In the grand tradition of mad dogs and Englishmen, I too, headed out in the noonday sun. It wasn't necessarily by choice, but simply that it's the first long weekend I've been free to ride in a very long time... woohoo!
Terlingua and Big Bend is about the closest place within a reasonable riding distance to where I live, and it's far out enough to be... like, far out, man.
Last year I had ridden out for the 4th weekend and it turned out to be a great trip so I figured what the heck, let's do it again.
And so the story goes:
Thursday evening I got the bike prepped and packed, ready for the long, hot ride down I-10. Plan was to be up and on the road by 6 am to try to get as far out west as possible before the real heat started. Fat chance.
Amazingly, I actually got on the road by 6:30. Wow. I don't relish riding in the dark or low light in the Hill Country, due to the number of deer intent on committing suicide, so I was glad to hear the birds singing and the light coming up as the bike warmed in the driveway.
Last night it rained here, leaving steaming humidity which still lingered this morning. The ride in was damp, cool, and overcast, with the beautiful pink glow of sunrise slowly brightening the sky.
The ride to Kerrville took about 20 minutes and a few deer bolted across the road on the way in. So far so good, but now came the real danger... Blue Hairs. For those who don't know, Kerrville is populated with older retired folks, and driving here is dangerous. Trust me. Just ask anyone who's lived here.
I made it to the Shell on I-10, gassed up, filled the Camelbak and added a couple extra water bottles to the cases, scarfed down a muffin and geared up to hit the road. Woohoo!
As I dug for my earplugs, I realized I had left my cell phone on the kitchen counter. Aaargh! I knew I couldn't do 3 days alone in west Texas without my phone so I grudgingly rode all the way back to the house, grabbed the phone and made the treacherous journey back through Blue Hair territory to I-10, now almost an hour later than planned.
Cruising at 80 mph on 10 felt great. It's been a while since I've had time to ride and it wasn't long before the groove came back. With the sound of the Cowboy Junkies playing in my ears, I pegged it for Junction in the cool morning air.
Somewhere between Junction and Sonora, a rider on a yellow 1200GS overtook me and slowly disappeared ahead. I was already running 85 and he must have been at 90 or faster but I had no desire to chase him.
At Sonora, I zipped off to gas up and the 1200GS was just pulling out. We gave thumbs up as he went past and I pulled in for gas. I topped off the tank and filled my spare fuel canisters before buying another couple of water bottles in the store. The Hispanic woman behind the counter stopped arguing with her sister long enough to take my money, smile and tell me to be safe, then immediately resumed arguing loudly. I had to chuckle as I cranked up the pig and headed west for Fort Stockton.
By the time I reached Ozona, the sun had begun to have that familiar sting to it and as the terrain began to flatten the winds began to pick up. The wind was strong enough to keep things interesting. Which was good because as anyone who's driven I-10 knows how dull and uninteresting it can be.
Nothing interesting ever happens on those long, lonely stretches of wasteland.
The ride from Ozona to Ft. Stockton seems to take forever, and my mind wandered as the Allman Brothers jammed in my earphones. To the north and south, the giant wind farms slowly slid by, each wind generator spinning fervently in the gusty winds. Here and there, the occasional sour smell of crude oil reminding me of the presence of oil pumps beside the road.
Suddenly, right on my bumper at 80 mph was a State Trooper, lights flashing. I felt my colon bump my Adam's apple and instantly got that "oh crap" feeling and pulled into the right lane. He blew past me and kept going, thank God, but it took a while for my cheeks to let go of the motorcycle seat. Man he came out of nowhere and must have going 130 mph to come up so fast behind me.
About 10 miles down the road, I caught up to him driving slowly behind a flatbed wrecker which had an out of state car on the back. As I passed them, there was another State Trooper right in front of the wrecker driving slowly as well. They were definitely escorting either the wrecker or the car that was on the wrecker. Wonder why...
It was getting significantly hotter now, and I was more than ready for Ft. Stockton to come up on the horizon.
I got there right at Hot:30 and filled up at another Shell station, the two old bittys (bitties?) working there being quite unfriendly despite their price gouging on fuel. Sheesh. Nothing like overpaying and then being treated rudely for it. Oh well.
Ft. Stockton fascinates me for some weird reason. On the surface it appears to be a typical west Texas town, one road down the center with a few businesses on either side, and it is, but if you look closely it has quite an eclectic collection of truly funky buildings and homes. It's an interesting place if you get off the main road and explore it a bit. I'm not saying I would ride out there just to see the place, but there are some funky cool places if you're into photography.
I zipped though the old downtown area and grabbed a few shots before
catching 385 south for Marathon.
I wonder if they'll add Michael Jackson... hmmmmmm.
