Big Bend National Park & Texas Hill Country Ride
by Brian A. Hopkins, October 2004

Nearly 2,400 miles on my 2003 Kawasaki ZZR1200 motorcycle through the barren, twisty, rollercoaster-like hills of southwest Texas with some of my riding buddies from Dallas, Austin, and New Braunfels.  We'll visit Big Bend National Park, slip across the border into Mexico to snuggle with some young latina honeys, break a land-speed record or two (or at least the record for worst gas mileage ever), and generally have a good time.  Break out your boots and leather jacket, 'cause it's time to go riding again.  (You can click on most of the images for a larger view.  All photos are copyright (c) 2004 by Brian A. Hopkins and were taken by the same unless otherwise noted.)

 

-- Pre-Ride Stuff: Taking Care of the Lovely Lady in Black Evening Wear --

Prior to the trip, I had to take care of some maintenance concerns.  With the ZZR, I've discovered a certain amount of self-satisfaction, a Zen if you will (not to intentionally plug Pirsig's book, mind you, which I actually thought was a rather boring read) when it comes to performing maintenance on my ride.  I've always been a "do my own oil change" kinda guy, but that was about the extent of it with all the motorcycles I've owned in 24 years of riding (though, come to think of it, I did rebuild the forks on my '84 V65 Magna once). Opening the top of an engine to measure valve clearances seemed way above and beyond the call of duty and more than a little bit frightening, to tell the truth.  With the ZZR, though, with the miles I've been racking up, I decided I really didn't want to be spending the kind of money the dealership wanted to keep her in tip-top form -- and, even more importantly, I wasn't sure I trusted anyone else with my girl.  I'd read far too many horror stories at the online motorcycle forums.  The advantage I had with the ZZR was that there are plenty of guys at www.zzr1200.net ready and willing to answer questions.  So ... let's get some grease under our nails, shall we?

The ZZR's maintenance schedule calls for the valves to be checked at 7,500 miles.  Now, if you ask me, that's just plain ridiculous.  The bike was running fantastic, so I shrugged my shoulders and just rode the snot out of her.  At 15,000 miles, however, even though she was still running like a champ, I was feeling guilty for ignoring the maintenance interval.  So I stripped her down (see pic of bike minus her gas tank and a considerable amount of plastic, but please respect my lady's modesty, will ya?) and opened her up.  First thing to address was that totally disgusting air filter.  This I really shouldn't have let go so long ... but, hey, it actually didn't look that bad for 15,000 miles.  I just needed to clean out the crud and bug guts, then re-oil the filter element.  Simple stuff really -- or at least it would be if it didn't require tearing the bike apart to get to it.  Only real problem was how stinking hot it was in my garage (see pic of thermometer on bike's dash at right).

Next, I removed the carburetors.  Most ZZR owners complain of a flat spot just off idle and up to about 3,000 rpm.  This is a lean condition set at the factory to meet emissions requirements.  To tell the truth, it never bothered me.  I twist the throttle and she goes.  What flat spot?  But since I had her torn open, I decided to shim and readjust the carbs, a mod that many ZZR owners have done with great results.  Amazing what a couple teeny-tiny shims (washers) slipped under the carb needles and a readjustment of the mixture can do, eh?  I find the bike a lot less civilized now.  Before, you'd twist the throttle and ease away from the light, not really launching the front end off the ground unless you really whacked her hard.  Now, after the carb shimming, you've got to be careful not to crawl up on the trunk of the car in front of you.  The bike responds just off idle the same way she does in the powerband at, say, 5,000+ rpm.  I'm not entirely sure I would do it again ... but now that I have the power available in my right fist, I don't think I could go back.  The bike would feel like a tired old pig. 

Naked ZZR! Dirty air filter element.  Note to self: clean more often! Bank of Klein carbs on the tailgate of my pickemup truck.  Number four carb open so we can drop a couple shims under the needle.

With the carbs and a dozen or more hoses removed (and, yes, I often use the tailgate of my pickup as a work surface when I'm working in the garage), the ignition coils out of the way, and all openings plugged with paper towels (man, am I glad someone told me to do this, because, sure enough, if there's one time you'll drop a screw and have it go somewhere you don't really want it to go ... well, down into your engine is the place it's gonna go), I was able to open the engine up.  There lay every ZZR1200 owner's biggest source of anxiety: the cam shafts.  There've been a number of owners with some serious cam lobe pitting going on -- cam herpes, they've been calling it.  Kawasaki's been replacing the cam shafts under warranty, but, well, my bike was now beyond its original 12-month warranty and I hadn't bought the extended warranty.  I'm proud to report that my cams were gorgeous looking.  No pitting whatsoever on either the exhaust or intake cam.  Not only that, but as I got in there with my feeler gauges, I discovered that the engine had every right to be running as well as she has been, because all 16 valves measured well within specs.  I didn't have to adjust a thing.  I did, however, pull out a couple valve shims just to get the knack of it.  I was going to pull out all 16 so I could record the sizes, but it proved to be too much of a pain in the ass taking them out and putting them back in, what with having to slide the rocker arms out of the way and everything being all slippery with motor oil..

