Another of Red’s questions in the comments was about my first long distance ride. I had a hard time coming up with which ride fit this bill — “long distance” becomes relative after a while and, by now, anything short of seeing the Atlantic Ocean feels like a short jaunt.
Ultimately, I decided that my first real long distance ride was my southwestern trip in April 2003. I had done overnight rides before, but this was my first multi-day tour that didn’t involve a specific destination. I had originally planned on taking two weeks off from work in July 2003 to attend the Women on Wheels Ride-In but I was feeling restless and grumpy and work was at a low point in the schedule. So I traded a week in July for a week in early April and headed out to the desert with no real plan other than to meet my friend Jan in Las Vegas.
I kept a short blog while I was gone but it’s on a server that doesn’t exist anymore. Thanks to the actual Wayback Machine, I was able to resurrect it. So, for the first time at bluepoof.com, here’s my blog from that trip (plus some additional commentary and photos). So, this is one long ass entry because it’s essentially a ride report, but it’s pretty much all brand new content. Enjoy!
Note that everything in italics is copy-n-pasted from the original blog posts written on the trip.
April 3 2003
All trips start with food and this one was no exception. I had coffee and a surprisingly good almond muffin from the Harmony Bakery down the street from my apartment. The second food stop, for a “real” breakfast, was at Jerry’s Restaurant in Hollister, CA. The original blog had a cell phone camera shot (since lost to the annals of time) of Russ, a man at the restaurant who talked to me at length about his 1972 Harley and all of his ex-wives.
The day’s ride was uneventful; the only blog post was of my bug-splattered helmet along I-5.
By 6pm that evening, I was already getting cold. 101 miles to Death Valley!
“Brrr: I don’t know if you can tell in the picture, but there’s snow on that there mountain. Brr! 101 miles to Death Valley.”
I had never been so cold on a motorcycle in my life as I was that night, riding into Furnace Creek. I was wearing my Helimot leather suit and it had never really occurred to me that Death Valley was, say, a valley and thus required crossing a mountain range to get to it. By the time I arrived at the Ranch, I had a hard time extending my leg down to the ground when it was time to park the bike. So. Very. Cold.
Dinner at the Ranch warmed me up and I made this blog post later in the evening:
“The Death Valley Museum is on the grounds of the Furnace Creek Ranch, where I’m spending the night. I’m very happy that the museum grounds are open at night — it’s a gorgeous evening and I can look at old wagons under a pitch black starry sky and listen to crickets chirp. *happy*”
This remains of my very favorite memories of all of my motorcycle trips, ever.
April 4 2003
From the blog the next morning:
“While getting some coffee at the general store this morning, I got to chatting with Les, a 70-something man who works there. Les retired from his job in San Jose 12 years ago, immediately ‘got really bored’ and moved with his wife to Death Valley.
Now, during the winter months, he works at the store and she in the dining room. When the weather starts getting hot, they take off for five months — she on her Harley and he on his GoldWing — and tour the country. Their only set destination every year is Sturgis.
Hrm, 7 months working at a National Park and 5 months off to ride around the country…where do I sign up?”
That still sounds pretty darned nice to me. :D
More blog posts:
“Dante’s View: The snowy peak is Telescope Peak, at 11,049′. Right below is Badwater, at -289′. It is absolutely freezing up here. Brrrrr. On to Badwater, where I am promised a 25 degree increase in temperature.”
I’m laughing in that photo because I literally cannot feel any part of my body.
“Artist’s Palette: Pretty colors thanks to limonite and hematite.”
Evil Robot made it to Badwater:
Later that night, with a photo of my now-light brown boots:
“A dusty day today: At some point, these boots were black. I made it to Las Vegas — complete with riding down the strip — and am waiting for Jan & co. to arrive. I actually got snowed upon while crossing the pass into Vegas and am just now starting to thaw.
I’m becoming convinced that visitors to this region can have one of two weather experiences: being scorched alive or becoming a popsicle. There doesn’t seem to be much in between.”
I have to say that, 9 years later, I haven’t had any experiences to contradict that thought.
