Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Day Two, Williams, AZ to Gallup NM

This was the first day I actually rode in formation. Our trek for today would cover 226 miles about half of yesterdays 400 miles. You think that 226 miles is nothing, but riding in formation, and I was lucky to get in the third or fourth rank of the second platoon, and maintaining the prescribed distance with the other riders requires constant attention and tiny adjustments of speed. The people in the back have the most trouble because of the accordion effect of the formation. Each variation in the speed of the lead riders, the adjustments of the followers to keep the pack dressed up, is amplified by the distance back in the pack. We usually rode two up, meaning side by side with two to three bikes length between ranks in the column. There were six platoons which changed in number daily. If there were 300 bikes each platoon would have about 50 bikes in it. The platoons each had leaders but the members of a given platoon were just the luck of the draw. This made it more difficult to develop unit cohesion and the like, and made it harder to get to know your fellow riders. On the other hand it would be a challenge to have everyone be in the same unit, though, I believe, it would be worth the trouble. This is the eighteenth run so it stands to reason that the organizers have pretty much worked out the major kinks and come up with the most efficient method of moving this many motorcycles across the country. Anyhow, you can never let go of the throttle and this increases the tension on the body a great deal. Riding a motorcycle is a kind of isometric exercise at any rate but not being able to relax your right arm really takes a toll after several days of several hundred mile days. For me this was my fifth day of motorcycling. I have heard of guys riding coast to coast in 50 hours in what is known as the "Iron Butt" contest. Maybe when I was young, but not now, no way Jose. This is truly a test of mind over matter for me and my fellow travelers and is a kind of self sacrifice for the stated purpose of keeping the focus of our people and their representatives on the sacrifices of veterans, on the prisoners of war and the killed in action as yet unaccounted for especially in Vietnam. It is indeed a high honor and a distinct privilege to participate in this homage to our comrades in arms past and present in the struggle for liberty.

So today we met, were served breakfast by our gracious hosts, the people of Williams, Arizona, and mounted our machines and rode east on I-40. If my memory serves we were in Gallup and headed into the Red Rock State Park by four p.m. or so. This is part of a larger region known as the painted desert and as early as A.D. 300 was inhabited by the Anasazi people. From 1700 the Navajo inhabited this region. Also, the Zuni and the Hopi people figure in the history here. The Conquistador Coronado, it is said, sought here for the Seven Cities of Cibola and the ancient sky city known as Acoma is nearby. This is supposedly sacred ground for these peoples. The ceremony in which we participated was called a gathering of the warriors and the gourd dance songs were the same as those of old. About fifty people sat in a ring on the floor of the natural amphitheatre and performed these songs. There was a flyover by a Pavhawk from Kirtland AFB. Tomorrow would bring another encounter with a helicopter. In an adjacent area we were treated to Navajo tacos which were ground meat on a large thick taco like bread topped with cheese and vegetables. One was all you could eat.

I sat next to a guy wearing an ancient green beret of the US Special Forces. He said he lived nearby and when I remarked how the beret looked like it might be original issue he said that it was presented him by President John F. Kennedy. The Special Forces were started by President Kennedy. This man had seen service in Vietnam, obviously. Brother was sitting across from me and to his right were Sizzmo and husband Terry. I had an opportunity again to remark that we deserved better leaders than we had and that there was not a strategy that would lead us to a clear cut victory over our current enemies and how this was how it was in Vietnam. The Green Beret said he had personal knowledge that when we got the word to pull out of Vietnam a team of Special Forces was poised in North Vietnam to enter Hanoi and overthrow the North Vietnamese government. I stated it was my understanding that the congress of the United States in ending funding for the South Vietnamese government was the final factor in ending our involvement. As is playing out now, those who sought, in the 1960s, to appease our enemies, with their allies in the mass media, eventually gained enough political power to have their way. Sizzmo and Terry had nothing to add to this conversation but the Green Beret and I seemed to be of one mind.

I left Red Rock a little earlier than brother and checked us into the Red Rock Inn in Gallup. The proprietors were Indian (from India). I always take this as a bad omen as my experience over the years is heavily weighted on the negative side when it comes to the way they manage their properties. It turned out to be not all that bad except that the clock was wrong which fact brother and I failed to correct. This had dire consequences next morning. Naturally, the Inn did not provide a computer for internet access. This should be standard, a PC in a public area that guests can use to check their email, etc. A lot of places have them, but a lot don't too. They almost always tell you that there is wireless available in the room and to use your own laptop. My response was it is not really feasible to carry a laptop on a motorcycle. And there was no hot tub. Oh, my aching back. I didn't bother looking for a masseuse this time. Slipped my mind, I guess.

