Just another day in California. The sun was brilliant, the sky was a crystal blue, and the hills were that baked-all-summer mottled brown sprinkled with live oak. I'm on the road again.
This time it is a return to my recent past because of a
comment, a challenge made in jest. I am on the way back to New Mexico for the
third time this year. Last May I rode to the Internet BMW lunch in Los Alamos,
New Mexico and wrote about it in my WanderLunch stories. Then in my summer
Wanderlust I passed through New Mexico and wrote about. Now I am headed to
New Mexico specifically to write about it! Why?
During an exchange with some readers about my writing style, I commented that Warren Harhay wrote prose, I wrote detail - hey wouldn't it be a trip (pun) if Warren and I went to the same place together and each wrote our own story.
Warren took me up on the "challenge", not that it is a contest. We decided to meet at the entrance to the Trinity test site and travel together to the point where the first atomic bomb was detonated. We're going to stand back to back and duel with keyboards at Ground Zero.
Trinity is located about 45 miles from Socorro, New
Mexico, and it is open to the public for only a few hours each year ... the next
window is 8:00 am to 2:00 pm this Saturday, October 2.
Want to come along? We'll have a blast! (yeah, I know - booooo) Coincidentally, the Land of Enchantment 1000 endurance riding rally is also using Trinity as a bonus location with its theme "A Blast From The Past", so it's not like we'll be the only ones there.
Ah but there is a lot of ground to cover yet ...
and I'm taking my time getting there. Today was a chance to enjoy the same
route I took when starting for New Mexico in May - Sonora Pass over the very
center of the Sierra Nevada. I think this is my favorite of the passes. Last
time around Memorial Day the snow was still piled over six feet high on the
shoulders and I commented how spring comes late to the high country. Today the
snow is gone but so are most of the leaves on the trees. Summer leaves the high
country early! And at 9,000 feet it was cool enough to bundle up even though
the temperature was 94 degrees only 50 miles ago in the valley.
Speaking of The Valley, the Vegetable Bowl of America, it is harvest time. Of course, it is *always* harvest time of something in California, but I mean BIG harvest. (Yes, the "cash crop" is coming in too ... now is not the time for reconeering in the national forests. :) There are these huge double trailer gondola trucks hauling tomatoes in all directions. It cracks me up to see caravans of tomato trucks passing each other in different directions. But damn these are not fun to follow, especially as they lurch and settle the load for the first few miles out of the fields. Think of a road covered with ketchup ...
Other selections of trucks-du-jour: an empty garlic hauler still VERY clearly scented, wagons of Thompson Seedless grapes bound for all those drinks with the euphemistic "contains (unspecified) fruit juice", and finally almonds almonds and more almonds. Want to be a bazillionaire? Invent a high volume use for almond hulls. The farms have mountains of husk hills and no cost effective way to get rid of them.
How can I go on so long about something as boring as
crossing the flat central valley? It is amusing that no matter how despicable
that segment of the trip is, it is always engrossing on a motorcycle. I know
these roads so well I have to get about 200 miles from home before I can stop
predicting exactly what color house is around that next corner, or where the
'52 Ford pickup will be parked in that driveway ... but on a motorcycle, these
things are just so much more to see 'hands on'. It occurred to me while I was
jostling with freeway traffic in Oakland that I (and probably most
motorcyclists) like being "calm in chaos", which is a different view of being
alone in a crowd.
Sitting on a bike, calm and not moving but having constant commotion on all sides, is like being in a 360 degree movie. Not *watching* the movie, but being in it. Being able to negotiate through the crowd is almost like manipulating it. It's fun.
I am riding naked this time. Electronically naked, that is. For the first time since I got my GPS, I am using oooold technology ... only paper maps. Let me tell you ... this is like flying VFR (visual flight rules, not the Honda :) at night. How do people live like this? Never knowing exactly where you are? Not knowing that the next gas (and pee) stop is precisely 23 minutes and 12 seconds away at current speed (yeah, I can hold that long ...)? How?? It has been surprising how adapted I became to the information the GPS provided even though none of it was absolutely necessary. Going back to the 'naked' analogy, from now on my GPS is classified with my underwear: you don't absolutely need it, but you are more comfortable with it, and you never *never* loan it to someone else!
