Ride Report: South Padre Island Bikefest—October 10-14, 2001
Alternate Title: Yyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!
Alternate Emergency Backup Title: “Texas is a Bloody Big State!”
Title if News Headline: “Massive Oil Spill Covers South-Central Texas—Trail Leads to Local Man”
Well the time had finally arrived. The South Padre Island BikeFest was here. Time for my best friend James and I to saddle up our 20+ year old machines and leave for the 500-mile each way journey from Dallas to South Texas. With side trips, backroads, and sightseeing we fully expected to ride 1100-1200 miles on this trip. We underestimated that by nearly 50% (we always do), but more on that later.
Unfortunately due to an incompetent tugboat driver, the Queen Isabelle Causeway Bridge was knocked down in mid-September. This is the only route onto South Padre Island, and will not be repaired until the end of December, so the Bikefest was moved to Harlingen . . . a few miles inland. We briefly considered canceling the trip, but frankly with the accumulated stress of our jobs and life in general, they could have held the Bikefest on an oilrig in the middle of the gulf, and it would have been preferable to staying home. We’d have found a way to ride there too!
First the necessary disclaimers:
This is a long article . . . those that know me know that one commodity I am never short on is hot air. Here I live up to my reputation (yet again), but the article needed to be long to capture the ride. Holy cow! My word processor tells me it is over 13900 words. Jeez. Sorry. I share it so that folks can know me better, be entertained, and maybe . . . learn something (even if that something is that I am certifiable). Please comment.
First and foremost as far as disclaimers go, is that anything a law enforcement professional might construe as evidence of an illegal act (particularly traffic violations) on our parts is to be considered fiction . . . nay . . . a complete figment of their imagination. I do not even exist . . . so obviously I could not have gone say . . . 135 MPH at any time on this ride. Stealth bike personified. So to paraphrase the fiction writers (who often write more truth than fiction anyway)– “Any similarities to any person living or dead (especially to those two living persons that took this ride) or to places or roads these events are set in is strictly unintentional”. So there.
You will find a bunch of unsolicited advice and some product endorsements contained herein. Take them with a grain of salt. Your mileage may vary. I am not selling anything however, and have no vested interest in anything I mention (but if you want to send me $19.95 I will send you . . . something . . . maybe out of my garage . . . possibly worth . . . something . . . ).
The “Great Pepsi Conspiracy” also becomes evident in the below paragraphs. Something has to be done . . . really . . . It may already be too late, and that would be a terrible thing, as if it is already too late, then we are all well and truly doomed.
There is also some of the US vs. THEM stuff in here. (that’s the “Rice Burners” vs. the Harley for you uninitiated). Before you fire off an angry letter to me about it, please note that I do believe . . . and have always believed that if you ride, you are a rider, no matter what you are astride. There is no animosity intended or felt about this issue, just the good-natured ribbing between riders. I can recognize the merits of a well-maintained machine . . . and appreciate and admire the work that has gone into one . . . even if it is not a machine that I would select for myself. The world would be pretty boring if we were all alike (we are getting very close guys and gals, be careful). And for the record . . . I do wave, and proudly ride a Rice Burner (that’s a Japanese make bike, for those that are even less initiated).
The bikes: I ride a 21-year old Yamaha XS-1100 “Midnight Special”. These are fairly rare machines, and during their era were the fastest production cruiser made. They earned a reputation for speed, reliability, and sheer “YEE-HA” factor that has yet to be surpassed by a cruiser. Some of the “Crotch Rocket” or sport type bike types can out run her (we also refer to those as “Zip-Splats”), but you would be permanently folded into pretzel shape if you attempted to ride a “zip-splat” more than 50 miles in a stretch.
All my complex constructions have names (and personalities), and this bike is no exception. She is “Well Oiled Machine” and she really did earn that name. See the story “Well Oiled” for an explanation of how she earned that name. She confirmed that name in spades on this trip . . . but more about that later (again).
I rescued “Well Oiled Machine” in August 2000 from a completely incompetent former owner. She was in a sad state of neglect (but ran like a demon) and I have spent the last year fixing and improving her. Still more to do . . . there always is . . . but she looks and rides like a champ. She recently got her faded and chipped gold chrome redone in real chrome, and new custom polyurethane gloss black tank paint. The wheels have also been redone in black. She is looking really sharp.
The other rider on this trip was James. James is my best friend, and one of the few people I would trust with my life. James rides a 1981 GL-1100 Gold Wing. This bike was purchased for a ridiculously low sum after having been stored for 15 years. “Bunnie” (don’t ask) has only 10,000 original miles and is in immaculate shape after he took care of a few minor mechanical issues caused by the long-term storage.
James has been my best friend for longer than either of us care to remember (something over 21 years at last count). We have been riding together much of that time and are extremely compatible in our riding styles. On a long trip it is important that team riders prefer the same speeds, distances between breaks, and riding styles. We have been doing it for so long, and are so similar in styles that we are almost psychic as a pair. James usually leads.
We’re Outta Here . . .
On Tuesday October 9th we were ready. The bikes were loaded, clean, packed, and as mechanically sound as we could make them. Every thing was ready. We departed Dallas about 10:30am into threatening weather and headed for Kerrville. By the direct route, Kerrville splits the difference between Dallas and Brownsville, and James’s grandfather lives there. Looked like a great place to layover, splitting the 500-mile ride roughly in half and placing our arrival for Wednesday just after the rally check–in opens. Of course we were not taking the direct route, we rarely do . . . where is the fun in that? Interstate 35 out of Dallas is the direct route, and is a terrible way to go. Packed with trucks, truck tire carcasses (road gators), horribly inept car-drivers, and construction . . . and decidedly lacking in scenery . . . Interstate 35 is both absolutely boring and marginally unsafe for the touring motorcyclist.
We were on vacation, and the schedule was not critical. A few miles out of the way for the scenic back roads can’t hurt. We both work under constant and very difficult deadlines. Why transfer that to our time off? Time for the vacation attitude to kick in.
Riding is the point . . . yes?
We hooked a right out of Dallas on US 67 and zoomed toward Stephenville. We were headed for a cut-off about 20 miles short of Stephenville that would take us onto US 281, which headed more or less in the direction we wanted to go. Actually, US 281 goes exactly where we wanted to go . . . if you stay on it forever it ends in Brownsville . . . but it jams through San Antonio and then joins with Interstate 37 for a while, so it just did not quite take the route we wanted. Our first fuel stop was to be Hico, which sits on the junction of the cut-off and US 281. This was just at a 100-mile leg of the trip. I was leading out of Dallas, though our usual configuration is for James to lead.
The sky was very threatening, and getting worse, which actually made for a beautiful ride. As we got further away from Dallas the landscape opened up and revealed an interesting vista when combined with the blues and blacks and occasional startlingly golden sunbeams penetrating the mountainous sky. The fantastic lightning displays in the distance promised an interesting day to come, but were nonetheless beautiful. As the traffic eased and the speeds climbed I could feel the tensions of the past few weeks melting away. If everybody rode motorcycles on occasion, the therapists would be out of business. Every five minutes or so I found myself wanting to yell out in sheer exuberantion. That is that “YEE-HA” factor I was referring to earlier.
If you like music, I have the secret weapon for long distance motorcycle riding. I love and must have music, and having good music while riding is an additional “YEE-HA” factor. It makes the miles roll by, but also makes every new minute a sheer pleasure. The secret weapon is MP3’s. They make a variety of portable ways to play MP3 files. I have a Walkman-like portable CD player that will accept CD’s that have MP3 files burned onto them. I took all my CD’s (200 or so) and ripped the songs I love to MP3’s on my computer. I then burned these files onto a couple of new CDs. One CD will hold about 10 hours of music! My player has what I refer to as “descending random order” where it will play songs randomly, but will not play the same song twice. Start it up and you will be surprised how fast the miles go by. You catch yourself saying (right after you yell out in sheer exuberation), “Damn good music they’re playing . . . here comes another one . . . man, I love that song!” MUST watch your speed under these conditions . . . it climbs all by itself.
