Start: Flagstaff AZ (31854)
End: Tucumcari NM (32356)
Our group meets up at the designated gas stop in Flagstaff AZ bright and early. Today is planned to be a long day, we have reservations to stay in Tucumcari tonight, which is a long haul across desert interstate. Today will be on the boring side.
For our ride to Tennessee, we have Kathy and Bob from San Diego, Marty from Quartzsite, Sue from Phoenix, Turbo from Flagstaff, and me. We have riders that like to go fast and riders that like to go slow, so we decide to split into two groups. Marty, Kathy and Bob nominate themselves as the slowpokes/lots-of-stops group. Bob is pulling a trailer on his Valkyrie and you lose stability over 65 mph with that setup. Sue and Turbo like to go fast; they have big bikes just made for this kind of travel. I'm the tweener. My bike is the littlest and has the smallest tank, so I go a little slower and need to stop for gas more frequently than they do. It's decided that I'll ride tailgunner with Turbo and Sue, and I tell them if I fall behind, not to worry, I'll catch up with them sooner or later.
So off we go. It's a beautiful morning and a glad thing to be on the road. A couple miles outside of Flagstaff, there's a dead deer on the side of the road, just a reminder to me to be cautious. An hour or two into the ride (I think it was after our gas stop in Holbrook), Turbo starts doing this thing that freaks us out. She starts drifting to the right, catches herself as she's about to run onto the shoulder, a whole bunch of times. Girl is obviously sleepy on the bike. Finally she pulls off for a little rest break. She says this happens to her sometimes in the mornings, and she'll be OK with a twenty minute stop, and do we mind? We tell her by all means to take as much time as she wants!!!
There's billboard outside of Winslow, promoting the town, which says "Stand on the corner in Winslow, Arizona." Heh. There's also lots of "Historic Route 66" markers along the way. I don't stop and do any side-road detours along here. I've seen a bunch of it before.
Crossing the great flat desert brings us into Gallup NM, where we stop for gas. A headwind has sprung up and while it's not fierce, it knocks enough off my top speed so I can't do 80 mph any more, and now I can't keep up with the big girls. While the VLX is a great little bike, lightweight and manuverable, my big butt on top of a loaded-down 600cc is not a great recipe for speed. The wee beastie labors to stay at 75 mph, the speed limit out here. I drop further and further behind. After a while, the girls are out of sight.
There's a whole lot of nothing to the west of Albuquerque, and my tank is getting low. Where the heck are the gas stations? I've been on reserve for over thirty miles when the next gas finally appears, a casino/rest stop just west of Albuquerque. Yay. I was just bording on "getting nervous." Turbo is waiting for me on the off-ramp, and I follow her in to the pumps. Turbo says, "I thought you must be pretty low on gas by now." I tell them, "I didn't know if you were stopping, but I was going to whether or not you were here." We proceed to the designated lunch stop on the east side of Albuquerque, thinking to have a leisurely lunch and wait for Bob and Kathy and Marty to show up. I have a pretty lousy salad bar and the world's saltiest chicken soup. After an hour, we're still wondering where our slow group is. I'm not particularly worried, but I hope they haven't run into any mechanical difficulties. I think Sue is a bit more worried, though. We call and leave messages on cell phones, but phone contact is always sporadic in these situations. You can't answer while you're riding. Finally, we decide to continue on, and I take off first. The girls, who didn't tank up at the casino, need to fill up here. They'll probably catch me down the road somewhere.
So, I'm on my own through eastern New Mexico, which is no problem at all. I love solo riding ... back roads, interstates, whatever. It makes me happy and whole. There's an old saying that you never see a motorcycle in front of a psychiatrist's office. Wind and freedom cures the anxieties of 21st century life, or at least I've found it so. I enjoy the countless small pleasurable sights of the road: a pretty mesa, an interesting-looking bird, a town with a funny name, a kid in the backseat to wave at. The headwind still dogs me, so I don't worry about blasting down the road, just patiently make my miles. Another gas stop, in the middle of nowhere. With the load and the wind, I am stopping pretty much every 100 miles.
Now, about 60 miles from Tucumcari NM, I notice the thunderhead that's been way off in the distance all day suddenly appears to be quite close to me. Heh. It snuck up on me when I wasn't looking. I can see the dark streaks underneath the cloud, it is definitely raining in there, and looks like I am heading right into it. Oh well. Since losing my raingear yesterday, I am resigned to the fact that if I get wet, I'll get wet, and not much to be done about it. It's bloody damn hot anyway so it won't be a horrible thing. Gusty winds start to kick up a bit as I get close to the squall line, but not too bad. Then, just as I appear to be about to plunge into the rain, the highway takes a northward veer, skirting around a mesa, taking me around the thundercloud. Hey, looks like I may have luck today! I see some lightning to my right, but don't hear the boom. I wonder if it's too far away to hear, or if the noise is being swallowed by the roar of wind and motor, muffled by the earplugs I'm wearing. It's hard to judge distances out here in the wide-open spaces.
Just when I think I have gotten past the dark clouds and avoided all the rain, it catches me, outside of Cuervo NM. It comes down suddenly and heavy, a real desert cloudburst, and the temperature immediately drops a good blessed twenty degrees. It feels so great, I don't even mind the wet. I slow a little out of caution, but the road is a good straight shot with no construction, and the rain doesn't last for very long. By the time I roll in to Tucumcari, I'm dry and the temp has risen again. I get a little lost but finally locate the hotel, a Travelodge, in a run-down looking part of the old Route 66 road through the town proper. It's around 7:00 pm and I am surprised to be the first one to arrive; the girls never did catch me on the road. Walking to my room, I see motorcycles pull in so I head over to greet my friends ... oh, wait, too many bikes (six), this is some other group! Turns out it's a CMA group from Texas, heading for the Grand Canyon. We chat for a bit, and wish each other a good ride, then I head to my room to shower off the day's grime. Clean and dressed in fresh clothes, I walk out and find Sue and Turbo just pulling in. They tell me they had a couple of long breaks (the heat, ya know) and that's why they never did pass me on the road. We try to get dinner at the next-door restaurant but they don't serve beer, and Turbo sort of had her mind set on having one, so I volunteer to run down to the Circle K up the street and pick up a six-pack and noshies. We content ourselves with conversation, cervesas, chips and salsa, and chicarones for dinner. Heh. Glad I had that salad for lunch.
The slower group doesn't pull in until well after dark, around 9:30. They'd taken lots of heat breaks, too, and it's been a long day for them. We're glad they've landed safe and sound for the night, but we're all ready for bed by now.
An aside: here in Tucumcari, I've become a curbhopper. Arriving at the hotel, I somehow managed to miss the two driveways and jumped the curb that was only three or four feet in between them. I blame the glare of the setting sun, heh, but I am glad I hit it straight-on! That could have been a pretty stupid spill. A four-inch curb makes a pretty good jolt anyway. Then, guess what I did as I was leaving the Circle K? Yup, missed the driveway again and went right off the curb. (They're a lot easier going down than going up.) I don't know why they seem to be so hard to spot in New Mexico. LOL.
Next: Day Three