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Cloud Country - 6 days, 5 nights to & from Cloudcroft, NM

Joined
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Tim
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Shelfer
The Lincoln National Forest is an 8,000-foot plateau - an oasis of pine & aspen trees, and the Sacramento Mountains - completely surrounded by desert, wasteland, sand, and, well, really hot places. When I was a college kid in El Paso, Cloudcroft NM was 90 minutes away and my weekend playground. It was a blast going up there in a zippy little 4-banger car. I've always wanted to go there on a bike; last week, I finally made it.

A couple of notes:
- Many of you are veterans of long bike trips. This is my first long distance trip. I learned a lot.
- All pictures were taken with my Canon ELPH 100 P/S camera. I left my Nikon at home, and I sorely missed it. The pictures are only so-so.

SUNDAY (5/13/2012), I took off right after church & headed for Lubbock, where I spent the night at my sister-in-law's place. It was a surprisingly cool ride. There was plenty of evidence of last year's wildfires - miles of toasted cedar bushes - but all that charcoal made for some beautiful fields of Black-Eyed Susans (sorry, didn't stop for a picture. I made it in with a light rain falling. I put the bike under cover for the night.
2012-05131.jpg


MONDAY, I was up early and out at 8am for the 250 mile ride west. There were storm threats all the way, but I got very little of it - just a few rain showers and again, cool running. How often is it cool in Artesia NM in May? I was wearing summer gloves; thankfully I had a pair of silk liners in the trunk.

I set up camp at the James Canyon NF campground, a free campground 2 miles west of Mayhill NM, and 15 miles from Cloudcroft. It's a nice little campground, although there are some burned trees from last year's fires. There's no water in the campground, so I made friends with a convenience store owner in Mayhill - that's the price of free camping.

About the time I got the tent up, the rain hit hard and I was stuck in the tent for the next 4 hours.
2012-05141.jpg


It finally cleared out around 5pm, and I rode into Cloudcroft to treat myself to a hot meal and a chance to get my feet dry and warm. The Aspen Motel has a little restaurant with surprisingly good Mexican food.
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TUESDAY - The next morning, things looked different. An electric-blue sky and perfect riding weather.
2012-05151.jpg


The road toward Cloudcroft is a blast. Heck, they all are around there.
2012-05152.jpg


After yesterday's cool-and-damp, I decided I could use a a little hot-and-dry. So I headed down the mountain toward Alamogordo, NM. If you've never been there, you should know that US 82 is locally famous. In 20 miles, you drop 4,000 feet from ponderosa pine to desert flats. And you do it on a fabulously curvy road with lots of vistas. It's a blast on a bike, but you have to ride it twice - the first time is to find out where the Smokies are staked out for the day. Here's the famous Tunnel.
2012-05156.jpg


As you drop, White Sands comes into view.
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From Alamogordo, I rode west toward the Organ Mountains, close to Las Cruces. Their name comes from their resemblance to the pipes of a church organ. Well, I never thought so, but hey, not my name....
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The ocatillo were in bloom.
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The VStrom, narcissist that it is, wanted its picture taken.
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Me too:
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I spotted this on the way back into town. Honestly, do you really need to pay for a tan in Alamogordo???
2012-051525.jpg


Heading back up the mountain, I stopped at the old railroad trestle, a local landmark left over from the mining days. When I was a college kid, I always thought it would be cool to ride a dirt bike across it. Well, here was my big moment. I declined.
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End of a perfect riding day. I shot this before tucking the VStrom in for the night.
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WEDNESDAY - The next day I rode over to Ruidoso. I always loved this road in a fast little car. It's WAY better on a bike. 40 miles of good blacktop, perfect curves, and fabulous scenery. Like this.
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Or this.
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Then came this shocking warning. New Mexico has cows? Who knew???
2012-05163.jpg

Okay, it might actually be an open-grazing warning.

