by Sam Lepore
Part 1 – Death Valley, California
Life is a series of contrasts: You are born, then you die.
In between … you ride.
Since life goes on, this ride is a contrast to the last one I took. After WanderNorth in the Summer, it is only appropriate to do WanderSouth in the Winter. The BMW Airheads gathering in Death Valley gives me the excuse to get started … after all, it puts me nearly 1/12 of the way cross country and back. I’m sure I’ve got 11/12 laying around here somewhere, so why not also go to the Iron Butt / LDRiders “pizza party” in Florida – by way of who-knows-where? Oh, yeah, there’s also this little gathering of 200,000 in Daytona called Bike Week. May as well.
So it is that I sit in the shade of a date palm tree loaded with fruit (the tree, not me) on a balmy, dry afternoon at Furnace Creek. With luck, the one day sprint from San Francisco will be the longest segment of this trip. I always seem to end up with more time than roads to consume it, so this trip I’ll just ride slower. At least that’s the plan.
Day 1 was a straight shot I’ve done too many times before. It is nice to repeat nice roads, but when there few choices of routes available, taking the same road seems longer. The northern Sierras are closed. No Tioga (Yosemite), no Sonora, no Monitor. Only the southern Walker Pass is open. Leaving SF at 8 am thrust me into one of those convoluted contrasts of California days. All the traffic was inbound while I was outbound. It was warm and clear in the city but became chilly with ground fog in the central valley. A crisp what-passes-for-winter day was brilliant but the hills and barren rocks appeared reticent and mottled as though resting. Travel noises seemed louder, brasher, then the desert was quiet, undisturbed. Seeing, smelling, and feeling these contrasts made abundantly apparent again why I like to travel by motorcycle. Even on a ride you’ve done “too many times”, the ride is the reason.
The Kern River Canyon was as sweet as ever. Traffic was fairly light for a Friday afternoon. After droning down the flat center of the state, I was eager for some toe scuffing. Maybe it is the way I ride a canyon, but it seemed car drivers were quick to get out of my way this day. I do not have extra lights or a modulator, but when riding alone I will “play the road” such that I may look like an aggressive (or crazy) rider to the car. Knowing a particular stretch of curves is coming up, I will lag a half mile or more behind the traffic. Then I rip through the curves at a “comfortable” speed. Not excessive, but certainly faster than Ma and Pa Oldsmobile. Often by the second time I suddenly pop out of nowhere to rub my headlight in their rear view mirror, they get the idea that they are holding up progress – and kindly more over. Wave thank you and disappear.
Hot hog leather is not a pleasant experience. No, I’m not sniffing someone’s riding clothes. Somewhere near Onyx I was following two Harleys loaded to the rafters with camping gear. I’ve noticed Harley riders tend to pile more stuff on their saddlebags than BMW riders – probably because of the way the bags open, but these guys had overdone it. One of them had neglected to notice how much his bag sagged under the weight. The leather was rubbing against the tire. It smelled like someone’s nightmare in a leather sadist bar. And it was a toss up whether the bag would catch fire before the tire failed. So I tried to draw their attention to it. On a straight stretch I rode along side them and pointed to my sidebag and then to his. No response. They didn’t even look at me. I made a “thumb down” sign, then pointed to both bags again. They still didn’t acknowledge my presence. Sadly, I’ve met this type before. There is the “right brand” and everything else is to be ignored. So I left them behind. Just can’t help some people.
The eastern Sierra region is an amazingly different area from the rest of California. The east face of the mountains is much steeper than the west. Forty-five miles of climbing drops down in seven miles, yet the hillsides are surprisingly soft slopes. Whether it is because they are more weathered by exposure, or just not broken by trees and vegetation, they appear more resigned to their place than their western cousins who bear the brunt of waterflow. Even having visited here often, I am impressed with how incredibly straight the roads can run for miles through igneous volcanic remains of obviously explosive formation. Rough red and umber landscapes are framed by halos of white alkaline salt drifted from the Owens dry lakebed, all devoid of vegetation except for the randomly scattered fuzzy creosote bushes. As one friend described it: acre after acre of toilet brushes buried to the hilt.
On one of the motorcycle mailing lists there has been a discussion of whether riders are made (by experiences with others) or born (by finding it themselves). I saw a quick snippet scene that says: yes. As I was rolling through Stovepipe Wells, I saw two riders in a parking area getting their gear on and mounting up. They were progressing in a well practiced pattern, their pre-ride mantra. A few spaces away, a family was packing the back of their station wagon, and the little boy was holding his father’s hand. But the boy was watching the motorcycles, straining at the end of his stretched arm. The draw was visible. A nascent rider waits within.
526 miles San Francisco I580 CA132 CA99 CA178 CA14 US395 CA190 CA178 Furnace Creek
Addendum, Saturday night.
Having missed the opportunity last time, I was determined to attend the opera. America has a way of engendering truly unique expressions of personal passion. Some call them crazy, but the effort put into fulfillment of these priavte dreams can not be denied. There is the inscrutability of upended half buried icons at Cadillac Ranch, there is the questionable collection of Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Museum, and there is the crowd of none that fills the Amargosa Opera House.
Thirty-five years ago, in 1967, a successful New York ballerina on vacation stopped to peer inside the abandoned meeting hall / stage theatre. She saw the ghosts of audiences future and decided to make it her life. She never went back. After much repair, the House opened a year later to its first show of 12 locals. Since then every Friday, Saturday, and Monday night the show went on. With or without an audience. Despite the sometimes empty seats the ballerina played to a full audience she saw in her passion for performance. To bring them into vision, she hand painted the walls with a double balcony full of all manner of revelers. Then the stage sides in scenes from classic ballets. Then the ceiling in grand detail, a Cistene of The Desert. The House is always full. And Marta Becket still performs at an age when many have only memories.
The World Premiere of “The Goodtime Cabaret” opened last week on February 10. I was honored to see the second curtain, which, by the way, was also hand made by Marta Becket..
Scenario: Marta Becket
Scenery and Costumes: Marta Becket
Starring: Marta Becket, with her able assistant Wilget 9 acts of “A performance based on the display of human emotions through the art of dance, pantomime, and singing.” Who says Vaudeville is dead? This is the real thing.
Part 2 – Kingman, Arizona
When a problem is not a problem … or, Some Lessons Need To Be Learned Again, And Again.
It was a perfect Monday morning for a ride. The dust storm that tore through Death Valley yesterday was gone. So too were most of the Airheads, since I slept late knowing it would be a short day. I took time packing and just before leaving decided to, um, ‘dust off’ the remains of the dust on the bike. All was ready and I felt good. Swing a leg over, turn the key, and – nothing.
Not a gauge moved, not a light shined, NOTHING.
But wait, now. Everything was fine Saturday night. Let’s try again. Off, reseat the key, on. Nothing.
Ok, one lesson I learned long ago was always check what you did (i.e. “fixed”) last. My headlight burned out Saturday, and Lou offered his spare which Greg helped install. Several hands had been moving wires, maybe something got dislodged. Recheck, replug, try again. Nothing.
Hmmm. The battery is not dead because the FuelPlus still works. Looks like a major disconnect somewhere … better push it down to the gas station 1/4 mile away in case I need a charge (or thinking the worst, a place to leave it).
As I was pushing out toward the highway, a rider came past and, seeing me, turned around to offer help. I told him what, and went to show him. Key on, and HEY! I got gauges! Woah, what’s loose? Let’s try a start. Push the button, and I get about 1/2 crank before it all shuts down again.
