© 1996, Iron Butt Association, Chicago, Illinois
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Written by Robert Higdon. Web formatting services provided by Tom Keen and and Michael Kneebone.
This bike business never seems to get any easier. Maybe if I'd quit trying to do long rides in February, I wouldn't feel so blasted all the time. Maybe if I had a full-time psychiatrist following me around . . . Well, that's another story.
The long-range forecast a week ago said today would be in the mid- to high 50s. I know that these guys can't predict the future, but I needed a date certain to leave. Sunday would be it. So I left DC late this morning, running full-bore electrics all the way. The wind-chill must have been at least -1,548 below zero. Head- and crosswinds all the way, blowing like hell. I landed in Roanoke and another in the endless string of Patel motels that dot the known galaxy --- the Apple Valley Sutra, just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, with HBO and a phone I can use. Who needs more? It's snowing to the north and west along the VA-WVa border.
When I did the Four Corners in January a few years ago, I averaged better than 500 miles a day through a lot worse weather than I saw today. It was all I could do to manage half that today and I was grateful that I'd gotten as far as I did. I think I'm getting soft. I _know_ I'm getting fat. All the weight I'd lost in Central America --- ten or more pounds --- is back with a bunch of interest and penalties. Even my feet felt fat today. Maybe it's just hypothermic edema. I doubt it.
Another problem is that I just cannot ride fast enough to get out of my own way any longer. On a 65 mph interstate I'm lucky to be hitting 55. I'd have done the back roads but my reaction time, after two months of sitting in front of a computer, is measured in tenths of hours. Not quite cat-like, but maybe it'll get better. I'll do some of the Blue Ridge tomorrow and hope I can average better than 25 mph. Jeff Brody and I have been talking about hooking up later this month in southern California to ride back to Daytona for Bike Hell. The downside to that plan is that JB likes to ride at Warp + a bundle. It might work if he'd give me a three-day head start.
Tomorrow: Asheville, NC, a heady 250 miles. If I leave here at 0400, I'm nearly certain I can arrive before the sun goes down. One thing's clear: It will be colder. You can almost _see_ the cold front closing in. At least I escaped the snow.
My rating system for determining just how awful a day's ride has been, soon to be revealed to the world in an upcoming issue of OTL, tells me that as ugly as Sunday's jaunt was, today's was worse. Paradoxically, the farther south I go, the colder it becomes. I think I've been beamed to Australia. Two days ago it was 68F here; tonight it's going down to a single digit. The bike's battery is marginal. These days I look for motels near full-service gas stations.
Today was basically five hours of running straight into the teeth of a 35 mph chainsaw with sub-zero wind chills. The parkway was barricaded, probably because of ice, so I came down to Winston-Salem on local roads. I picked up I-40 west, stopped fo lunch, ducked behind Ricky Rudd's transport truck for a windbreak, then ran into swirling snow in the mountains east of Asheville. It wasn't sticking. The Motel 6 sign appeared at 1515. Enough. I've made 503 miles in two days. The Iron Butt Association is meeting in emergency session to expel me.
I called Dean Klein (BMW Loco). We'll have breakfast tomorrow. Then I picked up mail from the BMW list. Someone was reporting about the Krystal rally campout in Norway. I don't even want to know what _that_ is like. I suppose it puts my own little tribulations in perspective. Still, in the morning I put on expedition-weight thermals (top and
bottom), sweatpants, electric vest and gloves, fleece jacket, Darien pants and coat, balaclava, wind triangle, arctic socks, BMW Goretex boots, and a full-face helmet. If it weren't for Andy Goldfine's clothes and Pat Widder's electrics, my riding season would be about four days a year. I am of the opinion that the grease in the steering head bearings has frozen. Below 20 mph I'm not riding the bike; I'm aiming it. There's a micro leak in the final drive's drain plug. The tires will never make it to California. I wonder why the bike runs at all. It's an '81, a G/S, which makes it about 105 in dog-years. I hope I don't leak any worse than it does when I reach that age.
P.S. No weather goon anywhere had predicted these snow flurries. By late Monday night the "flurries" had closed public schools in the Asheville area for Tuesday, had accumulated as much as six inches in some places, and had closed parts of I-40 and I-26 --- they meet near the Motel 6.
Welcome to South Carolina, land of $0.89 gas, the still undead Strom Thurmond, and pre-limbic, vestigial-tailed cops. In my quest to locate the sunny climes of California, I made negative miles today. California is west, but I went south-southeast. West meant mountains. Mountains bad. Mountains cold. They icy. Ice I've had enough of to last for my next six
or seven karmic reincarnations. I'm due to return as a scorpion, live in the blistering desert, and bite a Bedouin on the butt.
Last night I fell asleep watching an HBO kung fu movie. They don't have names anymore, just numbers. It was #588. I awoke to 20 degree temperatures. The parking lot was a sheet of ice. I called Dean Klein. He said it would warm up by noon. We would have lunch. I could wait. At 0945 Movie #1,294 was coming on. I picked up the e-mail. One was from Bob McDonald, a Beemer rider in Asheville. I called him and the lunch crowd expanded.
By 1100 the ice was pretty much gone. It was safe enough to cross the lot and pick up 500mg of Prozac at the Texaco mini mart. I packed and rode downtown. Those steering head bearings are coming out as soon as I can find a 36mm wrench, a propane torch, and an ice pick. I'm sending the remains to the Believe It Or Not museum in St. Augustine. Square roller bearings.
McDonald is a psychologist who specializes in problems of an intimate nature. His partner deals with sex offenders. Between them they probably have files that would make J. Edgar Hoover envious. I thought about asking if they knew a nymphomaniac whose brother owned a BMW dealership with an attached package store, but they'd probably claim a privilege. Lunch went well, which is to say that I didn't drop anything into my lap that the rain
tomorrow won't wash out.
It's 66 miles from Asheville to Greenville, but I turned it into a scavenger hunt and made it an 88 mile ride. I couldn't have found my way out of my own driveway today with a Loran unit. Every third turn I made was wrong. I even got lost on an interstate. The final insult came when I made two wrong turns just trying to find a frontage road off of I-85. I get into
these compass-defying loops occasionally. Sometimes I can even smell them coming on, much as epileptics are reported to sense the onset of a grand mal seizure. They have the falling sickness, like Julius Caesar. I have the can't-find-my-ass-with-both-hands sickness, like Wrong Way Corrigan.
I didn't care. The weather wasn't too bad, the wind was bearable, and the road could have been a lot worse. It could have looked like the motel parking lot last night.
Wild West Honda-BMW, west of Houston, is 1,400 miles from my house but I consider it to be my local dealer. In the last two years more than 90% of the work on my various bikes, excluding my own bleeding knuckle maintenance since I became a master wrench, has been undertaken by Dan Drom and Dave Krogman at that dealership. When I get into trouble, which is often, I find myself limping toward Texas. The winter's ride so far is taking a toll on rider and ridee. I have reverted to my former ways and look for motels adjacent to carry-out beer stores. The bike has cancer. It isn't clear if we can make it to the Wild West Sloan-Kettering Clinic before a DO NOT RESUSCITATE order is given, but we're trying.
Ten months ago I flew to St. Louis on a one-way ticket with my gym bag, two shock cords, and checkbook. I intended to buy an '81 R80G/S that was described in the ad as "cherry." That is a code word for "French whore." It looks good, but it's riddled with pox. I'd never seen a cleaner bike. I paid four large, well above the going rate for even low-mileage whores, and rode it home. I stuck it on the centerstand when I came home and essentially forgot about it. Four days ago, each of us prepped for combat, the hooker and I took
off. She began to leak oil. Rick Jones, a/k/a Motorrad Elektrik and the best guy in that eerie business, whom I visited today for some esoteric upgrades, diagnosed the problem as a blown rear main seal. That calls for major surgery. I remind my gentle readers that major surgery is what happens to my bike; minor surgery is what happens to yours. Other issues have arisen and demanded to be recognized. The master brake cylinder piston has begun to do the herky-jerk. Worse, the brake system has been slimed with DOT 5 brake fluid which is just
peachy unless you want to use your brakes with confidence. Someone spilled some of that crap once near Zanesville, OH and the whole town not only needed to be repainted but was declared to be a toxic waste site list for six years.
A plastic connector in the speedometer unit has gone to heaven; when the bike is at rest, the speedo registers 55 mph. I can make 85 mph in first gear, a record for this model of BMW.
