The Southwest Solo-Tour of 2013, Part 4

Westward, Ho!

Not, not that kind of ho...never mind.

Day 8 – Santa Fe, to Flagstaff, Arizona

Day8-mapI left Santa Fe about 7:30a and traveled with commuter traffic to Albuquerque along I-25 South and then hooked up with I-40 West that would take me into western New Mexico, through Gallup, and into Arizona.

My destination for the day was Flagstaff, Arizona where I’d booked another Motel 6 room. The ride through the New Mexican desert was a warm one, with not a lot to check out visually.  But about 20 miles east of Flagstaff the terrain started to change from arid desert to wooded hills.

When I pulled into Flagstaff I stopped at the nearest Starbucks for an afternoon jolt of caffeine. While there I met a man who started chatting me up about my bike. The conversation began about where I was traveling, where I’d been, and where I was going next.

He was a new resident in Flagstaff having recently accepted a position with the City of Flagstaff as their Director of Geomapping Services or some such title. Flagstaff is home to the largest, contiguous pine forrest in the US, a tidbit of info he shared when I mentioned being pleasantly surprised by the terrain.

He also told me about being involved in an accident driving his Cadillac in the Midwest. In this accident,  a motorcyclist ran into his car head-on at 60 m.p.h. Sadly, the motorcyclist didn’t survive, but ironically his Cadillac did.

Day 9 – Flagstaff, AZ to Needles, CA via The Grand Canyon

Day 9 Flagstaff-GC-Needles

The ride to the southern rim of the Grand Canyon was cooler than the day before and the terrain didn’t disappoint. I didn’t encounter any traffic as I rode northwest along SR180.

On one straightaway stretch of roadway I spotted a herd of deer approximately 200 yards ahead of me. They were moving slowly and just seemed to be leisurely crossing the highway.  As I approached I sounded my horn and the most beautiful thing occurred.

At the sound of my horn, the herd split into roughly equal right and left halves, each jumping in sequence over the fencing on either side of the highway. It was as if they'd rehearsed this move and the final performance was timed for my arrival.It was a beautiful sight to behold.

I guess that’s how most of nature’s natural events seem to humans. We long to classify such observations with anthropomorphic terms in order to make sense of them.

Highway 89 joined the north-south SR64 at Bedrock City, a Flinstones themed campground and restaurant. The sign out side proudly displayed that coffee was only five-cents. I had to check it out, and needing fuel, both caffeine and octane, I stopped.

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Fred’s Diner had a great breakfast and coffee was indeed just five cents. 🙂
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Fred personally welcomes you to Bedrock City.

A brief 20 minute ride north on SR64 followed breakfast. The Gand Canyon National Park awaited and it was spectacular.

The Visitors Center houses displays, educational materials, washrooms, and food.
The Visitors Center houses displays, educational materials, washrooms, and food.
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The relief map demonstrates how vast the Grand Canyon really is. Not the ‘You are here’ marker in yellow.
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And, of course, the vistas are unbelievable and breathtaking.
A German -speaking couple played a round of 'you-take-our-photo-and-we'll-take-yours.'
A German-speaking couple played a round of ‘you-take-our-photo-and-we’ll-take-yours.’
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Both the foreground and the background made capturing the memory of this place easy.
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Just spectacular. 🙂

I spend about 90 minutes are the Grand Canyon and I if I hadn’t had 400 miles to cover that day, I might have spent considerably longer. It’s a place of natural beauty and utter silence, save the scuffles of shoes on asphalt walkways and the clicks of cameras receding memories.

As I was leaving, I spotted a guy on another R1100RT whose belongings were laying all around his bike. There were no soft luggage liners, just underwear, t-shirts, and socks everywhere on the black asphalt. I walked up to him and we chatted about the bikes, routes, and decided to ride together to Needles, CA where I was already booked to stay.

"Jim," from Tybee Island, Georgia
“Jim,” from Tybee Island, Georgia, striking a pose.

I’m not sure if his name was Jim, I think it was something else, but Jim will do for our purposes. Jim was from Tybee Island, Georgia and had left home just three days before (it sounded like he just needed to get away from his wife for a while). Logging incredible hours in the saddle and sleeping rough on the side of the road, he ate only soup and stayed every third night in a motel.

