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Saturday, January 15
1570 Miles in 37 hours
I awake as the first dim rays escape from the sun low in the horizon. Halfway through the night I had to unfold an extra blanket I keep inside my
sleeping bag. I awoke several times trying to find the least lumpy part of the ground. Now entombed within my sleeping bag with only a six-inch
hole to stick my nose out, I inhale a deep breath. The air has a yummy taste. Open my eyes, poke my head out, and discover I am laying upon a
bed of crunchy fall leaves. Each breath hangs white in the air. I sit unmoving for a moment afraid to disturb this moment in time.
This area is deserted. I am the only one out here. No one, it seems, is crazy enough to be out here but me. The moment ends as cold drapes itself
upon me. I clamor to unzip my sleeping bag a little more and look around. Unsnapping the camouflage poncho that encases my sleeping bag, it's
covered in ice crystals and frost. I sit upright, my legs still encased, and quickly put on both jackets. I pause shivering as the cold fabric drains what
little warmth I have away.
Birds chirp morning song. A woodpecker seeks breakfast. Wind whispers in the trees above. Leafless forest branches extends into the soft sky.
Trees sway amongst each other, popping and cracking in the still air. A crinkly carpet of dry brown leaves covers the forest floor that scrunches
each time I move. These are the only sounds. All else is perfectly still.
Even in the midst of this, I wonder what empowers me. Why am I even out here? Most people become intensely curious when I say that I tour
alone on a motorcycle. The average Joe takes up jogging or stamp collecting. I've got this insatiable desire to run around the United States, forever
riding off into the sunset. My license plate spells- On a Quest.
Today is Saturday, and I have to make it to my first class on Tuesday morning in Sacramento. I smile again at this thought. I have 3 days to get to
the other side of the United States and I am lying here on the ground in Mississippi. It just sounds funny.
The map puts me near the Louisiana State line and the Mississippi River. I decide to move into Arkansas and head west. It is Saturday. 3 Days to
ride 3000 miles. And I am going the long way staying way south along the US border to avoid the Rocky Mountains. It is too cold to write as my
hand it turning white, and my penmanship is getting steadily messier.
The temperature is 26 degrees.
Sleeping on the ground on a cold Mississippi morning
- The white on the sleeping bag is frost.
I have no trouble making it back to the road from the grassy area. The ground is frozen. The same muddy road I came in on last night is also partially
frozen. The bike crackles through ice on the puddles sprinkled across the rutted road to the main highway. Emerging from the refuge of the forest,
the wind spites me good morning. It slams me, tosses me like a plaything. It whistles, screams delight. I grip the bike with my legs and await the
next assault at the ready. The road runs along the tops of the levees with endless fields below. The wind has the clear advantage. I see myself from
above. This lone man and machine. I declare war, shouting into the blank sky, and ride on.
Driving through Rolling Fork, I am impressed by this quaint little town. As I pull up to an intersection, two little girls looking about six years old are
riding a four wheeler that is proportional in size to these little people. They ride through the yard, ditch, around the mailbox, through the yard, ditch,
around the mailbox...
I can hear their sounds of glee as I pause for a few moments at this intersection. I just sit there, both boots planted on the ground, watching.
Gloved hands resting at my sides. My breath a white mist trailing from my helmet. The bike idles smoothly, patiently, while the toes inside my right
boot push down on the brake. The world could have come to an end right then and it would've been okay. I smile, pull in the clutch, slap it into
gear, pull out to the left and ride on.
There are pickups. Everywhere. Most of them have fourwheelers in their beds. Everything's covered in mud. It's in the driveways, tracked along
the road, sprayed onto the doors and undersides of tractors and pickups. And gun racks, in every rear window.
I need to cross the Mississippi River. I skirt north alongside the levee's to reach the closest bridge. It looks to be another 40 miles. The little towns
of Hampton, Foote, Erwin, Longwood, and James pass by, one after the other.
In Avon, I spot a Post Office alongside the road and stop to write a quick postcard to my father in Wisconsin. I know it's even colder up there but
here I am freezin'. I flip out the kickstand, leave the bike idling, and walk over to the lone mailbox. When I step off the bike, I lack its warmth. The
cold assaults me, strips me. I shiver as I put the postcard face down on the mailbox, pull off a glove, dig out a pen, and stand there shivering. What
do I say? How do I describe this? I start with, "Guess where I am..."
