July 5, 1998

I do better on the tortuous trek back to Silver City, having gotten the hang of looking to where I want to be down the road instead of worrying about where my front tire is, and my riding is quite a bit smoother. I spend time at the vistas overlooking the valleys. It is incredibly beautiful, vast expanses with jagged peaks thrusting upward, green trees and brown cactus plants and pink ground. I can see for miles and mile and miles and miles...

Again in Silver City I feel uneasy. I need gas and supplies, the former I accomplish easily, the latter not so easily. I have to exchange my burner at the Walmart, which I do with some fuss, but nothing to fret over. It is at the grocery store I run into problems. I buy my stuff (some cereal, bread and beans), and I am preparing to pack them properly when I notice a car angling suddenly across the parking lot toward me. It pulls into a park four or five spaces down and behind a camper. Around the camper comes a rather straggly looking fellow, with his good share of tattoos, and he heads straight for me. "Hey Hippie", he yells, smiling. I respond politely, nothing too formal or friendly, and I know this isn't going to be fun. He comes up to me and stands opposite to me across my bike. "What are you doing", he inquires. Well, heading across country. "Where?" San Diego. "Oh that's cool. I got kids in San Francisco, and I'm going there next week to see them. Cool that we're both headed that way, huh?" I don't indicate one way or the other. His eyes are glazed pretty good, lights out, no one home. He is a bit nervous, and I keep my eyes on him and my stuff. My large canvas bag is on the seat between us, and my backpack still in the buggy. I decide I don't need to pack all that efficiently and I begin to simply stuff things into my bag. "I guess you don't remember me, do you?" I doubt very much we've met, I'm from South Carolina. "Oh, what's your name? I'm Bret". Tim. "You sure we've never met? I'm supposed to be meeting a Tim with your kind of motorcycle for a part I need, a relay switch." No, not me. Our eyes meet, I look down to him from a good three or four inches up, and he stands still for a moment, contemplating. Denouement. Times up, buddy, you gonna do something or find an easier score? I know he's been scoping me out, and I know his partner is still in the car, engine running. Prudence steps in, and he offers his hand. "Good to meet you, brother, I'm going in to get some smokes. Do you know what time it is?" I tell him, and he leaves, calling "Peace, brother" as he walks off.

It's not enough to get my stuff in my bag. I leave quickly, running yellows and checking my rearview mirror. They know I'm heading out of town, only one way to get to the interstate, 50 miles away. Will they follow me? Find a place they can run me off the road? I keep the throttle open for several miles and then pull off at a gas station where I can pack better and keep an eye on the road for a half mile or so. No problems, but I don't know how close it was to being a problem. I could have taken him without needing the knife I carry in my pocket, but I don't know about his partner, and I don't know what either of them were carrying. I doubt that crackheads that are willing to come looking for travelers to mug come unarmed. I certainly didn't to be involved in a parking lot scuffle that results in arrests and paperwork in a town that clearly has its share of problems.

I meet up with I-10 after being off of it for five days. It is a welcome sight. I hit the Arizona border and see two more problems, impending rain and my motorcycle is beginning to misfire. I ride through the rain until I get to Bowie, where I pull off and make some lunch at a gas station. As I am packing back up, a car stops and parks, and two women get out. The driver has seen the worst of heroin, from the skidmarks on her arm to the teeth that have fallen out from sucking smack off her fingers. She is barely human, all gums and dead eyes that look at me as if my soul could provide nourishment. Her partner stops and talks to me, asking me where I am heading and where am I from and tells me they're from Arkansas and Kentucky and that's not too far from South Carolina, folks from back home, so to speak. She heads into the store and the rain picks up. They come out, with the second woman carrying a 24 pack of Busch beer. She stops next to me, and again the driver looks at me, yearning to feed an inhuman, evil hunger. "I guess you'll be needing a place to stay for today, won't you?" Beer Woman asks. Visions of torture and hell and praying for dawn fill my head. I'm quite fine, I assure them, I've got a rainsuit, which in fact I was getting ready to put on. "OK, then, good luck to you". I don't look at the driver. I don't need to. I can feel her disappointment.

