Big Bend

Big Bend, the jewel of the west. Ok, I may have made that part up.

Either way, I’ve always heard great things about this national park, but being a 10 hour drive from Austin it’s not something you just up and decide to visit on a Friday after work. I rolled into the park right as the sun started to set, and managed to snap a few photos (though Ansel Adams I’m not while wearing motorcycle gloves).

more rocks rock

Spent the night in Chiso’s Basin, not much to report, but luckily it was 30+ degrees that night. Unluckily I spilled water all over my sleeping bag, so, yeah.

Look it's me trying a fancy long exposure shot.
Look it’s me trying a fancy long exposure shot.

Next day, I was up bright and early and rode on down to the Santa Elena Canyon, before heading up my first non-paved road, Old Maverick Road.

This is where the Eye of Sauron used to sit before Aragorn defeated the Dark Lord, now affectionally called "Mule Ears."
This is where the Eye of Sauron used to sit before Aragorn defeated the Dark Lord, now affectionally called “Mule Ears.”Santa Elena Canyon, proper.

Luna's Jacal, a house made of dirt, stone and plants this guy built and raised 18 kids in. 18. Kids.

Luna’s Jacal, a house made of dirt, stone and plants this guy built and raised 18 kids in. How many kids do you think I could have if I can convince a woman to live with me on a motorcycle?

So yeah, Big Bend was beautiful but my bike was not really happy with me.  Remember that cam chain tensioner issue I mentioned? I was sure this was the cause of oil leaking all over the engine, and I was keen to push it to El Paso and get some repairs done at the Suzuki dealership there in town.

You should not be loose Mr. CCT bolt.
You should not be loose Mr. CCT bolt.

I hauled ass out of Big Bend and headed north on 118, before realizing I had zero power left on my gadgets. Not a huge deal, but I would have no way of finding the damn dealership since I didn’t have a map of Texas (who needs maps of the state they live in, am I right?). Luckily I have a 12v cigarette charger, so while gassing up in Terlingua, I plugged in my USB charger and my phone and…nothing. Damn thing must have been broken.  Well this wouldn’t do, so I pulled off to the side, ripped off the front fairing and set out to repair it, but, alas it was fried. While doing so, a friendly dude with a southern drawl asked me if I needed any help, and, while I didn’t, I explained my concern about the CCT bolt and what not. He ran a dual sport rental shop right next to the gas station, said his name was Dan Dickie, and if I needed anything else to come find him. Of course I didn’t though, right? I mean, I was going to El Paso to get some repairs.

And that’s when the wheels fell off.

As you go north on 118 from the Alon gas station there, you climb a pretty steep hill, with Bee Mountain to your left. POP POP POP and the bike dies as I barely climb the hill.  Startled, I start it up again (reluctantly), nudge it into second, hit about 30 mph and POP POP dead. Oh man, I am fucked I thought. There was no way I could make it to El Paso, every time I hit some higher RPMs the bike would backfire insanely and then die. After a few minutes of cursing and generally behaving insanely (why wouldn’t I expect the 6th time to be different), I turned around and coasted down the hill to get Dan’s help.

The man was a saint and, while he couldn’t do anything for me, he knew a guy in town who he said was a “motorcycle genius, and he’s only 5 miles away, but he knocks off at 3:30 sharp so get moving,” and off I went. I eventually found the entrance Dan had described, crawled up a few dirt roads and ended up at Cycletek, where a man in shorts impatiently motioned me over, and as I pulled up, exclaimed “God damn your bike sounds loud as shit.”

This was how I met Ralph Delmar.

broken

cycletek

It was immediately apparent to me that Ralph knew what the fuck he was talking about, and had zero time for games, bullshit, and general malarkey, so we got to work. Or rather, he and his employee Darren got to work, while I sat around feeling generally useless snapping a few photos.

tools

Ralph determined that the CCT, while not broken, had no more threads left so the bolt had popped loose, so he installed a helicoil and a replacement seal and reset the cam chain.

ralph
Ralph fixing my CCT.

 

The leaking oil was due to a missing washer on each banjo bolt on the oil line. Yeah, not sure how I missed that one. And the noise? Well, that was due to the exhaust valves being insanely out of adjustment, so much so (yet so exact) that the local shop I took it to must have confused inches and millimeters when setting the clearances. Luckily, no major damage (so far).

Everything was finally sorted, and Ralph offered to let me camp out at his place that night, as there was no way I was getting out of Terlingua that night. The amount of stars you can see on his property is ridiculous, I’ve never seen that many, and sadly my poor astrophotograpy skills do not do the sight justice.

Seriously there were so many stars, that light is from the moon rising.
Seriously there were so many stars, that light is from the moon rising.

But, let’s back up a bit, because Ralph suggested a local place called La Kiva, which turned out to be a bar/restaurant built into the dirt, decorated with fossils and local knickknacks, and a giant copper kettle to piss in.  It was, and is, completely awesome, and I know a number of friends back in Austin who would absolutely love the place and make it their local. And of course, the beers were on me.

la_kiva

la_kiva_inside

And so, while finishing up my brisket calzone (it’s no Franklin’s) and a Big Bend Porter, I meet these two dudes, Curt and Bob a.k.a. Waldo and we get to chatting about Riding, specifically, Riding In Big Bend.

Me (left), Curt (center), Bob (right)
Me (left), Curt (center), Bob (right)

Bob’s from Illinois (an Illinoisian?) and comes down to Big Bend every winter, and this is Curt’s second (maybe third?) time in the area, but he rode with Bob last year. He’s a farmer from Iowa who has a badass Harley he uses for Iron Butt Association challenges when he’s not getting dirty in Big Bend.

Bob’s a bit of a local legend in the area, and has a motorcycle related story for every possible situation. He also rides something like 30,000 miles a year. Yeah, that’s a shit ton of miles.

They like my trip, and Curt was even down in Ushuaia many years ago, but rode north to Santiago. I tell them all about my plans, and my fears, about Baja and how I’m a bit nervous offroad and right then and there it’s decided that Bob and Curt are taking me riding the very next day, and damnit if we’re not doing River Road west to east (and some other roads I have forgotten the name of).

Anyway, not to ramble on, but here’s the GoPro outcome of my first forays into off-roading under the tutelage of Waldo, with Curt riding sweeper and generally helping me pick up my bike.

I could write a lot more about my new found love for Big Bend, Terlingua, and it’s residents, but we’re over 1200 words here on this blog post and most of you probably have skimmed past. If you’re ever in the area and need someone to ride with, find Waldo (he rides a KLX250). If you need to rent a bike, find the gracious Mr. Dan Dickie (and find him in Tennessee when it’s not winter). And if you need an honest and smart mechanic who also knows the backroads, talk to Ralph Delmar at Cycletek.

Thank you gentlemen, I still owe you one, and I surely can not wait to get back to that area of Texas again.