Now here is the Lesson To Be Learned Again. And I must admit with chagrin I am a motorcycle safety instructor, CMSP recognized and MSF certified. What is the starting process for a bike? Fuel (nope, injected), Ignition, Neutral, Engine cutoff switch. Oh, groan.
Back to Hard Learned Lesson #1: what was the LAST thing I “fixed” on the bike? I dusted the bike with a towel. It ever so slightly disengaged the kill switch – not enough to be obvious, but obviously enough. Sigh.
The ride to Pahrump was wonderfully uneventful, and the feelings of starting cross country on a ‘hinky’ bike were left in the valley. Someone at the campfire had said the name of this excuse for a crossroad came from the sound a car makes when it goes over a cattle guard. Pah-Rump. ‘Spose it could be.
It has been about 20 years since Rebecca and I first saw Pahrump. My how it has grown. When we drifted through those many years ago we saw new streets paved up into the hillsides as though a grand development was about to be built, and we wondered why would anyone think this place could expand so greatly. My how it has grown. Can you say “land swindle”?
After we drifted past Pahrump into Las Vegas 60 miles away, we happened upon a ‘tourist services’ booth where we were asked in rapid succession: Need a divorce? Want to get married? Want a free tank of gas? No, no, sure. Well, being adventurous (and having a 40 gallon tank in the van at the time), I bit. All we had to do was listen to a ‘investment opportunity’. They packed 6 of us into a bus and took us to – you guessed it – Pah-Rump. The CalNeva company was selling lots which they didn’t expect you to use, but hold and sell. It was wonderfully amusing. The CalNeva office is still there. My how it has grown. I saw exactly 10 houses built on the 50 or so ‘new’ streets that are now 20 years old.
I am beginning to get into the mindset of motorcycle travel again. Passing through Las Vegas on surface streets, I begin to absorb everything without concentrating on anything, to scan without staring. This process occasionally lets some strange images push through the veil of attention. Two building signs, one just feet above the other: UMC Quick Care for Women; Quick Lube. You can imagine for yourself how this ‘pushed through the veil’.
Hoover Dam is one of those places that was already being ‘loved to death’ by too many tourists, but now with terrorist security changes, it is in the ‘never be the same’ category. There is a checkpoint miles from the dam. No trucks or RVs are allowed over. Parking at the visitor center costs $5, the used-to-be-free tour that went through the dam interior now costs $10 and you get a packaged presentation to save you from the tiring experience of actually walking. So I rode on. Nice rocks. Big puddle. What’s next.
Moving down into Arizona, I rejoin the open desert. Here the stark terrain gives definition to the words skyline and shadow. The jagged crest of red rock ridge sears a trace line across an indigo sky. This crisp demarcation is what city skylines are purported to remind one of, but they pale in execution. And the valleys open so widely that the entire shadow can be seen of a cloud that itself covers a third of the sky. Cities could fit in that shadow. One thinks wide, if not deep, thoughts here.
The lure of the road pulls at me. I am out only 8 hours and I want to go longer … but I force myself to stop for the night. This is supposed to be a relaxing trip and I’m going to relax even if I have to work at it! As Allen, the ex-pilot said, Plan the Flight – Fly the Plan. Oh well. As you have already seen, I have fallen off the pattern of Ride Write Sleep. These segments might not come every day.
Randumb observation for the day.
At the campfire one person was discoursing about an objectionable individual he knew. He was calling this person a “mouth breather” and a “bottom feeder”. Standard insults, there. But as I was watching a hawk twist and turn in air currents to keep a steady position in its hunt for food, it occurred to me, in this sea of air we live in – WE all are the bottom feeders.
250 miles Furnace Creek CA190 Stateline NV160 NV159 I515 US93 Kingman
Part 3 – Douglas, Arizona
I can’t write about the desert any more. I just can’t.
It is big. It is dry. It is pretty. It is desolate. It is there. That’s all. It is there.
Sometimes a comfortable bike can be a pain. After about an hour of droning down straight-as-a-broken-arrow US93, I moved my left foot and found it was numb. My bike is so comfortable, if I don’t do regular isometric stretching exercises, I can get serious fatigue from not moving. Back in Death Valley, Lou was asking me about long riding days. (Admittedly, these trips are not long days by LDRider standards, but when I ride 800+ miles a day, I don’t have time to write, and it is usually all freeway anyway.) What is the one thing that makes it possible to ride long distance? Immediate and simple answer: Russell seat. Try all you want and you will find none better. Next question, what is the first part of the body that gets tired? He stumped me. I had no answer. There is nothing that tires first because my complete riding posture is comfortable, upright, and relaxed. The question has been nagging me for two days, and now I have his answer: left knee.
I blame my parents for that. I grew up with a turned out left foot, which I understand was a correctable condition during formative years. Way back in the previous century, Darwinian Parenting was the popular trend – and money wasn’t wasted on such unnecessary cures. But the BMW fairing was designed for straight feet. So my left foot is held twisted, which puts torsion on the knee. Again, simple fix – exercise. If you want to ride a long time, get used to doing a complete routine of stretching and repositioning at least every hour.
The sign said “desert honey”, and while my first thought was “Is it dry?”, it occurred to me to watch out for swarms. Last April near Needles I ran into a thin dark cloud about 6 feet above the freeway. Splat splat splaaaaaat. Let me tell you, desert honey on the wing is icky sticky on a bike! And woe is you if you wear an open face helmet. Seeing that once was enough to convince me to keep *my* lid shut.
So I’m tooling along this relatively innocuous road somewhere in central Arizona, about 50 miles after leaving the Interstate. And there is a road sign: Begin Scenic Route. Why HERE? There is NOTHING right here that wasn’t here a mile ago, or ten miles later. Why here? Our society has developed to the point where we have rules for just about everything, so there must be a rule why that specific spot was “scenic”, but beats me if I can see it. I keep saying to myself there is NOTHING here. Just then, at the top of the rise is another sign: Welcome to Nothing, AZ. This is the most aptly named town I’ve ever had the pleasure of leaving. (“Town” is a generous description. I saw only one building.) But think of the fun you could have promoting this place. “Satisfying every underachiever’s dreams – You want Nothing? We got it!” or “Ask for Nothing and we’ll show you the way” or “Why, thank you. It was Nothing at all” (BTW, there really is a Why, AZ too.)
Avoiding the Interstate again, I took an old state highway toward Oracle. Just when I was convinced there would be little of interest in this route I saw and stopped at the Tom Mix Monument. The plaque said his “spirit left the body on this spot”. How strange that he would die right next to Tom Mix Wash. 🙂 But it surprised me to read he was born in 1880. He played cowboys in early movies, yet he came from the time when “real cowboys” were current genre. Maybe he wasn’t acting at all. (Beatles: they’re gonna put me in the movies and all I have to do is act naturally …)
314 miles Kingman US93 US60 AZ101 I10 US60 AZ87 AZ287 AZ79 AZ77 Tucson
Speaking of movies, another loss to too much popularity in the last 20 years is Old Tucson. A lovely ride through the Saguaro National Park took me to Old Tucson Studios, a movie filming location that used to be built around the original adobe buildings. I remember it as being open and accessible. Again, like Hoover, it has been packaged for the tourist for whom a “long walk” is from the third row of the parking lot. Bah, and Pish, I say.
