Monday, May 29, 2006

Ride Around Texas

Working the previous year and a half had its pros and cons. On the plus side I earned a bit of money, met a good woman and bought a new V-Strom. On the negative side I had to bail on the 2005 IBR and other long distance riding. Don't get me wrong or feel sorry for me. I rode plenty, but being relegated to a weekend rider just ain't right. Much less when you're sitting at work looking out the window at a clear blue sky thinking, "why the hell am I here again?" Yep. I was jonesing big time for a long ride. A ride that would rid my system of the accumulated funk that can only come from working too much and ignoring parts of your life that matter.

The Ride Around Texas (RAT) was the ride and all I needed to do was focus on ensuring my contract was up mid-May. Well, and get the bike ready, put all my shit in storage and hit the road for a while. I did my best to give life enough room to work through the details and was rewarded with the end of the contract and everything else falling into place. Even life needs a little room to breathe and navigate through the chaos.

The RAT is exactly that - a ride around the perimeter of Texas. Originally conceived by Doug Woodall a couple years prior, the ride covers roughly ~3000 miles of varied terrain and temperatures and has seventeen mandatory stops to document the Texas perimeter. Including**:

Port Arthur
Port Bolivar
South Padre Island
Del Rio
Big Bend Panther Junction
Guadalupe Mountains N.P.

The rules are simple. Choose a starting location. Choose a direction of travel. Ride inside the state of Texas to each subsequent mandatory stop to document your ride until you get back to where you started. Pretty simple. Finishing in less than 70 hours would get you a RAT Gold certification. Finishing in 85 hours or less would get you a RAT certification.**

The innaugural RAT was run in conjunction with the MTF Founder's Feast based out of Texarkana, Texas. That fixed the starting point. The direction of travel was set by the MTF as well - clockwise. My original plan had me completing the ride in roughly 62-64 hours while making pit stops in Del Rio and Dalhart for 4-5 hours of rest. The MTF presented the ride to the IBA and they were willing to certify the ride and add it to the official rides list.** Game on.

**Please note: When this ride becomes an official IBA ride, there will be some minor changes. First, we will add Laredo to the mandatory stop list. Second, RAT Gold will be 65 hours or less and RAT will be 80 hours or less. This will not change the achievements of the innaugural RAT riders.

When I arrived in Texarkana folks were already milling around and checking in.

Jim and Bob
I know what Bob is thinking, but I don't want to know what Jim's thinking.

Alan and Fred
Fred looks like he just got finished with the ride!

Gotta love Randy's general attitude towards everything.

Art and Dennis
I don't think I've ever seen a picture where either one isn't smiling.

In typical fashion, I wanted to get an early start the next morning. I woke up around 3a, took care of the morning rituals and left around 4:30a. It was a popular starting time and one I felt comfortable with as it would give me options when it came to catching the ferry from Port Bolivar to Galveston Island. Additionally, I'd be in a good position to either go through Houston or skirt my way around it on some two-lane FM roads. But I had time to smoke on that decision. I went to the nearest gas station located in Texas (this is Texarkana you know), filled up and the clock is now ticking. What comes with each tick is an adrenaline-packed shot in the arm of determination and intentioned focus. There's a fine line between intentioned focus and nervousness. In the former, the world and you do not contend with the inteneded route plan. You give the world and yourself room to flow freely and allow things to fall into place naturally. This is the feeling for which I've been yearning. The tick. The focus. The determination. Life is good.

The route is typical between Texarkana and Port Arthur. No real gotchas along the way. Between Port Arthur and Port Bolivar, however, it's important to note that SR-87 is closed for some length. Backtracking to Winnie from Port Arthur and heading south on SR-124 to SR-87 is required. I ran into a bit of construction on SR-87 toward Port Bolivar, but it didn't slow the pace a great deal. The ferry ride to Galveston was uneventful. I only waited about 15 minutes before the ferry arrived and everyone boarded.

I had a decision to make after Galveston. Do I go through the southern edge of Houston or ride the two-laner FM roads to Victoria? I chose the two-laners, but in retrospect after talking to several folks it appeared the decision is six one way and half-dozen the other - at least on that day. However, the pace to Victoria was generally good. Movement is key for me.