Good riding. Good music. Good friend. Sheer Heaven.
US 67 runs more west than south, and the winds were quite fierce out of the south, so we were dealing with substantial crosswinds. During one particularly strong episode an 18-wheeler passed going the opposite direction. The “whoosh” was so intense it sucked open the 1 gallon ziplock bag that is kept Velcro-ed to my instrument panel (tucked into the nook the sport-fairing creates). The contents (a map, extra CD, and miscellaneous instructions) came loose inside the fairing. I actually managed to corral them all and stuff them back into the bag, all the while managing to keep the bike on an even track. Some crosswinds. Behind me James was playing with his Gold Wing. He was apparently seeing how far he could lean (into the crosswind) and stay in a straight line. The results were impressive!
Soon the rain began to spatter down, and the sky grew even more ominous. The forecast (if you put any stock at all in those things) was calling for “a chance” of “scattered widespread rain” over the entire state. Huh? Scattered, widespread rain. Humph. Seems like a safe forecast to make, as it makes no sense at all and cannot possibly give anybody any meaningful information. Weather guys would make good politicians.
As the sky in front of us got even worse and the rain began to come down heavier we pulled over to don our rain-gear. Looked like we would spend the majority of this trip in the water and fighting headwinds. Oh well. Beats working. We had about 50 miles to go to Hico, and as we took off again James took the lead.
I will digress a bit and talk about team riding. When a pair of motorcyclists is headed some place, they must agree on who is leading at any given time. Generally the leader will ride the left side of the lane, and the follower (or chase) will ride the right side of the lane, a couple of bike lengths back. There are several variations of this, some of which are hotly debated, but in general this makes you more visible to cars. This protects your lane and road-space from the unsafe or in-courteous auto driver that for some reason has decided you do not need or do not deserve your entire lane, while providing room for both motorcycles to maneuver should something happen. The leader sets the pace, initiates lane changes, passing, stops, and navigation. The chase’s job is to stay with the leader, anticipate his movements and help reserve traffic space, and most importantly . . . to not run into the leader (seems obvious doesn’t it?). If you do not have two-way radios, the chase will pass the leader and pull off or take the lead if information needs to be exchanged.
A long-distance team or group ride needs to consist of riders with similar skill levels, endurance, and riding styles, or the trip can become hell to everyone involved. As mentioned above, James and I have been riding together for years, and we are as good as a team as we are individually. We are so matched in riding skills and styles that we are almost psychic concerning what the other is up to. For instance, when I am chase and really need a break, about the time that I consider passing James and pulling off, he will pull off somewhere of his own accord. Also, when chase, if I spot a traffic situation ahead of James, I know exactly what he is going to do and when he is going to do it, and I can act/react accordingly. The same goes if you are the lead. You need to know what the person behind you will do, so you are free to maneuver as needed. It takes time, practice, mistakes, trust, and many, many miles to develop this ability. James and I are at its pinnacle and find as much pleasure riding together as a team as we do cooking down an empty highway individually.
Back to the road, and the rain. Very shortly our decision to don the rain gear (motorcyclists generally avoid this if possible as the gear is somewhat hot/stuffy/clammy) was confirmed when we truly got into a heavy downpour. 70 MPH and twenty –foot rooster tails demonstrated that motorcycles are indeed stable in the rain (James and I have had a lot of adverse weather experience) and our 20+ year old ignition systems were thankfully still impervious to water. Yuck. Puddles, spray, and road film. So much for the bikes being clean.
At the risk of starting a tire argument (motorcyclists are sometimes irrationally loyal to a tire brand) I am extremely happy with the wet weather handling of the Maxxis Kevlar V-rated touring tires I installed this summer. Very stable, with excellent wet-traction. James also reports that he is happy with the Dunlops he installed on “Bunnie” just before our trip. More about tires later.
After we got moving, a softball sized clump of clay-like substance (or maybe it was a horse-apple) flew off an oncoming 18-wheeler and thumped me in the meat of my left leg just below the knee. The impact was staggering. Let’s see, 70 MPH (my velocity) + 70 MPH (the trucks velocity) plus a couple pounds of flying object adds up to um . . . well . . . pain. Ouch. I still sport the bruise.
Twenty or so miles of heavy rain, and we made the cut-off for Hico. The rain suddenly left us, and the rest of the way to Hico was dry. We stopped at a convenience store to gas up. While gassing up I noted several heavy drops of something on my left boot. Since I was still smarting from the substantial whack I received on the leg, I stooped to wipe a couple of drops off, basically to see if it was blood. Turned out to be oil, which was probably worse. I checked the oil in the bike, and it was not low. There was a small amount of oil on the front center of the engine, just below the cam tensioner. Since a minor leak at this tensioner is a common “bug” on these bikes, and I could spot no other problem, I made a mental note to keep an eye on it, and we continued on. I did point it out to James, so he would be aware of the situation.
As we gassed up the bikes, we looked to the south. It looked like extremely heavy rain was rapidly moving into our route. Lightning, thunder, and high winds were obviously prominent features of this storm. James looked over and said, “Think we should try to run it?” He was suggesting that we could push on, hard and fast, to try to beat or get ahead of the storm.
I thought briefly about it. The hell with it. We are on vacation. “Nah. Let’s get some lunch.” I could tell that I gave the expected and agreeable answer. Like I said, almost psychic.
Hico is an interesting town. Typical small town Texas I think. No chain restaurants (except the ever-present McDonalds and Dairy Queen). They do have “Major Brand Gas”. Really . . . the station is actually called “Major Brand Gas”. In a town like this, if you want a good meal, ask somebody where to go. They will be happy to tell you.
I stepped inside the convenience store and asked the clerk, “Where is a good place to get some lunch?”
I could tell she was sizing me up. She said somewhat warily, “About all we’ve got around here is BBQ and a family style place, and you’re a-bit late for lunch at the family style place.” 300-pound guys in leather frequently have that effect. Wears off quickly though.
“Well that’s great, I am in the mood for some good BBQ anyway.” I was not lying, I am always on the lookout for good BBQ. I have been doing the Atkins thing since April, and BBQ, once a sin, was now allowed and encouraged. I have lost 68 pounds so far!
Her eyes immediately lit up. “Well then hon, just take a right, right there,” she chuckled as she waved vaguely toward the south side of the store, “and hang a left on the first street. He’s right there. Can’t miss him.”
I could tell that if that was not enough information for me to find it, then I surely did not deserve it.
I came out of the store and mounted up. James was just finishing his cigar. “BBQ or family style?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
We found the place with no trouble, a converted house in a residential neighborhood. No inside seating, just picnic tables set right next to the pits, outside under a tin roof. It was deserted.
We parked the bikes, removed our riding gear, and stepped inside. An older gentleman greeted us. “You boys hungry?”
“Yes sir” and “Absolutely” were our honest replies.
“Well, you are a bit late for lunch, but I’ll fix you up” he said as we stepped back outside. “I’ve got some sausage and some smoked pork patties left” he stated as he opened the nearest pit.
I’ve never had smoked pork patties, brisket done right is my idea of BBQ, but he seemed to be suggesting it and they looked good (they were huge and I was hungry), so that’s what I chose. James followed suite.
As he constructed our plates he made idle conversation, “I’d offer brisket, but it won’t be ready until dinner. The lunch crowd ate a bunch today.” Another characteristic of a small Texas town. Lunch in Dallas is anywhere between 9am and midnight, depending on what you are up to. Lunch in a small town is . . . well . . . lunch.
