Day Eight: Kingman, Arizona to Barstow, California, 206 miles, Trip Miles so Far- 2214 Miles; Just When You Think It Couldn’t Get Worse – Dust Storm.

I’m still trying to get over the ride. On Interstate 40, about twenty miles out of Barstow,

Day Eight: Kingman, Arizona to Barstow, California, 206 miles, Trip Miles so Far- 2214 Miles; Just When You Think It Couldn’t Get Worse – Dust Storm.

a huge dust storm sprung up. Tremendous winds whipped dust and stones into the air, bringing visibility suddenly down to a few car lengths in front of me. The stones stung my legs and fingers. I tried to forge ahead but I couldn’t see. I slowed, then worried about a truck hitting me from behind, so I pulled off onto the shoulder. While still straddling the bike, I ducked down behind the windscreen hoping it would pass quickly. The wind was so powerful it was rocking the bike, so I couldn’t get off to hide behind it. Fifteen minutes of this went by before the stinging stopped, and the sky began to clear. I took off again, but two more storms appeared during the last few miles and I had to pull off the interstate again and duck behind the windshield.

When I got to my motel my phone had a dust storm warning on it, indicating as well that the winds were between 40-60 mph. Seek shelter; stay off the road. I surveyed the damage: I had a few cuts on me from the stones; Big Red’s windshield is completely pockmarked and will have to be replaced. I’m afraid to look too closely at the Harley. I’m just grateful we made it. Just grateful altogether for my life; this ride.

Day Nine should finally get me to Los Angeles!

Day Seven: Flagstaff, Arizona to Kingman, AZ; 147 Miles; Snow, Sleet, Hail and Rain; Williams; French, German and Brazilian Visitors; Route 66; No Grandchild Yet; Monk.

Yesterday was a horrible ride. You know how some people say things like: Hey, a bad day fishing (or substitute an activity you enjoy – playing golf?) is better than a good day in the office? Well, I disagree. My ride was terrible. Besides, I like my office. I work with some great people. I would have far rather been in the office!

I had breakfast at a Route 66 favorite, the Galaxy Diner, then headed out toward Williams. Beautiful flakes of snow were falling, and I was freezing! Before, I reached Williams it started hailing. Williams is one of my favorite Route 66 towns. After coffee at a diner the weather decided to have fun keeping me guessing what it was going to throw at me. Regardless, it was underlined by the fact that it was freezing. I don’t have heated handlebar grips, and I had forgotten to recharge my batteries in my gloves, so I just took turns holding on with one hand, while I stuck the other one behind my knee to try and warm it up. I was wearing a tee shirt, two long sleeve shirts, a sweater, my leather jacket and a rain jacket on top of it. I had blue jeans on and over them my Joe Rocket Ballistic motorcycle trousers. Two pairs of socks. I cut my speed to 60-65 and I was still freezing.

More coffee at a restaurant in Seligman, which was where I saw the foreigners, mostly on Harleys. There was an attractive woman at the table next to mine. She wasn’t the gorgeous type, just a natural, wholesome beauty, with a cute smile. I wanted her to ditch the guy she was with and ride off with me. Why else did I bring another helmet? We could have bilingual children, enjoy bratwurst and grits, and go out often for kaffee and kuchen. You see what happens to you when you travel by yourself for a long time on a motorcycle.

The Route 66 road was in good shape. You can’t say that about everywhere along its path. I remember thumping along a few years back on a section that still had the 1920’s Portland concrete laid down. Every few feet you went air born. By the way, I have written about my previous journeys across country on this road where I actually did stop by minor things like the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. There’s a search box on this page where you can find links to all sorts of things – like the Lamed Vav and beer caves. I figure you don’t want me simply repeating a view of the sites. I don’t write that descriptive stuff well. Plenty of others have. I write about what I’m feeling and thinking.

I had hoped to go another 60 miles to Needles, California but when I stopped for coffee, I knew I could not force myself to get back on that bike and out on the highway. I just sat in the McDonalds, stunned, eyes unfocused, and waited until I had thawed out. I treated myself to a room at a Best Western.

No sign of any grandbaby yet. I’ve already bought his Harley onesie and bib. At least my daughter and I have compromised on my grandparent name. I wanted the baby to use my biker name: Monk. She said: “There is no way that I am going to let that baby call you Monk!” We agreed on Pappy. Now, don’t tell her, but when she’s not around, I might just  whisper the occasional Monk to the new whippersnapper.

