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|08-25-2013, 11:38 AM||#1|
Joined: Jul 2009
Location: Pacifica, CA
We come from Earth: Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon. On 250s.
In April, I took my friend and our matching 250s from California to the Grand Canyon. It went well. Mostly.
I just finished writing up the trip for my blog and wanted to share it with ADVrider. There are more photos on my blog, but I've picked out my favorites below, along with all of the text I wrote. I hope you enjoy the ride :)
Chance is strong that my idea of planning differs wildly from what other adults might consider sufficient. I've wanted to ride my motorcycle to the Grand Canyon for years now, but waited until a week 'til takeoff to plan. When I say "plan" I refer to five minutes spent fiddling with the blue route line in Google Maps before texting a link to my hopelessly trusting riding buddy.
Any dirt roads? I didn't check. Where are we sleeping? We'll find out. Are there too long stretches without gas? Hope not. How long will it take? Precisely who knows. What do we do when we get there? Come back, I guess.
My wife had these questions and didn't like my answers. My good friend Brian asked nothing, which shows I'm cashing in on some undeserved trust. He came with me.
I fitted saddle bags to Mighty for the first time in nearly three years, packed a few necessities and a lot of unecessities, and spent a Sunday morning rolling to meet Brian at his home in the Foothills.
April 7, 2013
Of course I had no plan for the day, but still managed to fit in many past-due family visits. I grew up in the Sierra Nevada Foothills and still have lots of family and a few friends left there. Got lunch with a cousin, dinner with my mom, spent an evening with my dad and little brother, and then met with Brian late at night. Brian's brother, another good friend, showed up even later, and we stayed awake 'til 1:00 am, catching up and chatting competitive League of Legends and Marvel vs. Capcom.
April 8, 2013
Brian prepared about as well I did. He wadded up some clothes and stuffed 'em into a backpack alongside a phone charger and Bluetooth headphones. A power outlet and 3G connection will satisfy him for a week, I reckon.
"We can leave at 9:00 in the morning," I suggested with all the conviction of a tumbleweed. We left at 10:00. I docked my iPhone on a handlebar mount and let it point our motorcycles toward Yosemite.
Though April seemed the best time of year for this particular trip, there was no guarantee we'd stay dry. Any later in the year, the desert stretches might bake us. Any earlier, the mountains might dump snow. But April showers...
Indeed it seemed the sky might leak. Even dressed in my Aerostich, I still worried, though more for Brian and our bungee-corded camping gear than for my own skin.
Looking back, our first day on the road was easily the best riding. The planned travel distance was modest, Highway 49 suitably bendy, and charming '49er towns broke up the monotony of road. At lunch in Angel's Camp, we were happy to stop only because the air kept blowing colder.
"Are your feet cold?" Brian asked me. Nope. I looked at our feet. Goretex Alpinestars riding boots on mine. Mesh summer sneakers on Brian's. And ankle socks.
That wasn't the beginning of cold. We turned east and upward on Highway 120. This time of year, 120 is closed at Tioga Pass because of snow. We didn't need the pass, but before dropping into the valley the air was still snow cold.
I can only try to imagine how Brian felt, but I can describe in detail my experience. Cold is cold even bundled up on the couch at home. Remove the bundle, replace the couch with a thin foam seat and rocket it through 3D space at 60 mph. The sights are nicer than my living room -- lovely sprawling views of peaks, trees and remnant winter snow accents -- but the cold bites. In time, the cold slipped between all layers of clothing and circulated past the entirety of my body, for hours.
I fully expected to endure that cold all evening, but when the road winded down into Yosemite Valley the temperature mercifully winded up. Relatively speaking. And it wasn't the cold that made me scream "Holy shit!" in my helmet. It was Yosemite.
I have memories of Yosemite from childhood, but only vague ones. My family visited at least a couple of times, but all I remember is crawling large boulders and later badly tumbling down one of them. The expletive in my helmet came from genuine surprise. I didn't remember this.
All my old memories are eye level. Weird because once in Yosemite Valley, towering rock walls in all directions dominate the view, me like a speck at the bottom of a stone bowl surrounded by sheer marbled mountain. Waterfalls from miles in the sky free-fall vertical drops of staggering scale. My bizarre first thought: "Looks expensive," and then the humbling realization that no amount of Man's money could make Yosemite. Exquisitely nature.
