Amarillo By Morning

The road from Sedona to Flagstaff is 29 miles long and climbs 2,681 feet through Oak Creek Canyon. Most of the vertical is gained in two miles of switchback halfway between towering red rock pillars and the mostly flat conifer pine forests surrounding the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The Jeep was still squawking, but otherwise made the heavy lift up to Interstate 40. Other than a detour around a rolled minivan, our trip to Santa Fe was long and uneventful. 

Pulling into the Sage Inn just outside the main adobe village, I could hear a distinct clanking from behind the transfer case. It would also explain a significant change in hum-tone at speed. I knew it wasn’t good. We did what Bill said and drove the hell out of it, but I was pretty certain that this chirp turned rattle and hum was going to need attention sooner than later. 

It was our only night in Santa Fe before John escaped from Albuquerque to cap off leg two, so I tried to sweep the feeling of impending doom under the rug. I’d never been to Santa Fe and felt compelled to explore the narrow streets lined with a mix of art galleries and cantinas. We found some authentic Mexican food, a lively rooftop cantina, and made a night of it. Tequila provides a nice mask on reality, however temporary.

The next day’s drive to ABQ – most locals refer to A L B U Q U E R Q U E as ABQ – was loud and unnerving. I knew I had a problem. The question was what to do about it. The Jeep did ok at speed. Cruising at 65 was fine, but accelerating or anything requiring gears one through four was tenuous. We made it to the ABQ Sunport Best Western. John had a flight to catch in the morning and I had to make a critical decision. Should I stay or should I go. 

I love New Mexico. It is one of the most different, authentic, and true-to-self States in our Union. I’m lucky to have friends and family in ABQ. Upon arrival I reached out to my friend and former colleague along with my cousin, to see about making some plans and maybe getting some auto-repair advice. Joe, a former head ski coach at the University of New Mexico, came right over to check on the Jeep. We drove it in a few circles and determined that yes, I do in fact have an issue. My cousin Owen, probably one of the smartest human beings on the planet, had a lot of fantastic things to say, but came up empty on car advice. Entertaining none-the-less.

Joe looked at the drive shaft. A lot of play in the connection to the transfer case. Would it make it to Rhode Island? Maybe. I called a few shops in ABQ and it was going to be a week to even get an appointment at any garage. Everyone was backed up. I decided to phone another friend. Rather, I called my parents and had them phone another friend. “Remember when your friend offered some help in Bentonville, Arkansas? Yeah. Well, I might need to take him up on that…” I called my new contact in Arkansas. If I can just get there, he’d fit me in and get me back out on the road. I had planned four nights in North West Arkansas anyway and decide to roll the dice.

We still have the evening ahead. Joe heads home and Owen, John, and I have an incredible dinner in old town ABQ. It cost Owen his brand new Volkswagen Golf which was sideswiped on Highway 25 while attempting to pick us up, but exquisite New Mexican food, a margarita on the rocks, and solid car insurance put him at ease. Owen and John are fast friends and we have a great night. The next morning, I set out for Canyon, Texas. My first stop after John abandons ship for Pasadena. 

Let’s just say I managed the solo six-hour crawl in stiff wind through Amarillo and limped into Canyon. Massive thunderstorms and tornado warnings put the lid on my plan to ride Palo Duro Canyon. My sole reason for the 30 mile detour. I manage to find my hotel, cover the hood of the Jeep with a sleeping bag and a tarp to protect against the forecast baseball sized hail, and spin around town on my bike before the twisters. I hit a grocery store – again to learn about the locals – and picked up a pre-made salad for dinner. The town is on lock-down with tornado warnings. Not more than 10 minutes after rolling into my room, Armageddon strikes Canyon with a wrath not seen since Katrina. 

The atmosphere out my third story window turns violent. Wind blows everything sideways. The light show battles on stage with the sound, and I don’t ese any funnel clouds. Golf ball sized hail, not the advertised baseball variety, pounds everything in the parking lot below. By 11 pm it was all over. Feeling like I got my money’s worth, I looked at NOAA satellite weather forecasts, plotted my 8 hour course to Arkansas, and hit the hay. The Jeep wasn’t any better or worse that it was in ABQ, and I was looking forward to a planned four-day rest-stop in Bentonville, AR. Leg three day one in the books.

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