Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Mile 9,210: Tilting At Windmills


Someone asked Jackson Pollock how he knew when he was finished painting. (He was the guy who some people describe as, "You know, that guy who does splatter painting.) In a colorful way, Pollock basically said that he just knew. It was his creation, and he knew what he wanted it to look like, what it needed to express. And when the painting was done, it was done.

It's done.

Just shy of all 10,000 truths, my Rocinante and I have reached the windmills. And like those great originals Don Quixote and John Steinbeck who have provided some inspiration to my own incarnation of the wandering adventurer, this story ends in the middle. Still plenty of adventures to come, though this is where this particular one finds its conclusion.

I knew the miles were winding down when my brother, Unky, and I rode through a windmill farm out in West Texas a couple of weeks ago. (I guess he was my Sancho Panza at that moment.) Hundreds of windmills lined up like soldiers in formation, though not nearly as neatly since they faced them in different directions to catch all of the wind. And though I only dismounted my iron horse to take a picture rather than to fight with them, in some ways I realized at that moment that my story was closer to the Man of La Mancha than I even knew when I began this adventure.

I imagine that's true for most of us.

Don Quixote's imagination was his strength and his weakness. On the positive side, he loved his horse, Rocinante, even though it was beat up and ragged. When he looked at Rocinante, he saw an amazing creature and companion. He saw the best.

But when Quixote saw something bad, his imagination got the best of him. Windmills became hulking giants with flailing arms; his most threatening enemies were the ones he made up in his mind.

And that's something I have fought for years. The enemies of my mind.

When newcomers to motorcycles ask me for advice, I always start at the same place. If you want to survive, you have to assume the worst of people. Every car you see is a potential danger. Assume that every car on your side is going to pull into your lane and sideswipe you... Assume that every car behind you is going to ram into you... Assume that every car in front of you is about to slam on their brakes.

Assume the worst of people.

The difficulty is turning that off in the same way that you shut down your motor. Once off the bike, not everyone is out to get you. But it's hard to turn that off when the ghosts of Christmas past refuse to be ignored.

Ever since Don Quixote's story was first told, a phrase caught on that describes fighting imaginary enemies: "tilting at windmills."

At our worst, we fill in blanks when people we love speak or behave in ways that leave too much room for mystery. We assume motives for their words and actions without going to the source and asking to talk it out. Rather than the hard work of clarifying conversation, we make things up. We make up things in our minds and slouch to the side of the negative. We begin to fight imaginary enemies.

Tilting at windmills.

But during these almost 10,000 truths, my experience has taught me something just the opposite. Not just to challenge the things we make up in our minds, but to embrace those I love, and give no emotional energy to those who drain life out of you.

A couple of bikers from Ohio talked to me while we were on top of the world. Literally on top of the world. We were at the Alpine Visitors Center above the timberline in Rocky Mountain National Park. We talked of the ride, the beauty of the mountains, the cold air. And while we visited, we were the best of friends.

Another biker at the motor lodge where I stopped for a night in Greybull, Wyoming came over to me while I was sitting with my feet propped up on Rocinante as the sun went down. I was being quiet, even meditative after a wonderful ride. He stumbled up to me, just a shade past tipsy. He started rambling unintelligibly, even touching my bike at one point, but I found myself unafraid to gently let him know that I needed solitude, and to please just leave me alone. He was neither friend nor enemy, and I just left it at that.

Both kinds of people were plentiful on this journey. The miles were great, but the people stand out. That's also true of life itself. Many I loved, and still do. Some best left to the wind.
-----------------------------------




Epilogue

So just this past Saturday, knowing that I would finish this narrative painting just a few days later, I sat with some of my brothers in my motorcycle club as we held our monthly meeting out on the road following a good ride. The weather was epic. Sunshine. Cool breeze. Perfect October day.

We sat and talked. Laughed. Discussed. I enjoy being with them. When you are with good friends, those are the moments when the enemies of our souls seem farthest away.

Not too many feet away from where we sat was a windmill. And that was it. That's where this story needed to end. Not tilting at it. No imaginary enemies. Nothing to fear. It's all good.

I think I'll go for another ride.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Mile 8,901: Seasons Change, Almost Home

Eyes wide open,
Everything speaks all at once.
Long sleeves between you and cool wind,
Rocinante's rumble.
Seasons change,
Tell your story, and then tell another one.
One more ride,
And then the book is done.
Tell your story, and then tell another one.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mile 8,406: My Three Sisters


As this adventure is coming to an end, it could not have gone any better than this penultimate ride. I was certain that this section of my final major ride of these "10,000 Truths" would not be able to compare to Colorado and Wyoming. As usual, my certainty was misplaced.

I woke up early and decided to leave while the air was still late-September cool. Only a few miles south until I jumped on one of three roads that form a hundred-mile-loop called "The Three Sisters." FMs 335, 336, and 337. I heard that this loop was one of the top motorcycling destinations in the country, but my suspicions would not allow me to believe it. Really? The Texas Hill Country is beautiful, but top destination? We'll see.

And see I did.

Just west of Medina, Texas, FM 337 starts climbing hills, dropping back down, and twisting and turning. Climb hundreds of feet in a road hewn right out of the hill. Dive over to the other side into a 30 mph curve. Am I really in Texas?


Don't get me wrong. I love Texas more than anywhere. I'm a thoroughbred Texan, just like my parents before me. But I am used to East Texas pine forests and flat coastal plains. Even West Texas with its rugged hills, and the Central Texas Hill Country had all conditioned my expectations. But when on FM 337 I descended hundreds of feet in a matter of minutes on hairpin curves... well... I was just speechless.

Everything on the sisters was beautiful and fun. But I want to go on record here that FM 337 is the single greatest motorcycling road in the great State of Texas, and perhaps in the entire southern United States.


I could debate that point if forced. I could show you a few pictures to give you an idea. But it would probably be better for you to get on your motorcycle and go see it for yourself. Pictures and words just won't cut it this time. In fact, as I write this second-to-last entry, all I can think about is going back.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Mile 7,831: MC

It hangs on the wall in a corner of my bedroom next to one of my guitars. My cut. My colors. I took it down this morning and slung it over me to get on my bike.

Mondays are days off for me most of the time, which means I run errands when they need running. This morning was a nice, cool ride in the clean air to the post office to buy stamps and pay taxes. The last part of the previous sentence is made much more tolerable by the first part.

Other than concentrating on the technical aspects of riding a motorcycle, I thought about my cut. My colors. I worked hard for them. Rode over a thousand miles as a part of a project I had as a prospect. Our particular chapter values long-distance rides. Every patch I wear tells a story, every one of which has something to do with one of those rides.

It is why I sought out a "Motorcycle Club" in the first place. Motorcycles. Others who love motorcycles as much as me. At one time I believed that everyone who wore "MC" was a motorcycle fanatic.

But just like any other human organization, you continually weigh the joys against the frustrations. And thankfully I have reached a point in my life where I have decided to embrace the joys and eschew the frustrations.