At sub-freezing temperature, the steering head bearing grease turns into Super Glue. Turns are executed with the assistance of a sharp rap on the end of the handlebar with an eight-pound sledge. Body steering helps, but at lower speeds your best hope is that there are no video cameras around to record the result.
The rear tire has succumbed to consumption. I would like to take it to Phoenix for The Cure, but I'll be lucky to make it to Houston before the cords expose themselves. It is a pig Sahara. It will be replaced by an Avon Gripster, the only tire that a G/S truly can bond with meaningfully. So I called Dan Drom late this afternoon to schedule an operating room
for next Tuesday. He asked how I was doing. I reminded him that I never called unless I was in incipient cardiac arrest. He understood. He knows me.
The weather has warmed up. I actually turned off the electric clothes when I left Guru Jones' house this afternoon. The wind continues unabated. Given some fairly severe speed today to get to Rick's house, accompanied by the usual hammering headwind, my gas mileage was worse than dismal --- low 30s on a bike that is tuned to C sharp. I might not be on speaking terms with big metal things like steering heads and crankshafts, but I can make an
R bike sound like Meg Ryan in a restaurant.
Tomorrow: Brookhaven MS, my ancestral watering hole.
The weather improved so much yesterday afternoon I began to think I was on a different but related planet. The sun was out today. I didn't recognize it for a while. The wind wasn't dissin' me so much. For about a half-hour it was almost a tailwind.
The bike seemed not to be so angry today. Heat had apparently loosened up some of the steering head bearing glue. The gas mileage was up on one tank this afternoon by 55% over a few days ago.
My mood improved. A lot. My blood pressure, low to begin with (oddly enough), always drops another 20 points when I come into Mississippi. It's the ancient homeland and I like it here. I like the slow roads and the quiet farms and the old pine forests. It relaxes me. It's a pretty place.
For at least ten generations Higdons have been begetting themselves here. I was the first kid in the paternal line born outside the deepest, darkest south in 270 years, and even then I was still announced below the Mason-Dixon line, though barely.
My grandfather used to deliver babies in this little town. When the Depression hit, the proud parents would pay the bill with chickens or corn. My father was born here in a house at 306 S. Jackson Street. One of my fraternity brothers at Ole Miss years ago was Robert Higdon Bolling. My grandfather delivered his father.
When my father was in the army, having left Brookhaven for the bright lights, we would periodically come back here to visit his uncle, my great-uncle, who lived at 515 S. Jackson Street. Being army people, we had no actual home, so we used 515 S. Jackson as our legal residence. I used it when I turned 18 and registered for the draft. I never was called. Years
later I realized that my draft board had probably rounded up every black kid in Lincoln county before thinking about calling any white boys, especially one whose great-uncle was the president of the Brookhaven Bank & Trust Company.
I have left footprints all over this town, visible only in the fourth dimension. One summer when we were here I'd just finished reading Beau Geste. By blind luck I discovered that the movie was playing at the Haven. I _had_ to see it. But no, said the old man. I'd mouthed off or something and was grounded. It took me about three years to get over that one.
My footprints are hard to find now. Everything has changed. Uncle Charles is in the graveyard and worken are climbing all over the roof of his house, erecting an ugly garret. A lawyer's office is infecting my father's house. The Haven is a beauty salon. The bank was bought by a chain. It says "Trustmark" but it's not a mark I'd trust. I-55 screams by to the
west, in an awful hurry to get to New Orleans, and a strip of wall-to-wall franchises leads into the sleepy old Brookhaven downtown area of about four square blocks.
Heraclitus said that you can't step in the same river twice. I keep trying because he was just some old Greek dude and you never know. Tomorrow I'll run down Route 51 to McComb and pass Dixie Springs where I learned how to hate fishing.
Dixie Springs will still be there, I bet. And I still hate fishing.
To go from Brookhaven MS to Galveston TX follow this simple algorithm: Go four miles west, then one mile south. Repeat until your gums begin to bleed or until your trip odo says 401. So I did that, sort of. At 80 miles, when I crossed into Louisiana south of Woodville, I couldn't feel my toes any longer. Then I took a ferry across the Mississippi at St. Francisville --- it says it's a free ferry on the map, but it's really a buck --- at which point I couldn't feel anything below my ears.
It wasn't just the cold, although that was part of it. It was about 35F when I left Brookhaven at 0645. Mostly it was the wind, straight out of the north like a bullet, a wind such that it put to shame all the other miserable little zephyrs that have been whacking at me since Hour #1 on this ride. I don't remember a trip so utterly cross-threaded. It was 400 miles of that, 80% of it in my ear and the pathetic remainder hacking at the back of my neck, except that I couldn't feel the tailwind because I was too numb. I took a second ferry across Galveston harbor in mid-afternoon. The wind was blowing so hard that the boat's flag
was actually billowing in the direction we were heading. In the fifth grade I made a drawing of a boat with a flag that waved like that and Miss Simpson told me that my little pennant was violating at least six fundamental laws of aerodynamics. She was wrong.
I avoided the I-slabs as much as possible. The Ten and I are old enemies and treat each other warily. Louisiana is best observed from little roads anyway. It is there that you reach a true sense of just how scary the state really is. There is nowhere else quite like it. If I didn't already have a healthy respect for ghosts, Louisiana would make a believer out of me
in no time.
It seems to be a land that time forgot and doesn't want to be reminded about anyway. Everything is old, mossy, and crumbling, especially the back roads. The ubiquitous ante-bellum mansions are all owned by relatives of Norman Bates. The Addams family lives here, in a hooded shack around every bend. Avoid spending the night in any motel in the state. At 0300 you'll hear someone staggering through the hall and mumbling, "Give up your dead." If any corpses are pitched out, they are buried above ground because the water table is about 1/3" below the earth's boggy surface.
I defy anyone to ride any distance through the Atchafalaya swamp and not have their skin crawling within two minutes. You just know that there are creatures living in that misty place that have not been seen except by Cro-Magnons, things that don't even have names. What else can you expect from a place where the state bird is a pterodactyl and the state flower is a
hybrid of black orchid and Venus fly trap? If Blanche DuBois found comfort in Louisiana, how stable can it really be?
Well, enough for me, because I love it. I particularly like the idea that you can pull into a gas station and buy enough hard liquor to last through Lent. That's important these days because Mardi Gras is on the horizon. The tawdry French Quarter will soon be 14 degrees off the vertical in its seasonal debauch. The secret, eerie krewes have taken wing and God
help us all.
Don't panic. This is the first trip post since Day #6. Days 7-11 were spent in Galveston and Houston waiting for an operating room to become available at Wild West Honda-BMW. The surgery was yesterday (postponed for a day because the surgeon was called out of town to attend a continuing-education course on Ski Doos, for God's sake). Robert Hellman refers to
them as the most hated recreational device since the Yokohama rope trick. I agree.
From 0900 to 1845 yesterday I waited in the recovery room. Finally the patient emerged with a bill that wasn't covered by Medicaid. I thought the only way I could handle it would be if the stock market could go up more than 90 points, and it did today. I wrote my overdue OTL column on the palmtop HP calculator while I waited. Greater love hath no man than to
write _anything_ on this horrible little keyboard. But I'm getting better. Blinder, but better.
I'd hoped to get just a little west of Houston testerday but that became impossible. I returned to Iron Butt legend Morris Kruemcke's house and flopped on his couch. Depressed I was. The damned odometer had decided to follow the speedo into the Land of the Really Dead. I set my mental alarm for 0645, determined to fix the filthy thing.
I worked at it, I really did. For a while it actually registered miles. So I said goodbye to Morris. A block later the bastard seized up. I rode down to a Gas 'N Go, dragged out the tools, and started from scratch. It was very frustrating. I wanted to head west, but I wanted the odo to work when I did. Time and care are incompatible for me. Finally I stuck about
forty yards of duct tape over the instrument cluster and wound up with a -6% odo correction factor. Big deal. Maybe it was partly attributable to the new Gripster tires. Maybe not.
Then it was a beeline due west. I-10 to San Antonio and US 90 after that. After all the foul, cold weather I'd run through during the first six days, today could not have been more different. It was 90F when I came through San Antonio, 95 in Uvalde, and 101 when I rolled into the Motel 6 in Del Rio just after 1600. It is the hottest place in the U.S., a record-setter, and I was grinning all the way. A reasonable temperature for a day's ride for me begins at 85F and tops out at 114F. Anything in between is a winner. The wind continues to hassle me, an uninterrupted, hard south wind today and more in store for tomorrow. I've never seen anything like it.