Headin' for Marathon
Man, talk about strict!!!! Sheesh... this is Texas ya know
The cows have more sense than me. What's new.
Love those Texas skies
By the time I reached Marathon, I was whipped and needed a break. The ever-increasing heat and wind buffeting had given me a headache and the blueberry muffin I'd eaten for breakfast was long gone from my tummy tum tum. Lunch, Advil and 5 gallons of ice tea was on my agenda.
I topped off again at the little Shell station at the edge of town before stopping in the downtown section to get lunch.
Johhny B's cafe was full, so I sat outside and ordered a hamburger and iced tea. Not sure what it is about the place, but I really like Marathon. It seems to be isolated from the world, and yet has a cool, artistic feel mixed with classic western influence. I see more signs of it becoming yuppified, which is disturbing but what ya gonna do?
New found friend
Last year I had accidentally stumbled across the Marathon "Post Dance" they have each 4th of July, and really enjoyed it. This year I wanted to see it again, and planned on going to Terlingua Friday, riding a bit Saturday and catching the Terlingua Parade to Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe, then riding back up to the dance afterward and spending the night in Marathon. Of course in my usual last minute preparations I hadn't booked a room in Marathon and the place is always sold out for the 4th. Last minute calls, as I sat outside the cafe waiting for my burger, found a cancellation at the Adobe Rose Inn bed and breakfast. As I asked the proprietor of the Inn where they were located, he told me to look across the railroad tracks for a man watering his yard and waving to me. Sure enough, there he was waving at me from a couple of blocks away. I told him I'd be over in a bit to book the room and waited for my burger to show up.
As I patiently waited for the grub, a Deputy Sheriff came out, decked in his hand tooled leather gun belt and Stetson, followed by two guys dressed in semi-para-military outfits, SWAT tactical boots with navy blue BDU's tucked in their boots, and loaded for bear with handguns, batons and radios. As the two "Mr. Tactical" guys turned their backs toward me, their navy blue shirts had "State Fire Marshall" emblazoned across the back in letters like the FBI and other ilk. I'm sorry, but why in the heck do Fire Marshalls need to be armed and dressed like SWAT cops???????
The burger was great, but I burned more calories waving the fly swarm off than I consumed in the burger. Man there were a bunch and they were faster than city flies by a longshot. Maybe it's the healthier climate - or maybe it's a lack of food, but these guys are fierce. Two years ago I had an encounter with them at French's Grocery... how soon I forget. The horror.
At any rate, I was driven off to a nearby bench to continue cooling down for a bit before heading over to the bed and breakfast and then on south to Big Bend. It was definitely hot in Marathon, but the breeze was quite cool and I wanted to just spend the day in the shade, talking to the myriad tourists wandering down from the Gage Hotel.
I finally mustered up enough gumption to put my gear on and head back out in the sun and heat.
The Inn was an old historic building, semi-restored, (at least enough to keep you from falling through the floor), but it included breakfast and, as the owner made clear several times, "a well stocked bar". Hey, at least it was a room in Marathon, and considering the dance is from 9 pm to 1 am, I knew there was no way I was gonna ride from there to either Alpine or Sanderson at 1 am to find a hotel... so I booked it, Danno.
From Marathon, I continued south for the Park, passing the Border Patrol checkpoint a few miles south of town. Each trip to the Bend, I've wanted to take Ranch Road 2627 to the border but hadn't had time. This time I decided to catch it on the way in.
Marathon had been hot, but now as I dropped lower towards the park, the heat became much more intense. Waves of heat came so strong they almost took your breath. It was approaching 4 pm and I'd seen no cars at all on the ride down from Marathon and I began to wonder if it would be wise to detour on RR2627 with the heat issues. Oh well, I decided it was now or never and turned onto the road and headed for the Stilwell Store and RV Campground on the way to the border.
The little road was narrower and rougher but turned out to be a beautiful ride. There were large clustered bushes of pink flowers along the road - quite a shock in the intense heat. In addition, the creosote bushes had flowered yellow and further down the road there were huge areas of purple sage flowering. It was quite a sight to see.
After about 6 miles I reached the Stilwell Store, RV Park and Museum. I had been drinking my Camelbak dry all day but was still hot and a little dehydrated. I went in the "store" and rang the bell for help. An older man slowly wandered in, and I asked him about the road and where it ended at the river bridge. He didn't answer for a long time, then said "You can't cross the bridge." End of conversation.
I have to admit however, that when I asked him the question, my voice was a couple of octaves higher than normal. It sounded almost like someone on helium... not quite that bad but you get the idea... I guess the heat and wind had dried out my vocal chords or something. I attempted to clear my throat and in a deep, manly voice tell him I wanted to buy a Coke... however it still came out in the high toned, midget man voice no matter how much I tried. Anyway, I paid him for the Coke and we spoke no more.
