A number of my friends had told me to GTFO of Texas as fast as I could, but I was on a self-imposed limit of 300 miles a day on this trip because any more than that would be Not Fun. Which meant that Texas was a three-day-state. Oregon was a one-day-state and California was something in the order of five, but Texas would be three. In the end, it’s fair to say that the driving in Texas is pretty appalling. Everything from dangerous overtakes to ridiculous (and unsecured) loads made me a little more apprehensive than usual. But Texas is farming and ranching country and they do things a little different here.
The thing I hadn’t expected is just how lovely the countryside is. Once you’re out of the panhandle and into the middle of the state, it’s green and beautiful. Better still, it’s green, beautiful and sparsely populated, with great roads. If it wasn’t so bloody hot, it would be nigh on perfect biking country. Well, apart from the drivers, that is.
I did my usual trick of leaving early and racking up the miles before noon. I had lunch in a roadside truck stop, just short of the Louisiana state line and although they offered all sorts of meaty and fishy treats, I assembled a plant-powered lunch out of the following side dishes:
Those little balls are fried okra and they’re actually rather nice. The corn came heavily peppered and although I can’t say this was the healthiest lunch I’ve had, it was quite acceptable, washed down with about three pints of iced tea.
Scorching along on a motorcycle, in the boiling heat, you don’t realise how much moisture you’re sweating out. I’ve been drinking about a pint for every hour I’m riding. Pint of water, then a pint of something like V8 veggie juice or coconut water. It’s been keeping me going okay.
After my little incident with the undead donkey in Death Valley, I’ve had a bunch of people warn me against riding in the early morning or at night on account of the very real possibility of hitting some of the local fauna and stacking it. Given the sheer quantity of roadkill I’ve seen, that seems quite reasonable advice.
Just before the state line, I was banging along and I noticed a stone in the road. This isn’t unusual and the keen-eyed motorcycle tourist is always alert for foreign object debris in the road so that she might adjust her course and not be troubled by it. As I closed the distance on the stone and moved out into the middle of the road to avoid it, I noticed that the stone had some distinctive markings. And a head.
I slowed down, turned round and rode back, wondering whether I was going to be in time. Fortunately, this little fella had an appointment with me and not with a three hundred and sixty cubic inch V8 Dodge Ram. I can imagine the noise that would make. Sploop.
I picked it up and it popped it’s head out, as if to say, “oi, put me the f*** down you British asshole” (in my imagination, wild Texan tortoises are very sweary.) So I put it down somewhere safe and went on my way. I’d have loved to have seen an armadillo that hadn’t been splooped, but that was not to be. According to the server in the Truck stop, I’ve also got to be on the lookout for deer and alligators. Yes, alligators – I don’t think she was trying to spook me.
Into Louisiana and I was surprised to see a bunch of people walking along by the side of the road, wearing hi-viz. You virtually never see pedestrians like this and I was wondering whether they might have been a chain-gang or something (does Louisiana still have chain-gangs? I wouldn’t be surprised…). As I overtook, I realised that the big piece of wood that they were carrying was a cross. An actual cross. I can only assume that this was either a church group on some kind of self-mortification pilgrimage jag, or the local vigilance committee on their way to nail someone up.
Presuming it was the former, I spent a little while contemplating exactly what it is that drives people to go and do something like that. Yes, I appreciate the irony of someone voluntarily riding all this way on a motorcycle with no suspension, questioning the sanity of these modern-day penitents. But I’m *enjoying* myself and I by the look on their faces, really don’t think they were having all that much fun. I came to the conclusion that they’re almost certainly massive twits. If your god demands that you go and do something like dragging a cross half way across the county, then he’s a bit of an arsehole. If you think that you need to do something like this to prove yourself to him, then you’re a bit of a berk. If, in the unlikely event, there *is* an omnipotent, kind creator deity, woudn’t she rather you chucked the cross in the hedge and went and volunteered with the local soup kitchen instead?
But less of the god stuff, today was about riding my bike and just like all the other days of this amazing road trip, it was *glorious*. Seriously, I’m actually a little bit in love with this bike. Yes, I’m still very attached to my lovely new Triumph Explorer 1200 back home, but for all it’s joys (fly-by-wire, cruise control, heated grips, fairing, hard panniers…) it’s nothing like this little XS.
This is motorcycling as it should be, stripped back to the bone. A big, thumpy, air-cooled twin, with an unapologetic exhaust and a vibration that lets you know it wasn’t put together to pass any Californian regulations. When it’s blistering along at full chat, you’re hanging on, feeling the wind pushing into your chest and wondering how much more it’s got to give before you feel the throttle stop. This isn’t for everyone, but if you get it, you get it. I got it good.
I’m of the school of thought that motorcycles should have names. Steph told me what he called the bike when he built it and I’m afraid that it’s original name did nothing for my patriarchy-smashing sensibilities, so it was always going to be rechristened. I’ve decided that she’s going to be called Ana – after the place she was built, Anacortes.
This afternoon, the odometer told me that we’ve now done 4000 miles together. For a forty year old engine, that’s amazing. I’m going to do a little standalone post at some point about all the reasons I think Ana is the most awesome bike I could possibly have ridden this trip on and why Steph is such a genius builder. I’ve got one last day of riding tomorrow before I have to pack Ana off to the shipping agent for the trip home on a container boat. Damn, that is one hell of a bike.