Another day, another state – Part 1

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A ten day roadtrip across the southern US

Part 1 – Daytona Beach, Florida to Tucson, Arizona

Editor ‘easy-rider’ ‘arris cruises the main strip in Daytona on the super-cool Honda Ruckus scooter.

I’m not a big Daytona fan, but yet there I was, enjoying the opulence of a BMW press gig, initiated to ensure maximum exposure of the first ever US round of their Boxer Cup.

As thrilling as the race turned out to be, I had another agenda. I wanted to live the American Dream – before it had chance of turning into a nightmare. Daytona was a suitable launching point for this dream, and gave me the elements I needed along with access to a brand spanking K1200GT, a free flight and a good excuse to try out my new tent.

The game plan was to spend 10 days riding due west, along the southern strip of the US, ending up at the BMW California depot to drop off the bike. This meant a quick dash across the Florida Panhandle, through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, before slowing it down through Texas and then exploring all that New Mexico, Arizona and California had to offer.

Since I was riding alone, unfortunately any photography was left to me. That means lots of shots of the bike at various different locations across the US. It’s a bit like the film Amelié with the traveling gnome – only not as funny.


LIFE’S A BIG FLAT BEACH (Florida to Texas)

I’m not quite sure why I loved this sign so much. I think it kinda summarized the US patriotic fervor, combined with a lust to sell stuff whenever possible.

With the madness of Daytona behind me, I found myself riding west towards the city of Tallahassee, where the map indicted that Hwy 98 would fulfill my first American Dream requirement – a ride along the Gulf of Mexico.

For any of you that have taken the time to explore Florida by bike, you will have no doubt noticed that it is in fact just one big sandbar. This means that it is inherently flat, the roads are inherently straight and the ride is inherently boring.

As expected, the hike across the stump of Florida proved to be a mixture of tedium and close-shaves with speed traps. It wasn’t until the town of Panacea, 350Km later, that I got my first glimpse of the mighty Gulf, which in turn prompted Joni Mitchell’s ‘Refuge of the Road’ with its Gulf references to start playing in my head … all the way until day’s end at Panama City Beach.

Back on the road in bright Florida sunshine I quickly discovered that Hwy 98 west of Panama City Beach was basically a long strip of boring two-lane roadway and endless strip-malls. As progress was proving slow, I broke my no-Interstate rule and joined the Transcontinental Interstate 10 out of Pensacola and was having breakfast in Alabama by 9 am.

This pretty well summed up my impression of the southeastSwamp and fog. Lovely.

Joni’s ‘Refuge of the Road’ had been replaced in my brain by a screwed up mix of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and Neil Young’s ‘Southern Man’ (the latter of which spurred Lynard Skynard to write the former, or something like). This mental conflict made it a difficult choice between just blasting through the Southeast on Interstate, or slipping north slightly onto minor roads to give it a fair shake of the stick.

Although the road did get slightly entertaining just before crossing the Mississippi River, I was still finding it hard to find an excuse to stop to even take a picture, never mind finding anything nice to say.

As the sun sank rapidly towards the horizon I took a bed at a Motel 6 in the next big town of Alexandria, Louisiana – just shy of Texas. Which, sad to say, was all I needed to retire the tent for the rest of the trip.

TWO DAYS WITH THE LONE STAR (Texas to New Mexico)

We met as adversaries but left as friends. Even the Texas police seemed to like me.

Having spent the last two days getting board, I was hoping Texas would offer something more.

Unfortunately, the road was proving to be much the same and I was already half way through the day. As I had so far managed to avoid any brushes with the law, I decided to up my pace a notch.

This got me thinking about how to avoid the attention of the police, concluding the following danger zones where a nabbing is more likely:

1) Any time the speed limit drops
2) Especially at zones where “fines are doubled”
3) Usually on a straight stretch of road (thus allowing for maximum speeding)
4) Either coming into, or going out of, town – although coming in is more likely as that is usually combined with #1, sometimes #2 and rarely, but possible, #3 as well.

Mason was the first sign of culture since Daytona.

It was exactly as I was pondering what #5 would be that I looked up to see #1, having just completed #3, right at #4, with the cop parked off to the side. As I passed, breathed deeply and looked in the rear view mirror, the cop pulled out and hit the lights.

Bugger.

After some quick talking on my behalf — during which said policemen somehow got the impression that I was fresh off the boat from England, licence and all — I managed to continue on my way unscathed.

Unfortunately, the road continued in its same old boring fashion until slightly west of Austin, where the scenery finally started to get interesting as I hit hills coming into the historic town of Mason.