He presented us with plates full of potato salad, coleslaw, baked BBQ beans, and sides of pickle and onion (not for James, he cannot stand onions). Some bread and BBQ sauce finished filling the plates, and a couple of Diet Cokes topped off the meal (Diet Coke was notoriously hard to get on this trip due to the Great Pepsi Conspiracy—a fact we did not fully appreciate until later). The patties were excellent. They were at least a pound and were basically a smoked hamburger. Wow. A real ham, hamburger. How about that? Very different. Very tasty. Good place. I need to come back sometime during the lunch crowd. I have to try his brisket.
After a leisurely (and tasty) lunch we got ready to go again. As we pulled out of town we were really glad that we had chosen to stop for lunch, rather than attempt to beat the storm. For the next 100 or so miles everywhere we were, was where the storm had just been. We had to deal with large puddles and very wet roads, but there was no rain. Had we been about 30 minutes or an hour ahead of ourselves we would have been in the midst of the storm the entire way. You could tell by the water on and beside the road that it had been a serious storm. Wind –blown debris scattered about reinforced the impression. There are more benefits to the “vacation attitude” than advertised.
The “comfortable” fuel range on my bike is 100 miles. This is generally the maximum distance I plan between fuel stops. I generally hit reserve at just about 108 miles, and the reserve on my bike won’t take me much further (maybe 15 miles). I could go further if I drove very conservatively, but “Well Oiled Machine” just will not go 65 MPH. Must go faster. This is compatible with James’ bike, as although his cruiser holds more fuel, due to some remaining complications associated with the long-term storage, his reserve function is out of commission. He could go further than I can, but if he runs out, he has to push. Not fun, as one of the prime rules of the Universe is that if you have to push a bike, it is inevitably always uphill.
For me, an overriding factor to the fuel range comes into play, and that is the fact that after 100 miles, you are ready to get off the machine and take a break. Gas stops give you the needed excuse. Two more stops would be needed today, although one was only miles from our destination.
We spun off of US 281 on Texas 29 to Llano. At Llano we would catch Texas 16 to Kerrville. Llano is the beginnings of the hill country, and is an example of how diverse Texas really is. In Texas, you can drive through desert, pine forests, mountains, salt flats, beaches, and swamps. You can get a thousand miles away from home without leaving the state. Llano is wine country. Vineyards abound in the area, and the roads promised more scenery than the other possible routes to Kerrville. As we gassed up in Llano I silently showed James the rather large amount of oil all over my left boot. The bike was still not low on oil, so I did not have to worry about the engine, but it was obvious the problem was getting worse. We took off, and the rain was pretty much gone, so we had a pleasant ride into Kerrville.
We arrived at James’ grandfather’s (Si’s) place shortly before dusk. Si has a beautiful place, all built with his own hands, overlooking the Texas hill country. The house and several large workshops and such were hand constructed out of the native stone and hardwoods. The house is nothing short of spectacular with a huge stone and iron fireplace and beam supported vaulted ceiling being the central features of the living room. Si is a character, and I hope I am in his physical and mental condition when I reach those years. He is strong, and still works in stone and wood—hand-crafting furniture not just from cut lumber—but he starts with the trees and makes his own cut lumber!
Si arrived home from a grocery run shortly after we got there, and we piled into his Ford pickup and zipped into town to eat. James and I loaded up on delicious fried catfish with all the trimmings while Si teased the waitress. Guys, when you get to be an old man, one immediately noted benefit is that you can say things to the waitresses that a younger man would get arrested for. The unsuspecting younger men that are with you will also probably choke and snort iced tea out of their nostrils when they hear some of the things you are getting away with, and I am sure that holds high entertainment value. For the first time I am looking forward to one aspect of getting older.
After we arrived back at Si’s place we pulled my bike into the shop and examined it closer for the source of the oil leak. Due to the distribution of the oil on the front of the engine it was readily apparent that the leak was at the cam tensioner. Looking closely we found that the rubber plug in the end of it was missing, so we fabricated and installed a new plug (Si can construct anything in his shop, with supplies on hand). This should take care of the problem, as the oil leaking at the cam tensioner is not under pressure. It is just return oil and oil mist in the crankcase. Again, this is a known “bug” with these bikes, and is not a major issue. We ran the bike and gave it a once over. Everything seemed in order, and there was no new oil to be seen.
I looked in disgust at my machine. She had been sparklingly clean in Dallas, but now several hundred miles of road film and leaking oil had taken its toll. There was a baked on gook all along her left side exhaust pipe, completely obscuring the chrome with what looked like the stuff that accumulates in the bottom of an oven . . . when a guy is doing the cooking! Yuck. Oil was everywhere. As I gave “Well Oiled Machine” a final glance before turning in for the night, I noted the oil and gunk everywhere. I also noted my well oiled left-boot, and the oil that had soaked my jeans up my leg to the knee. I commented softly, “Glad we got this fixed, you’re making me feel like I’m riding a Harley.”
Guys, listen carefully . . .
Never . . . never . . . never . . . . . . ever . . . insult a woman. Even if she deserves it.
I showered and was asleep before my head hit the pillow. Zonk. I was completely oblivious to anything until I smelled breakfast. Long distance riding, and the Texas hill-country quiet and fresh air are apparently good for sleep and the appetite.
Si had a huge pile of scrambled eggs, a frying pan full of homemade venison/pork smoked sausage, a stack of buttered toast, and several varieties of homemade jams ready and waiting. James and I provided ourselves with our requisite morning caffeine fix with the Diet Cokes we had (with remarkable foresight) grabbed at our last gas stop the night before. We devoured it all in short order, thanked Si profusely for his hospitality, and prepared to pull out.
An unrecognized but fortunate premonition caused me to pull on my favorite riding jeans. These jeans are a pair of heavy denim jeans that happen to fit me best out of all that I currently own. See, I have been seriously dieting (yet eating bunches of foods like described above) and have lost a lot of weight. As a result most of my pants no longer fit, being several sizes too large. What a problem to have. Anyway my current favorite jeans were the ones that fit the best, and were also not so coincidentally the oil-soaked pair that I had ridden in yesterday.
We pulled out of Si’s place and stopped at the nearby convenience store to grab another Diet Coke and to top off the gas. Neither James nor I is worth much in the morning until we get our minimum dose of caffeine. For me it is usually delivered via iced tea, but Diet Coke can suffice in a pinch. For James it is Diet Coke. No substitutions allowed.
I also checked my oil and given the mess, was not surprised to find it low. There was no new oil on my boot, and none dripping off the bike, so I was confident that the plug had fixed the problem. The oil level in most machines is checked via a sight glass located low in the crankcase. Mine is no exception. I purchased a couple quarts and began to top it off. At first I could clearly see the oil running by the glass, and added a quart. I thought the oil had still not reached the line so I added another one. When I poured the third one in I knew something was wrong, The bike only holds about 4 quarts. Out comes the flashlight, and we determined that in my willingness to believe I had lost a lot of oil, I had overfilled it–probably by about two quarts. This is not wise, but I am familiar with the workings of this engine and knew that it would not do any harm. I admit it only because I know that every other motorcyclist has done the same at one time or another. Don’t bother denying it.
We left Kerrville via Texas 173 headed south. This road kind of hooks around San Antonio and then connects with Texas 16 again. We wound through several back roads, finding our way through the town of “Free” and also drove through “San Diego”. Hmmm. When did California become part of Texas? One sign of note somewhere along this route read “Fried Chicken Maps Available”. I wanted one of those maps.
During this ride I became aware that oil was again streaming off the front of my engine and all over my left boot and leg. It was now apparent that the leak was only evident either at high Rpm’s or when the bike was hot. It was also much worse than it had been. I motioned to James and we stopped for a break. Again, I could not find the source of the oil. I could only figure that it had to be the gasket between the jugs and the crankcase. It could not possibly be pressure oil, as it would leak much more rapidly, and be very visible. A check of the oil lines that are on the back of the engine confirmed that they were intact, and there was no evidence of leakage around them.
