Motorcycle diaries – 2007
Nineteen years ago, my mother called me up late at night. She was sobbing uncontrollably. “Son, you will sell that motorcycle of yours, or I will never speak to you again.”
My younger brother Darrel had recently been paralyzed while he was a passenger in a car. One of the drivers had been drinking. So what did I say to my crying mother? “Yes mom, I will sell it.” She repeated herself, and then quickly ended the conversation.
And so I sold my wonderful 1981 BMW RT-65 touring motorcycle. It had carried me across country a few times without fail. It was my third BMW cycle. The first two were classic R 50/2s. Those two had been incredibly reliable, steadfast machines also, carrying me in total well over 150,000 miles without any significant failure. And in all of this time I had never had a motorcycle accident, or even laid one down. I had been driven off the road a few times by careless drivers, but that was it. Knock on wood.
My mother passed away over a year ago. So I could now, in good conscience, ride a motorcycle again. I went shopping. At first, I was shocked by how big motorcycles had grown to. Super sized, like many of the bodies that rode them. Cycles weighing 900+ pounds with engines of up to 2 liters displacement. Motorcycles that actually needed a reverse to get out of tight places. Those were 2-wheeled cars that fell over at stop lights. Not for me.
So what to get? I studied the market. BMWs had now mostly devolved into over-engineered hi-tech crotch rockets. Fast, expensive, complicated equipment, now lacking in dealer support networks. I would have to look at other manufacturers. But what did I want? I wanted a mid-sized bike that I could use for commuting, shopping, and touring across country. I wanted it simple, sturdy and reliable. The fact that I know mechanics does NOT mean that I want to work on all of my machines. I have enough other aging machines that need maintenance. So I decided to apply what I know about Chaos and Complexity theory. I have my corollaries to it also.
1.If you don’t have it, it can’t break.
2.The more it is built for speed, the more likely it will break.
3.Simplicity over newer, less proven technology.
I decided on a 2 valve-per-cylinder engine, with a low (normal) compression ratio. 9 to 1 is considered normal. Gas engines with 10 to 1 compression ratios or higher are being designed for speed. That means more heat on the exhaust valves and more pressure on metal parts. In the battle between fire and metal, in the end, fire always wins. I did not want to speed that up. I figured that 2 cylinders would be enough. I also thought that 600 to 800 cc displacement should be sufficient to get me around. Others advised me to buy 1100 to 1800cc cycles. That seemed to be too much for me. And as it turns out, 650cc would be plenty to get me around. I also wanted a bike with a drive shaft. One part sounds better than 200. I also wanted it full-dressed for touring. This would include:
5.and a back rest, for comfort
From this, there were three motorcycles I included in my search. They were:
1.The Honda Shadow 750.
2.The Yamaha V-Star 650A classic.
3.The Suzuki Boulevard 800.
I eliminated the Suzuki because the nearest dealer was 30 miles away. I went to E bay, and within 10 days, this is what I bought.
A 2001 Yamaha V-Star 650A Classic, with 11,300 miles on it.
I checked it out, and it ran just fine. I have bought 3 vehicles on E-Bay, and I must say that each of the vehicles have been of better quality than I expected. Maybe I am lucky.
Now it was time to get ready for a long ride out west, to visit aging old friends, make a solstice party, and visit a few national parks.
I took off Sunday afternoon, June 17, for the first leg of my trip, 175 miles to my 2nd cousin’s farm in Southern Illinois. My final destination would be north central New Mexico. I had done this motorcycle ride 23 years ago. I would now be visiting many of my same friends. Some were now in bad health. A number had passed away. and others were starting to go. I wanted to see them, and perhaps say my goodbyes to people with whom I had shared some of the best times in my life.
In December of 1968, I was driving my Volkswagen van from Bloomington to San Francisco. From there, I was planning on going up to Canada and emigrating. I sat with my dog Kingfish in the front of the van, driving thru snow storms in Kansas on highway 70. I remember that there was a gas war going on. The price was 17.9 cents per gallon. Bye bye forever to all of that. The snow blizzard quickly closed Highway 70, so I slept in my van along the roadside overnight until the snowplows passed. I decided to get off the expressway and travel southerly to highway 40.
