*2019 Addendum: We were so young… To quote Jim Gaffigan “I didn’t always look like this… but the wear and tear of parenthood… I used to be muy guapo. No mas.” It’s only going to get worse from here, folks.
I’ve been everywhere!
OK, now before you accuse me of being presumptuous, let me explain:
We had so much fun last year doing to AMA Made In The USA Grand Tour that we decided to do one again this year. When the list of tours came out, there were two that we found especially intriguing. The first one we picked (which, upon reading the description, actually resulted in spontaneous dual happy-dances and a series of high-fives right there in the post office) involved visiting as many places as possible that are named in the Johnny Cash song, “I’ve Been Everywhere”.
The second ride we picked would supply us only with a list of GPS coordinates, and our goal was to locate and ride to these specific points around the country. The fact that we did not own a GPS at the time we signed up for these did not deter us in the least. Luckily, I had a Big Ol’ Birthday the day before we left for our trip, and everyone knows that Big Ol’ Birthdays are know classically as GPS Birthdays. Or at least Mike and my parents know that, because by the time we shoved off I had an awesome new Garmin Zumo 550, complete with Bluetooth, MP3s, XM, NavTraffic, Custom POIs, the works. Thanks guys!
We took two and a half weeks off for this trip, so in addition to the two AMA contests, we also spent some time just seeing and doing stuff. You know, “stuff”. (For those of you who just came from the Arctic Circle page*, you may recall that at that time, Mike had only visited 5 states by motorcycle. This trip more than doubled his previous state count, so there was all kinds of new “stuff” he had never seen before.) And we have a lot of stuff to share with you, so sit back, relax and enjoy – I know we sure did!
*2019 Addendum: As of this publishing, our Arctic Circle trip not yet published as a #ThrowBackTravel. Stay tuned!
Luckily, our first two days were almost entirely desert. That meant we were going to get cooked either way, and a half hour here or there really didn’t make no nevermind. Our trip started at 6:30am on Saturday morning, about a half hour later than planned because Mike had a dead battery. We had on our lightest summer gear and Camelbaks full of ice, with our goal being to get 1,500 miles across the desert to San Antonio, Texas by the next night. Piece of cake!
Our first IBE (I’ve Been Everywhere) stop was Vicksburg, Arizona. We could only use each place name once and we get more points for places more than two states from home, so we didn’t stop anyplace in California and only picked up the easiest spots on our way through Arizona. We had to photograph our bikes at the locations, same as last year, except this year they also added the humbling detail of having to hold up these goofy flags to prove the picture was taken after the contest start date. Luckily, we have no pride. Just outside Phoenix was our first GPS point; it turned out to
be the Chinese Cultural Center. Not a bad start!
The Cultural Center was where Mike made the first of many tactical errors. In this case, he said “Honey, I’m going to sneak down into that stairway and clean all the road crud out of my nose.” He didn’t specifically ask me to warn him if anyone was coming up behind him to use the stairway, so I didn’t. Instead, when he was startled by the approaching couple and turned around to see if his cover was blown, I seized the opportunity and snapped this oh-so-flattering picture. Hey, it’s not like I didn’t have to suffer for my art; I quite nearly wet my pants laughing while Mike threw the rest of his tepid Camelbak water on me in retribution. That incident pretty much set the tone for the rest of the trip…
*2019 Addendum: This picture is just the gift that keeps on giving. I literally choked on my whiskey while re-reading and reminiscing about this incident. Hey, I DID mention the wear and tear of parenting, did I not? That’s where the whiskey comes in… And we only have the one little angel. God bless you people who have survived multiple children.
Our next GPS point was a good one – The Airplane Graveyard outside Tucson. Unfortunately, it seems the coordinates we were provided with were actually inside a restricted area, as the graveyard is located on a military base. No trouble; Mike can put on his sexy Zoolander face outside the fence just as easily as he can inside.
Not being of the Iron Butt persuasion, Mike was really starting to feel itafter about 750 miles. We finally called it a day in Lordsburg, New Mexico, where we found a smoking hot deal on a hotel off the beaten path. We figured since we were going so hard for the first couple days, and it was so hot, we needed a good nights sleep and therefor a hotel room was clearly justified.
