The storms that hit Lafayette give me an excuse to spend a leasurely two hours at Ryans, and I use a break to make it to Kinko's for internet access. I talk with Jeff there for a while, with him relaying to me how much he'd like one of the new G3 Macs, and then I do my writing and responding to email. I leave Lafayette, Louisana refreshed and ready to put in a few more miles. It is nearly 7pm, and I plan at most another hour of riding. In fact, I really feel like calling it quits for the day now, but I decide to get outside of town just a bit. I make a deal with myself, which ever comes first, camping or a sub-$25/night motel, is what I'll take. The rains have clear and cooled the air, and it would be quite a pleasant night for camping, but I also desire a soft bed and a soft light illuminating my current reading, Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, while I let the kinks slip away. As I enter the freeway I note that off the highway is a motel advertising singles for $18.95. It is too late to exit and as it goes by I have a premonition that I will regret passing it up.
I arrive first at a KOA Kampground, and I pull in. Inquiring about both a cabinette (a small cabin about the size of a small hotel room) and a tent site, I see I will not be stopping at any more KOA locations. I press on, and stop at a Days Inn with an empty parking lot. The price here too is shocking, and in spite of the lack of occupancy the innkeeper is unwilling to negotiate. It is now almost 8pm, and any chance at a campground being open is slipping away. After discussing motel prospects with the Days Inn innkeeper, I find out that the nearby riverboat casino gambling has driven room rates up quite high and that my best bet is to press on past Lake Charles to Sulfur, some 60 miles up the road, and almost 100 miles from that $18.95 night I passed up.
Pulling back onto the interstate I am passed by two other motorcyclists, who wave me inline with them. We hook up, and I am hopeful that the sleeping bag rolls strapped to their backrests indicate a possible night resting spot. I follow for several miles, and when they pull off, I pull off too. Seeing this, they pull off to the side and we stop and talk. I don't know their names, and they don't know mine, but I know one guy had a 1998 Yamaha Virago 1100 and the other guy had a 1997 Honda Nighthawk 750. Completely unnoticed, the sun sets while we are talking. Yamaha smokes Malboros, and Honda pulls out leaf tobacco and rolls it into a homemade cigar. I consider pulling out some Wrigley's, but I can't remember where I've packed them. We talk about the pros and cons of having a windscreen, and different handlebar configurations, and the horrible condition of the roads in Louisana, sitting on our bikes along a freeway exit miles from the nearest city.
My companions tell me of some older motels near the casinos, where they are headed, not for gambling but for emergency produce refrigeration repair. I let them know I am low on gas, and they assure me it is a short distance. The distance was not short enough, and I watch as my gas gauge sinks into the nether region I know from past experience will lead to no good. Where previously I had been following at the rear, following their will 'o' wisp taillights, I pull up along side the lead rider and slap my gas tank several times. He holds up five fingers and I hope he's right. A stop approachs and they slip over to the side to let me pull up. My bike stalls and I tell them, that's it. I shake the bike back and forth and hit the starter button. The engine coughs and gurgles, but it's alive. I switch to reserve, and shortshift to fifth as quickly as possible. The engine hesitates and resists, but slowly it comes up to speed. It is quite dark now, and the Louisana state birds are heavy. If we can't make it to town I'll be sanguinated in mere moments.
Amazingly, and long past where reserve should have run out, we make it to town and again the bike dies as I pull to the pump. We shake our heads and laugh loudly, knowing we've narrowly averted a major pain in the ass. We shake hands, they give me directions to some other towns that should have cheap motels, and they are gone.
