Texas: Wandering the Wide Open Spaces

Texas: Wandering the Wide Open Spaces
As I spur the big Heritage Softail® west out of Abilene, the light mid-morning traffic allows me to take an earnest survey of the immensity unfolding in every direction. Only smatterings of manmade structures and distant clumps of trees mar a limitless horizon that wouldn't budge the bubble in a carpenter's level much off dead center no matter where you placed it. Without a doubt, Jerry Jeff Walker is right on the money when he sings, "You ask me what I like about Texas. I tell you, it's the wide-open spaces!"

A comfortable night and a delicious breakfast, both compliments of Abilene's Vintage House Bed and Breakfast, have me fired up and ready to ride. Azure skies and a warm breeze, the latter completely at odds with the calendar's pronouncement that it's well into the month of November, certainly don't dampen my spirits either. Not far out of town, I'm happy to depart Interstate 20 for the solitude of FM (Farm to Market) 126, where miles of cultivated fields disappear into the skyline.

In the small town of Merkel I opt to go ahead and top off the Harley's fuel tank. Looking around, I crack a grin as memories of long-ago car travel bubble up: I've stumbled across a coelacanth of commerce rarely seen since the early 80s, a real service station. Though no attendants dressed in sharp, white uniforms snap to attention and ask to "fill 'er up?" while squeegeeing my windshield, it is refreshing to see that some owners still prefer the pairing of gas pumps and repair bays over gas pumps and cappuccino machines. As I pull away, the V-twin's low rumble gets a nod of approval from the mechanic wrestling a tractor tire off a giant yellow rim. Undoubtedly, the ability to repair both cars and farm equipment are good skill sets to have around here.

Pushing southward, I'm surrounded by untold masses of fluff balls. Spindly, waist-high stalks brimming with mature cotton line the roadside as far as the eye can see. I rock the bike back and forth as the road zigzags across this snow-white topography in giant, forty-five-degree bends that make me feel as if I'm navigating a bizarre, horizontal staircase. I never thought riding across uniform, wide-open fields could be so entertaining.

Soon the distant mesas begin to close in and a historical marker informs me that I've entered Mulberry Canyon, so named for the numerous mulberry trees growing along the creeks. As the road's lazy bends wind up and out of the canyon, I begin to notice large numbers of sleek, white, wind turbines pureeing the invisible gusts flying across the rim of the chasm. My whole body feels like a hand thrust from a speeding car as I pop out of the canyon, suddenly losing the wind protection of its steep walls. The lowland's mesquite trees and jagged rocks are replaced with a boundless, high plain punctuated by occasional ravines and haphazard herds of "nodding donkeys" whose thirst for West Texas crude oil is only sated when the wells run dry.

Turning west on Route 156, I continue across an expansive countryside nearly devoid of humanity save a rickety windmill or two. The urge to stop, dismount, and absorb the quietude proves irresistible. I remove my helmet and brazenly plop down Indian-style on the centerline. For nearly ten minutes a wayward breeze is the only interruption of the eerie silence that soon has every breath sounding cyclonic and every heartbeat throbbing in my ears. A flicker of headlights stabbing through the low heat waves distorting the distant asphalt breaks the spell. I saddle up and move along, thinking that everything, even the nothingness, is bigger in Texas.

By the time I reach Garden City, breakfast has lost its grip and some sustenance is in order. Restaurant options appear scarce but I have to go no further than the cashier at the gas station's deli to partake in a true Texas original: the corn dog and it's requisite sidekick, a new mustard stain on my jeans.

Bike and rider refueled, I point the Softail® north on Route 33 and barely miss a beat as the road's designation changes to 669 in Big Spring. Once past Gail, the prevailing flatness changes into more rugged terrain. With increasing frequency the nearby mesas to my left cut off the rays of the setting sun, casting shadows that pour across the road in long, cool patches. The soft evening light playing off the walls of dry gulches to the east creates an astonishing array of subtle colors that appear to alter with every rotation of the wheels. Stopping again to enjoy the silence, I'm instead serenaded by an unseen pack of coyotes that seems to have me surrounded, with all their yips and mournful yowls echoing from the rocky walls.

I'm glad to be riding into Lubbock as the sun completes its final act and disappears beyond the darkened horizon. With the temperature and my energy fading in concert, settling into a warm room in this bustling college town sounds like an excellent idea.