Trip Log – Day 344 – Clovis NM to Levelland TX

to-levellandOctober 14, 2016 – Clouds and Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 89

Miles to Date: 17,961

States to Date: 45

img_7859After college I served as a VISTA Volunteer in the South Plains of Texas, an area most people would call West Texas, but locals insist is different. The South Plains are broad and flat: I did not cross a single river today. The area was mostly uninhabited until the 1920’s, when we figured out how to tap the Ogallala Aquifer and grow cotton, soybeans, watermelon, and sunflowers. By the 1970’s early settlers had become the areas first generation of senior citizens; I worked at South Plains Community Action Association to establish senior programs: meals on wheels, medical transport, and home repair. I traveled about 2,000 miles a month across thirteen rural counties to help elderly folks get new roofs, insulation, and indoor plumbing. It was gratifying work.

img_7866Today I cycled through a swath of that territory, from Muleshoe through Littlefield to Levelland, under a grey dome that didn’t turn sunny until mid afternoon. I look for buffet lunches on long travel days; the Dinner Bell’s Friday catfish buffet hit the spot. Fried okra, fried fish, fried popcorn shrimp… do you spot a trend? Seems I was the only patron who ate the sautéed fish. Then again, I was the only one lacking a big belly and a bigger hat.

img_7868One thing I did not eat was the pink gelatin. My year of senior citizen lunches forever ruined my appetite for any dish with marshmallows or suspended in Jell-O.

The irony of riding down Littlefield’s near abandoned downtown is that the largest occupied building is the senior center, as it is in so many small towns. In less than forty years a group that was an emerging demographic has become the dominant one.


So far, The South Plains has weathered rural decline better than most areas of the Great Plains, Muleshoe, Littlefield and Levelland all have just about the same number of residents today as they did when I lived here. Commerce has simply shifted from downtown to the highway. In another forty years, who knows how many will remain.

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Trip Log – Day 343 – Fort Sumner NM to Clovis NM

to-clovisOctober 13, 2016 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 66

Miles to Date: 17,872

States to Date: 45

img_7839img_7837The Internet lists two motels in Fort Sumner, both on the east side of town. Coming in from the west, I passed on the Coronado Motel despite the hand painted sign quoting single rooms at $35 a night. The place looked dusty even by my marginal standards. But the Billy the Kid Motel was full with cowboys renting by the week and Super 8 wanted $80 a night. So I pedaled back to the Coronado, which proved one of the more memorable stays of my trip. Tito gives a $10 discount to cyclists. For twenty-five bucks I got a sweet room with a powerful shower, king bed, and in-room coffee. The place even has an ice machine. Another cyclist occupied the room next to mine, though he left at dusk to distance ride at night. All the other parking spots were filled with work trucks. I doubt a woman has stayed here in ten years, at least not one who’s registered.

I woke before daylight after nine hours sleep, heard my neighbors back out to their labors, picked up some grocery store grub in this cafe-deprived town, and pedaled out on the plains.


The plains are my favorite place to ride. Austerely beautiful; easy when the wind’s at your back; tough when it’s in your face; miles upon miles of raw land and wide sky with a taut horizon; the most elementary landscape. I ride mountains to their breathless peaks, but when I roll over the plains I am simultaneously grounded and on top of the world.

There’s a derivative of root cause analysis known as the five whys: take any situation and ask ‘why’ five times deep to understand its true essence. Cycling the plains is a mediation that evokes my own five ways. The regular pedal strokes, the unwavering land, prod my psyche. Today, I spun all the way back to the moment from my childhood when I grasped my fundamental nature.


I was seven. My parents were in bed. My mother held my little brother in her arms, we four older children stood around the foot: morning-after family meeting. I don’t remember what precipitated this one. Maybe my father hit my mother the night before, or punched the wall, or knelt on the front lawn howling at the moon. My father was a sweet drunk, until he wasn’t. Morning was mea culpa time; reassurance that it would never happen again. My father glossed over the facts by enumerating all the fun things he had planned, my mother nodded in support. Our job was to replace reality with his intention.

I stood there, listening, watching, and suddenly realized that these two people were way over their heads. Two beautiful creatures whose attraction led to a slew of kids and frustrations vented through bourbon. I felt no anger, no fear, but neither did I swallow their platitudes. They were neither bad nor good: just two people juggling more than they could handle. I was their child, but I didn’t feel dependent.