“Midnight snackies: Once again, touring solo caused me to utterly forget to eat dinner. Therefore, the Bednarczuks are forced into the casino diner at midnight. I think Zeke is the most awake of all of us.”
Ah yes, starting my fine tradition of malnutrition on the road.
April 5 2003
A non-riding day. I hung out in Vegas with Jan and her family and drank bubbly drinks.
“A mini warp core: modeling our highly alcoholic drink from the Star Trek bar. It foams and froths. Whee!”
Note: I unnaturally miss this bar.
”Zeke tries out the bike: I think he’s a natural.”
April 6 2003
“My bike thinks it’s a Harley!: Here I am at the lovely Las Vegas Checker Auto Parts, after discovering that my chain guard bolts vibrated loose in the desert sometime on Friday.”
The beginning of another fine tradition: the SVS pooping parts off down the road. Be free, little bolts! Be free!
My first time riding into Arizona.
“Base of Hoover Dam: I decided to take the tour of Hoover Dam, and am having a good time. The guide joked that the tunnels under the dam don’t leak, they “seep”; to prove his point, it promptly seeped on my head.”
“Today’s wisdom: If you ever want to wait in a really long line of cars winding down a mountain road, visit Hoover Dam on a Sunday while there’s a war on.”
Riding across the dam, which I include here because I don’t believe you can do this anymore.
“SR 167, Lake Mead region, NV: Blue skies, sweeping roads, almost no traffic. Life is good.”
“Valley of Fire State Park, NV”
“iPod good: I rode from Mesquite, NV through the northwest corner of Arizona and into Springdale, UT tonight while jamming to Depeche Mode on the iPod. I haven’t been using it too often, mainly because I think it detracts from the scenery, but it’s perfect for long stretches on the interstate.
The 80 miles of I-15 goes by pretty quickly when you’re singing along at the top of your lungs, inside the helmet, to ‘Black Celebration’ and ‘Everything Counts’ and ‘A Question of Lust’ and doing the little head-bob and sway to the drum beats. *bounce*”
I don’t have much more to add to that. 2003-me was right on. Depeche Mode still features prominently in my playlists.
“Springdale, UT: I’m hanging out at the “Bit and Spur” restaurant, eating tri-tip skewers (marinated in spicy peanut sauce) and drinking microbrewed pilsner. I like Utah already.”
You know, 9 years later and I still remember those tri-tip skewers.
April 7 2003
I left my gear at the hotel, and hopped on the free (and mandatory) shuttle to tour the park. Zion is really very beautiful, and I enjoyed my morning there. I’d like to go back sometime and try out some of their trails.
“Waiting for the bus to go into Zion: The park is about 1.5 miles away, so I thought I’d be lazy and take the shuttle instead of the bike (mainly because the ‘scenic loop’ is closed to private vehicles between March and November). Another gorgeous day — clear blue skies and probably in the high 50s right now.
The clerk at the Zion Park Inn last night was having some trouble grasping that I was alone, despite my request for ‘a room for one’. He kept asking where ‘you guys’ rode up from and whether ‘you guys’ were enjoying Utah.”
“The Grotto: I need to convince Kim to come back here and hike with me someday. The trails are amazing, and short enough (~5 miles) that even I could handle them. More gorgeous weather and equally gorgeous rock formations. I watched an orientation video this morning that informed me that the red rocks are all Navajo sandstone; the dark vertical streaks are stained onto the rock when water seeps out through the porous rock and leaves mineral deposits as it falls.”
“The Narrows: This is the end of the Riverside Trail (well, the paved part, at least — you can wade through the river if you’re so inclined). A nice 2 mile round trip hike along the Virgin River, and I’m ready to get back on the shuttle to head out of the park. Time for lunch and to head east on the Zion-Mt. Caramel highway towards Bryce Canyon. Hopefully it isn’t still snowing.”
Man, I really loved Zion. I brought Peter back in 2006 to do a little more exploring and horseback riding. It will definitely have to be an eventual Blueberry destination.
