Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Pressing On to CO then Home to Houston

Yesterday my travels took me from Altus OK to Washita Battlefield National Park in Cheyenne, then to Fort Larned in Kansas and then to Dodge City for the night.

I was in a quandary this morning. Here I am in Dodge City KS...do I ride into town and do a little bit of sightseeing or do I head west toward Colorado? The time zone change is in my favor...I have some time. Or do I lounge around a little bit. Lounging seemed very appealing, coming off of a very aggressive trip the previous week with early morning starts and long days that ended well after dinner time each day. Lounging won out, so guess I'll need to get back to Dodge City another time.

Sitting in the saddle, riding west with the morning sun to my back, the landscape unfolded to my front as I rode toward Colorado. The miles slipped effortlessly by. I took a late breakfast break at a nice large gas station plaza somewhere on US-50. The temperature was cool but comfortable as I stood along side my FZ6 eating some crackers.

Back on the road, I passed through Lamar CO and so had a chance to scout the restaurant where I'd be having lunch later with some other riders.

Fifty more miles to Bent's Old Fort, where I'd be meeting up with another Houstonian and with an MTF member who lives near Colorado Springs. A few miles east of the national park, I came up upon a flock? a gaggle? a brood? of pheasants standing in the middle of the road. As I slowed down, I honked the horn, but to no avail. These guys held their ground. Afterall, they got there first. I slowed further and, finally! When I was within a couple of feet of them, they scurried off to the side of the road. They were big birds! Maybe a foot to foot and a half tall.

I got to Bent's Old Fort a little early and took the opportunity to remove my riding pants and boots and slip on my running shoes for comfort. Within about 15 minutes my fellow Houstonian - who'd been riding the Colorado Rockies for the past week or so - arrived. A few minutes behind him, the MTF friend from Colorado Springs pulled in with another rider in tow. I thought, at first, it was his wife, but instead it was a friend of his.

We toured the fort, I bought another book, got my Passport book stamped, and we returned to the bikes to head to Hickory House Restaurant in Lamar CO for a late lunch. Rumor had it that we may be joined by another MTF member who was returning home to TX after finishing the Iron Butt Rally. We ordered, we ate, we kicked tires for a little bit in the parking lot, but by 1:30 we all agreed that it was time to get back on the road and head in our respective directions. I learned after I got home that the MTF rider did arrive and that my Colorado friend did a U-turn and intercepted him for a brief chat.

Back on the road and heading south, my Houston friend and I made good time to Amarillo TX where we stopped for the night. In the morning he would be heading in a different direction: Toward Austin to visit family. I rode home to Houston.

The trip was a success: Several more national park stamps in 3 different states. And the Bill Mayer saddle was everything I knew it would be!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Here I Go Again

Crazy madness has driven me to hit the road again, only 4 days after returning from a 3,900 mile, 8-day trip that took me to such far-flung places as West Branch IA, Ypsilanti MI, and Roanoke VA. But there's a brand new Bill Mayer Saddle on my FZ6 and I'm just dying to see how it feels on a long multi-day trip. Besides, I have a legitimate excuse: an acquaintance of mine will be riding home after spending a week+ riding in Colorado. I offered to ride up to the Las Animas area to meet up with him and accompany him home. Crazy excuse, I know. The way I see it, I get to try out the new saddle and add two more states - KS and OK - to my fourth IBA National Park Tour, which is currently underway.

As a side note here, the FZ6 has really won my heart as a very capable touring bike. I really love this bike, love how smooth the throttle response is, how easy she is to ride in any condition: grips the road in rain, falls easily into the twisties, can do u-turns on a dime, and - the real biggie - is very tractable in extremely slow traffic. You know, the creep-along 5-7 mph conditions that, on the BMW, would require constant clutch work. No clutching necessary on the FZ6. I can rest my left hand on my lap or tank bag and motor along at 5-6 mph all day long. After my SS1000 on her in June, I determined that all she needed was a custom BMS seat to make her ideal for me.

