Friday, July 21, 2006

Follow your nose(wheel)

Some people like to plan their lives to the smallest detail and far in advance. But I've made enough trips around the sun to know that life is what happens while you're planning something else. So I like to live life pretty much as it comes. It adds to the excitement. My latest adventure, however, surprised even me. I bought a motorcycle sight unseen on the East Coast, flew out to pick it up, and rode it back to California, from sea to shining sea.

I used MS Streets & Trips to make a general routing and to estimate how long various routes would take. I settled on a generally southern route which would pass through 19 states and DC, allow me to stop to visit with a couple of old friends, ride the famed Blue Ridge Parkway, and check out historic Route 66.

Sea-to-Sea Plan Map, modified to show actual route taken.

The trip would start on the long weekend of July 4. In this case the last-minute planning was costly, as I could get no flight out on Friday night and took the redeye out of Bakersfield thru Las Vegas to Boston Saturday evening. Sunday I slept a few hours then took the cover off the new bike and trailer. After a short ride I covered it up again until Monday morning.

By coincidence, Michele had planned a luau party for Sunday evening, so I was lucky enough to be able to see her great mother-in-law (up from CT) and many of her good friends. One of them offered her family home in Tennessee for a night's stay as I rode through. Great people.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Day 1 - From Sea...

July 3, 2006
Burlington, Plymouth Rock, Cape Cod
thru RI & CT to Newburg, NY

(Click on photos to see them full size)

On the morning of the first day I packed up my stuff for the first time, loaded up the bike and the trailer, had a short breakfast, and prepared to start the big trip. I had taken out the bike (sans trailer) for a short ride the day before, but not enough to really get the feel of the new, bigger, Goldwing. Nonetheless, I felt readyto go. I said "goodbye" to Michele and Ed and hit the road.

Suiting up

Inching out the driveway trying to feel the trailer.

And on the road to California!

The first few miles on this new bike were tenuous as I got the feel of the added weight and the trailer. Traffic through Boston was pretty good and after passing through one of the Big Dig tunnels (not the one that collapsed a few days later) I decided that 65 was as fast as this trailer setup should go. After more freeway riding later in the trip, however, I could no longer feel the trailer at all, and was able to stay with the traffic flow regardless of speed.

My plan was to meet the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Cod, but there was a strong possibility that there would be terrible traffic crossing the bridge onto the Cape. I didn't want to waste a lot of time in traffic, so I rode down to Plymouth to meet the Atlantic at Plymouth Rock, a suitable place to start the journey across America.

At Plymouth Rock

I parked in a loading zone just long enough to take a couple pictures, but the bike drew a lot of attention anyway. As one couple walked by, the husband dropped back a step so his wife couldn't see him and pumped his fist in the air in a gesture of encouragement and jealousy, then looked at his wife and shrugged in a gesture of hopelessness. This was the first of many, "I wish I could do that" encounters.

Coast Guard Beach near Nauset Lighthouse
Cape Cod

Official Start of Trip
Note license plate

Traffic at the Sagamore Bridge was light so I went on to Cape Cod. It is a beautiful area but I used more time than I thought I would. Many people were obviously off work this July 3 and the traffic was pretty slow in many places. Nauset Lighthouse was totally jammed up with traffic so I went down the road a bit to Coast Guard Beach to dismount and photograph the Atlantic.

I had no license plates for the bike and trailer, so I fabricated one for the trailer before I left home. This license drew a lot of attention during the beginning of the trip.

I left Cape Cod and headed west. My next stop was in Providence for some fuel and a Subway sandwich. From there through Connecticut to New York. Connecticut is one of the few states in the US with no helmet law, and most of the motorcyclists in this state rode with their hair flying in the wind.

My goal for the day was Beacon Inn, a spot I'd read a good review about online but was unable to get a reservation. My backup was a motel a little further down the road in Newburgh, NY. I rode into the quaint little town of Beacon, found the odd-looking little Inn and started to enter. I was stopped by a rather large drug-dealer type who asked me who I was looking for. I told him I wanted a room for the night. He exchanged glances with a similar-type guy standing next to him at the doorway and said, "Um, there are no rooms available", with another furtive glance toward his partner. I don't know what was really going on at the Inn, if these guys were drug dealers or pimps, but it was very clear that this old white guy did NOT belong here. I quietly rode out of town and got to Newburgh just as it got dark.

