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Road Trippin' with Mom Chapter 2

Jul 19, 2006

A Tale of Two Mom’s

For those that are not familiar with this book, please check out Chapter 1 which is found here: http://www.twtex.com/forums/showthread.php?t=39617

Its December and at a Christmas function Mom asks where are we going next time? I am surprised because I have no idea what she is talking about. She informs me that we need to do another bike trip. Now I am on the same page. I then ask where she wants to go and I hear “How about Big Bend? Ive never been and have always wanted to.” We now have a destination and after some debate, we decide April is the time to go. We were both hoping to avoid the monsoons from last years trip to the Hill Country. Hey, we are headed to the desert. How wet can it be?


I was born July of 1965 to a great Mom. As a youth, I benefited from her love and care. Today, it is a great friendship that grows with every year. But like the title says, there is a second Mom that plays a significant role in this trip. In Feb of 1981, I had a first date with my high school sweetheart that eventually became my wife. As I took my date home, I was invited for a snack. I think it was here that I was adopted by Mom number 2 who I will call Momma Pat just to keep things straight in the story. It wasn’t long before I had two “new” brothers and a second set of parents who loved me like a son. A couple of years later, I married their daughter. During the following years I learned so many things about life and family. Ultimately, the marriage failed but their love for me never changed. Today, I still have 2 brothers, a second set of parents, and countless Uncles, Aunts and cousins. For those of you who really want to know. I have remarried and so has she. We still care for each other like family.

Ok. So there is the background of the two Moms. Here is how Momma Pat comes into play. Her health had deteriorated over the last couple of months to the point of being admitted to the hospital. She regained her health and was discharged. I went over and had dinner two weeks prior to the trip departure. She looked awesome and was quite positive. It is now T-minus 10 days to hitting the road. I get a call and Momma Pat is back in the hospital. I visit her on Tuesday and it is now 3 days before the trip.

Any trip of this magnitude takes quite a bit of planning. Vacation requests, schedule rearrangements (Mom watches a family member a couple of days a week) or any other number of variables. In the end, I decide to green light and hit the road.


Ok. My broken Vstrom blinker is still not replaced from last year’s fall in the park. I ordered some genuine HD blinkers that go on the Buell Uly…..three weeks ago and they are not going to make it. Oh well. I fabricate a standoff for the soft luggage to keep it off the Scorpion exhaust and it turns out well. I am sitting in the garage adding more strap length to the saddlebags when Mom pulls up. On the list is pack, load GPS, cut new loading board and load bike. First, its off to do a farewell dinner with my wife and Mom’s husband Jack. Dinner is going to be had at one of Denton’s fine local eatery known by every UNT student that has gone to North Texas since 1983. That would be Mr. Chopsticks and the food would be their fine Asian stirfry. It went down as easy as the conversation. Mom told Jack goodbye in the parking lot as he was going to run up and check out his nephew’s home improvement project. This nephew is my Moms son-in-law and my brother-in-law. Don’t ask, its complicated. We head home and I thin Moms luggage while she double checks out tax returns. I almost forgot about them. At 12:30AM the bike is loaded and everything else is sitting at the garage door waiting for dawn.


The plan was to be somewhere west of Ft Worth around 7AM but in real life that is when I got up. No rush as todays destination was to be Seminole Canyon State Park by sundown. We hit the road around 7:30 or so and headed west for a couple of hours. Sun is higher now and I make the left hand turn due South at Abilene. At the intersection of I10 and US277 there is a little Mexican café. We stop for a late lunch but it isn’t long before we depart from Sonora as we still have a couple of hours to go. Has anybody told you how big this state is? The terrain is getting rockier and the vegetation is getting shorter. We are almost to DelRio when I detour to Rough Canyon on Lake Amistad. it’s a good place to get a view of this beautiful lake.


Looking across Lake Amistad


Mom on the dock


Family fishing

We stretch a bit before climbing into the truck and doing the last 60 miles to Seminole Canyon.


View of the lake

Finally, we arrive.


Pic of Mom at the gate.

