The moons had aligned and the trip for Tom, Duke, and myself got underway in the late evening on Halloween. For me, this meant already being in my pajamas at work and simply transitioning those same PJs to the cab of the truck for the long drive west. We all hit the powder room one last time, loaded up, and headed out.
Duke’s (dixonduke) plan for the weekend involved both paved and unpaved riding, hence the need for a truck and trailer. Having already ridden the boring, flat, and straight route there and back myself in the past, I gladly accepted his offer to add more bikes and riders to his mode of transport.
The Katy Freeway.
The highway that connects two oceans.
It’s a freeway without character, but it serves its purpose well. Without lifeless freeways we could not so easily span the continent on journeys, trips, and adventures.
Every now and then these continental arteries are closed. A minor stroke, if you will, in the flow of the country‘s travelers. One such coagulation presented itself in San Antonio and forced a few loops and detoured backtracking just to stay on the same road we’d been on for the last three hours.
Very appropriately, we decided to watch the first episode of Long Way Down on a video iPod thingy - like a docking staion, but we piped the audio through the truck’s aux input. If there was a way to travel more comfortably across this huge state on wheels, I don’t know what it could possibly be.
The GPS displayed the ever-increasing altitude as we crossed through the Hill Country. As it was now well past midnight, the deer were everywhere and I was glad to have the protection of the cage around me. If I’d been on the bike, things could get ugly out there.
As the clock continued to tick away the minutes, late night ended somewhere and early morning had taken its place. Mollie was awake and checking in while preparing to throw a leg over and meet the other Houston-area riders for their two-wheeled version of our midnight ride. A few minutes later, Graeme checked in from their meet-up point to check on our progress. We were getting off the freeway for another break and some fuel. Even with an auxiliary tank, we were towing and climbing so fuel economy was lower than normal for the big diesel. As we pulled into the fueling station and aimed for one of the truck lanes, the truck began to shudder.
Well, you see the truck ran out of gas.
Yes, in the gas station.
Fort Stockton, TX.
No, I wasn’t driving nor did I have any affect whatsoever on the determination of fuel economy or location selected for the next fuel stop. Let’s just get that out of the way so y’all don’t have to remind me that I don’t pay attention to a fuel gauge.
What I didn’t know at the time was that unlike my car and bike, this truck wasn’t going to start back up just by adding more fuel to the tank. There was priming/bleeding to be done and for that, tools are needed. Tools that might normally reside in the truck when one has not cleaned out his truck in preparation for a long haul with cab-mates.
Here he is trying to get a pair of pliers to get it done, but unsuccessfully.
It’s pitch black outside, but pre-dawn hours in an oil, gas, and mining region means trucks coming and going - and with those trucks goes tools. Duke quickly befriends a local and help is on the way.
I don’t know his name, but the guy in the striped shirt was our hero. They had their truck backed up to Duke’s, tools out, and air bled from the system within minutes. I was trying not to be rude by flashing a camera on these guys, but I was reminded that it’s all just part of the adventure. Documentation is required.
Our good Samaritan took a face full of diesel for us. I felt horrible, but I was glad he was able to get us back up and running. Karma. Think about it.
The Good Sam adequately thanked, we got to washing the fuel off the truck and topping off the tanks. It was decided at that point that we’d NOT rely on the gauge for the aux tank for the remainder of the trip. Twice as many fuel stops makes for half as much worry about making it there.
The sun started to rise and I decided we’d play a game to pass the time and stay alert. It worked to keep us kids quiet for long drives to the grandparents’ place way back when, so I introduced the game of Geography to my driving mates. They seemed to catch on quickly, but it began to peter off when our brains decided this wasn’t the time for thinking. How many hours have we been awake?
My body now physically exhausted, I started to doze off. I was losing the battle to keep my eyes open.
Pilot to copilot: We’ll have none of that now, ya hear?
Nope, you made it this far, we’re inside the park so you’re staying up.
Fine. Be that way.