Upon riding over the mighty Mississippi, I pull in at a tourist information place, a map of where I am is always helpful. The building's built on the
tops of telephone poles over Lake Chicot that if I remember my 8th grade earth science, most likely was the path of the river at one time. The river
found a quicker way thus remains a crescent moon-shaped lake.
The only other vehicle in the parking lot is a dirty Bronco. I pull alongside and shut the bike down. Wood decking leads out over the water to the
info center where inside a woman sits behind the counter and a twenty something man is reading the morning paper only a few feet away. He's
wearing insulated camouflage coveralls. Those look pretty warm. They both look up and extend a warm greeting.
"Where ya headed?" comes the thick accent of the man.
"Across Arkansas and after that, I'm not sure. I have to be back in Sacramento on Monday," I reply starting conversation.
"Ya must be from, let's see, Sacramento... that's California,
shoowee, you're shore a long way from home." Looking out the window at the bike he
continues, "You been traveling long?"
"A few days, just out riding around. Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Arizona, New Mexico, and has it been cold." I say.
"Well, at least it ain't snowing. This cold were havin' is pretty normal 'round here. You really traveled all that way on that there motorbike?" He
looks once more at the bike then back at me. His face spells his bewilderment. Same reaction from the guy at the gas pump last night.
The young lady behind the counter hands me a map of the state suggesting a forested route to shelter me from the wind. We chat about travel, the
weather, Wisconsin winters, and even the rice and cotton crops. Always nice to ride a few thousand miles around the United States and sit down
for a nice chat with the locals on a cold Arkansas morning.
Up to Dermont and over to Monticello on Highway 35, the road snakes a twisty path through thick forest. A railroad track keeps pace alongside the road as a
sign for Seven Devils Swamp shoots by.
Highway 35 & Highway 4 outside Monticello, Arkansas
On the outskirts of Monticello, I gas my thirsty companion up. As I do, a middle-aged black man approaches. He asks where Rock Springs is. I
have been in this state for two hours and haven't the slightest where anything is. I reply no at first but realizing I'm riding with a Gousha Road
Atlas, I convey maybe we can find it on the map. Two total strangers in a strange place, one lost, the other, well, I'm just where ever I am.
He rushes over to the motorcycle, and I point at the state map. I have the map sealed inside a zip-loc bag scotch taped to the tank. How's that for
ingenuity? Long as my roll of Scotch tape lasts the rest of the trip. We both start hunting for a Rock Springs but to no avail. He lasts about 15
seconds before becoming impatient. \
I glance at him, and he doesn't have a nose. It looks to be burned off or even cut off. I've never seen anyone without a nose, it's a bit of a surprise.
He takes three steps away from me as if he's decided I am no help. His brown shifty eyes dart about surveying the scene as if waiting for an Angel
of God to appear and point him the way. I assure him I can find it. He steps back to the side of the bike.
"Where am I?" he asks looking at the map.
"Here right outside Monticello. There are four roads headed north from here." He thinks that is the general direction. I count 10 different roads in
10 different directions he could take once he reaches the closest town. Great place to get lost.
I'm tempted to say pick one. I have no idea so I just point them out. He leaves in
midsentence, dashes to his car, races the motor as the fan belt
squeals in protest, and peels out onto the roadway. A cloud a gravel-laden dust boils in the air. I realize later on the flipside of the map is a handy
alphabetical listing of every town in Arkansas. So go my ongoing encounters with the locals.
Once more, I throw a leg over the motorcycle, fire up the motor, and lean back against my sleeping bag riding off into the countryside for Warren.
As I pass through the town of Wilmar, I round a corner and see a man on a motorcycle waiting at a stoplight. I slowly do a left-hand turn in front
of him. He notices me and the bike all loaded up and salutes me. I wave back to him and continue on down the road as the temperature stretches
into the blazing mid-forties.
Outside of Warren, it looks to be time for breakfast as a Waffle Inn comes into view. I've been passing by these Waffle Inn's all across the south.