Instead I shot cross town to ride up Mount Lemmon. Arizona landscape is deceiving. The mountain behind the city doesn’t look like it is over 9,000 feet, but sure enough the 25 miles of twisty road went nearly straight up in the 6 miles my straight-line GPS said I had to go. The cafe at the top in Summerhaven looked good to my trained eye, but I couldn’t spare the time. (Notice the contrast of “Summerhaven” in Arizona compared to “Winterhaven” in Florida. How about that … I’ll cover both seasons this trip.)
Stopped for gas in Sonorita, it came to me. Uh oh, looks like I forgot another hard learned lesson. Seems I let Street Atlas choose the route without double checking a state paper map. Street Atlas does not indicate paved versus unpaved roads. The locals tell me not only is AZ83 unpaved to Parker Lake, it becomes rough track to Bisbee. I swear someone is gonna get hurt using these “auto routing” programs if they aren’t careful. I dearly wish one of the vendors would at least mark known paved roads.
Well, no big deal. I’ll just revisit Tombstone and see if it has succumbed to tourist packaging disease. I am pleased to report it has not. Tombstone is still about as undeveloped as one might hope, yet as kitschy as one might expect. It does, however, now have an EspressoInternetEmail cafe a block from the OK Corral.
Do you ever really appreciate your motorcycle? I mean do you admire it and offer it thanks? Perhaps I’m weird (no reply necessary, thank you), but sometimes I just stand and look at it thinking what a wonderful job it does year after year, mile after thousand mile. I depend on it because it is dependable (kill switch not withstanding). I believe a machine can take on the spirit of the way it is treated. I tell it my appreciation.
254 miles Tucson – Old Tucson – Mt. Lemmon I10 AZ83 AZ82 AZ80 Douglas
Part 4 – Pecos, Texas
Mental road kill. Bits and pieces from ‘quiet mind days’.
It is said wines are made in all 50 States now. I suppose you can grow grapes anywhere there is sun, but it takes more than fermenting grapes to make “wine”. Although it was the last place I would expect in Arizona to find vineyards – right at the Mexican border, I wasn’t really surprised to see the Welcome To Wine Country sign outside Sonorita. There are some serious wineries in the area, and what did surprise me is the serious prices they could command. Writing this, I sit sipping a late harvest estate Zinfandel from Callaghan Vineyards (Elgin, AZ), truly a desert dessert. Hey, anything that says on the label “Best with Chocolate Decadence cake” is worth the effort to evaluate. Such sacrifices I make …
While in Douglas, barely a stone throw from the border, I tried to make a cellular call. No matter how I tried to dial, each time I got “Lo siento, no puede completar su llamada.” Apparently my roaming signal came from a Mexican cellular site and although the phone was identified on the network, there was no reciprocity for calling. Has anyone else experienced this with an American phone in America near either border? Or know how to “marque su llamada otra vez”?
Southeast Arizona is some of the most rugged forbidding terrain on this continent. It is the ancestral home of the Chiricahua Apache. A couple miles east of the four-building town of Apache is Skeleton Canyon, the worst of the worst. This is where Geronimo went to outwait and outlast the Army pursuing him. A ‘historical marker’ blatantly celebrates the surrender which “ended the Indian wars forever”. I qualify ‘historical’ because it reads more like ‘hysterical’: “The bold scouts entered the hostiles camp and waited at risk two days for the answer.” Who exactly was the ‘hostile’ in this action? Well, just remember, the side that wins the war gets to write its history. (Ok, so what does that make me, writing the history of this trip? Don’t get hostile, now …)
Riding in New Mexico can be described in a four letter word: _w_i_n_d_ . It is expected in the spring. (Sorry, you guys still shoveling in Wisconsin … the seasons have already changed. My peach tree at home is in full bloom, and New Mexico is in full blow. It IS spring.) The secret to riding in the wind is keep a firm but loose grip on the bars, lean with the currents, but *keep moving*. The gyroscopic effect of the wheels is amazing. And on a day like this I could ride along in a perfectly straight line while leaned over far enough to check for crusted dirt under my fenders. 🙂
Is the F-122 flying already? As I was passing Holloman AFB in White Sands, I saw a plane doing cornered circles over the base. It had a silhouette I didn’t recognize, and it was black on top while silver underneath. Not a F18, but definitely not a F117 (Stealth). This thing was amazingly quiet for the speed it was going, and no more than a thousand feet up. Holloman always gets the advanced fighters first, so I wonder …
305 miles Douglas AZ80/NM80 NM9 NM146 I10 US70 US54 Valmont, New Mexico
Continental drift must be expanding. It used to be 1200 miles from San Francisco to Alamogordo. This trip has taken me almost 1700 miles to get there. Spend enough time on the road and a thousand miles doesn’t seem to go as far as it used to. I can not imagine ever retiring to a small island in the Caribbean, as is some people’s dream. Riding there would be like trying to run a marathon on an indoor track (about 16 laps to the mile, times 26.2 miles = dizzy). Hell for a motorcyclist is not being unable to ride – it is not being able to get out of first gear!
A friend and Wander Reader wrote a response to my comment on appreciating my motorcycle. I said “I appreciate ‘it'”. He responds:
“I must take exception, Gentle Wanderer. It? She is not an it. She is a Very Much Appreciated She. She would also probably like to have a proper name.”
Very thoughtful. But I retort: “This bike is above gender distinction. It has the best of both genders, but is neither, hence I do not limit it by ascribing only one spiritual form. Bike genders are both anomalous and amorphous, changing as they need.”
As for a name, another one of our societal traits is the penchant and practically the perversion of naming everything. Part of the codifying process of scientific examination is first – describe it, then – name it. Naming it is the first step to controlling it.
Perhaps using a proper name shows respect among the human form, but I do not think it bestows respect among natural entities, such as calling those magnificent mountains Le Gran Teton (The Big Tits), and what about Devils’ Hole ?
No … I respect the motospirit of the machine by not claiming it in a one word nominative description. (But this view does not intend to deprecate those who choose to do so. Rich has two bikes which bear their given names happily, as far as I can tell.)
283 miles Valmont US54 (TX)FM2529 TX375 US62 Ranch652 US285 Pecos
Part 5 – Rocksprings and Shiner, Texas
For dinner in Pecos, I decided to walk down the road to the Flying J Truck Stop restaurant, about a half mile distant. I cut across a corner of the truck parking lot and went toward the entrance. A burly man held open a side door and said “Hey Driver, this is the truckers lounge.” Thanking him, I explained my perambulation and declined, but he persisted. “Naw c’mon. You came in from the lot. No one walks anywhere.” By and large, he is right. And by, is he large. I walked through the truckers lounge to the restaurant. Being quite a few meals less than 200 pounds, I was easily less than half the average weight in that room. Some had legs the size of my torso, and some torsos were … well let’s just say that not all belts were made from a single cowhide. Surely there are better fit and less fit individuals in all walks of life, but ‘heavy hauling’ sure must be hard on the physique. I can see why “no one walks anywhere”.
Now you already know I like my morning pastries, but after remembering visions of largess, I passed the chance to sample Pecos’ second claim to fame (after being the Home of the World’s First Rodeo): Ma Wilson’s Texas Sized Donuts. Besides, it would have been too long a walk. Maybe next time.
Must be a dry winter. 2000 miles so far … and I have yet to clean any bugs off my visor.
