The only things in life you regret are the risks you didn't take...
Every winter, I spend countless hours looking at a map of the US that I have hanging on my office wall. I've traced the routes that I've taken on my trips on that map, and at a glance, you can see where I've been, and where I've liked riding (by the number of different times I've been through an area). There was a void to the south and over the winter I kept looking at it and wondering what the Rio Grande valley looked like. I decided to find out.
Even though I had a recently purchased ST1100 in my garage, the CBR1000F is still the bike of choice for a 1-up week long trip. The sacrifices in comfort are easily made up for in power and handling. Before leaving, I had spoken to Mark Webster from the CBR list. He had used a number of my pictures in a company publication about 6 months ago, and we decided to meet in person and ride through Arkansas together, since he lived near Tulsa, OK.
As a predecessor to this trip, I was first going to be heading to Cedar Rapids, I-wa (the "o" isn't pronounced by natives) to attend a wedding with my GF. I planned on leaving the next morning from there, and meeting Mark in Lebanon, Missouri. Past that, my plans existed of "let's head into Texas, try to hit Big Bend National Park, and just see where I end up from there."
Sometimes the only way to find out what something is all about is just to do it. After that, you can decide whether or not it was the right thing to do. A dangerous game to play sometimes, yes, but that's just the way I am.
Penny and I had to leave early this morning, and we were on the road pretty much at 7:30AM. It was damn cold out, and once we reached the Oasis on I-88 near DeKalb, IL, I had to pull in to get some breammafast and put on another layer.
The ride across I-88 was pretty uneventful, except for the cold and the crosswind, and I found myself for a moment missing the creature comforts of the ST. Today was definitely different - having a destination the first day. It wasn't a sacrifice at all, and I was looking forward to the wedding and meeting more of Penny's friends. As we approached Cedar Rapids, the temperature rose quite a bit, but I had been so cold, I didn't dare stop and take off any layers.
We had a great time at the wedding, and after a couple of hours of drinking and dancing, I was more than ready for bed. The trip really started on day 2.
I actually woke up on time, probably because I knew I had a good 350 miles to go before I met up with Mark in southern Missouri. Penny and I said our good-byes, and I have to give her credit for being one cool chick. She didn't give me any hard time or guilt trip about leaving for a week. Even though I could tell she was sad, she shed no tears that morning. I wasn't overly worried about it, but I felt bad enough leaving her for a week that I didn't really want to deal with that. I didn't have to, and after a series of good-byes, I took off with her watching me from the hotel window. I knew I was going to miss her, but the open road was calling. I thank her for being so understanding about me taking trips like this. She definitely is one cool person.
Anyway, I pretty much burned out a tank in the saddle this morning. I made pretty good time,although the headwind was wreaking havoc with my mileage. I stopped in Memphis, Missouri to fill up, and asked the attendant if there was a breakfast place nearby. She directed me to the Junction Cafe, just down the road near the junction of route 15 and US 136. There stood a little shack, and I grabbed a window booth and watched the light traffic go by as I enjoyed my ham & egg breakfast.
Back on the road after breakfast, I realized that the headwind was not going to let up, and that my mileage was going to be suffering from it. Along the way, I passed through a small town and spotted the Penny May Motel....had it been the Penny Mae motel, I would have snapped a picture, but instead I kept on going. I filled up one more time before making it to Lebanon at just a couple minutes past 2:00. Mark, as he said he would be, was a black blob lying down in the grass. I spotted him and the XX and pulled over.
After a few introductions, we continued south on Route 5 heading towards Arkansas. I took the lead initially, and set a nice leisurely pace of about 75. Heading down on route 5, I spotted a roadside stop that Jeff and I had stopped at 4 years ago, so I pulled in for a minute, snapped a picture, and gave the lead to Mark. Reminder: Mark is on an XX. Needless to say, the pace increased. :-) I look down, and I'm doing 90 just to keep up with him. Damn XX riders. :-)
We crossed into Arkansas, and at a gas stop, Mark asked a local for a restaurant suggestion. A little ways down the road, we pulled into the Front Porch restaurant and enjoyed their dinner buffet. Talking to the waitress, we find out that we're in a dry county, so we head back to the previous county to try to grab some beers for camping that night only to find out that the whole state is dry on Sundays. Damn, that would have been nice to know. Not a big deal - we turned around, this time with me leading, and headed back towards the campground. Just as we are leaving the town, there's a number of state troopers along the road. They probably heard us go through a couple of minutes ago, and had Mark been leading, we'd have been busted for sure.