My eyes closed again. I couldn’t fight it.
Suddenly, the truck veered sharply and Duke let out a quick yelp. I jumped from my sleep and looked over to see him chuckling.
If I kill him now, there’s no way Tom and I will be able to unload the bikes by ourselves. I guess I’ll have to let him live for the time being.
The front gate was unmanned and the visitors center was closed.
Mother nature welcomes us with her beauty.
We headed for the camping area and settled on three adjacent unreserved spaces within easy walking distance of the restrooms, yet far enough away as to not let the lights disturb our sleep. We quickly filled out envelopes and dropped them in the box, then set to the task of unloading the trailer and setting up camp. I had renewed energy. We were here. I knew that once we’d gotten the tents up we wouldn’t have to worry about it for three days. I quickly learned to watch my step - the thorns were large and sharp enough to punch straight through my slippers and river shoes on separate occasions.
Storage lockers were located at each campsite to keep the roaming javelinas from getting into everything. Being the city girl that I am, crawling furry things and the idea of them going through my stuff freaks me out. Yes, I know we’re camping. I’ll get used to it.
Despite wanting nothing more than sleep, our bellies reminded us that we hadn’t eaten a meal in quite some time. We unhooked the trailer and made a run for the store just up the way, with a quick stop into the visitors center to pony up our dues.
Here Duke shows me some tall thorned cacti just outside the window. During his last visit in the Spring, they were in full bloom. Now they just look like sticks with throns.
We got back to base camp and made lunchmeat sammiches, then hit the sack for a nap. We didn’t want to waste the day, but we’d be dangerous on the road with as little sleep as we’d gotten.
It was hot. The vents on my tent’s rainfly weren’t allowing enough air in. No matter how still I lay, I was sweating outdoors in November. This is nuts.
It was a forced sleep, and not very restful. I awoke and stood outside my tent just enjoying the light breeze for a few minutes. It was apparent that I wasn’t the only one who needed more air.
It reminded me of the dog sleeping in front of the fridge in the winter to keep warm. Duke had found a spot in the shade on his cool metal toolbox.
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With the sun already well into its descent, we geared up, turned up the helmet tunes, and went-a-wandering on some of the roads inside the park.
Facing the camera into the sun washed out this “3 mouseketeers” shot
With this much sun in the lens, my bike actually doesn’t look dirty…
Here, Duke and Tom are:
a) Discussing the layers of rock formation on the adjacent cliffs
b) Deciding where to go from here
c) Plotting to ride off without that slow girl that gets nervous when the elevation changes by three feet or more
I like riding when I can just relax and enjoy myself. The park itself has some rolling hills, but nothing like the mountains we’d get to later in the trip.
Although not an all-out mecca for riders, Big Bend offers a great combination of scenery, twists, turns, history, nature, and seclusion.
We stopped for pictures in/at the tunnel. It looked scenic and there was almost no traffic to speak of.
Note: Either Duke has gone deaf at an early age or those noise-cancelling earphones he’s got are worth their weight in gold. Time and again I’d try to get his attention when out of his line of sight, but it was no use. I think I finally threw a glove at him once before the weekend was over.
Stunning. The colors in the pic are way off because of the light. I offer no apologies - go see it for yourself instead of just reading my version!
With the sun and haze as it was, the mountains in the distance seemed layered as if painted that way.
We decided to head to the hot springs, but it meant taking an unpaved road. The GSA and Strom were up to it, but was Tom’s Connie up to it? We let him decide for himself.
Must be that Adventure Connie…
These two old Harleys made it in this far, too.
Someone had been decorating with downed palm fronds outside the old store
The walk down to the springs was not very dirt boot friendly. These are the times when I long for my touring boots, but they offer so much less protection compared to the A*s. Ugh.
He backed up so far to compose a pic, the thorns tried to overtake him.
Petroglyphs carved into the rock wall. Sadly, vandalism has made its way into places like these. Disgraceful.
