Day 3: Amarillo to Gallup, New Mexico. 423 miles: Trip Total 1533 miles; Crossing the Continental Divide; Beautiful day inside a huge miniature model train set.

I’m hunkering down in Holbrook, Arizona having a cup of coffee, catching up on yesterday.
I headed out in the morning determined not to book a place for the night, considering last night’s disaster. Interstate 40 parallels, and sometimes replaces, the legendary road Route 66. Four years ago my buddy El Jefe and I rode across country and took Route 66 frequently. You can’t take it the whole ways anymore, as much of it was decommissioned but there are still some nice sections, small towns with rustic looking cafes and old fashioned, western style motels.
Leaving Amarillo, I quickly came upon the Cadillac Ranch where, as an art statement, 10 cadillacs are half buried in the Texas dirt.
I only saw one small one armed oil pump as I road through Texas. However, there were miles of wind farms, the huge blades moving like arms of synchronized swimmers or Olympic backstrokers.
Gentle rolling hills, and agricultural fields with those long arm irrigation units, gave rise to flat lands, dotted with scrub brush and small, hardy evergreens. Coming into New Mexico the wind, out of the south, picked up quite a bit and I had to lean into it. I lowered my visor as I rode through a veil of dust blowing across the road. A dead buck lay by the center meridian and caused me to perk up. Later, a crowd was gathered in the median where a tractor trailer had overturned. Omens? I rode on.
About 30 miles out of Albuquerque I began to see pale, gray blue hills in the distance. I rode this beautiful view all the way into the city. The interstate was decorated with beautiful, colorful, Native American art forms.
Leaving, long, tall, flat mesas of different heights began to appear on the horizon. As the sun shone upon them I struggled to come up with a few words to describe their colors: pumpkin, Georgia red clay, magnolia, limestone? Near the road rose grassy, chocolate brown outcrops of rocks.
And then there were trains. Long trains transporting containers seemed all over the place, transporting goods east and west. I raced a few but they couldn’t keep up with Big Red, my Harley. With the beautiful, unfolding landscape I felt like I was a small motorcycle rider in some huge miniature model train set. That was fun.
I decided to stop in Gallup, New Mexico for the night and saw signs for a motel I knew I couldn’t miss. But I saw a sign for the El Ranchero Hotel and something compelled me to cut off the interstate. It was an old rustic hotel built in 1937 for a base for movie productions in the area. I loved it, checked in and spent a few hours in the rustic, western, 49er bar. Who can resist a bar that the actor Errol Flynn once rode a horse into? I couldn’t and didn’t.
Whatever you ride, ride it safely.

Day 21: Dust Storm, Zero Visibility, Gusting Winds = Dangerous Riding, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, World Cup, Watercolor Sky: 367 Miles Traveled.

All day long I was thinking that this was going to be a rather boring blog entry. The heat index today had fallen into the 90’s and the ride was reasonably comfortable, especially compared with yesterday. And the scenery of I-10 was still the same: Cacti, willow trees, rough grass, huge stones, mountain ranges in the distance, long stretches between towns, filling stations with Tee Shirts, Mexican and Native American crafts.
I hunkered down in Wilcox, Arizona at a McDonalds and watched the second half of the USA match on my laptop, in Spanish.
Then I headed back out on the road and finished my trip in Arizona and entered New Mexico. There were signs warning of dust storms, zero visibility, and asking drivers to not stop in the travel lanes. I looked to the north and south and could see dust devils spinning in the distance. No problem here, I thought.
I stopped at Deming, and for some reason, found myself just driving around the town, looking at the old buildings and shops. Cops were frisking some guy outside an auto parts store. Farther down the road another cop was taking witness statements by the side of the road. Time to leave. Gassed up and saw a huge dust storm coming out of the north. This storm stretch for miles, just a golden cloud heading my way. I took off and headed towards Las Cruces. It looked like I was going to outrun it and I did. I watched in the rear view mirror as the sand colored and black clouds swept the landscape behind me. But 10 miles down the road, the wind suddenly picked up and a huge dust storm closed in. I flipped my helmet visor down, rode for about 5 miles through the dust and battering winds until I reached a spot where I couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of me.
I had to pull over on the interstate shoulder. I leaned over the gas tank of the bike and steadied it as the wind kept trying to blow the bike over. This lasted for about 15 minutes until the rocking winds died down. I cranked Big Red back up and she ran sluggishly through the remnants of the dust storm. (Air filter?). I stopped at a service area, got an orange juice, calmed my nerves and checked on my phone, the weather at my next destination: Las Cruces. Severe thunderstorm warnings. I could either go back about 15 miles to Deming or try and get to Las Cruces, 40 miles away, before the storm got me.
I took off toward Las Cruces. I could smell rain in the air, petrichor, (Wikipedia: “Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɨkɔər/) is the scent of rain on dry earth, or the scent of dust after rain. The word is constructed from Greek, petros, meaning ‘stone’ + ichor, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.”) Love that word! It’s alchemical.
The rain fell intermittently but the sky, the sky was amazing. Behind me, to the west, the sky was a golden ochre color. To the north there was a swath of blue, with gunmetal grey clouds. The south looked like a Chinese watercolor with a wash of grey on the horizon, and above, indigo clouds descending. Then I topped a hill and headed down into the city of Las Cruces, the city of the crosses. Looming high behind the city are the Organ Mountains and at this moment the setting sun from behind me was illuminating the foothills of the mountains, painting them an electric golden color. It was majestic. Holy. Wow.
Then I headed back to the mundane and secular and got a room at a Super 8

Morning with the Mesas in New Mexico

It’s about 5:30 in the morning and I’m watching the sun come up over the rolling plains and grassy mesas of New Mexico. There’s a diffused honey glow on the horizon and the shadows in the mesas are soft and still sleepy. The sky is pale blue and cloudless. Right now it’s cool outside. The sign says 64 degrees but it’s supposed to go up into the 90’s today. A few moments ago I went outside felt the enlivening breeze and listened to some birds singing to the morning. A line from the poet Rilke came to mind: “Silently the birds fly through us. Oh, I who long to grow, I look outside myself, and the tree inside me grows.”

