November, 1986

Sunday
Monday
Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday
23 November
24
25
 
26
Wichita
Liberal
27
Tucumcari
Albuquerque
Holbrook
28
Flagstaff
Phoenix
Tucson
29
Las Cruces
Ruidoso
Roswell
30
Amarillo
Wichita
1 December
2
3
4
5
6

As will be immediately apparent, this is not a trip report in the normal sense, but is instead a letter to my grandparents. I gave some thought to rewriting it (beyond simply removing the opening and closing lines), but considering that there are not any photographs to accompany the text--as would be required in a typical trip report--it seemed better, on the whole, to just keep it in the original form.

This trip was done 18 years ago (as this is written).  There are differences in the way I now approach longer rides, and there are more differences that are the result of the changes over time. In 1986 multi-grade engine oil was not common, hence the reference to straight 40-weight.  Likewise, the national speed limit of 55 mph was still with us, which explains why a highway speed of 75 mph is mentioned.

I wish that I had taken a camera, but you'll see that I wouldn't have had much time to take many pictures, anyway. The trip was done over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend and covered about 2,300 miles.

One final note: There's some discussion of a mysterious mechanical noise coming from the rear end of the bike. For what is likely the true ending to this story, take a look at the next trip, in 1987.

Kansas

Dear Grandparents,

Welcome, once again, to another installment.

This particular trip took place during the Thanksgiving Holiday a little over two weeks ago. It wasn't until the beginning of the week that I realized that there was a four day weekend coming and that I should be making plans. As you may know, I have a number of maps tacked to my basement walls with lines drawn indicating the roads I've traveled on a motorcycle (it doesn't much matter which of three motorcycles I was on at the time--car trips do not count and they are not shown). Because this was late November my options for travel were necessarily limited to destinations south of Wichita. Louisiana and Mississippi just didn't appeal to me (I've been to Louisiana but not to Mississippi) and I had seen enough of Texas to known that I wasn't up to seeing quite that much of what it offers.

That left the southwest. I have always felt very comfortable riding through the Rocky Mountain area and since I hadn't seen too much of the southern Rockies my decision was made. In the back of my mind (way, way back) I was also aware of the fact that if everything went according to schedule, and I rode nearly continuously I could make it to California. Now, on the face of it, even considering a trip like that was more than a little crazy. Still, I've done such crazy things before, and anyway, the odds were very much against my making it that far (which I didn't). In order to travel that distance I would have to make Liberal Kansas by Wednesday night and Needles California by the next night. The Liberal leg was met but Needles would have to wait for another trip (although I have been through Needles twice already).

I packed my saddle bags Tuesday night. If I was going to make any time at all it would be necessary to leave directly after work on Wednesday.  Because this would be a credit card trip (no camping or cooking meals) I only had to concern myself with packing for what would surely be at times a very cold trip. I packed several pairs of wool socks, and wool shirts. If things went well I wouldnít need so many changes, but if I had to ride in much rain then I would need a dry change of clothes. I also packed all my riding gloves for all possible temperatures. I have a pair of light, medium, cold, and very cold weather gloves. And lastly I threw into my saddle bags a flashlight, first-aid kit, and a pair of shoes. Everything else I needed, I would wear.

It wasn't until around 6:00 that I even got home from work. This time of year the sun goes down quite early which meant that I would be riding in the dark from the very beginning. I dressed as warmly as I could: thermal long underwear, a pair of wool socks over a pair of cotton ones, my heaviest wool-cotton blend logging shirt, a pair of insulated bib-pants over my blue-jeans, and insulated vest, a cotton neck warmer (a knitted tube that slips over my head), a silk head cover, a leather jacket and finally my new pair of winter riding gloves and my helmet. By the time I got the bike out of the garage I was burning up!

It was 6:30pm when I rolled down the street on my way to the Great Southwest.  But first, I needed fuel. About a quarter mile from my house, I stopped into a Quick-Trip 24 hour store and filled up the tank.   I wouldn't stop again until I was done riding for the night. When I started west down highway 54 it was already quite dark. Still, I think I've traveled this highway so often I could do it with my eyes closed. About the time I reached Pratt I was more than glad I had dressed as warmly as I had and only wished that I had worn even more! It was definitely cold. Just beyond the town of Havilland I was able to "pick up" a semi-truck.

