Road Trip USA 2011

  21st and  final day August 2011 We chose to play the only CD we have,  Steppenwolf late 60s music. There are only 3 tracks we like, I say we but it’s really only me.Sue tolerates it well and I don’t overplay them, just once a day, the art of compromise eh?

 So we go with “Born to be wild”, “The Pusher” and the other one to which which I’m a recent convert and don’t know what it’s called. I wish we had a radio.

 

 So far, and I touched wood here, the jeep had been wonderful , the only problem, I find is with a locking nearside rear wheel, when grip is low. I first noticed it last Christmas and it hasn’t healed up by itself as I had hoped. It was a worry in the rain storms, but I managed to avoid emergency stops, like you do, in fact, if I use the brakes at all, for any reason, I consider it a failure of planning. I’ll have a look at it in Charlotte I think, as we are off to Cincinnati in a couple of days, another 400 miles!

 The 3 rd Steppen track is ” Dyin Slow” a good line is , “he said he wanted heaven but prayin was too slow, so he bought a 1 way ticket from an airline made of snow”.

 

 We cleared the Smoke mountains a part of the Apalatian Chain that separates Tennessee from North Carolina expeditely  and its another wonderful Interstate through the mountains. When you think that this country, little over 100 years ago had very few metaled roads, except in the towns, they have done jolly well, traveling by road in this country is very close to a pleasure. 

 

The interstate system was promoted by President Eisenhower. His experiences in WW2 made him realize the the difficulties , sometimes impossibilities of logistics , to defend a country like this moving stuff about would be the priority and it works for everyone not only the military. 

 

Once back in Charlotte we took the jeep in for a professional clean, they did a great job, as we left there was a horrible noise from up front, what the? There was a loose piece of plastic under the engine compartment, they may have loosened it with the sprayer or something . All those miles and these bastards! It’l  fix easy enough I suppose.

                  We were Done!

 
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Road Trip USA 2011

  20th August  When we kicked off from the Paulo Duro area the weather was lovely mid 80s with cloud cover or shade as I regard it now.  We were soon out of Texas and in to Oklahoma, everywhere is still flat the roads are still almost perfectly smooth, a nice ride. As the 2 states close together there are some lumps in the topography, it’s title is the something or other basin, I’ll check it out later. The land stays flat as we continue, but it does get greener the further east we go, the trees get more plentiful and taller, there does seem to be many trees under stress though, if I was the guy in charge of trees I would be concerned.

 

 The cloud cover eventually disappeared and we were back to blistering sun ooh the pain, thank whomever for air conditioning. We made good progress and as a result thought we would easily hit out initial target of Fort Smith just over the border in Arkansas . So we moved the target to Little Rock, 180 miles further on. I have a saying that is rarely wrong “ don’t make a plan it will only make God Laugh”. Like fools we didn’t realize God had a counter measure in hand! 

 

The rivers and creeks we crossed havd got water in them, unlike the ones in, Kansas and Oklahoma, still with their ironic names like, otter creek, wolf creek, beaver creek all have no sign of the aforementioned animals and certainly contain less moisture than a prop forwards jock strap. Northern Canadian river is a classic, yep no river, nowhere near Canada and we couldn’t see a bloke in a daft hat, red coat sat aboard a horse singing O Rosemarie! who’d of thought it? The one they named correctly was Sand Creek, a perfect name for that one, I know you were expecting a rushing mountain stream tumbling down a mountain side, nope it was sand in a depression.

 

 As we approached Fort Smith the sky darkened, and we got the works, lightening, in sheets , bolts and forks, rain like you see on movies, really hard to see to drive. We thought we would be clever and pull over for a burger while it blew itself out, yeah a blow out while it blew out geddit?

 Anyway it didn’t it just kept coming and the wind? I thought it was a hurricane, we could hardly see even with lights on it was a nightmare.  The truckers in their semis kept hammering past, is it dry when you are sat 2 meters higher than the rest of us? I can’t see it myself, some have pulled over to the hard shoulder to wait it out, I guess the ones still doing 70 are on some kind of mind stimulant . Some of the idiot drivers we are forced to share the road with still don’t put their lights on, what is the matter with these dolts? Or is it ok to drive and drool in the USA? There was a fallen tree on the inside lane that caused a bit of panic but it was negotiated without incident. With the visibility and speed down we abandoned the Little Rock target  have an early stop for the night. The Days inn we found had computers that were ailing  because of the storm and we don’t get Internet as a result, so we watched the telly , which is the lowest form of crap in the USA. They ought to take the BBC. They wouldn’t do that though as it would show to the American public what is possible. So the viewing public are rationed with just a bit of BBC as a special treat now and again.

