Go West Young Man!

32 Days and 5,536 Miles On My Vintage Motorcycle

October 13th

I rode back to LA. Justin had a deficit of on-the-grid labor to pay for his brief prison break from society. He did let me sleep on his floor though while he toiled. The insomniatic blue light of LA peered through the window and I slid deep into my sleeping bag, and lightly into a strange sleep.

My cousin is stationed in San Diego with the US Navy. My plan was to ride down for a visit, then head east. I posted a request for a ride share on Craigslist the night before and to my amazement an offer waited for me that morning. Meeting my cousin didn't materialize, but I did meet Stevan, a retired police officer, in the parking lot of a large football stadium. We loaded Dee Dee into the back of his pickup truck. My mind pushed at my body the way alike poles of two magnets do as we rode comfortably in the wrong direction: east.

Stevan dropped me off outside of Tucson in a factory parking lot. The ride from San Diego had been about 400 miles, mostly through the desert. Weeks earlier this parcel had halted Gord permanently. But a few more miles around the sun had dulled the blazes daytime severity. I had hitched the ride because Dee Dee was starting to show her miles and I feared a similar mechanical failure in the heat, but it would have been a beautiful ride. I saw jagged black mountains encroaching our Mexican border and vast sand dunes populated with campers and paddle wheeled dirt bikes.

And then I was alone. In the factory parking lot I pored over our tattered atlas. A trip that had been defined by shared exclamations, laughing and slow conversation was now turned inward. Not silent, but outwardly quiet. In Tucson I sat in a Fry's Grocery parking lot and ate a chicken leg. If Fry's does well I'd hinge it on Anja, the shockingly gorgeous cart wrangler. She shyly asked questions while I took a mental picture of her electric smile, sure I'd need the image later to keep me going.
That night I made my way to Catalina State Park. My headlight illuminated the edge of a Martian mountain scape as I loudly woke up the park, surely it's last arrival of the night. In the morning I struck up a conversation with another Steven, who had crossed the country on his Triumph just to have a beer on a California beach. We agreed to meet up at the New Mexican border and rode out separately. I looked in at the Pima Air and Space Museum, either too broke or lacking the conviction to pay for the tour. Saguaro National Park tragically passed under my radar and left me with the only possible reason to ever return to Tucson in my life.

I completely forgot about Steven and was surprised to see him at the New Mexico visitors center. We rode on together for Las Cruces. I was only able to pretend to be annoyed by his presence and secretly appreciated the intrusion. When we reached Las Cruces at nightfall our only camping option was north at Leasburg Dam. The rec area was gated and locked when we got there, and rather than push our bikes under the high fence Steven insisted we camp on the side of the road. Our proximity to the Mexican border left me with images of my spinal cord dangling from the necklace of some high ranking drug lord.

Steven turned out to be very weird. I finally convinced him to follow me into the park when a returning camper opened the gate. As we sat in our fireless campsite he told me his life story. As a young man his pregnant fiance had been murdered. This was bookended with stories of floozies he had banged while working as a bouncer in a bar. He was a good guy who I think was just dealt a cosmically bad hand. As the night wore on and his beers ran out my presence began to offend him more and more. I turned in for the night before he was able to demand a drunken arm wrestling match, or worse, punch me out. I think Steven had done a lot of punching in his life.
Boozed up sleep must be restful, because Steven was packed and long gone when I moaned and grunted my way out of my sweltering tent. Due east lay the Organ Mountain range. As I sped up the carefully carved mountain road I got my first glimpse of the White Sands Missile Range, testing site of the worlds first atomic bomb. Approaching the base I was advised not to photograph the range and asked to prove my citizenship. My puny bike sat humbly in the parking lot as I perused a field of gutted rockets and decommissioned symbols of our military might.

And then there are the white sands. Have you ever felt out of place at a party? Well try feeling out of place on the planet and you can probably imagine how the White Sands National Monument would feel. Where the hell did 11 miles of fine, pure white sand come from out here? I'll spare you my fury about our government appropriating something like this for military use and just say I'm thankful to have been able to ride my dying motorcycle barefoot through the towering, blinding white dunes. As someone who's Xanadu would be an acre and shack on the dark side of the Moon I can tell you White Sands is a serene, cleansing place.

