Moments come and go and get lost to time. It has been a while since I've written. The longer I wait the more the memories fade and the more daunting the task becomes. I'm currently in Raton, NM. I can hear the sound of cold thunder outside as dark and very angry clouds slowly march this way. Bright sunshine pierces through white clouds in the distance and in the other direction all is black and despair looms.
I got new tires mounted on the bike today. I thought with as popular as the Suzuki DR650SE is that finding tires would be a non-issue.
I was mistaken. My plan to get tires in Santa Fe met with "we'd like to help you but tires will take 4 days to get here and we're very short handed." Calls to other locations yielded similar results. I did, however, find a Honda dealer in Raton that could get tires for my bike and was willing to mount them. I had pondered mounting them myself but a shoulder injury I sustained on Day 15 is making even typing painful so I decided it's probably best to let someone else expend the effort. Originally, I was supposed to arrive here last week on Thursday but I had made a wish on a very bright falling star ...
Some number of days ago, my 14th day on the TAT, I was in Western Oklahoma. The previous day had been filled with comfortable riding under gorgeous skies on distressingly well maintained country roads.
Over previous days I had heard that there lurks an evil in these upcoming parts. Few would speak of it directly and those few who spoke did so hurriedly in hushed tones as if afraid "It" would hear them.
"Oklahoma Black Mud"
Some locals had told me it had rained quite a bit a few days previously. I soon started finding evidence just how interesting it could get in the wet.
Again, I was fortunate. While deeply rutted in places, it was mostly dry so my challenge was primarily keeping the front wheel from straying into ruts. Having said that, the surface would change dramatically and without warning.
From time to time, I would come across giants standing guard.
I have two best friends, or at least I wouldn't be able to choose between the two of them. One is Duncan who has been trying diligently for the last couple of years to grow sunflowers. On rides, when he sees a small garden filled with them, he often exclaims, "Arrrrgg! It's a curse, I tell ya! More of them" and begins to ponder ways to get his to grow.
So, on this trip, I have been going out of my way to show him photos. Sadly, this one doesn't do it justice. I came across a field of sunflowers that seems to span to the horizon.
At one point, I came across signs of a slaughter. Clearly, Don Quixote had had a field day. I have never before seen the giants felled in this way.
The further I rode the more of a sense I got just how bad this black mud could get. I suspect being Out Here after a solid soaking rain would make these roads next to impassable.
Crossing this was, how shall we say, inelegant.
The oil and gas industry, who I understand I have to thank for the eventful waking the other morning, can be seen everywhere.
There was also foreshadowing. I noticed that my GPS sometimes would not calculate the distance to the next turn correctly.
This was a detail.
I should learn to pay just a little more attention to such details.
The next turn was just a few miles ahead and the GPS would dutifully show me the turn while the distance to the next turn would increase.
At one point, I started seeing evidence of TAT riders who had come through when it was significantly wetter, their tires leaving clear imprints.
Out here it gets good and flat.
I had been warned about a water crossing that was impassable. In the distance, I saw what I thought might be a Ford Taurus (passenger car) slow to a crawl and then speed up again. As I came upon the crossing, I found myself wondering how he made it across. A 4x4 approached from the other side. The driver looked at the water and then promptly turned around and disappeared.
I did as I promised. I pulled out my little camp stool, pulled off my boots, and put on my flip flops and waded out in the water.
My newly acquired flip flops immediate came apart. The current was about as strong as the current in that errant crossing a week or so ago. I explored the edge of the concrete slab and noted that there was a significant lip to it, maybe 5 inches high. If I were to hit that I would definitely fall over into the drink. After pondering whether or not I should attempt it, I decided discretion is the better part of valor. I am alone after all and an off here could represent a real hassle.
Or as my buddy Matt used to say, "Chickens live longer."
I put my boots back on and headed off to find a way around. This was facing due West so I headed North and found the first marked roads that pointed West.
Yes, this is, in fact, a road.
There were all kinds of bugs hidng about just ready to jump up and attempt to get inside my helmet.