North of Ruidoso there's Bonita Lake, a longtime favorite camping spot for wifey and me. In fact, we'll be heading there in October to try out the new trailer.
2012-05164.jpg


Back in Cloudcroft in late afternoon. Where Ruidoso is big and touristy (like Durango), Cloudcroft has been kept small. Only one grocery store, three or four tourist stores, a hardware store, and half a dozen homey and good restaurants.
2012-05168.jpg


At the end of another day, I indulged in a cup of Folgers as the sun set.
2012-05169.jpg


THURSDAY - The next morning, this big fellow trotted down the hill, through my campsite, stood in the road and flustered traffic, then finally across the street. And again. And again. Turkeys are brazen. They're also stupid.
2012-05172.jpg


Today, I rode the Sunspot Highway. It is 35 miles of fabulously smooth pavement, perfectly arcing curves, beautiful vistas, and fabulous forest. And a few other surprises. Here's just a sample of the road, but it doesn't do it justice. This road is probably the most fun I've ever had on two wheels.
2012-05175.jpg


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Along the road, here's another view of White Sands, 4,000 feet below.
2012-05174.jpg


I tried a side trip on Karr Canyon Road, one of the places I had considered camping. I'm glad I didn't. It's way rougher than this picture shows. I gave up after a mile & turned my Strom around before I dumped it and scratched my lovely red tupperware.
2012-05178.jpg


Then I ran across this sign.
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And this one. I checked my map and my GPS. Hmm.....
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Okay. Well, I'm not lost after all.
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Aha! Welcome to the Sunspot Observatory.
2012-051713.jpg


They have several telescopes up there. Like this big one.
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And this Really big one.
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And this Really Freakin' Big Humongous one. (Note: having some tech issues with Photobucket, & the image is not appearing)
2012-051715.jpg

You could actually go inside this one and walk around. There were two astronomers at work, and they ignored you as long as you stayed out of their way. It was near pitch black inside. I decided they wouldn't appreciate a flash picture, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

At the bottom of the hill and the end of the pavement, there's the town of Timberon. This is pretty much it.
2012-051722.jpg


And at the Timberon Mall, today's lunch special was:
2012-051723.jpg


Heading back up, I somehow got a couple of local goobers on my tail, and giving me a bit of a time. I sped up and put some distance between us. They came after me so hard they were veering their car all over both lanes. They caught up and were playing let's-scare-the-motorcyclist-and-maybe-kill-him. Where's a Harley gang when you need them! I didn't have a brick to throw through their windshield, so I gassed it and went screaming back up the road at stupid scary speed. Honestly, I've never ridden curves like that before, and frankly didn't know I could. Actually, it was an incredible rush. And back at the top, I pulled over at a vista where some other tourists were parked - and shook with adrenaline. Dang, after the fact, I was scared half to death. I don't ride that way, and probably won't again. But when Goober and Gomer caught up, they went on by.

FRIDAY - Time to start home. The VStrom is locked and loaded.
2012-05181.jpg


But first, I took County 130, a different road from Mayhill to Cloudcroft. It's a slow road - 35mph - with some nasty curves. One nearly caught me at only 20mph. But it was nice last ride before heading east.
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Surprisingly, the first 50 miles from Cloudcroft to Artesia is a fun rider's road, even once you're back at desert level. Today, however, there was a nasty 20mph wind was making it impossible to maintain a steady speed as the road curved and wound through the rocks. As a result, the bike's speed would suddenly shoot up as I came around a curve. And eventually, I came around a curve and found myself staring into a radar gun. A NM state trooper, a grizzled old cuss who reminded me of my drill sergeant, nailed me for 66 in a 55mph zone. Worse yet, he said, "Take a look at your license plate, son." Oh ****!
2012-05198.jpg

I paid for that darned sticker, but apparently forgot to put it on. But he was feeling merciful because he had just nailed a guy in a Charger doing 115, so I guess he'd bagged his limit. And he told me, "I know how it is. I ride one, too." I asked, "What kind." His response: "A Harley, of course." Of course. Like I'd argue? I got off with a handslap and obeyed the double nickel. It was hard, because that part of New Mexico has a lot of 55mph territory that looks like this:
2012-05184.jpg

I'm sure it brings them a lot of revenue.

I made it to Lubbock for the evening, but not before the temperature shot up and nearly baked me alive. The last 100 miles wasn't much fun.

