08/14/2001 Entry: "Ride West--Day Four (Thursday, Aug. 9)"
Begin: Vega, TX
End: Taos, NM
Distance: 333 miles (20496-20823)
Although I had already covered almost 1500 miles by this time, this is the day I consider the real beginning of my trip. In the morning, I hopped back on I40 west and rode all the way to Clines Corners, where I said goodbye to the Interstate system for the next several days. At Clines Corners, I headed north on Highway 285. By this time, I was well and truly into the Western US as I define it. To someone like me from the West, there is a smell to the air--a mixture of dry pine, dry air and dust--that is unmistakable and unique to this part of the country; in some places, like the California coast, it's mixed with other smells like the ocean, but that underlying dry pine odor is always there. That combined with the mountain vistas and the wide open sky are what define the West to me. The smells of western Oklahoma and the Texas panhandle were almost right, but those featureless plains just didn't look right. Once into New Mexico, the picture is complete as far as I'm concerned. Highway 285 was smooth, relatively empty and the views were a wonderful change from the plains of Texas and Oklahoma.
Riding towards Santa Fe, I had thought about trying to find a local BMW mechanic to take another look at the clutch problem, especially since the next three days of travel would have me going through some pretty remote areas. On the outskirts of the city, I spotted a person riding a KK1200LT. I pulled off the freeway and asked him if he knew of a BMW mechanic in town. He had me follow him to a safe spot, where he introduced himself as Dave Beck. Dave is a tall, thin man with a weathered look to go with the Iron Butt pin he was wearing in his Kilimanjaro jacket. We had a nice chat and he gave me the name of a local dealer and told me how to get there. At Dave's suggestion, I called ahead to the dealer to let them know that I was coming and confirm the directions. We parted ways and I headed down to the dealership.
BMW of Santa Fe is apparently a new dealership and is associated with a BMW car franchise. The folks there were very nice and the mechanic, Doug Suggs (I hope I remembered his name), diagnosed the problem in a few minutes. He immediately dismissed my gasket theory and told me that the problem was almost certainly a dead or dying slave cylinder. According to Doug, on older K12RS's, the slave cylinders have a tendency to go bad, and when they do the symptom is a lack of pressure in the clutch line as the pressure leaks out from the cylinder. Sometimes the cylinder also leaks significant hydraulic fluid, although that didn't seem to be the case with mine as my fluid levels seemed quite normal. Doug told me that the cylinders rarely suffer catastrophic failure and that as long as I was willing to pump the handle to build pressure, then it was unlikely that the problem would be a trip stopper. I decided not to go ahead with a repair as it would be around $300 to do so and the fix would add another day or two of delay to the trip since the part would need to be air-freighted in.
Relieved but a little frustrated at the mechanical problem, I rode into downtown Santa Fe to have some lunch and pick up a gift for Lou's Uncle Jim with whom I would be staying just outside Cedar City, UT, a few days hence. I had a pleasant meal and bought a tile trivet with a Navajo blanket design on it for Jim. By this time it was around 2pm and pouring rain so I had to get out of town if I wanted to make it much further that day. I headed out of town via 285 north to Highway 84 north and then took Highway 68 north and east all the way to Taos. The rain diminished after about 20 miles and then turned into scattered showers for the rest of the ride into Taos. Highway 68 is a beautiful drive, even in the rain, but is a crowded route as it is the main road from Santa Fe to Taos. I got into Taos around 4pm local time and decided to stop for the day. Hotels were a little pricey, as you might expect in a resort town, but I was able to find a nice place for $80 plus tax for the night.
I got out of my gear, showered and wandered around town looking at the galleries and shops for an hour before having dinner at a restaurant called The Alley Cantina. The Alley is an odd place with a weird vibe. The patrons seemed to be composed primarily of serious drinkers with a left-over hippie vibe and who were still covered in the dirt of their daytime jobs as laborers of various types. It made for pretty good people watching, if not a great meal.