Our journey continues with a multi-faceted phase in the Lonestar State. We connect with old friends, explain the challenges of hospitality, dodge a truck, conquer a canyon, survey some signs and see all there is to see in song place 80 of 92, Amarillo. This is a big update for a big state!
Saturday, July 13th, 2019
I had an uneventful ride west to my next hosts. In Boerne, TX (pronounced like “Bernie”) I would be reconnecting with some stupendous supporters of this quality publication. Dear family friends, Todd and Lesa. These people took me in while I passed through Jacksonville, where Todd was at the Mayo Clinic recovering from his liver transplant (This Post).
My Dad was a liver transplant recipient as well, which provided him with 16 extra years of a life well lived. Todd has often called my Dad his hero and has tried to emulate his attitude as he has battled his own health challenges. Todd and Lesa were able to visit our home in Nebraska just a few weeks before Dad passed away. The connection between our families has a depth which is hard to describe.
As you might expect, I was in for some wonderful hospitality. Just so all of you guys aren’t jealous of the way people treat me, I’d like to explain some of the challenges that come from being a guest in someone’s home:
Many times I am given a bed which is adorned with an inordinate amount of pillows. Sometimes I can tell which ones are decorative, but none of my hosts have had the consideration place “drool here” signs on the ones I am actually supposed to use. This can provide me with quite a conundrum.
Furthermore, it is common that hosts will give me three towels: A regular one, a half-sized one and a little scratchy one. It’s taken some careful analysis to ascertain the uses of these absorbent articles, but I think I have finally figured it out. The tri-towel presentation is a way for my hosts to test my toughness. Will I take the easy way out and use the big one? Perhaps I’ll be a little more adventurous and use the half-sized one? The joke is on them! I can get myself fully dry with the little scratchy one. Don’t challenge my grit and determination!
My bed the first night in Boerne presented a hospitality challenge that I have yet to face on my quest: Quilt snakes.
Even with my immense powers of deduction, I was unable to determine their purpose. 🙂
Todd and Lesa were out of town when I arrived, but the next generation welcomed me warmly. Dez and Jenn and their kids, Ava and Crew would become special friends over the coming days. They took me to church and to Whataburger, an essential Texas experience.
I’m not going to write too much about my time with this special family, as these were essentially “days off.” My focus was on getting caught up. Everyone was great about giving me space to get my work done. Well…everyone except for Wrigley:
Todd and Lesa returned the second day I was there. Though I spent a lot of time on the computer, I still feel like I had some good quality time to connect with everyone.
I ended up staying a total of six nights, which was at least two more than I was expecting. But when you are at a place like this….
….can you blame me?
I will always treasure the precious memories of strategic blunders in UNO, pool noodle battles and calm evenings skipping rocks on the Guadalupe River.
Todd Lesa continue to be an inspiration in how they face every day. They have a consistent attitude of thankfulness, focused on living his life to the fullest rather than an illness.
What an amazing family!
Todd and Lesa signed Annie long ago, but they had a few new additions for me, namely some “Donate Life” stickers.
The cause of organ donation is one that is near and dear to my heart. An elderly woman who was on the registry gifted my Dad a liver which meant that I was able to spend 16 more formative years with him. (Livers can function for up to 140 years.) We will never know her name, but we will always feel thankful for her.
Are you registered yet, or are you one of those greedy people that are intent on having their organs decompose inside of them? 🙂 If you have enjoyed (or even tolerated) this quality publication, nothing would make me happier than to add a few more names to the registry. Please FOLLOW THIS LINK to see how to add your name to the registry in your state. Who knows how many lives YOU might save?
Do it now! I haven’t written the rest of this post yet, but I’m pretty sure it sucks!
Realtime update: Yep, it totally sucks! Get registered now!
Friday, July 19th
There is some excellent riding in the hill country of Texas and I tried to plan my route to drink in as much of it as I could.
The surfaces were a bit rough and unpredictable, which slowed me down a little bit, but is was wonderful riding.
Speaking of riding, in one of the towns I passed through, I had an unfortunate interaction with a truck. He rolled right through a stop sign.
I’ve had hundreds of these types of experiences on my journey, but now that I have the dash cam, I can capture them.
This illustrates a central point to riding a motorcycle: It is not enough to not make mistakes. An average rider never makes mistakes. A good rider puts him/herself in a good position to react to other driver’s mistakes. A great rider anticipates other driver’s mistakes and adjusts before the mistake has even been made.
I knew I was blocked from the driver’s view by the frame of the truck. If he had come to a stop, he would have seen me, but instead he rolled on through. I was on the brakes almost as soon as the truck came into view, so it was a non-issue. Still, it was a good reminder of how quickly things can turn dangerous on two wheels.
The town of Lamesa, TX had free camping in their city park, which was much appreciated. I had a productive evening of writing and a sufficient amount of sleep.