SATURDAY - Headed for home today. I got up early to beat the heat, and was rolling out of Lubbock before 7am. But first, I needed to stop and visit the grave of my brother, who died suddenly just under two years ago. He was 61, and had just retired from teaching a few weeks earlier.
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Next to God and family, Steve loved nothing as much as coaching and football. He was passionate about Texas high school football and could tell you who the backup quarterback was in Hereford in 1975. So it was strangely fitting that he's buried literally in the shadow of a high school stadium. For the rest of my life, the cheer of a high school crowd on a crisp autumn evening will give me a lump in my throat.
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But time to get home now. As I pulled out and turned east, I found myself looking at the sun rising behind the west Texas fields. And appropriately, right at that moment, the tune that popped onto my MP3 player was the Eagles' "Peaceful, Easy Feeling." And it was.
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The ride home was chilly. I was shivering until 10am, with a fleece under my riding jacket. The wind was nasty, and beat me every which way but loose all the way home. I am wind whipped, wind burnt, and wind weary. There were a few uncommonly scary gusts - crossing the Possum Kingdom Lake bridge was a bit like being on the business end of a kite.

And one Very Scary Moment in the traffic circle in downtown Weatherford. As my light turned green, I started forward - along with everybody else in the two lanes. Suddenly a pickup truck to my left, who had stopped for the red light, started forward and drove straight across the traffic circle. The car to my left slammed on her brakes and I was exposed as this idiot came right at me. Leaning on the horn and steering to the right, I couldn't get out of his way. He finally stopped about a foot short of mowing me down. Again I ask, where's a Harley gang when you need them? Where's that cop?

Home at 1pm.

Gas mileage varied, as expected. Texas riding, with a fully loaded bike, was in the low 40s mostly. But coming home from New Mexico, I averaged 55mpg from Cloudcroft to Lubbock. And with an empty bike, I got high 50s and one tank of 62mpg (!!!).

Only a couple of animal encounters. One mule deer was standing by the road watching me, and I just had this feeling. He leaped in front of me at the last second, then chickened and spun around. But I was already on the brakes, so no problem. Also, a turkey ran in front of me as I made my stupidly fast ascent of the Sunspot Highway. Not sure which of us was scareder.

A few observations:
- Texas is bigger on a bike than it is in a car. Maybe next time, I'll trailer the Suzi at least as far as Lubbock.
- Turkeys are really stupid.
- My Nikon D60 is cumbersome, but worth carrying. Next time I'll find room.
- Check the oil. Check the brakes. And check the tag on your plate.
- Camping is a lot more fun with a buddy.
- I need thicker socks for sleeping at altitude in May.
- I stopped in both directions at the Phillips 66 station in Snider, at the corner of 84 and 180. Both tanks turned in just under 38mpg each, decidedly lower than any other parts of the trip. I question the integrity of their pumps.
- The VStrom ran flawlessly, and sailed effortlessly up 9,000 foot passes. My thanks to DFW_Warrior for helping me prep the bike.
- Once again, being honest and polite to cops pays off.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. You long distance vets can laugh a bit, and tell me how to do it better next time.
 
Last edited:
Joined
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Quote: "You long distance vets can laugh a bit, and tell me how to do it better next time."

Looks like you did it pretty good this time. That area is very under utilized by the MC community.
 
R

Red Brown

Hi Tim,

Great ride report and especially enjoyed the pictures!

I can't wait for cooler weather later this summer in Colorado.

RB
 
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Quote: "You long distance vets can laugh a bit, and tell me how to do it better next time."

Looks like you did it pretty good this time. That area is very under utilized by the MC community.
I saw plenty of bikes there. But yes, the Cloudcroft area has remained practically unknown. Ruidoso is crowded, as are the roads around it. The roads on the Cloudcroft side were blissfully empty. Forty miles from Cloudcroft to Ruidoso, and I met maybe ten cars, passed maybe one. And as curvy as the roads are, passing is easy on a fast bike. But shh, don't tell anybody outside this forum. Let's just keep it between the 10,000 of us here.
 
