11.28.2006,8:23 AM
Texas Canyonlands I: Tabletops
Tabletops and Panhandles

Loading the bike is an exercise in precision. It requires no less attention to detail, forethought and preparation than amplifying a specific DNA sequence.

One misplaced or forgotten component and it can go all wrong.

And it takes forever.

The two dry bags with tent and sleep items are easy and routine. Each item fits just so, another Just So story. It’s the other ‘stuff’: cooking gear, food, clothes, shoes, camera, equipment, hygiene, emergency bike needs, on and on. And it varies each trip.

Since I planned to hike the canyons this trip, I needed sturdy supportive boots. Their place in this entire scheme of packing eluded me until the night I packed the side bags: one boot in each side case with loose food items in plastic bags crammed inside the feet and tops of the boots. It worked!! Even had room for my comfy sandals.

I left the house an hour late. As usual. Waiting for sunrise to top off the gas tank with gas kept at home for emergencies. Well, this wasn’t really an emergency, but I couldn’t justify riding 24 miles out of my way to top it off in town when I am so close to the highway.

Hefting each full side bag liner with opposing hands, I estimated the balance of weight in each and inserted them, more aptly, stuffed them into the side cases. Those too were topped off with loose items such as two books and my new journal.

The two dry bags are mounted quickly and lashed on with notorious overkill, so I was chided for in Moab. In addition to the webbing straps, a cargo net and long bungie cord strap everything in place on top of the bike. If it doesn’t move when I try to wiggle it, it passes the test. A story from a fellow rider about losing his underwear and clothing in the middle of a highway made me cautious about loose bags on bikes. The last thing I need is to lose bits and pieces as I fly down the road.

Bernard was strapped to the bags under the cargo net again like Moby Whee and Captain Ahab. He’s been complaining lately about this method of travel but now that he has a new buddy, I don’t think he’ll mind.

After checking turn signals and brake lights, I bent down to check the oil filter and found I needed to top off the oil with another ½ cup. One more trip to the toilet, although I knew I would need to go again in a few hours. I drank a pot of coffee while waiting for the lazy sun to rise and checking email.

Muttering to myself about having to wear all these layers, stuffing them into my riding pants and working up a sweat just getting the rest of the gear on, the helmet covered my head and gloves my hands: time to go. The bike’s engine was warm now and I eased my layered self onto the saddle. I like to sit for a moment and look at the stars or check my zen status to be sure I’m focused.

Clutch in, toe down, clunk and roll forward. And we’re off on to gallivant around the house in the grass and then onto the gravel driveway. I’m making my own cul de sac.

Traffic is light all the way west on Hwy 20, which is a relief and a pleasure. Making time at a comfortable cruising speed, I headed north on Hwy 84 just west of Sweetwater. This is my second ride on that highway and I’ve grown to like it. It’s like putting on a comfy pair of slippers; not perfect, but it grows on you and fits fine.

Not far, I glimpse the mesas on the east and west of the highway and my favorite man-made flowers: ‘wind sunflowers’. Tall white majestic wind turbines on top of the mesas bordering the west side of 84. They evoke images of stately tall flowers with their giant slender petals rolling slowly in the wind. And they make me smile. I also applaud their use as alternative energy production. An almost perfect use of an abundant resource: wind.

I rode the edges of and onto the panhandle with a new perspective and appreciation. After riding along the western escarpment of El Llano Estacado in New Mexico last September, I read about the geography and history, natural and man-related, of this southern tip of the Great Plains. This tabletop, which is a more appropriate name than ‘panhandle’, is the bottom tip of the High Plains, an area of the Great Plains that covers an enormous portion of this country. The western escarpment is in New Mexico, the eastern in Texas: the Caprock escarpment. And that was my destination.

But the journey revealed the land and history in between. There is more to that region than meets the eye.

To be continued…….


posted by Macrobe
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