Part 3 – New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Home!
I got on the road at about 7:00. I woke up and saw signs of some rain over night and looked around and saw that it might still be around. I ran over got showered and got all packed up, ready to load up and go. Just as I was putting on my second boot, I heard the rain start banging on the top of the tent. Grrrr. The last thing I needed was to get all my gear wet before I packed it inside the trailer. I decided to try to wait it out. 20 minutes later it was still going. It lightened up a little so I finally said “Screw it”, I got to get moving.” Loaded my gear and beat feet.
I had contacted TankerHank to let him know I was gonna be floating through his neighborhood hoping to hook up with him for a little bit. He said he had a very flexible schedule, just give him a call when I got off the freeway for more complete directions. I decided to take a little detour to see Tombstone. I was looking at the map and decided to take in some of the non-interstate scenery rather than go back and forth from Benson. I took SR80 in east NM and swung down along the Mexican border and then back up to Tombstone. Gorgeous ride.
I kind of knew what to expect in Tombstone, but it was even hokier that I expected. I mostly just wanted to see the OK corral site and try to use my imagination. They had it all walled in with a $7.00 admission fee which was fine. What I didn’t expect was all the “life-size” action figures they had standing in the corral all pointing guns at one another. I took my pictures, but it made me a little ill. I called Hank letting him know I night be a little later than I had told him the night before. He told me about an alternate route to get back to I-10 and I took it. It was a great looking ride. I started seeing some downpours in the distance and I was hoping one of them would be in my way. I was hot enough now that a good soaking would feel good. Right after I passed through Sonoita, heading north on AZ83 I ran into a nice sized down pour. I was able to get pretty wet but was surprised at how heavy the cross winds were.
I finally hooked up with Hank at around 1:00 (or was it 2:00? I got all twisted with the time changing back and forth. As much as I despise the whole daylights savings game we play, I wish AZ would stop being special and play along like the rest of us!) He greeted me in the driveway, camera in hand: “I could barely hear you coming!”
“I was being nice to your neighborhood.”
He showed me his poor filthy looking Pearl in various stages of undress and claimed it was just too hot to make any real progress. What else could I expect from a man who has an A/C duct running on his back patio? Come to think of it, why didn’t he route the duct up into his carport? We had a several glasses of water and chatted for a good long bit. He let me use his computer to check on the fires I had heard about in northern AZ and southern UT. Nothing dissuaded me from pressing on. We had a great chat exchanging ride and repair stories. He told me about his 1300 mile single-ride trips. I just shook my head “You da man Hank!”
I looked up and it was already 5:00 (or was it 4:00? Or 6:00?). Wow, I had budgeted a couple of hours to visit, but I hadn’t figured on 3 or 4. I still had some miles to do tonight. I enjoyed his hospitality, but had to get moving. He showed me a route that was to get me away from the mess of I-17 going through Pheonix. I was planning to get to Black Canyon, AZ about 25 miles north of Pheonix. I was in the midst of the Tucson back street traffic and it was a bit gnarly, but not awful. I finally got out in to some open road which led towards Mesa. I was planning on routing on 110 to get around the mess in Pheonix, but even at 7:30, the traffic was still pretty heavy. It took me almost an hour and a half to get from Mesa to the north end Pheonix and that was with traffic flowing! Pretty brutal. I finally pulled over to get some stuff at a Wallmart and grab a burger. Of course I found the only Walmart in the world that doesn’t have a McDs in it, so I wandered across over to a Wendy’s where I had the good fortune to get behind a family of 15 all ordering at once. 9:00 and there’s a 15 person family in front of me. Why aren’t you in the drive through like you usually are when I go through there? I was clearly getting grumpy. I got back on the road and finally made it to the KOA at about 10:30 (or was it 11:30?) 550 miles
I had called ahead and reserved a site, knowing I would be getting there late. I found my map and tried to figure out which way was what. I still think the map was inversed. Anyway, this particular KOA had very deep gravel roads. Most have some sort of gravel roads, but they’re usually somewhat manageable. This one had at least a 2 inch base and it was pure hell trying to drag a trailer through there and keep the bike upright. I got a little lost and found my self going up a hill (paved) through a “no trespassing/private road” sign. There was no way to turn around even on pavement so I just kept going hoping there would be a turnaround point somewhere. I got turned around and as I was coming down the hill, I saw where I was supposed to go. I pulled in, realized that the tent would be facing the wrong way, pulled out and swung it around.