We jumped on Route 14 heading south to get to the campground, and immediately the road turned really twisty, and I started picking up the pace. After a couple of miles, the tar-snakes ceased to exist, and I really started to hammer. What a great ride, this road is clean and a lot of fun, and hey isn't that where I want to turn....BRAKE!!!! SS Brake lines were a good addition this winter. We headed into Buffalo River State Park and grabbed a campground for the night. After setting up camp and gathering some firewood, Mark and I chatted for a while. I was impressed by Mark's minimalist approach - he used the XX to lash a tarp to and staked the other end into the ground. He assured me that if he were out for longer he'd have a tent, and we swapped a few camping stories. The stars were out pretty good that night. We turned in around 10:00 or so, and a couple hours later it started raining, and it rained pretty hard for quite a while.
I remember waking up in the middle of the night and wondering 2 things: 1. How is Mark staying dry underneath that tarp, and 2. Man, I hope it stops raining by morning. Luckily, Mark was dry, and it did stop raining as well. After packing up camp, and enjoying some gourmet camp-coffee, we headed back to route 14, and immediately got back into the twisties. Yee-haaw. What a great way to start the day. After about 30 miles of twisties, we stopped at a mom & pop restaurant for breakfast, and Mark was actually surprised when I ordered a side of grits - ya know, being a yankee and all.
After breakfast, the fun continued as we traversed the Arkansas countryside over towards Route 7. It looked like we might get some more of that rain from last night, but it never did start back up. We ended up taking Route 27 over to Route 16 through Ben Hur - I had no idea until now that this is one of the roads that both Chad and Mr. Trank recently took on their Arkansas journeys this year. Mark and I stopped roadside for a bit on 27 to exchange high-fives and to take a picture or two, and D'OH!! The back of my camera opened, exposing my film and ruining the first 10 pictures on the roll. Damn. Soon we got to Route 7, which was nice, as usual, and before I knew it, we were on Route 10 heading (err, really movin') west towards Mt. Magazine. Route 10 is pretty much dead-straight, but I knew that the road up to Mt. Magazine would round off any flat-spot that Route 10 created. The twisty road ahead signs appeared immediately, and I automatically moved my feet higher on the pegs, downshifted, and watched Mark disappear in my rear view mirror - hey, I had to put that in there Mr. "I have an XX so I'll cruise at 100 MPH." :-) The ride up is a lot of fun, capped off by a right and then left switchback, both of which have a few grams of my footpegs ground into them. I remember thinking "Hmmm, I bet Chad dragged pegs on both these corners." I found out later that he did.
When I reached the top, I pulled over and removed my helmet, and Mark pulled up just a few seconds later. We stood atop the mountain for a while, exchanged a few more stories, and then unfortunately had to part ways. It was great to meet up with and ride with Mark for a while, and next time we'll make sure we bring the beers and cigars!! I followed Mark down the other side of Mt. Magazine before breaking formation and heading for the Oklahoma border.
After crossing into Oklahoma, I found myself heading down Route 59 thinking "Uhhh, hey, I've been here before." Remembering the town of Texarkana, which is where this road ends up, I decided to make a right, and head across on "Ummm, what road is this.....Talehina Scenic Highway....yeah, sure. Sounds good. Wait a minute, didn't Chad tell me to take this road. Cool." What a nice 30 mile stretch of road this was. The pavement was clean, the turns had a nice bank to them, some impressive uphill and downhill grades....and not a car in sight. After just a few miles, I pulled over at an overlook and decided to eat my Lunchables. I stopped and ate for a good 40 minutes, and not a single car went by during that time. It was really peaceful there, and it felt to me like I had been on the road forever, even though it had only been a couple of days.
After a nice downhill run into Talehina, I headed south towards the Texas border. The rolling hills of Oklahoma were nice, and even though the roads weren't challenging, the ride was peaceful and relaxing. After a couple hours, I hit the Texas border and started looking for a cheapo motel to spend the night. I had been sneezing like crazy the last 2 days and thought it was just allergies. This afternoon, I started to get that scratchy feeling in the back of my throat, and I figured a good night's rest would help. I ended up in Sulphur Springs, Texas that night, and grabbed a cheapo-hotel room for the night. After another sandwich, I was ready for bed.