I tell my kids all the time to not devote their emotional energy to the negative things around them. Focus on the problems, but with an eye toward solutions. Fix what you can fix; ignore what you cannot. As far as those things impossible to ignore... well... chalk it up to the long list of "Things I Can't Change."

But the joys are worth the frustrations. (At least that's what I tell myself.)

Some close friends I have that I would not have otherwise.
The opportunity to ride to amazing destinations like Germany, Wyoming, and Seguin, Texas.
Certain people in the club who are motorcycle fanatics who love to ride.
Great memories of good times, and many good times to come.

And that's where I place my focus. Good rides and good times. Ride motorcycles and have fun.

Then go back home, take of my cut. My colors. Hang them back on the wall of my bedroom.

That is all.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mile 7,819: The Whole Trip

Rocinante and I spent most of the mornings this week swimming through the ever-present Gulf Coast September humidity. But today, the ride was a little cooler. Just a little. But enough to tell the difference.

It started with a realization as we opened a lonely garage. There she sat, waiting patiently by herself like the last horse in the stable.

My household has shifted into a new phase. The kids now drive themselves to school every day; the wife is fully transitioned into her career that she began training for almost ten years ago when the babies were no longer babies. So that leaves me and Rocinante as daily companions. Sunny humidity or rainy rain. Blazing hot or the bitter Houston winters that get down into the 50s. This new phase has resurrected my old college habit of not having a backup car for those "just in case" days. I now only ride in a car about once a week.

And I love it. But things have changed.

When I began this "10,000 Truths" project back in May, I had no idea what would come. Mainly good things have happened, although there have been a few storms. But moments like this cannot be anticipated. Major life transitions can excite you, while simultaneously they can leave you a little melancholy. They say the only constant is change. True.

I could not see what was ahead when I started the journey. And I can't see what's coming. But as I am fond of quoting E.L. Doctorow: "We can only see as far as the headlights, but we can make the whole trip that way."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Mile 7,800: Blood and Motorcycles

The tall buildings and skyscrapers. Artificial mountains we coastal dwellers build to create height and depth. Our hills are the ramps of parking garages. This is the active imagination of a biker with an ancient island in my blood.

Some of my family just went to the Isle of Man off the east coast of Ireland. And up until just recently, I thought that my dad's side of the family came from England, and my mom's side of the family came from Ireland. I had no idea that the English side was actually a tad more specific. The Christians are from The Isle of Man.

On their recent trip, they thumbed through an Isle of Man phonebook to find two whole pages of Christians. (The proper name, not the religion; although I am a bonafide Christian.)

And if you are wondering where this is going, O Faithful Reader, it is going all the way back to 1907 when the first Isle of Man TT motorcycle race was run on public roads at an average speed of just over 38 miles per hour. (The record average is now just over 130 mph.) It is considered by most aficionados to be the most important motorcycle race in the history of motorcycles. And standing there watching on the roads, and working the pits, and maybe even a racer or two, are a bunch of people named Christian.

So when I say I have motorcycles in my blood, up to this point I thought I was just talking about how much I love to ride. But when you make a family discovery like this one, you wake up the next day even more excited to get on your bike and ride to work.

And then your ride on the city streets becomes mixed with the ghosts of past and present on a little island far away where other "Christians" straddled motorcycles, sometimes as simple daily transportation, and other days as the thrill of a lifetime.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mile 7,757: Water on the Road

The comparisons are impossible. Certainly not fair. How could a ride between Houston and Dallas on I-45 compare to the mountains of Wyoming, or even the green hills of Missouri? Why even try to compare? You know better, but you cannot help it.

On my epic journey last month, I almost always had a bottle of water tucked under the bungee net that held down my extra gear. Don't leave home without it. It is amazing what water on the road can do to get you on your feet again.

But last weekend on the dull conveyor belt that is I-45, aside from the similar impulse to always have a bottle of water with me, I experienced another kind of water on the road.

When you have been riding for a long time, you stop thinking about such things as the way condensation from the air conditioner of the car in front of you sprays you gently. Kind of like those misters at amusement parks or sporting events on a hot summer day. That's what it feels like. And unless you are a biker, you have probably never experienced it. But if you have, you know exactly what I am talking about.

Water on the road.

To top it all off, the chance of rain on the ride this past weekend was way up into 70-80 percent. And you know what that means, right? Not a single drop of rain on the way home. Not a one.

For this trip, water on the road came from a plastic bottle, and the cars in front of me. These are the kinds of things cagers never consider. And if I'm not careful, these things may become so ordinary that I forget to stop and enjoy them in all of their simplicity.

I dare not. It's just too wonderful to take for granted.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Mile 7,164: Another Day in Paradise

You wake up, have a cup of coffee, and then get on your bike to make a donut run for your kids since school is about to start. Last hurrah of summer.

On your way home to your usual exit, the exit that actually wound up beginning and ending the day, you see the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile next to you, and don't find it the least bit unusual. Big city living, and all that. You honk and yell at a woman in her oversized SUV who drifts over into your lane while playing on her portable electronic device. A freeway, for crying out loud!

You eat donuts with your kids, get back on the bike and head to the northwest side of town to go have lunch with your Gypsy brothers for a couple of hours. Good times with good friends.

You leave to go back down to the medical center to go spend time with a family whose son is on life support. You wish you had just the right words, but you also know that the most important part of the visit is just showing up. Just be present. Show love.

You leave there and ride down to Galveston to meet your family and your family friends who drove down for the weekend. Ride through a little patch of rain in crazy traffic with everyone wanting to go down to the beach. Hold on to that one last bit of summer. It rains on you for a few minutes, just enough to cool you off while rolling down pavement hotter than a cast iron toilet seat in West Texas.

It is a hot day mixed with clouds, and the salty air coming off the Gulf of Mexico is growing more apparent as you get closer. You can almost hear the sound of the waves over the sound of the motor.

On the highway you do a little over the speed limit at a couple of points to get out of the packs of cars that seem to cluster around 18-wheelers like the fish that swim beside Great White Sharks, and then once past, ease back for a nice ride. No hurry. Ease your mind.

You get to the beach, shed your clothes and gear in exchange for your swimsuit, and then sit on the beach for a couple of hours. Ease your mind a little more.

Back on the bike to a good restaurant on the seawall with your family and friends. Fried shrimp and all that good stuff.

On the bike one more time for the ride back up into the city. The sky is blue. Everyone with the same goal. Home. Take the proper roads as the sun continues to slide down the dome of the sky toward the horizon.

And before you know it, you are back at the same exit where you started the morning. No wienermobile, no one texting while driving, and the lane opens up for you at just the right time. Same exit, but the world has changed just a little bit.

Just another day in paradise.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Mile 6,969: Owner vs. Biker

You know you're a cake snob when your sweet neighbor lady comes out and offers you leftover birthday cake and you respond, "Is it homemade or store bought?" But the one thing I have learned the hard way as an adult is that it is better to be picky. As grandmother put it, "Life is too long to drink bad coffee." Just too many mornings, day after day.