As I was finally setting up my stuff, this flashlight was walking toward me.
“Can I help you?”
“Unless you can wave a magic wand that gets me setup, and has me showered and asleep in 30 seconds. I don’t think so.”
“Do you have a reservation?”
I pulled out the envelope they had provided me and handed it to him.
“You were supposed to be at another site.”
I was really in no mood for any nonsense. “This is the site that your paper told me to go. I’m not moving.”
“You don’t have to move.” And he and his wife started scratching their heads outloud about how this could have happened. She started apologizing to me and I just told her I wasn’t moving in a tone of voice that begged her to just leave me the hell alone. I was tired and grumpy and just wanted to get some sleep.
My alarm went off at 5:30, I woke up, turned it off and apparently went back to sleep. Next thing I knew it was 6:30. Ugh, another hour lost. Oh well, I guess I needed the rest. By the time I was packed, showered, gassed, fed and on the road, it was 8:30. Got rolling and hit Flagstaff for gas. As I was getting off the freeway, I noticed my clutch was pretty non-responsive. I pumped it a couple of times and found some space to park and deal with it. I’d been having clutch problems for a couple of days. It would be fine in the morning but as the engine would heat up I’d have to pump it a few times to get it to activate. I considered dealing with it at Hank’s, but I didn’t want to abuse his hospitality. And by the time we got done just visiting, the time was just gone. I was planning to deal with it when I got to Glendale, since I expected to have a little more daylight than usual to play with it, but it was clear that it needed to be handled right now.
So, I pulled over, opened the reservoir and the fluid was full (maybe too full) but was the color of weak coffee. Even I knew immediately that it was way overdue to be flushed. (When I bought the bike 9 months ago, the owner said he had just flushed all the fluids – my bad for not doing my own checks before I left on the trip!) I did have a bleeder kit with me as well as some fresh brake fluid. My biggest concern was that it can take days to do a flush. I’ve flushed my ’97 RSTD 3 times and all three times required an overnight sit to get all the air out. I crossed all my fingers and toes and hoped that I could perform a legendary fluid flush without the wait. Got to it and lo and behold I was able to complete the flush in under 45 minutes - a new world record for me by way more than a day! I was very pleased with myself. Gassed up and got back on the road – another 45 minutes of travel time lost, but on my way.
This was not the last of my delays on this day. I was watching the maps very closely for fuel opportunities. There are 3 dots on the map (allegedly representing towns) between Cameron and Page, AZ. I figured that at least one of them would have fuel. With only 50 miles on the tank as I went through Cameron, I pressed on, vowing to stop and fuel at the next opportunity regardless of miles logged. The Gap, AZ came and went – no fuel – 82 miles on the tank. Bitter Springs came and went – no fuel (or anything else) – 109 miles on the tank. I had been pretty much limiting my legs to 120 miles with the trailer as that was about when I had been going into reserve. Page was another 25 miles ahead, but the closest expected fuel location so I pressed on. I slowed down to about 55 to help conserve fuel. I still had my spare fuel available so I fully expected to get there eventually, but I still proceeded with every bit of caution that I could; when Murphy’s on your back he’s locked and loaded. About 15 miles south of Page I ran into a little pass. Low on fuel, trying to limp, just what I needed - an unknown distance of uphill travel. I slowed to about 35 MPH and tried to stay out of the way of everyone who was trying to get around me. I limped along and came to the pass. Hey, every up hill needs some down hill, right? I figured I could coast at least a few miles into town. Got over the grade pulled in the clutch and I slowed down. Huh? I figured that extra 400 lbs behind me would send me down the hill maybe faster than I wanted. I’m guessing that the air drag of the trailer was more of an affect than the weight. So I put ‘er back in gear and finished limping into town. I did make it without having to use my spare – 137 miles, 17 in reserve. Whew!