Texas has a crude aroma. No, really! The open plains of southwest Texas have a lot vented oil wells, and the sulfurous odor of crude lingers in formidable floating pools of ‘fragrance’. It can be startling to crash through a wall of smell without seeing its source, but it is all part of the process of being open to the elements on a bike.
Woah! I must have gotten reeeealy off track. The sign said Entering Iraan. Oh, wait, that’s Iraan, not Iran. Ok. As I learned, Iraan is the oil town built to service the Yates Field, one of – if not the largest west Texas producing area. The town was named for Ira Yates and his wife Ann. It is not pronounced eye-ran, it is Ira-Ann. And so what, do you ask, has Iraan contributed to Americana that was not crude in nature (pun intended) ? A free lance journalist working in town started drawing a comic strip. It became so well known that an entire city park was constructed to present statues of the various characters of Alley Oop in all their glory, in Oopland.
Interstates have mile markers. Backroads have life markers.
265 miles Pecos US285 CR1450 CR1053 Ranch11 CR1901 Co-Op Rd. Ranch305 US190 TX137 I10 US277 TX55 Rocksprings
The section of Texas from roughly San Angelo to San Antonio, about 200 miles, is like no other under the Lone Star flag. It has hills, and the hills have roads. And those roads have delicious curves. And the combination of hills, roads, and curves is fun! The Hill Country is a motorcycle magnet, especially on weekends. This sunny Sunday is no exception. I see more bikes in this one morning than I have seen altogether since leaving home. But what I can’t understand is they all seem to be on the ‘main’ routes. A Texan rider wrote to tell me Ranch 337 was voted in a Best of Texas contest. So of course, it became part of my route. Yes, it is good, but it is so short! I threw in 335 and 187 just to have time for my belly to get ready for breakfast. These side routes were as good, but even less populated.
While rounding a tight curve near a thicket by a creek, I saw a slight movement in the bush. Always on critter alert, I straightened the bike to be ready to brake. Suddenly the sentinel took flight and in a blink I found myself in the middle of a flock of wild turkeys, all pounding air like it was Thanksgiving morning and the oven was open. There were perhaps a dozen birds, most with a good three feet wingspan. As the road crossed their path, I had to swerve slightly to miss one at head level, and crouch to avoid being wing womped by another. I could feel the whoosh of air as it angled away. Some riders like to think they soar with eagles. I may only tour with turkeys, but I enjoy these more basic experiences.
That excitement was a reminder that now being out of the desert, close encounters of the mammalian kind were more likely – so I must be ready. But, you know, the mind is only wired for certain images. About a mile after “turkey bend”, I rode past a fence and saw a kangaroo squatted on its haunch. Woah again! I-ran, or Ira-an, or what ever, am I off the continent again? What the heck was that? I just had to be sure. And sure enough, it was a roo ranch. In Texas. Hoppy trails?
That’s it. Time for a break.
As I pulled into a cafe lot, a Gold Wing came from the opposite direction, and we both aimed for the same parking slot. Motorcycles, like social animals, seek to nest among their own kind. So do some motorcyclists. Among us there are listeners and talkers (and a few motor mouths :). I tend to listen more than talk (unless you consider this writing) … but was I ever out matched in this encounter. The other rider introduced himself, then his wife. I gave my name – but before I could even say where I was from he was off on explanations. By the time I said “San Francisco” about 15 minutes later, I knew this about him: he has been riding x years, bought his bike for y dollars, z months ago, after a divorce, after which he had triple bypass surgery, then he selected his trophy wife (present during this description) because she has a body like Cher Bono.
That’s it. Time to ride.
The LDRiders had mentioned there was a full size reconstruction of Stonehenge just a couple miles from Hunt. And since that would cause me to have to take more twisty roads, I not-reluctantly added it to the itinerary. I applaud the family who built it. It appears accurate in orientation, but being complete (all stones on the circle) it somehow looks less impressive. I do not know if it is precise to scale, but is still a kick to visit. Now the two Easter Island kahuna heads at either end of the field are a different story.
Mid-afternoon found me needing a break, and exactly then a sign appeared: Winery ==>. I stopped to taste at Dry Comal Creek Winery. When I commented this area didn’t seem optimum for growing the cabernet grape, they admitted it was not an estate grown varietal. They truck those in – nothing wrong with that, many wineries do it. But how many truck grapes 650 miles from Deming, New Mexcio? Even if it was “New Texico” wine, it was still good. Do I get credit for tasting two states?
Sometimes the greatest discoveries happen by accident. (Watson, come here, I need you.) I accidentally took US90 Alternate instead of US90. How else would I have ever found the World’s Largest Pecan on the steps of the Seguin town hall? How big is it? About the size of Paul Bunyan’s big toe. Go see.
Righting that wrong turn put be on the road to Luling. Luling! I forgot! The City Market in Luling is renowned among LDRiders for outstanding barbecue. Yessss. Dinner. Noooo. The only thing outstanding this day was me in front of the closed-on-Sunday sign. Frel, as they say on Farscape. So instead, I tried the Luling BBQ across the street. Let me say being “near” to greatness is not the same as being near great.
312 miles Rocksprings US377 TX41 Ranch355 Ranch337 Ranch187 TX39 (Ranch1340) TX27 TX16 TX46 US90Alt TX80 US183 US90Alt Shiner
Part 6 – Leesville and Westwego, Louisiana
Doughnuts and beer for breakfast.
You don’t need to brew an excuse to stay in Shiner, so to speak. Shiner is the home of Spoetzel Brewing, which makes Shiner Bock, and now three other varieties. I had enjoyed Shiner on previous Texas trips, and recently it became available in my area. So it seemed appropriate to visit the home world. This is an old family brewery, still run as though the product is as important
— or maybe more important than the profit. The brewery was built by local farmers back in the 1800s to serve their own needs, and while the quantity has grown, the quality has not diminished. Good tour. You can still go through the plant and see it for yourself. Since it was right after breakfast, I tasted only their newest item, a special Haeffevitzen. This wheat beer has a touch of honey and orange/lemon essence added. It is not frou-frou, it is serious with a slight sweet offset by a tangy aftertaste.
The first video session of the MSF basic course introduces the “Joy of Motorcycling”. It starts with a line “heading for a town just because you like the sound of its name”. And in truth, that’s a lot of how this trip has been ‘planned’. Looking for a road out of Shiner, I saw a sign for the quintessential description of east Texas – Flatonia. Bingo! Off we go. It lived up to its name. Next came a delusion of a grander nature – Splendora. It was little different from Flatonia. “Splendiferous” might have been a better moniker. And finally, in keeping with my unexpected excursion to Iraan, I found myself in Egypt.
By now, the terrain has completely changed in elevation and irrigation. This is the beginning of the pine barrens where the pine trees grow as straight as telephone poles … hmmm, come to think of it, this *is* where telephone poles come from. And the Big Thicket area is a nearly impenetrable combination with woven tangles of trees, vines, and bog land. How dramatic to jump in a little more than a day from wafting sand to standing water.
I travel the backroads by choice though they are less direct and often slower. I hope to see in person scenes of America that for many can only be found in romanticized Hollywood capsuled images. I see a mother in a sundress holding her young daughter by both wrists, swinging her round and round like a maypole. The daughter wears a matching sundress. They are both laughing. I see five teenagers sitting on the rim of a pickup truck parked beside a barn. They are playfully pushing each other as though an unbelievable joke was just told. I see a short order cook, with apron and cocked white hat, leaned back on the legs of his chair beside a cafe, enjoying a sun break after the lunch rush. I see America.