Drifting south down US395, this sure is fast country. The speed limit is 65, the trucks do 70, the faster traffic is 80, and the CHP patrols at - well I didn't try to keep with him so I don't know. But this is also the most beautiful escarpment of a mountain range I have ever seen. The east face of Yosemite, the serrated (hence, sierra) range near Bishop, and Whitney portal are just incredible. Take your time someday and watch these mountains go by!
Big Pine is a small town, but it is near where I want to go tomorrow. After too many times of being in a hurry and passing by, finally I get to visit the oldest known lifeform on the planet - one for whom 'hurry' is measured in centuries - the bristlecone pine. Its homeland is only 25 miles from here ... and two miles straight up.
330 miles, 5:45 hours
SF I580 I205 CA120 CA108 US395 Big Pine
Today's code words:
(I was asked to list my 'thought triggers' written on the road)
calm in a crowd
Hmmm. Looks like this is becoming the "tree" tour.
Yesterday, Big Pine, this morning the Bristlecone Pines, tomorrow the Joshua
Trees. Oh well, I'll try to branch out a little after that. :)
Let me back up first. Yesterday I mentioned Sonora Pass is a favorite. Even though I've been over it a dozen times, each time I see something 'new'. Like the sign just before the summit that says "27% downhill grade ahead. Trucks not advised" (Of course that 'not advice' is given where a hapless trucker wouldn't have a hope of turning around anyway. But hey.) That has to be the highest grade reference I've seen, but it is not unusual. On the upslope to the summit, the road rises from the 8,000 feet level to 9,000 feet in one mile ... about a 20% grade.
It was just before the 8,000 elevation sign that I had to stop for road construction. The flag waver held up 10 fingers, so I shut off and dismounted to stretch and chat. She was a pleasant woman, maybe late 30's with the rugged look of someone who has spent a lot of time in the high country. We talked about the crew, the work done since last winter, and recent weather conditions. I commented that the stream beside the road (which is the headwater of the Stanislaus River) still had a lot of flow for so late in the summer. She turned, looked at it a moment, then pursed her lips, and let fly.
Hsssst, Phooo! Silence. Sploorp in the creek.
Um. What do you say to a lady who just landed a lob of lung lube 20 feet away?
Me: "You sure got some distance." She just smiled.
A couple of minutes later we found no more to chat about, so I was just enjoying the roadside flowers, when Hsssst, Phooo! Silence. Sploorp.
I really wanted to ask her 'why the creek?' but my face must have betrayed my curiosity, because before I could say anything she said, "My ex lives 'bout a mile down the creek."
This morning as I was packing the bike, a man approached to avidly ask
questions. He is from Israel and is visiting the West with his wife.
Giol used to have a 350 cc bike in Israel but he says the government
doesn't like bikes and makes it difficult to own them. Plus, everyone
(in his family, at least) thinks you are strange if you like motorcycles
- not 'bad' like the image Rich Urban Bikers espouse to, but he says
they think you are not good at making decisions if you choose to ride.
We talked for quite a while about the attitude toward bikes in the US. His wife Michelle said little, but he mentioned she did not like bikes. After a while I asked Michelle if she would like to ride her own motorcycle someday, since it was obvious Giol really wanted to ride again. It would be wonderful for them to ride together ... Her response was "Bikes are not for women."
Well, that started a completely different discussion. Both were surprised to hear about MSF classes taught for men AND women. Both were surprised to hear that fully a third of my local club are women who ride their own bike. And Giol was greatly surprised to hear Michelle say she might maybe possibly consider it. He simply had never asked her.
I wonder how the rest of their morning went.
Route 168 climbs over Westgard Pass in the White Mountains, between the Sierra Nevada and Death Valley. It is desolate and desert. The sign at the turnoff from US395 beats the "last gas" signs I saw earlier this year - and any I've heard of since: Next Fuel Beatty 137 miles. Half way up the gnarly sinuous highway that follows the flow fields of the alluvial fans, White Mountain Road angles sharply upward to well over 10,000 feet where Pinus Longaeva dwell. These Ancient Bristlecones are adapted to a terrain and climate that is astoundingly sparse ... as is the oxygen to breathe. I won't go into Ranger Recitation mode, but for these dudes to get so healthy when the growing season here is only *six weeks long* is something worthy of respect. And some of them have been at it for almost 5,000 years. Definitely worth a visit!