…And within a few hours we found out why the hotel room was so cheap! We were directly across the street from the rail yard, so we spent a nice evening listening to the blaring train whistles. Luckily, after 15 hours and 788 miles in the saddle, we were pretty well beat and the noise didn’t affect our sleep that much. (Don’t let the picture fool you; Mike looks like that every morning.)
Our first stop on day two was Bakersfield, Texas. Yes, we live near Bakersfield, California, but it’s worth three points in Texas and only one in California. Plus it gave us an excuse to get off the freeway, and ANYTHING that livens up the drive on I-10 across Texas is welcomed.
Our next set of coordinates delivered us to the historic Hunt Japonica Cemetery near Ingram, Texas. We had ridden into a nasty east-moving storm, so we welcomed the opportunity to putt around on small country roads and give the storm a little time to move on. In fact, this may not have been our intended destination; the GPS said our coordinates were a little farther up the road, but just beyond the cemetery the road was closed due to flooding.
Our plan to dodge the storm did work to some extent, but alas, we caught up with the rain again pretty quick. At this point we were only about an hour out of San Antonio, and luckily we never caught back up to the really heavy rain. We had just enough rain to cool us down and clean the road and our face shields, but not enough to seriously diminish our vision or traction. There was even a beautiful double rainbow, and at one point we passed a really pretty waterfall cascading off a rugged rock cliff. Of course, we were on the interstate in the rain so we didn’t pull over for pictures. (Have you ever driven on the interstate in Texas? Psycho truckers galore!) Luckily I have provided you with an artist’s rendition of what it might have looked like if we had pulled over for pictures and the sky’s green Gel Pen ran out of ink. Enjoy!
We arrived in San Antonio as scheduled around 8pm on Sunday. Mike pulled through two 750+ mile days with flying colors (and only a little crying). As a reward for our hard work, we spent several days playing in the San Antonio area. The weather was perfect, too – cloudy enough to keep the temperature down, but not so cloudy that it was unbearably humid. What a great way to kick off our vacation!
*2019 Addendum: Just a few months back, Mike completed an Iron Butt Association certificate for a Bun Burner Gold. That involves riding over 1,500 miles in under 24 hours. He planned and executed the entire ride solo, without any prodding from me. He often claims he’s not a “real” Iron Butt rider and calls himself my “rally wife” but he has notched out some pretty impressive rides in the last decade!
Being a Crockett and an Honorary Crockett, San Antonio is a fun place to visit. Even though Mike lived in San Antonio for a year when he was in elementary school, he seemed to enjoy seeing it again through the Crockett filter. He really liked one quote in particular from Davy Crockett that was prominently displayed on magnets, T-shirts,coffee mugs, and the like:
“You may all go to hell, and I will go to Texas.”
What can I say – we Crocketts are an historically well-spoken bunch.
We enjoyed strolling around The Alamo grounds and downtown San Antonio, although it was very busy due to the fact that it was Memorial Day. We still had a great time; my only regret is that the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream parlor was all out of adult sized socks that said “Alamooo” on them. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.
We did get another shot at a waterfall picture as we strolled along the Riverwalk. I was also quite please with myself that I managed walk for an extended period of time along railingless sections of the path without falling in the river, which is no small feat when you are as prone to humiliating public displays of clumsiness as I am.
We took a riverboat cruise, which wasn’t quite as rich in historical insight as we had hoped. In fact, it was a lot like the riverboat ride at Disneyland except with fewer hippos (and if our guide had a gun I’m pretty confident it wasn’t a prop).
It was a beautiful ride, regardless of the lackluster commentary. This bird probably stood over three feet tall, and here he is just hanging out right in the center of a major metropolitan area.
We made a little side trip down memory lane and visited the elementary school that Mike attended when he lived there. The house they lived in was right around the corner, so we stopped by there for a couple minutes until leery neighbors gave us the “Can I help you with something” (re: go away) line. After all, we ARE couple of shifty bikers on 2005 Yamaha touring motorcycles. You know how hinkey we Yamaha types are.
