Great American Road Trip: Week 4

texas driving

The last week of my road trip was through the most sparsely populated part of the country. The good thing about that is with less traffic, higher speed limits, and straight, flat roads I was able to cover a lot more ground. The downside is that I was the most nervous being alone during this part of the journey. Back when I was riding through the Northeast there was an exit every couple of miles, each with a service station. If anything happened, I’d have plenty of places to go for help, and if I crashed and couldn’t help myself, there’d be plenty of people around to see it and hopefully assist me.

Austin to Midland

I left Austin headed for Midland, TX. After Austin, the next hostel I’d visit was in El Paso. El Paso is nearly 600 miles from Austin, which meant it was too long to ride in one day. I spent a while looking on the internet for an affordable motel half way between the two cities. Everything was either dirty and run down or really expensive. $150 to spend a night at a Super 8 in the middle of nowhere Texas? No thanks. I checked on Airbnb and the options were pretty sparse in rural Texas, until I spotted one in Midland, TX with solid reviews. It would work out to roughly $50 for the night, which is way more than what a hostel costs, but it was still much better than a crappy motel.

Austin put me in the mood for some Texas BBQ so my hope was that I might pass by a barbecue spot around lunch time and be able to stop. I was driving on country roads, away from an Interstate, which meant that every so often the speed limit would drop and I’d drive through a little town. Passing through Llano, TX I saw a place called Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-b-que. It was about 11:15 AM and there were a few people waiting on line. I figured this was good because the line meant it was popular, but a short line meant I would be in and out fast. I parked the bike and joined the line.

The outdoor area was full of these barbecue pits. The pit masters were roaming around, checking each barbecue pit, taking meat out, adding sauce, turning the meat, etc.

Once I got to the front of the line there was a magnificent spread of every type of barbecue you could want. It was a vegetarian’s worst nightmare.

coopers bbqYou chose what kind of meat you wanted and they sold it by the pound. I didn’t bother to pretend like I knew what I was doing, so I told the guy serving me that I’d like to sample a bit of everything and I’d like the price to come out to $20 maximum. He gave me a pork loin, a big beef rib, some brisket, and a jalepeno cheddar sausage. Excellent! I went inside the dining room where the cash register was and paid for my barbecue. There were large picnic tables inside with families sharing big trays of meat. I was surprised at how busy it was and I wondered if it’s because it was the week of Thanksgiving or if this place is always so popular.

I wrapped up my leftovers and got back on the road. Eventually I got out of the hill country and into oil country. Out in this part of Texas it’s flat and empty. There’s hardly anything. Except, it’s still bustling like suburbia because of all the oil drilling and fracking that goes on out here. I actually started getting stuck in traffic because these two-lane country roads were clogged with 18-wheelers hauling heavy equipment of pickup trucks carrying work crews, traveling from Pumpjack to Pumpjack

A common sight in West Texas

The traffic was a little annoying but there was also a small relief that despite the fact that I was in the desert there were tons of people out and about to help me if I got myself into a pickle. The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful until I pulled into Midland.

I arrived at the address for my Airbnb in Midland and was pretty surprised. I pulled up to the house. The first thing I noticed was that the grass was knee high. Is this really the place? I walked to the front door and saw a keypad. They had sent me a keycode so yes, this is the place. The door had a sign on it that said “We already found Jesus, we’re too poor to buy anything, unless you’re selling thin mints GO AWAY!” Nice. Very welcoming. I punched in the code and stepped into the house and was struck with the odor of kitty litter and general pet dander. Not good. The living room was a mess with empty glasses and takeout cups crowding the table. I proceeded immediately to the room I was renting. I was relieved to find that the room was in much better condition. No smells, no clutter, just a simple bedroom. I met one of the house’s occupants, a tattooed guy with a wifebeater who didn’t seem the least bit interested in talking to me. OK, guess I won’t be socializing here. I brought my bags into the room and closed the door. It was only for one night, the room was clean and private. It was going to be fine. An hour later I heard a knock and a bubbly girl introduced herself as the host and gave me a little welcome spiel. It was starting to make more sense. Clearly this girl was the Airbnb advocate and her housemates were just un-involved and uninterested. Perhaps that’s why the place was a mess outside the room.