It's like the thought of not riding my bike to work. You know you're a biker when getting in a car makes you frustrated. And I don't use that word "biker" loosely, I assure you. It's a description of daily activity, not a title you win and then decide to get a tattoo.

I have a brother down south who owns an independent motorcycle shop who goes on rides you measure by thousands of miles. He went to Utah earlier this year, and as a like-minded biker, starts dreaming about the next journey while still on the ride home.

This is not something you can purchase at a store.

Another brother who works at NASA opens his garage in the morning and rides to work as a second-nature reflex; it's not even a choice most of the time. You just do it. That's biker.

Up in South Dakota and Wyoming earlier this month, the place was littered with motorcycle owners who had no business going through the mountains in the rain. I apologize to you, O faithful reader, if that sounds a tad judgmental. Because I don't want it to sound a tad judgmental; I want it to sound very judgmental.

You got a Harley last week? Cool. Put it on a trailer and cart it up to Sturgis. Then break it in doing technical riding in the rain. Sheesh. Not good. Although we had a great time, many in the crew I ride with agreed that if we ever go back, it will be at times other than the rally. Those roads are meant to be ridden in peace.

At the risk of this essay sounding self-congratulatory, the main point is inviting others who identify with this impulse to simply say, "Yeah, that describes me."

Because I know plenty who will. And I know plenty who won't. And that's okay. (I guess?) At least it floods the market with barely-ridden Harleys.

Now I'm craving homemade cake, a freshly-ground cup of coffee, and a ride out to Big Bend. All three are good. And not everybody likes such things. And that's okay, too. As my brother, Goldfinger, is fond of quoting his grandfather, "If everyone liked the same thing, they'd all be after your grandmother."

Friday, August 15, 2014

(Later on) Mile 6,901: The Night I Peed on the Bedroom Floor

Pulled over on the side of the road somewhere in eastern South Dakota. I knew I was somewhere east because it was flat, and there was nothing around. Safe to pull over onto the shoulder and take a leak.

My wife was on the bike with me. We felt the rumble strips just to the right of the painted line, placed there evenly to wake up sleeping drivers. Didn't work.

The bike is still running. This won't take long.

"Hey!"

My lady raises her voice. She's not yelling, but her voice carries a frantic sense of urgency.

"What are you doing?"

I don't respond.

"You're peeing!"

"I know," I reply calmly and matter-of-fact. This was not a piece of information I lacked.

"Hey! You're peeing."

I don't get it. Why am I being coached on this?

And then I realized that I was not on the road, but standing by the window on my wife's side of the bed right there in our bedroom. Not in South Dakota. But back in the good old United States of Texas.

But wait. I'm on the side of the road.

No, I'm not. I'm peeing on the bedroom floor.

This is what 4,129 miles in two weeks does to the brain. You keep trying to come home from Oz saying, "There's no place like home." And there's not. But there's also no place like the road. The body is back, but the mind is still out there somewhere.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Mile 6,901: ... and back again

Dorothy's return from Oz had to have been quite an adjustment. One day you're battling flying monkeys and an evil green woman you defeated with a pail of water, and the next day you are carrying the pail out to the barn to milk the cows. It takes a certain amount of intellectual flexibility to make that big a jump.

This morning as I rode to work, I passed the usual smells of garlic, seafood, and onions wafting out of the dining establishments on my route. The yellow brick road has morphed back into daily asphalt and people in their cages rushing to work ten minutes late. It is a far cry from a path called "7" in Colorado.

A little over two weeks ago I had just finished my Iron Butt in Castle Rock, Colorado, but still had a couple of hundred miles to go into Estes Park where the first leg of my vacation began. I stood there in the gas station parking lot drinking a much needed bottle of water, but actually looking forward to getting back on the bike. Some of us just cannot get enough.

I pushed my way through Denver, just another busy road in another busy city. As much as I love Colorado, a city is a city. But after breaking through to the other side, with the mountains in the west calling me to come play, I stopped for a quick lunch in Frederick near the Harley dealership. Because after all, when you have been on the road for 1200 miles in 27 hours, the first thing that comes to mind is to go look at motorcycles. It's a quirk I have just learned to embrace.

Back onto I-25 for a few minutes, but now for the western cut-across to Lyons on 66.

Mountains staring you in the face. Cloudy day. Air beginning to cool. A little private lake at the base of the mountain you're about to climb, a harbinger of beauty to come.

My original intent was to wind my way up 36 straight into Estes Park. But with the severe flooding last year, 36 was closed. Great. Now what?

The friendly sign read, "Detour 7." Good enough. Let's go get lost and see what we can see.

When Dorothy's house landed on the water-susceptible witch's sister at the entry to the yellow brick road, little did she know that her detour would become the most memorable road of her life. And while your faithful author will gladly admit that his comparison to Dorothy is both overstated and ridiculous, there is at least a hint of truth when I tell you that the detour up 7 became one of my favorite rides ever. (I told you I would say that a lot in these post-journey essays.)

A thin, two-lane, twisty road beside a white river flowing down through the canyon. A motorcycle that I swear I sensed was smiling as we went against the current on our way up. A couple of stops for pictures.
On one of the stops you put on your rain jacket. It's only sprinkling, but clouds and no sunshine at 7,000 feet welcomes the warmth and comfort.

You get a little lost going through town, stop at the visitor's center just outside Rocky Mountain National Park, get your bearings, and head to the house where the family will stay for the week.

And you know that home is waiting somewhere back where there are cows to milk and porches to sweep. You know it will be a "There and Back Again" journey. They all are. Just depends on how willing you are to be gone, and then come back to the place you know is like no other place.

So we create. And we know that many days are filled with routines, like riding to work through clouds of garlic, and cagers who won't put down their phones no matter how much we beg and plead.

But the detours through Oz remind us how wonderful moments like this can be. Sitting in an office grateful for the day. Images of your bike up on the mountain. And images of your bike in its everyday parking space just outside your window.

One is greater than the other.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Memory of Mile 5,007: To the Devil and Back

Dorothy took the lion, the scarecrow, and the tin man with her to Oz. And when she returned home, they were there waiting for her. But while they had not changed, her eyes to see them had.

I hit the button marked "TRIP" at my left thumb while we were riding out of South Dakota into Wyoming on a beautiful little road outside Belle Fourche where John Wayne once drove fictional cattle. ("Belle Fourche" means "beautiful fork." Deep meaning, indeed.) My trip meter read "5007." Halfway to 10,000. There has to be a truth in there somewhere.

I had already spent the previous two days exploring Wyoming, but not this particular road. Plus, I was riding beside my brother, Goldfinger, along with a host of other Gypsys going out to what would be one of our farthest points from home. (Yes, in our MC that's the proper plural of "Gypsy.")

Devil's Tower is about 1,500 miles from my house, although it was much longer according to the backroads that landed me there gawking at something that truly deserves to be called a "natural wonder." But the number that got my attention was 5007.