This is my kind of country, southwest Texas. I'm sure it's genetic. If you believe Pat Buchanan and conclude that life begins when the happy couple wipes the sweat out of their eyes and reaches for a cigarette, then I was born in Marfa TX, not 1,500 miles away in Walter Reed Army Hospital. Mere weeks before my official emergence into the world, the War Department sent my father and thoroughly pregnant mother back east. It was not a moment too soon for them, though my dim memory of that summer is one of pretty fair contentment. For the remainder of their lives they looked back on their tour in west Texas with utter loathing.
Not me. I love it out here. West from Uvalde is the beginning of the Great Void. The quiet plains recede in the rear-view mirror. Ahead is the land of cactus, scorpion, mesquite, tarantula, Biblical weather patterns, tumbleweed, purple-hazed horizon, cholla, and endless nothingness that is almost too much to take in. The continent is shifting imperceptibly beneath
you. You are climbing onto the great western shelf, moving into the foothills of the massive Rockies. You can't see it or feel it or sense it, but climb you do. The entirety of the west is a high plateau where anything can happen to a rider and usually does. I came across a huge bridge over the Nueces river this afternoon. It wasthe river in "Lonesome Dove" that was the horrifying scene of the Irish boy's being killed by water moccasins. Today it was dry but for a couple of puddles. There is a drought here. They watch the Weather Channel in San
Antonio and pray for rain. There has been none there in 54 straight days.
Tomorrow I will cross the legendary Pecos and visit Langtry, the home of the sadistic Roy Bean. I will wind up in the motel in Big Bend, a $60 single without phones or TV. I've been there, and it does have a nice view.
Then I'll ride through Marfa on Saturday. That was the night that the old man really hated. The local Mexicans would get drunk, cut themselves to pieces in knife fights, and come to the Army dispensary to be patched back together. Lt. Higdon was the only doctor within 100 miles. He came away with a lifelong belief that Mexicans were stupider than sand.
I thought they were pretty smart. They knew where to go for free medical care and find a medic who could sew better than Betsy Ross. I still think they're smart. I think they're even smarter than Pat Buchanan.
In my next metamorphosis I have decided not to return as a lightning bug as I had originally planned. No. Now I want to return as a national park concessionnaire. I don't care which park or what concession. Give me one good season screwing the socks off the travelling public and I can retire in Bimini, drinking Goombay Smashes until my liver looks worse than Mickey Mantle's. These concessionnaires have raised the rip off to an art
form. They could teach scams to factory outlet stores.
The room is nice. It has two big beds, so I'll probably switch from one to the other at 0300. I'd reserved a smoking room, hoping that I could get one that was not only smoking but actually afire. They gave me a room that didn't smoke at all. All right. I know how to fix that.
They told me where the ice machine was. They didn't tell me it wasn't working. I would have called room service but I don't have a phone. So I took my room key and ice bucket and got a load from the restaurant. I returned to the room and learned that my room key was from the Motel 6 in Del Rio. I'd forgotten to turn it in. My real room key was on my beds. Back to the front desk.
I think there's a pretty steamy movie on HBO tonight. I would watch it except this room doesn't have HBO. It doesn't have a TV either. I can listen to the radio because I carry a King Kong Sony short wave. I can also add up the day's expenses on the palmtop computer. For the room I will enter $59.36.
What the hell. Big Bend is spectacularly beautiful. It doesn't matter what things cost or how many insignificant irritants I have to stare down. I'm lucky to be here. I'm lucky to have gorgeous places to visit and this is one of the very best. It combines what I like above all in a park: Searing loneliness, desert, mountains, brutal heat, clean roads, and eighty different things that can kill you with minimal effort.
Big Bend isn't for everyone. It takes a real commitment to come here, since it is about as far out in the sticks as you can get and still be in the continental U.S. El Paso is the nearest town, if you count that hole as a town instead of a dirt farm with railroad tracks, which it is. No. This place is a long way from nowhere. They have signs telling you how far it is to the next gas station. That is beyond rural in my book.
And once you arrive, the park takes some getting used to. It's ancient. The average rock is 35 trillion years old. Unlike other old rocks, the ones here actually _look_ old. They are missing a lot of teeth and they don't seem happy about it. They are rocks with an attitude.
The weather is routinely awful. Wild temperature ranges are common. It swung fifty-five degrees yesterday. When it rains, there are flash floods. When it doesn't rain, there are dust storms. It could snow tomorrow or be nine million degrees. Nobody knows. It is the toughest sort of land imaginable. I cannot begin to understand how the first settlers
could ever have called this moonscape home.
My mood was positively chipper when I rolled out of Del Rio this morning. The ugly kludge I'd done to the odometer was actually working. The temperature was in the high-80s, right where God intended. It was nearly perfect, but for a gusty wind that couldn't decide whether to smash my nose or left ear. I didn't much mind. All the other elements were
harmonic for a change.
In an hour I came to Langtry and turned into the village to visit Judge Roy Bean's spirit. He was a sociopath hired by the railroads to bring some order to the territory and he did just that. He didn't hang miscreants; he fined them everything they had, including horse and gun, then expelled them from town. In late 19th century west Texas, that was tantamount to a death sentence. Bean kept the fines.
He was infatuated with the English actress, Lillie Langtry. He would get drunk and write her long, kugubrious letters. He named the town for her. Finally, in January 1904, she came to visit, but by then Bean had been dead nearly a year.
On my way out of the (free) visitor's center, I became involved in a little geopolitik theory with a pleasant old staffer. I asked her why Texans seemed to be so excited about the Alamo when, it seemed to me, that all Santa Ana was trying to do was to expel a bunch of rowdy invaders from his country. She stared at me, horrified at the rank blasphemy.
"They were fighting for Texas," she finally said.
"Except that Texas didn't exist and they were doing it in Mexico, right?"
I was about to advise her of my belief that Stalin had a better right to march into Czechoslovakia in 1948 than Abe Lincoln did when he terrorized Virginia, but happily sanity overcame me and I rode out of town, having thought enough about Manifest Destiny for one day.
My sanity lasted a mile. The odo quit working. I went beserk. It was a personal affront, this crummy meter, and I'd had it with diplomatic solutions. I smashed my fist through the glass, ripped the unit out, rotated it 180 degrees, pulled the speedo cable above the base plate, jammed the cluster onto it, and secured everything with more duct tape. It's been working fine ever since, I'm not running -6% mileage any longer, and if it threatens to rain, I'll throw another half-mile of tape over everything. Big deal. I've got a new unit on order anyway. Until then, I'll just read upside down. Like I care. I think other malingering bike parts will get
All day long I've been trying to remember who told me that she --- I'm sure it was a woman, and I think it was a lawyer --- was from Sanderson TX. I stopped there for gas. I can't recall. It wasn't Sandra Day O'Connor, that I know. She's from Lordsburg NM, a place that makes even Sanderson look good.
Maybe it'll come to me as I dream in my beds.
There are 17 motels here and 22 restaurants, but most people don't stop except for gas. The length of town is about 1.2 miles and there are no traffic lights. When you walk along the road, people wave at you from their pickups. It is the middle of the great west Texas void. Maybe they're lonely and are trying to make a new friend. I wave back.
For a town this small, you might think that it would be bereft of history. But a lot has happened to me here. In 1951 it was the scene of The Great Swordfish Steak Disaster that ultimately propelled my brother into two 12-step programs and one 17-stepper. In mid-January of 1993 I came out of the icy, fog-shrouded Davis mountains to the east with a good story in my hypothermic brain and an even better title. If I am within 400 miles of the
town, I will show up. I am going to have my gorditas at Chuy's Restaurant, icy fog notwithstanding. I called the story "Gorditas in the Mist."
I always stay at the Seven Kay Motel. It's a generic Asian-Indian dump that caters to pre-homeless people, truckers, and bike scum. But I know the phones will work. They have ice, HBO, and the Weather Channel. I have never seen a scorpion in the room, and that's more than I can say for a million-dollar home I stayed in one night in Houston.
The best part of the Seven Kay is that it's across the street from Chuy's, the finest Tex-Mex restaurant anywhere. Normally I don't give a damn about food on the road. I eat like a dog and spend about $7.00/day on Kibbles. But if I know I'm heading for Van Horn, I'll starve myself all day. I hide the dry roasted peanuts in a saddlebag and drink less than a
quart of Dr. Pepper. By the time I hit Chuy's, I could eat the menu.