The rain lets up, and according to a couple other motorcyclists, is not too thick westward. However, it is very long, stretching for what I now know is twenty or thirty miles north and south. My bike is missing badly now, jerking and bucking on the inclines that have no declines on the other side. I can do ok on the flatlands, but I lose speed on the hills. Chiricahua is coming up, and I have to decide what to do. I exit the freeway at Wilcox and find a parts store. I figure it is the spark plugs. While in the store getting plugs, I meet the owner of the pickup truck that is pulling a rather unusual Honda motorcycle behind it. It turns out to be a custom, with a motor from one model in a frame from another. All in all, something only a motorhead could appreciate, and I think he did a fine job. He has some tools I use to change my plugs, and we talk a bit. He used to live in Los Angeles, but had three different attempts to open a motorcycle shop fail, and his wife divorced him. He couldn't get a job at a dealership or established shop because he wasn't certified and so he was headed to Orlando to go to school (Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, world famous, seriously). His truck had been searched at the California border, which left his tools a large mess, and had a flat tire not too long after that. AAA covered the cost of towing his truck but not his trailer, so the tow truck left his trailer, which got impounded. Somehow, he planned to get across the country with very little cash, and had to resort to playing guitar on a street corner with his hat in front of him in order to get enough money to get his trailer. A David Allan Coe country song would have had the poor fellow busted by the police for pandering, but in fact he raised $62, and I wondered if he's not in the wrong field.

A plug clearly found the hot temperatures too much for its liking and had decided to melt. Easily fixed, except I have to settle for Champion spark plugs, and I guess they will do until I get to Califonia. The bike starts ok, but doesn't idle well, a sign of Champion plugs for sure. I look at the rain, and decide, perhaps I am tired of this leg and that maybe it is time to make the banzai run to San Diego. If I stop at Chiricahua, I am two days from SD. If I don't, I could be there tomorrow. If I've fixed my bike, it should go well, but if I haven't and I go to Chiricahua I could be stuck in very south Arizona, almost at the border. I look at the rain somemore, and decide that while cruising through Tombstone would have been really cool, I think it's time for a soft bed in a house with warm friends. Of course, I exit the rain ten miles later. However, my bike is still hesitating on long inclines, so I decide I've made the best choice.

I didn't stop in Tucson, but I have to relate to you why Tucson stands out in my mind. It was close to rush hour, and on the far side of the city, so I was heading out. I'm cruising along at 4200 rpms, pretty comfortable and doing a good bit of passing in the left lane. I close up on a Honda Prelude that refuses to move over, so I have to go around her on the right. Before I can, three cars and a sport utility vehicle pass me on the right. I pull in behind them and speed up to 4800 rpms. We close in on a camper in the right lane, so the four ahead of me move into the left lane. I try to, but the Honda Prelude has caught up with us and cuts me off, forcing me behind her. So all five of us now are in a line. And increasing in speed. 4900, 5000, 5100, 5200, all the way to 5400 rpms. I've been this fast before, but not on a freeway, and only with no one else on the road at all, not at all like it is right now. Signposts click off bang bang. Cars in the right lane bang bang. We rapidly exit Tucson, and continue on this way for twenty minutes before everyone else but me and the Prelude let up. We swap positions, depending on who gets caught behind slower traffic, and continue on, first blowing past a cop already pulled over ticketing someone and then past a sign indicating airplanes monitor traffic. This is too much for Prelude girl, and she pulls into the right lane slowing down dramatically. I back off to 4800 rpms and click off the miles.

A while later I'm pretty bored. It's very flat, and very straight. I start to wonder just how fast we were going. The watch I have has a timer, so I back off to 4250 rpms and time a mile. 50 seconds. 72 miles an hour. I climb to 4750 rpms. 45 seconds. 80 miles an hour. Ok. 500 rpms in top gear is 8 mph so (650/500)*8 is 10.4 so this means 90.4 mph. 4250 rpms/72 mph is 59.0something rpms/mph and 4750 rpms/80 mph is 59.2something rpms/mph, so it's close enough. 5400 rpms at 59.1 rpms/mph equals 91 mph. (OK, I'm did this last part on a calculator, I admit.) Ok, I've calibrated my tachometer and I now know my speed, roughly. Hmm. And we were only exceeding the speed limit by 15 mph. Seemed much faster.

The rest of the ride is pretty uneventful, except that I decline down to sea level and the miss in my bike goes away entirely. I realize that the problem is the jetting at the high altitude, so I am no longer concerned, other than that on the way back I have even higher peaks to climb, so I need to make sure I don't burn another plug or worse, a piston. I reach Gila Bend around 7pm, and decide to call it quits. It is hot, miserably so, and it reminds me of Florida. There is a stink in the air, and it is generally unpleasant. No camping tonight, I'm a short drive from San Diego and so I need to let my friends know I'll be there tomorrow. Final count: seven nights in motels, six camping. I'll do better on the way back.

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