The main office just closed so we do the after hour registration and set up camp late in the afternoon. Weather is just perfect. I pop up the hammock and Mom tries it out.


Pic of mom in the hammock.


Looking off to the north.

We planned to grab a bite to eat at the Café in Comstock. By the way, Comstock’s population has probably doubled in the last two years courtesy of the Border Patrol. White pickups everywhere with the green logo. As we walk in, we are told the cook would be in soon. In the mean time I trade the barkeep some green paper for a couple of cold cervezas for me and Mom. I meet a pair of guys that are about to float the Devils River and I pump them for all of the information I could get as I am interested in fishing this remote river in the near future.

Turns out the cook is sick and wont be showing her skills this evening. Crap. Means we gotta go all the way back to DelRio for civilization. Round trip to Del Rio is 74 miles for a nice dinner at the steakhouse on a Saturday night.


We see Puerco on the way to dinner.

We get back to camp after 10PM and find the once deserted tent camp area overrun. There is a van in our designated camp spot. Hmmm. This should be interesting. I get out and soon I am face to face with two teachers leading a group of 15 students. They are nice guys and inform me they reserved all of the tent sites online. Of course we all got there after the staff left and nothing was posted. In the end, I didn’t know and they were very cool about it. I also helped the cause by paying for one of the sites. There was some singing nearby. We marveled at night sky. It was moonless and that made the stars pop just that much more. In the end we were coming to the end of a long day and I was tired. We dropped to the air mattresses and I installed ear plugs. Mom preferred the singing.


I peek at my watch and then note the tone of the light in the tent. I already knew what it was like outside. The sun went down last night but did not return in the same form. We sleep in a bit more as the only morning appointment we had was at 9:30AM. We crawl out of the nylon bubble and get ready for the first item on the agenda. There is a very educational tour held twice a day at Seminole Canyon. It centers around the culture that lived in this are at least 6000 yrs ago. Turns out Texas has its own Mesa Verde complete with cliff dwelling natives. I had been on this tour twice but knew Mom would enjoy it. The lecture was terrific and lots of info was given. The shelter and rock art were impressive. We shared the tour with all of those kids and they were well behaved and polite. Thank you parents and teachers. Your kids did well.


We are going here.


Getting closer to the shelter.


Mom and kids listening to the lecture.


Rock Art.


Mr. Williams in his element.


More of the gallery.


Some desert beauty.


On the way up.

Its getting late in the morning and my throttle hand is getting itchy. Im also hoping to run away from the gray. We leave the park and head down to Pecos River boat launch. I have been here before and know the truck will be fine while unattended. I back the bike down and start strapping on bags of gear.


Pic of bike.


Confluence of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers.

After last years ride in the waterpark, I was hoping the desert location was going to feature dry pavement. I tried to stay positive and we headed off on the bike. By Mile 15, somewhere just north of Comstock on 163, reality set in and now I was positive that we were going to be in raingear. Arrrg. Off we go in the wet. This time we had FROGG TOGGS and we stayed dry. It wasn’t a soaking rain but it was enough to slow progress. 163 is a very nice remote road with lots of reminders of those locals who didn’t look before crossing the road. Seems there is at least one carcass for every mile of pavement. That is crazy considering how few people live out here. In 80 miles, we passed two trucks. Got some gas and lunch in Ozona and soon it was a speck in the mirror.


Mom in Toggs.


Getting’ wet.

We bail off I10 after a short ride and head south on RR2400. Lots of grey sky but no more h2o. We run into a foursome of ‘Busas and they are making time. This is a good place for them as the speed limits are more like suggestions out here. We arrive at the stop sign and turn north onto the race track US285. Really, it is a race track as it is the home to the Ft Stockton to Sanderson Great Race. As we make our way to Ft Stockton, I am fantasizing about flying up this pavement with my foot on the floor of some muscle car. Turns out to be big fun on a bike too. I am surprised that the LilStrom carries the goods with no complaints. 80 indicated on the GPS and almost 90 on the speedo. Does this mean I change my oil 10% too soon? The party ends at I 10 as we pull into Ft Stockton.