I plodded across the icy roads in the freezing VW van at 45 mph in southwest Kansas, living on cheese sandwiches and fruit. My dog Kingfish sat eagerly at the window, examining the snow for any creatures to jump on. In western Oklahoma, we slept outside the van. I rolled my sleeping bag on one side of the tarp and pulled the other side of the tarp over my bag. Kingfish crawled under the tarp and lay against me. After a few minutes, I was no longer shivering from the cold.
Later in the night it began to snow again. This time it was not the blizzard winds, but gentle flakes. Still later, I heard the scratching of feet of some small rodent scurrying across the tarp above me. So did Kingfish. He bolted out of the tarp. I heard a little squeal, then the crunch of small bones. Kingfish then laid back on the tarp and then proceeded to eat whatever he had killed. At sunrise I forced myself out of the warm bag and quickly dressed. I shook another half foot of snow off the tarp. I saw no remains of whatever it was that Kingfish had eaten the night before.
Back in the van I heated up water over my Coleman stove and studied the maps. I now headed straight south to 40. It was 30 mph and don’t go into a ditch. Finally I hit better roads and headed west to Albuquerque. Along the way I picked up a hitchhiker. He was a Chicano from New Mexico. We talked and he told me that I really should visit the Taos area before I left the state. He was going that way himself. How convenient. I had a few days to spare, so I veered off north, thru the austere high desert via Sante Fe, and then along the Rio Grande Gorge, climbing up to Taos. I arrived in Taos on Christmas Eve, 1969. There, I stayed for five years. So much for Canada.
But now I would visit some of those people again, 38 years later. I hit the road running hard on my Yamaha. I took country roads until I reached 270, the bypass just north of St. Louis. I would be hitting it just at the end of rush hour. Not fun riding.
I now dressed differently on motorcycles. A Kevlar jacket with Teflon body plates that protected my elbows, shoulders, ribs and back. Very heavy motorcycle jeans with hard kneepads, heavy boots, and of course, a full face helmet. In the heavy traffic I rode in the right lane, below speed limit, and I let most everyone pass me. I was ready to veer onto the shoulder if anyone made a dangerous move. I did see one minor accident happen about ½ mile ahead of me. While the traffic jam built up, I got onto the shoulder and slowly worked my way around the accident and all the traffic. Then I had the highway to myself.
Out of St. Louis I could now hit it at 70-75 mph. The Yamaha ran comfortable at that speed. It felt like the rpm was within the power curve. but I quickly noticed that my mileage dropped at high speeds from 55 mpg to the high 30’s.
I headed straight into a beautiful blue-black thunderstorm, the kind that only the Great Plains can produce. I had a choice, to sit and wait it out, or buck it. I took the latter. I slowed to 55 mph, and for five hours, into eastern Kansas, I cut thru the rain. Some of it was hard sheet rain. Three times in 300 miles I stopped at safety rest areas and found an isolated covered picnic table. There I lay on the table for a good while, letting the road vibrations drain from me.
Lucky for me that the rain eased off running thru Kansas city. Now I had the open road ahead of me. I also had a hot dry western sun on me. I dried off quickly. It was getting toward sunset. I was at Salina, Kansas, half-way across the state. I got off the expressway at HW 156 and now cut a southwest path across rural Kansas. Much much better. There was very little traffic. I rode slower and got to stop in the small towns. I began seeing something I would see all over the Great Plains. Boarded up downtowns. In a few towns, over half of all the buildings would be closed down, or for rent. There looked to be no takers.
On finding a campsite:
When I travel by myself, I camp out. If I cannot, I sleep in my vehicle. I prefer camping out. I have done this literally hundreds of times. Hardly ever have I had any problems. I do it not just to save money, but because I like to. I feel good about being able to survive and manage as a nomad. I have done it for over forty years, and may well continue until I can no longer travel. I have had some pretty damned good campsites too.