After lunch, I geared up again, and took Hwy 9 through the park until it meets up with the Zion-Mt.Carmel Highway.
“Checkerboard Mesa: Hwy 9 through the park is a great motorcycle road. Twisty, good scenery, and the turnouts are frequent and paved.”
I continued east through Utah, towards Bryce Canyon National Park. It was getting pretty cold by this point; the high temperature at Bryce that day had been in the mid-20s (F) and there was snow on the ground, though not on the roads.
“Snow in Bryce Canyon: Told you it was cold. Luckily this is the extent of the snow that’s still on the ground — no 4 wheel drive on the SVS!”
I got into Bryce fairly early in the evening, which led to a long blog post:
“I’m staying at the Bryce Canyon Lodge tonight (Monday), right inside the park grounds. It’s pretty nice, but it’s big and all of the buildings are separated by winding access roads, parking lots, and trails. It’s not incredibly well-lit at night, and I was actually a little concerned while trying to find my building after dinner (think climbing hills and crossing dark parking lots at 9pm, alone, when it’s just about 32 degrees F out).
I did make it back, though, and watched a couple of South Park episodes that I had in quicktime format on my laptop. I’d never actually seen the Mr. Hankey episode before.
I picked up a copy of Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness” at the Death Valley visitor center — I was unable to find it before I left Palo Alto — and have been enjoying it immensely. Written in 1968, it tells the story of Abbey’s summers as a rancher at Arches National Park in eastern Utah. While perusing the Zion Human History Museum exhibits today, I recognized the names of plants that Abbey mentions in his book. This made me feel all edjimikated.
It’s freezing here, literally. The high yesterday (Sunday) was 35 F; luckily it should be in the 50s during my tour tomorrow. I learned today that the base layer of rock and sediment at Bryce Canyon is the same as that on the peaks at Zion, whose base in turn is the same as the top of the Grand Canyon. Gives you an idea of the elevation here. This made me think of how we all definitely see the Grand Canyon as just that, but Zion appears to us as mountains despite it being a canyon as well. It’s just that we visit the peaks of the GC and the base of Zion.
I’m still debating whether to ride through Bryce tomorrow or take the shuttle. Today (Monday), I left my gear and bags locked in a closet in the hotel lobby while I toured on the shuttle, but the lodge lobby is so inconvenient here. Hrm. Everything else has been good for motorcycling — even the Stratosphere in Las Vegas had a separate section in their guarded parking garage for bikes, with cameras and floodlights. I think they get a lot of visitors with expensive Harleys.
Oh well. Worst case, I leave the bags on the bike (with a locking cable running through the handles and zipper pulls) and see if the lobby can just store my leathers. Mental note: next time, make sure you can carry all your bags at once. I definitely brought too many books along. I pulled a muscle in my neck hauling the tailbag, saddlebags, tankbag, and helmet down to the bike in Vegas, and despite ibuprofen, it isn’t getting much better. *annoyed*
Ok, time to shut up and go to bed. Goodness, I get rambly when there’s no cell service.”
April 8 2003
Bryce Canyon was amazing. The shuttle tours of the park don’t start until May, so I rode the length of the park (18 miles each way) on the SVS in the balmy 35F temperatures. There was another couple there on a motorcycle that day, so at least each of us weren’t the only idiots out.
“Restless again: Tuesday morning, and I’m drinking coffee before heading out to tour the park. Bryce’s shuttle system doesn’t start running until May, so I’m on my own in the park today (good thing, probably, since the front desk lady laughed at me when I asked if there was anywhere I could store my gear for the day).
The past couple of days have been high-tourist, low-mileage days, and I’m getting restless again. My wrists are starting to complain, but my mind really needs to get out on the open road again.
I think the waiter is flirting with me. He keeps giving me long and pensive stares when I ask for the check or give him my credit card. Sorry, buddy, no room on the pillion seat (besides, a preppie looking frat boy in Las Vegas leaned out of his SUV and claimed it while we were going down the strip).”
I did wise up at Bryce and put my rain suit on. It helped block the wind a little bit. My poor pre-Gerbing self!
