My skeezy motel wasn’t actually that bad. The shower was hot and powerful, I managed to get a Chinese takeaway and use the laundry before bed, nothing woke me up in the night and I didn’t get probed by intergalactic adventurers bored with blowing up cows. So that was nice.I was at the doors of the Roswell International UFO Museum And Research Center before they opened and took the opportunity to do a couple of selfies outside.
The museum (and research center) sounds like it ought to be something a little grander than it is. Housed in an old cinema, it’s a collection of newspaper clippings, dodgy life size alien models and ephemera that bear only a tenuous connection to the legendary Roswell Incident of 1947. If you’re not familiar with what took place in July of that year, you can read as much as your heart’s content on the internet about it, but if you want the skinny from me, here goes.
There was a big old thunderstorm on the night of Wednesday 2nd July 1947 and a man on a ranch near Corona, New Mexico heard a big bang. The following day, he was out with his son when he found some bits of metal that had ploughed into the ground, presumably the night before. He took some of these bits of metal to the local sheriff the following weekend and the sheriff called up the army. A bunch of soldiers from the intelligence corps rock up in town and come over a bit strong with the poor rancher.
The overwhelming likelihood is that one of their experimental planes blew the hell up and scattered itself all over the place and it was something they dearly didn’t want everyone knowing about. Someone said aliens and the story stuck. People started making shit up about little coffins and strange grey creatures. The newspaper editors heard the sound of cash-registers and an industry was born. I’m afraid to say that nothing in the museum could convince a rational person otherwise – but it made for some top selfie action…
Now you’d think that in a town like Roswell, where the entire tourist industry is centred around aliens, UFOs and flying saucers, it wouldn’t be too hard to get a women’s t-shirt (or tank-top, I’m not fussy) that said “I got probed in Roswell” or some other such pithy rubbish, no?
Well you’d be wrong. Way, way wrong, my optimistic friend. There are no end of tacky gift shops near the museum (and research centre) selling all sorts of alien-branded rubbish. Bumper stickers, beer coozies, candy, shot glasses, you name it, they had it. There were t-shirts too – but get this, none of them were women’s fit. They were all the same high-necked, shapeless unisex ones that look bloody awful on ladypersons with ladybumps. Also, there was not one, NOT ONE, reference to probing. I was robbed. I packed up my tripod, kicked my bike into life and rode out of town, not a little disappointed in the t-shirt vendors of Roswell, New Mexico.
Stopping on the edge of town for fuel, I was getting a drink out of the fridge in the gas station (gas station fridges moo at you here – is that weird, or what?) when a chap accosted me. “That’s a cool bike you got there, what is it, a seventy-nine?”
“Seventy-eight” I corrected him, giving points for coming close.
“That’s a fine job someone’s made of that scooter” (they call bikes scooters here, it’s confusing)
“It certainly is” I said, “the builder is a genius”
We got chatting. He was road captain for the local veterans MC and said that he’d been putting bikes together for 25 years and hadn’t managed to build a frame as pretty as mine. I took that as an enormous compliment. He asked what I was doing in town and I explained about my trip. When he heard the mileage I’d done the last couple of weeks, he shook my hand and congratulated me. We bonded over a selfie moment:
This is what I love about travelling alone (and doing it on a cool as fuck mode of transport). People stop and talk to you and it’s brilliant. I’d never in a month of Sundays have met this guy if I was in a rental car. It’s been the same all the way across the US – people stop to talk about the bike and ask where I’m from and what I’m doing. I’ve had so many positive interactions with people this way. I’ve given most of them my card (still can’t believe I didn’t get any stickers printed up) and I really hope some will pop up as commenters here or on my Instagram.