Randumb observation of the day.
And then when I turn up a small County Route rural highway in Louisiana there is a sign for the Macedonia Primitive Baptist Church. Ok, I’ve studied a few different religions when I was a philosophy major, but is this a primitive church, or a church of less evolved Baptists?
349 miles Shiner TX95 FM609 TX71 TX159 FM1488 TX242 US59 TX105 FM770 TX326 US69 TX327 US96 FM363 US190 LA111 LA464 LA8 Leesville
Leaving California in February, I brought my winter weight and electric clothing because I expected cold in the higher elevations. Until now I had barely used the heated grips in a week of pleasant weather. So it was a double surprise to be in Louisiana and find mid-30 degree temperatures. This is cold! First time ever I have run the electric socks all day. Even when I went to Reno over 7000 foot Donner Summit two weeks ago, it wasn’t this cold. Brrrrr.
My map shows only one road in central Louisiana officially marked scenic. That’s a good enough reason to go. Long Leaf Vista Trail is indeed scenic. The one lane courses through a forest with gentle rolling hills and open sweeping curves. There is occasionally even a vista. Well worth the diversion, but on this day it is almost too cold to enjoy at the speed it begs for.
The older houses in Louisiana are different. I notice many have a metal roof, and all have full porches. They are set above ground on cinder or cement blocks (after all, snakes need a place to live too :). Rare is the house in New England without a basement … whereas a basement in bayou country would be an indoor pool – of green water. As I follow various bayous southward, there are larger and larger oak trees until some are truly as massive as sequoia, ephemerally draped with wisps of spanish moss. If only it were warm. As the land gets lower, the cemeteries are built above ground with crypts instead of graves. The water table may be only inches below the surface. Deep in Cajun country near Cecilia, a prison road gang is clearing trash. As my breeze of freedom blows between them, all stop, some smile, two wave.
200 miles, 20 feet.
How flat is Louisiana? I just happened to look down as the trip meter changed to 200 miles on this tank. The GPS altitude showed 100 feet. It was 120 when I started that morning. That’s how flat is Louisiana.
When a problem really is a problem.
Last summer in Wyoming I got some “bad gas”. As it got toward the end of the tank, the engine began to sputter and misfire, first a little, then more and often. It was cleared up by adding dry gas (alcohol) to draw out the water. But the feeling of that first misfire was something I remembered clearly. In Boutte, 20 miles from my destination, I felt a misfire. It cleared. A minute later it misfired again. Pooh. I am about as far into this tank as I was in Wyoming, so before things get worse I’ll just pull into that station across the street and fill up. Pull up to the pump, squeeze the clutch, reach for the key to turn it off
— and the bike is dead. Engine is off, lights are dead. Even the GPS, which is wired directly to the battery, is dead. This time it is not the kill switch. Rather than panic again, I start diagnosis. Strange. All the fuses are ok. Not a single light anywhere, and even the FuelPlus is blank, which, together with the GPS, means the battery is either suddenly, instantly dead flat (unlikely) or there is a loose wire to the battery. Open it up, wiggle the positive cable
— nice and tight. Wiggle the negative cable – more like wave the cable. It flops out to the side. The tang at the end of the cable has sheared clean off. It was not corroded, it broke because of repeated flex stain. I managed to slide the remaining stub of the broken tang under the battery nut and snug it down, but this was not going to last. For the next 20 miles I stayed in the right lane behind slow trucks because if it broke loose again, the engine would instantly shut off. How propitious that it happened as I came to a stop at the gas pump (and those ‘misfires’ that warned me were from the metal beginning to separate).
When I warily wandered into Westwego, lifesaver Lyle helped me find a replacement cable-end at a auto parts store and in the literally freezing chill of the next morning we made the repair permanent. The cause, as pompous BMW service technicians would say, was the customer trying to improve on BMW design. I have one of the early Westco maintenance free batteries in the bike. These were made with vertical ‘pins’ instead of horizontal screw post connectors like the standard BMW battery. To connect the cable, I had to rotate it 90 degrees, leaving the end of the tang pointed up. Apparently, normal bouncing of the seat above this in the last two years pressed enough stress on the tang to cause failure. If you have a Westco (or a Panasonic, which is the manufacturer) with pin terminals, check to see there is no contact on the cable! Zat vas nicht designed fur zis!
384 miles Leesville LA117 Long Leaf Vista LA119 LA1 US167 LA107 LA362 LA361 LA10 LA359 LA103 LA347 LA86 LA31 LA182 US90 LA20 LA1 LA3199 US90 Westwego
Part 7 – Hattiesburg, Mississippi and Perdido Beach, Alabama
TOO D@#N COLD!
Hey, Wisconsin! Just because I was throwing some fun words at you a couple days ago about winter is not reason to throw winter at us. It was about 26 degrees when Lyle and I were working on my bike, and even though I am used to cold from growing up in New England, I do not expect below freezing in Louisiana any more than I expect ice cream to be tongue-burning hot. Sheesh.
Nonetheless, Lyle is a serious man. He helped me solder the battery connection using an acetylene welding torch. At least then I got to complete the task which has brought me here. You may know Lyle as the mileage coordinator for the BMW Owners of America. He is also a mileage consumer, having his 800,000 BMW miles certificate displayed in his kitchen. (I myself am only a pup working up to my 300,000 award.) But Lyle is also an active member of one of my local clubs, the Central Cal BMW Riders, and I was here to present him with his Ten Year Membership pin. Lyle makes it to more of our club meetings (yes, in California) than some of our closer constituents.
Miles are just a means to ride. Lyle then took off on his every morning 44 mile ride to breakfast with an impromptu group of bikers who meet at the Slidell truck stop. This man moves.
After breakfast it was still too cold to casually enjoy riding. So I cut short the route planned for the day and holed up to wait for a visit with friend Frank. It is not that cold weather riding is more difficult, it is that the cold keeps trying to infiltrate and you have to work at keeping it away. Going *through* cold on a long trip is easier than wandering about back country lanes looking for interesting sights. This made for a very short travel day. There were a number of routes in southern Mississippi that looked admirably inviting with reasonable hills and measured curves. Oh well. Frank took me to the Crescent City Grill. I heartily recommend the Cajun Stuffed Eggplant with ettoufe (sp?) filling. Wonderful.
I asked for whom Hattiesburg was named. Hattie Hardy was the wife of the land baron who owned most of this area. He also named some other towns for his daughters, one of which is Laurel. Can you imagine if her middle name were Ann? Laurel Ann Hardy.
234 miles Westwego US90 I10 I59 MS43 Columbia-Purvis MS589 Hattiesburg
It is still setting records for low temperatures, but at least they are dry temperatures. I make it about 50 miles to an unnamed cafe in the town of State Line where I decide to warm up and remap my route for this day too. I’m no longer interested in a wide circuit of Alabama. As I walk into the cafe, the idea of warming quickly chills … the woman says she doesn’t open until 10 but she does have coffee. While I wait for her to pour, I see the steam from her lunch preparation cooking drift across the window – and freeze into frost on the glass. Hey Wisconsin! ENOUGH!
At this point, the bike decides enough also. When I went to start the engine, the starter would not engage. It just whirred. Ever try to push-start a fully loaded touring motorcycle? Yes, that is one way to get warm in a hurry. Grumble. The starter clutch is a set of teeth that spin out of the way under centrifugal force when the engine is running and are supposed to drop in place under gravity when stopped. The engine oil which lubricates them was too thick from the cold. I normally use hot temperature oil. Gonna have to do something about this … but for the rest of the day the teeth stay unstuck.