Somewhere on RR2400


Blasting on 285

We wanted to stay flexible so we didn’t make reservations. This means we would be shopping for cheap lodging. For those well traveled, you know this is an art that has a few rules to live by. By far the most important is ASK TO SEE THE ROOM YOU WILL BE STAYING IN BEFORE HANDING ANYBODY ANY MONEY. If you are afraid you might offend somebody by asking to see the room first, think how offended you will be when you go into your budget beauty only to find that room to be less than hoped for. You can always come back. There are lots of great lowbuck motels but there are even more roach motels. The first stop had “a few bugs” said Mom. I said next. Two stops later we found a simple hotel. Not Holiday Inn, but sanitary and half the price. We unloaded and took advantage of indoor plumbing. Freshly showered, we sought out dinner. We found ourselves sitting in the truckstop Café awaiting calories. Most of the patrons were Sunday evening service folks who were hungry like us. We ordered and chatted and chatted and chatted some more. The farther away from the rat race you go, the slower service you find. I can live with the trade off but my stomach sure was agonizing. Dinner was served and we made it disappear.

We get back to the motel and call loved ones as there is cell service. A little Animal Planet with a Sprite and Rum works well to take the edge off the day. We turn in awaiting the alarm.


Yesterdays mileage was 250ish and Mom is not in riding shape if you know what I mean. The bike while capable, is no GoldWing as far as comfort. I knew the distances we were going to deal with were going to be more and we would adjust as we went. Bright sunlight streamed in the window and I welcomed it. We were up and gone by 9ish. In an effort to shorten the day, I cut the twisty route to Balmorhea into an hour long straight line to our first stop.


Blasting down I10 in the early morning sun.

Ive read about the springs of Balmorhea and now I was actually here. I flashed the Texas Parks Pass and like that we were in. The whole town is like an oasis in the desert. Green erupts in the form of giant cottonwoods and crops that any Iowa farmer would be jealous of. The morning had that Rocky Mountain air to it. We make our way to the “Pool” and what a pool it is. The CCC placed coping and picnic tables around an amazing spring. The water is anywhere from 3 -25 foot deep and looks so much cooler than anything in any backyard. Besides, there are lots of critters in there too. I see baitfish , catfish, turtles and ducks. Rumor has it there is a Spring Monster. There are 5 or 6 people here and we basically have the place to ourselves.


At the gate.


Irrigation canal


How bout them catfish?


Beautiful water.


I believe they are dating.


Mom in the arch.

Its 60 and sunny with hints of hills in the distance. I read the average water temp is 74-76 all year and that has me changing into something made to get wet. It feels so good. I swim a bit and then get out to soak up that sunshine. It becomes swim, sunshine, repeat. I am lying there with my eyes closed trying to get a good dose of Vitamin D when I hear Mom talking to someone in the water. The speaker has a distinct accent which turns out to be French/Canadian. When we saw her husbands swimsuit, we thought they were Euros if you follow. She is telling my Mom about her Holiday that started in February. Turns out our lousy Spring has been felt all over the east and gulf coast. She lives for swimming and has been stranded 2 days on the highway in a snowstorm outside DC. They cranked up the heater in the RV and hoped they didn’t run out of propane. Got to Florida to find freezing temps and 50 degree water. Same in Padre. She loves mineral springs and said this was by far the best one. She told her story without getting out of breath. This whole time I thought she was on a pool float. Remember, I had my eyes closed. I look up and realize she had been treading water the whole time. Amazing. I sink like boilerplate.


Thinking about a morning swim


Finally, I get in an enjoy.


One of Canada’s own.