Now I know that sounds like something out of a tourist brochure, but Mason is actually really very cool. Its centre is a big square, within which sits the town hall, and around which are all the main shops. Thankfully, somehow it had managed to avoid the wrecking ball of the evil developers and so had retained the look and feel of a mid-Texan town of a hundred years or so ago.

MacDonald Observatory – I should have gone in for some star gazing, but the twisty road had more pull.

After spending the previous two days devoid of history and/or culture, Mason — and the hills within which it sat — was a welcome relief.

I took refuge for the night in the aptly named town of Junction and spent the morning of the following day exploring the all-together more enthralling landscape of western Texas under a clear blue sky and a blazing sun, surrounded by a minimalistic and expansive landscape.

By afternoon, a rather interesting option to the MacDonald Observatory opened up, and hairpin bend to hairpin bend became the norm as I climbed up to the highest point in the Davis Mountains. Once at the top I managed to resist the urge to enter and expand my astronomical knowledge in favour of more of the same on the way back down.

Although the road out of the mountains and back to Interstate 10 straightened out some, it was saved by frequent long sweeping bends, allowing for a steady 120 mph to be held, with lots of knee-out corner taking. Of course, this also meant that I was in the high-risk police-nabbing mode but it was so blissful I just didn’t care.

I hit El Paso’s city limits just as the sun was going down and had made it to the western edge of Texas in two days. I was quite frankly knackered but pushed on, as only twenty minutes down the road was the city of Las Cruces and the next State of New Mexico!

THE BEAUTY OF THE DESERT (New Mexico to Arizona)

The road through the Elk mountains was the first time that keeping up to the speed limit proved harder than keeping down to it.

Heading northwest of Las Cruces gets you into the Elk Mountains, where the road carves its way up and over said mountains with nary a straight stretch. As the elevation climbed, the trees got bigger and the land more lush. The temperature also dropped significantly, which is, I suppose, why I was now surrounded by greenery, so close to arid desert below.

It was simply magical, the rawness enhanced by the fact that there were also no barriers at the road’s edge – just unforgiving drop-offs into the deep valley below. As a result I was faced with the choice of carving up the road, or taking it easy and absorbing the beauty around me. It was a no-brainer – I hadn’t come all this way in March for the view.

As simple a statement as that is, it was brought home to me when I got to the turn-off to the Gila Cliff Dwelling National Monument. A valley where there are still over 40 dwellings carved directly into the side of the valley’s cliffs by the Mogollon tribe of the late 1200s.

It all seemed very interesting, but it was at the end of the road and would have required parking followed by a hike to get to see. If I was to make Tucson — where I was set-up to enjoy three days with the folks at Edelweiss Tours — before dark, without resorting to the Interstate, I had no time for sightseeing.

Oh well, at least the initial tedium of the southeast was now behind me. I had done my time and having explored chunks of the southwest before, I knew what lay ahead was going to make the trip. I just had to exercise restraint in the speed department

PART 2 …

Click ‘ere.


RECOMMENDED READING

LET’S GO – SOUTHWEST USA (St Martin’s Press)

Covers from the western tip of Texas to Southern California, to Utah and Nevada.

I usually go with the Lonely Planet guide books, but the Let’s Go do seem to have the edge when it comes to North America. Invaluable when it comes to fining the cheaper accommodation and eateries in a given location. Also gives a quick run down of each areas attractions and things to see.

You’ll save the $30.00 fee within a day or two of usage.

MOTORCYCLE JOURNEYS THROUGH THE SOUTHWEST (Martin C. Berke – Whitehorse Press)

Extremely useful when it comes to finding where the road gems are and planning a route accordingly. Each route is presented as a loop, so if you’re just passing through you have to pick out sections of loops, but easy to do thanks to the comprehensive route descriptions.

Covers Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Again, just one sweet road is worth the US$19.95 cover price.

MOTORCYCLE JOURNEYS THROUGH CALIFORNIA (Clement Salvadori – Whitehorse Press)

A Whole book for California? You could probably have several and still not cover all the great roads. Again the format is done as loops, but each one acts as a way of pinpointing where the best bits are.

Once again, just one sweet road is worth the US$19.95 cover price.

MOTORCYCLE ARIZONA! (Frank Del Monte – Golden West Publishers)

Lots of information on how to do a tour as well as the philosophy of the ride. I found it a bit difficult to work out its format, but then I tend to have the attention span (and attitude) of a four year old. If you’re spending most of your time in Arizona then it’s a good buy. If you’re passing through like I did, then the Motorcycles Journeys will probably suffice.

Cost is US$9.95.

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