A roll of the dice brings mixed fortune.

It was time to stuff my bags, strap them down and jump on that one “Hell” of a bike and head West. After spending a memorable, yet unexpected two weeks in Houston, I was itching to get on the road and explore this amazing country. Having noticed out of chance, a friend from Melbourne on Skype, I’d given them a buzz to see how things were carrying along back home in my absence. I was surprised to be informed by Tom that he was not in the dreary-winter-cold of my home town, but rather basking in the heat of the Nevada desert. He was going to be in Las Vegas, working as a part of a film crew covering an international poker tournament for the following 8 weeks. He invited me to crash on the couch of his apartment if I planned to travel through those parts. Having never been to Las Vegas, it seemed like a reasonable detour somewhat on the way to Alaska. And besides, I thought to myself, “I’m sure I can obtain a humorous novelty job while I’m there”.

After little more than a couple of laps around the block, I started to get a handle on riding Mavis despite her rather heavy structure and wide girth with four cylinders and 1100cc’ of drive power trying to hide beneath me like a bald man trying to find shade under a cocktail umbrella. As I rode along the streets I started to notice every time a fellow motorcyclists would pass me by, they’d outstretch one arm and point to the ground. The first couple of times I didn’t think much of it, but the more I rode around, the more ‘downward points’ I received. Having not ridden bikes before on the roads, and especially “green” to American motorcycle culture, I started to think there might be something wrong with my bike (or perhaps me, as I rode around in full leathers and helmet whilst others passed by, no helmets wearing a singlet and shorts?!). I knew my headlight was fixed permanently on high beam, so, naturally I presumed the ‘downward point’ was the motorbike riders equivalent of flashing your headlights whilst driving to alert someone if they are dazing others with their brights on.

With the bike fully loaded, ‘saddle’ bags stuffed to the brim, my hiking pack strapped on the pillion seat and another small bag strapped to the false fuel tank, I was ready to battle Houston’s freeway system with it’s labyrinth of intertwining overpasses and entry and exit ramps. As I said a final goodbye to Houston, my thoughts drifted to the road ahead and what adventures I was to encounter along this long journey to an Alaskan summer in the North.

With newly acquired friends earlier in the trip inviting me to stay while passing through Austin, Texas, I made my first stop. A solid 3hr test ride also to make sure everything worked fine on the bike and I was comfortable riding her out on the road. Surviving the perils of motorways littered with potholes created by Hurricane Ike which ravaged Houston a year earlier, I eventually made it to Austin as the sun dipped behind the horizon for the evening. Other than receiving numerous ‘downward points’ along the way, the bike rode well with no dramas other than a faulty headlight that seemed to cut out now and then.

Austin was a really refreshing pit-stop and much needed change of landscape from Houston. My local Austin “guides”, Nicki and Marny took me to some local highlights including; my favorite of a day spent floating down a meandering river sipping on cool beers watching turtles slip off ‘sunning’ logs to the safety of the water below. An evening spent watching the bats of Austin head out to feed as the sun set. An amazing sight as hundreds of thousands of bats wafted off into the sky like plumes of black smoke. Another day spent swimming in the town lake with Nicki’s amazingly beautiful pet duck, Puddles. And of course, a main course of Texas Bar-B-Q which is a rather tasty way to spend an afternoon gorging ones self with 15hr smoked meats.