While studying the computer map, I saw an interesting track of county routes through the middle of the Alabama River wildlife management area (almost a wilderness). The map showed a ferry between two tiny towns, but I was suspicious. So when I got to Jackson, I asked “Is there still a ferry from Gainestown?” Sometimes the simplest questions generate the most complex answers from simple people. “Yes, this road goes to Gainestown.” Have you noticed how many people give the answer they know when they don’t know the answer to your question? I may as well have asked how many alien abductions occurred last week. It seems I was speaking to a couple of the throwbacks. Eventually I found the police station and got the answer to the question I actually asked. “Boy, ” An aside … a lot of sentences start that way around here, and my gray hair is anything but youthful. “Boy, you mus’ have on’hella ‘f’n ole map. Tha’ ferry quit runin’ in the 20’s or 30’s.” Hellooo, Street Atlas, there is such a thing as being too accurate and not timely enough.
Enough of this. I headed for the Principality of Reed’s Landing. You may have heard of the temporal constant in the universe, where time and space are bound by the speed of light. In the Temporal Consulate of Reed’s Landing, time and space are unbounded by thought, which flies faster than light. Perfesser Corky (who, if you don’t know, really was a university professor) is a fountain of youth waiting to be tapped for his outflow (and does it ever :):). Corky, at 82, has just purchased a new BMW touring bike … and got the optional 3 year extended warranty. We exercised his Ph.D. (piled higher and deeper) well into the night on all the ‘ologies’, psychology, sociology, anthropology, epistemology, theology, and motorcycology.
265 miles Hattiesburg MS42 AL56 US43 US84 CR1 AL59 US98 CR97 Perdido Beach
Part 8 – Gainesville and Winter Park, Florida
One more Corky anecdote – when we went out to dinner, before the waitress could say anything, he announced in that same false friendly monotone all service people use, “Good evening, my name is Corky and I will be your customer this evening.”
With the temperatures recovering, the day’s ride was going to make up for some of the shorter recent tallies. And for the first time in a couple years the bike would add another new state to its tire-touched total. (I’ve been to them all, but not all on this bike.). First impression of Florida is to change the name from The Sunshine State to The Stripmall State. How is it possible to ride 30 miles in one continuous strip mall? Then get out of the Pensacola area and see near wilderness for 200 miles, surprisingly sparsely populated. The panhandle is huge and very nearly empty. You could lose Los Angeles here … hey, not a bad idea.
Second impression of Florida is no matter what the speed limit, everyone drives 15 over. 45 is 60, 55 is 70, unless you’ve just had your weekly hair bluing, in which case ignore all signs and drive 35.
The town of Ebro has an interesting name. I did not stop to ask, but imagine it is pronounced as in a greeting: (h)E(y), bro!
In the previous segment I voiced some vexation about people not answering a direct question. Today’s rant is the sorry state of affairs we have come to with simple mental skills. This is not particular to any one area of the country – it is an outgrowth of the normal human tendency to allow atrophy where machines have provided convenience. I refer to keyboard skills subsuming the mind. Almost every profession requires them, but the average counter person no longer knows what ‘magic’ goes on when they push the button. They just know what they are supposed to do with the result.
The bill came to $6.01. I handed her a $20.00 and thinking to make change easier said wait, I have a penny. This did not please her because there is a single button for $20, but $20.01 meant she had to press several … and it took more than one try. Ok, change due – $14.00. “Oh oh, I’m going to need some ones.” She pulled out a $10 and a $5. Wait, I have a $1. “No, I can’t do that. I’m supposed to give you $14.”
Did I just hear what I thought I heard? No, that silence was the absence of thought.
I couldn’t let it go.
I said “Just suppose for a moment you gave me 15 separate one dollar bills. Then suppose you took one of them back. How many would I have?” With some hesitation she gave the correct answer and the exchange was made.
On the last two stops into Gainesville, the starter clutch failed to engage again. I spent the better part of a day finding an engine cleaning solution (Rislone) then a place that would let me change the engine oil. Most gas stations are no longer service stations, and two “quick lube” places said no for insurance reasons. (All I wanted was a pan to catch the oil.) With new dino juice the starter is working, but now I need to get the oil and filter changed to get back to an appropriate grade of oil. Even the best ‘automobile oil’ is no longer safe to use in motorcycles for long distances. So I will terminate the South Florida part of the trip and look for a place to stay near Orlando to wait for the dealer on Tuesday.
358 miles Perdido Beach US98 FL85 FL20 FL267 US98 US27 US441 I75 Gainesville
Another day, another rant.
Being a long time student of human factors, it interests me to notice how we are willing to change our expectations or adjust or standards when we travel. Some of the national chains have made their fortune by providing a consistent product no matter where you find them, and no matter what the quality of their product is relative to what you normally prefer. You know exactly what you will get, which is a convenience in itself. There may be better to be found locally, but finding it is inconvenient. So it is that I was actually looking forward in Gainesville to having a cup of the fourth best specialty coffee one can get in San Francisco. Starbucks has a shop at the edge of the university campus. Why do I declass Starbucks? It was a small coffee distributor that purchased the blends and national distribution rights when the founder of Peet’s did not want to expand out of the SF Bay Area. Then Starbucks nominalized the flavors to be suitable for mass consumption. I describe it as “Good Coffee For People Who Don’t Know Good Coffee”. (And if you are wondering, my hierarchy places Tully’s at #3, original Peet’s at #2, and Royal Ground #1.)
But what I most dislike about Starbucks is their attitude of being a ‘culture’. I would like a mocha. With Mocha (powder). They make theirs with syrup. (So call it a Syrupa already.) Ok, what size. I would like a medium size. The ‘barista’ says “We don’t have medium. We have Tall, Gran-day, and Ven-tay.” To which I responded – There is no relativistic differentialism in that terminology. I want the MIDDLE sized one! He was sufficiently confused to cease educating me. Yes, I knew what the sizes were. If this were Rome I would do as the Romans, but Starbucks is NOT a culture.
WanderWeather luck has held yet again. 4,000 miles cross country and not a drip of rain. After the oil change when I was in the motel, it poured. This day the rain stopped for about an hour as I rode south. An hour after I settled in, it poured again.
The one section of US27 in central Florida marked scenic traverses the “hill country” and passes many horse farms. It is rather pretty, but as for hills, my GPS showed we got all the way up to about 250 feet altitude. Oh, nosebleed. The beginning of the scenic section is signed Bernardo Gallindo Memorial Parkway, then less than a mile later it is signed Claude Pepper Memorial Parkway. I guess Bernardo’s memory was not very long.
