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It's the first day of my journey! I depart Austin, Texas after installing new tires and adjusting the chain tension. The bike feels very solid and is handling great.

The gear, minus laptop and toiletries.

My packing system has been refined over time. I used to cram everything into the panniers haphazardly and head out for a trip. My panniers resembled one of those gag peanut cans where you open the lid and a coiled spring snake comes out. Now I have a better way to stay organized. I bought 12" and 14" tool bags from Harbor Freight and Lowe's costing about $5 each. I collect similar items into a bag and then pack the bags. One bag is for tools, another for spare inner tubes and tire changing stuff, one for rain gear, and the fourth I call my "rare bag". This bag has all the weird, rarely used stuff I might need on a trip but maybe I won't. The list of items for this bag includes spare parts for the bike like clutch/throttle cables and levers, an oil change kit, a mosquito net, waterproof wallet, rope, etc. My clothes fit in all the remaining nooks and crannies not taken up by the bags. For $20 I now have an efficient packing system that greatly simplifies traveling on a bike. This has revolutionized my motorcycle traveling. I can easily distribute the weight so both panniers weigh the same, and frequently used stuff is on top and rarely used stuff is on the bottom. I pack the panniers the same way every time so that I always know where stuff is.

I take some new routes through the Texas hill country that I haven't taken before, roads like FM 1077 and 470 that are more southern than the ones Austin riders are used to taking. These routes are probably old news to San Antonio riders, but they are a nice change from the normal routes I've taken.

I stop at the Lost Maples Cafe in Utopia, TX. There is a KTM and a KLR parked outside, and one of them has a "FYYFF" sticker emblazoned on each pannier. This must be the place to eat! I eat a burger and meet two advrider guys, Crowbocop and 02Silver, who have a cool helmet to helmet communications system.

"Where are you headed?" 02Silver asks.
"Montana," I reply.
"You're headed the wrong way."
I laugh and tell him I'm going to Big Bend first.
"Did you take two weeks off from work?"
"I quit my job."
"You're my hero."

Crowbocop and 02Silver in Utopia, Texas.

I ride on. Highway 55 is the demarcation line to West Texas. As soon as I reach FM 334, the landscape changes from green hills to low scrub brush. I won't be seeing a "real" tree for quite some time.

I lose count of dead deer on Highway 90. There are at least thirty. Where there used to be deer carcasses, red stains remain on the asphalt. Do not ride Highway 90 at night.

I ride to Fort Davis, TX and take a tour of the McDonald Observatory located in the Davis Mountains. My tour guide reminds me of Ben Stein. He has a habit of elongating syllables before the next phrase, much like a teletype hitting a carriage return before continuing on the next line. "And who can tell me why the lens is coated on the near s-i-d-e instead of the far side? B-e-c-a-u-s-e of refraction." The tour is excellent. It starts off in the auditorium with a brief presentation on the solar telescope, then we file out to take the bus (the short bus!) to two of the telescopes. Eight bucks gets you a 2.5 hour tour with a shuttle bus! You can't beat it.

A really big telescope at McDonald Observatory that looks at stars and space and stuff. Fort Davis, Texas.

The next day I head south from Alpine towards Study Butte to ride on Highway 170 near Big Bend National Park. I have heard how great this road is and how it's best to tour it from east to west. I tell myself as I pull onto it, "This had better be good."

Believe me, it is. The only difference between Highway 170 and a roller coaster is the liable party. Turns in roads usually have yellow arrow signs ahead of time to give you an idea of which direction the road is going. Highway 170 doesn't do that very often. You come over the crest of a hill and you don't know what's going to happen next. Your stomach drops just like it would if you were on a roller coaster. If you go to Big Bend, you must ride Highway 170.

View from Highway 170 outside Big Bend National Park, Texas.

When I reach Presidio, TX, I realize that even though I have already traveled 1000 miles, my journey has just begun. I am now at the Rio Grande River, and it is time to head north to Montana. 1000 miles and the journey has just started!

Me, standing by the Rio Grande River.

I remember when riding 300 miles in a day was a big deal. Now it's an average day. I think the Camelbak has made a huge difference. I cannot imagine riding in a hot climate without one now. The Corbin seat doesn't hurt, either. My stamina has really improved. I can do 500 mile days without too much trouble, but that will be the exception instead of the rule on this trip. This is not a race. I have to keep telling myself, "I am not in a hurry." I'm used to looking at a map and figuring out where I'm going to be at the end of the day. Instead of calculating and planning, I need to let it happen. There are campsites and RV parks everywhere. All I need to do is stop at a convenient location whenever it's time.

I head out of Texas via Highway 90 towards Van Horn and into New Mexico.

I met this guy at a rest stop. He owns a restaurant in Alpine, TX and was on his way back from Santa Cruz, CA!

A jackrabbit poses for me near a USAF blimp that detects drug smuggling aircraft. Highway 90, Texas.

Architectural art located 38 miles west of Marfa, TX on Highway 90 in the middle of nowhere.

I ride past the Guadalupe Mountain Range (the highest point in Texas) and reach White's City, NM outside of Carlsbad Caverns. I camp for the night.

I tour Carlsbad Caverns the next day. The guided tour of the smaller rooms is not very informative. You need to tour the big room which is called -- conveniently -- The Big Room. It is the area of fourteen football fields. Whether you take a tour with an audio device or stop to read each plaque, this is definitely the reason you come to Carlsbad Caverns. Very cool.

I realize on the elevator ride up to the surface that I stink. The tour guide mentioned mysterious microbes living in the unexplored parts of the cavern, but I think I have some living in my touring jacket. I ride on to Roswell, NM and do laundry.

Continue to the next page.

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