Our dumb luck rewarded us a camp site minutes before the check-in office closed, and we gingerly rolled the bikes through a muddy lot soaked in the previous night's melted snowfall. We unloaded our bikes into steel bear lockers by the tent and spent the early evening walking the valley, snapping photos and tip-toeing within arm's reach of lazing grazing deer that hardly minded us, more friendly than some dogs I know. And certainly more quiet while we slept.
|08-25-2013, 11:40 AM||#2|
Joined: Jul 2009
Location: Pacifica, CA
Brian's phone indicated a morning temperature of 27 Fahrenheit in Yosemite Valley. We escaped the park early and by Oakhurst Brian could feel his feet again.
April 9, 2013
Warmliness is godliness. Or maybe the reverse. Copious signage along the highway celebrated a dude named Christ, and one billboard claimed, "Jesus recycles lives." That's one way to convince red country to separate their rubbish.
The squiggly blue plan I'd made for the day seemed a bit unnecessary as we ate lunch in Fresno and studied our mobile phones. I'd originally thought to aim for some interesting spot between Yosemite and Death Valley, but there's not much. And according to Google, we were just six-odd hours from Death Valley anyway. Let's just go for it? Brian agreed, because even by then he'd not realized I didn't know what I was doing.
It was ambitious, Yosemite to Death Valley in one day on little bikes with the most convenient route, Tioga Pass, blocked by winter's leftovers.
It meant head-down sprinting through California's Central Valley. There's probably lots to love about living in the Central Valley -- there's probably something to love -- but I've never experienced any of it. Central Valley to me is miserable heat and straight highways laid with a bias for the state's shipping industry. I wanted out. So did the squirrel that threw himself in front of our bikes at 70 mph. (The squirrel is fine.)
After two hours of collecting bugs on my visor and wishing I were somewhere else, we finally turned eastward, upward, and away from the valley, riding Highway 58 toward Mojave. A hustling wind farm army at Tehachapi Pass foreshadowed an even worse time. I hardly noticed. My mind was bothered by the clock, which kept ticking faster than Brian and I progressed.
For the first time all day, I saw striking photographs in need of a shutter. Red Rock Canyon was a lovely surprise, eggshell-colored hills broken by red-layered buttes protruding just 30-50 feet above the sand. I thought to stop and snap the shots, but the clock seemed a bigger problem than not having photographs. I desperately wanted a photo in front of the kitschy faux ghost town "Robber's Roost," but time shooed us past. As did the wind.
U.S. Route 395 turned us due north, ushered us through the high desert on the back side of the Sequoia National Forest. We were peeking behind the curtains of California's adventurous mountain scenes to find a barren backstage without humans or trees or really any defining features but the wind curling up and over the mountain tops to the west and tumbling east across the desert.
Brutal wind. The saddle bags on my bike caught the blast like a sail, which may have helped were we heading east. We weren't yet. Miles of endless space separated cross roads. A sign for an upcoming turnoff gave hope of a gas stop, but more often merely signaled a perpendicular dirt path that pointed to the middle of the desert. Follow one and we might have found Barker Ranch, the rock under which Charles Manson hid from authorities after his family's filthy foul play.
It was almost six o'clock when we made our last gas stop for the day. Camping in Death Valley was out of the question -- we'd never make it before sunset -- so I resigned to calling in a hotel reservation. Still the wind roared, and I huddled near the side of the gas station to do my best to block my iPhone from the howling. The wind hadn't let up in hours and was wearing oppressive. I just wanted respite, but the eerie gas station innards spooked me back outside. Brian remained nonchalant, I couldn't tell if the rough miles bothered him. I felt guilty for leading him out there, felt guilty for not knowing when where or how we'd get to sleep. My late call to Death Valley hotels returned just one available room. I am embarrassed to admit what it cost, but the alternative seemed unthinkably bleak and probably dangerous.