I was still overfull of oil, so I rationalized that it must be a gasket as we had conjectured earlier, and that the overfilling had just exaggerated the leak. It would return to its earlier volume as the oil got closer to its normal level. Nothing to do about it here anyway. Time to press on.
Our purpose for meandering around the several backroads was to again reach US 281 south of where it splits back off of Interstate 37. US 281 is one of only a couple of routes to Brownsville. We reached US 281 at Alice, and looked around for somewhere to eat some lunch. Nothing obvious presented itself (we apparently blinked and completely missed Alice), and we had enough gas to make the town of Falfurruas (another 25 miles), so we headed there.
About halfway there, a state trooper went by fast in the other direction. In my mirror I caught a glimpse of him scattering dust and gravel turning around in the median (dangerous to other traffic and illegal). We were not really speeding . . . something around 73-75 in a 70 zone, but state troopers are famous for driving at high speeds and coming up behind unsuspecting drivers. They would also write their own mother a ticket for 2 miles over the limit, so it is well to be wary of them. I was unsure if James had seen the trooper turn around or not, so I pulled up beside him and motioned to “take it easy”. He waved me into the lead, and we pulled into Falfurruas a few minutes later. The trooper was not seen again. Maybe he got stuck in the median. One can only hope.
We were low on fuel, but I needed a break more than gas so I pulled off into the shade of a tree in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen on the outskirts of town. Before I had even gotten my helmet off, James pointed down. Oil was streaming off my bike in large quantities. The pipes were beginning to smoke. At the same instant I had that uniquely male . . . well . . . feeling that the oil had seeped up my legs (by now it was all over both legs) far enough to reach a somewhat . . . sensitive . . . area. This was bad. Castroil 20W50 is not suitable body oil. Oil was also all over James’ windshield, just from that short stint of my leading. Something had to be done.
The bike was really still too hot to examine, so after checking the oil (amazingly it was still not low, although it was now in the normal range) we elected to cruise into town and find a restaurant where we could get a good meal. We would eat, the bike would cool enough for a thorough examination, and we could then decide what to do, depending on what exactly the problem was.
As we drove through town it was obvious that whatever it was, it had really cut loose now. Oil was running off the engine and onto the pipes in great quantities. Crap. I started to worry about bursting into flames, as motorcycle pipes get quite hot. It is mildly embarrassing to sit at a stoplight engulfed in a cloud of your own smoke. Only Harley riders ever get used to it (ducking for cover!)
We pulled into a restaurant/hotel combination at the south end of town.
“Drinks?” the waitress asked.
“Diet Coke” we both said.
“Pepsi O.K.?” she asked sweetly. Uh Oh. The Pepsi Conspiracy starts.
“No. Thank you. No. Uh. No.
“Tea for me please.” I said, feeling pretty safe. In Texas you are legally allowed to burn down any restaurant that serves bad iced tea. James ordered the same. He has to be truly desperate to drink Diet Pepsi. It really is rank stuff.
We then proceeded to have the worst chicken fried steak in the state of Texas. I kept taking another bite, incredulous that it could be that bad and expecting it to get better. I finished the entire thing in that manner. I did not think it was possible to get a bad chicken-fried in Texas. I mean, all you have to do is deep fry some miscellaneous cut of meat and douse it in gravy. How can you screw that up? Last I heard it was still a hanging offense. Texans can expertly fry a chicken-fried, BBQ, and make good iced tea just minutes out of their mother’s womb. This can be somewhat disconcerting to the many soon-to-be mothers that have moved here from another state and are giving birth to their first Texan. Having your newborn demand a deep-fryer and BBQ pit instead of crying when the doctor gives them that first “whack” generally causes at least a lifted eyebrow to a non-Texan.
The owner or manager loudly argued and berated the staff the entire time we were in there, resulting in a very unpleasant meal. This on top of my mood induced by being doused in several quarts of hot Castroil, as well as the uncertainty of our situation made for an ugly mood. In silence I paid the check and we walked out to the bikes.
I checked the oil and it was off the sight glass. I had lost at least a quart on the short jaunt through town. I added the quart I had in reserve in my saddle-bag (a little premonition again). I then started the engine, and watched while it pumped the quart of oil out in a matter of about 1-minute.
This was infuriating! I still could not see exactly where it was coming from! It was pooling on the front of the engine, along the fin just below where the cylinder jugs meet the crankcase. Best as I could tell it was leaking from there. Time was running out too, Five o’clock was approaching and we could tell that most of the town would roll up shortly.
I was envisioning having to summon a trailer from Dallas, several hundred miles away. I could see my vacation ruined . . . and James’ along with it, and was formulating plans to somehow get hold of another bike and get back to the rally before the weekend when the bulk of activities occurred. Sheesh, we already had rooms paid for in Brownsville. This would be a tight, hard, few days—with getting my bike back to Dallas and somehow getting back to Brownsville. The idea of abandoning “Well Oiled Machine” entirely even presented itself.
I have a rule with vehicles. If they strand you, they are history, unless the breakdown is the result of your own bumbling or incompetence. By my rule, they are allowed to breakdown or have problems, but they must get you home, or be repairable on the road with what you can scrounge on hand. “Well Oiled Machine” had already stranded me once in rather spectacular fashion and thus earned her name. (see “Well Oiled” ) I forgave her that incident as she was new to me and I was still fixing things that the former owner had screwed up. That breakdown was the direct result of the former owner’s messing about.
Another stranding looked imminent, and that would mean she would have to go. Machines all have personalities, and if yours strands you, it does not like you. Get rid of it. This was beginning to sadden me, as this bike is nimble, comfortable, and powerful and I really enjoy riding her. She can run circles around most other machines, and looks good doing it.
“We may have to rename her ‘The Exxon Valdez’.” said James with a grin.
I chuckled. “Yeah. At least we won’t get lost.” I said as I waved at the trail of oil leading out of the parking lot and up the street. We could probably follow it home.
My mood dropped again. Shit. I didn’t want to abandon my bike. Neither did I want to spend the night here, and possibly have to endure a breakfast at this place.
I spoke to James, “Go find an auto parts store and get some oil, and maybe some JB weld.” I was still thinking gasket, and if I could find it, I could plug it. Oil on the front of the engine could NOT be pressure oil. If this did not work, I would be stuck here. We would not get another chance today, it was getting late and the town was about to close down. THAT would bode ill for “Well Oiled Machine”. I was staring intently at her, and my mood was black.
A barely audible feminine voice intruded into my thoughts, “Wait . . .” said ‘Well Oiled Machine’ quietly. She had gone too far and was starting to realize it.
James was gearing up to go on the oil run. Anything I needed, I had to know about NOW.
I spoke to ‘Well Oiled Machine’ clearly and deliberately. Those that know me do not find this the least bit unusual, “Listen carefully. If you strand me, you are history. I’ll haul your ass back to Dallas and sell you piece by piece on Ebay.” As if that was not enough I carefully added, “Then I’ll buy a Harley.”
That did it. “Try again” she said quietly. There was a certain amount of contriteness. Just enough. Barely. I am a guy, she is a gal. That was all I was going to get.
“Hang on James. Let me check her again.”
I started her up and watched intently as a truly massive amount of oil streamed off the front of the engine. At least a quart in 30 seconds. I shut her down and crossed my arms. Sheesh.
“What do you think?” asked James, knowing full well I would have the answer shortly. I am good with machines, and he probably overhead the comment about Ebay and Harley.