The Black Whale and the Blackbird (with Mark Webster) parked roadside in Arkansas
My CBR with Mark Webster's XX at Mt. Magazine in Arkansas
A nice overlook along route 1 in Oklahoma
A view of the elevation changes of route 1 in OK
Oh man....I feel like crap. Damn cold. First thing, I walked over to the gas station for coffee, a doughnut, and "ummm, I should probably get something for this cold. Day-quil. OK, that looks good." I popped a couple Day-Quil, inhaled a doughnut, and sipped (it was hot) the coffee. Next thing I know, my nose is clear and I'm not too lightheaded. Sounds like a good opportunity to ride!!
I jumped on the Interstate and headed towards Dallas (and no, the TV theme song wasn't in my head, but George Strait's "All My Exes..." sure the hell was). Looking at a map the night before, I realized that Texas is a damn big state, and the best way to get through Dallas was via the expressway. Heading west, I come up over a rise, and I have to admit that there is one hellova view of the city. Everything was really green, and after a breakfast stop, I continued south towards Waco. After some more highway droning, I exited at Waco and headed back into the countryside. I was surprised to see so many rolling hills. You could see the road roller-coaster into the horizon, and the wildflowers were incredible! Yellow, purple, red, and orange wildflowers were a pretty constant sight along the highway for at least a hundred miles. It wasn't too terribly hot either, or I was sick enough that the heat was helping me. I'm not sure which was the case.
After a gas stop, I continued heading south, and figured I could make it to Del Rio that night and grab a campground. The road scenery started to change, and now I was in cactus country. Along with the green trees, there were thousands of cactuses with yellow flowers. I found it interesting that both green trees and cactuses would survive in the same climate - tells you how much I know about agriculture. Along the way, the hunger bug hit, so I pulled over at a little creek and ate my lunch. I really like stopping roadside in the middle of nowhere for a while - it gives me a chance to take advantage of those places that everyone else just drives by, never giving it a second look. It's amazing some of the beauty in the world that you can find....you just have to stop looking for it sometimes.
Anyway, back in the saddle and heading south, I cross the Interstate and get into really desolate country. There's literally nothing around here, except for "holy cow, that's a longhorn!!" Since I had never seen one of those before, I grabbed for the brake handle, and pulled over for a minute. For such a mean looking animal, he sure was jittery - I had to sneak up on him slowly to get a picture - unlike the llama who came running from 50 yards away and looked at me like "hey, how's it going? Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Eventually - have I mentioned that Texas is a big f-ing state, I made it to Del Rio, grabbed a sandwich and a couple of beers, and headed west towards a state campground. This really reminded me of the time I camped in the desert in Arizona. The winds were blowing pretty good, and there wasn't a cloud in the sky as the sun slowly disappeared over the horizon. I sat for a long while just staring into the distance thinking about things, and enjoying my beer. Before I knew it, it was pitch black out, and I walked a little ways away from camp to enjoy the stars. They were out pretty good that night, and I remember waking up a couple of times during the night and admiring the stars through the window on the tent. It was a lonesome feeling being out there all alone and one that I hadn't felt in some time. I can't explain the allure of something like that unless you've done it yourself, so I won't even try.
The rolling hills of Texas, heading west out of Waco
Wildflowers flourish along the roads in Texas
Stopped in Texas somewhere, a nice lunchtime view
The Whale parked roadside during a lunch stop
The view from my campground in Texas
Watching the sunset from the desert in Texas
I awoke to birds chirping, and temperatures rising quickly, even at 6:00AM. I watched the sunrise over the mountains to the east while enjoying coffee and a danish. I'm pretty sure the last time I saw the sunrise was Fernandina Beach, Florida, about four years ago.....at least my shoes won't get soaked this time. I actually wasn't feeling too horrible this morning, but I took some Day-Quil anyway.
After packing up camp, I headed towards Big Bend National Park - BTW, Texas is a big f-ing state. About two hours later, I found myself approaching the park entrance, and you wanna talk about desolate areas - this is it. There isn't a shread of civilization to be found, and all around you are mountains off in the distance that look a lot closer than they actually are. So I'm riding along, thinking about god-knows what, when out of nowhere a B1 bomber pops up from behind a ridge about 500 feet in front of me. "Holy Crap!! I wish I had my camera.....ummmm, it's around your neck dumbass. Oh yeah." Snap! I come to find out later that they do a lot of military training flights in the area. I watched the B1 disappear into the horizon as he traced the contours of the landscape and thought "What are the odds of that happening??". Pretty damn cool.