Not far south along US395 is a simple roadside sign:
Historical Place, Manzanar. All that is left of the government run
concentration camp used to detain Americans of Japanese descent during the War
is the entry road stone guardhouse. It has a plaque on it briefly describing
the detention by Executive Order 9066, and ends with the hope that the lessons
learned of racism and bigotry will never be suffered again.
Those lessons may have been learned, but someone still enjoys cruelty. Not 20 feet from the guardhouse the state has erected a sign commemorating US395 as a "Blue Star Memorial Highway, dedicated to the defenders of the country in World War II". This sign is well over 100 feet from the road and invisible unless you stop at the Manzanar gate. Without discussing any of the politics on either side of the detention issue ... I don't think the Blue Star sign belongs where it is. That's cruel.
By now I have ridden nearly 500 miles through the length
of interior California, and it occurs to me that most of California is a
wasteland. (I'm talking about the UNinhabited parts, not L.A. :) Man, there is
nothing but nothing out here! Just sand and sun. So why is not not
surprising that someone would commercialize that rife natural resource?
You want to see a marvel of dancin-with-what-brung-ya ? A mile or two
north of Kramer Junction (58 and 395) is the Boron Solar Generating
Facility. Sometime (in the winter) I have to stop here and see exactly
how they do it. There are acres, maybe hundreds of acres of reflecting
parabolic troughs that concentrate sunlight on sodium rods which boil to
give heat for generation. Just while riding past this field the air
temperature noticeably increased maybe 20 degrees on the breeze coming
across the dishes.
That air also felt drier ... so dry, I wonder if Miss Expectoration from yesterday could even hit the ground here.
Randumb thoughts: Near Olancha is the Federal Prison Camp. Down the road near Atolia is the Federal Correctional Complex. Do they use tents in the camp? Is nothing simple about correction?
323 miles, 5:56 hours
Big Pine CA168, return, US395 CA18 CA247 CA62 Joshua Tree
"Try our delicious sticky buns. They're home made!"
The Internet is everywhere, so why am I still surprised? When Rebecca and I were passing through Challis, Idaho while on a day ride from the Stanley Stomp, we saw the Cafe Dot Com coffee shop and internet cafe. Last night while out for dinner I saw the sticky bun sign attached to the front of Jeremy's Internet Cafe and Beer Haus . . . in Joshua Tree . . . a (literally) one traffic light, one gas station crossroad.
Swill your suds and send your smtp. Pop a bun in the oven and download your pop mail. What a tangled web we weave (bad pun intended :).
BUT they were out of sticky buns this morning. Grrrr.
Joshua Tree National Park is a large expanse of ...
nothing. Of all the parks I've seen coast to coast, this is the most
disappointing. I can't figure out why this is an NP? There are plenty of Joshua
Trees, but so are there plenty for 200 miles around. Joshua Trees (named by
Mormon settlers because the limbs reminded of Joshua pointing the way across
the desert) are not rare. Further, the JTNP is what I would call scenic only in
the upper half of its 75 miles. The lower half is just scrub desert and there
isn't even a single JT in the lower half of JTNP! Ok, so who wanted this area
protected from development to raise the value of their property (in Palm
Springs, perhaps, just over that hill ...?) ? Cynicism, thy name is Sam.
Well, I resolved to enjoy as best I could, and a positive attitude on a motorcycle makes the ride fun no matter what. There was a beautiful morning moonscape with the still bright half moon just above the western horizon. I got a great picture. Then a few miles later I had a private chat with a coyote. He was resting in the shade of a tree right at the edge of the road. I stopped only a few feet away and although he watched warily he didn't move. So I slowly got off and sat in the shade of the next tree. We watched the desert for a while and thought our own thoughts. He declined to answer my questions.
Resting with Wiley helped me see how silly our 'rules' are in the desert. $5 entry fee to enter from the north, but no gate at the south entry. 25 mph speed limit in the middle of frikken nowhere. There is even a Reserved Parking area at the top of the high view point. Reserved? Like there is a real crowd up there? Then there is that sign about the local law firm: Cholla, Ocotillo, and Saguaro - oh wait, those are cacti. The sun is getting to me. Time to roll.