On the other side of this narrow river is Mexico.
We didn’t think it would be warm enough to take a dip, nor did we have time with the setting sun. Next time I’m going for a dip.
The R12GSA. Playing in dirt, just the way it likes.
Shadows grew longer
We thought we would have seen the Houston group on the road by now, but they never passed us. We headed up to the Chisos Basin Lodge, but to Duke’s disappointment (and my relief) we got stuck behind a slow-moving SUV for the tight switchbacks.
We parked the bikes and strolled into the Lodge for a quick snack and some rehydration, all the while enjoying the view of the sun setting all around us through the walls of glass.
Riding back down the switchbacks in darkness was not my idea of fun, and my grip on the bars was almost painful. I was constantly reminding myself to relax, but I guess I didn’t want to listen. As long as I kept Duke’s multiple driving lights within my line of sight I could pace him, but as he started to slip away I had to slow down my pace.
Heading south and arriving back at camp, we were greeted by a bunch of smiling faces and meat-a-cookin’ on the grill.
Dinner was capped off with chocolate cherry cobbler, and soon after it was gone folks started to fade away to the solace of their tents. It had been a long day for us all, and there were roads waiting for us in the morning.
Day 2: River Road (the paved one)
Waking up before the sun is up is not something I often look forward to, but on the road it was different. It was the promise of more riding, more fun, more frolic. Out here we rarely had to look at the time - the sun was going to dictate what we did and when.
I got the Jetboil going and had hot cocoa keeping the chill away within minutes. Graeme’s balloon-inflating stove eventually got his water to a boil, but he will probably want to find and fit all of the stove’s parts before his next trip.
Well, unless his next trip is in a hot air balloon. Then it’d be ok.
Bill was hard at work shredding potatoes for hash browns while bacon was crisping and Brandy was frenching the toast on a nearby camp stove.
The reason Kris’ new nickname is Sk8erboy:
With the group riding the paved River Road (170?) today, Duke was set to take the KLR down the unpaved version here inside the park. The KLR had other plans.
[Scotty]She hasn’t got any power, cap’n[/Scotty]
Bill and Brandy made sure we ate like royalty all weekend.
We cleaned up, geared up, and grouped up for a pre-ride meeting. It was essentially a quick heads up of the day’s plan, a reminder about signals and pace, and setting up a general order of lead/sweep.
Most of us had decided to ride out with liners and/or heated gear. To date, my new heated grips had been too hot to leave on low for more than a few minutes at a time. This morning, I would be able to use them as they were intended.
Everyone’s got a different pre-ride ritual. For a “people watcher” like myself, this period of time can be quite interesting.
Exiting the park, I was grouped a few bikes from the back.
We stopped in Study Butte for fuel. As we pulled in, we noticed a familiar sidecar and were greeted by Ara (Beemerchef) and his dog Spirit. Read their story here.
Moose was occupied with a small problem - the lack of a passenger footpeg. Not that he needed it at this moment, but it would have been nice if it hadn’t decided to jump ship somewhere between the campsite and the gas station.
We headed west toward Presidio and detoured for a break at the Terlingua Ghost Town.
You’ll have to sit through lots of boring words now, sorry. My camera battery went dead while at Terlingua. I had a charger back at camp, but I hadn’t realized how low it had drained and hadn’t prepared for it to run out. Oh well. Hopefully the others will make up for it.
We headed out onto 170 and rolled through the hills to Presidio for lunch, stopping at a scenic overlook for pictures. There must have been thousands of pictures taken between all nine of us this weekend - we were shutter happy! LOL
We had lunch at the small Mexican restaurant in town, but I don’t recall the name of it. It seems almost everyone got “the special” except me. Always original I guess. I borrowed a camera to take a pic of the meal, so it’ll show up eventually.
After lunch we turned around and rode through 170 again, and I felt a little more relaxed this time. I’ve noticed that I tend to ride better after lunch for some reason, but the music selections being piped into my helmet also help a lot.
