Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The last day - coming home

I started to throw the last day into a "Joe" post, but as I was writing it, I decided it needed a post of its own.

My last day of the trip, riding into Colorado, was the best day of the trip. I wanted to come back through the mountains, so I crossed into New Mexico and over Raton Pass. I missed the exit I wanted to take, but getting off in Colorado City and taking 165 up through the San Isabel National Forest turned out to be spectacular. The weather was perfect. The sky was the most intense blue and the greens of the grasses and brush were more lush than I'd ever seen. I blew by Bishop Castle, wondering why all the cars were there. I caught a glimpse of the structure, pulled a u-turn, and went back. I won't go into the details of Bishop Castle here, but know that if you live in Colorado, you must visit. If you're passing through and it's a reasonable detour for you, you really should go. Be forewarned - if you aren't afraid of heights, you might be after climbing that bad boy.

I took the advice of the super-friendly and beautiful woman in the gift shop, and after continuing north on 165, I followed 96 west into Westcliffe. The view of the Sangre de Christo mountain range is wall-to-wall breathtaking. Westcliffe is a small artsy-fartsy town with several small restaurants and other neat places to spend money. Sitting at my little sidewalk cafe table, I decided to go straight home from there. I'd had a morning full of incredible Colorado beauty, and everything from here out I'd seen before. Reality was calling.

I went back across US 50 past Royal Gorge and into Canon City (I don't know how to make that little squiggly line over the "n"). Before I got to the gorge, I saw hints of a wild land fire ahead. It went from a hint to a full blown view of flames on the mountainside before too long. I stopped in the same turn off where I met Dowlin Mayfield of the Mean Street Riders two years prior and took a picture of the scene. I couldn't believe they were letting us pass on the road. The smoke was thick on the road. As I was working through the worst part, I was listening to "Interstate Love Song" by the Stone Temple Pilots: Breathing is the hardest thing to do... How appropriate.

There were more fires in the mountains on the way in to Canon City. I stopped at a gas station to fill up and get something to drink. While inside, I heard locals calling others and spreading the news of a possible evacuation. Ash was flying around outside. I decided it was time to get the heck out of Dodge. The rest of the ride home was I-25 to Route 52 north of Denver. I stopped and texted my neighbor to tell her I was almost home. I asked if she had food so I would know if I needed to stop and buy something for dinner on the way home. I was greeted with a freshly grilled t-bone upon arrival.

Unlike my last cross-county trip, I was glad to be home. Also unlike my last cross-country trip, I was thrilled to call this place my home. This trip was different from the last. I knew I'd never be able to duplicate the experience, so I didn't try. Nor did I have expectations of a life-changing adventure. My motive in heading out with little preparation and few comforts was to create a different experience that I'd treasure as much as the first one. I didn't see anything stunning and new this trip, until my last day in Colorado, just a few hours from home.

But it was life-changing. My trip back to Georgia put me in touch with some people who had things I needed to hear. That visit, together with the 20 year anniversary of my leaving and stumbling across an old motorcycle license plate, broke down a wall in my heart. I grieved over the loss of my son's father for the first time. Both the loss of his sanity, which eventually necessitated my leaving in order to save the lives of me and my son, and his death. It's amazing the feeling of relief I had while being so incredibly sad at the same time. And I cry again while writing this... Somehow, everything seems brighter and lighter.

On my first trip, I found God. This trip brought a recovery I never thought I'd get. Makes me wonder what the next trip will bring.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Great friends in Texas. Great food. Great shops and bars. The worst freaking heat like I never could have imagined for the middle of June. Yeah, I know. Bitch, bitch, bitch. I loved everything about my stay in Texas, except for the heat, and I've come to the conclusion that Texas has the worst cage drivers in the country. Just sayin...

About 4 miles from the border, my saddlebag bracket broke again. This time I was in the middle of nowhere, Louisiana. My brain was fried from the heat. I called my friend Chuck that I was going to see in south Texas, and he suggested I bungee cord the thing up. Great idea! I had one of these Rok straps, which are really great for tying things down on the bike. I only had one because I forgot to secure one last year on a trip and lost half of it. I'd thrown the one in the saddlebag for this trip thinking it might come in handy, and it was the perfect tool for the job. I was able to loop it through the brackets on either side of the bike, tighten up, and take off with the confidence that my stuff would stay with me.

I eventually made it to the "town" near where Chuck lives and tried to call him, but I had zero cell service from the store. I went in to ask about a pay phone. Remember those? You put money in them and then called people. Back in the day it cost a dime. Then it was a quarter. Then you needed a credit card. Alas, no pay phone. The woman asked what number I was calling, and I showed her my phone with Chuck's name. She told me that her father was a "close personal friend" of Chuck's, which totally cracked me up, but that was a good thing. She let me use her cell phone to call Chuck, and he emerged from the back woods to lead me to his house.

I pulled the bike in the shop and then ran to the air conditioned house. This was the first time I'd met Chuck in person, but I've spoken to him for tech tips on the bike, and I've corresponded with his wife about embroidery machines. What did we do before the Internet? Yeah, I know. I was there. All this information can be a curse, but it can be pretty cool too.

I had initially planned on spending several days at Chuck's; enough to get some good headway on the book, if not get it done. I had visions of sitting on the porch during the day, which were promptly shattered when the temperature was 109 upon arrival. Then I started worrying about stuff back home and not sleeping well. I had a great time hanging out with Chuck and his wife, meeting Chrome and Cardboard (I think that would make a great band name), and eating Crawfish Etouffee at the Cajun restaurant in the big city of Livingston. Chrome just returned from the Run for the Wall. It was a lot of fun hanging out with a woman who rides as much as I do. I loved her pictures from the trip, which included one from Wytheville (remember the initial broken saddlebag bracket). We had a good laugh over that. Unfortunately I missed meeting Cowboy, but the road called, and I headed up to Dallas to see a couple of friends before going home.

The ride up to Dallas, while nice at first, created my new dislike of Texas drivers over all others. I've now ridden in all lower 48 states except Kentucky, Washington and Oregon, and Texas stands out. Maybe being from New England and spending a lot of time in New York, I'm accustomed to outright hostile and aggressive driving. A number of Texas drivers struck me as clueless. There were two memorable ones. The first was a driver without brake lights, which in itself would be a little tough, but was made worse since the drive would choose to slow down quickly at times that weren't foreseeable. Add the logging truck behind me, and it was a thrill a minute. The second was an FJ Cruiser behind me in construction traffic. I'm not sure why he refused to pass me when I pulled over and politely motioned him to pass me after my subtle attempts to get him off my ass weren't working.

Dallas included a trip to The Old Bike Shop with its small but fun museum stashed in the back. After that was Strokers, the mega-mall of all things biker: bike shop, wild customs, all kinds of clothing and accessories, and a bar. I was thrilled to take this tour with a woman I've worked with at a distance, Raine Devries. We both contributed to the book Biker Chicks, and we are writers for Examiner.com. Raine is the Dallas Motorcycle Examiner, Harley-Davidson Examiner, and the Dallas Downtown Examiner. She is also heavily into film production. This worked out well for me because she knows people, and that meant I got to see a little behind the scenes fun at Strokers. After hanging out with Raine, I buzzed over to the east side of Dallas, on the edge of Lake Ray Hubbard, for lunch with a woman from HD Forums. After that it was back to my friend's house north of Dallas for dinner and a movie. We saw A-Team. So much fun!

Dallas was my last stop in Texas. I struggled with the need to get home and move, and my desire to take a nice cool ride in the Colorado mountains before getting back to life not on the road.