I begin my drive from Denver at 4:30am, Monday the 13th, an hour and a half before sunrise. I’ve calculated the travel time and this is the latest I can leave to reach Dallas, Texas by nightfall, 1300 km (820 mi) away. The temperature is 10°C (50°F), which is unexpected but welcomed after -7°C (19°F) the previous night. My newly-acquired, heated gloves and socks keep me warm before sunrise, with relentlessly cooling wind extracting the heat from my fingers and toes as I barrel through the frozen countrysides, interspersed with the warmer cement cities.

Photo Album of Colorado / Álbum de Fotos de Colorado
Photo Album of New Mexico / Álbum de Fotos de New Mexico
Photo Album of Texas / Álbum de Fotos de Texas
Photo Album of North Carolina / Álbum de Fotos de North Carolina
Photo Album of Tennessee / Álbum de Fotos de Tennessee

Sometime early in the morning I begin to feel my right foot loosing heat. It’s soon numb from the temperature drop, while the left foot is still toasting. It’s a bazaar discomfort that brings me to consider turning the remaining heated sock off. I know I somehow broke the connection within the sock, but whether it is physical damage or merely electrical is the issue. At the next gas stop I unzip my pant leg and find the cable properly unplugged at the junction. The cable most likely didn’t have enough slack, which allowed it to unplug one of the times I stood up. I pull some slack and bury an S-shaped turn down my boot, then do the same with the left leg. I fill up my tanks, and just before setting off, glance across the street to notice the dilapidated remains of a building with a wooden log bench on the sidewalk and “Freedom School” painted above the front door.

Freedom School (Des Moines, New Mexico 12/13/2010)

    Today’s route through Colorado and New Mexico is the same that I took last year to bring my new-to-me KTM 950 back to Florida, after a fly-n-drive to Denver to pick it up. This time the first leg into the south is only ~12 hours, and to Dallas, TX, instead of an insane 18 hours to San Antonio, TX last year. The riding is pleasant and only gets better as the sun finds its way into my helmet, turning it into a greenhouse that warms my face. I brush off the morning tiredness as soon as the rays hit my eyes. A soreness steadily creeps up my spine around noon, but for whatever reason, leaves for the last few hours of the drive. Maybe as my sanity decreases so does the discomfort of riding for so long. I pass signs that read “Hitchhikers may be escaping inmates,” and my imagination spawns humorous imagery. When I pass a billboard showing a picture of George Bush Jr. next to large words in quotes reading “Miss me yet?,” it happens again, and I know I’ve reached Texas.
    A surprising amount of energy returns to me in the later half of the day. Maybe the anticipation of an end to this long ride and the prospect of a hearty meal is the cause. As the sun sets on the highway, I hit Dallas’s rush-hour traffic. Only two other times in my life have I witnessed the sun rise, arc through the sky, then set, all within the same day while on a motorcycle. The cool weather is refreshing, but after hours of cruising unimpeded highways I’m quickly agitated by the stop-and-go traffic. I’m soon through it and follow my GPS to my destination for the evening. I’m staying with Greg, a guy whom I received one of many supportive emails from while on my way through Yucatan, Mexico, back in November. He had found my blog through Yucatan Living (Link: 7th article down) and offered his place to stay if I were ever in Dallas. Shortly after finding his house, Greg and I drive to a little Indian restaurant and enjoy their delicious buffet. He treats me to dinner and gives me a warm, soft bed to sleep in for the night.
    As I start my bike in the chilly morning of the 14th, I hear a sound from the rear of my bike that I instantly recognize as the exhaust problem I thought was fixed in Guatemala City. I figure the other muffler cap has vibrated loose. I check it out at a gas station and find, instead of the other muffler cap coming loose, the same muffler has vibrated loose, again (Thanks, KTM of Guatemala City, for replacing only one of the 4+ rivets that were loose). It’s early and since I’m passing by the area on my way to Houston, I take a detour to Tejas Motorsports in Highlands, Texas. I’m there for a little over an hour, as one of the service techs returns from lunch and completes the repair. This time for the repair, the muffler is removed, all end cap rivets are replaced, 2 new rivets are added, and a thermal sealant is applied between the cap and muffler cylinder. It’s a quality repair that without a doubt is stronger than the stock design. Had I the tools, this is the type of work I would have hoped I could perform.
    I arrive in Houston for a brief stop at Whitney’s house to spend a half hour relaxing before getting back on the road southward toward Lake Jackson, where I arrive just before sunset. While in Texas, I revisit many old friends and meet some new. On Friday, the 17th, I explore the Lake Jackson Sea Center, which has one of the largest fish hatcheries in the world, as well as many large aquarium habitats. From the Sea Center, I head over to the Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences.