The greatest journeys are within.

Day Four: El Reno Oklahoma to Tucumcari New Mexico. Namaste!

Back in Georgia the time is now 8:50 pm Monday, in Ireland it’s 1:50 am Tuesday and here in Tucumcari, New Mexico I’d say it’s about 1950. That’s because the town still holds onto much of the grandeur of the 1930’s and 50’s when Route 66 was the only road in town; almost literally.  Once the interstate was built much of old Route 66 was abandoned. But some old diners and motels persist! Beautiful relics to a time long ago.

Today was a long biking day. Over 400 miles. Right now I’m sitting in the Desert Inn motel drinking a Tecate beer with the air conditioner on and feeling like I’m in somewhat of a stupor. Despite a couple of rounds of factor 50 sunscreen I’m toasted.  I hope I can write more intelligibly later but for now just a brief update.

Jeff took his bike to the Harley shop first thing and they managed to sort the problem out. By 10am we were on the road. Due to our different styles of riding with Jeff being a man with a mission, and me being a bit of a dawdler (“Hey, let’s see what’s down here!) we decided to again meet up somewhere later and ride at our own paces. We kept in touch a few times by texts during the day but otherwise we just met up an hour ago. He took off on Interstate 40 where the speed limit soars to 75mph. His story, which he can tell better than I, is that once we split up his handlebars starting going a bit wonky; too loose. He got to Amarillo, visited another Harley shop then drove on to Tucumcari.

He later admitted that the problem had been his own fault. Last night I had given him a small Route 66 gremlin bell and he had failed to attach it to his bike.  Motorcycle gremlins love to hitch rides on motorcycles. They are mischievous rascals who cause all sorts of mayhem. A minivan cuts in front of you; your battery goes dead, road gators charge after you, or as in some reported cases, your handlebars come loose. Apparently, if you get a bell on your bike (it has to be given to you-you can’t buy it yourself) the gremlins get trapped in the bell, the ringing drives them nuts and they lose their grip and fall onto the road. Jeff has promised me he will put the bell on tomorrow.

I decided to go Route 66 for awhile, back through Bethany and Yukon and El Reno where legal speeds can gust up to 55mph. I managed to take the wrong roads twice (not the same road-two different ones) but I also stopped and took pictures of an old bridge, of the great bar Jeff and I went to last night and then tried to go a bit further on Route 66  but I ended up on a section of pre-1937 route which was built with poured Portland concrete. I began to realize why they don’t drive much of the old-old route anymore: bounce, smooth, bounce, smooth-every 10 yards!

So I went back onto I-40 and settled into the 75 mph mantra. I crossed the rest of Oklahoma, then went across the top of Texas and slithered into New Mexico. I had to stop every hour or so to gas up,  rehydrate and to administer to myself a mental status exam to ensure I could still ride safely. I know there is a population crisis and that we should take this very seriously but really, has anybody been to the top of Texas and ridden across I-40? Miles and miles of deserted land. I know I went more than once about 40 miles without seeing a gas station. Consequently, I almost ran out of gas.

Amarillo was a bit dicey when I came upon a rolled up carpet and small pieces of wood blocking my lane. I braked, down shifted, looked left to change lanes but a car was there, to the right was another car so I somehow managed to slalom the bike and thread my way around the debris. I also dodged a metal bar in the road and avoided attacks by those pesky road gators, bits of tires lying in wait to pounce.

I decided not to take a chance on running out of gas again and so stopped about 20 miles east of Tucumcari. The filling station it turned out was run by Indians-no, not native Americans but real Indians. I stopped at the pump and it said: sold out. So I rolled the bike back to a pump that didn’t have a notice. Engine off, kickstand down, glasses off, helmet off, fingerless gloves off and I start filling. Turns out this one is out of gas too. I roll the bike over to another pump and try again and I get 20 cents worth. I stop and go inside and explain my problem to the Indian cashier. He says that they are out of premium gas. I ask whether I can have $5 of regular gas and give him $10. For some reason the cash register jams and I hear him discussing and arguing in some Indian language with a man standing by. This takes about 5 minutes.  I’m exhausted, frustrated and I’m thinking: I need to show love and compassion for all beings! Finally, the man says “You can do it now”. I ask for my $5 back from the $10 I gave him and he says: “Oh I thought you wanted $10 dollars on pump 5!”

I say: “That’s fine.” and “Namaste” which essentially means: “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you”. I go back to the pump and the tank will only hold $9 worth. “Namaste” and I ride off.

Later I make it to our motel  and the receptionist is another Indian man (not native American) who is delightful, charming and helpful. I kind of mutter but he is patient and suggests places to eat and drink.

And drink I do! I’m on my second can of Tecate right now and ready for bed.

Nameste to you and good night!