July 5, 2011 – The Beginning of the beginning

The bike was comically loaded down with all our gear as we stood outside my mom’s place in northwest Austin, TX. It was July 5th. The sun beat down on us. Glancing at the thermometer, I could see it was 106 degrees. The hottest summer on record here. The cool pacific northwest that would be our ultimate destination seemed like a far away paradise. Gianna had just returned from “one last trip” to REI, about the 30th such trip taken over the last week. We hadn’t been quite done preparing for the journey when our lease ran out at the house off 12th street, so we’d been crashing at my mom’s for a few days while she was out of town traveling with my siblings. They’d returned the day before, and had gathered outside to wish us farewell, and take a couple pictures of our takeoff. Though we had planned to leave around noon, it was nearly five in the afternoon by the time we waved goodbye, and headed north. We stopped at a sandwich place called the Noble Pig for dinner before what would be the longest ride I had ever taken. Prior to this day, my longest ride had been a few hours, home from Houston where I bought my 1996 blue BMW R1100RT. The Space Camel, as it would come to be known.

Our bellies full of delicious sandwiches (those people respect pork), we set our sites on Abilene State Park, and headed north. The air was hot, but our camelbacks were full of ice water. 95 miles in, my butt was starting to go numb, and my focus was drifting from the road. I knew it was time to pull over. There was a nice municipal park off to the left of the highway, so we pulled into it, took our hot heavy gear off, and sat down at a picnic table. I will say here that you should NEVER ride under the influence of alcohol, but alcohol isn’t my intoxicant of choice anyways. After 30 minutes of refreshing our brain chemistry and stretching our legs, we saddled the space camel once more, and headed off into what was now the sunset. A short distance later we pulled into a gas station and split a red bull. There were many miles left to go this night, and as the night got darker, it became even more critical that I remained alert and focused. While at the gas station, a nice older gentleman asked us if we needed any oil or anything. Apparently he had an old BMW, and several gallons of oil for it just sitting around in his garage. While we declined, it was heartwarming to have strangers extend such kindness towards us. It was the first time on this journey, but by no means would it be the last.

Gianna had her headphone in, but I had decided not to bring any, so I could listen to the road, the wind, the world around me. What has always appealed to me about motorcycles is how immersive it is. You are completely consumed by the experience. You have a beautiful unbroken panorama of the magnificence of creation.

Finally, with the sun down, the temperatures began to come down a bit, and at high speeds I might have even described myself as comfortable. Another few hours would bring us to Abilene State Park. While it is nothing spectacular, it is a very pretty piece of prototypical Texas scrub land. We stayed in campsite 42. I hope that means something to you. We found our clearing amidst some oaks, cedars and mesquite trees. We began to unpack our camping things, some of them for the first time. For instance, we had never used this tent, tarp, or stove before. Fortunately, we’d invested in some sweet little headlamps from petzl, and set about deploying the camp fairly effortlessly. Our two-person tent really only takes one to set up, so we would usually split labor into setting up sleeping accommodations, and preparing dinner. We had selected a single burner propane stove, and it served us incredibly well throughout this journey. Despite cooking 2-3 meals a day on it, we got about 7 days of use out of each of the small backpacking propane cans you can buy anywhere.

Due to the record drought Texas, and most of the southwest, was experiencing, there was a burn ban in effect, and we were not permitted to build a campfire. While we prepared dinner, a young armadillo came and explored our camp a bit. I’d never seen one quite so close before. We went to sleep around midnight, staring at the beautiful night sky.

“The stars at night / are big and bright / CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP / deep in the heart of Texas.”

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