That night we made a very tasty stop at Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ. Those of you who watch as much Food Network as we clearly do are probably familiar with Rudy’s, as they have been on numerous “Best Of…” shows. And they weren’t lying! The locals were awesome, and several people stopped to give us tips on the way to order and the best stuff to get – Doc Holliday himself was working the register! It really was as good as they say!
Those of you who watch as much Travel Channel as we clearly do will be familiar with our next stop… SCHLITTERBAHN! WOO HOOO! Number One water park like 9 years running! We had SO MUCH FUN!! The lines were short, the weather was great – all in all it was an outstanding day!
I’m trying something new with my hair in this picture; I like to call it, “Humid”. (But Attack of the Giant Fuzzy Poof Ball works too, if you prefer.)
After several great days of R&R in Texas, it was time to mosey on. The first stop on our northward journey was to be another GPS point; in actuality, our first stop was to put on our rain gear because the sky was once again looking REALLY menacing. Our second stop was here, at this flooded-out road about two miles from our destination coordinates. As we sat sweltering, peeling back out of our rainsuits, a local pulled up to take stock the situation. After some humming and hawing, he determined that it was probably “The Old Stone Church” that we were looking for, and gave us alternate directions. (Yes, I’ve crossed much bigger rivers on my motorcycle, but I was with far less discerning company at the time.)
…And indeed, our target was St. Olaf’s Kirke. Built in 1886 for the Norwegian settlers in the area, this historic church is beautifully maintained inside and out. Oh, and there are lots of turtles on the roads around here. Just so you know.
Our next planned stop was a GPS point in downtown Ft. Worth, but with the St. Olaf Detour we would be getting there smack dab in the middle of rush hour. On top of that, Zumo kept warning me of severe weather alerts in the area which supposedly included hail and high winds. Hmmmm… No thanks*. Instead, we kept west and picked up Reno, Texas for our first IBE point of the day.
*2019 Addendum: LOLOLOL! Hail. Now they call me “Hurricane” Crockett. And by “they” I mean “Mike and like two other people”, but that still counts. Seriously, I’ve ridden in/through/documented rally bonus locations in the eye of three different hurricanes. Irene, Isaac and Ivan. I’m not talking the damp outskirts, I’m talking the literal eye of. That was terrifying. I probably wouldn’t opt to do that again. Probably. Depends on how many points are at stake. But… you know,… probably not.
Our next photo op was at the Oklahoma border for another IBE locale and three more easy points. Oooh – look at that enthusiasm!
We called it a day at the Ardmore, Oklahoma KOA, netting us both a nice place to camp and another IBE pic. A call to our back-up 24-hour weather information source (Mom) confirmed that the weather in Dallas had been extremely dangerous that evening. Looks like that three point sacrifice was a good call!
That evening we dined like kings on left-over Rudy’s BBQ, and awoke the next morning to find that the storm had provided a pretty pleasant layer of coolness. Not quite rain, just really damp air. Hey, as long as it’s not flooding or hail storms, we’ll cool off any way we can!
On our meandering journey through Oklahoma to our first IBE point (Chattanooga) was possibly the most regretted missed photo of the entire trip. We were cruising up this tiny back road in the middle of nowhere when we came upon about a dozen cows standing side by side, all backed right up to the fence giving us the tail-end salute. It’s like they knew we were coming… I was laughing so hard – you couldn’t set up a shot like that but I’m sure by the time we stopped and got the camera ready they would have found more pressing matters to attend to elsewhere. <sigh> At least we’ll always have the memories…
Another zig-zaggity dip southward returned us to Texas, where we picked up IBE point Fargo. Peak Population: 200. Current Population: This sign, plus the guy who wandered by to laugh at us taking pictures in front of this sign.
