Go West Young Man! part 5

Posted: December 5, 2020 in Life and Memories, Motorcycles, My view of the world, travel

Part 5

We were awakened by the rising sun the next morning and after packing and securing our gear we surveyed our surroundings in the morning light. We had slept on a ridge that sloped off toward the west in the direction of our destination of Tucumcari, which we could see in the distance as it was already beginning to shimmer from the heat of the sun and looking to the south, maybe a half mile away, was the small community of San Jon. One thing that had become instantly apparent after we had awakened was the landscape had drastically changed. Traveling through Oklahoma and North Texas we had noticed that the trees had started becoming a little sparser the further west we traveled, but here, in the morning light was a more arid somewhat flattened landscape of sparse grass sand and rocks and prominent mesas and ridges as far as the eye could see. This completely foreign vista was a stark reminder that were had finally made it out to the familiar old west of the movies we started watching as kids.

As we could hear the interstate travelers whizzing by below us, we bade goodbye to this wonderful little camping spot we had stumbled upon and continued westward toward our goal. As we had been doing the previous day, we looked for a mention of Route 66 on the exit signs as we neared the town. We exited onto Route 66 and headed into town along one of the surviving remnants of this grand old road. Whereas many small towns and communities we had ridden through were exhibiting various stages of decline from the cancer of cheap off-shore labor that was continuing to kill the US manufacturing industry, Tucumcari seemed to be suffering a lot less, with several of the picturesque and artsy motels that seemed to help define the Route 66 mysticism that travelers still want to experience still proudly holding on and accepting visitors. We found a small diner that was open on this Sunday morning and as we ate our breakfast and drank our coffee inside, we chatted with a couple of locals about life in the area.

To the south of I-40 stands Tucumcari Mountain, a prominent mesa that towers above the surrounding landscape. I had never seen a mesa and I continued to stare at it as one of the locals told us the legend of Tucumcari Mountain. It seems the there were a couple of Apache braves that both wanted to be chief and they decided to fight it out on the mountain. The old chief’s daughter was in love with one of them and snuck up on the mountain, hoping her lover would win. Her lover lost and when the other brave plunged his knife into the lover’s heart, the girl rushed out, grabbed the knife, stabbed the other brave and then killed herself. When the old chief saw what had happened, he also grabbed the knife and in grief, killed himself with it and his dying words became the name of the mountain, and also the name of the town…neat huh.

As we were leaving the diner, we noticed a couple of people hovering around our bikes and as we got closer and greeted them, we discovered they were in awe of the fact we had ridden these motorcycles all the way from Tennessee and they wanted to take pictures of us and our bikes. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that it wasn’t really a common occurrence. Prior to the internet, information about motorcycle travel was fairly rare. We had read a couple of books and a few articles in motorcycle trade magazines about these crazy guys that had traveled by bikes, but that was it. Today, in 2020 there are hundreds of stories and videos out there on the web about motorcycle travel, but back in 1992, as far as we knew, it was still a fairly rare thing.

We continued to ride around town, just drinking in the sights of this cool community that, even just looking at it on the atlas, seemed so far from home. We pulled into an empty parking lot so I could take all the gear off my bike and repack it in a more logical order. With the invention of Google still several years away, I really had no reference to consult when it came to packing gear for this trip. Now that I had time to inventory what I had brought and as I took it off the bike and spread it out on the ground it was readily apparent I had packed way too much stuff…primarily it seemed that I had brought too many clothes and too much cooking equipment. The tent, sleeping bag, blanket and ground cover, as well as the spare parts and tool were all needed, but I was swiftly discovering that much of the other stuff was creating unnecessary bulk and weight. I repacked this mountain of gear, starting with the heaviest stuff on the bottom, working my way up. Now with it repacked, it would not act as much like a top heavy sail, catching the wind and buffeting me about on the road. I finally had made some semblance of order with all this gear, but I knew it was still too much.

While we were there, I also took the time to inspect the bike. So far I had been pleasantly surprised with this almost twenty year old motorcycle. I had vaguely heard of BMW motorcycle, but had never been close to one, much less ridden one before I found this one. BMW’s were very odd looking with their engine cylinders sticking out to the side like giant ears, however they had a reputation of reliability and longevity. Except for the slipping clutch, which turned out to be a problem I had caused, this little motorcycle had not missed a beat. Japanese motorcycles of the seventies generally started showing their age around ten thousand miles. This BMW had more than twenty thousand miles on it and I was starting to discover that the reliability and longevity the Germans had designed into their machines was apparent in the way it was still running all day long without a hiccup. While inspecting it, I noticed that the rubber hairs sticking out of both the front and rear tires were missing on the left side of the tires, but not on the right side. At first I thought this was odd, but as I thought about it I realized what was causing it. It seemed like once we hit Oklahoma, that there was a steady wind coming from the south that pushed against our left sides as we traveled west along the interstate. To compensate for this meant leaning to the bikes to the left, so someone following us would not have seen two vertical riders, but two bikes and riders leaning to the left as we rolled and swayed down the highway. This leftward leaning had worn the rubbers hairs to make the tires look like they had weirdly lopsided haircuts. After having hung out in Tucumcari for a couple of hours, with freshly inspected bikes and gear we were ready to continue on our journey. We had traveled as far west as we had initially meant to go and we really hadn’t talked about where to go from here. We had decided that we had quite enough of the interstate for a while, as well as the fact that we did not like backtracking, so we turned our sights north-east and took off along US 54 toward Kansas.



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