I had been in a mad rush ever since I’d decided to go on another trip and buy a new bike on which to do it. I’d completely underestimated how long it would take to transfer the parts from my old to new bikes and to make all the changes and refinements I wanted. I ended up leaving the UK a month later than planned so I only had two weeks to get to Creel in Mexico. My dreams of coolly cruising across the States to San Francisco and then drifting down Baja bit the dust.
I was finally feeling confident of making the rally. The bike was running perfectly, there were no signs of any trouble when I changed the oil the day before, I had just fitted two new tyres that would last at least ten thousand miles and I had all the cooking equipment I needed. I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxation as I set off for the border.
The day started off so well.
By lunchtime I’d done over two hundred miles towards the Mexican border and pulled in for lunch. It was very windy and had been getting steadily hotter. It was twenty-nine degrees Celsius. As I rode away after lunch I had a scare when I thought I had an engine meltdown. It suddenly seemed to loose all power. I had the throttle as far open as possible and I was still slowing down. I felt my hopes of making Mexico evapourate away in the heat. It took me a few moments to realise I’d been going up a long gentle slope in top gear into a very strong head wind. This had happened to me before. I changed down one gear and opened the throttle. The bike leapt forward and, confidence restored, I settled back at a slower pace until I’d cleared the crest of the hill.
After a while I started fiddling with my GPS to see how much further it was to the Mexican border. I looked up to see a car going slowly a few hundred metres in front of me in the overtaking lane. It looked like it had a roof rack.
Hmm, I slowed down a bit and then realised it was not a roof rack but a row of coloured lights.
‘Shit, a patrol car’.
I slowed to the sixty five limit and overtook him on the other lane. (This is allowed in the USA). I watched in my mirrors waiting for the lights to start up. I could see him talking on his radio and I kept going on hoping he might loose interest. Just as I thought I’d got away with it the lights went on.
It then occurred to me he was just waiting for the rest area before pulling me over. I pulled in, stopped, took off my helmet, removed my earplugs and prepared my best British accent.
'Hi, how are you?’ – Texans are so polite.
‘Good thanks, how can I help you?’.
‘Where’s your licence plate from and can I see your registration papers?’
‘I’m English and I have the document in my top box’.
I opened it and showed the V5 to him. The patrolman was about thirty and had a very friendly, smiley, face.
‘Can I see your driver’s licence?’.
I took put my left hand across my chest to undo the zip to my right hand chest pocket. It was already open. I put my hand straight inside. It was empty. My heart crashed to the floor.
‘Oh fuck, fuck, fuck’ I said in a reserved and controlled way.
I looked inside the pocket. All that was left was my small notebook. My wallet and two pens were missing.
‘Oh no, it must have fallen out on the highway’.
I explained that I was on my way to a biking rally in Mexico, that I’d finally got everything prepared and had been planning for this for six months.
‘When was the last time you stopped?’.
I flicked through a few screens on my trip computer, carefully bypassing the one that shows in very large numbers what my maximum speed was and exactly what date, hour, minute and second I did it.
‘One hundred and thirty three miles ago when I filled up with gas’.
My wallet contained my passport, credit and ATM cards, UK and International Drivers Licence and about one hundred and fifty dollars in cash as well as the email addresses of those I’d recently met.
I jumped up and down with frustration and anger. I was also thinking that a bit of hamming it up might get me off a speeding ticket so I jumped up and down a bit more.
I could see the judges holding up the ‘artistic interpretation’ and ‘star quality’ marks over his shoulder. All nines.
I’d probably left the zip undone at the petrol station, which I’ve done before but it had never actually fallen out. (Low scores for the intelligence test then). The strong wind must have sucked it out of my pocket. I’m sure I didn’t leave it at the petrol station so it must be lying somewhere on the last one hundred and thirty three miles of the I20.
I knew it wasn’t a total disaster as I have a second passport and credit card, travellers cheques and other cash I can use. What was worrying me was whether I needed a drivers licence to get into Mexico and so would miss the biking rally. Neither was I looking forward to getting a new ATM card.
‘You could go back and look for it but it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack’.
Not to put too finer point on it I thought it would be a complete waste of time. It was already nearly four o’clock and I was still about two hundred miles from Presidio on the US border. The patrolman wished me luck and drove off. Well, at least I didn’t get a ticket.
I decided to give it up as a lost cause and set off for the border. Whilst riding I worked out that I could actually ride the one hundred plus miles back, spend the night near my last stop, ride back down the hard shoulder slowly looking for my wallet and still get to Presidio in one day. It would be a really long, knackering day but at least I would have tried to find it. After all, it was definitely on the side of the road somewhere, it was just a case of seeing it.
I pulled off the road and filled up with petrol again using some cash from my money belt. I told the cashier my tale of woe.
‘That would just ruin my day’, she said helpfully in a strong Texan drawl.
I set my trip meter to countdown the miles to go as it would be dark when I got there and therefore hard to recognise I was in the right place. I sped through the first section back to where I was stopped. I rode along at about fifty miles an hour checking the opposite side of the carriage way to see if I could spot it.
