The ride to Brad’s address took 4.5 hours, because I guess even when I’m gunning for a place I can’t help breaking for a Topo Chico. Fred and his friend (and host) Brad arrived back from a Tacodeli run shortly after I pulled up. I apologize to Brad if it took me a few minutes to notice he existed, I was busy hugging Fred to make sure he was real.
As we shuffled luggage into the house, I believe it was Brad that pointed out that although sometimes Austin authenticity means tacos similar to those available further south, this subset of Austin taco was distinguished for being in the style that ‘white people eat after yoga’. He went over more local favorites as we tore into our vegan-optional tortilla wrapped lunches, from reclined positions in his kitchen bean bags (what a great place for bean bags!).
The next step to add to the joyous surreality was to pick up the GL. I repeatedly hit the rev limiter on my bike keeping up with Brad and Fred in the truck, but soon I won’t be the slow one, heh heh.
Denver James, scooter delivery specialist, had whisked the GL from the gritty snowbanks of Boston several weeks earlier, and dropped it off a couple days ago with Nic Barton at Bat City Scooters. The burgundy bike came into view as we rounded the bend to Nic’s warehouse. For something so small and unassuming, this little piece of the Northeast was the center of attention.
The GL kicked over easily, like being transported across the country was no big deal.
Upon return to Brad’s crashpad with the GL, he gave us two sleeping arrangement options: we could push the two couches together facing each other to make an enormous Couch Fort, or something else so completely lame by comparison that I’ve forgotten.
We had a couple more tasks to complete before we could commence exploring the town. I’d arranged with my RI insurance provider to have an adjuster look at my bike in Austin for the rear end collision in Atlanta that afternoon – good thing I’m an old hand at logistical wrangling. My suspicions would be they’d try to total it but it wouldn’t be the first time, and that’s something to deal with further down the road.
It wasn’t until the last hours of sunlight we scooted out to Brad’s suggestion for Austin flavor: the Cathedral of Junk.
I’m glad I took diligent notes because the next few days were a blissful blur of NRE (new relationship energy), which colors even the most mundane memories in a rose tint. I drank deep the small luxuries, like waking up slowly, curled up together in a couchfort. Watching grackles fight at Cherrywood Coffee. Working from the food court of the multi-floor health food mecca that is Austin’s flagship Whole Foods Market.
While my bike was in for service, I did my best from the back of the GL to show Fred what I remembered of Austin – it’s not often I get to play tour guide. I pointed out the bat bridge, and after dinner with Brad and Rebecca at Koriente, Jack (remember him?) limped in with a sprained ankle to meet us at Cheer Up Charlie’s (always an injury, I know the feeling). We actually hit quite a number of places, including the Firehouse Hostel bar that I haunted off the 6th Street party scene, Barberella, Swan Dive, and The Sidebar where I realized I’d visited before. I bid a drunken farewell to Jack at the end of the night and proceeded to dance to oldies in a smoky dive bar until we caught an Uber back. I wholeheartedly approve of this scene.
In the morning, Fred used my touchscreen capable gloved finger from the back of his bike to navigate to AF1. I’ve become a 140lbs touchscreen pen, I knew I was good for something.
Finally, we said our thanks to Brad, returned the couches to ‘normal’ configuration, and scooted out. Our meticulously laid out plans over Christmas were going into effect! I even had this great map my uncle sent me…
Of course, our carefully laid out plans immediately started going sideways. My bike had its first malfunction – the modern bike broke down! Actually, the fuel line had just fallen off after not being fully attached following a search for an air leak that resulted in a replacement intake manifold, so that snapped back on with little trouble. Still, by the time we were wandering Fredricksburg’s quaint beer halls the sun was sitting low, and we found a Best Value Inn in Kerrville only 120 miles from start. I’m introducing Fred to slow travel rather quickly.
We sampled TX 337 of the Twisted Sisters, spotted herds of wild boar cross the road, chatted at gas stations, got hit inflight by a small bird (bounced right off my shoulder!), and watched the landscape open up like crumpled paper unfolding. Up to about Leakey, TX I was familiar with the territory, but we’d made a point to break new ground. It was marvelous to have someone to share this huge state with, even if I was inhaling 2-stroke fumes the whole way at 45-50mph. Hmm, maybe that’s why I felt so giddy when we eventually made camp at Seminole Canyon State Park.
We kicked off our first night camping together wrapped in the intimacy of box wine and battery powered string lights, projecting the thin sound of Frank Turner as interpreted by two scooterists and a ukulele into the desert air. I didn’t realize until looking back that it was Valentine’s Day too. Aw, two scooters in love.