I had made a reservation at the Newburgh motel, and the clerk told me to be sure to bring a copy of the online coupon for the 15% discount. When I checked in the clerk told me it was invalid. Welcome to Noo Yawk.

Today I rode 432 miles, the most I've ever done on a bike. The best road of the day was Highway 34 between New Haven and Danbury. Beautiful!


July 4, 2006

(Click on photos to see them full size)

Got up early and woke up with some (ugh!) motel coffee. My plan to stay healthy and feeling good while riding a motorcycle for many hours a day was to walk at least a mile before starting, another mile at lunch, and a mile at the end of the day. I would also avoid fast food restaurants as much as possible (Subway is OK, according to Jared). Yesterday I did two of those walks and the morning weather here in NY made today's morning walk rather pleasant.

After the walk I got out my tools and made a couple of adjustments to the new bike to make it more comfy. I packed it up and was on the road a little after 9. I wanted to get to my friend John's house in Virginia by mid-afternoon if possible.

The morning traffic through the most thickly populated area of our country was nearly non-existent. I guess many were sleeping in this July 4th. Traffic began to pick up in the Philadelphia area and was quite thick by the time I got off the freeway for a rest in Baltimore.

I used several tollways today and yesterday, and at every one I had to pay the truck rate, as I was driving 3 axles through the tollbooths. This surprised me the first time so I made some comment and the toll collector just laughed and apologetically made a snide remark about government logic

At the rest stop in Baltimore I called my friend John to update him on my progress and he suggested I avoid a longer route around DC by taking the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. His directions were excellent so when I saddled up again I found it quickly. Traffic was moderately heavy going in to the DC area and I imagined it must have been much worse on I-95, my original plan.

My first (and only) frightening moment came on this parkway. I was riding in the second lane, as is my habit to avoid entering traffic, and the first lane was empty. A lady entered the parkway and decided to go directly to the 2nd lane without even looking. I gave her a blast with my air horns and she quickly got back into the right lane where she belonged. I smiled and was grateful I had more than the wimpy little Honda horn.

On the freeways yesterday and today I was passed by many weekend travellers, many solos and many full cars. Most of the right-seat passengers had their feet up on the dashboard, and many had one foot out the window, presumably for cooling. One of these latter young ladies looked at me as they passed and said with her eyes and head movement, "Please take me away from this boring geek and take me along with you on your ride across the country." It was pretty funny. Had she seen the old face behind the helmet sunshade, she probably would've thought differently. Many others who had noticed my "California or bust" license plate gave gestures of encouragement as they passed.

I got around DC without major delay, continued south, and got off the freeway at Fredericksburg, heading toward my friend's house at Lake Anna. I got out the bicycle map case my son-in-law had given me and inserted the turn-by-turn instructions to get to his house. It was miles and miles of beautiful back roads. Being able to read while riding was a great time-saver and soon I was on the last two-mile stretch. A hawk of some type swooped down and flew alongside me for about 10 seconds. I regarded it as nature's welcome to this beautiful part of the country.

I pulled into John's driveway in the middle of the afternoon. I hadn't seen him for 9 or 10 years since his last trip through Hawaii, but it was like we'd seen each other yesterday. Good friendships are like that.

Today's ride was 356 miles, 788 since beginning yesterday morning. The best road today was easily the beautiful back roads leading to Lake Anna from Fredericksburg. I regret not stopping to take a few pictures.

Day 3 - Lake Anna and Charlottesville

Today was a day of rest and relaxation with an old friend. I drove into Charlottesville with him for a doctor's appointment and on the way back we stopped in Gordonsville for a fantastic lunch. We attempted to visit a Civil War museum, but as luck would have it, it's closed on Wednesdays. We went back to Lake Anna in time to beat a huge thunderstorm. I had not put the cover over the trailer, so my carefully crafted "license plate" got wet and the lamination leaked. People rarely noticed it after that. In fact it now looked more like a muddy Louisiana plate.

I came to this part of the country only once before, on a family trip in 1990. We loved it then and I loved it again this time. So much of our country's history took place in these verdant hills and valleys. I would love to spend a whole summer in this area.

Lots of very enjoyable conversation today, but no miles on the bike.

Day 4 - Lake Anna to Mt. Roanoke

July 6, 2006

(Click on photos to see them full size)

My plan was to hit the road about 9:00. When my alarm went off it was raining hard again, so I just rolled over and went back to sleep. Finally rolled out of bed and had a leisurely breakfast and did some laundry as it was still raining. The sun finally came out and I packed up. Said so long to John and was on the road by about 12:30. Now a half a day behind schedule.