After a quick stop at the park entrance sign, and a quick conversation with the park ranger, I headed into Big Bend. I have to admit, there really was nothing spectacular about the park itself, and had the ranger station not been there, you wouldn't have known where the park began - but that's part of the allure. Here is a desolate and very pretty National Park that doesn't have the traffic and congestion of parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone. For that fact alone, it's worth visiting. There are some great views, and the mountains are pretty spectacular, but the isolation is the most attractive part about it.
Exiting the park, I spot a gas station and fill up. I decided to take the road that heads through Big Bend Ranch State Park towards Presidio, TX. The "No trucks allowed. 30% Grade" sign should have clued me into what was in store on this road. The road traced the Rio Grande (about which Beavis would say "Ummm, that's not really that grand Butt-Head") through an area of cliffs and drop-offs that made me wonder "who's the genius that built this road??" Absolutely spectacular rises and falls, but a little too dirty and scary to push it at all. I found myself standing on the footpegs just to see where the road was going. This was a surprise, and something I totally didn't expect.
I stopped in Presidio and was feeling pretty crappy. I thought that a couple of hot dogs, one of my staple foods, would help my situation. I hadn't been able to really eat for the past 2 days and nothing tasted very good, including the hot dogs. I made a quick phone call (you gotta love 1-800 numbers) to the GF.....yeah yeah yeah, I know.....to ease her worrying a little bit and let her know I was still alive, and after pounding another bottle of water, I got back on the bike and headed north. I stop in a little town called Marfa to fill up with gas, and spot a US Post Office across the street. I had to make sure that I mailed a birthday card for my dad today so that it would get there by the weekend. Luckily the mail hadn't gone out yet that day.
Once again, Texas is a....well, you know the rest. Two hours later, I've still got two hours to go until I get to El Paso. Now the winds are picking up, and I'm heading right into a headwind. Great...as if my mileage wasn't bad enough to begin with. I make it to El Paso just before 5:00....ummm, what timezone am I in??...and I hit a little rush hour traffic. "I'll be damned if I'm stopping now," I say to myself as I catch a glimpse of the bank clock which displays 112 degrees. It really didn't feel that hot, and I realized that I was probably enjoying the heat since I was still pretty sick. Texas is a....oops, sorry. I decided somewhere around El Paso that there was no way I was staying in Texas a third night - I don't think I've ever stayed three nights in a state before, and my stupid male ego wasn't going to let this state beat me. I forged on for another 90 minutes or so, and eventually made it to Las Cruces, NM where I grabbed a hotel for the night. Phew...
Approaching Big Bend Nat'l, a B1 bomber flew by
Welcome to Big Bend National Park
The CBR parked roadside in Big Bend Nat'l
The whale along the Rio Grande after having left Big Bend Nat'l
After a restful night's sleep, I got a somewhat early start and decided to head over to old route 666, now Route 191, in southeast Arizona. I had heard good things about this road, and decided that despite the rapid depletion of my rear tire, I had enough tread to get me there and still make it back home.....I hope.
After about 2 hours of slab and a gas stop, I started to head north on 191 out of Morenci, AZ. I've been on some tight roads before, but this one hands down takes the cake. Before I knew what hit me, I was on the most insane road I have ever seen - the 10MPH Twisties for "Next 11 miles" should have clued me in, but that didn't really register. Initially I got caught behind a pickup following a Harley. I dropped back a bit, as there was no place to pass at all right here. I come up to a 10 MPH switchback, and think "OK, let's see...." and throw the bike into the corner. Next thing I know I'm in a massive slide and the front wheel starts to tuck. Now, I had recently received a video of me lowsiding last year, and what I thought was a rear end-slide lowside ended up to be a front end-tuck low side. I felt the front end start to tuck as both wheels slid across the pavement, straightened her up a bit and gave her some gas (instinct only), and somehow managed to save her. Needless to say, at this point my confidence was shot. I did catch up to and pass the truck and Harley, and never saw them again, but I was not riding fast. This was one scary road, regardless of your state of confidence. The 2000 foot drop-off alone pleads with you to take it easy.