Just for kicks, I replaced all four spark plugs.  It's only ten or twelve bucks, after all.  Then I sealed her all back up.  A carb synch was the only thing I didn't get to, but she really didn't feel like she needed one and I don't have the gauges to do it anyway.  When I get around to buying the necessary mercury gauges, I'll open her back up and do that, but I imagine the carbs will be pretty close.  Last order of business was servicing the brake and clutch lines.  I'd bought a Mity-Vac brake bleeding kit and, gotta tell ya, nothing could be easier.  I just set the vacuum pump, cracked the bleeder valves (one on each front caliper, two on the rear, and one for the clutch), and while the old fluid was sucked out nice and neat into the little holding cup, I kept the reservoirs topped off with new fluid, ensuring there was no chance of air getting into the lines.  For the bike being just a little over a year old, I was amazed at the amount of crud that came out of the lines.  My maintenance manual says do this every other year, but I think I'll stick to doing it once a year.  I definitely noticed a difference in the feel of the brakes -- though no real change in clutch operation.

The aforementioned shims on a carb needle.  Amazing what a difference these tiny washers can make!

Two (of 16) cam lobes ... no pitting.  It's a shim-over-bucket arrangement.  Slip your feeler gauges between the cam follower and the shim.  If it's out of spec, change the shim.  Simple stuff, really.

Mity-Vac brake bleeding ... can't say enough about this product.  Did both front and rear brakes and my clutch in about 20 minutes time.

I also dropped in a new set of front brake pads, but we don't want to talk about that.  This was my third set of replacement pads, all from different manufacturers (EBC, DP, and Galfer), all of which have squealed horribly.  I no longer use the brakes on the ZZR unless I absolutely have to, 'cause I can't stand the noise.  I've spent nearly $200 now chasing this brake squeal problem.  Nothing seems to help.  Next step is replacing the rotors, I guess ... a $450 expense.  I'd have done it already, but I'm waiting for a new type of rotor (Pro Lite Contour) coming soon from EBC.

After this work was done, my buddy Greg actually came up from Dallas for a visit on his Goldwing and we took a day trip down to the Wichita Mountains in southwest Oklahoma.  The ZZR ran perfectly, proving that I could perhaps moonlight as a motorcycle mechanic.  Atop Mount Scott, we were joined by four young guys on sportbikes (CBR1000RR, R1, and similar bikes).  While Greg and I were taking pictures and climbing rocks to get the best views, we noticed the young guys checking out the bikes.  Now you would think they'd be interested in the 185 mph ZZR, right?  Nope.  There they were pouring over the quintessential "old man's motorcycle," the Goldwing.  Whassup wit' dat?!?!?  Oddly enough, though, every time I'm riding with Gregger, the ZZR gets ignored.  If it's not the Wing's 500 buttons and gizmo-whatsits, it's the pretty red of his Viffer.  Everybody loves a red bike.  Anytime I'm with Greg, me and the ZZR are invisible.  I'm guessing this might come in handy some day if we're pulled over for speeding, but in the meantime the ZZR and me just feel slighted.

One more thing before hitting the road for this trip ... Ayup, you guessed it.  Tire time.  The BT020 I had mounted not too long ago probably had another 2,000 miles left in it, but I was afraid that wasn't going to be enough for this trip.  So I pulled it and installed the new Avon AV46ST that had been sitting in my garage for a while (needed to get it mounted anyway, 'cause Crazytrain saw it sitting there on his last visit, and after telling me that there was a nation-wide backorder on them, threatened to steal mine!).  I'll remount the Bridgestone later and get the remaining use out of it running back and forth to work.  My front tire, a Dunlop D220, still looks great, even though by the end of this trip it'll have over 8,000 miles on it..

The ZZR with her rear in the air, waiting for a new tire.  Good time to clean the spooge off the chain and out from under the rear fender! Bridgestone BT020.  I was pleased with this tire.  Note the total lack of chicken strips (that area of tire which doesn't get used if the bike isn't ridden aggressively).  This tire saw some serious use in the hill country southwest of Fort Worth. Sexy new rubber!  Va-va-voom!

Last, but certainly not least, we gotta give the bike a thorough washing and polishing before we take her out and get her totally plastered with bugs and road grime.  Just wouldn't be right to start on a dirty bike, even if washing it doesn't make any sense whatsoever.  Pics of the bike included here 'cause ... well, 'cause you can never have too many shots of this beauty!

And now, finally, we're ready to ride...

 

-- Day One: Just a Quick Twist of the Throttle Down to Texas -- 

Wednesday after work, I hopped on the bike -- already packed the night before -- and blasted out of OKC ahead of evening traffic.  It felt good being on the bike and knowing I had many days and miles ahead of me.  Flying south on I-35, the ride was fast but unchallenging.  Traffic was light.  The only thing of note was a truck's tire exploding in the northbound lane as it passed me.  Even across a wide median, with me in helmet and earplugs, the boom was loud and startling, making me flinch in the saddle.  I'd hate to be riding behind a truck when that happens.  You do know never to follow a big truck any closer or for any longer than you absolutely have to, right?  There have been people killed by exploding tires -- and I'm not just talking about motorcycle riders.  Tire shrapnel has gone through windshields and decapitated people before.  Be careful out there.