In almost every trip there is one part which is the
Been There Done That, Just Do It, Enough Already! segment. Say the word
"Interstate ?" as a question to most big event long distance riders (those who
have done four corners or coast-coast or the Iron Butt), and the number TEN
automatically comes to mind. I10 is anything but a ten on any scale. The
surface condition is good, but is so uselessly methodical, it drives one to
(look for) distraction. If BMWs didn't have the trait of drifting to the right,
I could lock the throttle, point toward Phoenix, lay back, and wake up for the
next gas stop.
The sensory deprivation of straight-line riding leads one to introspection. The Introspection Station is somewhere between the Agricultural Inspection and Immigration Inspection. Why would I put myself in this place, to be locked unmoving on a high vibration perch (trucks do 80+ in AZ, you gotta keep up or get wooshed). Why would I sit in the 100+ sun for hours, sweating it out nearly as fast as I drink fluids in. Because like the saying "Virtue is its own reward", motorcycling gives me the sense of having accomplished something at the end of the day. If you don't feel the need for a metal steed, I can't make you understand, but if you do - even a bad day of riding is better than a good day of no ride.
Among some, the nickname for Phoenix is Burning Bird.
For a while I though it was going to be burning bike. Slowly rolling in 4pm
traffic I watched the temperature gauge nudge the red. Running at low speed in
second gear seems to generate an inordinate amount of engine heat on my K75.
Even with the fan running constantly, (blowing waves of 'special' therms all
over me on this lovely day), it looked like danger wasn't far off. I was about
to take my chance with Arizona tolerances and lane split like I would in
California, but instead I tried "aggressive lane changing". Very aggressive
lane changes. It worked, although I did collect a few horn comments, and the
temp came down just enough until the traffic thinned.
Luckily, there were no enforcers to offer comments. In fact, I have seen very few patrols on this trip so far. Then after leaving Mesa toward Globe, I fell in behind an unmarked, white Arizona DPS car. I was quite content to go the 65 limit with him, but it was funny to see the others come zooming up in the passing lane, swallow their tongue, and take step in behind me (soon in behind a long line of 'us'). I could see the officer smile in his mirror.
As we were going up the Queen Creek grade, he suddenly took the left lane and lit his light bar, and staying in the right lane I instinctively hit my emergency flashers. There were huge piles of shredded paper blowing about in the road. One of the piles came above the hood of the car. He pulled to the center to block traffic. I went to a safe pullout and walked back. Knowing better than to get in traffic with him, I watched as he pulled the piles to the side. When he was done he came over to question my interest. I pointed to several "small" (foot long?) streamers of paper about as thick as a drain pipe and said they would be enough to wedge in the wheel of a motorcycle. I wanted to be sure the road was safe for 'all vehicles'. He simply nodded and retrieved the rest. We rode together into Superior and he waved as I pulled off for gas.
383 miles, 6:39 hours
Joshua Tree (through the Park) I10 US60 Globe
Late addition: Is it an omen to the purpose of my trip? As I passed the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating plant west of Phoenix, the three containment domes were clearly visible and shimmering in the heat. I wondered if we - the world - really know what we are doing with nukes, or are we like kids who have found a gun. Then this evening I heard about a nuclear accident in Japan.
What a wonderful day this has been. In "Me and Bobby
McGee" Kris Kristopherson penned he would give up all his tomorrows for a single
yesterday, but for me today made up for a dozen yesterdays. I guess it all
depends on the yesterday, eh?
Today was a day of fun, food, and fascination. Part of the fun -and- food was the breakfast I found in the Apache Balloon and Bakery in Globe. By now you may have noticed I am partial to pastries in the morning? How could I pass up a donut shop that is also a balloon delivery service? While I was there enjoying my chocolate-covered with coffee, they got an order for a big party. It is a small place. By the time I left I had to walk out hunched over because the entire ceiling was covered with green and white orbs waiting to be delivered. It would have been a little less chaotic in the place if they thought to turn off the ceiling fan while they were "stacking" deliveries :)
Definite fun is Route 60 between Globe and Springerville. Put this on your *I gotta do this someday* list! Would you like to drive though the Grand Canyon? No you can't do it in northern Arizona, but you can do it in eastern Arizona. The Salt River Canyon is every bit as spectacular as the Grand, except for two differences: 1) the canyon walls have a veneer of scrub trees so the rock face doesn't look as sheer (it IS), and 2) there is a perfect road right down one side and up the other. I have a couple of stunning photos to post with this report later on my web site. The road itself has been resurfaced this year and is a dream. Even with the occasional traffic, it is a real nubbie scrubber. There aren't many roads that make me want to turn around and do the same stretch again ... this is a candidate. (Randell, you takin' notes?)