I woke up once that night. The desert cold pressed against the skin of my face and stars glittered through the mesh tent screen. The night was completely still, save for the warm lump of Fred breathing next to me. It was marvelous.
Langtry, TX had some Wild West history, but was more memorable for me as where I got the call from my insurance that they wanted to total my bike (again) but didn’t and paid out damages instead (second time I’ve rescued her from being totaled). Serenity’s battle scars include a crooked butt now.
In the style of Top Gear, while I was at the French Market in New Orleans I found a gift for Fred. Baby Jesus was bundled in, since Caitlin and I couldn’t find any further traditions for which to abuse a tiny plastic baby. With the help of some twine, they’ll accompany Fred to Vegas!
About two years ago I met Voni and Paul Glaves at a campground in Chotaeu, MT en route to Glacier National Park. It was a magical confluence of road serendipity. Upon parting they’d extended their Big Bend home to me should I find myself their far flung corner of this land (and if they’re not on the road themselves!). I finally found myself that way, I couldn’t miss the chance to see them!
After a brief recharge, we hopped in a car to check out Voni’s photography show at Earth and Fire Gallery in Terlingua, and take advantage of Starlight Theater‘s burger night. We couldn’t come through town without visiting ‘the mayor’, Clay Henry, the beer guzzling goat immortalized at the Starlight.
Although the Starlight no longer has the open roof that inspired its name, it’s still the place to be for live music and company, and has a porch big enough to accommodate all your sunset viewing pleasures. Spanish and English intermingled, and real cowboy hats – oily, worn, functional accessories – walked the dusty streets atop leathery stubbled faces and ponchos. Voni, ever popular, made so many introductions I’m sorry to say I can’t remember anyone’s names.
Terlingua seemed pretty hopping for a ghost town, and populated with the kind of individual that thrives on the fringes – does this kind of place attract that character, or is it those characters that make this kind of place? The vibe was contagious, on the car ride back I mused on an alternate timeline where I let years slip away studying the sunset paint soft rainbows over the pale desert rocks.
The landscape utterly dwarfed out little bikes, but we steadily carved our way through the shrub. Sharp cliffs and canyon faces hung along the horizon, waiting patiently for our two-wheeled party to close the distance. It’s a feast of scale, following 3 bikes drawing nearer to these massive geological features until you’re so close they fill the sky, and glinting right at the base are these tiny determined buzzing machines. Especially that burgundy one, I doubt Italian designers had the dusty expanse of Texas in mind when they were producing ladies’ grocery bikes half a century ago.
Paul fixed a salmon dinner at the ranch, and it was wonderful to stay in.
I’d stuck to my 4-days riding and then rest day rule, but I knew we’d find ourselves pushing that limit on our short stint to Vegas. After careful consideration (water is a precious resource here) we let the washing machine handle our meager but thoroughly depleted laundry, and finally Fred and I found some private downtime in the luxury of the pillow top mattress of the guest house. By that, I mean we watched episodes of the new X-Files on his laptop until we fell asleep (I don’t think I even made it through one episode).
A flat tire scrapped our plans to visit the secret swimming hole in the morning before departure, but I suppose we should leave something for next time. I owe Voni and Paul a huge debt of gratitude, for taking in and feeding Fred and I in their corner of the globe. Paul even put some witches brew into my gas when it had trouble starting/idling (bad gas, go figure), and I took the time to install my new tin skeleton. Old wingless skelly is a permanent guest at the guest house now. Thank you both so much!
Voni suggested taking the River Road on our way out, which revealed itself to be one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ever ridden. Swaths of bluebonnets, the Texas state flower, were in full bloom on the roadside. The road itself was a marvel of smooth pavement that gently bumped and curved with the shape of the canyon. Across the Rio just to the left was another country. Not a soul was in sight, just two scooters sailing past the hoodoos.
It was too beautiful to break the rhythm by stopping for photos, and I didn’t pull over until this lookout before Presidio, TX.
As we crested this hill the tip of my raccoon tail finally had enough of the wind, sun, and rain, and broke off. I thought it was gone for good, another donation to the road gods, until I passed a familiarly colored ball of fluff tumbling down the roadside a little ways on. I pulled over, grabbed it, and tucked it into my bag. It’s a keychain now.
Even plain things take on a quality in the desert. Like fast food. Maybe it’s the dust.
Our destination for the night wasn’t originally in the plan, but anyone who’s been there will tell you Marfa, TX is not to be missed.
Much of Marfa was closed this time of year and it was a cold, dark scoot through town. Despite this, just from our brief glimpse of Marfa, I wished we had more than one night to spend there. See the next installment!