Go West Young Man! part 1

Posted: December 2, 2020 in Life and Memories, Motorcycles, My view of the world, travel

Part One

I really didn’t know what I was doing when I took my first motorcycle camping trip…especially one that would cover several thousand miles and cross seven states. I had grown up riding motorcycles from the age of eleven and rode various street and dirt bikes throughout my teenage years and into early adulthood, but when I sold my last motorcycle in the late seventies I didn’t know that it would be twelve long years before I would sit astride another one of these marvelous machines. In 1991 after going through a nasty divorce a year earlier, the itch to ride became too much to bear and to satisfy it I bought a used BMW motorcycle from a friend of mine. It wasn’t until I hopped upon my new purchase and rode it home that I realized just how much I missed the wonderfully exhilarating freedom I felt riding a bike, a sense of freedom that had been repressed for far too many years.

Earl, a buddy I worked with rode BMW bikes also and we both grew up in the era of playing cowboys and indians, watching Roy Rogers and John Wayne and reading about gunslinger in the old west. We would get together on weekends and ride all day to various scenic locations. We both joined the BMW MOA club and we had both read in magazines and books about these nutty folks traveling on BMW Motorcycles around the world. Soon we started taking about riding our motorcycles on trips “out west”, which to us held a mystical charm and enchanting allure from everything we had seen and read about that part of the country from the time we were old enough to strap on a pair of Roy Rogers pistols in their black, fake leather holsters, chaps and hat and go running around the neighborhood on the lookout for bad guys to take down, just like Roy and Trigger did on TV. So we planned and schemed for a few months and finagled and managed to get matching vacations, starting the first week of September where, in our minds, it wouldn’t be too hot or too cold to camp out under the starry western skies. We spent the next several week collecting canteen and a tent, a camp stove, pots, pans, utensils and everything else we thought we might need to go on this awesome journey. I practiced packing by placing the stuff on the bike, taking it back off the bike, then back on the bike…back and forth like that until I sort of had a system worked out.

The smart thing to do would have been to take off early on Saturday morning after a restful night’s sleep, but we only had nine days off before we had to show back up to work and we really didn’t know how long it would take to do and see what we wanted to experience, so we decided to take off after work Friday, which meant traveling in the dark on the interstate with no clear plan in mind except to eventually reach Tucumcari, New Mexico. I had never heard of Tucumcari before but it was the first cool sounding town in New Mexico that was on I-40. We chose New Mexico as a destination state because after all, New Mexico was “the land of enchantment”, according to the license plates we had seen, plus it was the location of Pat Garret, Billy the Kid, Elfego Baca, Roswell and other cool things…and it was on I-40.

After work we each rushed to our homes, grabbed some water, hopped on the bikes and took of to meet at an interstate ramp to begin the trip! We met, high fived and got on the interstate about 4:30 in the afternoon to take off…I could hardly believe we were actually doing it…we were finally heading west! Four hours into the trip we stopped on an I-40 bridge that crosses the Tennessee River in West Tennessee to allow me, for the third time since I left the house, to adjust the luggage and equipment I had precariously strapped, tied and bungied onto my twenty year old 600cc motorcycle as the bridge rhythmically hummed and undulated under our feet from the steady flow of traffic passing by and I was almost overwhelmed by an exhilaration of freedom I don’t think I had experienced before…or the euphoria simply could have partially been the result of a couple of the wine coolers I had stashed in one of my saddlebags and had been sipping on as we traveled along the highway. About six hours after starting from our homes in Middle Tennessee, as we were droning along I-40 I began wondering just how wise it was to have started out 5:30 in the afternoon instead of the following morning, as we apprehensively approached Memphis at 11 o’clock on a Friday night. Surprisingly however, my angst was short-lived for following I-40 through Memphis turned out to be completely uneventful and before we knew it, we crossed the Mississippi river into Arkansas.

About an hour or so later our very tired bodies gladly turned off onto a lonely exit in eastern Arkansas and we found a quiet grassy area beside a seemingly deserted road, stopped, parked and dragged our sleeping bags off the bikes and melted onto them, absolutely worn out under a starry sky, only to be awakened a few hours later by the morning sun filtering in through the trees. To our horror, what had appeared to be a grassy field on the side of a seemingly deserted road the night before instead turned out to be the edge of someone’s large front yard. We looked at each other with stunned amazement and hurriedly rolled up our dewy damp sleeping bags, flung them onto the bikes and took off west, fortunately before the homeowners realized they had trespassers sleeping in their yard. This was my first time in Arkansas on a motorcycle and regardless of the shock we experienced that first morning, I was very excited about the travels ahead of us as we climbed back aboard our bikes and once again took off heading west.

Jim

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