This monstrosity of rock that you begin to see from miles away stands where many different lands converge. From Devil's Tower in Wyoming, you are not far from Montana or either of the Dakotas. It feels like a place where things come together, which was certainly true for this adventurer. But little did I know when I began this 10,000 mile project that the halfway point would wind up being an "out-and-back" journey.

It's what Bilbo Baggins experienced on his "there and back again" quest. (The book, by the way; not the awful movie.) And it's what Dorothy experienced when she reached her farthest point in Oz. The simple truth that when you take out on an epic journey, you reach a point when you long for home.

As I rode handlebar-to-handlebar with Goldfinger at the back of the pack out to Devil's Tower, it suddenly occurred to me that I had taken a piece of home with me. Most of us who converged on Sturgis all live within an hour of one another. But there we were on the there-and-back-again journey far from where any of us call home.

That's when everything came together for me. Everything converged. I had reached the farthest point, and now it was time to start making my way back. And when we all finally got home, it was with different eyes.

"Home" means many things. For many of us wayward children, it does not mean the place where you grew up. That's actually the last place I would ever want to return. No, "home" is where you feel safest and most secure.

In some ways, every time I get on Rocinante and start the motor, I'm home. But I also know deep down that the stable where she sleeps most nights is the place where my family also sleeps, where my chair that I'm sitting in now on my typical Monday day off is always waiting, where my grumpy tomcat sleeps by the window when he's not hollering for food. It's where a cup of ice water is readily available. And it's where I can bask in the memory of an epic journey that still has a few more miles to go.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Mile 6,883: Wonder How Far It Is to Key West?

I sat at a metal picnic table in Greybull, Wyoming waiting for my burger at an old fashioned A&W drive-in. No fancy intercoms here. You walk up to the sliding screen at the counter where a grown man asks what you want. I told him a small burger, onion rings, and the biggest cup of ice water money could buy.

Earlier that morning I left Estes Park, Colorado. It was 48 degrees, so I bundled up in everything with long sleeves I had with me, only to shed layers as I booked it up I-25 into Wyoming.

Once I made my way up the entrance ramp onto I-25, a group of 12 motorcycles flew before my eyes at what appeared to be breakneck speed. But since the speed limits vary between 75 and 80, I caught up to them sooner than I thought.

This will be the ride to Sturgis. Fast. Lots of bikes. Not really, come to find out. But that's what I pictured.

Going through traffic was easier for a while with the group of bikes. Much respect to the Castle Pines Motorcycle Club for inviting me to ride with them for a while.

Once we went our separate ways, it took hours to get to Casper, Wyoming on the highway. Wyoming is a big state with no shortage of wide-open spaces. This would turn out to be an all-day ride, but it had a few surprises that left me exhilarated and exhausted.

The 100 miles west from Casper to Shoshoni was an ongoing collection of grassy hills and open sky. Big, open sky. You could see rain at times that had to have been 20-30 miles away. A lone cloud with distinct lines where the rain started and finished. Just like a child's drawing. I kept thinking, "Why hasn't one of those clouds found me? They always do."

Just wait.

When I arrived in Shoshoni, I stopped for gas and a bottle of water, what would become a routine combination for the remainder of my trip. I had no idea when I headed north from Shoshoni what I was about to see.

A canyon runs for about ten miles, but it was some of the coolest riding I have ever done. (I will say that a lot in articles to come, by the way.) This canyon that popped up out of nowhere is cut by a fast-running river. And alongside the river is a set of railroad tracks. Just a stunning view.

But right before I made it to the end of the canyon, the sky in front of me transitioned from a powder blue sprinkled with clouds into a solid shade of gunmetal gray.

I have learned my lesson. Stop in a pulloff, put on your rain gear. Done. Get back on, and ride through Thermopolis, Wyoming in a pouring summer shower. Hot rain that makes you sweat and shiver. And then when it stops, you ride back into the sunshine where the world's biggest sauna steams you like overcooked rice.

Stop again. Peel the rainsuit. Get back on. Ride up to Greybull.

Check in to the hotel-cabins. Walk to the grocery store for some Fig Newtons. Walk to the A&W, which brings us full circle to this particular story.

Returning home last night after an epic 4000+ mile journey over two weeks, I could still feel my body moving as my head hit the pillow. Over 1,600 of those miles got covered over my three-day leg all the way across South Dakota, down the length of Iowa and Missouri, across Route 66 through Oklahoma, and then all the way down Texas. Plenty more to write about, but this is enough for the moment. Much more to come.

I woke up this morning still a little buzzed from all that time on the road. But I will admit that one of the first things I thought when I finished making coffee was, "I wonder how far it is to Key West?"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mile 4,947: Bighorn to Sturgis

Rode 341 miles today to get to Sturgis. Riding through the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming was one of the coolest rides I've ever done. And now I'm here. Finally.


Saturday, August 2, 2014

Mile 4,606: Thank You, Wyoming

I could not get over how big the Wyoming sky is. Rode 475 miles from Estes Park, Colorado to Greybull, Wyoming today. It is obvious that the State of Wyoming knows that thousands of motorcyclists are coming through their state on the way to Sturgis. All the electronic signs on the highway said the same thing: 

Motorcycles Are Everywhere
Look Twice
Save A Life

From this one biker, thank you. I loved your rolling plains. I loved the plateaus, hills, and especially the magnificent canyon just north of Shoshoni. Your state is awesome, and I loved spending the day riding through it.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Back to Miles 2,754 to 3,766: The Iron Butt Chronicles (Quest Reflection #3)

This rather uninteresting picture was taken at Mile 1,012 at a gas station in Castle Rock, CO at the end of my Iron Butt attempt. Let's just say that not everything went according to plan.

It is about a thousand miles from Houston, Texas to Castle Rock, Colorado. My goal was to ride it in 24 hours. After it was over, a friend emailed me and asked me what temperatures I ran into. I offered him a simple reply.

“All of them.”

Just passed the halfway point, the plan was to stop in Amarillo, Texas where my family would be waiting to spend the night. The Iron Butt was actually just an excuse to get to Colorado for our family vacation as fast as possible. But if I had to ride that far, I might as well try. Even though some people said I should try it under different circumstances, all at once, and so forth, I was going to make the attempt whether I completed it in time or not.

The Iron Butt Association—(a real thing, seriously)—awards riders who document a 1,000 mile ride in less than 24 hours. They have very strict rules about documenting your stops with receipts from your gas stops and a detailed map of your route. I planned through all such things prior to the trip, but the trip had other plans.

Not quite two hours into the ride, I stopped for a moment in Centerville, Texas for a bottle of water for me, and a fresh drink of premium gasoline for Rocinante. Pull her up to the modern, computerized stable of our day, insert the credit card, and treat her to an expensive drink.

We get back on Interstate 45, which is a miserable ride no matter how philosophically willing you are to see the beauty in the world. It’s just not that much fun.

I crested a hill—(Texas-speak for a slight rise in the road)—to see the car-train just ahead of me all light up their red taillights at once.

By then, I was a little more than two hours into the journey when the highway not only came to stop, but was completely shut down.