In walking around the parking lot I spoke in passing to a gritty lady unpacking her Harley. Her nickname was "Skid". I learned later that had a pejorative meaning. Interesting. She rode with us all the way, I believe. At least I saw her frequently and spoke to her on several occasions. One of the younger riders seemed to have snatched her up. Poor choice of words, I know! Also, I noticed three New Mexico Highway Patrol motor cycles. They were BMW "R" bikes, not sure which one, but similar to this.

Dinner having been seen to, showers had, voice mails checked, gear properly seen to, it was time to relax. Brother goes to bed at 2000 hrs or earlier, and till then we squabble and quibble over the TV remote. I think I was asleep by 2130 or so, which is too early for me, so, naturally I woke up early. I looked at the clock. It read 0545. I woke brother up cause this meant he was late and his cell phone alarm failed to go off. Well, might as well go downstairs and get us some coffee, right? There was no coffee, but I did see the clerk and bit my tongue so I would not snap her head off for the oversight. I went back upstairs and brother was looking at the TV to check the time and said the clock was wrong, that it was really 0445. Oh! That explains it all, why it is still dark out. Well, OK. That is what you get for making me go to bed so early! We were already up, too late to go back to sleep now. I made coffee in the room. Brother got around and was gone in 15 minutes as usual. He needed to be with his fellow road guards.

I got it together and packed my gear in my own good time and checked us out of the motel. Saw Skid again. Really tough looking, weathered face, skinny. I suspect if she stood sideways and stuck out her tongue she could pass for a zipper. While packing my bike and readying my communications gear, I wanted to monitor the road guards today on the FRS/GMRS radio, channel one, the New Mexico HP guys came down and left just when a fourth member of their group rode up. Turns out they were our escorts and would be with us most of the way across New Mexico. Later, I tried to take their picture as we were gathering back at Red Rock for the mandatory morning confab, but brother's camera wouldn't work. He had asked me to take pictures, a task laid on him by his wife, and I certainly tried, but for every ten or fifteen tries I think I got one picture. Hopefully he will get these few successes to me and I will be able to post them here eventually.

While we were meeting, an Indian (medicine man? shaman?) was going around with a feather thing, it had about 20 feathers in it, they looked like hawk feathers of some kind, and "blessing", or putting a spell of protection on some of the riders. He went down the ranks of bikes touching each one and mumbling incantations with his head down. This was thoughtful and a further example of the kindred spirit the veterans on the run had with the Indians of Red Rock. I suspect he was Navajo but have no way of knowing though I spoke to him. He said he was the brother of the master of ceremonies of yesterdays gathering of the warriors. He was a veteran and while he did not say so I have a strong suspicion that he had been WIA as he walked with a limp. I hoped he had put a good "spell" on my K1100.

Well, I have gone on long enough now. I'm sure you are tired. I am. Let me figure out the links thing for this post and put it up on the net. This journal is a far cry, I know, from a truly elegant travel log I only have so much time and energy to devote to this project and am doing it completely from memory. I didn't make any notes along the way and didn't even have the intention to do this on my return to netnationhood. I have fancied that it might be interesting to do a journal while traveling. I like the genre. The first travel book I can recall reading was John Steinbeck's Travels With Charley. Charley was his dog. I really enjoyed it. John and Charley traveled from East to West across the whole USA, as I recall. I don't have the book to refresh my memory but I do remember enjoying it as much as, say, his Grapes of Wrath. Excuse the digression.

So, tomorrow we go to Angel Fire and brother and I spend the night in the splendiferous Gold Pan motel while the main force stays at the main resort in Angel Fire. Those poor suckers don't know what they missed. See you.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Day One, the Mojave Desert

