|03-06-2012, 07:49 PM||#31|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
The Grand Canyon is...Grand
It was just as unbelievable as you might have heard, except better – it really didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was so far from “disappointing” that I don’t know how to explain. It struck me then, as we jumped off the bikes among a handful of other tourists, that we were lucky to have arrived at this time of the evening…any delays or dillydallying that we might have experienced during the day had a cosmic way of allowing us to arrive at the “golden hour”, as the sun inched toward the northwestern rim of the canyon. It took water and wind around five or six million years to carve that canyon – 6,000 feet at its deepest and 15 miles at its widest. All of that, and it was really only this 2006 moment in the canyon’s history that mattered anything to me.
Craig and I got off the bikes with a little bit more speed than normal and quick-walked over to the edge, which is not what we usually did as badass Harley riders. Normally, we would ease out of the saddle, look around for friends or enemies, ease the helmet and gloves off with a dramatic feigned-or-genuine tiredness (depending on the audience), arrange things on handlebars or seats, adjust the jacket zippers depending on the temperature, and casually saunter over to the vista point, as if we weren’t really all that interested to see what could be seen and were just there to check the site off a list. Heck, I would add all kinds of steps to that: carefully pull the foam plugs out of my ears, examine the level of wax (my doctor told me once that I had the cleanest ears she’d ever seen – probably because I ride with earplugs) and find a pocket for them; try to balance my helmet on the mirror like I saw the other Harley guys do but not trust it and move it back to the seat then not trust that because of the angle and the slickness of the seat leather and move it to the sissy bar; do the same thing with my gloves because I wasn’t sure if it looked cooler to carry them with me as I walked or leave them inside the helmet or let the sun bake the sweat out of them as they sat on the saddle; pull my goggles down my face so they hung around my neck and fish around for my sunglasses (Craig didn’t bring his goggles, which he regretted, though he later said he never regretted); I’d whip my hat out from inside my jacket and slap that on; drop at least one of the aforementioned helmet, sunglasses, or hat on the ground; root around in the panniers for multiple cameras and lenses; pull the voice recorder out of a pocket and start recounting the last stretch of road; forget a certain camera and run back for it; and hurry back to catch up with Craig as he coolly moseyed to the edge of the canyon.
No, this time, we both did that goofy cartoon walk where our legs were stretched way out in front of our torsos and spinning around like high-speed windmills.
At this stop we were not only psyched that we were finally seeing the ultimate goal of the trip, but that we were finally at our night’s rest stop. The temperature had dropped drastically over the last 30 minutes as the sun went lower. At one point, after passing through an unmanned Ranger station fee checkpoint, we finally stopped to put on an additional layer and our cold weather gauntlets (in Craig’s case, he put on his gauntlets for the first time…I never understood why guys don’t wear gloves at all times).
Landmarks like that deserted Ranger station and Navajo Point start to make you think that you’re close to your motel and the chance to grab a drink, something to eat, and a last view of the Grand Canyon until you crash on your bed. We had been duped. Yes, the first look at the Grand Canyon was incredible – the angle of sun was drastic and beautiful, creating shadows and warmth and subtlety. The eastern faces of the canyon were alive with the golden light, radiating all the auburn colors that we had come so far to see. So deep was the Canyon, the Colorado River could only be spotted in small increments before it would disappear behind a cliff. Frankly, seeing the river was almost as important as appreciating the red walls – it’s the cause and effect of the whole thing.
In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, Craig and I “drank it in…it always goes down smooth”. The first time we’d both seen one of the primary natural wonders of the world, and they probably don’t get better than the Grand Canyon. The original Wonders of the World were “identified” before the New World was “discovered”. No sweat. The sun was not too far from the horizon, so the angle was right for photography. I went nuts with my 35mm Nikon, the black and white disposable, and the panoramic camera. No digital in my life yet (Craig had one). I’m sad to say that my vow to never neglect my big film camera has been a big lie. I’ve been on some interesting trips since getting that tiny digital camera that fits in my jacket pocket and allows me to take on-ride shots, especially the key arm-stretch shots of one’s self. And that’s what’s most important. I don’t like the pictures it takes, but it sure is convenient. I need to get that Nikon out again.
Arriving at the Grand Canyon at the edge of dusk meant that the colors of the stone are redder than ever, and a strange mist created a magical fuzziness to the image. I’ve read that the Grand Canyon suffers from serious smog, due to the huge amount of traffic that rolls in and out of the area. It made for great photos though, especially looking west, where the cliffs, mesas, and canyon edges faded into layers through the mist. It looked like an amazing, award-winning photo. Dawson took the same shot with his digital camera.
The sun was dropping quickly – we weren’t there long – and the colors continued to change. The browns turned deep red and orange, and the shadows increased. The tops of the cliffs and canyons took the red, while the areas below took on a blue hue. Craig and I snapped pictures like crazy, caught a couple of each other with our horrendous helmet hair (my HJC half-helmet makes my hair look like I’m Frankenstein), but we were really giddy to be there.
Your truly, with Frankenstein helmet hair.
Getting chilly out there...
Within minutes, the sun dipped too low to shine across the canyon, and the red disappeared. The canyon became dark and gray, and the river faded into the amazing depth. We took pictures of the near cliffs, the far side, the layers of the canyon, and a last couple shots of each other. Though I subscribe to Neil Peart’s (and, I’m sure, many other people’s) travel theory: the point of the journey is not to arrive – this journey was about seeing the Grand Canyon. We just happened to want to do it on Harleys, rather than in a rental car.
Craig, in the last shot of the evening.
Back on the bikes, I was feeling good, thinking we’d made it and we could finally get off our wind-blown bikes and into a motel room and restaurant. No, after pulling away from the first stop, thinking that we were finally at our destination, we saw a sign for the Grand Canyon village and motels – 25 miles! It was just about dark and pretty damn cold. At and 415 miles on my odometer, after we’d both upgraded our gloves and shirts, we were headed down what we believed to be the road to our rest (though we thought we were already there). Nope, it was a cruel tease. We stopped a few more times on the way as we came upon overlooks – including an incredible overlook at Mather Point – and took more pictures with the hope that we would come to the hotel over the next rise and before it got dark. There were still tons of people at that stop – I wondered where they were all staying. Was there enough space for everyone in the park? Would our room get taken from us because we were arriving late?
A half hour to go. Worse, we got stuck behind an RV on the last stretch. Granted, the RV and the car ahead of it shielded us from a potential nasty deer collision, and allowed us some pause to inhale more evocative forest fire smells. It smelled great in a disturbing way (depending on if it was an “on-purpose” fire or a really bad one). The road undulated up and down through fascinating pine forests (smelling of both live and burned pine), frustratingly behind the motor home, doing about 40mph instead of the 60-70mph we would have preferred. Besides, we’d seen the canyon at dusk. RV drivers need to be more aware of their impact on the happiness of others. Pull that thing over every so often and let us go by! This is America! Most of us are in a hurry!
The frustration grew, but we eventually crossed the double yellow and passed the RV instead of following its wallowing ass all the way to Yavapai Lodge (there were no legal passing zones during that stretch of road). The signs came fast and furious. I led us through the very nice roads to the “town center” of the Grand Canyon South Rim. There was the hotel office, a grocery store, a post office, and a gigantic parking lot. I followed the signs for “check-in” and parked us in a handicapped spot so I could bound off my bike with helmet and gloves still on and check us into our room. Next to the front desk was a large cafeteria that screamed “national park!” It kind of depressed me – I didn’t want that to be our dining option, especially after such a heavy ride…Craig and I needed waitstaff, bartenders, and chefs! I had read a bit about the dinner options on the South Rim during this part of the year, and it wasn’t promising. Dinner was not going to be at that cafeteria. The Grand Canyon sees almost five million visitors per year. That’s an astonishing number – do the math per month, and you’d think we’d be up to our ears in people. It makes sense when you consider the fact that the average visitor’s stay at the park is…four hours. Thankfully, we were early enough in the year, too.
It was a with 439 miles on my odometer. I got our room key and a map to the building. This was the Yavapai Lodge West hotel, where I had booked a room many months before, all online. It was almost completely dark and getting darn chilly. We had to ride a few “blocks” on a park road through the woods, past a number of other hotel buildings before we found ours. This was really more of a motel or motor inn – basically low, cinderblock houses. There were no views of the canyon, just woods. The neighbors surely cringed as we did a loop around the building to find our number, and fit the rumbling bikes into a single space in front of the room. Inside, the place was kind of like a high-end dorm room, but it would do.
Finally in the room (always a great feeling after a long day of touring), we unloaded the bikes, took turns in the shower to rinse off the road crud, and collapsed on our beds for a few minutes to remind our bodies what it feels like to be fully stretched out. The TV was on, of course – in a hotel, when is it not? As I got out of the shower and looked in the mirror, I noticed the diamond-shaped pattern on my back hadn’t gone away. It reminded me of the interesting day before (which seemed like last week). It looked like I’d sat shirtless on a wrought iron garden chair for too long. I had to think back to the night before when Craig first pointed it out…I thought that it must have been the chair on the balcony in Sedona. Nope. It was the aliens. It was also a reminder that I still needed to call Eagle Rider sometime and tell them about the crash. Procrastination is one of my areas for improvement.
We didn’t get out of the hotel room until about , when it was pure pitch black outside. It would be about six minutes to the nicer canyonside hotels where we’d look for a restaurant. The hotels down there sure sounded nice, but neither of us were complaining because it felt awesome to ride completely unladen motorcycles: nearly empty panniers and no bags hanging on by bungee cords or weighing down the back end…back to the essence of riding – two wheels, a seat, an engine, a gas tank, and handlebars.
Through the darkness under the tall pines, we nosed our way down various roads, following signs to Angel Lodge, the primary high-end hotel on the South Rim. Lights, cars, and people increased as we followed the old railroad and found a parking space near the entrance to the lodge. I have to say, I felt half annoyed walking into the cozy, rustic, log-lodge-lobby of the place, wondering what kind of rooms we could have had there, but it was tempered by the surprising number of tourists milling around and coming in and out of the gift shops. I imagined that we’d have a quieter night of sleep out in the ‘hood.
We walked through the other side of the lodge and discovered that we were actually standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon (or so the signs said). It was a stone wall supporting the kind of blackness and invisible depth that you normally see and feel in a cave. Out in front of our eyes was the canyon. Though I couldn’t see anything, I felt something. It was a deep void, a vastness stretching out for miles across and below, like my eyes were being gently tugged forward. Maybe it was my mind playing tricks on me, but I felt the expanse in front of me. If I didn’t know that there was a mind-bogglingly huge canyon just feet ahead, maybe it would have been different, but I felt something. The next morning, in the gift shop, I nearly bought a postcard that made me laugh. It was just a black card with cartoonish animal eyeballs scattered around it. The caption: “The Grand Canyon at Night”.
The other restaurants and sandwich shops we passed in the massive Angel Lodge looked like they had long waits, so we went around the corner and into the Arizona Room, one of the restaurants recommended by my travel book – it was supposed to be the best. Other books and travel websites said it was “very good” and the “fanciest” place at the park, so I was expecting something great. We grabbed a couple decent martinis (I’ll venture to say that no martini is bad after a long day of riding in the desert) and toasted the arrival to our ultimate goal. We could have turned around at this point and still called the trip a success. We weren’t riding to see Sedona – it was always the Grand Canyon. Sedona and Zion were gravy.
Well, it was a typical National Park restaurant (in my experience): a bit run down, a bit cafeteria-like. After a 20 minute wait, we were led into a large dining room packed with all types of people in all types of dress. I guess everything is relative. The food was okay. My meal started with a hearty black bean soup, and came with a heavily buttered vegetable medley. I made a bad choice of the prime rib, forgetting what prime rib often is. I was looking for a nice moist steak, but what I got was a huge, 12oz, fatty piece of cow. I should have gotten the 8oz, but I was thinking that I was on vacation and should splurge. The thing nearly hung over the sides of the plate. I felt like a pig, and didn’t even touch the baked potato (always feeling guilty for wasting food). It all cost $25, so it wasn’t a splurge. Craig had pork tenderloin. We stayed until they closed at , slurping as much wine as we could get from the very dedicated wait staff. To my right were huge picture windows – completely black. I could only imagine what the views would be like in the daylight or at sunset and how much better the food would have tasted with that kind of view.
After dinner, the ride back to the room was in pure darkness on unfamiliar roads and cold air. The thought that the canyon was just to the left of us as we rode made me shake my head. The rest of the evening we sipped whisky from flasks and flipped through the channels on TV. No cigars that night – we were both a little beat, and there wasn’t the inspiration of having a balcony with chairs to encourage late-night discussion. We’d seen a lot that day, not the least of which was the Grand Canyon, the first time for both of us. Who knows when we’d be back…bringing wives or kids? It was lights out by and into snoring time.
Next up, day three - to Zion National Park.
|03-24-2012, 09:18 PM||#32|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Day Three! To Zion!