So I grabbed some fuel and a bit to eat. I picked the wrong place to eat as the burger joint might as well been a retirement plan. 20 minutes to get my food. Well I was really getting grumpy now, I had put a couple of seriously long days in earlier in the week, so that I would get to Glendale, UT in time to have a full afternoon to spend at Zion. Between my extended visit with Hank, my oversleeping, the clutch issue, having to limp for 30 minutes and my marathon lunch, I was actually behind my original schedule. As I was eating I started looking at the alternative plans.
I decided that I would consider staying in Glendale an extra night and spend a day touring the southwest Utah parks. A much needed play-day was in order here. I was planning to arrive home on Saturday, so I had an “extra” day available if I wanted to use it. The plan wasn’t concrete, but it was smoldering in my conscience as I got back on the road.
I do need to mention that the scenery between Flagstaff and Glendale was phenomenal. I was really torn about not taking time to snap some photos. With my alternate plan in place, I could have taken the time. Guess I’ll just have to go back!
I rolled into Glendale at about 5:00. I sat out front of the KOA office for about 15 minutes figuring out what my plan was. I probably still had 2 or 3 hours of sunlight so I could have still got a little time at Zion that afternoon. I had no idea if it was a “quicky” park (an hour or so gets one a pretty good feel) or one that requires hours or days to take in. I finally decided to relax a little, stay an extra night and take the opportunity to tour the whole area on Friday. I got set up, went an found some grub and made plans to visit Zion, Cedar Breaks and Bryce Canyon (time permitting) the next day.
There were a god number of rider/campers at this KOA. Right as I got there, I saw another bike tent/trailer (Timeout) and chatted with them for a bit. Ran into another couple who were tent camping (their tent was a small mansion!). I ended up sharing their campfire with them for a little while, exchanging stories from the road. They were from Canada (near Toronto) enjoying one of their (at least annual) 4 week touring vacations.
I got an early start and buzzed through Zion in about an hour and a half. Could have easily done it the night before, but I was sure I was in a much better mood to enjoy it. Now I freely admit, that I didn’t see the whole park or spend much “quality” time at any given spot. I did leisurely cruise through the main road of the park stop and take photos as much as I felt like. There was a tour bus that goes up to another ridge, but it’s not likely I would have taken it with unlimited time, so I felt as though I “saw the park” – I got what I wanted out of a limited time visit.
I zipped on I-15 to UT14 and headed up to UT148 into Cedar Breaks National Monument. Gorgeous roads, beautiful sights. My intention was to swing east back to 89 to head toward Bryce, but I got crossed up on the hill and wound up going west to Parowan, UT by accident. It took me a while to get my bearings, but when I finally realized where I was, I had about 60 miles to travel to get back where I though I was going to be. Buzzed up toUT20 and then south on 89 and headed for Bryce.
UT12 leading into Bryce Canyon has it’s own little pleasures in the form of beautiful red-rock, canyon walls, called, well, Red Canyon. The highway goes through a couple of arches carved out of the rock and is quite a pleasure.
The road to Bryce is of course littered with the signs of “do this, buy this, shop here, stay there….” There were tons of references to a place called Ruby’s Inn which as THE tourist trap of the area. I happened to notice ads for ATV tours of Bryce canyon area, and I said to myself “Self, let’s check into that!”
So I did. I found out an hour tour was only $35 and decided to go for it. I’ve never done the ATV gig so I figured it would be fun to ride around and see the canyon at the same time. I got signed up and went and talked to the guide to see if I could use my own helmet and get the lowdown. He kind of laughed when I told him I’d been on the road for 6,000 miles and 2 weeks. “So you’re going to give your ass a break by riding around on this instead?” I laughed and tried to reconcile the irony, but couldn’t and didn’t care either.
There were 8 other people in the group, 2 families. One with 2 teenage boys on their own rigs and the other with two young boys who ended up having to use the rigs that had the cabs, bench seats and steering wheels, because one of them was too small to safely hold on to the hand rails on the regular ATV. I took up the rear as I figured I would want to do more gawking than most as we were riding. So I ate the whole group’s dust for most of the trip.