There is a certain art to knowing how and when to draft behind a semi-truck. Although the same concept holds for cars they rarely do it mainly because the people in the cars are insulated from its affects and don't realize how affective it can be. On a motorcycle it is possible to be doing a steady 60 miles per hour and just after a semi-trailer passes, the bike will pick up about five miles per hour and then return to 60 again. The trick is to give the bike just a little throttle as the truck is alongside you and then duck in behind the truck when it passes. Once behind the truck you can reduce the throttle to where it was in the first place, but now you're traveling at the same speed that the truck is. In addition to the terrific gas mileage you get, it can also be more comfortable riding behind a truck and out of the cold blast of wind (the more important reason, this night). I might note that it isn't at all necessary to travel close behind the truck (and probably not a very good idea either) to gain an advantage.

I stayed behind this truck nearly all the way to Liberal. Some truckers are better than others at allowing drafting by motorcycles (and some trailer types are better too)--this was one of the better ones. I always make a point of occasionally pulling into the center line just behind his side mirror to let the driver know I'm still there. At Y's in the road (such as at Mullinville) the driver would signal his choice even though it wasn't strictly required. He was simply telling me which way he was going.

Even with the help of drafting the truck, by the time I got to Liberal I was very cold. My feet seemed to suffer the most. I had a rather hard time walking into the motel office since I really couldn't feel my feet all that much. It must be the same general feeling that an amputee would have walking. I could see my feet moving, but I couldn't feel what they were doing. Still, having had two bouts with hypothermia in the past, I was very aware of these changes and was careful not to stay out in the cold too long.

It's a funny thing about riding in very cold weather like this (20 degrees). I have long since learned to distance myself from my body at times like this. My eyes are never cold, and I let my eyes become me (if this makes any sense at all). I am aware that my body is cold but it isn't much different than knowing that the valves on the right cylinder are a tad bit too loose. It is just one more thing that I will monitor and if I have to I'll stop and make some changes. With hypothermia, if I start to get cold deep inside, and start to become nauseous, then it's time to quit.  I'm careful never to reach that point anymore. This must all sound dreadfully uncomfortable and a crazy thing to be doing, but, really it isn't all that bad.

I woke up the next day around 7:30. This isn't all that late a time, but it meant, once and for, all that I wouldn't be going to California. Ah well. I put on my full "uniform" and went out to the parking lot to start the bike--but it wouldn't. It cranked over rather slowly but just wouldn't catch fire. I have always used straight 40 weight oil in the engine which works just great most of the time. This just didn't happen to be one of those times. The morning temperature was about 25 degrees and the oil must have been like thick sludge. Also since it was below freezing when I arrived the previous night the chances were good that the spark plugs were frosted as well. I gave a try at push starting it but there wasn't any slope to the parking lot (being in Kansas, after all). I then enlisted some help from another traveler in push starting the bike, but again to no avail. Finally I got a battery jump start from him, and after a bit of cranking and a few loud backfires the bike reluctantly fired up.

My first task was to put some gas in the bike. I rode through Liberal doing about 15 mph letting the oil warm up. I wanted to make sure that when I shut it down to get fuel that it would light back up again. Near the edge of town I stopped at one of the few places open (it was Thanksgiving) and filled up the tank. The bike started right up afterwards and I was on my way again.

Oklahoma

From Liberal highway 54 takes you through the panhandle of Oklahoma and into the panhandle of Texas.

Texas

At Stratford Texas I could see a train with six working engines crossing the road ahead. Any train with that many engines just had to be a long one so I pulled off the road into a shopping center parking lot and shut down the engine to wait it out. After about ten minutes of waiting I was once more on the road.

New Mexico

It isn't until the small town of Logan that the mountains become visible. Even then, this far south the peaks of the Rockies have become tall mesas with flat tops. There are only a few trees in this part of the country and they aren't very tall.

I had intended to stop at Tucumcari for fuel. I am usually very picky about where I stop for gas. It should be an Amoco Station and preferably on the right side of the road. Well, as it turned out nearly all the stations were closed and I was clear through town when I realized that I probably should have stopped at the first station of any kind that was open. One of my rules of the road, however, is that I will never (well hardly ever) turn around. So, I kept going, hoping that I would come to a station that was open.

