Day 17 (July 28th):
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I think I’m going to add “total trip time” in the “Actual Time & Distance” section now, because it should be more realistic, more reflective of what’s going on out there. It should reflect all the time spent stopping to get gas, stopping to make U-turns to take pictures after thinking about it for two minutes (and two miles), stopping to make friends at gas stations in small towns, stopping to get lost and stopping to decide that I am going to visit that little historical site somewhere down that road because, seriously, what the hell am I out here for -- merely to get from Point “A” to Point “B”? That’s what it has really felt like at times, and that is exactly what it should NOT feel like. I feel like I am not getting to see what it is that’s out here, and if that’s the case, then I should have just flown to California, or where ever. Hence, the new way -- I’m checking out far more things than I was before, and I can’t care if it gets me there thirty minutes or an hour or two later. You see, I may have figured out a “Better Way to Arrive” at a destination. Let’s see if it translates to a “Better Way to Get Out” of one…

You’ve endured that rant entirely because it took me some three hours to get out of the Days Inn in Del Rio. Admittedly, there was laundry being done, and the dryer had to be fired twice, which held it up somewhat, but seriously, three hours. Add in the twenty minutes it takes to fill up both the bike and the spare gas can -- because to fill up the tank I need to remove the tank bag, then either replace it and move the rig forward to reach the can (for which I need to get on it, start it, and drive it forward), or unlash the can itself off of its perch. Another possible delay is to take pictures of things you just don’t really see much in the Northeast. Add it up and you’re looking at pulling out of town about 3.5 hours after having awoken. Listen, in 3.5 hours I could have been far more than halfway there, so this is just becoming really frustrating.

Shortly after pulling out, though, we had one of those things that can only be said to have Gone My Way. To wit: I know you all recall the Day Two trailer fender repairs at the campsite, as you are all taking copious notes about each of the daily segments. Well, the left-side tire had really become worn down, and the last few days -- I’d already put on about eight hundred miles in Texas alone -- did a number on the remaining tread. I really wasn’t sure how well it would hold up. So, when just one mile outside of Del Rio I spotted the Arc-Rite Truck & Trailer Accessories shop (800 848-9763), I simply had to swing in.

I accosted a friendly technician named Stan, who assessed the trailer tires and agreed that I’d need at least one. Did they have any in stock, I wondered, and how much did they cost? He went inside to check as I tried to wrestle the rig backwards up an incline, the trailer turning at an extreme angle behind me all the while. In serious trouble by the time he came back out -- the jackknifed trailer preventing me from straightening up the bike, and the problem being that it was in neutral -- I couldn’t lift my left foot to click it into first gear to move forward. Stan pushed the gear selector into first gear by hand, the crisis was averted, he told me that the tire and wheel combo was $24.99, installed, and that they had at least two.

I hope I don’t get my man Stan in trouble when I say this, but I don’t think I will because he doesn’t set the prices. People, I had been mentally budgeting for East Coast pricing, say, $50 for the tire alone. So what do you think The Chief (tm) does when handed a set of brand-new tires and wheels for the price he expected to pay for one tire alone? He buys both, and keeps the better of the older ones as a spare. Somebody give me a break here! Plus, Stan was one of those mentor-type folks, and it was as good to chat about the “big picture” regarding travel, and life, as it was to talk about trailer tires and hubs.

How much better does it make you feel when you no longer worry whether your trailer’s tires are going to blow up in the middle of nowhere?

Rte. 90 out of Del Rio crossed Lake Amistad, a huge recreation and fishing area, a few miles later. The dam that created it was visible in the distance to the left, towards (if not actually in Mexico), and the clear, blue waters were easy to see on the right. Didn’t see any boats out there, though -- maybe smart people stay inside on days like this, when it’s 109 degrees. Is this where you insert the “but it’s a dry heat” joke? Because, sure, it’s rather warm, and reasonably oppressive, and it requires constant drinking and watering-down of one’s jacket and sleeves for evaporative cooling. Still, if one does all that, it is eminently tolerable. Mainly I hope that the bike is OK, though perhaps this concern is unfounded as the thing is running like a top (tuned by C. Brown -- Ed.). The temperature needle rarely moves out of “normal” range except when I’m idling around, taking pictures. Word is bond? The bike is On Board.

Some mileslater  there are signs reading “PREPARE TO STOP FOR INSPECTION”, and it turns out to be a US Border Patrol checkpoint, here about ten miles in from the border. There are no other vehicles there when I arrive, so I feel bad that my presence forces the officer out of his air-conditioned trailer. He’s dressed in combat-style wear, with all kinds of apparatus on the belt, probably the only dude out here wearing more than I am (though his station in the middle of the road has a roof for shade, which the bike lacks). A few quick questions and I’m on my way, and suddenly three semis and a car appear from the other direction, so the officer’s jaunt out into the heat wasn’t totally on my account.

