As often happens, I slept restlessly that night and didn't get started as early as I'd wanted to. There was the usual ritual of washing the bedding, giving the place a general cleaning, mopping the floor, and shutting everything down. It may seem a bit over-thorough, but I don't like to leave anything to attract roaches or other vermin during the long periods when the place is vacant.
Thus was it the early afternoon of Thursday July 5th when I loaded up the bike, talked awhile with some neighbors that saw me leaving, and fired up for the first step of another long journey, this time westward by a more southerly route than before.
The traffic was as bad as ever on the A1A, then Biscayne Blvd., then Hollywood cum Pines Blvd. I reached Highway 27, and this time headed north. It was a little discouraging to think that every 30 miles or so represented only 1% of the return trip. I wound around the west side of Lake Okeechobee and continued through the middle of the peninsula on this inland highway, passing Clermont and making slow but steady progress toward Gainesville, the first day's objective.
When it started getting dark, I decided to settle for Ocala, which I knew only as the home of The Royal Guardsmen of "Snoopy vs. the Red Baron" fame, as I commented to the hotel clerk. It was an uneventful night, too late for a swim in the hotel pool, with just a few beers and some snack food from the nearest convenience store... and it would often strike me as strange hereafter that gas stations were always the most reliable places to find beer.
Got started pretty early in the morning after the complimentary breakfast. I was getting pretty handy at working the waffle maker that so many places seemed to have on this trip. Highway 27 met I-75 around there and Gainesville was not far to the north, so I pulled off to see what I could see, which wasn't much of interest. My beloved motorhome from the '80s was built in Gainesville, as I recalled from a plaque on the cab-over section, and dad underwent part of his army training there. It was long ago and long forgotten, with nothing remaining. I continued along.
Not way farther north, the I-75 met the I-10, rather near the latter's origin in Jacksonville. I would be following it off and on all the way to Arizona, and thought about this as I buzzed along toward Tallahassee. That was another place where I pulled off for awhile and promptly got caught in a god-awful traffic jam. A couple in a restaurant parking lot told me the state capitol was about three miles away, so I rode past it just to say I'd seen it. Then back onto the I-10 through Pensacola, then Mobile.
As on the trip out, I tried to take a look at Mobile... but as on the trip out got lost and frustrated. Back on the I-10, I continued right through the small coastal section of Alabama until I reached the outskirts of Biloxi Mississippi, Pascagoula to be exact. As before, I was struck by how genuinely nice most people in the South seemed. The hotel had a pool, and I blissfully soaked myself after the long day of riding.
In the morning, I'd been riding along the I-10 for a half hour or so when I realized that I wasn't seeing much of anything by taking the interstate. Actually, from coast to coast it all looks pretty much the same. You can fill up at Chevron and eat at Subway just about anywhere you wish. After looking at the map, I decided to try the coastal highway through Biloxi to New Orleans.
Saw a bike shop near the Highway 90 junction, and stopped to ask about the road and the condition of my tires. They serviced mainly Suzukis, but tires are tires and they told me they had an affiliated Honda shop in Gulfport. Deciding to try to get to Texas with what tread remained, I headed west right into a huge thunderstorm in Bay St. Louis, near the Louisiana border.
Seeking shelter at the gas station, several people commented that they felt sorry for me being out in such weather on a bike. I figured it would pass in an hour or two, and I was right. In the meantime, the Big Pig Barbecue inside the convenience store area beckoned. It was alright, and a decent way to pass the time as I waited for the heavy rain to lift.
A bit farther west, I was on the outskirts of New Orleans, and checked the map again as Highway 90 neared the junction with I-10. It was here that I got a nice experience of bayou country, pausing for a bit to think of all the popular songs about it, and how my brother and I used to laugh about how so many songs mentioned "NEW ORLEEEEENS!!!"
