Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 6: Amarillo, TX - Albuquerque, NM. Tuesday, May 13, 2014

     I slept really well, and was on the road by 7:00 am. This was late for me, but my body was still processing the steak from the previous night. I took Route 60 most of the day, although I-40 would have been more direct. I was still set on continuing my journey through back roads. After a few hours I made it to New Mexico, and took a road off the old highway to get somewhere where I could take a break from the ride. Since the temperature was a moderate fifty five, I was comfortably enjoying my time eating the food and drinks I brought along with me.

The spot where I took a break 

Another shot of my rest spot

     It was at this moment in time that I remembered my conversation with my short lived, motorcyclist friend in Kansas City. I had crossed two days of seemingly never ending rain, I was going through a desert, and I was about to pass through the Rockies. My motorcycle and I went through hell together, and I grew to love my bike more and more. The dependence I had on those two wheels was enormous. I recall hearing the "Rifleman’s Creed”:

This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.
My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy who is trying to kill me. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will...
My rifle and I know that what counts in war is not the rounds we fire, the noise of our burst, nor the smoke we make. We know that it is the hits that count. We will hit...
My rifle is human, even as I, because it is my life. Thus, I will learn it as a brother. I will learn its weaknesses, its strength, its parts, its accessories, its sights and its barrel. I will keep my rifle clean and ready, even as I am clean and ready. We will become part of each other. We will...
Before God, I swear this creed. My rifle and I are the defenders of my country. We are the masters of our enemy. We are the saviors of my life.
So be it, until victory is America's and there is no enemy, but peace!

     I know it sounds strange to someone who has never been on a journey like mine (I certainly thought so), but I decided to name my bike. It had earned it. "Elizabeth" seemed to ring a bell, and it sounded right. After about half an hour of eating snacks, drinking Gatorade, and admiring the view, I was back on the road.

     A short while later, I was doing well on gas, but I really needed to use the restroom. I went inside a Pilot gas station and did my business. Before leaving though, I felt obligated to buy something, since I didn’t purchase gas. I grabbed some bee sting energy pills, paid $2.99, popped one, and got back on my bike.

     Fifty miles up the road from the gas station, I began to feel very ill. My Gatorade that morning did taste kinda funny, and I believed it was because I wasn't washing out my water bottles that I may have been gulping down a lot of bacteria. I stopped at a Phillips 66 gas station, made it to the pump, and spilled my guts in the trash can. I went inside the gas station and washed out my water bottles in the bathroom sink with some soap.

     There was a subway on the inside of the gas station, so I took a seat at one of the tables and called my dad. I told him I was struggling but managing. He told me that the family had been really worried about me. We talked for ten minutes, but it was hard to concentrate on the conversation. I still wasn't feeling better. I was shivering like crazy, but I was warming up. After I ended the call, there was a man with his wife and kids in the station who must have overheard my conversation. He didn't seem to be intimidated by my leather and bought me a hot chocolate even though I didn't ask. People are awesome. We talked about my trip for a short period of time before they left. Fifteen minutes later I was fully warm, but still shivering. It occurred to me that the reason I was sick was that those energy pills must have been laced with something strong, so I pitched them and decided to ride it out.

     Gas station energy pills have a dark history. Truck drivers travel long distances on the road day after day, and so the demand for increasingly strong energy pills is very high. There are many shady companies out there that put illicit or dangerous substances in these pills to achieve such energy. Few of these pills are FDA approved, but regulating isolated gas stations isn’t high on the government’s agenda.

     It took three hours for me to begin feeling better, but I had still covered ground. By then I was in the middle of nowhere on a lonely back road, and I spotted a man who was walking a bicycle with a trailer attached to it by the side of the road. I slowed down and asked if he needed any help. He said he was out of food. I wasted no time in giving him everything I had: a bottle of Gatorade, 3 packages of beef jerky, 2 bags of candy. The guy was definitely homeless, but if it weren't for the kindness of strangers, I wouldn't have made it past Wakeeney, KS.