First gas then we go get food. I roll up to the pump and kick myself for not filling up in the metropolis of Ft Stockton. Now I feel like a Euro looking at the $3.79 per gallon price tag. I hand Mom a $5. I put a gallon and some change. Im not gonna take this gouging. ****, we are on a major highway. Gas cant be this high. I go west to the next town on the GPS. 20 miles and there is a sign but nothing with gas. 20 miles back and right by the same station. I really don’t want to eat crow, but Ive put 40 miles on a gallon of fuel that I put in 40 min. ago and Im still hungry. Its about principle now, and I prove it by finding a station 5 miles east of town paying only 3.17 per gallon. Ha! Take that as I roll back by the offending station on my way to lunch an hour later than planned. I even thought it was funny. We stopped at “the cutest café in town” as the sign said. It was the attached the the “Oso (bear) something) Inn. The lunch was great but bad news travels fast. Cell service caught up and I received a message from my “brother” and Momma Pat had been pulled from ICU and was not doing well at all. I tried calling but everything went straight to voicemail.

In a visit a few weeks ago, Momma Pat had been at peace with her situation. She was going to take what she was given with grace. We knew her improved health was a gift and she used it. On my last visit to the hospital, she was tired. Her body was failing her but we knew her soul was soaring. The body was suffering but her heart and mind were awaiting their perfection. I knew this as did the rest of the family. I felt a nagging to support my adoptive family and yet I also knew I was in a rare place with Mom. I was making a unique memory that only her and I would have. Of course all Moms are mind readers and she knew my mind was somewhere else as I got the news. She was all for heading home but I said no. I wanted to continue. She didn’t want me to regret not being there but I convinced her that I was ok.

The sun was still shining and the afternoon felt good. We had a ways to go and the Davis Mountains were a callin’. South on 17 soon found the mountains growing right before us. The road was great with enough bends to keep the horizon tilting and enough flats to allow some sight seeing. Big, white, puffy clouds were filling the powder blue sky as we pulled into Ft. Davis. Just out of town, we found the Ft. Davis State Park and soon had camp pitched.


On the way to Ft. Davis


Nice scenery for sure.


Heading to the state park.


Camp at Ft Davis

Just like any good day in the Rockies, the afternoons threaten rain. Those puffy white clouds were building into storms. While it looks like rain, we are scheduled to do the Alpine Loop. On the map, it looks spectacular and I have never done it. We grab raingear and head counter clockwise. As everybody says, the road to the observatory gets a big thumbs up. As we ride north, we watch rain fall 10 miles away. This is big sky country where you can see weather before the weather man can tell you about it. We pull into the Observatory in an attempt to let that squall up the road go by. I couldn’t believe the GPS indicated 6800ft. Wow, there really are mountains in Texas. We grab some pics and move on down the road.


In front of the Visitor Center


Mom at the ‘Scope



Waiting on the weather at the Observatory.





Waiting and watching.




More Texas mountains.


Dramatic Sky


Yes, that looks like rain.

We stop a couple of more times watching the weather. For the most part, we avoid the wet and complete the Loop in the late afternoon. The lady at the State Park says we need to spend time on SkyLine Drive, so we head up there to check out the vistas.


Heading up SkyLine.


Strom at the top.


Color in the late afternoon.


Big Yucca Head on that guy.


Indian Lodge nestled in the hills.

Thunderstorms all around but none on top of us. That is a great thing. While we are enjoying the views, dinner is calling as things close up earlier than what we are used to. Murphy’s sounds good and we both choose the pasta plate with meatballs and it was really good. I am impressed with Ft Davis. It’s a great little town and I could easily spend a week here. Our whirlwind visit missed the actual Fort. Dinner is over and we step on the porch to make our daily call to those at home. I finally get in touch with my brother and he fills me in on the details of Momma Pat. He tells me the end is near and everybody is doing fine. He tells me not to come home but enjoy what is in front of me. Wise words and I do my best. While Im on the phone, Mom makes friends with some cattle wranglers.


Said cattle wranglers.

I am sure she is thinking of her brood of pups back home.

The day’s light is just about gone as we arrive back in camp. After the big dinner, a walk is in order and we head up the trail to the Indian Lodge. The Indian Lodge is actually a CCC built hotel inside the State Park. The structure has a lot of history and the story is to be found in the lobby. There is a great pictorial history of the building of the Lodge along with personal letters. It even has high speed internet. The craftsmanship is commendable. We spend an hour in here before heading back to our more humble accommodations. As there was no bar at the hotel, we consumed a Rum and Sprite libation in a non public way if you know what I mean. Overcast night skies meant a starless night. I set the alarm hoping to get an early start as we are headed for the main attraction in the morning.