Brian dropped an ear plug in his gas tank. I pulled out my bike's toolkit to try and ply the foam thing out. Two stray dogs stood 20 feet from us and barked incessantly, inching forward every time I turned away, slinking back heads-down and barking more loudly whenever I dared step toward them. And still the wind roared.
Miserable shit. This was a bad idea.
The sun had snuck low, hovering just above the western mountain tops, by the time we rolled onto Highway 190 and turned east into Death Valley. Sand flowed like ribbons in the wind, carried across the surface of the road in sheets so thick I could barely make out the asphalt. I snapped shut the vents of my helmet and tucked my chin into the collar of my Aerostich, but sand still scratched at my eyes.
We diced a stellar series of turns up and over the Inyo Mountains. On the other side, a descent to the surface of Mars. We come from Earth, I thought aloud.
Highway 190 winds down the mountain, each sweeping turn presenting breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below. Quite the showman, that highway. The low light bathed the scene in bluish tint on top of red planet. A sci-fi scene with Brian and me at the center, racing the setting sun.
The sun dipped halfway behind the mountains far to the west, reducing my rear view to a glowing horizon on top of tall shadow and Brian's piercing high beam. Forward visibility was hardly better. The highway was unlit, my helmet visor was layered in dust, and there was little to reflect back my headlight, just a thin strip of black road and a receding sandy shoulder.
The hotel lights mercifully broke the darkness just before 9:00 pm. Two hotel staff members awaited us at checkin and hustled us to the dinner menu before the kitchen closed, before we'd even brought our bags to our room. The staff seemed genuinely relieved to get us off that highway -- Brian and I were the last guests to arrive -- and even offered a Jeep ride to a nearby general store when the hotel menu seemed too stuffy. I slept well.
April 10, 2013
Blinding sunlight watered my eyes as we stepped out of the hotel room. The previous night's wind had subsided, the sky was pristine blue. Death Valley made a friendlier impression in the morning.
Brian and I retrieved our bikes from the lower lot to pack them closer to our room. The valley was already warming. Brian was concerned about a sound from the back of his motorcycle.
Took just a second to diagnose the issue: Your chain is fucked, dude. The thing jangled and flopped like chain mail, which is terrifying and decuply so in the middle of nowhere. Brian asked his local shop to replace the chain before the trip, but apparently the young mechanic protested and simply adjusted out the slack. Wrong move.
The best we could do was re-adjust the chain, apply some lubricant, and hope to nurse it to Vegas. Thirty feet from the entrance of a too-expensive hotel, with a parking valet staring unbelievingly, I walked Brian through motorcycle chain maintenance. Break the axle nut, loosen the adjusters, tighten the chain, measure the slack, bolt it back together and lube the links. It jangled less, but the chain worried me.
Badwater Road goes south from where we were, through the gut of Death Valley and to Badwater Basin which is, according to one of the helpful hotel staff and Wikipedia, the lowest point in the Americas. Nearly 300 feet below sea level, I guess. Not sure what else to say about the elevation. "Lowest point in the Americas" sounds significant, but not sure why I'd care.
Death Valley doesn't need a mostest statistic to evoke awe. Just look around. The sense we were on another planet came back the moment the hotel disappeared from our mirrors. But unlike the depressing seclusion of the previous day's ride, Badwater felt vibrant and alive. The air was still, the surrounding hills close, tangible, and electric.
And in truth, Brian and I were less alone. We crossed paths with an occasional motorcyclist -- invariably on a BMW -- and high-fived a small pack of coyotes baking bones on the blacktop. Casually riding Badwater was the Death Valley experience I wished I'd had the day before.
The rest of the day was easy. We made it to Vegas, found a cheap room on The Strip and blissfully ignored Brian's motorcycle chain.
|08-25-2013, 11:40 AM||#3|
Joined: Jul 2009
Location: Pacifica, CA
Zion & Bryce Canyon
We slept well, despite the Vegas lights strobing through thin window curtains all night. Before making a parting run of The Strip, I inspected the chain on Brian's bike. At a glance, it looked in passable shape, seemingly still taut after the previous morning's adjustment. Good enough for me.
