The Ride Begins: Days 1-4
Day 1: Santa Cruz to Bakersfield
With my bike fully packed and tested, I departed Santa Cruz for my first night’s destination in Bakersfield. I’d fueled up the night before, performed all the routine checks on tires, electrical systems, brakes and fuel systems that one normally performs before riding anywhere. The temperature was about 68 degrees when I left.
I waved goodbye to my 16 year-old son, his mother- who’d kindly agreed to stay with him in the house during my absence- and rode out on to the Pacific Coast Highway (U.S. Route 1) heading south. My route took me only about 10 miles southbound before taking SR-152 East toward the Central Valley. About an hour later I was traveling south on Interstate 5 (I-5) where the temperature had already risen to about 80 degrees.
I-5 is a heavily traveled freight route for large semi-trailers and trucks containing all sorts of freight, including cattle and other livestock (always a pleasant aroma around those), other goods, as well as freshly grown fruit and vegetables from the San Joaquin Valley, also known as the California’s breadbasket because the the large amount of crops grown there.
I-5 in this area is surrounded my mountains to the west and rich agricultural and ranching lands to the east. As far as scenery goes, there isn’t much, which is a good thing because the semi’-trucks demand your full attention. I discovered quickly that each truck leave a different draught signature behind them.
These draught signatures can affect a bike in many ways from inducing a sudden impact from an air blast to what felt like a high-speed wobble. Later in the trip, especially in Arizona, it felt like a giant fist was punching the side of my bike over and over.
And because of the hundreds of trucks on the Interstate, there is always another truck just ahead. I soon stopped fighting them and settled in behind a fast moving truck in the left lane just stayed at a distance I could tolerate.
My first day’s ride was only about 4 hours long. In fact, when touring on these 12 days I seldom planned a route that lasted over 5-6 hours. I did this for several reasons.
- As an older rider (55 at the time) I tire more rapidly than my younger colleagues
- I wanted to enjoy each day’s ride and not have a strict mileage quota
- I wanted to stop often for coffee, bathroom and water breaks, etc.
- I don’t see as well at night and prefer not to ride after sunset…again, an older guy thing
First Lesson: Two Star Hotels are Really Zero Star Motels
I made room reservations whenever possible at the nationwide Motel 6 chain. Because I need little more than a hot shower, a bed, and a safe place to park my bike, there was no need to spend a lot on my accommodations. Motel 6 suited me just fine and represented the lowest standard I was aiming for in my lodging for the trip.
However, on my first night’s stay, I was in a Super 8 motel in a particularly seedy-looking areas of beautiful downtown Bakersfield.
Bakersfield smells like onions most of the time anyway and on the day I rode into their fine city, it smelled like onions combined with urban grime.
When I rode into Bakersfield, my iPhone displayed a balmy 100 degrees. I quickly checked into my room and turned on the air conditioner. If the Super 8 Motel was any indication of the level of comfort I could expect for the rest of the trip, I was in trouble. It was obviously a lower standard than I’d previously encountered at Motel 6.
The photo below reveals their choice of fine writing instruments, luxurious note paper, and state-of-the-art communications systems.
The room was also adorned with graffiti. Why go outside when you can read the walls in your own room, or in this case just outside the shower?
But Bakersfield was just my first stop and the second night would find me occupying a great room in the Circus Circus Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. However, there were a few adventures waiting for me during this day’s ride.
Day 2: Bakersfield to Las Vegas
I left at about 7a after eating a small breakfast at a nearby Starbucks and headed west along SR-58 stopping in Barstow to fuel up. While I was filling the tank I noticed two guys over by the mini-mart, also on BMWs. Putting aside my life-long introversion and solo-rider persona, I walked over an introduced myself.
Leaving Barstow I rode the 2.25 hours along I-15 northeast to Las Vegas, stopping in Baker for lunch even though it was only about 10a. In Baker I took a few shots of my surroundings.
Freshly rejuvenated by caffeine, water, and nutrients, Bazza II and I made our way north to the Las Vegas Strip. I’d booked a room at the Circus Circus Hotel and Resort, one of the strip’s oldest existing properties. The room was a steal at only $20 plus $11 in miscellaneous resort fees.
It was about 100 degrees upon arrival and inside the parking garage the air seemed superheated.
Day 3: Las Vegas to Panguitch, Utah
But by the next morning, I was rested and ready to ride to scenic Southern Utah.
The ride across SE Nevada and NW Arizona was uneventful and the terrain was largely flat. It wasn’t until I entered Utah that the scenery started to change. The small highway towns took on a charm unlike the roadside towns in Nevada.
Here the people were friendly and most of the towns were dominated by the present of a local Mormon Church. In Utah, the Mormon Church is a powerful cultural as well as religious force. Small town life was being played out all around me in any ways.
Zion National Park
Just north of St. George, UT, where I stopped for fuel, I picked up SR-9, Utah’s Scenic Highway, and rode it 20 miles east toward the southern entrance to Zion National Park. Although this road only gives motorists a glimpse of the beauty waiting further northwest, it afforded me some truly stunning vistas.
Just before leaving the park, I shot this brief clip.
It was an enjoyable ride approximately two hours northwest to Panguitch where I’d booked a room for the night.
I entered Panguitch and right off noted the dated appearance of this out-of-the-way town. Old brick buildings and friendly people gave it a real small town feel. I could feel time slowing in this small town.
I pulled into a fueling station and right way a young man , about 25, bounded up to me and asked me where I was from. I told him I was from Santa Cruz, CA and he immediately asked me if there were jobs available there. Apparently, he’d been laid off from his job and only his wife was working. He was originally from Hurricane (he pronounced it Hurrican’ as if it rhymed with Amer’can) a town I’d passed through on SR-9.
It was the BMW that he seemed most interested in, however. Can't say that I blamed him.
I rode to the Panguitch Inn, the hotel I’d booked and found the doors unlocked, the front office devoid of life, and only a note on the front desk. The note relayed this message:
“If you’ve booked a room for tonight, please drive to the North end of town to our other Motel, The Marianna Inn. Our front desk person had a family emergency.”
I found the Marianna Inn and was immediately glad about the swhich. The Panguitch Inn was a two story brick building and although it was closer to downtown, it looked a little suspect. The Marianna Inn was also was an older place, complete with a dead insect lying on the bathroom floor, but it had certain charm.. Once again, my budget for overnight stays was minimal and I’m fairly easy to please.
The motel had been recently repainted and the room was actually quite comfortable. A little too gingerbread for my taste, but hey…it was cheap and quiet. 🙂 There wasn’t a Starbucks in this little town, but I had my own private stash for the road. I can’t recall where I ate dinner in Panguitch, but I had breakfast the next morning at a coffee shop just across the street from my little abode.
From there, I rode out headed east on SR-12 for Bryce Canyon.
Day 4: Panguitch, UT to Page, AZ
Bryce Canyon was a an hour’s ride from Panguitch and it was well worth the mileage thus far to see it.
The ride to Page, UT -for the first two hours- was one full of curves and twisty roads…in other words, perfect.. then the terrain gave way to more desert with hotter temperatures and less interesting, but still beautiful surroundings.
It ended at a Motel 6 with a nearby Starbucks. I was again in the land I knew best.
In Part 3, I'll take you to Santa Fe, New Mexico where I stayed for three days soaking up the rich culture and art, then on to Flagstaff, AZ.