Today we wake to the grey light again. No wet but lots of dull light. Hoping to break camp down without getting wet makes for early morning drama. So far, so good as we wave goodbye to Ft. Davis and make our way south to the boomtown of Alpine. I brought a nicer camera but neglected to bring the charger or spare battery. So we spend the early part of the day looking for a camera battery that is not of a common size. The TruValue, in Alpine is well stocked but nothing for the dumb tourist with the odd battery request. There is still some life in the battery and we will have to break out the camera sparingly.

We continue down 118 at a rapid pace. The crosswind is howling and Im riding the edges of my tires at times while going straight. I think the scariest thing ever is watching planes land in severe crosswinds. YouTube it and see if you don’t agree. Terlingua greets us at lunch and we stop in another Mexican café. We chose to order the American classic burger with the Texas obligatory jalapenos. Hunger satisfied, we climb back on the bike and make our way to the star of the show.


Hey, we made it.

The weather is perfect and the sun is now shining. We make our way into the park and ogle the landscape. There are still cactus in bloom and they make nice accent pieces. The road to anywhere down here is long and we take it all in to the Chisos Basin turnoff. As we make that right, I tell Mom to watch the vegetation grow. There is nothing over three feet tall at the turnoff but as we ascend in the next 10min, the change is dramatic. Before you know it, there are pine trees. We go to the visitor center store and go through the motion of asking for a battery. Nada. We buy a throwaway 35mm and hope the battery lasts us thorough the day. We make a short hike to take in a better view of the “Window.” It is quite a sight.


Looking through the window


Pics of Mom and me


On the way to Cottonwood Camp

The Basin campground is full and it is late in the day. We need to nail down lodging for the night. Cottonwood is our only hope but it is another hour away. The Strom fires up on command and we make our way down to the Rio. It is a great little campground and we have a lots of spots to pick from. We soon get settled and money is put in the can. St Elena Canyon is on wish list and it is right down the road. While setting up camp, I asked a couple if they had been down Maverick and they said no but their guide said their rental car could do it if they didn’t mind washboard. With all of the gear off, the Strom is a manageable bike in semi off road situations. I was hoping to use Mavericks to cut the ride to the park entrance in half. We pull up and take pictures of the canyon in the early evening light. We continue and in the first ¼ mile of gravel we have an obstacle…..water. It looks 40-50yrds across and I have no idea how deep. I ask Mom to hop off and I am going to go amphibious. Uh, its getting deeper and soon my feet are even with the headlights. Im ok with amphibious but really don’t want to submarine. The airbox is on top of the motor and that is a good thing. I make it to the other side and turn around to see that Mom has added some spectators to her son’s Water Thrill Show. I make it back across and signal her to get on. She shakes her head and her spectators chant “Do it! Do it!” until she submits. We cross and make our way down Maverick. The lighting is special this time of day and I do my best to enjoy the view but the washboard, ruts, and deep gravel keep my eyes mostly on the road. Its only 12 miles or so but takes us 40min to get back to pavement.


Home at the Cottonwood.


St Elena Canyon in the late afternoon.


Crossing back to get Mom.


Heading to dinner on Maverick


More of Maverick

Its been 8hours since last sustenance and you cant go wrong with the Kiva.


Lets go in

It was Open Mic Night and we were treated with several acts, but this guy was the best.


Pic of Gordon

As remote as Terlingua is, technology is to be found. My cell works and it picks up a message. I go to the patio and retrieve that message. I knew what it was before the connection was made. Momma Pat was gone. The patio had a nice cool breeze as I reflected on the moment. I tried to call “home” but the technology that let me get my message was not allowing me to place a call. The phone told me services were on Thursday. I go back in and tell Mom the news. She is upset for me and I don’t want that. Sometimes that’s life. We talk about it and I tell her Im Ok but she insists that we get back. I start thinking logistics and they are not easy. We have been pushing hard for the last four days and we are looking at a very long day to get back home.

