Albuquerque to Shattuck Page 2

The pecan pie was cursed!

Today was a day off from moving cross-country.  I gathered my laundry for washing, then my work gear.  There were two cemeteries in the town and I was going to set up the chair and write code from one of them.  Cemeteries are always relaxing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more relaxed crowd, metabolically speaking.

“My heart rate wouldn’t go down for so long last night I was starting to get worried.”
“Finishing off that mocha at 6:00pm last night may have been a factor.”
“Was it really that late?! Crap, I forgot about that…”

The laundromat didn’t have an ATM so I rode up the street to a Wells Fargo and accepted a three dollar fee to get some of my own dang money.  From there I zig-zagged a while and took some photos, then returned to the laundromat.

I put my laundry in two machines, for a hot and cold wash.  One machine tried to eat my quarters but the attendant came over and bludgeoned it, and it started up.

I sat at a picnic table outside and read news on my phone.  A ramblin’ man was leaned back on the long seat of his Harley nearby, napping in the sun.  In a few minutes he woke up and spotted my weird bike, unfolded himself, and rambled over to talk to me about the joys of two-wheeled travel.  He was borderline incoherent but I did manage to hear, “I rode a bicycle once, all the way down to the Grand Canyon.  Thought about doing it again but I gotta admit to myself now that I’m too old, heh heh.”

After that he rambled inside and extracted his laundry from a machine – a heavy sleeping bag – which he rolled carefully up on the floor of the laundromat and then stowed in his bike, which he then fired up.  On his first try to leave he turned a little too sharp and capsized his bike in the dust.  I helped him pull it upright since he wasn’t quite strong enough to do so.  “Dang,” I thought.  “I wonder what this guy’s story is.  How did he end up out here, with nothing but boots and a bedroll, and a bike that might crush him any day?”

I gathered my own laundry, and rode over to one of the two graveyards.  It was quaint.  The central-American influence was prominent.

A nice quiet sunny place to do some work.
Site of another auto death.
Saw a cross just like this on an island in Iceland.
Another of those bleak and touching townships of the dead.
He died with his boots on, then was buried under them.
What are these for?

I sat and worked for a couple of hours, then processed some photos and examined maps of the route ahead.  It got cold quickly again, so I rode back to the hotel.

In this rown, you need to know where this is.

Nick was hungry so we searched for food.  We tried to hit the same restaurant as before but they were already closed.  Their hours didn’t match what they had in Google.  How dare they, in this digital age!

Instead we got takeout at a “Chuck Wagon” place near the highway, including dessert, which for me was a slice of pecan pie in a box.  We watched the “South Park Pandemic Special” back at the hotel, and I crammed the pie into my face just before bed.

Late at night I woke up, feeling quite ill in the stomach.  I tossed for a while but couldn’t sleep.  40 minutes later I got up and barely made it over to the toilet before heaving one giant barf inside.  It was mostly liquid and some pecan pie bits, and as soon as it was out I felt immediately better, and fell back asleep easily.

That pecan pie was cursed!

Boosted by the wind

Nick and I woke up to some extreme wind today.  Cycling would be dangerous, but it would also be a lot of fun because the wind was pushing straight at our backs, averaging almost 40mph.

Packin' up.

Almost ready to roll.

We dashed across the town, pursued by tumbleweeds and litter. It was pretty thrilling.

Another museum we won't get to check out due to COVID-19.

Just as we rolled onto highway 40 my steering went wonky and I knew I had a flat tire.  By the time I stopped and texted Nick about it, he was more than half a mile ahead.  Turning around and pushing back to where I was would be dangerous for him, so he hunkered down where he was, and I launched into my usual tube-swapping procedure.

“Looks like it was a thorn. High speed and weight can drive them in.”
“It takes so much effort to NOT move here!”
“Yeah! As you may have noticed, the trucks also make huge contrails as they pass. Watch your mirror and when you see them draw near, move as far to the edge as you can. The vacuum may pull you into the road.”
“Oh yeah. I watch ’em.”
“New tube in and inflated. 5 minutes.”

I got moving again, and caught up to Nick seconds later.  The wind pushed us both to ludicrous speeds along the shoulder of the highway.

We clocked well over 40mph without much effort pedaling.

Mid-day we got to a crowded service station and bought snacks, then hung around eating them and talking about the weather and the locals.