Jeff Brody, whose opinion in these matters is due some deference, says that Chuy's is not only not the undisputed world champ of Tex-Mex, it is not even the best Tex-Mex in Van Horn. Sportscaster and noted fat guy John Madden disagrees. He has Chuy's listed in his Haul [sic] of Fame. He likes fajitas. Me, I hold with the gorditas. I don't know what they are; I just eat them and write stories about them.
It was a no-brainer day. I finished off all the paved roads in Big Bend and the 13 miles of corrugated dirt north from Santa Elena canyon on the river. Then there was another 10 miles of crummy mudstruction north of Study Butte. After that the road, Texas 181, was so clean it seemed vacuumed. I gassed up and washed the bike in Alpine. You have to admire
the wry, optimistic names Texans give their towns.
I detoured over to Marfa. In addition to the place I was pre-born, the town is famous for the Marfa Mystery Lights. Five miles east of town you can pull into an off-highway viewing area to watch them. They first appeared in 1883 and have been glimpsed periodically ever since. The origin is unclear --- mineral deposits, swamp gas, UFOs, etc. The historical
marker does not mention lethal blood-alcohol levels.
North of town I stopped to take a picture. It was beautifully empty and drier than a politician's tongue. Gray clouds to the west held a promise, a false one, of rain. The February precipitation this year is zero. I headed to Fort Davis instead of directly to Van Horn because for the first time on the trip I had stumbled upon an actual tailwind.
Beyond Fort Davis Highway 181 starts to show off. It runs through pretty mountains, skirts the McDonald observatory, and finally tees out at The Ten. I turned west for the last 37 miles. It was an easy end to an easy day.
One of the high desert's great roads runs north from here, Texas 54, aiming for the magnificent Guadalupe mountains. It has the added attraction of nearly guaranteeing a bypass around the scrophulous El Paso, but I'm way behind schedule. I don't think I can do it. I shouldn't do it. I might be able to do it, but it would be wrong.
Then again . . .
2.28.96 Carlsbad NM
At dawn I was humping toward Las Cruces, having already dodged three bullets in a day that was not yet 40 minutes old:
Fire #1: They'd missed my wake-up call but I awoke at right time anyway.
Fire #2: It was +29 and not -29. The shell containing icy rain misfired.
Fire #3: The ignition key moved angrily from "off" to "park" only after I swore at it. Then it refused to move to the next logical position, "start the dog," despite just-barely-pre-key-snapping torque.
"OK, my man," I said to moi-meme, "you do be the true and righteous master wrench. So fix this sucker."
My diagnosis was frozen lock: rain + 29F = screwed. I'd have hit it with a hammer but I didn't have a wrench big enough, so I blasted the keyhole with WD-40 as Eraldo Ferraci had taught me and was off within the minute, merely a lap down.
I found Bill Muhr's room at the Motel 6 in Las Cruces easily. It was the one in front of a vehicle that looked like the Chrysler Building with wheels.
"You're early," he said. I wasn't. I was just operating on CST since I prefer that time zone to Mountain. I'd forgotten to tell him about that personality quirk, there being so many to remember when I'm roading. I yam what I yam, habit-stricken and fuzzy at the edges.
We jawed. It was clear that his schedule and mine didn't mesh. He wanted to be in Daytona by Monday morning. I was hoping to make it by August 14. It's not that I don't yearn almost scatalogically for Bike Hell Weeks. It's just that if something that I'd much rather do comes along --- an elective trans-urethral resection springs easily to mind --- I'll take my time. The loonies get tired toward the end of The Weeks, just as I'm reaching the zenith of my powers.
Now don't ask me why I did what I did next. Sure, there was the mother of all cold fronts that was (I'm not kidding) stabbing all the way to Mexico City. And it is definitely true that I have never once been near Cloudcroft without being pounded worse than Oliver Twist's dog. And maybe 9,000' isn't the ideal moto ride when a couple of hundred miles north last night 2-4" of snow was rumored to be hurtling down.
But there is a real E-ticket romp from The Crosses up there and with cotton balls to stop the nosebleeds, it could be worth the chance. So I made the rounds of the rich neighborhoods that look east to the incomparable Organ Mountains (since I swore on my mother's deathbed that I would use her generous bequest to me wisely and I've been looking for the perfect mansion in the Roadrunner development for at least six years), and that basically was the end of that. The fat was in the freezer.
Trust me on this. When you take US 70 out of Las Cruces toward Alamogordo, close your eyes until you near the pass. The road out of town is barrio in extremis. You'll miss the historical marker that says Pat Garrett was gunned down nearby. Not so. He bit it at a tavern much closer to the pass. When you crest the pass, stop. It's a breathtaker. You are looking at the south end of the Jornada del Muerto, the death trip, so named by Spanish explorers because of the utter emptiness of the valley. It is flatter than a ten year-old girl and so depopulated that it was chosen as the site for lighting the first atomic bomb. Fifty miles to the east is a wall of mountains. At the top thereof is Cloudcroft, la forza del destino, as Joe Green would say.
The valley is now the White Sands missile range. Odd lights appear at night. They are attributed on Hard Copy and the National Enquirer to UFOs. It is true that 75% of the fetal implants by aliens occur near Alamogordo The slope into the valley is gentle, like a Lamaze delivery. When it flattens out, you feel as if you are on God's own billiard table.
White Sands national monument comes up on the left. You can see only the edges. The dunes are 20-30' above the level of the highway. Go in. I have. It is unique. I have a yellowing, curled photo of the young Durelle Higdon who sits on a dune in the park. It is the spring of 1939. She poses like a Parisian model and will never look better. She's smiling because she has just married an Army doctor who will guarantee that the global depression that has wiped out everyone she has ever known will touch her no longer. She doesn't now that within months a war will take her husband away for three years, that the tension of such a life will drive her into alcoholism, and that her life will end in a nursing home, her body stroked out and her agile mind devastated by Alzheimer's disease. She is frozen in the photo; she is almost certainly pregnant with the child who today drives by that hopeful scene of long ago.
Then you come to Alamogordo. It is a Spanish word meaning "low rent trailer park." The village common was suggested by a town planner from that hotbed of architecture, El Paso, and features an 8' razor wire fence to keep muggers _in_. Get gas and look for Highway 82 on the north side of town. Check the sign when you turn east that notes a 4,315' rise in the next 16 miles. You're going to climb the Cloudcroft wall.
For once it didn't whack me. I crested at 9K feet in bright sunshine and continued east as fast as I could. At a temperature of no more than 27F it was a gift horse. The road had been swept to the micron level an hour earlier and was cleaner than a roomful of Seventh Day Adventists. I didn't look it in the mouth. I've seen it's mouth.
I descended for 40 miles out of the ponderosa pine forest. I knew it was coming and despite the bitter cold, I was waiting for it at each hump in the road. Slowly the pines gave way to chaparral, to mesquite, to sagebrush, and to cactus. Then, coming over one rise indistinguishable from any other, I knew that I had left the West and had entered another world. In front of me was the unimaginable immensity of the Great Plains.
It was a crystalline moment. No one could miss it. There might as well be a ten-foot paint stripe across the road, the line of demarcation in a single continent being that dramatic. One minute you're a cowboy; the next you're a farmer. It was pure and binary in a land that wants indistinction and rarely finds it.
I pulled over on the shoulder and lit a cigarette. The wind was negligible. My trip, with still 3,000 miles to go, was drawing to a close. I was at a dividing line in a desolate, undefined country. The next marker would be the Mississippi River. I think of the United States in that tripartite way --- east, plains, west. North to south there are no such dividers or paint stripes on the highway, just subtleties.
At Artesia, more than a mile lower than Cloudcroft and at 37F a relief from the numbing cold, I turned south and made Carlsbad's Motel 6. The local weather moron claims that Roswell, 75 miles to the north and yet another UFO flight hub, will absolutely take in 2" of snow tonight. It will cloud up, he says, and deliver the crud by midnight.
A while ago I went out for some beer and stared at stars that burned my eyes. I don't know. I couldn't have gotten out of the cold unless I'd gone to Guatemala. I did the right thing, coming up here, because this is Eden and if it's that, then God can't be that far away. He'll take care of the roads; the WD-40 will handle the ignition key tomorrow.