Back in Oklahoma, we found ourselves on a tiny one-lane road passing through a little wisp of a town called Elmer. In admiring this great old building I saw that “Post Office” was painted over the doorway; needing stamps, we decided to stop. On our way in we noticed that the tile work in front of the entryway read “Bank”, and the design of the room with an old brass cage in front of the counter certainly supported that declaration. It turned out to be a Post Office, and I asked the lady working the counter what the story was with the conflicting signage. She said that the building had in fact been a bank, but the post office moved in after the bank closed due to a robbery. She thought the robbery took place in 1902, but her mom was born in the next town over in 1920 and she knew for sure that it was robbed some time before she was born. Isn’t small town history awesome?
Out of the half-dozen or so Eldorado’s we passed through on our trip, we decided to stop in Eldorado, Oklahoma for this three-point IBE photo.
Our next stop was in Amarillo, Texas (we crossed the Texas border 6 times, for those of you keeping count) for another IBE pic and to give Mike a shot at the “Free” 72 oz. steak at The Big Texan. Alas, the idea of everlasting notoriety clashed with the reality of riding with a monumental stomach ache for the next two weeks. Plus, information on how much the meal cost if you were unable to finish it was nowhere to be found. Even though we decided to take a pass, Mike still took a few minutes to bond with the gigantic fiberglass bull.
Our plan had been to stay in Amarillo for the night so we would be close to a hospital when Mike’s stomach exploded, but with the change in meal plans came a change in travel plans. We decided instead to push on 111 miles to Tucumcari, New Mexico to get some boring desert riding out of the way. For the first few miles we rode in a bit of a breeze; for the next few hours, we rode in 40mph sustained winds with frequent gusts up to 60 mph. Mike said he was amazed watching me have to ride at about a 35 degree angle just to stay upright, and wished he could have taken a picture. Of course, he was riding at a similar angle himself and the only time he took his hand of the handlebars was to catch his tank bag as it was flying off.
We finally arrived in Tucumcari, thoroughly exhausted, and Mike ran in to get us a hotel room while I stayed outside to keep the bikes upright. A particularly vicious gust of wind came, causing a hotel light fixture to come crashing down on my head. (Luckily I was still wearing my helmet at the time.) Upon collapsing into our room, we turned on the news to find that most of the towns we had passed through that day, including Amarillo and points west, were being pounded by golf ball-sized hail, torrential rain, and the occasional tornado. Once again, disaster narrowly averted. This isn’t shaping up to be anything like our normal vacations! (*2019: Insert giant pre-emoji eyeroll here. Come to think of it, I can’t believe we don’t have a “sarcasm” font in widespread use by now.)
The next day in Los Alamos, NM, we ran into a bum GPS point. Despite attempts to reach the point from several different directions, we were unfailingly met by big men in guard shacks who were unimpressed by our explanation as to why we were seeking entry to the Los Alamos Nuclear Research Facility. Well, at least we tried!
All was not lost, however. It was a beautiful ride in perfect weather through breathtaking scenery. Plus, we had an incredible lunch at the Hill Diner in Los Alamos. Mike had sweet potato fries that were fried in a super-thin buttermilk batter (kind of a Tempura-like consistency), and the sweet potatoes just melted in your mouth. Served with a dish of whipped cream for dipping, these were definitely the surprise culinary find of the trip!
*2019 Addendum: To this day I have never had sweet potato fries as good as the ones I had at Hill Diner on this trip. I’ve actually been back to Hill Diner at least twice and ordered the sweet potato fries both times; they were good, but not THAT good. I simply can’t rest until I find another plate of sweet potato fries as life-changing as those. It is a cross that is mine to bear.
Sweeping back roads and endless views delivered us to Colorado, and yet another IBE locale ticked off our list. Being on such a tiny road afforded us a better photo op than most state line signs, so we took some time to kick back and enjoy our surroundings.
When Mike says he’s about ready to wrap it up for the day, what he means is he’s open to finding a stopping point anywhere within a roughly 1.25 mile radius. So when he cried Uncle in Walsenburg, Colorado, we hit the closest campground we could find. I saw it as we passed by, laughed, and kept on riding. It was only a glance in my rear view mirror and the look of desperation on Mike’s face that brought me to a halt. I say, “Did you SEE that place! Ha ha ha! Where’s the campground map?” and Mike says, while executing a rapid U-turn and spraying me with gravel, “Looked fine to me -let’s go.”
