Before my first drive into Mexico, Karen told me to visualize a golden tunnel that would get me to my destination safely.
On the second trip, this one by motorcycle, I had call to remember this advice as I crossed the mountains East of San Diego on Interstate 8. They are not very high, with the passes being around 4,000 feet, but there is a wicked wind up there that is deadly to motorcycle riders.
The wind threatens to push one off the road, either off steep drop offs or into the side of the mountain. Then there are the bridges. Two that I remember, that span big canyons. If the wind blows one off the road on a bridge, one plunges hundreds of feet. I imagined the sensation of falling, like in a dream, but with the difference that, at the end of the fall in a dream you wake up, but here, you go to sleep permanently.
I don’t remember being this scared in a long time. The only recourse, other than stopping, is to go as fast as you can, as fast as you can take the turns and as fast as the bike will go in the straightaways to keep up maximum momentum. Physics. Also, pray that the wind doesn’t suddenly let up while you have the bike leaned into it, which will send you right off the road.
I was doing a lot of praying to the Virgen de Guadalupe sticker I had placed on the bike’s gas tank that morning. I was also visualizing the crap out of that golden tunnel. The wind chased me all the way to El Centro, but once I was off the mountain it lost most of its evil force. That was the Devil’s wind.
I had the foresight on Saturday to buy some winter gloves and a balaclava on the way down to San Diego, but the gloves turned out to be shit. True, they (barely) kept $my hands from freezing, but they started falling apart pretty quickly, and I could still feel knives of cold on my fingers all day. The mask was much better and my face stopped being numb with cold after I put it on.
The rest of the days ride was uneventful, although I did end up riding an hour past dark, which I was trying to avoid. It gets very cold after the sun goes down in the desert.
I had a very good night’s sleep in a horrifying dump in Willcox, Arizona. It was a good sized room with two queen beds. One bed was unmade. There was a small table in the center of the room with four mismatched and grungy chairs arranged around it, as if for a poker game that was hastily interrupted. The hotel manager apologized profusely for the state of the room and said if I waited, he’d make up the bed with dirty sheets. I pulled back the covers of the other bed and the sheets were fine, so I told him just to bring me fresh towels.
Later I discovered that the carpet was sticky to walk on with bare feet, so I put some socks on. I kept a pair of orange ear plugs handy, but didn’t need them, not even for the trains that passed nearby. I slept really well.
I think this was partly due to my going with the flow and not objecting to the objectionable. It was like the night before, in the motel in San Ysidro. There was a party or something going on in the room above me. I was too tired to muster the indignation to complain, so I promptly fell asleep. I am certain that if I had worked up a healthy sense of injustice, the result would have been an unhappy night of tossing and turning, calls to the office, calls from the office to the people enjoying themselves upstairs, and overall frustration.
So, both nights I achieved my objective. I slept well.
I woke up early in Willcox to discover frost on the motorcycle seat. I showered, shaved, dressed and packed up the bike and rode a half mile to the McDonalds by the freeway. That half mile, at a speed of 20 miles an hour, was insanely cold. I was well bundled, but even at low speed it was like being stabbed in the hands, arms, face, and knees.
My early start was put off as I lingered at the McDonalds. The sun came up. I sipped coffee and pondered my situation. I was losing time. I hoped to cover almost 500 miles that day, from Willcox, AZ to Fort Stockton, Texas. I hit upon a back up plan and emailed Dave at the Eleven Inn in Balmorhea, TX, asking If there vacancies. I wrote that I’d call from the road.
The sun had been up for 45 minutes when I finally headed out from McDonalds. I couldn’t wait any longer.
The next stop was a TA truckstop in Las Cruces. Once I was off the bike, the sun warmed me up. I filled up the tank and went inside for lunch. A taco bell chicken taco then coffee and Internet in the cafe.
I decided Balmorhea would be the days destination, unless I had plenty of daylight to get to Fort Stockton. Even still, the more I thought about it the more I was attracted to the idea of staying at The Eleven Inn. I even idly wished I had the time to stay there for a week or a few days to get some writing done, because that’s the sort of place The Eleven Inn is. It’s peaceful, the rooms are attractive yet simple, and most important, it has a very good vibe. I ascribe this to Dave, the owner. Besides, I owed Dave $10 from a favor he had done me while I was in Mexico.
There was an email from Dave saying I was all set. I called him telling him when to expect me, about 5. I didn’t yet cancel my reservation at the Fort Stockton Motel 6. I’d have plenty of time to do that later, once I arrived at The Eleven Inn. Or so I thought.
I got back on the bike and passed through El Paso. There was traffic, though not heavy, and I was able to zip through fairly quickly on the bike. Outside the city, the speed limit was 70 miles per hour, so I cruised at 75 on the theory that the cops will give you a 5 mph leeway. After a while, the speed limit is 80 mph, so I opened it up to 85. My max speed when weighed down with baggage is around 90 on the flats.
I setting up to pass two trucks when I glanced in the rear view mirror and saw them on my tail. Texas State Troopers with the blue lights flashing. I motioned that I would pull over to the right and cut my speed. After pulling over, I shut off the bike, slowly removed my gloves, helmet, cap, balaclava, and ear plugs. I waited with my hands on the handlebars, where they would be in full view. I’m very good with cops. I like to set them at ease before we even start to talking.
“How are you this evening, sir?” the trooper asked me.
“OK, but not as well as I thought I was, ” I smiled back.
He asked for my license and proof of insurance.
“You were going 86 miles per hour, sir. I’m going to run your license and the motorcycle, and if everything checks out, I’ll let you go with a warning.”
