The Reindeer Ride
December 1996 & January 1997
The plans were simple enough. Ride the bike south from Chicago, meet Larry and Greg in Louisiana, and wander our way to San Diego, collecting Mike and some Nat'l Park Stamps along the way, and end up in Seattle to leave my bike for an extended nap. As anyone who knows me well can attest, I'm not a fan of the Iron Butt Assn's National Park Stamp Chase, but told my riding partners that I would go wherever they did as long as I ended up in Seattle on January 5 for my plane ride home. As you will read, for the most part this worked out......
Day 1 - Friday, December 20:
The weather in Chicago was awful during the week preceding the trip, making me wish that I had joined Mike for the ride to Savannah the previous weekend when the temps were in the 40's. That weather was but a memory when I loaded the bike into the truck....fortunately, Sue allowed me to beg her to drive me south until the temperatures were tolerable. If you know how much she likes to ride, and then add in the fact that I was leaving without her AND making her drive me part way....and well, ok, she's pretty special. :)
We left around noon with the temps hovering at 3F, and pointed the truck southward. One stop for gas, a stop for food at Lamberts Cafe in Sikeston Missouri (home of the 'throwed rolls'...still not as good as the guy in Branson tho), and eight or so hours later we rolled into the West Memphis Motel6. The temperatures rose nicely into the mid-30's, and as I went to sleep I figured I might just be able to make it.
After a sad parting, I pointed the RS south on I-55 and putted along. I had a pretty short day ahead of me, so no speed records were broken. Mississippi was a lot more scenic than I ever imagined, with rolling hills and lots of trees. I crossed into Louisiana just after 2pm, and headed west on I-12 to get to the designated meeting point on I-10 in Baton Rouge.
I blew it when I made the reservation for us. I-10 goes thru New Orleans, and when I set everything up it didn't even dawn on me that we would have to backtrack a few miles to get to the motel. Duh. So I stopped at a rest area and perused their map. Finding a few back roads that would take me where I wanted to go, I left I-12 and headed southwest into the bayou.
I only got a little lost....took a wrong turn and ended up a few miles closer to New Orleans than I wanted, but I was so early at the motel that it didn't really matter. After unpacking the bike, I headed over to the local Winn-Dixie for chips and Dr. Pepper and waited.
Larry and Greg showed up after dark.......with Arno!! Arno had chased the cold front from Tucson for 2300 miles just to ride with the group back west, and was now part of the madness. We raided the local Shoneys for some plastic food and I headed to sleep wondering just what it was going to be like to ride together with a guy on a banana-yellow R1100RSL that was equipped with a frigging GPS!
Day 3 :
We left the motel around 7am and pointed the bikes west to Lafayette. After a stop at Cracker Barrel, we found the Jean Laffite National something or 'nother for a stamp and quickly got back to I-10 to make some time.
Traffic was moving, but it seemed like we were still passing everyone. I was trailing the group as we passed a car transport truck, and while I was next to the truck, the driver swerved off the road away from me and a black floppy object flew by. Turned out it was Greg's bun pad. :) After a turnaround at the next exit, Larry and I returned to see car after car beating the poor bun pad into submission. I think they were all aiming for it.
After a quick round of 'Dancing with Semis', it was back to I-10 west for the run into Beaumont. At Beaumont, we headed northwest to Big Thicket National Preserve near Kountze, got the stamp, and pointed the bikes toward Austin on some farm roads. We all rolled it up once or twice on the straight stretches, and Larry ran out of gas near town. Good thing we carries an extra liter with him.
Past Lake Conroe and on to Austin we went, convinced that it was 'just around the corner.' NOT. We got to Joe and Lisa's around 7pm and started destroying furniture and playing with the kids. Dylan now knows how to say the word 'technosnob,' exactly the kind of thing a 3 year old should know.
Since we got there so late, there weren't many dinner options available, but Bob's BBQ was open and they had fried okra on the menu, which was a new one for me. I slept pretty well that night.