April 11, 2013
To get to Utah, we'd first drowsily roll miles of Interstate 15 through eastern Nevada and northwestern Arizona. Think that's a helluva roster for a highway? Add California, Idaho and Montana to the list of states covered by 15. To go from Mexico to Canada, Interstate 15 is all I'd need, plus a requisite overdose of caffeine to keep awake.
The Nevada miles are forgettable, but 15 gets interesting at the east border. The highway aims straight for what appears to be a solid mountain range, and for an hour I dreaded the elevation. I wanted lazy miles, and mountain passes are rarely lazy. Or warm.
But what looked a solid wall of mountain, at the last mile in a dramatic reveal, exposed a narrow river gorge behind the veil of perspective. The highway knew all along. Clever girl.
The Virgin River Gorge spared us elevation, and ushered in the beautiful southwest. Rivers carve wonderful lines for roads. The tall mountains I didn't want to ascend were instead on either side of Brian and me, pale walls of water-worn rock zig-zagging us through Arizona and finally into Utah.
All of Utah is, evidently, fantastically photogenic. Especially Zion. I had no expectations for Zion, it was on the map and I figured why not, but it's now one of my favorite places on Earth.
Orange stone cliffs crack and buckle at the seams, smooth and sheer like ancient architecture and dotted with fuzzy green desert shrubs. The asphalt twisting through the park is similarly ginger, and romantically curvy though not the sort on which to get freaky. From Space, State Highway 9 looks like a racetrack, but it's not worth rushing.
Despite a long stop for photos and gawking from the bottom of Zion Canyon, Brian and I caught up with an RV when a park ranger stopped traffic at a tunnel entrance. Another group of motorcycle travelers pulled up behind us and, after minutes of waiting, suggested we try our luck at skipping ahead of the RV. I waddled alongside the hulking vehicle on idle engine power, expecting the yellow-vested ranger to scold me back in line. "Uh, go ahead." That wasn't very stern.
The tunnel digs into the canyon side for over a mile and without electric lighting, just occasional car-sized holes in the northern wall through which blinding natural sunlight pours and disappears in mirrors, replaced with darkness and, in my specific experice, the subtle echoed rumble of five motorcycles gently rolling toward the eastern exit of Zion.
In the absence of distracting rock formations, my eyes spied unhappy clouds in the distance. I pulled to the side of the road and told Brian, "That means rain," pointing to patches of dark cloud that looked like black metallic dust pulled down to Earth by gravity's magnetism. I learned to spot distant rain showers whilst touring the Pacific Northwest, but it doesn't do me much good. Rain or not, we still needed to get to Bryce.
The Wooly Willy rain threats haunted us, but mercifully never materialized more than a quick spritz of water drops. By then, we were more bothered by the dropping temperature.
It was after 5:00 pm when we checked into our hotel at Bryce, but had nearly 20 miles and another thousand feet of elevation before reaching Rainbow Point, what's essentially the end of Bryce Canyon National Park. It got colder on the way.
Bryce is accessible by a dead-end highway that goes south to the summit. Along the highway route, large lay-bys open views through dense trees, each view presenting different angles of the alien canyon below. Bony peach-colored points, like bunches of skeleton fingers, line the rim of the canyon and make Bryce uniquely stunning. The state highway ends at Rainbow Point, a crescendo of elevation -- 9,115 feet above sea level -- and the most impressive panorama in Utah. (In the world?)
The sun was retreating behind trees, Brian and I were freezing and surrounded by snow. We called it a day and rode back down the mountain, clopping over spindly stick shadows cast across the highway by the burnt remains of the lower forest.
|08-25-2013, 11:41 AM||#4|
Joined: Jul 2009
Location: Pacifica, CA
We'd been on the road over three hours before stopping. I pulled onto a sprawling off-camber highway shoulder shared by a couple of Navajo jewelry merchants.
April 12, 2013
At that point, the romantically-named U.S. 89A sweeps wide down the southern side of the mountain. The view south stretches infinite miles, the continuation of the highway visible hundreds of feet below us and stabbing southeast along the bottom of a flat canyon surrounded by wildly massive buttes. Brian scanned ahead, following the distant asphalt line to the horizon. "You sure there's gas?" No I'm not.
