Day 15 (July 26th): EWR to DFW to FREDERICKSBURG, TX
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Up and out of the hotel in Upper Saddle River in uncharacteristically rapid fashion, I was suffering no hangover effects whatsoever, thanks mainly to the 17.3 pounds of food consumed the previous evening. There was not even any bickering even as Sammy attempted to set the TV channel-changing record, “Hotel/Motel” division.

Our usual mistrust of the GPS was unfounded this morning, as it directed us back to Newark Airport without a hitch. Light traffic eased our travel. The nearly empty security checkpoint was even quicker than the one in Dallas, boarding and departure were on-time, and an apparent tailwind got my 1,300 mile flight into DFW almost thirty minutes ahead of schedule, a moment or two before 12:30. Hmmm -- if The Chief (tm) could get in touch with the hotel, and have them contact the driver of the shuttle already on its way to the airport, he could be heading back to the hotel (to retrieve the rig) one (or two) “shuttle cycles” ahead of time, and possibly get out of town up to one hour earlier than expected! I managed to get the front desk on the phone as we taxied to the gate, said I was coming in early, and would be where they told me to be.

What do you think happened? Bagelled, that’s what.

Unbeknownst to me, our plane had arrived at a different gate. True, it was only three gate numbers away from the originally scheduled one, but worlds away courtesy-shuttle wise. Why? Because we came in at A26 instead of A23; and beginning just at gate A25, the higher ones are in a different building, on an entirely different roadway loop completely. No way for me to know this, of course. When nothing that would have been the 12:30 shuttle showed up, I knew there was trouble, so I had to call back and wait for the next one, which showed up at about 1:30.

Nobody’s fault, really, but so much for the earlier start. (Is that becoming a theme, or what?)

It took over an hour for me to re-pack everything back at the bike, all right out there in the hot Texas sun. I had thought about jumping in the pool before leaving, but that would have required more re-packing, which I figured would somehow add another hour to the departure time. I did enjoy the opportunity to crack open a brand-new set of contact lenses, but this was small consolation: after all the packing, changing, and fueling up, I did not depart Irving until 3:40 PM, after having touched down over three hours earlier.

Although the route took me past Irving Stadium (from a different angle) for one last time, I cannot say I enjoyed passing through medium-ish inbound Dallas rush-hour traffic, and then heavy outbound rush-hour traffic. To whatever extent I did not care for it, I’m sure the bike disliked it even more. Somehow, though, a subsequent check revealed that it was indeed the most direct route, so I suppose there was no better choice -- and I’m sure it could have been far worse. The path would permit me to lay claim to a true Triumphant Return, however, as the ride in on the Stemmons Freeway took me past the Hilton Anatole -- formerly the Loews Anatole -- which is the beautiful hotel where we had stayed during the Convention & Visitors’ Bureau visit all those years ago. It had certainly become more much built-up around there in the nearly twenty years, but that’s progress, right? I was also able to snap some shots of the downtown skyline from the road shoulder, which made for some exciting merging back into the heavy traffic.

In said traffic, I somehow lost the red dry-erase pen, adding to the black one bouncing around on a highway somewhere out there, and of course to the blue Bic pen now riding around in my man Angel’s van back in New Orleans. Ah, it doesn’t matter, the markers aren’t working that well anyway -- the instruction to “store horizontally when not in use”, being followed to the letter, notwithstanding.

Temperatures on the billboards whizzing by read between 104 and 107 degrees, although the air felt more heavy than hot -- am I getting used to it? Certainly the hydration pack was getting a workout, and coming through with flying colors. Things only really got annoying as the sun dropped low enough to sneak under my helmet’s visor and over the top of my sunglasses. I saw signs for “Italy”, Texas, and “West”, Texas. Somehow there is a Czech influence everywhere (“Czech Stop”, “Czech Inn”, “Old Czech Antiques”).

Just sixty miles after my departure from Irving, however, my body is not tired, but I simply cannot keep my eyes open -- I am losing focus, seeing double-vision, etc. Is this, in fact, "white-line fever"? I try different things to fight it: I open the helmet's visor, although the hot air rushing in soon makes me feel worse. So I close the helmet's visor, and try to sing out loud, and that helps -- for approximately ten seconds. Suddenly, I truly fear that I will not make it to the next exit, just three miles away, to rest, adjust, and/or consider a way to continue on. It's that bad.

Good news is, I make it. At the rest break at a gas station immediately off of the exit, I shut it down completely: turn the bike off, sit back against a wall in the shade, open a bag of trail mix. During this nearly ninety-minute break, I patch a call through to a Savvy Veteran who knows a thing or two about driving long distances, occasionally in the Wee Hours (tm). Simple, he says: have a Red Bull. Well, folks, I’ve never had one of those before, so here goes: the first sip was actually OK, but the rest of it grows questionable. Mercifully, I’ve only bought the smaller, 8.3 oz. size.