Since I was pretty far back, I decided to scoot along the shoulder to see firsthand what I was up against. As I rounded a slight bend in the road, I saw the giant plume of smoke rising into the sky. As I got closer to the scene where the cop car was pulled diagonally across both lanes blocking all traffic, I could see that this was not good.

It was some sort of wreck. I could not see it, but the smoke and huge fire up ahead said this was going to take a while. The grass between the highway and shoulder was too thick to ride across. Plus, the shoulder was completely shut down as well.

Turn off the bike, throw the kickstand, take off my helmet.

Stand there in the 100-degree sun.

Not a good start.

I called my wife to give her the bad news that I was going to be late to Amarillo, at best. Wait, and then wait some more. Stand around looking at the people getting out of their cars. A congregation of frustrated, overheated travelers.

Finally, the cars up ahead began to move. I put on my helmet quickly, started up, and slowly creeped onto the access road with the other travelers. Up the access road for a mile where we all made the procession beside a flatbed 18-wheeler loaded down with tons of smoldering hay.

A little more up the access road. Back onto the highway.

Let’s go.

I looked at the clock. An hour had passed. Not good.

Getting through Fort Worth was a chore. Riding up to Wichita Falls was about as entertaining as watching an old episode of “My Mother the Car.” Never heard of it? Then you get the point.

I detailed the hot ride from Wichita Falls to Childress earlier about the swimming pool fantasy filled with cold watermelon, so we will move on to Amarillo where I met the family at a cheap hotel. Not much to report other than the fact that I arrived an hour later than planned.

Spent that day from 11:46 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. with Rocinante. Just a little over 600 miles.

Take a shower. Get in bed. And don’t sleep much.

After falling asleep for maybe a good two hours, the alarm interrupted my dream at 4:40 a.m. In order to allow myself the one-hour cushion for the 24-hour deadline, I needed to leave Amarillo at 5:00 a.m. That would give me just under seven hours to put down 400 miles.

And here's where the trip got interesting.

It was bone dry as I loaded my bike, but the radar on my trusty wayback machine showed a huge storm just up the road. I put on my full rainsuit, boot covers, and helmet, started the bike, and off we went.

Before I made it to the north side of Amarillo, the rain started falling. Not gently with a kind introduction. No. What my grandmother used to call a “gully-washer.”

The streetlights of northern Amarillo slowly disappeared in my rearview mirrors, and nothing but dark roads lay ahead. Then, he darkness was pierced by fierce lightning lighting up the sky in front of me, first high in the sky, and soon giant bolts that looked as though they were aiming straight for the highway.

The rain fell hard. The lightning fell harder. But I just pushed forward. The next town was over thirty miles ahead, so I hoped for the best.

Have you ever had the experience where the lightning in front of you becomes the lightning beside you becomes the lightning behind you? And just when you breathe a sigh of relief, a huge bolt crashes down just a few miles in front of you. That happened twice before I rolled into the next town.

Dumas, Texas is a collection of motels and gas stations. Nothing much to it. It’s main claim to fame for those of us who travel from Texas to Colorado is that it is the place you turn left to Dalhart.

So that’s what I did.

Turn left onto a tiny two-lane road that connects Dumas and Dalhart right on the northern edge of Texas that smells like wet cattle.

The rain continues.

I was doing about five miles per hour over the speed limit, in the dark, in the rain. I know it sounds foolish, but when riding in conditions like that, all you can think about is punching through to the other side of the storm. But when the car approaching you meets you, and you see the car’s brake lights come on in your mirrors and then turn around, the only thing you think is, “I’m about to get pulled over.”

He turned around, approached me, followed me for five miles, and then turned back around and headed in his earlier direction back toward Dumas. In my mind, here is how I played out the scenario.

“Hey, Joe, do you want to pull this guy over?”
“We’re going to have to stand out in the rain.”
“Yeah, let’s just let him go.”

That’s what happened. At least that’s my version of the story.

I pulled into a Chevron/McDonald’s in Dalhart, Texas. I was cold, but not horribly so. The rainsuit and boot covers were doing their jobs. But I needed to layer a little more, and get some coffee.

I was pretty upset when I looked at the clock and realized it had taken me two hours to travel 90 miles. In order to finish the Iron Butt on time, I would have to do a little over 300 miles in four-and-a-half hours.

Average 66 mph for four-and-a-half hours, and you get your Iron Butt.

This is not going to be easy.

Let's go. That bike's not going to ride itself.

As I crossed the border from Texline, Texas into “Absolutely Nothing, New Mexico,” I read the sign that welcomed me:

“Welcome to New Mexico, Land of Enchantment”

But what they do not share with you on the sign is that New Mexico Highway 87 is a straight shot that basically gets you to Colorado. And from Texline, Texas to Raton, New Mexico, the ride was “enchanting” in a most interesting way.

As soon as I crossed into the Land of Enchantment, I immediately renamed it, “Land of Fog.” I was relieved that the rain stopped, but the air grew colder. I ducked down behind my detachable windshield, and screwed the throttle to 80 mph. Just get across.

The rolling fog was the most interesting scenery on this bare corner of land. No billboards. No animals. Only one small town. But mostly a whole lot of nothing. Nothing. Since it was first thing in the morning, I had New Mexico all to myself. Seriously. I never passed a single car for two hours, and none passed me. I met a few vehicles obviously hightailing it back to Texas, but only a few. But going my way? Nobody.

All alone.

As I got closer to Raton that shoves you up into Colorado, the mountains started to stand up tall out of the flat ground. As I climbed in elevation, at one point I noticed that I was riding above the clouds ahead of me. Maybe that’s what they mean by “Land of Enchantment.” Because to a man who lives at sea level on the Texas Gulf Coast, let’s just say this was a new experience.

Over the pass into Trinidad, Colorado. Stop for gas, and look at the clock. I am making good time, but maybe not good enough. I had just ridden 148 miles in about two-and-a-half hours. Good, but there was more road ahead. Everything would have to fall right into place. Right at 160 more miles, but only another two-and-a-half more hours before the deadline. It should be fine. I made great time blazing across New Mexico. If I can hammer down at 80 with no interruptions, I can make it.

So I thought.

As soon as I left Trinidad, the winding roads down the mountains slowed me down a bit more than I anticipated. The road finally straightened, the speed limit went back up to 75, and on I rode. But when I made it to Pueblo, Colorado, the moron who designed the Interstate right through town, twisting and weaving at 50-55 mph, obviously had no regard whatsoever for my own little Cannonball Run against the clock.

After finally making it through that armpit of I-25, I put the hammer back down at 80 and leaned forward like when Superman decides to speed up.

Every few miles I’m checking the clock, checking the trip meter. I think I’m going to make it. A countdown against miles, a countdown against time.

Hills and mountains fly by on my left, prairies fly by on my right. Things are going fast, just as I need them to go.

But then Colorado Springs.

Just as I thought I was through Colorado Springs, I looked down at my trip meter.  It told me I was at 985 miles. Hit the button a couple of times and read the clock. Just 45 minutes to go before the deadline passes. That’s when all the taillights in front of me light up, and traffic comes to a dead standstill.