On the Road #19
2.29.96 Fort Stockton, Texas
You might not consider that riding around for a couple of days when a real fine temperature is anything over 39F, but compared to what could have happened, I'll take it with a smile. It wasn't luck that has carried me unscathed through these last 48 hours though. Two nights ago when I was in Deming, New Mexico, I called in the Big Guns at 1-800-PSYCHOS.
"Psychic Friends Network," a voice chirped.
"Let me speak to Dionne right away," I said.
"I _knew_ you were going to say that!" the voice said happily.
I waited a couple of minutes.
"This is Master Psychic Dionne Warwick," her distinctive, smokey voice said.
"Dionne, I need help. Should I play it safe and take The Ten to Fort Stockton or go to Carlsbad via Cloudcroft? The weather morons are talking about some really putrid weather possibilities up in the mountains."
"The mountains are your visceral home," she correctly predicted. "They call you. You must go. Your friend will take The Ten and be hammered."
"Thanks, Dionne. You've been great."
"That will be $32.95. Cash or credit?" she asked. She was just kidding; she already knew.
Last night, as I whimpered and curled up in a fetal position after listening to the weather moron in Roswell predicting three to five inches of snow on the eastern slopes by morning, I nearly called Dionne again. The "eastern slopes" are the edge of the Rockies, running from Montana to Mexico. Carlsbad is toward the southern end of the slope, but they were calling for snow even in Van Horn, 150 miles south of Carlsbad and a lot lower altitude.
At 0700 I snapped awake and crawled warily over to the window. I yanked open the curtain and was almost blinded by the low sun. There wasn't a snowflake in sight. I cracked open the door. Yipes! It was 28F, but there wasn't a cloud in the sky.
I hot-footed 25 miles down the road to Carlsbad Caverns. I'd been holding off a visit until 2001 to space out my spelunking at 50 year intervals, but the place was empty and I needed to waste a few hours to let some real dreary weather to the east clear out. So I stuffed the loose baggage in a locker, paid my $5.00, and dropped 750' into the earth.
That was quite unusual for me. There are about 311 national parks, monuments, and other sites in the continental U.S. I've been in 299 of them, always to have my national park passport book stamped. It was Mike Kneebone's idea for racking up the big miles during BMW MOA mileage contests. It worked. I won one and finished second in another, logging over 100,000 miles in 1990-91.
The problem was that I didn't want to see whatever the site had been established for; I just wanted to get my stamp and take off for the next park. Once I picked up eleven stamps in one day. I always thought I would come back to the place when I was old and senile, and now I am. So I found myself in an elevator, hurtling to my doom, and wondering if I'd been this edgy when I came here at the age of eleven. Not to put too fine a ooint on it, but I really _hate_ caves.
The Big Room, thus called for it can house fourteen Astrodomes, takes 60-90 minutes to walk around. I did it in 45 because there is a residual passport book mentality still doing its foul work. The most interesting sight was not indigenous to the cave. It was a woman, walking along at about 1/15th of a mile per hour, sobbing quietly but hopelessly. Her husband had his arm around her shoulder, but she was beyond that puny assistance. She needed to get out of that place but she was walking the wrong way.
"Wait 'till she sees the lower cave," I thought glumly. Even after almost 50 years I could remember that one. It can make a grown man wince.
I went back out to the bike. The park is at the very edge of the eastern slope. It is at 4,400'. To the east, 800' lower, are the Great Plains. The view is staggering. It was a blindingly clear day. I swear in the distance I could make out the top of the St. Louis arch.
The direct route to Fort Stockton is via Pecos. I went the indirect way by the Guadalupe Mountains, then south on Texas 54 to Van Horn.
"What luck," I thought as I rolled up to Chuy's restaurant. "And just when I was hungry."
I met the waitress at the door. She started to hand me a menu. I waved it away.
"#1 with iced tea," I said. She gave me the look waitresses reserve for customers who tip 2%. I walked over to my table. Chuy Uranga was eating his own lunch two tables away. We said hello. Another waitress came into the room and spoke to him in rapid Spanish. He smiled. So did I. She'd been talking about me.
He was eating a ham and cheese sandwich. I laughed.
"Well, there's some Mexican in it," he said, pulling a big wedge of avocado out of the middle. What a place. I finished lunch, polishing off the gordita with unseemly haste, and bought a T-shirt. Chuy posed for the photo op in front of my bike, holding a Redskins bumper sticker some traveller had given him. He's the biggest Cowboys fan west of Dallas, but I like him anyway.
I made the 120 miles to Fort Stockton without putting my feet down. The wind was blowing lightly from 64 different compass points. Having rendered me incompetent to sign my own name, I suppose it was now trying to drive itself insane.
The first thing I saw when I came into the Motel 6 parking lot was the Chrysler Building on two wheels. Que? What is Bill Muhr doing here, I wondered. I walked to the room in front of the bike, still helmeted, and stared in the window like a common voyeur. He saw me and came outside with a sheepish grin. Yesterday had been bad, he said. This morning was an order of magnitude worse.
"Freezing rain, the works," he said. The extra day he'd given himself to make Daytona was spent in scenic Fort Stockton, watching sagebrush cartwheel down Main Street.
I tried not to laugh, but it wasn't easy. For just a moment I thought of calling Dionne to tell her what had happened, but of course, she would already have known.
And those $32.95 calls are playing hell with my budget.
3.1.96 San Antonio TX
I walked next door to Bill Muhr's room last night and said with a grin, "Did you see that weather forecast on TV? We're in fat city, my man. It's going to be a skate all the way to Florida!" Bill agreed. Finally I had that ugly Red Toothed Dog by his mangy throat. I slept the sleep of the truly righteous.
The first sign that things were running awry was when I stepped outside at 0650 this morning and my teeth nearly froze to my lips. Then the bike's key wouldn't make it even to the "park" position, a repeat of Deming but colder. WD-40 was called up with no immediate result. I dragged out the spare key. It didn't work any better.
"It might be mechanical," I told Bill. At that point, after ten minutes in the cold, my fingers had turned a sickly white. I have a circulation problem, a genetic gift from my mother, along with pattern baldness, gapped teeth, and acrophobia. The manic-depression comes from my father's side. I went into the bathroom for a hot water soak. In a few minutes some feeling returned and I could perform manipulation of delicate objects like bowling balls. While I was doing that, the WD-40 apparently did its work. The key turned.
We were eastbound on The Ten, the sun barely above the horizon. Within twenty miles I felt the unholy presence of a frozen brick in my gut. I had spent too much time screwing around with the key; my furnace had gone out. The brick wouldn't melt, I knew that. It would sit there and drain away whatever warmth I had begun the day with, starting with the stomach lining and working out toward the toenails.
At least the sky was clear. We turned out at a rest stop for a cigarette. I looked at Bill. He had no electric vest or gloves. Mine were operating with the thermostat at max and then some.
"Bill, you're shaking."
"I know," he said dispassionately. It was better to keep moving. Then I'd stop quivering too.
The clouds showed up after Ozona, black, low, and moving east with us. Puddles of rainwater dotted the road at Roosevelt. We turned out for a break. My thermometer had not risen a single degree in four hours.
"Did you see clouds on TV last night?" I asked angrily. It was rhetorical. "Did you see temperatures like this?" More of the same. It was my 15th day in motion, not counting sitting around in Houston. Seven times the weather morons had gone as far wrong as they could manage. Three times they'd fallen short of the predicted high by twenty degrees or more. They yell "snow" and it's clear. They smile "all clear" and the ice in the parking lot melts just before noon.
At Kerrville I told Bill I was quitting in San Antonio. It would be 330 miles, not the 540 I'd wanted. But it was enough. I was starting to hate motorcycles again after a three-day respite. So I stopped at 1400. It hadn't rained yet but it looked hopeless to the east.
Bill decided to keep going. He has a schedule. I don't. We shook hands. I felt sorry for him, but I had other things on my mind. I had to melt that damned brick. I stayed in the shower until I devolved into Prune Man. In a couple of hours I was back to merely abnormal.
This is what I don't understand. If I ask you to think of a number between one and infinity and I come within 20 of it, I'm a genius. If the number is in the range of -100 and 150, roughly world record temperatures, and I come within 20, I'm still looking good. But the weather morons don't have it even that hard. The high in west-central Texas today could not possibly have been higher than 65 nor lower than 30. Is it really too much to ask that within this paltry range the weather morons at least come within 20 degrees of being right? Sure, they can take a dive now and then, but three times in two weeks?
