Hmmmm…let’s see…what am I forgetting?
I finished stuffing my small bag with a sigh. Once again I was up late into the night preparing for a ride. I used to be ready a couple days before a run, everything carefully prepared and double-checked. Not anymore.
I chuckle at the thought now. A frantic schedule has made careful preparation difficult, if not impossible, but at the same time has made it even more critical that I ride. Of course there is a human tendency when under stress to overdo when you finally get some relief, and in that regard I am no different. I had overloaded my plate again . . . and in my typical Texan “do or die” attitude, I had made commitments, so I was going to do it all. Besides, there was barbeque involved!
This weekend was to be a busy one. On the agenda was a rendezvous with the XS’ers for a Saturday ride around Huntsville, and also a Saturday night barbeque south of Houston hosted annually by Hotglue and Flamingobabe. Oh yeah, and a Sunday breakfast with “Papa”, an Internet acquaintance who wanted to meet me and pick up a copy of my book. Just to make things interesting I had to work Friday and Monday and the wife and friends were coming along for the trip. How to pack it all in . . .
Our good friends Dean and Cindy on their Midnight Special “Well Oiled Machine” had expressed an interest in attending the Huntsville ride, but the barbeque and Sunday breakfast were a late addition to the agenda and meant quite a bit more riding over the weekend. I am always up for distance riding, and these sorts of “highly variable” plans are the norm for me. I have routinely done 500-mile days over many years, and have done as much as 1500-mile days frequently.
This trip I needed to be a bit more restrained, as Dean and Cindy, as well as my wife Carey, are all new to distance riding. Motorcycle trips can be strenuous, uncomfortable, hot, cold, dusty, wet, or all of the above. They may be none of those things too, but the proper attitude and some experience is needed to cope with the possible discomforts. As an example: It is not possible to get as wet as a 500-mile motorcycle trip in the rain can make you. Jumping naked into a swimming pool does not even come close . . . and exposing three newer riders to those kind of conditions could put them off motorcycling forever . . . or hook them beyond saving.
With all the planned rides we were looking at about 700 miles for the weekend, without ever getting more than 270 miles from home, so I figured this weekend would be a good introduction, without being too strenuous.
The machines were ready. They could take anything we could dish out. How can I say this with such confidence? Well I ride a Valkyrie (that right there says it all), and “Well Oiled Machine” is the ’80 XS-1100 I restored before Dean bought her. She is in every way a solid machine, and is one of the few older machines that can expect to keep up with a Valkyrie on a road trip. Besides, mechanical breakdown is something I have long ceased to worry about. If my machine breaks, I will fix it, push it, or call for help. Or maybe just push it over and walk, depending on circumstances. All are a part of the experience, and experience is the purpose of this sort of journey. If our objective was just to “get there”, there are many cheaper and more comfortable ways to do so.
The packing had to be completed Thursday night, as both me and Dean had to work Friday morning (I pull out for work at 5:30am daily), and we were leaving work around 3pm, stopping by Dean’s house on the way out of town to pick up the wives, and then we were gone.
Weather forecasts in Texas are a joke, but for some reason I still watch them. I have long given up relying on the forecasts . . . for commuting I use the “wet driveway principle”. If the driveway is dry when I am ready to leave, I ride. For trips it does not matter. Weather is only a factor in my time planning, which as I mentioned above, is highly flexible. Once the decision has been made to go on a trip, the weather is irrelevant. Yet I had been watching the forecasts for a week before the trip! Must be an interesting quirk of human nature. They had promised everything from heavy rains, to heat, to cold, to gorgeous riding weather, as well as every possible combination in between. What it actually turned out to be was chilly. A front roared through Dallas about noon Friday, and we followed the head of it all the way south.