The secret for me is to find an isolated spot after sunset, and to leave it before sunrise. If you are far enough off the road, in the woods, or behind an abandoned structure, no one will know that you are there. They’re all watching television anyhow. You must leave the spot as you found it. I have even brushed away my tire tracks.
On this evening I rode to the dead end of a farm trail. I parked my cycle behind an anhydrous ammonia tank and quickly set up my tent. Way too many mosquitoes to sleep under the stars. I checked my mileage. I had made 594 miles on the second day of my trip. Way more than I had expected to do. But I had felt alert and great all day, so I had continued rolling. I put down my sleeping pad, and unroll my sleeping bag. I put on my head lamp and read a book for an hour or so.
I am awake at the first of dawn. Everything is covered with dew. I quickly pack up everything onto the cycle. I do a final check to make sure I have left nothing, brush my tracks away, and start the cycle in the near darkness. And I am off.
Later my cousin would tell me that if the farmer found my motorcycle tracks, he would be convinced that I was stealing anhydrous ammonia to manufacture meth. Ohhhh? That had never occurred to me. I was clueless.
I rolled slowly down the highway looking for my first home-cooking restaurant to have breakfast with the rising farmers. Ahhh, fresh coffee and the morning paper. Some things do not change.
Dwight’s motorcycle diaries #3. June 19th, 2007
So I headed out at sunrise on Highway 56 into southwest Kansas. Open roads and high speeds. I could smell the field corn along side the roads. About every 15 to 20 miles, I came upon a small town. You could always see them coming by the grain elevator in the distance. In the towns themselves, often half the businesses were boarded up. Remnants of a more vibrant past.
I did notice something very new in these small towns. The grain elevators now had digital displays, showing the spot market prices on corn. $4.33 a bushel today. Historically, that was very high. Clearly the local farmers were delighted with that. The high prices were all about ethanol production. I thought of Richard Heinberg’s quote “Should millions starve so that thousands can drive?”
I saw an ancient Lincoln Zephyr convertible sitting in the lot of an engine repair place. The yard was filled with many old, old vehicles, some of them in fine shape. The Zephyrs were classic luxury cars of the 30’s and 40’s. I pulled over and took a look. It was the rare V-12. This machine, restored, could go for well over a hundred thousand. The owner came out and we I chatted. A working man about my age. Wore a Nam vet hat. Nation-states were built on the backs of guys like him. He was definitely NOT interested in selling it. He, his wife, and her sister (I believe) rebuilt the massive caterpillar diesel engines used for pumping the Oglala water reservoir for irrigation. He said he charged $20k per rebuild, and that the engines usually ran for 30 to 40 thousand hours between rebuilds. Caterpillar does build great diesels. He said that he had six months of back work on these engines. “Without irrigation, the corn would wilt. And they can’t get enough of these pumps. They have to keep going deeper and deeper for the water.” I told them that I had read articles about pumping the Oglala dry. He said that was happening down south in Texas, but it wouldn’t be here for a while. I hope after I retire.” He smiled. It was fossil water, and it would go sometime. And with it, and most of the rest of the agriculture around here. When I shook hands with him, I noticed he just had a thumb and two fingers. “Gate fell on it. I pretty near couldn’t work for two months.” He smiled a simple earnest prairie optimism.
I filled up and jam-assed my cycle at high speed to Felt Oklahoma. My tank was low on emergency when I got there. I found out that the last gas station in Felt had closed down a few years ago. Funny, the town looked pretty big on the map. I didn’t have enough gas to get to the next town, or the previous one. So I stopped. I could run out of gas on the road, or beg here. I choose begging. I went knocking on doors trying to buy a gallon of gas. Five rejections later, I finally got a gallon at $5.00 How much more would I have paid? Well, the same amount as you would have. That, or abandon my motorcycle. Because the demand for fuel is presently demand inelastic. In simple terms, that means that no matter how much the price goes up, you’ll pay it. And me too. I just saw that gasoline demand in the US is up 1.2%, AFTER the price has gone up 40% from last year. There is a term in economics called ‘unit elasticity’. What this simply means is the point where, if the price goes up 1%, demand drops at 1%. At what price does this happen with gasoline in the US? Well, at the same price as when you and I refuse to buy it. And where is that? $7-8-9 dollars a gallon? At what price do you bicycle or walk? I quickly poured the gallon into my starving tank, and rode more slowly this time, to ‘conserve’ my gas.
