Dodging Storms in LA/MS
The cold weather was now resolutely behind me on the other side of a pressure system. With blue skies and breezy crosswinds I pulled in to my friend Kammie's in Natchitoches, LA. The history rich town on Cane River Lake traces it's past back to the French and Spanish colonial period 400 years ago. Cotton plantations dating to the 1800s line the banks of Cane River. I imagine the steamboats, shanty houseboats and rafts floating downstream in days gone by. The next 4 days were filled with booming thunderstorms and inches of rain plinking off the metal porch roof.
Mid-week I prepared to leave and was grateful for the rest, gear reset/repair and fabulous company. Despite the heavy thunderstorm cells and already flooded forests, I set off east for Mississippi. The rain soaked through my pants in 30 minutes and I took few pictures on the back country straight pine lined highways.
Crossing the Mississippi River in Natchez brough back memories of paddling beneath it last summer. With sun finally shining on me and a sweet tail wind, I cruised on down to the town of Bude and to the warm pines of the Homochito NF. The afternoon was ripe for a hike and a cup of Community Coffee Dark Roast as the sun set. Camped at the end of a forest road on a hill, the swoosh of wind in the pines lulled me to sleep.
The following day was dry and allowed me to pack and get riding by 6AM. By noon, thunderstorms blown from the Gulf forced me to seek shelter. Three times I stopped beneath church parking awnings before making it to Pascagoula.
My sister's family down on the Gulf Coast gave me a warm welcome and hearty meals of pork chops, steaks, sausages, potatoes and many fresh salads. For the last few days I've been catching up on maintenance and playing with my nephew. It has been a welcomed break but again I feel the pull of the road. It will be fun to paddle back down here by the end of summer.
Land of the Pines
Each time I make it to eastern Texas, I savor the welcome or goodbye from the edge of the pine belt. Just east of College Station after hundreds of miles of hill country oaks and juniper, tall stands of shortleaf pine fill the forests. Returning to forests with the damp smell of decomposing soil, swampy wetlands and the sweet pine scent is almost a religious experience after the prolonged period of time in the arid southwest.
The Sam Houston National Forest contains a network of logging roads snaking through the sandy pines. The sound of motorboats on Lake Conroe drift for miles on the dense humid air. Out on the highways of east Texas are many trucks towing 250hp bass boats to the lake.
Stands of uninterupted long leaf pine once stretched hundreds of miles to the Atlantic but have since been mostly destroyed through logging and deforestation. In certain areas efforts are being made to restore these valuable habitats where Red Cockaded wood peckers drum away and the Great Horned Owl hoots after sunset. To my southern ears, few sounds are sweeter than the ebb and flow of wind through the needles.
A busy row of green caught my attention and upon further investigation led to a leaf-cutter ant nest. The 30 foot trail, nearly arrow straight, was dotted with active red ants carrying their nutrients home. I tread lightly in camp, aware of these routes, then set my tent in a safe location to avoid any damage.
Crossing Toledo Bend and the dam, a blue sign welcomed me to Louisiana and a pavement hump marked the transition to rough and worn pavement. Red clay hillsides and deeply rutted roads like chocolate milk greeted me. Cypress trees dotting the dark tanin stained ponds and bayous were a welcome sight and ushered in a flood of paddling memories.
Portions of Fort Polk are open to hunting as a WMA so I took the shortcut through the old post. The landscape was thoroughly managed to restore long leaf pines. The similalry aged 30 year old trees grow with almost no understory and a floor of knee high grass reminiscent of a savannah. The intoxicatinG mixture of pine resin and sweet hay heated by the sunshine and blown on humid southerly winds from the Gulf fills my helmet. It is a great day for taking my time and savoring the sublime conditions with no traffic, perfect weather and comforting familiarity of scenery. Coming back to the pine forests of the deep south is like returning "home", whatever that means...
A West Texas Welcome
It was a relaxing and enjoyable visit in Alamagordo but the call of the road led me back to the wilds. Climbing to Cloudcroft at over 8000ft meant 4500 feet of elevation gain in 15 miles but, just as last time, La Tortuga slowly topped the rise into town. After a night camping at 7000ft in the southeastern mountainous juniper forests, I descended toward the flat expanses of west Texas.
Oil rigs and pump jacks dot the horizon and a strong north wind gusted me toward the emergency lane where I likely belong. Speed limits in Texas are high with many of these two lane roads allowing legal 75mph traffic. Although the speeds are high, it makes my 35 mph seem that much slower and passing motorists assertively leave me in their dust. The reflective vest also meant folks slow a bit and recognize me as a hazard or slow moving vehicle from a mile off.