Saturday, July 20th
Amarillo (which means “yellow” in Spanish), would be place 80 of 92. It is pronounced in a very Texas way, rhyming with armadillo. This presents challenges when singing the song as it is supposed to rhyme with Spanish-pronounced places at the end of verse 1. (Tocopilla, Chile; Barranquilla, Colombia; Padilla, Colombia)
Despite the questionable pronunciation, I was really looking forward to visiting this city. I knew I was going to have a good time.
On the way, I stopped by Lubbock which is home to the Texas Tech Red Raiders. This is where current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, went to school. It was worth stopping for a picture.
I think the only times I’ve put on my sweatshirt during the last six weeks have been for photo ops.
I stopped at a gas station to do a little writing. Once again, I made the mistake of leaving Annie unattended in the state of Texas. The people down here just can’t seem to leave her alone. This was tucked beneath my tank bag:
Finding something like this was really moving for me, mostly because the defacing of our beloved currency just breaks my heart. 🙂 If the Norman family is here, thank you so much!
Before reaching the city of Amarillo, there was a natural wonder in the vicinity to visit: Palo Duro Canyon. The canyon is the second largest in the US (behind the Grand Canyon), measured by volume. As if that wasn’t enough to get me excited, I would also have a tour guide/photographer/IT professional: My friend from Lawton, OK, Manoj, rode over with his BMW, Gerda Sue, for the day. Once again, our schedules just matched up perfectly.
Amarillo lies between Manoj and the mountains, so he had been through here numerous times. We rode down into the canyon and started seeing the sights.
For those of you who ever have the good fortune to do some riding with Manoj, I have a helpful tip for you. If he asks if you want a cold bottle of water, just say yes. He’s going to buy you one regardless of your response. 🙂 He also bought me a little Amarillo pin for my tank bag. He’s a really generous guy.
He took me around to some of the highlights of the canyon, including this neat cave.
It was 104 degrees F (40 C) down in the canyon, so it was not a good day for hiking. I was wanting to take the trail to the Lighthouse Rock, but I decided to postpone that.
We left the park and headed over to the west side of Amarillo to visit the Cadillac Ranch.
This sculpture is ten buried Cadillacs that tourists cover with spray paint.
It was my first time working with the medium and there was about a 20 mph cross-wind, but I still tried painting a portrait of Annie.
I don’t know if I quite understood what makes this place special. It seems a little “low effort” in comparison to Nebraska’s Carhenge, which meticulously recreates the layout of Stonehenge with 38 cars. Perhaps anything unique along Route 66 instantly becomes a tourist attraction.
When Manoj and I returned to our bikes, we found a Harley parked next to us. As we were loading up its rider, AJ, walked up. He is from The Netherlands and had rented the bike for a tour around the US. We connected right away. Manoj had lived in The Netherlands for a few years and some of my ancestors emigrated from there. AJ had even done some work in Stedum, a tiny little town where my great-great-great Grandparents were from.
We invited him to come along to our next stop, The Big Texan restaurant. Along the way, Manoj took my picture next to an Amarillo sign.
I believe that it was here that the sole of Manoj’s boot came detached. It was not cold this day.
The Big Texan is a must-do Amarillo experience. All along I-40 there are billboards advertising a “free 72 oz. steak.” (72 oz. is 4 1/2 pounds, or a little over 2kg) There’s a catch of course. You have to eat the whole thing within an hour, along with a whole host of sides. If you fail to consume everything, the meal costs $72. Additionally, it is required that you sit down in front of everyone on the stage.
I never really considered doing the challenge. I am a slow eater and I know I wouldn’t have the capacity to fit it all in. However, AJ decided that he was going to give it a shot. He had done a 1 kg (2.2 pounds) steak challenge in Australia without too much trouble. He signed the waiver, took a seat on the stage and started his challenge.
It was fun to have someone to cheer for. Manoj and I both ate our meals in leisure as AJ worked away.
He was cutting and chewing consistently throughout the whole hour, but ended up 15 oz short of finishing his steak. It was a valiant effort though and we enjoyed cheering him on. Manoj paid for my meal which was an unexpected bonus. I’m sure my buffalo burger would have tasted even better if I knew it was free while I was eating it.
AJ loaded up his leftovers on the back of his Harley and became the first person to sign Annie in Frisian.
Manoj took some photos of Annie and I in front of the restaurant. I believe this will probably be the official “Amarillo” image. Though their vegetarian menu is a bit lacking, The Big Texan is a really neat place.
It was great to meet up with Manoj again. I definitely made him late for his ride home, but thankfully he made it home without incident. I hope to ride with you again soon, my friend!
