm, let's move on.
Voni mastered the ceremonies masterfully at Branson.
Everything but doors were given away as door prizes. Awards for every unimaginable
achievement were handed to winners who negotiated their positions - Voni
explained that facts didn't matter, it was what you believed that counted.
She is a true believer. She is also a true champion, for which she received
a standing O and a one-of-a-kind red (of course) sweatshirt proclaiming
her 500K sMiles completed.
(I did get the award for having traveled furthest from reality. :)
There was one other "special" award, but you'll have to ask Chip about that.
Those hardy souls who started their return trip at
oh-dark-thirty were surprised to find the pre-sunrise temperature at pre-freezing.
28 degrees is a record for the area, but riders are riders and are not
deterred by lack of warmth. After all, that's why god made Gerbing, and
Widder, and ... electric clothing. By the time I packed at 8:30, three
quarters of the bikes were gone.
It may just be that we are shy individualists, or it may be that we haven't refined our social skills, but I notice that among our crowd hardly anyone ever says "good bye". Some simply mount up and ride away. Some will go as far as saying "See you later" or "See you on the road". Having met for no apparent reason other than to be together, we are reluctant to break the bond and fully expect the magic harmonics of our convergence to last. I did my part, too, in this communal waiting for Godot. After chatting with a group, rather than saying good bye, I said with a smile "I think I'll go for a ride."
Heading south out of Missouri toward my next
destination of West Virginia, which is east (can you believe
I was an Edelweiss tour guide for a year?), I planned to tour the Ozarks
along the way. Somebody told me to take AR14, but that somebody forgot
to tell me that all the mountains are huddled in the western quarter of
the state and about as soon as you turn east on 14 - which is where it
starts - the mountains go flat. Oh well. The ride is the reason.
And the scenery wasn't bad. I saw a wild turkey just like the bird on the bottle casually cross the road. The wild ones may be scrawny compared to the Mae West dimensions of farmed warblers, but this dude was big enough to be a road hazard. In another observation, the Arkansas border must also be the Red Bud / Dogwood line, like the Mason-Dixon. Here the woods were vibrant with white veils scattered like bursts of confetti sprinkled across the hills.
There are how many roads out of Branson? 15? 20?
and within a few miles the junctions to other roads multiply to what 50?
100? So with all those roads, why when I walk into the building at a gas
stop 100 miles from Branson do I encounter - - - Chip Robie. What deity
of good fortune did I neglect to give homage?
Actually, the Chipster isn't half as rampant in person as he is in persona. As I went past to the restroom, I thought I heard him terrorizing a couple of blue hairs telling them something about him being a Ukranian Cosmonaut (in his red aerostich) surveying the area for manned landings. His maniacal smile had them convinced.
Perhaps Mountain View, Arkansas is the right place, though, considering the comment I got in the restroom. First, for those of the gender persuasion who do not have the occasion to practice urinal use, I should explain it is not a time for practitioners unknown to one another to (as Miss Manners might say if she were aware of the protocol) exchange pleasantries of conversation. Though you may only be a number of inches apart, it is socially understood that a wall exists. Just stare at the grout.
Well, as I was staring grout, the gentlemen one over said "So, you finally found someplace in Mountain View where people know what they're doing." Huh? Whatever was in his mind, I chose not to disturb his, uh, grasp of the situation.
Instead I went Ridin With Robie. Chip, who has recently written fanciful about K12 being a Claytooine Star Wars ship, deftly backed his bike, the Millennium Rooster (red beak), out of its space without using his reverse gravity assist. Then he thrust his bike, the Millennium Robin (red breasted), into what passes for a traffic jam at the one light in town, causing a pickup to heel-to for me and what could I do but follow. His bike, the Millennium Clapper Rail (red tail) automatically increased its radio volume as its speed increased, and I had to drop back a good quarter mile before he stopped sounding like a two wheel boombox. The passing sight and sound of his bike, the Millennium Tern (nope, orange, not red tern, uh, turn signals), caused cows to turn their heads. And one young girl beside the family car in a church driveway watched him pass and then rubbed her eyes. Yes, riding behind Chip was like sailing in the serene surface space behind a supertanker that cuts the waves with its prop wash - except his was a wake of disbelief. Surprise, folks, he's a good rider.
We go our separate ways at Marked Tree, Arkansas.
Once more across the big river, and I begin the climb to what the east
has to offer for mountains. Tennessee quickly changes from river farms
to forested hills, to rugged outcroppings.
There are two greens in the fields now. Spring is advancing its hold. The lighter color is how a photosynthesis complexion would blush in embarrassment - a gentle green risen from the earth. It is the color of new grass and young opportunistic vegetation racing for the sun - claim the space first, we'll color it in later. The other color is the mature development of well rooted growth. It has found its place and it won't be crowded out. The fields of rye grass already define the hue: verdant.
Branson US65 AR14 I55 I155/US51 TN89 TN54 Paris
Eight solid hours and 400 miles of Southern Kentucky
has been a Deliverance from flat land fever. If 'cabin fever' is what you
get when you are stuck inside too long, 'flat land fever' is what you get
when there are no curves ... when you have been going straight for so long
that you can get off the bike without putting down the sidestand and the
bike will remain upright because the tires are worn level. There are plenty
of farms in northern Kentucky, but south and east toward the Cumberland
Valley the land is as wrinkled as a dog's snout after ground pepper is
spilled on the floor. And goodness, that dog can hunt. I have learned all
over again the cornering skills I already have. Ain't no chicken strips
left on my tires.
Paris (Tennessee) served anything but delicate cuisine in its local eateries. After living with a heart condition patient I became used to eating food prepared with zero salt. It raises the question of what, if anything, do people taste who add salt to meals of prepared salt sprinkled with food. (No I didn't get the word order wrong in that sentence.) The restaurant next to the motel could have been named Morton's Iodized Cafe. Ah, but the treasure of new experiences is why we mine the ore of travel, right?
As Arkansas was the Redbud Dogwood Line, so it seems the Kentucky border is the cross pollination zone. What happens when you combine the two trees? I saw a lot of what I am told are pink dogwood, but what I will choose to call Red Dog Bud, though I could be barking up the wrong ... nevermind. Whatever they are, they are still about the only thing in bloom.
There are hidden stories everywhere you look - if you can see them. I passed several hundred Tennessee route signs before it occurred to me the numbers are painted on the sign in an down-pointed triangle with rounded corners. What significance does a triangle have in Tennessee history? Then I thought of other states with symbols on their state route signs. Missouri and Texas have the outline of the state. Utah has the shape of a beehive (the beehive state). California has the shape of one petal of the state flower, a golden poppy. It would be interesting to research how these came to be chosen.
While musing on such distractions, I missed an unsigned
turn on a county route to Keysburg. The GPS soon told me what appeared
to be the main fork was heading in the wrong direction. Though I was pretty
sure the other fork now a couple miles behind me was the correct choice,
I stopped to ask an old black man who was fishing from the middle of a
small bridge over a muddy creek. He had on denim overalls with shoulder
straps a little too long for his short but stocky frame. One strap was
buttoned and tied in a knot to shorten it, the other was untied but pinned
above the button hole with the rest flapping in the breeze. His shirt was
out in back as though he just finished scratching and hadn't bothered to
rearrange. A crumpled straw hat sighed in repose above his brow. He looked
the perfect image of contentment.
"Good day, Sir. Is this the road to Keysburg?"
"How do boy. You can get to Keysburg this way, but it gonna take you all day. Best you go back 'bout 2 mile and turn left."
"Thought so. Thanks. How's the fishing?"
"Oh, I ain't fishin. I just come down here when the woman start hollering 'do dis, do dat'. There ain't no fish in this creek, but she don't know that."
He was the image of contentment.
Not long after, I stopped for gas and a snack in
Franklin, Kentucky. The young woman behind the counter asked if it was
fun riding a motorcycle. That's a question like "why is there air", but
I said "It must be. I rode it all the way from San Francisco." She looked
at the bike, then looked at me. "California?" "Yep."
She looked at the bike again and without looking at me said "Do you know where you ARE?"