(Here and elsewhere I’ve noticed cans of Bud Light “Clamato”, and other similar bizarre stuff, here and in Oklahoma. What is it? What’s going on? Why does Anheuser-Busch think that this is the place to test stuff like that?

I’ve also noticed that folks down here in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas sometimes say “I sure don’t”
-- both in person and over the phone -- when they mean to politely say “no”, perhaps in response to an inquiry regarding availability of a certain item at their establishment. Thing is, it comes across almost as being rude, although they are clearly being rather polite. Odd, isn't it?)

Oh, hey, the 8.3 oz. size works, as it gets me back on my way and feeling much better about getting to where I’m going, or at the very least not crashing along the way. The GPS now claims 10 PM arrival in Fredericksburg, which is a little on the late side. That’s not looking too good, but we will hit the road, see how far we get, and decide about landing plans then.

“We” got through Waco, TX, and Georgetown, TX, before the light seriously -- but scenically -- started to fade. Decision point: pull over somewhere, probably screwing up the entire trip, or keep going? Still a lot of territory to cover, and it will shortly be night. Stop now with at least two more hours to go? Negative.

First night driving of the trip, and for good reason. Wearing contact lenses, I need to have something in front of them to deflect the wind, as I prefer to ride with the visor on my full-face helmet in the open position. But the best I have for glasses are a pair of Nikes with interchangeable orange lenses, excellent for improving visibility through the road-spray during a shower, and OK -- but not great -- for night-time riding. And we have quite a bit of that ahead of us…

I pass through Bertram, a tiny waypost which does feature several nice old stone buildings in its town center, and shortly afterwards see a road sign for “Oatmeal, TX”. One later I refuel in Burnet with sixty-five miles to go -- again, do I stay here, call it quits, and make up the travel time in the AM, or go for it now?

I go for it now. Disappointingly, I miss every single red light in the town of Johnson City, which seems to subject the bike to nothing but uphill starts, but incredible night sky views greet me south of there, and I occasionally pull over and kill the lights to let the eyes adjust to the darkness. It feels “cool” in the evening at an indicated 86 degrees -- or is it me? Am I getting used to this southern/Texas thing?

I pull into Fredericksburg on schedule, or at least the “schedule” I’ve carved out now that I’m four hours later than expected. The town is super-cute -- artists’ shops and galleries, bars with live acts playing outdoors on the front patios -- but it also seems like it is mostly closing up. Without any confirmed lodging, I go to work, though with a budget in mind. I fail to swing a deal with the manager at the first place, who wants $75 for a room with no air conditioning, here at nearly 11 PM. I offer $50, and the offer is declined. I offer $50 and to pay tax on the full amount, should that help with bookkeeping, but no luck there either. ITEM: The Chief (tm) is out of there. Next place, they want $95 at 11:15 PM, and while it sounds like I may be dealing from weakness, here’s what I’ve got going for me:

(1) I could always try to park the rig out of sight of the gendarmes behind a defunct place of business; or

(2) Park it behind a church, where the chance of having a shotgun stuck in my face in the AM is lower, although -- this being Texas -- not zero; or

(3) Bang on RV doors down at the Wal-Mart -- where they allow “boondocking”, or overnight camper parking -- and ax the unfortunates responding to agree to tell visiting policemen that the ST1100 is their bike, all while I sleep on the concrete under the RV, or out in the woods; or

(4) I’m so sick of being out on the road that I’ll willingly pick up a quick vagrancy charge, because what can that cost me? Fifty bucks? For which I’ll earn some street cred and also get at least one meal, as bad as it might be.

So I say that I cannot pay $95 for an otherwise empty room here at 11:15 PM. Like, I was born early in the morning, but not yesterday morning -- like, shouldn’t they be begging for someone to pay anything for it? I don’t care -- I am on my way out, and the otherwise helpful and friendly woman behind the desk is not the owner, so she cannot make such adjustments for late-night occupancy.

Long story short, though, she offers to allow me to set up camp in her yard in town nearby. Upon arriving there -- after a harrowing two-wheel journey over a mostly washed-out road, featuring sand and rocks on the traction surfaces, here in the dark -- I consider where to set up the tent. Nice place out near a farm (or ranch), but soon I learn that scorpions are occasionally a problem, yet another issue which one rarely confronts back east. After voicing reasonable concern, I am invited to use the guest bedroom for lodging for what remains of the evening, and I accept the offer.

FWIW, in the time since I awoke in northern New Jersey about 17.5 hours ago, I’ve eaten a plain bagel, some trail mix, and three pieces of beef jerky, all day long, as fuel across a four-hour flight and six-hour ride.

The "Hilton" Anatole

Downtown Dallas 1

Downtown Dallas 2

Downtown Dallas 3