 

 We got a decent start this Sunday morning and flew, metaphorically speaking, through Arkansas and over the ole Mississippi into and through Memphis we had hoped to be back in Charlotte by evening but it was a big ask.

 

Tennessee, what a lovely state. Green with rivers that have water in them. Which reminds me againof the amusing name thing, in Arkansas we crossed a bridge over a couple of lakes there was an off ramp to a town called “Lotawatah”.

 

Apart from Dolly Parton the only other person of note , that I know of anyway, is of course Davy Crockett, who was “born on a mountaintop in Tennessee , the greenest state in the land of (what used to be) the free, he knew where the woods and he knew where the tree, and he killed a bear when he was only three, Davy, Davy Crockett, king of the wild frontier.” There you go I still remember the words from when I was 5, the brackets are mine by the way.

 

Road Trip USA 2011

  18th  and 19th August. Dodge City Kansas.

The journey here through the Texas panhandle was rather tedious , it’s flat well more phlat really, it is a perfect example of Gods Olympic standard, synchronized bulldozing and grading. As we approach Oklahoma there is, evidence of a tectonic twitch damaging Gods fine efforts, I guess that’s why the judges only scored him a 9.7 out of 10, a little harsh I think. Especially as the tectonics came after God by a good few million years. Hang on a minute? Didn’t my Mormon neighbor tell me the world was created just over 4000 years ago? And that it was a fact! It’s in the bible! Well I’ll go to the foot of our stairs! That 9.7 is looking a bit generous now.

 It’s comforting to find that science is codswallop after all. These geology chaps and chapesses could have saved a lot of time if they had just read the bible. Or have I stuck in an unnecessary m in Mormon? 

 

 Oklahoma becomes flat , the part we traversed is a panhandle as well, 50 miles wide and we are in Kansas, it is also flat !

 We lunched in a Macdonalds , goodness it was busy. The three young ladies in front of us ordered a truck load of food between them, it must have cost 30 dollars. These lumpy wobble-bottoms didn’t seem overly concerned about putting on weight though, I think it was because they had a glandular problem that was coincidently, nothing to do with how much they ate!

 

  Dodge is a bit of a disappointment , everything is a replica of stuff, they have tried quite hard to make the city at least a 20th century one, and hang onto the old cowboy stuff as well, not an easy combination but they try. We did the trolly tour, usually a good idea any where you go if there is one and it helps you find your way round. This one though needs upgrading somewhat, I scored it a 6 out of 10. 

 

One restaurant we used does deserve a telling. It was on the main street that runs parallel to the railway lines, and shaded with a veranda. These railway lines by the way are more than they seem. In the old days of Matt Dillon and Wyatt Earp the rule was no guns were allowed to be carried on the north side, you could however please yourself on the south. So most of the rough trades, prostitution , gambling and shootings took place “ on the wrong side of the tracks”. A gun carried on the north side would have seen you cracked over the head with Wyatts “Buntline  Special”. Whacking people over the head is what this extra long barreled pistol ( developed by a writer called Ned Buntline for greater accuracy than a regular pistol) was mainly used for. The other Earp brothers were given them as well but they sawed the barrel back short again. Wyatt was the only one to keep the original design. Illustrated well on the statue of him on main street one cant help but say “ooh thats a long one matron”.

 We sat down in this empty italian eatery ( never a good sign) the waiter ( Spanish but not from Barcelona ) seated us and said “ you have hit the right spot today folks” I loved his upbeat attitude, you cant ever beat it. Sue chose something simple as is her way, while I took a chance on some mussel based pasta affair. Dodge city is about as far away from the sea as you can get and to top that, the last time I ate mussels was in South Africa when I was laid up for  more than 3 days with some horrific illness, venting from all orifices.