"Wait, I'll check." For dramatic effect I walked to the window. "Yes, I am right here."
"No, I mean this is Kentucky!" After a bit of discussion of geography and the nearly 5,000 miles to the west coast (by my route), none of which has she seen, she asked in a polite way "Are you crazy?"
I said "Remember you first asked me if motorcycles are fun. The answer is the same. That much fun makes you crazy for more."
Some people get it. They understand even if they are not afflicted. She waved goodbye and said "You probably don't want directions to the Interstate, do you?" Her smile was as big as that man's on the bridge.
Paris US79 US41A TN76 US41 cr1884 KY102 KY96 KY591 KY383
KY100 KY1366 KY100 KY90 KY92 US25E US119 Whitesburg
Running ahead of a storm, I got an early start and
whipped the horses toward the barn. Deep in the hollows, where every other
vehicle was a 60 ton, 22-wheel coal truck, I was running in top form and
loving every minute of it. Fanciful names like Gas Kill, Bimer, and Belfry
flew by (in the bat of an eye :).
Crossing the Tug River at nearly the very spot where Devil Anse's brother was shot, and thus started the 'real McCoy' of family feuds, I entered West Virginia at Matewan and took a photo of the street sign at the intersection of Hatfield Street and McCoy Alley. The other big story of Matewan was told in an excellent movie produced by PBS and distributed as an art film. It retells the battles of the coal miners against the company for union recognition. If you'd like to rent some entertaining educational history ... it is eponymously named: Matewan.
Red Jacket, Slabtown, Pie, Dog Patch, Freeze Fork ... streaked by, all similar in their cluster of houses close upon the road with an impossibly steep precipice on one side and a swift creek on the other. It surprised me when I first learned the famed West Virginia Mountaineers do not live on the mountains, but on the flats of the hollows. Seeing the hollows in person explains it. Only a swallow could nest there.
Too soon these incredible roads (kept in excellent repair for the heavy trucks) come to a quick end of a short day. If you ever get the chance to ride WV, do. Marmet is where the outlaws live - we are not married, so I can't call them 'inlaws'. :) I will be off for a week tending to family matters. See you soon ... the trip is far from over.
Whitesburg US119 KY319 KY1056 WV49 cr9 US52
WV44 WV10 WV17 WV85 US119 WV3 WV94 Marmet
A chill swirling mist rose through the still barren
trees. The molten gray sky overhead showed no promise of warmth. Occasionally
a cold rain pelted the ground as a taunting dare to set foot lest you be
wracked with the barely restrained fury of nature.
It was a perfect day for a motorcycle ride.
But then, after a week of being in a car, anything short of a volcano raining fire and brimstone would be a perfect motorcycle day. I reeeeeally like to ride.
The visit was nice, and it was just long enough to let my ear canals heal from the irritation of daily earplug wear. As I explained to the guys on the ride to Branson - it is kinda like a vacation with a nymphomaniac ... no matter how much fun, by the end of a week some parts are rough and sore from constant use. :)
There has been a recent discussion thread on the Internet BMW Riders list about mothers who approve of motorcycles enough to have actually taken a ride (and some of the disastrous results therefrom). Wish there was someone around to take a picture. The day after I got to Marmet, the mother-out-law asked for a ride. My bike has a very tall saddle and a backrest which makes mounting difficult for a passenger. We had to use a stepladder for her to get on and off. It must have been quite a sight.
Oh, yes, Marie is 79 years of age and would have ridden a lot farther if it hadn't started raining.
Leaving the Kanawha (kah-naw') Valley, I tried to
head due south. Ain't no straight lines in West Virginia. All the roads
follow the tortuous traces of the streams which anywhere else in the US
would be renowned for the precipitous canyons they carve, except here everyone
lives and travels on the bottoms of the canyons so they don't see them
that way. In some places the two ridges on either side block out the sun
except between maybe 11:30 and 12:30.
After turning on my first waypoint from memory, I went to activate the day's route in the GPS only to discover I had not uploaded it. The route was laid out on my mapping program, but I forgot to connect. Nope, there were too many route changes for me to remember them all, so at the first gas stop in Glen Daniel (which turned out to already be off the mapped route), I parked under the awning and opened up my computer work case. As I set up the pc and gps, a small boy wandered over to watch. Picture me. Spaceman's helmet still on my head, reflective rain suit with day-glow striping, wires and electronics draped all over an already from-elsewhere motorcycle. (At least he recognized the computer.)
"Hey, cool, ya got a built in computer. Whatcha doin?"
"Uploading waypoints to my GPS." I could have just said anything because it was obviously a foreign language.
I smiled at him, and in a flat, metallic voice monotone with pauses said, "I. Must. Contact. Spaceship." Just then the Street Atlas GPS interface made contact and the image of a satellite beaming to a receiver filled the screen and the pc began speaking the first waypoint directions. His eyes widened perceptibly. I continued in metallic monotone, "Greetings GolDak. Where will the spaceship land?" And Street Atlas focused the map on the current GPS position, which, of course, was where we were standing. He knew it was a joke, but he laughed anyway. "Wow!" As I shut down the program, an option window popped up. Continuing the joke I intoned, "No, GolDak, the earth boy is not food. He will not be beamed up." And at that the boy had to leave, but I could hear him telling his mother that the guy over there was talking to a spaceship ...
A couple of days ago, in the car, I passed a sign
on the Interstate that announced the town limit and "Home of Jerry West,
NBA Great". It seemed a strange title, but I suppose if an explanation
is necessary for passers by it will do. Today I rolled through the barely
there hamlet of Bolt in a tight little hollow in southern West Virginia
with its own claim to fame: Home of Little Jimmy Dickens. No explanation
necessary. If you don't know, you are probably too far from where you should
And let me tell you there are no two ways about it. You are either a local or you are a flatlander. The difference is obvious. Anyone who is driving a coal truck has a military short haircut and wears a Cat hat (no, dear, not cat-in-the-hat ... Caterpillar equipment. Elsewhere they are called baseball caps. Here they are Cat hats.) And anyone who is not 'cut and Cat' hasn't had a haircut in ten years. Looong hair on men is way common back in the hills.
Bloomingrose, Comfort, Orgas, Sundial, Johnnycake. Some names were larger than the towns. Round about here I noticed that "names" were much more prevalent than where I live. In a city, you do business with a company with a corporate sounding name, whether it is a dry cleaner or insurance or a restaurant. In the hills, the name is more prominent than the company. Here you do business with a person, not a company. John Oaks Hardware. Bill Cuddy Insurance. Vickie's Cafe. The personal touch has been lost in a lot of America. Whether by design or slow to change, it remains here.
The further south, the more spring like the land
becomes. There are wild flowers on some of the hills. The trailing vines
in the tree limbs over the creeks are beginning to turn green and look
like verdant thermometers measuring the progress of the vernal season.
Even on the most rickety and weathered cabins, some of the rockers and
chairs from that pile in the corner are lined up on the porch (*everyone*
has a porch) to face the road for evening chat time. Life is returning
to the woods and to the woods dwellers.
But it is still a miserable day, even being a perfect day for a ride. The cold and the wet never let my hard wall Dunlop tires warm to operating temperature, and they skitter in corners enough times to scare me into staying below the speed limit. Over Clinch Mountain the fog is so thick and moist I have to open my visor to see enough of the road. The slight diffusion on the faceshield is enough to 'white out' visibility. With all the difficulty and the exquisitely curvy roads, the miles go way too slow, so I am forced to break out of the plan and ply the Interstate to get close enough to make my appointment for engine maintenance with a dealer in Alabama (just crossed 78,000 miles). One more pit stop and I'll hit the highroad. One more pit stop, indeed.
What is it about Virginia at the West Virginia border? None of the *five* places I stopped allowed use of the restroom. Not even national name gas stations. Never did care much for Virginia, anyway, so now my attitude is p*ss on it. That's what I finally had to do.