I rode northwest to join Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Some say this is the most beautiful road in the country. There is so much beauty all over this huge country that "the most beautiful" is a tough call, but this road, and the Blue Ridge Parkway connected to it, are certainly in strong contention.

Scenes from and on Skyline Drive

Blue Ridge Parkway at its northern end.

Several years ago the Hawaii Weather Wimps and I came back from San Francisco on Skyline Boulevard, going south toward Santa Cruz. This was a lucky find, not a planned route, but we were amazed at the views, with San Francisco Bay on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. There may be other such ridge roads, but they are rare. Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway are hundreds of miles of this kind of road. Vista after vista after vista, on both sides of the road.

As a pilot I fly high above hills, mountains and valleys for hundreds of hours every year, so I've seen more than my share of beautiful vistas. That probably spoils the novelty of such a beautiful road somewhat, but probably only a little. Curve after curve, climb and descent, a road like this can never be too long.

I made it to Mt. Roanoke State Park before sunset and checked in. Though the park was nearly empty, Rudy, the volunteer "host" assigned me to a spot next to a couple guys on Harleys. I eventually found a spot flat enough to park my 3 axles and set up camp for the first time. I hadn't set up this tent for several years, so it took me a bit too long.

Rudy was a friendly old guy of 84. He came by to chat for awhile and tell me about his 2 girlfriends, one 90 and one 85. I've often thought that volunteering at a state or national park for a few months each year might be a great way to retire. If I do that, I hope I don't share lots of stories about my 90-year-old girlfriend with passing guests.

After finishing setup, the Harley riders and I went for a walk to stretch our legs. One was from Georgia on his way home and the other was from Maine on his way to Deal's Gap and the Dragon's Tail. The one from GA suggested stopping the next night at a motorcycle-only campground in Waynesville, NC. My original plan was to make it all the way to Tennessee on my second day on the Parkway, but I lost half of this day to rain, so it seemed like a good backup plan.

My first night of camping since a cold night in the Sierra Nevadas provided me with a good night's sleep. I could get used to these mountains.

Today I rode 232 beautiful miles. 1020 miles in 3 riding days.

Day 5 - Roanoke, VA to Cruso, NC

July 7, 2006

(Click on photos to see them full size)

Woke up fairly early, broke camp (slowly) and left the park. Two miles away was a gas station and a source of hot coffee. Not great but enough to get a start on the day and find a place down the road for a good breakfast.

Rakes Mill Pond

About an hour down the road I ran into Mabry's Mill and pulled in just as my 2 new Harley buddies were pulling out. A week ago when I mentioned to friends that I was planning a ride down the Blueridge Parkway, several told me that I'd probably get stuck behind lots of RVs going 25 or slower. I spent over 2 days on the Parkway and I don't think I saw more than a half a dozen RVs, and none of them were in front of me. In fact there were many more motorcycles on the Parkway than cars, by a factor of 2 or 3 to 1. This was a pleasant surprise, and made navigation of the road at one's own pace very easy. Here at Mabry's Mill this imbalance was apparent, so I took a photo of the parking lot. The picture doesn't really tell the story.

Mabry's Mill

The smell of bacon and pancakes was too great to pass up, so I had breakfast before moving on down the road.

It was hard not to stop and gawk at the scenery at every turn, but I resisted. I took a few pictures, but it was hard to pick the best spots.

Parkway Scenes

At one of the lookouts I was chatting with a biker and his wife going the other direction on two bikes. They had just come up from Deal's Gap and the Dragon's Tail, which boasts something like 383 turns in 11 miles. Hubby had taken a video of his wife riding "the Tail." He also had a lot of photos he'd taken at the entrance, where parts of crashed bikes were nailed up to trees as a sort of memorial. I would be passing Deal's Gap tomorrow, a weekend day. I decided I'd probably pass up that ride to avoid the weekend sport-bikers. This couple also recommended the motorcycle campground, but said it was at Cruso, not Waynesville.

As it became obvious I wouldn't be making it to Tennessee this day, I stopped to call the people who'd invited me to stay to tell them that I'd probably not be stopping. If all went well, I'd be passing Knoxville around noon and wouldn't be staying the night.

