The Southwest Solo-Tour of 2013, Part 2

The Ride Begins: Days 1-4

Day 1: Santa Cruz to Bakersfield

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From the coolness of the Central Coast, through the searing heat of Central California and the Nevada desert, through the beauty and cool temps of Southern Utah

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.

The exterior of my luxurious introduction to life on the road.
The exterior of my luxurious introduction to life on the road.
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.

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Just the basics…but when you think about it, what else do you really need from a Zero Star Motel?

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?

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The ill-schooled author might have been barely literate, but he captured the ambiance of the place perfectly when he wrote: “This is a nasty ass hotel, strate (sic) the fuck up.”

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.

Beemer Bros: These to Canadians were headed to Morrow Bay and then north to Santa Cruz.
Beemer Bros: These two Canadians were headed to Morrow Bay and then north to Santa Cruz. The guy on the left rode his bike from Canada and the guy on the right, the more friendlier of the two, rented his.

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.

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The world’s tallest thermometer.
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Desert and mountains
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The roadside oasis of Baker, CA
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Bazza II in Baker, just south of the Soda Mountains, ready for the push to Las Vegas

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.

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Day 3: The route was uneventful in terms of landscape until I got to Zion National Park

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.

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The strata on these spires speak to millions of year’s exposure to the shaping forces of water and wind
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With a backdrop this stunning, even a bunch of restroom look impressive. Of course, it’s probably the flashy bike-bling in the foreground…
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Note the sign in the foreground: No Bikes. Darn.

 

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.

Day 3 Zion to Panguitch
Panguitch, UT seems to me an isolated town that was only found if you wanted to find it

 

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.

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The Marianna Inn….cute, comfortable, and the dead bug was free of charge.

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.

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If I lived in these conditions I don’t think I’d be smiling either

 

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Confession: I took this photo on my way out of Bryce Canyon. 😉

 

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Stunningly beautiful rock formations; the hoodoos are the vertical piles of rock

 

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I was impressed by this seemingly precariously perched rock formation
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Bryce Canyon from another vantage point

 

A tiring ride for day 4
After hiking around the vista points at Bryce Canyon, I headed south to Page, AZ

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.

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Bazza II’s preferred parking: unpacked and tucked in for the night.

🙂

——

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.
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The New Bike vs. Used Bike Internal Debate

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1977 Suzuki GS400, the only new bike I’ve ever purchased

Something Old, Something New

Of the four motorcycles I’ve owned, only one was purchased new from a dealer. Ironically, it was my first bike, a 1977 Suzuki GS400.

I purchased it from a Suzuki dealership in Tujunga, California that was later the target of an arsonist...rumor had it at the time that it was the owner who torched it. But it was only a rumor...

Rumors aside, that bike was my first experience with daily riding. It was brilliant, even if I was an untrained and minimally skilled street rider. I purchased it in the spring and rode it all the time that summer, back and forth to work, to my girlfriend’s house, absolutely everywhere in Southern California in the late 70s.

I drove a 1968 Chevy Camaro, a classic muscle car by today’s standards, for my daily transportation until the day I purchased the bike. From then on, I led a life on two wheels.

In the winter of 1978, life on two wheels got real as the snow level on the San Gabriel Mountains dropped to 1,500 feet. These were the days before the widespread and relatively affordable extras such as heated grips and heated gear that kept you warm during cold rides.

As luck would have it, my Camaro was sidelined for some mechanical problem I can’t recall now. I was forced to ride the Suzuki 120 miles each day in frigid temperatures without and real protection.  Like I said, I was untrained and minimally skilled…and after that winter, not very cold-weather riding friendly.

The Recurring Debate

I have this debate running in my head pretty much all the time. Because motorcycling is a passion, it’s never too far from my consciousness.

Should I buy another used bike or should I splurge on a brand new bike?

I don’t think I’m alone in this debate either. I’ve talked to other motorcyclists that I know well and they, too, have a similar, non-public dialogue battling it out in their heads.

After returning to motorcycling (two ex-wives and four grown children later), I purchased my beloved BAZZA I (all my bikes since the Suzuki have been named), a BMW F650GS.

Bazza-300x202

Like the three BMW's I've purchased since BAZZA I, all have been a located via the online clearinghouse, Craigslist.org. I paid $3,400 for the bike and it was worth every penny.

I purchased the bike from a local guy here in Santa Cruz. He and his wife were expecting a baby, and even though they’d shared many wonder experiences on the bike and were incredibly sad to see it leave their nascent family. The woman cried when I arrived to pick it up.

