Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

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.



Part 2

“Its about 30 songs to Little Rock”…

I have been a huge fan of music as long as I can remember. I never learned to play an instrument, outside of cupping my hands and making sort of loon sounds…though, to think about it, I did pick up a Jews harp somewhere and was able to make some twangy noises from it after I learned to not bash my teeth with the metal spring (so I guess I “did” play an instrument). However, music has always been a part of my life and if I was in a car or in my room or working outside I was listening to songs. A few months before this trip I had bought a Sony Walkman and I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread because I could not only listen to the radio, but I could take my own cassette tapes along with me and listen to my favorite artists as I carried on with my work. It was considered one of the necessities I packed and as we got back on the road from the few hours sleep we had taken in someone’s front yard, I made sure I had access to cassettes and batteries for the day’s journey ahead of us across Arkansas.

I discovered that Arkansas was a pleasant surprise to travel through, for we went from Mississippi River bottom land, to heavily wooded rolling hills, to flooded rice fields…all within 75 miles of entering the state. Driving along the interstate at 55 mph (the National Speed Limit law was still in effect) could be tediously boring at times. At the time, the general rule of thumb for song lengths was 3 to 3 ½ minutes for play-ability on the air. I would start doing self-challenges to break up the monotony, such as “OK I believe we are thirty songs away from Little Rock.” And I would start keeping count of the songs to see how accurate my estimates were. I also started estimating the distance to the next fuel stop, using numbers of songs instead of miles. My motorcycle had a four gallon fuel tank and I could go about 125 miles before I had to go to reserve, so we tried to stop about every 100 miles for fuel and a stretch…and to also readjust my load, which I seemed to do about a thousand times on this trip. At first my estimations weren’t very accurate, but they slowly started getting better as the trip progressed.

Little Rock is about in the center of the state and the state offered even more surprises as I-40 turned north out of the city and soon we were passing swamp land. I was very surprised to see swamps with turtles in the water and sunning on logs next to the interstate in central Arkansas. I had assumed there would be no swamp land outside of Louisiana, but I was dead wrong, as we pulled to the side of the interstate to take some pictures of this unexpected site. Arkansas continued to throw us a curve ball as the road began to curve back toward the west, it carried us up into the ridges and highlands and the southern foothills of the Ozark Mountains. I had always assumed the Ozarks were in Missouri, which they are, but they straddle the state lines between the two states and a large part of the mountains call Arkansas home.

We actually made pretty good time across the state, despite stopping in Little Rock for lunch at a Mexican restaurant (which, it turns out, we made a habit of) and mid-afternoon found us pulling into a winery outside of Altus, after Earl spotted the sign for it on the interstate and indicated that he wanted to pull off. I had never been to a winery and I didn’t know what to expect as we walked in but I soon found myself sampling a plethora of many different varieties of their grapes as we sat there conversing with the owners and before I knew it, I was feeling the effects of too much wine. I believe Earl was feeling the effects of too much wine also, for he ordered two cases of a couple of different varieties to be shipped back home to Tennessee. As we staggered out of there and back to our bikes, I was thinking “Oh boy, that was a mistake”, but after I plugged the earbuds in, turned on the music, and got back on the road, the effects of the wine, combined with the steady undulation of the concrete road surface seemed to meld into a pleasant rhythmic feeling as we headed west once again.

Just before dark, we made it to a state park just north of Sallisaw, Oklahoma where we set up the tent and stretched our damp sleeping bags out to dry before we placed them into the tent. I was hoping by the next evening we would be far enough west to escape the damp dewy mornings that came with higher humidity areas, so I could start sleeping comfortably under the stars without getting soaked by dew. After the small breeze quickly dried our sleeping bags and we placed them in the tent, I reflected on the day as I built a fire in the camping area firepit and wondered why I had never though to do this before now, as the almost mystical feel of release and freedom from the worries and toils of the everyday life washed over me and I started to fully understand why others had taken motorcycles, camping gear and courage and taken off for months and years at a time of exploration of our marvelous planet…something I was just beginning to comprehend.



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.