New Orleans, at the point where I entered it, did not impress me. I rode awhile through ass neighborhoods with a number of motels that all had chain link fence around them and a locked gate. I'd wanted to avoid the rather hairy looking freeway system around the city, but when I saw I-10 overhead on an elevated roadway, I decided to take my chances. The idea of seeing the French Quarter was less appealing than the idea of rolling up some miles and getting the hell out of there.
The I-10 proceeds northwest for awhile, toward Baton Rouge. I recall seeing a huge stack with a flame shooting from it in the distance--probably an oil refinery--as I headed out of town. Baton Rouge was larger than I'd imagined it, with a long rollercoaster-like bridge over the Mississippi... I hadn't even known that Baton Rouge was on the Mississippi! As I continued west, it started to get dark and I realized how tired I was. Somewhere between Lafayette and Lake Charles--Crowley, I think--there was a complex of several motels. I chose one and called it a day, even more sore and tired than usual.
Now it was Saturday, July 8th. I was making good time and decided to have a relatively leisurely day getting to Galveston, a major objective on the trip that I'd originally planned to visit on the way east. As it turned out, approaching it while heading west allowed me to avoid Houston, see the Bolivar Peninsula, which has more of the buildings on stilts that one associates with Galveston, and catch the free ferry onto the island.
First though, you have to traverse a rather uninteresting area between the Texas border and Beaumont, where the I-10 becomes a rutted obstacle course full of windswept debris. I stopped for awhile at the visitor center on the border, and picked up a large map of Texas and some advice on how to approach Galveston along the peninsula from Beaumont. At one point, the riding was so stressful that I had to pull off the road and have a nice stop at a Dairy Queen just to decompress.
Once on the Highway 124 though, it becomes a scenic and enjoyable ride. Farther from Galveston, you see people and camping and driving along the beach. I stopped at the first open realty I saw, and talked with them a bit. They said that such things are legal all along the gulf coast of Texas, though the larger cities such as Galveston have local ordinances for populated sections. They told me the ferry was free, and easy to catch... which it was.
It was perhaps a four mile ride on the ferry, and a highlight of the trip. Mainly because of the Glenn Campbell song, I'd always been intrigued by the place... a beach in Texas! The ferry pulled in, and the cars unloaded in orderly lines. I stopped at a couple of hotels where the rates were ridiculously high on weekends, then found one called the Knight's Inn that was relatively inexpensive and conveniently located.
I washed out my clothes thoroughly for the first time since leaving Miami Beach, figuring correctly that even the blue jeans would dry overnight in the heat. I bought a six-pack of Heinekin in the late afternoon, and relaxed in a chair in front of my room while the clothes dried. Before sunset, I walked down to the beach and soaked in the water for an hour or so. It was murky, with no visibility at all, but warm and soothing. At night I took a walk on the Pleasure Pier without going into the area that required you to pay for the amusement park rides. Then I had a seat on some stairs to the beach along the seawall, and felt a little sad that I knew no one there and in fact had no one special at all in my life.
After the modest complimentary breakfast at the motel, I asked them to store my bags and helmet for a couple of hours while I explored the rest of the island. There was a "Wings" beach accessories store along the way, where I bought a few souvenirs for myself and for my niece and her new fiancee; she'd just gotten engaged a couple of days before. I stopped at a beach past the seawall, with people parked along it and barbecuing. I began to see houses on stilts again. The island is rather long, and it looked like more of the same for as far as I could see. I turned back, loaded my bags, and decided I'd satisfied my curiosity about Galveston Island.
Consulting a map before leaving, I saw that I could bypass Houston altogether by taking Route 6 to the I-10, where I'd ride west only briefly on it before catching the 290 into Austin. Route 6 was reasonably fast and traffic free on a Sunday, but it looked just like any highway in Florida--or Louisiana or Alabama or Mississippi--with its franchise businesses and long straightaways broken up by traffic lights and busy intersections. I stopped briefly to ask another biker if he needed help, but he said his wallet had fallen out of his jacket pocket on the freeway and there wasn't much I could do. He lived in the area, and would get things straightened out eventually.