This part of Arizona is surprising unlike any other part of the state. It is high altitude pine forest and meadow, reminding me more of some of Wyoming. Already the cooling weather is making the hills beautiful with swipes of aspen color. Some of the stands have balanced chromatics of green and gold that fluctuate in the wind like a digital pixelated fractal ... shimmering on and off and on and off. Mesmerizing. Then too is the fine carpet of fresh fallen leaves which leap into the vortex of your passing. Giving the illusion of speed but marking only the passing of time, they grasp at where you were with a softness that whispers shhhhhh yessssssss.
On a previous trip I commented how drivers in another state seem to speed up as you pass them. I noticed a different auto-moto interaction today in Arizona. Arizonans are sloppy passers. Because I was enjoying the scenery around Salt River so much, I was at or below the speed limit and was frequently passed. After the first few cars "clipped" my comfort zone on returning to the lane, I began to play with position. It became apparent that if I was anywhere except in the extreme left of my lane, they would not pull completely across the dividing line, but instead do a half-pass. Also, if I moved to the very left edge of my lane, they would pass 'faster' and get back in a directed move rather than a drift. No great lesson here, just something to keep in mind, although I may discuss it in a MSF class.
Fun, food, fascination. More fun food is the namesake in
Pie Town, New Mexico, at the Pie-O-Neer Cafe. (Would I make this up? Photos
available.) In 1922, Clyde Norman opened the Hound Pup Lode gold claim.
He never got rich from it, but after a while people began to stop at his
house on the highway and ask for gas. He brought gas in to sell, and one
day he had a box of doughnuts. They were worth their weight in gold.
After a while, the baker in the next town refused to sell him doughnuts
for resale, and since Cylde couldn't make them himself, he switched to
the only thing his mother taught him ... pies. Soon people were coming
FOR the pies instead of the gas. He decided to name the place Pie Town,
but when he applied for a post office in 1927, the postal department
refused saying a town named Pie Town, quote: "was beneath the dignity of
the department". Clyde was persistent. There is a post office in Pie
Town, NM 87821. And the cherry pie is damn good! Too bad I missed the
annual Pie Festival held the second Saturday of September, but if you're
passing this way and you like pie ... they're open every day.
One nice thing about Pie Town, like a lot of rural America, there is still trust. They were rather busy, so I cleared my table and asked to pay. She said 'why don't you take a coffee and go sit a spell on the porch'. I did. Half an hour later I reminded them I still hadn't paid. And I noticed that when the locals pulled up to park, they left their keys in the truck. May their faith in people continue to be rewarded.
Enough fun and food, the fascination came on the San
Augustin Plain. Ok, so I am a slut for science, but my geek thirst was whet and
sated by visiting the Very Large Array, the National Radio Astronomy
Observatory. There is a nice concise visitor center, and a self guided walking
tour that takes you out to the base of one of the dishes. While I was lost in
thought, leaning against the fence as the sun was inching down in the
late afternoon, suddenly there was a whirring and I turned to see the
entire array of dishes track and tilt to follow the sun. It was chilling
to watch them all angle toward me, 'ears' to what might be spoken. I
could almost *feel* the signal arrive when Jodi Foster heard the thump
thump signature from Vega ...
Although the movie "Contact" was filmed here, the VLA is not actively engaged in SETI - the Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence. Those recordings occur at Aricebo in Puerto Rico, but did you know that YOU can help complete the Search? Really. SETI has more radio traffic recorded than there is official computer time available to analyze, so UC Berkeley created a distributed parallel process where anyone with a pc (or mac or linux or you name it) can help. There is a free screen saver available which you install on your pc. Then you connect to SETI and get a packet of radio tracking data. While your machine is idle, the screen saver analyses the packet. When it is done you connect again and send the results ... you may be the first person to really find ET out there. I am currently running this on my machines - if you are interested, complete details are at http://setiathome.ssl.berkeley.edu
What a wonderful day this has been. The warm sun at my
back, the competent BMW humming beneath me, and the Land of Enchantment
stretching out before me.