After the first 25 miles or so, of which about 17 of them are marked with 10MPH corners, the road opens up just a little bit as it enters Apache National Forest. I pulled over roadside to take in some fluids and grab a bite to eat, during which time, I only saw 1 car and it was going in the opposite direction. The views, if you could take your eyes off the road for a few seconds, were great, and this was a good opportunity to stop and enjoy them - and talk some confidence back into myself. I was too freaked out by that near miss, and I decided to throttle back just a bit and enjoy myself. Back in the saddle, the twisties didn't let up for another hour or so. The road was fantastic and I started to dig in just a little bit, but nothing near to where I was riding at the end of last year. I started to gain a little confidence and had a lot of fun through the mostly 20 and 25 MPH twisties. The day was turning out to be very good, and the temperatures were perfect. After a couple more vistas and more and more twisties, I arrived in the town of Alpine and stopped for a drink.
I talked to a local at a roadside stand for a few minutes, and he told me that if I was heading to Albuquerque, I should head east on 180 and then take 12 past the radar station. Sounds good to me. Heading east on 180 was very nice as well, and was mostly 40 MPH sweepers which were a nice change from the morning insanity run. Before I knew it, I was on Route 12 and heading back down into the desert valleys. Coming over a ridge about 45 minutes later, I see a huge array of satellite dishes waaaay off in the distance. As I rode along, they didn't seem to be getting any closer. Eventually, I stopped roadside to read the sign and take a look at the VLA (very large array) of satellite dishes. They are placed in a "Y" formation on railroad tracks and are used as a telescope to read radio waves from star systems millions of light years away. The dishes were 80 feet in diameter and the building 10 stories, but they are so far into the desert, they look like tinker toys.
As I approached the Interstate that would take me to Albuquerque, the temperature again rose back to desert conditions, but didn't really bother me that much. The ride up towards the city was pretty uneventful, and after riding through the downtown area, I saw a sign for a Motel 6 and headed for the offramp. Unfortunately, they have some weird frontage road system where you have to get off an exit earlier or jump back on the other way....blah blah blah....OK, here's another hotel. Perfect. I'm here. "You've got a hot-tub? Cool."
Holy insane road Batman!!
A lunch break along Route 666
A view from the mountains in southeast Arizona
Another Arizona view
The VLB by the VLA
After a hot-tub induced good night's sleep (there's a reason they have the 15 minute rule for hot-tubs.....but you know what they say about rules) I got a pretty early start, and decided to head up to Santa Fe and grab some breakfast. I jumped on the slab and made it there quickly. I took the last exit into Santa Fe, and ended up in the middle of nowhere. I spent the next 15 minutes riding around the outskirts of the city trying to make my way back into the downtown area. Eventually I made it there, and I had breakfast in an outdoor cafe with the CBR parked right out front. The adobe buildings were very different, and the whole atmosphere of the city was relaxed and unassuming.
After breakfast, I continued up towards Taos, stopping along the way to snap a few pictures. I was surprised to even see some snow-capped mountains off in the distance. The ride north was great scenery-wise. After a while the road went back to 2 lanes and began following the Rio Grande. The road twisted and turned through the canyons and the views didn't disappoint at all. It was one beautiful ride up to Taos. Once in Taos, I pulled into a parking lot and figured now would be a good time to grab a t-shirt or hat or something. I didn't even see the lot attendant, and he came up to me and informed me that it was a $4 lot for parking, and I told him that I was just gonna run and grab a t-shirt and we struck up a conversation. He eventually said, "ehh, never mind the 4 bucks. Take your time." Cool guy, and a nice gesture, and I gave him a couple bucks on my way out anyway.
At this point, I realized it was Friday, and I had about 1300 miles home or so, which isn't too big a deal, but I figured I'd better start heading back east. The ride out of Taos was again very nice, with the road winding around the mountains while tracing the banks of rivers and streams. It was very green in this area, which was a nice change from the desert topology around Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The temperature was perfect, and just a few white puffy clouds filled the sky - a typical New Mexico day. Somewhere along the way, I started to get hungry and stopped at a roadside lodge along the highway. Inside the walls were filled with pictures of everything from bears and eagles, to cowboys and horse-drawn carriages. Pretty cool place.