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That looks like one heck of a good time. Glad you enjoyed it Tim. And I am in the same boat as you when it comes to the size of TX on a motorbike. Been there, done that, and next time I'm putting it on the trailer....LOL
 
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Great report Tim. The pictures were fantastic. Looks like you had a great time. I have a very conditional green light to ride to Phoenix next fall. I'll have to route through that part of NM somehow.
 
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It's not the quickest route, Ripley, but it's not that bad either. If you take the direct route (which is not through Lubbock), Cloudcroft is 9 hours. After play time's over, cut over to Las Cruces (a little over an hour) where you pick up I-25 & you're back on your way to Phoenix. There, I've got you routed & you didn't even have to pay your Triple-A fees.
 
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That looks like one heck of a good time. Glad you enjoyed it Tim. And I am in the same boat as you when it comes to the size of TX on a motorbike. Been there, done that, and next time I'm putting it on the trailer....LOL
For sure, Bill. Arlington to Lubbock is just a beating. And more often, since we're usually going to Colorado, Arlington to Amarillo is worse.
 
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Correction to my observations above - The gas station in question is in Snyder, not Slaton. I've griped before when tanking up my Jeep there and remarking, "Sixteen miles per gallon? That ain't right!" So hmm, I wonder.....
 
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I know where you can find room for the Nikon. Right where your bike cover is. Seriously, I'd probably leave that at home if it were me. In fact, my bike cover is in the box I put it in many years ago. Of course, I have a beautiful bike that makes the world more beautiful by it's sheer presence in whatever location it's parked....you have a VStrom that needs a bag over it's head. :mrgreen:

Seriously though, great report, looks like a fantastic time and I'm supremely jealous. Thanks for the great pictures and taking us along for the ride. And at least those 55mph speed limits were good for something, though I'd rather burn the extra gas!
 
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Good point, Jason. But to be honest, the cover is for me, not the Strom. I hate wet seats & fairings that throw water all over me in the morning. Actually, the cover squishes into a little bag and is about the size of a baked potato - slightly smaller than a Nikon. No, I could have carried the Nikon in my tank bag, but would have to have evicted a few other items - which is what will happen next time.

PS - Some of our narrow-minded critics would suggest that all VStroms need to wear bags over their heads. :rofl:
 
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Hey, MacDaddy, how've you been? I was thinking about you when I was off pavement. I was thinking, gee I wish I was on Steve's VStrom so I wouldn't be risking my own plastic. :mrgreen: Nah, just kidding there. But I did see one of the new Stroms at one point and it made me think of yours.

DaveC, I've been going up to Cloudcroft since the 60s. It amazes me that it hasn't been overrun yet. You can find some million-dollar "cabins" there, but it's not crowded and not overbuilt. I hope it stays that way, because I'd like to continue going there for a long time.
 
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Thanks for the time and work to share your ride with us. I love that area and pass though often in my travels. As per cameras, I like one easy to use and quick to get to. I keep my Canon G12 in my tank bag for fast access. But, I do quite a few pictures on the roll so just using my left hand to get the camera, turn it on, point and shoot is more important to me that stopping and setting up a shot. Heck, in '02 I went to the top of Maine on my '02 BMW R1150GS with an HP freebee digital cam with one whole megapixel.
Again , thanks for sharing. ;-)
 
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Great ride report, Tim. Thanks for putting it together. Sounds like overall you had a great trip. :clap:

As I was reading though I started getting excited for our upcoming trip in two weeks. The Trippin' Connies will be taking flight soon and your ride report makes me want to leave today!
 
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For sure, Bill. Arlington to Lubbock is just a beating. And more often, since we're usually going to Colorado, Arlington to Amarillo is worse.
The worst thing about it is that it's just plain boring. I'd consider going up through Jacksboro, Olney, etc. It's not quite as boring.
 
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Great report and great pics. By the way, the observatory picture is vertical now. Go figure.
 

Hotboot

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Excellent ride report, except for gomer and goober which you need a comfy pistol for. Beautiful unspoiled country, hope it stays that way.
 
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I enjoyed your report and great pictures. I have a lot of memories from that area. I don't know why they are so highly patrolled at Cloudcroft.
 