“Black Birch Canyon: Elevation 8750′ and a balmy 35F.”
“Natural Bridge: Elevation 8627′. The Natural Bridge isn’t really a bridge — it was caused by erosion instead of by moving water, making it technically an arch. See how smart I’m getting?”
“Just proving that the bike was here: Most of the viewpoints are a short walk from the parking areas, so I haven’t been able to get the SVS in any of the scenic shots.”
“Bryce Point: Amazing. Simply amazing. I took a dozen or so pictures to stich together into a Quicktime VR when I get home — I’ve never before seen a place that so *requires* a 360-degree view. At 8300′, I’m starting to thaw.”
After Bryce…well, I just kept heading south.
“Too. Much. Adventure:
- was, as previously mentioned, freezing all throughout Bryce Canyon.
- I decided on a whim to ride 300 miles to the Grand Canyon
- the bike came *this* close to running out of gas along Hwy 89, Arizona, which is nearly-barren Navajo country
- I finally found a run-down Navajo gas station in The Gap, Arizona. The Native Americans who ran the station were very nice.
- I finally arrived at the Grand Canyon at sunset, which was just as amazingly gorgeous as it sounds
- I immediately got lost upon entering Grand Canyon Village and spent a half hour meandering along barely-paved access roads, finally ending up at a dirt road leading right to the rim in one direction and the dog kennels in the other. Somehow, I eventually found the main road again and immediately checked into the nearest lodge.
- After parking outside my hotel room, I unplugged the GPS…and the 12v socket immediately caught fire. The plug tip had vibrated out on the dirt roads and shorted out the circuit. After a 400 mile day, the last thing you want to see are flames shooting out the side of your bike. I smell like electrical fire.
On the good side, it’s an hour earlier here than in Utah and the lodge’s dining hall is open until 10pm. I just ate some really good vegetarian chili and sourdough bread, and — hey, it’s the little victories — they also serve Heineken.
What a long day. Hopefully tomorrow will be a little more uneventful. ”
April 9 2003
Once the “I knew I should have inserted a fuse” 12V socket fire was sorted, I did my usual morning shuttle tour, this time of the western edge of the south rim (otherwise known as the Hermit’s Rest Route). I started to grow weary of touring.
“I woke up early today and went out to assess the damage from last night’s “feu d’electricite”. I was really lucky — the GPS and camcorder power wires were utterly fried: melted plastic and broken wires and shards of carbon everywhere — but the wire harness for the bike itself was unscathed. The fire must have missed it by a centimeter or less.
I disconnected the damaged auxillary wires from the battery and removed them from the bike (no small feat, since they were carefully routed and ziptied along the frame). I wiped the fire marks and carbon off the bike as best I could, and turned on the bike. Being in such close contact with the girl over the past week has let me understand her a little better, and she glared at me and audibly sighed as she turned over — set her on fire, why don’t I! — but turn over she did, and purred smoothly if a little angrily.
We’re back to happy motorcyclist land here at the Maswik Lodge; not only are they storing my gear for me while I’m off on the shuttle, but they asked if I needed any help getting it to the front desk. The room here was cheap (well, relatively), clean, and easily accessible from the main lobby and cafeteria. The latter is open early and stays open late, and has good food. I’m a very happy motorcyclist.
As I was leaving my room this morning, I got to chatting with the housekeeping guy who was taking linens out of the neighboring room. He asked about my trip, and told me he’d ridden his Honda Shadow down from Michigan years ago. He’d worked at Yellowstone for three years and far preferred it to the Grand Canyon — there were employee pubs and activities there, he recalled, and he was bored here. “There’s nothing to do!” he complained. “I can lift weights — big deal! I lift sheets all day!” and hoisted a big yellow bag of linen for emphasis. He’s hoping to get transferred to a park out east and eventually end up in West Virginia, where his brother lives. “There’s no income tax there,” he said and grinned.”