There’s something chilling about a seven-year-old who so objectively analyzes his personal situation. I knew I was supposed to be upset, to buy the emotional plea for redemption. But observing my father from the bedpost brought me to the age of reason the nun’s assumed I would reach at the first communion rail. I refused to suffer rage, then cathartic release, just to get hurt again by the next inevitable episode. I understood, in that moment, my role in life. I observe and I listen. I engage with my hands and my head, but keep a distant heart. I travel alone and never feel lonely.

Maybe that’s why I love the plains. No drama, no intention, no great heights or looming shadows. The plains are not the result of explosion. They are simply layers upon layers of sediment rolled out under the baking sun. They seem boring, until you look close at how the light strikes each quivering blade, and listen carefully to the slithering snakes and blackbirds rustling in the sage.


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Trip Log – Day 342 – Vaughn NM to Fort Sumner NM

to-fort-sumnerOctober 12, 2016 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 60

Miles to Date: 17,806

States to Date: 45

img_7823My agenda to visit all of my siblings and their children on this journey is not merely social. We are a demographically diverse bunch. Pat and Jack Fallon were third generation Irish-American Catholics from the New York area. None of their five children or fourteen grandchildren is Catholic or lives in metropolitan New York. We are scattered over eight states; we all practice a different religion, if any at all. Some of us have advanced degrees; others have not graduated high school. Some own homes; others rent. One has six children; others are committed to having none. Some are veterans, others felons; one is both. We are married or divorced or living together. We are straight and gay. We have natural children and stepchildren and adopted children. We occupy every economic quartile, though none of us is in the top 1%. Our politics run blood red and sky blue. We are the most diverse family I know that still all talk with each other. Because, whatever our differences or opinions, we are family.


The most difficult person to meet up with on my journey has been my oldest brother Bill, a long haul truck driver based in Salt Lake City who’s home at most 36 hours a week. Over the past year we near missed in Indiana, Wyoming and Texas. Today we navigated an Apollo worthy linkup. I cycled to Vaughn, New Mexico and took a room at the faded motel next to a 24-hour diner on US 285 that Bill passes four times a week shuttling between Salt Lake City and Laredo, Texas. He gave me a 3:00 a.m. ETA but called at midnight: making good time, only fifteen minutes away. We spent three hours at Penny’s Diner, the only patrons in the oscreen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-19-01-pmnly bright lights for a hundred miles around.

Bill is the most upbeat person I’ve ever met. No matter what travails befall him, and there have been plenty, he always says things are great. He’s also keen about whatever endeavor he’s invested in, whether it’s product sales, international construction, SBA disaster financing, or, these days, trucking. Since I’m fascinated by logistics, I enjoy hearing the intricacies of schedule and the advantages of designated routes, though the sheer volume of trucking and the fossil energy we burn on our highways overwhelms me. Bill’s company runs twelve round trips per week between SLC and Laredo alone simply to deliver parts between Autoliv’s plants in Utah and Mexico. Between shoptalk we catch up on the comings and goings of our children, which are less predictable than Bill’s junkets up and down US 285.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-4-18-04-pmWhen I ask Bill ‘How will we live tomorrow?” he declines to respond. Many people do that; I only ask once. I put down my pen and look out at the deep night sky, so familiar to a man who trucks all hours, so foreign to a guy who cycles all day and hunkers down in the dark. I wonder how two people so genetically linked can be so different. Which makes me ponder the challenge of forging better bonds among the rest of us.

We start by seeking out and creating bright spots where our complicated paths intersect, the Mormon trucker and the Yankee cyclist in the middle of the night in the middle of New Mexico. Not too much in common. Except that we’re human. And family.

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Trip Log – Day 341 – Moriarty NM to Vaughn NM

to-vaughnOctober 11, 2016 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 69

Miles to Date: 17,746

States to Date: 45

O give me a home where the buffalo roam

Where the deer and the antelope play

Where seldom is heard a discouraging word

And the skies are not cloudy all day


Today was a day for singing! Back in the wide-open spaces to begin my fourth swath across the Great Plains – this time traveling east from the Sandia foothills across the New Mexico sage and the Ogallala Aquifer nourished South Plains of Texas to Fort Worth.


I spent the whole day on broad shoulders of I-40 and US 285. Road sign mania! None in the cars or trucks zooming past could hear me vocalize. They don’t know what they missed.