On to Socorro, and on tomorrow to contemplation of the innocence of the world annihilated in a flash.
307 miles, 5:38 hours
Globe US60 AZ260 US60 Socorro
The desert doesn't care.
On this chill morning in early Fall, the seasons begin their change as they have for so very long in the time measured by desert time. The desert doesn't care. It has seen the seasons come and go. Even with constant change, not much changes. The desert doesn't care.
The desert has seen the people come and scurry about very quickly in the time measured by desert time. The people make marks that take a few eye blinks in desert time for the elements to reclaim into the desert. The people themselves do not last, only their marks. The desert doesn't care.
One time the desert saw people come and scurry and build structures that would take the elements a little longer in desert time to reclaim, then they went away. The desert doesn't care.
The desert has seen the sun rise once every morning and felt its heat, which has been the measure of desert time. Then that day the desert saw a second sun close to the surface, and the heat of the sun was very hot, much hotter than normal. The structures were gone in a flash, both in desert time and in time. That night, the desert was very still, more still than normal, because nothing was alive in that part of the desert.
The flash left an activity in the surface of the desert, an activity that will take quite a while even in desert time before it stops. The desert doesn't care. Even with this very big change, little has changed here and now the surface where the flash was is desert again. The one thing that is constant is the desert doesn't care.
Every year on this day more people come and scurry about very quickly in the desert where the flash was. Then they are gone and the desert doesn't care. The desert can wait until not very long in desert time when no people will come anymore. Then it will just be desert again.
Warren didn't come today.
The desert doesn't care.
Well, *I* had a blast!
Once the requisite live and learn tourist duty was
complete at the Trinity site, it was great fun hanging out at the LOE 1000
bonus stop in the parking area. The long distance riding rally chose Trinity as
a bonus location in it's "see all New Mexico in a day" offerings. While we
were there, 36 of the 48 entrants accepted the offer and "blasted" in to
Trinity. One fellow from Ohio even said the primary reason he entered
the Rally was to come to Trinity. Then he rode off to the next bonus
without actually visiting Ground Zero, 1/4 mile away. You see ... you
have to get off the bike and walk there. Walking takes time. Distance
rally riders do not like time off the bike. Instead, he said he'd
probably come back next April when the site is open again. From Ohio.
(And you think I'm crazy ... don't answer that.)
LDRider Dane took a slight detour on his way from Denver to Houston to watch Warren and I play dueling keyboards. Unfortunately, the dual duelers in the dust turned out to be a solo Sam in the sun. Being a true LD type, Dane wasn't too disappointed ... after all, he came for the ride, not the destination.
Local New Mexico IBMWR President and newspaper reporter Karen managed to get a commitment for a story about the motorcycles visiting the site. Apparently "every angle there is" has been done about Trinity ... but this was a new twist. I asked her to send an excerpt to the list. Next, Karen and I went for a day trip on New Mexico backroads I wanted to try. Ever the RAT (Road Anomaly Tourer ... that's a whole 'nuther story), Karen used the afternoon to get RAT points at the only Merchant Marine Seamen Cemetery in land locked New Mexico, a mere 700 miles from the closest ship.
Next morning I determined to take a road out of New
Mexico that I haven't already done this year or last year ... and that left
only one choice! As I found myself on the hill overlooking El Paso, I could not
see Rosa's Cantina below, so instead I aimed for a 2-lane alternative to
I10 (ugh). NM9 traces the US border from El Paso to Arizona. It shows on
most maps as unpaved in the middle, but it is paved all the way. Scenery
in a word - desert. You've heard enough of that from me.
The only interesting item in the trip was while I was sedately rolling along at 65 mph somewhere between Hachita and Hermanas. I looked over to the left, toward the border, and saw I was being passed by a Border Patrol truck. He was IN the desert and doing 80 or more.
Arriving at Road Forks (yes, it is a town), I found the only gas station was dry and closed. Thanks go again to the Fuel Plus ... even though the reserve light had been on for a while, I knew I had enough to reach the next town. With 12 miles to spare.