Nick pointed out a shiny truck with dual rear wheels and exclaimed “What does anyone need that for?  It’s obviously some kind of trophy to show he’s a man.  It looks like it hasn’t been used for anything.”

“Maybe hauling groceries,” I said.

As we talked, a man walked by us.  He proceeded over to that very truck, fired it up, and drove around the parking lot until he was facing the bench we were lounging on.  He poked a button and his window went down.  “You referring to this truck?” he said, with an aggressive tone.

I turned to Nick, extremely curious to see how he would handle the situation.

“You listening to our private conversation?” he shot back.

“I just happened to overhear.  Were you talking about this truck here?”  He patted the outside of the door.

Nick grinned at him.  “That’s none of your concern!” he said.

The man gave a blank look, as though he didn’t know how to respond.  Then he pointed at us both and said, “You know what?  Yew can go fuck yourselves.”  Then he drove away.

I couldn’t see over his window to catch a look at his wife, who was in the passenger seat, but I was willing to bet good money she was mortified, and that after about ten minutes of silent driving they were going to have an argument.

“My god he’s so sensitive!” said Nick, laughing.  “Jesus, guy, are you really going to get into a fight with a kid because I don’t like your truck?”

“Yeah, that was weird,” I said, shaking my head.

“You can tell he’s insecure about it.  If he wasn’t, he would have just gone ‘Huh, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’ and just ignored us.”

“Yeah.  And if he had good reasons for owning that truck and just wanted to enlighten us, like in a friendly way, he wouldn’t have started off like that.”

There was a pause, and Nick got thoughtful.  “I know it’s different out in the country.  I mean, people here have reasons for owning trucks.  But that just seemed so blatant.”

“It was pretty blatant,” I agreed.  “But on the other hand, I’m guilty of something similar.  I don’t really need five bicycles, but I’m really into bicycles, and all different shapes of them.  Somehow I ended up with five.”

“Well at least bikes are cheap!”

“Hah!  Like these ones?” I pointed at our kickstanded recumbents.  “These are worth more than about a quarter of the cars that passed us today.”

“… Okay, fair enough, but it’s still not the same thing.”

“Yeah, not the same.  But I can kinda relate.  Maybe that guy needed a new truck and he saw the ‘dually’ wheels and went ‘Whoo, I wonder what that’s like.’  And then his wife was all, ‘If that’s going to be our next truck, you better keep it spotless or I ain’t riding in it!'”

“Well it looks like he’s regretting it now, because he sure wants to defend himself.”

I snorted.  “Yep.  That’s some buyer’s remorse right there.”

We packed up and got on the road.

Lots of wind!

Putting on some warmer gear.

The shoulder of the road remained wide, but became increasingly scattered with scraps of blown-out tires, broken glass, chunks of car body, and rocks.  It would be easy sailing for ten minutes and then suddenly we’d have to stare intently down at the road and dodge around, lest we roll over something sharp.  With a heap of touring gear on 100psi tires, going 40mph and above, the risk of flats was high.

Not the Carlsbad back in California!

“This is like playing pole position with rocks.”
“I have another video game analogy: It’s like playing one of those bullet-hell plane shooters!”
“Like my favorite, Einhander. Or ‘1948 Warplane’ — I don’t actually know the name of it but you know the one I’m talking about.”

It's a long road.

The wind remained helpful but also turned cold in the evening. We kept applying layers until we ran out of layers to apply.

Hunkered down behind the bike, out of the wind.

Eventually we rolled into the town with our next booked hotel.  Just as I was going down the ramp I noticed that the rear tire felt mushy, and realized I was about to have another flat.

We checked into the hotel room and sure enough, by the time I had all my gear off the bike the tire was a pancake. I spent the next half an hour swapping the tube and inspecting the inside of the tire, and found some nasty bits of steel stuck in it.

In the midst of flat tire repair.
Getting out the gear to fix a flat ... again.
This'll ruin your ride.
Two shreds of steel in the same tire.

With the tire fixed, I then dashed over to a Mexican restaurant and got enchiladas.  Nick ordered menudo. It was very cold out, and I was glad we were indoors and safe from the wind.

Enjoying memes.

Mmm, enchiladas with eggs!

I imported the GPS track and discovered that we’d gone 80 miles and ascended 1300 feet in about five hours.

