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Ice to Desert and Back; 12 Days Edmonton to Phoenix

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Frostback, Oct 13, 2020.

  1. Frostback

    Frostback Frostback

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    703
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    A Camera, a Motorcycle and a Desert Ride

    On a fast and cactus-filled 7,200 kilometer trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Phoenix, Arizona for an American Horticultual Society conference. I vowed to shoot roadside things that caught my fancy.

    Every bike trip should start with some wrench work right? I struggled on two new motorcycle tires in the back yard.


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    My dear wife cannot stand the idea of me going hungry so she plied me with homemade pizza slices individually wrapped. I munched on these all the way to the border. Nothing like black coffee, spicy pepperoni and a bumpy ride for world class acid reflux. The last piece of pizza tasted faintly of insects and road dust.


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    My father once famously said “We don’t have time for a shortcut” and I didn’t heed those words, took off into gravel roads near Kevin, Montana that I realized too late were neither on my map or google’s database. Nor did they access the interstate despite it being in sight. I stopped at a remote ranch where rancher Scott McKeever gave me some very welcomed petrol and I don’t care it is purple or not. Nice chat about the effect of the Bakan Shale play, local politics, the fact that we both went to Montana State University and what it is like to ranch so remote (he now commutes to Cutbank). Thanks Scott — saved me a loooong walk.


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    Remember my cheapo-self changing my own tires? The front one leaks. Probably all the grass I got in the bead. Here I find the last free air compressor I was to see for my whole trip. Losing about 1 PSI per hour of riding down to about 22 PSI where it stops leaking. I was going to air up daily for the rest of the trip then it decided to stop leaking. I love it when mechanical problems fix themselves.


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    Into Helena to visit my regular stop over and dear friend of 40 years. Here is Jimbo fixing me a good road breakfast for a 7:00 AM departure. Champ! Last time I blasted in unannounced at suppertime I broke up a distinctly romantic evening on their 4th date where things were looking promising. Oops! I took them out to supper instead.


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    It is chilly, and raining, and blowing. I have the gear for riding in damp 45 F weather but it does wear one out over a 12-hour day. I needed to average 720 miles per day to hit Phoenix in 3 days. Doable but not a lot of time for dawdling.


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    Two horsepower versus 105 horsepower.


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    Into another of my old alma maters, Utah State University in Logan, Utah where a biking pig deserved a photo. Had a nice visit with colleague Wayne Wurtsbaugh and his wife Linda for a tea and travel stop over.


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    From here I continued into Salt Lake City to spend the night with my sister. After converting to Mormonism (now called LDS) about 40 years ago and having 11 wonderful children, she had recently been appointed as a member of the women’s General Presidency something or other which I guess is really high up in the church. She and I have a truce over religion, proselytizing and population control after some earlier disagreements.


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    Here I am with several of her children at the big cathedral. Can you tell which one is me? I will say the weather was divine while in Salt Lake but turned on me just out of town.

    We were on our way to see my niece who sings in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir or the MoTabs as I call them. As I got off the bike in an underground parking garage next to these three fit young men (a truck driver, a horse trainer and something else), I stashed my gear in their car trunk and noticed a pile of ropes and it dawned on me; they had lured me into this secluded parking garage underneath the Cathedral, to tie me up and deliver me once and for all to the proper alter for my conversion. That didn’t happen and the choir was actually wonderful.


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    On southward via I-15 in the rain, which turned into slushy hail. How about a little divine intervention eh?

    Signs of the rural west were everywhere, heck I could have been in Mississippi. Those folks have been preparing for something big for 150 years!


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    Far enough south now that the Mexican food bonanza began.


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    I left the rain near Zion Canyon in southern Utah. I also finally escaped the dreaded interstate not to take it again for the remaining 5,000 km of riding but dayum you can make some miles on the slab when you gotta!

    Were they really hos?


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    Into the painted desert and open vacuous riding north of Grand Canyon. Delightful.


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    Had to stop at Lee’s Ferry for ice cream. A place I frequented in the past as a tradition of Colorado River rafters and motorcycle riders. Since burned down.