Three hours and 221 miles from my driveway, I pulled into Elaine and Gregger's, where the garage door magically went up for me, same as always.  Elaine was sitting in her reading room again, waiting on my arrival.  After hugs were exchanged, we sat down to an excellent salmon dinner.  Despite Chris's (i.e., Crazytrain's) bitching, we were planning a 4:30 a.m. ride-off time in order to meet up at the IHOP for breakfast in Hillsborough, so it was early to bed.  I didn't sleep well, though, as I was anxious to be on the road.  The ride down to Irving had done nothing but warm up the bike.

This trip started when I was trying to figure out where else to use the National Parks Pass I had bought earlier in the year.  Gotta get my money's worth out of it, doncha know.  I started scanning maps, and Big Bend seemed like a good choice for a trip this late in the year.  When I initially mentioned it to Greg, he said he'd been there and he didn't act interested in going back.  "Well, I guess I'll go by myself then.  I'm gonna shoot for the week of Columbus Day, so I can make good use of the Federal holiday."  Next thing I know, Greg's all excited about going (can't bear the thought of me doing all those miles without him, I guess).  Turned out that most of the hotels in the area were booked for some sort of arts festival during the week of Columbus Day (and I'm the only one who likes to camp), so we had to adjust our plans for the following week.  Greg started making arrangements for hotels, because he had specific places he wanted to stay.  That was cool with me.  The less I had to do, the better.  I just wanna ride.  I posted about the trip on the ZZR forum, where we picked up two additional riders (Chris and Jason), and Greg posted about it at Sport-Touring.Net, where we picked up one more (Andrew).  That would make five of us, a nice tight group.  Three ZZRs, a VFR, and a Kawasaki Concours.  You couldn't ask for a more reliable stable of mounts.  After meeting up with Chris in Hillsborough, we were to meet up with Jason in Austin.  Andrew would rendezvous with us in Del Rio later that night.

It was a long time before I fell asleep.

 

-- Day Two:  Biker Boyz, Boyz Town, and the Quest for Tranquility --

I was putting on my boots and sipping hot tea at the kitchen table, when Greg came in from outside.  "Guess what," he said.  I groaned, "Tell me it's not raining..."  "Sorry."

So we donned our gear and rode off in a light drizzle.  I was amazed at the amount of traffic on Dallas streets at 4:30 in the morning.  Where were these people going?  I-35 carried us south out of Dallas.  Exiting at Hillsborough, we topped off our gas tanks, then rode over to the I-Hop where Chris had just finished breakfast without us.  Whassup wit' dat?  Greg had munched down a bowl of cereal before leaving the house and I'd had a couple pieces of toast, so we were good to go anyway.  'Sides, we really only had just enough time to make our rendezvous with Jason in Austin.  Even a cup of coffee would have put us behind.

I hadn't seen Chris's ZZR since he'd had it painted (though I'd seen Chris at least twice in the last month, both times he'd been on his ZX-11), so I had to go ogle it for a while.  I'd been considering getting my ZZR painted, but Chris showed me where his new paint job wasn't holding up very well.  It was easier to chip the new paint than the stock finish.  His front fender looked worse than mine.  Bummer.  So much for a paint job.  Chris had packed light, nothing but a tank bag and a backpack that he planned to wear while riding.  It didn't look too comfortable to me, having all your clothes strapped to your back for the entire trip, but what the hell, long as I didn't have to do it.  Chris did buy several new shirts along the way and shipped some dirty clothes home, so I actually think his packing could be described as "ultra-light."  I like my Givis; there's room for everything, including the kitchen sink.  Some riders worry about them affecting bike stability at triple-digit-speeds, but I haven't noticed anything.  Even with the bags, the bike's stable out to ... well, let's just say "really fast" for now.

Since the rain was backing off, I removed my rain gear.  Even though it was a cool morning (50ish), with leather under my rain gear, I was getting uncomfortably hot.  Besides, Chris whipped out his rain suit and -- voila! -- it was exactly the same as mine.  We couldn't be twinkies!  The three of us saddled up and cruised down the interstate some more, exiting on 1431.  A couple miles west, we met up with Jason at the designated gas station.  The requisite checking out of bikes ensued.  Jason had a GPS and radar detector rigged up on his.  If we could convince Greg to relinquish the lead, Jason's radar detector would probably come in handy.  Greg loves to lead, though -- and he has a good nose for speed traps.

The four of us took 1431 (nice road with some sweet sweepers and nice elevation changes) to Marble Falls, where we picked up 281.  The sun was up by now and the clouds had backed off.  281's straight and boring, but we were only on it for a short time, grabbing 1323 over to Route 16.  16 bore us south at our usual high rate of speed, under I-10 and through Kerrville (a staging point for a lot of sportbikers who come to ride the hill country).  In Medina, we hooked a hard right on 337, where the fun really began.  I was supposed to be taking it easy until the edges of my new Avon scrubbed in, but the tire was sticking like glue and we were doing what boys with high-powered toys are wont to do.  In no time at all, we were in Leakey, where Chris wanted to stop at some locally famous motorcycle shop.  The shop owner gave us the lowdown on some construction on 336, which runs along the Frio River and is probably a lot of fun, so we decided to avoid it on this trip.

Chris's ZZR and Chris hisownself, aka Crazytrain, alongside my bike at the Frio Canyon Motorcycle Shop in Leakey, where I pulled out my camera for the first time this trip.  It's difficult to take pictures when you're riding like we were.  Gas stops were about the only stops we made.