A work in the park

Nick was fast asleep when I awoke.  I knew he’d been up late on his phone, so I took pity and got dressed in the bathroom to cut down on noise.  Then I grabbed my work stuff and rode out in search of a good spot for programming. I almost left the room carrying a hotel key from the previous town, but spotted the difference at the last minute.

I wonder which hotel key manufacturer copied off the other?

The Blue Hole is a swimming hole.

There was one coffee shop in town but it was closed on Sundays.  Arr!  I found a McDonald’s instead and bought a few of their sausage biscuit things.  They were terrible, but filling, and also came with a huge cup of ice water which I sipped all day.

In the late morning I got a text from Nick:  “I guess it was my turn for a pecan pie incident.”  Turns out the menudo had given him nasty indigestion and he’d been stuck in the bathroom for part of the night.  Ouch!

A nice spot to get some work done.
Not very many people around.
Lots of bird nests.
Fall colors.

I worked in a park area for something like 5 hours, slowly figuring out how to implement “cut,” “copy,” and “paste” on my vessel-viewing user interface element.

Lovely grass.

After reaching a checkpoint in my code I chatted with Nick’s mom about his college application status.  He had a few things to do still.  Perhaps there would be time today, or farther ahead on the road.

On the way out of the park I discovered another flat tire, so I sat down and changed it there.  I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be getting any of these flats if I had the usual “Marathon Mondial” touring tires, but running on 100psi street tires for a tour was a worthy experiment and I was glad to be doing it anyway.

Looks like yet another flat tire...

Getting out the gear to fix a flat.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped at a store and bought more water and some chocolate, then went to the Mexican place from yesterday and got a chimichanga and a salad.

Not a fun headline.

Back at the hotel Nick had the laptop open and was working on his college essays.  I shared my food with him, then encouraged him to order a pizza so we could wrap up the slices and take them along tomorrow.  It would be 58 miles of the same featureless terrain as yesterday, and I wasn’t sure we would find more food.

A pizza arrived, and after chomping it for a while we wrapped the remaining slices up.

Pizza prepared for travel.

Nick went out on a walk.  He discovered a tank sitting in a field across the road from the hotel and took a bunch of selfies inside it, which was highly amusing.

Lots of cool gizmos in here.
The tank had two hatches. Nick was careful to only close one at a time.

By the time he got back I was tucked into bed.

Keep on keepin’ on

Another fine day on the road! Clear and cool. Time to load up.

Nick was pleased this morning, for he had repaired his torn glove with a little sewing kit, and now his hands would both be warm.

A bargain.

The first thing we did after packing the bikes was to roll across the road and check out the tank, at Nick’s suggestion.  It was pretty dang cool.

Identify target!
They issue you a helmet like that when you train for the tank, because otherwise you'll knock yourself unconscious on the hatch at least five times.
Give ME a ticket for a busted tail light, aye?
Santa Rosa is clear of mines.
Trick or treat!

On the way out of town we stopped at a coffee shop and got their version of iced mochas.  For breakfast, Nick chose their lasagna with green chiles, then devoured it in seemingly less than a minute as we stood outside.

A coffee place! In this little town! YES.



“It’s actually pretty normal lasagna,” he said.  “I was expecting something with maybe corn in it.  Something New Mexico-style.”

While we were standing around, an old man rambled by.  For some reason he mentioned that his grandmother had grown up on land near the nuclear testing site in Nevada.  Nick commiserated with him, reciting all kinds of scary facts abut the radioactive fallout that had blown eastward from the site.  The guy’s expression was hard to read.  I couldn’t tell if he was unsurprised by everything Nick was saying, or quietly horrified.  Eventually he tipped his hat to us and rambled on.

We got back on the main road parallel to the highway, then went up a very steep hill, passing under the highway to the northern side.  At the top I declared it was break time.

“You know, I was just thinking, I’ve been doing rides like this for years and it’s probably the only reason I have the endurance built up for it. The fact that you’re more than keeping up is pretty impressive, even factoring age in.”
“I think I’m built for this. I’ve never been much of a sprinter. And most of my muscle is concentrated in my legs. It would be utterly un-doable on a normal bicycle.”
“I bet you could sprint really well with practice.”
“Yeah but I’m very poorly conditioned cardiovascular-wise.”
“After this trip you’ll be improved in that area, I guarantee it.”