As a side observation, southerners often feel northerners are rudely brusk. Ask a question, get 'yes' or 'no' as an answer. Nothing more. It is the way answers are given, no wasted words. By the same token, this northerner feels some southerners are rudely polite. They give effusive yet stupid answers to simple questions: Do you have a rest room? Well I'm sorry to say no, we sure don't , but you do have a nice day.
Have a nice day?
Actually ... I did.
Marmet WV94 WV3 WV99 WV85 WV10 WV971 WV97 US52 WV80
WV83 WV635/VA635 VA680 US460 US19 I81 I40 Knoxville
Big wheels keep on turnin.
Rollin by the rivvvver.
(Aside: doesn't Tina Turner have great legs! She is as old as my grandmother and I ain't no spring chicken myself, but she can still pump a leg-man's dreams.)
Some days there just isn't anything to write about.
I may be jaded by the sameness of the roads between the Appalachians and
the Rockies. Now that the spring foliage is filling in, the green curtain
has descended along the roadside and there is little to see. Apparently
a "scenic" road in the East is one with trees on *both* sides, because
there is not much else visible.
Once the coiled anxiety of the West Virginia terrain gave way to the serene valleys and pastures of Tennessee, the states began to meld into a common element. There are about 1,500 miles between me and the next event - dinner in Kingsville, Texas, and making them go past is going to be a chore. Southern Tennessee, Northern Georgia, Western Alabama, Eastern Mississippi, they are all one memory - a two lane road with gentle curves and an occasional hill. The only notable exception is the Lookout Mountain area of Georgia. One significant ridge about 1,000 feet high. Ten miles of moderate climb and it is over. Next up is getting the bike serviced.
Dixie Sports just happened to fall on the straight line path I drew across Alabama, so I called for an appointment. The nice folks there said sure they'd be able to fit me in. Yes, they could work on my K bike. Seems they 'forgot' to tell me one little detail, though. They are no longer an authorized BMW facility even though they are still listed in the BMW dealer locator. Good thing I didn't need warranty work, but no matter. Rik, the mechanic, is trained in the secret BMW handshake, and I have to say he really puts the 'good' in the image of good ole boy. Watching someone work who knows what he is doing and likes doing it is a pleasure in itself, to say nothing of the homespun country humor he keeps throwing at you as he works. Anthony and Brian didn't have a lot to do late in the afternoon when I arrived ... so just to fill time they washed and quick waxed my bike. Anthony is the owner, and Brian is the salesman. How's that for service?
The nicest benefit of Dixie Sports to make up for them being north east south and west of nowhere is their bunk house which is always open to motorcyclists (whether or not you get service). It is a room at the end of the building with several bunks, a bath and shower, kitchen facility, and cable TV. It was better and cleaner than some of the motels I've stayed in and it is free! Just help yourself even after hours, they leave it unlocked.
Asking Street Atlas for the shortest diagonal across Mississippi yielded several segments of the Natchez Trace. Oh gawd no. Feel your wrist. If you have a pulse, avoid the Trace. It ranks in contention for the most boring road in America. But just to prove my opinion again, I rode it. That effort lasted all of 15 miles before I was screaming to get off. Think of a driveway. 300 miles long. Nothing to see, 'cept the trees on both sides. Not a hill the entire length. One curve precisely every 2.647 miles and curves so gentle you could steer your RV with your knees ... which apparently is what it is designed for. Speed limit is 50 mph, and heavily patrolled. Anyone who claims to have ridden the length of this purgatory has a skill I never hope to achieve - being able to completely switch off their brain.
Going south and west in Mississippi is to go back
in time. The towns become post card models of tree lined court house squares.
The stately patrician mansions still sparkle white, huddled under shade
of giant sycamores. Some plantations are historical preserves, and some
are still working. Shanty towns housing field workers still exist on smaller
two lane backroads. The Old South slumbers on.
At last again I come to the Great River Road, which is indeed near the river but after 40 miles I still haven't seen a glimpse of water. Eventually Natchez comes to crouch on the banks, giving one of the only two non-Interstate bridges to Louisiana across the big river north of New Orleans. The eastern portion of my trip is done.
Knoxville TN168 TN33 US411 GA2 GA193 GA136 GA301/AL75
US431 AL69 AL157 US31 cr1343 North Vinemont
Vinemont AL157 I65 AL69 AL124 AL102 US43 AL18 AL96/MS50
US82 MS12 Natchez Trace MS429 MS43 MS16 MS22 I55 I220
I20 MS18 US61 Natchez
It can enter through the tiniest crack in your defenses.
It gets under your skin. Unfelt and unseen it spreads throughout your body
and aims for the vital organs. It gets into your blood and settles permanently
in your extremities. You are not infected, but you are consumed. Slowly,
over time, you become 'it' more than it is a part of you. It ... is the
urge to ride.
The longer you have 'it', the longer is the ride necessary to quell the demanding thirst - a desire that can never be quenched. When 'it' is raging, a reasonable day's ride suddenly seems insufficient. Another few hundred miles becomes "only" x hours, or an even smaller measure of tanks of gas. 'It' has the power to make time become a servant instead of a master. Hours become miles; miles become states; and your state of mind becomes the passage of time. It is a perfect circle.
When I settle into the feeling of a long ride, I
become more relaxed. The next gas stop is not mentally seen as a rest stop.
Lunch or snacks are not a stop at all, but taken in flight. Fluid intake
is changed to be more gradual than gulping Gatorade in the shade, having
now to provide balance against sweating it out in the sun and against filling
the bladder before the next gas stop. It all becomes a dependable routine,
a fit like the caress and cover of a well worn glove.
Thus I arrived in Kingsville a day earlier than intended. 'It' grabbed hold of me ferociously somewhere in the pine barrens of Louisiana, welling up from deep inside like a wave of fever. Ride. Texas suddenly felt smaller than it appears on the map. Ride. On a normal morning at home I am rarely up before 8 am, but this particular morning at 6:30 I was thinking: what a waste of good riding time. Is it possible our iron horses can show eagerness too? Right outside my motel window, the covered bike seem to be pawing under its canvas blanket in the wind. By the usual rising time, we had devoured 60 miles, and the day was on to be a mile eater. Ride.
Each day I plan to travel somewhere between 300 and 400 miles to allow enough time to go slow on small roads and to allow evening time to write. Today after 350 miles it seemed pointless to stop with so many hours before sunset. And so it went. By the time Kingsville came into view, I was actually wishing it was farther away - 'it' hadn't had enough.
Riding alone gives me a lot of time to be philosophical
but it is never something planned or expected. In central Louisiana I passed
a man sitting on a large utility ATV pulling a trailer loaded with farm
equipment. He had been putting along resting chin on palm until he saw
me, then waved with a simple fluid sweep of his arm. Somehow that triggered
thoughts of contentment versus complacency in one's occupation. Farm work
is definitely labor intensive, but compared to the type of detail and precision
and time-critical planning of my years in computers, it seems to be overall
more forgiving. Office work demands things being done 'better' or 'faster'
or more 'economical' all the time. There is a minimum standard that must
be met in farm work, but making more precise furrows in the field doesn't
make the crops grow more, and you can only milk cows so fast. I've known
a number of people who were complacent but discontent in their jobs. I
wonder if the graceful motion of that man's wave and his casual relaxed
position belied a satisfaction of his situation.
In the vicinity of the Black River, the Louisiana swamps crowd the road and are fetid, stagnant pools of inky dark water. I expected to smell rank odors, but instead there arose lush scent of honeysuckle and white flowers on a vine I don't recognize. The banks of the roadway were alive with splashes of color. Patches of yellow daisies and purple snap dragons liked to cluster together. A pastel pink open blossom like a fake rose often crept right to the road's edge, and long swatches of dark crimson were thick as a shag carpet in the tips of what looked like red heather (tough to tell for sure at 70 mph). I saw no alligators, but more than a few armadillos made crow lunches all you can eat.
How hard is it to make a cup of coffee? Geez, I mean, you scoop some grounds, turn on the pot, and water drips. Right? So why do most roadside dinners/delis go through the bother of adding sawdust - or motor oil - or melted plastic? At least that's what it tastes like ... I am willing to give up a lot of normal conveniences to travel, but how hard is it to make a *good* cup of coffee?
