Dallas, Tx to Snyder, Tx
West Texas Blows. And Blows.
A strong all-day headwind is no fun on a naked bike.
My brakes decide to misbehave.
The wind was brutal, and I had nowhere to hide. I hunched down over the tank bag, my arms dangling over the handlebars. What the hell, I thought, anyone can go coast to coast behind fairings.
I left Dallas Friday bound for Tucson, but with no end-of-day destination in mind other than west. I was in luck, as from Dallas onward, Texas has a lot of west available. I last crossed the state in 1989, driving out to Los Angeles to work on a political campaign after I had gotten kicked out of law school (Long story. Some other time.)
The job in L.A. was forgettable, but something happened on the way out that has stayed with me for a quarter of a century. I left Dallas full of optimism and excitement, but after a few hours the Davis Mountains suddenly loomed in the distance and my gut soured. No question, I was far from home. My foot came off the gas. What the hell was I thinking? Going out to California for a job I knew almost nothing about, with no place to live? Leaving behind everyone and everything I knew? For a good half minute I thought seriously about going back. Then the absurdity of it hit me. My friends had given me a going away party. How to explain my return? “I, uh, chickened out somewhere between Midland and El Paso. Can I crash on your couch?” The answer was clear, the only way to go was forward. In subsequent years, every time that worried, what-if feeling hit my gut, I ignored it and forged ahead, and I have always been glad I did.
Emboldened by age and experience, this time I had no doubts. I decided to take a more northerly and leisurely route, along US 180, which starts near the western edge of Fort Worth. I spent much of the trip from Carrollton to Fort Worth playing with my new toy, a Kuryakn throttle lock I bought at Bates Discount Cycle in Dallas. Bates has whatever you need for a long motorcycle trip, so if you’re on a trip and you forgot to bring something, stop in, they probably have it. The throttle lock installed easily, but it took a little fiddling before I got it just how I liked it. If you don’t have cruise control, a throttle lock is your girlfriend’s sister.
I stopped at the Dairy Queen in Weatherford and ordered a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone, before remembering I had let my beard and mustache grow long for the trip. I had a semi-Rutherford B. Hayes thing going, and had to wipe my face after every bite, which must have looked ridiculous. I chit-chatted a little with a local guy as two trucks crept by bearing blades for the giant power-generating windmills, which now dot much of the countryside in that area, despite its reputation as an oil-producing region.
Pleasures of Rural Decay
I picked up 180 in Weatherford and immediately knew I had done the right thing. Want to experience the Texas of 50 years ago, before the Interstate? This is your highway. More than once antelope skittered away from the road as I approached. It’s desolate, but many buildings remain from the mid-20th century and earlier, some in advanced states of decay. Most catered to the early motor/tourist trade. Old gas stations are well represented, and while as a kid I occasionally saw the old glass-topped tower-style gas pumps, I saw none on this trip, only the concrete islands where they once stood. Occasionally abandoned tourist courts and such pop up, weathered monuments to the mom-and-pop capitalism of an earlier age.
The wind was brutal, and I had nowhere to hide. I hunched down over the tank bag, my arms dangling over the handlebars. My jacket vents were open but they couldn’t handle the load of 70 mph plus a steady 25-30 mph headwind. A very annoying invisible hand pulled hard, all day, on the back of my jacket. What the hell, anyone can go coast to coast behind fairings. I continued.
The extra-hunched riding position angered the pinched nerve in my neck. I rode into Albany, Texas with an eye out for a CVS or Rite-Aid to get some Aleve. Idling along Albany’s main street I saw a “drug store” sign and pulled into a parking space right in front of a small, local pharmacy. Great, I thought, now I’ll have to pay some ridiculous price for Aleve.
Sanders Drugstore, however, justifies the stop and whatever extra they charge over the chains. It shares a beautifully restored 1920s space with Vintage Vanilla, which serves hand-mixed Cokes and Sprites from a stunning early 20th century soda fountain. For those of you under 50, this means they make a Coke the old way – a squirt of Coke syrup over an ice-filled glass, followed by soda water and a quick stir. It should be drunk with a paper straw, but I don’t even know if they make them anymore. If you’ve never had one this way, you owe it to yourself. I ordered both a shake and a coffee drink, in the interest of research of course. The shake was fantastic but my coffee drink didn’t make the cut. It was like a very weak coffee-flavored Slurpee.
Mushy Front Brake
I washed down my Aleve and consulted the map, which said I had a couple hours to go for Snyder. It looked like a good place to stop, big enough to have a few motels to choose from. The wind was winning. My arms and legs ached from clinging to the bike. The sun was still well up, but by the time I got to Snyder I’d had enough.
Once I’d checked in to a motel, I decided to do something about my mushy front brake. The front caliper on the Triumph Bonneville earns its reputation as a difficult bleeder, and mine still seemed to have air in it from last time I fooled around with it. I needed with a mechanical vacuum bleeder because my manual efforts had failed to improve things much.
But first things first. I rode around a little in Snyder, looking for something good to eat. Something Texas. As soon as I saw the sign for Dickey’s Barbecue I knew. I ate a lot at Dickey’s back when I lived in Texas. The aroma outside carried me in on a wave of nostalgia. It was just as I had remembered, right down to the giant tumblers of iced tea. As on most of this trip I ate entirely too much and left the restaurant in pain.
You can find cool old abandoned buildings like this one all along US 180. Most were killed off by the Interstate.
Going out on a limb here, but I'd bet beard god and 19th president of the United States Rutherford B. Hayes didn't eat ice cream cones very often.
Sanders Drugstore and Vintage Vanilla share a beautifully restored space in Albany, Texas. It's a great place to relax for awhile and have a fantastic milkshake or a real soda-fountain Coke.
I asked a guy outside Dickey’s about any local motorcycle mechanics, and he said the closest ones were in Midland, about 90 miles away. It's times like this that I'm glad I learned a little something about motorcycle repair.
Fear not, Snyderites: The Snyder Daily News has its finger on the pulse of the city. Damn you, Facebook! Just kidding, Snyder Daily News. I'm an old newspaper guy myself.
I asked a guy outside Dickey’s about any local motorcycle mechanics, and he said the closest ones were in Midland, about 90 miles away. Well, hell. I knew how to bleed brakes, I just wanted someone to do it using a Mity-vac or something like that. No such luck.
I bought a bottle of brake fluid at the local O’Reilly’s, enduring the manager’s snark (“a Triumph that needs brake fluid? You’re kidding me!”) and the cashier’s doubts (“you’ll never get parts for that bike out here”). A half-hour or so of pumping fluid through the system helped a little, but not much. Darkness had fallen. To continue working I had to stop occasionally, walk down the row of cars and wave my arm in front of a motion detector to turn on the parking lot spotlight. I had stopping power, but the lever came dangerously close to touching the grip when I squeezed. Eventually I got tired of fighting the spotlight and put my tools away. However this would be resolved, it would happen tomorrow. I locked up the bike, took some Naproxen and hit the hay.