Day 16: Tucumcari, NM to Amarillo, TX
Distance: 124 miles
Climbing: 3,500 feet
For more photos, be sure to check Flickr.
The best laid plans of mice, men and bicyclists…
Things started out pretty well this morning, with Lon and Anurang on the tandem and light wind as we left Tucumcari. Almost all the day’s riding was on frontage roads to I-40 and, for about 18 miles, I-40 itself. Some of those frontage roads used to be 66, but it’s hard to tell unless you ask Lon.
By the time we reached the first rest stop, though, just across the Texas border, the wind was picking up. As we left that rest stop, it was the tandem followed by Jim Meyers, Jim Hlavka, and me. All the Jims. I noticed many wildflowers along the side of the road where it had been mown. I don’t know whether that was because they like the mowed terrain or someone seeded them — but they didn’t start showng up until we were in Texas.
Texas, this part of it, is flat, brown, and flat. Well, it actually wasn’t quite flat enough — we either seemed to be going uphill just enough to slow us down or downhill not enough to speed us up. And it especially wasn’t flat when we reached the Caprock Climb, which takes you up onto the plateau that we’ll be on top of until sometime tomorrow.
It was pretty obvious that Lon and Anurang were struggling in the wind and with the hills, however slight. Anurang was very uncomfortable on the bike, for some reason – I guess it just didn’t fit him right. This must be the kind of thing that doesn’t show up on a forty-mile spin with a raging tailwind. Today, the wind was from the north/northeast, and it was slowing everyone down. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen Lon work that hard. Possilby it was on Wide World of Sports more than 20 years ago. Afterward he said he felt like he’d done a 25-mile time trial.
As we started the climb up Caprock, I decided to go ahead, since we also were passing through an interstate construction zone. It just felt good to go at my own pace rather than wait behind the tandem, which was climbing slower than Lon would normally, but perhaps a bit faster than Anurang would normally. On the way, I passed Gavin and Rhona (the Scottish world travelers), who had started that morning from somewhere east of Tucumcari. I imagine they had a very long day trying to get to Amarillo.
It wasn’t very far from the summit of the Caprock climb to the Midpoint Café, which, supposedly, is halfway between L.A. and Chicago on Route 66. The other two Jims and the tandem pulled in just a few minutes after I did, and we all ate cheeseburgers. No milkshakes available, but they had pie.
To Lon’s relief, Anurang decided that he’d had enough, so Lon got his single bike back out to ride the remaining miles to Amarillo. Anurang got a ride in the van (well, he did ride exactly half of the complete Route 66 route). Jim Hlavka left ahead of us because he felt like it would be a good idea for him to ride a little harder at his own speed for awhile (we never caught him). Lon, Jim Meyers, and I all left more or less together (I had to catch up after waiting to take a quick picture at the midpoint marker), and started taking turns pedaling into the wind.
We maintained this three-man pacellne all the way to a Love’s Truck Stop, where we got some drinks and snacks to see us into Amarillo.
Getting through town took a long time, and I felt like I was having sensory overload after riding the first 100 miles through the plains. I lost count of the Route 66 signs. The west side of town seemed to be the funky side, but we had no time to stop and admire. Lon was on a mission to get to the Big Texan.
We finally rolled in to the finish at a few minutes past five o’clock, which means the whole ride took a bit more than 10 hours, including the hour for lunch.
Getting in to the Big Texan was a relief, but it’s not my favorite motel. It’s the ultimate in western/Texas kitsch, and the food is great if you like lukewarm meat. After getting cleaned up and checking e-mail, I went for dinner with the whole group and had some lukewarm ribs and a free beer.
Now, I’m bushed. In theory, tomorrow should be quite a bit easier, though, as the wind is supposed to be better and the distance is just under 100 miles.