Taos, Day 1


(Sorry for the delay in posting. Hotel WiFi connections sometimes aren’t reliable!)

“DARN IT!” I said. What is up with this packing?, I thought Wednesday night. I’d left it until the last minute because I wanted to pack all the clothes around the laptop, and the whole thing was getting disorganized and complicated. Plus, I couldn’t find my favorite (lucky) pair of Under Armour socks! (Oh no!!) It’s not like I haven’t packed for these trips a million times before! Exasperated, I threw a bunch of underwear, zip-off pants, jeans, long-sleeved shirt in the bag, sat on it, and strapped it shut. It weighs more with the laptop in it, but the bike doesn’t seem to care. In fact, the bike sits down on the suspension a little more and gives me more foot on the ground, always a plus for me.

Thursday morning, I left late, had to stop for gas before leaving Gilbert, and finally got on the 60. It was solid with traffic, and just as I was about to do some (illegal) lane splitting, I saw the cause of the mess: an accident. Cops were crawling all over, so I behaved myself, even though I see the Gilbert cops lane-split all the time. I finally made it to Carefree Hwy., picked up my riding partner, Hal, and we were off. We both closed our eyes and pinched ourselves. It hardly seemed like it was finally true that we were leaving for this trip. I’ve been counting the days since I got home from San Diego last Aug. 1. A month and a few days might not seem like a long time, but for me it seemed like forever. August is a dreadful month.

Secrets from the Road

Out here, on the road, there are things to see and wonder at all along the route, but you wouldn’t know they exist until you are out here. Even in a car, a person cannot feel and hear and smell the subtleties of the road, things like riding around a truck loaded with hay and smelling the sweet, hot smell of alfalfa trailing behind it like the tail of a comet. Or smelling burning brakes as we descend near Camp Verde. Or hearing the race of the wind as it buffets your helmet, or feeling how the strong side wind wants to tear your helmet right off your head. Crouching behind the small windshield, I nearly flatten myself to the bike and avoid most of the buffeting. It still pushes us hard, and I lean Pearl over several degrees just to go straight. The air is cold, my hands get so cold in their thin gloves that I turn on my heated grips to the “low” position. That one little thing helps so much sometimes.

***

On the way to Flagstaff, it was cold. I was glad I’d put the jacket liner in at the meeting point. I said to myself, Look! Look at everything, the road, the sky, the outside! I was mainly looking at my trip odometer that was working its way easily through the first 100 miles of the day. I’m on the road!! A wave of euphoria washed over me, and I forgot about everything else in my busy little life. All I had to worry about was how many miles I would ride during this day. Soon we were north of Flagstaff at our next fuel stop. While there, I talked with some other riders, two guys on BMWs who were headed toward the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I drank a cup of coffee, ate a granola bar, got back on the bike. Yessssssss! This is me in my road life.

Between Cameron and the AZ 160 turnoff toward Tuba City and Kayenta, Pearl hit 34,000 miles on the odometer. My goal is to reach 40,000 by my second anniversary of ownership, which is October 11. I will be a mileage slave until then, I guess, not too difficult for me. It might be difficult to reach that goal, though, with the dirt riding I have planned now that the weather is showing signs of cooling.

Tuba City came and went. We got past some road obstacles, (trucks, RVs) and enjoyed an open road for a while. About 40 miles out of Kayenta is a place called Cow Springs where there are the remnants of an old Standard Oil station. Fallen into disrepair, its remaining walls have become a cinder block sign board for graffiti: “K-Town Police,” it says in black spray paint. Kids must come out here and party. Maybe adults, too. Farther up the road, some ponies huddled in a big grassy field.

About 20 miles out of Kayenta there is this “thing.” It looks like some kind of chute, and it has fascinated me for years. I didn’t know what it was all the times I’ve been on this route, but today I finally stopped to get a series of photos, and learned from a sign (hidden from the road) that it is a coal chute. It is a most interesting contraption as it crosses high above the road, and then snakes up a mountain and disappears into the trees on top. I wonder where the final delivery point is? I thought.

We got to Tsegi where the terrain changes and there are sandstone formations shaped by the wind. Sometimes it’s easy to forget Tsegi’s proximity to Monument Valley until you think about it. On the left side of the road, the land drops off into a small canyon; far below there is a mud-filled streambed, no water in it. On the other side of the road, the landforms resemble the Badlands of South Dakota, caked and honed by wind and deposition. Oh, if I could take my schoolkids up here and show them all the strange and wonderful shapes.

Next fueling stop was Kayenta. Today there were no roving bands of reservation dogs looking for a handout, just a mom and her small daughter in a white Chevy SUV with pink painted accents. I’d never drive around in a vehicle with pink on it, but that’s just me. The mom and girl left the truck there at the pumps and went inside, which surprised me because that gas station is always busy with trucks, RVs, and cars trying to squeeze in at the pumps. There isn’t very much room. The pavement is all broken and uneven and I have to be careful not to lose one of my wheels in a hole. North of Kayenta are more unique landforms. There is Baby Rocks, which looks to me like it should be called “Hundreds of Aliens.”  They stand there, shoulder to shoulder, bent over a ramshackle residence nestled within the striking geology, a study in contrasts.

All day we battled traffic: I was surprised by the number of RVs on the road. I thought they would not plague us, it’s after Labor Day. Only just, though, so I suppose they would. I don’t remember this happening in years past. I do remember always being pleasantly cold on this trip, though. I hope for rain and overcast skies as we experienced last year when we get to the mountains of New Mexico.

We ran into construction (also something we‘ve had to contend with all summer).  This time we were stopped south of Teec Nos Pos (the town with the world’s most unique name), and we lost nearly half an hour there. The road was covered in slick oil that glinted evilly in the sun, but only in the opposing lane, which wasn’t being used. I was glad that mess didn’t get all over the bottom of my bike because I had a feeling even a torrential rainstorm like the one we ran into on the way home from Paonia last July would wash it off. There were lots of potholes, though. One I couldn’t avoid, but I was going fast enough that Pearl floated over the top of it. That’s all I’d need, to bend a rim out in the middle of nowhere.

We passed Four Corners, the wind still with us, and then on to Cortez where we stopped for a quick salad at a Wendy’s. Between Cortez and Durango, the road finally gets interesting with elevation changes and turns, most of them long sweepers that go downhill.

End of the line for the day

We rolled into Durango after about 7 hours of riding in time to unload the bikes then run to meet the last steam train coming in from Silverton. To me there is almost nothing more beautiful and symphonic than watching the drive mechanism on a steam train as it’s running. We watched the last engine (the 486) separate from the cars, watched it put into the yard, and watched another engine (the 482) put on the turntable then backed into its spot inside the Roundhouse.  The workers at the train station probably are used to seeing me by now, they probably think I live nearby, not 500 miles away, since I’m usually here in Durango at least a couple of times a year.

Animas River in Durango

Tonight, Durango. Tomorrow, on the road through Pagosa Springs, then into New Mexico and toward Taos to ride a fabulous twisting road through the mountains, and later, arrive at the rally site.

I don’t want these days to go by too fast! More road “secrets” to discover tomorrow.

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