I looked again at the pressure oil lines on the back of the engine. They are braided stainless, Teflon lined premium line. They should easily outlast the bike. They and their terminating fittings were clearly visible, and very little oil was present anywhere back there. That was remarkable in itself given the state of the rest of the bike, and certainly indicated that there could not be a leak here.
I rounded on James. “Man this HAS to be pressure oil. There is no damn way that much oil could leak from a small breach in a return path. If this were a gasket, we would find it sticking out of the engine! Shit, I should be able to stick my finger in a hole that could leak that much.”
James nodded. He is used to being my sounding board, and would take no offense at either language or tone. “Gotta be the lines then.”
“Yep.” I agreed. “But I can’t see it . . . let me have your Leatherman’s tool.”
For those that do not know, a Leatherman’s tool is a wonderful stainless gadget that is combination screw-driver, knife, pliers, and about 60 other tools. You could do heart surgery with only that if the need arose. In the movie “Six Days, Seven Nights” Ann Heche says to Harrison Ford “You’re one of those GUY guys aren’t you . . . you know . . . one of those guys that could go out into the wilderness with nothing but a Q-tip and build a shopping mall?” Harrison Ford has to answer “no” . . . but if he had a Leatherman’s tool . . .
Anyway, James passed me the tool. I extended the needle-nose portion and reached in under the tank to push on the top fitting of the oil line. It moved!
“Well damn!” says I. “The fitting is loose. The oil must be wicking along a cooling fin or something to the front of the engine.” I did not think that would have been possible with that volume of oil, but there it was.
“Cool. Pull your seat and tank and let’s get it fixed.”
“Yeah. Go for the oil though. We’re going to need it.” I said while rapidly thinking. “Grab a roll of those blue paper shop towels and a can of engine degreaser too.”
“Anything else?” he said with a raised eyebrow.
“Yeah . . . a Diet Coke!”
About this time the restaurant owner walked by. “One of those is losing some oil.”
Because of my ultra supreme self-control, I resisted a smart-assed comment and basically told him we knew what the problem was and would be out of the way shortly.
“Sorry about the mess” I said as I waved at the ever expanding and impressively large puddle of oil.
“No problem!” he said. “I don’t care what you do. I just sold this place and the Hotel too!”
Hmmm. Maybe that explains the bad chicken-fried.
By the time James got back from the supply run, I had moved the bike into the shade of a tree across the parking lot, spread out the tool kit, and had the bags, seat, and tank off. An unfortunate fact of motorcycles is that you usually have to take practically the entire thing apart to work on any given part of it. Step one to change a headlight is probably to remove the rear tire.
I had a good news, bad news, good news kind of thing. The good news was that it definitely was the fitting leaking. The bad news was that it was not loose, it was broken. The good news was that we had a few minutes left before 5pm. We had to move fast.
“Go back to the store and get me a 17 and 18 millimeter wrench. I cannot get this fitting loose with the Crescent wrench.” Damn thing just wouldn’t quite grab it. “Find out who makes hydraulic lines!” There is always a shop that makes hydraulic lines in a small town (if it is big enough to have an auto-parts store). I set to work on removing the other end of the line from the oil cooler. I would have to take the entire line to the shop and have a new fitting crimped on.
James returned with the wrenches, and I removed the broken fitting in about 30 seconds. The right tools can really make a difference. I already had the rest of the line off. He tossed me his bike keys as he relayed the good news “Napa about two blocks up and on the left makes the lines. Hurry, they close in a few minutes.”
I headed for the Napa. Good news, bad news again. Yes they make hydraulic lines, but they have never seen a banjo fitting that size before.
“Help me out guys . . . there has to be something . . .” Texans do not give up easily.
“Go see the autoworks guy out by Bob’s old dairy. He is a pretty good welder. Maybe he can braise it” suggested the older guy.
“Thanks. I will. But I don’t know where the old dairy is.”
“Oh, that’s over where the big red barn used to be” chimed in the other clerk helpfully.
Finally they realized I was not from there. “North two lights, then left. On the left past the water-tower, just outside of town,” said the older guy.
“Great! Thanks!” I yelled as I was already out the door. It was 4:58pm.
The welder looked skeptical. “Might not work, might damage the line from the heat.”
“Well I am already stranded, you can’t make it worse. The line is Teflon, so it will not melt if we work fast.”
He nodded, then proceeded to expertly and quickly braise the fitting back together. He then pressure tested it and pronounced it as good as it could be. “Probably better than when it was new . . . the tubing part is copper . . . you never use copper tubing on something that vibrates as much as a motorcycle, vibration work hardens it until it gets brittle.”
Good enough. I’ll rip the entire thing off and replace it when I get back to Dallas.
The bill was five bucks. As I drove away he said “Come back if you still have trouble, I’ll be here!”
It took about 5 minutes to put the oil line back on, then another 20 minutes to install the tank, seat, soft saddle-bags, and the two seat bags I was carrying. I pulled the bike around to the back of the hotel and drenched it with two full cans of engine degreaser. After sitting for about 5 minutes, I hosed it off using the hotel’s water hose. The degreaser pretty thoroughly cleaned most of the bike, although it did not even touch the baked on gook on the pipes. I stooped down and tried to scratch some of the stuff off with a fingernail. Not a chance.
I looked up at James and raised an eyebrow.
“Yuck” he said.
“I’ll never get this crap off right now. Let’s ride.”
A quick stop for gas, and we were gone. Wish I could say the same for the chicken-fried steak. It was with me for another 100 miles.
It was good to be on the road again. “Well Oiled Machine” was running smooth, and not leaking so much as a trace of oil. The tunes were good, and my mood immediately lightened. The speeds climbed as we headed south.
I have to say, this stretch of US 281 is nearly the most boring road I have ever driven. Straight, flat and level as far as the eye can see. Only some scrub Mesquite trees and plains grasses barely hang on here. It got so bad that we were intentionally getting as close to the plentiful “road gators” as we could without hitting them (well . . . mostly) just to have something to do. If you locked your throttle, put your feet up on the handlebars, and went to sleep you would stand an even chance of reaching your destination. There is nothing out here. I know from experience that the only road worse, is US 77 running between Kingsville and Brownsville. These are basically the only two roads in this part of Texas that go this way.
Now dark, we pressed on. Now we really had something to do, spotting the “road gators” in time to swerve around them. In Edinburg we hit Texas 107 and headed to Harlingen. We got to drive through such towns as La Blanca (She’s white? White Girl?), Elsa, and James’ favorite–Ed Couch.
We reached Harlingen, checked in at the Bikefest (at the dog racing track), and headed for our accommodations in Brownsville.
After we checked in at the hotel, we wanted nothing more than to sleep. Briefly thought about it, but it turns out both our stomachs were making demands. We were hungry. Make that HUNGRY. Apparently our bellies were insisting that we cover up that bad chicken-fried with something. Maybe anything.
We decided that after we both showered and donned clean clothes we would find something to eat. In my room, it got interesting when I had to cut my left boot off with a pocketknife. Even though the uppers were leather, the oil had sought out and found parts of the tongue, lacing and lacing reinforcement that were synthetic and chemically welded them all together. I dumped the oil out of my boot, and was still thinking I could save them, when I noticed the serious rash and swelling on the front part of my ankle and the top of my foot. A less obvious but much itchier rash was all over the rest of my leg and up to some sensitive areas. I upended the boot again and even more oil dripped out. I tossed the boots, socks, and underwear in the trash. I do not recommend Castroil as a skin-oil.
A long hot shower, and a complete bar of hotel soap and bottle of hotel shampoo later I had all the oil off of me. I felt alive again. I bagged the jeans so they would not drip oil on the hotel furnishings and went to find James. It was dinnertime.
Part 3 — The Rally
The next thing I remember is waking up in the morning. I have a credit card receipt from Wednesday night from IHOP in my wallet, so I assume we ate something there. About 20 bucks worth.
