One of the benefits of going slow is I can quickly pull over and pick up treasures along the roadside. Now I know what you’re thinking but check out this haul of over $100 worth of work gloves. Two matching pairs to boot. Going through a set a month on the land, this will certainly keep my hands safe until winter!In addition to the gloves, I found a Bic grill lighter new in the box, sweatshirt I used at altitude in CO and a ball cap accidentally jettisoned in Kansas.The new lower nylon bushings and a set of upper bushings for the engine hanger are shipping this direction. Once repaired, there’s a good chance I’ll scoot up the Blue Ridge this September for a few weeks of camping in my old stomping grounds. Stay tuned and thanks for following along.
Picture the sun having set above timberline on the distant Spanish Peaks Wilderness and the sky fading to dark back to the east. Here at 7500ft, the babbling of the Purgatoire River is soothing after the hot days in such arid country. An unfamiliar briskness is in the air and I add my layers gladly. The rustle of doves in the oaks and occasional clatter of a natural gas compressor must mean I’m on managed land. Awake just before daybreak and getting on my way, I’m almost exposed by the state wildlife ranger on his morning patrols. Camping is allowed here but only with a valid state fish/hunt license which I don’t own. Stopping the bike and remaining completely still, he drives past without noticing and soon I continue down the highway past the Coke ovens in Cokedale.
At 9am, I’m one of the first folks in the door of the post office but am saddened and frustrated when they tell me it has already been returned to sender. See I mailed the Variator parts I needed by General Delivery and they arrived ahead of schedule on Saturday. By Monday they were gone and with it my hope of adding the requisite spare for safety. Contemplating my options, I also considered the engine bushing that recently disintegrated allowing an alarming slop and crunch from the now metal on metal mounts. Tallying up my options I decide to err on the less adventurous of turning for home to do the proper shop repairs unlike what I’d be challenged to fix out on the road. So much for plans right? They’re meant to be broken.
Fueling up and checking the bike over again, I turn back east on the same Hwy 160 I followed West. There’s always that joy of seeing the same landscape backwards except this high desert is rather featureless. The day stretches on like the undulating yellow ribbon leading me home. The sporadic tree indicated the barest presence of water but the terrain is mostly vegetated in short grasses and cholla cactus. The crisp blue sky contrasted against the light beige reminds me of New Mexico and a Georgia O’Keefe color pallet. Descending from the mountains brings increasing temperature with each lower mile. It’s ok the 90s but fortunately not as hot as a few days earlier when the glue on my helmet began melting away releasing trim and vents. Nope , certainly not because it’s 13 years old…Stopping occasionally for the fuel fill-up or pint of cookie dough ice cream, I made the most of the straight and mostly traffic free highway. Jamming some old rubber into the missing bushing seems to have quieted the clanky motor mount. A jig jog in the highway lead me into Kansas and I continued forward until dark with the promise of a campground with showers at Frazier Park,. Ulysses KS. The updated park offers free tent camping and has hot showers and electricity. The maskless volleyball game lasted until 11:30pm when the departure was celebrated with honking horns and revving truck engines. I’ve come to find this is just a typical night in a small town city park.
The following morning brought more of the same descent and scenery as more trees and landscape features materialized. At my average speed of 31mph, the dragonfly’s have enough time to fly out of my path and thus I’m only splattered in grasshoppers. Large commercial farms of corn, wheat and what looks like sorghum operate with loud throbbing motors running irrigation pumps that feed 1/4 mi long radial Zimmatic sprinklers. It seems each unincorporated town has a grain silo, or prarie sky scraper, and a chemical distributor mostly selling anydrpus ammonia. I got a blast of it from a farmer spraying upwind of the road and it nearly took my breath away. Nasty stuff but surely what’s needed to grow the commodities these farmers rely on.