Got up early and watched everyone else leave. Greg was off on his own, Larry and Arno by themselves, and I had a lunch date in San Antonio. Joe led me out to Marble Falls while continually ignoring his 4000rpm break-in limit :), and after we split I wandered down 281 into town.
I lunched with friends at a test lab I've worked a lot with over the years, and it was fun to catch up. Dennis is about my dad's age, and while both of them started riding at roughly the same time a few years back, Dennis has kept doing it while my dad kinda dropped it. We talked about traveling and new bikes and ate some blistering salsa before I had to head south to Corpus.
I-37 to Corpus is about as straight and boring as you can get in Texas, and for those of you who have traveled down there, you know that it must be particularly bad to make that list. I got off of the interstate just outside of town and used US77 to get to Harlingen for the route to South Padre Island. The temps rose nicely and for a few hours it actually felt like summer again. Hard to imagine that three days ago I was watching it snow thru the window at work.
South Padre is probably a rocking good time during Spring Break, but this time of year it just has a few locals hanging around and a lot of cockroaches. I got to the motel in time to see Greg cleaning the last bit of his RT, and after deciding that Larry and Arno were hopelessly lost, we went to dinner. It was steak night, but the onion rings were the star of the meal, and they tasted even better cold later on that night.
Larry and Arno showed up as we returned from dinner, regaling us with stories of fiery car accidents and sunny beaches. Sounded like an entertaining mix to me.
The skies were cloudy and drizzling as we departed along the border, traveling thru McAllen, Rio Grande, and eventually ending up in Zapata for breakfast at a Dairy Queen? They offered some sort of breakfast burrito thing that tasted pretty good, and we had a lot of them. At this point, Arno decided he would rather ride by himself since he wasn't feeling good. We agreed to meet at the motel later on.
After leaving town we stretched out a bit, and I trailed Larry and Greg by a mile or so. The back roads in Texas are all posted at 70 for travel during the day, but they could easily handle 100mph without feeling dangerous, so I occasionally obliged to catch back up. We gassed up in Laredo and watched Arno ride by, and then did a little interstate before jumping back off on to 83 toward Carrizo Springs.
We got split up before Del Rio.....I guess I trailed too far back. But I got to the motel first because Larry and Greg had run to the Amistad Nat'l Park for a stamp before returning to town. Lucky for them that there was an envelope full of stamps waiting for them when they got there....seems that even though Greg had called and confirmed that they would be open until 5pm, they closed just after lunch in preparation for Xmas Eve.
The sun was still out when we checked into the motel, so I borrowed some rags and washed my filthy scoot. After mounting the foam deer antlers that Larry gave us, I was ready to kick back.
The reality of being away from home at Xmas suddenly hit around dinner time, when we could not find a restaurant open. Well, Domino's was open, but they obviously weren't happy about it, because the pizza wasn't that good. But it was all we had. And there were cat paw prints on my spotless bike the next morning. Good thing it hadn't showed up for dinner when we were having a hard time finding a place to eat..... :)
We left early the next morning and headed toward Marathon. The road was EMPTY, and even with the few cars we'd seen on the trip already, it felt lonely. After a stop at the tallest bridge in Texas overlooking the Pecos River, we visited the Judge Roy Bean site and continued on. Everything was deserted.......
We rolled into Marathon around lunchtime. After stopping at the Gage Motel and finding out they weren't serving lunch to anyone, Greg wandered back and started chatting with some locals. It turns out the guy had a couple of Beemers and a 900ss at home, and he and his girlfriend invited us to her house for food! It still blows me away how people can be so generous to total strangers......
Susan said she would just 'throw something together,' and after ten minutes appeared with pots of pinto beans, sausage, and salad for us to munch on. Despite the great reputation of the Gage Motel around the country, I think we probably did a lot better and met some new friends to boot.
We then blasted down 385 to the entrance of the park, stopping for pictures and commenting on the enjoyable time in Marathon. A few minutes later we were at the visitor center in the park, and ran smack into Mike. He had apparently left San Antonio early, bombed down the interstate (mumbling something about 29mpg), and had already checked out our rooms at the Park Service ranch.