The museum was locked and it was so hot I was too lazy to walk back to the store to get the key
Sitting outside, the mildly cool Coke burned the crud off my throat and my voice returned to normal. Shortly after, a red car pulled up and an older woman and middle aged man began unloading groceries. The car was full so I volunteered (foolishly I might add) and carried in the bulk of the groceries, depositing them in the kitchen of the house/store. Each time they'd hand me a few bags they'd say "That's the last of it." and each time I came back out they'd hand me more. I must say, they were very good at loading a car to the brim.
She thanked me and wished me well and I headed on south for the border. RR2627 is actually a nice ride. Lots of natural beauty and no traffic. It was still 20 miles or so south of the Stilwell store and got hotter and hotter. I began to imagine how long it might be before someone might come along if the bike died down there.
I finally reached the end of the road and the single lane bridge that spanned the Rio Grande. The bridge has been closed since the 911 attack, as most of the border crossings have.
La Linda bridge.
Mexico. So close yet so far.
The old mine on the Mexican side.
Can anyone identify what this blue thing is?
My name is Zartron and I come in peace...
Ok, it wasn't a spacemen. It was actually me. Ha ha ha ha ha.
I walked around and shot a few pics, but it wasn't long before the heat began to get to me. Dude it was hot. And no, I wasn't wearing my riding jacket thank you very much. How hot was it you ask? Well, it was so hot, fire ants were actually on fire. It was so hot I spontaneously combusted, but my sweat soaked clothing doused the flame. And, dare I say it, it was even hotter than me in a leopard print man-thong. Can you imagine that??? After all the hot-ness, I cranked up the red pig and heaed for the Park Road and eventually Terlingua.
Entrance to zee Park
The ride into the park is always great. Cresting the hill and entering that long, wide plain surrounded by buttes and mesas gives me warm fuzzies... which made me wish for cool fuzzies. The area is special and you can feel it when you enter.
Putting along at 45 behind a couple of SUV's gives you the chance to slow down and take it in. The 25 miles to the park hq takes a while but eventually reached the Panther Junction Park Headquarters and turned in to the gas station to top off the tank.
Panther Junction HQ
I had drained the Camelbak once again, and refilled, also grabbing a cold ice cream sammich. Ummm Mississississippippippippi Mud. The cold felt good.
I think she was getting a ticket for speedo-ing...
I cranked up the tunes and headed west for Study Butte and Terlingua, enjoying the ride immensely, stopping hither and yon for snap shots.
The Study Butte Store
As I went on through Study Butte, I passed Kathy's Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe, which was closed since it was near 7pm, but I honked anyway in case she was working inside.
A couple miles down the road I pulled in to the El Dorado Motel and went inside the bar to get a room. I was the only guest and the bartender said it had been a very slow summer. Oh well, I'm doing my part for the local economy. I got in the room and got the AC going, drug my gear in and took a long cool shower. Unfortunately, the long cool shower was a short hot one. Both the hot and cold knobs gave only hot water. (Isn't this really interesting?)
Washing with Cashmere handsoap
I cooled in the casa for a bit then rode the pig up to the town and circled the store, pulling up to the porch. There was a small crowd drinking beer and watching the remains of the sunset and moonrise. I chatted with a couple folks and said hi to Doug, my ever present porch buddy with beer in hand.
After lolligagging for a bit I headed into the Starlight for dinner and another 5 gallons of ice tea. The music that night was good - the guy was singing old Willie Nelson and Bob Wills songs and his voice was like a mix of the two. Very pleasant time.
As he played a special request, the waitress grabbed one of the patrons and they danced in the darkness of the theater.
Outside, I could hear fireworks popping to the yells of locals, and after the music stopped I paid the bill and wandered outside. A couple of young long haired guys were setting off fireworks in the parking lot. I hung around a bit until it got quiet in the moonlight.
I started the bike and putted down to the graveyard, and as I got near a huge bottle rocket came shooting across about 15 feet in front of me. To my left, some campers yelled "Sorry!" amid howls of laughter. I yelled back "Good shot!" and they laughed.
A few more feet down the road I reached the old cemetery and turned the bike off. The moon had gone behind clouds and it was dark and peaceful sitting there. To my left I heard the thump of a fireworks cannon and shortly thereafter the boom and flower of sparkling fireworks. A second thump and a second explosion, followed by voices in the dark.
Moon over the old cemetery
After a bit of enjoying the cool air, I hit the motel room and called it a night.
Total miles ridden for the day was 521.
More tomorrow mi amigos...