At first I really thought I was seeing things. A glance into the pine forest caught bright orange spots. Then a closer look saw it true. What used to be an old orange orchard had since been planted with pines in rows between. It was an awkward juxtaposition to see them interspersed. Then it occurred to me … maybe this is where the citrus scented pine-sol comes from 🙂
I will be settled in to Winter Park for a few days and will visit Daytona from here. I brought camping gear, but with the horizontal rain and night temperatures destined for 33 degrees, roughing it Motel 6 style is called for. All around me the trailers are arriving, and the “bikers” are offloading their proof of manhood, most of which are in such seemingly poor state of tune they can not be ridden across a 30 foot parking lot without constant blipping of the throttle. Sigh. I want to look for a bumper sticker: I Rode My Bike To Trailer Week
122 miles Gainesville FL121 US27 US27A CR42 CR452 CR44 CR437 FL46 CR435 US441 FL423 Winter Park
Part 9 – Greenville, Alabama
Riding a BMW to a Harley event is like bringing a gun to a knife fight. They mostly just want to admire the metal without regard to the motivation. It is form over function, and if your knife doesn’t cut the same way, then you are just not there. I was invisible in the crowd. Not the least because I was wearing brown leather. (If you have to ask … leather! is, ahem, black.) Oh well, at least the culture among these trailer-wizened travelers is such that they really don’t care how you got here – just that you ARE here. And although I am not strutting my individualism just like everyone else, there is nothing wrong with either view … some live for the moment, some live for the movement. Me, I walked around all afternoon and never took my ear plugs out.
Now don’t get me wrong, there is some truly incredible eye candy parked on the street – both the two wheeled and the two legged kind. But that’s just it — they are parked. It is a mile of them watching us watching them watch us. I mean, I left this kind of excitement behind in high school. And it wasn’t really exciting then.
Daytona is not a gathering, it is a show. It is 99% Harley and 1% riders. And no, the “1 percenters” were not there. They wouldn’t fit in.
Friday night I attended the Iron Butt “pizza party” (no pizza). About 200 of the truly weird of the motorcycle world got together in Palm Coast because … because … because they got together. That’s the only reason these riders need to cross the continent – a veritable chunk of anti-matter in proximity to the no-matter-what of Daytona.
All the “usual suspects” were there, and many were feted for achievements during or since the Iron Butt last year. I will mention only one observation. BMW Corporation has been putting “cutesy” sayings on t-shirts in their latest advertising campaign. Most of them are truly droll and aimed at the non-rider or casual rider to hype how cool/easy/fun the long ride is on a BMW. One rider at the party was wearing such a shirt. Would that BMW could see this. The rider was Bob Hall, who won the 2001 Iron Butt by riding to Prudhoe Bay and back. His shirt said: “What day is it and how did I get to Alaska?”
There comes a time in every trip when you turn the key and realize … hey, I’m headed home. For some it is a sadness because the trip is beginning to end. For some it is a joy because the end is another beginning. For me, I’m just happy to be moving again, but yes, I do miss the family. Even if they are not there to miss … while I was hidden in the hinterlands, Rebecca managed to endure a business trip to Nashville and through a friend got a back stage pass to the Grand Ole Opry. She got to hang out with Jim and Jesse. Whereas I got indigestion in St. Augustine. Too much fried everything. It is indeed an education to travel.
In South Georgia the land rises less than 100 feet above the Florida plain and quickly looses the swamp. Red clay is prominent and orchards abound. Peach trees are coming into bloom in row after row, all cleanly flat topped like someone flew a helicopter upside down across them. Peaches and even strawberries I expected. Cabbage I did not. I thought cruciferous vegetables needed a damper, cooler climate, but miles of happy green balls prove otherwise. (Laura would have said it looked like kale.)
It can be fun trying to read Indian names and feel the cadence of what the language might have sounded like … but down here in Georgia and Alabama, the Indians must have coughed a lot. I couldn’t get through some of the river names without having to clear my throat: Withlacoochee River, Ochlockonee River, Cooleewahee Creek, Ichawaynochaway Creek, Choctawhatchee River. Jeez, some of those *signs* were longer than the bridge that crossed the creek!
It is Saturday. I saw an entire family of six, including the parents, playing with kites in the field beside their house. The youngest, maybe four years old, was jumping and chasing a kite that would turn and chase him. Terror and joy interspersed. Just like riding a motorcycle.
Moultrie. The town name reminded me of the maiden of Moulton I met on a previous wander. About four years ago I stopped in Moulton, Alabama, and met a sultry sexy siren who, if truth in advertising laws applied to people, should have had ‘man trap’ tattooed on her forehead. She really wanted to leave town. She’d take the first man who would ‘treat her right’. I wonder how far she got. (I try to not repeat roads … we’ll never know.)
But the people hereabouts are right friendly. Just outside Leary a pickup truck pulled onto the road in front of me. Three men were in the back. One had a black beret. As a side wind kicked up, the beret lifted off and sailed back toward me. It was a lucky catch, but an impressive snatch nonetheless. I stabbed at the air over my head and pulled down the beret. You could see the eyes of all three widen simultaneously. They pounded on the cab for the driver to stop and I pulled alongside. Their offers of gratitude probably could have made a night of it, but I had my eye on a storm front and wanted to move on. I’m sure their story will grow in the retelling.
Many small towns like to claim some element of fame, and they often put that claim on the Welcome To WhereEverYouAre sign. Brundage, Alabama claims Home Of The P-Nut Butter Festival. Now I like going to various food festivals. There are some 300 such in California alone each year – you name it: Garlic, of course, Artichoke, Asparagus, Zucchini …. but Peanut Butter? Heck, why not. I stopped for gas and asked the clerk when the festival was held. What festival? You want to do whut? … Maybe this is not such a big event after all. From the look on her face you’d think I just asked her to smear peanut butter all over – oh, never mind.
While leisurely riding through some soft curves on rolling hills, I though of Tom who told me at the Iron Butt party he thought of me on his ride to Florida. See, he did a 50CC to get there. 50 hours Coast to Coast. San Diego to Jacksonville. 2,370 miles … except that he did it in 36 hours. My thoughts? Well, by the time this trip is over I will have spent more time than that writing these reports.
396 miles St. Augustine FL16 US301 FL100 US41 GA133 GA37/AL10 CR6 AL10 Greenville
Part 10 – Winnfield, Louisiana
A lotta miles, a whole lotta roads, and notalotta comments. It was a traveling day.
Keeping an eye on the weather projections, I am trying to get beyond the humidor bowl where thunder showers are likely to erupt on Monday. By now I’ve seen enough of Mississippi and Louisiana, but I just can’t bring myself to slab the Interstate when backroads beckon. There will be all too much I-balling later in the west, so I plot a crazy path.
On this chilly morning deep in the ‘Bama woods, four bloodhounds are out sunning themselves on the road. As I round the curve toward them, they jump up and start howling like the fox is on the run, each facing a different direction. It is warming to the spirit to hear the chorus only a pack of hounds can make. I suspect not a lot of motorcycles come this way. Most of the dogs I see along the roads shy away as though this fewer-wheeled road thingy is an angry, fast critter they don’t know.
Traffic is light Sunday morning as I zip along at a my normal “10 over”, even when there are no speed limit signs. Twice I come upon slow cars on straight stretches that are marked double yellow. These sections might not be long enough for a car to pass another at normal speed, but given the acceleration of a motorcycle, they are easy and safe passes, so I do. Each time I felt a bit guilty about it, which got me thinking about why traffic laws have to be so restrictive. Of course it would be impossible for different rules to apply to different vehicles or different drivers. (By ‘different vehicles’ I mean more capable. There already are separate rules for the less capable, i.e. trucks.) The whole issue comes down to one of responsibility. If we were allowed to take responsibility for such actions should we cause a problem, it would be possible to rate drivers/riders according to their and their machine’s ability. But so few people actually do take responsibility. For anything. I resolved to ride safely even if my actions didn’t match the signage – and after that the ‘guilt’ went away.