Sea Center Rearing Ponds (Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Sea Center (Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Sea Center (Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

I have an attraction to nautilus-like shells (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Reminds me of Florida (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Many shells (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Fossils (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Dinosaurs! (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Triceratops (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Big cat (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Woolly Mammoth (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Tyrannosaurus (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

Crystals (Brazosport Museum of Natural Sciences, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/17/2010)

    After John gets home from work, we’re drawn to Houston for an art auction. There’s an impressive amount of quality art, with some very creative pieces. We go without the intent to buy anything, but at the end of the night, John walks away with the winning bid on one piece (second photo). After the auction, John and I stop at Warehouse Live to see The Last Place You Look perform.

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (John’s) (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Art Auction (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Concert (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

Concert (Houston, Texas 12/17/2010)

    Saturday night we attend a White Elephant Gift Exchange Party at our friend Coco’s house, back in Lake Jackson. Tonight’s rules, If you’re unfamiliar with the game, are mildly similar to those of Secret Santa. Everyone that is to participate buys and wraps a gift, however, there is no specific person to buy a gift for and it is limited solely to liquor, with a price range of $20-$30. Each person draws a random number to determine an order. The first person opens a gift from the collection. The next person can choose to steal the opened gift or open a new one. If a gift is stolen, the person who had it stolen from must open another. Also, a gift may only be thieved three times. After the last person has chosen their gift, the person with #1 may choose to steal any gift, since that opportunity was lost by having to open the first. These rules, and the wide variety of liquor, make for possible tense and humorous rivalry.

Under the tree (White Elephant Party, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/18/2010)

Russell (White Elephant Party, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/18/2010)

Javier (White Elephant Party, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/18/2010)

Crystal (White Elephant Party, Lake Jackson, Texas 12/18/2010)

How the night ends for some at White Elephant Parties (Lake Jackson, Texas 12/18/2010)

    On Sunday, I’m lucky to be able to sit down, again, for a 4-player chess match with John (Black), Javier (Gold), and Dale (Silver). It’s a fair evenly-matched game. We all hold out for a while, but soon enough the collisions take me out of the game first. Shortly after, Javier is defeated, and it’s down to John and Dale. John ends up taking the victory for the night.

Javier (Gold), flanked by two Queens (Lake Jackson, Texas 12/19/2010)

