Story by Stephen Evans
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published the Jan. 2023 edition of the MSTA Florida Chapter newsletter, The Florida Gator Tale. The story has been edited to match the MSTA website’s style.
A friend of mine, Eugene, who is 76 and an avid motorcyclist, had a bucket list item that he wanted to get checked off. He is a retired U.S. Army Major who served 20 years in the Army and then taught for the Army for another 21 years.
When Eugene was a young man and stationed at Fort Bliss (located in Texas and New Mexico near El Paso), he ate a meal at a restaurant in Las Cruces, N.M., named La Posta De Mesilla. His meal was called Chili Relleno — thus the reason for the trip. It had been 50 years since he had this dish at this restaurant and he was going with his bother Larry and two other riders, Eric and Patrick. Larry is 68, previously an engineer for DuPont, is married with grown children and is now likewise retired.
When Eugene asked me if I wanted to come along, I thought about this for some time, putting at least two seconds of thought into this invite, and said, “Of course, I’ll come.” It’s not every day when one gets to ride to New Mexico for lunch — and besides I love Mexican food and a good margarita. The trip also meant I’d get to “RIDE,” which I’m very passionate about. Eric, who is 60, was a corporate lawyer and retired at the age of 47 and has been goofing off ever since (and I say more power to him). He’s married with grown children, his wife is a dentist, and they live in Tennessee up near the Kentucky border in a small town.
Eric rode down to the Valdosta area where Larry and Eugene live on Friday (Nov. 1) and spent the night at Eugene’s house. Eugene and Eric met back in 1995 when they were doing the Iron Butt Rally that year (11,000 miles in 11 days). The next morning (Saturday, Nov. 2) as the three of them (Eugene, Larry & Eric) were leaving the Valdosta area, I was heading out from Lake City We’d planned to meet at a Shell gas station in Tallahassee, then head west. The first night found us in McComb, Miss., and for me it was a 548-mile day — a little less for them.
We made it to Palestine, Texas (373 miles) the second night, where we hooked up with Patrick — who lives up north in Denton, Texas. Patrick was waiting for us as we pulled into the motel in Palestine. Patrick is 65, had retired at the age of 60 by selling his construction business (steel buildings) in Dallas, and now lives on a 60-acre ranch up in the Denton area with his wife. He also has grown children, as we all do.
The next morning, Monday, Nov. 4 , the five of us were on the road at 7 a.m. in a very sunny and brisk 52-degree day — which beat the day before when it was only 42 degrees. But who really cares when you’re riding, as that’s where we want to be. We decided to change the route somewhat and go to Fort Stockton (531 miles) way over in west Texas on Interstate 10 between San Antonio and El Paso. Other than getting to Mobile, Ala., the first day on I-10, it has been all back roads, which wasgreat. It was even better in Texas, as the speed limit is either 70mph or 75mph on two-lane back roads because someone in Texas has a brain that works and realizes that there are long distances to travel and today’s vehicles are not 6,000 lb. beasts with drum brakes as they were years ago. GOD BLESS TEXAS for their common sense is what I say. Add to that the fact that the shoulder is about 2/3 as wide as the lane itself, and, when you’re coming up on a slower vehicle they pull off somewhat on to the shoulder to let you pass. I love these Texas people and am hoping they adopt me.
Tuesday morning we were off again at 7:00 a.m. Instead of taking Interstate 10 from Fort Stockton to El Paso and then Interstate 25 to Las Cruces — a distance of 284 miles — we stayed on the back roads and rode 352 miles. We then arrived at the La Posta De Mesilla Restaurant at about 1 p.m. It was worth every mile as some of the scenery out in the desert was just beautiful. The restaurant is located in the historic section of Las Cruces and it’s a very old part of the city which adds to its charm. Some 150 years ago it was called something else and was in part a hotel and a stopping point for the Butterfield Stagecoach Line that ran from San Diego to San Antonio via Las Cruces — at the time the biggest city between the two.