“Thank you sir. May I smoke a cigarette while I am waiting?”
“Go right ahead, sir.”
I didn’t think it wise to roll a cigarette, so I took one from the pack of camels. If you roll your own, it’s always good to have a pack of ready mades just in case.
As I smoked and waited, the sun dropped lower in the sky. It was already getting chilly. With the dark the temperatures would sink and the ride would be unpleasant. At the time I pulled over, I had maybe 40 minutes before sunset, then another 15 before it was dark. By the time the officer let me go with the warning, I had twenty minutes. I figured I’d be pulling into the motel just as the sun set.
I began singing “Old Paint”, the Linda Ronstadt version, in my head.
Eighteen miles from Balmorhea, on the shady North side of a big hill, I passed a truck. I slowed a little on the approach and was just starting to roll back on the throttle when I saw an animal on the side of the road. Everything happened very fast, but as best as I can remember, the chain of events went something like this: it looks like a mule! No, a deer (mule deer have ears like a mule, thus the name). There’s another on the road. (I completely eased off the throttle at this point, but hadn’t yet braked). There’s a bunch on the road! I’m going to hit one! (I aimed for the tail on the theory that when I got there, it would have moved.) I’m going to miss it! (Suddenly, another deer bounded across, right into my path.)
I felt a great impact, but the bike was still up and I was still on it. My foot was in great pain. The bike began to lose power and slow. I pulled over and looked at the bike. The headlamp was smashed. The right turn signal and running light were gone, completely sheared off. Likewise the air cleaner, which is why I had lost power. My ankle (not my foot as I first thought) was really starting to hurt. Cars and trucks flashed by and now it was getting dark. I could no longer see sunlight on the hills across the road and what clouds there were had taken on a rosy tone.
I got back on the bike. I could go maybe 10 mph at full throttle and with the choke engaged. This got me to the next highway off ramp, Farm Road 3078. Now the sun was down.
I called Dave at the motel. Dave arranged for towing, telling me he’d send a guy he knew named Martín. Unfortunately, Martín didn’t understand that I was fully off the freeway. I waited and waited but didn’t call in the hopes that Martín was just around the bend. I also didn’t want to waste cell phone battery, which was very low. I played Scrabble on my iPad. I ate the rest of my dried cherries and drank a little water. It hurt to stand and put any weight on my right foot.
There were breaks in the traffic, short periods when no cars or trucks would pass East or West. It was utterly silent in these moments. Not a cricket. Nothing. A crescent moon was sailing to the Western horizon. I began singing Ronstadt’s “Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me” then switched over to “So Lonesome I Could Cry”.
Objectively, I should have been miserable. And annoyed that Martín hadn’t yet shown up. How long had I been waiting? I couldn’t remember when the accident had occurred other than just before sunset and I couldn’t remember when sunset was, even though I had memorized it earlier that day. I told myself that waiting seemed longer in such circumstances and that Martín would soon be there to rescue me. I thought about how happy I would be when Martín arrived and how glad I would be to see Dave. I watched the stars and listened to the silence inbetween bursts of traffic.
A pick up truck came up the off ramp, drove past me and pulled over. Could this be Martín? No, it was a man taking a piss. I told him what had happened and he asked if he could do anything to help me. I thanked him, but told him I was waiting for friends with a tow truck. Honestly, it was just good to see another human being.
“Le vaya bien,” he said.
“Gracias. Andale pues,” I replied.
He got in his truck and drove off.
I saw a truck turn around on the median, but all I could see were the lights. It was big but not too big. Turns out it was was Martín.
After an hour and a half, Dave called again. Martín was there at The Eleven Inn. He couldn’t find me. I gave Dave the description of where I was again, which he repeated to Martín. I heard in the background Martín exclaiming, “Lo conozco.”
A half hour later Martín and his father showed up in what looked like a very short flatbed. There was a compressor on the back and a hoist. The bed didn’t tilt. There were no ramps. Martín proposed pulling the bike onto the truck with the hoist. I felt skeptical, but I didn’t freak out. I just hoped Martín knew what he was doing. He wrapped a 3/8ths braided steel cable around the bike and lifted it up. He swung it around and lowered it onto the bed. Then he tied it down. Piece of cake and I’m glad I didn’t raise objections.
Martín’s father loaded my bags behind the cab and we were off. Martín asked if I could speak Spanish and I wondered what language I had been speaking to him before. Instead of saying that out loud I just said, “Un poco.”
We discussed the accident. Martín and his father had seen the deer. They both thought it was a miracle I was alive. I told them about the sticker of the Virgen and how she had protected me not just then, but the day before in the mountains when the Devil’s wind had threatened to snatch me off the mountain. They nodded. We talked about where I was living. Martíns father knew where San Miguel de Allende was and Dolores Hidalgo. Martín didn’t. They were from Chihuahua and had been in Texas for 20 years. Martín’s father’s father had a ranch there, but there had been many years of drought.
The pain in my ankle was worse now, especially with the hopping around I had been doing when we secured the bike. Martín’s father told me the Spanish word for ankle is tobillo. Martín said he had seen a lot of bad crashes as a tow truck driver, and said again that it was a miracle I was alive. Una milagro. Nadie montado en un moto que choca un venado y pueda escaparse.
We pulled in to The Eleven Inn. Dave greeted us. I was happy to see him.
To make a long story slightly less long, this is where I am for the moment. Parts for the bike have been ordered and will be here on Thursday with luck. I’m not sure how long the ankle will take to heal before I am ready to ride, but Karen told me to ask the healing angels for help and mentioned the golden tunnel again.