I filled up in Clayton New Mexico and checked my cycle out. No evidence that it had lost any oil from any of the reservoirs in the last 1000 miles. Tire pressure was fine and and the bike was running great. Before I had left on this trip, a guy at a motorcycle shop told me I desperately needed a new front tire. I measured the tread at about 1/4”. I said I would hold off on it. 3000 miles later, a guy at another cycle shop looked at my front tire. “Looks pretty good. You’ll be needing a replacement in around 4 thousand miles more.” I thought of the first guy. Lying bastard.
From Clayton to Springer is 90 miles of wide open single lane high prairie highway without one stop sign or light. You can see 50 miles ahead as you climb the high plains into the rockies, or more accurately, the Sangre du Cristo mountains. 37 years ago, I lived in those high mountains for five years. I let the bike fly. Ahhh, high speed freedom, as long as I didn’t have a front flat—or run out of gas.
Some of the land was open range, so I watched for cows and horses on the road. I kept my hand and foot on the brakes whenever I came around a corner or over a hill. About 50 miles along, I saw a lone tree alongside the road. I pulled over beneath it, shut off the bike and lay on the ground. Just the wind thru the prairie grass. Not another vehicle. I looked up into the tree and watched two lizards chasing each other. So serene. How much I have missed New Mexico.
I hopped on my cycle and headed to Red River, a summer tourist city to the north of Taos, New Mexico. There I had a solid climb up to Bobcat Pass, at 9800 feet. Four years ago, I had ridden my bicycle around the Enchanted Circle, and beautiful 90 mile climbing loop around Taos, New Mexico. I had done it in a day and a half. It was a truly and enchanting ride. When I had camped out up high, it got to freezing at night. I wondered if I could do it again. Yeah, but maybe not as fast. I rode along the loop, thru some lonely high ponderosa forest, on to Lama New Mexico. At 9000 feet, it was home to the Lama Foundation, a number of old friends of mine, and near the New Mexico summer solstice party. That day is probably the closest I’ll ever get to a holy day, or ever want to get to.
June 21st 2007
So here I am, at the summer solstice party at New Buffalo, thee original New Mexico commune, founded in 1967 by urban refugees. It sits on a mesa in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico, at 8000 feet. Hard scrabble land, where you must irrigate to grow anything at all of value. You must fence most everything in your garden, and then irrigate-irrigate-irrigate. It takes 10 times the effort to get the same amount of produce as in the Midwest. My dad worked out here 70 years ago, on the pipeline, running crude oil to the Midwest. From his farmer’s perspective, the land out here was ‘damned worthless’. Except that now, around Taos, an acre of high desert can go for $100k.
We arrived here individually in the late 60’s, staggering in for many different reasons, from many different places. Riots in the cities, personal visions of the apocalypse, deserting the military, serious drug problems, Indian and spiritual visions, refugees from breakdowns maybe of our own creation.
I stumbled thru in late 1968 in the cold of winter with an old VW van, my absolutely brilliant dog Kingfish (I have never since had a dog that approached him in sheer smarts) some mushrooms, and flat broke. Turned out that would have to be enough.
I began my time in New Mexico rebuilding Volkswagen engines with Zaul, the astral mechanic. I guessed that he was about 10 years older than me. Zaul stood about 6’7” and had a 3 foot long black ponytail. That was long even for 1969. When he looked at you, his eyes bore into you. You could not break his stare. Zaul’s wife was Quannu. She was a beautiful red-headed lady with a ponytail even longer than Zaul’s. And they had a blond son Dort, of about 5 years, who had a ponytail about a foot long. “Where did you get your names?” I asked. “From the astral plane,” Zaul replied with complete confidence. “We consulted with the spirits,” he said.