I cover miles and miles and miles over the beautiful, hilly, somewhat stark landscape. It’s super-dry, but there is greenery. Dirt roads leading to vast ranches appear on both sides of the road -- how big are these ranches, billions of acres? There’s one that clearly isn’t just a ranch, though, and I’m too afraid to take any pictures -- high, white, new-looking metal fencing, something that looks like a motion detector, and just the very top of a wind sock off in the distance. Another UFO research center? Nah, probably a Border Patrol airfield.

Dry washes, natural formations such as Eagle (not “Eagle’s”) Nest, Lozier Canyon, and the Pecos River High Bridge provide more scenery. Turkey vultures (just one at one dining spot, three at another, then five at yet another) probably wait for me to keel over, but I do not. There’s an orange sign behind a ranch gate that reads, “STREET CLOSED”. Another sign instructs on how to handle a stopped school bus. How the hell could there be a school bus out here? There are no homes in which children might live, and no towns in which no schools might exist for them to attend. I thought that the “Bridge May Ice in Cold Weather” signs all across Louisiana were funny, but this is pretty ridiculous. I take the loop off the main drag through the town of Langtry, which consists of several houses, a post office, a view of a rock canyon, and the Judge Roy Bean Museum.

Further on, the town of Dryden consists of almost literally nothing -- a closed store, a closed Post Office, a possibly inhabited house, and a pile of rubble. There is also a train stretching just short of 1.5 miles long idling on the tracks next to the road. Hockey fans will be delighted to know that “Dryden” and “Sanderson” are adjoining towns! Of course, in this part of Texas that means that they are twenty miles apart.

Sanderson is a cute -- in that frontier-way cute -- small town, the proudly self-proclaimed “Cactus Capital of Texas”, bordered on both sides and at its eastern end with the canyon that shares its name. Pulling into Uncle’s Convenience” store to partake of the shade offered by its patio, I am surprised to see and hear an eastbound Amtrak passenger train roaring through, from exactly where to where I wonder. Along comes a friendly young lad looking simply to air up his bicycle’s tires, but the visit leads to return engagements, questions about the motorcycle and trailer, a story about a smelly dead raccoon located just around the bend of a nearby gravel road, and so on. Shortly his little brother appears, with a dollar in his hand for a purchase at the store. Instead, helping the grown-up weirdo in the bike outfit to check tire pressures seems to take precedence and, happily,  throughout this process the dollar stays put. Discussions ensue with a nice woman who has visited Myrtle Beach and other places on my itinerary; with the boys’ father; and with the proprietors, who are kind enough to turn on the water hose so I can soak my jacket and use evaporative cooling to its fullest effect. I catch the recommendation that the “Green Monster” energy drink beats Red Bull, which I will have (and will have opportunity) to try out, as the Red Bulls have become indispensible these last three days. It has been a very nice stay -- some thirty minutes’ worth by now! -- and as I leave, the older brother asks if I’ll be coming back. I tell the God's-honest truth when I say that I hope so, but that I cannot say for sure, so I take another picture of everyone and promise to wave as I pull out.

A tractor-trailer flip-over on Rte. 285 curving northwest out of town creates a short delay, and a one block detour. When asked, the flagger tells me the driver has suffered only light injury, even though the rig flipped over onto his side. Quickly the road gets back out into the countryside, and there is no way I could have expected the upcoming views it would provide (and for what it’s worth, these views go by much more quickly for participants in the Sanderson-Fort Stockton open road race, yet another thing you don’t usually see back east).

The landscape becomes just slightly more hilly than the previous, mostly due-west Rte. 90, and although that stretch was not completely barren, this one is noticeably more green. Although I risk employing technically improper terms, the road twists between mesas and canyons; the sculptured hills play tricks on the eyes as the clouds throw spots upon them here and there -- are they one mile away, or twenty miles away? One hundred feet tall, or one thousand feet tall?

Panoramas reveal mountaintops and plateaus; low, dark storm clouds gather to the north and east, mixed high white clouds dominate to the west, while the sun streams between and is sometimes blotted out by them. A sense of humility, wonder, and awe is absolutely, utterly unmistakeable; in my lifetime I can think of only two other vistas in the same class, the seaside cliffs of northern Marin County and the views from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I stop multiple times. I take pictures that will never capture the majesty of the underlying spectacle. “Unbelievable” and “unforgettable” are merely some of the  words which come to mind. For minutes at a time I am the only vehicle to be seen, and as the planet’s visible horizon theoretically stretches some twenty-five miles in each direction, this puts me in the midst of a 2,500-square mile patch where I am the only human I can observe to be present. I can tell myself that I “own” all of the land I can see, while the truth is I barely exist within it; I certainly do not exist within it even one tiny bit more than any of the millions of trees, or insects, or flowers that are just inches away from me…

These hills are here, they are alive, greeting the sun every single day, cherishing each raindrop they catch and using them with the utmost efficiency, providing the means of life for countless organisms whether man is there or not, whether I am there to observe or not. They do this today as I ride through them, they have done this for millions and millions of years, and they will continue to do this for millions and millions of years, whether or not I am here to observe, or whether or not humans continue to inhabit the planet or choose to wipe themselves out through pollution, malnourishment, or lethal doses of radiation.

