Day 8: Homeward Bound

‘Homeward bound’, the old tune has locked itself in my mind.

Before taking off to straight lines back to Indiana – no freeways though – I pay visit to the St Francis Cathedral in SantaFe. Closed, would not open until later that morning. I find a sidedoor open. Go is, completely by myself; walk undiscovered through the colorful church dedicated to to St Francis (St Franciscus). Last year Clary and I spent a few weeks around where it all happened for him, in and around Assissi in Italy. I light candles for each member of my family – including for my 91 year old mother whose health is getting weaker. Her first candle will not burn – fortunately the second does. I must get the possible symbolism out of my mind.

The downtown SantaFe plaza features a row of Indians, native Americans if you wish, a kind of ‘market’ but miniature and everything on the ground; the regular tourist jewelry in front of them. One exception. Black on black pottery, delicate, hand-made the old way. It is a extensive nice chat with him and her who keep the old tradition going. Not something to just pass by.

The road I take is a thin straight line on the map (NM104). One mile after I get onto it, a sign: next gas 74 miles. My day-odometer – which serves as gas gauge – reads 67. I add these two up: that is way to close to the 150 mark where MS will most certainly take a break for feeding. I return to where I have seen a sign for a gas station. The attendant warns: once you go down the mountain, it will really get hot. He is right. The mountain is a high mesa, 30 miles of low grass; plants and trees cannot grow here, baking sun, scorching wind. The small but reasonable road is a straight line toward the horizon; once there: repeat. This is like Einsteins expanding universe – this road just keeps extending into the far far distance. The first 45 minutes or so, I count about 7 cars coming my way. We wave. And of course that 74 miles sign is outdated; there is no gas pump out there. Not until the town 100 miles from my last gas pump; close call again. Once, just as the attendant had said, the road goes steep down from the mesa, Death Valley is there. Suffocating headwind, pretty strong; way in the 90ties F. How will MS react to this? Well, as if it isn’t happening. She doesn’t seem to get too hot to judge by her pick-up on the gas handle. I tell myself: keep speed, that cools. So on we go at 55-60, doable on this not too smooth surface. Now I know what it is like in an hot-air oven.

In Tucumcari, after two hours nonstop of this hot air riding, I – I confess – stagger slightly off my bike into the arms of Lena. That is, her downtown cafe, the only living thing down ghoststreet Main Street. Her cafe is a R66 must which I missed on the way west and now stumble onto coming in from the boonies. Coffee, Cola and burito. And cool air – there is no AC. Beautiful murals line Lena’s walls. Slowly the tension leaves my body, dry mouth starts to feel normal again, so does my speech.

Literally from Lena’s cafe starts the straight highway 54 line to St Louis. Danger, again, remain alert. MS feels what is going on and wants to speed up. We’re doing 65-70. 54 apparently a trucklane. But they all go South, the one or two going North I pass easily. MS is happy with her constant 4000 RPM as she doesn’t start to redden after 9000.

Suddenly, a penetrating smell is in the air. It comes from up-wind. On the way, there was a few cattle here and there. An occasional deer between them. The prairie was a battle for survival between a bit of grass and lots of shrubs and cacti. Guess who is winning this. Now, buildings coming up. Literally tens of thousands of livestock have here been brought together in densely-filled cordoned-of sections; I don’t think the Humane Society is very popular here.. Hill-sides full. Livestock in the mud, nothing green. I am in the Texas Panhandle, this is ‘herd’um up country’. Are they all about to be shipped by this long Union Pacific train standing nearby to the slaughterhouses of where-ever?

Keeping an eye on the road may never slacken, not one moment. That animal is an old kill, can’t make out what is was anymore, not small though. Wow, a big deer, just next to my lane, looks pretty fresh (and ugly), must have been last night’s kill. A possum, that just happened. Then: a snake, very much a-live, red, thick and about 7 feet long. Its slithers over the burning tarmac, I manage to steer around its tail; no kill.

This riding is enchanting. You start to think about things you shouldn’t. Like: what if MS quits here? I copy private dancer Tina Turner: “Don’t think at all and keep your eyes on the wall” – on the road in my case. No incoming coming in?

Just this burning afternoon in about 5,5 hours, almost 300 miles of straight two-lanes. A pool, a hottub, a business center, the WeatherChannel. To the East and North and moving in: heavy storms and tornado sightings (these really scare me, suppose I come across one in the plains?). To the South flood waters, also in the towns I came through on R66 just last week with by then already water from above and on the streets. I am heading towards the narrow corridor east-bound. Tomorrow I will try and make a long one.

The spirit of HST: the fast lane again.

Harold – “Ride to Write”

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