Mulder! Scully! I have seen the black helicopters.
The conspiritorialists who believe the government is secretly amassing
to 'take over' may be right. But they are not practicing out there in the
Nevada desert - they are right here in Louisiana. While slurping an oily,
plastic flavored concoction in a coffee cup, I wandered over to the fence
that said Fort Polk Military Reserve - Do Not Enter - Live Unexploded Munitions.
Eight unmarked black helicopters were practicing hover and swoop in unison.
Three times they dove down together in wedge formation, then back up to
about 500 feet. After that it suddenly occurred to me that I was standing
on the edge of a restricted space wearing a helmet (with no visible purpose
- the bike was hidden by the building). Before I became persona non grata,
I decided to become absent.
There may indeed be more churches than there are people in the south. Every town no matter how small has several, and some of the names are amusing. A large sign announced the approach to the Church of the Open Door. Another said "Our door is always open." Couldn't help but notice as I passed, it was closed. Then there was an unfortunate abbreviation on a banner over a main street "Come enjoy the Spring Festival at the 1st Meth Church". Yes, I know it is supposed to mean Methodist, but if Peyote can have a church ... Anyway, there was one little church in Reeves, Louisiana, that I think I could really get into the swing of: the Center Hammock Baptist Church.
"only" 542 miles
Natchez US84 LA28 LA121 LA463 LA113 US190 LA12/TX12
I10 US59 US77 Kingsville
Getting kicked to death by a duck.
That is what it is like to ride all day in the relentless
Texas wind. If you let a duck kick you long enough, it may eventually kill
you, but in the meantime it is just damn annoying. Kick. Kick. Kick. All
day. Without once letting up.
Combine that with a 104 degree temperature and you'll understand why I decided to pull up a little early and make it a short day.
Texas is missing the biggest opportunity to generate electricity. I envision a 700 mile line of windmills from Brownsville to El Paso, like those windmill farms in California. What with the way this wind blows, half the southern US could get free electricity ... oh, ... that's probably why they don't do it.
So, how hot was it? In numbers, not as hot as I've been in before, but with the wind there was no relief. The air was 104, the wind was 104, everything you touched was 104. My BMW has heated handgrips controlled by a switch. When on low, the special rubber grip absorbs and holds heat ... at about 105 degrees, which is just a little too hot to handle with bare skin (or very thin gloves like I wore today). It was hot enough today that if I reached up to adjust my helmet, or fiddle with the GPS, when I put my hand back the grip had absorbed more heat from the sun than if turned on. I had to keep my hands on the grips to keep them shaded and cool enough to handle!
Ok, so what do you think of when you hear "fried
fish"? Clumps of indistinguishable protein matter swaddled in thick glutinous
batter, greasy, and tasting only like cooking oil? Wrongo, oh how wrong
when it comes to the Kings Inn, hidden at the water's edge at the end of
a county road in Loyola Beach. There is no town there, and nothing around
for miles, but the parking lot is full of cars, which tells you something.
I'll tell you in this case "fried fish" constituted hunks of white fish
(may have been haddock) so lightly covered in a crispy meal batter - just
enough to coat the surface without caking into a layer, then flash fried,
served hot, tender, and dry, no oil, no grease. Along with the fish came
very large shrimp, butterflied, and battered and fried like the fish. And
large oysters, deep fried. And crab cakes the size of hockey pucks. And
for the adventurous, frog legs also battered and fried. (These Texas sized
frogs look remarkably like chicken drumsticks, but Don swears they never
clucked.) Oh, and then there were mountains of home made french fried potatoes
and also onion rings with the lightest crispiest batter I've seen yet -
like fine tempura. To slather all this, Kings Inn makes their own tartar
sauce with a healthy jolt of horseradish. Believe me, no one went away
Don Moses arranged this, saying he liked this place since he came here when in college in Texas. Now that he lives in Reno (yes, Nevada) it doesn't stop him from eating here at least once a year. He rode here directly from Reno. And you think *I* am crazy ... Don's signature line is "Will ride to eat ...". Amen. This is what "fried fish" should be.
I have seen a lot of Texas in my travels, and I have
to say I firmly believe that South Texas is not settled. It may be populated,
somewhat, but there is so much open, untamed space that either can't be
or just isn't used for anything - it has to be charted as unsettled. (And
I don't exactly consider 100 head of cattle on 1000 acres of scrub to be
'using' the land.) There is enough land between Kingsville and Mexico -
in either direction - that you could build and 'lose' a couple of cities
the size of Dallas. The thought that came to mind as I crested a slight
rise was - out here "you can see until you can't see no more".
And all you can see in what is called the Brush Country is an endless 'forest' of scrub pine, mesquite, bean willow, and cactus. If there is a reason people live here other than they just never moved away, I sure don't know what it is. How many people really get the chance to decide where they live? For many, their work determines where they must be. For most others, some familial association ties them to an area. I chose to live where I do because I wanted to live there. My choice is neither better nor right ... but I feel for those whom fate has cavalierly thrown into this baking and blowing blast furnace. And it isn't even summer, yet.
There is something uniquely special and distinct
about an abandoned Texas town. It does not become a ghost town as long
as a highway passes through, but neither does it have a life. It is still
there, but there is nothing there other than the shell of buildings. Businesses
close but do not shutter and strip the building. Exteriors weather quickly
and grass grows in the cracks of concrete parking lots. It is difficult
to tell whether the town diminished suddenly or gradually, for a year old
abandon looks no different than a decade old.
I remember "The Last Picture Show", an old movie about the dying of a Texas town, and sometimes I feel I am riding right through the movie. Hebronville, Texas is the county seat of Jim Hogg County. Other than the courthouse and sheriff offices at one end of town, the main street is a historical relic. It is a town frozen in time, in some particular but not specific decade now long past. It waits for a revival that may never come. It silently tells many stories in the moment it takes to travel its length. And I ride on.
Seventy six miles from Laredo to Carrizo Springs
and not a drop of gas along the way. Goodness, some bikes could not make
a round trip without filling up. Doesn't seem to make much sense when just
going to get gas takes half a tank itself, does it? Riding into the wind
used a bit more fuel than I expected, and I had to slow down to conserve
a comfortable margin. Longer time in the baking sun left me dehydrated,
so at the stop I lounged with a cold drink in the shade beside the station.
I pulled a hat over my eyes and laid back.
I startled a little to see a man standing over me. "Excuse me?"
"Do you want to work? I got some roofing needs repair."
I don't know whether I just happened to recline at a pickup spot or if I am looking scruffy from too many weeks on the road, but he had mistaken me for a day laborer. I declined by saying I am 'semi retired'. (And I doubt my computer skills would help his roof much.)
But this pointed out again a fact of the language. Where I live, ESL is taught to people who want to learn English as their second language. Here, and in much of the southwest, ESL means English is *the* second language. Even some of the dogs understand Spanish first. While strolling around a couple blocks in Laredo, I met a couple with a cute small brown and black mutt. His name is Poco. I said "Poco, come here." And he just wagged his tail. Then I said "Poco, venga aqui!" and he rushed right to me.
And on that I'll leave you with the wonder I have of what one might find in a town I considered visiting but decided to leave for another time: Chihuahua Farm, Texas.
Kingsville TX141 FM2295 TX359 I35 US83 US277 Del Rio on the Rio Grande
Whereas yesterday was a kicking duck, today was just
ducky. Barely a breeze, morning temperature near 70, and a pleasant moistness
in the air off the Rio Grande (and the large Amistad Reservoir nearby).
Even with a clear sky, the temps stayed in the 80s for a comfortable ride.
Surprise of surprises, the River City Donut Shop is entirely non-smoking. I reluctantly got used to being in half smoky non-smoking sections throughout most of the south, and in the tobacco states the non-smoking "section" might be only one or two tables, but I never expected this in a cowboy state. Now I'm not preaching to those who smoke, really, I'm not. It's just that those of us who still have sense of smell prefer not to have it become roadkill on the nicotine highway.