This road let to an even worse water crossing. This was consisted of deep mud.
So I headed further North and eventually found a road West that included a bridge. I continued constantly on guard for changing conditions, my shoulders tensing up from the discomfort and uncertainty.
As the miles rolled on, more evidence of fearless TAT riders could be seen. I imagined them throwing caution to the wind and at near full throttle fearlessly throwing their machines forward into the muck unlike timid me who is ever careful.
And then I came upon it.
"Oklahoma Black Mud".
I could clearly see tracks of an intrepid TAT rider going into and out of the puddle. This photo makes it look so easy. That can't be more than a few inches across, right?
I stopped the bike well before the deep mud and decided to try to walk it. Yards before the water the muck tried desperately to steal my boots.
"There's just no way. This thing would swallow my bike whole." I thought as I wondered how in the hell could someone ride across something like this clearly in conditions that were wetter than what I was facing.
It was an impressive little puddle up close.
I couldn't walk through this. The mud was significantly deeper than my boots are tall. The mud would stick to you in large clumps making it challenging to extract yourself.
I stood and pondered this scene for some time questioning my initial decision not to attempt it, words in the back of my mind hissing in a devilish voice, "What are you? A wuss? You can do it ...come join us ...". But I soon realized that no mortal could traverse this hells bog. I imagined a scene below the surface not unlike the souls lurking beneath the waters around Mordor.
"KTM riders." I thought. "I bet the bog is filled with the souls of undead KTM riders who foolishly tried to cross lured by the tracks. I bet they are now just waiting under the surface to pull unsuspecting travelers down to their doom. Satan himself probably put those track there as a trap." I then went on to ponder why, as it is well known, Satan prefers the souls of KTM riders to other souls. It's been a subject of much debate for millenia.
I then thought about the TAT rider whose tracks could clearly be seen. "How did Satan put the tracks down? It's not like he does his own work. He bet he possessed some DR650 rider."
And then it dawned on me.
I bet she, the one true love of his life, left him. I bet this broke him down to his soul like he had never been broken before. Distraught, broken hearted, and in despair, he took his trusty DR650 and decided to end it all.
Out in the rain through the impossible muck he went and came upon Hell's Own Puddle. (Now filled with undead KTM riders.)
Amidst the pouring rain as he was about to twist the throttle to meet his end he broke down in a moment of weakness and sobbed skyward:
"Baby come back!!!"
(And now that song is stuck in my head.)
This was the moment the devil was waiting for. Desperation is the devils' "in".
He appeared, wondering why there were no hickory stumps, and hissed. "I can get her back for you, but first you must do a little something for me."
Of course, we all know the devil is the great deceiver and should never be bargained with.
But the DR rider was in love and his heart was badly broken and, as many poor fools in love do, he would grasp at any chance to get her back.
"I'll do anything." he said sobbing to which the Devil replied, "I give you this Hell's Special DR650, a bike that can magically cross any expanse of mud. All you have to do is ride all the mud in Oklahoma and she'll be yours again."
"I'll do it!" the poor fool said not realizing that there's always more mud in Oklahoma.
Now he's got to ride the Oklahoma mud forever, the new rains his eternal damnation, his tracks an endless KTM rider temptation.
And this is how the devil lures those sweet KTM souls to their doom.
Occasionally he nabs a GS rider or two who dares stray from Starbucks, but that's another story.
"The Legend of the Devils' Mud Runner" I thought as I extracted myself from the muck and then man handled my bike to turn it around and find another way around.
If you see tracks in puddles in Oklahoma, it's a trick. "Run away!"
As I rode on for the remainder of the day there was quite a bit more mud but none so deep as that Hell's Puddle.
Eventually the roads got a bit better and I found myself out in the middle of nowhere when, taking a wrong turn, I noticed a sign.
This little gravesite was in the absolute middle of nowhere. Some cattlemen had been killed by Native Americans back in the day. I paused to think about the narratives each side must have told themselves about the other. Conflict and pain has a way of creating even more inaccurate stories of the "Other".
