I can say with some experience that riding along I-10 at 80mph with 40mph crosswinds among long haul truckers is something to be avoided if possible.
After a late start on Monday, in no part due to meeting my friend Jameson and Russell the previous evening it was time to get on up out of Austin. I had to repack and pare down my belongings (again) as the panniers weren’t closing up, so clearly I have too much crap. Shedding of gear is an absolute must at this point, but I’m just not sure what to get rid of; do I ditch one of my jackets? Workout clothes? Do I need all those tools? I’ll struggle on for now, until it becomes unbearable. It’s getting damn close.
Out of Austin I took 290W, passing through Fredricksburg and Junction before hopping on I-10. Fredricksburg was pretty for the short time I jolted through it, and of course I-10 was straight miserable. It was a straight shot though, and I was pretty sure I could make my destination. Then the winds really picked up. Those “Strong Cross Wind” signs are no joke.
The DR gets insanely “buzzy” above 70MPH, and extremely touchy in a terrifying way; add some strong cross winds and, well, let’s just say it’s exciting. At one point, immediately after leaving Junction I ran out of gas, the GPS indicating I was a mere 6.3 miles away from the nearest Phillips-Conoco fill-up station. With a quick prayer and flick of the petcock to the reserve setting, I coasted into the station on fumes and then proceeded on towards Balmorhea.
Which was not to be. The light was dying fast, the wind had picked up heavily but I was determined to make it, until I couldn’t. Sadly I have no pictures of these moments as I left my camera on by accident and drained the battery, and my grip was far too tight as I battled sudden crosswinds almost forcing me into the other lane to turn on the GoPro. Every few minutes I’d hold my hand up to horizon to estimate how much daylight I had left. Sonora whizzed by and I had 45 minutes left, and I definitely wasn’t riding at night on my first night out.
Exhausted, I pulled into a small town called Ozona, and rented a decent (if not pricey) room at the Travelodge by a bearded woman (no shit) with the largest German shepherd I have ever seen, proceeded to eat the largest chicken fried steak I’ve ever seen at the Hitchin’ Post and passed out, 230 miles under my belt.
The next day I put on my pants, ate some free rehydrated eggs and headed towards Alpine TX.
I-10 again, and mostly boring. After about an hour I saw my first wind farm. Oh shit. Luckily, due to the time of day, the crosswinds were manageable, but I did have a few dicey moments. Again, I ran out of gas, but this time on purpose; I wanted to see how far I could go on one tank. The answer? 169 miles, give or take. Far below the 350-400 I had initially estimated, though perhaps I was confused and meant kilometers? Who knows. Add on about 10 more miles for the reserve and I have around a 180 mile range. Not bad I suppose, not great either.
Anyway. Pulled into Alpine, had a late lunch and checked the town out, before heading to Marfa, where I am staying the night at a little place called El Cosmico. The staff is super nice, they have teepees, and you can camp out for $15 bucks a night, so what’s not too like? I’ll try and check out the Marfa Lights tonight as well, and then tomorrow it’s off to Big Bend.
So, there I am in Marfa, eating some Italian food (because, I mean, why wouldn’t there be an Italian joint in Marfa, population 2,000) and planning on a pretty early night, maybe a beer or two at Lost Horse, as was recommended by the lovely Lauren at El Cosmico (who incidentally was also from Austin).
Out of no where, headlights flash in front of the restaurant. A bunch of Harley’s I think, and pretty soon they are gone. So I pay out, suit up, and head back to the glampsite.
There is quite a bit of commotion at El Cosmico, and as I pull into the gravel parking lot I can see why; eight Vespas are parked, festooned with all manners of banners and camping gear on their tiny frames. I’m parking when the guys come out of the office.
“What are you guys, riding these things across America?” I ask.
“Hell yeah! That your bike?” the mid-twenties Vespa rider says.
“Where you going, east?”
“No, I’m going to South America.”
“Holy shit, really? Where?”
“All of it man.”