Past Tucumcari I turned west onto Interstate 40. This road used to be old highway 66, but that designation is long gone, now. Near the town of Newkirk New Mexico I came to a Stuckey's that looked like it might be open. I pulled off onto the off ramp and crossed the overpass to the restaurant and--great!--they were open. Except for the train stop in Stratford Texas this was my first stop. I walked into the Stuckey's to pay my gas bill with the intent of also eating there. But, after looking around I decided that there just had to be a better place to eat further down the road.

So, after paying for the gas I was on the interstate once again. Every three miles, or so, there were large signs extolling the virtues of a Dairy Queen up ahead. Well, I was all set for a decent meal when I turned off at the Dairy Queen exit and rolled to a stop in front of the door. No sooner had I stopped than someone came up to me and said "We're closed today, Thanksgiving you know."  Back on the bike and down the highway once again.

In addition to the Dairy Queen signs there were competing signs for the restaurant at Clines Corners. I had eaten there before and had no interest in eating there again, but by this time I was truly hungry and didn't see as how I had much choice. Clines Corners isn't really much of a town. It consists of two service stations and a restaurant. I filled the tank up again (I didn't need fuel but wasn't taking any chances) and then went into the restaurant. Since this was Thanksgiving, after all, I made a point of getting turkey as I pushed my tray through the cafeteria line (not even a real restaurant).  I also picked up some beans, a baked potato, a slice of blue berry pie and a glass of iced tea. Then at the end of the line the cashier rang up a bill of some seven dollars. Now I remembered exactly why I wasn't too impressed with this place the last time I was here!  Anyway, the food was ok (or at least I was hungry enough to eat it) and I was soon on my way again.

Much of the eastern slopes were covered in snow.  Apparently it had snowed heavily only a few days before I rode through. The sun had already melted all the snow off of the freeway so I had no problems at all with a slippery road. This trip was the first time I had ever seen a desert area covered in snow. Everything was a different shade of blue. The cloudless sky was a very light shade of blue, the tall peaks of the Rockies to the north and south of me were a deep blue that blended into the all white desert floor around me. By this time the sun was starting down to the horizon and had warmed the air enough so that I was now quite comfortable (for the rest of the trip I would never be as cold as I was that first night). Still, if you breathed in deep, the air was brisk enough that it was almost like drinking a cold glass of water. There are times such as this when I could ride all day with out getting tired.

The city of Albuquerque lies in the Rio Grande River Valley between two legs of the southern Rocky Mountains. Just beyond the town of Moriarty the road climbs ever so slightly up the mountain and then descends down into Albuquerque. In hindsight I would have had a much better meal if I eaten here. As it was I rode right on through the city and began the long continuous climb back up the mountain again.

An interesting thing happened as the sun started going down. A few wisps of long clouds begin to form along north-south lines. The flat desert of the eastern slopes had given way to high flat mesas with steep treeless walls. The sides of these mesas look exactly the way the end of a block of cheddar cheese does after it has been grated. As the sun went beyond the distant mountains the clouds turned a bright pink and the cliffs of the mesas turned a dark orange-red color. There was no snow on the ground here, only the tan desert floor with low dry looking plants scattered about. Whereas just a couple of hours ago the landscape had been every shade of blue it was now being done entirely in red and orange. In the last few minutes of daylight the entire sky was a deep shade of orange.

I spoke earlier of drafting behind semi-trucks. Near the town of Grants I picked up one of the best drafts ever.  As the sun starts to go down the auto traffic begins to disappear and most of the vehicles out are large trucks. Consequently the speeds start to increase to around 75 mph. I was following a rather slow truck going up a grade when another truck passed us both on the left. Loosing no time at all, I ducked in behind this new truck and was immediately pulled in behind him as we both went charging up the hill. As before, I stayed right behind his side view mirror giving him a clear view of me and giving me a clear view of the road ahead of him. After a few miles he started to drive in the far right side of the lane while I stayed in the far left side. It isn't really necessary to stay directly behind a truck to gain its benefit. By staying in the right side of the lane he was making it much easier for me to keep track of what was ahead so I could tell when he would pass another truck. I stayed with this truck until Gallup where I stopped for fuel.