Day Three – Sunday,
“I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
It felt good to get up at with what – according to the clock – should have been nine hours of sleep. I woke up a bunch of times during the night, not knowing why, and had to deal with trying to get back to sleep through Craig’s snoring from across the room. I have no doubt that I snored just as loudly as he but for all I knew he slept all the way through. We both remarked at how getting to bed early the night before would help the upcoming day’s ride. Yeah, that was until we both tried to get out of the beds. Our muscles were completely sore. The previous day’s ride was a bit more punishing that we’d expected. I’d ridden a couple long days in Scotland, but not as far as we’d ridden yesterday, and definitely not under a blazing sun. Plus, I hate to say it, but the Harley’s seat wasn’t agreeing with me – the BMW I rented in Glasgow five months before had a much more comfortable setup for long-distance touring. Though I prefer Harley-Davidson’s big 88 cubic inch (1442cc) V-twin engine over that BMW R850R’s relatively uninspiring boxer engine, the German seat and seating position seemed superior for touring and sport riding. There are many reasons that people like Harley tourers –sport-touring footpeg arrangements is not one of them. You ride them because of the engine, a comfy, laid-back seat, the metal and style, the American-ness, and the seemingly ingrained attitude.
By , I was in command of the TV remote and had found some MotoGP for us to gawk at as we traded off in the bathroom and got our repacking out of the way. Craig hadn’t watched motorcycle road racing before. I had only gotten into it since finally ordering satellite TV and the Speed channel.
The first sport bike Craig had ever ridden was my 1999 Suzuki Katana GSX-F600 (recently parted out at a bike shop after it sat in front of my house for years, unridden, and after I gave it away to a friend who found out what bad shape it was in). They’re really fun, and if I had a garage, I’d get a good one – probably a Ducati Multistrada or Diavel, something naked, or a used Buell 1125CR. A Ducati was the first bike I ever wanted, even before they were legal in the States. I saw one parked in North Conway, New Hampshire one summer back in the mid-80’s (it was a pre-legal replica) and about pooped my pants. That event seemed to have set the whole me-on-bikes thing into motion. 25 years later (?!), and I’ve owned four motorcycles (so far).
This was going to be Craig’s and my last full day riding with each other. We’d revisit the Grand Canyon’s South Rim sights then get rolling north for probably 250 miles into Utah to Zion National Park. We hoped to see some of the park if we got in early enough. Craig planned to get up the next morning and ride on home to San Diego. I expected to get up, see more of Zion, and actually get off the bike and hike Angel’s Landing – a two-hour, straight-uphill climb with a chain handrail to an incredible pinnacle view. I felt like I needed to take advantage of the time there, like on a real hike. Then I would make my long ride back to Sedona. Of course, I was also thinking about calling the rental place as soon as I could get a cell phone signal. After discussing it with Craig, I would tell them that the accident happened the day before.
Craig has a great outlook on life and interpersonal relationships. I tend to overthink and overplan my communications. Normally, that’s a good thing, but Craig has a talent to boil things down to their elements. While I was developing an elaborate story of surprise gravel and sand coming around a hairpin curve, he advised me to just tell them that the bike went down and that I’d be bringing it in slightly damaged. “Don’t say anything unless they ask questions,” he said.
“Just tell ‘em and let them deal with it.”
We rode back to the Bright Angel Lodge bar, which had turned into a coffee shop for the morning. It was mighty chilly that morning – 46 degrees at the wakeup with a windchill of 39 – and pretty breezy. As we waited for our bagels to toast and my tea to steep, we watched a little bit of Wolf Blitzer. The world was still hurting despite my attempts to make it a more adventurous, peaceful place. After scarfing breakfast among a few other early risers (who mostly looked like hikers preparing for their big, physical day, clad in bright technical fabrics), we checked out the view from the lodge, then rode back through the sunny, golden morning to finish packing. My rear brake had started squeaking, probably from all the dust on the trip.
Packed and back on the bike in front of our room that Sunday morning, around , I strapped my helmet on, taking care around my sunburned face. We planned on hitting some of the same Grand Canyon overlooks that we’d hit the previous evening, which would probably look very different in the bright mid-morning sun. It was warming up a bit, so I expected to ditch my fleece shirt sometime soon. Though I couldn’t wait to get back on the road with a buddy, I was also looking forward to some time to relax by myself, to write, and read my book (something I hadn’t touched since the start of the trip).
Starting the ride out from the South Rim and Yavapai Lodge, it was a windy and shocking 46 degrees. In my experience of riding at that point, I’d really never ridden with another biker before. There were the occasional situations when I’d be cruising along a road and find myself overtaking another rider (or being overtaken) – I’d fall into formation with him until it was appropriate to pass (or be passed). There is a bit of a thrill when you link up with another rider. It is multiplied when you ride in a large group – you really do feel like part of a gang. It can be set up to run through stop signs and lights, and sometimes you even get a police escort. At the same time, riding in formation squelches some of the key elements of riding: freewill and individuality. I have a bit of a lead foot on bikes, cars, and just about anything else that involves a motor. Riding in formation means having to suppress my natural tendencies, and that’s not easy. That said, traveling as a pair on this trip was fantastic. We would buzz all over the road, trade the lead, and snap pictures of each other as we passed.
On our ride out from the South Rim, we stopped back at many of the overlooks we’d seen the night before, the difference being that the canyon was now in full, hot sunlight. At the Yavapai overlook, I hit mile 445 – it was . The colors were washed out and bleached away…I liked dusk better, but it was nice to see both views. Morning in bright sunlight meant all the details were visible, which is normally how you make something less interesting. With the Grand Canyon, it made all the details more crisp and clear, reducing the shadows, and exposing the distance, depth, and dustiness. Stop after stop, I took shot after shot, vertical and horizontal, framed by trees, bordered by tower-like cliffs, and the valuable duo-shots, portraits of the riders. I never thought I’d see myself in one of those stereotypical “Harley riders on tour” photos: two or more guys in jeans and leather jackets in front of a serious natural or historical site. Hands are on hips or thumbs in pockets, or, if you’re really posing, arms folded across the chest. We did a few of those.
At other stops, we pushed past the annoyingly slow tourists – who shuffled to the overlook as if they had all day to see this one overlook – and snapped pictures of each other standing on top of the stone wall edge of the canyon in our leathers and boots, the yawning canyon behind us.
It was fun to stand on the edge of the canyon…I’ve always loved to bound around on the edge of falling. Way down below, at the farthest down there, was water – the Colorado River. It was the only color in the picture not related to brown, tan, or beige (well, aside from the sky, clouds, and trees).
Craig and I took turns with each other’s camera to ensure that we both had a decent number of shots of ourselves to take home. Craig was sporting a solid goatee, which automatically made his shots look cooler. I still looked like a yuppie on a Harley vacation. The fences along some of those Grand Canyon overlooks were hilariously old and bent-up. Nothing compared to the age of the canyon, but the rails were interestingly dumpy. The photos at some overlooks make it look like we were at some sort of deserted old park that had been forgotten by America.
The leather jacket, to this point, had been great. Without its liner, it had kept me sufficiently warm the whole trip so far, even through some chilly areas and high speeds. At the South Rim overlooks that morning I could feel the sun amp up its pressure, but the air temperature was still cold – probably 56-60 degrees. That meant wearing the gauntlets for a couple more hours. I was envious of Craig’s jacket. He could zip the bottom zipper up to mid-gut level to maximize cooling airflow. Plus, without an elastic waistband, his jacket looked less like a bomber jacket and more old-school English aviator than mine. He said it could accommodate armor, but it had none. I’ve become an ATGATT rider since this trip, but Craig has decreased his riding so much that he doesn’t think about it.
The cliffs in the distance showed interesting flows of tan sand, which looked to me like thin arroyos filled with dark runoff from many, many years ago. You could see where, long ago, water had run, and where the loose dirt had followed it.
At , we finally left the Grand Canyon area behind and headed back east on 64 towards Cameron for a fillup at a station at the intersection of 89.
On the last stretch of the road, well past where my pannier opened up the prior evening, a massive dust devil streaked across a field on the left side of the road. It must have been 50-60 feet tall…I actually feared that it would cross over the road into us. We stopped at the gas station at the intersection of 64 and 89. The wind was incredible, pushing the bikes around. This section of the ride epitomized “the desert” for me (until I rode through the Saguaro). Classic: hot, dry, dusty, and barren. The Grand Canyon was just about 25 miles from that gas station. For something so huge, so popular, and so iconic, the intersection was surprisingly low-key: just a sign telling travelers to turn left if they wanted to see one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. Or just keep on straight if you want to get up to Utah. No big deal.
89 North took us through amazing desert, dotted with homes and farms, and punctuated by empty and decrepit Indian gift shop stops – it was, after all, reservation land. The straight, long road also gave us the chance to haul some ass and take some incredible pictures (on the bike and off). The road became especially amazing as we escaped the depressing old homesteads and dirt farms that tried to look like suburbs of someplace, and evolved into just little settler farms with modest “houses” – dwellings that were like wooden pueblos. On our left were green, rolling fields. On our right were the spectacular, spine-like Echo Cliffs.
The red and tan striped stone provided a perfect backdrop for a few photos, but also reminded me of why I’d come: scenery like this – the stuff we don’t have in the east. It was 1:25pm at our Echo Cliffs photo stop.
My trip odometer read 550 miles. Craig’s was at almost 1,000. We were making great time in warm air and blue skies. As Craig and I chatted about the ride thus far, I also murmured the details of the last stretch into my voice recorder. Craig shouted over: “No good-looking native girls!”
“Nope,” I replied, “just a lot of jerky. They love jerky out here.” Seriously, we passed more jerky stands, as well as the funny Yellow Chief stands that always had odd messages to try to lure in drivers, such as “Friendly Indians!”
Coming up...the final two days...
|03-24-2012, 09:33 PM||#33|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Oh, and Craig just texted me: he's at the hospital.
His Portugese wife has a condition that has been going on persistently for 9+ months...he and she are hoping that it will be relieved tonight, by delivering their first boy.
|03-30-2012, 10:56 PM||#34|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Craig's wife had a boy...Tiago. Interesting name!
|03-31-2012, 07:49 PM||#35|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Blazing (and Chilling) North
As we rolled, the Echo Cliffs disappeared and a new set began to loom on the horizon. This section of the trip may have been my overall favorite. The road swooped and rolled through deep brown desert, surrounded by red cliffs, and the sun did its best to beat through the helmet and leather. The wind did a great job regulating the temperature. Up ahead were the Vermilion Cliffs and the Paria Plateau, a huge table that looked like it stretched from one side of the horizon to the other. It felt like it took forever to get to (in a good way).
At this point, the obvious place to stop was the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River. We’d been riding for quite some time in the blazing sun, and were looking for an excuse to stop and get a swig of water. The road up to that point was incredibly rewarding and easily in the top five of the most enjoyable motorcycling I’ve ever done to that point, along with California’s Route 1 north of San Francisco as it winds athletically along the Pacific coast. It demanded as much from my motorcycling skills as it did from my motorcycle. Another would be Colorado Route 34/Trail Ridge Road, the road through Rocky Mountain National Park, even though it rained on me for part of it and the thunderclaps felt like they were about two feet above my ear, which they were. Another one would be Route 125, the road north out of Granby, Colorado, which may have been especially outstanding because I was in such a good mood and the temperature was perfect. A fifth could to go to Route A83, the road into Inveraray, Scotland. It was a scary and dramatic canyon – rainy and ugly – therefore, it was beautiful. I could go on and on. In the case of Arizona, this road was perfectly set up for fully-laden Harleys: wide, sweeping curves and long, straight stretches. Our view exploded with and expanse of canyons and red wal ls – a world I’d never seen before. We dipped low into the deep red and tan of the desert and to the Little Colorado Gorge.
At 580 miles on my trip ODO, we came up to the Navajo Bridge and Glen Canyon. The visitor center for the bridge was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and blended right in to the landscape: tan.
The parking lot was full of RVs and minivans – all tourists, clearly, but no one seemed to be actually out on the bridge. Craig and I parked the bikes and instantly remarked to each other about the power of the sun. You’ve heard people say that the sun “beats down”, but there in the desert, at that high elevation, the sun really did feel heavy on my shoulders, making my leather jacket feel twice as dense. Yet, I didn’t want to take it off. It was hot out, but (cliché alert!) it was really dry. I could wear jeans, boots, and a leather jacket in 100+ degree weather and truly not mind. My thermometer said 105 in the sun. I scarfed some GORP, swigged some warm (hot) Diet Coke, and headed out across Navajo Bridge.
This was the former vehicle bridge over the river since 1928, before being replaced in 1995. It serves only pedestrians now.
It was a fantastic canyon, with sheer, red cliffs and then an oddly vibrant green river below. Depending on which resource you cite, we were either 150 (my voice recorder), 290 (source unknown), or 470 (Frommer’s) feet above the Colorado River (to me, it felt and looked like between 271 and 290 feet), and the whole bridge stretched 275 feet across. Parallel to the footbridge was the I-89a bridge that we’d just come across.