After we crossed through the park entrance gate, Duke and I split off for Old Maverick Road, which was unpaved but maintained by the park (according to reports). The loose rock wasn’t very difficult, but the sand was killer. I had the advantage of watching Duke bounce over washes and ruts to pick my lines and he was my advance warning beacon to deploy the outriggers and paddle my way through a sand trap or three. We went down to Terlingua Abajo and Santa Elena Canyon, with many sections making me wish I was on my XR. At one point I was veering out to avoid a rut and whacked my helmet right into a tree branch that was hanging down into the road. I’m glad I leave my visor down!
I think I was more worried for my bike than for me. I could hear rocks flinging back up into his belly and hoped he’d be Ok. I only have a plastic belly cover; my aluminum one is at home collecting dust on a shelf. Don’t ask. At the end of the unpaved section, I came up on Duke with his camera out - but he’d missed the shot (hmm, I wasn’t as slow as he thought I was going to be?) so he motioned for me to turn around and do it again. YAY! Finally, a riding partner that takes as many pics as I do! hehe
We wound our way back to base camp through Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive (I think?), up past the basin, then back down to the Rio Grande Village. He’d run ahead and I’d just roll along behind him, but completely out of sight. I kinda liked it that way, but I guess when he’d pull off and wait for me to catch up he wasn’t quite sure how long to wait - he had turned around to come looking for me, but found me just lazing along through the curves. He swung back around, then caught up to me and motioned for me to pull over.
I was confused as Duke dismounted and came up toward my bike. He reached down and in a blur, was stuffing my license plate into my pannier. Huh? It’s been safety wired since I lost three in a row back in the early part of this year. The plate had vibrated off with all the rocks and washboard gravel we‘d done, and (for who knows how long?) I’d been riding with my license plate flapping around in the wind behind me. It had hit my tire and hoisted itself in and out of the air like a kite. It looked like it had been mashed under a herd of rubber-shod elephants.
Oops. This should be good for a laugh or two back at camp.
We hit the store on the way back and picked up more ice, and somehow found a way to get four bags of ice back on the top of a BMW’s panniers, since neither of us had empty space in our luggage to accommodate it. Resources and brainstorming are key when the temperature of the beer later that night is at stake.
Once back at camp, we rushed to get what we needed and head over to the showers, since they locked up at 8. I had to beg and borrow six quarters, since I wasn’t prepared for there to not be a change machine for the vending machines and showers.
We chowed down on burgers and dogs, then told the tales of trips that we all love to hear while shining flashlights on innocent bugs that have wandered into our circle. It was like an eco-friendly camping episode of National Geographic.
The wind had picked up, but it was still warmer than the previous night. Sleep came more easily with the breeze around me, but while I was cool - I was never cold.
Day 3: The Roads of West Texas
Breakfast was spectacular yet again, with Bill at the helm serving up eggs, bacon, and has browns.
Tents were lowered (to prevent the javelina from tearing them) before leaving the campsite.
Lined ‘em up and rolled ‘em out.
Video, best played at half-screen
A cool idea for a photo op that Bill thunk up. It was so empty out there, we were able to line up, dismount, all take pics, then all get back on and ready to ride before any other vehicles appeared. It was amazing, and it felt good.
Bill & Brandy waiting on the group to get saddled up and ready
I was allowed to ride sweep out of the park, but would have to fall back into the group after we fueled up, since the elevation changes would become a factor.
We stopped at the border patrol station, and although the Canadian got through without issue, the Scottsman got pulled off to the side for a quick check of his paperwork.
While Graeme was sitting in the shade of the check station, the rest of us were discussing Duke’s now-finicky final drive. He’d been burned on the road once before by the BMW’s infamous drive failure and he sensed a repeat sooner than later. He’d monitor the situation and turn back for camp if the need arose.
Rolling into Alpine for fuel
It wasn’t a great riding road as far as curves go, but it was scenic and it was getting us to the good stuff.