“I love the Grand Canyon: My favorite thing about it, and I’ve seen exactly almost none of it so far, is that you can fall right into it. Right now I’m sitting on the very edge of a rock along the Rim Trail, and looking down, it’s maybe a couple hundred feet straight down peppered with rocks and tree stumps and sharp things. There’s no fence, no guard rail, nothing at all stopping me from standing up and doing a swan dive right into the canyon.
A raven just landed 10 feet from me, said “barp!” and did the exact aforementioned swan dive.”
“My fellow tourists are plentiful (surprisingly so, for the off-season) and befuddling. My favorites so far are the Russian woman who insists on teetering along the trails in high heels, and the large family of spanish-speakers (I’m too culturally unaware to know whether it’s spanish, portugeuse, etc). There are about 10 of them, they continually shout to one another despite being 5 feet apart, and they take turns pushing around a baby stroller holding two tiny daschunds. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I wanted to.”
I think this was about the point where I realized I needed to stop playing tourist and get back on the road. Sadly, I was still stuck on the tourist bus.
“Pima Point: The Granite Rapids on the Colorado River are visible from up here. The bus driver claimed that you can hear them, too, but I think this is an impossibly optimistic assessment of my fellow tourists’ noise levels.”
“Misanthropy: It’s hard, in a way, to be alone at the Grand Canyon, because you so want to *be* alone, and you can’t. Even now, buses are packed, lines form at the snack shop, and people crowd the viewpoints (only where there are railings, though – ha!). It must be a bloody nightmare here in the summer.
I don’t mind the people, per se; I mind how stressed they all sound. There’s a group of elderly asians fretting around by the bus stop now; next to them is an American family with a little boy who screams every time he sees anything at all and a mother who alternates between nagging the boy to drink more water and telling him to “put that stick down before you hit someone” (I notice she never tells him to stop *screaming*, though). An elderly but healthy-looking man just wandered past on the trail, and his wife came shreiking down from nowhere, grilling him: why are you down there? Where are you going? What are you doing? If I were him, I’d be sorely tempted to just jump into the canyon at that point or, better yet, toss her in instead.
Why the stress? Why the anger and fretting? They’re assumedly on vacation, but can’t even calm down long enough to appreciate the view without harping or nagging or shouting. Why aren’t people happy to be here? Are they so afraid of being alone that they take their worries and stresses — and even people they apparently don’t like — on vacation with them?”
Again, I suited up after lunch and toured a bit more on the SVS. I was happy to get back on the bike and get back to desert solitude.
I left the park and started heading back west.
“Ew, green squishies: Southbound Hwy 64 (Arizona) weighs in as the new, undisputed, nasty bugs-on-the-helmet champion of the trip.”
“Getting my kicks on Route 66″
Later that night…
“Boulder City: I’m half unconscious now in a hotel in Boulder City, NV. There’s a group of 7 Harley riders in the block of rooms next to me; the well-meaning older gentleman at the front desk put me right next to them since we all ride. I’m sure I’ll enjoy this more in the morning, assuming they turn the TV off soon (thin walls).
Today’s surreal moment: while parked on the shoulder of Route 66, taking a picture, a pickup truck pulled up to me. Inside were two women, on a trip from Seattle where they’re professional photographers, who wanted to photograph me and the bike (in all our buggy glory). I said, hey, why not, and we hung out on the side of the road there for almost an hour, chatting and shooting and etc. One of them had a little pink bunny statue that I got to pose with (apparently, it’s the “inanimate object tours the country and meets people” thing — like the garden gnome in Amelie). Very odd things happen to me sometimes.
So, that was fun, but as a result, I didn’t get into Boulder City until 11pm PST. Yawn. Crossing the Hoover Dam at night was pretty, though.”
A few weeks after arriving home from this trip, I got a little envelope in the mail from those ladies, containing awesome 8×10 shots of me looking badass in my suit along Route 66. I don’t have them online, but one print is hanging in our front hallway to this day.
April 10 2003
By now, I’d ridden through deserts in California, Utah, and Arizona; it was time for Nevada. I started in Boulder City (next to the Hoover Dam), and rode up the Extraterrestrial Highway (Hwy 375) through the middle of the state. Naturally, I stopped for pictures in Rachel, NV, whose claim to fame is being near to Area 51.