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    It seems reasonable to ask people not to jump from the bridges.


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    But is it really necessary? I think the water is about 900 feet down there. It would not be necessary to ask a second time.


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    I had promised myself I would stop and photograph the first saguaro cactus I saw. This libidinous fellow was proudly erect right near Bumble Bee, Arizona.


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    The Hyatt Regency in Scottsdale was the site of the conference I was attending (did I mention this is a work trip?) and it was pretty fancy digs.


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    Exotic palm trees, dubious use of water on golf courses but green and welcomed. I just don’t know where the water comes from. I know where it goes (vapour into the 13% humidity atmosphere). A golfer’s wet dream, well slightly damp dream.

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    Mexican food searches continued. This place was cheap, local, a poor part of town, seemed authentic, but you know what? It was just so so. For reasons of price they avoided avocados, quality meats, used cheap oil etc. It was probably more representative of the way most locals eat but it had not been gussied up to American tourist expectations. It filled the void.


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    Remember that fancy $180/night Hyatt Regency? I didn’t stay there. I stayed, as I always like to do when possible, at a local hostel; in this case, the Phoenix International Hostel ($22 per night). Interesting people, washers, dryers, full kitchen, free parking, no TV but piano, guitars, drums for the playing. I can sleep anywhere and will use ear plugs if necessary. It is the characters though that are the real draw. I met pilgrims from Ireland, UK, US, Mexico and Czech Republic. The lady from Czech Republic had a dog. I asked his name and she said “Porno”. Hmmm . . . that is interesting . . . I said “Really, Porno?” She said “NO! His name is Porno”. We had a standoff. I was sort of eyeing her to see if she had revealing tattoos, or the dog was going to get jiggy with my leg when she finally made it clear, his name is Brno, like the city in Czech Republic. Whew!


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    So, off to the store I go to get something to cook. I was gobsmacked by the Fry’s supermarket. I can’t believe I just used the word “gobsmacked” either. They had a wall of fresh cacti leaves, 4 kinds of bananas, a walk-in wine cooler, a full bar in the middle of the produce section with craft beers.


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    There was a flat screen TV with overstuffed chairs for the non-shoppers — predictably — all men- to wait for the shoppers. Of course there was a coffee bar and barista too. I see why some travelers from developing countries are overwhelmed by the opulence and profligacy of our commodity culture.


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    Next, it was off to the Desert Botanical Garden where they have 55,000 cacti of some 3,000 varieties.


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    Some of the cacti are truly ferocious. I would hate to fall off a bike anywhere in these deserts. It was tempting to title this report “Hookers, needles and pricks of the desert” but it might have been taken wrong. Fishhook cactus, long-spined cacti. Endless variations.


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    If the mammillaria are named after the mammae, or breast-like projections subtending the spines, this Mammilaria magnimamma would be the Dolly Parton of the cactus world.


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    This one was sort of creepy and serpentine like something that had fallen out of the rear end of parasite-ridden bear.


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    Wildlife abounded in the garden, Gamble’s Quail were racing around with their chicks, lizards were emerging in the evening, and Sage Thrashers were squawking as me.

    In a “Where’s Waldo?” kind of contest, can you see the hummingbird in this photo? Look below for a hint.


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    I had to wonder about cactus spine versus Metzler Tourance tire.


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    I also worried a bit about running an air-cooled bike hard in 105 degree temps. Mileage was fine and the temp gauge never got above 4 bars so it was cool enough I guess. Wouldn’t have wanted to be in a traffic jam though.


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    West of Scottsdale I ran into some mountains and things cooled off a bit and got a little curvy.


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    Along with free compressed air, I thought outdoor drive-ins were extinct. Here it was though, alive and well. It made me recall carnal thoughts of Betina Hebert and Belle Stafford. Hats off to you two though for helping this nerd strike out through high school.


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    This sign seemed to force a choice of feminine or machismo. Which road to take?


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    As I ride along I do a little botanizing and what really struck me about the Zuni Native Reservation was the deplorable state of their range. It had been grazed to smithereens and as evidenced by the blowing dust accumulating along the roadside, they were losing their thin desert range top soils.