We passed a gas station a half hour earlier. Not because I didn't want a fill, but because of signs that rudely insisted, "Closed for winter." Hardly any snow was left on the mountain, but then likewise hardly any people were around, just the odd Harley rider and an occasional Navajo crafts seller.
The empty sound of the canyon below, a hollow hum of meandering air, was calming enough that running out of gas didn't seem so bad an end. Still, Brian's concern was warranted. We could see thirty miles down the highway from our perch, no sign of civilization other than a thin strip of lonely blacktop. I bought handmade earrings to bring home to my wife, got back on the bike, and coasted down the mountain to chase the horizon.
We found gas in Cliff Dwellers, a town of about three single-story buildings. One building serves an impressive burger and soup. A second pipes gasoline with 50-year-old pump machines. The third is a lodge. Not sure where the employees live. I wondered, the town's name isn't literal...is it?
Soon after filling our bikes and bellies, Brian and I crossed to the southern side of the Colorado River. The entire trip was born from the dream of riding to the Grand Canyon, and the South Rim felt, only then, in reach. The Colorado River crossing gave us a first glimpse of the canyon's scary scale. Deep, narrow cracks in the earth splinter off from the river gorge just beyond the highway's edge. How deep do the cracks go? What happens when someone falls in? Would it make a good picture? No I don't want to find out.
Relaxed daydreaming, humbling landscape. Peaceful empty miles following the Colorado.
I nearly nodded off. It was all fantastic beauty, but highways need bends. Consciously, I was far from bored, I could've sat cross-legged on the side of the road and not gone drowsy whilst surrounded by the desert views. But highways without turns are treacherously hypnotic, and no amount of conscious struggle can stop the subconscious pressure on the off switch. I almost pulled over, I should have pulled over, but worried I'd look an old man to Brian. When we finally stopped for more fuel, Brian confessed he'd also nearly given into the spell.
Since leaving San Francisco, we'd been pushing further and further east, but the transition to Arizona 64 marked the end of our migration. It was time to turn home.
The Grand Canyon crept in view, just off the north side of the highway. Each further mile came with new vistas, a surprise on the other side of every bend and crest. Narrow fingers of the canyon first, like the crevices south of Cliff Dwellers, but growing grander.
Trees obscured the view for a long while before the road kissed the canyon's South Rim. After a week on the road, 2,000 miles behind me, I met the Grand Canyon. From the rim highway, it felt like a god's-eye view of the world, the Colorado River snaking over the floor 4,000 feet below us, bright blue and fringed in green against the red and tan sedimentary layers of billions-years-old desert.
Large birds clung to outcroppings of stone between short flights over the canyon's depths, gliding on still air to another landing. The birds made me jealous, I wish I could fly. I couldn't even bring myself as close to the canyon lip as Brian dared for a photograph.
Brian and I took turns snapping each other's portrait against the extra-terrestrial backdrop before rolling into Grand Canyon Village to set up camp just a few miles away from warning signs with cougar silhouettes. After unloading the bikes, we did our best impression of a squid shoal and two-upped it on Brian's 250 without helmets, jackets or gloves to rummage food from the village market.
Christ, Brian's chain sounded awful. It crunched as we rolled slowly through the camp grounds, I could feel the friction clicking through the passenger foot pegs. When I later went back to the market to proudly strap fire wood to the bike and tow back to camp, I took my motorcycle.
We made fire, relaxed our minds, and talked the sort of personal thoughts I've only talked with Brian and his brother, when we were in high school. I see the two less often than once a year since school a decade ago. I'm happy some things don't change.
The sky stayed clear as the sun retired. We scrounged twigs to keep the fire crackling into the night, and watched the same stars last worshipped in Yosemite.
|08-25-2013, 11:41 AM||#5|
Joined: Jul 2009
Location: Pacifica, CA
We woke up and rode home. That's all I intended to write.
April 13, 2013
I dreaded the seventh day of our trip since even before finalizing a route. The elaborate path to Grand Canyon via Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion and Bryce, is the only interesting route to the South Rim. Returning to California necessitated the tiring exploit of some truly dull freeway.
