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Day 18
June 28th, 2002
Green River, Utah

I was up and packing in the pre dawn light.  I was looking forward to the challenge awaiting me today.  If I can make Amarillo, I will place myself in a good position to end the trip at a leisurely pace.  The tendency among long riders is to get home as quick as they can once the trip has peaked.  I don't want to fall in to that trap.  I want the last days to be as much fun as the first.

I was beginning to feel a little home sick.  I have been gone almost 3 weeks.  I was missing the things that make my life in Alabama what it is.  Yes, I was having the time of my life, but I was beginning to think of what was going on in Alabama more and more.  
 
The absence of green color the last few days, was wearing me down.  Miles and miles of rocks, sand, and brown hills.  And dry, dusty dry.  I come from a place where it rains over 50 inches a year.  I wondered how many of the local folks here realize there is another country east of the Mississippi, of endless green, thick Oak trees, and yard after yard of lush green grass.   You find easterners all over the west on vacation, but the opposite is true for westerners.  Very few take vacations and travel east. Each region has its beauty, culture, and customs.  I have been lucky enough to sample all of it.

My mind was occupied with those thoughts as I idled out of Green River to I-70 East.  The streets were mostly empty in the pre dawn light.  When facing a long day such as this one, its imperative to get a early start, and I have done so. 

The ST glides down the ramp with the eastern sky a hazy brown.  The rising sun exposing the smoke of the wildfires out of control in Colorado.  I don't know how scenic my mountain ride is going to be under such conditions.

The highway is empty, and I ride east at 85 mph.  My intention is to ride non stop till I need gas, and judging by my gauge, that will be 150 miles. 
I see a lone rider up ahead, and I close down on him, quickly.  A yellow VFR from NJ, out fitted with Givi bags and top case.  I pull along side and wave.  Why is he riding so slow on this open highway?  I was disappointed he failed to ride along with me.  I went back to 85 and quickly left him behind.

The Rocky Mountains soon came into view on the horizon.  This view always impresses me.  They sit there waiting for my arrival.  I will feel closer to Alabama when I cross the Continental Divide.

I cross into Colorado to signs announcing there will be NO fireworks this 4th of July, and all burning is banned.  The scenery is changing from desert to mountains.  On the other side of the Rockies lies the most fertile farmland in the world.  The American Plains.  I find that to be quite a contrast to the dry, arid desert on this side.

In Grand Junction I leave I-70 for US 50 East.  The Million Dollar Highway.   I will follow it through the mountains to the Front Range.

US 50 dips south out of Grand Junction taking me into the mountains.  I ride all the way to Montrose where I stop for gas and a snack.  I put down 144 miles.  I am off to a good start.

I called my wife and son, both at work.  

Rested up I get back on the road.  US 50 now swings due east.  The scenery is all that I hoped it would be.  The mountains are tall and rugged.  Snow caps are noticeably absent in this unusually hot summer.

I follow the twisty federal highway through the valleys.  The highway hugs the mountain foothills keeping me away from the high elevations.  
Traffic is a little heavy, and I pass more then a few cars and RVs. 

The Blue Mesa Reservoir is a pretty place.  Crossing the bridge, I looked out over the water to boats filled with fisherman. 

 The temp is getting colder as I gradually rise up in elevation.

I stop so I can switch to medium gloves, and to zip up the Roadcrafter.

The smokey haze is not as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Most of it seems to be south.

Gunnison. I was last here in 1988, when I flew into the local airport for a ski vacation in Crested Butte.  Snow was 10 feet high, and the temp was 0 that day.  Today is warm and sunny, as I idle through town looking for a place to stop.

I bought a coke and beef jerky and snacked while sitting against the front wall.

I ran into several construction zones on US 50.  Each one was long wait.  There are only a few months out the year they are able to work on the roads out here.  If you come here in summer you will see what I mean.

East of Gunnison 50 begins a long ascend to Monarch Pass.  I am in the heart of the Rockies now.  The peaks guiding me and keeping me company.  As the road rises into the mountains, it becomes twisty and curvy.  US 50 is a well maintained wide road, with truck lanes on the long ascents.  I use the passing lane and slow lane as I lean the curves, and just like in Montana and California I take the tangents, taking the shortest line in the long sweeping curves.  I passed a gray Grand Cherokee and he starts doing the same, matching my every line.

Now I know why they call this the Million Dollar Highway, it was a spectacular run to Monarch Pass. 
At Monarch Pass I stop to look at the Continental Divide.  The have a gift shop and tram to the peak.  There is nothing like standing on a mountain top looking out over the Divide.  From the Bob Seger bike song "Roll Away"-

"Standing out on mountain top looking out over the Great Divide; I could go east or I could west it was all up for me to decide"



















                                  Up and over the Great Divide


A young German couple on a Ducati and BMW GS ask me to take their picture in front of the sign. They rented bikes in Denver, and are spending a few days in the mountains on vacation.  They asked me where I am from, "cause you sound like a movie person."  I tell them a couple of thousand miles away.  They are dazzled I have come so far, and still from the same country.  I responded, "America is a big place". Not like Europe where a thousand miles can take you across 4 countries.  Here, a thousand miles barely gets you across Texas.




