The ground all around us and the cliffs of the canyon were typically tan, but the surrounding cliffs were a perfect rusty red – it had felt like we had just ridden down into a giant bowl. Craig and I got some good photos at that amazing gully, remarked about the heat, and commented that we really ought to be moving on.
This was usually preceded by the glancing at of watches, the looking up at the angle of the sun, the crooking of one’s face to the side as the rest of the day’s route was re-mapped in one’s head, and the determination that one really needed to be moving along. Hell, I was still wearing my long johns from that morning, so I was getting damn toasty. Looking back at the photos we took on the Navajo Bridge, it’s clear how old it is and why it now carried only tourists versus the occasional Nash or Packard: the bridge sides were basic steel lattice with big old 1920s rivets. No frills, no big safety features.
This area is also one of the entrances to the massive Navajo Indian Reservation to the east and southeast. I would love to investigate the scenery that the Navajo section of the region offers (it overlaps multiple states). We weren’t far from Lee’s Ferry, which, for many years was the only crossing over the Colorado for hundreds of miles. It was started by John Lee in 1871 at the “bidding” of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. According to Jon Krakauer, author of “Under the Banner of Heaven”, Lee had been sent to the spot so he could hide out because of his role in the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre, in which over 100 travelers from back east (Arkansas, which counted as “east” back then), making their way out west were ambushed by Mormon militia, almost definitely on the orders of Joseph Smith himself, taken into “custody”, and executed. Men, women, and children. A number of the smallest children were spared, “adopted”, and raised by the Mormons. Those Mormons used some of the local Indians in their scheme, and tried to involve them in the subsequent cover-up of the massacre. After some investigations, John Lee was located, tried, and executed by firing squad in 1877. Krakauer’s book, which I read a few months after this trip, really made sense when I realized where I had just been. Craig and I were riding near the heart of Mormon fundamentalist country. Ever since, I’ve been fascinated by the subject, and not because the show “Big Love” came out on HBO about that time, and the fact that there’s a huge Mormon temple essentially right around the corner from my house in Maryland.
Anyway, Craig and I had to be moving on, but not before I headed off for a quick piss. The restrooms at the visitor center were another new experience for me. It was a surprise at first to see that the commodes inside the very modern-looking building were actually no-water latrines. In fact, there were no sinks/ No water, no sinks. In their place were hand sanitizer dispensers. New and bizarre, but it made sense. I did my business, sanitized my hands, and ambled back to the bikes, where Craig was watching a rather brazen chipmunk scurry around the bikes, waiting for any crumbs from our snacks.
The furnace-like wind was blowing hard under the blue skies and along the rusty canyon walls. How I was going to top this trip? Craig and I had talked about doing the Pacific Coast Highway from San Diego to Oregon and back the following year. It hasn’t happened yet.
We replaced our frying-pan-hot helmets and got back on the road: a sudden left turn from our last road, toward a row of cliffs in the distance – as well as some dark clouds. On our right as we pulled away from the bridges was the back wall of the Vermillion Cliffs.
|04-08-2012, 08:01 PM||#37|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Yup, thanks Sutto...I really miss 35mm. It made you THINK about what you were shooting and decide if it was worth paying for. Digital is great - you can catch almost every aspect of a trip with no problem and you can keep it in your pocket - but, you end up losing that EYE. Alas, I'd rather have digital with a good long lens. Thanks again for replying.
Word to the reader: the small photos are the digital shots by my friend Craig. The big big photos are mine, shot in 35mm Nikon or those disposable cameras.
More to come!
|04-08-2012, 08:15 PM||#38|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Colorful Cliffs and Wild Climates
Along the Vermillion Cliffs – a high, long wall with just enough flat space between them and the road to support some houses and businesses – were a handful of interesting restaurants and roadhouses that featured the tell-tale stamp of approval: a handful of bikes out front. We were actually rather hungry – it was probably – but hadn’t seen much of anything promising along the way. Lots of dry, deserted, roadside stands, but nothing actually in business. Sometimes, when you’re moving so quickly and without an annoying impediment on four (or more) wheels in front of you, you tend to postpone pulling over. Yeah, that place looked interesting and there were a few other bikes out there, and it was open, and there was the definite smell of a grilled burger coming across the road, but we were moving so damn fast and making such great time that we just couldn’t bear to pull off and stop the progress. There’s just not enough time in the sighting and the passing to make the decision, and it sure as hell doesn’t help when there’s more than one rider on the trip to second-guess the decision. So, we skipped some perfectly promising lunch places along the cliffs there in the deep desert, hoping for something up ahead.
We wheeled around the cliffs, then away from them. Then up, up in elevation through a series of switchbacks and overlooks of the desert floor across which we’d just ridden.
The sun had left, which helped the whole “hot” thing, but – coupled with the elevation – a “cold” thing started to happen. We were both wearing our hot weather gloves and just t-shirts under the jackets, and that started to make us think about pulling over and adding a layer or two.
But, no. It’s the same thing with restaurants and lunch: you’re making such great time and (in the case of weather) all hunkered down. You don’t want to stop your forward progress. Think of it this way: it’s like when you’re asleep in bed when you wake up in the middle of the night under a sheet and maybe just one thin blanket. You suddenly realize how cold it is in the room and how cold you are. You keep yourself in that half-awake/half-asleep mode because you don’t really want to wake up. Your half-awake brain tells you how chilly you are and reminds you that you could wake yourself up fully and reach for the bedspread or another blanket to give you much-desired warmth…but you don’t dare move! You’re in a strangely comfortable state all tucked into yourself like that, and the slightest move would expose you to: a) greater cold, and b) an interruption to the comfort that your body has negotiated with the mattress and the covers (not to mention having to fully wake yourself up, which is never preferable). Whenever I half-wake up like that, it’s usually after a brilliantly vivid and romantic or evocative dream, and I don’t want to move a muscle because I know – poof – it will dispel the overwhelmingly realistic and emotional experience I’d just experienced in my sleeping mind. I usually wake up wishing it was real, even when it’s sad or nostalgic. Especially when it’s sad or nostalgic.
The road led us up into pine and fir forests and brought us under scary, cold, cloudy skies. Finally, at , we arrived at the “town” of Jacob Lake. I was as cold as shyte. As far as I could tell, all that Jacob Lake encompassed was the classic, 1923 Jacob Lake Inn (www.jacoblake.com): a gift shop, restaurant, and gas station, all at the top of Route 67 South, AKA Grand Canyon Highway. That road would take visitors to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – if the North Rim was open this time of year, which it was not. We didn’t mind. Something to come back to in warmer days. An excuse to stop – which, as I described before – is always important to riders who feel that stopping is an interruption of the progress of a ride. Craig and I would allow our fingertips to freeze off before we’d pull over to put on thicker gloves and another layer. And we never once broke out our full-face helmets that we’d packed.
Regardless, the fuel situation had been starting to get a little bit worrisome. So, seeing a station in all that wilderness was a big relief. Everyone thinks, “Oh, motorcycles get such incredible gas mileage, you can drive forever.” It’s not quite like that. If you had a 15-gallon tank sitting up between your knees, then yeah, you could ride forever. But on our Harleys, we were only sitting on about five gallons. If you get an average of about 40 miles per gallon (sometimes 50, if you’re easy on the throttle), you’re really only able to go about 200 miles before you start to sweat, versus 375 or so in a car. You just don’t have the same kind of range. Sure, when you’re commuting or using a bike as your ‘round-town vehicle, it kicks the ass of most four-wheelers, but when you’re touring, you almost always have the fuel needle in the back of your mind.
So, we were now at that next gas station, and it was a happy feeling. It was also the only source of lunch we could see on the map for quite some time. Up there at the North Rim, we were at approximately 8,000 feet above sea level, in 55 degree temperatures, and under cloudy skies. Just as a reminder, about 45 minutes prior, we were down around 3,100 feet and baking in 105 degree sun on the Navajo Bridge. An elevation change of over 4,900 feet (almost a mile!) in 45 minutes and 40 miles! Yeah, on that last stretch of road, those bikes were essentially angled straight up, like big, chromey rockets. This was plenty higher than Flagstaff’s 7,000 feet, which definitely felt high and chilly. Jacob Lake seemed almost alpine. By the way, there was no evidence of any lake.
We parked the bikes out front of the mostly deserted gift shop/restaurant in the world. I began my voice recorder note-taking ritual – Craig didn’t wait a second and started busting on me: “I’m cold as shit, man. I’m going inside!”
It was your typical Stuckey’s-style gift shop, but more western: lots more space, a bit rustic, and lots of Native American-influenced stuff. We weren’t even sure the place was open, but did see a couple people seated at the lunch counter. Sitting down as two “riders” always has the potential for a colorful response from other diners, but Craig and were both clean-cut. His goatee was about as edgy as we got on this trip.
Next to Craig and me was an older couple with what appeared to be a pair of South Indians – India Indians. It was weird – we were trying to figure out what their relationship was. No one looked very comfortable or happy, and they sat separated from each other: Indian-American-Indian-American. The older couple was funny, all fitted out with hiking sticks and boonie hats. The man looked miserable – he just sat there at the lunch counter with his mouth hanging open. When asked what he wanted to order, he soundlessly mouthed “coffee.” Another couple came in soon after, carefully eyeing Craig and me. Leather jackets. Sruff. Harleys parked outside. Honestly, it may have just been my imagination, but I really believed people were sizing us up and assessing what kind of trouble we were. If any normal person in any normal place has ever run into trouble from men riding motorcycles, I would like to meet them. Also, as a white bread, white collar dude with some badass hobbies (bikes, guitars, etc.), I have to laugh.
Craig had a burger and I ordered a BLT. The poor kid running the counter had just arrived for a summer job there and was totally flummoxed with how things worked, where things were kept, and what things cost. The manager was around and helped him out, but no one seemed to mind that it took him a long time to get me some hot water for tea, or start new coffee brewing, or take new orders from the sudden mini-crush of people that had just arrived. He would need this kind of practice for the upcoming season. I hope he did okay when the real rush appeared, as opposed to the cold, tired, random group that populated the lunch counter that day.
After the fillup (food and gas), it was . My trip odometer read 622 miles. I put just 2.85 gallons into the Road King at this stop (and to think I’d been worried about fuel!). We continued north up Route 89 through cold forests and drizzle-spattered curves, then rounded a tall hill to finally start a significant descent into the Kaibab and Kanab Plateaus, toward Fredonia. Along the way, 11 miles from Jacob Lake, we pulled off at the East Rim Vista overlook to survey the upcoming valley, and look across the border of Arizona into Utah.
Way in the distance, over an expanse of thick green trees, was cloudy blue sky and bright brown desert, with the continuation of the Vermilion Cliffs stretching across the horizon. The precipitation mostly held off, giving us a few scares as it changed from mist to drops and back to mist. I had decided not to bring my rain suit on this trip, thinking I wouldn’t be in any place where rain would be a concern. I don’t know if Craig brought one either, or even owns one. He says he won’t ride when it’s colder than 70 degrees.
After my eight-day ride in Scotland in October 2005, I learned what makes a good rain suit. For the jacket: a high collar with a soft lining that closes tightly around the neck, a serious set of flaps over the zippers to prevent water from leaking in, and waterproof zipper seals on the pockets (because you’ll still need pockets in the rain – I kept my directions in a Ziploc bag). The pants are another story. The ones I had in Scotland were doing fine for the first 5-6 days, but after a 24-hour stretch of rain between Glen Livet and Edinburgh, I started to feel a cold bath forming in my crotchal region. I assumed it was from water being blown under the front of my jacket and then finding its way down through the gathers at the waistband. That was a possible explanation, but when I wore those same pants on another rainy ride in northern California and gave myself the fantastic ‘just-peed-my-pants” look, I knew I had to find out what was going on. It turned out to be a faulty seam in the that crotchal region, which I have since sealed up with tent seam sealer. I “couldn’t wait” to test them again (though I would prefer not to have to). I ended up using them again in the Colorado Rockies, and they worked great. I discovered a new problem there: I was riding a BMW K1200GT which meant the cuffs kept riding up my ankles, exposing my boot laces. I know, time for some waterproof boots. Luckily, that BMW has a great fairing – my legs and feet were well-protected from the wind and rain (and hail).
Craig and I had both packed our full-face helmets just in case the rain really got bad. Nothing hurts worse than rain drops pelting your face at 65 mph. I never broke mine out, but Craig eventually would on his ride home.
|04-20-2012, 07:44 PM||#39|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Utah: A New State for Me
Fredonia was the last town in Arizona before entering a new state for me, Utah. Red cliffs began to reappear, but Utah still started out pretty underwhelming. Not far over the border was Kanab, a stereotypically “western” town, thick with old west themed motels, a few historic buildings, and some gift shops and tourist traps that looked like stereotypical saloons (but less authentic). We didn’t stop in any of the little villages after that and I don’t have pictures of anything on the stretch between the East Rim Vista overlook and Zion National Park. Neither of us really wanted to stop – Zion National Park and our hotel and happy hour and dinner seemed to be close (or we wished they were). Like I’ve always said, near the end of the day, I always seem to push those last 60 miles or so, just eager to reach Point B and get off the bike.
