The Labor Day Trip – 2003 II

You know, the coal train north to Clayton, New Mexico. At a rail junction just north of town, I noticed that the engineer had turned his freight to the northeast towards Oklahoma! I thought, “Where the heck was he going? The coal mines were in Wyoming and Montana. A helluva way to run a railroad!” What a bummer. Oh, by the way, Dalhart had the distinction of having one of the most unique names for a motel – Nursanickel.

With no coal train to chase, I entertained myself by watching the ever-changing sky to the west – from almost clear blue to an accumulation of magnificent cumulus clouds. It was Adios Tejas at Texline, and by the time I passed Clayton NM, the ominous clouds had patted just enough to allow streams of sunlight to streak through to the horizon – it was a beautiful sight! I was entering the wild and wonderful west of northeastern New Mexico. All of a sudden, I noticed the extended radio antenna (my instant anemometer) was bending backwards, which could only mean a cold mule’s ass, uh, I mean a cool air mass had shifted the wind to the north. The wind buffeted me for only ten miles before I reached the Midway Rest Area between Clayton and Raton. I had arrived at my Avalon for the night.

I wedged myself into a parking space next to a RV from Texas (where else?). I sat in the “easy chair” with the cargo door wide open and watched a magical display of heat lightning off to the east. An occasional coal train would rumble by as an explanation mark to a perfect evening. In that expansive setting, I could only feel sorrow for anyone suffering from agoraphobia. I was thinking in particular of Vivian, a lady friend in Denver who was afflicted with just such a phobia – she could not and would not drive outside the city limits! Gosh, what a shame! My little wall-mounted thermometer read 52 degrees as I slipped under the covers. A steady rain was pelting the roof of the van – it felt more like winter than summer. I was at peace with the world.

After a night of a hard north wind, the next morning was unbelievably calm. A Harley-Davidson group roared in for a pit stop. To brand motorcyclists as “gangs” was purely an anachronism now since a majority of bikers were well-educated people who owned homes and raised families, especially Harley owners. Knowing full-well there were bikers from all over the country convening in Wisconsin for Harley-Davidson’s 101 anniversary, I approached the group and asked a gentleman, “Why aren’t you guys in Milwaukee?” He simply replied, “Too crowded. We’re headed to Durango.” I said, “You’re in for a beautiful ride over LaVeta Pass and Wolf Creek Pass.” I milled around talking with several “members” and came to find out most of them were professional people… and all were either Okies or Texans. I appealed to one driver with, “Do me a favor. Could you let me get out on the highway before you guys roar off? I just want to feel those goose bumps on my arms when your bikes pass me. I love that sound.” Sure enough, they obliged. We exchanged waves as they passed me, going Mach 1 with their hair on fire. Yeah, my forearms turned to chicken-skin.

I envied them in a way, with their road-wise, free-spirited acumen, for sure a few notches above yours truly. Frankly speaking, I had always been somewhat intimidated about riding a motorcycle. I think it’s something you grow up with, like a bicycle, only those bikes had 75 to 100 ponies galloping under your saddle. Also, I had a pre-conceived notion that the prerequisite for owning a motorcycle was that you should be able to do all repairs on the machine yourself – like an unwritten rule. It was probably an unjustified fear, but I had it anyway. The only time I’ve ever been on a “hog” was an exhilarating back seat ride, holding onto my friend’s dorsals for dear life as we weaved our way through rush hour traffic down Broadway in Denver (that was in 1982). As I climbed off the motorcycle, I said to Mike, as