This cannot be happening.

Highway workers have cones set up taking three lanes down to two… then to one. I have a decision to make. Lane split or just go with the flow. Since lane splitting was going to have to include an uneven lane with grooved pavement on one side and two inches of raised asphalt on the other, I knew that I really had no options.

Push forward. Just push.

Ten minutes later the traffic opened up. I leaned over all the way to the fast lane and twisted the throttle as far as it would go.

Come on, Rocinante.

I left my trip meter on the display and watched the countdown.

990.
991.
992.

Time was running out, but I think I can make it.

998.
999.
1000.

Twenty-five minutes to the deadline. I start scanning the exits.

Where’s an exit?!

Nowhere to stop for gas.

Come on!

Keep going.

Edge of Castle Rock.

1,008.
1,009.
1,010.

Exit ahead. Gas and food.

1,011.

Exit.

19 minutes until the deadline.

I pull up to the intersection. No gas station.

“Where’s the gas station?!” I shout out loud.

I look left under the overpass. Nothing.

I look right. Fast food places. Shopping centers. But no gas station.

Just go. Turn right.

Go about a quarter mile. And there it is. The gas station.

I pull in. Don’t even take off my helmet. Pump a tiny amount of gas to get the evidence on the printed receipt.

Put the nozzle back in place.

“Do you want a receipt?” the Hal 9000 asks me.

“YES!” I shout as I push the button.

The receipt spits out, and I look at the time.

10:30 a.m. (11:30 a.m. back at my starting point.) 

Mile 1,012.

Sixteen minutes to spare.

I did it!

But then... it almost all fell apart. At least that’s how it felt.

The Iron Butt Association requires you to have an eyewitness who signs a document saying they saw you in said place where your 1000-mile-plus journey finishes. They also require the eyewitness to give his or her name, address, and phone number. And if you have ever walked up to a stranger at a gas station while you are wearing full motorcycle gear and MC colors asking for their personal information… well… let’s just say that the good Iron Butt administrators really didn’t think that one through.

“Excuse me, sir,” I began. “I just finished a thousand mile ride from Houston.”

“Wow.”

“The motorcycling community gives an award if you can document the ride. Will you please sign this document saying you saw me here in Castle Rock, Colorado, and give them your name and contact information.”

“I really don’t like giving that out.”

“I understand. But I promise this is not a scam.”

But he wouldn’t budge.

Now mind you, I probably would be just as reticent. In these days of identity theft, lack of trust, and indifference in helping your fellow man, giving your phone number to a road-weary stranger is not an easy pill to swallow.

But since I was on a deadline, I had no sympathy for the devil. I ran inside, waited behind a customer in front of me in the convenience store line, and then walked forward to the young clerk there at the counter.

“I just finished a thousand mile ride from Houston, Texas, and--”

Before I could continue, he responded, “Wow, man, that’s awesome.”

Good start.

“I need you to verify that I was here at this specific time. Will you please write down the address here at this gas station, give the phone number here, and sign your name?”

"Of course! Glad to help!"

And that's it.


Mile 4,131: Rocky Mountain Playground

Here are some simple straightforward truths:

* Going around Rocky Mountain National Park for four-out-of-five days is better on a motorcycle.

* My daughter rode with me, making all kinds of observations, including today when she said that the Aspen trees reminded her of all the bikers as we waved at each other: We're all different, but have the same roots. (I thought that was pretty cool.)

* My son rode with me most of this last day today in the park, and started talking about how he wants his own bike when he gets older. His mother told him that would be okay, as long as he took the time to learn like his dad.

* My sister-in-law asked to go with me up to Bear Lake this morning where we met the rest of the family. I was a little surprised, but Rocinante and I were happy to oblige. I think she had a great time.

* My wife and I rode all the way across Rocky Mountain National Park to have an anniversary lunch in Grand Lake. It was a great way to spend the day.

* And finally... Spending all week riding around this part of our country made me even prouder to be an American. When people from other countries come see the beauty of "This Land is Our Land," I am proud to be a part of it. It seems like so many people in the U.S.A. these days complain about all sorts of things having to do with our country. But when you ride a motorcycle out into the Rockies, it helps put into perspective one of the main things that makes our country so great. Namely, it just looks so good.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Somewhere Back around Mile 3,204: Swimming Pools and Watermelon (Quest Reflection #2)


The sign in front of the bank blinked from the time to the temperature as I rode past. It read 114 degrees. That’s pronounced “A-hunnert-n-FORT-TEEN” for you non-Texan speakers. (See Burton Gilliam’s speech in the opening of “Blazing Saddles” for reference material.)

I had already laid down over 400 miles in temperatures that exceeded 100 degrees all day. And while the bank clock was probably reading a little high in the direct sunlight, since I too was in the direct sunlight, it felt every bit as hot.

Somewhere between that unknown town and Childress, Texas, all I could think about was Gatorade, swimming pools, and a big slice of refrigerator-cold watermelon. Pretty good sign that I was getting dehydrated.

I pulled into an Allsup’s gas station in Childress, which is a common convenience store in West Texas. It brought back fond memories of the days I lived in Munday. I was nearing the end of the first day of my Iron Butt ride—(big article to come on that one, O Reader)—and I was tired, hot, and thirsty.

I pumped my gas, recorded my miles, and walked inside to get a cup of ice. In hindsight, I was a little on the loopy side considering how I walked into the convenience store, grabbed a cup at the fountain, filled it with ice, and walked right back outside without saying or receiving a single word.

I got to the bike, took the hot, half-empty bottle of Gatorade I had bungeed to my bike back in Wichita Falls, and poured it over the ice.

So good. It was a swimming pool. It was a fresh slice of refrigerator-cold watermelon.

It is amazing how one cup of a cold drink can kickstart you back to life. I am sure there are thousands of stories of refreshment that have been told through the centuries.

So there’s one more.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Mile 3,933: Quiet Colorado

The last few days of riding were epic, to say the least. I will certainly do quite a bit of writing when I return home in a couple of weeks, but I will still throw in a few entries here and there along the way.

My daughter and I went for another ride yesterday afternoon when she begged me to take her out again. But the minute we pulled out of our driveway it started raining and raining and raining. We rode through downtown Estes Park through the touristy area, and went in search of a gas station. Might as will make it a useful outing.

We finally found the one gas station next to the grocery store. And I do mean the only one. We rode up next to a giant charter bus that someone had shoe polished on the windows, "CHEESE IS LIFE."

We got off the bike, at which point she asked me how you get gas into that motorcycle anyway. When you've been riding as long as I have, you don't think about having to teach others such rudimentary tasks. That's a part of the life we really don't think about that much.

As we pumped our gas, the rain started falling even harder. We got back on, headed for home, and finally wound our way up the mountainside drive to our house for the week.