The rally did not have much scheduled for Thursday. Our intention was to clean up the bikes, and maybe visit the vendor’s area. In short, we were not going to strain ourselves today.
I gave the bagged oily jeans to the hotel laundry with instructions to wash them hard, but NOT to wash them with anything else. I almost laughed at the guy when he told me that they were jeans, and washing them with other things would not hurt them. I did not repeat myself, I do not give instructions for services I am paying for, just to have fun.
I was just hoping to get a pair of work-jeans back. I have another minor project or two, and work clothes are needed in plentiful supply.
James and I headed to the IHOP for a large breakfast. Something with pancakes I believe. Afterward we headed to find a car wash, with a side trip to grab a couple Diet Cokes and for James to replenish his cigar supply.
A note of amusement: James spent the entire rest of the trip buying out the cigar supply at every store and gas station we stopped at. Seems his brand is not popular around these parts, and nobody had more than one or two packages.
At the store, I noticed that the wall ‘O coolers was all Pepsi products. Only one half of one door had Coke products. I grabbed the last two Diet Cokes they had. “That’s an ugly trend.” I said to James while waving in the general direction of the coolers. This was the first conscious recognition of “The Great Pepsi Conspiracy”.
James had purchased a can of “Can Do” back in Dallas to clean the bikes before the rally. This stuff is an aerosol can and contains Carnuba wax and only God knows what else. It claims to clean and shine everything . . . paint, chrome, tires, vinyl, windshields, helmets etc. I had tried it before we left and found that it worked pretty well, but thought no more about it.
Normally on a road trip if you want to make your bike look good sometime along the way, you have to carry some cleaning supplies. Chrome polish, wax, and Armor-all are usually in my arsenal. I also carry a can of Lemon-Pledge for my helmet. This is an old biker’s trick. Lemon-Pledge cleans bugs and stuff of your faceplate like nothing else, and has the added benefit of making water bead up and blow off if you are in the rain. It also reduces the crazing you can usually see in the plastic face shield when riding into the sun. The problem is that space is limited, and all these products take up valuable and needed space.
Here comes a product endorsement: “Can Do” replaces all of those products, hands down. After washing the bikes in the car wash, mine was still a mess. The high-pressure spray, on soap, directed at my pipes from less than an inch away would not cut the baked on gook. Also the water there was extremely “hard” and left a bad film on both bikes.
Out came the “Can Do” and a couple of rags.
I sprayed this stuff on a section of my pipes and let it sit for about 30 seconds. The gook wiped right off, leaving shiny chrome underneath. No problem. Easy. I was stunned.
“Hey James, check this out.” I did it again to another section. James was stunned. We had been talking about buying oven-cleaner for this task.
We then proceeded to wipe every part of both bikes down (except brake rotors guys, use your head). In time we had two clean, shiny, and remarkable machines. You would never guess they had just traveled hundreds of miles, much less the mess mine had been earlier. This stuff works, and works well. It is all I will ever carry for this task in the future.
We headed for the rally grounds. James and I were both disappointed in the vendor selection at this rally. All I really wanted was a new pair of good warm-weather riding gloves. There were none there for sale.
No riding gloves. At a motorcycle rally. Vendors are idiots.
Next I was looking for some leather shin/lower-leg guards. Remember the thump? I still do! One guy had some he would customize and sell for a small fortune. No normal ones to be found. The prices on everything else were unreasonable.
Oh . . . and the clincher . . . “The Great Pepsi Conspiracy” had reached the rally. “No Coke, Pepsi OK?” was the rallying cry. Only Pepsi and beer were to be found. Neither James nor I are heavy beer drinkers (especially when we are expecting to be riding motorcycles . . . duh . . .), and Pepsi is NOT ok. If I wanted Pepsi, I would have asked for it by name.
Vendors, organizers, restaurant owners, convenience store operators take note—Pepsi better be paying you plenty, because all you are doing is antagonizing your customers by removing their choice/ability to purchase the #1 brand of drink in the state. Listen carefully . . . we left your location and made our purchases elsewhere over this issue. Plenty of other folks were also irritated.
Not sure what happened to the rest of Thursday, it sped by, and soon Friday was approaching. Friday was to be a busy day. James had signed us up for the group ride to Matamoros, Mexico. For 15 bucks each we would join a “limited” group of riders and cruise to Mexico. The cost covered border crossing fees, and a show and some food and drinks in Matamoros.
This was one of the highlights of the trip, and proved the BikeFest folks to be very enterprising. Something like 1500 motorcycles were in the “limited” group. They staged us in lines of pairs of motorcycles in the Harlingen racetrack parking lot. When the signal was given to “start ‘em up” the vibration must have set off earthquake detectors in California.
We then proceeded in a police escorted parade through Brownsville, across the border, and all around the streets of Matamoros. We got to run every stop-sign and stoplight on our route in two different countries. That alone was worth the 15 bucks. Folks were lined up all along the parade route waving flags and cheering. The people in Matamoros turned out by the tens of thousands. The streets were packed with cheering, screaming, flag-waving people. It really was amazing, and was a hell of an event for the folks that witnessed it. It got no news coverage in Brownsville.
We reached the Matamoros Convention center and staged again in the parking lot. Seven double-rows of 220 or so in each group. 1500-plus shiny and impressive hardware all lined up and ready to go.
They had several local restaurants providing food, and a couple of bands/singers providing entertainment. The cute young Mexican imitation of Britney Spears was good. The music was pop and upbeat, and delivered with passion. She was good looking too, and could wiggle in all the right places. Yummy. The food was excellent, although my famous appetite suffered a bit as it had been a long, hot parade (40 plus miles). I tried Italian, Mexican, and Chinese. They had handed us two tickets each for drinks. “This looks bad.” I said to James as I waved vaguely in the direction of the huge Pepsi sign, and thirty-foot blow up Pepsi balloon-can. Sure enough, no Coke.
We drank bottled water.
Now here is the part that proves the BikeFest folks are enterprising . . . the other major event of the day in Matamoros was a bike show. 1500 bikes were now on display in the convention center parking lot! Throngs of people wandered through the shiny chrome maze. Matamoros police were on hand, but not needed. Everyone had a blast. Burly bikers were lifting families of kids (and their mothers too) onto and off of bikes and snapping pictures. A great time was had by all, and we favorably represented what it is to be an American to the friendly folks of Matamoros.
At one point I thought it was going to get ugly. I was sitting on my bike, talking to James and others that passed while we waited for the ride to head back. Six Matamoros Police Guys were in a group arguing amongst themselves while looking at my bike and gesturing in my direction. Uh oh. Finally one approached me. I was furiously trying to figure out what I had done to piss off the Mexican cops. I was honestly coming up empty handed. With some pointing, hand waving, and halting English he got across that the question concerned the year of my bike.
“1980” I said. Some more gesturing and a rapid exchange of Spanish ensued.
“1100? . . . XS?” he asked.
Surprised I answered “Yep . . . Midnight Special.”
“Gracias.” He stated and waved as he rejoined his group. Laughter erupted and some money changed hands.
I was amazed to be noticed in this sea of $30,000 machines. Says something about the looks and reputation of the Midnight Special.
I must comment on the sea of bikes. I was flattered by the amount of attention “Well Oiled Machine” got. There were no other XS’ives there. There were few older anythings there. Something like 1500 people were being independent minded bikers . . . in a very conformist sort of way. Harley ruled the day. There were hundreds and hundreds of the same model all over the place. “Well Oiled Machine” got attention because she was an attractive mote of “different” in a sea of sameness. Kind of sad really.
It was clearly illustrated when one couple mounted up nearby. “Shit!” exclaimed the guy to his girl. She was looking slightly perplexed. “Somebody stole your helmet!” he continued.