Every so often there is a thread on the motorcycle list about “why use or need a GPS?”. Today gave me a good answer. At one point MS18 makes a pointed jag about 10 miles north then comes back south. My paper map did not show an alternate, but as I rode along I saw the continuance of MS512. I took it. While riding down this ‘invisible’ road, the GPS showed me my direction and my relative position to the jag. I would be able to tell right away if this road veered, and I could predict a rough rejoining location. I might not have been willing to invest 20 miles out of my way without this real time reassurance. Is it *necessary* ? No, but then if you really want to adventure, neither are paper maps necessary.
Sometimes you look at something you see everyday and think you see a better solution … then you have to wonder if it has been done this way forever, did someone already try your idea and discount it. If so, why? Log trucks all have their logs piled the same way. The base of the tree, the larger diameter, is toward the front. So they ‘fill’ the truck at the front and taper off at the rear. It occurred to me that if they were alternated front and back, each truck could carry nearly twice as many logs. Ok, so why not?
Sooner or later all serious riders have to teach themselves one very important skill: how to sneeze inside a helmet. Well, not how to sneeze, but how to sneeze without a) painting the shield opaque, b) blowing out the earplugs, or c) ummm … “losing fluid integrity” of bodily containment. We each meet this challenge our own way, and I usually have no problem slamming all the hatches shut just before the detonation. Except when it happens dead smack in the apex window of a tight curve. This sneeze caught me precisely at the point where I was calculating the lean limit and applying acceleration for the exit trajectory. I couldn’t close both eyes, and if I didn’t, well then choose a) b) or c). Note to self for next time: yelling YAAAACHOOOOO as loud as you can is not a good idea inside closed helmet. Even with ear plugs.
Mississippi definitely gets the “Best Of” award this trip for the all important 3R’s. Roads, Riding, Refreshments. The road condition even on the smallest state highways is excellent, and the terrain varies nicely across the state with not too much close forest to remove scenic views. The refreshment prize goes to another place Frank recommended. Barbecue Alert! Seems like LDRiders in particular like BBQ. Well add this to the list. Louise’s Open Pit in Crystal Springs at MS27 and I59 is it. Frank recommended the pork steak, but I judge a Q by the beef brisket. Anyone can smoke ribs, but the quality of the meat they use for brisket tells me how careful they are. Gotta say, it is very rare that I enjoy beef bbq without needing sauce, but this was so good, tender, fatless, and flavorful it was better without. Yum.
447 miles Greenville AL10 AL17 CR24 CR9 MS18 MS512 CR16 MS18 MS540 US49 MS13 MS43 MS28 MS27 Duke Rd. Fisher Ferry Rd. Halls Ferry Rd. I20 LA17 LA4 US165 LA126 LA499 LA34 Winnfield
Part 11 – Early, Texas
Durn near ruint my record. After a hundred miles of skirting around the weather front, I actually had to stop and put on my rain suit this morning. But then I suffered through all of only 10 minutes rain. In the last three years of Wanders, roughly 40,000 miles, I have had 1 hour and (now) 10 minutes of rain. (And that doesn’t count two other trips Rebecca and I took to Branson and Seattle, also dry.)
One of the nice things about living in San Francisco is you never have to explain where it is when someone asks you where are you from. Or so I thought. Never say never. While I was wriggling into my rain suit under the awning of a gas station somewhere in Deepswamp, Louisiana, a local porch dweller ambled over to give the ‘what’s this here contraption’ inspection every motorcycle rider experiences in out-of-the-way places. Maybe it was the various stickers, including the reflective cows, I have on the back of the bike that confused him. So he asked, “Whur yuu frum?” San Francisco.
Ohhhhh kayyyyy. Time to play … It’s a little ways across the state line. Ever hear of California? Next he asked a common question that would be salient if he were in Daytona 🙂 “Ja ride it all da way here?” My truthful answer confused him even more: No, I rode it most of the way but every night I push it about 100 feet. (What I didn’t say is after I register at the motel, I usually push the bike to my room – just to walk a little.) It was all too much. He retreated to the safety of the porch.
Get me out of Louisiana. LA has the worst roads of any state I’ve ridden. Mexico must have come here to study how to make their speed bumps (topes) capable of wrecking traffic, not just slowing it. Then around Winnfield where I stayed last night, I noticed – no bumps. Roads like any other state. What gives? What gave is the civic contribution of Winnfield to LA politics. As I was walking to dinner I passed the Welcome To sign which said “Home of Three Governors”, including Huey Long who was responsible for bringing pavement to the people. The story about him tells how the first year he had a highway budget, there wasn’t enough to do more than a hundred miles or so. So instead of building one road, he sent the crews to a hundred different towns and had them build one mile at the edge of each. Each town loved that stretch of pavement. Then he asked the people next year to give him the money to finish “their” road.
Still doesn’t explain the bumps though.
Practice swerving! If you never practice, you will never be able to do it when you need it. Swerving is fun when you don’t have to – and fatal if you have to but don’t.
I saw it coming. When something doesn’t look right, you should look for an escape. Long straight Texas two lane. All terrain vehicle with two males ahead of me, traveling mostly on the road in my lane. Dump truck approaching in the other lane. The atv rider began to veer to the right. I thought two things: he might hear me coming and be moving off the road, but the angle of his veer doesn’t seem right. It is too sharp. And there is no path or driveway there. Oh ****, he’s swinging right to turn left.
I swerved hard to the opposite side of the road, no more than a foot from the edge of the pavement. He suddenly realized there was a vehicle behind him and stopped dead center in my lane just as I predicted. Both men’s eyes were full of panic. I swerved hard back into the right lane and looked back in the mirror to see the dump truck smoking all six tires as the men tumbled off the atv in terror. The truck missed.
Looking for a route across Texas I haven’t taken before, I noticed I was not far from Palmer. Palmer and Waxahachie are where one of my favorite never-was-famous slice-of-life movies was filmed: Tender Mercies. So I go see if I can find the old motel. Nope, as Rebecca would say, it’s all growed up now.
When I stopped for gas, a good ol boy comes over as I am refolding my map. He is very friendly. “Wur ya need t’go?” I’ve noticed a common colloquialism in Texas – people do not ‘want’ something, they ‘need’ it. Not: I’d like an ice tea, please. But: I need two biggo burgers an’ I need a tea. Anyway, good ol boy sees the GPS and decides maybe he can’t give me directions, but he starts naming BBQ houses and trucker restaurants in the direction I’m headed. Then he says, “Y’no, ah usta hav me wuna these, it wuz Japanese.” I replied that Japanese built good bikes, but this is German. His next question still leaves me with no answer: “Whah wud the Germans wanna build a Japanese bike?”
At one point today I had on all the top coverings I was carrying. The electric jacket liner because the day started cold. The leather jacket with 4 inch fur collar. The neck wrap to keep sidewinds out. And then the rain jacket snugged at the collar. My helmet was ratcheted down on top of all this, and everything fit so tight that I could not turn my head at all. What an education! When I finally hit a section of twisty road, I could not make the curves without slowing way way down below my normal attack speeds. Not being able to turn my head and look through the curve threw off the entire balance sequence. The bike simply would not lean. I felt like a rookie pushing the bike around a corner instead of leaning into it. Wow! We teach that the bike goes where you look, but it is disconcerting to not be able to look and have the bike refuse to go!
437 miles Winnfield US84 TX204 US175 FM85 I45 FM813 FM878 US287 US77 FM66 FM916 FM4 US67 Early I started early to avoid the rain and ended late in Early.