Even though I wasn't really hungry again, it only made sense to eat something at a McDonalds anyway since the meal at Clines Corners was the only time I had eaten all day. And besides, it seemed sensible to make myself take a rest. My body needed it even if I didn't.

Arizona

From Gallup I had intended to make it to Flagstaff. Traveling this time of year is difficult because the sun goes down so early. It was only around 7:30 and yet I had been riding in the dark for some time. On the other hand, when riding in the early summer I tend to ride with the sun which is sometimes too much. I was just short of the entrance to the Petrified Forest National Park when a still unexplained thing happened to the bike. The engine had been running very smooth the entire trip when suddenly I felt what seemed to be a strong vibration from the rear end of the bike. It felt much the same as driving over a cattle guard. The first thing I did was try to see what sort of road surface I was on, but it was too dark out to see anything. The vibration occurred twice more and I begin to fear all sorts of terrible things happening.

My worst fear was that my u-joint was going bad. A broken u-joint is about the same as a broken chain except the chances of locking up the rear wheel are higher. U-joint failures are not unheard of.  I immediately began to slow down to around 30 mph and started really wondering just what I was going to do! It might be important to note that at the exact same time that this was happening a car in front of me was having really serious problems. It too slowed down to around 30 mph. but it also started to belch great amounts of smoke. It's possible that I heard the car in front of me making noise and I just associated it with something going wrong with the bike. Still, I did feel a vibration. Perhaps we both just drove through the Bermuda Triangle of the Desert! In any event the car kept on going and I turned off into the entrance to the National Park.

The park itself is actually quite a ways from the turn-off. However, as luck would have it there was a Standard station near the exit. The station was closed but the office lights were left on and I pulled the bike slowly up and shut off the engine. I immediately checked the engine oil, transmission fluid and rear end fluid only to find that everything was as it should be. I also looked into the transmission as best I could with my flashlight to see if there were any broken gears. There weren't. I next rotated the back wheel quickly and then very slowly trying to feel for any sign of bad wheel bearings. Nothing. By this time I was really stumped. I wasn't looking forward to spending the night there (I had no sleeping bag) so I started the engine back up and road very slowly down the freeway hoping for some sort of town. I finally reached the town of Holbrook about 25 miles down the road. That was a very long 25 miles!

I pulled into a motel in Holbrook, relieved that I had made it, but still not sure what was going on. The owner at the desk was around 65 years old and had a thick German accent. He was very sympathetic with my problem and came right out to see if there was anything he could do to help. As he put it "you came to the right place - we care." And he really did! He told me that the best thing to do was to forget the bike and get a nice long sleep. Well, I must say, although he was right, I didn't.

That night I first called up Ron, the owner of the Moto Guzzi shop here in Wichita. We talked for about 20 minutes but couldn't come up with any answers. He suggested I try either Frank (the president of the Moto Guzzi Owners Club) or Dave (Moto Guzzi and Masserati Representative for the Central U. S. ). I called Frank first. Moto Guzzi might be the only make with so many people willing to help out at any time of day (or night). We must have talked about 30 minutes detailing all the things that could cause the problem. Wheel bearing failures are very rare on Guzzis (Frank who has owned 13 bikes and must know most everyone who has a Guzzi could only think of one instance). Anyway a wheel bearing failure wouldn't be catastrophic. The next most obvious thing was the u-joint and I would check that out the next morning.

I got up the next morning around 7:00 and immediately got dressed so that I could check up on the bike. The outside temperature was around 28 degrees and there was a layer of frost over most everything including my motorcycle. By peeling back the u-joint rubber boot (item #9) I was just able to check for any slop in the u-joint bearings by restraining the joint (item #12) with a screw driver and rotating the back wheel with my hand. There was no slop at all.

The motel owner said that there were several bike shops in Flagstaff including a BMW dealer. Since I was a lot closer to Flagstaff than I was to Albuquerque and because it would take a lot more than this to make me turn around (see prime rule above) I decided to press on.

Just as with the previous morning, the bike refused to start. But, by this time there were several people packing up in the motel parking lot and I had no trouble getting a battery jump from one of them. In fact this was one of the friendliest motels I've been to. Most of the travelers were standing in the parking lot talking and the motel owner was moving from one to the next shaking hands and wishing everyone a safe and happy trip. It turned out that the people who had the room next to me were also from Sedgwick County Kansas. Another couple came over and said that I had passed them the previous night and that they were worried that I might be rather cold.