From Roswell, I had 310 miles to ride to get to Abilene, Texas. Looking back at the hours I spent at home, pouring over US maps, I think I might have been a little overenthusiastic about just how far a person can ride in a day on a hardtail chopper. Especially a person who’s spent the morning fannying about at a UFO museum (and research center). I tend to try and stay off the freeways and Interstates, so at a speed limit that isn’t usually much above 55 (on occasions, 65) you can imagine how long it takes to do that sort of mileage. The chop’s fast enough for short distances, but sustaining high speeds is tiring and I find that an average of fifty is about right. Allowing for time off the bike, I thought that today’s mileage was likely to take me about eight hours on the road and I wasn’t far wrong.
The plan had always been to take my time at the places featuring in Easy Rider, then absolutely cane it through Texas and rock up in New Orleans completely ready for a weekend of rest, recuperation and hallucinogenic pharmaceuticals in the cemetery. Today, I’ve got to tell you, was Hard Fucking Work. I smashed through the Texas panhandle and made it to a place not far from the rough geographic centre of the state and I’m totally bloody knackered. The last fifty miles were bumpy, too – the good people of this county need to mend their bastard roads because even the sumptuous air shock installed under my seat pan couldn’t save my poor, poor arse from the beating that it sustained on the rough roads of north Texas.
This part of the country is everything you’d expect and one or two things you wouldn’t. Riding through Lubbock and Post, I saw ranches, cattle and oil wells in abundance. Everyone drives fuck-you great big pickups, often towing the same sort of sized unit that back in the UK would be pulled by an articulated Volvo lorry. Trailers full of cattle, flatbeds with steel oil well parts, loads stacked high with animal feed. All of these things are cargo to strike fear into the heart of the motorcyclist.
I’d only been across the state line for half an hour when the scariest moment of my trip so far took place. Roads here are long and straight. Most of the ones I ride are single carriageway. Overtakes ought to be easy because you can see for miles and miles. Mostly, people drive vehicles with engines so large that acceleration ought not to be any kind of practical problem for passing anything slower than a rocket sled.
So it was that I saw a car in the not-too-distant part of the road ahead, overtaking a lorry and bearing down on me, displaying every suggestion that they had either not seen me, or didn’t care what part of the road I was riding on, as long as it wasn’t the part that they had decided to be in. That’s right – someone was overtaking and coming at me head on, with not enough time to make it back in front of the lorry in question.
Now I don’t want you to worry – at no point was I in any serious danger. Even the single carriageway roads here have enormous hard shoulders and I had lots of room (and lots of time) to move out of this Texan fucknugget’s way and into the safety of the hard shoulder. I even had enough time to give him the finger and a robust Anglo Saxon greeting as he came past. What bothers me about this whole incident is either that he didn’t see me (in which case, I need better headlights). Or maybe he saw me and didn’t care about forcing me off the road? Or maybe this is quite normal behaviour for rural Texas and people expect bikes to get out of the way like this?
Other than shitneck roadhog dickweasels like that, the other thing I wasn’t expecting to see in Texas was the sheer number of wind turbines. Not the rickety old things you see built over abandoned ranches. I mean the huge, gleaming white, three bladed ecomonsters. I must have passed thousands of them, each one capable of powering a small neighbourhood. Maybe the oil is almost gone and this is the next big thing here? Perhaps the well-heeled Texan of the 2020s will be driving their Teslas to the wind turbine baron’s ball? How cool is that?
On the way into Abilene, with my arse aching, ears ringing and face stinging from the road and insect debris, I was overtaken by a guy wearing a Bandidos MC kutte. The Bandidos are one of the biggest MCs in Texas and very definitely on the FBI’s list of “outlaw motorcycle gangs” having been involved in a variety of unsavoury escapades over the decades. He was riding a big Harley bagger and travelling about 30mph faster than I’m comfortable doing, but as he came past, he gave me a cheery wave. My second positive MC experience of the day. They once said “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” but I reckon you need to be riding a custom chopper to hang out with the one-percenters.
I checked into the first motel I saw in Abilene. It is truly, truly awful here. My room smells of cigarette smoke and man-sweat, but it was comedy cheap. I think I’m going to get an early start. Night-night.