The Mojave desert is more than 25,000 square miles and covers parts of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Interstate 40 traverses the Mojave West to East, and intersects with I-15 in Barstow, California. After arriving in Ontario and registering for the run (they give you a ribbon to tie to your bike, a wrist band, and for new people, a FNG pin) I was unable to establish communication with my brother and elected to spend the night in Barstow. I stayed at the Days Inn, which was OK, at least I was able to procure a downstairs room on the end which makes it easy to move baggage back and forth and with the window shades open I could keep a close eye on the bike. But a walk around town made me think I could have easily made a better choice of accommodations. I saw one of the motels Lilek had published a photo of on his blog, the Stardust Motel. (OK, the sign is the same, but the state is different. Oops! But you get the idea.) Would have been interesting to spend the night there. The clerk at the Days Inn bordered on surly. She was overweight and possessed of a downright sour disposition. To get even I used the pristine white towels to clean my bike. Also staying at the motel were a couple of truckers. I talked to one at length. He was waiting for a cab by the office and had this plywood contraption with a satellite radio, a Citizen's Band radio, a CD player, and so forth, built into it. He did not have his own truck but worked for a company that moved him from vehicle to vehicle. This device allowed him to carry his electronic creature comforts with him when he changed tractors. He too was a biker. He said he had two bikes one being a Gold Wing. I asked him about the current CB protocols explaining that I was having trouble getting truckers to talk to me. It has been years since I used a CB radio. Used to have one in my Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce convertible. I thought truckers might prefer talking among themselves but he disabused me of that notion. We decided that my little hand held Cobra HH 38 that I have adapted to the bike's communications was probably not putting out a strong enough signal. He suggested that I needed to check the ground.

I walked out the door of my room a little later at the exact same time that my neighbors were leaving their room. First I encountered an astonishingly beautiful young black lady, about 25 or so. She gave me a friendly greeting. Real nice. Following her out of the room was a US Army Sergeant very nattily dressed in desert cammies. He was garrisoned nearby, he said. We shook hands and I thanked him for his service to our country. They got into a beautiful black (what else) Cadillac Escalade and drove away. Maybe they were indulging in a little afternoon love fest. I don't know. When I was a buck sergeant in the Army my pay would barely support the old VW bug I banged around Europe in. Things have really changed. I think it was his car. At least he took the driver's seat.

Later that evening I got to talk to my brother. I would meet up with the group today or latest that evening in Williams, Arizona, the first overnight. He said they would be through around ten a.m. on the 17th. The next day.

After a late meal from Subway I hit the sack and caught a few "Z"s.

Next morning I had time to kill. Getting up at sevenish I needed something to do till ten. That is when I walked down Main street into town. 0945 I was sitting on the bike at the on ramp to I-40 poised for today's ride. I waited for 20 minutes but didn't see any bikers to speak of so I eased onto the highway and rode a few miles, took the access road and putted slowly along a mile or so to the next overpass where I stationed myself over the middle of the Eastbound lane. And waited. Maybe ten minutes later a group of ten bikes or so, and a car pulling a trailer, clearly connected with the RFTW group, passed under me. OK, I thought, these are the outriders and the main body of three hundred bikes will be along shortly. I waited another ten minutes before giving up and setting out on my own. Thinking they might be ahead of me I twisted hard on the throttle and tried catching them. I ran for an hour or so at speeds up to 110 MPH before giving up then settled down to a comfortable five or so above the speed limit (70).

Several hours later way out into the Mojave something was brewing. It is a rare thing in the desert when it rains. And for all the time and torment of heat and aridity that holds back the rain, when the storm finally breaks it is with a profligate ferocity that speaks of long pent up dormant forces yearning to burst forth, and they did. Darkening skies, hail, wind, tear and rend the earth amid punctuations of thunder and lightening. The storm blew in from the North. It was a fast mover crossing my path and I was canting, tacking into the wind. It was so hot before the storm and I was in such a hurry to try to avoid the main force that I didn't bother to stop to put on my rain gear. The coming cool air was delicious in spite of the blowing dirt and the plant debris sweeping the road. I must have collided with over thirty tumbleweeds which, when you hit them at speed, burst into smithereens. It is dangerous to try to dodge them so I just crouched into the back of the fairing as close as possible and rode on. Not far into the storm there was, in the center median, a West bound half of a double wide trailer home on it's side and I could see that the truckers had slowed down considerably in order to better control their rigs in the wind. Most were much heavier than the overturned trailer and only suffered being swerved back and forth. So I got wet, but it was a welcome cool down, and it only took about fourty miles to dry completely out. Later, at the motel, I learned that the state police had shut down the interstate to trucking for awhile during this storm.

It wasn't long after this that the road began its climb out of the desert and I was riding through pine forests as I approached Williams, AZ. It was about three p.m. when I checked into the Fairfield Inn using my brother's reservation.