Alas, I could not avoid I10 again, but at least there was time enough to get off early and wander in on the Old Spanish Trail past the Saguaro National Park. Does every cactus have it's own Park? Where is Office Window Cactus National Park? :)
Randumb thought: handwritten sign on the side of the road at a Tucson intersection: "I lost 40 pounds in 2 months. Free samples." Think about it. Ewwww.
399 miles 6:44 hours
Alamogordo US54 TX375 TX20 NM273 NMa003 NM9 NM338 NM145 NM80 I10 Colossal Cave, Old Spanish Trail, Tucson
On a trip like this I tend to select what I will politely
call frugal accommodations. Since most of my spare time in the room is spent
pecking at this damn keyboard ... uh, I mean participating in the thrill
of electronic communication :) all I care about is a clean bed and a
functioning bathroom. So I often end up in 'fringe' neighborhoods where
it seems each parking lot has its own lot lizard. Lot lizards are
usually harmless, but they gravitate toward anything stationary. I
always attract one when I am unpacking the bike.
Last night in Tucson at my $21 motel, Lizard peppered me with a bunch of the usual questions then eventually got to his business: got a smoke? don't smoke. got any spare change? Look, I'm not a mark, so you're not gonna get anything, but if you want to sit and talk, that's ok. The one thing this guy probably never gets is attention. He told me he is half Navajo, half Hopi, and Mormon. He told me where the best medicine men are, and how he went to Florida with his Aunt to sell Navajo Tacos at an international food festival. The best thing he liked about Florida was the rain. I asked - the Navajo and the Hopi tribes don't exactly get along ... how did your parents get together (me thinking a native version of Romeo and Juliet)? He said, "They drank too much".
It is a dangerous game to play with a Highway Patrolman,
but desperate for writing material (or I have to write more about the desert
...) I threw myself into it. Approaching a construction zone with a line
of about 20 cars stopped, I saw a Highway Patrol car positioned at the
flag waver. There was a clear path beside the traffic without crossing
the (right) white line, so I rolled up toward the front. He first looked
at me incredulously, then looked again to be sure and wagged his finger
for me to stop at his car.
"Where are you going?"
"To the front of the line to wait."
"Why can't you wait in line like everyone else?"
"Because it is not safe for motorcycles to wait between cars that are idling. Cars tend to slip forward while they wait. If a car bumps another car, nothing happens, but if a car bumps me, I go down and there is $1000 in damage. As a matter of safety I move to the front." Now that really flummoxed him. So for effect I added, "And besides, if they all see me talking to you, they won't want to come anywhere near me. More visibility is more safety." I could see he didn't know how to counter that, but we all know it's his game, not ours.
"You have to go back and wait in line. This is a no passing zone."
"I ride all over this country, and everywhere I go I move to the front of a stopped line. If Arizona is somehow different than all the other states, ok, but I am not going to be the meat in a bumper sandwich. Look, I am not in a hurry. I'll even wait until all the traffic goes and be last." That really threw him.
When traffic moved, he stopped the line about half way down and motioned me in. He actually smiled as he waved. I'd call it a draw.
In the never ending quest to find something reportable on
my rides, I passed through a town whose name is often found in advertisements
of "out of the way" locations: Why, Arizona. Having been there, I ask the
same question. But on the bright side ... if you are going to find all
the Cactus National Parks, you have to go through Why to get to Organ
Pipe National Monument (yup, there is), so why not.
While chatting at the Trinity site, where it was warm but pleasant, I commented that I am comfortable riding in temperatures up to about 110 degrees. Today I was thinking it was a bit on the warm side but not too bad, then I passed a bank thermometer that said 107. Sometimes it is better not to know. (I understand it snowed in New York today ... I'll take 107, thank you.)
Bienvenidos a Mehico! There isn't any (paved) way to
avoid an Interstate across Arizona. So I avoided Arizona! The map showed that
Mexico 2 parallels the border for about half of the state, and after
purchasing a one day Mexican insurance policy I entered the land of
belching busses and new old style (VW) beetles. At first concerned about
how long it might take me to cover 300 miles in Mexico, I am pleased to
report that once they are outside the towns Mexican drivers treat the
kph speed limit signs as mph. MX2 is signed 80 kph (and 100 kph on the
toll road :). If you are interested in this route, there are actually
two 2s. One is the original 2-lane and between Mexicali and Tijuana
which is Libre (free). The other is a divided 4-lane Interstate
equivalent that winds and twists over the central mountains like West
Virginia without trees (or grass or houses or people). The toll costs a
whopping M$35.00, which keeps most of the village people off. (At
today's exchange, that came to US$3.40.)