This has been the ultimate econo-trip. No, I really don't have any money. I haven't deviated from McDonalds since Freeport, Texas. They are
cheap and consistent. This urge for a waffle has been growing for the last thousand miles.
I pull off the highway next to a Ford pickup jacked up so high I could almost drive my motorcycle underneath it. The truck was at least four feet
off the ground. Bulging Super Swamper tires pleaded for mud and more mud then a little more. The rollbar was
covered in off-road lights requiring
a small power plant to light them all. The bumpers were handmade out of 4-inch thick
water pipe with a winch welded on. On the bumper was a Confederate license
hanging in the wind attached with strands of wire. Headers
stuck out from the bottom of the truck and shot straight out the back. The paintjob looked like they did it themselves, in their back yard, at night,
with blindfolds on. Completing the ensemble was a stuffed animal with its head slammed into the hood and its little body
Then right on cue, the driver walks out with his buddy to his monster car stomping truck. Cowboy hat, gruffy beard, and these two guys somehow
matched the truck perfectly. The guy opens the door with a metallic creak and his armpit is level with the floorboard. He reaches his right arm in
and must have hit a button because the truck turns over and howls a glasspacked V-8 roar.
With a cough and a wheeze, the truck dies. He is standing right next to me and reaches in once more and hits the starter button. This time it stays
running with a wup-wup-wup that could make little gearhead children shiver in delight. He and his buddy practically jump in, a flying leap might be
appropriate, and strap themselves into 5-point safety harness'. They circle the truck to the road and wait for a break in the traffic. The driver
fondles the accelerator clearing all the birds out of the nearby trees. Then they take off screaming
"Yeeee-hah!!" out the window over the noise of
the engine. What a country this is.
By now I've got my helmet and gloves off and properly stowed. Hair on my head is sticking up in seven different directions. I suppose that after a
week of traveling and sleeping on the ground, I am quite a sight. Black combat boots, which I still polish every morning, and black jeans tucked in
military style- it keeps the wind out. My jeans are twice safety-pinned at the calves to keep the excess fabric from flapping in the wind at high
speeds. My upper torso is Michelin-Man thick with layered shirts and my two jackets. The huge U.S. Marine Corps patch on the back of my
black flight jacket sort of gives me away. Around my neck is an olive drab scarf that I tuck in all the right places to keep the cold out. It is the only
other color besides black that I have on.
The boots, the black, the hair, like I said I must be quite a sight, and this guy at the counter spots me as I am walking up from the parking lot. He
can't seem to believe his eyes. He stares at me through the glass doors transfixed. I see him too and stare right back. I stare piercing into the
depths of his beady little eyeballs as I walk up from the parking lot to the front door.
I heave open the door of the Waffle Inn. I pull up a stool at the counter. The smells are wonderful- pancakes, blueberry syrup,
sweetrolls, coffee, bacon and eggs. I don't even look at the menu. I know what I want- a plate of blueberry waffles.
This place bustles in activity and behind me a group of about 10 kids were making a tremendous racket in only a way that young southern women
can. It sounded like they were having a great time. I consumed my overpriced waffle drowning in syrup in silence listening to the adrenalized banter
behind me. Just as I finished, the whole group got up and left.
Standing back at the bike, I prepared to become Motorcycle Man. A beige Grand Marquis pulled up beside me and an older gentleman got out.
Seeing the bike, then me, he simply stated in my general direction, "Shoo-wee, shore is cold." The emphasis on the 'cold' and then he rambled into
the Waffle Inn.
I thought to myself, I suppose he's right. It was still in the mid-forties and hadn't warmed up at all. Maybe I'd better decrease my latitude.
Nevertheless, I rode off into the rest of Arkansas determined to keep on riding.
The day just melted away. Leaning into the corners, riding through forests, passing through towns with names like Banks, Harrell, Hampton, and
Locust Bayou. Minutes and miles meld as the steady hum from the motor beneath me sings a comforting sound. Just the bike and I traveling
through this land of ours. Alone in a sea of possibilities.