On the way to South Padre Island the temperature escalated dramatically. I stopped to refuel myself and the bike and also stopped at a beef jerkey joint. Wish I could remember the name of that place. Damn fine jerked beef. Anyway, by the time I arrived in SPI it was smokin hot at 100+. I saw a number of riders and everyone looked like they were having a good time.

On the way out of SPI I fell in behind Kevin L and his ST1100. It's not like me to fall in *behind* anyone or allow anyone to fall in behind me for long, but I liked the eager pace Kevin maintained and for whatever bloody reason, I stayed right there tail-grabbing Kevin's ass. There was a lot of construction between SPI and Rio Grande City, but traffic wasn't impacted much. If a wreck occurred, though, I can see where traffic would be backed for miles upon miles.

As night began to fall we approached Laredo. Getting through Laredo can be a real pain in the ass, but traffic flowed relatively well to the other side. We stopped just north of Laredo for a spell to refuel and grab a bite to eat. About the time we were ready to bolt, I felt a knock at the backdoor and told Kevin that it could not be ignored. I encouraged him to carry on as I don't like to hold up others and I won't tolerate being held up by anyone. He told me to go ahead and take care of business and he'd wait.

In retrospect, I'm damn glad he waited. You see, my strom wasn't totally rally-ready at the time of this ride. I had a fuel cell, but did not have any auxillary lighting. Kevin's ST had a set of Hella Micro DE Xenon HIDs. I didn't have time to install my set on the strom before the ride. There were so many deer going into Del Rio it freaked me out and I don't freak out easily. Damn things were everywhere and Kevin's lights illuminated all of the potentially suicidal deer in our path. All of them were well-behaved that night. We arrived in Del Rio a bit after midnight, stopped at a Motel 6 and decided we'd regroup 4 hours from now.

The morning came quickly, but I was eager for more of the road. We also picked up another rider, Mike S. Mike was quietly and consistently tailing us through parts of the Rio Grand Valley so it's just as well he continued to do so. I reckon he liked Kevin's eager pace. Can't fault him for that. Again, Kevin's HIDs lit up a shitload of deer. Only a couple of suicidal deer, but no hits. The ride through Big Bend was awesome. If you've never traveled the River Road (RR-170) between Lajitas and Presidio, get your ass down there and do it. I hadn't been to the area in a while and thoroughly enjoy that stretch of road. You can get yourself in trouble quickly so be careful.

The ride up to Anthony was effortless. Just sit and twist. After Anthony you'll need to get to the east side of El Paso and US-62. Rather than going back through El Paso, consider taking SR-375, the Mountain Loop, around the north side of town. Depending on the time of day, it could save you a bundle of time.

As we traveled north and the sun started to go down it became considerably colder. I reckon the temps were around 40 and the electrics made an appearance. From 100+ the previous day to 40- today. Gotta love Texas. We had an uneventful ride to Texline. I remembered Alan telling me the store in Texline had some pretty good burritos and I couldn't resist having one when we stopped. We made it back to Dalhart around 11:30p and decided to regroup around 5a the next morning for the final push back to Texarkana.

It's just a short hop, skip and twist over to Follett from Dalhart. At 36 degrees, it was a bit chilly that morning. We saw a few other riders while stopped in Follet, but didn't hang around too long. We hit the road and by the time we arrived in Childress I could smell Texarkana. When we arrived back in Texarkana there were a few riders already there. I think Kevin left a little after me at the start, but I finished the ride in roughly 60 hours. A little better than my original estimate.

All in all, this was a fine ride and one that I encourage everyone to run. You'll see a lot of varied terrain and temperatures. We experienced temperatures ranging from 105 to 36. We saw the piney woods of east Texas, the coastal swamps of the south, the hot and toasty Rio Grande Valley, the deserts of the west and the northern plains of the panhandle. An amazing array of sites, smells and sensations. And some smells you'll be thankful if you never smell them again.

Here are some pics from the Founder's Feast banquet.

Alan scoring Rick

See? Dennis is smiling again!

Kent, Tony and Roger.
Kent passed away the following week doing what he loved. Godspeed to our friend.

After the Founder's Feast Debbie and I spent a couple days roaming the Ozarks.

Debbie on the Talimena

Overlooking the Petit Jean Valley

Debbie at the Pig Trail

Your's Truly

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