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Old 11-25-2011, 09:19 PM   #1
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Old Friends: A Buddy Ride Through Arizona and Utah

“The highway was their home, and movement was their means of expression.”

John Steinbeck

Yes, that Harley there is a little'll have to read to find out why (it was my first off-road ride!).

This trip was taken in April 2006, and the story was written in mid-late 2007, so the references are related to that time in my life. I wasn’t married, I wasn’t seriously involved with anyone, I didn’t have any kids, and I didn’t have a pet. I was doing pretty much whatever I wanted. I had been riding for a little over three years and had a few good adventures under my belt (including an epic solo ride around Scotland in October 2005, only 15 months after first riding a motorcycle). This trip, however, was the one that always stuck in the back of my head, and is the only one so far in my life where I have had a wingman.


I think I was flying to San Diego, or maybe San Francisco. It was years ago, probably 1999 or 2000, on one of the occasional business trips I got to take. In those days, I loved to get a window seat. The earth is a pretty amazing thing to look at from any altitude. Hell, clouds are pretty cool too. I’ve enjoyed seeing the wide expanses of Midwestern farms with their perfectly circular irrigation patterns (eerie and alien-built) and Mt. St. Helens covered in snow, its blown-out side perfectly recognizable to anyone who had a TV in the 80s. I’ve been agape at how easy it is to see Ground Zero when flying over Manhattan.

These shots were taken in November 2011 from World Trade Center 1. I wish I had taken them - I had to work that day when my wife got an invite to go all the way up. Yow!

Swooping over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry when landing at BWI is also pretty cool, too. Not much beats coming up the east coast into Portland, Maine, either, with its rocky, foamy, blue and grey edge.

In any case, there I was, way back then, flying westward, sitting in a window seat, and marveling at some expanse of desert country below (probably Nevada). There were broad mesas, towering needles of stone, tiny little towns, isolated homes and farms (farming what?!), and long, impossibly straight roads that would take sudden angles and continue on into the overwhelming brown-ness. There were so many shades of brown – tan, mauve, taupe, shite, khaki, etc. – that it started looking a bit impressionistic.

Even though I didn’t ride motorcycles back then, and didn’t even know that I ever would, I still thought that it would be just AMAZING to ride a motorcycle down there on those roads in the brownness. I could imagine blasting down the straights, pushing the already-elevated speed limits, a big grin on my face…

So why this trip? Somewhere a few months ago I heard someone say, “You have to see the Grand Canyon – it’s one sight that doesn’t disappoint.” I also always liked the movie “Grand Canyon” with a huge cast including Kevin Kline, Danny Glover, and Steve Martin. After the lead characters are thrown together in a dangerous coincidence, they navigate the challenges of life with each other’s input. The movie culminates with (SPOILER ALERT!) some of them taking their families to the Grand Canyon together. The canyon serves as a symbol of (at least to me) the yawning insignificance of individuals on this earth in comparison to the gargantuan spectacle of nature and time, and a reminder to enjoy family, friends, and life while you can.

Plus, my last big ride was in cold and rainy Scotland in October. I was ready for the desert.

This is me in rainy Scotland in October 2005, at the entrance to the park for Inchree Falls.

It got me thinking: I knew there was an Eagle Rider Harley rental place in Phoenix. This was my pre-sport/touring-awareness days…my Buell Ulysses purchase was still about three months away.
Nothing looks like a Buell.

Even though renting a Hog through Eagle Rider is about the easiest bike rental in America, it still seemed like a classic bike for the trip. Even better, it seemed like a polar (almost literally!) opposite from the Scotland ride: dry, sun, heat, desert, American bike. Almost like a “yang” (hot) trip to be Scotland’s “yin” (cold) – I could even myself out.

So, I went around with this big trip idea in my head, telling friends, coworkers, and acquaintances at parties that I was thinking about doing it. For months. Heck, I probably told my mom over Christmas, because I recall some consternation on her part. I can see her grimace right now.

Time went on. I began to think that this could be 2006’s “Big Trip” (keeping a vow I’d made in 2004 to take a “big trip” every year). Once committed to the trip, I started asking people about Arizona. Inevitably, the answers came in the form of Sedona-gushing. Okay, I’d heard it’s cool, so I’d definitely go there. They have nice spas there, right? Maybe I’ll get a real massage – never had one of those. Then, somehow – maybe it was Mom and Dad – Zion National Park got thrown into the mix.

Eventually, I mentioned the idea to a former coworker and friend Craig, who was living in San Diego. Years before, when we worked together in the DC area, he got a Harley-Davidson Softail – he used to ride it to work most days, and would sometimes bring it to my house to wash it (he lived in an apartment building in DC and had no access to a garden hose). It was those instances that clinched my desire to learn how to ride motorcycles. Now it’s like a secret skill I possess that only a small handful of people in this country have. The people sitting around me on that plane to Arizona had no idea what I was about to undertake once we landed – a cool secret.

Craig expressed some interest and told me to keep him up to date as my planning when along.

In February 2006, a few months before this trip came to life, I was up in Boston visiting my friend Eric and his wife Debbie. Debbie is a medical resident and was working the graveyard shift that weekend. She left Eric and me to our own devices: drinking martinis and wine, eating grilled meat, watching loud DVDs, and shooting that which is known as “The Shit”. We got pretty reckless on the first of those evenings, sitting there with two wireless laptops: I booked reservations for this trip, and Eric put in a wildly aggressive offer on a new Acura TL. This night is further evidence that alcohol and wireless Internet is a dangerous combination.

I actually took this trip. Eric balked on the TL. Hmm.

Near the start of that wild evening, Eric and I perused his selection of basement books: some old college texts (math and economics – say no more), some Clancy novels, some MBA items, and some other sensitive books that turned out to be contributions from his wife. I snagged a small pile, mostly travel-related things such as a couple installments of “The Best American Travel Writing”, “Tuesdays with Morrie” (O Lord – definitely not travel-related), Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”, and finally, the Frommer’s Arizona 2005 guide.

“My friend Craig and I are trying to do a Grand Canyon trip this year,” I said. “Can I borrow this?”

“No problem,” Eric replied, “We were just there, so I don’t think we’ll need the book back anytime soon. We took a ‘Pink Jeep’ tour over the red rocks. That was actually cooler than it sounds.” As useful as that book was, that wasn’t what I was going to the southwest for. I still have that book – I still needed the map that was enclosed in it so I could write this compelling story that you’re now devouring.

Eric told me the road leading north from Sedona would be a biker’s dream: curvy all the way with great mountain views. That clinched it.

That travel book looked like it hadn’t been cracked.

Eric and I chilled in the living room with a fire going. I started reading and figuring out what I wanted to see on the ride. How long is too long? Is it wise to eat up so much precious vacation time? Will my boss get annoyed? Am I crunching too many miles in too short a time span? I ceremoniously withdrew a credit card from my back pocket, held it aloft while singing falsetto faux angelic music, and announced to Eric (the only other person in the room):

I’m booking it.

He applauded. I did the same when I clicked “Send” on his offer for a new car.

The Internet(s) makes things so damn easy – who knows how we booked trips in the 80’s and 90’s?! Lots of long distance phone calls, European phone rates, and – I guess – a hearty reliance on travel agents. I mean, after my on-and-off day or two of research, I nailed down my flight, bike, rooms, and itinerary all in a ten minute virtual swipe of my credit card. It felt really good to have it locked in – the excitement of something big to look forward to, sort of like when you order something and can’t wait for the UPS truck to arrive. What’s that rumble?

I sent Craig my planning notes and itinerary and he actually confirmed that he wanted to join me on the ride. I was impressed, but this trip was still two months off – plenty of time for anyone to bag on it. It would be a serious ride for him – a day of high-speed, long miles to get to Phoenix from San Diego, and an even longer one from Zion National Park in Utah back to San Diego. Once booked, he whole-heartedly endorsed it: “Ain’t gonna’ sleep in a queen bed with another guy.” (or something to that effect). Trusting, I made the calls and emails to get TWO beds in all the rooms that I’d already booked along the itinerary.

It wasn’t until a few weeks later when he had bought an aftermarket windshield. I was going to give Craig a disposable 35mm camera to take action shots of me with. I’d always wondered what I look like riding a motorcycle.

Finally! I was in Arizona! Palm trees! Cacti! Movie stars!

Anyway, back to that first flight over the desert. I never forgot that thought, looking down on the desert and saying to myself, “It would awesome to ride a motorcycle down there.

I kept it in the back of my head. Motorcycle riders can’t help but file certain special places away in their “Must Ride” memory bank. You’ll be vacationing with your parents in Maine and they’ll take some great back roads home, eastward into the woods from the coast – rolling hills, sweeping curves, charming towns, lake and mountain views. “This would be a great road to ride.” You file it away.
A H-D Electra-Glide Ultra Classic near Tamworth, NH, overlooked by Chocorua Mountain, October 2006.

Or you visit friends on the eastern shore of Maryland and notice all these great little side roads with historic markers or “Scenic Byway” signs. You file those away, too. You
H-D near the mouth of the Potomac, June 2007.