 To cover this possibility I quizzed the waiter “ are any of your mussels dead”? “yes” he replied, “wrong answer” says I. then I told him my tail. “ ill just check with the chef”! he came back with the right answer “they are all alive at the moment but will be dead when we serve them”. I was right to put the staff on “friendly” notice I think and the meal was delicious. Hit the right spot? he could have been Wyatt Earp himself.

 

 We did another stupid tour, well we had time to spare. It was of the old train depot. We had the guide to ourselves, this tour by contrast was quite interesting. It also houses a dinner theatre! What a facility, a place where you can go and watch a show , performance, or a play and eat your dinner at the same time, how good is that?  This thing needs using more I think, it is a real nice asset. They say it’s used 4 or 5 times a year. What a waste. Period elegance like this needs, more use, maybe as a B&B even a boutique hotel, it has many rooms that aren’t  finished it’s a damned shame. The lost opportunity is more akin to Africa than the USA, I don’t understand it.

 

A walk through the business district revealed little, except one of those matrix signs displaying the current temperature 106F blimey!

 Next we were off to the museum part of the original conserved “Dodge” with dinner,a gunfight and a show. Let’s see if Dodge improves after that? we toured the exhibits and “Boot Hill” many western towns have one. This one though is well preserved and presented, you get the impression that there is pride accompanied by  gentle black humor.

 It was a good meal , brisket , yes brisket! it was cooked very well, corn, very sweet, taters and biscuit, why they call a cob, a biscuit I don’t know?  Followed by an appropriate  “pudin”, luvly!. The gunfight was an eight man shoot out, after a tension building preamble, acting outside isn’t easy and they all did well. The gunfire was real, you could see the flames from the muzzle. They must have been good shots though as no one took a bullet, they only pretended to be shot. I asked them why no one fell into the strategically placed horse trough? The Sherif said they had done the show a hundred timed already this year and the soaking does wear thin and they had run out of volunteers.

 

 People reading this who are of a certain age will be familiar with the  “Long Branch” saloon a favorite place of refreshment in “Gun Law” staring James Arness as Matt Dillon ( he died quite recently) and Dennis Weaver ( before he became more famous as McLoud in the 1970s) as his “aid de camp” Chester ( ahm a cummin Mr Dillon) in the mid1950s TV series.

 

A lot of effort was put into the show in the “long branch”, that’s not easy either, when the actors are all dressed up in period costume, performing in front of folks wearing shorts and sandals . But they did get the audience involved , even Sue smiled when the bar owner, Chalkly Beeson, did his party piece in front of her and she absolutely hates that kind of stuff. Yes it was definitely worth doing, an experience in which I didn’t feel shafted, it made me smile. I do recommend it, just don’t oversell it to your self before going in. Do not even attempt it if your company is of a “tense or scowling nature”.

The individual performances by the actors, mainly high school kids I was told ( they looked as old and  out of kilter as the Fonze to me mind) was very good and the least blessed ( with beauty) were the best. One chunky lass didn’t even use a microphone, she scored  big performance marks from me even though I heckled her ( not mean, just a “bit off script”) which she handled very well.

 

I will say the whole Dodge city experience is under invested and undervalued by the powers that be. Our B&B host agreed wholeheartedly. You are left with the impression that the old Dodge city is more of a nuisance to the councillors than an asset. It must be that they skim more than enough from the businesses that slaughter and process over 6000 head of cattle per day. To even be bothered in any more than a modest way with their inheritance.

Its hard to believe! Underinvested and underused, in America? it doesn’t make sense.

 

1300 miles to Charlotte next.

 

Road Trip USA 2011

 17 TH August and we were still looking for enchantment, I suppose at a stretch, yesterday’s lunch at Wendy’s in San Bernalillo was pretty enchanting, I liked mine anyway. I chose the “wild berry chicken salad”.  “Large a small” says the operative, small I reply , I get  enough to fill a goat, what do you do with a large one I wonder?

 Every time I see the San Bernalillo name I keep wanting to throw in a letter d, Bernadillo, but it isn’t a dillo its a lillo, we passed over the Rio Grande, is this the Rio Grande from westerns?  I ask myself, well how disappointing , it makes the river Derwent in Derby look ” the river pretty  jolly impressive” if you ask me.

 

 San Bernalillo gets it’s name from an ancient, very well respected, local priest, who one day decided to float down the rio an an inflatable mattress. He was disappointed , he thought it would be an exiting experience instead it was more like playing the stick part, in a game of Phoo sticks. In his frustration, he consequently pulled out of the river at this very spot and set the mattress afire. The locals saw this and started shouting “the saint burn a Lillo!” . The name stuck.