We pulled out of work about 3:00pm, stopped by and grabbed the wives, and we were gone. We made a quick stop at a Suzuki shop to buy a new helmet for Carey. Hers was some sparkly blue relic from the seventies (my dad gave it to me 20 years ago, and it was old then) and did not fit her well. For some reason the sales guy just looked at me funny when I asked how much I could get for a trade in! It was an antique; maybe I should have sold it on Ebay! I can see it now . . . for sale, one butt-ugly motorcycle helmet, fits poorly, foam is only a memory, heavy construction (or maybe just heavy). Somebody would buy it.
We ditched the old helmet (the Suzuki guy was holding it at arms length as he headed for the trash can) and hit I-45 out of Dallas. We had timed it to miss the outgoing traffic rush from Dallas, and it worked out well. Traffic was light, and we had a tail wind for the trip. I-45 is a great road to make some time on…average speeds seem to be about 85mph, and I am pretty sure that average includes the broken down cars parked beside the road!
We cranked up the speeds and headed for Huntsville. We would grab a hotel for the night, and meet the XSives at the Denny’s in the morning for breakfast.
As space was a bit tight with riding two-up and packing for a weekend trip (as well as carrying a few of my books), I had a bag slung over my shoulder. This caused a critical problem just out of Dallas when one of the wires for my headset from the mp3 player got caught underneath the shoulder strap. When I turned my head, “BOINK” the wire broke and pulled out of the left earpiece. Now I had one of my favorite riding tunes playing in half stereo, just in my right ear. You have no idea how annoying that is!
As we were rocketing down the freeway, I reached inside my jacket and tried to turn off the mp3 player. Tried is the functional word . . . my player is a CD player that plays mp3 files, and it has a lot of miles on it. It has been dropped more then a few times, and thoroughly vibrated for many thousands of miles. This has had the effect of making it a bit cantankerous, as many of the buttons have ceased to work, and the display only shows characters like “#*$�^” most of the time. I really do think it is swearing at me, maybe it is still irritated from my baking it in the Arizona desert heat, or freezing it in the great ice storm, or maybe it was the dust . . . or the giant thunderstorms. Hmmmm. I swear I could hear it say, “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that Dave.” when I was mashing the off button.
Anyway, it would not turn off when I punched the button. I tried several times, and just could not make it happen. Another favorite song came on, and I simply could not take it anymore. I think playing somebody’s favorite music in perfect isolated stereo, but only in one ear must surely be some sort of cruel torture! I attempted to unplug the headset cord from the player, but could not really find it due to the heavy gloves. Finally I just grabbed the cord going under my helmet and yanked. With blessed relief the other wire broke and shut off the torture. The last sound I heard was a strangled cry from REO Speedwagon. This ride would have to be without music. Sigh.
No matter. Riding recharges me. Unleashes my soul. Sparks my creativity. Music is an additional pleasure, but is not a requirement by any means. The speeds were high enough on I-45 that I needed no inspiration from a rollicking riding tune anyway—“One Wild Night” by Bon Jovi has been clinically proven to increase speeds for instance. Also, some of my music combined with intense riding can dredge up lots of memories, and spawn intense introspection. My companions might not know what to think if they caught me at a stop with tears running down my cheeks (allergies, yeah . . . that’s it).
Dean was leading, and something like 70 miles later we pulled off in Corsicana for a gas stop. I could go further, but with all the “newbies” on board it was a good thing to take a break and see how everybody was holding up. Turned out to be no concerns. Everybody was enjoying themselves. Also, Dean has to watch his fuel on the Midnight Special, as the tank is notoriously small. It is also a very powerful machine, and despite heavy loads or headwinds, it never exhibits a lack of power. It just burns more gas! Reserve is just under ¾’s of a gallon, so you do have to plan a bit. I would rib him about the small tank, but I just love that bike too much.
Back on the highway we went, and due to some construction and the traffic, slowed down to about 80mph for a time.
