Rides, Rallies and Events Recap

7,500 Miles – A 19-Day 18-State Motorcycle Trip (Part 1)

Written by  December 1, 2012

In April I received a phone call from Tom, who I met on a previous trip, asking if I wanted to do a 3-week bike trip. Two weeks later I’m up early ready to go but it’s still dark out and raining. Watching the weather radar on the TV I finally decide to make a run for it shortly after the sun rises behind a sky filled with dark foreboding clouds and drizzle. It is 59°F as I leave and I run into and out of light rain as I travel east across Missouri on Highway 36. Hunkered down and cold, I don’t stop until I’ve traveled 250 miles and need fuel and a stretch.

My first day’s destination is Mammoth Caves Kentucky, which is 570 miles. This is where I’m to meet up with Tom and Dave who have traveled from Detroit and Virginia. I’m mostly on interstate highways across Illinois in order to put some quick miles on my tires. Stopping for fuel in Indiana, I embarrass myself by dropping my bike at the pump and having my left mirror snap off when it hits a bollard protecting the gas pump. A nice guy in a pick-up behind me helps me lift my overloaded bike back to vertical, but the damage is done.

As I pass through a small town on the Ohio River I come up on the “Bench of Knowledge” where thinkers and philosophers can stop and ponder cosmic matters, quantum physics, or just take a nice rest while watching the Ohio River meander past. I think the bench was made by Indians as there are several Indian Motorcycle posters there. A few hours later I stop for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Leitchfield, Kentucky. Then it’s on south where I meet up with Tom and Dave at the Mammoth Caves campground.

Tom acquired a flat tire on his way down from Detroit and had it plugged, but since we had many miles left to go and he was pulling a trailer, we opted to make a detour to a motorcycle shop in Nashville. We called ahead, and when we got there they were, shall I say, less than customer oriented. Tom called ahead to another dealer in Birmingham who said they could get the tire replaced as soon as we got there. I was still in need of a new mirror, but they didn’t have one, but they did have a bench grinder. After grinding the end of my snapped off mirror, I was able to Quicksteel epoxy it back into the mount on the handlebar and was good to go.

From the dealer we made a quick trip across town to the Barber Motorcycle Museum. This is where we met up with Blair who had ridden in from Georgia. If you haven’t been to the museum before, I highly recommend it. They had my very first bike there, a 1972 Kawasaki S2 three cylinder two-stroke, as well as Dave’s first bike, a Moto Parilla. The displays are fantastic and shouldn’t be missed. A few miles farther south, we camped in Oak Mountain State Park where Tom prepared the first meal we had since the night before and a fine meal of beans and weenies it was.

After a long night with light rain I got up at 5:30 AM and had a nice warm shower and then we all packed our rain-soaked gear and headed towards our next stop, which was to be New Orleans. Birmingham’s congested traffic mixed with steady showers isn’t one of my favorite riding combinations. About 10:30 AM, soaked to the bone, we stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Tuscaloosa. We found a nice big table where we could spread out all our wet stuff, and they had to have someone come and mop up the small river of water that was beginning to encroach on the other patrons. After breakfast we sat in front watching the downpour and finally decided we couldn’t get any wetter so we moved out. About 30 minutes later we were rewarded with just a few intermittent showers that finally subsided. Luckily the temperature got up to 89°F and we air-dried at 70 mph.

Getting close to New Orleans took us on I-12 West to Lake Pontchartrain where we picked up the Toll Causeway into the city to our next campsite at the KOA, which cost us what a hotel should be charging, $50. We caught a taxi downtown to the famous Bourbon Street where we had a fine dinner and several adult beverages. After dinner we walked down the street smoking a nice hand-rolled cigar and viewed things that no one should ever be subjected to, hoping that a partial lobotomy could remove some of the disturbing images from our brain.

The next morning, after a hot muggy night, found me with that feeling that some animal had somehow crawled into my mouth while I was asleep and burnt a pile of garbage in there. The first part of the trip had us on too many miles of Interstate Highway and now it was time to begin the back roads adventure. Taking Highways 90, 182, 35 and 82 sped us across southern Louisiana bayou country and through some interesting little towns. In this part of the country armadillo road kill is replaced by a pungent dead alligator aroma. We are just in time to catch the Cameron ferry and cross Sabine Lake into Texas at Port Arthur.

We are settling into somewhat of a routine where late in the day we decide where to camp and find a grocery store to stock up on what we want for supper. This night we camp in Sam Houston National Forest after running off some squatters who had occupied our camp site and called us “bikers.” Dinner was chicken, corn on the cob, salad, beers and pop tarts for desert. Tom did have a small cooler on his trailer, but in order to keep weight down, we only bought what we needed for supper which normally was cooked over a small bag of match light charcoal.

