Day 4: Places and People

When things get bad, turn into the fast lane; voila, the motto of my all-time favorite writer Hunter S. Thompson (RIP) of Woody Creek, Colorado (WC consists of just its tavern and its post-office, there is nothing more there, I found out when paying tribute to HST’s fortified compound on Woody Creek Rd a few weeks ago). For today I had made up my mind to let John Denver have his country roads and to make miles today – on R66 that is, of course. No fooling around, get outtahere given the panicky TV weather reports of the previous evening forecasting heavy rainfall, warnings of flash floods and seeing no end of it for the days to come. Hence my fast-lane decision.

But midnight darkness hits R66 near Oklahoma City around noon. A wide front of the darkest blue clouds with menacing lighter-colored ‘heads’ approaches vast and unescapable from the South; a modern-day variation of the Confederate Army. Downtown skycrapers in a dark fog of rain barely visible. Rain gushing down, no R66 road markers anywhere and on a motorcycle you don’t stop to consult maps and books in the rain; massive traffic in a hurry on the main city arteries and by-pass. Lone rider getting soaked and having to go by intuition in the unknown city jungle. R66 lost, remembering that I40 heads in the same direction, I let MS loose in the crazy high speed traffic with major cracks and potholes in the road surface. MS pumping gas, me adrenalene. Fortunately MS has a daring character, too.

The rain just never stops, but stopping yourself is no option when you can’t see the end of the system. Trying to recover R66 from I40 several times, no luck. The country roads I try have turned into rivers, often barely accessible, at the bottom of the hills small lakes which require very careful riding through – MS’s internal fire doesn’t mind her bath, to my relief; we don’t stall. I40 it must be, apparently. Then after more speedway miles, fate comes in to help and makes R66 find me! There she is, suddenly, as frontage road next to I40. She is completely empty of traffic, whereas MS is telling the many trucks next to her that they are not much faster in clouds of rain and splashing road waters than she is. R66’s emptyness needs to be filled, it prompts me to rejoin it at the next exit. Double luck; exiting to be reunited with R66, the rain retreats, a bit of sunshine appears, the wind is suddenly warmer. I have been riding four hours on end in a downpour which made my clothing a virtual wetsuit. Not uncomfortable at all, to my surprise. My riding shoes are a swimming pool. After visiting the restrooms of a big pharmacy store, how come employees quickly put down the ‘Caution – wet floor’ signs?

It is funny how decisions are made to stop in one place and not in another if everything is truly terra incognita. Yesterdays’s Claremore and its Inn is pretty close to Clary, my wife’s name. Today I am in Clinton – the president-by-that name wrote a self-congratulatory autobiography which I read not too long ago. Chandler, therefore, had to be the coffee-lunch break location of today. Perhaps Raymond had picked up the character of the greatest detective-ever in this vintage cafe downtown? But Philip Marlowe is not around. Seated and more coming in is a random sample of mid-Western rural population. Similar to all the R66 towns I have already seen, also here: by the looks of the men and women in (or just past) their reproductive age, Ms USA is not made on the sides of R66. The few products around do not suggest otherwise. And: fashion and appearance are terms that have absolutely no meaning to these men and women of any age. All that matters is that you are dressed in something. So, I feel not al all out of place and but for my accent blend in comfortably.

I stand out as the R66 pelgrim, now I understand how the people feel who walk to Santiago de Compostello in Northern Spain. Alone, getting there agewise (I will be 62 this year), dirty motorcycle with a plastic bag tied onto it, asking embarassing questions about the meaning of local entries on a menu (what is Texas Toast?), wet and tired from the road, inspecting maps and books on what is ahead. ‘Where ye headed?’ is the usual start of a conversation from where ‘the answer to #2 question ‘where ye from’ leads to unpredictable exchanges including ‘Where is that, Holland?’ The pelgrim gets general recognition on the road. The sherrif waves, so do the postman, the many unknown pick-up truck drivers heading the same way or waiting at stop-signs to let pass, and those who just sit idle on the roadside waiting for what is coming their R66 way. I am not a menace: no shiny monster of a motor, no tattoes, hair on top of my head, skinny (140 pounds at 6-2), no ego-boosting emblems on my clothing. Contact comes easy.

And MS? She loves it but has her demands. Just in front of a gas station – how lady-like- she made it clear that she will throw in the towel if not fed at 150 miles. Her period is a constant 1:40 mpg. As a reward for her grand performance under horrible conditions, I feed her Shell’s V-Power – although only 91, she loves it clearly the best. All I have to do is tame her idle temper of 2000 RPM when she is redhot (help me out through my post in the TripleTalk forum if you can.) And check her oil if I (lacking the weight and power by myself) can find someone to help me wrestle her upon her center stand.

The lone star is calling the lone rider.

Harold – “Ride to Write”

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