After saying goodbye to everybody I set out for Flagstaff. At first I rode rather slowly (45 - 50 mph) afraid that something terrible might happen to the bike. But, after about ten miles with no change at all and with the bike sounding and acting just fine I began to increase my speed up with the traffic flow and kept it there all the way to Flagstaff.

In Flagstaff I turned into the first bike dealership I came to, to have my oil changed. I wanted to change all my fluids and examine them for any metal that might be present. Well, an hour and a half later, and $27 poorer, I was on my way again. At the shop in Wichita I typically wheel the bike into the work area, drain my oil, get new cans off the shelf, pour in the new oil, and leave a $5.00 bill on the front desk. At the shop in Flagstaff I wasn't even allowed to be in the same room with the bike while they were "working" on it (that is except for when I had to show them where to drain the oil).

There didn't seem to be much need to travel further west, so I turned south on interstate 17 towards Phoenix. Flagstaff is at an elevation of 7,000 ft while Phoenix is much lower. About 25 miles south of Flagstaff the road descends almost continuously for about 50 more miles. I would imagine that during the hot summer months that many cars traveling north up the hill would have over-heating problems. Riding down the mountain meant that I had a clear view for what must have been 75 miles. As I approached Phoenix there were more and more tall barrel cactus lining the hills.

By the time I got to Phoenix the temperature had soared to 80 degrees. I had previously removed my insulated bib overalls, but even so, I was still too warm. Phoenix resembles a smaller version of Los Angeles and I was more than happy to keep on riding through without stopping.

I had expected to come to a handy gas station on the southern outskirts of Phoenix, but, one never showed up. Although I probably could have made it to Tucson (I last filled up in Flagstaff) I didn't feel like taking any chances. At the exit of Casa Grande Ruins National Monument the sign said "Fuel Services". I turned off of the freeway expecting to find additional signs telling me which way to ride for these alleged services but there were none. So I turned north on the road and traveled about 8 miles before coming to the dirt poor town of Sacaton. The main street through town was paved but none of the side streets were. I was relieved to come to a Chevron Station that was open. After asking the attendant a couple of questions about the area it occurred to me that he didn't speak any English. The town must have had at least one church for every ten houses. I also noticed as I rode back to the Interstate that there were a number of marked graves on the side of the road that appeared to be well maintained even though they were not in any organized cemetery.

My intent had been to ride as far as the Arizona/New Mexico border before stopping for the night. However, since I didn't sleep well at all the previous night I changed my plans and stopped in Tucson.  Besides, this area was all new to me and there wasn't much point to being here if I was just going to ride through it all at night. Before the sun went down I stopped for the day's meal in the town of Eloy. I have to say that I didn't fare all that well in the eating department this trip and the food in Eloy certainly was no exception.

Once in Tucson I stopped at a motel that advertised a room rate of $19.50. When I checked in however, I was told that all the $19.50 room were taken and the next cheapest was $36.00. Once I shut off the bike for the day I hate to start it up again. And, anyway, I was too tired to look for a room elsewhere.

The next morning the temperature was well above freezing for a change, and combined with the lighter weight oil that was now in the engine the bike fired right up. It was nice not to have to find somebody to give me a jump start again.

The landscape along the southern part of the state resembled Central Nevada.

The Arizona desert isn't the flat desert that I had always imagined. In fact some areas are really quite mountainous although these mountains are more apt to have cactus on them instead of pine trees.

I rode continuously from Tucson to Wilcox where I stopped at a Safeway store and bought a 6-pac of V-8 juice. The land I was riding through was very arid and the traffic was light. It made sense to have at least some liquid with me. I also filled up the fuel tank again.

New Mexico

At the town of Las Cruces I was quite close to Mexico.  I considered dropping south the 20 or so miles just so I could say I had been there, but decided not to. If I was going to make it back to Wichita at a reasonable hour Sunday I didn't have time to take any side trips. I filled up once again at Las Cruces. When riding across great expanses of desert I just feel more comfortable with lots of fuel in the tank.