It isn't the rotten weather that angers me. It's the aura of cavalier invincibility that the weather morons bring to their witchcraft. It isn't science what they do. Science means the ability to replicate results. They can't do that. They'll never be able to and they know it. They just don't tell anyone how loosely wrapped they actually are. What they're doing is throwing goat guts on a wall to see what sticks.
For more than 30 years it has been known that long-range weather forecasting is a mathematical impossibility. That fact led to the development of chaos theory. But these bozos come on the news every night with their six-day forecasts that have no more scientific meaning than a pancreas hanging on the closet door. I've spent more days than I'll ever be able to forget dressing myself in the morning on the basis of what some minimum wage weather moron is guessing. No more. On TV tonight the poor bastard couldn't even read the teleprompter without speaking in tongues. I should listen to that? In your dreams.
I wonder where clouds go. For 200 miles they were 500' over my head, horizon to horizon, and stockpiled for the duration. I was going 70 mph and they were doing maybe 20. We moved together. Yet within 90 minutes of my stopping this afternoon, they had all vanished. How do they do that?
Maybe I'll ask a weather moron . . .
3.2.96 Galveston TX
The differences between yesterday's frigid ride through west Texas and today's lope through east Texas could not have been more dramatic had they occurred in opposing nebulae:
Avg Avg Cloud Faceshield % of Overall MPH temp cover bug count I-state mood Friday 55 35 98% < 3 99.2 Satanic Saturday 35 65 2% > 250 0.1 AngelicIn the current issue of On the Level, BMW RA's magazine, I have a column about rating a day's ride. It satisfies my anal-retentive craving for objective validation of my emotional despair. The result is expressed in FUs, or fun units. The critical categories are wind, heat, oneness (mood), road conditions, elements, and scenery --- WHORES, in brief, sort of a throwback to New Deal agencies that possessed clever acronyms and diseased cores.
The FUs on this ride, with the exception of a few days around Big Bend, have been nothing to write home about except for more disinfectant. Today changed. I don't know why. On days like this I don't ask.
It didn't start off like that. The temperature in San Antonio at 0730 was 32F. I shuddered and went back to sleep for an hour. At 0830 it had gone down to 31F. Still, it was sunny. I sanded some of the grunge off the bike's paint and at 1030 headed off to find a back road to Galveston. I even remembered to take the brake rotor lock off before leaving, which is more than I can say for Del Rio. They're probably still talking about that pile of man and machine I created in the motel parking lot. So far, so good.
It lasted six whole miles. Then the odo quit. I fixed it for the third time. It cost me a half-hour and a few point deductions from the oneness category in the FUs. And that, basically, was the worst problem I had for the remainder of the day.
The late afternoon light on the Gulf would have brought tears to Van Gogh's eyes. A bit later a nearly full moon crawled out of the water.
I didn't watch any weather reports. I've learned.
Not 72 hours ago Leah Larkin posted a note on the BMWMC list, requesting that people, when commenting on her continuing adventures at AMI not automatically copy her cc: list. Her friends and family were being subjected to an unwanted propagation of e-mail. "That," I thought, seeing Leah's rather blunt comments, "will be the end of that."
It wasn't. Yesterday someone did it to me. OK, boys and girls, maybe the second time will be the charm.
There are currently 28 addresses on my cc: list, 27 of whom are friends and family. Those individuals are on that list because they have either asked to be placed there or because they have done something to piss me off and I won't remove them. Half of them, if their baby disappeared, wouldn't be able to distinguish a BMW motorcycle from a dingo in a lineup.
Furthermore, since they are my friends and not friends of the BMWMC list, I reserve the exclusive right to abuse them. I take a deep, slit-eyed offense at any who would presume to poach my territory. It strikes me that anyone who can figure out how to crank up a modem should also be able to RTFM and stop bombing innocent strangers with electronic junk mail. Reply to me if you're so moved or reply to the list. But let my people go.
If it happens again, I'll delete the BMWMC address from my cc: list without further comment.
3.3.96 Alexandria LA
Serious cartography students will recognize instantaneously that the direct route from Galveston to Bike Hell Weeks in Daytona does not pass through central Louisiana. No. In truth, it does not come close to central Louisiana. The straight path follows The Ten. But I am Tenned out, the Flying Tenman, doomed to follow its infinite mile markers forevermore, a hopeless I-10-erant.
So a serious psychiatrist could see at a glance why I am here, if for no other reason that it isn't anywhere near The Ten. There are small roads around Alexandria and that suits me just fine. So small are these roads that they even give names to their driveways along LA 113: Eleanor Andrews, Johnny Howell, Etienne Lescault. When you name your own driveway as if it went somewhere other than your garage, you are in a s-l-o-w place.
Yesterday's weather was magnificent. Today's was magnificenter. Spring is trying to punch through. Lavender trees that resemble forsythia are beginning to bloom. I don't know their names. If I were in Australia, I would call them jacarandas. The first green fingernails are coming out of the branches of trees. In another week the countryside will become unrecognizeable. The hated winter is doomed. Spring is winning at last.
Spring is my favorite season. It starts on March 1, unless I am on The Ten in west Texas, because that's an easy day for me to remember. March, April, May = spring. Then summer, June-August, which is my favorite season too. Anything but fall, the most disgusting season, because it means winter is rolling in, the season that is even more disgusting than fall. I know I'll die in winter, but it didn't get me this year. Not for want of trying, the creep.
LA 113 was empty. No one was in the towns. They were all probably back in the bayous, biting the heads off crayfish and practicing voodoo. I desperately needed two quiet days in a row and I got them. The fun units are starting to pile up.
It seems so simple when the weather's nice and when they name their driveways.
3.4.96 Meridian MS
I am almost certainly going to turn the following reflections into a column for the BMW RA rag, On the Level. Therefore, if you don't want to read in significant part today what you could read in a month or two, stop right now. Additionally, I request that any repostings of this note contain this advisory message. If I catch anyone not complying with this modest demand, I'll sic a mascot on the offender.
My school's mascot was decided before Mayor-for-Life Marion Barry oozed onto the political scene. He would have picked the Crack Hounds, Lifers, or Dime Bags as a mascot. In all candor I think those names are more suggestive of the spirit of the community than any tiger that ever roamed the streets of D.C.
I see similar oddities when I ride around on the lost roads, the ones that William Least Heat Moon --- and don't even get me started on that fake Amerindian --- called "Blue Highways." There were a lot of them in the little towns in Louisiana that I have passed through recently. In Dry Prong they are Wildcats. Jonesville likes Black Bears. Vidalia opts for the alliterative Vikings, a rival of the nearby Ferriday Trojans.
Now think about that for a moment, because I have hundreds of miles each day to do just that and it's about time you see what I have to look forward to when I'm putting my boots on in the morning. When was the last time a Trojan was sighted within 5,000 miles of Ferriday LA except at the Rexall drug store? Never, that's when.
But it gets better. The girls' --- is it proper to refer to high school females as "girls," like I care? --- basketball team, according to a two day-old newspaper I was reading this afternoon in the Vidalia McSwine, was in the state championship finals, is known as the "Lady Trojans." I don't know about their chances in the game, but their name alone makes them a winner in my book.
[Parenthetical life-on-the-road-comment: The standard price of condoms at truck stops across the country is now $0.75. This represents a 50% increase since Clinton took office and augurs poorly for his re-election chances in the trucker/travelling salesman/biker trash segment of the electorate.]
Jena has Giants. Across the river it's no different. In Natchez they are Bulldogs. You see them on the water towers or on a sign at the edge of town or on a schedule billboard by the school: Sidewinders, Scorpions, Lions, Indians, Jaguars, Gila Monsters, Pumas, Spiders, Falcons, Terriers, and so on. Are you beginning to see a common theme in these names? The mascots are things that we fear and dread and detest.
Even Belfrey, Montana, a town of about nine people, is not immune. It is the home of the Bats. Everyone knows that such creatures seek out women's hair, entangle themselves therein until the scalp is ripped asunder, and leave bloody, rabid bites in the skull. The many assertions to the contrary at Carlsbad Caverns stand merely as evidence of yet another government cover-up. Show me Sitting Bull or some bat and I'll take the Indian every time. Those bats are just . . . well, inhuman.
The exceptions only appear to prove the rule. At the University of California (Santa Cruz) they are the Banana Slugs. I've been there and I can tell you that there are more unsolved murders around that campus than anywhere else in the country, even the University (pause for chuckle) of the District of Columbia.