I continued across New Mexico, and eventually ended up back in the plains as I watched the mountains disappear behind me. After a quick stop at the state line, I started across the Oklahoma panhandle. A while down the road, I stopped for gas and to pickup a map, both to find out where the hell I was, and to try and find a campground for the night. While giving the bike a quick once-over, I noticed that the master link clip was missing. I walked across the street to a repair shop and borrowed a pair of needle-nose pliers to remedy the situation. Upon returning, I struck up a conversation with the mechanic. He had a totaled GL1100 sitting in the corner that ran but needed more than just TLC that I jokingly offered to fix up for him.
After looking at the map, I saw that there was a campground about 50 or so miles away, so I decided to make that my destination. After a quickie-mart stop for some food, I made it to the campground to find a scene that looked like it was right out of the movie "The Day After." The place had been deserted and the grass and weeds had grown so high that there wasn't even a place to setup a tent. So, I looked at a map, and found another campground about an hour away, so I decided to head there. About 20 minutes on the road, I notice the skies ahead getting darker and darker, and I lower my sunglasses to get a clearer look. "Hmmm, them's some pretty dark skies ahead....right where I'm heading...in the Oklahoma panhandle....during tornado season...." I had just passed an intersection, so I turned around and headed towards Liberal, Kansas where I found a really nice cheapo room for the night. I sat back in the lazy-boy chair in the room, put my feet up, had my sandwich and a couple of beers, and just relaxed for a while. After all, that's what time off is all about.
A statue and nice view heading up to Taos
Heading out of Taos, a nice afternoon view
Some snow-capped mountains, heading out of Taos
Leaving New Mexico
After loading up the bike and wiping down the rain-soaked seat, I headed down the street to fill up with gas before I headed across Kansas. "Auntie Em!! Toto!!!" As I'm filling up with gas, I notice a Land of Oz sign across the street, so I figured I was really in Kansas. I took a walk over there to find a replica, not the actual Wizard of Oz house...but I snapped a picture anyway figuring Penny would like this.
The morning ride across Kansas was actually pretty nice. There were a lot of rolling hills, Morton Buildings, farmers out working, hawks circling, and other things to keep the mind occupied. After a tankful of gas, I stopped to grab breakfast at a truck stop. I had forgotten that I wore my "Yeah I see her....as often as my motorcycle let's me" t-shirt that day....that is, until the truckers behind me started chuckling. One of them asked for a closer look, and I think they were quite amused. I ordered a 3x2x2 (3 cakes, 2 eggs, 2 sausages) and the waitress warned me that the cakes were big, so I changed that to a 2x2x2. And I thought the cakes at the Lumberjack restaurant in West Virginia were big. I didn't even finish half of them.
Back on the road for another tankful of gas, I remembered how much I enjoy taking the 2 lane highways as opposed to Interstates. Sure I wasn't making as good of time, but the ride is just so much more enjoyable. I didn't really care where I was, and I wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere, so I just cruised along at 65 along US 50 and US 56 across Kansas towards Salina. I did a lot of thinking along the way, and just kinda sat back and relaxed. It was nice to take a different way back from the mountains, and I didn't mind the ride at all. Eventually though, I made it to Salina, and after realizing that I have no idea where Dave Kruckemyer's parent's house is/was, I kept going. At this point, I had to get on the Interstate and make it through Kansas City and into Missouri.
Heading east on I-70 out of Kansas City, I started to approach Colombia, and again I saw that the skies ahead were getting really dark. I finally hit some good rain on this trip after avoiding it for 7 days or so, which isn't bad at all. I rode for about another 45 minutes through the rain to Colombia where I grabbed another motel room for the night. I was disappointed that I didn't get to camp last night or tonight, but there just wasn't anywhere around and the weather would have made for less than ideal conditions. I'll save it for another time.
Yup, I think I'm in Kansas now....
After a stormy night, I continued east on I-70 towards St. Louis, and after about 45 minutes or so, I saw a "Road Closed ahead....something about alternate routes...." type of sign. Right after that, I saw a sign for Hannibal, MO, so I jumped on US 61 and started heading north. After a McDonalds breakfast stop and a quick look at a map, I figured I'd cross the river at Louisiana, and just kinda make my way towards Springfield, IL. From there, I'd just find my way home. The ride towards the river was really nice, and I could see the storm clouds to the south. I was glad I turned north instead. Crossing into Illinois, I gave the Welcome to Illinois sign the customary 2-fingered salute. The first 30 or so miles were really nice as I rode through a pretty heavily forested area. Eventually, after making a few north and east turns onto highways, I found myself approaching I-72 outside of Springfield.