Day Six: Gallup to Flagstaff, Arizona (190 miles); Things Started Well for the Most Part. Omens; Porky’s Pub and Sports Bar.

This will be a short blog. I am holed up at a motel in Flagstaff, ready to go, just waiting for it to stop snowing. Yes, snowing. The average high temperature here in Flagstaff on this day historically has been 72 degrees, but it was 34 degrees when I woke up. The high today is expected to be 38. Not much better immediately west of here for quite a ways. A few years ago, I took Big Red, this 2004 Harley Road King I’m riding, up to Alaska and had a devil of a time when we got caught (my buddy Kevin Grigsby accompanied me in a heated car!) in snow and freezing temperatures. I was woefully unprepared then, even though I had planned for the possibility. I’m completely unprepared now. I keep thinking about the title of a book I wrote – I Should Have Seen It Coming (Gene Powers – available on Amazon!). I’m going to wait an hour and then nickel and dime my way down Route 66 and see how far I get.

Yesterday, Day 6, started well except for the wind. Gusts again up to 20 mph, this time from the south west which really blew the bike all over the road. Had to be especially careful when passing, or being passed by, the huge trucks – they have their own wind dynamics. I had hoped to reach Williams, Arizona -230 miles- but the last 30 minutes of yesterday’s ride proved my undoing. It got really cold and rainy, and though I have waterproof gear on, it was wet and freezing with the wind chill. I decided I wasn’t going to push myself and pulled off I-40 at Flagstaff. I rode past a motel, that looked alright but the clincher, what felt like an omen, was that it had a place named Porky’s Pub and Sports Bar out front. My whole being shouted “yes!”. I’d get a room and then walk the few steps over to Porky’s to have a draft beer. I stopped at a McDonalds just past it for coffee and to check the reviews. They looked very good, so I booked it. Did I want cancellation insurance? Hell no, I thought, I can see the damn, warm motel, and Porky’s, right out the window! I rode over to the motel, but they said they didn’t have my reservation. I showed them my text and the man said: “Oh, that’s the other Rodeside Inn. I can show you how to get there.” They couldn’t transfer my reservation and I couldn’t cancel it. So, I rode over to the other one, that DIDN’T have the heated pool, or Porky’s, and it was good enough. Later, after a nap, I had the best meal of my trip at a Texas Roadhouse across the street. No one at the bar wanted to talk, and for once, I was grateful. Grateful, for everything.

 

Day Five: Tucumcari to Gallup, New Mexico- 319 miles; Miserable Ride That Gradually Got Better; Route 66; Impermanence; Love, Loss and Hope; Another Dog; Do Apaches not Like Navajos?

I was happy to leave that motel that I stayed at in Tucumcari. There were only two cars parked in the huge lot and I felt sorry for the owner. Clearly, he was trying to return a once busy motel back to its glory days; when Route 66 was the only road west near here.  You can search the internet and find out all sorts of things about Route 66, the Mother Road. I have written about it here in this blog years ago when I made another journey through here.  The road spawned a song, “Get your kicks on route 66,” and even a TV series. But mainly it spawned the imagination of folks- in desperate times, as in the book, The Grapes of Wrath, but, more significantly in that archetypal journey we all are beckoned to take. People come from all over the world to experience what’s left of this cross-country road. The writer Tolstoy said: All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. So too our lives.: hope, success, love,  loss, escape, and hope again. It’s a long journey, and if we take it – we should bring lots of snacks and stay well hydrated, and who knows how things will end. One of the essential doctrines of Buddhism is impermanence. They don’t have a lock on the concept, of course. We love people, places, jobs, objects, and we lose them. We grow attached to them and it hurts like the dickens when we lose them. I’ll tell you one thing – impermanence has a lot to answer for!

The trip this day didn’t start well. It was 45 degrees, my back was hurting, and my trigeminal neuralgia was being triggered by the strong, gusting winds. Not much you can do on a motorcycle when you’re feeling poorly, other than not ride, or ride through it. I kept my visor down, put my legs up, then down, leaned forward, back – you name it. I could only manage about 20 miles at a time to start with. Then I ‘d have to take a break, have coffee and stretch. Over the course of the morning things gradually got better, except for the 20mph head wind, which was to be with me all day. After 319 miles I stumbled into Gallup, New Mexico and found a nice room at the Sleep Inn.