Although it had been a pain to ride through I was now so glad that there had been such a strong wind as my wallet had to be on the right hand verge or on the hard shoulder. I quickly realised it was very difficult to spot anything at that speed but kept going as I didn’t think it was safe to go any slower. Spotting something on the other side my hopes soared and I went back over a bridge to find nothing but a piece of paper.
Earlier during the day I had been thinking what a typical waste of resources and space it was to have two service roads, one on either side of the motorway. There was a gap of about ten to fifteen metres between the service road and the motorway. It was only now that I was so glad they were there. The interstate is a two lane dual carriage way with no central reservation, just a five metre wide grassy dip separating the two carriageways.
Police cars can easily turn around through the central area to stop some one who’d been going the other way. It really wasn’t very fair. Their radar worked not only when stationary or moving, but also forwards and backwards and against vehicles going in either direction.
As it got dark I sped up and finally arrived back at the petrol station two and a half hours later.
Feeling really tired I looked for a parking spot but all the spaces were taken. I went around the side and rolled into an empty space. As I stopped I put my left foot down. I trod in a poll of oil and my foot slipped from under me. That was it. Another superb display of advanced riding skills was rapidly approaching. With consummate grace and skill I put my right leg down quickly and hopped off to the left, pulling my right leg over the seat at the same time. Feeling rather pleased with myself because I didn’t fall over, I turned and watched my bike crash to the ground. As it lay there the engine was still ticking over gently.
I turned the engine off and looked round to the slightly stunned observers.
‘Please can some one help me pick it up?’
No one moved for a few seconds. Perhaps they were waiting for an encore. Then a big guy in a red check shirt came over and we heaved it upright.
I thanked him profusely and explained why I was here. Lonnie was a lovely man we chatted for about ten minutes. He was a cotton farmer and described himself as a small guy as he only has one thousand acres whilst the big boys had ten thousand. He gave me his address asking me to send him a postcard and my home address and he’d send me some cotton.
His parting words were that I’d find my wallet. How could he know? At the time I thought I would, after all, it was somewhere out there, all I had to do was see it and pick it up. Quite straightforward really.
That night I treated myself to a lovely hot bath but didn’t sleep very well. In the morning I was feeling really optimistic as I set off to look for my wallet. It must be on the right hand side of the motorway.
I started down the hard shoulder at thirty miles an hour and quickly realised it was too fast to work out if what I saw was my wallet or not. I slowed to twenty and started scanning the verge and the whole grass area between the edge of the Interstate and the service road.
There was a lot of stuff that had been thrown out. T-shirts, shoes, skirts, loads of cans and bottles, huge pieces of wood, and lots of bits of paper a similar colour to my wallet. Because of the service road it was easy to stop, double back and investigate a possible sighting and then rejoin the hard shoulder again.
My ‘wallet’ was actually a money belt and was supposed to fit around my waist. I was hoping the waist strap would act as a kite tail and make it easier to spot. I only wore it when I didn’t have my biking jacket on because it was uncomfortable over long periods.
I realised the chances of actually finding it were diminishing by the minute. If it had fallen out going over a bridge it was gone. If was over a concrete embankment, they were so steep I couldn’t see the bottom. On some stretches the grass was so long I could only see anything at exactly right angles to the road when the glimpse was too short to decide what I’d seen. I’d have to walk through it to be sure I hadn’t missed it.
Why didn’t they cut all the verges rather than just those in the towns?
After an hour and a half it was beginning to look futile, more like looking for a grain of salt in the desert than a needle in a haystack. At the rate I was going it would take at least six hours to ride back to the layby and another three hours to Presidio, probably even longer in the dark. Why was I bothering?
I decided to speed up a bit and stuck to my original plan to simply have a go. If I failed, ok, at least I’d tried to find it. Logically, I knew it was just a case of looking in the right direction at the right time.
After two and a half hours I’d swung back to giving up. I was going much faster past the tall grass and zooming over bridges and embankments. After three hours and nearly seventy miles I was feeling hungry and thinking of stopping for a snack.
The road started to rise gently at the start of a bridge.
‘Oh my god, that’s it!'
I stopped, put the bike on the side stand and ran back down the road.
‘I’m sure it is – I just hope it’s not some one else’s identical, but empty wallet’.
I saw it and picked it up. It was mine all right. I leapt into the air with pure joy and waved it at the passing cars and trucks. I jumped up and down again with pure relief.
Unbelievable. I’d found it after seventy-five miles of looking. Everything was still inside although the zip was now buggered because it had been run over. You’d think drivers might take a bit more care with other people’s property.
I rode into the nearest petrol station and was still bouncing up and down with joy. I told the two girls my story and they couldn’t believe how lucky I was. Neither did I. They complained that nothing exciting ever happened round there but now they had a story they could talk about for years. It would put their gas station on the map. It could become part of an ‘Interesting gas station tour of Texas’.
I duly made it to the rally on time. Four days later I still find it hard to believe how lucky I was.
Damn, I should have bought a lottery ticket.
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