Monday, March 20, 2006

Carlsbad, New Mexico

"Super 8 Motel" 12:30 a.m.

Relaxing in this motel, watching a movie.

***

The BMW shop in Austin couldn't fit me in for a service until Monday, so I decided not to wait around. I had spent too long in Austin, and felt I needed to use the weekend to put some more miles behind me.

The “South by Southwest” music festival, in retrospect, is a young people's festival. This is in part why I gave up last night. I felt I didn't belong there.

At the hotel this morning, it was 11:15 and "everyone" was checking out at once. It felt unusual, since so often I'm the last one to leave, as I stay connected to the internet up until the last minute. Surprised to see that I had been at the motel six nights!

I intended to stay off the Interstate as much as possible now that I was in terrain I find comfortable. Headed west from Austin on U.S. 290, and into the Hill Country.

Some "different" road signs: one touts the big "alternative fuel", propane. (That's an alternative? Seems like "more of the same" to me!) Anti-litter signs carry the witty threat "don't mess with Texas.”

Outside Johnson City, passed the sprawling LBJ Ranch. Beyond it, the charming town of Fredericksburg, with its German heritage expressed through gift shops, restaurants and bakeries. Some road signs use the German terms “strasse (street) and "wald" (forest).

I pulled up to one tiny coffee shop at the far end of the downtown business district. A fellow seated outside gave me the bad news: "they close at noon." I had to drown my sorrows in a nearby chocolate shop, then "do penance" at the health food store next door.

The Hill Country is home to some huge ranches. The wonderful oak lands are rapidly being replaced by horse and cattle pastures, large swaths of trees intentionally cleared, and future generations unintentionally eliminated by the grazing.

I have yet to actually speak with ranchers about this, but wonder what goes through their heads when they look at their fields dotted with a few great oaks, intentionally preserved. Do they not notice the complete absence of seedlings, and successive generations? It is so refreshing to come upon rare multi-storied patches of untouched oak forest. What an incredibly rich environment they represent. It's sad that human ignorance causes us to look upon such parcels as "unproductive" and "unprofitable".

I suspect it is the same story the World over. As I've said before, we view our actions and their consequences as discreet events, not as part of the fabric of an interconnected society.

This interconnectivity is what gave rise to the blog's title. After all, we are each "average", and I like to view this in the positive sense. Our thoughts, feelings, interactions and responses are a result of our common design, the common influences surrounding us, and, if you will, the common spirit moving us. The thoughts and observations I share in this blog are hardly original. These photos (with insignificant variations) have been snapped a million times before. (Even though I've sometimes had to shove other tourists aside to get that one, perfect, unobstructed view!)

So I often take heart when there is a sense of being alone, or when I feel powerless to change something that "needs changing". Whatever action we take will be multiplied many times over. There are millions on the same path!

***

West of Fredericksburg, the Hill Country very quickly gives way to desert plains and the dominant feature becomes oil and gas wells, their terminals, and wind turbines. Energy!

Found myself back on Interstate 10 for a 220-mile stretch to Fort Stockton. Four lanes and a 75-mph speed limit certainly changes the experinece of the road. It becomes a time-and-mileage-to-destination count-down. And the mind drifts off into daydreams.

For much of the day, humid, hazy air and clouds had flowed up from the south, but late in the afternoon the sky was rapidly changing. A dark mass of cloud was barreling in from north. I didn't dare lose a minute stopping to take a photo of this fearsome front. (And yet this is what I loved about Texas from my earlier stint here: the unpredictable weather!)

I was heading into the Blue Mountains, and the collision of these two weather systems. I had heard in the weather forecast that a cold front was moving in from the west, and now, here I was on the battleline. Simply awesome.

I could see daylight under the western edge of the storm clouds, and this encouraged me to hold my course. Maybe I could out-run the storm. To prepare for the worst, I pulled over while it was still dry and donned my Gore-Tex jacket and pants, before driving under the ominous ceiling.

But the sky closed down and darkened at an alarming rate, violent winds, alternating in direction, pushed me across the lanes. Suddenly I was engulfed in a cloud of rain and hail. I couldn't see ahead nor behind. I was afraid of stopping and being blown over. There was an overpass back a mile or so, but to get there I would need to stop to survey the options for turning around. Crawled over to the right-hand shoulder, legs outstretched to catch me should I begin to fall.

Other vehicles were coming to a halt as well (recalling the experience in Kentucky, on the fringe of Hurricane Katrina.) Fortunately, the grass median had no barriers, and I was able to find a track across to the eastbound lanes. I raced head-down for shelter.

When I reached the overpass, I found a couple riding a Harley already there, shaking themselves off. Soon, the remainder of their group emerged from the tempest and roared in. They all climbed up the embankment under the bridge, chattering excitedly. (Stereotypical Harley riders, none of them were dressed for this kind of stuff! Their jeans were soaked and they were cold.)

The storm subsided within minutes and I headed out as soon as the rain stopped. I had no interest in being stranded out here should more severe weather follow. The worst of it, however, was gone as quickly as it arrived. Though the sky was now completely overcast, there appeared no imminent threat.

Refueled in Fort Stockton, then turned northwest on U.S. 285, toward Pecos and Carlsbad, New Mexico. At the New Mexico border, the speed limit drops from 75 to 65. Crossed into Mountain Time Zone, "gaining" another hour, but here the sun sets at 5:30. Riding north, thunderheads were building both east and west of the highway, but it looked like I would be safe.

Reached Carlsbad just after dark, as the storms started to grow violent. I inquired at two motels, looking for the lowest rate. With the lightning closing in, decided I better stay put. The "Super 8" at $49 would have to do.

I asked the proprietor "where is the best place to eat?'

He told me "Lucy's" downtown serves up the best Mexican food. The motel is out on a relatively-undeveloped stretch of U.S. 62/180 southwest of Carlsbad. During the three-mile ride into town, it became clear I was on a path that intersected the thunderstorm raging on my left. By the time I reached downtown, the lightning was directly overhead, and I again found myself wondering "would I even know it if I were struck?"

The rain came pouring and already the streets were flooded. At every intersection, the main street was a swirling torrent. It was treacherous riding. My legs were soaked. I tried extending them forward above the cylinder heads to keep them out of the water, but it didn't help.

I couldn't find the restaurant, and after working through about twenty flooded intersections, I stopped at a convenience store to ask. The clerk didn't know the whereabouts of "Lucy's". A couple blocks further, she said there was a "Denny's". Anything sounded good at this point. I asked about the flooding. "Is this unusual?"

She said Carlsbad has no storm drains. It was clear that the rain would not be ending soon, as a chain of thunderstorms was rolling through.

The "Denny's" looked a mess inside. Tables unbussed, water leaking from the roof in several spots. I suspect staff members didn't arrive to work, given the conditions outside. I turned to comfort food: a waffle with strawberries and sausage.

Lingered an extra hour, sipping coffee, drying out and hoping for a break in the rain. It stopped, but I waited longer, hoping the streets would start to drain. I was actually somewhat fearful of what I might encounter out there.

But I took it slowly, legs upraised, and thankfully no one intentionally splashed me. (The wave of a passing vehicle could easily have knocked me over.)

Back in the motel, with a deep chill, I cranked up the heat and hung my wet clothing, riding suit, boots, gloves and helmet to dry.

The wind is blowing like crazy tonight, but it looks like it's clearing.

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