He’d stayed in the Grand Canyon park lands the night before and said that he’d frozen his ass off in the process. As you can see from the photo, he didn’t have very protective gear and I can only imagine his camping set up was just as limited.

We rode together for the rest of the day with the wind buffeting us like prizefighters outclassed by our opponents.  At one point my RT was leaning into the wind at approximately 30-degrees and my entire body felt like it was one prolonged muscle spasm.

The Long Arm of the Law

While still riding in Arizona, we cruised at approximately 75 m.p.h. until we saw signs of an approaching construction zone. We slowed to 55 m.p.h. as required but that didn’t stop the Arizona Highway Patrol from lighting us up and pulling us over.

I had my music going inside my helmet and didn’t notice him for about a mile in my mirrors. He insisted I was doing 75 in a 55 zone. I briefly argued my position but, not wanting a $500 speeding ticket, I apologized and promised to obey all future speed limit signs. I think he was sleeping in his car and was awakened by two RT’s riding by. He assumed we were speeding and very clearly we weren’t.

It's ironic that, at the time, I was working for a large highway construction firm back in California. As a practice I never speed through construction zones as it risk injury to both the workers as well as myself.

Later Jim was kidding me that the BeeGees must have been blaring in my earbuds prohibiting me from hearing the patrolman’s car sirens (Note: There wasn’t a single song by the brothers Gibb on my iPhone). 

Jim later told me he’d recently retired from a Special Education teaching position and had always wanted to visit his birthplace in Monterey, just south of where I live. Over dinner that evening, soup for him and salad for me, in the melting 102F environment, we talked about our prospective routes for the next day.

I knew he was going leave later than me simply because he was going to sleep in a bed for the first time in three days. He’d booked a vacant room at the Motel 6 on the phone while we had dinner. We parted ways and although I sent him a text message the following day, I didn’t hear back from him. I hope he made it back to Georgia in one piece.

Day 10 – Needles to Cypress to Visit My Sister

Day 10-Needles-to-Cypress

I left about 6a the next morning and a very long stretch of desert was my only companion. It was hot, dry, and I worried about the bike overheating as it’s a BMW oilhead and isn’t water-cooled. Hot air isn’t that effective at cooling the oil in the radiator, hence the concern. I pulled over for a fuel stop along I-40 in the middle of nowhere, where I met Steve.

IronMan Steve was crossing the Mojave Desert on a bicycle.
IronMan Steve was crossing the Mojave Desert on a bicycle.

Steve had ridden his bicycle from Denver, Colorado to California. He told me that he covered between 60 and 90 miles each day depending on the terrain. We looked at the map at he still have about 100 miles of desert in front of him.

In the photo you can see the solar charging apparatus he rigged up to keep his phone and laptop charged. He camped, cooked, and pedaled day after day. I was totally impressed.

He said the desert was about to kill him. The wind blasts from the large tractor-trailer trucks shoved him off the road surface and the heat was dehydrating him. He said he’d tried riding at night but the visibility was virtually a blackout at times.

Welcome to Los Angeles

The rest of my ride that day was uneventful, but challenging just the same. The downhill grade from the desert to the Southern California basin is a high-speed autobahn type freeway, five to six lanes in either direction with everyone driving like maniacs. I was riding at 80 m.p.h. and I was being passed on the left and right.

My destination was my sister’s house in Cypress, which is a few miles from Disneyland. My plan was to spend two nights with her before finishing up the trip with a two-day ride north on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Cypress was pleasant, and like all Los Angeles suburbs, congested and packed with strip malls and students.  The Jacaranda trees were in bloom and the light purple petals fell like snowflakes in the warm Spring winds.

Jacaranda tree in blossom.
Jacaranda tree in blossom.
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Kathy and me outside her hime in Cypress.

The two days I spent in Cypress were restful. I didn’t visit Disneyland or any other amusement park -not really my thing- instead I did my laundry and wrote notes about the trip.

Kathy and I had dinner that night at a restaurant that served soups and salads (Jim would’ve appreciated it) and all the bread and dessert you could handle. Neither of us were into gluttony so we paced ourselves and I spent two enjoyable days in the company of my big sister. 🙂

The final post in this series cover the final two days of my ride. Morning LA traffic, coastal riding, a nice night in Lompoc, lunch in Morro Bay, bikers in Big Sur, and a failing fuel filter are the highlights of those two days. 

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