Past Kanab, the elevation increased a bit and we wound through grassy canyons and through tan and red stone walls. The last section of road was a fast highway that took us through high valleys, forested hills, and cooler air (we were still wearing the extra layers and gauntlets we’d added back at Jacob Lake), and allowed us to speed up a bit. Signs for Zion started to appear. At Mt. Carmel Junction, we left Route 89 North and headed west on Route 9. The landscape started to become a little more dramatic as the road hugged forested hills and wound its wide turns past ranches, pasture, and small motels. We passed buffalo on a ranch that made a big deal of it, with big signs encouraging tourists to come see them up close. The weather had cooperated nicely since the threatening section after Jacob Lake, with plenty of sun and good temperatures all the way. As we approached the national park, however, it was clear there was going to be trouble. Dark clouds loomed up ahead and the winds felt like they were picking up. What I was really dreading was having to stop our forward progress, get off, stow away some of the valuables from my pockets (cell phone, wallet, camera, etc.), and have to buck up for what would probably be a miserable 10 miles or so.
There’s that trend again: not stopping for photos in funny western tourist towns for fear of impeding the “forward progress”. I know I’m like that when I tour by myself, but it was even more pronounced when I had to wonder if Craig had any interest in stopping for a quick shot, or even to take a whizz or grab a Coke.
Not long after the bison/buffalo tourist trap, we came up to the east entrance gate to Zion, Utah’s first National Park. President Taft established the park back in 1909 as “Mukuntuweap National Monument”. It was renamed Zion National Monument (thankfully) in 1918, and made a National Park a year later. Mormons trucking through the area in the 1860s called it “Zion”, a Hebrew word for a “safe place” or refuge. After the desert and desolation they had just come through either from the east or the south, the beautiful canyons, valleys, towers, and rivers must have been a bit of a relief. The Park Ranger at the gate was young and Opie-like, and rebuffed my question about the weather. “Oh, it’s not going to do anything. 20 percent chance. Probably going to pass right over. I think you’ll be fine.” I was skeptical. We paid our fees – $10 per bike for a seven-day pass – and rolled into one of the craziest environments I’d ever seen.
Route 9, the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, wound us through some of the most amazing and bizarre cliffs, rock formations, creek beds, and canyons that I’d ever seen. The smooth, red pavement seemed to roll and flow like a river through it all, making it feel like we were on some sort of log flume ride or on a creek, floating on an inner tube. Unfortunately, it did start to drizzle right at the point that we left the tan-and-green-clad weatherman ranger – nothing serious, but it was definitely precipitation and it kept us from stopping for photos. I was thinking that it might pick up into a full-blown downpour (I could stop on the way back in the morning, too). One of the coolest sights along the way was Checkerboard Mesa, an almost pyramid-shaped white mass of sandstone that had criss-cross hash marks all the way up its face, looking almost like it was chiseled by a machine. The sediment that formed the mesa was layered over time, creating the horizontal grooves. The vertical lines are a result of the applied pressure as the ground was covered and uncovered by surrounding rock, soil, and sediment. It took awhile, and the more recent erosion gives us the polished result. It really didn’t look like something nature could do, which is exactly the reason that you should think that it was something nature would do.
Riding in under the dark skies made the landscape foreboding and almost Moon-like. It would look very different the next morning when I returned in the bright sunlight. Even in the gloom, the cliffs were white-tan-peach. Just about five miles from the gate was the famous Zion Mount Carmel Tunnel, which was built in the 1920s and finished in 1930. At just over a mile long, it was the longest tunnel of its time, and served to provide access to the park from the east, particularly for travelers coming from the Grand Canyon and Utah’s Bryce Canyon. It was wild – pitch black, no internal lights – just occasional windows in the rock to bring in a little bit of sunlight. In a car, no problem, but on a bike you’re right there in the blackness that almost felt touchable. Whenever I ride through tunnels I wonder what the quality of the air I’m going to be breathing is – especially a tunnel that’s around 90 years old. At least it had windows to the outside. Passing them gave a glimpse of what was to come – a wide open canyon of stripy red rock.
The little hole of light up ahead was welcoming, but whoever thought of where to situate the opening of that tunnel was a genius. As a first time visitor, there is no way to have known the world that would expand before me as I emerged from the tunnel. It’s like I was forced through a narrow, dark straw and then blown into a gigantic colorful bubble. The yawning expanse of canyon that welcomed us from that old, black, claustrophobic, stone hole made my eyes bulge. Another analogy: think of being at a rock concert or a NFL game when they have a camera walking through the little hallway that leads to the field…you can’t see the crowd or the seats as you make your way, and you’ve probably never even been on the field of a huge football stadium during a game, so you have no idea what to expect. You walk through those final doors and your eyes can’t take in the height, the depth, the expanse, the color, and the noise of the stadium. It was like that, but it was all natural. And we were on Harleys.
And the rain had stopped, too. So we took the first hairpin turns out of the tunnel and found the first shoulder through that magnificent stadium of stone where we could safely stop. It was one of those vistas that required no shouted question or “camera shutter” hand/finger signals between us. We both knew we needed a bunch of shots here. For me, it was the usual: black and white, color, and panoramic. The tunnel emptied us into this galaxy of stone and jagged cliffs. The skies were awful, but they lent an eerie, dangerous, and otherworldly feel to our arrival in this new place. Neither of us had been anyplace like this. You might say, “Dude, you just left the Grand Canyon!”
And I would reply, “Yes, but before this trip, my mom and dad had taken a trip out west. She told me that she loved Zion most of all because it was the most “intimate”.
Mom found the Grand Canyon awesome, as everyone does, but at Zion, you get to drive right down inside and see it for yourself. That’s what I was seeing. It was like I and my bike were spontaneously created right there into that canyon, a greater, more beautiful world than I’d ever seen before. Jeez, now I’m making a “baby being born” analogy. Fine. Whatever. I came out of that dark tunnel knowing what the weather was doing and not expecting much dramatic beauty. But there it was, a total shock, like a blindfold being taken off.
From the top, the Grand Canyon is almost too big for itself. From all the overlooks it was amazing – for awhile – but then you go either down into it, study it for hours, or just leave. We obviously didn’t have time to go into it. If I had time, I would have just sat and watched the Grand Canyon for hours to note all the tiny crags and elements.
Craig and I took some shots at our first stop right out of the tunnel. It was hilarious to look back at where we’d just come from – a huge red mountain. The only evidence that we had just ridden through a massive rock was the small dark holes that served as windows into the tunnel. If you weren’t looking for them and knew what they were, you wouldn’t have noticed them. Just a few dark spots dotting a massive cliffside.
The men of the 1920s and 30s continued to amaze me.
A few cars were also pulled over in front of and behind us. We got some interesting shots, our re-energization clear with the discovery of new landscape. My worry about heavy rains and slow-going was gone. Zion was way better than I’d ever expected.
I led the way down through the amazing switchbacks. As we banked through them, I was thinking to myself that this just might be the hypothetical “scene” of my earlier “Get Off” so I wouldn’t have to admit to Eagle Rider that I’d taken the rental Harley off road. That was strictly prohibited per my contract. Yes! Wet pavement and sand on the switchbacks into Zion! I’d call them in the morning.
We rode to the bottom of the stadium canyon and down to the road that lead us quickly out of the deep and into what you could call the mouth of the amphitheatre and the “town” of Springdale. This is where we easily found the Cliffrose Lodge motel (www.cliffroselodge.com), just outside the western entrance of the park. To me, it seemed like the park was just a compact little bit of fantastic cliffs and canyons with a road going through it. I had made mental plans of getting up early the next morning and doing some hiking, but actually being there, I wasn’t sure where the rest of the park was! No, Route 9 just cuts through the southern quarter of the park – there was far more north of where we had come in, much more than we had allotted any time for. I had the idea that I’d hike Angel’s Landing, an amazing needle of towering rock with a chain handrail to assist climbers all the way up, but, as it often happens, I woke up the next day with just no time in my schedule. Someday I’ll learn to call hotels, motorcycle rental places, and airlines and tell them that I wouldn’t be showing up for another day or so. Someday. Hell, in the back of my head I was still sweating how to tell Eagle Rider rentals about my get-off, and how to work the wet roads and switchbacks on the arrival to Zion into it.
At , it seemed nearly pitch black under those clouds. We were in the Mountain Time Zone in Utah, so maybe it was actually . My trip odometer was at 703 miles. Craig and I happily pulled into the Cliffrose Lodge, a squat motor inn that, in any other setting, might have caused us to keep on rolling. But situated among towering peaks and jagged cliffs, it was perfect. It actually was a really nice place, but just not what I was used to. After vacations with my family as a kid, I must have made a subliminal vow to always shoot for nicer places. I’ve gotten over it since, especially out in the country – there just aren’t the options.
I guess the funniest aspect of this stop was when I walked into the office to check in. The front desk manager was polite and got me signed in right away, providing keys and everything. Craig milled around behind me, perusing the tourist brochures in one of those classic “tourist brochure holders” near the front door. Of course, it featured tourist steam trains, tourist cave tours, tourist alpine slides, tourist dolphin shows, tourist old west towns, tourist antique car museums, and tourist roller coasters. We walked down to the room, keyed in eagerly to find our beds, Scotch glasses, and whatever balcony view we’d have. Instead, we found one queen bed and a big, funky, 70s, round lounge chair with a massive crescent-shaped ottoman that fit right into the foot of it.
This was not what I had reserved.
Of course, like with the other nights, I’d asked for two queen beds. Yeah, the big round chair-thing with its massive round ottoman component could serve as a bed, but come on.
I walked back to the office while Craig hung out outside the room. With my explanation of the room’s deficiencies, the office manager – a young man himself – chuckled nervously and said that he “wondered, but wasn’t going to ask”.
WHAT THE FARK?!?!?!?!?
He quickly rebooked us in another room with two queen beds.
No problem. I didn’t have to kick his ass.
He probably had some booking challenges and, upon seeing two dudes in leather jackets, made a split-second decision that would probably avoid some other issues with a family of four that would be arriving later that evening who expected a room with two queen beds as well. Just my guess.
Anyway, the new room was just fine, and the balcony was excellent, rivaling the one we had in Sedona as far as views went. It was right there at the foot of some amazing, craggy red and tan cliffs and canyons, with a bed of green trees filling out the bottom of the valley. But there was no time for photos in the gloomy skies and gathering dark. We had Scotch to sip, showers to take, and dinner to find.
|04-21-2012, 12:22 AM||#40|
Joined: Aug 2011
Location: St. George, UT
Nice ride report -- thanks!
Welcome to Utah.
Good place for motorcycles!
RedRockRider - WR250R, TW200, Versys, Vulcan 900 LT, Zuma 125
Southwest Utah: Dual Sport Riding from St. George
|04-28-2012, 08:50 PM||#41|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Back to Sedona
By , I was sitting on the deck enjoying the last of the sunset on the cliffs and listening to approaching thunder. Pouring rain and more thunder moved in, impressing me with the awesome natural experience, but making me wonder what our walk to dinner would be like. I also started to worry about rain for tomorrow. I would be VERY unhappy with myself for taking the chance of not packing a rain suit. I started writing some postcards, including a panoramic shot of the Grand Canyon to my ex-girlfriend, who I was in the process of slowly ending ties. I think I wanted her to feel jealous, or at least to know that I was having adventures of my own.
Craig got out of the shower and poured his Scotch. I took my turn in the bathroom. While the water heated back up, I was able to take stock of my physical condition: pretty messed up.
My face was burned from the first part of the day riding through the desert and 100-degree sun. I had road rash on the elbow side of my left forearm. I had little raspberries on my shin (where the hell did they come from?!). I had a bruise and a raspberry on my right hip and thigh (interesting how my arm and hip/thigh alternated sides – really don’t recall taking an impact on either). I also noticed a strange cut on my ear – just a little line of blood. Where did that come from? Then, there was that damn rash on my right side from when I posed with those cacti in Sedona. I had been pulling and scratching those stinging needles and barbs out day and night – some were still in my skin under my jeans. My thigh looked like I had some skin disease. And, of course, I had the strange, alien spaceship, diamond shaped waffle iron-marking on my back.
Dinner was just a short walk down Route 9 through the darkness into Springdale. The Spotted Dog Café was the closest real restaurant we found within walking distance. Actually, it was the first restaurant we encountered on our walk that looked like it had a bar and a sit-down area, and that’s all we wanted. In the dark, we didn’t realize that the restaurant was part of motel called Flanigan’s Inn. It fit the bill, despite some young waitresses who weren’t so quick – they could have been quicker to get those kickoff martinis and refill Craig’s beers and my wine. Craig had a steak and I had a big salmon filet.
