Friday, April 23, 2010

It's an ill wind ...

It was sunny. The temperature was 62 degrees. No traffic. Fresh tank of gas. But I was going nowhere today.

The wind howled, blowing 45 miles per hour right on my nose with side-wind gusts up to 60 as I tried to ride to Alamogordo from Carlsbad, N. Mex. I made it about 15 miles up the highway, tucked in behind the windshield. The GPS said I was going 32 mph on a road with a 75 mph speed limit.

Welcome to New Mexico.

My tool tube reinforced and remounted.

I'd had a pleasant stay at Jefferson Davis Mountains State Park, taking a day off for laundry, updating the blog and a few other chores, such as reattaching my tool tube, which holds the bike's tool kit plus a set of sockets, a multi-tip screwdriver and a utility knife.

I'd attached the tube -- originally designed to hold welding rods -- to the front engine guard with a couple of hose clamps. Stopping at a gas station in Arkansas, I noticed one of the clamps had broken and the tube was hanging by a single fastener. So, I took it off, but adding a little weight forward and low on the bike is a good idea and I wanted to rehang it.

At Ace Hardware in Fort Davis I found a drain pipe coupler, about four inches long made up of two hose clamps and a thick plastic or rubber hose four inches in diameter. I cut the hose into three strips and re-clamped the tube, this time with rubber strips to cushion the vibration.

The KLR parked next to a shiny new BMW. Notice the similarity?

The sign at the laundromat in Fort Davis said go to the office for change. It was part of an RV park run by a curmudgeonly manager who inhabited a dark office hung with Vietnam veteran memorabilia. The sign on the door said knock first and then ring the bell if no one answered. I followed the instructions. Eventually the door cracked open.

"Yeah. What do you want?"

Change for the laundry.

"OK. Come on in."

Do you sell laundry detergent?

"Used to, but it got to be too big a hassle. You're gonna need $3.50 to get a load dry."

OK, give me $5 in quarters.

He crossed the dark room and pulled out a jug of liquid detergent. "You got a container?"

No, just this plastic bag of laundry. Just dump it in here. It's all going in the washer.

He poured a cap full of detergent into the bag -- even offered a second cap full, which I declined.

"Don't hold it over the rug. Might leak."

The McDonald Observatory is on the highest road in Texas.

Laundry done, I rode out to the McDonald Observatory, now operated by the University of Texas, which is about 15 miles north of Fort Davis on a marvelously curvy road.

I arrived too late for an organized tour -- in fact, the visitor center was about to lock up -- but there were no signs telling me to keep out, so I drove right up to the main observatory, parked the bike and took a walk around.

Next to the 170-inch, serious telescope facility there were a couple of those tourist telescopes you put quarters in for two minutes of sight seeing. Something foolish about that.

Clouds throw shadows over the grasslands seen from the scenic overlook above the campground -- the one spot that had cell-phone service.

The view from the other side of the overlook includes the road to McDonald Observatory and the Jefferson Davis Mountains.

Leaving Fort Davis, I was about to suffer Montezuma's revenge.

The campground at Fort Davis was a favorite with motorcyclists. Jerry, a Canadian riding a stylish Honda ST1300 sports tourer, had ridden down from Vancouver, B.C. with his wife, who'd had enough motorcycling, thank you. He had lots of useful advice about highways, byways and mountain passes, but was going to have to turn for home before making it to Big Bend.

Dave had two KLRs, which he pulled on a trailer behind his motor home. One was a dead ringer for my bike -- same year and green color. We were campground neighbors and had several chats about the bikes, which he insisted were incredibly reliable, even though his green bike was laid up with something in the engine making a bad, expensive noise.

Thursday morning I set off for Guadalupe National Park in New Mexico, riding out past McDonald Observatory on a lovely morning. By the time I reached Kent -- a tiny watering hole on the I-10 -- my guts were grumbling and I was regretting having lunch at a Mexican restaurant the day before. I checked out the drugs available at the Kent Mercantile -- Anacin, Rolaids, Midol -- and picked a Sprite out of the cooler.

"How you doing?" asked the young guy at the register.

"Not so good. My stomach's kind of a mess."