Another gas stop later and we arrived in Huntsville. We checked into the hotel and found much to my disappointment, that they had no hot-tub (my fault, I neglected to ask). They redeemed themselves nicely though, as they suggested the steakhouse next door for dinner. Something called “The Country Inn”. Worked out well, as the strenuous week, long day, and lack of sleep was beginning to catch up to me and I really did not feel like going far for dinner (THAT should tell you how tired I was). We unpacked the bikes and hoofed it next door for dinner.
“The Country Inn” does not look like much…it has that small town diner look, and unlike the many chain restaurants around, they did not strive to achieve it. I smiled when I saw the menu. My kind of place. Steaks, steaks, seafood, steaks, and chicken fried stuff. And steaks. The “small” sirloin is 1-1/2 to 2 pounds. They know how to cook them too! I ordered the “medium” sirloin (2 to 2-1/2 pounds). YUM. It was a point of honor for me to be able to finish it. Prices are reasonable too. Go there. Eat. Come hungry. You had better know what you are about if you order anything large!
The heater had warmed up the hotel room nicely by the time we got back, and the wife and I cleaned up and then hit the hay. Kind of handy . . . having your wife along on a motorcycle trip. Makes the nights much more interesting.
We were up and checked out of the hotel in time to make the breakfast at Denny’s. We were not sure if anyone else would be there at all, as Wayne (who had organized the ride) had hurt his back a few days before the ride and could not make it. I had not heard from any of the others by the time we left and I was never sure who was coming anyway. I did expect several of the TeXSive 2002 ride alumni. The cold weather could also be a factor. We arrived to find one very nice Special in the parking lot. I recognized that this was Shack’s bike right off.
We joined him and ordered breakfast. Bacon, sausage, eggs, and pancakes for me. Yum. Riding gives me an appetite. Shortly we glimpsed another bike or two arrive. Turned out to be Mike (Tinman) on his Special (also very nice), and Robert and Linda on their dressed out and very clean Standard. This was everybody. Except for Wayne, the TeXSive crowd was together again, with the addition of Dean and Cindy’s Midnight Special. Heh heh . . . three Specials, one Standard. Guess that argument is settled . . .
Breakfast was a blast . . . our waitress should have her own comedy act. Soon it was time to ride. Shack, Dean, and I were already full on fuel, so the Moore’s and Tinman took off to the gas station while the rest of us were gearing up. We lost sight of them, but figured a romp around the intersection of the highway and we would find them. That was when, sitting in a left turn lane, Dean and Cindy made their mark. And they made it right on the front bumper of a little red Chevy thingy that swung wide on the turn and hit them head-on! Fortunately it was a light hit right on Dean’s front tire, and it did no damage and did not knock them over. I don’t believe I’ve ever known a biker that had a head-on while standing still! Come to think of it . . . I don’t think I’ve ever known a biker that had a head-on!
We caught up with the rest of the group and took off for some nice riding. Tinman and Wayne had scouted out the ride a few weekends before, so Tinman led the group. I rode sweep, and we went romping around the area. Despite the chill, it was a pretty ride. The sun was out, the bluebonnets were blooming, and the roads were curvy and not crowded. The ride was broken down into two roughly 100 mile loops, and halfway through the first loop we stopped for drinks, stretches, and pictures at a small gas station. Zoomed out of there and back to Huntsville we went (the long curvy way). Lunch was originally scheduled to be between the two loops, but we had finished the first loop quite rapidly and we were still stuffed from breakfast. We gassed up and headed out for the second half. Shack was going to break off the second loop when it was nearest his home, so we all said our goodbyes to him, he took up the sweep position, and off we went. Mike missed a turn early on in the route, but the riding was pleasant, the scenery was good, and we had nowhere in particular in mind to go anyway. I’d have said something about the time we hit Louisiana…Riding is the point, yes? I wonder if my holistic navigation tendencies are contagious?
The missed turn had the effect of cutting the second loop in half, and worked out fine for the time anyway. We were finally starting to get hungry, and we all had a bit of riding to do before we were done for the day anyway. Shack left us when we made a turn to rejoin our original planned route, and I wished him a silent “Godspeed”.