After unloading the bike and having a shower I went down to look for a car wash and met Pastor Dan in the breezeway of the motel. He was from Pennsylvania and had ridden his Harley out to join the run in which he would participate as a chaplain. We rode into Williams where he spotted the car wash for me and then we identified the VFW where the main group would meet for dinner after parading through town. Pastor Dan and I talked about several things and he confirmed that chaplains in military service were not permitted to pray in Jesus name which fact I find highly disturbing. I told him that I had read a report of a chaplain who having defied this regulation was being brought up before a court martial. He was able to confirm this. This is an abomination. Personally I would just as soon "pray" in Buddha's name, but that is beside the point. This is a Christian nation. The whole of Western culture is founded on Christian values and only an idiot would fail to recognize that Christians are tolerant people by and large and perfectly able to live and function in a secular society. To deny our past this way is the worst kind of revisionist crap.

The group came in about six p.m. There was a parade and the townspeople turned out in force to wave flags and applaud and make their friendly greetings known. The group had gotten a late start, something that would plague us all the way across the country. The VFW served us a great BBQ dinner, there was beer, of which I had none, and there were about 230 bikes. I hooked up with my brother and we sat down with Paul, a friend of his from Colorado, and Will from I forget where. I saw and spoke to Paul and Will almost daily from then on. Of course we were all Vietnam veterans but I was different because 99% of the riders wore black, rode Harleys, and had their gear festooned with patches, pins, all kinds of detritus of the military/Harley biker life. I immediately, almost, told brother that I didn't really fit in with this group. But I tried. I noticed pretty soon that the pins/patches were really touchstones and conversation starters. I did wear a NRA hat and that alone started several conversations for me.

Brother said I needed to meet someone. He pointed out a lady with a pony tail standing on the stairs across the way passing out beads. I walked over and introduced myself and asked about the beads. Sizzmo was her name, and, no, she would not sell me any beads, but would trade me a hug for them. OK. She was really nice, had met her husband, a Vietnam vet, in a foxhole in Iraq. I met him later in Salina, Kansas. His name was Terry. Sizzmo had a little speech that she thought Vietnam veterans were the most important people alive, or words to that effect, that it was her mission to help make up for the lack of appreciation they received on coming home from that war, and to that end she made and passed out these little beads fashioned in the same configuration of colors as the Vietnam service ribbon. There are red beads in this matching the red in the ribbon. Hers, she said, were heart shaped, denoting her affection for. This speech of hers of course brought a few tears to my eyes but I recovered quickly from the emotions of the moment and launched into my own speech that we had actually won the Vietnam war and that more importantly the best way to pay homage to old soldiers is to give active support to those fighting today's conflicts and that this war on Islamofacism was far and away more important in the total scheme than the Vietnam war being that Islamism is a graver threat than Communism, which, by the time of Vietnam, while it still maintained some of its fervor, was mainly peopled by cynics out to cash in on the movement, not so much interested in the driving ideology as a world view but as a dogma with which to enslave. Well, she started to back away quite early in this outburst of mine. Hey! She opened the door, I ran in! I don't think this fit her scenario one bit. "Here, take the beads. Give me the hug. Thank you for your service. Welcome home. Sorry, gotta go grab the next old vet and make him cry." Wham! Bam! Thank you m'am! Anyway, I gave this speech several times with some variation during the trek East. Brother got the best/worst of it. I was on a roll, you see. I spoke to Sizzmo several times. She avoided me till one day, at the check in at the motel in Salina, when I met her husband, she warmed to me again. I was joking with her, calling her the "bead" lady. Later I got a picture taken with her which I hope to post at some time. Meanwhile here she is with another subject.

It was a cool evening at that elevation. I looked around for a masseuse but could not find one and the motel had not yet opened the hot tub. My back was killing me. I told brother that we should get a travel trailer and three or four massage tables and staffed with twenty something female masseuses take it on next year's run.

Next, Gallup New Mexico, Red Rock, Navajo gourd dance and Navajo tacos

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Interstate I-10 notes

Interstate 10 is a long highway at 2,460 miles. It starts in Jacksonville, Florida and ends at Santa Monica, California and is said to be the loneliest of the interstate highways. I have, in recent times, traveled most of this length, to and from Pensacola, Florida, and with this recent trip from Iraan, Texas to Ontario, California. It is a very busy artery carrying much commerce. It is a favorite of drug smugglers who move their wares and the proceeds thereof constantly up and down its length. As a means of impeding this, and also trafficking in human smuggling of illegal aliens, the US Border patrol has set up several checkpoints along its length. There is one just East of El Paso at Sierra Blanca where on May 3, just a couple of weeks prior to the outset of my journey, over a ton of marijuana was discovered in a cover load of avocados. There is another checkpoint not far into New Mexico from El Paso where I-10 goes through Las Cruces. My passage through these are reminders that "big brother" is watching always leave me a little uneasy. To what am I acquiescing? Isn't this just incrementally the loss of liberty?