The guys in the “office” looked completely shocked when we walked up to the door. It appeared by the looks of the sign that at some point, one of the more functional stoners residing at this ramshackle trailer park said, “Hey y’all, why don’t we throw a sign up there that says ‘Campground’ and see if anyone stops. We could get maybe, like, beer money or something, y’all.” Then ten or twelve years later we actually come rolling in, much to the surprise of the current residents, whose memory of the campground sign is erased daily via alcohol-induced amnesia. They didn’t have any paperwork or anything, and between the two of them they couldn’t figure out when (or if) we were supposed to pay, how much, or who would stagger off to the liquor store to get another 12-pack and change for our $20.
Mike, still whole-heartedly supporting this plan, then blazed a trail through the dilapidated trailers and rotting farm equipment to our home for the night: the illustrious Tent/Picnic Area, situated conveniently in the farthest possible corner away from the bathrooms. Oh, yes – they did actually have bathrooms. We made the unfortunate mistake of having Frito Boats for dinner, otherwise neither of us would have ventured into the abominable pits more than once. I won’t repulse you with the details; suffice to say that even the numerous stray dogs in the area wouldn’t come close. I hope we were up to date on all our shots…
Another big problem came to our attention shortly after setting up camp: It was Friday night. And what do trailer park denizens do on Friday night They drink beer. And where do they drink beer? In the Tent/Picnic Area, of course. We became increasingly nervous as wave after wave of redneck set out towards us carrying cases of beer, only to see the look of angry realization come over their faces as they stomped off to find somewhere else to get liquored up for the night. After a while, though, it appeared that word of our presence had spread and our visitors because fewer and farther between. This gave us time to take in our surroundings: A Pizza Hut to the north, just past the mud pit. A Mini Storage to the east. The trailer park to the south. And to the west, a junk yard housing several of the higher-class residents living in mobile homes on bricks instead of wheels.
As night grew near, we were also treated to the sounds of an honest-to goodness redneck brawl: “Screw you, Walter. You jest git the hell out, you damn dawg.” “Yeah, that’s right woman. An I ain’t comin back naw neither. Jest you git out here an’ push sos I git the car started and I won’t never be back here again.” Ahhh – commonlaw wedded bliss, redneck style. We didn’t hear too many gunshots, so I’m sure things turned out all right.
In the morning as we were packing up to leave, we watched a guy maybe thirty feet from us get into his car, drive over to us, and get out. We got the standard cop-style “Hows it going” that seems to precede trouble of all kinds, and we waited cautiously for the guy to make his move. Turns out he was just checking out the new neighbors, and we chatted with him for a few minutes. He used to live in Bakersfield, California*, but now he’s retired and lives here. Everyday he drives from his place (30 feet south of our present location) to what he called “work” (20 yards west of our location), where he would sit and drink beer for the remainder of the day. We wished him well in his career pursuits, and watched as he got in his car, drove the 20 yards to “work”, and knocked on the door. He then sat down on the lawn chair and began drinking a beer, and was joined shortly thereafter by another man who, without a word, did the same. Mind you, this all took place just a hair past 7am.
*2019 Addendum: Let the record show that I refrained from making any disparaging remarks regarding Bakersfield, Oildale, Bodfish, California in general, or generic brand beer. At least we can assume the beer wasn’t all hopped up. Awww, c’mon! That was a good one!
Well, it was an exhilarating night, but like I told Mike: We only remember the spectacularly good campgrounds and the spectacularly bad ones, and spectacularly good ones are few and far between. And in the end, we left with our lives, our health (pending the test results back from our doctors) and one more good story.
*2019 Post Script: This feels like a good place to pause for now. Maybe go brush our teeth, get that weird Frito Boat/stale beer taste out of our mouths. Any I mean really, this trip is entitled “I’ve Been Everywhere”. You didn’t expect “everywhere” to be encompassed in a single post, did you? In fact, it’s looking like IBE is shaping up to be a solid three-parter. The good news is, this time I won’t make you look for the secret link to see Mike’s butt. Probably. 😉