All but about 10 minutes of the “tour” was just trailing around, mostly “playing” with the ATVs, which was fine by me. The teenage boys were getting as aggressive as they could get away with playing with the power toys (as was to be expected). The younger boys were just a bit too young to appreciate the adventure. The youngest (about 3?) actually fell asleep during part of the trip (which was beyond comprehension to me) and the older boy (6ish?) did his part to ease Utah’s drought by “watering” just about every tree on the route. It was pretty funny.
We saw a few critters and toodled around and eventually got to a rim of Bryce canyon. Spent about 10 minutes there and headed back to base. The tour was closer to 90 minutes than 60 and was fun. I don’t pretend to claim I saw the full version of Bryce Canyon, but saw enough to be satisfied and checked it off as having “done that”. Grabbed some dinner and headed back to camp to prepare for departure for Great Basin the next morning. I put in almost 300 miles on my “day off” but they felt like fun miles.
I headed out northeast towards Nevada, keeping off the interstate. By the time I hit Milford, UT, I was in the familiar typical Nevada landscape – baron desert with lots of small mountain ranges along the horizon and along the way. Plugged along and was in Baker, NV by 11:00. Had some lunch and headed up to Great Basin NP. I locked the trailer up on a bike rack at the park HQ and took the road up to Wheeler peak. The road was nice but not all that special in a scenic sort of way. I had plenty of time, so I decided to take a little hike to see one of the “features” of the park and take in a little more than what I could see from the road for a change. The “feature” was a 18 mile long, hand dug ditch built in an effort to completely exploit some gold mining opportunities in the late 1800s. Well the trail never really led to anything of any value (pretty much the same as the ditch digging venture!) - the sign telling the story about the ditch was as much as I got out of it so I puffed my way slowly back up the trail. I heard a gaggle of crotch-rockets go whizzing by on the road above me, obviously there to challenge the road more than see the limited sights.
I met up with them at the summit where they were all chatting amongst themselves and I was never really able to chat with them much. Their plates were from NV, WA and CA. I wasn’t able to find out what their deal was, but they were having fun. The summit had a couple of nice views, but I was under-whelmed at the scenery in this park. I guess I’m a bit spoiled. As I saddled up I asked the rockets to be “nice to me” on the way down. They laughed and were not a problem. As I was heading back down, a couple of that group that had left before me were racing back up the hill around a corner with one guy sitting on the side snapping photos. Luckily I was not trying to tame the road since they were on my side of line as they carved the corner, knees almost dragging. Good thing I wasn’t in a car.
The park also has a cave tour feature which I was tempted to investigate since I had so much time and didn’t really fell like I saw anything really special. I was going to succumb to the tour, but there were about 20 small children waiting for the next tour and they were treating the place like an amusement park. As much as I enjoy children and watching them see the “world” for the first time, I despise kids that run amuck in public area that are not playgrounds. I decided to get on the road.
It was only 2:00 and I actually started to consider heading for home that afternoon. I was about 500 miles away and could probably get home by midnight. I found myself wishing there was a KOA about 100 miles west of Ely, but the next one on my route is in Tahoe. By the time I would have gotten there, I’d probably just put in the next 2 hours and get home anyway, so I finally opted to just cruise into Ely and have another restful evening. I cruised in, found some dinner and realized I was in Nevada, as in the “Land of many Casinos” Nevada. One of the clubs actually ran a poker game on weekends, so I signed up for a seat in the game that started at 7:00. It was later than I wanted to start, as I was planning to get an early start the next morning, but I was Jonesin’ for tossin’ some cards. (Poker is one of my primary regular “hobbies”. I despise the typical casino “house games” as they are obviously not in our favor – they wouldn’t exist if they were - but poker is more of an investment opportunity where skill can override the luck factor.)
I mostly enjoyed a couple hours of poker even though the game was excruciatingly slow. The game was totally beatable (most of the players were pretty clueless), but I needed to catch a few cards to do so, which I was unable to do. Luck seems to protect the clueless in a poker game. I dropped $40 without regret (except for wishing I could have sat there all night!) and got to bed by 9:30 with a 6:00 on the road target for the next morning. (316 mile day.)