The 290 takes you from the flatlands of East Texas to the hill country around Austin. It wasn't a particularly long day of riding, with me starting out around noon and finding a Rodeway Inn within walking distance of the LBJ Library by late afternoon. I looked up my cousin's number that his older brother had given me when he said he would be out of town during my time there, and left a message. I'd noticed while riding the north/south I-35 that goes through Austin that there was a Honda shop a few miles away, and it seemed a good time to get new tires.
On Monday morning, I made the decision to stay an extra day. It would give me time to get new tires in the morning, visit the LBJ Library in the afternoon, and see my cousin in the evening. Thus did the day go. I got a good deal on the tires with free installation, and they had them in stock. I got to the library around 1:00, and stayed until closing. Then I took the I-35 north to the Twin Peaks restaurant in Round Rock.
Presidential libraries--and museums in general--are becoming obsolete in this day and age. There was really very little there that I hadn't seen before, and the four floors or so of papers and archives will probably be replaced from the Clinton Administration on by a couple of flash drives. The animatronic LBJ telling humorous stories was kind of corny; it creaked as he moved with a sound very much like farting. Nonetheless, it consolidated in one place the stuff I'd spent many years finding online or reading about in books, and I did enjoy standing alone in the model of his Oval Office near closing time.
I'd seen my cousin in 2009 when his son graduated from Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. He seemed more communicative this time, and we had a very nice visit. He came over on his own motorcycle, as his wife wasn't at home and he didn't get a chance to ride it much. We talked about the visit our family had made to his during Easter Week 1967--when LBJ was president--and the current state of our lives. He's not a real sentimental type, and seemed mildly embarrassed to say that seeing me meant a lot to him. After a couple of beers and a meal, we talked awhile outside by the bikes, then putted off in our respective directions.
The next day, Tuesday July 11, was one of the longer days of riding. I took Highway 71, mostly a two-lane road but a fairly fast one, toward San Angelo, seeing a lot of the Texas hill country and the Pedernales River. It passed rather close to the LBJ Ranch, but I didn't need to visit there. The objective on this day was to reach the New Mexico border, and I did. I stayed that night in Hobbs New Mexico, not an exciting place other than for the significance of now being much closer to San Diego than to Miami Beach, and having only three more states to cross before I was home.
The next day was a bit of a side trip, as I headed northwest to Roswell, then southwest back toward the I-10 in Las Cruces. There isn't that much to Roswell other than the "International UFO Musem," which is also full of stuff I'd seen before online, on TV documentaries, and in books. The former air base was the site of a lot of top secret work, and I arrived pretty much convinced that the weather balloon and test dummies explanation made sense. However, I left with new doubts and an appreciation for other utterly inexplicable sightings and--most obviously--crop circles.
In Alamogordo, I was wondering about the little zoo that I'd visited in 1981, and had later heard a humorous anecdote about from my friend in Buckeye, when I saw a sign for it. It was closed for the day, but the gates were open and I took a look at the lemurs while texting her to say that I was there. She replied shortly after and found the memory humorous.
As I headed along the highway through Alamogordo toward Las Cruces, I thought of the history made there. I'd seen the display on the Manhatten Project 36 years before, and figured it hadn't changed much. I found a Super 8 along the highway in Las Cruces, and settled in with a takeout pizza and a six pack of Coors stubby bottles. Around sunset I took a dip in the motel pool, and realized it was the first time the water had felt cool on the entire trip.
In the morning, I took a rather leisurely cruise through the city, which was much larger than I'd thought and even had a Honda dealer. I'd lost the helmet visor in the wind somewhere in Texas, and the glare in the late afternoons was pretty unbearable. Unfortunately, they didn't have one in stock and I had to put up with that glare for the rest of the trip.