Jason beside his 2003 ZZR1200.  Looks a lot like my bike, eh?  He's running a Givi topcase instead of side cases like mine.  Many people use both.

We followed 337 out of Leakey, blazing through sweepers and tighter switchbacks, flying over the Texas hills.  Absolutely beautiful country: verdant hills, bubbling brooks, skunks and deer and armadillo peering from the underbrush.  I could live here and ride these roads everyday -- no doubt about it.  I blew a 25 mph right-hander with Jason right behind me, so he could tease me about it later.  I might have been able to hold the bike to my lane if I'd pushed her down real hard, but it wasn't a blind turn and there was no one coming the other way, so what's a couple feet across the line, eh?  I'd just gone into the damn thing much too hot.  Jason got a good snicker out of it, though.  But that's okay, he'd get his later.  A quick poll, you see, revealed that Jason was the only one who had never dropped his bike.  Despite Chris's generous offer to kick it over for Jason and get it over and done with, Jason wanted to let it happen naturally.  "Sure," we all told him, "you go ahead whenever you're ready."

More fun was had traveling north on 335, which runs alongside and back and forth over the Nueces River.  What a great road!  Barely a straight spot on it.  From the top of 335, we jogged a couple miles west and caught 674, turning south again.  674 has a really fun section where it follows the West Nueces.  Both Nueces Rivers feature crystal clear, bubbling water.  674 brought us to 90, where we turned west and opened the bikes up for the long, flat run into Del Rio.  Jason took the lead here because we feared "the man" might be out looking for sportbikers with a penchant for going a wee bit over the speed limit.  Greg and I were behind Jason, and Chris was bringing up the rear.  Guess we weren't traveling fast enough for Chris, because he soon came rocketing past.  There ain't nothing like a full-bore ZZR strafing to snap you out of a mid-afternoon reverie.  Jason saw him coming and gave his own ZZR the green light.  Greg waved me on; "You know you want to," he seemed to be saying, so I dropped down behind the fairing and pinned the throttle.  The three of us went screaming off across the badlands.  A later check of Jason's GPS would reveal our actual top speed: 156 mph.  Even with the saddlebags, my ZZR was solid as a rock at that speed.

We whipped into the parking lot of the La Quinta in Del Rio, where the hotel management was nice enough to let us park our bikes in the covered entranceway.  We cleaned up and were discussing dinner when Andrew pulled in on his Kawasaki Concours.  We had dinner at a Mexican place down the road (food was reasonably priced and very good), then commenced to riding back and forth through Del Rio -- each of us generally cutting up a bit, as you can't get a buncha boys together without horseplay ensuing -- especially when there's all that horsepower available.  (Greg seemed particularly fond of zooming around at a high rate of speed through this one parking lot; we thought he might be trying to get the Viffer to wheelie, but the front tire never left the ground.)  Several stops were made and several locals where asked where some hormonal youngsters (Ha!  Was there a one of us under 40?) might find a "titty bar."  It seemed there were no such establishments to be found in Del Rio, but a bar called Denim and Diamonds was recommended (site of the aforementioned parking lot) as the "happenin' place" in town.  We zoomed over there only to discover it was a Karaoke bar.  That should have been our first clue.  After each of us proclaimed loudly (in our most masculine tones) that we weren't singing any friggin' Karaoke, we sauntered in to find the "happenin' place" was, in fact, deader'n a doornail.  There were some Mexicans playing pool, but that's about it.  The girl behind the bar, when we asked about getting a drink, said we needed to order from her because there was no waitress on that night.  That should have been our second clue ... or third ... or ... you get the picture.  While we had a beer, Chris had a brainstorm.  He got on his cell phone and called a friend who was from Del Rio.  "Where are the titty bars?"  He was again informed that there weren't any.  "Why the hell not?  There's an Air Force base here.  Who keeps those boys entertained?"  Whereupon we were told the obvious: everybody goes across into Mexico.  "But don't take your bikes, because they'll damn sure vanish while you're busy ogling nekkid women."

Andrew arrives at the La Quinta just in time to join us for dinner.

Yours truly with the ZZR under light reins.  (Photo by Chris.)

We went back to the hotel, called up a cab, and four of us (Andrew bowed out) went south of the border to see just how bad it could be.  Ciudad Acuna resembled every other poverty stricken Mexican town I've ever seen.  That is to say it looked like a slum.  The cab driver asked where we wanted to go and we told him: "titty bar."  "Ah, si" says he, "Ju wan' to go to Boyz Town."  We asked if that's where guys went to pay girls to take their clothes off.  "Si.  Dey get naked.  Ju buy ANYthing ju want dere."  He then proceeded to drive through town and turn up this horribly rutted, washed out, piss-poor excuse of a road going straight up the side of a steep hill.  I'm not even sure I would have wanted to drive my 4x4 truck up that road.  "You sure you know where you're going?" we asked, wondering if he was about to pull over somewhere in the pitch black night, order us out of the cab, and have three or four of his friends rob us at gunpoint. The road was about to wreck his already rattling and wheezing cab.  I can't imagine why no one would pave the road to Boyz Town.  I mean what else does Ciudad Acuna have to offer the touristas?