If you dehumanize them it is eaiser to kill them. This is likely why we don't mourn the loss of Storm Troopers.
My day of challenging rutted muddy roads came to an end with another group of giants standing watch against a sinking sun.
SItting here in Raton thinking about mud I listen to this incredible thunderstorm raging outside. Hail can be heard bouncing off the roof. I suspect the trail may be "interesting" tomorrow. There's quite a bit of rain forecast for the next several days.
The next day I found myself back out on the trail relatively early. I had noted that the GPS was telling me I had only 247 miles to go to the border of New Mexico. From there it was just an easy day ride to the house of my other best friend, Bruce. So I texted him to let him know that I was likely to make it by the next day so I could see him before his business trip. I didn't stop to think how I had made such good time.
On the way out, I took a moment to take a closer look at the giant windmills. These really are impressive machines.
I was a man on a mission so I did not stop to take many photographs. After a few hours, I rolled into a gas station where I noticed a Triump Tiger 800 that I immediately recognized as a TAT bike. The rider soon came out and introduced himself. Dennis. We spoke for a bit about the reasons we're on this trip.
"Reset." is all I said. "I'm in need of a reset." We pondered riding together but he said this as a solo trip for him. It is for me as well.
It was then that two riders were approaching ..
(and now I can't get that song out of my head)
... and joined us while they fiddled with roll charts. They had been making crazy good time and had clearly done trips like this before. Dennis and I were on similar schedules just taking our time.
Dennis mentioned at one point, "If it rains that mud must be impassable." I agreed but did not share with him my religious insights into that evil muck.
Having seen so few people on this trip and thinking I had plenty of time, I hung out for two cups of coffee and exchanged stories, but not too many. I was more abbreviated than usual, finally.
The time came to be gone and I said my goodbyes and headed off. I initially took a wrong turn due to a lying road closed sign.
The GPS flaked out again. The route jumped in a straight line across what must have been twenty miles where there was no road.
"Damn GPS software bug." I thought again not paying attention to details.
I was left trying to find a way to the far end of the straight line one my own. I should have set up the roll chart but did not..
The end of the error was North and West of my location but there were a number of turns to try. Eventually, I saw a rider in the distance and I sped to catch up. It turned out to be Dennis, the Triumph Tiger rider.
We decided to ride together for a ways. We were well matched. Dennis was leading. I once again get more of a sense what it must be like to be Duncan as when we ride I usually lead.
I guess we probably rode together for well over a hundred miles through varying open landscapes and surfaces. At one point Dennis asked, "So do you think there will be more sand?"
"I wish he hadn't asked that." I thought facetiously.
At one point we stopped in the middle of the open nowhere and he said, "We are so lucky to be here. Not many get to do what we're doing."
At this point he mentioned to me one aspect of his ride. His mother-in-law had recently died of Alzheimers. He had bands made up which he handed out along the way. He gave me one which I put around one of my mirrors. I found myself thinking I should have had something on my bike, beyond the tungsten steel dogtag I carry around my neck, to honor those I've met along the way with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. "Dedicate one of your rides to my daughter." a mother said who lost her second child to complications from EDS. It's strange how you meet some people and they forever alter the trajectory of your life. The horrors I have seen ...
Dennis invited me to join him for lunch. Again, since I had spent so much time alone I thought it would be a nice break and judging by the distance left I thought I should be able to make the New Mexico border by nightfall. Just as I was getting off the bike at a restaurant we had found, I felt this searing pain on my shoulder.
I started beating my shoulder into submission. Something was in there stinging me repeatedly. I asked Dennis to help. He took to it more enthusiastically than I was expecting. It has been a very long time since someone has hit me that hard. "Feels like home." I was tempted to say but didn't. During a short pause in the pain, I managed to get my jacket off at which point a largely intact bumble bee carpenter bee type thing fell out and started crawling away. Dennis was about to step on it but I said I needed to take a photo.
I let the thing live because, you know, I'm sensitive like that and it wasn't the thing's fault. It was just doing what it does.