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    The corner of New Mexico had some isolated towns where I was led to wonder about the state of public education:

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    Finally made it into southern Colorado and the strip from Durango to Silverton to Ouray could be the North American Stelvio Pass. Switchbacks, sweepers and double turns, drop offs and mountain peaks. Check out the sky colour. This unprotected pull off had about a 500 foot drop at the edge.


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    I wastrying to muster up the nerve to pee off the cliff.

    Into Grand Junction to see my triathlete niece Paige. She had just run 17 miles. You might out arm wrestle her or bench press more than her, but you surely won’t out run or swim her I bet.


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    Wyoming was a blur but I slowed a bit in Montana. One of my favorite mountain ranges; the Crazy Mountains in Southern Montana. Isolated with pika and introduced mountain goats, occasionally hosts grizzly bears.


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    One could hike entirely around them in grasslands. I want to learn of their origins. I took off and did a little gravel sojourn up toward their base. When loaded for 12 days, this bike is a handful in rutted clay and deep gravel.

    I am also sort of drawn to eccentric old codgers as I plan to be one someday. At this rural field I first did a triple take at an aerobatic pilot doing spins, hammerheads, hanging on the prop etc. then slowly realized (without sound, helmet and ear plugs you know) that I was seeing a model airplane at 200 yards rather than a real aerobatic plane at ½ mile. These guys had custom trailers with racks of airplanes, there were 4-stroke engines with pushrods, electric engines, twin engines, and some amazing flying.


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    Out in the middle of the prairie of Montana. Don’t ask me what but Medusa would be proud.


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    See this tumbleweed? Salsola kali, an exotic weed from the steppes of Asia. Probably brought over with cattle. It is an amazing plant. I have seen tumbleweeds travel at over 40 mph. They can grow on bare salty soils, and when they mature, they dry, snap off at their base and take off racing on the wind overland. At each bounce, they drop seeds in a line that may stretch for dozens of miles. Clever plant there.


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    While gassing up just north of Geraldine I couldn’t help noticing a plastic roping steer in the back of a truck so I waited out the owners. There had to be a story here. In no time at all Jake and Russell showed up. They were on their way to Big Timber for a second rodeo in two days.


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    Jake’s first attempt at bulldogging a steer ended up with him breaking his nose and bleeding all over the place in front of a live crowd. It amused him. Tough bugger.

    As I raced for Chester, Montana I saw several of these volcanic (?) cinder cones. Putting the chest in Chester I’d say.


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    From the same vantage point I looked behind me and see the storm that has been chasing me hard on my heels since noon, providing good tail winds but not catching up to me with rain.


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    There are two parts to this sign. First, the chilling reality of what mistakenly happened. I was intrigued by this telling from a Native perspective that is rarely heard. Then I noticed some small holes and on closer inspection see this:


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    They looked to be .45 caliber pistol slugs shot from the road. Antipathy seemingly remains.

    A short distance away on the shadows of the shortgrass prairie coolies, a roadside grave marker tells of a sad but scenic demise.


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    I stopped at the finest hotel in Shelby. The desk operator was a well medicated medical marijuana user and proceeded to tell me that I really ought to hustle down to the VFW hall and crash the wedding party. The groom was from Nebraska “Nobody will notice”.


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    I demurred but walked down to the main street casino to eat some ribs for supper and chatted with the grooms brother who was busy decorating and booby trapping the blissful couple’s get away car.


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    My server at the casino was a nice 17 year old girl and she strongly recommended I run down to the VFW hall and crash the wedding . . . not much going on in a town like this.

    I had to ask if Shelby was a boxing town as indicated by the old Chamber of Commerce sign and heard the story of a huge promotion in the pre-airline days of Joe Louis and a relatively unknown fighter whose title bout was to bring 50,000 viewers to Shelby by train (where would they have slept?). I had actually known a kid at Montana State Univ. from Shelby I think — Golden Gloves contender.


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    Big preparations and stadium construction etc. and when only 15,000 showed up, the whole town went broke.

    I see inroads though with new businesses modestly trying to hang on. I wish them well but there is not a lot of spare money floating around these parts.