Finally, we reached the top of the hill and found several rows of neon-lit establishments.  I knew we were in the right place, because everyone knows that neon and nekkid women go together.  The cab driver gave us the grand tour.  "Ju want to start at da bottom of the hill," he said.  Jason asked what was the difference.  We were told the cheaper women were at the top of the hill.  "You mean the pretty women are at the bottom of the hill?"  No.  The pretty women are at the top of the hill.  Then why start at the bottom where the women aren't as pretty and cost more?  I never did figure that last one out.  "Whatever ju do," said the cabbie, before booting us out, "don't go in those shops over there."  I got the feeling our throats would be cut if we did.  Didn't really matter.  We never left the first place we entered -- at the bottom of the hill.  The women were gorgeous.  There must have been 5 dancers to every customer, maybe more.  They were naked.  Drinks were reasonable. We had a good time.  Chris kinda got married.  Greg kinda got a tour of the "champagne room" (and Chris Rock doesn't know dick about Mexico!).  And we all got out of there alive.  What an experience.

Still, there's always something about those places that leaves me feeling a bit hollow inside. Sure, there's a 15-year-old boy part of me that sniggers its best Beavis and Butthead and says, "Whoa, that chick's, like, nekkid" (or, if you prefer, we can use Benny Hill's leering "She has no shoes .... she has no knickers ... she's a'nekkid"), but a greater part of me recognizes the sad state of affairs that leads young women to parade themselves about in their birthday suits (and do far worse) for the crude entertainment of SOBs like myself.  While I've enjoyed the beauty of such working women in many establishments across the country, I can't honestly say that I've ever been sexually aroused by them at the time.  It's all too impersonal for my tastes, too choreographed and false.  At breakfast the next morning, when Andrew asked if we'd found what we were looking for, Greg's response was "Yes, but we found no tranquility there."  It struck me as rather funny at the time, and I made a mental note to remember it for my travel journal.  In a post trip email discussion between the two of us, however, Greg expanded upon the statement a bit with his usual insightful eloquence:

I had a blast with you and the guys and I learned things about myself on this trip and some things about the way the world turns in other peoples worlds. SAD, comes to mind how some choose to live to escape the poverty they live in. Machines they were...sad eyed behind the curtain smile of make up and glitz. A phony trick pony on the desert of lust upon a hill, cast away in the darkness like some shipwreck of ghosts crying through neon lights, there is no TRANQUILITY here their eyes yell, we are only machines, our emotions and hearts hid away in the towns we left as babes. Ride your ride, we take no pride, for another season beckons where spring flowers bloom and pretty women of days past become the girls they never were before the doom and gloom consumed their dreams. Some will escape and their hearts will shine on some other hill, some other time, a happier place where they will be women and where true love may guide them to their own inner treasures. May God Bless them in this life and not another.

Profound, eh?

Afterward, we returned to the La Quinta and crashed.  We had ridden 563 miles that day ... mostly at warp speed.  Okay, okay, entirely at warp speed.  Ha.

 

-- Day Three: Big Bend, the River Road, and Breaking the Law West of the Pecos --

Despite Chris's bitching (again), we had scheduled a ride-off time of 7:15 a.m., asses in the saddle, kickstands up, front tires pointed in the proper direction, thank you very much.  Even after his complaining, though, Chris was actually up before the rest of us and had taken his bike to the car wash and gone in search of a post office to mail home his dirty clothes.  Greg and I were loaded and ready to go at 6:45, so we strolled across to a restaurant for breakfast, joined by Andrew.  Jason was the smart one that morning, however, as he discovered the hotel's continental breakfast included a waffle iron and fresh waffle batter.  After breakfast, we all saddled up and shot out of Del Rio on Highway 90.  We crossed the Amistad Reservoir -- purty in the rising sun! -- and shot through Comstock as the roosters were just getting started.  Before I knew it, we were whipping into our first tourist attraction, the overlook at the Pecos River bridge.  It was a quick stop -- helmets weren't even removed -- but everyone dug out their cameras and went to shutter-bugging.

Yours truly overlooking the Pecos River.  (Photo by Chris.) The bridge over the Pecos River.  This is just north of where the Pecos meets the Rio Grande. Crazytrain strikes a pose.

Next stop of the morning was Judge Roy Bean's famous office just across the Pecos River.  We took some time to walk around and play tourist, but we were soon flying down Highway 90 again, Big Bend bound.  We passed quite a few Border Patrol vehicles, but no cops.  The Border Patrol didn't seem to mind that we were blowing their doors off.  Later, though, at a gas station where the local Sheriff's Deputy approached us and talked endlessly about everything imaginable, Greg conned him into asking Crazytrain if we were the maniacal sportbikers that all the Border Patrol guys were buzzing about on the radio.  Chris denied it was us, of course.  Pretty funny.  I'm not sure if Greg ever did let Chris in on the joke.  The interesting thing about the local cop was that as we stood there in front of the gas station/convenience store, he would greet and talk to every local who approached.  He knew them all by their first names.  Guess you still get that in a small town out in the boonies.  Kinda neat.  One of his buddies even came out of the store with a case of beer under his arm and said, "You coming?"  The Sheriff's Deputy told him he'd be along shortly.  (I think this might have happened in Presidio, but after awhile all this stuff on the road just sort of runs together 'cause your brain is paying more attention to your riding than it is to the proper chronological recording of road trip information.  I should take notes. Doesn't really matter, though. I'm writing about it at this point in the journal, 'cause that's when it occurred to me to mention it.  So what if it's slightly out of sequence.  Deal with it.)