While I am pumping life into the machine I am rapidly becoming very attached to, another motorcyclist, Harley Sportster 883, pulls up. We start talking, and he tells me of a brand new motel outside of town. He says it shouldn't be too expensive, so I head outside of town with a warning about the level of insects on the roads becoming dangerous after dark. It is good advice, as I become a one-person insect holocaust, the explosions of impact louder than the wind whistling past my helmet. My headlight is a fireworks display, the remains spraying outward in a backlight shower. It is like a light rain with heavy drops, they are on my arms, my neck, down my back, inside my shirt. Mercifully, the motel is only a couple miles, and I seek shelter. The last rider I talked to is right about the price. For $35, I stay in a motel that has been open only since Thanksgiving. The room is exceptionally clean, and the innkeeper friendly. I inquire about getting milk and he offers some of the half gallon he just bought. I mention that I am partial to having a bowl of cereal (Post Raisin Bran) at night before going to bed, and he slaps his head, telling me he forgot to bring some and he was going to be at the hotel for a couple days. I offer to swap cereal for milk, and with his agreement I tell him I'll be down after a shower.
We make the trade and I spend some time talking with the innkeeper, both of us eating cereal and watching the evening news. It is a laid back motel, check-out isn't until 12pm, and it is very quiet. The town is called Kinder, Louisana, and it would be fitting if it was pronounced "Kind"-er but it's "Kin"-der. I can't help but think that tonight I am very lucky. I don't regret passing that first motel after all, and in fact feel richer for the experience, but I know that tonight has been the equivalent of lining up ten or fifteen green lights in a row, and the next twenty times I try something like this it won't turn out nearly as well.June 25, 1998, prelude
Last night was just what the doctor ordered. I'm 200 miles from Houston, but I won't be taking the interstate, as I am told the road conditions are even worse than what I've already seen. Here I need to address an earlier post, about my dislike for the state of Louisana. It is the roads that I hate, not the people. Almost without exception, I have extremely positive interaction with the people in every state I have passed through, and I do think the people here are the nicest yet. Perhaps it is the shared passion for adventure that draws these people to talk to me when I am loaded up on my bike at a stop, perhaps these people are genuinely this social. I wonder about the relationship between the people and the roads. The roads seem to desire to beat the rider into submission, with their sectioned partitions and buckling and humps that can't be referred to as undulations. In contrast, it has been the people I've met in the last 50 miles that have kept me going, keeping me from making mistakes I surely would have made otherwise.June 25, 1997
I give in to the laid back atmosphere and take my time leaving in the morning. I have breakfast with the innkeeper, renewing the previous night's agreement, and another local fellow drops in. We talk about the local economy and the effect the land based casino is having on Kinder. The casino is run by Grand's of Las Vegas and on Indian Reservation land. According to my eating partners, the residents of the reservation receive $3,000 a month checks in return for their Faustian bargain. There are other funds that are building infrastructure for the future, but the problem of alcoholism among Native Americans has gotten worse, not better, since the casino moved in. The casino employs 2400 people, many from Kinder and the nearby towns, but the pay is service level, minimum or less with tips. To some, like the innkeeper, it has brought money into the area, but even the innkeeper and his friend admit that it isn't making any great difference. If the casino were to close, there is nothing to replace it, so real change is not occurring. But some people are getting rich, and they are the power behind the propoganda that gambling brings economic prosperity.
I leave late, and hit the Texas border at noon, already feeling the heat. Strong clouds are forming, and I get a Welcome Center host to let me use their computer to visit the Weather Channel's web site (http://www.weather.com/weather/maps). It looks clear so I head out, after both being informed by the host that I shouldn't take I-10 into Houston as the road construction is very bad and hearing a motorist confirm this, telling me the traffic is bumper to bumper for miles. I plan instead to take I-10 to Beaumont and then Hwy 90 from Beaumont to Houston, and shortly after leaving the center I am in Beaumont.