I went the restroom and counted six welts. However, I did not have any allergic reaction.
Over lunch we spoke of a number of topics. Loss. We spoke for quite a while about goals. In his line of work, he has to be goal oriented and manage a team to get things done exactly on time. When planning out this trip he had each day mapped out, where he would get gas, eat, and sleep.
"That plan got thrown out the first day." he explained.
"No plan ever survives an encounter with the enemy." I replied.
He talked about almost giving up. "This is strangely difficult, but not in the way I thought it would be." he said mirroring what I have thought for a while now.
I talked about my Alaska trip and the challenges I faced like breaking down on the side of the Dalton Highway North of Camp Coldfoot.
"What did you do?" he asked.
"I was in this place where I had given up. Each moment I would give up. I thought that at some point a trucker would come by. It was nice weather and I wasn't in any immediate danger so I just looked around at how beautiful the place was. Then I figured, having given up, I could take one small step. And then another. Soon I had the bike unloaded, the exhaust off, and the rear wheel removed and I was able to solve my problem."
"Have you found that on this trip yet?" he asked.
"No. I haven't been able to get out of my own head yet. But even trying to do that is in and of itself a goal."
I am at this present moment too tired to do the topic justice. It was a good conversation of the type I have not had on this trip.
"May you find failure Out There and may you be open to a redirection in some unexpected fashion."
We parted company and I headed back out onto the trail.
To make a long story short the GPS lied to me. The calculated distance that it displayed for the route was off by over 150 miles. For the next couple of hours the distance to the end of the route would increase, not decrease.
The wind from the South was relentless. I guess it was a constant 30mph with much larger gusts that would catch the visor on my helmet and wrench my neck. After some hours, my back and shoulders thoroughly locked up.
I was in pain and starting to take Advil in a way I have not done in years.
At one point the line on the GPS routed me to where the road ended at a farmers field. It looked like there was a tractor trail to the right which I surmised must head back to a road.
It then disappeared and before I knew it I was riding along side a row of corn. Then the cornfield ended. I could see a road a few hundred yards ahead but there was this tall very tough grass like stuff between me and the road. So I did what I usually do. I kept going.
There was a two foot embankment just as the grass ended. At first I thought it was likely going to cause a fall but ended up being no problem.
I continued on watching the "distance to go" indicator on the GPS increasing instead of decreasing. The wind was still relentless and my back continued to hurt.
The route took a sudden turn South, towards a looming thunderstorm I might add, which ended up following a sandy tractor trail.
The sand got deep suddenly and the bike pitched violently back and forth but I managed to save it.
Sand is rarely, if ever, a motorcyclists friend. I cautiously made my way forward and put my feet back on the pegs as it looked like the surface was becoming more solid.
The violent pitching repeated several times and several times I was able to save it until I wasn't.
The front wheel dug in hard and the bars locked to the right and for the first time I highsided and faceplanted into the sand next to some sunflowers.
Given how I landed on my face and left shoulder and given how locked up my back had been, despite 6 advil, I was pretty sure I had injured myself. I got up and waited but it seemed, aside from the pain I had already been feeling no new pain was developing.
I was also surprised how easily I was able to pick up the bike. I must be getting stronger.
The sand continued for a while and was really no fun.
The sun started setting. I paused for quite a while at this spot. At this point I knew I was in for a very late night.
I tried my best to capture this incredible sunset.
There are some moments that are a not meant to be spent alone. This was one of them.
In the other direction, there were dramatic clouds. The sun's red glow reflected off them. A large thunderhead loomed threatenly to the North.
The wind never let up. I compared the GPS with the printed maps and that with Google maps. It looked like I had at least another 50 miles to go but even that was a bad guess.
The sun set and I thanked my former self for equipping the bike with a high power LED headlight and driving lights. Despite the gathering gloom, I was able to see the trail clearly enough. For most of those 70+ miles the trail was civilized. The wind continued to torment me. A muscle that runs under my left shoulder blade had cramped up so badly it was starting to feel like it was bleeding. I was no longer able to turn my head at all without searing agony.