Judge Roy Bean, the Law West of the Pecos.  You wanna know the history, skip on over to Google or something. There's a new Sheriff in town, boys!  (Photo by Chris.) An interesting windmill amid the cacti around Bean's place.

We stopped for gas and lunch in Marathon, where they happened to be hanging a sign for an actual marathon run.  (We would actually run smack dab into it the following day.)  Lunch was at a nice little soda shop where I got a delicious strawberry shake.  It cost $3.50, but it was worth it.  Between it and my burger, I was bloated.  We turned south on 385 for the 40 mile run to the park.  The park entrance proved to be unmanned, so my park pass remained in my pocket unused.  Guess the park's free in the off-season or something.  The posted speed limit in the park was a ridiculous 45 mph.  Of course, you know we obeyed it.  Heh heh.  At one point, we actually came up behind a park ranger.  We followed him at about 55 mph for five miles or so, before he finally pulled to the side and motioned us around him.  A wee bit of hesitation ensued.  Was he setting us up for a higher ticket?  We were a bit worried when he followed us, but he soon turned off on a side road.  I'm sure we kept it under a hundred.

Big Bend National Park. Yours truly, somewhere in Big Bend.  (Photo by Chris.) Chris and his lovely blue, custom-painted ZZR1200.  During this trip, his odometer turned over 50,000 miles -- and he's never had a single problem with the bike.

There was very little traffic in the park that day.  We stopped at the park headquarters/visitor's center at Panther Junction so that Chris could get a map.  It was here that Jason decided it was time to drop his bike while making a tight u-turn (those damn low speed parking lot maneuvers will get you every friggin' time!).  Unfortunately, none of us were around to see (and appreciate) the mishap.  Actually, I know I felt really bad for him, as I'm sure the others did.  Damage was minimal because the bike fell on his foot.  If Jason hadn't just the week before bought brand new riding boots with heavy ankle protection, I'm sure his ankle or his foot would have been broken and the remainder of his trip totally ruined.  After all, the ZZR, with a full tank of gas, weighs over 600 pounds.  I think Jason came out of the drop with nothing but a few small scratches on his lower fairing and mirror.  Damn lucky!

Parked near Big Bend National Park's Panther Junction, shortly after Jason introduced his bike to the pavement.  This was our usual haphazard parking style, which drove Chris crazy every time he wanted to take a neatly staged photo.  Left to right: Greg and his red Viffer, Andrew's Connie, me, Chris, and Jason.  (Photo by Andrew.)

We'd been watching for deer the whole trip, but it was here that we actually saw them (though Jason did see a pronghorn beside the road somewhere).  As you can see, they weren't at all frightened and were, uh, just that close.  I think they were checking out the bikes.  I think I heard them whispering, "What do you think?  Should we take out the shiny red one as they leave?"

From Panther Junction, we continued down to Chisos Basin, taking in the scenery, clenching our butt-cheeks through a few downhill curves that really were, no shitting, 10 mph'ers.  I think I heard the Concours scraping a peg behind me.  From there, we took the road down to Santa Elena Canyon, only to find the last bit of road underwater.  Getting there meant crossing a couple washed out places in the road.  The ZZR's not the best bike for this sort of thing, but we made do.

Chris crossing a washed out section of road.  (Photo by Andrew.) Yours truly, following suit.  (Photo by Andrew.) At some point in time, it became customary to give Chris a "You're Number One!" sign anytime he pointed his camera at us.  I'm not sure how this started.  Behind the brush in this picture is the Rio Grande.  Those bluffs you see behind us are in Mexico.  Left to right: Andrew, me, Greg, Jason.  (Photo by Chris.)

Chris breezes through a tight 25 mph switch back in Big Bend, no doubt doing the speed limit. My ZZR in Big Bend National Park. Jason on the throttle, coming out of a hard lean as he passes the curve's apex.

Greg and his Honda VFR Interceptor in Big Bend. My ZZR in Big Bend.

Big Bend was soon behind us.  We shot through the little town of Lajitas without stopping (even though I kinda wanted to explore the place; about ten years ago I started a story that's set in Lajitas because once it was a favorite border crossing for comancheros and banditos -- one of these days I might actually finish the story).  There was a lot of construction going on in Lajitas, something to do with the entire town having been sold to some millionaire who was developing it for tourism.  (Sorry, I don't actually know the details.)  We didn't stop because we were now on Highway 170, the famous River Road that snakes its way along the Rio Grande.  There was a three mile section of construction at the start of the road, otherwise this was the best riding of the trip.  Rather than blast a road through the hills here, it seemed they'd simply poured this sucker over the existing terrain, and as a result it was one hell of a rollercoaster ride.  I swear my bike felt like it got airborne in one or two spots and I bottomed out the suspension a time or two.  There were a couple seriously dangerous curves -- places where the road would crest a hill only to turn tightly on the other side as it fell away, complete with a negative camber.  (Curves in the road are typically banked, high side to the outside.  That's called positive camber.  Bank them the wrong way, with a negative camber, and you've created every motorcyclist's worst nightmare.  Warning signs don't tell you anything about road camber, of course; it's something you discover after it's too late.)  I remember one of these that was particularly scary because as I went to lean for the curve, there wasn't enough clearance to lean without lowsiding.  I couldn't touch the brakes because that would have put me down, too.  I shoved the bars hard and prayed, staying on the throttle to drive the front end toward the apex.  It was all over in a second or so, but the butt-pucker factor was high.  My midnight lady didn't let me down.  No doubt I'll be out to ride 170 again sometime.  I don't think you'll find a more challenging and fun road.

