Before you take your motorcycle for across a continent, you might consider one or two test rides. One month after putting up her dowry on the side of some unpaved back road outside of Wimberley, Texas, AnDRomeda and I decided to go on a camping trip for the Independence Day weekend.
The trip started about noon on a Friday. I had planned on leaving earlier, but in keeping with my upbringing I left several hours late. The last thing I packed on my way out of town was a dinky First-Aid kit that I picked up at the grocery store, which ended up being a very good move indeed. When I reached the constipated interstate in Fort Worth the sun was directly overhead. At this point I weighed my options and determined that roasting in near-standstill traffic in the Texas summer sun wearing full riding gear was a more pertinent health hazard to me and the bike than a little bit of lane splitting. Think of it as 'preventative care'.
Begin le filtrage...
Like Andy Duphragne escaping Shawshank, we crawled our way out of the crap and emerged free on the other side.
Free of interstates, moms in SUVs, copy/paste shopping centers ("OOH they're putting in another Mee Co-see-nuh!") and free to enjoy the next 150 miles of farm roads.
I stopped for some lunch and rehydration in Granbury, where I found some top-notch catfish and iced tea at a place on the lake called Irby's.
With a gut full of southern goodness, I got some gas and headed south.
The traffic was thinning out, the lanes were winnowed down, and the gas stations and billboards were replaced with trees, rocks, and nice views.
By the time I passed through Glen Rose motorcycle Jesus was smiling upon me.
These were the kind of roads that any motorcyclist would enjoy. The sun was shining, AnDRomeda was loving all the space she had to gallop, and my soul was giving me so many spiritual high-fives. The road was a buffet of motorcycle goodness: tearing through curves, crossing bridges, charging up hills and gliding over the other side, and non-stop incredible views of central Texas plains, forests, rivers, and mesas. It's the kind of country that people write songs about. As hokey as it sounds, I'm proud to call it my home.
I passed through Walnut Springs, Iredell, Cranfills Gap, and Jonesboro, all of which fit the mold of "little Texas town", but they are like a handful of marbles scattered in a field, and between them, indeed surrounding each individual town are miles and miles of green, yellow, and brown until you happen upon the next randomly-placed marble. My company included farmhouses, and cattle, and I passed beneath the occasional crew of buzzards circling against the backdrop of cotton ball clouds.
At one point I saw flashing lights up ahead. I caught up to see a fire engine flying down the road to some unseen emergency. We popped over the next hill and then I saw the faint wisps of black rising from somewhere beyond the ridges ahead. The truck went screaming around the curves, blasting up and over hills, and I decided to tag along. As we approached each hill the smoke would dip out of sight. When we climbed over the top we would see it, closer and darker than before. After some time I wondered if my little game was annoying the truck driver and if it was a bad idea to be charging toward a plume of wildfire smoke. When we reached the fire, I could see the road bend to the left around hill, and a small gravel drive leading through a fence and up the hill until it disappeared into the trees. Past the trees, just over the hill, I saw a small ranch house and could just make out the shapes of people scrambling around near the house. There were flames across the front yard of the house. So much for a "wild" fire. I saw one truck had already reached the house, and as I continued around the hill and down the road a third truck coming the opposite direction dived off the road on to another gravel drive that led out of sight but also in the direction of the house. Part of me thought I should turn off and try to help, but the left hemisphere of my brain, which had taken a back seat for much of the afternoon except to occasionally check my odometer and remind myself how much gas I had left, was quick to step in and remind right hemisphere that just because I felt like I could do anything at that moment it did not mean that I actually could do anything.
Past Jonesboro I encountered the first non-paved road of the trip. As my tires left the pavement and I heard the first crunch of rocks shuffling beneath rubber, the satisfaction was beyond even what I had imagined before I bought my first dual-sport motorcycle.
You may be thinking 'why the hell would you want to take a gravel road when there are plenty of paved roads you can stick to?'. I'll explain the joys of riding a bike on dirt, sand, and mud in later posts, but the primary reason for riding a dual-sport on a road trip is easiest understood by considering an ice skate. On a rink, it is obviously the best tool for the job, but what happens when you have to leave the ice rink? Most of the world is not made of ice, and many of the roads in the world are still unpaved. I thoroughly enjoy ice skating just as I thoroughly enjoy riding a bike on the street, but it will not take me everywhere. You have to be able to adapt if you want to do that.
The road was fantastic. Fourteen miles white gravel lined with small fir trees, cactus, and barbed wire. I took too much speed into a curve about halfway through and had my rear wheel go out from under me, sending the bike sliding about fifteen feet and me a dozen. The fall didn't seem too bad, and I jumped right up to pick up AnDRomeda, dusted myself off, took stock of the road rash on my left hip. My right hand felt like I'd lost a thumb war to Chewbacca, but I wasn't leaking anything nor was the thumper, and I hadn't heard the familiar pop of a broken bone. In my head I could hear my own voice: "YOU FREAKIN' IDIOT! NOT DIRTBIKE TIRES! NOT KNOBBIES!"
The self-chastising went on for a few minutes, but ultimately the only useful conclusion was to acknowledge that, yes, I had fallen and that I did not want to fall any more if I could help it. Reluctantly I turned my eyes to my bike, my poor lady. Only a month in and I'd laid her down in the rocks and into a ditch in the middle of nowhere and....she was completely fine. As in, not a scratch. From that moment on I knew I was made for riding a dual-sport. At the end of the road I stopped at a gas station and adjusted my handlebars, as the fall had just knocked the risers out of alignment by about an inch.
My thumb was throbbing but I was still in the bosom of motorcycle Jesus so I continued on through Ireland, Purmela, South Purmela. The fall, then catching my breath and adjusting the handlebars had cost me about an hour, so I cut over to 281 from Evant to Adamsville and then on to 581. It wasn't evening yet but you could tell that even the sun had grown tired of the afternoon, and the greens and yellows of the hills and trees started giving way, ever so slightly, to oranges and reds.
The park gates waved me in as twilight arrived, and the road turned to gravel for another eight miles or so. At about mile five I caught up with a pickup and enhanced my ride with a face full of dust and limited visibility. My aching thumb reminded me of the fall earlier in the day, making me too nervous to try to pass for a while. Eventually, though, a mouthful of dirt and a spontaneous swelling of "OUT OF MY WAY! I'M TIRED! I NEED A BEER! I RIDE A DUAL-SPORT FOR A REASON, DAMN IT!" attitude got hold of me, stood me up on the pegs and threw the throttle open.
I enjoyed a dust-free mouth and some stunning views the rest of the way to the park. I twisted my way down the hill toward the Colorado River, friends, and a freshly-tapped keg.
The stars would serve as my tent for the next two nights.