The temperature was perfect, the sun was bright and the wind nudged me forth from behind.


I actually did see antelopes play.

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I feasted at The Encino Firehouse Mercantile and Deli, the only business in the town of fifty souls. Victor Gallupe, City Councilman, Fire Chief and cafe proprietor, explained that the town used to be four or five times larger. But he has hopes for the future: the largest wind farm in New Mexico is being built fifteen miles due west on US 60.


Over 100 trains a day pass through Encino, along a main east/west corridor that parallels US 60.


Live horses make Vaughn’s welcome sign authentically Western.

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Trip Log – Day 340 – Albuquerque NM to Moriarty NM

to-moriartyOctober 10, 2016 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 53

Miles to Date: 17,677

States to Date: 45

Albuquerque is low-slung as Fresno, visually chaotic as Houston, friendly as Minneapolis, street-peopled as Portland, and outdoorsy as Denver. Albuquerque’s much smaller than I thought: its sister city Phoenix is more than four times its size.

img_7754I pedaled the length of Fourth Street, which is about as diverse a strip as any in our nation. I visited Old Town and the Jetty Jacks along the Rio Grande flood plain, downtown and the university. I was enthralled by the National Museum of Everything Nuclear, a more apt name than its official title. Mostly I liked Albuquerque because everyone I met, from coffee guru to college professor, to nature walker, to obese bicycle man, to green chili curry waitress, to ED doc in spandex, was open and engaging.

What I couldn’t compose in my brief stay was a coherent image of the place. Instead I found myself drawn to Albuquerque’s details. To the light on the coarse adobe walls, the contrast of brilliant orange against so much brown, to folk murals and stainless steel shimmering in the blinding sun.

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Perhaps Albuquerque is the quintessential American city – disparate parts loosely tied together into an entity that resists cohesion.

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Trip Log – Day 339 – Santa Fe NM to Albuquerque NM

to-albuquerqueOctober 9, 2016 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 58

Miles to Date: 17,624

States to Date: 45

My tires stayed gripped to the earth, but my attention all day was in the clouds. From first light through midday to evening storms, the New Mexico sky was amazing today.









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Trip Log – Day 338 – Santa Fe NM

to-santa-feOctober 8, 2016 – Clouds and rain, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 26

Miles to Date: 17,566

States to Date: 45

My hosts described Santa Fe as a tale of two cities. Yesterday, pedaling in from the north, I passed through the million-dollar rancho city. This morning I witnessed the other city. I pedaled to a local McDonald’s for a morning writing session before Santa Fe’s attractions opened only to find the bike rack full. Turns out many other middle aged men, all the rest Hispanic, most of them marginally homeless, descended on this place for their morning warmth. Some played guitar, some avoided purchasing anything, some commandeered the men’s room for long periods of wash and clothes change. Some men sat in groups chatting, laughing, while others sat alone staring blankly into fate. I was impressed with the Gringo manager who dealt with all of these demographically unfavorable customers with patience and respect. I find humanity in McDonald’s wherever I go.

img_7694After ten I explored the streets of this charming capital city of high altitude style and colorful art. The colors were particularly welcome on this grey, featureless day. The State Capitol is among the most bizarre in our nation. Not only no dome, not even a flag. The frontcourt features a sculpture of three girls and two boys at tug-of-war; very odd for a guy accustomed to New England’s obligatory Revolutionary War hero on a horse.

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The Santa Fe Society of Artists Show, which occurs every weekend spring through fall, featured some lovely art. I particularly liked Madeleine Durham’s wavy images on handmade paper ( and Matthew Rhodes very colorful acrylics (

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All of which was a pre-act for my visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, a perfect place that does justice to a great artist without exhausting the visitor. Though I know much of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, I was taken by her early West Texas landscapes. These horizontal layered images, painted in the early 1920’s seem to me to joyful precursors of the Abstract Expressionist color field painters of the 1950’s. The three horizontal bands hint at what Mark Rothko did, at a different scale and to different effect, thirty years late. There’s a dissertation in that for anyone interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in art history.

img_7707After so much culture, I indulged in a late lunch at Lotsaburger, a local fast food franchise that lives up to its hype. Full of high art and low food, I rode seventeen miles in the rain to stay with a host who lives in an Airstream. Fortunately for me, the rain stopped just in time to witness my own tri-partie horizontally banded landscape, albeit in the grey tones of the day.


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