You think of your friend who lives in Boulder and you KNOW that would be a great place to ride. You file it away.
BMW K1200GT near Rock Cut on Rt. 34, Colorado, August 2007.

The next update is coming, and believe me - there shall be photos! Thank you for following along! I think you'll enjoy this trip.
'14 Ducati Multistrada S Touring; '06 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)

BadWHooper screwed with this post 12-17-2011 at 09:32 PM
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Old 12-17-2011, 10:47 PM   #2
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How This All Started - Friends Meet

Craig and I met back in 1998 when he started working at my then-employer. I was a “Director”, managing teams of researchers that were gathering detailed information about commercial real estate around the country.
Man, was I corporate. But hey, it paid the bills.

This is where the magic happened.

My focus at the time was the west coast – Denver and westward. Craig was on the Chicago team, so I never dealt with him, managed him, or socialized with him at that point. It wasn’t until a couple years later when we promoted him to a Research Manager position that I finally got to know him.

Craig was promoted and managed my Denver and Seattle teams. I didn’t know what to expect from him except what my colleagues for whom he had worked told me: hard working, well-liked, easy-going, and more mature than most (that means older than most everyone in the department, including me). It turned out that he and I formed a great working relationship, as well as a good general friendship. Technically, it probably bordered on unprofessional near the end, as the two of us would finish our long work days downstairs at the bar at the McCormick and Schmick’s. We both appreciated good martinis, single malts, and things mixed with Diet (me) or regular (him) Coke.

Oban was Craig’s brand of choice. He pronounced it “o-BAHN”. At that point, I’d never heard of it, so that’s how I ordered it in America and that’s how I ordered it on my first night in a bar in Scotland, many years later. The waitress there in that little Highland town of Inveraray corrected me politely: “O-bin?” I silently cursed Craig’s name as she walked away to get my first Scottish Scotch.

The next day, I stopped in that very town of Oban. I didn’t have time to go to the distillery, but I had my first ever fish and chips in Great Britain there, sitting next to my rented BMW motorcycle, which seemed appropriate, because Craig was the one who finally put me over the edge to start riding.

I had a seed of motorcycling somewhere inside me back then, so when I saw Craig arrive at work with a leather jacket, gauntlets, and a half-helmet which he’d tauntingly place on the back table in his office, I started to get the itch. Growing up, I had a couple posters of famous motorcycle racers on my wall, like Fast Freddie Spencer (though I had no idea who he was – I just liked the picture of him leaned all the way over on some sleek, colorful sportbike, his knee two millimeters from the pavement). In those days, before I could even drive a car, I didn’t have any dreams of or an expectation that I would someday be a motorcyclist. Hell, I had more posters of major rock bands like Rush, The Who, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, Stryper (it was autographed), and countless others – I would have been a professional musician before a motorcycle enthusiast.

I do have a clear recollection of falling in love with Ducatis. Back in the 80’s when Ducatis were generally just race bikes and therefore not legal on the streets in the US, you’d occasionally see replicas of them here and there, sometimes with the misleading “Cagiva” pasted on. I saw two of them parked together in North Conway, New Hampshire one summer while shopping with my parents. I definitely remember being beside myself from the excitement that they exuded just sitting there on the street, all red with little bits of green and white here and there to evoke the Italian flag. That was probably 1985 or so. 20 or 21 years later and I was rolling through the same town by myself on a big black Harley-Davidson Road King. Tax-free shopping, of course. The Banana Republic outlet always has nice shirts and boxers on sale.

That seed of motorcycling started to pick up in the mid-90s. The older sister of one of my best friends was finishing up grad school in East Lansing, Michigan. She was this five-foot cutie who always had a bit of a need for speed (a notoriously bad driver in high school), and then put the icing on the cake by buying a motorcycle. I don’t even know if she took a safety course or how she got the license.

Then, in the late 90s, one of my best friends from college had joined the Marine Corps and become a 2nd Lieutenant after surviving (graduating) Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Quantico, Virginia. He was stationed at a backwater base called Bogue Airfield in Cherry Point, North Carolina, right along the coast, near the South Carolina border. He had grown up learning how to operate all kinds of motorized vehicles, including backhoes, 10-wheel trucks, and motorcycles. And he suddenly bought a bike. Yeah, it was a little Honda Rebel with no engine to speak of with a dented gas tank (never a good sign), but it was a real motorcycle! He rode it, white-knuckled and in the cold, from New Jersey to North Carolina. When we visited him for the Fourth of July holiday in 1997, I got a chance to sit on that bike and have my picture taken on it. It felt right. Sitting in the deep saddle, hands on the grips – I felt SO COOL. There was that seed again. He got rid of the bike not long after – he felt it was an incredibly unsafe way to get around.

The seedling grew a few years later when, back at that company in 1998 or so (before Craig joined up, I think), one of the managers under me got into riding motorcycles. Russ, a strange, Oompa Loompa-like guy (big torso, huge head, stocky-stubby legs and a high-pitched voice) informed me that he was taking the county-sponsored motorcycle safety course. I was impressed, but when he told me that he had passed and had bought some sort of used cruiser, I started to question my own manhood. This dork had gotten his license and was now cruising the streets on his own bike. Why couldn’t I?!

Then, in 2001, Craig bought a deep-red Harley-Davidson Softail. He lived in efficiency and didn’t have a car. But, he’d ridden motorcycles when he was younger, growing up with a bunch of Harley freaks in rural Lynchburg, Virginia. He always knew he’d get one someday, and I guess when he started earning decent money he pulled the trigger. Craig and I got along well as mellow beings. He always had a couple things ahead of me: he was almost a year older than I, he had served in the Army as a paratrooper, and he had grown up riding motorcycles. He told me that he should have been an inch or so taller if it hadn’t been for his paratrooping and all those hard landings.

At the office , I would occasionally take the elevator down to the parking garage with him to check out his new Softail. It was definitely one of the most inspiring man-made things I’d ever seen. I didn’t know anyone with a bike those days.

But there was the Softail in its own parking space...just fantastic. Tall, narrow front tire, shiny spokes, red fenders and gas tank, the H-D name, and chrome slash-cut pipes. He casually stood back, pointing out the details, etc., but you could tell he loved it – just the way that I now display my bikes for people who ask.

After a couple weeks, Craig asked if he could ride over to my house to wash the bike. He lived in a large apartment building in DC, and while he had an assigned parking space, he didn’t have access to a garden hose.

A man needs to be able to wash his ride when he wants to. When a man buys his own place, one of the prerequisites (among many others) is a hose outlet so said man can wash his car at any time, generally on a Sunday afternoon with a beer in his hand and headphones on. Dudes place great value on washing a car, especially if the car holds importance to said dude.

When you add a motorcycle to the mix, it becomes even more personal. Straddling a motorcycle gets you thinking more so than when riding a mountain bike, a road bike, a moped (do they exist anymore?), a scooter, a power scooter (those things that look like scooters but have bigger engines – I call them “commyooter scooters”), an entry-level bike, and then your usual “grown-up” bike.

Craig came over one weekend afternoon. I heard the bike well before I saw it. Hell, I could even feel it. It was outstanding, that Harley rumble. I had a flash thought of what my neighbors would think, then I came to my senses and realized that they could kiss my butt. I don’t impose on this neighborhood one bit (except for my late-night exclamations at the Playstation or the news, occasional wafting cigar smoke, and V-twin engines starting).

That day, Craig rounded the corner and rolled down my street, thumping V-twin and all, and backed his Softail to the curb behind my car. I gave him a bucket, a rag, and the hose – he brought his own special “Harley-Davidson” soap (H-D has a product for EVERYTHING – they battle KISS for sheer marketing distribution. I mean, both have their own brand of caskets…how far do you have to go from there? H-D or KISS yogurt?). We went into the house for a beer while the bike cooled down.

Later, Craig meticulously washed the bike, from the still-warm pipes to the main body pieces of the fenders and gas tank. All the while, I was complimenting him for pulling the trigger on the purchase, saying how impressed I was with the overall style of the bike (I had never really stopped to admire a Harley before), and muttering about how I should just go get one too. He encouraged me to take a seat on it, which I did.

That was the lightening bolt. I was reminded of sitting on my friend Stephen’s little bike (Honda Rebel) in North Cackalacky, but this was a premium Harley with a huge engine, a broad gas tank, and a palpable legacy. I knew I would get a motorcycle someday.

Craig brought it back a few times to run up my water bill, but I didn’t mind. We’d have a beer or I’d shake a couple martinis. We’d shoot the shit, admire the bike, and keep talking about how I needed to get one too.

I was fired from my job the next year, in January 2002. It was a shock to (almost) everyone in the company and everyone who knew me, except for the two asses who perpetrated it: my boss (the Vice President of Research and Senior Axe Man), and his boss (the President/CEO and founder). Ironically, my boss was also a Harley rider, but he had a Sportster.