Fortunately, I had my GPS on and it showed me where the turnoff to Cruso was. My plan was to go to Waynesville, and it would have taken at least another hour to find the campground. As I pulled in, there was a guy unloading his Harley off the trailer behind his truck. He then hopped on and rode into the motorcycles-only campground right behind me. I held my tongue.

The campground was terrific. No designated campsites, just park anywhere and set up camp. There was a lounge with TV, an outdoor restaurant that served steak dinners for 7.95, and of course showers. After dark there was a campfire where everybody sat around and lied to each other. The instant camaraderie was amazing.

I found a great spot by the river, and as soon as I got set up, my two Harley pals from the night before pulled in and set up beside me.

Parked at my campsite

The river in my "back yard"

Next time I'm in this area, I'll plan to spend several days here while I explore the Parkway and the Asheville area.

Today I rode 311 twisty, curvy miles. 1331 since the start.

Day 6, Cruso, NC thru TN & GA to Huntsville, AL

July 8, 2006

(Click on photos to see them full size)

Woke up early to the sound of the rushing river, took a long hot shower, grabbed a good breakfast at the outdoor restaurant and broke camp. I paused to take another photo of the river before riding off.

I'll be back.

Climbed back up onto the Parkway. The mountains at this end of the Parkway were the highest and provided some great views, though this morning was hazier (smokier?) than yesterday.

Passing the highest point on the Parkway, I stopped to take a few photos and chat with other riders.

I met a group of Gold Wing riders from Ontario, Canada, who were on their way home from the Wing Ding, the annual Gold Wing bash, held this year in Nashville. They said next year's Wing Ding will be held in Billings, Montana. Ironically, Michele told me I should keep this bike so I could see more of the country, specifically Montana. I'd already pretty much decided to sell Old Gold and keep this bike, and this pretty much solidified it.

I took a few pictures of the Canadians at the high sign, they took my photo across the parking lot, and we went our separate ways.

The highest point on the Blueridge Parkway

I took no more pictures this day, though I certainly should have. Soon after this the twisty road came to an end in Cherokee country. At the bottom of the road into Smoky Mountain National Park I met a couple donning their bicycling gear. They were from Massachusetts and raced often. I'm sure Michele and Ed have run into them at some time or other. They headed into the park, but I decided to skip it and continue southwest.

The road leaving Cherokee twisted along a riverbank, and the river was full, very full, of rafters. My road this afternoon followed more than one river, and I saw not hundreds, but thousands, of people enjoying the rivers on rafts. The roads were as twisty as the rivers and slowed by lots of Saturday traffic, so the ride was as tiring as it was interesting. There were more rafts in the river than vehicles on the Parkway, by far. I was tempted to stop at one of the many raft companies and take a ride, and now I wish I had.

I am a fan of CBS Sunday Morning, and a couple months ago they profiled a shop somewhere in the South that buys unclaimed luggage from airlines and sells it. It's like a huge department store selling everything from underwear to electronics. It was an amusing piece, and I had mostly forgotten about it. But not far into Alabama, I saw the sign.

Turns out that shop is about 2 miles ahead, in Scottsboro, AL. I couldn't resist. I went to the store and bought a few small items, including a $25 digital movie camera that uses the same memory as my digital camera. I have no love for shopping, but this was a fun rest stop.

As the sun was threatening to set, I rolled into a familiar big red 6 outside Huntsville and jumped into the swimming pool to loosen up my tightening shoulders. Watched a little TV and went right to sleep.

Today's ride was 333 miles. 1664 since starting out.

Day 7, Huntsville, AL to Natchez, MS

July 9, 2006
(Click on photos to see full size)

The day started with a couple cups of (ugh) Big Red 6 coffee, but soon I was awake enough to load up and saddle up. Headed west and after about an hour of riding came upon a roadside cafe like I'd hoped to find more often on this trip. Stopped for a cup of real coffee and a breakfast of grits and eggs. Hadn't had grits since I was in the Air Force, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Shortly after I got my breakfast a couple of bikers and their "babes" came in and sat down at the next table to have breakfast before beginning their Sunday ride. Nice folks tattooed and dressed in their Harley "uniforms". One had the Harley logo tattooed on his left shoulder, though I'm sure he wasn't getting paid for the billboard space.

Finished my grits and headed outside to get on the Natchez Trace Parkway and the day's big attraction. Just outside the door were two tricked-out Harleys, one with a helmet hanging on it with many stickers, the most prominent of which said, "KKK is the only way!" The charm of the deep south has its flip side.