Before packing up camp, Brian and I operated on his motorcycle's sad, crunchy chain. We adjusted and lubed the mechanical links as best we could, then rolled the bike backward and the drivetrain seized. The chain was impossibly taut at one end, and hopelessly loose at the other. We brought back some slack to the tight spots and crossed our fingers, hoping that the loose parts of the chain wouldn't jump the worn sprocket in the Middle of Nowhere, USA.
The Middle of Nowhere stretches between the South Rim and Los Angeles, an empty expanse of high desert, Joshua Trees, and asphalt with all the geometric intrigue of a yard stick, some 400 miles across. Someone thoughtfully set the speed limit at 75 mph, but against a stiff headwind, my bag-saddled 250 couldn't keep pace. Big rigs jockeying for position on the two-lane highway slipstreamed past us. The ride west into California was joyless.
We rolled into Barstow at 5:30 on a Saturday evening. I parked in front of our hotel. Brian wasn't behind me, though five seconds before he had been.
I tore off my helmet and ran around the street corner to find Brian pushing his bike off the road. The chain hung from the rear axle and dragged on the ground, having finally succumbed to our neglect. It could have been worse. The chain could have snapped hours earlier, in the middle of the Middle of Nowhere.
While I unpacked the bikes and shed my gear, Brian grabbed his oversized smartphone and searched for local motorcycle shops. Google returned three. Two of them didn't answer their phones. The third shop answered but only to say they closed for the weekend, which in shop speak means, "See ya Tuesday." Well hell.
Barstow Motorcycle Center (BMC), the lone shop to answer, was in fact more than closed. They'd shut down early on Saturday to relocate to a newer, bigger showroom. Spare parts -- like unbroken chains -- were boxed, cash registers disconnected, the old service shack padlocked closed for the last time. I pleaded with the guy on the other end of the phone to let me buy a chain, to which he replied, "You can try." There was no guarantee the parts I needed weren't buried in unmarked boxes somewhere between shops, but I was thankful for a chance. Not that I have a clue how to fit a bike chain.
Either my charm or my despair was more effective in person. I met Nathan, the general manager of BMC, and after a few minutes sussing out how they could even charge my credit card, Nathan changed objectives. Rather than just sell me a chain, he wanted to save us.
The BMC crew was on location, busy prepping the new showroom. Nathan dispatched one member to tow Brian's bike from across town. Nathan then called back the service mechanic, who'd gone home for the weekend. The lot heroically organized to patch up Brian's motorcycle and spare us two days marooned in Barstow. The response blew me away.
April 14 and 15, 2013
Over another two days, we meandered back to Earth. We tangled with traffic in Topanga Canyon, skirted the beaches of Malibu, camped in San Simeon, made fire with wet pine and fell asleep to the sloshing sound of the Pacific.
Through Big Sur on the final morning, I felt already home. California's coast, every mile, is a comfort. Isolated at times, but never lonely. Warmly blue, deeply alive, and gobsmackingly gorgeous.
At a small gas station on the edge of Highway 1, at Ragged Point, another motorcyclist reveling in the morning ride introduced himself to Brian and me. "I follow your blog," he said with some surprise, a mutual emotion. Ryan rode with us over the remaining miles of Big Sur, shared company over a cup of coffee, and broke off from our sortie at Watsonville.
Brian and I finished the coastal miles to my Pacifica home.
|08-25-2013, 11:49 AM||#6|
Joined: Mar 2007
Very well-written report! Awesome photos! Thanks for sharing. Which camera and lenses did you use?
Ninja 250's are awesome. They go anywhere. I used to ride one.
Cdc28p screwed with this post 08-25-2013 at 11:56 AM
|08-25-2013, 11:54 AM||#7|
Joined: Jul 2009
Location: Pacifica, CA
I wished I had something smaller. When I got back from the trip, I sold the DSLR kit and got an Olympus Pen (EP5) and a handful of primes. Now I need another road trip :)
|08-25-2013, 01:29 PM||#8|
Joined: May 2010
Location: seal beach, ca.
With your wonderful writting style & fantastic pics, you could make a trip to the grocery store sound epic.
Kudo's to BMC for helping you guys out!
Great work. Thanks for sharing.
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