Crossing back into Oklahoma in the afternoon, it was enjoyable to see familiar tree species and plants offering shade from the relentless sun. The reservation land of the Cherokee Strip and the Seven Clans is expansive but dotted with casinos, power plants and fuel refineries. It’s not by chance but profit driven environmental racism. Come to think of it, this refinery is the same company I just filled up with at the last gas stop. Guess I’m part of the problem. At over 300 miles, I begin looking for a camping spot opposite the rosy sunset. Garmin shows a dead end track to Sooner Lake and I follow it into a grassy field without “POSTED” signs. Winding down my day in the grassy grove of teenage oaks, I smile at the familiar call of a Whippoorwill.
Riding east the following morning, the ditches are full of water as are the rumble strip keyboard of the road. A steamy humidity returns with acute familiarity as the sun turns the dew in the field to a dense fog. My diminutive mirrors offered occasion for trucks and cars to materialize in apparitional form from the grey veil. Their aggressive grills and anthropomorphized headlights materialize and swoosh by like bats in the night. The days back east drag on in between oil changes and Variator checks, fuel stops and coffee breaks. The bike hangs in there entering Alabama and before sunset on Friday parked Tortuga under the oak tree at my house. Nearly 3000 miles and not one accident or wreck. I’ll take it!
It’s only 9 am when I pull off the laser straight US64 under the only cottonwood in sight across the expansive high prarie. The chirp of crickets along the blossom-strewn fence line remind me of the cooler night and first few hours of riding before the sun’s heat returns. As the sun rose, I passed fields of alfalfa, corn and wheat bordered by rusted barbed wire fences. I conjured families, triumphs and dreams of those now absent from the occasional grey windowless farmhouse.
After awkwardly removing my layers, I sip the woodsmoke tinted coffee and admire the view. Prarie dogs poke above their mounded dens as a hawk eyes them perched upon a weathered power pole. The many gravel crossroads of the plains offer excellent break spots from the monotony of the open road.
Suited up with all the vents open, I continue ever westward with the goal of making Colorado by nightfall. The panhandle of Oklahoma rises gradually and already the 4000′ elevation has made a difference in the heat comfort. Yesterday a small town bank sign flashes 1:15PM/102F. It was only by chance that I noticed a green splotch on the GPS indicating a park. Abbey Springs Park had an old cottonwood shading benches beside a green pond. Frogs croaked on the shoreline in defiance of the temperature and soon grew quiet as I gleefully jumped into the cooling precious liquid. Two hours relaxing at a shady spring was a surreal break when all I percieved from these expanses was agriculture, oil or desert.
Climbing to 6600ft near volcanic Mt. Capulin, a lonely but paved highway set off north toward Colorado 160 but missed the interstate I was heading toward. Like a buffalo avoiding the cliffs edge, I made my way into the 70 miles of pinyon and cedar lined mountains and volcanically scarred valleys. Columnar basalt lining the cliff ridges told me this area was once beside a vast body of water that led to the fast cooling of the lava to form basalt columns like this. Winding into and out of dry river valleys of sage and juniper the highway turns north and into the narrow Tollgate Canyon where adobe ruins dot the roadside cliffs. Crossing into Colorado, I stop for the obligatory sign picture and continue the remainder to Trinidad, CO admiring the mountain Vista.
With a few days to kill before my parts arrive at the post office, I cruise West of town past Trinidad Lake reservoir and the mining history of Cokedale and the Stonewall Valley. The sinuous road climbs from the more arid and sparsely vegetated burned over desert into cottonwood, pinyon, fir and cedar hillsides. In a few months I can imagine the cottonwoods and Aspen turning golden. The whole scenery is quite familiar from the Sacramento Mountains a few hundred miles south in New Mexico where mountain streams flow down to dry up in the arid grassland below.
The Bosque Del Oso (Forest of the Bear) Wildlife Area sits at 7200 ft and has a camping area that was free for all but now requires a fishing or hunting pass. I was dismayed at the lack of trees in the fenced in area and the generator idly humming away 20 ft over but after 250 miles, I was in no mood to go exploring. The sweet vanilla and spicy smell of pinyon pitch scented the western breeze as the clouds reflected the last rays of sunlight. For the first time in months I put on a vest and cap to keep warm as the stars began to twinkle and the generator sputtered to a halt. All is well on the road.