Before hitting the highway again we met an old man who ran some kind of car museum.  He asked the usual questions about the bikes and then talked about a business he had back in Arizona.

The truck is a sign for trucks! Clever, but not clever enough to avoid bankruptcy.
Well now that's pretty funny right there.
Truly a weird car. With weirdo nearby for scale.
Car talk.

“If you’re passing back through there, give me a call,” he said.  “You’re welcome to camp any time.”  He handed me a business card which I tucked into my saddlebag.  It would be pretty weird if we actually passed through there, but, who knows?

We rolled under the highway again, then took an onramp.  Once again the shoulder was nice and wide, but also littered with dangerous trash.

Turn here for Tucumcari!
Yeah, no kidding.
Hypochlorite solution ... on what?
Old wall.
Actually they're not. The official state highway map says so.
My new summer home!
Lots of debris on this bit of road.

An hour later Nick rolled to a stop with a flat tire. We changed it by the roadside with trucks roaring by, and I extracted two short slivers of steel from the inside with my needle-nose pliers.  Probably acquired from running over the belting of earlier truck blowouts.  We reassembled everything, moved our clothing layers around, and kept pedaling.

Flat tire repair.
All-day ride? We can handle it!

Nick recalled our conversation from earlier, and added:

“I think also it has to do with motivation. There is no way I would be able to do four hours on a stationary bike. I think because this is traveling, and has a purpose, my body and mind are able to commit more resources.”
“Good point. Creating motivation is one of the big challenges of life. The brain is not easily tricked into taking the more difficult route.”
“Everything has a purpose here. I’ve just got to get over this next hill, or I’ve just got to get to the next hotel or to the next place with food. It’s something you can’t get with an exercise machine where you do the same thing over and over again. It’s hard to find motivation to just push some air around standing in place.”
“True. One thing I like about this kind of travel is, I never cover the same ground twice. There’s always something to see for the first and possibly last time.”
“Also, if I lose to you I lose my “young person“ status automatically!”

Big sky.

Nick checks his gear.
Nick finishes checking his gear.
Rest stop ghost town.
Somebody changed their tire and forgot their jack.
Long road.
Too bad we can't check it out!
Big sky on the highway.

We rode well into the night, listening to more of The Worst Hard Time.  The wind never did help us, though it did stop fighting us for the second half of the day.  Every hour or so we would unwrap a chunk of pizza from tinfoil, nibble it down, and toss the crust into the weeds.

This town really wants you to stop.
Just a chunk of wood.
It means ... something!
Bikes by the roadside.

The final stretch into Tucumcari was a series of increasingly steep hills that hadn’t registered on Google Maps, which annoyed me a great deal.


“This hill is as bad as the one back in town!”
“I had to put on my James Brown so I could keep keepin’.”
“Right on soul brotha.”

We got to our exit, which drew us away from the highway and towards the center of town.  Along the way we saw some spooky abandoned buildings and just had to check them out, even if it meant missing all the open restaurants.

Let's investigate!
Something terrible happened here a while back.
Super spooky.
Dixie Chick?
Get me my biggest pushbroom!
Every room inside was covered with garbage.

We checked in at the motel and then dashed downtown for Chinese food, a type of food I hadn’t had in what felt like ten years.  It was exactly as I remembered it.  But it was still the best option in a town otherwise dominated by the all-mighty hamburger and steak.

The only place in town that wasn't fast food or a burger joint.

A special day indeed.

I don't think the specials have changed in a long time.

We chomped, sorted through our gear, and traded memes back and forth.

Another day, another pile of gear in a room.

Nice of them to provide this little nook for the bikes.

Digging into our Chinese food haul.

Look! An actual vegetable!

The last thing I did was pull the busted tire tube out and soak it in the sink to locate the puncture, then prepare and apply a patch.  The patches were vital:  I seriously doubted that I could find a replacement tube for a 20-inch wheel in any of these small towns.  If it really came down to needing a new one it would probably be fastest to order one through Amazon and hunker down for a few days while it arrived.

The middle of somewhere

In the morning I discovered yet another flat tire, this time on the other wheel.  I rolled the bike out into the daylight of the parking lot and changed the tube, and since we were already in a hotel room I used the sink to immediately patch the old one and pack it away.

First order of business today: Fix this flat tire.

After that we headed for the downtown, such as it was.

This town has seen better days.

The business folded and no one could pay to clean it up.