I slabbed it the rest of the way back from there, stopping once or twice to change music, and/or fill up. Out of Bloomington, I jumped on I-35 north figuring I could take it to Route 34 and finish the ride with some quick country backroads of Illinois. It was a different way to get back, and much better than heading into the heart of the southwest suburbs and fighting the traffic, Volvos, and mini-vans. Ending the trip heading across the Illinois farmland was nice, but it gave me a quick reminder. I turned onto a nice "Illinois-twisty" road that I have hit a couple of times this season that was clean....however, it was now full of gravel worse than most Wisconsin roads. Welcome home.
I made a quick comment about my way of life in the introduction, and this trip was no different. I saw something out there, didn't know whether I'd like it or not, so I gave it a shot. As usual, it was the things that I didn't expect that I will remember for a long time.
I joke around a lot with friends about idiocy, and the fact that many times during my life I have done things that have resulted in me later calling myself an idiot. I have certainly taken some chances in the past that haven't quite worked out, but I lived through them, and learned from them. That has ultimately made me the person I am today. I have never been afraid to jump into a swimming pool to find out how cold the water is, but sometimes I jump too early and too often, and end up having to recover from a mistake. At least I'm not just standing poolside wondering "what if." That I can live with every day without a problem - no regrets.
OK Tad, where are you going with this one? Well, trips and life can be viewed in the same way. Just like a possible destination means taking a chance, so does a life decision. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don't, sometimes you're surprised by something totally different that you find/get/discover, sometimes after moving on, you appreciate things more and have a clearer understanding of life in general. Whatever happens, you're not left wondering "what if." I don't ever want to look back at something and regret not at least giving it a chance. If this makes me an idiot in other people's eyes, or my own for that matter, so be it.
Looking back, was this the right thing to do? Hell yeah. Sure, the Rio Grande was a little bit of a disappointment, and Texas nearly broke me. Maybe the things that I expected to find were different or a little bit of a letdown, but the unexpected discoveries made the trip more than worthwhile, and that's usually how things go - not only during trips, but in life itself. This trip also reminded me of a few things. It reminded me that I still really enjoy the open road and the opportunities that it brings. I love going new places, talking to people, and finding quiet areas to sit and enjoy a lunch. I love finding a hellacious road and seeing what I can do, even though I got completely shell-shocked in Arizona. That's just a mental hurdle, and I'll get over it I'm sure....I just gotta get my sunglasses working again. This trip, as usual, was nothing like what I expected. Finding the unexpected, the lunch stop in Texas, the incredible views from the mountains in Arizona, the peace and tranquility of Santa Fe, and the simple and peaceful ride across Kansas, made it so much more.
There's one other thing that I've been struggling with writing, and have tried a dozen times to put down here. I'll try one more time. I didn't get the escape that I often get on trips this time, and I think I figured out why. I didn't have anything to escape from. Even last year when things were going great, I was escaping from a void I had in my personal life. Penny has filled that void, and I couldn't be happier. There are other things too, and sure, it was great to be away from work for a week. For the first time in a long time, I missed my life, and felt like there was something to come home to, which wasn't the case in the past. Instead of being an escape from my life, this trip was just a addition to how great things are, and this was difficult for me to realize, as it's a really different feeling. I'm not even close to saying that I don't want to do this anymore, and that couldn't be further from the truth. Taking trips like this is part of me, and is something that I never want to give up. The thing is, I'm wondering now if I can couple the two together occasionally. Standing at an overlook on this trip, I thought how cool it would be to have Penny there with me to see this. Now, I know there's no way we could do a trip like this together, as there's only one other person that I know that can handle the miles like this, and that's Jeff. But I'm wondering what would happen over a week-long, shorter mileage trip, 2-up. Would I get the same feeling of exhilaration having someone else there, or would I miss the solitude of a lunch spent sitting with my feet dangling off a rock while I stare into a serene river valley. I have no idea really what something like that would hold. Maybe I'll just have to find out.
That's just the way I am.