It is twilight as we get on the bike and make our way back to camp. Camp is 45 miles away and that gives me a chance to clear my head. As we roll through Big Bend, the stars make their way to the stage on another moonless night. I have to watch the road but Mom is looking up. The heat of the desert is hovering above the road as the chill moves in. After the third crooked twig, I take note that they are baby rattlers. I stop and show Mom the 2ft stick with buttons. Instructions are to use the white lights on the headlamps when going to the bathroom tonight. An hour later we gingerly sneak into camp as it is after 10PM and our campmates are asleep. Their dreams are interrupted by Puerco Banditos. As I pull up to the tent, I am glad I read this sign earlier.


Pic of Table

The headlights didn’t scare ‘em. I revved the bike and they jumped and went back to standing on the tent and rooting around. I got Mom off and had to chase ‘em with the bike while wondering if I could stitch myself if the worst happened. There were 10-15 run off my daily rental space. They ran off towards the river and didn’t come back. Its quiet again as I shut off the bike.

We sit at the picnic table in the dark and discuss the situation. I am thinking we are here and there is a good chance she wont be coming back. She wants to make the effort to get home in time. We end up agreeing to getting up early in the morning and doing a drive by on the eastern edge of the Park. We would then make our way home. Mom went off to bed and I lay on a bench staring at the ancient light show.


We get up and are loaded in record time as we have lots of ground to cover. It is a nice ride over to Rio Grande Village and Mom does a bit of book shopping in the store. We share a snack before checking out Boquillas Canyon. It is quite striking in the early morning light. We find wares from our neighbors across the river placed in the parking lot with a pay on the honor system pickle jar. You could see the massive Mexican navy on the other side. It consisted of one well worn Old Town Discovery that I am sure made Special Op incursions twice a day. I didn’t want anything but left a donation. Mom selected a memento in the form of a painted rock. Now Mom is an outlaw carrying contraband. We waved to our equals across the river and left. At this point, the digital camera had died and we had been reduced to using old school film.


On the way to Boquillas


Smiles before the miles.


Big bike, little lady




Leaving Big Bend under grey skies………again.

Pictures taken we vacate the Park under cloudy skies. Its 12:00 now and we are moving North on 385 with a purpose now. The mountains soon fall far behind and we race the impending weather. I keep twisting the throttle in an effort not to get wet. As we arrive in Marathon, it starts to drizzle. Mom had researched the Gage Hotel and we wanted to eat lunch there. Turns out they don’t serve food until 5:00. We check out the unique lobby. There is a diner next door and we make our way in short order. Its raining for real now but we have to keep moving. We get in our gear and start sniffing for the truck that lays another 225 miles away. Towns like Sanderson and Dryden slip by. We pull off at Langtry and get close to the river. We read the historical markers but I am sad that we didn’t get to do the museum as it was on Moms list. Its a late 4PM when we got to the truck. 300 miles on the bike for the day.


Gage courtyard


Snooping around the historic lobby.


Gearing up in the rain.

Next on the list was to get loaded and make our way back to Seminole State Park for a much needed shower. That shower felt so good. Before I know it, the truck is rumbling north on a rainsoaked 163. We have 500 miles to go. Sonora is our best bet for dinner and we eat one last Mexican dinner before heading off into the gloomy night. Conversation is great as Mom and I talk nonstop all the way home. The backup lights finally shine on the garage door as I back the truck in the driveway. We did it. It was 3AM but we did it. As we finish unloading the bike and all of the gear, I realize how tired I am. It doesn’t take long before I drift off.

The morning came way too soon but I was grateful to be able to come together with my family and celebrate the life of Momma Pat. She is now waiting on us and I know there will be a time where we will all be together again.

I would like to thank Mom again for her sacrifices to enable me to get home. She never complained and never waivered about the situation. It was a whirlwind tour to be sure, but I am thankful that we got to spend that special time in those special places of West Texas.