Nick realized he had to pee, and spotted a nearby dumpster he could sneak behind.  He came back shaking his head:  “As soon as I started peeing, a guy came out of the building right behind me.  He looked pretty upset.” We had a good laugh at that.

Ready for another day of riding!

We rolled along a little farther to a Family Dollar store, and I bought a big bottle of water and poured it into my water sack.  In the meantime Nick changed into warmer pants.  Preparations made, we pedaled Northeast and left the town behind.  Nick ranged way ahead of me on his younger legs.

He told me he also found inspiration to pedal because a cute bug joined him for part of the trip, and he wanted to take it on a free ride:

Nick had a friend riding along with him for a while.

“If you see my doctor pepper could you pick it up please? I put it in a pocket for a second and then it was gone.”
“I’ll keep an eye out. Is it in a bag?”
“No just a bottle. It’s sometime before the turnout with the benches.”
“Didn’t see the bottle. It will have to remain out here as one of the few soda bottles that actually has … soda … in it.”

Bike touring is like sailing a ship.  You leave anything on deck, and it will go overboard, and be gone forever.  You very quickly learn to tie down everything, even if it’s just going to be out for a few moments since the wind can easily blow it onto the ground where you’ll forget it.

Also, there are about ten million soda bottles half-filled with pee scattered all over both sides of the highways in the midwest, and for some reason there are also plenty of bottles with other trash conscientiously tucked inside them, like those old “ship in a bottle” tchotchkes from years past, except gross:

This is not what campers mean when they say "pack your trash!"

In most places though, the trash was lost in high grass and didn’t spoil the scenery unless we were deliberately looking for it.

What is that structure on the left?
Looks like a passer-by added some commentary!
Enjoying outside time.

30 miles later we got to the next town with a hotel.  There was one of those endless construction projects just outside it, making for an especially interesting approach by bike.

We could have gone farther but there was a big gap in the services ahead of us, which we would need a full day to cross.

Enjoying the windy road.

It was a touristy town next to a lake, and was clearly suffering from the COVID slump. The most exciting store for us was the one that promised good coffee, but it was locked up.

Too bad this wasn't open when we found it.

Nick’s comment: “I figured it could sense my Californian blood and it was magnetically pulling me towards it.”

Someone has liked coke for a long time.

The most unique thing about the motel was the weird collection of vintage coke products all around the lobby. Someone must have started it on a whim 60 years ago and then had no reason to stop. That’s one key difference between the midwest and the coast: There’s so much room here, people don’t really mind if it fills up with stuff. It’s probably a comforting reminder that civilization persists.

The shortcut to getting luggage inside: Throw it in through the window!

Half the restaurants in the town were shut down, and all the rest had closed early except for the Subway franchise.  There was a grocery store open though, where I found some produce and a few snacks.

At the hotel I set up my work chair in the parking lot, catching some nice late afternoon rays and warm air.  It reminded me of being at the drive-in movies as a kid, catching the low summer sun on the sloping expanse of the parking lot as people slowly accumulated around me and the sky darkened.  Soon a giant screen would flicker to life and a cartoon advertisement for snacks at the concession stand would echo weirdly among the cars…

After an hour or so the shadows moved and it got cold, so I went in.

In the evening I rolled over to the Subway.  The guy behind the counter turned down his rock music when I arrived, but I told him he didn’t need to, so he turned it back up.  We talked a bit about music and he mentioned that he was a massive fan of Stevie Ray Vaughn.  As he assembled my sandwich he gestured over to the soda fountain.  Apparently I qualified as cool enough to grab whatever amount of free soda I wanted.  Yesss!!  Service industry perks!  I shook my head but thanked him.

When I got back to the hotel I mentioned the story to Nick, and he put a playlist of Stevie Ray Vaughn on his speakers, which we listened to for several hours while I sorted through the last few days of photos.  Pretty cool.  Thanks, Subway Guy.

We were now well into that phase of a bicycle tour where you start to forget about the level of accessibility that most of the travelers around you are experiencing.  That is, you start to really feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere because it took you three or four days to get there.  It takes a little mental effort to remember that you could blaze through exactly the same locations in a few hours if you were traveling by car, and would barely even notice the distance covered — or notice much of anything.

This half-closed cluster of patchy buildings in the middle of the country really did feel remote.

Next five entries