I said it. It may have been an 883, but I’m not sure. That fact actually played a small part in my final decision to get into riding, though I didn’t include it in the earlier grouping of “seeds” because it involved someone I found so unpleasant.

Back in the late-90s, my boss at that company started a short-lived but much-storied tradition at his house: the Managers’ Cookout. Think what you will about going to your universally-despised boss’ house for a cookout, it was always a pretty interesting time and he always bough the best of grilling meats, beer, and booze. Dean was a guy who married too early and missed out on his 20s as a single guy. So, he tried to live through us. He’d throw these annual parties at his large and well-appointed Potomac/West Bethesda, Maryland townhouse when his wife and children were off visiting her “royal” family in Peru. We’d drink and eat and shoot the shit and snoop around the house and gawk at some of Dean’s audio/video possessions (but also thanked our lucky stars that we weren’t married to that Peruvian shrew). We were trying to figure out what someone does with Vice President money. That snooping eventually led us through a door into the garage, where some of us (men only, naturally) surrounded his pristine Sportster.

I had a picture of the two of us taken around that time, but I really didn't like the concept of putting an image of us out there. He was a terrible manager, and possibly a bad person. I hear he's turned over a new leaf, which is great, but I haven't gotten my apology yet.

I thought it was just brilliant – one of the most beautiful pieces of machinery I’d ever seen, and I really wanted one, right there, right then. Another push to the tipping point.

Craig, who hadn’t yet been promoted and hadn’t yet gotten his Softail, nonchalantly described the Sportster as “for ladies”. That was late-summer 2000, and – all these years later – I still hold to that and say it often. One of the bikes I now own is a Buell. The engine in that XB12X Ulysses is based on Sportster engine, tweaked at 1203cc, but the bike is overall much lighter and geared toward being a sportbike.

One reason I relish any chance I get to say that “Sportsters are for ladies” is because I have always despised my old boss Dean, before and after he was a motorcycle rider (even though I envied that he had a bike and clearly loved riding). I swear, it’s not a shot at Sportster riders – it’s a shot at Dean. I have a dread feeling that I will someday cross paths with him out on the road someday (but more likely while eating at the bar at Morton’s in Bethesda or at a happy hour with former coworkers). I wonder if those former coworkers have told him that I am now a motorcyclist, and maybe they’ve told him that I toured Scotland solo on a BMW, or that Craig and I reunited in Arizona for a Harley tour of the desert canyons of the southwest (or maybe my name hasn’t come up once since my last day there). Knowing Dean, I imagine he reacts to these stories a bit longingly and jealously on the inside. Sorry dude. You can’t ride with us.

Actually, after Craig got his Softail, he ended up riding with Dean one weekend. Craig said he said he rode like a pussy.

So, there is irony that I now vigorously engage in a hobby that my former boss (and nemesis) engages in, and that, if I still worked there, I may or may not have taken up myself. If I had, I probably would have been “forced” to ride with Dean at one point or another. Had I not been fired, met my ex-girlfriend, and had she not planned to go to business school at Yale, I might not have taken the motorcycle safety course and then gone on to tour South Florida, Scotland, New Hampshire, Maine, Arizona, Utah, and California on the back of bikes (not to mention my home area of the District of Columbia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Virginia). So, thanks, Dean, for doing what you do best – axing your best employees, because now I make more money than ever, work fewer hours than ever, look over my shoulder less than ever, and indulge in new hobbies more than ever.

So, the final “straw” in my motorcycle evolution, whether I knew it or not, was probably Craig’s Softail wash, but I have to give credit to the fact that a putz like Dean (and Russ) could ride – so why couldn’t I?
'14 Ducati Multistrada S Touring; '06 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)

BadWHooper screwed with this post 12-17-2011 at 11:04 PM
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Old 12-23-2011, 10:28 PM   #3
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Building the Friendship

Craig and I did some traveling for work, having a ball visiting our salespeople, meeting clients, seeing some sights, eating out, and boozing.

The Cash Register Building in Denver, November 2000.

In Denver, November 2000, we stayed at a newly-renovated hotel that was ¾ empty, so we had the best rooms in the house. The complimentary Town Car service was so underused that the guy became our personal limo driver – he’d take us to dinner, we’d call him when we got the check, and he’d ferry us to the best martini lounge downtown. When we’d get the check there, we’d call him and he’d pull up and take us back to our suites. Nice.

We decided to stay over on a Saturday so we could take the company car (a tricked-out field research Jeep Cherokee with crazy company logo and GPS antenna) into the snowy Rockies and explore a little. I know the Field Research Manager probably wondered why their Denver vehicle was driving through the Loveland Pass on a Saturday afternoon.

Through the Loveland Pass west of Denver, November 2000.

We had brought one of our research analysts on the trip with us – she slept through most of the trip through the mountains, which I did not understand.
Stopping at a snowy part of the Loveland Pass area - November 2000 - yours truly with our Research Analyst who slept through the entire jaunt. And the company car.

Turns out, on a future solo motorcycle trip I took in the northern Rockies, I passed some of the same spots we stopped at on that work trip – couldn’t help taking a few of the same photos and sending them to Craig.

Craig with the company car in the Rockies west of Denver, November 2000, on some side road we thought would be fun to take.

My rental bike in the very same spot, in Sept. 2007, about 7 years later. I remembered it vividly and hadn't planned on pulling over - the memory was just that vivid.

My rental bike in the very same spot, in Sept. 2007, about 7 years later. I remembered it vividly and hadn't planned on pulling over - the memory was just that vivid.

In Seattle, Dawson and I had some of the most hair-raising client meetings ever, where we tried to explain to paying customers why our data was not as bad as they thought it was, and why they should stick with us during the growing pains. It turned out all right in the end. In the meantime, we had a good time bar-hopping and enjoying an incredible sunny afternoon on Puget Sound.
Seattle, July 2000.

Me in Seattle, July 2000.

Seattle, July 2000.

Eventually, we acquired a west coast office in California. I started transitioning my markets to that office and began taking over the Southern US teams. Craig handed over Denver and Seattle, and took on the challenging Northern Florida region, which included Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Jacksonville. We had a decent time in Orlando and Tampa.
Tampa Bay, July 2001.

Craig & Another Research Analyst in a Bar near Tampa Bay, July 2001.

Anyway, back on the plane to the big ride, with a bag full of motorcycle gear in the hold below me, I landed in Phoenix on that Friday morning.
'14 Ducati Multistrada S Touring; '06 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)

BadWHooper screwed with this post 01-01-2012 at 10:23 PM
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Old 12-23-2011, 10:53 PM   #4
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This looks like it's going to be good.
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Old 12-24-2011, 07:09 PM   #5
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Picking Up the Bike

Day One – Friday, ate w:st="on" ls="trans" Month="4" Day="21" Year="2006">April 21, 2006ate> – Silver Spring, MD to Sedona, AZ, 217 Miles Ridden

“Only he that has traveled the road knows where the holes are deep.”
Chinese proverb.

There’s nothing like landing at your destination airport, whether you’re traveling for work or for pleasure. But let me tell you, it’s even more giddiness-inducing when you arrive at the airport that will eventually put you on a motorcycle that you’ll roll through a part of the country that you may have never seen (or at least not from a bike).

After landing at 10:30am, my big ski-boot bag came out on the carousel just fine. In addition to skiing, I’ve found that this big, square bag serves very well for motorcycle touring. My full-face helmet fits nicely inside the main compartment, totally encapsulated by the riding jacket and other clothes. It’s a great feeling when you see that bag come out because then you have a helmet, and then you can ride. Of course, in Arizona, there’s no helmet law, but I wasn’t going to take advantage of that. Hell, I was bringing two helmets on this trip.

I called Craig as soon as I got off the plane to let him know that I would be at the Eagle Rider rental shop in Scottsdale in about 30 minutes – sometime around 11:15am – and that he should get his ass out of the motel and get down there to meet me. He didn’t pick up. I left a message.

Craig had ridden out from his home in San Diego the day before, so one could hardly blame him for trying to sleep in. It must have been a hell of a ride, and I have to hand it to him for being so game for this trip. He must have been desperate for an adventure. San Diego to Scottsdale is about 370 miles and I know Craig doesn’t wear earplugs. It would be like me riding from my house near DC up to the Massachusetts border to meet up with someone to do a three-day leaf ride in New England, and then take another day to ride all the way back home. You bet your ass I’d do it, but wow, that’s a hard ride to get there.

Weighed down with my luggage, I hurried to the front doors of the airport and jumped into a cab. The driver headed to the Eagle Rider rental shop on North Scottsdale Road. You get a great feeling of anticipation on those cab rides. It was wild to feel the heat and humidity after coming from cool, spring Maryland (yes, it was humid – I don’t care what anyone says about the “dry heat of the desert”…it was muggy and highly unpleasant. I don’t think I could live anywhere south of DC.). The cabbie ran the AC through some construction delays, along Rio Salado, and past Arizona State University and Sun Devil Stadium, which I only know because of the reputation of its female students being extremely hot and extremely party-inclined, and that U2 played a pretty freaking awesome concert at that stadium as part of their “Rattle and Hum” movie.

