SOUTHWESTWARD HA

We ever held it certain that going toward the sunset we should find what we desired.
- Cabeza de Vaca

It was rainy and windy going across central Oklahoma. By the time I got out on the High Plains the rain was behind me but the wind was just getting started. At the end of the second day I made camp at a little state park out at the tip end of the Panhandle and spent the last hours of daylight pulling the carbs and switching the jets to suit the increasing altitude.

Next morning, going across northeastern New Mexico, I started having sporadic engine trouble: an occasional miss, difficult starting, now and then she'd lose a cylinder for a moment. Finally in Cimarron, before the mountains, I made a careful examination and found the problem: a cracked ignition terminal was shorting out the center plug. I wrapped it in friction tape for a temporary fix and later, after an exhilarating ride over a 9000-foot pass, picked up a replacement at a bike shop in Taos.

Taos itself didn't interest me. Vladimir Nabokov once called it "a dismal hole full of third-rate painters and faded pansies" and while I wasn't qualified to pass judgment on the artistic or sexual tastes of the locals, I knew a tourist trap when I saw one. I got out fast and made camp at a little roadside park the kid at the bike shop had told me about, up in a mountain valley next to a wildly foaming creek, in the shadow of huge conifers. I had the place to myself; no other campers, not even any traffic on the narrow blacktop road. I fixed dinner and afterwards sat and smoked my pipe and watched darkness fall with a sense of amazed accomplishment: here I was in New Mexico, really doing it at last....

The following day's ride was a long one, up over more mountains and high, desolate, almost uninhabited plateaus, then dropping down to pick up Highway 44 at Cuba. Heading northwest on 44 I got stuck behind a convoy of slow-moving highway-maintenance trucks and had some intense moments getting past them, but otherwise it was a good run, without much human contact. The scenery was fantastic, towering mesas and deep canyons, everything getting steadily dryer and rockier and Joel McCrea-er, though I have to admit I didn't see as much of it as I should have; I was too focused on the bike and on the road.

Near Bloomfield at a roadside rest area I talked briefly with a couple, about my age, whose equipment was a bit more sophisticated than mine.

I stopped in Farmington long enough to pick up a bottle of two-stroke oil and a strong impression that this wasn't a town where I'd want to spend any time (I didn't know, then, about the local tradition of white punks assaulting and occasionally murdering unlucky Indians.) Not much farther on the road entered the Navajo Reservation and then, west of Shiprock, crossed the state line into Arizona. By then the road was virtually deserted, and I had it to myself after I turned south - except for a flock of sheep that wandered across the pavement down by Many Farms - all the way to Chinle, where the Navajos, God bless them, ran a free campground. I rode in and picked myself a spot and put up the tent and settled down for the weekend.

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NEXT: Canyons

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