Archive for June, 2011

From “Mile High” to Texas

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

One of the most eventful days of my trip was Friday, May 27. I left My cousin’s house north of Denver at 7.30 am Central time and headed South on I-25 through Ratan Pass.  The morning was cool and the sun was shining.  The drive through Denver on I-25 was uneventful and the traffic was mild.  Downtown the buildings reached to the sky as I drove through the first major city east of the Great Divide.  Cheyenne didn’t count as I only passed along the southwest area of that city and it was much smaller than Denver.

South of Denver, I located a gas station in Larkspur to fill up at.  I would have preferred a Truck Stop but the short stretch of country highway from the freeway into sleepy little Larkspur was a breath of fresh air.  It was a little Mom and Pop convenience station.  I returned north to the Junction where I could reenter the freeway and continued south.

The hills south of Denver grew greener as I descended.  I passed through Pueblo and continued South.  I momentarily contemplated the turn onto US-50 I had originally planned to take to Garden City, Kansas as I passed through Pueblo.  It was a longer stretch of road with slower traffic and I didn’t need to delay my journey any further.  I needed to be in Houston in time to start training on Monday.

Everywhere I looked there were two to five bikers out enjoying the sunshine on the freeway.  I thought to myself that there must be some sort of biker’s rally going on somewhere with so many traveling south.  If it was along the way, I didn’t see any signage or gathering of bikes anywhere.  The numbers dwindled near Trinidad, although there were others farther south.

I stopped at a Rest Area somewhere near Aguilar then continued south on I-25.  The traffic in Trinidad was light and the freeway was under construction narrowing to one lane as slow as 35 miles per hour through the city.  I could imagine what that would be like when everyone goes home from work at night and was glad I didn’t have to endure that nightmare.  Then I began the ascent to Ratan Pass playing leap frog with the big trucks again as we climbed the mountain together.

Once I was over the pass the weather changed to hot. And it became hotter. I stopped at another Rest Stop near Wagon Mound, NM.  All I could think about there was how hot and dry it was.  The Native American tending the rest area quietly made his rounds and watching tourists passing through.  He must have been used to the heat. What did he think of the little white truck and the dusty traveler stopping by?  I certainly didn’t look like the rest of the tourists.

Anxious to continue my journey with my 2-55 a/c, I rejoined I-25 south toward Albuquerque.  By the time I arrived at the US 84 interchange near Las Vegas, New Mexico, it was already well into the upper 90s. I stopped at the Romerville Truck Stop at US-84.  It was a Love’s but there was not much in the way of food that interested me, so I got a bag of BBQ Fritos to nibble on along the way.  That lasted until I reached I-40 and headed east again on I-40 / US-84.

By the time I got to Santa Rosa, I needed another stop to cool off.  There was a Love’s at the US-84 Junction ahead, but I had seen these Little America Travel Plazas since the long stretch of freeway through Wyoming.  It was across the road and on the right side so I opted to check it out.  I strolled through the air conditioned store for awhile, then settled on an ice cream sandwich for my purchase.  I ate it fast before it melted in the hot sun and pondered the comings and goings of the crazy tourists and their variety of vehicles.  One with a big trailer trying to get gas probably should have opted for the big truck and motor home entrance.  I didn’t hang around long to watch him jockey for position.  Traffic was picking up and it was time to go.  I realized later that there was an airport on the same road on my way out of Santa Rosa.

The Highway was straight, flat and meant for an otherwise uneventful drive to Clovis.  That is other than the slower speed zones for the small towns along the way.  Stopped at Love’s in Clovis for fuel and a little more food. A small bit here and there is all I can handle in the upper 90-degree weather.  Then across the border into Texas.  It didn’t take long before I caught on to the habits of northwest Texan drivers.  If one was slower than other traffic, you drove on the shoulder and slowed a bit to let others pass.  It was certainly not like the New Mexican signage pointing out that it was illegal to drive on the shoulder.  I passed a few, and let others pass, as I traveled through Muleshoe and a number of small towns on the way to Lubbock.

The temperatures did not drop until after nightfall. By then I had traveled to Lubbock, Texas and escaped into the Chisom Truck Stop to cool off.  It was another Love’s, the last along this leg of the journey that I’d stop at.  There were others, but I was re-energized when I drove past those the next day.  After spending a couple hours chilling in the trucker’s break room, I returned to my traveling.  It was dark already and much cooler.  The extreme difference in temperatures from morning to evening was probably the greatest I’ve experienced. The only other time I’ve traveled from cooler to very hot weather was when transferring from Great Lakes Naval Training Center to Naval Air Station (Naval Communications Station), Jacksonville, Florida in May 1984.

The darkness made the landscape look strange with the lighted cell towers and wind farms along the ridges of each hill.  It seemed to take forever to get to Snyder and I was quiet tired when I finally reached I-20.  I pushed onward to the Rest Area I had located on my map.  It was the other side of Sweetwater and not quite what I had expected.  It was a small one way road through with parking on either side of the road.  I edged up behind a big truck that had stopped for the night and set up my sleeping quarters.

When I was in Denver, I had arranged things so I could sleep more horizontal which helped.  However, the freeway was only a few yards from the parking area.  The big trucks around me did help muffle the sounds somewhat.  I woke to the sounds of a four-wheeler getting a tow bar hooked up to it on the other side of the rest area road.  I stretched my legs and started out for Abilene.

At the advice of the trucker I spoke to in Lubbock, I turned off on State Route 36 toward Comanche.  The little towns along the way helped to break the monotony of my morning drive.  The small picnic areas looked interesting so I found one and pulled in.  I pulled some food out of my ice chest and had a snack.  The other side of Comanche I passed a farm vehicle.

About a mile later, one of my rear tires gave out and I pulled over to the side.  The farmer went right on by like I was not even worth helping.  I was disappointed.  But I had three houses nearby and I was right in front of the one in the middle.  I walked up to the door and rang the bell.  A lady came to the door but she didn’t have a phone I could use.  Her husband came out the backdoor into the carport.  He suggested I try the neighbor.  I walked over to the next house, but no answer.  On the way back, the gentleman decided that he felt he’d acted ugly and came out to see what could be done.  After a little discussion, I dug my jack out from under the pile behind my seat and he took the tire off for me.  Then he and his wife took me back to Comanche to have a used tire mounted.  We returned and he put it on the truck for me.  They were from Snyder and in town for a reunion in Justine just up the road a bit – a charming couple with some genuine Texas hospitality that were caught just a bit off guard by a stranger from a distant place.

I was back on the road and off to the next city along the way, passing more small towns.  The next stop was in Temple to get fuel and something to eat.  A nice shady spot behind the building was an ideal place to park, have a bite to eat, and ponder the next leg of the journey.  I back tracked a bit and took I-45 to pick up Route 36 toward Houston.  While the speeds were 70/65 along this highway, I opted for the 65 night speed to save wear on the rear tires.  The front ones were fine, but the rear were near the wear line when I left Washington.

The afternoon drive was uneventful through the last few towns before Brenham and Hempstead.  The traffic picked up when I got on US-290 and only got thicker the closer I got to Houston.  I found one last stop for fuel near Waller then headed to Cypress.  I mistook Cypress-Rosehill Road for the one I was planning to take – Cypress-Spring Road.  I made the trip correction at Huffmeister, then continued to Telge and turned toward Tomball.  When I arrived at the address I was given, I was exhausted even though it was mid afternoon.  One of my new roommates greeted me as I peeled myself out of my truck.  I think I collapsed on the couch and melted after that and the rest of that day was a blur, though I remember spending a night on an airbed in my other roommate’s room.

Thus began my new life in Texas.