It wasn’t far, though we drove up North Scottsdale Road for what seemed like hours. Didn’t help that the stretch of road was lined with abandoned retail strip malls, nasty strip joints, crap chain restaurants, and all manner of predatory financial establishments. I had to keep explaining to the cabbie to what type of business we were headed. The man, possibly from Bangladesh, was fascinated by what I was about to do. He knew a fair amount about motorcycles, but seemed shocked and intrigued about a business that would rent Harley-Davidsons (and for the rate they charge), and even more shocked and intrigued that I would have flown across the country to spend that kind of money. We finally pulled up to a little storefront, nestled next to a tattoo parlor and studded with a line of Road Kings and Road Glides out front.

Craig took his sweet time. He returned my phone call saying he was out riding around and getting something to eat (it was lunchtime, after all). In the interim, I did all the stuff that Harley renters do: sign papers, give credit cards, autograph credit card slips, and eventually change into the riding gear. “Alright, you’ve got a Road King,” said the tattooed, goateed, serious-looking clerk.

“Actually, on the website, I had reserved a Road Glide.” I replied, a bit panicky.

“Yeah, we’re out of those.” He said.

I looked around. We were surrounded by Road Glides. They must have all been under repair or already rented to multiple guys who would be arriving in the next few days. Or maybe they were just for show.


My guess is that they do a background check on all their riders and determine who’s going to ride their nicest, most expensive bikes. By that logic, I guess I didn’t qualify. It really hurt because I had created three different CDs of road music that I couldn’t wait to listen to on the bike’s stereo as I blasted up those Arizona roads. I didn’t even play them at home after burning them, not wanting to waste the “first listen”. Who knows, maybe they could foresee what I would eventually do to one of their bikes.

I accepted the Road King, then went to the back room to change my shirt, put on jeans, and lace on boots. I declared that this would be the final ride for my ancient Levis, and the only reason I was wearing those stupid green Coleman boots is because I thought that we’d be doing more hiking than we actually did.

Next Up: Starting the Ride, with TONS of Photos...thank you for reading!
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Old 12-26-2011, 06:25 PM   #6
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It was a hot day – southern Arizona in April – but I’ve held loyal to the belief that you have to wear appropriate gear: boots, long pants, some sort of leather or armored jacket, eye protection, gloves, and a helmet [since I wrote this, I’ve gone fully ATGATT – even before I crunched over a Bambi on my Buell while wearing full armor about a year later]. Not everyone riding in AZ would agree, as I found. As I took my pile of clothes and bag out to the bike parked in front of the shop, I noticed I was already starting to sweat. It was time to negotiate how to pack the two side boxes, and what to leave in the backpack that I would bungee to the sissy bar. Shoes for the evening generally go in the bottom, clothes on top of them, and then the things you’re going to access frequently on top: snacks, water, cameras (I brought three – much to Craig’s frustration), lenses, mini-tripods, and maps. All is balanced between both boxes to keep everything feeling right on the road.

Craig pulled up a few minutes after, around 11:45am – he’d been cruising around town waiting for my call, and was already commenting on the heat. It was good to see him...just the first feeling of “buddyhood” that would go with us through the trip…a real sense of being vagabonds on some of the most open roads in the country. No rules, no set plans, no girlfriends. Just the bikes, our stuff, some flasks and stogies for after the ride, and the desert.

Craig and I hadn’t seen each other or communicated very much since he moved to San Diego. We were actually never close enough to hang out with each other outside of the work week, other than those occasional bike washes. For one, he reported to me, and even though we’d thrown back a few together after work, I still tried to keep something of a line in place. Secondly, I just don’t seem to make close friends with guys anymore. Heck, with anyone anymore. We didn’t have much in common when he first came to the company – no bikes in my future for another four or five years – and we didn’t work together as colleagues until he moved to my west coast teams. Craig was a little over a year older than I, which certainly helped the bond, especially since we were managing people six to nine years our junior. I gathered that Craig was also doing his best to respect my position and make sure that we both had an unspoken understanding of that professional line that neither of us would cross. Sure, we’d grab drinks together and I’d share insights into the workings of the company and the decisions of senior management, but I vowed to myself to never go too far and absolutely trash the hand that fed us. Notice I said “absolutely” trash the hand that fed us. I was more worried about the bar being bugged by that same Upper Management.

Craig would certainly complain about the restrictions he felt he was working under and how he really felt about his team members, but I knew he’d keep most of his true feelings to himself to avoid putting me in an awkward position. We had deeper loyalties than each other at that point. Craig was still just a new acquaintance, a new charge, but also a refreshingly laid back, settled contemporary who I could relate to.

Next Up: Finally, hitting the road, AND THE PICTURES BEGIN! As always, thanks for reading...
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Old 12-27-2011, 06:57 AM   #7
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I'm looking forward to seeing some of these pics and hearing how the trip went!
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Old 12-29-2011, 09:48 PM   #8
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Craig appreciated finer single malt Scotch, which was fascinating and reassuring, considering the stereotype of his origins in rural Virginia. His favorite was Oban. I had never tried it until he ordered one at our office building haunt, and immediately loved it. He pronounced it “o-BAHN”, therefore, when I went to Scotland about five years later on my motorcycle tour (see my signature line), I ordered an “oh-BAHN” as my very first drink in Scotland. The waitress there at the hotel in Inveraray replied, “Ah yes, an ‘OH-bin.’ Errr, uhhh, yeah, an OH-bin. I cursed Craig’s name right then and there. Suddenly, I was a lame American tourist instead of a dauntless solo motorcyclist, transversing Scotland in the rain.

This is the Argyll Hotel in Inveraray, Scotland. Believe it or not, it's a Best Western!

I learned a lot more about Craig during those happy hour steam-release sessions that he probably learned about me. As I said, he was over a year older than I, and had already had some interesting life experiences before he found himself creeping into the corporate world and management. He had grown up with a quintessential set of rural experiences under his belt, most evocatively of it dealing with fast American cars from the 80s (I think he had a Camaro IROC Z-28) and riding various types of motorcycles and dirt bikes at early ages when most of us in traditional eastern and Midwestern suburbs were still on Big Wheels or, if were spoiled and rich, Green Machines. Craig had lots of friends back home who were deep into Harleys, so he was actually a bit of a late bloomer when he finally got his Softail. I believe he took crap from his posse about that.

Craig had been in the Army, part of the 82nd Airborne (a name instantly evoking images) and had done plenty of jumps. He used to kid that he was easily a couple inches shorter than he should have been because of being a paratrooper. That’s the old joke, anyway. Quite awhile later, in November 2006, I visited him for a couple days at his place in San Diego. Poking around his apartment, I found fascinating photos of him from those days: perched behind the mounted .50 cal. in the turret of a Humvee; in one of those evocative group photos of a squad of soldiers in the field, M-16s displayed proudly, camouflage fatigues all around, and young, lean, bad-ass faces looking right at the camera.

So, with all of that, broiling there in front of a strip mall in Scottsdale, I figured we’d get along just fine, especially spending most of the time riding.

There in front of the rental place, Craig and I greeted each other with handshakes and the usual, slow, circular kick-the-tires walk that men do when meeting up with each other in the presence of their motor vehicles. I did a couple laps around his red Softail, which I hadn’t seen in many years. It had a big black piece of expensive biker luggage attached to the sissy bar, and looked like an excellent backrest. Craig had a pretty nice leather Harley jacket, a half-helmet, and sunglasses, but wore no gloves.

I took awhile packing the boxes and deciding what to throw into the backpack. I developed a trend of taking a little bit of awhile to get set after a stop – I was usually stowing cameras away, murmuring into my voice recorder, or adjusting the Velcro on my gloves while Craig was sitting on his already-idling bike, drumming his fingers on the gas tank, and calling out insults.

Dawson was pretty sure he knew the way out of town, and when I showed him the route that I thought we’d take, he countered by telling me about an interesting, curvy country road that winds through an Indian reservation. “Sounds good to me!” I replied. “Lead on.”

We fired up the bikes and strapped down the helmets. I had decided at that point to unsnap the visor from my helmet, thinking it would look less like a doofus poser CEO-Harley-rider helmet. Heck, Craig’s didn’t have a visor and he looked cool...he looked like he belonged on that bike. Reviewing those photos, I look really dumb, like a cannonball with my big face pressed out of it – nothing providing anything to keep the helmet from making my head look like a gigantic melon. Lesson learned. I was also wearing goggles, which are better for high-speed travel, but again, combined with the doofus helmet... Craig was jealous though – he had only brought sunglasses, and sunglasses allow an awful lot of wind to blow across your eyeballs. Later in my riding life, I learned to live ATGATT. It saved my skin once, so far.