After what appeared to be a close-down situation (it wasn’t that late, I swear, but it was the off-season), we walked back up the dark road to home, where we retired to the balcony for cigars and single malt. After a bit of reflection about the ride and our plans for the next day as solo riders, a commotion began down in the garden/pool area below us. Did I hear German? Within a few seconds, a wild group of German speakers (Austrians?) broke through the gate and swarmed the pool. It was probably at least 11:30pm. Craig and I followed the rules. We may have wanted to hit the pool or jump in the hot tub with our stogies and drinks, but the hotel said the pool and hot tub were closed at 10:00pm. Alas, nothing stops a determined group of German speakers from taking what they want. They took over that pool and hot tub, drunk as hell. I tried to translate, but it wasn’t easy from the distance and over the multiple conversations going on. There were some interesting Mädchen in swimsuits, and what with my German language skills, we might have had a chance. But we were tired, well-fed, pleasantly buzzed, and ready to crash for one or two more days of motorcycling. I went to bed a little while after Craig turned in.
Day Four – Monday,
“Oh public road, you express me better than I can express myself.” - Walt Whitman
The next morning, the brilliant southwestern sun blasted into the room, as if it didn’t realize we were trying to sleep. But we weren’t trying to sleep in. Both of us had long rides ahead of us. Craig’s would end up being over twice mine.
On this trip, we had only experienced brilliantly sunny weather, outside of that iffy bit around the North Rim and when we arrived at Zion the day before. Add to that the astonishing red and tan cliffs that laid themselves out in front of our balcony (overlooking the now-defiled swimming pool and hot tub). The sun did wonders to highlight the tan upper half of the cliffs, leaving the red lower half in shadows.
We took our showers, pulled on our same dirty jeans that had been worn throughout the trip and added clean t-shirts that had been hiding in the bottom of our bags. I swigged whatever Diet Coke was left in the little fridge and we headed up to get breakfast at Zion Canyon Coffee Company, just a short walk back up Route 9 towards the park. It didn’t look open at – this was pre-tourist season (the souvenir shop next door sure wasn’t) – but the skeleton crew struggled to make a couple breakfast bagels with coffee and tea. We wolfed it all down on their patio and watched the sun crawl down the distant canyon cliffs.
Two guys knowing that they’ve got a parting coming up – especially when it comes to a multi-day motorcycle journey through one of the greatest places on earth – start to talk about random stuff: the weather, what that person over there is doing and how dumb they look doing it, the cool thing that was seen a couple days prior, and how the sun is just too strong to be drinking hot tea with skim milk. You make a few comments and laugh a bit about the roads you’d seen – the best sights, the lurking cop that gave you a scare, the time you started to worry about the gas gauge, and how you tried to get a good picture of the other person while riding at 76 mph into oncoming traffic. There was nothing left to talk about until next time or the next cross-country phone call. The “buddy ride” was over, and sitting in the strong morning sun was not going to create the easy impetus for parting ways. That would require taking a photo of the bikes and the riders, a manly, back-slapping half-hug, a promise that this would only be the beginning of many more such trips (along with some suggestions: the White Mountains of New Hampshire to my family’s camp in Maine…Salt Lake to Yellowstone…the Alps from Switzerland to Italy and back…hell, northern Italy by itself!), wishes to each other to “take it easy, man”, and “good time, good time”, “Ride safe, man. Let me know when you make it.” And other small talk about each other’s rides back – mostly about Craig’s because, he would be covering new ground.
Basically, I’d be headed back to Sedona the way we’d just came and then on an alternate route back to Scottsdale. Craig, on the other hand, would be cruising west through some more of the countryside of Utah (and through mysterious USAF proving grounds), ducking back into the northwest corner of Arizona before rolling through Las Vegas. He didn’t have reservations in Sin City and vowed that he wasn’t interested in spending a night there – partly because he knew his weaknesses, but mostly because he had to get back for a work assignment, and didn’t want to use additional vacation time. The more likely plan is that he’d stop at the middle-of-nowhere California town of Barstow: plenty of cheap motels and a quick sleep instead of trying to ride the 500 miles and eight hours in the saddle, which is about as hard as it goes on a bike not set up for it.
We walked back to the motel room. As Craig finished packing his bags, I made the fateful call to Eagle Rider. Craig gave me such great advice. He’s such an easygoing, laid back, country gentleman who doesn’t overthink and overplan situations like I do. In business/political situations where you’re trying to defend someone else’s interests, I win. When you’re trying to defend yourself, he wins. He told me to just start the conversation and let the other dude ask the questions – don’t volunteer everything right off the bat. Let them come to you.
All the while, Craig was busting on me about my notions of motorcycle laws and safety tips I’d heard of. I thought (based on my motorcycle safety instructor’s word) that it was Maryland law to have a two-inch square reflective sticker on your helmet. I mean, they handed out Maryland Motorcycle Safety Program stickers in class (I had one of them on the back of my full-face helmet, just in case I get pulled over and the cop appreciated it). I also kept a metal referee’s whistle around my neck or in my pocket on long rides in case I ran off the road and couldn’t move or speak and couldn’t be seen from the road (this was a tip I’d read about in a magazine that saved the life of a rider). Craig made fun of me about these items mercilessly. He said that when we eventually did this type of ride again someday, and that when I would call Eagle Rider to rent a bike, they would have my Arizona crash on file and say (in Craig’s drawl): “Uhhhh yeahhh. To rent another bike from us, yer gonna’ need to have a two-inch square piece a’ reflective sticker on yer helmet, have a whistle in yer mouth, and blow it at all times as you ride our rental bike.” I laughed my ass off and wanted to punch him at the same time. “Better wear an orange vest too,” he said, laughing. And, today, I do.
We loaded up the bikes. I went to the motel office, checked out quickly, then returned to set up a timer shot commemorating the end of the buddy ride. Craig caught a couple interesting photos of the bikes with me setting my camera up, but my Nikon got the shot of both of us with the mountains and motel behind us.
It shows my big, black, bent bike in the forefront with Craig’s Softail right behind it. Craig gave a trademark rock star face. Behind a yellow Stanley Steemer van and vaguely Spanish-style motel loomed the amazing, jagged cliffs we arrived to, woke up to, and departed from. There really isn’t much more quintessentially evocative of cool than seeing yourself in this type of photo.
Makes you wonder what happened that they needed a professional carpet cleaner.
I look back at this photo and it reminds me of when I started riding, only three and a half years before. It reminded me of when I flew over a similar desert countryside and dreamed of transversing it on a motorcycle, a vehicle that I had no idea how to operate at the time. I look at the picture again and there I am posing with a big Harley, laden with luggage, a big windshield to protect me from the hundreds of miles of wind and bugs. The backdrop of the cliffs is mere proof that I’d done something I’d dreamed of.
Riding motorcycles will always feel pretty new and exciting to me every time I do it.
One night, many nights since, I was watching one of my favorite shows, “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central. Stephen Colbert’s guest that night was Howell Raines, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times (who resigned in 2003 after the Jayson Blair scandal). He said something that really stuck with me (in his gruff old newsman delivery): “I wanna’ say something about Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald. They set the artistic model for my generation, which was that you should have an adventure around age 20, spend 20 years writing about it, and then at age 40, start drinking yourself to death. Lives now have many more chapters.” I seem to be in that second 20 years while living the first 20, but hopefully not living too much of the subsequent 20.
Seeing Craig’s bike next to mine in that photo, both parked in the same space – as is the beauty of motorcycles – and his hilariously exaggerated rock star pose (he’d done a great one at the Grand Canyon the day before) meant everything. Who knew I’d be there in Utah with a motorcycle? I look at that photo and realize that I was finally a grownup, at 35 years old. I was living, at least for those short days, and until I could get back out and do it again somewhere else just as interesting, and maybe with someone just as interesting as my old coworker and friend. As I recorded my last group notes on my digital recorder, we made small talk about the time, it being MST. “Any last words?” I asked.
“That’s it! I’m out!” Craig exclaimed as he pulled his gloves on.
“I’m out!” I said, and hit the stop button. It was time to do another one of those male I’m-hugging-you-but-I’m-hitting-you type hugs and to head onto Utah Route 9 in opposite directions, which we did. After I put in my earplugs, put on my goggles, and strapped on my helmet. Craig had already roared off to the west, so I went east. It felt a little weird to ride off by myself after three days of traveling with someone else.
Craig headed west on Route 9 and took a few more pictures of the spectacular Zion National Park scenery in the morning sun.
He eventually got onto I-15 which would take him the whole way back home to San Diego. He finally dug his old HJC full-face helmet out of his bag for the long, high-speed, freeway ride.
I rolled back up the road through the western entrance of Zion, especially enjoying the sound of the engine that sunny morning. I was following a clutch of bikes – mostly BMWs. I showed my week’s pass to the ranger at the station to get through so I could catch up to those riders up ahead. I just felt the need to ride with others for some reason. It was MTN and I was 10 miles out of the park.
I love riding alone. It’s what I’ve always done. I just don’t have any close friends who ride, and those who do don’t live close to me. Rides with the Montgomery County Harley Owners Group (www.mchog.com) was been fun, but a little stifling. The older guy in front of me on the Heritage Softail always seemed to be a bit skittish in the curves. I wondered if he was a novice mid-life-crisis rider or an incredibly experienced rider with reflexes that might just have been aging a little too much. Either way, I view curves and turns as an opportunity to challenge the skill factor. I want to prove to myself that I can take a curve or turn at the highest, safest, optimum speed and hold a perfect line through it to the exit, and onto the next.
My ride on Route 1 north of San Francisco was like that. It was a great challenge to wring that bike out, a rented BMW R1200RT: manage the throttle, keep the front tire on a safe line in the lane, and position my body on the seat to make it nearly race-worthy. Every turn where I didn’t wobble a little, shift too much around the lane, or get jerky with the gas was an absolute thrill, like getting a 100% on a test in school. Realizing that I was turning my head hard and keeping my chin up all the way through the turn – in almost an exaggerated way – was like extra credit.
The scenery had changed completely now that the sun was out – a nearly cloudless, satiny-blue sky. The rocks and cliffs and mesas were no longer dark and brooding under threatening clouds like the night before, but were now bright and reflective, their bases red and dotted with green, their tips nearly white. I made a point to stop at the same spots that Craig and I had stopped at the day before to get a new photograph in the sun. The BMWs I was following stopped at one of the big overlooks before the tunnel and dilly-dallied much longer than I did, so I snapped my photos (color, black and white, and panoramic) and moved on.
The Road King in front of that magnificent “amphitheatre” of Zion sits in a frame on my desk at work, and I love it – it nearly epitomizes the trip (except that it’s a solo bike).
More wheeling around and around the curves of the “log flume” of the Zion Road, its macadam much redder than the night before (and perfectly dry!). What were they using to get it that color? The local sand? The road was great because it blended into the environment so well, and not some black asphalt or beat-up grey pavement. I stopped to photograph a stream of water making its way down a slick, smooth, round section of rock.
If the water had been a real flow, I’d want to try to slide down it. The moonscape from the night before was even more “moony” in the bright sunlight.
We’re lucky that they built that road right through the heart of the canyon, so you can truly see it from your vehicle. I stopped at what I call the “whipped cream mountain”, a mostly-white hill/mesa/mountain that looks like a gigantic dollop of whipped cream, smoothed around and around a cake in a spiral fashion as if with a celestially large spatula.
Lots of stripes – light colors versus Sedona’s reds and the Grand Canyon’s rust. Around the corner from there was the Checkerboard Mesa, this time lit up by the sun.
'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 04-28-2012 at 09:01 PM
|05-06-2012, 08:18 PM||#42|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
"Loved to Spend the Night in Zion..."
A nice group of bikers on some old funky Harleys took my picture in front of the site, after I took theirs – two old guys and one of their old ladies.
They were incredibly friendly, hairy, leather clad people who had Montana plates on the bikes, along with bags and other random luggage strapped on. These seemed to be real motorcycle adventurers, riding to their next campsite. I was thinking about my luxury hotel in Sedona. Whenever I’m around those stereotypical “Harley riders”, I always have a subliminal bit of tension: though I may not be riding a Hog that very day, I do own one and enjoy it. However, the guys I was dreading came come right over and ask me about what I’m riding and how I liked it. Even the scary dudes I saw at an Exxon station in Urbana, Maryland – grizzled faces, old heavily-laden Harleys, denim vests and jackets covered in the Stars and Bars – came right over as I was filling up and asked, “Yeah, that’s the...”
“Street Bob.” I replied.
“Street Bob, that’s right. How d’you like it?”
“I love it. Fast, handles great, but I practically bought it for the paint job.”
“Yep, the flat black looks great. Take it easy. Ride safe.”
“Yep, you too.” And I roared off with just about the same amount of right to be in the “family” of Harley-Davidson owners, even though, at the time, I was wearing a light armored jacket and leather gloves with armored knuckles. Didn’t matter that much. I’m sure they discussed me a bit: young-looking guy on a then-new ’07, wearing a nylon jacket and a shiny helmet with a visor. I think I had a two-day beard, which may have helped a little.