There is a large sign near the entrance to the White Sands Missile Range that says the road may be closed at times during missile tests. Lucky for me, it was open. At the top of San Agustin Pass it's possible to look out over the entire Tularosa Valley about three thousand feet below. The road doesn't mess around too much with curves. It simply dove straight down into the valley. Some trucks passed me doing an estimated 90 mph. They didn't have to worry about their brakes since at the bottom of the hill there were no curves, just a dead straight, flat road.

I rode on passed White Sands National Monument. I could see the pure white dunes, but I just didn't have time to stop. Someday, no doubt, I'll be back there again. As I exited the Military reservation I had to pass through an inspection station. I have no idea what they were looking for. The guard didn't even have me stop. He just waved me on through.

From Alamogordo the road climbed up into the last range of the Rockies. It was here, also, that I left the Interstate for the last time except for a few miles near Amarillo, Texas. Ruidoso is in the middle of a mountain range that I hardly knew existed. I was expecting more cactus mountains of the sort I had passed through already. Instead there were tall pine trees and very high rugged peaks not unlike the Colorado Rockies.

The ride from Ruidoso to Roswell was absolutely spectacular. Coming off of the mountains I could see clear to the horizon. There were no other roads or any other signs of people; not even any power lines. This is a land of really wide open prairie (there is not much of that in Kansas). There were no trees or any other vegetation except for tall light green and yellow grass. As a matter of fact, I don't recall even seeing any fences. A person could hike north up the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains for hundreds of miles and, except for the occasional crossed road, see no signs of any change in the landscape from what it must have looked like a two-hundred years ago.

I arrived in Roswell as the sun was going down. The next town of any size was Clovis, about a hundred miles away, and I just didn't feel like riding any more. The ride from Ruidoso to Roswell was near perfect though, and more than made up for any discomfort from riding through the desert. I ate dinner in Roswell at a Dairy Queen across the street from my motel. I figured that Dairy Queens were dependable and besides, I wasn't too sure that many restaurants would have me. It's amazing how grimy a person can get sitting on a motorcycle all day!

A got up fairly early the next day (now Sunday) knowing that although I was in New Mexico I had to be in Wichita, Kansas by the end of the day. The weather started out nice enough with a strong tail wind.  However, about half way to Clovis that nice tail wind turned into a very strong and cold crosswind from the north. I stopped in Clovis at a McDonalds to let my body warm up. Once you get cold it seems to take a long time to warm up even though the sun is warming the outside air. Stopping at the McDonalds gave my body a chance to "catch up".

Texas

From Clovis to Amarillo the wind was shifting to straight out of the north to a west wind all the time blowing at about 30 mph. I had made the mistake once before of following the marked highway signs through Amarillo. I think they are the result of a conspiracy amongst the shop owner to make sure that all traffic passes their store. Therefore I turned east on "40" and then north to the small town of Panhandle avoiding all of that. After filling up in Panhandle I continued on highway 60 to Seiling Oklahoma.

There is an interesting section of "281" in Texas near the town of Canadian that I have been on before. The road winds around small but steep hills with short scrubby trees on them. But what makes this road different is its color. It's all white! I'm not talking about the light gray color of a concrete road. This road, which is asphalt, is actually a bright clean white as if it were painted that way. The yellow line down the middle is not too easy to see. It's a case of the pavement paint being darker than the road. I'd like to know what they used to make their asphalt.

By this time the wind had become very strong and very cold. I stopped at a general store in Seiling after again gassing up. I bought a ham and cheese sandwich and heated it up in a microwave as I tried to get my body warmed up again. There seemed a risk in staying too long as dark clouds were moving in and looking very threatening. The last thing I needed was to ride in snow. In fact if it had started to snow I wouldn't have even attempted to ride in it. I would have stopped at the nearest motel and waited until spring, if need be.

Oklahoma

When I reached Alva, the sun had gone over the horizon. And with it went both the clouds and the wind! 

Kansas

The ride along highway 2 to Wichita wasnít nearly as bad as I feared it might be.

I should mention here that the motorcycle gave no further problems since Holbrook and now Iím not so sure that it ever did give me problems. I can only conclude that the car ahead of me that was having mechanical problems was making some sort of a noise that I had associated with my bike. That, combined with a possibly rough road must have caused me to imagine the whole thing (I hope).

This letter may have set some sort of record with me for the most never-ending travelogue. Therefore Iíll sign off for now.

Love,

Daniel

last edit: 10/31/2004