We headed back south down Scottsdale Boulevard and immediately got into heavy traffic and red lights. That’s when the full brunt of the desert heat hit. My jacket vents were all open, front [jacket] zipper zipped down, and it still felt like we were in a Sunbeam toaster oven. Regardless, it was a totally new experience for me riding with another rider. I have to say, there’s something really cool about two bikes sitting side by side at a red light, their riders talking about random stuff. You’re out there in the open for everyone to observe. You have to speak up over the engines. Everyone can hear what you’re saying.

Coming up...finally on the ride...with the damn photos! Thanks, TC and other readers, for following along. I know there have been a ton of RRs about this area of the US, I hope the narrative and multiple cameras make it fresh again.
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Old 01-01-2012, 08:26 PM   #9
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Getting Out of Town

We slowly rolled past Arizona State University.

I recall a few of my high school class going to ASU. We were on the outskirts, a bit scrubby, with strip malls and low apartment complexes. Route 60 east finally approached, so we could really get some air moving in the jackets and under the armpits. I took a couple of pictures from my on-board camera (a disposable 35mm camera I kept inside my jacket – yes, this was 2006 – most shots didn’t come out very well, but one or two were interesting).

That's Craig up ahead of me.

Told you I looked like a doofus.

I gave Craig one as well, which also provided a couple interesting shots of me rolling through the desert.

Route 60 is a four lane highway that took us quickly eastward to the rural desert. It was great to finally feel cooler (temperature-wise), and to finally open the bike up. You can’t help but get a big grin on your face when you’re hauling ass on a motorcycle, especially when you’ve recently been trapped in hot stop-and-go traffic. I’ve always told people, when they ask what’s so great about riding, that when I first started riding, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. Now that I’m an “experienced” rider, I still have to fight to wipe the smile off my face. I was following Craig at this point, which was one of the few times he took the lead on the trip. No reason – he knew where we were going, but I think he preferred playing sweeper. I don’t want to say that I had a more aggressive throttle hand, because there were a few times when he clearly wanted to move, and blew past me with no warning. He might have been using me as a RADAR shield, too, which would have been very uncool.

Soon enough, we exited the highway and headed north on Route 88, a road that started out as a neighborhood connector road, but ended up as something more like a Native American hunting trail, and would also turn out to be one of the top three motorcycle events in my life.

Not far from Route 60, we passed a desert golf course. Not one of those lush, luxurious courses that you see the big guys playing on back in Scottsdale, where the brilliant green is set off by the hot tan of the sand, punctuated by cacti, and everyone is playing in their name-brand best. This was an actual desert course - dirt and sand, no grass. Hilarious. I could only imagine how playing there would improve my bunker game. Every shot would be like being stuck at the beach. Just bring various wedges.

Craig rolling east (taken with a disposable camera).

The road left the suburbs and moved into a hilly, scrubby area, loomed over by Superstition Mountain, a dark, jutting piece of rock standing like the guardian to the Arizona that has nothing to do with the rows of rental houses and stucco strip malls, university dorms and office towers, and well-watered hotel golf courses. This was the first taste of our adventure…things started looking really weird, and really non-East Coast.

Yours truly, in action. Not a bad shot for an arm-stretch with a disposable.

At 12:35pm, Apache Junction was the first little town we encountered once off the highway. The road wound and dipped wonderfully through the rolling hills, dotted with real cacti. I was really into seeing these symbols of the southwest, as if they were the proof that I was really doing this trip. Cliffs and little canyons appeared as part of the Superstition Mountain range, which added to the otherworldly drama of this section of the ride. There were little shacks and booths every couple miles or so, advertising Native American crafts. Almost all of them were deserted and run-down – I wondered if they picked up on Saturday or Sunday when the tourists might roll through this time machine. There were more than one vacant and dilapidated roadside lunch stops on this road, their rusting and fading signs advertising “broasted chicken” and “live music”. They looked like their heyday was the 1950s, and hadn’t seen live anything for twenty-five years. I love ruins. The old castles, cathedrals, and towns that I saw in Europe (I hope I can go to the Holy Land) really fit the bill for me. Old barns, stone houses, and remnants of the Route 66 culture is kind of what America has in the way of ruins, since we’re still a bit new to the world.

Craig was riding in front of me as we headed toward Roosevelt. I was feeling like the coolest guy in the world – this was one of the wildest places I’d ever been, and to do it on a bike was falling right in line with my vow on that airliner, so many years prior.

This was the Superstition Mountains area, a rolling landscape punctuated by cliffs and mesas, many of which feature ancient Native American dwellings and archaeological records. In the mid-1800s, a Mexican family was rumored to have started a gold mine in the mountains. They met an unpleasant end via the local Apaches, but the legend of the gold discoveries lived on. About 30 years later, in the 1870s, a man named Jacob Waltz (that “Dutchman”) supposedly found the old mine with the help of a family member of the original Mexican operators. According to legend, the Dutchman secreted away plenty of the riches in the surrounding cliffs. Waltz died in 1891, and in the years since, the endeavors to find the Dutchman’s “lost gold” have become mythic, especially with historic episodes of fraud and violence that only add to the area’s mystery and, well, superstition.

Shot at my mirror.

Craig rounding a bend.

We rounded the Superstition Mountain with its sharp, sheer cliffs topped by low green brush. The sinister looking columns that make up the jutting table are actually one big volcanic plug. Though it looked like the area was from an abandoned era, inhabited only by the poor and the traditional, there is good hiking all around, and it attracts plenty of local tourism. Don’t do it in the summer. That’s my recommendation.

This first section of the journey really told me nothing about what we were about to encounter, or what we would be seeing in the upcoming days. I was exhilarated with the funky, abandoned roadhouses and the Native American tourist stops – there’s just nothing like that in the Northeast. There is definitely unique and amazing Native American history in the east, but not to that “exotic” extent as they have in the southwest. As we rolled over the rises and undulating landscape, entering Tonto National Forest, we began to see those “tourist traps” that seem so at home there in the desert. They started small – just some roadside buildings selling Indian artifacts and offering some sort of “authentic” Apache culture – but eventually, they turned into what we saw as past the Lost Dutchman State Park. There were a couple of those classic, Scooby-Doo-episode, “lost gold mine/ghost towns” that were so blatantly devoid of tourists at this time of year that I wondered if they weren’t actually ghost-ghost towns. No, some of the old buildings and saloons and general stores and water towers and those tall mineshaft superstructures looked a bit too new – really rich, dark brown wood. And there were gift shops. No one was thinking snow-globes, bumper stickers, or refrigerator magnets back in the 1890s. No one had snow, bumpers, or refrigerators in Arizona back then.

There was no strong draw into these obviously tourist-oriented places for me. That’s what the Internet is for, when you get back from your trip. I don’t know if Craig – who was in front of me during this stretch – had any interest in any of the sights that we’d been seeing. If he did, he made no move to pull over, or to check my interest with a quizzical look back, a hand signal, or a move to swap places in traffic. We were following a couple of slow cars during some of this stretch until the sky seemed to clear up a bit and let the hot sun really beat down.

Though it felt like we had been baking in negative-altitude Death Valley, we were actually at around 2,000 feet there in the Sonoran Desert. If we’d done some hiking there at Lost Dutchman we could have gotten up to 4,861 feet way up to the top of The Flatiron – a grueling hike with a 2,800 foot elevation change in three miles! Next time.

Finally, it felt like we were away from the state parks and the tourist traps and were definitely in the desert – what I’d come to see. We were also away from the quality macadam and found ourselves winding through tight canyons and arroyos on a narrow and exhilarating piece of road. I couldn’t wipe the grin of my face, mentally patting myself on my back for actually planning and taking this trip. I was so blown away by being in such a different part of the world and doing it on a motorcycle. Just like in Scotland, I had trouble believing I was there on a bike. I truly felt like my life was plugged in and I was doing exactly what I should have been doing. The road swirled through the expanding desert, following the contours of the rolling landscape on which made it an absolute blast to ride.

I was thrilled with the road we were on and the dramatic, dry scenery. This was the Apache Trail/Route 88, which used to be a construction road during the building of the upcoming Roosevelt Dam, but was now nicely paved. Heck, President Teddy Roosevelt even drove the road back in 1911 in order to attend the dedication of his namesake dam. He called the road "one of the most spectacular best-worth-seeing sights of the world". I can definitely confirm that. There was a good deal of scree on the curves, but I had received good training on how to watch for this threat, probably one of the top-five enemies of motorcyclists.

After a few more twists on the road, I realized that we needed to get pictures of this incredible scenery. Though Craig was in front of me, when we rounded a curve into a wide vista and a large pull-off, I honked and pointed right. Craig noticed immediately and pulled over. I swung in behind him and let him know that I wanted to take some pictures. He had the same idea and was glad that I finally pulled the trigger.