Then it went pitch black. I stopped to marvel at the thunderhead in the distance. I tried recording the cloud to cloud lighting to no avail. Looking up I could clearly see stars appearing. I waited hoping for a shooting star because I had a wish to make. But as we all know, these things cannot be forced and trying makes them not happen. After an extended pause in the dark, I continued on.
At one point, near the end, I came upon a huge expanse of mud. I managed to navigate around it by riding through deep dirt. When the GPS flaked out again leaving me guessing as to the route I decided to bail and set my sights on Los Alamos. I figured with the gas I had, I could make Springer, NM with over 60 miles to spare on the tank. It's a decrepit little town but it would put me in striking range of Los Alamos for an easy next day. It was now around midnight.
I should have taken the visor off. I eventually ended up on highway doing highway speeds in that horrible cross wind. If my back and shoulders weren't hurting before they were seriously hurting now.
The bike felt like it wasn't running right. At times I would notice that it would bog down or miss as if it were running out of gas. These are details I pay very careful attention to. I reassured myself that I had plenty of range left. I have, in my entire lifetime, never run out of gas in such a way that I was stranded. On a couple of occasions, the vehicle stalled while underway and I was able to roll to the gas pump.
I passed a sign that Springer was 40 miles ahead when I hit reserve. I usually hit reserve at 260 miles. This was 215. I knew I was consuming too much fuel. I went into full on fuel conservation riding figuring that maybe I could make it. I can usually do well over 50 miles on reserve.
7 miles outside of Springer, NM I ran out of gas. It was the middle of nowhere. The bike rolled to slow stop. It was pitch black. There was no sign of life. No street light. No car. No planes in the sky.
It was a cloudless windy night. The moon had long since disappeared. The Milky Way was clearly visible. It was beautiful.
There was no panic. There was no anger. There was nothing. I just stopped in the dark. "I wonder how far I can push my bike?" I asked myself as I proceeded to start pushing it.
It was slow going but not as painful as I would have imagined. I guess the advil had finally started kicking in in earnest. Then I came up a hill. It was about a half mile long. I would push the bike about 50 yards and then have to stop to catch my breath and wait for my heart rate to settle down. My legs were on fire. If I didn't hold the handlebars just right that cramped muscle in my back would ignite into agony.
Occasionally cars would pass but no one stopped. I tried various hand symbols and gestures of "motorcyclist in need please help" no to avail.
The incline of the hill got worse and my progress slowed to a crawl. I already knew I wasn't going to be able to push the bike another 5 miles. But I thought I could at least get it to the top of the hill.
Then something caught my eye as I was panting desperately trying to get some air.
It was one of those extremely bright extremely slow falling stars, the ones that look like fireworks. I watched the thing slowly fall to earth shining in a bright white light seemingly in slow motion.
"Did you wish for gas?" she later asked.
"Of course, not. I've learned you never make wishes for yourself." I replied.
I have been in a position three times previously where someone I care deeply about has faced Big Problems(tm). One of the most difficult things to deal with for me has been complete powerlessness. You want to help with all your being but there is absolutely nothing you can do. They've been in and out of comas. They can't sit up. No one knows what's wrong or why it's happening. The best medical professionals available are, momentarily, stumped. Things looks about as dark as they possibly can. And here you are. Alone. In the dark wishing beyond all that they recover but absolutely powerless to do anything constructive.
"If there is nothing you can do, do nothing."
It was a about a year and a half ago and I was standing alone in a field and I saw a shooting star. I made an impossible wish that they recover and could go home. I also knew that if the wish came true, I would likely not get to see them very often anymore. That part of the wish hurt. But this wasn't about me.
"What are you going to offer up or do to make this wish come true?" might be a good question.
Incredibly, single days later a cause was found and not only would she recover but the field would advance because of the revelation and others would benefit as well.