 

 The breakfast at last nights  decent motel was a 7/10 by the way. Amarillo Tx was the next target!

We were just starting to feel the enchantment of the New Mexico nick name, as we cross over the border into the Lone Star State, bugger ! too late to be enchanted now.

 

 We were so far ahead of schedule, we did some more of the historic rote 66, even Gladys caught on, stopped trying to put us on the i40, and just  enjoyed the ride. We called in at a state park called. Palo Duro Canyon. 10 bucks before you ask. Typical Americans, well Texans actually, they built a road into the canyon so it can be accessed , like they do. It’s not easy but they do it, and I’m glad. I wanted to do a bit of hiking while we were there, the park ranger advised against it, ” it’s rather hot today, I would not advise it”. Did I mention before that it was hot? Well I was lying, now it is HOT! Blistering HOT! I was still going to hike though, it was a challenge you see. Once I sobered up, much to Sue’s relief we skipped the idea. And drove through the park. It was all geology again I’m afraid, and we’ve done that.

 

 For those who like a bit of native Indian history and legend, thats me of course. The Palo Duro was used as the last redoubt of a Comanche Chef called Quanna Parker, the vicious soldiers who were sent to slaughter his tribe couldn’t shift him. I remember the name Quanna Parker from a John Wayne movie some where, he was the progeny of a  coupling, Between Peta Nocona a comanche chef and an American European called Cynthia Ann Parker who had been assimilated into comanche life from an early age  I just liked the name. Another Indian name that caught my ear was “Sicatrice” or Scar in English again from a John Wayner “The Searchers” I think, good ol John Wayne I say.

  There were some beautiful clothes and shirts in the gift shop absolutely gorgeous, did I just use the word gorgeous and clothes in the same sentence?  I think I need help, they do say once you recognize the need, you are on the road to recovery.

 Sushi this evening I think. After a good few lengths in the pool.

 We”re off to get hammered in the “long branch saloon” in Dodge tomorrow.

 

Road Trip USA 2011

   16th August,

We left Durango to go south into New Mexico “the land of enchantment” well, we’ll soon find out. I had an enchanting dream last night when I eventually got off to sleep. I’ll try not to bore you, people’s dreams are the most tedious thing to listen to, but you will have had this one yourself if you have driven over here. You are doing 5 mph over the limit , this seems to be de rigur here anyway, even when it’s  75 mph, so we are bobbing along at 80, your rear view mirror is filled with a logo, it reads, Peterbuilt , Freightliner, or Kenworth, it’s a mirror image you can’t really read it but you know what it says, it is mounted atop a massive chromium plated radiator grill, about 1 sq meter in area, this in turn is sat on a bright shiny equally chromium plated 18 inch deep 8 foot wide bumper.

It’s telling you to get a move on, or I may have to eat you! as a friend of ours Robin Mayne would have put it ” piss or get off the pot” go! Get out of my way!  I woke sweating .Not enchanted then , more nightmared.

 

 Have you noticed the design of all these monster American trucks? They look so much like a malevolent Buffalo it can’t be a coincidence, the big bumper, very grinning mouthlike, the radiator grill, like  a nose, the smoke stacks  couldn’t be more like horns if they wanted to be , stuck right in the air as if on a charge, the windscreen is split down the centre to give the impression of a scowl, ” my god I’m in a bad mood” these eyes are saying “so watch out”. All 3 manufacturers have the same basic look that can’t be anything but desired and deliberate.

 

 We moved out of the green and usable Colorado into New Mexico, the change is gradual the green thins , except where irrigation is used, it gets sparser and more brown until we end up with the same topography I’ve reported before. Parched earth, tumbling mesas that begin to look like abandoned quarries, there is more growth though, the shrubs are a bit taller, there is the odd tree, but the earth itself appears as hospitable as a spitting  cat. We cross dry gulches, The sat nav has them colored an attractive blue, but there is more moisture in sumo wrestlers loin cloth.