The hot water felt so good I nearly cried in the hot shower. I gave thanks to God. Then, I wanted a beer. Remember the song I wrote about a few blog entries ago? I’ll wait while you look back at it.

I found a sports bar where I could watch some basketball and baseball. But mainly a place I could have a cold, calming, draft beer and forget about things.

A Navajo woman about my age was siting at the table beside me with her grandson and her service dog. She told me about her life: husband died two years ago; it had been a huge loss for her which was why she needed the dog. Her husband had been a veteran and was one of those people who never thought he’d die, so it came as a shock to everyone. She lived alone and traveled and worked on three Apache reservations. Did I know that some Apache don’t like Navajo? No, I didn’t, I replied. She said that when she first started to work on the reservations the women thought she was going to try to steal their husbands. She reassured them. She’d like to retire but what would she do? Besides, families need her help.  We both took a sip of our beers and stared at the baseball game; Arizona, her team, was losing. Love, loss, hope.

Day Four: Elk City, Oklahoma to Tucumcari, New Mexico (286 miles – 1296 trip total); Route 66; No Baby Yet; Lovingkindness, Three Dogs; Amarillo.

The day started out windy, with gusts striking up from the southwest. I can handle rain and heat, I’m not great with cold, but I hate random wind gusts and crosswinds; the kind that blow you across a lane of highway and then blow you back. Winds that try to yank your helmet off.

The countryside changed too as Big Red and I slowly moved from verdant crop fields to scrub brush, grazing cattle, and rolling prairies, with distant mesas on the horizon.  We moved from Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle and into Amarillo. The interstate crosses over a huge area of freight trains. And, if you want you can stop at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, where if you can eat a 72 ounce steak in one hour it’s free. Yeah, good luck with that. Leaving Amarillo on I-40 you pass the Cadillac Ranch where 10 caddies are half- buried, nose down into the ground. Some call it art. They were buried there in 1974 and you can walk out to them from the highway. Next, were the enormous stockyards. The winds died down and the speed limit picked up to 75 mph.

I found a McDonalds and stopped. McDonalds get a bad rap but I have found them everywhere to be a gathering area for locals who meet regularly, sip their coffee at an unhurried pace, and share stories. They are a place of fellowship and support. The regulars know all the staff and they, in turn, look after them. I spoke with a harried cashier and asked her: “How are you doing today?” She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said: “I got a new dog yesterday. Kept me up all night. I wasn’t supposed to work today but they called me in and I am so tired. My brain is not functioning. You want any cream and sweetener with that coffee?”

Later, I ran into a woman with a dog who was hovering around a truck stop. She looked like she was trying to catch a ride. I found myself closing down emotionally, limiting my conversation. Why? What was I afraid of? She wasn’t going to ask me for a ride. If she wanted money I was happy to give her some. I wasn’t showing lovingkindness to strangers and I knew it. “Ever ride in the mountains?” She asked. “Some.” I replied. She continued. “I’m from the mountains of North Carolina. Ever hear of Tail of the Dragon?” I stared at her and noticed how straight and white her teeth were, but her trouser legs were stained. “A few times. It’s a very challenging ride.” (318 curves in 11 miles). She smiled. “Last time I was up in those mountains at home, they were so beautiful, I cried.” Then she turned away to forage in her pack for something. I cranked the bike up and when she looked up I wished her safe travels.

Cruising at 75 mph really sucked the gas out of my tank and twice I almost ran out. For a number of miles I shifted down to 60 and took it easy. I coasted into one gas station and filled Big Red up with 5.2 gallons of gas – she holds 5.

Eventually, I made it to Tucumcari, and found a motel. Later I ate supper at Del’s restaurant. Waiting at the cash register to pay my bill I saw these two older ladies (okay- a few years older than me.) both wearing the same red shirts. One was really cute. They had matching tee shirts they were buying that said Route 66. “Those are nice colors.” I said. The cute one turned toward me and said: “We’ve been friends ever since we were children. Across the street from each other. We’re traveling together up to Yellowstone and then going to Minnesota for my granddaughter’s graduation. Then we’re heading back to Florida.” She smiled and then saddened. “It’s been rough since Packie died.” She paused. “He was my dog.” I smiled tightly and nodded and then as they were leaving I said: “I expect to see both of you wearing those shirts next time I see y’all.” They giggled, wished me a safe trip and scrambled out. Another man jumped ahead of me and paid and when I left the two women were waiting in their mini van for me, smiled and yelled across the parking lot. I waved. They took off while I got ready to ride. They rode past the restaurant, yelled, waved and honked. I headed out, back to the motel.