Chris's bike on the River Road (Highway 170).  (Photo by Chris.) Looking down on the Rio Grande River from the River Road.

Highway 170 took us into Presidio, where we turned north on 67.  We were through with the fun stuff, out in the desert now.  It was getting late.  Dinner and our hotel in Fort Davis were on the brain. After cruising through an immigration checkpoint (tip up your visor while the Border Patrol cop asks if you're a U.S. citizen, then breeze on through without being asked for any identification), the three ZZRs took flight, leaving the Viffer and the Connie behind.  The sun was setting on my left and atop a fence on the right side of the road, my shadow was riding.  It looked really cool, the phantom ZZR and rider pacing me there, and I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but we were traveling much too fast to risk pulling the camera out of the bag.  We were moving so fast, in fact, that the wind stripped Crazytrain's tank protector from his tank.  I saw it as it blew by me.  Had no idea what it was at the time.  None of us stopped.

Soon we were in Fort Davis, where we whipped into the Limpia Hotel.  What a cool old hotel.  It seemed more bed and breakfast than hotel.  Our room was all country lace and frilly accommodations, much too nice for us grubs.  We had dinner (where Chris teased the waitress endlessly).  The food was excellent and the apple cobbler (with ice cream, naturally) was divine.  Then I tried to talk everyone into riding down to Marfa to look for the famous Marfa lights, but everyone was too tuckered out.  Oh well, maybe I'll get out that way again sometime.

We'd done 506 very challenging miles that the day.

Mine and Greg's room at the Limpia in Fort Davis. Dinner at the Limpia.  Clockwise around the table, starting on the left: Chris, Greg, Jason, myself, and Andrew. An interesting character found on the wall of the Limpia's bar.

 

-- Day Four: the McDonald Observatory, More Warp Speeds, and I Get a Wild Hair --

Next morning, it was kickstands up again at the crack of dawn.  Greg and I hung around the lobby for a bit waiting on the late sleepers, sipping the complimentary coffee which was very strong.  When the others finally arrived, we mounted up and rode up the awesomely twisty Highway 118 to the McDonald Observatory, stopped at the visitor's center (where we were the first customers when they unlocked the doors just after 9), did some shopping (I bought ear rings for wife and daughter), then turned around and rode 118 again 'cause it was so much fun.  What a way to start your day!  We then rode back into Fort Davis and stopped in at the Limpia for breakfast, where it appeared our waitress from last night had never gone home.

Yours truly warming up the ZZR outside the Limpia Hotel.  (Photo by Andrew.) While we wait for the others, Gregger visits with the hotel cat, Tuxedo.  Note the decor and feel of the place: old suitcase sitting there as if a guest had just checked in, antique phone on the wall, etc.

The bikes parked nice and neat for a change in the parking lot at the McDonald Observatory. A couple telescopes atop the Texas hills at the McDonald Observatory.

Parking across from the Limpia Hotel after our morning ride.  Left to right: Greg adjusting his do-rag, Jason, me (someone always seems to manage to take a pic of me cleaning off my visor), Chris wanting Andrew to hurry up and take the pic so we can go in and eat breakfast.  (Photo by Andrew.)

After breakfast, Andrew split off from the rest of us because he needed to get back to New Braunfels to walk his dog.  (Honest.)  Or maybe he just needed some solo time, which I can understand.  He thought he might grab I-10 in order to make good time and the rest of us, not being in a hurry and not planning on being back in Dallas until the following night, wanted nothing to to with the superslab.  We followed 118 south to 90, where we turned east.  Coming into Marathon, Jason's radar detector starting going apeshit.  We soon found out why as we came across marathon runners doing their best imitations of Forrest Gump and at least half a dozen patrol cars watching out for them.  The race was ending right there on the main street in Marathon.  We actually rode across the finish line.  With that many patrol cars in Marathon, we figured there couldn't possibly be any left between there and Del Rio, so we opened the bikes up again.  What commenced was a long, boring warp-speed run down Highway 90 back to Del Rio.

A few times during this trip, I actually took the time to check and record my gas mileage.  Generally, I don't, but I thought someone considering a motorcycle (or this motorcycle) might be interested.  Below are the results.  Not bad for totally hauling ass most of the time.  Like most vehicles, the bike gets better gas mileage at lower (i.e., more legal) speeds.  39 mpg average overall isn't bad, though.  What's missing from these numbers is one sustained run (for like 60 miles) at 120 or so.  My gas mileage on that tank dropped to 25 mpg.  Jason's bike, which has been jetted, was the worst: 17 mpg.