Around Cherokee I got off 72 and entered the Parkway, which begins in Nashville and ends in Natchez. Read more about it here.

This is a beautiful road, just as advertised. Between Cherokee and Tupelo is was much like driving through a well-manicured golf course. No signs. No shoulder. Recently mowed green grass all the way up to the narrow roadside. No commercial traffic allowed. On this quiet Sunday morning, I was virtually all alone. A few miles down the road, a young deer ran across the road about 50 yards ahead of me. A beautiful side of nature to start my ride down the Parkway.

I got off the Parkway at Tupelo, both to get some gas and to see if I could find Elvis' birthplace. I was successfull on both counts.

This plaque began a timeline display outside his birth home.

Elvis' actual place of birth. Behind it is the obligatory museum and gift shop. Tons of junk for sale similar to the shops at Graceland in Memphis. Easy to pass up.

A statue of Elvis at 13.

Though I hadn't planned to stop at Tupelo, I had taken along a couple of Elvis CDs and loaded them into the changer in Boston before I left. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to drive out of the museum parking lot with Elvis #1 hits blaring from the bike speakers. People smiled and waved as I drove out, but I'm sure they were thinking, "Look at the dork on the big motorcycle."

My next gas stop was at a small town named Raymond, about 4 miles east of the Parkway. It has some significance as a civil war site, but it was a bit hard to figure out from the small signs in the area.

The center of downtown Raymond.

This is my first trip through the deep South, and Raymond really matches the stereotype I expected of a Southern small town. Maybe it was even less economically "advantaged" than I expected. My glitzy Wing seemed pretty out of place. Several people at the gas station expressed their admiration, one saying with a wide grin, "Boy, I'd pay a million dollars for a motorcycle like that." I felt a little like a celebrity on the red carpet, and didn't like the feeling.

Most of the road between Tupelo and Jackson was less than impressive, but from Jackson to Natchez it became beautiful again. The sun was coming down but I took a few pictures from the camera hanging around my neck.

The radar detector seen here took a few hits in small towns across the country, just as I'd expected.

Reflected the the windshield is the Trace map in the plastic map case contributed by Ed in Massachusetts. It served me well. Thanks, Ed.

On the lonely road.

A short segment of the original Trace is preserved here. The depth of the well-worn trail is amazing.

Very late in the day, but the flash version is worse.

This is a common type of fence in this area. It reminds me of a scene from the movie "Gettysburg". This is just a few miles from Natchez.

Just before sunset. From here it was a quick run to the State Park to set up camp before it got dark. It was Sunday night and there was only one other camper there. It was extremely quiet, in a very good way.

There was a full moon, or nearly so, and I tried hard to get a picture of it shining through the trees in the park. The digital camera failed me and I longed to have a good 35mm camera. Here is the best of many bad attempts.

Today I covered 413 beautiful miles. 2077 since starting out.

Day 8, Natchez, MS, thru LA to Abilene, TX

July 10, 2006
(Click on photos to see full size)

At this quiet state campground I had electricity and water at my tentsite, and a bathroom and shower not too far away. I woke up early, but took my time showering and packing up. I fired up my cup heater and made a cup of coffee, but decided this was way more trouble than it was worth. I'm sure eBay will produce a better camping coffee-maker.

About 2 miles before the end of the Parkway there was a dead deer with many vultures enjoying the carcass. It was a sad scene, and its contrast with the young deer I saw shortly after entering the Parkway yesterday reminded me of the circle of life and the beginning and the end of all things.

And so, on a sad note, ended my ride down the Natchez Trace Parkway. The best roads of my trip were now behind me and it was now more about piling on miles and getting home. The city of Natchez looked pretty interesting, but I spent only enough time there to take a couple pictures and I was on my way through Louisiana.

Looking north up the Mississippi River.

The bridge to Louisiana.

A casino built in the style of the old river gambling boats. I probably should have taken a few minutes to check it out.

I meant to have breakfast across the river in Vidalia, but there were no restaurants on the main road. I rolled on to Ferriday and stopped for Gatorade and Ibuprofen (should've brought more). A nice lady in line at the cash register advised me to stay on 84 all the way to Shreveport instead of heading north to pick up the freeway early. It turned out to be good advice.