A friend’s brother finally rented a Harley out in California to ride to Monterey, Carmel, and Big Sur. Lucky bastard (I’d eventually get my turn on Big Sur, with my future wife on the back). He was a new rider and until recently had only ridden a Yamaha V-Strom 650. He shunned the Harley “image”, saying to me on more than one occasion, “I don’t get the Harley thing. I don’t need to buy an image. I saw some older guy roll into a parking lot with all kinds of chrome skulls and just had to laugh.”
I agreed with him, I really did, and I told him that I also felt the same way once. I would rent Harleys, but never own one. They all looked the same, I said to myself. And most of them do, and most of them are the same, until you do things to them. Heck, so many of them have the same engine, drivetrain, suspension, and electronics. Then I started getting into bobbers, the old-school, postwar, chopped down, minimalist bikes with almost no fenders, a single seat, and flat paint. I started shopping for them. Almost nobody manufactures them in any great numbers (which is righteous), so the only route was probably custom, and prices for those started at $15,000-20,000 and went up from there. The coolest modern examples of them to me are Exile Choppers. I will own one of those someday. They’re very low-down and lean, but the builder, Russell Mitchell, is at least as tall as I am, so I think they’ll fit me. Anyway, I wanted a bobber to complement my Buell dual-sport. My internet search turned up the Street Bob from Harley-Davidson. Didn’t look too much different from all the other basic Dyna models, but it had this sick, flat-black paint job, some brushed chrome pieces, a solo seat, and mini-ape hanger handlebars (quite a bit taller than your normal handlebars, but not too much to look ridiculous).
So, Harley finally made a bike I would buy, and that’s what I told Scott. I didn’t think I’d get one either. He described the Road King and Heritage Softail that he and his friend rented as reminding him of “riding a tractor as a kid.”
“I’ve always remembered that riding tractors was always pretty fun.” I replied.
And so there was a whipped cream hill and the checkerboard. I backtracked all the way out of the park, through the gate, past the bison, and to the intersection of Route 9 and Route 89 at the town of Carmel Junction. I had to pull over at the Thunderbird Restaurant right there and get a picture of the bike in front of their sign: “Thunderbird RESTAURANT – HOME OF THE HO-MADE PIES”.
I was tempted to go in and see the ho making them pies.
I couldn’t believe this trip was starting to wrap up. I had a long day ahead, and was really looking forward to seeing the Glen Canyon dam.
Back in Kanab, I stayed on 89 east instead of Alt 89 south (the way we’d come the day before). 89 ran along more of the Vermillion Cliffs to my left. This was on purpose. I realized that I’d be backtracking over the same roads that Craig and I had just come up, so I tried to add a few different road to keep things new and interesting. When I noticed Lake Powell on the map, just over from where I’d be returning, I thought I’d go see it. Wasn’t Pam and Tommy’s sex video filmed on Lake Powell? Still never seen that. I’ll be honest, I was in a hurry. I won’t say that the ride felt like it was ending and that the big point of it was now passed (“a journey through the desert on bikes with a good buddy”), and though I was eager to see Lake Powell, I was also about to backtrack on the original route and see things I’d already seen. So, I was sort of eager to get to the swank B&B, have a bedroom to myself for once, enjoy my first professional massage, and do what I love to do: eat and drink on the town, like an undercover tourist.
89 East was a solid 90 minutes at speeds that I was nervous to maintain for fear of police interdiction.
I was pushing it, hiding behind other fast-moving cars, then reminding myself to keep it cool. The scenery in the last 80 miles out of Zion was good – mostly classic, high, scrub desert like we’d seen, but very dry, windy, and brown. Lots of very poor-looking little homesteads dotting the roadside. The highway was straight, fast, and windy, with not too much traffic. The long cliffline of the Escalante Staircase ran along my left (north) and always provided something amazing to look at. The road dipped toward the dam. I thought I’d eat in Page then shoot straight south. I looked at the little thermometer keychain that I kept on the backpack strapped to the sissybar of my bike – it read 70 degrees. I couldn’t decide if it was so cool from the road wind, or if I’d killed the thermometer through temperature extremes and vibration (oh, and a crash?). It had been reading lots of different temperatures, and the red mercury was separated into many little sections along the meter. I suppose if you added up the different sections of mercury, you might get a somewhat accurate reading. Maybe not. I tossed the thing out at the end of the trip, thankful to my parents who had stuffed it in my Christmas stocking a few years before. It had served well on its maiden voyage, for a little while anyway, reading some amazing temperature changes from Glen Canyon to the North Rim. And then it crapped out.
The signs for Lake Powell increased, which increased my impatience to be there, which increased my throttle effort. No ticket, but I did start to sweat the fuel situation. Stopping in this climate meant roasting, so I put it off as far as I could. I was getting hungry, too. The only thing I’d eaten so far that day was the bagel from Zion. I was looking for a little neighborhood deli or bar/grill, but there just wasn’t anything out there. It wasn’t until about 1:00pm when I came to a windy place called Big Water that I found an industrial/trucker gas station right off the road in a dusty field within view of Lake Powell and the dam. My trip meter read 805 miles. I filled up with 4.4 gallons, which is a pretty serious amount when you’re in the middle of nowhere and on a Harley. The bike maybe had another 50 miles or so in it. That may seem like a lot, but if I were further out in the desert and exploring truly remote roads, that might be the distance between civilized areas, and doesn’t include any jackrabbit starts, drag racing, hill climbing, or just plain open-throttle blasting that I might have done. At this point, the road swooped through cliffs and rocks and into increasingly dry landscapes…every now and then, once past Big Water, I’d catch a glimpse of water: Lake Powell – shockingly blue in the constant brown. At that point I crossed back into Arizona from Utah. As I approached the lake, hoping to see the first truly big dam I’d ever seen, I passed a dirt road on my left leading up to a hill. There was a sign talking about an overview, but it looked like a service road to nowhere, not a tourist stop. I took the turn anyway and headed up a very sketchy, very hellish gravel road to the top of a big, barren, brown hill, hoping to see something.
The road up was straight and wide, but it was pure scree and gave me some of the willies from that dirt road in Apache territory three days before. The front wheel got a little squirrelly, but I was still in a hurry, so maybe that was my fault. At the crest, I found myself on top of a huge mesa overlooking Lake Powell. It was a grey-blue cut in the dusty brown land, lined by cliffs and mesas, streaked with the white wakes of motorboats. It looked more like the river it was, before being dammed, than a “lake”. It was long and narrow and wound around the desert hills like a snake. All that water looked out of place, especially as I baked under a very powerful
In the distance beyond the lake I saw three tall stacks of a coal power plant. Closer to me, on the near shore, was a good sized marina jutting out into the lake. It must have been a wild sight to be down on a boat on those waters, especially looking up to one of the high mesas overlooking the shore, maybe to see a tiny black motorcycle perched on top in the distance.
At the far end of the mesa were a couple large tour buses, a tractor trailer, a bunch of equipment trailers, and a few cars. There was a photo shoot going on, and as I walked a little closer I noticed a slew of Harley-Davidsons lined up in the sun. One of them was set up prominently near the edge of the mesa with a clear view of the lake. I didn’t see any H-D logos on the vehicles, so I was thinking it was a magazine shoot. I wondered if they would see me on my Road King and wave me over – a real-live Harley rider doing it for real out there in the desert! How could they not?! No, I’m not sure they even noticed I was up there. So I slowly turned around, careful not to spit out any rocks, and eased myself back down the gravel road and to Route 89, where I continued a hundred more yards to the dam. I was still starving.
A little less than a year later, I would be the owner of a Harley-Davidson – that flat-black 2007 FXDB Dyna Street Bob. H-D marketing materials would begin to pour into my mailbox. Most of it was welcome. One envelope included a smaller version of the 2007 model year catalog. As I flipped through it, I noticed that all the shots of the bikes were taken out in the desert, perched on a mesa high over some sinewy blue-grey lake or river. HOLY CRAP! I WAS THERE! I WAS THERE WHEN THEY WERE DOING THIS SHOOT! No doubt.
Lake Powell’s Glen Canyon Dam was very interesting. Despite my growling stomach, I pulled into the visitor center parking lot and took a quick look around the site. Not a place for any good photos, though – I couldn’t stop on the dam road itself. Ladybird Johnson dedicated the dam on
Just beyond the dam was the town of Page, the first real town I’d seen since Sedona. Nothing to write home about, but some strip malls, restaurants, various shops, hotels, and bars arrayed out on a broad hill. I was busy searching for a place to get lunch, but didn’t want fast food. Eventually, I rolled up to a strip mall with a True Value Hardware and found a Mexican place, Zapata’s. I sat outside on their patio in the shade and had a so-so grilled chicken salad, wrote some Grand Canyon postcards to friends and (foolishly) to my ex-girlfriend, and refueled myself for the sprint to Sedona. It was a hot day, so I was only down to a t-shirt under the leather jacket. At , the odometer read 824. Page had a few nice looking developments on the way out south on Route 89, which surprised me. I guess it was a golf and boating destination for some. That area didn’t hold any charm for me, except for the thought that I might have been included in the 2007 Harley-Davidson motorcycle catalog. I probably had a 66 mile run to Cameron and another 66 to Sedona, and imagined I’d be there by .
'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 05-06-2012 at 08:26 PM
|05-22-2012, 08:09 PM||#43|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Back to Sedona
89 streaked through some canyons and finally to a spectacular descent overlooking the Marble Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, and the Glen Canyon bridges that Craig and I had crossed the day before around the same time (and in the same pounding heat). I got to see that beautiful approach to the bridges from way up high as 89 wound down the hill to hook back up with Alt 89 at Bitter Springs. I stopped to take a couple shots of that crack in the earth that hid the Colorado River on its way to the Grand Canyon, and kept on rolling south.
The pictures of that sudden dropoff, so dramatic because of the surrounding flatness and the sharp, clean edges of the canyon rim, still give me the willies. It just couldn’t be real.
The ride from there back to Flagstaff was pretty routine, as far as rides through beautiful desert and mountains go. I was in a hurry, and I’d already been to Flagstaff before. I only took one picture between Bitter Springs and the entry to Oak Creek Canyon: an amazing windblown stretch of Route 89 leading up to Humphrey’s Peak.
It was 127 miles to Flagstaff, looking at the big, 12,633 foot snow-capped mountain. It was a gorgeous ride, but damn windy, made less enjoyable by the trucks flying past in the oncoming lane. I roared past the “FRIENDLY INDIANS” sign and the other vaguely sad roadside Indian shops, most of which were abandoned and crumbling wooden stalls and tables. One of them seemed to be doing well – Chief Yellow Nose welcomed all comers.
I flew down through the dust and heat to Cameron, where Craig and I had turned off for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon two days before. It all seemed to go so much faster this time…I was only riding for myself, no pictures, no worrying about matching my speed (more or less) to Craig’s. There was the promise of a luxury rest stop for me in Sedona, complete with in-room massage. Craig was interested in keeping the hotel costs down on the trip, which was fine with me, but I definitely knew I wanted to splurge on my last night.
The area around Humphrey’s Peak and Sunset Crater – on the approach to Flagstaff – was chilly like before, and very windy…the bike was blowing all over the road. Some other time I’ll look for the historic part of town.
Jump off of 89 South, a quick jaunt down 17 South, back on the little 89, and I was done with the highways for the day. Right before making the fantastic switchbacks down into Oak Creek Canyon, I made a stop that Craig and I had not: I wanted to check out the overlook into the canyon.
It was a mob scene, but only a handful were riders. It was mostly tourists and what looked like nomad laborers taking a break in ramshackle vehicles and groups. They looked very tired.
At about 4:15, I parked close to a clutch of BMW and big Japanese sport-touring bikes and immediately felt like a bit of an outsider. I wouldn’t say that I felt unwelcome, but the looks from the leather-suited riders at my dusty, slightly bent Harley were palpable – I was one of those guys. Didn’t matter – I know where I’d been, and when it all boils down to it, if those guys saw me pulled over on the side of the road with a big Harley, they’d still slow down, look over, and give a thumbs up-thumbs down sign to me, making sure I didn’t need help. Other riders just automatically pull over, and that’s amazing. There isn’t any other group of motorists that will do that for another.
As I dismounted and grabbed my cameras, those riders turned back to what they were originally doing: listening to a young punk (probably 24 or 25 – God, I sound old) talk about his early ‘90s BMW K-series with the then-cutting edge anti-lock brakes and the cross-country journey that he was on (he had started in Maine). I’d have been more interested if he wasn’t such a smarmy little piece of crap, and if the guys surrounding him weren’t just jizzing with all the BMW talk. Don’t get me wrong – I love BMWs. I love their cars, and I definitely love their bikes. I’ve only test-driven a used 328 four-door back in 1999, but I’ve put some quality miles on their bikes: 800 on a black R850R in Scotland in October 2005, 469 on a red R1200RT in northern California in March 2007, and 1,018 on a K1200GT through northern Colorado and the Rockies in September 2007. The old Austrian BMW salesman at my local dealer told me the K1200 is “a monster” (I like to say that in my best Arnold impression), and it definitely was fast…I took one up to 122 mph on a long stretch of open road (my personal land speed record).
