Vega to Amarillo
New day, new nickname: “Prairie Dog.” Pretty obvious—we are on the Great Plains, doggin’ it through stiff winds and tall grass. (The shoulders are quite nonexistent on many of these rural highways.) No need for sunscreen or food today. The trip would be just 48 miles that began at the first little crack of dawn. It was difficult to drag Evan away from the remarkable oil paintings at the Day’s Inn in Vega, but we all wanted breakfast, and what they were serving at the point of origin hardly qualified. So off we set for Amarillo and… civilization! (cough)
Celeste had mapped out a bit of loop that had us heading south, then east, then north, then east again along the access road for I-40. Though there was good light, I played it safe with a headlamp and activated my taillight. At the nine-mile mark, these were no longer necessary, and I summoned Evan up beside me to take the headlamp and its weighty battery pack in a handoff on-the-fly (thus satisfying one of his stated goals for the trip). Knowing that I would be stopping only under extraordinary circumstances, Kyle remained stationed at The Pony’s steering wheel as he waited at the appointed rest stops. At each, my “thumbs up” was answered with a jaunty salute from the Irish Cap’n, and we rolled on unimpeded by tumbleweeds, armadillos, or real prairie dogs. I suppose they either stayed out too late on Saturday night or were busy readying themselves for church on this pretty Sunday morning. I did catch a glimpse of the iconic installation of half-buried Cadillacs a few miles from the Amarillo city limits, but it seemed rather unremarkable at 24 mph.
Arriving at the Amarillo Marriott Courtyard, I finally had an opportunity to meet the mythical Celeste. She had kept herself a day ahead of us, scouting out the route and making last-minute revisions for the namby-pampy rider who was afraid to ride on I-40 per se. Evan, Kyle and I had breakfast at the hotel that included some hearty omelets. Then I retired to shower and wash my Breakthrough Ride jersey in anticipation of a small petition-signing event organized by Tracy Sommers of the Amarillo chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, who singlehandedly serves as president, v.p., secretary/treasurer...but she did a bang-up job of setting up awnings, brochures, refreshments, local TV coverage, and-- of course-- the petition. It was difficult to attract interest from passersby at 2:00 in the afternoon, but we did get a few curious parties, all of whom signed and wished us luck in our endeavor.
It’s been an absolutely wonderful experience participating in this momentous event! I bequeath the brain “baton” to Bill Van Nostrand in absentia-- he will not arrive until after I’ve left tomorrow. But I’m sure he will carry on valiantly. As will Celeste, Melanie, and Evan, doubtlessly. (Kyle is leaving the tour, at least for the time being.) They have been the funnest, most capable crew anyone could ask for. Thanks again to everyone involved, and… SEE YA IN D.C.!!!
-Steven Barger, Ph.D., is a Professor in the Departments of Geriatrics, Neurobiology & Developmental Sciences, and Internal Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock. He is also a Research Health Scientist in the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System.