On April 15, 2017, I took a ride on my motorcycle. In many ways it was no different than the countless rides I had taken over the past 9 years. But this one was different.
I rode out east and north from my home in Round Rock, Texas. US Highway 79 takes you through corn and cotton fields interrupted every 6-9 miles by another town, with the Union Pacific railroad running alongside. Hutto, Taylor, Thrall, and Thorndale, which is where Williamson County ends and Milam County begins.
This is the story of my motorcycle ride through all 254 counties of Texas.
I started riding relatively late in life. I was 37. I had read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and was intrigued by the prospect of a new kind of experience of the world that riding could bring. When we moved to central Texas, we could not take a drive through the Hill Country without me daydreaming about rolling over those hills and curves on two wheels with the wind blowing through my hair and the sun on my face. I got my first bike in 2008. It was a 1999 Yamaha V-Star 650 with about 32k miles.
It was a bike I could take a wrench to and do some work on. I regularly changed the oil and filter. I replaced spark plugs, fuel filter, and master cylinder. I replaced the rear blinkers and the clutch cable. I enjoyed that aspect of owning a bike, but it was not a vehicle I trusted to make long trips. Maybe that was in part because I didn’t know its history and how it had been treated before I owned it, but also in part because I knew who the current mechanic was (me). In 2011, I bought a new bike so I could take long trips. It’s a 2009 Yamaha V-Star 1300. I was its first owner. It had been sitting at the dealership for a long time. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s smooth and reliable. The only modifications I’ve made to it are to add a back rest for a passenger, a windscreen, and saddlebags. I let the professionals do all the maintenance on it.
The idea of taking long motorcycle trips had been with me for some time. I read books about them. Robert Edison Fulton, Jr., took a solo bike trip around the world between 1932 and 1933, and wrote about it in his book, One Man Caravan. Ted Simon wrote Jupiter’s Travels, chronicling his trip around the world between 1973 and 1977. The late drummer of the band Rush, Neil Peart, wrote a book called Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. It’s about a trip he took across North America after the death of his wife and daughter. He rode from Quebec to Alaska, then down to Mexico and Belize.
Those stories of marathon motorcycle trips largely inoculated me to the temptation of doing something that dramatic myself. I love my wife and I have a job, after all. But taking long rides with modest goals that would allow me to keep my life intact was still something I wanted to try. I am blessed to live in a place with some beautiful rural roadways that begin just a short distance from my suburban home. I began to target local highways to conquer. I rode the 143 mile length of TX State Highway 29. I rode the 253 mile length of TX State Highway 71. I rode the 122 mile length of TX State Highway 95. I rode the 261 mile length of US Highway 290. But I never got around to riding all 855 miles of US 79, the 1250 miles of US 183, or the 2460 miles of Interstate 10. Not yet, anyway.
My first multi-day trip was in 2012. I rode west to Fort Stockton, then northwest to Ruidoso and Roswell, New Mexico, then back home through Big Spring, Brady, and Llano. 1360 miles in three days. Over the years, my wife and I have taken a few overnight trips into the Hill Country. Other than that, it would be 2019 before I would take another multi-day trip.
But let’s get back to April 15, 2017.