And that's where we've been for about the last 12 hours. And we will probably be here in this house for another 24 hours or so. The tarot card readers are saying that it should stop raining sometime tonight. At least until tomorrow afternoon. We most likely won't ride today. And while that frustrates me on the one hand, on the other hand there is something to be said for taking a day off, just resting, reflecting on the previous days rides, and looking forward to the days to come. 

I am pretty sure that truth applies to most everything else in life.

Back to Mile 3,360: The Highest Contentment (Quest Reflection #1)

From Don Quixote: "So, without giving notice of his intention to anyone, and without anybody seeing him, one morning before the dawning of the day (which was one of the hottest of the month of July) he donned his suit of armor, mounted Rocinante with his patched-up helmet on, braced his buckler, took his lance, and by the back door of his yard sallied forth upon the plain in the highest contentment and satisfaction at seeing with what ease he had made a beginning with his grand purpose."

The ride from Houston to Amarillo had its ups and downs, which I will write about later. But probably my favorite moment. Rest stop to change my glasses. Beautiful sunset right before Amarillo.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Mile 3,919: So Far

Went in for a little while this morning to ride with my daughter around Rocky Mountain National Park. My wife, son, and my wife's grandparents took the car into the park. As we finished our hike, it started raining. I asked my daughter if she wanted to go back in the car, and she looked at me like I was crazy. I told her that she was going to get wet, but she said she didn't care. 

I have to admit that I was pretty impressed. Heart of a biker; you just keep going. 

We came to a stop on our way back, and I turned around to ask her how she was doing. She said her hands were a little cold, so I told her to tuck her hands in behind me. She did. 

And that was that.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mile 3,887: A Change of Pace


I have a number of stories to tell, but without a computer to type and internet access beyond my little evil black rectangle, those will have to wait. For now, Instagram will have to do, and this blog will be a photo blog for a couple of weeks. Thanks for coming along for the ride.


One of my favorite rides ever: Colorado 7 into Estes Park.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mile 2,754: The Quest, Mile 1

Mile 1

The goal is 1,000 miles in the next 24 hours. It all starts at a gas station on the freeway in a bad neighborhood. But isn't that how most quests begin? Not with fanfare and parades. Alone. Just you, your horse, your imagination, and the open road.

So it begins.



Mile 2,698: Forward to Mile Zero

Quests always turn out differently than you expect. Always. No exceptions. You go in search of one thing, and you find another.

A wall of clouds overtook the view in front of me as I made my way down my typical street on a typical Wednesday ride to work. Is it going to rain? Living on the Gulf Coast, that is always a possibility.

I placed Rocinante in her stable at my office, dismounted, unbungeed my bag from the sissy bar, and walked to the door of my building. Just as I inserted the key, a soft peal of thunder rolled behind me.

Perfect timing.

That's the kind of timing you hope for when you embark on a long quest. But most of the time, something else happens.

So as I sit here in the peace of an early morning as the day is not quite ready to begin, and as Sunday is sitting in front of me waiting patiently like a dog in the corner listening for the word "w-a-l-k," I remember from both good and bad experiences that it is sometimes best to go on a quest with as few expectations as possible.

Remember when you were a child? That feeling of what your new school was going to look like. What your new teacher was going to look like. Would she be kind? And then it turned out to be something else. Maybe it was good. Maybe it wasn't. But no doubt, it was different.

And as I move forward to mile zero, a sort of journey within this journey, my plan is to get on the road and just go. I have stops planned along the way to be sure. But the main thing is to just go. See what's out there. And something is.

This trip is what inspired this little writing/riding project in the first place. And while it is only a portion of the project, it is a big portion, a main portion even.

So either come along vicariously, or come find me on the road.

But for today, just before "The Quest," I know that the one thing almost as good as the ride is the excitement that builds right before it's time to go.

Mile Zero: Almost Time

(You can follow me on Instagram @gypsymctruck for photographs along the quest beginning July 27. You can also subscribe here at the blog for automatic updates. Thanks for coming along.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mile 2,669 : Anticipation

I talk big. Especially when it comes to all this philosophy of life business. Living in the here and now. Focus on today. Enjoy the ride you're on. And so on and so on and scoobie-doobie-doo.

But when you are stopped for gas at a dull intersection in an unidentifiable town somewhere on the Texas Gulf Coast, it's hard to see the beauty. You could squint. But it won't help.

And while I have wonderful memories of the last 24 hours, not the least of which was eating eggs and sausage at five in the morning with two brothers talking about tattoos and Shovelheads, I would be a liar if I tried to convince you, O reader, that my focus was on what was right in front of me.

Three of the people I was with last night are going on our cross-country run that starts in about a week. And while we were surrounded by good times last night, all we could talk about was Sturgis and the road. There was the occasional interruption, mind you, of singing Jerry Jeff Walker songs. And I'm sure there were other topics of conversation. But the one near and dear to my heart was a trip I have anticipated now for I don't know how many years.

Get on the road to Amarillo. Make your way up through the Raton Pass from New Mexico into Colorado. Spend a week with blood family in Estes Park. Go solo up into north-central Wyoming through the Bighorn Forest. Make your way over into South Dakota where hundreds of thousands of your closest friends motorcycled their way to the pilgrimage site. Spend a few days riding the Badlands, Devil's Tower, Deadwood, and Crazy Horse. Ride through scenic, beautiful Nebraska. (Really?) Scoot eastward to Kansas City, drop down to Joplin, Missouri, and get on Route 66 for the better part of the afternoon. Get up the next day in Oklahoma City and make your way back to Houston.

Fourteen days of nothing but riding.

Can you tell what's been on my mind lately? I'm sure that I will write about other things in the coming week.

But I can't for the life of me imagine what they will be.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Mile 2,579: If 6 was 9

"Now if six turned out to be nine, 
I don't mind, I don't mind." 
Jimi Hendrix

You pull into your regular parking spot at your office, and two guys in shirts and ties are already standing at your door. They try to look enthusiastic, ready to shake your hand and sell you something. But you can see deep down that they don't want to be there. They are floating through life, not swimming.

That's the way Hunter Thompson characterized life. Are you just floating, or are you swimming?

On the way this morning to that particular scene, I stopped at a usual intersection. First in line at the red light. I noticed, just inches ahead of my front tire, a handful of nails and screws. Did a construction worker forget to close the toolbox? Did some horrible person do this deliberately?

I throw the bike in neutral, get off, and begin picking up the nails and screws one-by-one. The bald guy in the minivan behind me looks at me like I'm crazy. I don't mind. I don't mind. I show him my palm full of metal, and he nods in affirmation. It is a long light, so I know I have plenty of time.

Get back on the bike. Kick it into first. About 30 seconds later the light turns green.

Go about the rest of your day, even getting passed the two guys in starched shirts and cheap ties.

Swimming. Not floating.

Place the focus where it belongs. Look for things that fill you with life, and get beyond the things that suck the life out of you. Thankful for the fillers; goodbye to the suckers. And as Hendrix further put it so well, words to live by as we throw a leg over our favorite steed to wave on:

"Cause I got my own world to live through and I ain't gonna copy you."

