The winds from hell

After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for an easy — albeit full day’s — ride down to Superior, AZ for Red’s MIAZ gathering. I had know idea that the day would become something of an endurance test.

I enjoyed a nice big waffle at the Super8 (see previous post) and wrote up the previous day’s post while my fellow travelers were all watching the aftermath of the royal wedding that took place earlier that day. Half of the breakfast group seemed to be absolutely fascinated with every detail revealed about the wedding (oooh, they kissed twice instead of once!), and the other half couldn’t care less. (Personally, I’m happy for the couple but I’m not obsessed with all the gory details.)

I began to suspect that I would be in for a challenging day when I went out to pack the Bike and almost got blown over by a strong and steady wind out of the south. I finally got on the road at 9:30am. This was a good our later than I wanted, but I figured that my diagonal route alteration would make up some of the lost time. Now with this wind blowing, I’m not so sure.

Heading out of Amarillo to the west, I passed some of the normal sites: the Cadillac Ranch, the huge stock pens, and the forest of wind turbines north of the highway. It was then that I noticed a curious phenomenon.

When the sun sets, the darkening sky often displays a pinkish purple glow down hear the horizon until the sky finally darkens to a deep indigo blue. This band of pink/purple is often called the Band of Venus. On this especially windy day, I witnessed a similar effect but the color of the band near the horizon was a sandy brown, not a pinkish purple. The wind was kicking up so much dust that it looked like a dust or sand storm. I’d never seen anything like it.

In spite of the wind, I was able to refuel at Erick, Texas and continued west towards Santa Rosa, New Mexico. Unfortunately, as I entered the more hilly country in eastern New Mexico, the wind shifted towards the west and was now more of a headwind than a crosswind. As I rode past hills and buttes, the wind would be temporarily obstructed, giving me a chance to relax a bit. However, if there was a valley or cut in that hill/butte, the wind would find it and whip out if it with abandon, slamming into you like a Chicago Bear linebacker. At times it was difficult to keep the bike in my lane.

With the change to a headwind, I noticed that my gas supply was dwindling much faster than expected. I did the math and realized that I might not have enough gas to make Santa Rosa. I pushed on anyway, spending much of the last 15 miles hunkered down behind the windshield because it bought me an extra mile-per-gallon. I made it and filled up five-gallon gas tank with 4.87 gallons.

At this point I left the interstate in favor of US54 south. This is a fairly desolate stretch of two-lane highway. One point of interest (for me) is that it follows a Union Pacific rail line and I was able to spot three trains during the stretch down to Vaughn, New Mexico. My change in direction now had me headed directly into the wind. Again, I began to wonder where I should stop for gas since I was sure I would not make it all the way to Socorro.

At Vaughn I turned west on US60 and spent the time that I wasn’t struggling against the wind on watching the trains traveling the Burlington Northern Santa Fe mainline. There was plenty of activity along this stretch of track and I was able to get a few engineers to wave at me or sound their horn.

When I stopped for gas at Mountainair, New Mexico, I had a humorous encounter with a woman asking where she could check the air pressure her vehicle. I patiently explained that the air pressure referred to the air in the tire and that she would need a gauge to check which tire needed air. Apparently her car has an idiot light for tire pressure but doesn’t report as to which tire triggered the alarm. Bad design, in my opinion…

Between Bernardo and Socorro, US60 jogs south on I25 through the Rio Grande river valley. The wind was especially vicious along this part of the route, kicking up enough dust that I felt compelled to hold my breath as I rode through dense clouds of dust.

When I exited I25 at Socorro to follow US60 west, I hadn’t eaten since breakfast so I stopped at a Subway for a quick bite (buffalo chicken sub). I leveraged the free wifi to send out a few emails and check weather. The temperature was now up near 80˚F so I took off the jacket liner and long john bottoms, and switched to my perforated gloves. (It was now that I realized that my perf gloves are becoming more perforated than usual and are probably in need of replacement.)

Sheltered by a mountain, the winds in Socorro weren’t that bad. I strongly suspected, however, that they would be back in full fury when I crossed the high plateau west of Magdalena. The last time I travelled this route, I gassed up in Socorro and just barely made it to Springerville, Arizona for fuel. With today’s winds, I just knew I couldn’t count on making it that far, so I rode on to Magdalena before filling up with gas. Magdalena is a tiny town and the only gas station had four pumps that offered the following selections: diesel or 87-octane. The Vector likes premium fuel (91 or higher), so it was with a little trepidation that I filled up with 87. Usually, I wouldn’t be concerned with running a tank of 87 in a pinch, but bucking today’s headwinds meant leaning on the throttle much heavier than normal and could, conceivably, create the right conditions for engine pinging. Alas, I had no choice and pressed on.

I love the VLA. The VLA is the Very Large Array, a huge radio observatory spread out over a high-altitude plateau in an especially desolate region of New Mexico. There’s just something a little creepy about such a huge astronomy complex hidden out in the middle of nowhere. With all the dust kicked up by the still-strong winds, the VLA had an especially eerie appearance. As suspected, the winds were very strong in this stretch and blew across my route. I was beginning to wonder how uneven my tire tread wear was becoming with me riding with a constant lean to the left.

Once you head west though Datil, New Mexico, the terrain around US60 becomes more mountainous, rolling hills of tan grass dotted with low green pines and rocky outcroppings. The hills helped break up the wind and the trip actually became enjoyable.

I got to Springerville, Arizona without flirting with the bottom of the tank. The route down to Show Low, Arizona was uneventful as the colors of the landscape got richer as the sun sank lower in the sky. By the time I reached the Salt River Canyon, the sun was dipping behind a few of the higher mountains, adding the challenge or variable lighting on the curves as I railed around the corners down into the canyon. At the bottom of the canyon, I prepared for the wonderful ascent up the canyon walls (physics tends to make hard riding easier going uphill than downhill), when I saw a road sign that totally killed my riding mojo: Fresh Oil. Arrrgh! Sure enough, the uphill route was covered with a dark covering of well-oiled chip seal. Very disappointing.

The remainder of the trip through Globe and on to Superior was uneventful. The sun had set but there was still plenty of sun in the sky. I pulled up to Red’s and was welcomed by the illustrious hostess and the other guests. Red then announced that I was just in time for dinner, so I was able to fill my belly and swap a few lies with my friends before setting up camp under a huge cyprus tree in a nearby vacant lot.

The total for the day was 660 miles in 12 hours.

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All in all, the trip out covered 1939 miles in just over 52 hours. Yes, this was a long ride, but the windy conditions certainly made it a lot more tiring than it had to be. I just hope that if the winds are still around for the trip home, that they are still blowing to the northwest.

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