                       Looking east from the Continental Divide

I leave the Divide and begin the descent down the east side to the Front Range.

Quickly, the air gets warmer and I have to stop to switch gloves, and vent out the Roadcrafter.

Out of the mountains 50 transported me through the valleys of the Rockies.  Traffic was bad, I continually got bogged down behind worn out RVs and buses. 
 
The towns are a little bigger, slowing me down when I enter them.  Each takes a few minutes to negotiate.  In Canon City I somehow lose sight of 50 and find myself leaving town on a northern route.  I quickly discover I'm amiss and turn around.  I re enter the city and find 50, and get sorted out.  I am over 400 miles and it is mid afternoon.

I skip lunch.  The beef jerky in Gunnison holding me out.  I need to keep the stand up if I have any hope of reaching Amarillo at a deceit hour.
Descending out of the Rockies, I sense my epic, 8,000 mile journey has "peaked."  I have seen EVERYTHING I planned to.  The Ozarks, Yellowstone, Glacier, Montana, the Palouse, Crater Lake, etc.  Now, its just a matter of putting the miles down and getting home.  I will ride home with an open mind, meaning if I see anything interesting I will check it out.

US 50 parallels the Arkansas River and I get pissed off at all the buses taking rafters to the white water.  I know they want to have fun to, but why not another day.  I see the rafts on the nearby river and it looks like they ARE having fun.

I finally reach Pueblo, and stop for gas and a well deserved break.  I pull into a "Jug N Loaf" and fill the ST.  I was filling my tank when I noticed a man come out of the store and start doing exercises.  He stands in front, rolling his neck and arms, taking deep breaths, stretching his legs, and then touches his toes.  "What is this joker doin?" He reminded me of PE class.  I guess that is how he psyches himself up before he gets behind the steering wheel.





















                        Like I said, you meet all kinds on the road

Out of Pueblo into the Front Range.  US 50 is 4 lane now, and I can put down some miles.  I take one last look at the mountains behind me, then turn around and take off.

I have a route change in La Junta (I do know in Spainish J is pronounced H, making La Junta, sound La Hunta.  Another one of those awful close words to something risqué.)

It was a long ride to La Junta.  I came through here last year coming from the south, but don't remember a thing about the place.  It was close to 100 miles from Pueblo.

La Junta was a tired looking place.  Everyone seemed to be moving in slow motion.  It is hot, and these folks are not use to it, and I think it slowed everyone down.

I can't say I am sorry to leave US 50.  Too much traffic for me the last 200 miles.  I look down at my speedo and I am over 500 miles for the day.  I turn south on SR 109 and beam in on Texas, it can't be that much further.

Another zone ride is about to begin.  I leave the traffic of US 50 behind me, as I ride south on 109.  This highway is a beacon for loners like me.  Nothing out here but grassland.  Miles and miles of it.  The ST settles on 90 as if to say "here let me take you to Texas, you just enjoy the ride".  The road is empty and quiet, it is late afternoon, and the sun will be gone in a couple of hours, maybe less.

The highway appears like a endless arrow to the far away horizon.  Telephone poles stand like sentries along the road.  Always at attention, they never fatigue.  I am riding into a fierce headwind, I guess it to be a steady 20-25 mph. 





















                       .................And telephone poles stood like sentries

Comanche National Grassland is the name of this place.  I found it very scenic, but mostly I fell in love with this simple road.  I feel good, and riding here at this time and on this road is a magic moment.  Calls for a song.  On this road there can be only ONE song- George Strait's, "Amarillo"
"Amarillo by morning up from San Antonio; Everything that I got is just what I got on; I ain't got a dime, but what I got is mine; I ain't rich but lord I'm free, Amarillo by morning, Amarillo is where I'll be"

I see rain off to the north of me.  That is good, that is where they need it the most, to extinguish the wildland fires.

I reach the end of SR 109 at US 160 and turn East.  The headwind now a tough cross wind.

US 160 is more great riding through the grassland, but it soon brings me to a most interesting place.

The road makes a hard left and I am find myself in the tiny, Southern Colorado town of Pritchett.  I bring the ST down to a crawl as I enter the closed business district, which is nothing more then ancient empty buildings.  I see a tiny city park, and whip it in to sample more of this place.




















      Pritchett, Colorado on a late June afternoon. Where is everyone?


It is late afternoon and the shadows are long.  The park has a swing, and a picnic table.  There is a tennis court, that no one has played on in years.  A grill stands nearby.  It is rusty, with holes in it.  Noway you can cook on it.  Who would construct a park in a town such as this?  What purpose would it serve?  There is not enough people in this place to ever put it to good use.  And a tennis court?? Somehow the images of farmers sons in white shorts playing tennis doesn't fit.  These people work farms for a living, they have land.  Why would they come to a park to cook out?




