I got some stuff done, and watched a little Netflix. At one point I heard a crowd of people in the living room so I emerged from the bedroom to check it out. My hostess had her friends, mother, and aunt visiting for Thanksgiving. We chatted for a bit as they told me about how Midland is a black whole that sucks you in, that their big moment in the spotlight was when a bunch of veterans got hit by a train. After an enlightening by somewhat depressing chat I returned to my room and went to bed. There was definitely no point in exploring Midland, TX.

Midland to El Paso

I got up early and hit the road. Again, no point in lingering in Midland, TX. The city was surprisingly large as it took a good 20 minutes to clear the city limits. Once again I was in the desert but surrounded by oil and gas people. Eventually I reached a town called Orla. After that, the oil and gas industry vanished and I was properly isolated in the desert. It was actually a bit of a relief to be free of the congestion. I’m definitely not a fan of Texas’ oil and gas sector and I was pretty excited to see a lot of wind turbines too.

I saw a sign that said “Next gas 40 miles.” This was the first time I’d seen one of these warnings, which showed me I really was entering the proper desert. I reached an intersection. Turn right for Carlsbad, NM. Turn left for El Paso, TX. I turned left and saw another sign, “Next gas 120 miles.” I guess that gas station that was 40 miles away is in Carlsbad, the opposite direction that I needed to go in. I had a bit less than half a tank of gas so I didn’t think too hard about it and carried on my way.

Soon I passed by a sign that said I was approaching Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Holy moly! I’ve been here before. Here I am in the desert of West Texas and I’m passing by the same park Erin and I camped out in during our road trip in 2017. Sometimes I get a kick out of the fact that I’ve traveled so far around the world and then I return to the same spot. Here I was, posing Ruby in front of the National Park sign, a year and a half later, except now the circumstances couldn’t be more different. No more Erin. Wow.

guadalupe mountains NP
After a short break in the park I continued down the road. The mountains were steep and curvy and it was nice to have to concentrate for a bit instead of just cruising along on a straight, flat, boring road. I got down to a quarter of a tank left of gas and decided to ease up on the throttle and go 80 instead of 95. Obviously the faster I went, the more fuel I burned, so it was time to take a precaution. I started wondering how far I was from the next station, but didn’t think too hard. Then, the tank went down to only one notch left. This is when the fuel light first turns on. Okay, time to slow down some more and go 70. Now I was starting to worry and wishing I had kept track of how long ago I saw that “next gas 120 miles” sign. Then, the last notch went away and started blinking. Back in Northeast, this was the point at which I’d stop for gas. That was when there was a station every mile. I slowed down further and started getting nervous. I had no cell signal. There was nothing I could do but keep riding and hope for the best. I reached a cell phone tower and regained signal. I pulled over and turned off the bike. I checked Google Maps for how far I was from the next gas station. About 15 more minutes. For a moment I contemplated calling AAA and saying I ran out of gas. No, that’d be stupid. It’d take them hours to come help me and I haven’t even run out of gas yet, I thought to myself. Next I thought about texting my mom and letting her know where I was. That way if I ran out of gas between here and El Paso and didn’t have any cell signal, at least some one would know approximately where to find me. No, if you do that she’s going to freak out and you haven’t even run out of gas yet, I thought. Okay fine, guess I’m going to chance it and hope the tank goes for another 15 minutes. I drove nice and slow the rest of the way. All these cars that I overtook an hour ago started re-passing me. I wondered what they were thinking or if they even noticed.

I finally reached civilization on the outskirts of El Paso. At least now if I run out of gas there’s cell service. It still took another five minutes to arrive at a gas station. What the hell, El Paso? There’s no civilization for over a hundred miles from here. Why not build a gas station on the edge of town? I finally saw a gas station. Phew.

A couple of minutes later a guy pulled in on a Kawasaki KLR 650. I walked over and had a chat with him. He lives in New Mexico and later that day he and a friend would be riding across the border into Sonora, Mexico. I asked him what it was like riding in Mexico. He told me he’s done it dozens of times and never had any issues. Typical. Here we all are living in fear of what Mexico must be like, but here’s a guy that actually has experience doing it and he’s cool as a cucumber.

gas station friend

After the gas station is was a quick and easy drive to the hostel in El Paso. Later that day I ended up re-connecting with my gas station friend. His friend arrived in El Paso later than planned so they put off the drive to Mexico until the following day. Our three bikes were parked in front of the hostel together. So cool!

three bikes at the Gardner Hotel

They gave me some nice suggestions for where to ride in New Mexico and Arizona. Unfortunately I’d have to save them for another trip. My friend Ben who lives in Tucscon AZ invited me to come with him to a Thanksgiving celebration so my goal was to get to Tucson ASAP via the interstate, in time for them to carve the turkey.