     I considered turning back to the closest gas station, which was a Valero about twenty miles away. I knew the man I had helped wouldn’t have enough supplies to make it to the next town, but I realized that it was not my problem. I had to be somewhere, and he was probably used to surviving on the road. He’d find a way to manage.

     As the day went on, I realized that taking the back roads to Albuquerque made my day much longer than I had hoped. I ended up taking the nearest road off of 60 on to I-40. The temperature slowly declined until it was in the low 40s. I made a stop at a travel center “Clines Corners Retail Center” to warm up. The travel center was a gas station, Subway, and gift shop all packed into one building. I parked next to an early 80s red Yamaha 250 motorcycle. The motorcycle was packed with lots of gear like my bike, and I saw it had a Wisconsin plate. I entered the lobby of the travel center, where I met the owner.

     He was in his 40s, and he was decked out in heated gear, something I really wish I had. He said he was on his way to a travel convention in Flagstaff. I told him I was going across the country, and that I was green. He told me that he had been riding motorcycles since 1991, and that everyone learns a lot from their first tour. He shared with me a great story about how he rode his 250 all the way from Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America, and that I shouldn’t listen to what the media says about the people there (they are friendly just as they are here). He was comfortable doing basic maintenance on his motorcycle like I was until he was smack dab in the middle of Chile with his engine frozen from a poor oil change. He opened up the engine and carved down the piston rings to get it running, and went to a place many miles away where he sold the engine and got help.

     He informed me of a website where other motorcycle tourers congregate. The site was useful if I was in the middle of South America, Europe, or anywhere in the globe and needed to know the nearest place where I can get a part for my motorcycle, or a place to stay. He wrote it down on one of his business cards which he gave me, but I must have lost it on the way out.

     Within a short amount of time after passing the travel center, I noticed I was going very steeply downhill for an exceedingly long time. Within 40 minutes, the temperature increased from 43 to 63. I didn’t realize how high up I was. I made it to Albuquerque after reaching the bottom of the mountain and checked into a Hampton Inn. I was too burned out from the energy pill I took earlier to make it to the campsite 100 more miles west. I hadn’t showered since I was in Kansas City, and I hadn’t done any laundry since I left New Albany. I took the extra time I had from cutting my day short to shave, shower, and basically do all the things I should be doing every day.

     The laundry was halfway done when I went to check on it after taking a long shower. The dryer wasn’t finished yet, and I didn’t have anything else to do, so I sat outside the laundry room. There was an older woman sitting just outside the laundry/vending machine room near me. She said that once she was at a hotel and someone stole her and her husband’s clothes out of the washing machine, dripping wet and all, so she didn’t want to leave her clothes unattended. I started a long conversation with her. She said she used to live in Albuquerque for 30 years, but she came back to the city with her husband because he was being treated for cancer. I gave her my apologies, but we quickly changed the subject.

     She told me all about the sites in Albuquerque. There was a tram that used to be the longest one in the world until a few years ago, and that the best place for a burger was 5 Star Burger. I decided to have dinner there. There were some other touristy sites that she mentioned including a part of the old city of Albuquerque, but I found the tram to be the most exciting.

     She also shared her experience in Albuquerque as a balloonist. Albuquerque was a really popular city for hot air balloons, and she piloted them for about 20 years since the 80s. She said Albuquerque has a rare “box” phenomenon in which the wind will travel in one direction at a lower altitude and the opposite direction at a higher altitude. On a day with no wind, one could feasibly stay over Albuquerque the whole day. She shared some neat ballooning stories, and after the laundry was done, I left the hotel to get dinner. The sun was still making its way to the horizon when I had reached 5 Star Burger. The restaurant’s menu claimed that the burger was the best in New Mexico, and displayed a few awards. I was really excited to eat, but when the food arrived, it wasn’t as good as the restaurant made it out to be. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great burger, but “best in New Mexico” seemed like a push. I still finished it in record time, and brought the fries back to the hotel. Unfortunately, by the time I made it back to the hotel, it was too late to see the tram or do anything else in the city, so I packed up for the night.

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