While not claiming to have been everywhere in Texas,
it is beginning to feel like I am running out of places I haven't been.
North of Del Rio, right on the bluff over El Rio (Grande) is the state
historical museum of Langtry, preserving the saloon/courthouse of Judge
Roy Bean. It's been 20 years since I've been here and dang if it hasn't
changed a whisker. But then that's what a preservation is for. There is
a more recent visitor's center that is very nicely done, and while I don't
often recommend tourist stops, I do this one. They actually let you go
into the old saloon, so it seems real. If you do visit, also go down the
end of the one street off the highway. Notice the successive ruins of faded
businesses showing exposed stucco adobe from some century past. The road
ends at the bluff and the view is inspiring.
They may have been here when I last visited, but I learned two interesting things from the displays. First, Langtry would have been semi famous even without the Judge and his shenanigans. The second transcontinental railroad was joined in Langtry, cementing the Huntington fortune and preserving the monopoly of the "Big 4" railroad owners in San Francisco. It is claimed there was a "silver spike" driven into the last rail, similar to the golden spike in Utah, but the story is unconfirmed. Also similar to Utah, the exact location of the track is unknown because it was torn up some years later (and you can't even visit the site like you can at Promontory).
The other notable item is my discovery that I am not the only one who thinks Texas unsettled. Two hundred years ago the Spaniards named this entire region El Despoblado, which means "the unpopulated zone". They believed it was impossible to establish outposts here.
The land has been changing slowly but perceptibly
since Laredo, getting more arid and gradually increasing in altitude. Suddenly
I realize we are at 3,000 feet elevation. It appears as though a hand drew
a dry line decreeing "all trees stop here" and poof we are back on the
high plains where sage and cactus keep respectable distances from each
other to claim what ground they can. I must be a westerner because the
land looks "right" with flat top mesas on the skyline and weathered crumbled
cliffs visible from 20 miles away. Yes, it is scenic, but is again the
land where there is much to look at and nothing to see.
In the midst of this panorama, quite literally 50 miles from nowhere, I wave and nod in admiration to a group of bicyclists making their way south. As difficult as it may be for me to endure the elements, all I have to do is twist my wrist, and carrying a few extra pounds of gear is unnoticeable. They are pedaling, and carrying their entire life and possessions on packs hung off their axles. No pedal, no go. Wow.
But then that leads to thoughts of how we all have become so serious about our play. Everything is specialized, high tech, and full of determination. We may have grown up from being children, but we merely applied adult resources to the 'toys' we enjoyed as kids - and in some cases made it more serious than fun. On the other hand, it is good to see adults doing what they enjoy. I can remember when I was young, no adult and most certainly no young adult would ride a bicycle when a car could be used. It was unmanly ... maybe we have grown some after all.
Technology has not only changed our lives, but I believe it has determined our geographical resiliency. When horses were the primary means of travel, towns or at least way stations were about 20 miles apart. It is obvious that metric has changed when you look at Nevada or west Texas. Many cars have a range of between 200-300 miles, so it is natural that towns find a need to fill somewhere around 100 miles from a larger city. Sanderson, Texas has no reason to exist other than it is at a crossroads and is about 100 miles from other cities south and east. Winnemuca, Nevada is another that comes to mind as a "nothing special, but in the right spot". Towns that tried to grow solely on road traffic or used to exist within 40 or 50 miles from a trip starting point have withered without any other redeemer, like a natural resource. They are "too close"; people pass them by. How will this change in so many years when we perfect the transporter beam and repeater sites need be only every 1,000 kilometers?
Up though the Texas Mountain Trail and past the "Texas
Alps" (yes, that's what they call the one mountain range), I quickly came
to I-10 and aimed for the next 100 mile town, Van Horn (~100 to Ft. Stockton,
~100 from El Paso). Traffic was typical on 10, trucks and tourists. Then
I saw a sight that made me think: mating season. Four pairs of towing-towed
vehicles were traveling together. A volkswagen towing a volkswagen, a pickup
towing a pickup, a jeep (cherokee) towing a jeep, and a sedan towing a
sedan. Mayflies of the interstate.
Van Horn is a cheap-motel town ... consider that the Motel 6 is twice the price of those on motel row! Cheap motels are favorites of a segment of touring riders. I could tell I chose well, because the parking lot in front of my room was branded with the footprints of previous motorcycle centerstands. Horses recognize a good corral.
One last note, after umpteen times of passing through Van Horn, I finally ate at Ex-Esquire Higdon's favorite mexican restaurant, Chuy's. And I met Chuy. Beyond being an institution since the 1950s, the place is a shrine to John Madden who stops here often enough to have his own (very wide) chair painted with his name across the back.
Del Rio US90 TX118 TX17 FM3078 I10 Van Horn
"Life" on a motorcycle is an invigorating set of
contradictions. It has now been one month since I planted my butt on the
seat and headed east. And what have I done. Nothing and everything. Life
on a motorcycle is stasis in motion. Relative movements of the operator
are so tiny as to be unnoticeable. Throttle control, mirror and horizon
scanning, lean adjustments ... all these are imperceptible to an observer.
I just sit there, motionless, while rapidly moving.
In previous segments I explored the feeling of a motorcycle in traffic being alone in a crowd. This also delivers the contradiction of getting there while being here. Even if a ride has no set destination, it is going to end somewhere. The idea of going to that place is what causes us to set out, yet it is being here, in the process of getting there, that we actually are seeking. For a motorcycle rider, it is process, not product by which the measure of success is taken.
While we are in process, we are constantly balancing the contradiction of control and uncertainty. What we want to and must do to remain safe is ceaselessly adjust and modify our controls of speed, position, direction, and lean. Yet it is the uncertainty of what we will encounter around the next bend in the road that attracts us to continue. Unlike being in a car, if we could reduce the demands of attention to where we could read a newspaper or put on makeup or ... the point of being on a motorcycle would be useless. Without uncertainty, a road would be - an Interstate.
A trip by motorcycle is not a means to an end. It is an end which in this case does justify the means. Once again, the ride is the reason.
Early on this brilliant day the buzzards are drying
their feathers on spread wings in the sun. They look like an annual collection
of trophy statues on successive fence posts. The Doppler-increasing whine
of my lone vehicle approaching in the otherwise silent Texas high desert
is insufficient to break their solar salute. Flocks of quail do break and
run at the sound, racing across the road when they could have stayed under
cover where they were. I swerve to avoid a couple of them and come close
enough to clearly see the little cockatiel feather over their eyes (flattened
back in their rush to escape).
It is somehow a rewarding feeling to be way out here between Van Horn and the New Mexico border and to see mountains ahead and mountains filling both mirrors. Over it all a half moon hangs as a celestial giant white button partially slipped through a buttonhole in the blue fabric of sky. This is a good ride.
Gosh, Texas works fast. Only yesterday I suggested windmill farms. Today there is one here on the ridge of the Guadalupe Mountains. Extending for about 15 miles, it looks, through squinted eyes, like so many war bonnets amassed on the hill waiting to attack the valley.
A number of people have suggested I publish these
stories, but if I ever do set myself to the task of writing for publication,
I think I'd rather form a thesis of Donut Philosophy - A View of the American
Conscious As Seen Through Donut Shops. The Daylight Donuts in Carlsbad
had exactly what I like to find - coffee, pastry, and a klatch. There was
a group of elder ranchers chatting at the next table, talking weather,
horses, and local politics. Normal stuff. Then in walked an older man of
tall and stout frame, thick neck, and bald head. Unlike the others in jeans
and western shirts, he was wearing a black suit closely cut and nicely
fit, with a large turquoise and silver bolo neck tie.
The klatch fell obviously silent, and I wondered of the man's stature among them. Then one crusty old timer practically hollered out, "JOHN, you preachin or goin to a funeral?"
John slid one word onto the table as he strode by. "Fu-nurl."
Crusty cowboy said to no one in particular, "Thot so. S'bout the only time he wears that much chin silver." And the klatch resumed.