A cold shower set the stage for a pleasant trip through Texas. Good roads through pine forests and tons of bicycles going somewhere. Not far and southwest of Austin, we make our way to Driftwood Texas to the famous Salt Lick BBQ. This place does so much business they even have their own dedicated turn lane off the highway. The food is wonderful, and my fingers have a renewed sticky grip ready for the continued westward trek on Hwy 290. As we near Luckenbach, Texas, the highway gets crowded with lots of Hog Iron. Stopping for fuel we find out there is the big Hill County Run Rally going on there, but we have many miles to go before we sleep. Arriving on Hwy 39 we find our speed dropping to about 40 mph, but this isn’t a problem as this is a very twisty, scenic road that brings a big grin to our faces. At Leaky, Texas on Hwy 83 we pick up our beer and sausages for supper then travel south to Garner State Park to camp for the night.

Rolling thunder has me awake at 4:30 AM, although it never did rain. Our camping neighbors are up early serenading us with ear splitting hip-hop music as we break camp and prepare to leave. We travel further south on 83 to Uvalde where we pick up Hwy 90 west for a long trip across barren southern Texas. We pass a big billboard announcing themuseum of the Hanging Judge, Roy Bean near Langtry, Texas but continue on west without stopping. The weather has been pleasant and great for riding, and it is just starting to get into the 90s as we turn north on Hwy 118 at Alpine, Texas, elevation 4300 ft.

The route is scenic as it winds up to the highest point on Texas Highways at the top of Mount Locke where we stop at the McDonald Observatory and take a quick tour of the facilities, which informs us that this is one of ten locations of the Very Long Baseline Array radio telescope that stretches from Hawaii in the west all the way to St. Croix in the east. It is looking for radio signals from space. Just what we need--old reruns of alien broadcasts.

Dropping down from our 6791 foot peak gaining 10°F we catch I-10 west to Hwy 54 north at Kent only to be threatened by a red dirt devil blocking our path. It’s then north on Hwy 54 through the edge of Guadalupe Mountains State Park and on to Whites City, New Mexico at the entrance to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Years ago I had camped here and was chased by a skunk that apparently didn’t want his picture taken. We should have stopped earlier to pick up our dinner supplies as there wasn’t anything available here so we opted for dinner at a local restaurant.

It is 62°F while Dave’s Jet Boil and Blair’s Swedish alcohol fired mess kit stove make up some hot coffee while we pack up camp. Then it is 7 miles up the road to tour the caverns. The tour is pretty awesome and highly recommended. About 11:30 AM we finish up looking at all the stalactites and stalagmites and head north on Hwy 285 to Artesia then west on Hwy 82. I really wanted to go on north to Roswell and scout out some aliens, but it just wasn’t going to happen. We had to drive through a few light cold showers and some sleet as we were in 4,000 to almost 9,000 foot altitude. It was 59°F when we stopped in Cloudcroft for lunch, and then made a quick stop for photos of the old cloud climbing railroad trestle just outside of town. Dropping 4300 feet in about 18 miles to Alamogordo warms us up to a pleasing 82°F. Hwy 70 west takes us on a quick tour of White Sands then on to Las Cruces where we picked up dinner at a local grocery store. We’re getting smarter learning that out west just because there is a town on the map ahead doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any services there. With our late start, Interstate 10 speeds us on westward and we arrive at Rockhound State Park just as the sun is setting creating a spectacular sunset as we look from our vantage point on the side of the mountain across the valley below and the mountains in the distance.

About 3:30 AM I’ve been awake for about an hour as high winds are severely buffeting my tent. The ground is rock and gravel so there was no way to get tent pegs in. Finally I just drop the tent poles and climb inside the collapsed and flapping tent. As the sun came up, the winds had died down, and the others wondered where I had gone until I climbed out of the pile of tent.

Back on the now long, straight Hwy 180 headed northwest with the temperatures in the 60’s, we finally reach Silver City, New Mexico where the scenery and road gets much better. Continuing on we cross into Arizona and stop in Alpine for lunch where a couple of other bikers are dining. Upon leaving, one of them does an impressive near vertical wheelie as they head off opposite to our direction of travel. After a short road construction delay we are on our way staying on Hwy 180 until reaching Eagar and then taking a great scenic Hwy 260 to Payson. I’m beat and my hands are cramping as we pull into an overcast Sedona. It looks like rain and we haven’t had a bath in a couple of days so we decide to spend the night in a hotel. I spent some time washing my clothes in the bath tub and charging all my electronic items batteries. Ahhhh! This is nice.

We only have 143 miles to go today to the Grand Canyon and we split into two groups. Tom and I take our time and head off on our own errands, while Blair and Dave tend to some oil changing and other tasks. Our route takes us out of Sedona and up through Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff where I eat way too much at the local IHOP. Stuffed as I am, we head north on Hwy 89 through Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and the Wupatki National Monumentwhere we investigate some old Indian ruins. Hwy 64 takes us west into the South Rim of the Grand Canyon where we set up camp in the Desert View Campground and take a little walk over to a vista while waiting for Blair and Dave to arrive. One thing I am figuring out about camping is that in general, state parks have very nice campgrounds with showers and national parks have nice views but little else.