On June 22, my friend Jane and I headed west for an adventure vacation via motorcycle. We travelled from Austin, Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada and back in a span of 9 days. Here is an account of this journey across the Continental Divide. (This page is under construction. Expect pictures and videos shortly.)
In fact, we both agree the sportbike seating position is not uncomfortable for long distances, it's holding your head steady in the wind that's uncomfortable. I am amazed at how much liquid I have to drink to stave off dehydration. I would estimate 20 to 32 ounces per hour of riding in the hot, dry Texas climate. I also inspect the motorcycle regularly for any signs of wear or tear, but the bike performs flawlessly the entire day.
There is nothing like seeing a crowded interstate highway heading one way, and you are alone heading the other way. I am surprised at the good condition and desolation of the state roads. We cruise alone at 85 miles per hour and come across small towns every 30 miles or so.
From Carlsbad, we head west and camp in the small town of Deming, New Mexico, nestled between the Florida and Gila mountains, the foothills of the Rockies.
As we travel westward, we reach 8,500 feet and the tiny mountain towns of Alpine and Luna, New Mexico. The towns lie on flat meadows of beige grasses with dark, royal blue lakes. The towns are ringed by ponderosa pine forests. Most buildings are simple, one story with weathered wood exteriors and no paint. The streets have no names or signs. The air is clear, thin, and brisk, and we both wear extra shirts and sweatshirts to combat the chill.
As we cross the Continental Divide and over into Arizona, we lose another hour to the time zone change. We descend from the mountains, and the terrain becomes more desert-like with orange sandstone rock outcroppings and sparse vegetation. We hit some bumpy highway on the way to the Petrified Forest, and the bike suspension begins to bottom out on the bumps. I slow the pace to 70 miles per hour to save our rumps.
In late afternoon, we see the Painted Desert. The colors look like the dried out oil paints of some Impressionist artist: mauve, burnt orange, muted magenta, chalky white, and deep pine green. We take in the view until about 6 p.m. and reluctantly hop on the interstate highway to Flagstaff. We make camp at HoJo's and buy a bottle of Beaulieu to pass the evening in the 48 degree chill.
Along the way, we crest a mountain range at 8,500 feet. The environment is predominantly ponderosa pine, but occasionally we pass through forests of gleaming white birch trees. We are on the lookout for elk and moose, but all we see are an occasional cowboy and some cattle. The road is another beauty with scenic vistas and sweeping turns.
First on the agenda at Grand Canyon is to take a four seater Cessna tour of the canyon from the air. The wind is high, and we are bounced around the cabin. Despite frequently plummeting 50 feet and rocking like a tiny rowboat in high seas, the pilot appears calm which prevents us from losing our composure.
The view is spectacular! The little Colorado River looks like liquid turqoise as it joins the Colorado in a torrent of rapids. The buttes are flat and topped with sparse pine forests. Roads cut gashes through the woods and sometimes end at the edge of a cliff. Trails and rafters are visible in the scenery below. Large rock structures, the Battleship, the Scorpion, and the Dragon's Back, are aptly named and clearly visible when viewed from above. The strata in the rock are easy to follow around this great gorge.
We land with a horrendous three-point skid and are thankful to return to terra firma. We hike the rim of the canyon, and see all the wonderful sights we missed from above: mule deer, furry-earred squirrels, and shiny blue birds. The crowds are a bit much, and after a few more hours of hiking, we leave to proceed westward. Again we hit the interstate and an abandoned portion of Route 66 on our way to Kingman, Arizona.
I get the oil changed on the Suzuki, and we head to Las Vegas. We visit the Hoover Dam for a while, but if you've seen one 800 million ton Works Progress Administration project, you've seen them all. The terrain around Lake Mead is rather pretty, but the traffic is rather pathetic.
The Las Vegas strip is fun, and people tell me it has been cleaned up and sanitized. It certainly has a Disney-esque flavor to it, except that smoking and gambling is encouraged. I like the Treasure Island pirate show and visiting the arcades for the kids in the basements of the casinos.
I simply hand over my wallet to the casino and allow them to take whatever money they want. Only kidding. I play blackjack for a few hours and lose my $40.00. The lights and the shows and the glitter is entertaining.
For the next day, we make it a point to not ride the motorcycle and explore the town on foot.
(Note: The following sections are under construction.)
We cross Arizona to make our destination at 7000 feet in the tiny town of Springerville. Along the way, we have a meeting with an Arizona State Trooper. Although I am travelling at the same speed as the rest of the traffic, Smokey has no sympathy for two tourists on a red sportbike. I believe we startle him as we crest a hill, and he slaps me with a 78 mph ticket: totally bogus.
Unusual summer desert rains block our path. We see a hole in the wall of black clouds and gamble: we attempt to speed through the gap. We lose the bet and the rains pour down upon us. Hypothermia begins to set in, but there is no place to stop. Nothing but high-altitude desert: no trees, no bushes, and no towns. Nothing but ancient lava fields at 8500 feet. I hug the engine for warm, and Jane tucks in tightly behind me.
We stop in the small town of Charrizozo. We sit tight in a greasy-spoon restaurant and wait for the clouds to pass. The bartender calls the State Troopers, who advise us to sit tight and not venture into the storm. The Weather Channel radar shows the state of New Mexico covered with rain.
After 3 hours, we gamble and attempt to beat the clouds again. We lose the gamble and get more rain and icy winds. After a while, we lose some altitude and finally start to ragain some warmth. By the time we reach Roswell (altitude 3500 feet), the air warms and our clothes dry completely. The cold and wet is nothing but a happy memory.
You also feels the aches and pains of the road. Eight or nine hours in the saddle requires endurance. The most difficult part is holding your head steady in the wind, and your neck aches as your pull into town for a break. The hot sun and the rushing air also you of water: plenty of Gatorade is needed at each stop. But with the tough riding comes a great appetite and a great night's sleep.
There is no feeling like having a loose itinerary and nothing but a lonely highway in front of you. Seeing the West via motorcycle is an experience I will never forget.