I want to ride through peaceful towns tomorrow. I want to see some high schools that promote the happiness and joy that comes from being in America, from being able to remember 50% of the words of the Star Spangled Banner even if ordinary citizens can't sing it very well. I want to see mascots that we can all trust and in whom we can find comfort.
So give me not the Beaumont Bandits but the Breasts. No more Amarillo Anthrax. They're the Amphetamines now, along with the Birmingham Bud Lites, the Canfield Chocolate Chips, Tampa Trailer Trollops, MacArthur McNuggets, and Nashville Negative Pap Smears.
1) Mississippi 501 is a winner. I'm not sure where it starts beyond northeast of Mize, since I'd been on such small roads I'd been reduced to travelling (really) by compass headings, but it hits the interstate at Forest. That's what you go through on the way to the slab, duh.
2) I went at least 100 miles out of my way this morning to visit the legendary spawning ground of one of the strangest political families in this country's history, Winnfield LA (and you thought I was going to say Hyannis MA, didn't you?). Huey and Earl Long were born here. It is a magnet for every 20th century demagogue from Buchanan to MOA's hapless Beeman. People think that Rush Limbo is unkind to President and Mrs. Bubba. They ought to have heard what Huey was doing to FDR in 1935. I trod the hallowed state park but didn't go into the museum. It's next to the railroad tracks. Where else?
3) When Easy Riders Fonda and Hopper got popped, it was clear to me that they didn't know how to comport themselves in Deepest Louisiana. When locals look at my license plate and say, "Warshintun, huh?" I just smile and reply, "Yeah, quelle merde, n'est-ce pas? I stole this bike from a Yankee."
4) It was a hat trick today, three straight days of weather from Biker Heaven. I can't remember where I stored my electric stuff, thank God.
5) In 23 days I have spent $30 on beer and $147 on gas. In a trip I hope to make one day, those figures will be reversed.
6) Motel 6 has inserted itself into my DNA. Tonight I went out for ice and when I returned to the general area of my room, I couldn't remember which room I'd emerged from. I had the key, but they're coded and don't tell you where you are living tonight. I had to tell the front desk that I had locked my brain out of my room.
3.5.96 Albany GA
Four days of beautiful weather in a row. The moto gods are trying to make me believe that riding around exposed like a baby can be fun. It won't work. I know what it's really like out there. All the good weather does is make me nervous about when the Great Horrors will return. I outran rain today. An optimist would believe I've managed to duck in front of and under the front. I've never been one of those types of people. They frighten me.
This was a most contemplative day. I had almost no deisions to make. For once I actually knew where I would be at day's end before I even started out in the morning. I took only two roads, US 80 and US 82. By the time I left Montgomery AL I had written 90% of a pretty good story. That was a nice town. The streets are sopping with history. I expected it to be a pit. It wasn't. I even drove downtown and wandered around for a while. I've got to go back and get some pictures to go with the story. I'm looking forward to the trip.
A fellow is driving down here from Americus tonight to talk to me. We spoke on the phone the other night. He wants to ride down to Tierra del Fuego. I asked him what sort of bike he was taking. He wasn't sure since he had never exactly ridden a motorcycle, but he did have the number of the MSF beginner course. This could be a painful night for both of us. I'm going to make him buy me dinner. I'm tired of practicing pro bono psychiatry.
Deb Lower pointed him my way. Chalk up another one in the "Someday I'm Really Going To Get Even For All This" column.
3.6.96 Daytona Beach FL
The guy from Americus showed up at my room just four minutes late. I thought it wouldn't take much more time than that to tell him that since he had never ridden a motorcycle before, perhaps he ought to stop wandering around in Bunny Land and put away his dreams of riding a bike for a couple of years through Central and South America.
Yeah, he said, maybe so. But he didn't have a wife and kids, so no one would miss him. And he was retired, so money wasn't really the problem. He was on his third trip to Americus to volunteer his time for Carter's Habitat for Humanity. He built houses for poor people.
President Jimmy Carter? Yeah, he knew Jimmy and Mrs. C. Workaholics, those two. Never slowed down. Felt guilty just being around them, even while he was hauling 75-pound bags of cement up three flights. Best Sunday school teacher ever, Jimmy was. It was a joy to watch the man.
Hauling concrete must be hard, huh? Not as hard as walking the length of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Did that last year. Real bad fog at the end. Eerie, like the high country in Viet Nam.
Viet Nam? Did a tour their in the hills. Montagnards and Hmoung tribesmen. I don't speak Spanish, but I don't know many people who can speak Hmoung either. Still, we got along. I thought I could pick up some Spanish before I got to Mexico and then just learn on the way. How does that sound? It worked pretty well in Nam on the tours.
Tours, I asked? Well, after my first tour I went back for a couple more. I'm retired now and the pension is good.
That was Special Forces duty, wasn't it, in the highlands? Yeah, that's what I did. Ranger, airborne. But I wasn't crazy like the SEALS. Just simple Green Beret stuff.
You feel comfortable being by yourself in unfamiliar territory? Yeah, I think I could manage. I canoed the Yukon River for a good stretch and paddled out of the Canadian woods 600 miles north of the U.S. border. No other way to get home, really. They flew me in and left me there. I didn't know much about canoes and wound up with the wrong kind, so it was tough for a while. I got out finally before the bad snows hit. It's not so bad with the right equipment.
I guess you can build houses but can you fields strip a carburetor? It's funny you should ask that, but I had to do that at night a couple of years ago. Held the flashlight in my teeth and hoped I wouldn't drop any of the jets in the grass. It was raining pretty hard. Damned hard, really.
I know what this sounds like --- Mark Twain overdosing on drugs meets Baron Munchausen. Every word of it is true. I have never met anyone like this man before and never expect to again. I told him to find an '85-'87 R80G/S and call me when he had it in hand. This guy is going anywhere he wants. The only question is who's going to write the book about it.
His name is Nick Palmer. I prefer to think of him as Clark Kent.
I was on the road at 0705, ten minutes before my wake up call. The clouds were eight feet off the ground and whistling east. When I stood on the foot pegs, I could touch them. Why it wasn't raining an inch an hour I'll never know. I've ridden in downpours that didn't look as bad as these ugly, black things.
Somehow I outran them again. It was a summer's day on the coast, hot with billowing, friendly clouds. It is supposed to get worse than awful in the next few days. Yawn. Been there, done that. I have learned that it is impossible to threaten someone who has nothing to lose.
I did the Bulow campground tour and talked with a few people. Then I rode down to AMI and did the rounds there. It was almost as if I'd never left. I told the staff that I was thinking of coming back for another five months. We all had a large yuck over that one.
Leah Larkin introduced me to her housemate and fellow Beemer student, Corey Port. They'd invited me to share their apartment for a few days. It did take me a while to come up with enough incriminating information about each of them to ensure that the offer would be extended, but any port in a storm during Bike Hell Weeks and any means necessary to secure it.
To paraphrase The Joker in "Batman," I have given a name to my pain, and the name is Harley. I don't think it is as crowded here as in years past. I saw "vacancy" signs on every motel on Ridgewood south of Volusia for three-quarters of a mile. It may be that the law of unconscionable gouging has finally met the even more fearsome law of diminishing returns.
Even so, the rumored threats to enforce noise laws appear to have been idle ones at best. The result is noise, nearly constant and often painful. These bikes are a disgrace. It won't change until the city council becomes as thoroughly sick of this demented spectacle as I am. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Seven generations of idiots is enough." Four out of the last five years down here is enough for me. I won't be back. They won.
3.7-9.96 Daytona Beach, Florida
The question John Holmes at the Space Coast BMW Riders section of the Bulow campground north of Daytona most often hears is, "How many pancakes have you made over the years?" John runs the pancake booth. For a few hours each morning during Hell Weeks he cranks them out. All-you-can-eat for two bucks. John's probably flipped a billion of the things, maybe more.
To find someone at the campground, your best bet is to sit around the pancake tent and eat a few. Sooner or later everyone comes by there. It is remarkably like Rick's cafe in Casablanca. Robert Hellman swept through in The Great Coat, trailed by a cadre of retainers, sub-secretaries, and vassals of varying rank, dispensing blessings and indulgences to the faithful. I said hello and never saw him again.
Time passes easily at Bulow. Before I knew it five hours was behind me. I had to get into shape for AMI's party that night. That meant beginning with a decent nap. I retreated to the Larkin/Port apartment and flopped for a couple of well-deserved hours.
