As would be the pattern for this trip, I woke up about an hour earlier than Gianna, with the sun and the birds. I hopped on the bike and rode the half mile or so to the bathrooms, and rode back to get started on breakfast. I lowered the bags full of kitchen stuff, and set up our single burner propane stove to start boiling water for coffee and oatmeal. As the water came to a boil, I poured into the french press, placed the lid, set a timer, and went to go wake Gianna. “Coffee and breakfast!” I called as I wandered around following a lizard that was scurrying through our camp.
Today would be a long ride. About 400 miles. I have of course driven much much further than that in a car in one go, but the experience isn’t even comparable. Driving a car is ultimately just more TV. You’re in a chair, interacting minimally with the vehicle, just observing the passing of space through a large screen. Don’t get me wrong, it’s my favorite channel, but it’s still just more TV. Riding is incomparably more exhausting than driving, both physically and mentally. My bike weighed in at 570lbs dry, plus 300lbs of riders, and 350lbs of additional equipment, including what we were wearing. This leaves me responsible for the maneuvering of 1220lbs total, which while the gyroscopic action of the wheels keeps the bike upright at speed, take off, landing, and turning are still things which require a certain amount of strength. Additionally, as my seat did not have a backrest, it was also important to maintain a straight back and good posture.
We were pretty prompt about breaking camp, taking about three hours, and then it was time to hit the road. We stopped at the camp store for one last cheeseburger, and to fill our packs with ice. I think we have been the only people we saw in Texas willing to wear full protective gear in the oppressive heat. Adorned with Kevlar reinforced jeans, armored mesh jackets, leather gloves, boots, and of course full-face helmets, it was really hot outside at any speed lower than 50mph. Curiously, every bike seems to have wired the air-conditioning control directly into the throttle.
North-west Texas is very, very flat. The road stretched out endlessly into the horizon, only bending to follow the curvature of the earth. Frequently we would go whole hours never seeing another soul on the road. Like I said previously, the air conditioning is controlled exclusively by the throttle, and I have to admit I hit the throttle pretty hard through the wastelands, finally easing off around 105 mph. Having such visceral control of that power is, well, powerful. It’s an amazing, and honestly addicting, feeling that I have sought fairly continuously since being exposed to it for the first time when I was 17, on my first bike. Well, that was my first experience riding. I was exposed very young, as my dad rode for the first decade of my life.
The miles flew under the wheels in a blur for many hours. As we crossed the border into New Mexico, I had to notice how much nothing had changed. The signs on the roads carried different logos, but the sprawling flatness continued for another couple hours. We would stop occasionally to stretch our legs, eat our snacks, and take in the expansive nothingness. Today would be the first day we would be completely unable to rely on technology for navigation. We’d been without power since we’d left Austin, and my iPhone was dead. We would have to use….GASP!!! A paper map! And pens! And highlighters! This actually turned out awesome, because the tank bag I was using had a map window. Even had my iPhone not been dead, using it while riding is prohibitively dangerous, and so it would require to stop and look at the phone every time I needed to confirm directions. That could be pretty frequent, as my short term memory doesn’t work all that well due to my chronic chronic consumption.
I’ve mentioned how flat this part of the country is, but even more prominent than that is how fucking windy it is. The thousands of wind turbines dotting the landscape are a testament to the windiness of the region, but seeing those blades spinning isn’t the same as being blown so forcefully as to have to ride at a 45 degree angle to the ground. Despite the lean, the bike doesn’t turn, and we just carried on down the highway at high speed, lying nearly all the way over to a side for dozens of minutes at a time. Having never experienced this before, it was all I could do to stay calm in the face of such a force. Had it not been for the gloves on my hands, my white knuckles would have betrayed the fear I felt. A fall at these speeds, this far from civilization, and it could be over for us. Sure, we had all the safety equipment, but the amount of force transferred through your body when you collide with the ground is tremendous, and there are no guarantees in such an event. As we exited the flat portion of the drive, and began the ascent into the Rockies, the windiness diminished none, though the road became considerably more windy, with frequently nothing than a metal guardrail to divide the road from high sheer drops off the side.
As we would up into the mountains, we eventually left the main highway, opting for small, more scenic country roads. For all the convenience of the interstate highway system, they are miserable to ride on. Wide, full of cars, and soul-less, the interstate ruins the point of motorcycle touring. The adventure really comes to life on the back roads, easily found by simply looking for the windiest piece of road on the map between you and where you want to be. It’s important to get a very thorough road map for this approach, though. We didn’t find one, but we did find someone with one and a copy machine in a hardware and feed store in a very small town near the Texas-New Mexico border. Good enough.