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I enjoyed your report and great pictures. I have a lot of memories from that area. I don't know why they are so highly patrolled at Cloudcroft.
If you're referring to my comments about the road down to Alamogordo, that road didn't use to be heavily patrolled. But over the years, they've probably had a few bikes & Trans Ams end up in a canyon. So they do tend to stake out that road now. On the other hand, there were always other riders going the opposite direction from me, and they weren't shy about pointing out speed traps.
 

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Great report :clap:

Not only is there some great paved riding in that area, but there is some fantastic unpaved riding! The ATV trails are especially fun :trust: :flip:

There is actually a cafe in Timberon, looks like a double wide perched on a hill top. Hours are iffy. Food was surprisingly good. There is gas there as well... hours are iffy...

Heading back up from the observatory, we got hailed on :eek2:

There is a little restaurant on the East end of town that is owned by a Texan and has great BBQ! Can't recall the name though.
 
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Hmm, I should have explored the whole town. Guess I didn't want to spend the extra 90 seconds. :mrgreen: Oh well, you can't go wrong with root beer and Eskimo pies.
 
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Could you be persuaded to post a GPS file or Google Map?
For the different roads? I'm a little clunky with GPS files. Okay, I'm hopeless with them. I can post links to Google maps to show the different places I rode.

This one is from the campground through Cloudcroft, and down the mountain (on US 82) to Alamogordo. You can see from the squiggly lines that it gets pretty good west of Cloudcroft.
http://goo.gl/maps/nIDT

This one is through Cloudcroft on US 82, then south on the Sunspot Highway to Timberon - what Scott and I were just talking about. The Sunspot Highway is never ending perfectly arced curves. An absolutely perfect rider's highway.
http://goo.gl/maps/OVJK

This one is from Cloudcroft over to Ruidoso. Hwy 244 goes through the Mescelaro Reservation; I'm told they are one of the wealthiest tribes in the US because of their land. Forests, hills & nicely twisty roads all the way until you hit US 70, where it gets a bit boring.
http://goo.gl/maps/YZCn

And this last one, which I did just before heading home, is the "back way" from my campground at Mayhill over to Cloudcroft via County 130. A narrower, slower road than the others. But very pretty. And there are some very lucky ranchers who own land along that stretch. At the west end, 130 connects into the Sunspot Hwy, and brings you back into Cloudcroft.
http://goo.gl/maps/kYKG

Hope that helps, and I hope it wets your whistle. If you want info on dirt routes, I'll defer to Scott for that.
 
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Tim - Nice report. How did the 755T treat you on this trip, and how you liking it in general?
One more question...which saddlebags are you using?
 
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Tim - Nice report. How did the 755T treat you on this trip, and how you liking it in general?
It did just fine. First of all, I have it handlebar-mounted with a $10 widget I bought on Amazon, and reinforced with a hose clamp. Second, I tapped a spare 12V receptacle directly into the wiring, so it's always powered.

I've been pretty pleased with the way the 755 handles routing. As long as I provide sufficient waypoints, it'll give me the route I want. And creating a route is quite easy. Actually, it's even easier to create the route with my MapSource software and upload it, but MapSource doesn't seem to realize there are roads in New Mexico. So I direct-programmed the 755 each time I used it on this trip, and it worked quite well.

I've also used it to plug in a particular map coordinate I was looking for - i.e. a picnic area along a dirt road - and it's been dead accurate in getting me there.

One minor annoyance I've had with it - this is a bit hard to explain, so bear with me. When I tap the screen to plug in waypoints on a route, I may accidentally tap the "left" side of an intersection when I'm actually turning right. That results in the purple line sometimes telling me I need to turn left, do a U, then come back to the right. Annoying, but if you're paying attention and have at least the IQ of a light bulb, it isn't hard to recognize what's going on and stay on your intended route.

Response was plenty quick enough - the 755 was always ahead of me - no waiting around for the map to catch up. Like all Garmins, it gives the display options of North-up or 3D - I used both at different times, depending on what I was doing. It's also pretty tough. It went through a couple of rainstorms without being covered, and it got dropped in the campground 2 or 3 times, with no ill effects.