 

Day Three: Clarksville, Arkansas to Elk City, Oklahoma; 370 miles; No baby yet; Interstate-40 blues.

My daughter’s due date for her first child is about five days away so I have plenty of time to get there. But I do start to think: what if she comes early? It would be good to be a bit closer, were she to go into labor. So, I decided to hop on I-40 and get a few miles under my belt. The speed limit there is 70 mph and the road is straight, really straight. Still, it’s pretty country, verdant forests and fields and decent roads – well, until I came to a stop on the interstate in Oklahoma City, due to construction. You can’t count on much in this old world, but you can always count on their being construction in Oklahoma City (or Chicago, or Atlanta, or Belfast for that matter).

When I left Georgia, the temperature was 49 degrees and it was now in the high 80’s. High temperature and tedium can wear you down. I spent some time on prayer, and gratitude, and then I resorted to boredom and exhaustion, my old standbys. Don’t get me wrong. I love riding it’s just that it’s a long, long way to California. Still, I would choose it over flying or driving.

My health has been good, but the fatigue began to hit me and soon I wasn’t doing many miles between stops. So, I booked a place in Elk City, The Flamingo Inn on Route 66, and set my sights for it. It was a nice, old style, remodeled motel on the main street. After collapsing on the bed for an hour, I got on my walking shoes and went traipsing around town. I found an old biker bar, cash only, dollars stuck to the ceiling, beer posters and pictures of Marilyn Monroe on the wall. A sat a couple of stools down from a man with a forlorn expression on his face. He told me about his years in the Merchant Marine and of his travels.

“You must have seen a lot of interesting places.” I said.

“They ain’t interesting if you don’t have anyone to share them with. Nothing to remember. No one to remember them with.” He replied.

“That’s tough.”

“I had a leather jacket once. Damn thing was made in Turkey! Gave it to my daughter. Don’t have her no more either.”

I didn’t know how to respond.

He stood up, paid his tab and wished me a safe ride.

I thought about last night, in Clarkesville, where I watched and listened to a bunch of older folks singing karaoke at a sports club. My favorite was a short, white haired man in faded overalls who sang country western love songs. They were a community of people who knew and supported each other. We all need love and a sense of community in whatever lyric we can find it.

Back in Elk City, I watched the old sailor walk slowly out of the bar. He raised his hand in a wave to the goodbyes a few other regulars had shouted at his back. A song began playing on the jukebox: “God is great; beer is good; people are crazy.”

I know I am. God bless them all.

Day Two: Oxford, Mississippi to Clarksville, Arkansas. 639 miles on my way to California.

A morning motorcycle ride, on an open highway, with nowhere to be and no special time to be there, is exhilarating! Freedom. I ride westward. Even I can’t miss west. I travel “old school”. I don’t have any GPS or a map shining through the clear plastic of a tank bag. I have a thick Harley Davidson atlas in my saddlebag which I consult now and again.

 

Whate’er its mission, the soft breeze can come
To none more grateful than to me; escaped
From the vast city, where I long had pined
A discontented sojourner: now free…
Wordsworth

 

Today the skies were clear and blue. Wildflowers in the rich green grass accompanied me: brilliant buttercups, melancholy primroses, long stemmed purple flowers bursting like fireworks. Creamy magnolia flowers high in the trees. Snowy egrets stood on the edges of flooded lowlands filled with cypress trees. The rich scent of a wood fire burning wafted through the air. We flew past rows of corn and cotton fields along with pecan tree groves. The ride was thrilling. Stay tuned.

Fourth Cross USA Motorcycle Ride: Rome, Georgia to Los Angeles: Grandbaby Coming Soon! Day One: Rome, Georgia to Oxford, Mississippi – 315 miles.

A few days ago, I wrote: “I’m sitting outside of Starbucks putting the finishing touches on my plans to head west. Not really “plans” since I’m still not sure which route I’m taking. I decided this time to at least bring a compass with me so that I can be fairly sure that I keep heading west. I tend to get lost a lot.