When you have tunnel vision it's easy to overlook a mountain range here, million acre forest there. On the outskirts of Alamogordo I began climbing into elevations not seen since the Sierra's in California. My wandering finger found Lincoln National Forest in my always handy atlas. Huh, whoda thunk it? Even less expected was just how high above sea level Lincoln was, a staggering 8000+ feet; the highest elevation of my trip. It was a beautiful and unexpected piece of country.

The lack of gas stations was horrifying though. As the sun set I found Artesia, Dee Dee huffing and puffing on fumes. In the pitch black I sped south for Brantley Lake State park, similar in many ways to the hellish Alamo Lake in Arizona. Except there were people here. I spent an hour talking with a banker and his family about our failing economy, eating weeners and beans his mother had made specially for me.

Leaving Brantley in the morning I locked eyes with a slobbering bull and fully expected him to charge and gore me to death. I escaped and found Carlsbad Caverns National Park. The long elevator ride down emptied myself and about eight other people into what I can only describe as an underground football stadium, but bigger. It took almost two hours of brisk walking to bring me back to the exit. The cool, humid air steamed off my jacket when I finally stepped back out into the sun.

I hit loose gravel on a lonely stretch of road and nearly gave up the ghost. It was Co. Rd. 720, a narrow two lane stretch over weak rolling hills; the last vestige of geological activity before settling into Texas' unbelievable flatness. It took some time to regain my composure and my feet hurt from putting them down at speed. As I cruised along, overly cautious, a spec appeared and grew in front of me. The spec eventually became a full sized truck. Considering the desolation I stopped to offer help. A very elderly rancher appeared with a shotgun and said he was shooting cows. Or that's what I thought he said through the muffle of my brain bucket. Helmet off, he clarified; he was picking off coyotes that were eyeballing his cattle.

His name was Tom, and after a few friendly minutes I was back at it. The archetypal bullet ridden signage welcomed me to Texas. Minutes are hours on roads this long and when I finally found Monahans Sandhills State Park I was fully surprised. If White Sands challenged what I though I knew about the desert, I realized I didn't know anything as I hiked up the lonely dunes and looked out over the entire state of Texas.

The western cut of Texas was laid out special for travellers. Anywhere beyond the state, be it west or east, you are so much closer to home. This almost infinite breadth of space is sufficient to fill with all your thoughts, and you're afforded the time to organize all those memories, ideas and resolutions. I couldn't tell you word one I turned over in my head in all that time, but I know it was an important part of locking the past weeks experiences in the deepest canyons of my mind.

When I reached Dallas I stopped at Weinerschnitzel for one last chili wanger dog and called my grandpa for the first time in a month. We talked about riding and laughed for a while at what a gypsy I had become. A sub-ten minute oil change that afternoon stood in stark contrast to the unrefined disaster way back in Las Vegas, NM. I finally found one last soggy piece of ground to pitch my tent on. Atmosphere scraping cell phone towers beared down on me as I listened to "Silver Stallion" by the Highwaymen and let the riot going on in my mind push me through the door to sleep.

October 19th

For a month I pushed nature into an unprecedented period of agreeability, but on the 32nd day she finally pushed back. Through Dallas I tread softly over the very spot, marked by a gruesome X, where President Kennedy was assassinated. By the time I reached the Arkansas border a nagging cold had set in and began nipping at my exposed hips. Lustful stares from girls won't keep you warm in low rise denim jeans. Soon night set in and the cold became a propellant for my mind, sharpening the edge of my determination to get home.

When the Little Rock skyline finally appeared in the horizon, acute angles perfectly stamped through the dim sheet of twilight, I smiled. The distant, familiar buildings quickly became my neighborhood and a mile wide grin spread over my face. But that smile escalated into weak laughter and my vision blurred with exhausted tears. Over a month ago I predicted my house would look different as I approached from this opposite end of the street. I was wrong though. Our little corner home appeared unaltered in reality and memory.

It was the road that was different.