I wake up in New Orleans with every intention of staying a second night. I've never been downtown and Brad says he'll show me around. I sleep in and lazily check the news on my phone. I get directions to a breakfast place Brad mentioned last night and almost as an afterthought, check the weather. It's supposed to thunderstorm all day tomorrow. Shit. If I stay tonight, I risk having to stay the following night, which puts me on a tight schedule to meet my friend on the 20th in Arizona. I check the weather in Houston, my next stop. It's supposed to storm late tonight but is clear during the days. I text Brad to let him know I'm taking off and pack up in a hurry.
Today is all freeway riding. Not my favorite, but it's a long ride to Houston and I'm getting a late start. I leave New Orleans with a half tank of gas and see signs for a live tiger at a truck stop right as my low fuel light comes on. I fill my tank and walk over to a series of cages and finally spot the saddest tiger I've ever seen. He's behind three fences in the shadows so it's hard to make anything out in the picture, but I did see this sign.
All fueled up, I stretch out, set my playlist, take some swigs of water, down a protein bar, and fire up the bike. I've started to get into a rhythm with my stops on these longer stretches. The first 50 miles are great. I'm smiling, bobbing my head to the music, happy to be alive. Over the next 50 miles, the smile fades. I'm hearing lesser songs on the playlist, getting thirsty, and my butt hurts. Anything over 100 miles and not even I want to hang out with me. I'm cranky and if this piece of shit cuts me off…so I try to stop every 100 miles. The same cycle happens in cars if you drive long enough, it's just easier to notice on a motorcycle because it happens faster. You can't resituate and stretch, munch on beef jerky, take a swig of water or change the song whenever you please. You learn to pay attention to your body and what it's trying to tell. Even a five minute stop to stretch, add or remove a layer, or drink some water lifts your mood and increases your focus.
At around the 100-mile mark, I pass through Lake Charles, LA. Originally, I was going to stay the night here, but the more I looked into it, the more it seemed like just a gambling town. Losing money doesn't appeal to me. I stop for gas, though, and then at Billedeaux's Cajun Kitchen for a delicious pulled pork po'boy and some ice cold water. Back on the freeway, I put another state behind me and enter what I imagine will feel like the neverending state of Texas.
I stop at the Texas rest area because I'm getting grumpy and could use some caffeine. The man working rushes around the counter when he sees my helmet to show me their new initiative to promote motorcycle awareness. A hit with the kids is big goofy cardboard glasses that say "There's a life riding on it" with pictures of motorcycles all over. Not putting them on and having him take my picture is my biggest regret of the trip. He doesn't have coffee but points me to the vending machines. I spend the next five minutes trying to give it my money. It doesn't take my credit card. I make countless attempts with the two dollar bills in my pocket. My patience hanging by a thread, I wonder (minus the expletives), "With all our modern technology, we haven't figured out how to get a vending machine to read a dollar bill with a single crease in it?". Finally, I try my debit card and score an ice cold energy drink. Three sips and I'm back.
Immediately after entering Texas, cars are rocketing past me. The speed limit only increases five to 75 mph, but people's fear of getting pulled over for doing 90 must drop by much more. I'm minding my own business in the center of three lanes while trucks, SUVs, and vans are breaking the sound barrier on either side of me. Anytime I want to pass I check my blind spot twice to make sure the sonic boom I heard was at a different location. Meanwhile, I'm passing the not so reassuring "Look twice for motorcycles" signs. Why is this such a big initiative they're pushing? I block the thought out of my mind.
I cover the last stretch into Houston without stopping. My mind is so occupied with watching for other drivers there's no excess capacity to get hungry, thirsty, or sore. Hearing the robotic Google Maps voice saying my exit is two miles ahead is a relief. I exit the freeway and make my way to my Airbnb, a mile east of downtown Houston. I bring my gear inside the unairconditioned house. A fact I failed to notice when booking it. I don't even care. I lay on the bed shaken from the wind and the vibrations of the Harley at 75 mph, ears still ringing, and stare at the ceiling for I don't even know how long.
When I finally come to, I pull myself up, shower, change and get a Lyft downtown in search of food. I eat great brisket tacos at The Conservatory Underground Beer Garden. About to head back, I decide to pull up a chair at Sunny's, a lively dive bar. I have a good conversation with Bill from Dallas. He has 3 kids and explains at length where each of them lives and what they do. He's interested in my trip and I give him some highlights. With my beer empty, I pay my tab and as I'm shaking his hand to leave, I notice his shoes are on the wrong feet. That's a mistake you quit making at what, 5 years old? I'm consumed by this thought on the ride home.
Back at the Airbnb, I get a text from Brad. It's a picture of the motorcycle's registration I forgot in his apartment. I'll probably need that. He agrees to mail it to my friend in Santa Fe so I can pick it up when I pass through. Now I have to try not to get pulled over.