Anyway, the lovefest went on for this self-avowed new rider (he said he’d only been riding for a year or so), his wild ride, and especially his rare BMW. The kid was just milking it, soaking it in. It reminded me of the movie “Shattered Glass” – this guy was spinning yarns like crazy and everyone was eating it up. I applaud him for buying an iffy-but-cool bike and riding it so far (not hard when you don’t have a job), but don’t talk like you’re some sort of grizzled road warrior until you actually have the miles and the years. Granted, I went bonkers when I started riding. Hell, I went to Scotland a little over a year after I started, but I didn’t lord it over any other rider I met afterwards, and I still don’t. I blend in. I walked over to the overview and took a couple shots of Oak Creek Canyon, with its fantastic tree-covered slopes, cliffs, and mesas. It was the most trees I’d seen in a couple of days.
Coming up...the ride back into Sedona, a great night in town, and a stressful ride home.
|06-01-2012, 09:13 PM||#44|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Sedona as a Single
Again, not taking too long at the overlook (luxury B&B…luxury B&B… massage… massage… cocktail…cocktail… dinner… dinner…),I figured I would be there by . I hopped back on the Road King and had a great time careening down the same switchbacks Craig and I had crept up a day before (thanks to the old lady in the Saturn). The ride through the canyon was wonderful – cool and green, with sun streaking through the trees and from behind the towering tan cliffs.
Winding along the river and wondering who can afford homes down there, I again lost track of time and eventually decided I’d better capture some of the scenery before I lose the chance…who knew when I’d be back again?
Right before Slide Rock State Park, I got a shot of the bike with the trees and cliffs, as well as an unfortunate posed shot of myself that was partially obscured by some bushes, which makes it look like I’ve gotten caught standing by the side of the road taking a piss.
I swear I wasn’t – there was way too much traffic on that road. I found my way out of the canyon and across Midgely Bridge.
With real relief and a bit of triumph, I rolled back into the “old” part of Sedona, past the Cedars Resort, and on just a little bit more…looking for Kallof Place, the street the B&B was on. I wasn’t finding it. Based on the website for the place, I was expecting something far off in the woods…that’s why I went a little too far and had to turn around after checking the map. Kallof Place turned out to be a short little lane off the main drag, maybe 100 feet long, lined with a couple small offices, a large Italian restaurant, and a motel. It was not the winding, country lane leading to a quiet, rustic inn that I was expecting.
It was on the nose – I rule. 993.7 miles.
|06-05-2012, 08:15 PM||#45|
Quick, rather than Dead.
Joined: Feb 2008
Location: Silver Spring, MD
Another Night in Sedona
Sorry...the pictures are running out in my story...
The Lodge turned out to be an amazingly well-hidden mini-resort that I will always go back to, if I ever stay overnight in Sedona again. As I pulled into the scary and personally upsetting gravel driveway, I was nearly overwhelmed by a feeling of joy, accomplishment, reward, luxurious decadence, and – as always – a little bit of badass-ness.
This is a view from the lodge:
There’s something about rolling up on a Harley, covered in the dust of miles, sporting a messed-up jacket and a road rash on my arm and alien marking on my back, and the concept of myself as an adventurer. I love arriving at those kinds of places on a bike – where they least expect it, where I can stride in, not look like a stereotypical Harley guy, check in, pay for a premium room, enjoy a great meal, and be wondered about.
Checking into the Lodge at Sedona meant parking the Hog and poking around a lobby that looked like someone’s home office, except that there were really nice coffee table books about Sedona and cosmic stuff for sale. There seemed to be no one there at all. It was a gorgeous interior – dark wood floors and great recessed lighting. A woman came out of some secret door and got me checked in with all the usual questions I tend to get as a single traveler, dressed in boots and a leather jacket, and holding leather gloves: “Is your wife with you?” “You’re by yourself?!” “You rode here all the way from Washington, DC?” “Can we help you with your suitcases?” The answer is always no.
The Lodge used to be a doctor’s home, arts and craft style (my favorite), with three acres of land in the back. The hostess showed me around the ground level first, starting with an amazing open kitchen area where they would be cooking breakfast in the morning and where snacks, drinks, and tea would always be laid out. There was a “business center” with The Internets, a fantastic patio for dining, lots of little sitting areas, fountains, and ponds, and, out back, a basketball court, horseshoes pit, and a full-fledged Sedona cosmic rock labyrinth. I’d heard of those…I made a note to see if it worked before I left, though I had no idea what the idea was behind them. The manager explained: some people find that walking slowly along the rock-lined paths of the circular maze to be a form of meditation and to be spiritually cleansing. Okay.
Back in the house, she led me up a set of narrow stairs to my room, which, to my surprise, was not two levels as the website let on. I had a vision of me sitting on the main level, sipping my bourbon and reading my book, then retiring to the loft for bed. That’s okay. It was a small room, but the bed was big and very tall, and there was a cozy little bathroom and shower – all with a cowboy theme. It was the “Trading Post Room”, after all (http://www.lodgeatsedona.com/rooms.htm). The windows looked west to the mountains. The manager and I confirmed that my massage would be happening at that evening then walked back downstairs. She let me know that the doors are usually locked by or so, but made sure that I had a key to get back into the house after my night of revelry. I moved the bike around back by the labyrinth and went back to my room with a bagful of stuff.
Lying on the bed, I took stock. It had been an incredible trip in many ways – I couldn’t believe it was wrapping up. I was trying to get to Phoenix by the next day, so I could probably stay in Sedona until lunchtime. Depending on how late I slept in, there might be a few things worth seeing in town. I was looking forward to the massage.
By , my busted-up body was showered and my sunburned face was shaved – the goggles left me with funny raccoon eyes. I needed more sleep. I had about an hour before the masseuse, Su, would arrive. She and I had arranged the appointment over email a few days after I booked the Lodge, so I never actually spoke to her. All I really had to do was say how long I wanted the massage for, that I wanted it in my room, and that I didn’t want a dude. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect. Would she be a huge babushka like the woman who gave me the shoulder rub at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland? What should I wear? Should I wear anything? I felt like I was getting ready for a date! I paced around…I put on my boxer briefs, saved especially for this evening. I wondered if that was too immodest, especially in case she turned out to be hot. I put some Marillion on the CD player in the room. I lay on the bed…it started to feel like I was waiting for a call girl. We will close the door, and I will pay her in cash for her services.
I don’t know the etiquette. Do I discuss things with her? Talk about the weather? Or do I just lie there and shut up? And how do I explain this strange Aztec design on my back? I got up and put on the complementary robe, at least two sizes too small (they’re always too small).
A knock at the door at ! I answered in my robe – it was the manager informing me that the masseuse had arrived and was ready to come up. Yes indeed. I sat on the bed like a virgin, waiting for the next knock.
When it came, I opened the door and was relieved to see a slim, attractive woman in her early 40’s. We shook hands. She brought in her folding table and set it up with clean white sheets. She then said that she would step out of the room while I climbed onto the table and under the sheets. In answer to my wondering, she explained that I could be wearing my underwear or be wearing nothing, all depending on my comfort level. So what did I do?
I should have whipped them off. Thoughts of George Costanza danced in my head.
I slipped under the crisp, starchy white sheets, worried that I’d collapse the folding table, and called her back in. She slipped back through the door, asked if I’d ever had a massage before, and when I said no, she took control. She started by saying that she normally puts on some relaxing music of her own, unless I had something I wanted to play. I was tempted to put on one of my three Grand Canyon Mixes that I didn’t get to listen to on the ride because the rental place screwed me out of an Electra Glide Ultra Classic with a CD player. Those mixes have a ton of heavy stuff on them as well, which might have defeated the point. She put on some pleasant, tinkly, new age stuff which could have put me to sleep.
As far as talking goes, she said “Some people do, some people don’t. Do what you want to do.” She ended up talking to me, so that question was answered. The usual: where are you from, how do you find yourself in Sedona, what do you do, blah blah blah. For me, reversing the questions to her was more enlightening. Sure, she came to Sedona to find the spirituality and simplicity of life, but when I asked what she did before massaging, she said she toured with a rock band.
“I played in bands for years. Would I have heard of them?” I asked, thinking it was some crap local group that I’d never know.
“Have you heard of .38 Special?” I almost choked as she worked my clavicle.
“Ummm, yeah! Wow!” I neglected to ask what, exactly, she did with .38 Special. Did she sing? Move amps? Wire mics? Bang bassists? Didn’t matter – it was cool, and very Sedona. From that point on, when I wasn’t about to pass out from pain and pleasure, I was thinking of when my best friend and I would goof on “Hold On Loosely” back in the 80s and 90s. We weren’t .38 Special fans, so we used to think it was “Hang On Loosely”, which I think is still pretty cool. Regardless, it’s a freaking awesome opening riff, and once I used to play it during a break at one of our band rehearsals, those of us who knew the song from hearing it on the radio would do our best to fake it. Nice. Still makes me smile, and there I was, lying on my back, getting kneaded by someone who toured with .38 Special. Yeah.
Su was very cool. I asked some of those uncomfortable initial questions in a funny way, which seemed to work: the wondering of do we talk, and what do I wear, and what else do you do for a living. After the small talk, work talk, rock talk, etc., she got to work on my busted up bod. She asked if I had any injuries that she should know about and had me roll over onto my stomach to do my back first. I told her about the bike crash and that I would have some Martian markings and odd bruises. She appreciated knowing that, then got down to business.
There were oils, but they didn’t make much sense for the usual massage stuff until she ran her thumb underneath the edge of each of my shoulder blades. It was one of those feelings where you can’t decide if it’s pain or pleasure – no one had ever done anything like that to me, and, like eating sushi, I’d never thought I’d dig it. There were only a couple moments when my fears were realized and I actually felt a little turned on. The main one was when she went up the side of my legs and encroached on the buttock region, her hand slipping under the elastic border hem of my boxer briefs a few centimeters or so. It was at that point that I realized I shouldn’t have worn them. Heck, I wasn’t dating anyone at that point, and hadn’t felt anything like that in a long time. Who could blame me? She sneezed, and I blessed her, face-down.
Flipped over on my back, she worked my arms, legs, face(!), and then asked if I was interested in a stomach massage. What did I know? Sure! “Have you had a big meal recently?” was her only concern. I hadn’t eaten since the city of Page, about five hours before, so I figured I was in the clear. Basically, she sort of moved my mini-gut around in a creative way. It felt good, and I didn’t get sick, but I guess I was a little bit underwhelmed by the “Stomach Massage”. Though, as part of the entire package, I felt it was worth it, though. Maybe I should have had a bigger meal beforehand.
Finally, she told me it was over and left the room to allow me to get my full-relaxed ass off her table and back into the robe. $115 all-in. We shook hands after she packed up the table and went out the door. I was no longer a massage virgin, and, at , I was ready to slap a few more pieces of clothing on and walk up the street for some dinner.
My body was tingling. I didn’t feel tired. It felt like my skin was a coat that was one or two seasons too warm for what I ought to have been wearing. It wasn’t that I felt my skin was loose, but it was as if I shouldn’t have had that much skin and muscle to begin with. Very cool. Feeling all funky like that wasn’t going to keep me lying on the bed to get a good night’s sleep, that was for sure. I was headed out.
I threw on my nice pants and shirt and walked up 89 a few blocks to the Heartline Café, a place that came highly recommended from the lodge manager and my Frommer’s guide book. Eating well on the road is a key luxury for me. I’m an adventurous eater, too, the consequences be damned. Mark Twain said, “Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” I quickly learned that Sedona was truly a seasonal place, and that going out for dinner at in April was very risky – places might even close their kitchens around then, Coming from DC, that was bizarre. was what I was used to for the fancier restaurants, and much later for more casual places. No sweat.
Heartline was packed. Cars choked the small, dirt parking lot. The smallish, white, wooden building didn’t look amazing. I knew I wouldn’t get a table, and I didn’t want one. As a solo diner, I fought through the crowds, sidled right up to the bar, got a martini, and checked out the menu.
Eating at the bar means that you can overhear conversations from the staff and other customers. When it’s the staff, you can learn about the health of the restaurant or find out what (or not) to order. When it’s the clientele, you can just get a good laugh or an outrageous tidbit to make you angry for awhile, or something to write about a year or more later.
I bagged on the suggestion from Paul, a bartender from my hometown pub, The Royal Mile. He was a great guy – looked like a youngish Huey Lewis. He hooked me up so ridiculously on my tabs that I’m guessing that was the reason he got fired. As I was planning this trip, he was planning his wedding in Sedona, so he had plenty of suggestions and lots of enthusiasm. He suggested Shugrue’s Hillside Grill, which seems to be a small chain in the area, and would have great views and a unique, worldly menu. My only problem was that it was back in the center of old town Sedona…not walking distance for me. Frommer’s liked Heartline, too, calling it “Southwestern/international”. I guess I’d agree with that, but I went more for the international.