They are a presence, an unwavering, physical, tangible, living thing, not a part of this Earth but this very Earth itself. Man can perhaps build a road here, perhaps a fence there, perhaps even a dam to create an artificial lake. But he can never even come close to building anything that matches the impact and significance of this land, ever. Sun, sky, cloud, land -- they are truly one, they do not begin or end, they belong to no one. Conversations -- Old Oraibi, Stan in Del Rio, discussions about travel, and about how St. Christopher should point forward towards the path, not backward towards the traveler. The oft-heard question -- when were you last rained upon? How did you avoid the violent thunderstorms in eastern Oklahoma? In eastern Texas? I think of the bike staying upright through the curve during the downpour in NC on Day Two (giving me just enough braking ability to avoid the opposite guardrail, then giving me just enough turning ability to get back into the lane before the brief, merciful break in oncoming traffic drew to a close). I don’t know, I don’t have the answers. I know from these past hours spent amongst them that these lands engender a spirituality, both from within them and possibly from elsewhere. The Native Americans lived the former and succeeded in doing so until that freedom was taken from them; I have no explanation for the latter.

Alas, eventually the beauty ends and with it the reverie. Arriving in and driving through the historic, but otherwise mall-ish Fort Stockton, it is 104 degrees at 7:00 PM as my route to Pecos curves to the right. This being the road that my hotel is actually on, the GPS instructs to “drive 50 miles, then arrive at destination on right”.

I count 21 vehicles, total, in those 50 miles.

The cloud show isn't over yet here in Pecos, TX. Upon checking in to my hotel, a new idea grips me: head out to eat immediately, instead of taking forty minutes to unload stuff -- although that parking spot right in front of my room sure looks tempting. Other issue is that I’ll be piloting the rig back under the influence of a beer or two, but it’s less than a mile away, and it has to happen.

What also happens is that I almost wipe out right in front of Alfredo’s Restaurant, because it came up on me quickly and because I didn’t notice that there was sand in the center of the lane. Fortunately the rear end stays in line even as the wheel locks up. Once docking maneuvers are complete, I notice that there is one (1) non-pickup truck besides mine among the dozen or so vehicles in the parking lot. Nice, friendly folks; legit, good food. When you order a bottle of beer, they give it to you with the cap still on, not twisted even a bit, and I somehow fail to ask what the deal is with that. Two seconds after I sit down, the classic “My Sharona” blares over the radio; there are Mexican guys with Texas drawls; nine o’clock (closing time) comes and goes, and the door is locked, but nobody is asked to leave.

I return to the hotel only to find that my primo parking space has been taken. Wouldn’t you know it? Now, people, I could have begun typing updates for you by about 10 PM, but instead I got to talking with guys coming into town to work shifts on the nearby oil rigs -- pretty interesting stuff. A Harley guy tries to give me a hard time for whatever it is he doesn’t like about how I’m doing the trip, so I say, “You’re riding around in an air-conditioned truck, but my riding isn’t ‘tuff’ enough for you?” Almost everything he says is internally self-contradicting. Then he says that all the camping stuff is overkill, and that I should have only “brought a blanket”. I nearly must admit that he almost had me on that one, as I probably should have brought only about 50% of what I did. Instead I ask him if he can cook with said blanket, or eat it, or use it to stay dry in the rain, etc. Ah, he’s just partly drunk, partly a self-important jerk. His pals don’t take the same approach so he bails for the evening, and shortly so do I. Meanwhile, remember, I’m trying out the New Way, in which I bring almost nothing into the room except the tank bag and the tail case, because they contain valuables and the laptop. Everything else, save for a pair of shorts, stays in the trailer. Will it help? We’ll find out in the morning!

Border Patrol Cruiser

Spare Tire

US Border Patrol

Eagle Nest

Approach to Lozier Canyon

Pecos River High Bridge Marker

Pecos River Bridge

Turkey Vulture

School Bus

Downtown Dryden

Uncle's Convenience

New Friends

Say "Cheese"

Long View

Storms Ahead

Complex Cloud Pattern

Another Storm That Didn't Get The Chief (tm)

Cloud Over Pecos