 

 Once passed Albuquerque heading east on I40 things start to get greener the further we go looks more like you could graze cattle, it is August so one can’t expect lush grass but there are signs of that possibility, there is even verdancy when you look from a low angle. There are nimbus, and rain visible in the distance all around us now , we seem to be missing it though ,lightening as well just to add a bit of drama, as we leave the i40 to find the famous but defunct route 66.

 

    It is mostly gone now the 2 lane highway of 50 years ago, made famous by the song. The businesses that you find now are dilapidated ruins, some still function as a service to the odd nutters like us who come for a sniff of nostalgia. The motels and restaurants mostly have  “for sale” signs that look as if they too, are passed there hay day. Some stretch’s of Tarmac do still exist , we must have traveled along 20 or 30 miles of them with the i40 just 10 yards away. Grass and weeds poke through the black top now though. It is still repaired but not well , more bodged up, I suppose it is understandable it’s so little used. We swaped sides every now and again, some times we were on the north side sometimes on the south but always parallel . It must have been a heck of a journey back then. When on the interstate the miles are gobbled up so fast we are actually ahead of schedule.

 We  pulled over at a decent motel with an outdoor pool , we used it before dinner, and we don’t feel stiffed 91 dollars all in, with they say, a hot breakfast to boot!

 

Road Trip USA 2011

 15th August. Mexican hat to Durango Co . Through more empty desert like country, just nothing for miles and miles, sand with that usual stuff trying it’s best to survive. We pass the odd homestead no neighbors even close, miles from any where, what in heavens name do these people do to survive? Eat sand? For some reason and there must be one , pylons yomp across all this nothing, going somewhere carrying white mans magic!

 

 We eventually arrived at a place called Mexican Water. There is no water and I didn’t see any Mexicans either. Aha! I get it now , it’s irony, you find what there isn’t and call it that! They do like funny names these Americans, Crazy Woman Creek or Kickapoo, for example, what about Punshzumfeka or Thwakatableeda? Actually I made the last 2 up, but I bet they exist somewhere.

 You cannot believe that this terrain is on the same planet as Iowa or South Dakota, never mind the same land mass.

 

 We stopped at a place called “the 4 corners” it’s a national monument a point in the USA where 4 states touch borders. A bit of a big deal is made of this and with good reason, it’s unique. It is also in Navajo reservation land, as a result the Indians administer it. 3 bucks each, the sign says, no discounts, no park passes, no concessions, children under 6 free, no dogs! I was under the impression that Indians liked a bit of dog. I suspect the information came from a fellow racing driver, a complete lunatic whom I must say, I liked allot. He did however make me cringe one day. In a balkan restaurant. This was a few years before the Yugoslavs all fell out and butchered each other. There were about a dozen of us at the table, mostly blokes, riders , mechanics, and some of the film crew, with whom we were working on “American Built”. Mike Baldwin was with his English wife, they had been food shopping earlier in the town and Mikes wife swore she had seen a carcass of a dog hanging in a butchers window! We were all struggling with the menu so when the waiter came for our order, Mike, in that somewhat embarrassing American way, shouted “bring anything you think we would like but NOT dog, we don’t want any Red Indian food, NO dog! Got it”?  I should have realized no one from california would know remotely anything about Navajo culinary art.

 

When you get into the “4 Corners” there isn’t much there, a paved square divided  with a big x, corner to corner using contrasting tiles, each triangle formed is that particular state. Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah, so. Technically you could be in 4 different states inside a couple of seconds. 

Bordering the paved square are a bunch of little stalls about 10 feet wide, numbering 15 units along each side. With a Navajo in each, flogging T shirts, jewelry, art or food, the general tat that we the hoi ploi like so much. We tried a bit of the food, it was real nice, even the beans and they are never palatable. Encouraged , we ordered some genuine Navajo fry bread, we had it with apricot jam real good it was. I would describe it as a stiffish thick pancake, I’ll have it again given 1/2 a chance.  The American Indian I notice, does tend to carry excess fat, like so many Americans I suppose but it seems almost universal in these people, even the youthful carry the heavy cheeks normally only seen on cartoon pigs! I can’t help wondering why? It is utterly impossible to imagine these folk even riding horses, never mind galloping after a stage coach or round a larger’d wagon train in a whooping frenzy. I realize I’m being stereotypical here, but this image and the western stories didn’t come from thin air. In the Fry bread stall was a switched on , obliging kid  helping her mum in the school holidays, looking like any normally proportioned 8 year old, We couldn’t help thinking will she still be the owner of approved BMI stats in another 10 or 20 years or a heart braking lard arse?