So on Labor Day weekend Saturday, with bike packed and ready, I left home at 8:00 AM and rode north towards Dallas-Ft. Worth north from Vernon on US-283 toward Altus and my first night's stop at a nice, new Hampton Inn.

The next morning, as I departed the hotel parking lot, a V-Strom went by and then pulled over onto the shoulder about 100 yds up the road. As I neared it, the rider pulled back out onto the highway and we rode together for 20 miles or so, all the way to Mangum. Two strangers sharing the same road.

As I rode north of Mangum, I noticed a white fog bank ahead and very soon rode into it. From bright sunshine and blue skies to a thick fog, it was a marked change. The terrain took on a more dramatic look, lending a more interesting look to the landscape. Cattle were eerie apparitions on the prairie and the folded, convoluted hills were softened by the gray blanket of fog.

The fog did not dissipate until I was well north of I-40 heading toward Cheyenne and Washita Battlefield National Park. Lt. Col. Custer's lowest moments occurred at this battlefield, where he and his army massacred a peacable tribe of Cheyenne indians including Chief of the Council of Forty-Four, Chief Black Kettle. At the time of the massacre, Chief Black Kettle had declared his peaceful intent by signing the Medicine Lodge Treaty. Frontier settlers were still being attacked by Dog Soldiers, a more aggressive Cheyenne Warrior, and their allies the Arapaho and Kiowa, and later the Comanche. Black Kettle had no control over these attacks, but neither did he condone them. So in spite of his signing several peace treaties over the years, each one less and less favorable for the Cheyenne nation, and each one resulting in broken promises by army, Black Kettle and his wife were shot in the back as they tried to escape across the Little Arkansas River during the raid and massacre on his settlement.

This National Park stamped and recorded in NPS Passport book, I continued north on US-283 towards Kansas. Along the way, passing through Shattuck, something caught my eye and caused me to do a U-turn and backtrack. A whole bunch of windmills!

The further north I got, the closer I got to Kansas, the more wild sunflowers there were on the shoulders of the roadway. It was an amazing sight. So, when I came to a little town in Kansas called Minneola, another roadside item caused me to U-turn and backtrack. What a cheery welcome to a tiny little town called Minneola!
Twenty miles up the road is Dodge City KS, where I turned east toward the town of Larned and nearby Fort Larned. This fort sits on - and was built to protect - the heavily traveled Santa Fe Trail. It was mighty hard to imagine what life would have been like for the soldiers and their families assigned to this post out in the middle of nowhere.

The preserved fort structures include several buildings that are in outstanding condition set around the perimeter of a large parade field. This national park is celebrating the fort's 150th anniversary with a variety of special presentations and events, many of them over Labor Day Weekend.

I was fortunate to be arriving at the fort in time to see a matinee performance of a play written specially for this occasion. The play, entitled The Oxbow Incident, had nothing to do with that original play, but was a take-off on the name only. It was hilarious! Done in the style of a comedic melodrama, it involved a couple of ne'er-do-wells who bury gold on the oxbow of the Pawnee Fork river in Larned. Others get wind of this and set out to find the gold, with a little deceit and love along the way. Very enjoyable!
I toured the grounds a little bit before heading back to the bike and riding west, back to Dodge City for the night. On my way to Dodge City and nice shaded picnic area along the roadside beckoned me to take a break. As I sat at a picnic table with a snack and beverage, two long-tailed raptors - could they have been kites? - floated directly overhead, nearly motionless as they let the lift of the strong wind currents hold them aloft. They were so near to where I sat that I could see their eyes and the markings on their feathers. And they stayed in one place, with only the occasional wing flap or tail twist to hold their position, for what seemed like forever. It was magical!
Reservations awaited me at the Comfort Inn, where I got a run in on the treadmill in their tiny fitness center then headed out on foot in search of some food.

Tomorrow: Continuing west along the Santa Fe Trail toward Bent's Old Fort near Las Animas CO, then lunch with some MTF friends.