There are hundreds of miles in eastern New Mexico
that have no beginning and no end. I started some and finished others,
but they never seemed to connect. Two hours later and I have moved an inch
or so on the map. Up through Roswell and into the plains I followed the
Pecos River. Just off the main crossroads in Roswell is the International
UFO Museum ... why isn't it the Intergalactic or at least the Interstellar
Museum? Do they ascribe "alien" only to other nationalities? A mystery
to remain unsolved.
It only added a hundred or so miles to veer off to visit the grave of Billy The Kid, a few miles east of Fort Sumner, so what the heck ... I'm out for a ride anyway. At the town limit there is the sign heralding the "Authentic (Real) Grave of ...". Argh. Have we come to that where a 9 letter word is beyond normal vocabulary? Ostensibly and perhaps incontrovertibly so ... oh, excuse me: (yup).
Everybody knows Billy's name was William Bonney, right? Yes, but I didn't know it was a pseudonym. His (real) name, according to the state historical marker, was Henry McCarty. Somehow "Hank The Brat" doesn't carry the same panache.
Beside the grave is an explanation of why the gravesite is encased in a steel cage. Billy's gravestone was stolen in 1950, not to be discovered again until 1976, in Granbury, Texas. In 1981 it disappeared and turned up in Huntington Beach, California. So now it is bolted to the ground in shackles, inside a cage. Seems ironic he risked death to avoid jail and now his grave is jailed.
Here is the kind of question you might find for bonus points in one of the motorcycle tour rallies ... There is a decorative wreath on Billy The Kid's grave. What is it made of? (I'll provide the answer in a couple of days. Special mention for anyone *not* from New Mexico who knows.)
Standing in a quiet moment, looking over the plains and the Pecos Valley south of Fort Sumner, I hear a peal of rolling thunder. A few minutes later there is another, and it occurs to me the sky is completely clear, so where is the thunder. Look straight up and two planes too high to identify are mock fighting. Each time one 'escapes' in a dive, it goes supersonic and the plains feel the shudder of clear thunder made by real (but not authentic) thunder birds.
Van Horn TX54 US62 US285 NM2 US285
NM20 US84 I40 NM3 I25 Santa Fe
Well, it happened again, and I am beginning to detect
a pattern. The day after a longer distance day is a bit of a let-down.
There was nothing wrong with the day or the route ... but there wasn't
anything particularly memorable either. It is a bit of a surprise, actually,
since I've been on these roads before and I like them. Maybe because I
wrote about a previous passage through here last year I am "tapped out".
Anyway, it was a day of contemplation so quiet even I didn't hear it. I
suppose the only way to follow a long day ... is to ride another long day.
Hey, that's a habit I can develop!
The only episode worth mentioning all day was my little bit of free range herding on a BMW. North of Española the traffic on the four lane highway was stopped by a steer who commandeered the median and made short charging runs at any vehicle that tried to pass close. Four excited men, shouting and waving arms, were trying to get around the steer to usher him back, but he turned as each moved.
Seeing this get nowhere for about a minute, I deployed a sneak attack. I crossed the median and went the wrong way up the opposite shoulder until I was directly behind (astern a steer?). Then I cut the engine and rolled across the lanes to about 20 feet from him. Simultaneously sounding my substantial horns and starting the engine (for escape) scared the steer into leaping forward and doing his best to emulate a chipmunk scurrying across the road. He ran at a good trot into the corral they had open. Then I noticed the corral was for a "large and small veterinary". Maybe if I had seen that first I would have helped him escape ...
Route 84 and 64 cross some of the prettiest country
in New Mexico, but the land is hardly awake from late winter in the high
country. By the time I turned left at Pagosa Springs, Colorado, the mountain
snow pack was very obvious and almost within reach, which made it too close.
Durango is still, in my experience, a town going down hill. That's a poor
joke, but Durango is long and narrow, built on a distinctive slope - and
every time I've entered from the east, going down hill.
By the time Cortez appears, I have spent too much time and traveled too little to make this a worthwhile day. Cortez is at the foot of what I consider the most scenic route in Colorado, CO145 over Lizard Head Pass, but that is too far north for this trip, so I'll just settle in with a decent bottle of red and answer some neglected email. (Comments always welcome.)
Santa Fe US84 US160 Cortez
Oh, boy. Oh, boy! This is the most magnificent route
through all of Utah. This is an incredible ride, and even though I just
finished it I can't believe the things I've seen. I can't begin to do justice
to describe the exquisite scenery. There are no words with enough emotion
to reach the impressions left by these views, and I have really dug deep
to try and find them.
Many people wax eloquent about the vistas *in* the copious national parks in Utah. As lovely as they are, they are just snapshots compared to the unending open expanse of the ages and ages of weathering that has formed the land between the parks. I feel humbled by the magnitude of the images and imagery passing me today.
The cool morning air was refreshing on the road to
Hovenweep. (Despite what the AAA maps and the motel staff said, the road
IS paved all the way.) The lovely little two lane county road follows a
creek through increasingly arid land at the foot of Sleeping Ute Mountain.
It is a jarring juxtaposition to have lush green alfalfa fields on one
side and towering stratiated rock formations on the other. Some of those
'fallen rocks' are larger than a house, and they look like a child giant
has left his building blocks strewn after playtime. An amusing aside: Utah
is the 'land of the Ute', yet Ute Mountain and the Ute tribe are entirely
within Colorado. Also, since Colorado is 'land of colors' and all the colors
are in Utah, perhaps we should switch the two state names?
The land at the Utah border is open range and sparsely populated. I came around a corner to cross a creek and found a herd of wild horses drinking from the creek. Before I could stop to watch them, they startle and gallop off disappearing into the trees, snorting and manes flying. They are precursors of the wild beauty to come.
I've been to most of the national parks in the west, and I've seen much of the beauty of nature, but I was absolutely awed by the ride down the San Juan Plain from Bluff toward the Valley of the Gods. The buttes, the bluffs, the formations, the structures went on from horizon to horizon. It makes you a little sheepish when you think you've seen it all and all you keep saying over and over is Wow. Wow!
Ten minutes on that road would have made the day worthwhile, but it was only the beginning.
Since I was not sure whether there is any gas available
in the 100 miles to the next town, a slight detour to Mexican Hat was in
order. At last! A town with a clear reason for its name - one mile north
of town is a natural rock formation that looks like a sombrero balanced
over the head and shoulders of a man. It is Mexican Hat Rock.
Then after gassing up, I headed north to find warning signs every mile: 10% grade and 5 mph switchbacks in x miles. UT261 approaches the Monument Valley Rim over the Valley of the Gods. I had to stop and look at the sheer cliff face which the map told me the road climbed. Impossible! Searching carefully, I could not see any slope or natural grade. The road seemed to just disappear at the base of the insurmountable rim. But I pressed on.
The road becomes smooth surface gravel for the three miles it takes to climb the rim, and in some places it is no more than 10 feet wide. The switchbacks are wide enough for vehicles to pass, but this is a tight road! There are curves where you can look down and see 3 or 4 parallel segments of the road climbing below you. Above you it is still invisible. Incredible. At the top there is a pullout for breathtaking view of Monument Valley ... and a caution about straying near the edge: 1100 foot drop.
Then as if nothing ever happened, the pavement resumes and you are cruising through pinion pine across a level plain. But not for long because the awesome climb just achieved becomes a swooping drop back into Cataract Canyon to cross the Colorado River at the head of Lake Powell. The sheer rock faces of Glen Canyon slough off enormous slabs that pile up at the base like spilled sugar cubes. Some of this 'debris' would dwarf what are called mountains in other states.
In a never ending stream of attacking your ability
of disbelief, the canyons get closer and closer to where there is hardly
enough room for both the road and the stream, and you have to look *up*
to see the sky. Climb out of the Henry Mountains and turn left at Hanksville
... only to begin following the Fremont River on its sinuous race though
Capitol Reef National Park. The speed limit is as low as 30 mph in some
places - and even a motorcycle can't go much faster. Then turn south again
at Torrey and suddenly you are climbing through the sky. Motors labor noticeably
to gain altitude in the thinning air. The aspen forests still sleep the
sleep of winter at the summit: 9,200 feet, from where you can see to the
end of the earth.