Lamar Williams, AMI's president, loves a party and to ensure that he is invited to a good one during Bike Hell Weeks, he throws his own at the school. It is the place to be on Thursday night. Two years ago the theme was Jurassic Park. Last year, cowboys. This year, pirates. Lamar ambled through the throng in his Captain Kidd outfit, a six-foot broadsword strapped to his back. Beer, booze, and mass quantities of food were everywhere.
The torrential rains began at 2100, waves of gully washers at ten minute intervals. This was the same storm line that had been certain to hit Daytona not later than 1300 that afternoon. A few minutes later a sopping, helmeted apparition appeared before me. I stared at the thing.
"Chip?" I asked. He had been my electricity teacher, making the inexplicable explicked.
"My bike conks when I try to rev it," he muttered.
"Hell, man, you need to find a good mechanic. There must be one around here somewhere."
Fifteen minutes later he returned, still wearing his rainsuit. His eyes were glowing coals.
"You can tell them that I'm STILL the best!" he laughed. It had been a loose connector at the kill switch. The master had done it again.
I wandered over to the BMW classroom. There Gerald Young, AMI's senior BMW instructor, and Frank Stevens, #2 man in the scooter division of BMW of North America. "Ah," I said, popping the top on another beer, "here's my chance to explain what is wrong with the school's BMW training program."
To my absolute astonishment they seemed to listen to me. Frank even took out a small notebook and made some ominous marks with a blood-red pen. That probably would represent a real bad day for someone when Frank returned to New Jersey.
I slept in. Leah had flown back to Austin after class yesterday. Corey and his dad were up, looking a lot better than I felt. Now I needed to get in shape for the Iron Butt pizza party in Deland that night. After that I could go home. Pancakes at Bulow, frog legs at AMI, and pepperoni pizza at Deland. If there's anything else worth doing during Bike Hell Weeks, I've either done it or don't even want to try.
Main Street was packed. Finally I had found the elephant burial ground. For two days I'd been wondering where the crowds were. It became obvious that Bike Week '96 was a black hole. Yesterday I'd ridden A1A from International Speedway to Ormond Beach, passing maybe 150 motels, and saw one --- repeat one (1) --- "no vacancy" sign. It was the same on Ridgewood.
This was really odd. There were no traffic jams anywhere. I could ride the length of Speedway from beachside to AMI in mid-afternoon and not have to put my feet down more than twice. I put the total bike crowd at not more than 150,000. If there was one-third the number of bikes that Daytona had been expecting, it was a miracle. I think that the unconscionable gouging over the years has finally done its predictable work. If the bikers stay home and the college hellions continue drifting toward Panama City, Daytona will be in some serious trouble. Maybe it will actually be fun to go back there now and then.
I hooked up with Mike Kneebone and Ed Otto at AMI in mid-afternoon. They managed to corner Lamar and convince him to let the school be an Iron Butt checkpoint on the rally next year. It was a hard sell; Lamar was trying to say yes before they were in mid-pitch. I could see his fertile mind turning over the possibilities --- checkpoint workers in astronaut costumes, TV, newspapers, light shows, the works. Lamar was a born showman, a distant relative of the Ringling Brothers, I'm certain.
We killed four hours, including some time with Gailyn Williams, Mrs. AMI, at the Williams' house. She and Mike discussed internet links between Mike's Iron Butt page and AMI's home page while Eddie and I sat around feeling useless. When we left there, Mike offered to give me a ride to Deland and back in his rental car. I quickly accepted. The temperature had been plunging all day. It would go into the 20s that night.
The highlight of the pizza party was an award --- a gargantuan trophy, more than 3' high and a foot square at the base --- to be given to Garve Nelson, who sets records every time he eners the rally. At 72 he is far and away the oldest competitor and, unlike the wild-eyed contestants half his age or less, he always finishes.
Because of an administrative decision by the 1995 rallymaster, Garve had been disqualified for giving illegal aid to another rider. Now there is bad judgment and then there is judgment so cosmically awful that people just laugh when they hear about it. The decision to kick Garve out of the rally was so hopelessly wrong that Morris Kruemcke and a few other riders decided to do something about it. Thus, the trophy.
Mike Kneebone presented it to Garve amid wild cheering and clapping. The inscription reads, "To Garve Nelson, Oldest Competitor Ever To Be Disqualified In The Iron Butt Rally." No one laughed more than Garve. That's easy for him, since he has more class and integrity in his footpegs than . . . well, he just does.
If the pizza party grows any larger, we're going to have to move it to the Astrodome. People were even following Mike into the bathroom to convince him that their names definitely should make the cut in the final drawing for next year's entry list. Garve didn't look worried and he wasn't following anyone around. Nope, not Garve.
It was 32F when I walked outside at 0800 for a cigarette, this in the second week of March in Florida. I think some people were ice skating in the ocean. Clearly, this twisted trip was determined to finish as it had begun, getting worse by the minute. The wind that been steady out of the south for a week, the wind that was going to sweep me home in a soft, warm, spring blanket, had changed its mind. Now it was coming straight down I-95 with a running start from Hudson Bay. Rain was in the forecast, as usual. I shivered a couple of times for good luck.
On my way out of town I stopped by the house of a fellow with the happily alliterative name of Louie Lubliner. Louie makes space-tech frames for drag bikes and Harleys. I figured that if he could do that, constructing a decent sub-frame for the world-tripper R80G/S would be child's play. Louie agreed. "I can do this in chromoly [?] steel, beef up some of the flex points, triangulate this, that, and the other and . . ." I nodded off as I usually do when I am in the presence of someone who really knows what he's doing and wants desperately to make me an expert too. I'll mail him the '86 frame and stop worrying about that part of the Globus Adventurra Interruptus.
The traffic on I-95 was wall-to-wall. For three straight hours I was never more than 100 yards from some other vehicle, usually a trailer from the midwest with two or three Harleys aboard. I didn't blame them. Hell, I envied them. If only there weren't so many. I thought languidly about those empty, vacant days in west Texas so many --- what, years, weeks? --- ago. Yeah, the old days. It seemed like a different trip.
At 1500 I stopped for gas in Brunswick GA. The Motel 6 was across the street. "What the hell," I thought. Get home tomorrow, get home the day after that. I've been orbiting for a month. What's another night on the road? Nothing, that's what.
3.10.96 Fayetteville NC
I got up, rode sixty miles, and stopped to take a pee. I rode sixty more miles, stopped to take a pee, and got some gas. Then I rode seventy miles and peed. Eighty miles after that I got gas and peed. Eighty more miles, more gas, but the john was broken. Then I came to Fayetteville. It is, within a couple of yards, exactly half the distance from Brunswick to my driveway. I got a room, peed, and took a nap.
If someone had offered me $500 to ride another hundred miles to Rocky Mount, I wouldn't have done it. Today with the cold, the headwind, the unremitting traffic, and the reptilian mood that stalked my every mile, I made precisely the distance I could manage.
My joy is containable only because I harbor a near religious belief that no matter how rotten my day was the weather in Daytona this morning was worse. On top of the rest of the crap that infested my little romp, they had hard rain. At least that's what the weather morons were saying.
Some days it is quite difficult to unearth a happy thought.
3.11.96 Washington DC
The last two days on the road were some of the worst motorcycling I've ever been through. It was cold, windy, and lethally boring. When I rolled into my driveway, I was shivering uncontrollably. There was snow in the yard.
I left home in the middle of winter, February 11. I returned with the first day of spring on the horizon. You wouldn't know it. It's colder today than the day I left.
I know, I know. If you don't want to be cold, try riding through Kansas in July, not through Cloudcroft in February. If someone else were telling me this story of woe, I'd have less than a vanishing trace of sympathy. But it did seem that much of this trip had a conspiratorial flavor to it, one designed to drive me nuts. It worked. There isn't a cell in my body that doesn't hurt right now.
Mike Kneebone keeps telling me that it isn't the bike I hate. It's the weather, he says. Maybe. But I can't remember more than one or two good rides that I've had in the last five years. I don't care how you define "good rides." They are escaping me.
Some years ago, at the very pinnacle of his career, Philadelphia Eagles football coach Dick Vermiel walked away and never looked back. He said, in effect, that his yin and yang weren't in balance. The highs, he said, lasted for a few hours; the lows hung around for weeks. It wasn't worth it.
I've been thinking about Vermiel a lot lately.
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© 1996, Iron Butt Association, Chicago, Illinois
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