As much as I can, I hope to take the backroads, the blue highways, as they appeared on the old Rand McNally maps. It my favorite way to ride, though it inevitably takes longer. I’m not in that much of a hurry. My daughter’s due date is 9 days away, and it’s only about 2200 miles (3540 kms) to LA, and I don’t want to arrive there too early and be in the way, unless she wants me there. So, we’ll start by taking it nice and easy.  Just enjoy the present moment. Travel hopefully.”

I need to take it easy on this ride because I haven’t been feeling well and I’d been getting some treatment guided by my doctor. He left a message on my phone yesterday stating that he thought I shouldn’t take this ride across country. Fortunately, I was in Muscle Shoals , Alabama, 200 miles into the trip, before I got the message. Probably would have gone anyway. So here I am. We’ll see how the health holds out. Anyway, all prayers and best wishes are appreciated.

Winter into Spring: Transitions and Preparations; Divine Providence; Road Whispering.

I think we’ve reached the last of the cold mornings. When I took off to ride to my job the other day at 7 am it was 42 degrees (5 degrees Celsius) and when I returned it was 80 degrees (26 Celsius). It’s as if winter hasn’t wanted to let go, that it’s shouting “put up your dukes” to Spring. They fight it out with rain and tornadoes, swollen rivers, blustery winds, and thunderstorms. It’s as if winter has no memory of all the seasons before, despite the shouting blooming all around trying to get its attention. There are the dogwood trees, and red buds, cherry trees, magnolias, and azaleas. How can winter not notice the garlands of purple wisteria draped among the trees? The yellow buttercups in the field with the romping chestnut roan and the leaning shack with the bright red door?

Winter is a slow learner, like me. I ride the same stretch of Interstate 75 for twenty miles to work and keep forgetting the pothole in the right of the middle lane near Resaca. Bam! I always think I’ve probably blown a tire or damaged my rim. Other times, I forget to charge my heated gloves for the morning ride.

I’m excited now and counting down the days (May 12th) until I head off on my cross-country trip to LA. Researching possible places to stop along the way, where I might stay in LA, has my head spinning. I think Big Red (my 2004 Harley Road King), and I will just leave it up to Divine Providence – The Tao. I’ll do some road whispering while I ride. And, thinking of the hot days ahead of me, the heat lines rising off the baking roads in Texas, I’ll probably miss winter.

Senior, Bachelor Gentleman, Biker Blues

My 1973 BMW R60/5 is parked right now at a Panera Restaurant and I am lamenting the fact that it’s raining outside, and I forgot to bring my rain jacket. Forgetfulness is a common characteristic of the senior biker. Mindfulness helps. Before I leave, I say to myself: “Okay, what am I missing?” However, along with my raincoat, I forgot mindfulness too this morning.

I was married for 23 years before we divorced. Suddenly, I was thrown out into the dating world (seven years ago now) and it was a shock. I really didn’t know how to do it. The rules I had used years earlier, which weren’t that good even then, were clearly outdated. Still, in the last few I managed to meet and date a few women who I somehow inexplicably charmed even with my anachronistic ways. Maybe it was pity for me. I’m not too proud. I can take pity.

Being a teacher, I don’t work in the summer, and given that my children live in distant places I tend to travel, especially on my motorcycle. My daughter lives in LA and I live in Georgia, so I like to take cross country trips on my motorcycle to see her. I’m getting excited because she is due to have her first child in a little over a month. I’m planning on riding out there.

Since my divorce, two of the women I dated dumped me because of travel and distance. One, for some reason, didn’t like it when I announced that I was heading out on the bike for a couple of months. We discussed it but I still got a text from her breaking it off, at a Love’s Travel Stop somewhere west of Santa Claus, Illinois. Another woman, who contacted me through Facebook, I met four times after I just happened to be driving by Peoria, Illinois. After all, it’s only 650 miles from here.  (Okay, I admit it – nobody just happens to be driving by Peoria). Our relationship played out well there but didn’t when we tried to take it on the road. After a few months she cancelled any further performances. So, I’ve been wary since.

I’ve met a few lovely women since, and I enjoy their friendship immensely. But I always know that at some point I’m going to hit the road once more and I don’t want to go through all that heartache again, riding and obsessing over whether I have another text waiting for me, maybe this time outside Eureka, Nevada on US Route 50. I’ve been down that road before.

Such are some of the laments of the senior, gentleman bachelor, biker.

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