Back in that day, it had such visitors as Billy the Kid, Kit Carson and Pancho Villa and, much later, General Douglas MacArthur ate there. Then in 1939, a young woman with a lot of spunk named Katy Griggs Camunez took over and it became what it is today – a 17,000 sq. ft. restaurant called La Posta De Mesilla, which is known throughout the southwest as one of the very best Mexican restaurants around. Today it is run by Katy’s great niece and her husband. I will say this about the famous dish called Chili Relleno — I ate it all but was not blown away by it. I would have rather had an all-beef burrito with cheese, lettuce, tomato and sour cream. However that is just this one man’s opinion, and it means nothing in the scheme of things. I didn’t think it was bad, I just thought it was bland.
Now some of you may be thinking that – gee, Steve rode all that way for a lunch that he didn’t like — but that’s not correct. The Chili Relleno dish was on Eugene’s bucket list, not on mine, and I was along for the RIDE which was a really nice one. I wanted to go for a ride and that’s what I got to do. In fact my total mileage was 3,557 miles, and I’d do it again in a New York second. Over lunch, we talked about where to go next and — with it getting dark earlier because of the time change — we decided to go to Alamogordo, New Mexico, for the night. It’s about 70 miles to the northeast of Las Cruces, and we’d decide from there where to go next.
Over dinner, we talked about going north up into Utah and the Canyonlands National Park, but it seemed each of us had something to get home to. Thus, we decided to cut the trip short and go home. I had left Linda in a rental house in strange neighborhood after only three days and felt I needed to get home to her and Jessie. We decided that we’d visit Roswell in the morning since we were starting out on back roads and it wouldn’t be out of our way. Roswell, not to be confused with Area 51 in Nevada, is where some say a UFO crashed in July of 1947. Gee, I was born in 1947… Do you think there’s a possibility that maybe I was on…. Na, it couldn’t be. As the story goes, it crashed in Roswell and the government took all the debris and the occupants to Area 51 in Nevada. The ride to Roswell was just beautiful (US-70 and US-380) as it took us up and thru the Sacramento Mountains and the Lincoln National Forest while passing thru the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. When we went over Apache Summit at just over 7,500 feet, the temperature dropped down into the low 40s and the scenery was just gorgeous. As we pull into Roswell, we decide to go to the Roswell UFO Museum and check out the aliens — or maybe some of our family members.
Although we knew that upon leaving Roswell, we were going to run into a cold front with some rain, we thought we could get by Plains, Texas, before it really started around 1 p.m. (according to The Weather Channel). That wasn’t going to happen. We weren’t but 20 miles east of Roswell at about 11:30 a.m. when the skies opened up. We got hammered — and I mean hammered. Eric and Patrick only had to get back to Patrick’s house in Denton. However, Eugene and Larry had to get to Valdosta, and I needed to get to Lake City. Stopping in some small west Texas town to fill up, they all decided to have lunch, but I wanted to go on and thus we said our good-byes. So for me, it was off to Post, Texas where I took US-84 to I-20 through Sweetwater to Abilene for the night — which put me at 445 miles for the day. I really needed time to dry out. I made the mistake of only wearing my rain jacket and not my rain pants out of Roswell and paid dearly for it — as I was soaked. The rain was just unbelievable as it rained hard all day. They have these signs out in west Texas that say – “Caution: Road May Flood” – and I found those signs to be very true, not only out on the highway but also even more so in the small towns at the intersections. I had to go through some dips at intersections that had to be 4 or 5 inches deep, and the water would splash upwards covering me from the hips down. Did I mention to you that I failed to put on my rain pants?