Since we were already checked in, there was really no point in ending the day so soon, so we headed southeast toward the border crossing at Boquillas. At the end of the road there is a path leading to the Rio Grande River, so we took turns checking out our border with Mexico.
What a shock! I expected a vast expanse of water between the US and Mexico like the Mississippi River, and was instead shocked to find a stream better suited to walking across than using a boat or ferry. Joke's on me, I guess.
After walking back to the parking lot, we shot some pictures with the local constabulary and explored some of the other roads in the area, which were nicely twisted and bumpy. We viewed Mexico from another vantage point, and then proceeded back to the lodge to relax and have something to eat. My dessert was lame..... :(
More to come.....as you Weather Channel devotees might remember, it got a little hairy.
Day 7 - December 26:
We had originally planned a short day around the park and then an overnight at Alpine, but changed our minds to skip to Carlsbad. This worked out ok for me, because I was eyeballing a rapidly wearing set of tires that I wanted to swap out in Tucson, so any extra time that I could spend there was welcome.
Greg split early on his own, and Mike, Larry, and I cruised out the west side of the park thru Terlingua (home of the chili cookoff) and Lajitas. From Lajitas the road turns into a roller coaster, and we blasted it. After a stop at a rest area (complete with teepees!) where Larry's centerstand decided to give up, it was off for more twisties into Presidio. I stopped to check out a VW Beetle with a for sale sign on it, but the interior was pretty thrashed and I decided to pass on it.
We skirted Presidio and headed toward Marfa. Larry's bike was still getting shit gas mileage, and as I noticed the odometer passing 130 miles, we slowed a little to try and bleed as many miles out of the tank we could. His bike finally ran out as we rolled up to a Border Patrol checkpoint. :) The officer gave us a slightly suspicious look, but then redeemed himself by identifying the best pie spot around.
We found the Hotel Limpia in Fort Scott without too much trouble, and gorged on pinto beans, jalapenos, cornbread, and spicy mashed potatoes. Mike charmed the waitress so completely that we got our dessert for free.... :)
We left Fort Scott after a quick stop at their National Historic Site, and headed up into the Davis Mountains for the best roads of the trip. Going up the grade toward McDonald Observatory behind Mike and Larry, I looked ahead and saw the road clinging to the side of the hill.....oh boy, this was gonna be cool. Mike passed a row of cars before the curves began, and when Larry paused on making the pass, I didn't want to miss the opportunity. I mashed the shift lever and blew by everybody except Mike into the first corner.
It was glorious.....we flew thru great pavement and no traffic for the next 25 miles, and after coming off the bluff on to the flat land, there was no Larry in sight behind us. Oh well, he probably got caught by the traffic, I thought, he'll catch up. So we continued on, passed thru a gravel laden construction zone, and waited for him at the I-10 intersection.
And waited. And waited. And finally a car rolled up asking if that was our friend on the other bike? Yes, we replied.....where is he? About 30 miles back? Sheeeeiiiitttt....... I volunteered to go back while Mike continued on for stamps, both of us wondering what the problem might be. I again tiptoed thru the construction, cranked it up on the other side, and encountered Larry almost immediately. He had swapped the fuel filter and now the bike was running fine. Great.....so back thru the construction zone, and off on I-10 to Van Horn for our last leg of the night.
After fueling in Van Horn, we headed northeast toward Carlsbad. Leaving town, there is a sign warning 'no services for the next 120 miles' and they pretty much mean it, as nothing is out there except for some 125 foot tall windmills on the eastern side of the mountains. We got to Guadalupe Nat'l Park for a stamp and when Larry got back he declared, 'we have 40 minutes to go 50 miles.' Sounds easy enough.....except the posted speed went down when we crossed into New Mexico. Reverting to stealth measures (Larry simply turned down what is arguably the loudest factory BMW radio I've ever heard), we slid into Carlsbad with minutes to spare, only to be faced with an eight mile jaunt into the park for the stamp.
I followed Larry up the winding road, as the sun began to set over the hills. Nearing the top, we were both surprised by a blinding ray of sunlight, and I watched in horror as Larry drifted over the centerline in the path of an oncoming motorhome. Fortunately, he had the presence of mind to notice the Bott's Dots he was riding over, and quickly manuevered back to the correct side of the road. The rest of the ride into the parking lot was uneventful. :)
Larry got the stamp, we headed down the hill, and finished the ride into Carlsbad where Mike was already waiting. Greg had apparently ridden on to Deming......
We left early the next morning for Artesia, and headed west on 82. I can see why Steve Aikens wears out radials so quickly out here, because 100mph simply isn't enough to get thru these flat NM roads quickly. But the road began to climb, eventually peaking at Cloudcroft, and we rushed down the west side to Alamogordo. A quick stop at White Sands Nat'l Monument, and it was off to Las Cruces.
The only reason for going to Las Cruces was to eat at the Spanish Kitchen, a restaurant my boss swore was worth the drive from anywhere. And it was.....after we finally found it. Despite conflicting directions from two different sources, we found it. And the food was as good as anticipated, capped off with a delicious round of sopapillas. It was kinda tough to wander back out for a freeway drone after such a big meal, but hey, that's what we get the big money for, right?
We then droned west on I-10. Mike got way ahead of us, so far we couldn't see him, but since we had agreed at lunch to meet at Deming, I figured we would probably run into him.
I was half right....Larry found him, but I missed him and continued on to Deming Cycle Center to see why Don is just so highly rated year after year. I found out after about 11 seconds.....what a gracious and friendly guy, with a large selection of neat stuff to pick from. We chatted for a few minutes until Larry showed up, and then he and I took off. Mike had decided to jump off the interstate to collect another stamp, with plans to meet us at the hotel later on that night.
I was tired. The big meal combined with warm temps made me sleepy, and I chose to combat that by going faster. I told Larry I wanted to boogie, and he said that was all right with him. We cruised I-10 between 85 and 95 for 90 minutes or so, gassed at the border (the truck stop sold ice cream _and_ satellite dishes!!), and then cranked it up again for the run into Tucson. Around Willcox the traffic started getting thicker, and everybody was hauling. We got the motel just after dusk.....not bad for 550 miles and a couple of lengthy stops.
I called Iron Horse right after we got our room, and they had a set of MEZ's they could install. I arranged to be there at 8am the next morning, called Rob Lentini to meet us there, and after a double pepperoni, watched tv into the night.
Day 9 - Saturday, December 28:
I wasn't really desperate for a set of tires (they had maybe another 1500 in them), but since the Weather Channel guaranteed sloppy conditions from San Diego north, I figured I might want some decent tread under me. Iron Horse is one of the few BMW dealerships I would blindly walk into to work on my bike, and they were great, letting me pull my own wheels in the shop and offering up torque wrenches and such to make sure I was putting things back together correctly.
The rear tire went on fast, but as Paul balanced the front tire, he called me over to show that there was just a hint of friction in the front bearings.....enough to scare me since we'd done a lot of zooming in the past couple of days. Jim had the parts in stock, and Rob and I looked over Paul's shoulder as he heated and banged the old bearings out. He was done a short time later, and after Rob and I installed the front wheel, we were just about set. After sledgehammering the VISA card that is...... :)
Larry left to chase a stamp, and I slowly rode up to Phoenix, marveling at just how nicely a bike with new tires likes to turn. I stayed with friends from Chicago that night, and they even brought me over to Skipper's to say hi. Sorry I missed the party......
Skipper had given me directions to a breakfast spot near his house which would be the meeting place the next morning, and I arrived at 8:30 to see only Greg and Mike eating with Skipper and son. Apparently the rest of the group had met elsewhere, and since Greg and Mike were going in a different direction, I chose to run by myself to San Diego to see if I could catch the others. As it turns out, they took a completely different route, but I still chased them anyway. :)
I took I-10 out to 85, and then down to Gila Bend to I-8 for the run over. I'd been on the few back roads that exist out there before, but wanted to get to El Centro in a hurry because that was where the real curves start! After climbing the grade out of El Centro, I jumped off on Cal 94 for the run along the border. There were a few bikes out, but only one Speed Triple rider insisted on sharing a lane with me....as he approached! After the run off the mountain, I stopped in Dulzura for a ham and cheese and contemplated the next series of roads into Butch's house.
Well, all the roads I picked were wrong, because they were all the straightest ones in the county. :( I finally got to Butch's exit and followed his directions up to the house. On the last street, I made an incorrect turn, and after turning around noticed a house with a huge BMW rondelle on the garage door, as well as my face! Butch's kids had hung pictures of each of us participating on the ride and stapled them to the garage door. What a great touch. :)
Esther set me up with a cold drink, something to eat, and Butch's email account :), and I lounged until the rest showed up. Several members of the BMWOCSD showed to say hi, along with Mick and Lani (I still need that macaroni recipe btw) and cheesecake-toting Fulton and Susan. I think I could get used to living in San Diego.......
Butch woke me early so I could get thru LA, and I chatted with his kids in the garage before I left. Apparently, their parents kicked them out of the house so we would have a place to sleep. Wow. :)
I jumped on I-8 into 805 and headed north. Despite my worries about LA traffic, the only time I went less than 65 was at the border checkpoint. As you might imagine, I ended up showing up at Mick McKinnon's for breakfast. Which wouldn't have been so bad....except I told him I would be there for lunch. Dough!
But he and Linda took me out for breakfast (they do make chicken fried steak in California, and it ain't half-bad), and then I was on my way into the mist. There had been a heavy overcast all morning, but it turned to rain as soon as I left the McKinnon abode. Good thing I brought four pairs of gloves.
The rain slowed up in Santa Barbara, and then stopped until I got to Pismo Beach, when it cranked up harder. I was in and out of it most of the day until Salinas, where it finally stopped for good.
I got to San Jose as the skies were darkening, and after a wrong turn, got on 680 north to get to Bob's. I got to his house in Danville just as things got very dark, and he even let me park my filthy bike next to his shiny ones for a night. We finished the evening at a terrific restaurant called 'Three Brothers from China' and I was unconscious by 9:30.
Day 12 - New Years Eve:
This was to be a designated rest day all along, so Bob took me to BTF, and then over to Cal BMW, before we met my sister for lunch. Rooz's new RT looks pretty sharp, and I chatted with him and Bonnie Kellogg and Paul Spencer and Kari for awhile before my sister showed up.
We searched for an Italian place in Palo Alto where she wanted to eat, but they were closed for lunch, so we settled on Mexican. At least three times during the meal, she said, 'why don't you keep your bike here?' to which I smiled and said no. Meanwhile, it continued to rain like hell up north.... :)
CalTrans only listed one mudslide outside of Redding on New Years Eve, so I was pretty optimistic when I went to sleep after watching the recap of the '93 GP season that Bob had on tape (I simply could not stay awake for the accident where Doohan hits Schwantz at Mach 5), but once again, that would change too.
This was to be my last day on the road. But it ended before it began, with an additional road closure on 101 and flooding on I-5 in Ashland which also closed the road. The forecast was for continued crappy weather too, so I officially gave up at 7:30am and went back to bed.
I called my sister later in the morning, and she said she could take the bike for a little while. I left Bob and Betty, got soaked on the 60-mile ride back to Mountain View, and tucked the bike into her garage for a little nap. Until she finishes taking the written portion of the mc exam that is, whereupon she'll probably start riding it all over the place.
Later that night, I flew up to Seattle and spent the rest of the weekend with my parents, taking a bit of time out to go to the mc show for a few hours and then dining with Wetleather and IBMWR at a restaurant called Cafe Veloce, where we literally took over the place. It was a fine capper to a spectacular trip.
Thank you to everyone who put me up, left a message on the 800-number, and called me various nights to see how we were doing. It was great to hear from and see all of you.
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