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:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Mile 2,303: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

I am to the point in my life where I rarely have to go somewhere I do not want to go. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Some of that is a choice that involves rejecting certain things, and some of that is about shifting attitudes to find the good in something that might otherwise be completely uninteresting.

As my grandmother would say, "It's not that life is too short, but that life is too long." Life is just too long to spend it doing things that suck the life out of you. Granted, we all have to do things we do not want to do. The goal is to try to limit such things as much as possible. And when we cannot change the situation, is it possible to change ourselves?

This morning I forced myself to go to a meeting, more in support of a colleague than for my own personal edification. The meeting was tolerable at best, but somehow the ride there, and then the ride to my office made it all worthwhile, especially since I did not ride at all this past weekend.

Nothing really compares to a summertime morning ride. The warmth of the early sun hits your arms. The sounds of the cars and city noises surround you, only to be outdone by the sound of your own voice singing "Ace of Spades" as you round the exit ramp off one highway onto another. Up and down the Houston roads, waving back at the children going berserk at the sight of a motorcycle from their carseats, all the while avoiding the imbeciles with steering wheel in one hand and evil little black rectangle in the other, way overconfident in their four-wheeled cages. Like the song says, "Going with the flow, it's all a game to me." But the stakes are high, so I choose to have my wits about me.

Then after the rides to and from the meeting, the coolest thing of all happened. I dismounted Rocinante and walked into my office. Waiting for me on my computer was a message from a friend who saw me riding down the highway this morning. She had the presence of mind to snap a picture, which you fellow motorcycling enthusiasts know is a special moment indeed. You get very few pictures of yourself riding unless you are Michael Lichter's best friend. But for the rest of us circus monkeys, such a picture is a real treat.

Even if it's a ride where the destination leaves plenty to be desired, at least it's a ride!

And that brings us full circle back to the beginning, spending as much time as possible doing things that build you up, and build up those around you. Enjoy your ride, and enjoy the people you love and who love you.

I tell people I work with all the time: You are going to run into two kinds of people every day. Those who fill you with life, and those who suck the life right out of you. Find ways to spend more time with the fillers than the suckers. Identify the things that are really not that important in the long run. And when you see the unimportant things for what they are, just repeat this mantra:

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Mile 2,281: These Things Are Not Meant to Sit in Garages

Two kinds of people who talk to me at gas stations in urban Houston: those looking for a handout, and those who want to tell me about their motorcycles. Most of the ones who want to tell me about their motorcycle tell me about a machine sitting in their garage that most of the time sits in their garage. But today was a little different.

A guy walked up to me today while I was stopped for gas during a lunch break. I heard his voice behind me as I removed the gas nozzle, "Man, I love your fatboy."

Here we go.

"Yeah," I replied, "me too."

He went on to ask me what year, and the typical questions that I endured as cordially as possible. He then told me about his 1996 Fatboy that he has put three motors in to keep her on the road. He had my interest at that point. We then stood there talking about road trips, other bikes we have had, and what ride comes next. It was one of those rare occasions when you meet someone and make an immediate connection. This was no weekend rider who spent more time reading motorcycle magazines than actually riding. He rode, and he knew bikes.

But since I could not stand there all day, it was time to get down the road.

On Rocinante and I went, meandering down the busy street. But stopped there at just another stoplight, I heard a voice beside me.


I looked to my right, and some dude in a pickup had his window rolled down with a big grin on his face.

I retorted gently, "What?"

"Man," he began, "I just love love love that sound."

"Yeah," I replied, "me too."

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Mile 2,268: Another Humid Ride

The morning just barely started as I rode to work. The sun had nowhere near reached its full potential. But it was hot and humid, a typical morning at the beginning of a typical July in Houston. No riding over the weekend, so it felt good this morning to throw my leg over the saddle, even for the simple, short ride to work.

I sat at my usual stoplight on Westheimer and stared at the people at the bus stop as some of them made their way out of the overpriced coffee shop. I began to sweat as the humidity enveloped me, wondering why I even bothered to take a shower this morning.

But then the light turned green, and the wind cooled me back off as I made my way to the office.

Just another humid ride. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

(Although a few more miles would have been nice.)