I think I've known all along what possesses me to travel like this. Cutting into the cold, rain, heat, and all the strange things that happen. Each
curve in the road ahead satiates a sense of wonder, of curiosity. Riding like this makes me feel alive. I feel it in the very essence of the wind as it
slams my face, seeps through my hands, tears at my legs, and reminds me of what I'm doing.
A new scene unlocks at every turn, becomes real to me. Each stop I am released and step through a door into a world I don't belong to. And for
a moment, just a tiny moment, I am so free, not a care in the world. I can think of nothing else I'd rather be doing than standing in that one spot,
this tiny speck of life upon this spinning rock hurtling through space. Nothing else matters in that tiny moment. I know I don't belong here- my
place is on the motorcycle. A traveler, only here for a few moments to observe, record what I see in a mere moment in time. And when the
moment passes, I swing a leg over my iron ride, point into the horizon, and ride off in search of the next moment.
I've been traveling for 6 days straight and I finally figured out where I'm going. The thought makes me laugh. Into Oklahoma and then down into
Texas where I will make tracks and head west. I am afraid to go over the mountains in the middle of winter on a motorcycle. I am not sure if that is
a good idea but anything over 5000 feet is a gamble, one I don't have time for.
I pull into Hope, Arkansas from the east on Highway 4 and a sign proclaims it being the birthplace of the current president. I instantly felt I had
gone through a time warp back 30 years. The place was a dump. Americana scene of run down houses, boarded up windows, and car husks
strewn upon lawns jilted me awake. It was a page out of a National Geographic. I'm not sure if I came in on the wrong side of the tracks or what,
I didn't stay long enough to ask. I hope the whole city isn't like that because if it is, our president seems to have put the place behind him. The
name itself is irony.
It was an astonishment to come to a place in such run down condition, worst in 3000 miles of road in the last few days. I moved on through before
I got mugged or cyclejacked at a stoplight or something weird. I wasn't at ease.
The town of Saratoga rests beside Millwood Lake in the southwestern corner of the state of Arkansas. I was getting closer and closer to
Oklahoma. Along the lake edge, the Highway 32 rests upon a huge dike style dam. It is the first rather large lake I have seen in quite some time. I let off
the gas and rolled to a stop at the water's edge. I paused and shut the bike off. I breathed the air, and then motored on.
Seven miles later I pulled into the town of Ashdown, Arkansas. I kept waiting for the run down houses and muddy pickups but didn't see any.
Beautiful houses and neatly cropped lawns come up to the edge of the road. I turn my head from side to side in amazement, I just can't get enough.
I haven't seen such an all-American town since Kiowa, Colorado.
Heading back west into Oklahoma on Highway 3
Oklahoma welcomes me with a speed limit sign that says "55 MPH NO TOLERANCE". Filtering through trees of Ouachita National Forest, I
fumble around on what seems like backroads but eventually find my way. It's a strange feeling to have a total loss of direction, have no idea where
you are, and just continue riding, drinking the land until something sounds familiar like a road marker or town name. An intersection somewhere in
the middle of America. Two paths colliding, creating four different directions. One of them leads West.
Churches. They're everywhere, sometimes in anything that will hold people. Some churches are Civil War vintage, others more recent but there are
quite a few down here. Traveling north along Hwy 98 just outside of Valliant, I saw one that blew me away in all of the hundreds of churches I
have passed by on this trip.
The church was actually an old garage. It was painted blue and sat peacefully in a green field of grass, with steeple and all. It still even had the 10
foot high garage door in the side of the building.
On I go through towns of Swink, Sawyer, Hugo, Forney, Unger, Boswell, Bennington, and Blue. The road weaves lazily through the land and I
raced daylight heading off into sunset's glow. A smooth 70 was where I settled in at.
Then a cop came around the corner. He popped his lights on before he even passed me. I experienced that rush of adrenaline searing through
veins. I pulled over and he walked on up to me as I reached for my license.
"California," he said to himself in his Oklahoma drawl as he walked to the front of the bike and read, "Yamaha". He had a clean face and a dark
wide brimmed ten-gallon hat with the two little tassels on the brim.
"Son, why don't yew come on back 'ta the car and join me in the front seat, okay son."