“No way. Hey Sean! We gotta interview this guy! Come here man, sit down and let me ask you some questions.”
And that is how I’m introduced to 4K The Hard Way, eight friends riding Vespas from L.A. to Key West over the course of three weeks. There’s a few rules, as there always are; no highways, you can’t pay for lodging, and of course you must ride a Vespa.
Alex Westmore is the man asking questions, and his buddy Sean Hill mans the camera. They mostly just want to know why anyone would go on such a trip (for the same reason they are, we come to find out, obviously, because you can) and are making a documentary (maybe) about their journey. These lucky bastards are sponsored by Vespa, Alpinestars and have a chase truck, so I’m a bit envious.
Also riding, and apparently the ring leaders of these merry madmen are Armie Hammer and Tyler Ramsey, which meant nothing to me until we actually left Marfa the next day, when a local asks Armie, “You’re in the movies right?”, and he whispers “Yeah.” Seriously, I thought it was a bit pompous to nick name yourself after the branch of the military you served in when I first met the guy. What’s that they say about assumptions?
Anyway, they went to dinner, came back, we drank some beer, and partied until about 3AM, the only people camping out in 22° weather there in Marfa. It was as good as times can get!
The next day, we wake up early (11AM) and decide to grab some breakfast. The 4K guys somehow order 24 burritos for the eight of them, I’m good with my one; either way they were delicious, thanks Mama.
Alright, so it was finally time to go, but not before stopping at Wrong Marfa, a local art gallery/shop. Check out these amazing pieces:
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’m currently in Yuma, and tomorrow I’ll be headed to Calexico/Mexicali to cross over into Baja. I’ve been living in the lap of hotel luxury here and taking care of a few maintenance issues as well. Seriously, the hotel gives you free beer at 5PM every day. But I suppose I owe a bit of an update for the last week, however boring it might be.
So, following Big Bend, Curt and I decided to ride together to El Paso, via Route 170 (a.k.a. “River Road”), which is easily one of the best motorcycling roads out there. Turn after turn greets you as you ride along the Rio Grande, encountering elevation drops as you pass through Lajitas and Presidio, eventually turning north to meet I-10, or, continuing on to Mexico. Curt was headed to San Diego to attempt an Iron Butt challenge, entitled “50cc,” whereby you ride coast to coast in 50 hours or less. If it sounds insane, that’s because it is; hopefully he’s made it! Anyway, a few photos from River Road:
Great ride, but we couldn’t take it all the way so headed north on 67, back to Marfa. Somehow I just can’t escape that town. On the way towards the highway, we passed a random Prada store, in the middle of nowhere. Pretty wild, and apparently an art installation.
Other than that, a pretty uneventful (and longish, ~340 miles) ride to El Paso where we crashed for the night in a Red Roof Inn. And I finally got to take a glorious shower.
The next day, I was keen to check out White Sands, for god knows what reason, and Curt figured he’d ride along too, having never been. The ride into New Mexico was extremely boring, just the straightest flattest road you’ve ever seen, the only saving grace being the extreme cold I experienced. An hour in I could barely feel my hands, the temperatures having dropped 20 degrees and the wind picking up as we approached the Sacramento mountains. I eventually had to stop at some random gas station, warm up my frozen digits over a hot dog warming machine and put on my winter gloves for the first time. Curt, being from Iowa, had his handy electric heated vest, and was quite content. Bastard.
Anyway, we eventually made it to White Sands, and wow, it’s fairly incredible. You ride in to the Tularoa basin, and in the middle are these massive gypsum dunes, the largest in the world. It’s very fine stuff, and can probably damage your electrical equipment, though, not as dangerous to cameras as Whitehaven Beach sand (p.s. I miss Australia).
After an hour or so of riding around, Curt and I split up. He wanted to see Death Valley before attempting his ride, and I decided to go see Roswell, NM.
How silly of me.