Observations: The sun is bright and hot and constant here, so why do most Mexican laborers seem to go without a shirt? Don't they burn? The roadsign for "cattle" in the US is a cow, with its head up (level). The roadsign in Mexico is a bull, with horns and an extended chest and its head down. More macho.
Ah what thrill could possibly end the day better than getting lost in Tijuana. The signs 1/4 mile from the border clearly said San Diego (arrow pointing up) and Zona Fiscal (arrow pointing down), so I took the up ramp. Woulda worked if I had been on the road where the signs were ... unbeknownst to me, my road crossed that road and I ended up somewhere on 'the mesa'. Despues de mucho derecho y izquierda (after many right and left turns) I found a sign that pointed to Alta California - appropriate since Tijuana *is* in Baja California.
Border crossing, total conversation: "What are you
"I just wanted to ride through Mexico."
It was only a day, but it seemed longer.
444 miles (including 463 kilometers in Mexico), 8:56 hours
Tucson AZ86 AZ85 MX2 San Ysidro
Three hours. Two hundred miles. Gas, pee, go. Repeat.
A day of long distance riding is intensely personal
because of the constancy of what I will call its immersive isolation. Being in
the flow of the river of traffic, yet being careful to avoid the eddies and the
backwaters draws a mental energy that becomes attuned to the hum of the
road roar around you. Different sizes and shapes of tires make
distinctive sounds that tell and sometimes warn of a ripple in the
river. Engines whisper at the speed of the flow, but they too offer
hints of currents in the river. The wind itself is a signal of
disturbances in the flow. All of this presents images to the senses,
images into which a wise rider learns to "zone".
Riding in the zone is being in a mental state of distractional non-concentration. It is a complacency to the normal flow of the river around you, without concentrating on the distractions in the river. Yet it is the distractions which almost subliminally attract the necessary attention of analysis and avoidance. The zone is very peaceful. For me it presents a continuity of thoughtlessness - meaning not having to think rather than being without thought.
So it is that I could travel for an entire day and have
essentially nothing to say. This final day of this trip started with my back to
the border with too little distance from home to break into two days, and
too much distance to make a side road exploration ... (but I did it
anyway :). 550 miles is not a significant amount ... but it is enough to
close the sense of time-to-wander and open the "zone".
3 hours, 200 miles, I5 (yes, pretty but ugh). San Ysidro through San Diego through Los Angeles to Frazier Park just over the Techachapi summit. Here, like the sparkling nugget that started the California gold rush when stubbed by a toe, lay a gem of discovery that led to a rush through golden hills of the Sierra Madre Range. This treasure of the Sierra Madre is my new favorite "new" road, Cuddy Canyon Road - Mil Potrero Highway - Cerro Noroeste Road from Frazier Park to CA33. Although it shows on some maps as 'surface not indicated' it is freshly paved and graded. Rising and falling several thousand feet across two ridges and their valleys, it offers exquisite views of the central San Joaquin from the top of the Grapevine. This then left me to cross the coastal Panza Range on CA58, a road with 70 mph straight-aways and 15 mph corners. 3 hours, 150 miles of anything but "zone" riding!
Then zone home again. US101, 3 hours, 200 miles. Frizzle
(fog drizzle) and temperatures in the 60s when only yesterday it was 107 a
thousand miles away. Another trip is done; another story is told. But
ending this one feels like the closing of a door. Traveling the slow
road and telling a story every night has been a challenge which I've
enjoyed, but the story has been for me to find myself as much as to
share experience. And I think now after 14,000 miles of daily reports in
three trips this year I find in myself a sense of completion.
I will take other trips. I will Wander again. I may occasionally write about it. Long distance days and long dialogues are difficult companions, but the "zone" calls to me. I hope you'll understand ... The Ride is the reason.
552 miles, 9:02 hours
3,008 miles total
Sam Lepore, San Francisco