The day started out windy, with gusts striking up from the southwest. I can handle rain and heat, I’m not great with cold, but I hate random wind gusts and crosswinds; the kind that blow you across a lane of highway and then blow you back. Winds that try to yank your helmet off.
The countryside changed too as Big Red and I slowly moved from verdant crop fields to scrub brush, grazing cattle, and rolling prairies, with distant mesas on the horizon. We moved from Oklahoma to the Texas Panhandle and into Amarillo. The interstate crosses over a huge area of freight trains. And, if you want you can stop at the Big Texan Steak Ranch, where if you can eat a 72 ounce steak in one hour it’s free. Yeah, good luck with that. Leaving Amarillo on I-40 you pass the Cadillac Ranch where 10 caddies are half- buried, nose down into the ground. Some call it art. They were buried there in 1974 and you can walk out to them from the highway. Next, were the enormous stockyards. The winds died down and the speed limit picked up to 75 mph.
I found a McDonalds and stopped. McDonalds get a bad rap but I have found them everywhere to be a gathering area for locals who meet regularly, sip their coffee at an unhurried pace, and share stories. They are a place of fellowship and support. The regulars know all the staff and they, in turn, look after them. I spoke with a harried cashier and asked her: “How are you doing today?” She looked at me, rolled her eyes and said: “I got a new dog yesterday. Kept me up all night. I wasn’t supposed to work today but they called me in and I am so tired. My brain is not functioning. You want any cream and sweetener with that coffee?”
Later, I ran into a woman with a dog who was hovering around a truck stop. She looked like she was trying to catch a ride. I found myself closing down emotionally, limiting my conversation. Why? What was I afraid of? She wasn’t going to ask me for a ride. If she wanted money I was happy to give her some. I wasn’t showing lovingkindness to strangers and I knew it. “Ever ride in the mountains?” She asked. “Some.” I replied. She continued. “I’m from the mountains of North Carolina. Ever hear of Tail of the Dragon?” I stared at her and noticed how straight and white her teeth were, but her trouser legs were stained. “A few times. It’s a very challenging ride.” (318 curves in 11 miles). She smiled. “Last time I was up in those mountains at home, they were so beautiful, I cried.” Then she turned away to forage in her pack for something. I cranked the bike up and when she looked up I wished her safe travels.
Cruising at 75 mph really sucked the gas out of my tank and twice I almost ran out. For a number of miles I shifted down to 60 and took it easy. I coasted into one gas station and filled Big Red up with 5.2 gallons of gas – she holds 5.
Eventually, I made it to Tucumcari, and found a motel. Later I ate supper at Del’s restaurant. Waiting at the cash register to pay my bill I saw these two older ladies (okay- a few years older than me.) both wearing the same red shirts. One was really cute. They had matching tee shirts they were buying that said Route 66. “Those are nice colors.” I said. The cute one turned toward me and said: “We’ve been friends ever since we were children. Across the street from each other. We’re traveling together up to Yellowstone and then going to Minnesota for my granddaughter’s graduation. Then we’re heading back to Florida.” She smiled and then saddened. “It’s been rough since Packie died.” She paused. “He was my dog.” I smiled tightly and nodded and then as they were leaving I said: “I expect to see both of you wearing those shirts next time I see y’all.” They giggled, wished me a safe trip and scrambled out. Another man jumped ahead of me and paid and when I left the two women were waiting in their mini van for me, smiled and yelled across the parking lot. I waved. They took off while I got ready to ride. They rode past the restaurant, yelled, waved and honked. I headed out, back to the motel.