Go West Young Man! part 3

Posted: December 3, 2020 in Life and Memories, Motorcycles, My view of the world, travel

Part 3

As I fired up the camp stove the next morning to boil water for coffee, I thought “we are finally out west!”, or at least to my way of thinking we were. I had a mental line of demarcation drawn between the borders of Arkansas and Texas and Oklahoma. I had seen rodeo competitions on TV that took place out west and where the majority of the cowboys that competed seemed to come from either Texas, New Mexico or Oklahoma. I don’t recall seeing any of them from Arkansas or Tennessee…and the Old West magazines that we would read and pass back and forth between each other had stories from the old west in locations in those states as well as Arizona and Nevada…therefore, once we reached Oklahoma, we were out west! We were starting to develop a breaking camp routine of getting up just past dawn, starting the water heating, rolling up our bags and mats, taking down the tent and stashing our stuff back on the bikes, looking the bikes and tires over and checking the oil. As we sat there sipping our morning coffee we discussed our helmet situation. We had stopped at a Western Sizzling restaurant in Sallisaw the evening before and we started talking to a couple of bikers that were also dining there. Those guys were quick to inform us that Oklahoma was a “no helmet law” state and that we didn’t have to wear helmets through the state of Oklahoma and they said we should ride without our helmets. I had never ridden without a helmet and neither had Earl. When we packed up and took off from the camping area we decided to ride without helmets just like the natives did. By the time we reached the interstate I stopped to retrieve my helmet from where I had it strapped on the back and happily put it back on because the clattering, banging and slapping noises that were rising from the engine of my old BMW were so un-nerving and unsettling that I started to imagine the pistons were swapping holes. I had never experienced sounds like that before, as I had always worn a helmet and also either ear protection or earbuds. Obviously the bike wasn’t falling apart and it was actually normal engine noises. I never again rode without a helmet, not only because I like my noggin, but also because that old motorcycle was just too blasted rattley and noisy.

I thought as soon as I entered Oklahoma that there would be a drastic change of scenery, but once again, my expectations failed me, for the rolling hills of East Oklahoma reminded me a whole lot of the landscape of Middle Tennessee. As we rolled along west along the edge of the Cherokee Nation, I tried to imagine the pain, hardship, anguish and utter sadness the Cherokee Indians must have felt when the US government forced them, under gun point, to march from the native lands in Tennessee to the perceived useless, land of the Oklahoma Territories. I really couldn’t imagine it for it is very difficult to place myself in the shoes of people who have lost everything, as I have no reference point to start from.

Oklahoma City is about halfway across the state, and interestingly once we got past this capitol of the state, the landscape started to change. I could tell it started to look a little drier and the vegetation was beginning to change to form a landscape that was more in line with what I sort of imagined it should look like out west. Also, US Route 66 joined and started following our route from Oklahoma City along I-40. For the most part, I-40 had absorbed the Route 66 roadbed, but where the interstate bypassed the towns and communities, the old Route 66 went generally along the main streets of these towns and communities. We began to exit the interstate and follow what was left of this majestic old road through these towns. Most of the smaller towns that we passed through were in various states of dying, as we noticed rolling along the streets and avenues of these communities that anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of the storefronts were boarded up and abandoned…a legacy to the trade deals that had been struck with China in the nineteen seventies…trade deals that allowed China to steal our manufacturing away without recourse or penalty. Interestingly enough, the businesses that seemed to survive in even the hardest hit towns along our route seemed to be convenient and liquor stores, as the home of Roger Miller, Erick, Oklahoma on the Texas border, was a testament to.

Three hours past Oklahoma City, was Texas. I really had no idea what to expect and the northern part of Texas caught me by surprise. The first town we encountered after crossing into Texas was the town of Shamrock. As soon as we got close to town, we exited I-40 onto the old road and rode through the middle of town. Shamrock was still struggling to survive as several of the older downtown businesses were still active. Near the center of Shamrock was a junk store we stopped at and as we chatted with the proprietor I spotted a display of old barbed wire nailed to a chestnut board, which I bought as a reminder of the old west.

It is about 150 miles across the top of Texas, with Amarillo situated almost halfway between the Oklahoma and New Mexico state lines. As we got closer to Amarillo, the landscape went from semi-arid scrub to cultivated fields and as we got closer to these fields I realized that they were fields full of sunflowers and these fields extended as far as the eye could see. It was getting closer toward evening as we continued to close the gap with Amarillo and as my trip meter climbed past one hundred miles I realized I may have pushed my luck too far as I was trying to make it to Amarillo before I filled up with fuel. My old BMW had twin carburetors and also twin fuel petcocks that provided gravity fed fuel to the carbs. I normally ran with one of these petcocks turned off. At the point the bike would start to sputter from lack of fuel, I would turn the other petcock on, to start feeding fuel from the other side of the tank. Running this way did not give me any more fuel or mileage distance than running with both petcocks open, but it sort of gave me an early warning system. Both petcocks also had a reserve system built in so when I turned the petcock lever up, it would feed from the reserve side which drew fuel from little closer to the bottom of the tank and give me almost twenty miles more before the tank ran dry. The BMW motorcycle Earl was riding was newer and it had a larger tank, but it also was fuel injected which meant that we couldn’t just disconnect a fuel line from his fuel tank to siphon some into a bottle to give to me, as his fuel system was under pressure. As the sun settled into the west, we rode on toward Amarillo, but as we got closer to the city, my fuel tank got closer and closer to running empty. About thirty miles from the closest Amarillo exit my bike coughed from lack of fuel and as I turned the other petcock on I started to get a little nervous. Almost ten miles further on, it started coughing again and as I turned the petcocks up to reserve I started hoping we hadn’t misjudged the distance. Fifteen minutes later an exit sign appeared and as we exited, I knew we still weren’t out of the woods yet, as I had yet to see any signs of a gas station…just empty road. It was almost five miles later that we started coming into a business area and as I spotted the lone gas station, I also noticed burned and broken down cars on the side of the street, couches and furniture strewn about in the parking lots along with boarded up businesses. I didn’t know what was going on but it looked like a really rough section of the city I was passing through. My little R60 started to cough again from lack of fuel as I pulled off the street and into the gas station. I made it to the pumps just in time, and I got off the bike and walked up to the window protected by bars and thick glass, the attendant just stared at me wordlessly as I passed the cash through the slot. “Oh Lord, let me get out of here alive”, I thought, as I pumped the welcomed fuel into my almost empty tank. When I was replacing the fuel cap and reattaching the tank bag to the tank, I started wondering where Earl was and as I looked around I spotted him idling at the edge of the street, ready to bolt in an instant. “Some friend.” I thought as I started the bike up and rode to join him as we rode on toward the center of Amarillo.

Jim

12-3-20

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