Can it get better? Yes.
The descent from the pass dances down the "Hogback" of the Grand Staircase National Monument. Like on Trail Ridge Road in Colorado, the mountain falls away sharply on either side of the road. But here, there are sheer drops merely inches from the edge, and the road is curvy. Very curvy. It is one of those where "if you want to stay on the road, keep your eyes on the road". Even so, there is a slight sense of vertigo from the lack of ground for a reference beyond the edge. Just absolutely wow.
Ok, so if all this is not enough, pick a color, any
color. At some time during the day you will see a cliff in several hues
of that color. You name it, black, white, green, red, yellow, rose, tan,
orange, blue, even purple. I saw more colors than I know the names of.
If the rigors of the road were not enough, the sensory stimulation itself
If you EVER take a western vacation, take this route. There is no more stunning a combination of varied and changing panoramic beauty to be found in a single day anywhere in America, and that includes my experiences of riding from the Pacific Coast to the grandeur of Yosemite. This is a winner!
Cortez US160 County-G (to Hovenweep, becomes Ismay Trading Post Road)
UT262 UT163 UT261 US95 UT24 UT12 Tropic
Sometimes life is just good. Sometimes it is great.
Then there are motorcycle rides like yesterday. After sending you my thoughts
for the day, I moseyed across the dusty courtyard of the motel like a tried
cowboy to the Hungry Coyote Cafe and ordered a buffalo steak. This was
an unexpected pleasure to cap an exceptional day. And to compound the surprise,
this simple cafe in Utah also served beer and wine. Utah? My the world
With gas station locations not always being predictable, I stopped in Panguitch (pan-gooch) before heading for Cedar Breaks. As if the gods of yesterday were still smiling, I happened to stumble on the season opening day of the Buffalo Java coffee shop. Real coffee for the first time in weeks! I commented that since cowboys invented strong coffee, I was disappointed with how weak the brew has been in my travels. Nice people ... they brewed a new pot *very* sssstrongggg, yesss, that'sss gggood, tttthank you.
The gregarious woman who runs the cafe and the adjoining gift shop chatted about everything and everyone. She introduced me to another woman who came in. That woman owns the fly fishing shop in town, and is a champion fisher. On this day she was made up and dressed in a lovely tapestry vest and cranberry color skirt. My compliment for her 'outfit' that they sure must have some classy fish around here got them all laughing ... she was going to a business council meeting. Incidentally, Panguitch means "big fish", which apparently she is.
The side trip to the cafe was fortuitous because I found that the pass to Cedar Breaks is still closed. That road is not plowed in winter, and the snow pack takes longer to melt. So Plan 2 was to go south to the road through Zion. Geez when did the national parks start charging so much for motorcycles? Entry to Zion is $20 - for a road that covers all of about 10 miles. No thanks. For that much I can easily go 400 miles out of my way, and enjoy it more. So I turned around and went to Kanab instead. I'm so glad I did.
I have seen dog heaven. If there is the perfect place for dogs on this earth, it is a place where the saddest cases are given the best humans have to offer. Best Friends is an animal shelter for abandoned and abused animals one mile off US89 in Angel Canyon. They take all animals - horses, goats, exotic cats, you name it. But there are dogs everywhere! While I was browsing the gift shop, Lily, a mix breed white shorthair came over and laid on my feet. Not at my feet, on my feet. Visitors are welcome and tours are available. (At least one dog accompanies every tour.)
Even the incredible Utah scenery must end eventually.
After 500 miles of heaven on earth, I was spit out onto the Kaibab Plateau
like a watermelon seed at a July picnic to wither and dry in the sun. The
Plateau is what becomes the north rim of the Grand Canyon, but north of
that it is flat, treeless, dusty and hot. Perfect land for a reservation.
The Paiute live here, and I notice the same attention to detail regarding
signs is prevalent as with other reservations: "Six Mile Village - 3 miles".
Three miles later, there is no village.
But in Colorado City, Arizona, on the Utah border (??? someone confused about states) there is something I can't explain. Three new houses being built near the road have no windows on the three sides I can see from the road (west, south, east). Why would anyone built a house with windows on only one side? Another oddity I noticed is the city limit sign: Founded 1985. Not 'incorporated', but founded. That has to be the most recent 'new' town I've ever encountered.
It has been several years since I've been through
the center of Lost Wages, Nevada. Gad, the place looks like an amusement
park gone wild. Isis (the pyramid), The Mandalay, Bellagio, Luxor, Excalibur
... it goes on forever, each trying to outdo the next, and MGM Grand has
a roller coaster that runs through the hotel. Are there that many people
willing to lose money for these massive abominations to prosper, I guess
so. Riding through all this on the Interstate is like a Disney ride in
a bad dream. One snapshot of the Las Vegas skyline is proof of the need
for a city planning commission (anywhere other than Las Vegas, of course).
A strong headwind and having to run over 80 to keep up with the 70 mph speed limit combined to give me the lowest mileage ever on this bike. The reserve light came on at 138 miles and the fill at 160 took 4.6 gallons (34 mpg). Nothing otherwise unusual observed (more about this later).
Ah, at last I cross my final state boundary for this trip. Welcome To California. The similar Texas border sign also says Please Drive Friendly. If an appropriate motto were added to California's, it would say "Yo! Drive Stupid." Not ten feet inside the border I see the first cell phone dialer do a lane drift in front of a truck and almost reroute all traffic into the desert. Hey, at least I can lane split again if I want :)
I wonder what the pioneers must have thought coming this way (long before Las Vegas, of course). Did they have any idea where the border was? The "Golden State" sure doesn't look hospitable here or for the next several hundred miles. The first thing you see is a cragged mountain range of barren rock. It is 200 more miles of desert to the mountain range marking the edge of Los Angeles. But at least now we have the "world's tallest thermometer" in Baker to amuse us as we cover six days of their travel in an hour. Yes, welcome again to California, land of 24-hour everything and $2.00 a gallon (regular) gas.
Safety tip here: Always take the long way around your bike. Every morning, and every time I stop for gas, I walk all the way around the bike before I get on. I glance at oil, water, and brake fluid levels, tire tread, pegs, fittings, etcetera. Just a glance. See the same things over and over and anything 'wrong' will jump out at you. So when I unloaded the bike at the motel and saw a spiral of sprayed oil on the rear tire, I knew it wasn't there 120 miles ago. Close checking showed the rear wheel final drive drain bolt was weeping. Because I caught it soon after it started, maybe only a few drops had come out, but it needed attention. After wiping it I found it was so loose I could twist it free by hand. It must have worked loose since the last maintenance. Don't know what the proper torque is for that bolt, but it now has an arm shove and two shoulder yanks to hold it. Let's hope the mechanic can get it off when I get back ...
Tropic UT12 US89 US89A AZ389/UT59 UT9 I15 Historic Route 66 Barstow
First, let me answer the question from a few days
ago about the wreath on Billy The Kid's grave. I waited because I guessed
that location (and possibly the wreath) might really be a bonus on the
Waltz Across Texas Rally, which ran this weekend. (For those not on the
LDRider list, the Waltz is a 24-hour riding event where you cover a minimum
of 1,000 miles by motorcycle getting your picture taken in front of obscure
locations like the grave.)
The wreath is made of double strand, triple twist spur, barbed wire. Did you know there are several hundred types of barbed wire? Only two people tried to answer the question, although both admittedly were guesses, and both were correct. Mike Hankinson, of Michigan, and Robert Hedrick, of New Mexico (but claims he's never been to the grave), get their honorable mention.
Usually about this time in a long trip, I get the urge to just aim for home ... but this time I want to sniff around and see if there are any roses to smell along the way. With perseverance, I will try to turn the 400 miles direct route into about 600 miles of direct fun. After all, this *is* a 'wander'. So I set out to play tourist in my own state.
First up is a stop at the Kramer Junction Solar Generating
station. Alas, because it is a privately owned power plant (!) there are
no visits allowed. All I got from the guard was a brochure. It is a neat
and crazy idea at the same time. Reflected sun heats a fluid that heats
water to steam that turns a turbine that runs a generator. Simple, no?