 Sue quite liked the  4 corners . She described it as calming. Is she turnin injun on me?

 

 Back on the road we passed through a town called Cortez, it had the appearance of your regular American town with a Rite Aid and other ubiquitous stores, we were back in the land of the living. The land beginning to look habitable at last, green bits and hills instead of mesas, trees instead of buttes, we were liking Colorado already.

 

 A raise in altitude to 6000 feet over 30  miles or so and we were in Durango, originally a silver mining town, now a vacation destination, and a skiing one in the winter. After getting fixed up in the Econo lodge, we went driving again! For a change! We did a 50 mile trip, deeper into the mountains to a town called Silverton, I’m so glad we did, it was a picture from the approach road 1000 feet above,  another alpine road route that ran over 9000 feet of altitude. When we got into the town it was still a picture, if different to what we thought, we both loved it. It was almost a proper  19th century western town, not quite Clint Eastwood but certainly cowboyville, there was even board walks under  verandas, a saloon called ‘The Shady Lady” and lots of shops selling cowboy stuff, the oddest thing we saw was a bloke, wearing a cowboy hat, boots, shirt, holster and a 6 gun, dusting the counters in his shop, he was even wearing a Sheriffs badge.

I suppose he could simply have been an inbred , the village idiot, anyone can have a gun here, mostly stupid people have them, some are called cops. Sue thinks there are lots of inbreds in these small town America places, I tend to agree and it does make me laugh.

 One could have taken a narrow gauge steam railway from Durango to Silverton, there are 4 classes of ticket, standard (the lowest) is over 80 bucks! For 1st class I imagine they handcuff you to the railway lines pull your pants down and really give you what for. So thats why we went by car!

 I was hoping to do a zip line tour in Durango and the gunfight that was advertised on the internet. The gunfight has disappeared from the expected advertising and Sue isn’t keen on the zip line. Consequently we decided to bugger off south in the morning to New Mexico.

 

Road Trip USA 2011

 14th  August. As we were ahead of schedule and had done the monument stuff, which we were supposed to do to day, we find ourselves with a spare.

 So we went for a drive through an area called “Valley of the Gods” it was a dirt road and rather washboard in texture, we had to crawl along, it’s not our car you see, at about 5 or 7 mph, even on good bits 10 was tops. We were passed by every vehicle that came upon us, I guess they were in rentals.

 

 The area is , I’m sorry to use the word again AMAZING, the shapes of the geology, some are like trophies mounted on plinths, some are just plinths, the trophies long since stollen. The different shapes change from alternate angles and there are so many of them, definitely worth two or three hours out of your life if you are ever in the area. It would be called “Monument Valley” if we didn’t already have one.

 

I really can’t set to to describe it, you would get fed up with the superlatives and its constantly changing with every kilometer. 

 

 The last mile  was washboard rotten,( this is what happens to all dirt roads after it rains, they then have to be regularly regraded with heavy machinery) and what do we see coming at us as quick as he could go? A motor home, a renter from Cruise America, this bloke was going for it, on a road definitely not suitable, (if he’d bothered to read the warning signs). Every part of this thing was vibrating and shaking, as he came towards us we could see his wing mirrors flapping like a humming birds wings, they are huge affairs and stick right out into the wind. They won’t be on by the time he’s done and Sue says wait till he’s sees in the back, milk will be butter and the inside looking like, the IRA have just paid a visit.

 

  After leaving the valley we ascended another alpine road, this one was a bit more scary, you are right on the edge, the drop is steep, and it just feels wrong. It is called Mukacuji road, it goes right to the top of a flat toped mountain, but you have to ask why? It doesn’t need to have been built, it does eventually lead to a national park, but why would you need a “short cut” to it from Mexican Hat? where the residential population must be about 20! None of it made any sense, unless it was built by apprentice civil engineers as a test or to pass an exam or something.

 

 By the time we had finished mucking about and paid a visit to the state park called “Natural bridges national monument”. Here they wanted 6 bucks, I thought I’m just not that bothered , we turned round and went to the same restaurant as last evening, the cowboy one, and got 2 more bandannas. Blast! Now I’ll have to start my own biker gang, to use them up.