We found the “old soda shop” in town. We’d come here without knowing what it was called or where it was located, but how big could the town really be? As it turns out, the name of the place is the Fort Davis Drug Store and Old Texas Inn. It was small and quaint and perfect.
Pistachio shake that was sooooooo yummy!
L to R: Brandy, Bill, Incognito Graeme, Duke, Kris
L to R: Tom, Mollie, Al
The food was delicious and plentiful. I had a steak burger with tater tots and toast.
From here, we headed up to the McDonald Observatory. Tom headed back toward the Museum of the Big Bend, since he’d been up this way already.
This part was splendidly scenic - well, for the parts I could take my focus off the road for a mere instant, anyway. Once at the top, we watched Moose work on his airhead, saw a grown man in full cowhide lay on the pavement for a smoke break, and saw a big telescope and drawings of telescopes. Yup, in that order.
It was way high up. I coasted down to the next parking lot level.
The giant sundial was off by 20 minutes or so. Must be a daylight savings thing…
We went into the visitors center, but most of us just hung out in the gift shop while others looked around. A few of us picked up stickers to add to our panniers.
We headed back down toward town by way of the infamous loop.
In some parts, the road was long and straight, varying only in elevation by a few dips.
I took this opportunity to pull up alongside the line of bikes and see what I could capture one-handedly.
Duke (Dixon duke)
Bill (DFW_Warrior) and Brandy
On our way back into the park, I decided to send the sweep rider on ahead so I could stop for some pictures. (here’s where the mini tripod in my tank bag comes in handy)
*sorry about the incoming sun again
(and yes, that’s a bag of charcoal on the back of my bike. We made a pit stop at the grocery and liquor stores while in town)
Riding out here alone now, I fell into my “groove” and the roads got smoother under my tires as the classic rock tunes had me singing along inside my helmet. This was the riding I love. Nobody to catch up to and nobody catching up to me. It was less work and I was reaping more rewards.
Back at camp, Ara and Spirit had found our base camp by the tell-tale KLR that was left behind and Tom milling about, his trip to the museum complete. We had fun looking through pictures.
Story telling by the light of a propane lantern. This is what I call a vacation!
Spank decided that since this was the last night of our trip, he’d partake of the hard stuff.
Ribeyes, grilled to order and served with potatoes with onions and bell peppers. Delicious!
Ara and Spirit said goodbye and headed out for their journey home. I’m jealous beyond words that so many people get to call this place home.
Day 4: Long Way Back Home
Sunday morning. Time to pack it all up and head back to the lives waiting for us back at home.
Although loading up on the trailer, I wasn’t sure where I’d be debarking this train. I loaded the bike and only took my gear and tank bag into the cab.
Locked and loaded
We couldn’t have asked for better weather this weekend
Fog rolled over the mountains and through valleys
We stopped in Marathon for a quick look around at the Gage Hotel
A group of KLRs was parked out front, and at least three or four of them were new 08s.
The dash started alerting us to a problem with the trailer wiring. The incessant dinging was driving Duke crazy. No matter how loud we made the music, it simply couldn’t drown it out. Unplugged goes the trailer.
We stopped for lunch at a small mom & pop shop along the way, and this young lad was climbing outside on the window ledge. It seems he is here quite often, and does this every time.
The burger and onion rings were as good as any fancy place in suburbia. The couple that runs the small café overlap serving and cooking duties between the two of them.
Instead of going all the way back up to I10, we decided to head east on 90. It was a boring drive made tolerable by great conversation. We listened to 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea on XM radio and already started talking about coming back here with smaller bikes to get through the unpaved River Road.
We decided to stop in Del Rio and found this motley crew
We chased trains
Got some karma
San Antonio went by in a blur
And before long, the outer limits of Houston were laid out before us. We made one last stop for some drive-thru lasagna, then rolled into town.
Thanks to everyone who helped put the trip together. When‘s the next one?