When I got to Jena I was hungry and tried to stop for lunch. Every street in town, without exception, was on a hill of some type and I couldn't find a safe place to park the bike with the extra weight of the trailer. I eventually gave up and continued up the road.

I got as far as Winnfield and was just too hungry to keep going. I pulled into several more restaurants, all of which were closed. Actually many, many businesses all along Highway 84 through Louisiana were closed. I was amazed at the poor state of the economy. I didn't make an opportunity to chat with anybody in LA at all, so I don't know how much of this poor economic state is a result of Katrina. It was quite sad in any case.

I gave up finding a "local-flavored" restaurant on 84 and pulled into a McDonald's, mostly because it had a level parking lot. I had avoided fast food other than Subway up to this point and wasn't pleased with my choice this time. Inside was a girl applying for a job and talking with a manager. Her friend, standing in line in front of me, was shouting across the room trying to converse with her about boyfriends (I think), seemingly oblivious to the fact that her friend was engaged in a job interview of sorts. Her language was as strange as her behavior, and it reminded me of my first days in Kalihi trying to understand the local dialect of Hawaii. The dialect I heard in Winnfield was at least as unique as "outer-island" Hawaii's and I regretted not having more time to hang around and learn to understand it a bit.

Standing in line I remembered the coffee float I had last year at McDonald's in Bangkok, and decided it would be a great way to cool off. I ordered the ingredients and enjoyed the first of several I was to make on the road.

Except for the economic blight, the scenery in Louisiana was quite beautiful, and left me with a resolve to return to this state to get to know it better. I gassed up again in Shreveport, got on the freeway for the first time in many days, and started the interminable trek across Texas.

Somewhere in East Texas I stopped for fuel and decided to park the Wing-a-bago next to similar vehicles. I was still feeling the pain of not being able to find a parking spot at all back in Jena.

As I was getting ready to leave, one of the truckers came out of the truckstop and said, "Nice rig you got there." I was glad he got into the spirit of my feeling.

Nobody claims that Texas is a scenic wonder. I took more of a Zen approach to the ride, turned on the cruise control and turned off the mind. A little Ibuprofen for the shoulders and drone on. I didn't want to ride too far at night, even in Texas, but made it to Abilene before the sky went completely black. I pulled in to the familiar big red 6 and promptly went to sleep.

This was a record day of riding: 586 miles. 2663 since Boston. Tomorrow is just a short hop to Lubbock to spend some time with a great old friend.

Day 9, Abilene to Lubbock, TX

July 11, 2006

Not very far to go today so I took my time getting packed up and running. One of the maids admired my "rig" as I was packing up, reminding me that it would probably be more fun on this ride with a "biker babe" on the back, but not this time.

When I stopped for gas outside Abilene, a guy about 10 years older than me was gassing up his Mustang in the next lane. He came over to admire my "rig" as well, and told me that he'd just sold his Harley Heritage, and it was the smartest thing he'd ever done. He had a friend with a Wing and said you had to walk over and touch it to be sure it's running, and probably even have to twist the throttle a bit. He said after 3 hours on his Harley the vibration made him feel like his nether parts (not his words) had fallen off. Most Harley riders are pretty snobbish about their bikes, so it's nice to encounter one who shows a little respect in the presence of a Honda.

The road was hot, so I stopped in a small town named Post to make myself a coffee float. There was a major water main break so the whole town was without water and would be for another day as well. Bottled water and soda was being dispensed in the McDonald's, and most other restaurants had simply closed up for the duration. The owner showed some surprise at my putting my ice cream cone into my coffee so I sat down to chat with him while I cooled off. I told him I'd discovered the coffee float at a McDonald's in Thailand last year. Turns out he was a pilot in Viet Nam and Thailand during the war and had been many of the places I had been. When he got out he came home and bought a couple McDonald's franchises here and in Lubbock.

I finally pulled myself away and rode the final few miles into Lubbock to spend some time with my oldest friend, Tex. We were together in Thailand, Viet Nam, Okinawa and my first years in Hawaii. We shared some great years and always enjoy getting together, though it doesn't happen often enough. Early in the afternoon I pulled the "rig" into his garage next to his Harley and his son's big Honda and shut down for a couple days' rest.

Only 166 miles today, 2829 since this trip started.