“Ohhhhh?” I nodded.
Zaul showed me around the very large ranch house they had rented outside of Ranchos De Taos, New Mexico. It must have had seven bedrooms, along with a great tool shop. In the farthest room in back, Zaul had a bunch of welding equipment. In the middle of the room was a large, oval shaped frame welded out of what looked to be stainless steel. “What’s that?”
“We’re building a space ship” Zaul nodded. “We should have it done in a year or so.”
“I have an extra room here, Adam (that was one of my aliases that I used then). It’s $50 a month rent. But you can work it off. You would have to be my apprentice. You’ll have to work hard, and learn quick. You want to stay here?”
“Sure.” And so I moved in with Zaul and Quannu, and Dort, and Quannu’s brother Eckos, and his wife Sabbda.
Under Zaul’s tutelage, I learned how to grind valves, hone and bore out cylinders, press valve guides, measure and true crankshafts, torque engines to factory tolerances, rebuild clutches, brakes, front ends, and trace electrical shorts. Zaul seemed to know it all. And what he didn’t know, he quickly figured out. When I asked him where he learned all of this, he was evasive. “It’s just obvious, if you open your eyes and mind,” he would say, or something like that. Then he would shout “PAY ATTENTION!” while smashing a 5 pound mallet onto a hard metal surface full force next to me. I jumped, and I did.
One day a guy brought in his VW van and said that it was losing power. The van had the weirdest vertical stripes painted on it, like jail bars. Zaul said that the vertical stripes were causing ‘psychic resistance’, and that the guy should paint them horizontal instead. The guy scratched his head, handed back the joint, and mumbled that he hadn’t thought about that. Then he drove off. A few weeks later, he pulled back in to show us his newly repainted van. All the stripes were horizontal now. “It runs way faster now!”, he shouted to Zaul. Zaul nodded knowlingly.
So, under the guidance of Zaul, mushrooms, and peyote cactus, I picked up mechanics, and the magic of being alive and conscious. Rebuilding engines from the main bearings up, and having it run perfectly was quite an achievement. We took very zonked pride in it. At the end of the day, we would wash the serious grease filth from us and eat another one of Quannu’s delicious macrobiotic meals. It may well have been bird food, but let me tell you, it was damned good bird food at that.
So here I am, almost 40 years later, trying to find my old friends and reconnect with this magical time and past. Zaul and Quannu just disappeared one day, and no one knew whatever became of them. Some say that they went to back to California, or Puerto Rico. There was an unconfirmed story about them living on a spiritual commune in South America. And then there were the rumors about the spaceship…
On a beautiful sunny afternoon, I rendezvoused with many old New Mexico friends. Live music, everyone playing. Homemade beer and wine, and home-grown smoke, as always, it seemed. This time I passed on it. I was on a motorcycle.
A dear old friend Peter Mackaness led a man with long gray hair directly in front of me. We looked into each other’s eyes. I recognized the twinkle. It was Tony Schram, the Chicano jeweler from Santa Fe. He was an old friend I used to run around with, let’s see… 35 years ago. We had not seen or spoken to each other since then. We embraced. We were now aging men and women here, explaining to each other in an afternoon and an evening, just what we had done with our lives in the last 40 years. And of course, reminiscing, talking about the great and outrageous times we had had here ‘back in the day’. Many of the tales ended with ‘Oh he/she died N years ago’. I noticed that people out here, living outside the law, also lived outside the health insurance industry. Many seemed to die in the 50’s, from things that, if diagnosed early enough, were treatable. But they came staggering into the health clinic only when the pain was too great, and too late.
The music and conversation went on and on. Tony kept showing me the beautiful jewelry he had made until I bought $500 worth. “Schram the scam!” I shouted at him, as I had many times in my youth. We laughed and hugged.
Well, it was way after midnight, and I was way too drunk to negotiate a motorcycle ride down the rocky dirt road back to my tent site. So I managed to borrow me a sleeping bag and I crashed in the back of a pickup truck. It was a moonless night, with so many stars that you will never see in the Midwest. I lay back in sweet dreams. Ohhh, just where does the time go.