I only had about an hour left of daylight to find a place to camp. It is always a challenge to find a good spot when on The Plains. Most regions have some “wasted space” around mountains, forests or even swamps. But when there is flat, fertile farmland, it all seems to get utilized. There was free overnight parking at the visitor’s center, but as is usually the case, tents don’t quality. I’m often a bit envious of rigs like this.
I had asked about a backcountry camping permit in the Palo Duro canyon, but they’ve stopped issuing these due to issues with feral pigs. This might sound a bit comical, but pigs are one of the animals that I’d rather not tussle with.
I made the decision to take a 40 min ride out of town to a picnic site overlooking the canyon. I made it just as daylight was fading and took time to snap a quick panorama.
A couple on a Harley pulled up to watch the sunset and warned me about camping there due to the pig issue.
“I hope you at least have a gun or something.”
“Nope! But I’ve got Jesus!”
In my haste to set up, I had gotten turned in directions and ended up setting the wide side of my tent into the wind. There were strong gusts threatening to rip it apart, so I eventually had to get out and rotate 90 degrees. After recalibrating the feng shui within my tent, it was already midnight.
Sunday, July 21st
At 12:30, a family with some dogs came to make some racket for about an hour. The wind kept whipping and I just couldn’t get to sleep. By the time the sun came up, I probably had about an hour and a half or two hours of shut-eye. I could still appreciate the beauty of the spot though and was thankful that my evening had been sans swine.
I rode back towards Amarillo, passing through some more scenic canyon formations.
I rode up and down the main streets of Amarillo, rather aimlessly. It was a sleepy Sunday morning and not much was happening. There was some activity along the restored stretch of Route 66 towards the west side of town.
I tried to drink some coffee and get some writing done, but it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to get much done this day. I was just a bit too short on rest. I did make it to the visitor’s center and had a great conversation with the ladies there. They were very helpful and gave me a good idea of what else I needed to see in Amarillo.
In the early afternoon, I finally bit the bullet. During my journey, I’ve spent about a year traveling in North America. Throughout all of these nights, I had only spent $139 on lodging and had never paid for a hotel. This day, that impressive streak would come to an end.
Part of me would have loved to end my journey with this streak intact, but it was the right move to pay for lodging this time. Sleep is so vital to my safety, productivity and health. Another short night could have set me back further. My hotel was only $40, so our budget will survive. I’m just not sure about my ego.
Monday, July 22nd
I pushed the boundaries of both the check-in and check-out times, spending about 20 consecutive hours in bed. I had a nice mix of sleep, writing and relaxing and felt ready but put a bow on my Amarillo experience.
The temperatures were milder this day, so it was the perfect time to take the hiking trail to the Lighthouse Rock in Palo Duro Canyon.
The hike is about six miles round trip and can be very difficult when the heat is intense. At the trail head, they recommend a gallon of water per person, but I figured the 2L in my tank bag/backpack would be sufficient. Using this hydration pack on Annie’s frunk lid has worked out very conveniently, but she sure looks funny when it is removed. Why are there no signatures there?
The hike was wonderful!
It is such an interesting and unique formation.
On the way back to Amarillo, I stopped by the “Amarillo Legs.”
They were built as an homage to the Ozymandias sonnets.
I had one more thing…or things, rather…that I wanted to see in Amarillo: The Dynamite Museum. All around Amarillo, there are scores of fake road signs. They are normally just placed in someone’s yard and display random messages in random places.
There are more than a thousand of them in the city, but there doesn’t seem to be any reliable map for where to find them. The ladies at the visitor’s center had circled some areas for exploration, so I spent about an hour just hunting.
Honestly, I just loved this. I could have spent all day just hunting for these signs. Finding each one was so rewarding. It would be a fun journey to travel all the streets of Amarillo trying to catalog and map each one.
In a way, these signs were a fitting way to punctuate my experience in Amarillo. It is truly a unique place. It doesn’t really feel like a Texas city, it doesn’t really feel like a city of The Plains, it doesn’t really feel like a big city, it doesn’t really feel like a small city. It just feels like Amarillo.
Texas sure treated me well. Despite the time I spent in the state, I’m still not sure I truly “get” it. Any place so large and so full of attitude surely takes more than a couple of weeks to comprehend. Perhaps completing the Texas version of “I’ve Been Everywhere” would help me get a better feel for the state. That feat has already been done on a motorcycle:
Perhaps this version could be in my future, but I feel no obligation to complete versions which deviate from Geoff Mack’s original rhyming scheme.
A A A B
C C C B
12 to go!
Realtime update: Phew…lots of info in that one. I’m only about a post and a half behind now. The Anderson Colorado reunion was a smashing success and I am currently staying with my brother in law’s family in Denver. I kind of thought Colorado might be done by now, but I still haven’t even planned it all out. I will probably be in the state for at least a few more days before moving on to Utah. As always, thanks for coming along!