Monday, April 19, 2010

Across Texas

Howdy, pardners!

Since my last post, I left Arkansas bound for Texas and my first major goal: to connect with Jim and Angie Niermann, friends from Honolulu, who were visiting Jim's brother Jon in Austin, the state capital.

I enjoyed camping in Hot Springs National Park, but I have to say it's not typical. The park includes some forested hills with a campground and a 200-foot observation tower, but its main attraction is a row of restored historic bathhouses along what used to be the main street. Not your ordinary bears-and-big-rocks national park.

Near Hot Springs, the Army Corps of Engineers built a huge dam and created a lake for bass fishermen to enjoy.

The lake has a nice beach which some early-season waders took advantage of.

I headed southwest out of Arkansas, planning to stop at Tyler, Texas -- about the half-way point between Hot Springs and Austin. The morning weather was sunny and not too hot and the speed limit, once I hit Texas, was 70 mph. Hence, I made better time than I thought. Reaching Tyler at about 2 p.m., I decided to keep going and arrived in Waco under darkening skies.

Since rain appeared likely, I found a motel with a first-floor, non-smoking room after trying three different places next to I-35. I just can't take a tobacco-soaked motel room anymore.

Beginning in Hot Springs, I'd had problems shifting the KLR into first gear. Either it wouldn't engage or it would pop out of gear into neutral. After day of denial -- chalking the problem up to operator error -- I got online in the motel in Waco and started searching for advice on the topic.

Google helped me find an old post on where a KLR owner complained of the same problem. The answer was that he'd installed an after-market skid plate under the engine on his bike which the shift lever was contacting when he tried to shift into first.

The skid plate on my bike had been there since I got it, but I went out to the parking lot with a flash light, laid under the bike and took a look. Sure enough, the retaining bolt on the shift lever was loose and there was enough slack that the lever was hitting the frame before moving the transmission shaft far enough to engage first.

I tightened up the lever. Problem solved!

Angie Niermann and Simba, Jon's sweet "Lacy Blue" dog, met me when I arrived in Austin.

In the morning, I discovered the front had never arrived and things were still dry despite a dark, threatening sky. I dressed accordingly, hauling out the gaiters that fit over my boots to keep the water out and zipping up the vents in my riding jacket and pants.

A few miles down I-35 the storm hit. I got a good rinsing for the next 90 miles and by the time I arrived in Austin all the bugs I'd collected for the preceding week had been washed off.

I'd made it more than 2,000 miles from Maine to Texas and then proceeded to pull into the wrong driveway in Austin and ring the wrong door bell. I was about five houses off. I was about to pull out the cell phone and call Jim, when he appeared, walking his brother's dog, Simba. Right church, wrong pew, as they say.

Jim and Angie and I made a motorcycle tour of the city, which included this stop at Barton Springs.

Jim's brother Jon is a lawyer in the Texas Attorney General's Office and has a beautifully restored cottage in an older section of the city near downtown which he shares with Simba, who is a Texas Lacy Blue, a local breed of working dog with some greyhound and a lot of sweet disposition.

We also stopped at the State Capitol, which is larger than the one in Washington, D.C. -- of course.

Jon owns a gorgeous Ducati GT 1000, which he was generous enough to lend to brother Jim for an afternoon tour of the city. Jim and Angie led and I followed on the KLR, which was a little like chasing a Ferrari on a John Deere tractor. We hit a few of the highlights: Lady Bird Lake, the Capitol, Barton Springs and the loop road through the hills that provided nice views of the downtown area.

Later, Jim helped me change the oil on the KLR -- it was about due after the long ride from Maine -- and Jon pulled out some maps of the Big Bend National Park area -- my next destination -- to give me some pointers and recommendations. Then we were off to a neighborhood Mexican restaurant for some cold beer and hot salsa.

I woke early the next morning, wrote a sincere thank-you note, packed up and hit the road. Jon had shown me a few good roads through the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio, which I took advantage of, riding through Driftwood and stopping at the town square in Wimberly for Sunday morning breakfast.

Driftwood, Texas, has such a romantic name and this old cantina turned gas station remains as a reminder of the area's colorful history. Today, Driftwood is the home of posh, suburban, gated communities. They were having a big wine and food festival the Sunday morning I rode through.

Catfish Pigg is running for City Council in Wimberly, Texas, outside Austin. Great name recognition.

In San Antonio, I rode through downtown to admire the River Walk and the well-preserved Tex-Mex architecture and then sought out a book store to find a map. My route would take me to Del Rio, on the Mexican border, and then parallel to the Rio Grande across the Armistad Reservoir and the Pecos River out to Big Bend.

I'd bought some Gold Bond Medicated Powder in Austin to soothe my chapped butt. It did a nice job and I decided to reapply it at a gas stop outside San Antonio. Later, I discovered I'd left the bright yellow can of powder in the men's room -- I'm sure it was a curiosity for the washroom attendant.

I stopped at a WalMart in Del Rio to get a new supply and discovered they stocked the famous Monkey Butt Powder, which is basically talc and calamine lotion. It did a nice job, too, but lacked Gold Bond's medicinal tingle.

Sunday evening, I reached Seminole Canyon State Park, about 35 miles west of Del Rio. I hadn't filled the tank when I left that city, thinking I could refuel and get something to eat in Comstock, a town about nine miles east of the park. Unfortunately, the one cafe in Comstock closed at 1 p.m. on Sunday. I tried the gas pump and it doled out 85 cents worth of gasoline before running completely dry. I had enough gas left in the tank to go about 50 miles and no food.

After making camp at Seminole Canyon, I decided to head back to Del Rio for food and fuel. Happily, there was an Exxon station at the Armistad Reservoir with both -- only about a 45-mile round trip from my campsite. I filled the tank, nuked a couple of cheeseburgers, bought two cans of beer and vowed not to pass a gas station in the desert again without topping off.

The Seminole Canyon visitor center affords a nice view of the deep cut made by the Pecos River. Humans lived in the area for millenia and used the canyon occasionally for buffalo hunting, driving the beasts over the rim to their deaths.

That's my shadow, with Mexico on the horizon beyond the tent. The stars at night were spectacular out here. Only the sound of trucks on the highway a mile away and the TV in the RV next door spoiled the moment. Eventually, they turned off the TV and the trucks passed less frequently.

Home, home on the range.

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