As we rode down one particularly narrow bit of rural New Mexico highway, I spotted some deer crossing the road a short distance ahead, and slowed accordingly. As we got nearer, I could see that they were indeed Elk, and we passed so close to them I probably could have slapped one on the ass. Given the massive size of the animal and it’s matching massive antlers, I decided against it. I’ve seen elk before, but never so close, and with nothing between me and it. Cheesy as it sounds, they are truly majestic beasts.
After a couple hours of winding up the mountains, and through small farm villages in north-east New Mexico, we began to see signs warning that the roads up ahead would be unsuitable for large trucks. Well, we weren’t in a large truck, were we? No worries, full speed ahead. The road took a sharp bend to the right, running out of pavement as it did. We hit the dirt and gravel at about 45 miles an hour, nearly losing completely control of the bike in the process. I managed to maintain balance as I brought the bike to a stop, and took a minute to catch my breath, and examine the situation in front of us. Not suitable for large trucks indeed. I was worried about how well this overloaded touring bike would handle a road that seemed more suitable for dirt bikes, ATV, or even horses. A truck came from the other direction, and stopped to see if we were OK. After a brief conversation, I discovered that it would be 9 miles. Well, short of turning around, and taking an extra several hours to get to our destination, we made the decision to power onward. It was 35 to 40 minutes of white knuckled first gear riding through incredibly uneven terrain, following a winding mountain stream through the woods. Though a bit terrifying on a bike this heavy, it was beautiful, and was a brilliant reminder that we were indeed on an adventure.
We rolled back on to pavement with whoops of exuberant joy, fists pumping in the air. We pulled over at the first opportunity to smoke a victory bowl and take in the site of the pristine valley we had entered. To borrow phrasing from a much more renowned naturalist than myself, northern New Mexico is one of the grandest temples to nature’s beauty I have beheld. I always find peace there, and this visit would be no exception. We’d been on the road 10 hours at this point, and had only about one more to go before we could rest and shower in Taos.
We’d decided ahead of time to stay in a hotel, and pulled into the first one we saw with a vacancy and a reasonable seeming price. It felt spectacular to get off the bike and know I wouldn’t have to ride it again at least until morning. It had taken us 11 hours to ride about 400 miles, with probably about 8 of those spent in the saddle, and 3 spent taking breaks and eating. We smoked a bowl, and headed out to the one remaining restaurant still open. Taos is a relatively small town, and stuff closes early.
As we waited for the light to change to cross the street, a man sitting on the corner with a baby-stroller full of light up toys, playing a child’s light-up key-tar struck up a conversation with us. Dayglow was his name, and it appeared that being the strangest man in town was his game. He had a basket of nachos that we offered us, and at first we politely declined. He talked for a while about what chill people we were, and welcoming us to his home town. He invited us to camp in his backyard if we needed a place to stay, and invited us to a party he was throwing at his place the next night. Eventually he expressed that he would be offended if we didn’t take the nachos, so we did, and proceeded to cross the street to the restaurant we’d picked out, a bar/pub type of place. They were actually exceptionally good nachos as we began to eat them. However, 15 minutes later, sitting at a table outside at the pub, we began to feel something…different. What had been in those nachos!? A look at Gianna told me she was feeling the same thing. My mind began to race. What could I have eaten that would be coming up this quickly? If it was Acid, it must have been an immense quantity, so maybe it was something else. Our food arrived, and our symptoms remained relatively constant, neither increasing nor decreasing in intensity. After a quick and somewhat nervous dinner, we paid the check and walked the 2 blocks back to the hotel. We arrived back, and smoked another bowl in the hotel, finding that our symptoms increased substantially as we smoked. Could it just be the weed? Then it struck us. We had gained almost a mile of elevation over the last 11 hours, with most of that gain in the last 4 hours. It turns out that the combined effect of oncoming altitude sickness with smoking some super dank weed is fairly dizzying.
Sleep came easy that night. We were both so completely exhausted from what turned out to be the longest single day ride we would make. It felt like an achievement to have finally made it out of Texas. The cool mountain air was a lovely contrast to the HOLYSHITSOFUCKINGHOT of the State we had just left. The adventure had truly begun, and it was finally starting to sink in what we had undertaken.