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Old 11-25-2011, 09:19 PM   #1
BadWHooper OP
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Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
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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)

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