Heading for home. After shower, packing, gas and grub, I was on the road by 6:00. Highway 50 (“The Loneliest Road in America”) is not exactly littered with gas stations. There is ample fuel available, but you just have to get it where you see it and not try to stretch too much. I knew that the next towns, Eureka and Austin, each had fuel (I knew this from last year) but were both about 75-80 mile legs. No way to skip one, so I decided to make a little time, forget the gas mileage and pick up the speed for those two legs. Well I gunned it “all the way up” to 75 for these next two legs, knowing I would have plenty of fuel at that speed to make each town. (25mpg with the trailer!) US 50 across Nevada is very predictable. Ride about 20 minutes, climb and descend a little 500-1000 ft pass. Repeat. AS I got about 15 minutes east of Eureka, the surroundings started to become familiar and I started noting little landmarks from last year’s trip. That’s where Don decided to pull the plug on his trip last year. That’s’ where we worked on his bike. There too. (Sorry Don – no insult intended *G* )
After Austin, I knew I could stretch it to Fallon, so I backed off the speed and carried along at 65-70 to Fallon. There Middlegate, that cool little outpost. There’s the Wallmart we sat at for 3 hours charging a new battery. I picked the exact wrong gas station to fuel up. It didn’t have pay at the pump and the guy working the store was not fast. Took me 20 minutes to tank up.
From Fallon all the way home the traffic got gummy. Nevada seems to have a ridiculous thing about going through towns, especially the smaller ones. The speed ramps down from 65 to 55. 55 to 45, 45 to 35. At this point I pretty much felt like I was going backwards. 35 to 25. Oh my. Is it possible to actually go this slow? It was torturous and without reason.
Rather than try to navigate through Tahoe on a Sunday afternoon, I took 395 down to Minden to take 88 up to 89 and over Luther pass back to 50 at Myers. I stopped in Minden for a final fuel up and lunch and was back on the road. One of the items in my “head for home” side of the scale the day before, was avoiding US 50 around Tahoe on Sunday afternoon. It’s a traditionally awful time to be on that road. All the tourists and campers are heading home to the valley from the weekend. Half can’t get ther slow enough and the other half can’t get there fast enough. A good 30 miles of the highway down the hill is a 2 lane road with passing lanes every 4 miles or so. You pretty much have to pick a camp – be on of the fastest, passing at very opportunity, or be one of the slugs, just trying to stay out of the way. I used to the former, but in my age I’m becoming on of the latter. Does the 10 or 15 minutes REALLY matter? No. So I plugged along letting every pass me as possible. It wasn’t as bad as it can be, but it was worse than I would have liked. Just take it easy and it’ll be over with soon enough.
I finally hit the Crystal Basin area where the road opens up to 4 lanes. Let the races begin! All of the speed demons jockey to be the fastest for about 5 miles and then things start to calm down a bit as the traffic is allowed to separate a little. I found a shady little turnout and pulled over for a few minutes, just to see if I could straighten out my fingers for a few minutes. Death grip, don’t you know. I got back on the road and pulled in my driveway at 4:00, about an hour earlier than I expected. 460 mile day.
Last year my return home was a real tough call as to whether I was more glad to be home or sorry the trip was over. This year, I was easily more glad to be done. Most of the trip was just pure grueling and frustrating and I didn’t have near enough time to smell the roses. Although the road trip gods were good for me regarding the “big stuff” - no injuries or insufferable weather - they made me pay through the nose with the “little” stuff. I tend to get bothered by the series of little stuff more than most and there were plenty of times when I was quite fed up with being on the road. Except for the clutch the bike was mechanically sound throughout the trip, although I did have trouble with the cruise control and audio system on different parts of the trip. Lat year I went through plenty of places that I will revisit; this year left me with few areas that I have any desire to return to, TX and northern AZ the exceptions.
I think I said this after last year, but I will not do another trip with this many long mileage days. In the future I will limit days to 300 or so miles and spend more consecutive days at one place. This trip had a purpose: I’m not sorry I did it and I accomplished my goal, but I do wish I’d have taken at least 3 more days to take this trip if not another full week.