June 24th 2007
I packed my motorcycle and headed out early on a sunny morning from 9000 feet in Lama, New Mexico. I did not say any goodbyes to my friends. I simply don’t like long, drawn out goodbyes. I have avoided ‘goodbye’ parties for me whenever I have left a job or moved or something. The memories are enough. I have also spent many an adult birthday by myself. I did not mention to my students this year that it was my birthday. I’m proud of my age, and that’s about enough. No organized Auld Lang Syne. I want to go out quietly.
So I rolled hard to the southern border of Colorado, to San Luis, one of the oldest Spanish settlements in the US. To the north is the Great Sand Dunes National Park. It is a unique formation of sand dunes 250 meters high, 10 kilometers wide, and 30 kilometers long. It forms because of the way the wind blows off the plains and funnels into the mountains.
I parked my bike, went to the nature center and read up on it geology and history. Then I went hiking on the trails and thru the sands. I slept the evening in the San Luis valley and then rode north thru the factory potato farms. A resident told me that someone had grown 55,000 pounds of potatoes on one acre. I couldn’t believe such an amount. No matter how many chemicals, fungicides, sterilizing you do, no one could grow that much. But they had. One acre growing enough caloric value for 200 people to live? Of course it wasn’t sustainable, but the amount was still amazing.
Then I revved on to the Valle Vista Hot Springs, some 100 miles to the north. I rolled down an open single-lane highway with mountains on either side of me. Let that engine rev high speed. I guess the only real dangers to me would be a front wheel flat,l or someone crossing the lane. I would live with the risk.
I turned off the paved highway and rode around ten miles on dirt roads climbing up a mountain side to the springs. I paid my admission and hiked up to the highest pool. There was a young couple in the water, in embrace. I didn’t mean to disturb them, but I already had. They decided to leave, and I had the pool to myself. I stretched out naked in the pool. From my vantage, I could see the other mountains on the other side of the valley, perhaps 40-50 miles away. I don’t get these panoramics in the Midwest. Welcome to dream time.
Later, I drifted down the mountainside, hopped on my bike, and hit the road rolling northeast, toward Denver. On the map I saw Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. I am a pushover for National Parks and museums, so I headed off to it. I would have to cross two mountain ranges, with summits of about 9,400 feet each. After having done some long distance bicycle trips, motorcycling just made it too easy. It was like cheating, just twisting the grip. Without any real sense of accomplishment. But it was still fun.
As I climbed the pass, I went into a cloud. Cold rain, and then hail. Even with the windshield, I was getting soaked. the hail picked up, smacking my helmet, the windshield, and my legs hard. I was worried about the windshield or the helmet visor shattering, so I slowed down. I was soaked and shivering hard. the hail picked up to the size of grapes. I had to stop on a mountain pass. I was above the tree line and there simply wasn’t a place to hide. Except for one telephone pole. I got my back against it and watched the hail come crashing onto the fine purple paint job of my motorcycle. Hail damage right in front of me. For fifteen minutes the hail just blasted everything around me. All traffic had stopped on the mountain pass. i watched the hail pile up along edge of the road, maybe six inches deep in places. Austerely beautiful. If I had set up my tent, this hail would have shredded it.
Later I road off into the rain, soaked and deep chilled. I was shaking in the cold rain. Fifty more miles of this to Florissant National Monument. Fossilized redwood trees seven meters in diameter, 100 million year old. While there, I received an invite from an interesting national park ranger for coffee afterward. But I was deep shivering, and it was getting late.
So I changed my route. Rather than go directly to Erie Colorado to visit my friend Stanley, I turned southeast to Colorado Springs. It was not the direct way, but it was 3000 feet lower in altitude, and I needed the warmth to dry out. From there, I headed north toward Denver in a continuous traffic jam, still soaking wet. But I felt ok in 90 degree F weather. I remembered driving this road 40 years ago. As I vaguely recalled it then, the land was wide open between Denver and Colorado Springs. Not so now. Tens of miles of miles of slob-burbs. The story of the last 50 years of housing development in the US. Would peak oil stop all of this bad design and destruction? I hope so. And there is reason to thing that high energy prices will doom some of suburban development. But the damage is being done.