When I’m riding, I tend to avoid interrupting forward progress…it gets in the way of the schedule. Pulling over on this trip meant signaling to the other that you’re pulling over (and maybe he just wants to keep going); you have to pull off your gloves; you have to open your luggage; you have to eat/drink/shoot photographs; you have to repack your luggage; you have to put your gloves and maybe helmet and earplugs back on/in; and you have to think about how much time you’ve lost from your one-minute-mile mental schedule. Ah heck, if the scenery’s worth it…

This was our first joint photo session of the trip…bikes side-by-side – my black, burly, and stocky Road King and Craig’s red, lean, stretched-out Softail. We took shots of the narrow, winding road as it stretched into the craggy desert, shots of the bikes next to each other underneath the low-strung power lines, and of each other by our bikes. It was a great feeling to be at our first photo stop in a place that looked like the desert. This was a part of the country/world that I’d never been to until that moment: the desert! Just like I’d seen from the window of that plan years before! Long, dry roads whipping past mesas and canyons!

Craig at the first stop.

Craig in B&W - one of the disposable cameras I brought was in that format.

You'll be able to tell Craig's shots because the resolution is so much smaller.

Yours truly.

Craig at the first stop.

Craig and I both talked about how much fun it was to finally ride with someone else, especially through this dramatic wilderness. It sounded like he didn’t have many friends to ride with out in San Diego, just like me in Maryland. Our riding experience was quite different at this point. I’d been riding for just under two years. Craig had been riding since his teens. I may have had more miles on him at that point, however. Ever since I’d passed the rider’s safety course and gotten the license, I’d been a bit of an addict, riding every free chance I got, year-round, and taking longish motorcycle adventure trips around the globe. Didn’t matter. Following Craig on those first turns through the canyon was an education in itself. Not only was the road getting poor (sand scattered around the curves), but I was learning how to ride with another biker: distance, speed, and lane position. My training was coming in handy. Riding with a more experienced dude, I started to overanalyze my maneuvers and made dumb mistakes…trying to look good for the other riders…trying to make a good impression as a new rider. Having a fully-laden Road King might not have helped, either.

Leather jacket, jeans, a tee-shirt, and boots…it was very hot out there. The sun felt heavy on my jacket and like broiler on my face – but it wasn’t oppressive like it would be in DC that upcoming summer. The heat was like a weight you had to carry. The less you had on, the lighter it seemed, though the leather shell seemed to blunt a good amount of it. It appeared that I would stay cooler by keeping the jacket on, as odd as that sounds. Oddly, it made me think of that hypothermia thing where you’re actually freezing to death, yet you tear all your clothes off in hysteria. Or maybe not. It was really hot out there, that’s what I mean to say.

We were in no danger of hysteria beyond just being excited to be on a desert road on bikes, with the entire state of Arizona, the Grand Canyon, part of Utah, and some good food, cigars, and cocktails ahead of us.

Craig began his regular ribbing about my talking into a digital voice recorder, urging me to hurry up with putting away my cameras, closing up the luggage, strapping on the helmet, and adjusting the gloves and goggles. He didn’t have these delays. Granted, he wasn’t trying to document all the details so he could write a trip journal, and wasn’t taking pictures with four different cameras to try to get the most complete impression of the trip (plus, he wasn’t wearing gloves to adjust at this point). No matter what, he was always sitting on his bike, engine running, waiting for me to put away all the crap and start the bike. No sweat. If I hadn’t been, we wouldn’t have gotten all the interesting photos and the details of the story, right?

The digital voice recorder was something I first took on my ride around Scotland in 2005 and used like crazy to record the daily activities and thoughts. It allowed me to write a large memoir of that trip (see my signature below). What started out as a handwritten journal for that trip ended up being a cathartic, 181-page document that actually got my ex-girlfriend to apologize to me in a way that was more genuine that she had ever done before. I had certainly spent some time writing about that failed relationship and speaking about it into the voice recorder, so the detail and memories of what was going on in my mind at the time turned out to have some genuine importance. I hope the notes I recorded for this trip are as useful. If you’ve read my Scotland story, you might be aware that I was still a little bit hung up on that chick. In fact, at about the point I got back from this trip, she told me that she’d been engaged for the last 3-4 months.

That’s just super.
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Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)

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Old 01-01-2012, 08:47 PM   #10
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Down the Apache Trail

We rolled on from that first stop, following a surprisingly busy line of traffic rolling through the desert curves: quite a few motorcycles, and cars pulling boats. I had no idea why there were boats in the desert. I soon found out as we came up to Canyon Lake. It felt like we’d just stopped, but I knew that this was going to be just too interesting to pass up, so I pulled over and Craig followed. I got a dread feeling that I would want to pull over to take pictures every three miles or every time I saw some dramatic hilltop or cliff, and we’d never make it to Sedona.

That was a realistic fear. Motorcycling in beautiful places, as I have learned, is slow business. You stop. A lot. You feel guilty for passing up the incredible vistas, mountain views, rushing rivers, and ruins. On this trip, the feeling was amplified because I was riding with someone, so I wasn’t making my own rules. Yeah, Craig and I agreed as we started off that if one of us wanted to stop for a picture or for any other reason we would signal, honk, or just pull over. I felt that he wasn’t quite into the full “touristy” part of the trip…I think he most enjoyed the riding above all, and was really there for that instead of taking a bunch of pictures every four miles. Actually, I’m not quite right about that. Craig had a little digital camera that he could slip into his jacket pocket, so his stops were quick – and he took a LOT more photos than I did (well, I was using real film…). This is why, at the end of every stop, he was always sitting on his idling bike, helmet on, waiting for me. I was busy putting away my big 35mm Nikon, stowing the 300mm zoom lens that I’d just switched out for the 80mm, and tucking away the panoramic camera, the black and white disposable, and the color “on-board” disposable.

Anyway, Canyon Lake is a tiny, narrow lake that seemed wildly out of place in the desert. It is one of a series of lakes created by the damming of the Salt River – Canyon Lake happens to be the smallest. The cliffs still towered over the narrow body of water, which probably made for some fun boating and swimming – especially in this heat; but, there was zero activity down there as we stood on the hill overlooking the west end of the lake. Was April too early for the Arizonans, even though it was hotter than Hell for this East Coaster? Depending on where the water came from (the mountains?), it might have been a bit chilly. Not for long. The hills below us at the overlook were tan and sandy, covered with wan, green scrub, and dotted with rusty rocks and ramrod cacti. It was alien – there just isn’t anything like this out east. My head was swimming. I imagined that this would be the way the rest of the scenery would be, except for seeing that big canyon in the middle. Arizona is a pretty diverse state, as I would learn.

Craig was waiting for me on his idling bike as I put cameras back into the panniers. As I’ve said, he was always ready to roll before me, and I have a string of ex-girlfriends who could share the same stories. We continued down to the lake level, careening along the water’s edge, passing campgrounds and marinas that were nearly deserted. I was again overwhelmed by the excitement and surrealism of my being there, in the remote Arizona desert, on a big Harley-Davidson, with an old friend and former coworker just ahead of me. I’d only been riding for just under three years by then. I hope I never lose that feeling when I travel. In fact, I still feel that way even when I’m just riding downtown for brunch on any random Sunday.
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Old 01-01-2012, 09:14 PM   #11
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Rounding the Bend at Tortilla Flat

Just past the marinas and campgrounds was what I took to be a tourist trap gift shop: Superstition Saloon in the “town” of Tortilla Flat. Tortilla Flat is a sharp curve in the road at the east end of Canyon Lake. “Tortilla Flat” is also one of the most redundant town names ever, certainly thought up by someone with a great appreciation of irony. I imagine it might have had its own zip code, but I really only saw a few houses and the stereotypical “old west” saloon building set into the hill on the curve of the road: an exterior of dark, weathered planks with a strategically slanted “Superstition Saloon” sign, antlers, and a metal, old-style Coca-Cola badge planted on the front. There were plenty of cars and a couple of the bikes that had passed us at our first photo stop, including a fantastically chopped Harley, ridden by a balding (grey haired, what little he had) dude with a smoking chick on a practically non-existent pillion. Hope she didn’t fall off (“If you can read this t-shirt…). The Superstition Saloon, while looking like a disappointing tourist trap, also appeared to be the only example of civilization on the map for many miles, and we were hungry for lunch. It was after 1:00pm local time and we had been riding for a little over an hour. I’d been up since around 5:15am EST to catch my 8:20am EST flight from Baltimore, so I really hadn’t eaten anything of substance (besides GORP) for about eight or nine hours. It was going to be a long day, but I pride myself on rallying in the face of jet lag.

Craig at Tortilla Flat. He looked the part.

Parking at Tortilla Flat.

Parked at Tortilla Flat.

We walked inside to find, indeed, a tourist trap gift shop. The entryway was all shelves of Arizona and “old west” souvenirs and tchotchkes…lots of leather things, t-shirts (of course), antler-related items, things that evoke the desert. We walked right through and had to make the decision: eat at the bar or at a table. There were a few groups in the dining room area, but when we saw the bar stools, we knew we needed to saddle on up. The stools were actually western saddles. You’d think this would be one of the most comfortable bar experiences ever, but the saddles forced you to stay in one position for the whole eating/drinking experience. It was fun to swing a leg over, despite that menacing horn. The entire bar area of the Superstition Saloon was papered with dollar bills signed by grateful patrons from the last 20+ years (as far as we could tell). Seriously – every square inch of interior wall and ceiling exposure was tacked with a real American greenback, personalized with some sort of comment, signature, and date. After eating, Craig suggested that we pay with these dollars: just pluck a few off and plunk them down.

