For the last couple of years, Jodie, my loving wife, has watched as I set off on motorcycle rides covering several States.
This time she was coming too!
I have ridden through Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma while she remained at home. She followed me on SPOT*, and got regular texts, calls and photo-messages, but until this weekend our longest joint ride was to the Talemina Scenic Byway; a trip of little more than four hundred miles.
By the standards I generally set, that was just a "ride before lunch".
This type of journey is not for everyone, but this weekend, it was just what we wanted.
For me, this was going to be a bit different too. Off came the auxiliary gas tank and cooler, on went things that would make her more comfortable in predicted temperatures in excess of 110F.
The journey was a long one, and keeping hydrated and as cool as possible would be the factors that determined success or total wipeout.
*In the SPOT link, set the history to "ALL" and hit "GO"
"Hey Steve. Before school starts back next week, will you take me to see the desert?"
It has become a bit of a tradition. Jodie is a High School Special Ed. teacher and the weekend before school starts back she likes to do something special. That it also coincides roughly with the anniversary of the death of her Dad, still a recent memory, adds a degree of poignancy. It's a request that I cannot deny her. Last year it was Eureka Springs, AR. Apparently this year we were going "flower-sniffing" in the desert .... In August! She is addicted to "Ice Road Truckers", and any year now I am expecting a request to go ride the Dalton Highway in Alaska. That will happen, but it's not a weekend trip!
Planning is key to making these trips work. When you are about to spend sixteen hours on a motorcycle, with your most precious cargo sitting right behind you, nothing is left to chance. So I plan. I work out the possible, divide that by reality, then add in a factor called flexibility. That last factor is also known as "what we can do if we mess up the first two bits".
Monument Valley, UT is just a bit too far from our home in North East Oklahoma, as is Death Valley, CA. Both would be spectacular, and spectacularly hot, but neither is realistic. For those we need three or four days and we have only two.
New Mexico is a possibility, and the farther West one goes, the more desert is visible. We could probably get far enough for Jodie to be happy. Not the Rio Grande, but at least Santa Rosa. Even the name tells you that this is a place where movies were made, and cowboys rode across the plain. Wagon trains came through here on the push West. It's genuine desert and would fit the bill.
It's also five hundred and fifty miles from home and we need to get there, and back, and rest in the middle. I work Friday night until 1 am, so we planned to leave at six hoping I would get a few hours sleep beforehand. In the end we left at four thirty, sans sleep. It was still dark when we climbed aboard and hit the road. We would have some of the boring stuff out of the way before the sun rose behind us. A complication was that wildfires had closed part of I44, and we needed that road. A quick check showed that the road was open, but we did drive through fires not yet quite out. The acrid smell and the sight of trees and undergrowth burning at the side of the highway is not new to me, but it never fails to impress.
This is the third time I have made this trip West in the last couple of years. I am consistently impressed by how much you see each time, and how much you missed on the previous occasions. Granted I am normally "on the clock", with the sole ambition of racking up the miles regardless of the scenery. That said, no one rides a motorcycle across this landscape without looking at it, and absorbing the beauty ... and there is so much to see if you actually look properly. It might seem that the Texas Panhandle is flat, grassy and empty. If you think that then you are just not paying attention! Yes, three hundred miles of wheat and corn in Kansas does get a bit tiring, but up here it is wild, open, unspoiled but for one missing feature. There used to be herds of millions of bison inhabiting this place; I wish they were still here.
On this trip even the wind is behaving itself. Normally I would be blown from side to side on the highway, struggling to stay on the road for about two hundred miles. Today there is just a gentle breeze. Jodie thinks that we are riding through a hurricane. She hasn't been here before on a motorcycle and I am able to assure her that this is calm. I don't think she believed me until a sudden gust of more typical strength caught us. That's more like it, now I know I am in the Panhandle.
We settle into a routine of gas stops, drinks, back on the bike for the next hundred miles, and the odometer confirms our steady progress. It's hot and I am in a full riding suit. Jodie entertains herself by pouring water down the inside of my jacket, front and back. The water is "coffee hot", but it instantly begins to evaporate dropping the temperature in my suit to near freezing. It's a wonderful feeling and I urge her to continue with her new pastime.