The ride to Roswell, while only 140 miles or so (and scenic), crawls through the Sierra Blanca mountains, passing by a number of Native American owned casinos. This is Apache land, and I find it odd that, while you pass by Tribal Bureau’s, you see scores of churches jutting up from the mountainsides. The worst part is the wind, and the cold. The wind races down the mountains, and as I ride from valley to valley the little DR650 is constantly subjected to gusts; the “strong crosswinds” signs are (again) no joke.
I eventually make it to Roswell, and…everything is closed. MLK day of course, even proprietors of alien artifacts take the day off. Cursing my poor decision I rent a decent room at a very affordable rate, debate my windy ride out the next day, and pass out. Skip Roswell if you’re ever in the neighborhood, that’s my advice. I did grab a nice breakfast at the Cowboy Cafe, and spotted this sweet truck.
The next day I’m determined to make some time and head to Tucson, non-stop. I rode and rode and rode, maybe some 500 miles or so, it was fairly uneventful. I will mention that I have never driven or ridden through so many Border Patrol checkpoints. At one point I turned off the highway (my GPS was set to avoid them) right before a checkpoint and was greeted not less than a mile down the road by two Border Patrol trucks, one blocking my lane and one on the shoulder. The agent put out his hand, and I guess I’ll never know if he was waving to me as a greeting, or to pull me over, because I was ~350 miles into my trip, the sun was setting, and I just blasted right by them. Maybe I’m on some list now?
Eventually ended up in Tucson, where I spent a day or two just sleeping, I hadn’t been feeling well as it was. I really contemplated going north to see the Grand Canyon, then through Vegas and Pahrump to Death Valley to see the stars, but, damnit, I was so tired of the cold so I decided to put on my new tires and head towards Yuma before crossing into Mexico.
I found a place a few miles north of my hotel, on the way towards Yuma who would spoon the tires on, and waited around a few hours for the task to be completed.
When it was done, well, they had a bit of surprise for me.
Apparently I had lost both rear caliper pins. These hold the brake pads in place, and would explain the sponginess I had been feeling the last day or two. I have no idea how they were lost; maybe they were never installed? Maybe someone took them (why)? Who knows. Ride Now wasn’t going to be able to get them ordered until Tuesday though (it being a Friday), so, I was out of luck.
Except. I had noticed a brand new DR650 out front, and after a few minutes and some cajoling asked, perhaps they could let me have those pins, and just add the new ones to my bill? Surely you don’t sell that many (they had just sold one last week). Well, an hour later, after going through the chain of command, the answer was yes, and they didn’t even charge me overnight shipping! Fantastic!
A few minutes later I was on my way, and then a few hours later, I’m in Yuma. I booked a room at the Clarion Suites, and grabbed a meal. Seriously though, this hotel is amazing. They give you two free adult beverages at 5PM everyday, the rooms are huge and only $70. What a country.
A quick note on Yuma, and southwest Arizona in general though. Never have I felt more unsafe riding around than in this city, and in this general area. The roads are filled with AARP members and Canadians, all hell-bent on driving their trucks in the slowest and most erratic manner possible, often just cutting across lanes, or pulling out of side streets with nary a glance to surrounding traffic. It must be the heat. It’s enough to a drive a man insane, and I’ve thrown curses from behind my matte black helmet multiple times a day. I spoke with my mom (hi mom) and she mentioned that apparently, as a youth, it was a possibility we would have perhaps lived in this god awful place. Can you imagine? I’m certain I would have shot someone due to road rage by now. Seriously, I’m sure some anti-Arabic jingoistic zealots may disagree with me, but the next time you’re in a conversation and someone offers up the “nuke ’em into glass” argument towards some Middle Eastern country, consider proffering Yuma as an alternative. We could easily relocate everyone who’s visiting and living here first, perhaps to Oman.
Tomorrow I go to Baja.
Satphone is activated.
I’ve got a handy card for the amazing people I’m going to meet.
And I just saw “Lone Survivor,” so I’m feeling pretty pumped up about this whole adventure.
My god, the septuagenarians are here for their free beer. It’s about time to wrap this post up, it’s going to get rowdy.