A friendly waitress took our order. Craig had a burger, I had a chicken sandwich. We both had a beer, which tasted pretty damn good. It was a quick lunch, followed by a quick piss, and then back out to the bikes to get on the road and make some miles – we had a long way to go to Sedona and our hotel. Leaving the spot, we checked the map one more time, took a couple photos, and saddled up.

Me, getting set to saddle up.

Craig’s Softail really looked like a vagabond bike: long, narrow front fork, narrow front tire, relaxed seat, and a big bag on the back as a backrest for him. I hesitate to say this, but it took on a hazy image of Easy Rider, especially with Craig’s own laid-back style.

According to the map, we were in for some twisties – the road was represented by a dashed line. Not a thin dashed line, but a thick one, which led me to believe it would be paved, but just a tiny rural road. I was wrong. Craig was very wrong.

It was almost 2:00pm, as we saddled up back in front of the Superstition Saloon. I was providing an update to my voice recorder as Craig sat on his chugging bike, waiting. “Quit talking!” he called out in his south Virginia drawl, “We gotta’ get outta’ here!” Like we had just robbed the place. I scrambled, put away all my electronics, strapped on my goggles, helmet, and gloves, and led the way back into the hills on the Apache Trail.
'14 Ducati Multistrada S Touring; '06 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)
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Old 01-01-2012, 09:25 PM   #12
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Tortillia Flats

That Is a Nice Ride past Canyon Lake, Looks like you guy's had a good time.
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Old 01-01-2012, 09:36 PM   #13
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Yeah, until...

It really was nice...I'd go back in a second. Except I ran into some trouble...the report is coming up! Thanks for reading!

I realize that this route has been ridden by many of us on ADV and even more who are not, but I'm hoping the narrative will help keep things interesting! And the fact that I took this trip (April 2005) as pre-ADV, pre-ATGATT, pre-married, pre-Buell, pre-Harley (though I'd rented them, and never bought into the image), and pre-digital photography makes things a little bit different. Plus, I'm re-editing the story here in 2011 and 2012, which helps.

Next, I took a solo trip around northern Colorado on a BMW K1200GT that shook out some funny stories...we'll see...

Thanks for reading! Happy new year!!!
'14 Ducati Multistrada S Touring; '06 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)
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Old 01-05-2012, 08:45 PM   #14
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It wasn’t long until we realized what a challenge the Apache Trail was. That thick dotted line on the map still meant that the road was unpaved. Rather suddenly, the macadam turned into hard-packed dirt. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem, but the road wasn’t smooth. There were manageable undulations and dusty spots, but there were also sections of washboard rills that vibrated the fillings out of my teeth and made me worry about the nuts and bolts on the bike. Really, it was a near-constant shake-rattle-and-roll that became very uncomfortable, especially on the downhill stretches where you had to be careful to control your speed lest your eyeballs get shaken right out of their sockets. I started to worry about flat tires. Remember, this was truly my first off-pavement experience.

The dust that came up from cars ahead got into my mouth and nose. The road was often dangerously narrow, especially around the numerous blind curves which almost always presented a Suburban-pulled RV to force me hard to the right. On some stretches, the road became sandy, which caused my rear tire to slide left and right, making braking nearly useless. That’s what freaked me out the most…the sandy spots where I felt the big bike slide out from under me. You have to make a fast adjustment in your weight and center of gravity to accommodate and get things back under control. It was frustrating because the scenery was so amazing…true desert wilderness: rolling, scrubby hills, cliffs; dry arroyos, sharp curves (would have been nice on pavement, or if I’d been on a dual-sport bike), and vistas over deep canyons.

We pulled off at the overlook of Fish Creek Canyon, but didn’t stop…this was one of those “I feel like we should be stopping more to take pictures, but I don’t want to be the drag on the forward progress” moments.

We passed a few more cars full of tourist families, rounded a tight right-hand curve on a steep hill, and then started down a steady descent to a dry creek bed and another tight curve. I was in the lead, doing fine but getting a little sick of the slow-going, the dusty conditions (I could only imagine how it was for Craig, eating my dust), and those damn stretches of washboard and deep sand. That’s when I got into some more of the sand. I was moving pretty slowly down this long descent – probably 14mph – when I felt the front wheel sink and stop responding. I was running on the rightmost side of this barely two-lane dirt road, trying not to “hog” the whole road since two cars had just passed us, making it very dicey. I fell into the ultimate trap for riders, the thing that I was trained not to do, but the thing that probably causes many accidents: I fixated on a point right in front of me – in this case, the patch of sand that I was currently moving through.

In motorcycle safety courses, the instructors drill into their students to keep their heads up, look through the turn, and don’t fixate on any object. It’s a strange thing about riding a bike…you can barely help it, but when you want to steer the bike, it tends to go where you’re looking. Therefore, in a turn or a curve, you need to keep your chin up and turn your head drastically into the direction of your turn – look through it, look to where your destination is, even if it’s behind a mountain or a building – pretend like you can see it. It’s uncanny – the bike just follows and does so in a tight, professional turn. Same thing if you’re trying to avoid something in the road. If you stare at the object – fixate on it – the bike will almost always head right for what you’re staring at.

When I realized that I was rolling through some deep sand and knew that I could be in trouble, I (unfortunately) fixated on the one or two feet of sand in the path of my front wheel. I watched the sand as it approached and went under me. I knew I needed to get the bike to go left onto harder ground, but I had fixated and my hands and body weight wouldn’t obey – a classic panic, when your training and memory get disconnected from your mind and muscles. In the seconds in which this episode all took place, I couldn’t get the bike to shift leftward out of the sand. If I had been more experienced or more aware, I would have known to break that fixation (or not let it happen in the first place), get my head up, and bring the bike leftward.

Instead, I knew I was going over. It was very surreal – I barely remember any of it. I felt the bike slip under me, get out of control (I was only going about 14 mph), and move right, but nothing else until I found myself sliding downhill, backwards, on my left shoulder. I recall hearing the sickening crunch of the bike finding its place in the rocky ditch on the right side of the road (the mountain side, fortunately – the other side of the road was a cliff edge leading down into the valley). As I slid, headfirst in slo-mo, looking back up the hill, I saw Craig riding right for me, and a thought went through my head: “That bastard better not run me over! Is he smiling?!?! Wow, my leather jacket is really doing its job, just like they say! The road isn’t wearing through!” Thankfully, Craig was far enough behind me to be able to pull to the right, stop, dismount, and call out:

“Are you okay?!?!? Are you okay!?!?!”

The adrenaline was pumping hard. I knew that much when I stood up in the middle of the road.

“I’m okay! I’m not hurt!” I shouted to Craig, pretty sure of that, but sometimes you never know right off the bat. That’s when the realization really hit and the profanities started.

I saw the bike in the ditch on the right side. I realized that I was covered in khaki dust and started trying to brush some of it off. Craig kept asking me if I was okay.

I calmly replied that I was uninjured, but then began yelling “F*CK! GOD D@MMIT! F&CK! I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS! I F%CKING CRASHED THE BIKE! SH!T! GOD D*MMIT!” I shouted some of these things out over the canyon, hoping for some sort of echo, but there wasn’t one. That bugged me. Once I realized that I was physically okay, despite some obviously ripped jeans, I started feeling a bit better – until I started thinking about what an incapacitated bike could mean to the just-started trip. I would have to get some sort of help: a phone to call Eagle Rider; a wait for hours for a tow truck; a return to Phoenix to either rent a new bike or end the trip; some unknown financial cost to repair the bike.

Oddly, the bike wasn’t on its side – it was just sitting in a deep drainage ditch on top of the large rocks that lined it. That gave me some heart. It wasn’t clear how the bike had gone down at first, but then I saw that the left engine guard was bent back and the left foot board was folded up against the primary cover. I panicked, fearing the gear shifter would be broken off or bent out of usability. The left side of the front fender was scuffed up and the plastic-chrome trim was off. The left pannier was scuffed up too, but other than that, things looked okay. I felt a bit better.

So, we had to get the beast out of the ditch. I pulled my helmet, goggles, and jacket off, threw them on the side of the road in a pile, and stared at the bike. As Craig and I stood there thinking and proposing ideas, some tourist-laden SUVs and minivans crept by, staring at the two of us and this obviously incapacitated bike. Neither of the cars stopped to ask if we were okay or needed any help. I guess it was just part of their little adventure in the desert:

Oh my, Del, look at those boys! What are they looking at? Is there a dead animal on the road?

Yep, looks like one of them had an accident. That’s too bad. Are you hungry Gladys?

No, just turn down the air conditioning. It feels like Sioux Falls in February in here!

Honey, that makes no sense.”