Miles Covered Gallons of
Gas Used
Average Fuel
Consumption
133 3.25 41 mpg
132 3.69 36 mpg
145 3.57 41 mpg
115 3.22 36 mpg
100 2.69 37 mpg
141 3.27 43 mpg
141 3.78 37 mpg
907 23.47 39 mpg

Alone in your helmet, with no twisty bits to occupy your brain, you have a lot of time to think about things.  It's actually one of the things I like about taking long solo rides.  Just me and my thoughts.  I'm generally an interesting person to hang out with, if I do say so myself.  I can sit there and rattle off stories, recite poetry, philosophize about the world, sing songs.  I remember that morning singing all the words to Elton John's "Indian Sunset" and the Eagles' "Desperado."  I also cataloged a couple observations about the trip.  First and foremost, all of us needed to send the Highway Department a heartfelt THANK YOU.  Our world would be a much less predictable racetrack (yes, the world is my racetrack, don't try to argue with me!) if those guys didn't put up all those warning signs in the curves.  In fact, if they really wanted to bugger up our day all they'd need to do is monkey with them a bit, say replace all the 25 mph'ers with 55's or change the left-handers to right-handers.  Oops, better shut up before I give some mischievous smartass some ideas.  Second, the world is larger than you ever really think it is.  Texas is proof of that.  When you have to ride for hours just to get from one gas station to the next, well, that's a hell of a lot of real estate.  And Texas, big as it is, is really just a small plot of land on our planet.

The thing that really goes on inside your helmet when you're alone with yourself, though, is introspection.  I started thinking about things at home.  My wife and daughter were planning to leave for Gulfport soon and I wasn't going with them.  They weren't real happy about that.  My mom and dad live in Gulfport and they'd also been trying to talk me into coming along for the visit.  Right there was Highway 90 hissing past beneath my tires, and I realized that it would go all the way into San Antonio (from there, it kinda gets consumed by I-10, but somewhere it reemerges), eventually running right along the beach there in Gulfport.  Sure, Gulfport was like 900+ miles away at that moment, but what the hell, that's only 5 tanks of gas or so, right?  We were going to be getting into Del Rio fairly early in the afternoon, say 2:30 or 3, which left a lot of prime riding hours in the day. The guys were going back into Mexico that night, and that would be fun, but I wasn't particularly worried about missing a second run on Boyz Town.  I could just keep going.  Say goodbye to the guys and get some solo time of my own in.  (Group rides are great, but I really was kinda missing being on my own.)  Wouldn't it be cool to roll into Mom and Dad's driveway, call them on my cell phone, and say, "Hey, come out and open your garage door; ya got company."  Wouldn't they be surprised!  And wouldn't my wife be elated that I'd changed my mind and decided to go after all.  This way I could do it on the bike and wouldn't have to suffer the mind-numbing 12 hour ride down there in the car.  My wife wasn't leaving until later in the week, but I could call her and suggest that she leave a day or two early, right?  I could also call and get a few more days off of work.  No problemo; the place runs just as well without me.

It made sense to me.  At least there were no dissuading arguments going on inside my helmet.

When we stopped in Del Rio, I said, "Look, guys, I think I'm just gonna keep riding.  I'm gonna ride to Gulfport and see my parents."  They were a bit perplexed, 'cause they were taken totally by surprise, and thought I was crazy, but told me to ride safe and that they'd miss me.

So, that's what I did, I continued on out Highway 90 to San Antonio, trying to reach someone at home whenever I stopped for gas.  I had no luck reaching the missus until something like 9 o'clock in Houston, at which time she gave me a royal ass-chewing for never listening to her.  "If you ever paid attention to me when I told you things, Brian, you'd know I can't leave early for Gulfport!"  I was told to turn my sorry-ass north and head for home.  "Yes, ma'am," I heard my totally whipped self say, "I'll be home tomorrow."  Then I found a hotel just off I-10 and got a good night's sleep.  I had done 580 miles that day.

Next day (Day Five if I bothered to create another header, subtitled: "Tail Tucked, I Ride Home as Ordered"), I got up and wove my way northward through the East Texas backroads.  467 uneventful miles later, I pulled into my driveway in OKC.  I was home in time to watch Rossi win his motoGP race and be crowned World Champion, so it wasn't all bad.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Total mileage for the trip: 2,337.  The roads in southwest Texas were awesome.  The weather was great (upper 40's and lower 50's in the a.m., low 80's in the afternoon).  The company was, as always, stellar.  I'd like to thank the guys -- Greg, Chris, Jason, and Andrew -- for being such great traveling companions; Greg for being such an accommodating roommate (though he did complain about my snoring this time around); and the ZZR once again for never letting me down.

See ya next trip out.  It won't be long.  Ya'll ride safe now, ya hear?

Brian A. Hopkins
at Road's End, Oklahoma City
22 October 2004

 

Addendums:

1.  Both Chris and Jason have photo galleries at ZZR1200.net.  You can find them in the members' photo galleries, under the user names Crazytrain and jprhode.

2.  Andrew has a ride report posted at his website and linked from Sport-Touring.net.  Here's the link.

3.  Info on the Limpia Hotel can be found here.

4.  Info on the Marfa Lights (which we missed, dagnabbit!) can be found here.

 


Copyright 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-07-31 20:30, www.bahwolf.com