In places where oil or gas wasn't viable, monstorous wind farms exponentially expand toward the flat horizon, their blades slowly spinning with a hollow "whomp". Many of the oversize load trucks passing me carry a single nose cone hub for these generators, a component that much more impressive at ground level.
It seems like just last week that I was crossing the Colorado River in Arizona and here I was in Texas crossing another Colorado River. The drought in recent years here has led to major drops in water level, rendering many of the recreation areas high and dry for boating and access. Fortunately for me they were empty in the frosty air of February and nobody was present to demand the $5/night fee. Ample camping was about a 100 mile ride apart and I took each day slow, gradually packing in the morning sun, brewing coffee and riding when warm enough mid morning.
My friend Tom in Marble Falls invited me to stop through the Ranchito overlooking the Colorado River. There I met Gittie, his new bride and spent a few days visiting local watering holes with them, picking guitar and savoring her delicious cooking.
I fiddled around with a cantankerous chainsaw carburetor before Tom suggested we burn some brush. A year old pile of juniper that he cut was prime for lighting so he set up the weed burner and I walked around igniting the conflagration from downwind side around to windward. The heat was welcomed among the brisker winds of the dipping pressure system.
On Sunday before I departed we made a trip down to Brass Hall for some pool and pale ales. The atmosphere was relaxed and along with the jukebox, pool table and denim clad Texan, I snapped this memory with my phone. Thanks for all that southern hospitality!
Zig-zaging New Mexico
Departing Arizona by way of Globe found me on wide 65 mph highways with light traffic. The direct route to my next destination of Alamagordo is only 3 or 400 miles by Interstate but by Ruckus I was forced to zig zag around an additional 200 miles. Not complaining but enjoying the lower truck traffic and fewer campers than in AZ. Approaching the continental divide, I noticed some loss of power, actually a few days earlier I felt that surging similar to what stranded me in CA. Pulling onto one of the many BLM access roads over a cattlr gate, I propped the bike on my new sidestand (thanks Dan) and replaced the variator and belt. My mistske was to choose the variator taken from my friend's Metropolitan from my choice of four. After multiple trial and error sessions I learned the two look much alike but the Metro variator has a much longer center shaft forcing it to protrude into the kick starter.
It ran fine once I installed the right variator and carried me up to camp in the Tonto NF right on the continental divide over 6000 ft. The sandy road was hard to see as darkness had set and the wind blew among the 20ft juniper bushes. I fired up the twig stove and made a nice meal of curried rice and lentils under the stars.
Come morning, I descended to Silver City and knew something else was wrong. Sure enough when I stopped in town at the visitor center it died. The ground for the coil had evidence of arcing and half the tab was missing. The gap between the disconnected wire was grounding across that gap. No wonder my mileage was down to 89mpg and had a little blowby.
This.train and I passed each other all afternoon as we struggled uphill then finally reached the pass. In the morning when I left camp, a new train was waiting for me turning downhill.
The following day I road down to the Rio Grande and had to head north sinze US70 from Las Cruces to White Sands is an uphill climb with high speed traffic. Nope, I'd head upriver through scenic and verdant valley land reminiscent of the San Jaquin with cottonwoods and oaks. Soon it transitioned back into creosote bush, sage and grass. Eventually the interstate crossed a wide canyon and I was forced to either take it or keep to the dirt track. Not 10 miles of bouncing on Monticello Point Rd sheared my exhaust bolt and cracked the header from the muffler! Third muffler destroyed. I continued on for another 120 miles at 30mph with no muffler.
Fortunately out here there wasn't anyone to complain about the reverberating blat of my thumper. Even with ear plugs, I had a ringing so I put on some headphones and cranked up the tunes. Regular traffic for these desert roads but great visibility and ample passing room makes going 30mph a joy. Two fuel stops saw 130mpg with no muffler!
To my relief, the bike held in there until Alamagordo where I roared into Ara's driveway. It was excellent seeing him adjusting well to his new world here, having the accessibility of services and stores nearby and a full kitchen. The sunny and warm early February days are great for projects like painting the roof trim. Anything to help and another state to add to my "places I painted" : VA, AL, WA, TX, AK, NM.
Having been welcomed here is a special privelage and I appreciate the abundant hospitality my friend has shown here. Delicious lamb chops pan fried or a sweet nibble of the saucer-sized chocolate chip cookies have been a welcome break from road cuisine.
I was able to do some service on the scooter and surprised myself that it has about 1700 miles on it since leaving LA and 2000 since the last oil change. After reuniting the muffler and scraping the crud off the magnetic drain plug, and a headlight allignment, Tortuga should be ready to Mess With Texas!
In May 2014 I quit my job to ride a Honda Ruckus over 69'000 mi and counting. Wild camping most nights and cooking most of my own meals, I keep the costs low and the landscape changing.