A nice side benefit to the 755 is that it came with a built-in MP3 player. My aging Zen has never been satisfactory for riding, for a number of reasons. The 755 makes it easy to do touchscreen changes, and it has more than adequate volume. One shortcoming is that it has no EQ capabilities and the sound is very flat. I fixed that by plugging a Fiio E6 inline - it has 3 preset EQs that give me the needed bass/treble response that was missing. One thing that's missing on the MP3 player is the ability to play random tunes. You can play albums in order, everything on the player alphabetically, or a preset play list. But no shuffle capability.

One thing I DON'T like is the exit picture. On some intersections - usually exits on interstate highways - if I have an exit coming up, the map will disappear and be replaced by a 3D picture of the exit to show what it looks like, and which lane to be in. That's probably great in a car. On a bike the problem is visibility. It's already hard enough to see the screen; the exit picture is practically invisible if you're riding in bright sun. But touch the 'back' button and it reverts to the map. A plus, however (again, usually on interstates), is a graphic of arrows in the upper lefthand screen that shows you what lane(s) to be in, so you don't accidentally end up on some spur.

I'm sure the Zumos are far better for the MC application. But for the price, the 755 is a bargain. Also, I need some updated software on my laptop, but just don't know enough about it to know what to buy.
 
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There's a special place in Heaven for your brother. :sun: Thanks for the maps. Cloudcroft lived up to it's name for us in '08, Sunspot Hwy... We'd just broke out of the heaviest fog I've ever ridden in, all you could do was watch the lines on the road. 0 visibility!!!!:eek2: Then it rained!:lol2:

cctrip214.jpg
 
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Tim - Nice report. How did the 755T treat you on this trip, and how you liking it in general?
One more question...which saddlebags are you using?
Oh, I missed the 2nd question. The saddlebags are Cortechs that I bought from MCSuperstore about a year ago. They fit quite well across the pillion area of my seat. They're not particularly large, but I can cram a surprising amount of stuff into them. The included mounting straps were worthless (usually are on universal saddlebags), but I fixed that with a couple of bungee cords.

Like most saddlebags, they're water "resistant" and came with a pair of stretch covers for rain. Unfortunately, I lost one of the covers on the trip. But the light rain I drove through was never enough to cause a problem. If I ever run into that, I suppose I'll revert to garbage bags & duck tape.
 

philipbarrett

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How many of us fondly remember a particular teacher for the rest of our lives? That's a great legacy to leave behind.
 
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How many of us fondly remember a particular teacher for the rest of our lives? That's a great legacy to leave behind.
Mr Fleece, high school physics, rode a beat up Shovel Head. Santa Claus looking dude that cussed like a Jersey City Stevedore(not in class mind you). :lol2: He was more of a friend than a teacher, even showed up to watch us race back in the day.:clap:
 

philipbarrett

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Mr. Bradley - Geography. Drove a fully rigged Land Rover (real one with the spare on the hood) and bummed cigarettes from you. Understood that just because this particular student was not cut out for academics he might have some other qualities.

Died of cancer many years ago.
 
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Sean
Great report. Must've missed this when you first posted. I would agree on the observation that camping with friends is a little better. I've camped at least a couple nights in a row on the last 5 trips I've done, and while I really enjoy the camping, it's gets really boring if you get early(if there's no hiking to be done), and not much to do once the sun go's down.
 

greeneggs&ham

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Joined
Dec 18, 2009
Messages
1,325
Location
KYLE, TX
First Name
Sam
Last Name
Crabtree
Enjoyed reading your story and seeing the scenery. Great photography! Sounds like you had a really good trip. Sure brings back memories of our trips to The Cloud Country. Good eating tips: Texas BBQ and Big Daddy's. And my favorite - the homemade cinnamon raisin bread made fresh daily in the Mountaintop Mercantile. Take a loaf back to the tent and munch on it all week. Thanks for the great write-up and memories. I can smell the bread now! :drool: :eat:

Sam
 
Joined
Jul 23, 2009
Messages
214
Location
Austin
Cool ride report. Inspiring me to plan a long trip this summer.

FYI, thanks for the pictures of Cloudcroft. Lots of good memories. I went to Texas Tech and we used to spend some time up in the area. I seem to recall that the middle of that old rail road trestle is a great place to watch the sunset....just watch your step.
 
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