Today, it was all I-10, Las Cruces to Tucson. It was hot, monotonous, uncomfortable, and filled with a kind of anxiousness at being close but with still a ways to go. Austin is supposed to be the midpoint in miles, but the time since leaving Galveston had seemed to exist in a different continuum where the miles passed faster and the distances seemed shorter. Now however, I felt like I'd never get to Tucson. The sign at the state line was encouraging, and I pulled over at a rest stop to stretch my legs and drink water. A lady traveling east stopped to talk awhile, amazed that I'd ridden all the way to Florida and was now on my way home again.
The highlight of the day, I guess, was stopping at "The Thing?" roadside attraction. I'd always been idly curious, but didn't expect much. The displays in the "museum" were dusty, poorly maintained, and rather depressing. The gift shop, gas station, and Dairy Queen on the premises were a little better, but there was no reason to hang around. Nowadays, you can do a search for this particular attraction and find out all you need to know.
Tucson was hotter than hell, and I saw signs for the Pima Air and Space Museum as I approached town. It was the last planned sightseeing stop of the trip, and I went directly there to see about tickets for the "boneyard" tour. It was first come, first served, so I'd have to get there bright and early the next day. The timing had worked well, as the next day was Friday and the tours didn't run on weekends.
Found another motel, a Day's Inn. I was pretty exhausted, and fell asleep early after giving my outfit a wash, dipping in the pool, and having some beer with a Wendy's burger. That morning, Friday July 14th, I was up early to shower and shave, put on my clean clothes, and get in line early at the museum. I talked awhile with another early arrival, a piping company employee who was on his way to Austin to start a job. We talked a bit with an older couple that got there shortly after us. When they announced that the credit card machine wasn't working due to last night's thunderstorm, the lady gave me the $3 I was short to pay for museum admission plus the boneyard tour.
The display area of the museum was actually a lot more interesting than the boneyard, where we're not allowed to get off the bus and there really isn't that much on display. It isn't truly a boneyard, as a number of the aircraft are serviceable but not in active use. There were a large number of C-5 Galaxies and F-16 Falcons in particular. I spent much of the day at the museum, then decided to head for Gila Bend. At the Miracle Mile, I stopped off at the cemetery and got directions to the gravesite of Arthur Olaf Andersen, a musician who wrote the arrangements for the New American Songbook dad gave me when I was a kid.
Perhaps the most unpleasant part of the entire journey was the 120 miles or so between Tucson and Gila Bend. I stopped for gas in Casa Grande, and ended up going far out of my way. The glare was awful, and I was in a headwind most of the time. There is absolutely nothing of interest along the road. I decided to reward myself with a stay in the Space Age Lodge. It has an OK restaurant which was rebuilt after a fire in 1998, but neither it nor the hotel are all that special aside from the artwork along the ceiling in the lobby.
So started the last day of the trip, along a road I'd traveled many times before. I kept telling myself not to blow it so close to home. I stopped in Dateland for gas, then Yuma to see the house again five weeks after stopping there on the way east. I had lunch at the Taco Bell off the I-8 in El Centro, and recall an employee waving and bidding me a safe trip as I left. The big climb from the desert into San Diego County didn't have severe winds for a change. The haze I'd seen in the distance was just coastal burnoff from the big change in temperature; San Diego was warm but hardly as blistering hot as Arizona had been.
The final stop was Golden Acorn Casino to top off the tank and get a free soft drink from the dispenser in the casino area. I told myself once again to be extra careful during these last miles of the long journey.
A children's song I learned in school played in my head, as it had off and on over the past couple of days. I turned off the I-8 at the end of El Cajon Blvd. and made my way down 70th Street to my condo, putting the cover on the bike just like I did when I arrived in Miami Beach. Before going inside, I just stood there for a moment in the parking lot, dazed that I was home safely. Once again, I thought of that song:
"Sing your way home
"At the close of the day.
"Sing your way home;
"Chase the shadows away.
"Smile every mile,
"And wherever you roam
"It will brighten your road,
"It will lighten your load
"If you sing your way home."
|Ferry to Galveston, from the east.|
|An interesting place.|
|Home again, Saturday 7/15/17.|