But the process needs a lot of water. In the middle of a desert.
Next I take the exit for the 20 Mule Team Museum in Boron. I think they spelled the town name wrong, it is Boring. That is, unless you always wondered where that grainy powder came from that mechanics used to wash their hands, oh, back about 1954? Whatever, the tourist trundles on.
There are obviously more motorcycles on the roads now, even for a weekend as compared to a month ago when I started out. It appears the 'season' has opened for the average rider. The same set of badass Harleyistas passed me at warp speed three times in an hour. The first stop is for gas and shivering. The second is for a smoke. The third is for what must be a prayer meeting, with the men reverentially kneeling beside one of the bikes.
55 mph is such a ridiculous speed limit for a modern road. California sets the limit at 70 except for trucks and towed trailers which are expected to do 55. I would hate to have to drive 55 again. After much observation, I believe my BMW's design is optimized for 72 mph. The engine speed (and gas consumption shown by the FuelPlus) changes little between 60 and 70. But from 70 (5,000 rpm) to 75 (5,500) there is a noticeable change in resistance and efficiency.
Continuing the tour, where do airplanes go when their
airline goes bankrupt? They go to Mojave. The Mojave Air Park is a resting
place in the high, dry, desert air for planes waiting to be repurchased
and repainted for a new carrier. I count 34 planes of different models,
all with their airline markings removed. Mojave is right near Edwards Air
Force Base, where many experimental planes are tested and where the Space
Shuttle does its west coast landings. (Saw one once, fantastic!)
So far the tourist has seen mules, planes ... and now trains. There is a historical marker for one of the "wonders of the railroad world", the Tehachapi Loop, where a large circle was devised to get the railroad line up the steepest portion of the pass. This was designed and built in 1876 and is still used by about 36 trains a day. When a train completes the loop, the engine is 77 feet higher than the cars it crosses over. Two grizzled train spotters sat on separate rocks waiting to watch the next freight. By the time it chugged through the tunnel, several carloads of shorts-and-sunglasses tourists had appeared and were oooh-ing and aaah-ing, but they left before the train completed the loop. The spotters said nothing.
Finally I get around the toes of the Sierra foothills,
and I can get off the four lane freeway to practice the fine art of California
canyon carving, clipping corners and creasing curves through Kern County
on the crinkled Caliente Creek Road. On to Bodfish and Lake Isabella, the
road is laid like the frozen image of a snake on the back of a bucking
bronco. This is a great alternative to CA178 when the summer crowds of
RVs make congestion of the Kern River Canyon.
Crossing and then following the Kern River upstream, I am reminded of the most haunting melody of Merle Haggard. Even if you don't care for country music, you owe it to yourself to listen to the heart-stoppingly slow beat of "I'll Never Swim Kern River Again". Seeing it like this rings his words so true, 'It's not deep nor wide but it's a mean piece of water, my friend.'
The Kern angles up and the 'foot'hills are so far below I must be up to 'mid-thigh' by now. At 7,000 feet it is only half way up the mountain to Mount Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous US, a few miles away. The mountains look young here, and their skin does not fit. There are many bare granite outcroppings, too young in geologic time to have been covered by vegetation and stark in their yet-unweathered angularity. These mountains are still growing. Every time L.A. endures a wrinkle in the San Andreas Fault, the underlying plates push up a notch. Young mountains, mere teenagers in millions of years ... but they really 'rock'!
Can a road be too curvy? Yes, for me. CA190 drops 6,000 feet down the Tule River valley in what would measure about 10 miles in a straight line. That makes for almost 35 miles of road, with constant hairpin turns. Not curves, turns. With sand in the corners, this made slow going and a very tiring ride. So my last night on the road isn't as close as I expected after a short day ... but on the bright side, that leaves all of the Gold Country for me enjoy on the way home.
Barstow CA58, Caliente-Bodfish Rd. (Caliente Creek - Walker Basin Loop),
CA155, Burlando Rd. (Kernville), county road 521, Johnsondale Rd.,
Great Western Divide Hwy., CA190, CA65 Porterville
Some say you can never go home again. Maybe, perhaps
not. If home is where you make it, then you are always at home if your
mind is there. Traveling alone for a long time gives one the chance, the
opportunity, the necessity to contemplate what you are, where you are in
the time of your life (while having the time of your life), and where 'home'
Home is not where you have to be, it is where you want to be. I was ready to go home.
My mission for the day was to ride along the edge of the Sierra foothills from south to north avoiding multi-lane roads as much as possible. Mission accomplished. My mission for the trip was to see places I haven't seen, to enjoy again people and places I had encountered, and to learn whatever traveling could teach me. Mission accomplished! Perhaps I am being overly kind to myself feeling 'successful' for simply having gone on a long trip, but what more can one ask for? I encountered wonderful feelings and I shared them with friends. That seems successful to me.
Yesterday I commented I intended to see if there
were any roses to smell along the way. So guess what I did. Yes, twice
upon suddenly encountering a line of rose bushes, I stopped, got off, and
actually smelled them. There is a Country Club in Porterville on CA190
with a mile long fence planted with roses. No I didn't smell them all,
but they were a symbolic start to a representative day for "the traveler".
Later in the day I caught a view of a huge bush of yellow roses in a curve
at the corner of a property deep in the country. It must have looked strange
to the woman tending her garden up on the hill across the road for the
motorcycle to screech to a stop, turn around, and leave after a quick bend
at the bush (without disturbing the flowers). I hope I didn't damage the
public image of motorcyclists ...
Later the morning continued on a theme of floral aroma as wave after wave of citrus perfume washed over me. Lemon Cove is vividly in bloom - not with lemons but with oranges. If anything could suggestively make one thirsty for a glass of orange juice, this was it.
After the difficulty I experienced with the sand
and too curvy roads, today's route was set for a lower elevation along
the hills. That is until I took a wrong turn at North Fork. That took me
past Bass Lake and up to the entrance to Kings Canyon on CA41. It was prime
RV territory, they were coming out of hibernation like mud frogs after
the first rain, and sure enough traffic was slower than fog off a fresh
cowpie. More than 30 days on the road and here I finally gave in to temptation,
passing over the double yellow. (But officer, it was the only safe thing
to do. I was being asphyxiated by burning brake pads!) Luckily, I am not
a serial sinner. Having yielded once, ok, twice ... um ... only a few times,
really, I was able to get back where I belonged (in front) and suffered
no more from 'rolling road barn' constipation.
The town limit sign for North Fork said "exact center of California". I suppose it depends where you draw the line, because my playing with a map shows the center lines cross in a place labeled Beer Keg Meadow, which sounds more appropriate.
Anyway, after the unintended extended uphill excursion, time and distance began to intrude on the leisurely roll through the countryside which made both the myths and the truths of the gold rush. At Oakhurst I picked up the highway named for the 'golden year' and for the miners, CA49. Ahwahnee, Bootjack, Mormon Bar, Mariposa, and Mt. Bullion flew past. Finally turning due west it was time to make short work of the central valley and get back to the world left behind.
The last few miles of any trip are often the most
difficult. It is familiar territory that can't be over fast enough, yet
there is the reluctant draining feeling of something ending. The mind is
already home and contemplating things to do, things that must be done.
Now is exactly the time to remember the past and be grateful for the present.
"How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you - you leave bits of yourself fluttering on the fences - little rags and shreds of your very life."
Katherine Mansfield, 1888-1923 (English writer)
Porterville CA65, cr J37, Yokohl Valley Rd, CA198, CA216,
cr J21, CA245, CA69, CA180, Elwood Rd., Trimmer Springs Rd.,
Maxon Rd., Watts Valley Rd., Burrough Valley Rd., Tollhouse Rd.,
CA168, Auberry Rd., cr 222, CA41, CA49, Old Toll Rd., cr J16,
CA99, CA132, I580, I80 San Francisco
Total Trip: 9,743 miles, 35 days, 19 states, 1 Wanderlust
Sam Lepore, San Francisco