They sat there, mounted on the machine, for about 10 seconds. Finally she stated, “Honey, that’s our bike over there” as she pointed to another “same” model with her helmet still sitting on the seat. Oops.
James and I glanced at each other with a raised eyebrow. No comment was needed. We were clearly thinking the same thing.
A couple of the other bikes that stood out should be mentioned:
There were two “Boss Hoss” bikes there. Check these out on the Internet if you have not seen them. A “Boss Hoss” is a motorcycle with a 350 cubic inch Chevy engine stuffed in it. The sound of one of these things is impressive, and they will peel out like a demon (on the full size car tire that is mounted on the back). Not sure what you would do with the other 250 extra horsepower. Interesting, nonetheless.
We also saw a small Triumph of unknown but old vintage. It was interesting as its rider was a very short (4’6”) and very petite lady. She might have weighed 95 pounds sopping wet. This bike had to be kick started, and I would have bet she could not do it. I would have lost. She would stand on the lever in its full-up position and it would not move. She would then jump well above the seat and land her entire weight full on the lever. A couple of tries and the beast would pop to life. Maybe one woman in ten thousand would try something like that. Interesting. I like interesting people.
The signal was given, the earthquake roared to life. We pulled out and paraded back through the streets of Matamoros. Again, tens of thousands of people turned out. What an ego trip.
The American crossing is a mess. This is partly because of the recent events, but mostly because we are a bureaucratic nightmare of a nation and getting worse. We are just not very good at this sort of stuff, and it is made worse because we just do not care. The Americans have the traffic backed up for miles waiting to get into the states. Thousands of bikers clearly would have made the situation intolerable, so we got to go across the border on a railroad bridge. 1500 motorcycles fleeing Mexico across the railroad tracks. What a blast.
To sum it up: We went to Mexico. We drank the water. We escaped over a railroad bridge. A great time was had by all.
Once across border the parade broke apart in a spectacularly rapid fashion and was absorbed into Brownsville. One humorous note was when one of the parade section leaders with about 15 riders in tow, pulled up beside us at a stoplight. “Which way to the highway?”
Hell, we didn’t know. We were just cruising vaguely in the direction we needed to go, and checking out Brownsville. Holistic navigation. We figured if you go north you would be pretty much covered.
“I think its up there . . . hang a left at the overpass,” I yelled back.
“No. I think you turn right up ahead,” the section leader called back. That would be south, and back into Mexico. They roared off. I have visions of this lost group of bikers, forever faithfully following a section leader who has no idea where they are going. Hope they find someplace interesting.
The only regret we have for attending the Matamoros ride is that we missed the amateur bike show. I wanted to see what sort of bikes show up there, as they have a “classic cruiser” category for 20-25 year old bikes that “Well Oiled Machine” could probably place in . . . but I want to check out the competition at one of these before I enter. “Well Oiled Machine” is a head turner, but I may really be outclassed. Still do not know.
Friday night Blue Oyster Cult and REO Speedwagon were playing. This was the optional (extra $$) concert and we did not purchase tickets for it. It was just a bit pricey. REO is one of my favorite groups, but we were also kind-of worried about the “geriatric rock band reunion” phenomenon. Would have killed my memories if they rolled them out on stage in wheelchairs or something. Turned out we did not need to worry. We could clearly hear REO from the fairgrounds. They had not lost it.
Dinner at Denny’s . . . Pot-roast and ice-cream sundaes for dessert. For some reason the pot roast at Denny’s is amazing. Saturday was the poker-run, so we had to be up early. After a soak in the hotel’s hot tub I slept the sleep of the dead again. What a trip.
For those that do not know what a poker run is, you are given instructions from a starting point to 5 destinations to be ridden to in order. At each destination they stamp your sheet (or give you a token) and you move on to the next. When complete at the final destination they check your stamps, then you get to draw a poker hand. There are usually prizes for the best hand, second place, and sometimes the worst hand, but prizes are not really the point. The run is arranged so that the ride is scenic, and the stops are interesting.
The first stop on this run was an air museum and a waffle breakfast. They had WWII era planes flying overhead and doing stunts. Fun. Museums usually depress me though. They had a PBY (massive amphibious plane, it was a workhorse during WW II and is really an amazing airplane) parked out back. It was obvious that it would never fly again. Sad. That’s no way for a machine to go.
After leaving there we needed a drink. We stopped at a convenience store along the route. There were no Coke products at all in the store. Not even any place for them. The operator seemed exasperated when I asked where they were.
We went elsewhere. The next store had one small cooler of Coke products. They also had Diet Coke with lemon. I had not seen this product before and tried it. I like it. Not sure if it is a new product or regional thing. I have yet to see it around Dallas.
One stop was a BBQ place/biker bar. They were out of BBQ. James had a burger, I had the spicy wings. Not too bad. Cute waitress.
This poker run was about 100 miles and with the stops and our typical dawdling around and sightseeing took several hours.
Back at the fairgrounds we drew our hands. We did not win (my hand should have won worst hand, James drew three-of-a-kind . . . threes I think) but no matter. Riding is the point, yes?
We visited the professional bike show. Ten bikes or so. Amazing paint jobs, and obviously a lot of work had gone into them, they were built from the ground up, but the result was basically all the same bike! Again, expressing our independence and artistry . . . in a conformist sort of way. Boring. I left without being able to choose a “people’s choice” favorite. None stood out. I find this disturbing.
There was also a parade Saturday afternoon. Much like the Matamoros ride, except it went from the Iwo-Jima monument to the fairgrounds in Harlingen. It was also about 3 times the size of the Matamoros run. At least 4500 bikes participated and it stretched for miles. The rumble was incredible. Not a car alarm in range could stay silent. The news stated that “500 bikers showed up”. Interesting. Get it right guys.
38-Special played Saturday night, and was the concert venue that we had tickets for (included in the pre-registration package). I am slightly embarrassed that we did not attend. We ate dinner, went back to the hotel, and soaked in the hot tub for a couple hours.
We slept late Sunday, then packed up and pulled out. Looking at the map, we decided that we could go back through Laredo and avoid that horrendously boring stretch of road on US 281. We headed west out of Harlingen on US 83. This route would add something like 70 miles to our trip, but it was a small price to pay.
At Laredo we turned north on Interstate 35 for a short stretch, planning to leave it onto US 83 in about 20 miles.
In that stretch we hit a Border Patrol checkpoint. They have all traffic on Interstate 35 pull off into lines, and they check you out. While we waited in line I pulled beside James. I constantly tease him about all the trunks on his ‘Wing. “You got any illegal aliens stuffed in there?”
He reached back and thumped the right side bag. “Shut up in there, you’re going to get caught.”
The checkpoint reminded me of something out of a WWII movie. Men with guns and dogs stopping all traffic. I am fairly ruthless about my rights. Where I am going and what I am doing is not the business of anybody in authority, unless and until I have been proven to have done something wrong. James and I are apparently the minority these days . . . as we are unwilling to sacrifice our rights and freedoms in the name of security.
These guys had dogs, and were checking out some vehicles. Apparently those dogs hate motorcycles. I mean REALLY hate motorcycles. As we approached the checkpoint, one of the dogs went nuts. It was struggling to reach us and barking and howling furiously. Spittle was flying from its lips. Its handler wrapped the lead twice around the porch railing of their small office. The handler would not have been able to hold it back otherwise. The dog was leaping and shaking the entire porch each time it was jerked up short by its lead. The handler seemed somewhat bored, so I assume this is a common occurrence. Glad he was able to control it.
When we reached the guy at the gate, he asked James “You a US Citizen?”
“No.” says James as he is nodding his head yes.
“Thanks. Have a good day,” says the guy as he waves him on.
I pull up. “You a US Citizen?” asks the guy.
“Huh?” says I.
“Thanks. Have a good day” he says as he waves me on.