It was bittersweet moment for both parties. They were losing a family friend that had taken them on many adventures, having made the decision to reduce risk and focus on their family. Conversely, I was gaining a new friend, having arrived at the point where risk was no longer a chief concern as my family, through kids growing up and leaving home, had been downsized to only me and my youngest son.

Wanting more power and bigger engine for a solo-ride I was planning around the Southwest, I traded BAZZA I for BAZZA II, a ’00 BMW 1100RT. (Not very innovative on the naming, I admit.)

RT1100
It’s still an impressive specimen

I Did My Homework Each Time I bought a Used Bike

I’ve been pretty careful when it comes to pursuing bikes that carry less risk. The trade for the R1100RT for the F650GS was example.

I got the R1100RT from Brent, a stranger the day we met, but now someone I trust as well as a friend. His knowledge of BMW engines and mechanics is unbelievable.

I actually talked him into the trade of the F650GS for the R1100RT. After seeing the bike, he gave me a choice of different bikes to choose from, each had their unique aspects and all were in a state of needing some sort of rebuild. I was reasonably comfortable that the R1100RT I chose and was confident that after some time spent wrenching it into shape, it would get me around the American Southwest in 13 days.

I rode from Santa Cruz to Las Vegas, Southern Utah through Zion National Park, across northern Arizona to New Mexico where I visited Santa Fe for three days. My journey back tool me straight across the Mojave Desert an up the coast of California.

Brent is a former Apple Computer engineer who now runs a used Mac refurbishing business and is a BMW mechanical savant for fun. Together, (he much more than me) we replaced the clutch in the RT, inspected and lubed the final drive, and then replaced the tires and front rotor bobbins.

We’re currently looking at options to fix my 1150GS which we suspect has a blown exhaust valve. But regardless, his first-hand knowledge is trustworthy and I learn tons about my various bikes each time we interact.

I've always been able to get a sense about a seller's motivations. To date, I've not had a regrettable experience when it came to purchasing a used bike. I attribute this is to rider-to-rider trust and my ability to see beyond the words and phrases of an ad.

To Be Honest, I Fantasize About New Bikes All the Time

My dream bike, a BMW R1200GS
My dream bike, a BMW R1200GS

As fantasies go, it might be pretty lame, but having a shiny, new bike is a a really great feeling. Even though my 1150GS is also a used bike, it felt like new when I bought it.

It wouldn't matter if it was a KLR or an R1200GS, a new bike is a new bike.

There is something about the reality of having a brand new bike with less than 20 miles on it that makes you stand back and admire at it for hours; carefully getting to know each nuanced detail, each little scratch or dimple, as well as every potential part that could be worn or in need of attention.

I think the dedication to cleaning and riding the bike gently at first is born from this need to know the bike as intimately as possible.

But for me, the affordability of owning a used bike is what drove each of my choices. I really love new bikes, but I really don’t like having a bike or a car payment. That’s why I own a 1996 Jeep Cherokee and two BMW motorcycles that all were made in 2000. One payment was required for each of these fine machines.

So when I fantasize about a new bike, it doesn’t take me very long at all to come down from the motorcyclist’s high and instantly recall what it felt like when I had a car payment. I really hate being in debt, especially secured debt. It just drives me nuts.

Perhaps one day in the not too distant future I’ll take the plunge on a new bike.  Or maybe I’ll save a ton and buy one or two of Brent’s more recent rebuilds and put some cosmetic improvement into them.

But then I get into the the other debate that also runs on tracks in my head, the debate over one bike vs. two bikes. Thus far in my motorcycling journey it’s been handy to have more than one at my disposal. But the minimalist in me responds that I’m duplicating things by keeping two.

The debates rage on. 🙂

 

A Tale of Two Passions

My 2000 R1150 GS
My current ride, a 2000 BMW R1150 GS with custom seat and exhaust

Motorcycling & Writing

I first knew I’d be a writer of some kind as a fourth grade student. It was as if  all the dark space in my brain was illuminated with the power of an aircraft searchlight revealing this one truth.

I'd stayed inside during recess to write a summary of a biography on Francis Scott Key, a young man with revolutionary patriotism and author of what would later become the national anthem of the USA, The Star Spangled Banner.

What ten year-old kid, who isn’t ill, stays inside during recess? Only one with a solitary focus and a new-found passion that he’d never felt before. It was to be the beginning of a life-long passion with writing, writing poorly, and gradually increasing my skills.

