Day 23: Longview Texas: 438 miles: Lowest Rate on Trip-$39.32: Dangerous Road Gators: Bad Motorcycle Driving: Highway 80: Journey Almost Over.

Long day in the saddle. I’m exhausted. Found a really nice Motel 6, $39.32, the lowest rate I paid on the whole trip. Had a few close calls today. There were loads of road gators (bits of tires thrown out onto the road) lurking on the highway. You have to give yourself plenty of distance so that you can spot em and react in time. I dodged almost all of them until a truck in front of me started peeling off the rubber shrapnel and I hit a small piece in the road. Thankfully, nothing happened. Later, the rain began falling lightly. I remember saying: “Wee! as I enjoyed the coolness in the changing air. The rain started falling harder so I turned off the interstate to seek refuge in a truck stop.
Braking as I got to the frontage road the rear wheel of the bike started sliding, the front wobbled and I thought I was going to crash but somehow, I won’t take credit for it, the bike stabilized. Thank you God. And be more careful Gene!
I waited for a while under a shelter until the rain slackened, put on my rain jacket and headed back out. After about 30 minutes the sky cleared and the rain stopped.
Later, a bike passed me going about 85-90 mph, the engine sounded as if it was at full throttle, the driver leaning over the tank, cutting in and out of lanes, juked left just as an 18 wheeler moved into that lane. Somehow, he survived it.
I managed to make it to my goal: Highway 80. Growing up in Savannah, Georgia, Highway 80 was sort of a mythical road for me. I learned early that it went all the way from Tybee Beach near Savannah to San Diego. As a child I remember stopping at a traffic light on Victory Drive in Savannah with my dad and him pointing with his pipe and saying: “Turn left there and keep going and you’ll end up in California.”
Highway 80 became for me an alchemical road. It promised all the things I wanted: distance, freedom, change, transformation through transit. Highway 17, which also went through Savannah, only promised Hardeeville, South Carolina or Darien, Georgia. Nice places, but not for a youth with dreams.
Today, I made it to the western terminus of Highway 80 today and hopped on it. Tomorrow, the 4th of July, I’ll take it toward “home”, and maybe end this journey.

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!

Biker Mind in a Cage and Enlightenment in Piggly Wiggly

I was having problems with my Jeep about a month ago and I took it to Mike’s to have it checked out. Mike has a reputation for doing good, honest work and he’s a nice guy.

“I’ve got good news and bad news for you.” I was told.

“What’s the good news?”

“You only need one part replaced.”

“And the bad news?”

“It’s your engine.”

So began the journey of various Jeep engine parts to Rome Georgia, an odyssey which is still going on.

No big deal, I thought.  I’ve got the bike and over the last few weeks, rain or shine, I’ve ridden her faithfully and wetly.

But today was different. I had to run a few errands (“messages” in Ireland) and I needed a car. I’d been asked by a friend to drop off some food for a housebound woman. No big deal for me, I was honored to do it.

My nephew Matt loaned me his and it was a strange experience. First of all I tried to get in on the wrong side of the car because my old reflexes from Ireland kicked in. (The steering wheel is on the opposite side of the car over there because they drive on the wrong side of the road!) I finally managed to get into the car, something we bikers call a “cage”.

Now, how do I operate this thing? Right, take the parking brake off. It’s already off. Again, I have to remember that I’m not in Ireland where they always use it. I crank her up and since it’s an automatic I reverse easily and then head out. First thing I have to do is roll the window down. I have to have the wind on me. There’s a great quote I heard which says that only a motorcycle rider understands why dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows. I mosey up to the main four lane. I’m thinking: There’s a cage turning, probably not paying attention. What about that lady driving talking on her phone? (Illegal in Ireland.)  I don’t try and make eye contact with her to confirm her driving intentions instead I stare at the car’s front wheel to make sure it’s not moving. It isn’t and I pull out onto the highway.  I realize what I’m doing. I’m driving a cage like a biker. I’m scanning the area looking for hazards, especially people who don’t see you and cut in front of you. I had the biker mind going in the cage. It was weird. I relaxed a bit and I thought: hey this isn’t too bad. Got a roof over my head, listening to some blues music. I can take a sip from my coffee cup. Smoke my pipe if I want to. (But not in Matt’s car!). This is kinda cool.

But I still had the biker mind going and found myself waving a salute to other bikers as they passed by.

I had to pick up some groceries for myself and while wandering around in the Piggly Wiggly I was thinking: better not get too much I don’t have a lot of room in the saddlebags. Then I realized again that I wasn’t on the bike. I could get anything I wanted; there’s plenty of room! This was great. But I didn’t like how my mind was shifting back to the idea of “buying stuff”. I used to be quite a collector of things: books, old coins, baseball cards, bad habits-you name it. But when I left Ireland after 16 years I gave most of my stuff away and managed to pack my life into four suitcases. It wasn’t easy or fun. In fact, it was painful because I was attached to all the things I had and the people I knew and loved. And yet it was freeing at the same time. It helped me to realize how little I really needed; what was important in my life and what wasn’t. It reminded me of what the Dalai Lama said: Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering.

Non-attachment means letting go. It means recognizing that all things are impermanent: material things, our bodies, even our relationships. This might sound depressing, but it isn’t. It’s actually liberating. “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”. You don’t suffer from worrying about getting something or losing someone. When I can keep this kind of awareness in my mind it helps me to appreciate every moment, to be centered and content with what I have, to be aware and grateful.  I’m much happier and healthier now.

I bought the few things that I needed and got back into the car. I drove over to the house, dropped the food off, rang the doorbell and left. On the way home I reverted to biker mode: watching for potholes in the road, tar snakes, inattentive drivers, road gators (bits of shredded tires from semi-truck tire blowouts), and steering aids (Bikers hate these! They’re gouges/ruts in the road from trucks. The ruts can guide your front wheel in a direction you don’t want to go.) None of us want to get into ruts. To go in directions we don’t want to go, because of someone else.

Surviving these hazards today, I came home. If I can stay centered I might survive tomorrow as well.

It was fun driving the car. But I still prefer the bike.