“Rachel, NV: Population: Humans 98, Aliens ?? (or, so says the sign here at the Little A’le’Inn). About 75 degrees out, but there’s a nice breeze and just enough cloud cover to keep the sun from glaring. Hwy 375 is a fun road, assuming you like the desert (which, fortunately, I do). I’ve seen a handful of other cars, but not many. It’s 110 miles to Tonopah and the next gas station. The lady at the gas station here looked a little like an alien, come to think of it: tiny body, huge oval head with a pointy chin. Hrm.”
“Doh! I’m more tired than I’d thought. I stopped for water along Highway 6 and the bike toppled over in the soft gravel. I’ve spent 2000 miles dealing sporadically with *hard* gravel, and it never occurred to me that this particular patch wasn’t.
Fortunately, it was right next to a gate leading into Nellis Air Force base, and about a minute later, a guy came out. He was very nice and helped me get the bike up, proving once again that there is always help available (even out in the middle of the Nevada desert!).
Needless to say, I’m now stopped in the next town for some rest and food. ”
“Highway 6, middle o’ nowhere, NV: I have no idea what the hell is with the rocket, but, hey, OK.”
There’s not much in the Nevada desert. I had originally planned on going up to Hwy 50 (“the loneliest road in America”), but after a few hours on highways 375 and 6, I was ready to go home.
“How to survive the Nevada desert: Today I crossed Nevada, southeast corner to western edge. Here are some fun games to play if you’re travelling alone across the 500 miles of nothingness:
1) ‘Guess the distance to that mountain’. Since all of the scenery in the NV desert looks about 6 blocks away, this is a fun one. At the next rest stop, you can then play the next game:
2) ‘Dammit, which mountain was I looking at, again?’. You will never remember if the aforementioned mountain was east, north, whatever.
3) ‘How many miles can I go between looking at the odometer?’ I didn’t do very well at this one.
4) ‘Guess how long until the batteries in the GPS die’. A popular game, since, y’know, the 12v socket ate itself.
5) ‘If I wiggle my face just right, I can make my ear hurt!’. Hey, it’s a loooooong road.”
I ended up in Reno for the night.
“Reno, NV: As tonight looks to be the last night of my trip, I decided to treat myself to a night at Circus Circus in Reno. I’ve always liked Reno.
I rode into the valet area accidentally while trying to find registration parking, and got to chatting with the valet supervisor, Adrian. He rides an R6, so we did the usual bike geeking, and he got the bellhop and arranged for my bags to be delivered while I registered. He also told me where to park the bike so that it’d have a camera pointed at it. I love other riders.
I also shared an elevator ride up with a super tall guy in a policeman’s uniform who rides a Gixxer 750. When I asked if he rode track or just street, he winked and said, ‘nah, I ride it to scare people.’ I got a kick out of that.”
Later that night:
“I’m sitting in a coffee shop inside Circus Circus, listening to ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ on the speakers, eating banana cream pie, and drinking a beer. Life just does *not* get any better than this. A perfect end to the trip.”
April 11 2003
And it was time to head back home.
“Donner Party Memorial Park: Seeing as though I missed seeing the landmark for the ‘Old Spanish Trail Journey of Death’ in Ute, NV, I figured I’d make up for it by going to Donner Memorial Park.
Which reminds me: somewhere in Nevada, or maybe western Utah, I saw a sign for ‘Donner Pass Estates’. Now, maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sure I’d want to live somewhere named after a group of people who died painfully of exposure and starvation, after eating members of their own party for survival.”
I took the interstate home and thus have no interesting photos of the Central Valley. I’m sure this is a sad blow to all of you.
“Home again, bippity bop: Well, I made it home, eight days and 2649.2 miles later. Thanks to everyone for your support and happy thoughts — now it’s time to go chisel the bugs off the bike. ”
And thus ends a trip report that took me nine years to write. Long but hopefully worth it.