In later years I’d become a reporter and editor of my college newspaper, publishing in trade journals and small presses. I’d later write non-fiction books, blogs on varied topics, and start a life-long habit of journaling to discover new areas of life and how I felt about them.

Life on Two Wheels

Bruce, past and present
Bruce, past and present

I first learned to ride a motorcycle when I was fifteen years old. Legendary motorcycle raceway announcer Bruce Flanders lived across the street from my family in Southern California and it was he who planted the seed that later blossomed into a life-long passion for motorcycling.

It was as instantaneous a conversion as my introduction to writing had been. One ride on a Honda 100 enduro bike and I knew was hooked for life. The experience was like none I'd ever known.

Later in the summer of 1972, I attended Speed Week on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, courtesy of the Flanders clanwho served as stewards at the event. Bruce manned the announcer’s booth at the starting line and also rode for Pops Yoshimura’s Kawasaki team, setting a world record for the stock tuned KZ-1000 at 141.703 m.p.h.

It was on these arid salt flats that I was quickly convinced that motorcycling was a way of life and not just a hobby. My eyes were are big as saucers as I wandered through the pits and inspection tents looking at bikes altered for speed and talking with people who knew something of life beyond the 9-5 home-to-office-and-back grind.

I felt as if I were walking among giants. Craig Breedlove was their testing his rocket car, The English Leather Special. I met Pops Yoshimura who only spoke Japanese and wasn’t a fan of the heat nor the environment and Bob Braverman, an astute designer and mechanic.

I quickly made friends with another teen and we rode everywhere we could on motorcycles for a week. The salt would cake up our knobby tires and the soles of our boots, but we didn’t care. We were on two-wheels and experiencing more freedom that wither of us thought possible. When the wind was above 10 m.p.h, speed trials were suspended and we’d have to make our own fun; that usually involved hanging out near the starting line or just commandeering a couple of bikes and taking off.

This was a time long before portable GPS units were commonly found on the handlebars and we were damn lucky we didn't get lost out on the endless flat and featureless landscape of the salt flats.
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1975 Honda 400f – a four-cylindered beast of a bike

Later when I was 18, I flew on my own to England and lived near the Scottish border in the centuries old town of Hexham in Northumberland. It was there I pubbed around with new biker friends riding Nortons, Triumphs, and Hondas racing around the narrow lanes of Northern England. The entire experience of living in the UK in 1976, at age 18, completely immersed in a culture that revered motorcycling was pivotal in my development as a young adult.

Returning to Southern California, I quickly bought a new Suzuki GS400 and it quickly replaced my ’68 Camaro as my main source of transportation. But I was an unlicensed and untrained rider. Sure, I’d spent time on the motocross racetrack at Irwindale on Saturdays with Bruce learning how to corner and survive woopdydoos, but I was largely untrained and unskilled on the streets of Southern California.

I kept the Suzuki for a few years and sold it when I got married and moved away to attend college. That was to begin long drought in my riding experience; at times I wondered if I’d ever get back on two wheels again.

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1977 Suzuki GS400
It wasn't until I'd been away from riding for two decades, raising a family and making a choice to minimize risk, that I decided it was time to reignite the passion that burned silently for a long time.
Bazza
I was hooked on the GS dual sport model with this bike, an f650 GS
BAZZA-II
Still love the look of this bike, an R1100 RT

I purchased a 2000 BMW f650 GS and took the MSF’s Basic Rider Course at a local community college. I gained my M1 endorsement on my driver license and a year after, purchased another BMW – this time a former police bike, an R1100 RT that I rode on a solo tour the American Southwest in 2012.

But I wanted another GS and found a great deal on a pristine bike (the beauty at the top of this page), a 2000 R1150 GS that had been meticulously cared for by a BMW shop in Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

When I can’t ride, I feel like a part of me is missing. It’s much like the feeling I get when I don’t publish to the web on any given day. I don’t like driving the Jeep Cherokee so much. In fact, for his 18th birthday, I gave my son Jay the Jeep for his use. I only use it when I have to and always with permission. :-)

My life on two wheels makes me feel more like I'm doing my part for the environment and the added benefits of using the commuter lanes on highways and the ability to park almost anywhere make the experience even better.

My two passions are inextricably linked. I’ll be writing until my arthritic hands can no longer type. Likewise, I’ll be riding my motorcycles until I can no longer swing my leg over the back of a bike.

And even then, where both passions are concerned, it will take some convincing. 8-)