Craig was great. He kept asking me if I was okay from the time that I was flat on my back in the dirt to the time that I was up and wondering what I had just gone through. Maybe I thought I was fine because you might not realize your injuries until the adrenaline wears off, but all my bones were together, my head never hit the ground, and my jacket now had some real “character” on the back of it.

It was at this point when I felt the burning on my left forearm, just below the elbow. It felt like an “Indian burn”. “How the hell that happen?” I asked myself. “I’m wearing leather!” There was no way for my skin to be exposed! It was unknown to me, as a novice crasher, that the impact of hitting the ground could create some extraneous injury like road rash, right there inside the leather apparel that was supposed to protect me. I was angry. Days later, when I’d gotten back to the rental shop and had explained my accident and injuries, the clerk told me about his young days as a motorcycle racer (he was 27!), particularly the time when he crashed pretty badly, wearing full leathers, and later finding that he had full-body road rash, even under all those leathers.

Noticing the injury on my arm made me check out the rest of my body. My jeans were a bit torn around the knee (but they were headed in that direction anyway), and covered in dust, but I was otherwise unhurt.

I swore like crazy, loudly, still trying for an echo off the canyon walls around us. The adrenaline was pumping so hard that I was pacing around, looking at the bike.

With my helmet and jacket off, I stepped up to the back end of the bike and tried to lift it up and onto the road by the chrome luggage rack. I was fairly delusional from all the adrenaline…that bike probably weighed 800 pounds with my stuff in/on it. There was no way I was going to be able to lift the back end out of the ditch and place it on the road. I didn’t know nor care – I was trying anyway, until Craig talked some sense into me, warning me not to “pull something”. “Something” clicked in my head, and I remembered a flash from my motorcycle safety class about the dangers of trying to lift a big bike up by yourself…that you could end up injuring yourself in the exertion, like a pulled muscle or a hernia or something. I just wanted to do anything to undo my fuckup.

As I stopped lifting and turned to listen to what Craig was saying, my face was red and sweaty with exertion in the heat. I was worried that I had just turned this trip into a total fiasco, but also that I had ruined it for him. I wanted to make sure that I was not holding him back. He was absolutely right about my trying to lift the bike by myself, and I backed off to swear some more.

We had to get the Road King back on the road. It was bottomed out in this ditch among big, round rocks. Another tourist car drove by without stopping. What the hell is wrong with people?

I un-bungeed my backpack from the luggage rack to make the bike a bit lighter and to give Craig and me a better grip. Both of us tried to heave the back end out using brute force, but the bike was just too heavy. I straddled the Road King and started it back up, relieved that it had no problem running. We switched over to the option of trying to ride the bike out of the ditch, but the rear tire wouldn’t get any purchase. We pulled rocks out from underneath and tried to clear a path forward. I bashed the left footboard back into its correct position and was relieved to see that the shifter looked more or less fine. The left engine guard was definitely and drastically bent backward toward the rear of the bike, making toe shifting a bit tight, but doable.

I tried rocking the bike back and forth a bit, but with some more stone-clearing, my weight on the bike, and some pushing from behind (Craig), I was able to motor the bike up onto the road again. I put the side-stand out, killed the engine, and climbed off to thank my lucky stars (again).

I had learned an interesting lesson that day. That day was my first “get off”.

I was covered in tan dust, from my shins to my waist. Granted, Craig and I had been spitting dust all the way on that road since it became a dirt one, but I can only imagine what it was like for him, following me, with only sunglasses…no goggles to seal out the grit. Just 20 minutes before, I was grinning and feeling very cool about being on a Harley, riding through the remote desert canyons of Arizona. Now I was feeling humiliated, embarrassed, angry, and nervous. I should never crash a bike so simply! Did I just jump off and roll onto my back? What does Craig think of me as a rider? Am I an unsafe riding companion? I can’t believe I let this happen! I actually crashed a bike! I never thought I’d actually crash a bike! This is going to cost me a fortune!

Craig took some shots of me putting my backpack back onto the luggage rack. I look pissed, dirty, and overheated, with my gloves on and my goggles still around my neck, but I was relieved. Craig did a great thing by breaking apart some of my foul mood (what else should a travel companion do?). He let me know that I had failed when I had tried to take a picture of him riding behind me on the initial highway leg of the trip out of Scottsdale. I thought I was being clever on that road by holding the camera behind my back, aiming the lens as best I imagined toward Craig, and snapping the shutter (to hopefully get a head-on shot of Craig).

All you got was backpack!” he cackled. My backpack was strapped onto the sissy bar, so the camera was nowhere near high enough to see anything but sissy bar.

Once out of the ditch, I assessed the damage. The Road King was rather dusty on its right side. The right luggage box was dirty, leading me to believe that the bike had definitely come down on its right side before being straightened up by the ditch. The plastic chrome trim on the left side of the front fender was a bit off, but looked like it could be fitted back into place. The left passing lamp was clearly bent inward. The turn signal below it was bent along with the passing lamp – part of that I could fix. I’ve already talked about the state of the left engine guard. It really took a hit. That was depressing – I knew that was going to cost. Plus, it made shifting with my toe difficult…almost too tight to fit my boot in there. I was just glad that nothing functional was damaged. I had dumped a big cruiser into a rocky ditch, and all I had to worry about was using my heel to upshift instead of my toe. It could have been a lot worse.

I just wanted to move on.

See that rash on my elbow? Rrrrrrr!

Bent hog.

Bent hog...

Dusty hog...

View from the crash site.

We fired the bikes up and I was back in the lead again. At the bottom of the hill from where we had just stopped, the route switched back sharply. The road was horrendous: dirt, sand, switchbacks, jarring washboard rills, gravel…just miserable, slow riding. 12-15mph at the fastest. Cars came suddenly around blind corners. Canyon-like cuts through mountains created blind spots. We were eating dust. Potholes the size of pots. That said, the views were incredible, but it was frustrating because you really couldn’t safely look at them. The wheels would get so squirrelly in the sand that I thought I’d go over again. Craig had the same problems too. It was still a long, unnerving ride until Roosevelt Dam appeared on our left, and we could stop for a photo against the backdrop of a massive concrete retaining wall alongside the road. It was 3:24pm and we were at mile 75.

Pulling over and getting off the bikes felt as good as finishing a couple weeks hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Since I had proven that my bike was running just fine and the trip wouldn’t have to be cancelled on the first day, we were a little bit more relieved and a bit more jovial. On my voice recorder, you can hear us laughing as I talked about the big event: “I got road rash.” We recorded our thoughts about the challenging and annoying dirt road and the surrealism of the crash. It was a funny bit of conversation that could really only have happened a little ways after the crash; otherwise, I would have still been in a horrible mood. I wasn’t. Even though we were both dusty as hell and picking sand from our teeth, we were relieved to be getting onto pavement. I mentioned to the tape recorder that I was feeling like “ass in a basket”, which I think is pretty self-explanatory.

The dam...


Which road is paved?

Time to get off of this and get into the heart of AZ! Sedona is next!
'14 Ducati Multistrada S Touring; '06 Buell XB12X Ulysses
Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King); Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS); NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT)
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Old 01-06-2012, 12:10 PM   #15
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Interesting read. I'm enjoying it. I was a little put off by your negative comments about ASU and the roads around greater Phoenix, but glad you found the Apache Trail.

Let me be your first person to suggest ASU is a great school. It's also affordable. The coursework is tough, but that's why they have a lower graduation rate. They'll enroll you, but a big chunk won't graduate. On the other hand, what student wouldn't want to be downtown Tempe and hang on Mill Street? The sports and training facilities are pro-level. You won't find that here in Boston or Cambridge. Educationwise, ASU has a few colleges that can match against anybody. So does UofA. Both have great alumni organizations as well. I'd say along the lines of a Boston College. Of course, that doesn't help you if you came from the east coast...

You're right about shopping malls, though. It's hard to believe all those thousands of acres of retail space can be supported by less than 3 million residents. . They got nice roads, though. It's a very big valley and you can get around it like crazy. Spotless highways with nice architectural features that enhance the commute. The east coast cities could learn from Phoenix.

If you ever get back there, you should turn into Canyon Lake Marina and rent a 20 foot patio boat for about 3 hours. Prolly cost $200. Take a lunch, some beverage, and putt your way up the canyon of Canyon lake all the way to the dam. It's unbelievable! Sheer walls of red rock crowned with lush Suguaro's. Giant Blue Herons straffing you as you make your way up river. Mountain Sheep peering at you from the cliffs above.

I'll be in Cave Creek in 2 weeks for my first Snow Bird duty . I ride dual sport bikes and last fall I rode one all through the Rockies and southern Utah. I left it in Cave Creek, where I hope to keep it. That type of motorcycle is really the way to see the great western spaces with its varied terrain. An 800lb Road King is just the wrong tool. The west is relatively unpopulated east of the Sierra's or Cascades. Most of the places you want to see are down dirt roads.

Glad you got out of the ditch. That section of the 'Trail' is pretty slippery because of the washboard and the way it's carved into the terrain. Narrow too.

I look forward to reading more of your impressions.

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"There I was..." -Griffin Niner Three Hotel
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