From this I've developed a litlte superstition. I'm not actually superstitious and I don't actually believe in wishing on shooting stars, but there's something to the ritual. It focuses you on the needs of another human being and away from yourself. Wish on a star for the benefit of someone else and make an offer that represents an emotional cost. This way you realize it's really about them and not about you.
So no, don't wish for gas.
So I made a wish.
I pushed the bike nearly to the top of the hill when I gave up. But now I had one bar of reception. I tried to call and see if there's a 24 hour towing service or a cab company or anything in Springer that might be able to bring me some gasoline. It was to no avail. I couldn't hear the person and the connection was too spotty. I was just about to push the "call roadside assistance" button on the Spot Tracker, which would mean many hours sitting and waiting, when a pick up truck stopped. It was driven by a disabled Australian veteran. His wife and attack dog were in the passenger seat. He made it clear that the dog would attack if I were a threat. I made sure to be my least threatening self and told him all I needed was a little bit of gas so I could get to Springer.
"I have 5 gallons in the back. You're welcome to it. My wife will get it since I can't walk.".
She got out and pulled out a wheel chair and then handed me the 5 gallon jug. I guess I was pretty tired, in pain, and winded. I couldn't for the life of me figure out the safety nozzle thing in the dark. So while his wife held a light I just poured a half gallon in from the open container. I thanked them profusely and offered to pay many times the worth of the gas but he wouldn't take it.
"Just promise me you'll pay it forward and help someone out."
I nearly laughed and said, "If you only knew how many times I have stopped, but yes, absolutely I will pay it forward."
They drove off and I managed to get the bike started. Springer was largely dead but there was a gas station where the pumps were still on. I filled up and looked for a motel. Unfortunately, all the motels were booked solid. I looked at the map and realized the next best stop of Las Vegas, NM which was another 70 or so miles South.
I rode back out into the wind my back and shoulders cramping even worse than before. At around 3AM I rolled into Las Vegas and got a hotel room. I stood under a hot shower for a while, let people know I was ok and then passed out.
The next morning, surprisingly early, I messaged my buddy Bruce and then made the 100 or so mile journey to his house where I would stay for a few days.
On Tuesday, I called around to get tires and found the place in Raton. It was the only place I was able to find. 158 miles. No problem. I would have to explore the fuel consumption issue separately. Air filter clogged maybe? Altitude? Gummed up carburetor? I don't know. It was not long after I got off the phone with the shop in Raton when the phone rang.
The phone never rings.
When it rings, it's always bad news.
Not this time.
Impossibly, truly impossibly, my wish had come true. The timing could not have been better. I had a place to leave the bike.
But it meant I had to, /immediately/, fly back home.
24 hours later I was on a plane and heading home. Bruce and his wife, Ha, made it so easy for me. They are so good to me and I do not understand why. They loaned me a car I could leave at the Airport so I'd have a way to get back when I return. My buddy Duncan picked me up in Maryland.
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is such a bitch. So many people live with it undiagnosed. It involves chronic debilitating pain, fatigue, immune system involvement, anxiety, depression, vascular issues, etc. I've talked to so many people who have gone decades trying to find answers and have been harmed by incorrect treatments. So many are in wheelchairs. It's an invisible condition. "You don't look sick." But even if you suspect EDS, getting diagnosed typically takes years. No one is available. Few doctors want to touch these complicated patients. Most normal doctors think they're just hypochondriacs and refer them out to psychiatrists. (no lie) The few doctors that understand the condition are booked solid two and three years out. But getting a diagnosis is so important because the entire way you treat an EDS patient is different than normal patients. What helps a normal patient can hurt an EDS patient. The goal is to keep them out of wheelchairs and functioning, but to do that they need proper care. And for that they need a diagnosis and referrals to clueful practioners.
And that, typically, takes years.
It is one of the strange aspects of my life that people with EDS have become so important to me ... I do what little I can.
I flew back to New Mexico Sunday.
The rains have just stopped but it's been an hours long deluge. I am a bit concerned about what I'm going to find tomorrow.
And I wonder if this shoulder is going to improve.
And the rains have continued ...