I think he didn't want me to stand out in the cold as the sun went down and the temperature quickly dropped. As he filled out some form with my
license, he asked where I was headed and wasn't it kind of cold on that
"rice-burnin' crotch rocket". A Yamaha Venture Crotch Rocket? A real
aficionado. I did the normal song and dance about how yes it is cold, but you get used to it, mind over matter, blah, blah, blah. He asked where
I'd been so far. So away I went with Florida, Gulf coast, Texas, Mississippi, Arizona, this great land of ours, O say can you see, land of the
brave. blah, blah, blah.
I was afraid he'd give me a speeding ticket. Yet there wasn't a whole lot I could do now that I was sitting next to the cop in his car. I didn't know
what he would do, so I just kept talking about where I'd been and the things I've seen the last few days. He seemed real interested and suddenly
Oklahoma seemed like a strange place to tour through. No Tolerance.
"Ahm just gonna give yew a warnin' thar Tim. See, we Oklahomans, we don't drive so good, an
goin' that fast, yer gonna git yerself inta a heap a
trouble with the locals. Now yew head on down thar road and git on yer trip, okay?" He did a half smile and motioned down the road. Are you for
I was just glad for no ticket as he handed me a warning.
"Good luck on yer trip thar." He waved and wished me good journey, as long as I slowed down a little. He pulled around the other way and went
off to catch the next speeder in a 55 mph No Tolerance world.
The sun set as I pulled into Durant for some food and hot water at the first McDonalds I came to. I was unsure what to do. I needed to decide
whether to call it a day or go on riding.
I got my maps together, headed inside, and settled in to my own table studying all the options. It was about 7 PM by then and I noticed I had a
recreation area, Lakeside, nearby. The next option after that was Lake Texoma Recreational Area and all its campgrounds. What luck to be near
so many options I thought.
Today has been quite a day and I have covered a lot of ground but I am undecided if I should keep riding. Today is Saturday evening. I have to be
in Northern Cal by Monday. I am in Oklahoma. I've decided to go on moving south into Texas as far as I can last. Once I reach El Paso, it will be
only 20 hours to home and I figure I am 15 hours from El Paso. That equals 35 hours of high-speed travel in two days, which comes to two
18-hour days to make it back in time for my first class. I laugh to myself when I finish adding the mileage on the edge of the map. The catch is I
cannot stop ridding for very long or the hours slip by and then I am stuck in some god-forsaken place.
I've been here for quite awhile looking over the routes home. Had a hot meal, 3 cups of steaming hot water, and I am still cold. Being cold sucks.
So I've decided to drive right past 12 different public campgrounds to do night driving through Texas. I figure based on my earlier experience with
Texas, I won't miss much..
I left the country roads of the south behind for the high-speed world of the freeways after making the jaunt to Enville and Marietta. Ended up
keeping pace with a huge white Chevy dually pickup who I could have swore had no mufflers on his truck at all. It sounded as though he had
bought the cheapest least restricting aftermarket exhaust he could find. A truck that sounds like a Harley?
The many days of being cold have started to take their toll psychologically as the night settled in around the bike and
me. I tried to relax and settle
into riding. It was cold, I felt cold, I was cold. Every part of me was cold. As cars would pass by, I could see in their windows. They looked
pretty warm. I mean really warm. I could feel myself becoming envious of those warm people. Envy? What was I thinking, I am the hard core bike
traveler, I'm supposed to love this. But I didn't, and it was becoming difficult to go on. Every time a car passed by, I was filled with envy and so
cold, so very cold. This chill was like nothing I had ever felt before.
When the lights of Dallas-Fort Worth appeared, the temperature went up an immediate five degrees, it was as if I'd died and gone to heaven. I
forgot about my envy and being cold, all in a matter of minutes and a mere five degrees. Cruised straight into the metropolis of Fort Worth and
every downtown building was lit up. There were lights on the corners of the buildings outlining the edges. The edges cut up the night sky, unbroken
lines of light shooting up from the city floor. I've not seen anything quite like it in the last 10 to
15 major city's I've rode through, from LA to New
Orleans to Denver to New York. The sight lifted my spirits some as the motor
hummed beneath me. I threaded my way through the freeways, westward,
onward. To pass the time, I counted the hours I'd been riding. Was
it 8, or 10, or maybe 14 hours straight? Something like that.