As you approach El Paso, and again, as you again encounter the Rio Grande river basin in New Mexico it is startling the way the desert ends near the banks of the river and green life takes over. Literally, one side of the road can be totally devoid of life and the other a verdant pasture. Additionally, in the middle of the desert, Sainte Genevieve, owned by Cordier Estates, has a winery and there are many vineyards about which certainly appear anomalous in these most extreme arid conditions. I like this wine because it is local though it is not the best available by any means, just passable, and the price is right.

I had several encounters with friendly people before reaching Ontario. There was the air conditioning mechanic at the Texaco in New Mexico telling me how I would benefit to come back and visit Silver City and the nearby ancient Gilla Cliff dwellings. I have never been to the cliff dwellings but my son and I traveled the adjacent Geronimo trail several years ago on one of our frequent camping trips. Geronimo is a man I have revered since childhood embodying as he did the very essence of rugged individualism and self reliance. He suffered greatly at the hands of the "white" man and during the course of his life took the fight for personal freedom and justice to his enemy. His story is a paradigm of the struggle of the oppressed and later in its history our country would change course and make right previous wrongs and I too would participate with comrades in arms to further the cause of liberty. There are many false starts on the paths we are set, many dead ends. Matters most that an exercise of conscience, properly cultivated, mitigates these errors as we continue the long journey. More on liberty later.

A note on the approach to San Bernardino. I was startled to see thousands of electricity generating wind mills, 4000 to be exact, according to this article. I had a hard time keeping my head on the task of riding the bike I was so taken by this landscape of machinery stretching as it does for several miles. My thought is that I would much rather have a simple nuclear power plant tucked away in one corner than this blight on the otherwise pristine desert landscape. But that is just me. I can just imagine how many environmental exquisitely supersensitive consciences anguish over all the poor birds that supposedly find liberal victimhood as they perish trying to navigate the air above these treacherous hills and valleys.

Next, the Mojave desert and day one of a nine day coast to coast journey.

Back Home

I was gone from May 14, to May 31, 2006. Seventeen days. It was a Sunday that I began. Two o'clock in the morning. I couldn't sleep. The anticipation of the journey, you know. All packed, all ready, I jump on the bike, the K1100LT BMW, 100 horse power, dual overhead cammed, four valves per cylinder, see there be there device and away, away, away, flying, true nap of the earth, asphalt attenuating, distance assimilating, ever generating the fleeting escape of the landscape into being centered everywhere bounded nowhere. At last I am again on a trajectory to the unknown. This dipping into mystery, that the journey is the destination, refreshes the spirit and everything is again new.

The first day ended in El Paso 600 miles across a mostly arid landscape. I took a favorite route down US Hwy 190 through El Dorado and Iraan then finally connected with I-10 and blasted through Ft Stockton, past the Davis Mountains, through Van Horn and on to El Paso. It was a grueling ride and twice the distance of most of the succeeding days. El Dorado is the home of new bigamy "cult". During an encounter with a clerk at a service station I got a whiff of the local intolerance of the interlopers. There was at the time a federal warrant out for the leader of the group and this was the featured article of the newspaper on sale at the counter and I made mention of this. The last time the feds dealt with such a group was in Waco, Texas when they burned alive women and children trying to get at one David Koresh, the leader of that group which had similar leanings. I remarked later to my future daughter in law that a mark of a civil society is the degree to which we are tolerant of those among us who exhibit behavior beyond the norm. Not that I am necessarily tolerant of illegal behavior, though some things illegal shouldn't be, in my opinion, but the aggressiveness of the authorities should be something less than the wanton slaying of innocents just to serve a warrant.

Day two I rode up into the underbelly of New Mexico and into the center of Arizona where I spent the night in a suburb of Phoenix, Casa Grande. Day three took me to Ontario, Ca., suburb of L.A. where I met with the participants, fellow Vietnam veterans, of the Run For The Wall organization at the Airport Hilton Inn. I registered with the group and tried unsuccessfully to make contact with my brother with whom I was to share this ride. Judy Lacey posted a daily journal of the trip to D.C. and you can see maps of the daily rides here.

More later of what promises to be a post trip hodge podge of notes and comments.