We were roaring down a neat twistie on our way back to Huntsville when suddenly, out of the woods pops a police cruiser just as we went by. He rapidly accelerated and pulled into place behind me (I was sweep since Shack had left us). I would bet that the entire group simultaneously let off the throttle and looked at the speedometer. We were doing 70, and that did not seem XSive, but for the life of me I could not remember the posted speed on the road we were on!
A couple miles later we finally passed a speed limit sign and I breathed a sigh of relief. 70 we were doing, and that was the posted speed too. Phew! The cruiser finally turned off and vanished.
Our loop rejoined I-45 at New Waverly, and I took the lead and headed north. We were headed for the steakhouse again. All it took was a casual mention to the group, and it was our instant lunch spot. I got the small sirloin this time. There is not much wrong with the world that a good ride and a pound and a half of perfectly cooked sirloin won’t fix.
Stuffed to the gills, we all said our good-byes. Tinman and the Moore’s headed across the road to fuel up, we had lost sight of them and fueled up next door to the hotel. Houston and barbeque, here we come!
I-45 was its usual very fast self, and we averaged about 80 mph all the way to Houston. The convoluted overheads, strategic lane closures, and terrible signage through downtown Houston are legend (rumor has it that a chain of body-shops designed and maintains this stretch of road), but I had not been through this way in a while and had forgotten how bad it can be. Five close calls, two almost missed turns, and 30 miles later we were out of the town proper and arrived at our hotel. Again no hot tub. My fault, as again I had not asked when I made reservations. Ok. Hotel owners listen up. The rules in Texas are: Hot-tub, plenty of hot water, a barbeque within 1 mile, and you must have a Coke machine with Diet Coke in it. If you fall short of this, I am pretty sure I can legally bulldoze your property.
Anyway, we got checked in around 7:30pm. Cindy begged off the barbeque (I think she was still stuffed from lunch) so me, Carey, and Dean headed for Hotglue’s place. This is my first year to attend the annual Hotglue barbeque, but you can bet I’ll be back (and I’ll get there earlier next time). Hotglue makes a mean brisket, and his and Flamingobabe’s hospitality is absolutely overwhelming. There was music, yard heaters, food, drinks, and a bonfire that is probably still burning. I met many there that I knew, lots of folks that I didn’t, and only glimpsed others. You will never find a better bunch of people. I presented the host with one of my books, and gave another one away as a prize. Even got so sign a couple! Flattering to say the least.
After the barbeque we stumbled back to the hotel. The long week was taking its toll. We were on the second floor this time. Hope the wife and I did not keep the downstairs neighbors awake too much . . .
Sunday I was hoping to meet George (Papa) for breakfast. I have corresponded with him on the web and have been hoping to meet him for a while now. I was also supposed to bring him and a friend of his a couple of my books. I caught him on his cell and we all headed for IHOP. I was hoping to see “Keats”, his Harley, but it was not to be. Papa had been up all night at the hospital, keeping vigil on a sick friend. He was absolutely beat and had come in the “cage”. It was a pleasure to meet him though and we had an interesting breakfast.
After breakfast, it was back to Dallas we headed. The weather was still very cool, and we were fighting a 20 mph headwind, but the sun was shining and the traffic was light. The speeds climbed as we headed north. I looked longingly at the Best Buy we passed in Houston…I really wanted some new ear buds so I could listen to my music, but it was still early and I was unwilling to stop just for that.
Dean discovered just how thirsty his XS can get, what with riding two up, a very strong headwind, and 85mph+ speeds his range (before reserve) was cut down to about 70 miles. I don’t think “The Dragon” cares.
It did not seem possible in the chill, but there were even more bluebonnets evident on the journey home. The ride home was clean and quick, and despite the chilly weather, the weekend was just what I needed to charge me up for the days to come. What a glorious ride!
Of course, as I write this I am sitting here looking for an excuse to go to a steakhouse…on The Dragon…in Huntsville.