In the terms of our ambition for this ride, then this part of the journey is very special. The high plains of Texas suddenly and quite abruptly changes. One moment you are riding across the grassland, then, as if by magic, you are in the desert. It's so sudden that your minds just wonders "Who the hell put that there?".
We have made it. There is still a long way to our destination, but the rest of the day will be spent riding deeper into the desert. We recently developed a secondary interest in "Ghost Towns". During the planning I discovered a town called Cuervo, NM, that would make an excellent stopping point. Cuervo is right on the interstate forty miles past Tucumcari, NM and about twenty miles short of Santa Rosa. To make day two a little less arduous, we had decided to reach Cuervo then turn around and spend the night in Tucumcari. I stayed in that town earlier this year during an abortive attempt to ride a Bun Burner Gold. On that occasion I fell, exhausted, into a sound sleep and I really didn't care much where I was. This time we could enjoy it.
From the Blog linked above:
The town of Cuervo, New Mexico, began in 1901 when the railroad came thorough. The town started to grow when the surrounding land was opened to cattle ranching in 1910. Then Route 66 came, and the town's population peaked in the 1940s at over 300.
And then the Interstate literally came through town: right through the middle of it, ripping up roads and tearing down houses. Cuervo couldn't survive that. It's a ghost town now; a few people still live here, though it's not clear why.
We made it to Cuervo by early afternoon. If you have any interest in the "Abandoned past" of America, this is one of the better examples. Quite a few buildings survive in various states of repair. It's hard to see why anyone would settle here in the first place, but settle they did and the town once boasted a population of three hundred.
Most of the buildings are open to both the weather and any passing motorcyclists keen to poke around and take a few pictures. The Church is locked, and in decent condition. It appears to have been worked on quite recently to repair the exterior and roof. Someone still cares for the place.
I was exhausted by the time we arrived here. Probably a little dehydrated, even though I had been drinking lots of water, and very tired. Nonetheless, we stayed maybe forty five minutes just absorbing the atmosphere of the place.
I'll let the pictures do the talking:
The houses built of wood will probably last longer than the adobe walled properties
The adobe walls
There is both a bleakness and beauty about this place but, on balance, I wouldn't want to live there
There are many more pictures in the album. Browse at your leisure.
We left Cuervo with a mixture of sadness and relief. Sad to think of the lives that were disrupted, sad too at the decay happening and the inevitability of the desert reclaiming this land. Happy that we were only forty two miles from air-conditioning.
I believe that couples away for the weekend tend to get up to all sorts of ... ahem ... nocturnal activities. Well we hit Days Inn in Tucumcari, unloaded the bike, and fell asleep! Then we woke up and ate Kentucky Fried Chicken .... then we fell asleep again :)
Soon, all too soon, we were facing the ride home, which was a simple "rinse and repeat of the previous day.
Jodie suffers from some chronic neck and back pain, but here it is she who is allowing me to close my eyes for five minutes.
The concrete is hard, and I don't really care!
Next time I hear folk refer to the "weaker sex" in anything less than the most glowing of glowing terms, I will show them this picture and remind them that she not only has stamina beyond belief, but a viscous right hook too.
For someone on her first long distance ride, and in conditions that would challenge the survival instincts of Les Stroud, Mrs Twigg, for it is she, simply astonished me.
We made it home by seven pm, right on schedule. The motorcycle exhibited its usual thirst for gasoline, but it performed flawlessly, again. Another weekend, another eleven hundred miles and it sits ready for the next time. Yeah, I'd love a new BMW, but in the meantime my old Yamaha will have to do. It will also, I hope, continue doing what it has done for the last year, and keep surprising some of my fellow riders.
I can't leave this tale without a final picture:
It's called "The Cross" ... I have no idea why. It's in Texas, and right beside I40. You can see it for miles and it just gets bigger as one approaches. Everyone, I guess, has their "cross to bear", but someone must have been really, really bad to have felt the need to build that. It is one hundred and ninety feet tall, and I am simply left feeling that some folk have way too much time on their hands.
Meanwhile, all crosses aside, Jodie's first LD Ride doesn't qualify for a certificate, didn't win any rallies, but has a value for me that surpasses any of those things. What is more, she has made noises that suggest she might even do it again!