"Hey, I know all about that -- I got ulcers and stuff. Hey, I've got some Pepto Bismol out in the car. Maybe that'll fix you up."

He came back with a fresh bottle of pink liquid and poured me a shot. I paid him for the Sprite and offered him a dollar for the Pepto.

"No way," he said. "Hope you feel better."

Guadalupe Mountain has camping but no food.

I found some Imodium at at a truck stop on I-10 and made it to Guadalupe Mountain, which has cell-phone reception, wi-fi at the visitor's center and a very nice campground. There is, however, no restaurant, store, snack bar or vending machines. The nearest food is miles away. Although I wasn't in the mood to eat, I figured someday I would be and decided to keep going to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The Caverns are about 40 miles from Guadalupe at the top of a mountain. A sign next to the road on the way up read "No camping or overnight parking." There was, however, a restaurant in the opulent visitor center, which included a sizable gift shop and a bookstore.

I ate a turkey and cheese sandwich, drank some bottled water and considered taking the elevator down into the cavern. At that point I began to ache all over. Finding some place to bed down became top priority and I headed back down the mountain, found a motel room and slept for 15 hours.

Next morning, I actually felt OK and went back up the mountain -- I wasn't going to ride 3,000 miles to Carlsbad Cavern and not see it.

I thought Mammoth Cave was special until I saw Carlsbad.

Descending 750 feet into the cave, I asked the ranger driving the elevator what the difference was between Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Carlsbad. She said these caverns were created by sulfuric acid dissolving the limestone inside the mountain. In Kentucky, it was much milder carbonic acid, which is the stuff that puts bubbles in soft drinks.

The "Big Room" walking tour winds through more than a mile of spectacular formations.

Carlsbad features stalactites, stalagmites and a daily bat fly-out at dusk.

Having done enough spelunking for a lifetime in just a couple of weeks, I mounted the KLR and headed northwest through the city of Carlsbad toward Alamogordo. When I stopped in Carlsbad for gas, the wind was blowing hard. Leaving the city, I struggled to keep the bike on the road.

About 15 miles from Carlsbad was Brantley Lake State Park. I rode in, checking out the white caps on the brown, dammed up lake water. The campground was mostly inhabited by RVs, but the few tents were leaning and flapping in the gale. Spending the rest of the day trying to keep a nylon cocoon tethered to the ground held no appeal. So, I turned back to Carlsbad.

In my room at Motel 6, the Weather Channel was excited about major weather, including tornadoes in Mississippi and high winds throughout the south and urging residents to take shelter in basements or interior rooms. The local report was winds of 45 mph and gusts to 60 with a forecast of moderating winds on Saturday and a very pleasant Sunday.

In Carlsbad, flags were beating themselves to pieces.

Flanman ready to ride again once the winds tapered off.

I heard a motorcycle outside my room and looked out to see a Honda XR650 dual sport parked next to the KLR. I went out and met Dave Harrison, a fellow adventure rider from Orange County, Calif.

Dave's bike had lost the end of its muffler and he was hoping to find a shop that would drill some holes so he could refasten it. We agreed to check back with each other in about an hour and go get something to eat.

Dave told me he'd spent some nights sleeping in his gear leaning against his bike.

Harrison had been on the road for about three weeks travelling through Wyoming and Colorado on his way to New Mexico. He'd run into some snow, stayed with friends and fellow bulletin board members and done some camping along the way -- occasionally in places not intended to be campgrounds.

True to his Southern California roots, Dave's bike was considerably modified with an over-sized gas tank, heavy-duty rack, steering stabilizer, windshield and the after-market muffled that had disassembled itself.

We went to Pizza Hut and compared notes. He was headed south and I north.

Two adventure riders passing in the night.


  1. What wonderful pictures of the view from the McDonald Observatory mountain. I thought the Carlsbad caverns were spectacular also.
    The "ill wind" was terrible today in Mississippi where severe tornados cause damage. I was so glad you were out of the area. It is now headed for the Ohio Valley right through Tennessee. It is headed for Virginia also. But the forecast for us is that although it may storm it is not expected to be as strong. I hope Chris will be okay.
    Stay safe, MJF

  2. Carlsbad looks fantastic....stay away from Mexican food :) Ride safe