I was on my way to visit Stan. Three years ago I bought a 1956 International Harvester from this guy on the Internet at a very good price. And when I got it, the truck was in even better shape than he had represented it to me. (I used to own one 40 years ago. But of course, I did not appreciate it then). While I restored this truck, I must have called Stan 30 times for advice. And man, this guy knew his stuff. This cowboy-mechanic-guru seemed to know everything about machines of every sort. Wiring welding, mechanics, and most important, problem-solving. Seems that he would buy 10+ abandoned machines a year, and figure out what was wrong with them, fix them, drive them around a bit, then sell them. Inevitably, when I called Stan up, it was an information exchange. 99% of it from him to me. So, after 3 years of me badgering him for more mechanical advice, I was going to meet him. I knew he was about my age, rode a Harley, had a number of trucks, an MB diesel, a Miata, sport cars, and tractors and such at any one time. I wanted to check out his fleet.
So I struggled thru the Denver late rush hour traffic and then raced off to Erie. I had directions to Stan’s place, but I realized on the way that I had no idea what he looked like. Never seen a picture of him. As I pulled into his mini-ranch at sunset he was standing there.
“Welcome.” He said. He had a pony-tail down his back. I hadn’t painted that in my mind’s picture.
Dwight’s motorcycle diaries #6
June 27th 2007
I packed up my bike early at Stan’s home to hit the road. I had picked this guy’s brain about lots of mechanical and electrical stuff, because Stan was a top-notch problem solver. An idea guy who could actually do a lot of stuff too. Stan had that rare ability to be able to fix most anything. This is something that I want for myself. Maybe it’s a bit late in my life, but my life isn’t over yet either.
When I pulled out, it looked like there was another storm brewing in the Rockies. I did not want to get hammered again in a hail storm, so I hit it on Highway 76 hard, traveling east from Denver. I cruised at about 80 mph on my Yamaha 650 Classic. There is a little bit more, but it any higher felt like I was straining the bike. The windshield and backpack I had strapped to my bike slowed me down at top end. But most noticeable, my mileage dropped from 50 to the low 30’s. My emergency tank kicked in when I had about 35 miles more of riding before I was completely empty. But this would not work out west where the gas stations are further apart. I came upon town after town that had no gas station. A bar yes, a church, maybe, but the gas station had closed years ago. So I bought a one gallon plastic gas can, filled it, and strapped it onto the trunk of my motorcycle. Even using this, there were times I almost ran out of gas.
At Brush Colorado I got off of 76 and headed east on 34 toward Nebraska. This was the western flatlands. 10 miles in the distance, you could see the grain silos. Most of these towns are centered around the silo, and not the courthouse square. I cruised along all afternoon, checking out the small towns with all of their closed up businesses. Rural Nebraska looked like a great place to buy old American cars in need of restoration.
Near sunset, I turned south into Kansas. I quickly found an abandoned farm farm and set up my tent. Then I explored the old buildings. The home had been abandoned around 50 years ago, and was about ready to come down. I found old children’s school books molded shut and a rusted out wood-burning kitchen stove. I wondered of the people who had left this. Clearly, the land was now part of the large farm in the distance. With the mosquitoes coming on strong, I withdrew into by tent and sleep.
The next morning, I rode leisurely on single lanes along along northern Kansas, then central Missouri. It was motorcycle touring at its best. No agenda or rush. Stop whenever I saw anything interesting, and rest whenever I felt like it. I avoided the expressways for the slower country roads.
I remembered when I used to do this as a young man, traveling the west on a motorcycle. And I was feeling something like that again on this trip. For two weeks I had ridden at my own pace, going wherever I wanted. I had camped outdoors under the big sky the whole time, not one motel. I had seen a lot of friends and relatives and country. I will do this again.
Note: All of this is written on open source software, and sent to you with it. It works, and it is NOW.