By now, I had some really nasty lightning around me and some was just a little too close by. So as I passed through Tahoka, Texas, I spotted a building with an overhang and pulled off. As I pulled up under the overhang, a woman came out and told me to pull further up closer to the building, which I did. It was 59 degrees, and I was wet and cold with a slight shiver — make that soaked with a slight shiver — and I needed to use the bathroom. She directed me to the bathroom, and, on the way out, an older gentleman offered me a hot cup of coffee. It turned out that I was at a store called the John Witt Butane Gas Co. (a farmers’ co-op) which was founded years ago by John Witt who had by now passed on. The gentleman who gave me the cup of coffee was Guy Witt, John’s son, and he was 83 years old. The woman who told me to pull further was Pam, Guy’s daughter. Not only did I get to use the bathroom and get a cup of hot coffee to warm up, but I also got to talk to these people and a few others as I stayed for about a half hour. I could not express enough gratitude to Guy, Pam and her two grown kids as I had a wonderful time, and it was Texas hospitality at its best.
While there, a man came in with his son (about five years old) and started telling us all about the hogs on his daddy’s farm. Then he and I started making snorting sounds to one another like hogs do. We had everyone laughing and most of all, the boy – he was a cutie and loved to laugh. When I left, he came to the door and watched me leave and waved goodbye – just a really sweet boy. It was a wonderful stop in time, and it would have never happened if I were in a car. Even though the weather was nasty, I had a great memory come out of that storm and intended to send Pam and Guy a short thank-you note with a copy of this story.
It seemed to have lightened somewhat as I left, but I soon found out that Mother Nature was pulling a fast one on me as within a half hour it was worse than before. It became extremely dark, as if it was almost night time, and raining so hard it was difficult to see. Everyone was slowing down to around 30 mph and running with their emergency flashers on as visibility was next to nothing. Then, miles on down the road I could see some light, almost like a sunrise, and then I was coming out of the storm. Also at this time I could see three areas where the clouds were starting a downspout but it never materialized. Looking back on it now it was all quite amazing.
Most everything I had on went into the dryer at the hotel in Abilene and, using a blow dryer in the room, I did my gloves and boots, both of which were rainproof, although nothing works as it should in the weather I was in. I was surprised the blower still worked as I had it doing overtime duty that night and used it again the next morning, when, as I get on the road, guess what – it was still raining (although not as hard as the day before). I knew I needed to get through Ft. Worth and Dallas, and I was hoping I had two things in my favor. One, I knew I-20 goes south down around both cities as I-30 goes straight through them, and I hoped to be there early enough where I only had the beginning of rush hour and not the peak of it. I got lucky as everything worked out, and nothing was as bad as it could have been – like the accident (an 18-wheeler on fire) on the west bound lanes that had traffic backed up for just over six miles (and yes I measured it). Plus, the rain had now stopped and stayed that way ’til I got into Mississippi.
So then it was on to Shreveport on I-20 and then I-49 south down to I-10 through Baton Rouge where I stopped in Gulfport, Mississippi, with 807 miles under my belt for the day. The good news was that I was dry as I got dressed for the weather from the start, and it hadn’t rain as long or as hard as the day before. All was good on the morning of Friday the 8th as I had less than 450 miles to get home. Chances were that I’d have no rain, but I dressed for it anyway. Although no rain came my way, the wind gusts did, and one tended to get blown around somewhat on a bike which can wear one out.
However, I was on the home stretch and could see the light at the end of the tunnel, so Mother Nature could bring whatever she so desired. I arrived home at exactly 1 p.m. with 435 miles for the day. Overall, it was a GREAT trip and for many reasons, but then to me all motorcycle trips are great. Some are just more so than others. I cannot express how much I love to ride on two wheels and taking trips. Bad weather is just something that one must adapt to as you’re going to get wet, cold and blown about, but it’s still all good. I’ve ridden in four snow storms, and the next day life was good and all was beautiful. A long distance ride on a motorcycle is no different than life itself if you think about it. There’s a start and a finish and in between you’re learning new things, meeting new people and having to adjust on a daily basis to what life throws at you. When you’re on two wheels life is very enjoyable. I hope this story finds everyone in good health and happy.