    I set off toward Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday morning at 5:30am. I’m looking at another long ride ahead and need to set off early to get in before nightfall. Today’s destination is a friend’s friend’s house. I arrive in Birmingham, Alabama, around 4pm. I’m a mere 2.5 hours from Atlanta, which should make for a short but sweet drive tomorrow morning. My host for the night is Jerry. I forget I was told that Jerry rides a motorcycle, but am pleasantly reminded when he arrives at the Starbucks I’m waiting at with a motorcycle helmet. His ride is a BMW R1150R, the same bike my mother and I traveled through Europe with, in 2005.
    Jerry is actually the second biker I’ve ridden with since starting this trip. We leave Starbucks for a place to get a bite for dinner and end up at a Latin American restaurant, where I’m prepared savory vegetarian quesadillas and pastries for desert. We then ride over to Roadhouse Grill Restaurant, where there’s a private party of Jerry’s riding friends taking place in the back. It’s a great night of sharing stories about bikes and travel while enjoying a chilled Dos Equis (beer). I also happen to meet a rider of another KTM 950 Adventure, which happens to be the 4th KTM I’ve seen driven on my trip, and the second KTM 950 I’ve ever seen out in the wild. After some contact exchanges, Jerry and I ride back to his house, where I’m given a bed that I make quick use of. In the morning, I thank him and set off for Atlanta, toward ominous rain clouds.
    I arrive around noon, without any encounter with rain, and have the rest of the day to rest and plan my journey to the greyhound station tomorrow afternoon. I made the decision last week to leave my bike in Atlanta and take greyhound to Asheville, North Carolina. This is to avoid getting snowed in or running into icy roads leaving. It’s a less exciting but safer plan.
    The train ride to the bus station and the bus ride to Asheville are only an hour behind schedule, and by the evening of Thursday the 23rd, I pull into the frozen Asheville bus station in North Carolina. On the bus I meet a cool 20 year-old traveler by the name of Terry. He’s been traveling by rail (illegaly) from California since about when I started my trip in September. The cheap route might not necessarily be the quick, but it does allow for interesting encounters. We share stories and food until we part ways in Asheville.
    My father, his girlfriend Joyce, and I set off by truck the next morning to Murfreesburo, Tennessee, to see family over the Christmas weekend. The 4 hour drive to my grandparents’ house goes smoothly. We wake Saturday, Christmas, to find through the night, a storm covered the ground with a couple inches of powdery snow. This is the first time it’s snowed on Christmas in this part of Tennessee in over 15 years. It continues to snow throughout the day, as my aunt, cousins, and second cousins arrive for dinner. There’s reminiscing, gifting, and as a Christmas tradition, the game scategories is brought out. For another Christmas tradition, embarrassing videos of my cousins when they were children are brought out and played. The snowfall has its ebb early in the evening, just as goodbyes are said and everyone leaves for home.

Morning snowfall (Murfreesburo, Tennessee 12/25/2010)

Snowflake trap (Murfreesburo, Tennessee 12/26/2010)

    The temperature drops over the night and by midday Sunday there’s a steady snowstorm throughout the Smokey Mountains. We get on the road late in the day, at 1:30. The highway that took us 4 hours to reach Tennessee now takes around 7 hours to return to Asheville. In some areas around Asheville nearly a foot of snow has fallen, causing timid drivers to slow to unbearable crawls. Monday brings slightly more snowfall, leaving trees sagging from the weight, more roads slippery with ice, and hills powdered and ready to be snowboarded.

Backyard (Weaverville, North Carolina 12/27/2010)

A tricky climb (Weaverville, North Carolina 12/27/2010)

Fresh (Weaverville, North Carolina 12/27/2010)

Powder (Candler, North Carolina 12/27/2010)

    Tuesday, my father, brother Greg, and I go out to a Mexican restaurant lunch. In the afternoon I’m surprised with a trip to the Asheville airport. My father is taking flight lessons here, and has taken me to have a personal flight in a Cessna Skyhawk SP with its pilot, Conrad. It’s an amazingly clear day for our flight. After I’m shown around the cockpit, we go over pre-flight checks before I’m given the controls to taxi down the runway. After the runway is clear and we get the goahead from the tower, with Conrad on the foot pedals to the rudder, I’m given the yoke for take off. At 65 knots, a slight pull back raises the nose, then a slight push forward steadies our accent to 5000 feet. This plane handles very well at slow speeds, such as 60 knots (69 mph). I conjour a image of my bike with wings, accelerating toward a tope and taking off into the air just before reaching it. When we’re near our target altitude, I’m given control of the yoke and throtle for some maneuvering on my own. I do a few steep decents that leave my stomach in the clouds, go through a few banks, and practice with the elevator trim before handing back the controls to Conrad. Our flight takes us over downtown Asheville as well as three other places of familiarity, Lake Lure, the Biltmore Estate and Chimney Rock.

Cessna Skyhawk SP and Conrad (Asheville, North Carolina 12/28/2010)

Cockpit (Asheville, North Carolina 12/28/2010)

3,700 ft. and dropping (Asheville, North Carolina 12/28/2010)

Biltmore Estate, a steep left bank (Asheville, North Carolina 12/28/2010)

Lake Lure and Chimney Rock State Park (Asheville, North Carolina 12/28/2010)
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