Hwy 90 winds through downtown Beaumont, and I am forced to stop at many lights. It is after 1pm, in the heat of the day (105 or so), and I should stop but I am expected in Houston today and already I am very late. I pull up to a light and my bike dies. No starter, and some lights aren't operational on my gauges. The bike doesn't fire by push starting. I have had problems in the past with my ignition switch, and earlier in the day it felt like it was going to act up again, so that is what I began my examination with, having brought tools to do the necessary disassembling and adjusting. I am working on a cement boundary divot, at the corner of Somename Street and Somenumber Hwy, my bags on the ground and my tools scattered, no shade, no clouds. I need to be very careful during disassembly because there is a small ball in the ignition switch that if I lose I am not going anywhere. I lose it anyways, in spite of my precautions, and it is an anxious four or five minutes of scouring the pavement, picking through broken glass and stones, before I find it. I continue working, and three different motorcyclists stop and offer help. One volunteers to go get some electrical tools so I can diagnose the problem, because my assessment of the ignition switch indicates that isn't the problem. I check the fuses and they all appear good. I wait for the motorcyclist to return, but he doesn't. Out of blind hope, I replace the fuse that handles the ignition, and I am rewarded with a bike that fires up. I reload, and I follow Hwy 90.
For about a mile and a half, and then my bike dies again (mere moments after the first motorcyclist did indeed meet up with me with the tools and inquire if I would be ok, and rode off with my postive response). The fuse has blown again, and this time I know I'm in trouble. Fuses don't blow without good reason, and one that takes this long to blow, and gets so hot in the process that the internal parts melt and the fuse holder melts some of the plastic it is embedded in, means serious problems. I am at a light, and the cars passing around me don't really move over to get around me. I am there less than a minute before another motorcyclist pulls up, and offers to help. He takes my bag, and I push my bike to a resturant parking lot. He's riding a Harley, and I am surprised he stopped. There is a rivalry between Harley riders and those who aren't. We don't wave at them, they don't wave at us, we don't stop for them when they are broken down, they don't stop for us when we are broken down (a different Harley rider ten feet from me never acknowledged me even though he stopped at the light I was stuck at the first time and had to sit through the light). Not only does this Harley guy stop, he gives me a lift to the Kawasaki dealer and waits until I know for sure someone can go get my bike. I believe I'll stop the next time I see a Harley broken down (shouldn't be too long
We go get my bike, and I talk to the mechanic on duty. He doesn't seem real interested, and I am appalled at the method he is using to remove a lever from a splined axle. I decide I probably will have better luck fixing my bike myself, and I start checking things out. I clean the fuse contacts and I remove the battery, and note that it is low on fluid. I get it filled, and store clerk and I test the battery for strength, and it passes. I ask the clerk for an ammeter and a voltmeter, and the mechanic asks how the battery tested. When he hears it was fine, he says he'll be with me in a moment, and when he comes over, his disposition is entirely different, and I reflect on my days when I made a living as a mechanic. There were all too many cars that made me quite surly, and the occasional ones that I too would resort to using the wrong tool to get the job done because the right ones weren't working, so I realized that he had been dealing with the same thing. As we both looked over the bike, I see in fact he is quite competent and he comes to the conclusion that a bad contact caused the second fuse to blow, as the arcing across the bad contact generated a great deal of heat, which increased the amount of current, which blew the fuse. In all likelihood, it was heat that caused the first one to blow as well. He makes some adjustments to the fuse holder and we check the current draw, and feel confident I can press on as it is well below the level that would blow the fuse. We talk a bit, and I relate to him and several other employees my destination and departure locations, and they warn me of heavy rain between Beaumont and Houston. The mechanic threw out the work order, a real friendly gesture as mechanics typically work on commission and that was an hour of his time, not the business' time. The dealer, hearing the mechanic isn't charging me, drops the charge for going and picking me up, and they all send me on my way with several goodbyes and goodlucks.
I make it into Houston with relative ease, albeit 6 1/2 hours later than I expected, and no rain. My friend Ashley is along shortly, and after a dinner at a native Mexican restuarant (Houston is 50% Hispanic, or nearly so), I retire for the evening. I think I'll hole up here for an extra night, leaving Sunday instead of Saturday. I've only traveled 1/6 or so of the 7000 odd miles I have to do, and I can see some adjustments are in order. All things considered, however, I am looking forward to the rest of the journey.Email me gtkelly domain dialectronics.com