Day 10, Lubbock, TX

July 12, 2006

Got up early this morning to get the Wing-a-bago over to the Honda shop to get an oil change. I also decided to buy a new helmet to get a little more air on my face behind the big windshield. Tex got off work early and met me at the Honda shop so we went to a Mexican restaurant for brunch. In the afternoon we went to the airport to pick up a company van to take it in for repair. I wish I'd taken my camera.

At the radiator shop we met Renea, the receptionist. She had a fairly large office behind a wall with just a window for transacting business. Everything, without exception, in her office was purple. The walls, the carpet, the phone. She had a government-style metal desk painted purple and topped with purple laminate. Stapler, pencils, chair and flower pot with purple flowers: all were purple.

I once saw a piece on TV about a lady who loved purple and everything in her home was purple. I think it was Charles Kuralt who had discovered her. Renea was not that lady, meaning there are at least two such purple fanatics in the country. I asked Renea what her favorite color is, and she said it was green. "You can tell by the color of the leaves on the plant," she said with a straight face. Humor is alive and well in West Texas.

The few miles ridden for the oil change today don't really count. It was a great day "off" with a great and long-time friend.

Day 11, Lubbock, TX, to Datil, NM

July 13, 2006
(Click on photos to see full size)

Leaving Lubbock was hard. Time with great friends isn't plentiful enough and it's hard to see it end. But, after doing some laundry and a final polishing of the bike, Tex and I roared out together. Well, he roared out on his Harley and I sort of "whirred" out on the Wing. In any case, he decided to ride out of town with me, or maybe it was ride me out of town. It was great fun, even though it was only a few miles. Some day we'll do a long ride together.

My route today was a little south, through Alamogordo, with a plan to stay either there or in Socorro. I stopped in Artesia for a rest and cool-down, and saw that the temperature was 103. I longed to be back in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Approaching the mountains from the east, I could see huge thunderstorms in front of me. I'd been extremely lucky so far, encountering rain only on my day off in Virginia and just a few showers in Louisiana. It looked like my luck had run out and I was about to get really drenched.

As the highway snaked around the mountaintops and through the passes, however, it also skirted the worst of the storms, and I got rained on very little and didn't even need to get into my rain gear. It was enough, however, to discourage me from stopping as I crested the mountain at about 8600 ft. The temperature at the top was just below 50 degrees, over 50 degrees cooler than back in Artesia. It looked like a great ski destination and was a great road on a bike, but it was wet and I was on a hunt for sunshine.

Down the other side and near the city of Alamogordo, I finally stopped to take a photo or two and to get some gas. Hanging out doing nothing at all in the gas station were a couple bikers, an old sun-and-wind-tanned bearded guy whose Harley was parked out back and his geeky friend whose 600 Shadow was parked on the side. It made me wonder where stereotypes come from. I hung out with them for about half an hour while I recovered from the mountain. A squall passed over the station while I was there and I was grateful that my bike was still under the cover of the pump lane. When the sun came out again, I headed out for Socorro, quickly caught up with the squall and got drenched for about 3 minutes. When I came out the other side I saw the last of any rain for this trip.

The west side of the mountains near Alamogordo.

I arrived in Socorro with plenty of energy so I kept on going. I'd researched campgrounds throughout NM and the next one was in Datil. I stopped in Magdalena for gas and some "food" for dinner in the campgrounds and nearly decided to just stay in a quaint-looking motel and not make the effort to set up camp.

Instead of following the impulse I stuck to the original plan. I made it to the BLM campground well before sunset and got set up in record time. Practice makes perfect. The BLM volunteer host came by and after a few friendly words said he expected it to get down to around 40 degrees that night due to the clear skies. I checked the GPS and the altitude was 7500 ft. Was I really prepared for weather that cold? Maybe I should have stayed in that motel.

Like Natchez, there were only two other campers in the campground and I had half of it completely to myself. Unlike Natchez, the nearly full moon did not come out until after I went to bed. And it was magical! The clear night from 7500 ft. produced the most stars I've seen since Miclele and I flew to Hawaii island and observed the night sky from atop Mauna Kea. There was an unbelievable number of stars and the Milky Way was as clear as its name suggests. I sat in the grass and stared at the sky in the absolute quiet for what seemed like hours, and I had to force myself to climb into the sleeping bag and prepare for the cold. Life should always be so peaceful. I slept like a baby.

My route through NM was really quite beautiful, and I regret not stopping for more pictures. My next time through will produce more scenic shots.

Today I rode 468 miles, 3307 since Michele's driveway.