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    On the home stretch now, I stop for a coffee and sandwich with Brad and Sarah in Calgary’s funky riverside area. Nice to see them gardening away.


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    Final leg home and just in time for supper and a good nights sleep.

    Lee
    #1
    Kyron, eaglescan, MZ5 and 9 others like this.
  2. haystack

    haystack Just ride

    Joined:
    Aug 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    10,306
    Location:
    Jersey Highlands
    Bravo..

    You packed an entire report into one post:clap
    #2
  3. borderlinebob

    borderlinebob Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2016
    Oddometer:
    531
    Location:
    CANADA-100 ft N of International Falls, MN
    Well I don’t have to subscribe to read the rest. :imaposer
    It’s over and done.
    Long but very enjoyable read in a single post.
    Lots of info and nice pics.

    Great report but I’m curious when you did this quick but bountiful trip?
    Thanks for the RR.
    BB
    :smile6
    #3
  4. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2009
    Oddometer:
    21,386
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Nice memories. Utah and Montana guaranty it. I love the people of both. You should have crashed the wedding. They were right - no one would’ve noticed. I read this joy as I awake to the first frost of the year.

    As for being a business trip, I gather you submitted for mileage, although it would be for more than the airfare you saved them. :D
    #4
  5. Pete Pilot

    Pete Pilot Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2015
    Oddometer:
    297
    Location:
    Prince Edward Island. Canada
    This reads like done recently? Borders of U.S and Mexico are closed? Maybe with a well thought out reason/ excuse I can make my way to Baja?
    #5
  6. Frostback

    Frostback Frostback

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    703
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    This was 4 or 5 years back, Covid is good for getting around to stories I intended to put here but didn't The reason for one long blurt is that I assembled it in MSWord which also conveniently reduces the resolution of photos, then cut and pasted in. Recollections of a permeable border indeed!

    Lee
    #6
  7. Frostback

    Frostback Frostback

    Joined:
    Sep 5, 2007
    Oddometer:
    703
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    So if I figure this right, 7200 km - 4320 miles. My mileage on the bike was about 45 mpg so say 100 gallons at $3.75 gallon = $375 and they didn't have to rent me a car or airplane shuttle or parking or insurance. I think I saved them a little bit, and yes indeed I charged them mileage but only 1000 miles at $0.45 so I didn't sting them too badly. Can't kill the goose that lays the golden egg you know.

    I hear -10 in Edmonchuk today. I have neighbors checking my furnace there while the house is for sale. Rainy here in Burnaby but not really cold.
    Lee
    #7
    RedDogAlberta likes this.
  8. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

    Joined:
    Nov 27, 2009
    Oddometer:
    21,386
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta
    I rode down to top the tank and add stabilizer, then home to remove the battery. I’m ready for the white shit.
    #8
    eaglescan likes this.
  9. MZ5

    MZ5 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 13, 2011
    Oddometer:
    279
    Location:
    Arizona, USA
    Not that I know of. Was in BC a couple weeks(?) ago. Didn’t go past the border area, but no trouble or delays coming or going.
    #9
  10. eaglescan

    eaglescan Borrego rocks Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Oddometer:
    717
    Location:
    Langley,B C
    MZ5
    Are you saying you came from the USA into BC. and then returned ?
    Unless you jumped the ditch both ways and missed the stretch where they just installed miles of cable for a fence!
    #10
  11. eaglescan

    eaglescan Borrego rocks Supporter

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2009
    Oddometer:
    717
    Location:
    Langley,B C
    Mr. Frostback, that was a fun read and pictures. Spent a month near Bumble bee, sure love all the cacti to look at , but not in my skin.
    Had Chollas in both legs, Yucca needle in my arm , bled pretty good and rubbed my knee up against something sharp ,caused instant pain and swelling.
    Checked into the Ranger about that, said it was probably just an allergic reaction, OK.
    #11
  12. borderlinebob

    borderlinebob Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 21, 2016
    Oddometer:
    531
    Location:
    CANADA-100 ft N of International Falls, MN

    Time Travel can mess with the mind I’ve found. :imaposer
    #12