While in Austin, I spent a full day trying to dim-the-brights, so I’d stop getting ‘downward points’ from other motorcyclists. My solution to the problem; I crafted two round ‘diffuses’ out of a big sheet you might see covering a fluorescent bulb in a kitchen, to fit snuggly in each “eye socket” of the skull. This seemed to do the job (which would later prove to be too effective), so I thought it was time to get the bike inspected for roadworthy-ness. Pulling up at the inspection depot, the person on duty looked at me with a blank expression upon his face. I jumped off the bike and inquired to how long it would take. He first asked me “where’s the headlight” and then “how old is this thing anyway” (in a rather disgusted tone). Not a good start I thought when you’re trying to make the bike ‘street legal’. We got talking and finally he suggested I didn’t bother to get the inspection sticker, as it was not needed outside of Texas, where I was traveling indefinitely. No matter I thought, I’ve fixed the high-beam problem…

After three nights in Austin, the road was once again calling. I had organized via Couch Surfing (CSing) to stay with a host in Midland, Texas. About a third the total distance to Las Vegas, yet a solid eight or nine hour ride away. As I traveled further West the Texas landscape began to change into softly undulating hills as the road snaked along. Small trees scattered off in the distance, casting cool shadows over the pastures and semi arid landscape. Gaining pace on Midland, the oil fields started to appear with their ghostly looking Pumpjacks autonomously pumping away in the desert. Scattered away into the horizon, either side of the road, I recalled looking out the plane window en route to Houston. I had seen what looked like from the air, a patchwork of small “electrical” circuits which, I now believe where said oil Pumpjacks with interconnecting access roads and infrastructure.

Spending one night in Midland, I discovered through my scooter-riding CS host that the ‘downward pointing’ I had thought was directed at my blinding headlight, was in fact a gesture of solidarity between motorcycle riders, and scooter riders too! A friendly ‘wave’ if you will… It was time to get back on the road and start returning those downward points like there was no tomorrow!

With my funds slowly contracting at every fuel stop, I needed to get to Las Vegas in a timely manor and find paid employment. On day two of the ride to Nevada, I planned to travel through Roswell, New Mexico en route for my night stop with another CS host in Albuquerque, NM. Leaving Midland, TX around 8am, the sun already out baking the earth around me, I traveled West towards El Paso, TX on the US/Mexico border. Another hour or so of derricks dominating my surrounds before taking a turn and heading North to Roswell. As I crossed the Texas/New Mexico border I was welcomed by a bunch of Prairie dogs who scattered either side of the road ahead in a frantic way. Onward through the barren ‘moonscape’ I traveled at a moderate speed of 80mph (approx. 135kmh). Recalling Lee telling me he had a blowout at speed in the front wheel on Mavis while he rode through New Mexico, I crossed my fingers the same fate would not happen to me.

Excited about the prospect of having lunch with some “out-of-towners” in Roswell, famous for it’s “out-of-this-world” tourists, my stomach began to grumble. My pre-conceived notions of Roswell were instantly quashed as I slowed and entered the town. Expecting a somewhat derelict place, perhaps an old service station with a sign swinging in the desert breeze and a scruffy dog barking at a crow. Unfortunately I was sucked into what seemed to be a tourist trap, where the only “probing” going on was into peoples bank accounts. The town looked similar to Bendigo back in Australia, but with the banks replaced with “Alien museums”. Sadly no “out-of-this-world” lunch was obtained as I hauled ass away quickly only stopping for petrol (because it’s petrol, not a GAS!).

As the day went on, the breeze began to gain momentum and become a gusty wind blowing across from the side. I got tossed around like a rag doll in a drier just managing to keep the bike on two wheels and my bum in the seat. Passing the trucks was a rather ‘interesting’ experience. As I rode along behind the semi trailers, I would watch as the rear would catch the wind and get blown sideways nearly breaching the edge of the road. Thankfully the wind blew in from the West as I traveled North, so there was some predictability in which way the trucks would vier…

Arriving in Albuquerque was a big relief after a trying and tiring day of riding. The road leading into the city was protected from the blustery howls of the desert winds. The sun turned on a light show against the backdrop of the mountains surrounding the city, turning them amaranthine in colour. I pulled in for the night and got some well earned rest on the floor of my hosts apartment.

Awaking the following morning to the sounds of fighter jets, I peaked out the window to see half a dozen military jets dog fighting over and around the city skies. I was told this was rather a common occurrence as there was a air force base only a couple of km’s away. Leaving early once again, I planned to be on the road for at least another full days riding. I gave my friend Tom a call and told him I expected to be in Las Vegas by 7pm.