Jay, the bartender at Heartline, hooked me up with delicious sweet potato corn chowder, then seafood ravioli. Though a bit standoffish at first, Jay and I talked a little bit about the things he had going on around town and around the area. He was a low talker, probably around 2db. He had just bought five acres at $90,000 an acre so he can continue his horse training job. He was an older guy – in his 50s for sure – and wore a ring in his left ear. He noticed my bloody elbow, knew that I ride motorcycles (after some of our discussions), and apparently knew that it was road rash – that’s what he asked about when he saw it. I guessed him to be a biker too, at least in the past.
This was a great restaurant – glad I found it. But just as I was warned at the hotel, they closed early. They were wrapping things up at and the employees were lining up around the bar with me to eat their comped dinner.
Eating alone lets you listen in to other people’s lives, if you so choose. You can look at your book and listen, but not actually read. I know, it’s snooping and eavesdropping, but really, what else is life in public all about but observing other people? You’re in a public place! They could have gotten takeout and taken it home, right? Unfortunately, that often leads you (well, it does me) to ask “what the hell is wrong with people?!”
An older couple sat down next to me at the bar and ordered dinner. The man perused the menu carefully. He ordered the garlic gnocchi and pasta with red cream sauce. The menu clearly described it as being prepared with garlic (hence the name). When it came, I started to wonder if I’d ordered the wrong thing – it looked and smelled incredible. He tasted it and immediately sent it back. “That’s too much garlic,” he said, so they gave him a spinach salad in its place. I mean really, if you’ve gone from a stated-garlicky pasta dish and then decide on a plain spinach salad, you don’t know your own tastes and you should suck it up and expect to pay for the entrée.
He ordered a dessert, which they gave to him gratis. They comped him a dessert! That’s like ordering the salt cod and sending it back for being too salty and being paid for it! I tried to keep from visibly shaking my head and whispering my observations into my voice recorder, but then an older woman, very touristy, passed me as she headed for the exit. She paused to look over the free candies on the counter. In a nasally, grating voice, she began:
“What are these? Good lord! Oh…are these jelly beans?!?!”
I was instantly annoyed: They’re MINTS. What planet have you grown up on to not know what a jelly bean looks like versus a mint? Boy, I was in a mood. She must have gone on for a minute or two, dangling her fingers over the dish, debating whether or not to dig into it or not (and you know she would). Everything has to be dramatic with some people. I still don’t even know who she thought she was talking to.
The bartender answered politely, “No, ma’am, they’re chocolate mints.”
“White mints? Do you only have white mints?”
This is what I would have said, had I been a bartender who didn’t give a shit anymore: Lady, these are the complimentary mints on the way out of a restaurant. What you see is what you get. There is no mint menu.
Back to the couple next to me. The fact that they couldn’t hear each other made their interaction all the more frustrating and fascinating to me. They were probably in my parents’ age range, the early 70s – maybe a bit younger. She couldn’t hear him, which made things hard on her, but I think she was also a little bit daffy. She wasn’t putting two and two together.
On the TV above the bar, there was a basketball game involving the Los Angeles Clippers. The team name on the score line was abbreviated “LAC”. When I don’t know very much about something, I use context clues to help me figure it out (just like I was taught in middle school English class). I looked at where the game is being played – it said “Clippers” on the floor of the arena. The other team’s score line was abbreviated as “DEN” (Denver, perhaps?). But even with all of this, the lady was asking her husband “Who’s LAC? Who’s playing! Who’s playing!?” Over and over. She almost sounded as though she might have had a small stroke in the past, but I doubted that. She just had the tone and wording of a slightly daffy lady who just isn’t paying attention. In response, he said in a distracted monotone, almost out of the side of his mouth:
She clearly couldn’t hear him well, and quickly responded back with:
He responded again:
“No, the CLIPPERS.”
“Croppers? Crimpers? Clumpers?”
You get the idea (I might be exaggerating about the extent of the interchange). On and on and on – driving me up the wall. And he was getting damn annoyed, too. She just couldn’t hear him, but she was pretty clueless too, which she should realize and accept and not exacerbate by harping on and on about something she has no interest in (a pro basketball game on television in a restaurant’s bar).
She asked all kinds of questions, which clearly annoyed him. I immediately began to guess: these two have probably been married for 40-some years. When did it get to the point where it became unbearable? What’s more, why were they were being so difficult to the staff, to each other, and other random people? Ideas for writing subjects starting popping into my head:
Getting old: would you be happier to be alone than to be married to someone who annoys the shit out of you because she can’t hear what you’re saying and doesn’t know what you’re talking about?
The husband was drinking Kaliber non-alcoholic beer. She was having wine.
There’s your first problem.
Aside from her random questions and his grumbling critique of the food, they weren’t speaking. Since I had arrived, they had said about four words to each other, most of them rhyming with “The Gipper”. I understand that when you get to a certain point in a relationship you don’t have to speak all the time – you can just be comfortable with each other and not feel obliged to keep a constant, forced conversation going – and I’m sure it grows with age as well. He was clearly watching the game. She didn’t know what the heck was happening on the screen and she wanted in. He might have been watching the game only because it was a way to escape communicating with her. Watching a movie on TV at a bar would be unacceptable. Watching a ball game is completely understandable, especially if you’ve posited yourself over time as a “sports fan”.
The wife would ask a question and he would answer, but she didn’t hear it or understand it so she would keep asking, which made him get testy because he had to repeat it three times. It started to remind me a bit of my parents – thankfully not the three-times thing, but once or twice every now and then. There was a hearing impairment thing going on, and it was clearly impacting their interactions with each other. You have to understand that your wife, your husband, your partner has poor hearing and you need to talk into their ear, or get them a good hearing aide!
I could sense it: the guy was SICK of saying “Clippers!” three times over again to this woman, his wife of who knows how many decades. What if he said it right into her ear with a loud voice and she got it? What if she was wearing a hearing aide? I imagine they’d be a lot happier, in general. I don’t like to see that kind of testiness in couples – it seems so pointless, and so connected to other issues. The guy was just done.
“I TOLD you once.” He retorted.
“I didn’t hear you. I’m not smart.” She replied. It just made me so mad.
You MUST understand that there’s an impairment thing going on and that you have to adjust to it! I was reminded of an evening with a girl I was dating. She invited me to her father’s house on the Chesapeake Bay for dinner. He is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. This girl Kelly warned me that her father was as deaf as a doornail, which I thought I could handle since my own parents and grandparents started losing their hearing when I was old enough to be aware of how to compensate. I could project my voice with the best of them when I needed to.
At the dinner, in an incredible bayside house with windows looking across the water to downtown Baltimore, I believe I made a good impression keeping the dad in the loop of the conversations. His girlfriend did an amazing job of doing the same thing. But, his own daughter – my date – was the hardest on him, chiding him for not hearing what was going on in the room around him. I didn’t get it. In fact, I didn’t get anything that night. As she and I said goodnight down on the driveway after dinner, Kelly told me she didn’t feel any interest in me (which made me wonder why she’d invited me to meet her father and future step-mom an hour away from my home).
Good thing I had my Buell Ulysses to ride home. Nothing cures a hangover, soothes a bruised ego, calms the annoyance at insensitivity, or renews the feeling of being a badass like a motorcycle. Especially a Buell.
Back at the Heartline Café in Sedona, I finished up my dinner, shook off the annoyances, paid my check, and walked outside. The gravel parking lot was almost empty. It definitely wasn’t time to go to bed yet, but I wondered if there would be anything open – everyplace else was shutting down. Across the street was the Red Planet Diner. It reminded me of a bar in DC called “Planet Fred”. Everything was alien/UFO-oriented: wall paintings, spaceship and UFO models hanging from the ceiling, and random alien heads with big eyes. There was a big bubble up by the front door where you could buy “alien” water bottles – basically, a plastic alien’s body with a straw in it. All the employees were wearing t-shirts with “Welcome Earthling” emblazoned across them. I imagined this was probably the most humiliating place you could work at in Sedona.
As I walked in and sat down at the bar, chairs were going up all around me, certainly pushing me towards calling it a night, but I was dead-set on having a nightcap…it was far too early to go home. Red Planet was open until – another half hour – so I ordered a martini, and, eventually, a Captain and Diet Coke. I read my book. A waitress, who struck me as out-of-place in Sedona – a redneck – was pretty cool. As I read, she stared at me. I looked up at her, and she finally asked, “How you doin’?” She was made me wonder, for second, about inviting her back. She eventually left the bar to close out her section and head home for the night, so I started a conversation with the bartender, a portly lass named Stephanie. I learned a bit about the area from her. She lived in Cottonwood, Arizona, about 30 minutes away from Sedona. She told me about the personality of Sedona: it’s a resort town but it doesn’t act like one, and things close early. No shit.
I closed out the tab at the Martian bar, wondering why and how they stayed in business, but thanked the considerable stars out in the sky that night that there was a place that was still open for a traveling nightowl like me. Stumbling back down 89A toward home, many thoughts crossed my mind. First I had to pee on a bush in front of some random business (the darkest place I could find – “gotta’ help the drought”, I thought). I was able to look up, and look around. The stars were nice. I was looking forward to getting back to the B&B, getting online for the first time in a few days, getting upstairs with my journal and music in the big bed.
At 11:05pm. I passed a strange little hovel behind a mountain bike shop. A neon sign on the building said it was “Open”. The entrance was a foot-and-a-half wide A-frame. On the other side of the building, another sign said “What you want”. What was going on there, I did not know. I walked on.
Back at the B&B, I was happy to find that the front door was still unlocked. I tiptoed across the big open kitchen to the small, one-computer closet that served as the “business center”. I caught up with new emails: got one from “Sweetbettyboop” on Match.com, a 5’4” brunette who I’d always thought was good looking and tried writing to long before. Almost a year after this trip, she popped up on eHarmony.com, a different service that I had moved over too (successfully, I might add). This time she was finally interested to hit on me after ditching me for so long on Match.com. That’s a pattern, by the way. Didn’t matter – within days I would have met my now-wife (on eHarmony). It was interesting to be hooked up to the electronic world again after a few days off. All before the days of smartphones and Facebook, too.
I shut down the computer and snuck up the narrow stairs to my room. The damn CD player wouldn’t play my “Harley Mix” CDs. Instead, I thought about the next day. I’d have to get up at around 8:00-8:15am for breakfast. I was happy to be in there after such a big trip. I’d experienced my first motorcycle crash. I’d dealt with the bike rental place. I was happy to be out in the world on an amazing adventure. I broke out my Scotch and my notebook. The thoughts and sentiments were flowing freely. I was duh-runk.
Inside one of the drawers on a side table was a guest book specific to that room. I flipped through it and found some interesting entries from people from around the country and the world. I knew I needed to add something memorable, and Scotland’s finest would assist:
I left some skin in AZ. It was a dirt road among the Apaches where I lost control. One second I felt the panic, another when I heard the horrible metal/plastic crunch, and when I realized I was sliding on my back, on my leather jacket – ‘I wrecked the bike!’
No, AZ wrecked me – the bike was a bit scuffed up, as was my skin and clothing, but it ran fine and I took it all over the state. What place did I come back to twice?
A logical home base. I felt it to be a warm retreat from what I’d seen before.
No, AZ saw my first bike crash and gave me confidence to get back on, because there was just too much left to see.
Pretty cheesy, eh?
My ramblings ranged freely into the voice recorder:
One of the things I noticed after the massage is that I was covered in the oil that the masseuse used to work me over with – and really worked me over. I just felt a little bit “lathered up”. I found it more than kind of hot. When I was at the restaurant earlier in the evening, I would reach back and feel my neck and think, “O my god, I’ve got oil all over me!” You feel what a masseuse is doing to you – she did some technical shit, putting a finger underneath my shoulder blades, reminding me to loosen my shoulders. Awesome. She knows which muscles are where and how to work them over. Shit. Need to write. Sleep. It’s late. [Yawn] Tomorrow should be good. I know what will happen: I’ll go downstairs tomorrow. I’ll go down, be waited on, I’ll bring my notebook and write [at this point on the recording, I started singing falsetto along with U2’s Where the Streets Have No Name]. Karin [ex-girlfriend]. Just shut up. Sorry. I talked to Craig today. He got home after 500 miles, averaging in the 70s [mph, not Fahrenheit]. 6-7 hours – record time – arriving in San Diego around . He took off from Zion at the same time as I did, 10:45-11am. Brother hauled ass. Glad he’s home, glad he is home to ENJOY home…can chill. What else? Did I talk about the Germans in the hot tub? Did I talk about the Harley people at Checkerboard? Did I talk about the road down into Sedona was breathtaking? Once I got through the switchbacks – which were fantastic and fun, especially coming down – the road was just a creekside avenue. Depending on who is setting the pace, the fun is relative. I watched the fuel gauge today. Once I remembered where I was – “Oh yeah, this town is after that town” – I didn’t have as much fear about running out of gas. I stilllllllll haven’t fouuuuuuund what I’m looking forrrrrrrrrrrr. [Yawn] Nice room.
I’d come back again. And I crashed.
Safely, this time.
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