When I left the city the temperature dropped the same five
degrees I'd treasured. The elevation descended to what I believed to be about a 1000 feet.
The evening droned on, and it was
getting pretty late like around midnight. I was eating up freeway, just cruising
along about 70. Kicking back, my feet up on the highway pegs,
the cruise on, and leaning against my sleeping bag, I relaxed. I had been riding
the motorcycle for a solid 16 hours so far and it was about 1 in the morning. I
was pretty mellowed out.
Motorcycling has all different sorts of moods to it. The
tail-end of a long day of distance riding creates a sense of total contentment.
It's a sensation that forms a bubble around me. It's hard to describe to someone
who doesn't ride, or even to another motorcyclist who has no concept of what a
non-stop 16 hour day in the saddle might feel like. After a long day aboard the motorcycle,
every sensation is familiar. The sound of the motor, the wind, the vibration,
it's a sensation of ease. Even the positioning of my arms and legs reach a point where I feel as though
I could keep riding forever.
Headlights bounced off my mirrors and woke me from my deep
state of thought. The freeway was mostly deserted until an Intrepid whisked past me. The guy was moving. He and I are the only vehicles on the freeway this time of
night except for an occasional semi-truck. Red and blue lights popped on and a cop going the opposite direction just dove right into the ditch
separating the freeway. Forget about driving across the little roads connecting the two lanes, the cop just slid the car sideways into the ditch not
even slowing down. Exploding grass and dust flew every direction as the car left the pavement. Almost losing control, the 3000lb car came hurtling
up the other side of the ditch in front of me. Menacing headlights swung wildly around. Tires met pavement in an agonized squeal as the cop slid
sideways onto the freeway hell bent on catching up to the Intrepid.
"Don't mess with Texas" say the signs.
Arrived in Abilene about 2 in the morning and kept right on going. I wasn't really low on gas but I was getting there. I should have filled up but I
didn't stop. I figured I'd find a truck stop between here and Colorado City, the next major town about 60 miles down the road. Semi's seemed to
be the only other thing on the road at this hour. I noticed most of them had huge gas tanks along the sides of the rigs, quite larger than the semi's
I've traveled with in the rest of the United States. Should I be taking note of this?
I like the night driving. It's best when you want to cover great distances and could careless about seeing what you're riding through. The wind dies
down and the night air is very still. The quiet night allows a smooth slipstream around the
As I approached Colorado City, I decided to call it a day. I was getting very low on gas and I spotted a public campground at a recreation area
on my map. I got off the freeway determined to find it. I headed a few miles south in the dark. There were a few lights in the distance but no major
city around. It's hard to tell where you are in a situation like this.
When I got to the entrance of the recreation area, it was closed and no hope of getting in. These recreation areas lock the gate up at night and
don't even open it till 7 the next morning.
I wasn't even sure if I had enough gas to make it back the 6 miles to the freeway. I thought that maybe a gas station would miraculously appear out
of nowhere. At 3:30 in the morning all the world is at rest except world traveler Tim who never rests even after 18 hours in the saddle. I'd been in
4 states all in the same day.
I realized the only thing to do was park the bike somewhere where no one would bother me and wait it out till morning when something opened
up. It was in the high 40's and I supposed I could survive in that. I headed down a frontage road and discovered an overpass that looked
secluded. I stopped and popped out the kickstand shutting the bike off. Wait a second. I hop off, heave the bike up on its centerstand and sat
back on the bike. The clock read 4 AM. 18 hours straight in the saddle.
Just sitting there on the bike as I had done all day, my head fell and I drifted into an exhausted sleep still wearing my helmet. I slept lightly as semi's
rumbled on above me, their headlights illuminating the field in front of me. Then dark again until the next semi passed by.
I dreamt of a futuristic looking Honda Goldwing, model year 2040, coming to help me. It was a brilliant gleaming red and had bubble-like plastic
covering everything on the bike. The guy on the Goldwing had a spare gas can and filled my tank so I wouldn't be stranded out here waiting for