Thanksgiving in Tucson

The ride to Tucson was via the I-10 freeway so it was completely uneventful. Lots more gas stations so no more close calls. Thanksgiving was at my friend’s manager’s house. They had a cute little house in suburban Tucson with two kids. The host’s relatives came, bringing their kids with them so it was a very wholesome authentic American thanksgiving.

thanksgiving dinner

However, the parents were still young, mostly in their 30s, so after Thanksgiving was over we brought out the beer pong table and had a bit more fun.

thanksgiving beer pong

The final leg: Tucson to San Diego

We woke up early and caught the “very early bird” special at the diner next to Ben’s apartment. Ben had to work Black Friday at the furniture store and I had a long drive ahead of me to San Diego. Wow. The last leg of my trip. I’m not that superstitious but I definitely thought to myself, Well, if something is going to go wrong on this road trip, this is the last day for it to happen. After all, since I tipped in the driveway leaving Madison, nothing bad had happened. I’d had close calls, but still nothing.

The day went smoothly. Most just a boring drive through the desert although I did pass by some awesome sand dune areas. There were tons of ATVs, sidewinders, and a few dirt bikes tearing it up. It made me excited that this area was less than a day’s drive from San Diego and hopefully soon I’ll be able to buy a dirt bike, come back here, and tear up the dunes myself.

I got into a bit of trouble once I started riding up into the hills. Eventually as you get less than 200 miles away from San Diego, the terrain stops being flat and you start climbing up 4,000 feet. There are stations for you to pull over and put water in your radiator and signs warning you to turn of your air conditioner to avoid overheating your car. The accelerator on the bike felt less responsive and smooth than usual. It felt like there was more vibration, more friction than usual. There were no warning lights, the bike wasn’t overheating, so I had no reason to stop. I passed through one of these silly Border Patrol checkpoints that they have in this part of the country. Some border patrol agent basically looks at me and is like “okay you’re a white boy riding a motorcycle. deffo not a mexican drug smuggler. carry on” but while I was waiting my turn at the checkpoint I noticed that my oil level in the bike seemed really low. Oh snap. maybe thats why it feels funny. I was still a good distance from civilization so there was not much i could do about it. I rode slowly, trying to put minimal strain on the engine. Eventually I reached a gas station. Naturally they didn’t have motorcycle oil, but they did have car oil with the right viscocity. I did some quick googling and figured it was better to top off with car oil than to not top off at all. I left the bike sitting for five minutes so the oil would settle down. There’s a little window on the side of the engine where you can see the oil level. There’s an E and an F. You want the oil to be somewhere in that range. Ruby Tuesday’s oil was toeing the E line. I filled it up to the F. I felt guilty, like I had mistreated my bike. The truth is, I had known it was a bit overdue for an oil change, but I didn’t want to mess with it while I was on the road so I decided to wait until San Diego. In case you didn’t know, jiffy lube doesn’t do motorcycles. I was only half an hour away from San Diego at this point.

The last half hour of the journey was fine. The bike “felt” better. Who knows if it was really having an issue or if it was all in my head. There’s a small chance it was related to the altitude also. I reached the big freeways of San Diego and felt the need to be extra cautious. This was the last fifteen minutes of a drive across the continental United States. Don’t screw up now!

I got off the big 16-lane highway and pulled into my aunt’s quiet suburb. I think I did it. I think I drove across the country on a motorcycle by myself. I pulled into her driveway. Yep. I did. I did drive across the country on a motorcycle by myself.

Road log

  • Week One: Madison CT, to Asheville, NC. Approximately 815 miles.
  • Week Two: Asheville, NC to New Orleans, LA. Approximately 1,060 miles.
  • Week Three: New Orleans, LA to Austin, TX. Approximately 672 miles.
  • Week Four: Austin, TX to San Diego, CA. Approximately 1,353 miles.

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