That is terribly effective. They should save everybody the trouble and just put a sign on the highway saying “Terrorists, Smugglers, Drug Dealers Exit Here.”
We hit US 83 and headed north. A few miles in James passed a slow moving 18-wheeler. I got stuck behind it for a while due to traffic and hills and visibility. When the opportunity came I tweaked the throttle and shot around. James was very far ahead so I did not let off the throttle immediately. As I neared him I began to slow and pull into position. I glanced down at the speedometer. Holy cow! 130 Mph. Sheesh.
A few minutes later a juxtaposition of events made for some fun. I was starting to doubt that my speedometer had really said 130MPH. We crested a small hill and looked forward to at least 15 miles of road, slightly uphill, with both sides of the road clearly visible the entire way. There was no traffic in sight and had been none since we passed the truck some miles back. At that moment a particularly rollicking tune started on my MP3 player.
“Well Oiled Machine” chose that moment to get frisky.
“Come on. Let’s go.” she clearly said.
“Can’t, I’m following James.” I responded.
“Got to go. Got to go now. Got to. Got to. Got to. Go faster. MUST go faster.” She insisted. I think I’ll have to watch that super unleaded gas . . . I think it has caffeine in it.
“Ok.” I am a pushover for a beautiful woman.
I tweaked the throttle and shot past James. He would have no problem knowing what I was up to. The road in front of us was self-explanatory.
I never hit full throttle. Within seconds she was at 135 MPH and 8500 rpm (redline). She was still accelerating and showed no sighs of running out of power, but I let off, as I did not want to go over the redline.
“Well Oiled Machine” was smooth and stable, with no unusual vibration or shimmy. I held the speed for a few moments, but was soon cresting the hill. I let off it and gradually slowed back down to 75 or so. She is an incredible machine. The torque and power available are nothing short of amazing.
James zoomed by a moment later and again took the lead. We later found another open space and he pushed it up to 100 MPH and held it there a while. He had to ask later how fast he took us to . . . his speedometer only goes to 85 MPH. Mine goes to 160MPH! Gives you an attitude.
After the rain we encountered out of Dallas, the rest of our trip had been absolutely perfect weather. You could not have asked for nicer days, and today was no exception.
The miles flew by, but so did the time. A couple of fuel stops later darkness was upon us and we were still 100 miles out of Kerrville. Oh well. Don the jackets and take off.
The short way was the fun way this time. Some small backroad between US 83 and Kerrville promised twisties. Kewl. Twisties. In the dark. In deer country. Should be interesting.
This road was extremely twisty, with one-lane bridges and lots of up and down . . . sometimes way, way down into low water crossings. We dodged lots of wildlife. One was a skunk.
As James describes it, “Oh shit! A skunk!” as he is taking evasive action. Then, “Oh crap . . . it’s facing the wrong direction!”
Fortunately neither of us got sprayed.
Halfway through this 100-mile stretch, we pulled off the side of the road for a break. Twisties in the dark takes lots of tension and concentration. We had to get off the bikes. I was starting to cramp up.
We could hear water running in the valley below the road, but nothing else. There were no cars out here. Spooky. Neat. James smoked a cigar, and when we were rested we mounted up and took off.
James stopped after 100 feet or so. He had taken his glasses off to put on his helmet, and set them on his tank. He had forgotten to put them back on. He rapidly figured that out, as he cannot see to drive without them. Bad news.
I turned my bike around and went back to what I was sure was well before the spot we had been pulled off at. I turned the bike around and parked it back in the grass on the side of the road. I left the headlight on. The glasses were not on the road. That meant that they were in the grass. I grabbed the flashlight and slowly walked all the way to where James was stopped in the road ahead. No sign of them.
I turned around and along with James, slowly walked all the way back to my bike, carefully scanning for the glasses.
“The can’t be under anything.” Commented James.
“Unless they’re under my bike.” I joked.
Slowly we looked at each other. Distances are deceiving in the dark.
“Oh shit.” we both said in unison.
Slowly I swung the flashlight around.
The glasses were there, full up against my back tire. They were not the slightest damaged or scratched. Amazing luck. I missed running over them not just once, but twice!
Soon we pulled into Kerrville. Pot roast and ice cream sundaes at Denny’s again. While fishing the last of the hot fudge out of my sundae, I glanced at James. He looked thoughtful. I had a good idea what about as I had been thinking about the last stretch of road. Twisties are a blast. “Want to go again?” I asked with a grin.
“Yeah. Yeah I do.”
Si woke us up with breakfast again. Once again, the mountain of scrambled eggs, frying pan full of home-made sausage, and huge stack of toast stood no chance of surviving our assault.
We pulled out of Kerrville on Texas 16 and this time cut over to US 281 on 1383 . . . a small and twistie of 30 miles or so. This was fun, but was interesting as it was open range land. We crossed a cattle guard, and after that there were no fences at all. Some bloody big beef was wandering around in there.
The grasshoppers made for an interesting trip through here. It was quite cool, and grasshoppers by the thousands were all over the road, sunning themselves. They did not bother James in the slightest, as he was leading. His passage would disturb them and they would leap into the air . . . just in time to smack into me. Splat. I backed off, but that did not help, as they were inevitably on their second leap. I backed WAY off, but then they were on their third leap. Splat, smack, crunch, splatter, splut by the dozens. Ghack! This was intolerable! Eventually I found the exact distance behind James, where they had already leaped and landed, but not had time for the second leap.
We hit US 281, gassed up in Johnson City, and headed north. We had just left the town, and had climbed to highway speed. The road here was not divided and was two lanes in each direction. We were traveling in our usual formation in the left-hand lane.
Directly in front of James an oncoming 18-wheeler suddenly swerved completely into our lane. James and I instantly and simultaneously executed a very hard right, in perfect formation. We then had to flop over and go hard left to avoid driving off the side of the road. One mistake from either of us and a pile of bikes would have tumbled off the road (at best) or under the oncoming 60,000 pound truck (uh . . . that would be worst). The coordinated evasive turns must have been a beautiful sight, had there been anybody else around to see them. These were high speed, peg-dragging turns, and we barely cleared the truck. A car would have been annihilated. After we were back in our groove, I glanced in my mirrors. The truck had gone clear across both of our lanes, and was headed back to the other side of the road. His brake lights were on. Maybe he blew a tire. Whew.
The miles evaporated and soon we were back on US 67. At Keene hunger hit and we searched for something to eat. A Sonic at the end of town proved to be brand-new and still under construction. Looked pretty bleak. Sitting at a stoplight I could see three different donut stores . . . there had to be someplace to eat dinner somewhere. The stoplight changed and James roared off and made a left turn into a shopping center. He had spotted a small place with the imaginative title of “Restaurant” barely painted on the front. It would have to do.
We both ordered chicken-fried steaks, and Diet Coke! They actually had it. Thank heavens the “Great Pepsi Conspiracy” had not reached the Dallas area in our absence.
The last note of humor on this ride was the old local guy in the restaurant that asked me excitedly “What are you riding?”
I replied proudly, “A 1980 Midnight Special.”
His face fell. You could tell he was disappointed. “I had you pegged for a Harley guy.” He mumbled.
I puzzled over this for a moment or two. I was still puzzling over this when we rode out of town. Until I looked down and realized I was wearing my riding jeans. Although they had been laundered, they were still obviously oil-stained up to the knee on the left leg, and over the ankle on the right.
I have not laughed so hard in months.
1934 miles. One-thousand-nine-hundred and thirty-four miles.
As I took leave of James at his place I asked him with a grin, “Want to go again?”
One-thousand-nine-hundred and thirty-four miles. Any normal person would be ready to park the bike and not look at it for a while. Any normal person. He looked back out toward the road and gave the expected answer. The only answer.
“Yeah . . . Yeah I do.”