Unfavorable to my plans, the winds had picked up over night and I was now facing West, headfirst into them on Interstate 40 (I-40), (the road which now replaces route 66). At some points, the bike seemed to get pushed backwards as I increased the throttle. I forged on and crossed the New Mexico/Arizona State line. The countryside quickly changed again as I rushed through Canyons, the walls of which stained occur and red. The winds persisted, as did Mavis and I, stopping only for petrol and the occasional drink. The further West I traveled into Arizona, the taller the trees became. This was surprise to see such vegetation in a State I once imaged to be confined to Canyon’s and rock. The temperature began to fall, as did the sun. I pulled off the main route to follow historical route 66 for the last stretch before heading North to Las Vegas. My newly subdued headlights were useless, as the dark of night crept over. Casting light no further than 10m in front of the bike, I slowed down and took in the area I was now traveling through. Desert perfumes wafted through the air as a full moon cast dim shadows beneath the small desert plants and the winds died down. At one point my headlight switched off all together as I rolled along at 80kph. I pulled off the road into a empty gravel car park next a service station, under the orange glow of a street lamp. With the engine cut off, an immediate sense of isolation came upon me as I worked to fix the headlight. A dog walked over and sniffed my leg, whilst a sign swung in the soft evening breeze. This is what I imagined Roswell to be.

With the headlight fixed to the best of my abilities, I carried on with the eyes flickering and a full moon bathing by back. In the distance I could see the lights of I-40 and pulled into a petrol station to fill up. Upon exiting I needed to consult the map for how far out from Las Vegas I was and pulled off to a gravel siding once more. I knocked the side-stand down and lent the bike. As I released the clutch, the bike jumped forward, pushing the stand up and toppling Mavis to her side. I cut the engine and scrambled and struggled to get her up again. Almost instantaneously to the bike falling, a man in an old white pick-up truck stopped on the road and asked through his window “Do you need a hand getting that bike up again”. (I must remind you that this bike is unimaginably heavy, and any self respecting man or woman would have difficulty lifting her from the side). We had a quick chat, and ironically he had just looked to purchase the same model motorbike that proceeding weekend.

Getting ever closer to my destination, I neared the Hoover dam. As I rode up to the police checkpoint before the dam wall, an officer inspected my headlight with curiosity as I stopped. After a quick look he waved me along the top of the dam. As soon as I reached the other side, now being in the State of Nevada, (where gambling is legal) casinos seemed to appear from nowhere, perched amongst the hills. As I crept up and over the mountain range, I was confronted with the city of Las Vegas. A sprawling mess of housing estates stretching to the foothills all around. In the center, a mecca of hotels and casino buildings. Illuminated with extravagant lights blasting into the sky. Traveling down the hill to the center of the city, I was struck by an instant smell of stale bar floors and cigarettes. I cruised along the main strip. Hundreds of people lined the streets, reveling amongst the glitz of the city. Passing casino after casino I was dazed by the lights in a very surreal state of mind. After 12hrs riding through desert landscapes over three State lines, I had now arrived in the City of Sin.

I called Tom and proceeded to crash like a bag of apples falling from a hay loft on his apartment floor. The following two days I gathered myself together and ventured around. Exploring the sights and sounds, sadly contemplating all the natural beauty I rushed by on my way to this artificial place amongst the sand and rock.

Briefly exploring my employment options, narrowly applying for a job as a Forklift driver (in an industrial freezer!), weighing up the benefits of being a valet getting cash tips at a the Bellagio, I now find myself working as a driver for media staff at the World Series of Poker (WSOP)at the Rio. I will spend the next few weeks here until the end of the tournament while I replenish my financial fuel cells. Las Vegas was never in the original plan, but sometimes life’s worth a throw of the dice, you never know where luck may hide.