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mile 2,557: Ever Thus to Deadbeats

A reader here at "10,000 Truths" told me over the weekend that he imagines me writing a new chapter in this book every time I open the garage door to roll out. While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, it's not far from the truth. But some days when the motor growls to a satisfying beginning, the road brings us something we would rather not have seen.

I try to live by the simple philosophy that I want to be treated a certain way, and thus I treat people according to that standard. I really try. Treat others the way you want to be treated. I still teach my kids that.

Rocinante and I were running errands this morning, typical day-off piddling. I maneuvered my way into the gas station and picked an open pump. Nothing special. I had barely turned off the bike and put the kickstand down when I noticed the car facing me on the other side of the pump ahead of me. It was running. Lights were on. Windows rolled down. And in the backseat, there sat a little girl, about three years old. She had soft, blond hair, and she was playing with something while buckled into her carseat.

And she was alone. In a car. A running car. On one of the busiest streets in the United States, in not too good an area, I don't mind telling you.

I was pissed.

I cannot remember if I paid much attention to filling my own gastank because my eyes were fixed on that car the whole time. I kept expecting the parent of the child to come running out. "Oh, I was only in there for ten seconds," he or she would exclaim before I had a chance to say anything.

But by the time I pumped my gas, rounded the gas cap back into place, and told the computer on the pump that, no, I did not want a receipt, still no parent. Oblivious girl still in the backseat.

A minute passed. No one.

I sat on my bike staring at the car, eyes scanning all around for any potential threat, full-on bodyguard mode. I wonder how many people in our lives have protected us without us knowing?

I was just about to call the cops when a short woman slowly sauntered out of the convenience store with an energy drink in hand. No hurry.

I held my temper as best I could, but still firmly looked at her and said, "You are out of your mind for leaving that girl in a running car by herself, especially in this neighborhood!"

Expressionless, the short woman just said, "Okay."

And that was it. One of the darker moments of Rocinante's and my adventure so far, much darker than any raincloud or flat tire.

So if you ever see me leave a toddler in a car--(which you won't... but if you do)--treat me the way I want to be treated.

Tell me I'm stupid.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Mile 2,540: Three... Two... One

Every ride home ends with a single rider: You. No matter how big the pack at the beginning of the day--(unless you live in a house full of bikers)--it all comes down to one rider. And that's not all bad. Time to think about the day. The weather. The stops. The ride.

The day began with six bikes. Houston in our rearview mirrors. Scooting up 290, the worst road to get you out of the city, which makes it all the better when you put it behind you.

Six bikes. Six men. Each on his own steed, a couple with guests along to enjoy the ride. Is he controlling the bike, or is the bike leading him?

We rolled up 290, and then headed north on Highway 6 up to College Station. Six bikes, staggered in a zigzag formation like a child's drawing of a lightning bolt. We had a destination in mind, but we didn't care. All that mattered was the ride. The six of us forming the zigzag.

Big Jew, Mouthpiece, Truck, Left, Dred, and English Pete.

A sense of relief washed over us all when a car that was blocking the flow of traffic finally decided to concede and step aside. A royal blue car, but not a lovely shade of blue like you would see on a beautiful woman's dress. This was a spray paint shade of blue, the kind of paintjob that probably happened late one night in front of a friend's garage, the kind of garage that has an old, discolored refrigerator in the corner, and a pool table in the middle of the floor with holes in the felt.

Step aside. Let us pass.

And we did.

We arrived at the tavern out in the woods. A great place to hang out, eat a burger, and talk about the ride up. Little details that only a biker would understand. I'm sure that fishermen have the same experience when going over their day, just without all the noise, speed, and joyful abandon.

But an hour or so at a tavern in the woods is plenty. Especially when all you can think about is the ride home, the ride ahead.

More roads.

But this time, let's go through the country.

And we did.

Others in the original pack had other places to go, other people to see. So English Pete led Mouthpiece and I back toward the city down a little country road. Cows. Cornfields. A sun-faded sign that read, "Joe's Small Engine Repair."

Mouthpiece peeled off on 290, but English Pete and I continued south on the country road. There were three. Now there were two.

We continued on until the cows became buildings, and the cornfields became stoplights. Hop on the tollway out west that leads back into Houston, but let's make on last pitstop. English Pete and your trusty writer who is now showered and smelling good, thinking about a great day on the road with brothers I love.

And then there was one.

Memories of the day's ride.

There and back again.

Farms dotting the coastal plains.
The big, blue Texas sky.
Clouds so high they scrape the stratosphere.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mile 2,310: Dust in the Wind

Sammy messed with his Harley almost every day. He would park it right in front of his garage on the driveway next to his front door. He never got sick of me, or at least he never showed it. As a four-year-old boy, I just wanted to look at his motorcycle. I did not ask a lot of questions, so I'm sure that pleased Sammy who was not exactly a loquacious fellow himself. Ever so often I would walk around to the side of the house and pee on the tall, wooden fence. I could have gone inside, I suppose, but when you are a boy, it's kind of cool to pee outside.

Occasionally his wife, Candy, would walk out the front door and ask Sammy if he wanted a beer, and ask me if I wanted a Coke. (Which in Texas in the 1970s meant a Dr. Pepper.) We both said yes. And other than the "Hey, Jeff, can you pass me that wrench?" we just both concentrated on the work at hand.

He reminded me of my grandfather. Rugged, quiet, and into just about anything with a motor.

Sammy also had a big anchor tattooed on his shoulder with "USN" just beneath it. He had just come home from Vietnam a few years earlier. I was too young to ask or understand the meaning of such an emblazoned memory in ink, but now I do. I get it. Nothing lasts forever. But we try.

I thought about Sammy and my grandfather a great deal over the past month or so as I prepared to work with an artist that I hoped would do justice to an idea that had been rolling around in my imagination for about the last five years. My grandfather was a "Tank Destroyer" in World War II, something I only know about through my grandmother and books. He never talked about it.

He rolled around North Africa with Patton, and then moved up to Scotland where they practiced blowing things up as they prepared to push the Nazis out of France. He and the 612th landed on D-Day  +8, and did just that.

I thought about him and all sorts of things in some recent writing I have done for the people at "Why We Ride," mainly because I can hardly write about riding without referencing my "Papaw" from somewhere deep in my soul.

And that brings everything together. Me, Sammy, Papaw, the Tank Destroyers, my years-long idea, and a tattoo artist here in Houston named Gabe who took my grandfather's patch from his Eisenhower jacket and gave me a permanent reminder. I am still wondering as this week has passed whether Gabe put something on my arm, or whether he pulled something up to the surface that has been there for years.

The lives of others help shape who we are today.

Papaw's been gone now for thirty years. But he still speaks, still impacts, still shapes. That's the nature of living our lives with those we love, even after they are gone. We draw on memories and the things they said. And we honor them with our lives, and the occasional work of art.

Let the outlining begin:

















Wash the outline, and take a little break:

















Back to work on the black shading, and then another break:

















And then the relief when Gabe said, "Okay, Jeff, you got yourself a tattoo." All done: