Monday, May 12, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 5: Wakeeney, KS - Amarillo, TX. Monday, May 12, 2014

     I woke up in the morning at about 4:00am with about 5 hours of sleep. It wasn’t a long rest, but it was enough to get me feeling good enough to get to Amarillo, Texas. Like in Indiana, there was rain coming that was going to continue for the rest of the day, so I set out immediately.

     The next two hours must have been the longest in my life. It was raining hard, but it was also forty five degrees; twenty degrees lower than my Illinois stunt. I was singing "California Dreaming" just to keep myself going as the rain pounded my jacket and jeans. I made it to Dodge City straight south of Wakeeney before I finally decided to throw in the towel.

     I stopped at a Kwik shop (a gas station owned by Kroger) and went straight inside. The cashier and his friend, who must have been around my age, saw me dripping wet and were quick to help me out. The cashier brought out a space heater and his friend even bought me a doughnut and some hot chocolate. They were curious about my trip, so I told them everything.

     I learned that the cashier, Erik, was also 19, and had been working for Kroger for about 8 months. His friend, Aldo, joked that Erik needed to get his shit together because I had been working at Kroger for 5 ½ years. I was still shivering and Erik told me I could change in the back bathroom since I had spare clothes. A few minutes later, I was in fresh clothes and mostly dry (except for my boots). I took another fifteen minutes to chatting and getting warm . I was at that gas station for about an hour. I made sure I picked up sunscreen before I left.

     I was about two miles away from the Kwik stop before my motorcycle started sputtering. I was so consumed by the cold that I forgot to fill up on gas. A white pickup truck and ford focus passed me and honked at me. It was Erik and Aldo, and they were waving me goodbye. I turned around, went back to the station, filled up, and left the city.

     I made it another hundred miles to a rest stop for a break, and I noticed something wrong with my bike. Somewhere along the trip, the screws holding in one of the rear turn signal lens had worked themselves out, and the bulb was just hanging there.

Lost a lens 

     I stopped in Liberal, Kansas at an Ace Hardware store and tried to pick up some translucent yellow tape. Tried to, at least. I guess the liberals used all of their yellow tape for warning labels on blenders. I found and wrapped some clear tape around the turn signal housing to keep the bulb from falling out. It was the most I could do for it.

     The rest of the day went by much more smoothly. I passed through the Oklahoma handle, but by the time I realized I was in the state, I was already half way through it. When I passed into Texas, I noticed that the "Welcome to Texas" sign had a substantial amount of bullet holes in it. Classic.

     Texas was extremely beautiful. Unlike Kansas which had a single road that went straight for what seemed like an eternity, Texas had a 75 mph speed limit and roads were spiced with nice curves. I stopped at a rest stop and got a picture of some of the hills. The terrain was slightly more exciting, but still pretty drab.

Only slightly more exciting 

View at a rest stop 

     I saw a huge cow pasture on my route, which was the most exciting thing I had seen that day until I passed a windmill farm. The farm was giant, and stretched many miles in all directions by the side of a railroad track.

Tons of cows in the distance 

Massive windmill farm 

     I made it to Amarillo pretty early in the day, so I stopped at a custom motorcycle shop before going to the camp. I told the owner (who I later learned is named Israel Vega) that I was on my way cross country, and a light bulb seemed to switch on in his head. He talked to me about all the nearby sites in Amarillo. There was the Big Texan, which serves the largest steak in the country. There was a biker bar on 6th Street, which was the street where all the major shops were. The 2nd or 3rd largest landing strip in the country was also across the street, and was part of a military base. They used the strip to land one of the space shuttles. A few miles outside of town, there is a nuclear bomb factory, which if I follow the road adjacent to the factory, a small army of military trucks will follow me from inside the fence.

Custom motorcycle shop. The owner (just behind my bike) knew everything about the town 

     He also told me about the history of the building to the right of the shop. He said that it used to be a popular gas station back in Route 66’s prime. In fact, the road in front of the motorcycle shop was actually part of the old highway. The gas station’s pumps were removed, but I could tell he was trying to restore the place. He said there used to be a bomb on the roof of the station that was deactivated after WWII, and he put it in the shed to the left of the shop while he was restoring the building. He said he was going to turn the old gas station into a biker bar, and put in 1930’s era pumps were the old pumps used to be.

     He took me inside the gas station, and showed me his work in progress. He had put in fridges, a pool table, a stripper pole, and a map of the United States on the wall for travelers to see. I thought it was neat that he was breathing new life into this historic building, and it definitely had that bad biker feel to it.

The bomb that used to be on the roof of the old gas station

     I asked out of curiosity if he had a spare rear turn signal lens for my bike, and he said he did have one at some point. We entered an old house to the left of the shed, and there were cardboard boxes full of parts. It was kind of like the TV show American Pickers, but for real. He also showed me a 1979 CB200, completely original. It looked like it had just rolled off the factory line. We never found the lens. He said he must have thrown it away.

     The last thing I brought up with him was that I was constantly fighting the wind. He showed me a dusty cafe fairing, which was really neat. He said that I had to attach it with zip ties, and that it was $180. I had to pass. It was neat, but it needed to be held on by more than zip ties, and $180 is a lot of money. In retrospect, I really wish I bought it.

     I moved on to the campsite about a mile or two from the motorcycle shop. I decided to pay extra for a cabin, since I was going a long distance to Phoenix the next day, and I would need plenty of sleep. It was still pretty windy, but not as bad as Kansas. I unloaded my bike and headed to the Big Texan for dinner. It was only a few miles away from camp.


The Big Texan

     The outside of the building looked very touristy, but clean. The inside looked like an upscale cafeteria with a large gift shop attached to it. The eating area was filled with long, connected tables, and the kitchen was visible and open behind an elevated table. The first thing I noticed when I sat down was the substantial amount of butter in front of me.

The elevated table 

That's a lot of butter

     I was hungry, and this restaurant was home of America's largest steak. I couldn't pass up the opportunity to eat a 72 ounce steak. I placed my order, and my waiter seemed genuinely surprised. I guess people rarely order the famous steak; I couldn’t even find it on the menu. The waiter returned with a waiver that stated the rules of the 72 ounce steak challenge. I had exactly one hour to finish the 72 ounce steak. If I succeeded, the $72 steak would be free. A few minutes later, some lights illuminated the elevated table and the timers were set to 60 minutes. Just before my steak was ready, I was informed that I was to sit at the elevated table.

72 ounce steak. There is a baked potato in foil for scale

     When the steak was brought out, it was the most massive slab of meat I had ever seen. The waiter let me try a bite to see if it was cooked properly before the restaurant would start the timer. I took a bite, and it was extremely juicy and tender. The steak itself had absolutely no fat.

     After I O.K.'d the steak the timer started. I knew I couldn't finish the whole thing, so I just ate it casually. Tons of people were taking my picture and wishing me luck, and I even had a conversation with a few of them about my travels. A young girl actually asked for my autograph, for which I obliged. I made it halfway through the steak before I started feeling queasy and gave up. With 32 minutes on the timer, and half the steak eaten, I had had enough.

     As the waiter prepared my check, a lot of people approached me and told me I did well. My waiter brought me my check, as well as a t-shirt for the attempt. By the time I left the restaurant, I was too full and tired to do anything else in Amarillo, so I headed back to the campsite to get some much needed rest.

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