                     The Pritchett tennis court.  Wimbledon it ain't.

Houses cling to the closed down stores of Main Street.  The secondary streets are dirt.  A house with a satellite dish is next to the park, and the owners are loading a pick up truck with limbs and sticks.

The wind blows off the plains through this tiny spec of a town on the Colorado Front Range.  I can hear the ding ding of the metal clamps from the flag pole halyard, at the post office across the street. The wind bangs them against the pole.  In most towns such sounds are lost in the back ground, but here it echoes everywhere.

Leaving town I get lucky.  I meet a Colorado State Trooper in the town limits, if I had left 2 minutes earlier, or he had been 2 minutes later, I would have cleared the city limits, back in open country, and running 85-90 mph as I had been all day.  I would have surely gotten a ticket.

US 160 takes me to US 287.  I am now on final approach to Amarillo, but wait, a sign says Amarillo is 170 miles away.  Damn.  I grossly miscalculated the distance from Pueblo to Amarillo.  How could I make such a rookie mistake?  I glance at my clock and run the numbers, I am not going to make Amarillo before 10pm.

I am out of the zone, and my butt is tired.  I am meeting cattle trucks on their way north.  I have done 600 miles.  The twisty mountain road, and too much traffic have wore me down.

I press south weighing the options.  Perhaps, I should find a room in one of the towns ahead? 

I'm in the Oklahoma Panhandle.  Every state has a "panhandle."  There is Texas, Florida, Idaho, to name a few.

In Boise City I see a motel advertising a room for 29.95, and of all things, I see a cage in the parking lot with Alabama tags, Elmore County to be exact.  Right next to my home county.  Across the street I see a busy Mexican Cantina. I stop in the parking lot, and think about what I want to do.  I think about the dark, lonely miles ahead if I decide to ride on to Amarillo, 125 miles away.  Then I think about a TV, bed, and a nice Mexican supper.  Hmmmmmmm.

I rode next door for gas, my light was on.  I will make a decision as I fill up.

Just after I paid for my gas and was walking out, my phone rang.  It was brother Dennis checking on me.  We chatted for a minute and I told him my dilemma.  He wished me luck, and said to stay in touch.

Ok, if I spend the night here it will add 125 miles to a already long ride tomorrow. I didn't like that option.  I have good lights (PIAAs and H4 bulbs) so that is not a problem.  I will have to set my tent up in the dark, but done it before, I can do it again.  Besides, its only 125 miles, just a ride to my sister's.  Lets go for it.

My strategy will be to take it easy, and divide the ride in half.  Stopping to eat supper halfway.  That will break the ride up.
With darkness overtaking me, I set out for Amarillo.  The road is 4 lane and that's another positive to make the ride.  This was the only night riding of the trip.

The wind is still blowing and I feel it on the windscreen.

My butt is sore and I am squirming in the saddle, but I keep pressing on till I get to Dumas, where I stop in a McDonalds for supper.  Has to be fast food.  It is late, and I don't have time for full service.  I order 2 cheeseburgers and read the local paper while I dine. 

A girls all star softball team is in the store.  They lost the game tonight.

I called my wife and told her what was going on, and she reminded me to be careful.  

I am only 50 miles from my goal and feeling better.  I checked the directions to the KOA.  Kind of complicated, but I should manage.

It is very dark now, and the stars are bright.  I come to a construction zone and 287 is down to 1 lane.  I follow the reflective barrels and manage to go where they want me to.  It was not the best laid out course.

The ride was not that bad, and when the lights of city lit up the sky, my spirits lifted.

The KOA guide said to take the outer loop.  It is a dark road.  I ride east but see nothing.  It is 11pm here. I am back on central time.  For the first time in many days my ST clock and Oakley watch have the correct time.

This road does not appear correct, so I look for a place to pull over and check my map.  I see a closed down building with a light, and I go to it.   Then I change my mind.  Like I said, a lone rider has to look out for himself, probably not a good idea to be off my bike on a dark isolated parking lot, this late at night.  Some whacked out addict might notice I am from out of town, and believe I am easy prey.  I am not paranoid, and have never had a problem in all my travels, but the reason for that, is using a little common sense. 

I find a all night store and confirm I am going the right way.

The KOA is a welcome sight and I use the night registration.  I am tired and need a shower.  It is after 11pm when I shut the ST down for the day, having covered 781 miles.

I have to pitch my tent in the wind and dark, but manage.

I walked over and took a most welcome shower.  Back at the tent I gathered my stuff, and went inside to watch TV.  It felt good to be off he road, and I stretched out and with my new TV, but not long.  I got sleepy pretty quick, and turned it off.

It felt good to be in Amarillo.  I am a days ride from home if I push it, but that is not the plan.  I will shoot for 600 miles tomorrow and make Shreveport, leaving a quick 350 miles to do on the last day.  A nice plan.  Glad I thought of it.

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