By Aaron Amborn
I don’t know if you would consider me new to riding motorcycles, I’ve been riding motorcycles for 30+ years. What I admittedly am, is new to cross country, or, distance riding. The bulk of my experience comes from riding back and forth to work or the occasional cruise of 150 miles. In any case I have always enjoyed the solitude that comes with it. I tend to think of my current bike, a BMW K1200LT, as an 800-pound valium. It relaxes me and helps to gain perspective. No noisy phones, no computers, no schedule, nothing to interrupt me in my happy place.
I absolutely love planning a motorcycle ride, but always seem to set-up my rides in a way that is more than I can actually ride, and that held true for the first real long ride I planned. I was headed for Big Bend National Park in southern Texas. I only had 5 days to get there and back so I knew I would have to ride hard.
It’s almost 4200 miles there and back by the route I had planned, and doing the math I realized that 800-mile days would be mandatory. That’s O.K. I thought. But, there are many things I did not consider. Such as, my brother Todd coming along. I was really looking forward to going alone, however my wife wanted somebody with me. He has a Honda VTX 1800. It’s a really nice bike with a lot of aftermarket stuff that makes the bike very comfortable. What it didn’t have was decent range, and unfortunately needed gas every 140 miles, and that gets old. I want to put some miles behind me!
Everything started out so well, 80 degrees in Minnesota, Iowa and the bulk of Missouri. But, we quickly learned that southern Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas are very hot in August. So upon getting into this hot weather I needed to get rid of my heavy riding gear that was literally killing me slowly.
So in my infinite wisdom I decided that shorts and a T-shirt would help to keep me cool. Of course when the temperature gets to 110 degrees and the blaring sun causes skin to blister, you just need to accept that it’s just plain hot, and leave the clothes on. But, you already knew that. So, after several hours of riding, burning and dehydrating, we stopped to fill up the tanks. My brother was not dealing with the heat so well and we decided to find a hotel room (or hospital) and call it a day. We had our 800 miles by this point anyhow.
We were up and at it the next morning early re-hydrating and scraping away the copious amount of burnt flesh off my legs and my brother’s face. We quickly dispatched with the remainder of Oklahoma and got into northern Texas. We stayed on interstate until we could shoot straight south to Big Bend. Another lesson we learned is to make sure you have plenty of gas when you jump off the interstate on to state highways. Apparently there are long stretches of road that do not have gas stations, but, you already knew that. While my bike can go upwards of 280 miles between fill ups Todd can go about 140 miles. So after a few hours of either no towns with gas stations or all towns being closed for some reason, we were very relieved to find an open station to fill up at.
Now we had enough petrol to make it. Except we forgot one relatively important detail… Where are we going to stay? After driving through the endless beauty of Big Bend we needed to find a room. I found that hotels/motels are virtually non-existent in this national park. Of course, you already knew that. Luckily, we happened across another rider who informed us of the Chisos Mountain Lodge in the park and we were lucky that they had a room available. The road up to the lodge was phenomenal. We got another good night sleep and got up the next day to ride Hwy 170 to Presidio. I’ve heard this road is fantastic. So we went in to Study Butte for breakfast and the locals asked if we are going in to Mexico. We stated that we were not because we did not bring our passports. The helpful lady stated that all we needed was a driver license to get in. I didn’t know that, but of course you did.
The road to Presidio from Study Butte (170) is everything they say it is, windy and hilly and a pure blast. In Presidio we decide to fill up before going over. One of the locals stated that the Mexican town of Ojinaga was not a tourist town but rather a poor border town, and that we needed to be careful to not go off the main road. I guess I have always been a believer that when it’s your time, you’re gone. My brother does not necessarily believe in that, and I wanted to see the local area.
So after 30 minutes of touring the border town of Ojinaga we decided to taste some local cuisine and knock back a few cervazas. The beautiful Mexican waitresses did not speak English and I don’t speak Spanish so we just gave them $20.00 each for the meal and the beverages and went on our way. Come to find out that we gave them about a $25.00 tip. I guess it’s a good idea to know the exchange rate prior to going out of country, but you already knew that.
The next day is the day we need to start our way home. My brother needed to get back faster than I did, and I wanted to take back roads home. So he followed me to the interstate and said see you back in Minnesota. When you go on a trip as two you should really stay together for many obvious reasons, but, you already knew that.
For me the trip was just beginning, I love the path less traveled so I set my GPS to keep me away from interstates and highways. I wound my way north through numerous small towns enjoying little cafes serving the best food I have ever had. The people were friendly, warm and inviting; and very curious to hear of my travels. I saw the real “lay of the land”. The kinds of views that you don’t get from the interstate. I love the rolling hills, mountains, green pastures and fields. I took all back roads from central Texas to Iowa where I eventually jumped back on the interstate and made tracks home. I was exhausted from the ride and eager to see my wife and kids. Somehow, no matter how much you want to go on a ride, it seems to feel equally as good to get home… for about 2 days.