On our second day on the road, Hal and I left Heber, AZ after breakfast, riding toward Taos, NM. We took the 277/377 toward Holbrook, and I knew I had at least eight hours of riding ahead of me since we had planned to not spend too much time on I-40. Hal, on my sweet little GS bike, was making me love that bike even more just looking at it as he was riding in front of me. The bike I was on, my F800ST, felt absolutely lovely, too. I had forgotten how much I love riding it on long road trips.
It was overcast when we left Heber, and as we rode toward Holbrook, we were spattered with rain, not much, but enough to make us almost wet. That led to putting on rain gear in Holbrook when we fueled up at the Chevron there. It seemed like it was clearer toward Gallup, where we were headed, but I went along with Hal’s decision to put on the extra gear. We almost have to do the same thing because one can’t be without rain gear – we will both have to pull over anyway.
I-40 didn’t seem too bad that day, the rush of trucks passing wasn’t so intense, and since it was cloudy, the sun wasn’t beating down mercilessly. The temperature was in the mid-70s F., but it got hotter (near 80° F.) as we went, and there was no rain to speak of.
We exited the interstate at the 491 exit in Gallup, one of my least favorite places. Gallup proved its “ugliness” again as we ran into a delay as soon as we turned onto the 491. I was getting uncomfortably hot in my rain gear, and when we stopped again to fuel up, I took the jacket and pants off. I’d rather be wet and cold, I thought. I was wearing mesh pants and the textile jacket with vents. It was still 77° F., and I would dry quickly if I did happen to get wet. The sky was dark to the north where we were headed, but I wanted air. My Speed and Strength jacket had so far turned out to be the perfect choice, not too cold, and not too hot. Not waterproof but water-resistant. I was glad I’d gone with that choice, something I’d planned since I got the jacket last year. I am so tired of wearing mesh!
Hwy. 491 toward Shiprock and Farmington is interminable, and there is always road construction on it. More delays – I was hoping the road would be “done,” since it’s been under construction for about four years at least, but the workers aren’t moving very fast.
The clouds to the west were starting to be dark and threatening, and I thought for sure we were going to get into some rain. There was a very odd-looking brownish cloud mixed in with the dark blue ones, and I wondered what that could be. It made me wonder what nature had in store for us this time. Plus, the air was hazy and white, moving toward us. Suddenly, I began to smell smoke. When we got closer and I looked more carefully, I saw that the haze was actually smoke from a wildfire! That explained the brown cloud poking up like a menace between the rain clouds.
The whole way to Shiprock, we battled a fierce crosswind. It pounded my head by incessantly pushing the helmet, and gave me a headache. We both had to hold our bikes at a 15°-20° angle to keep them on the road. It was very tiring with the wind pounding me from the side for all those miles. The sky was getting darker the more we went north, and at Shiprock we turned east on Hwy. 64. I was glad to see those clouds in the rearview, but I was afraid the storm would eventually catch up to us.
We traveled a long way through busy, populated areas, and a “safety corridor” where drivers were supposed to turn on their lights. Ours are already on all the time, so it didn’t matter to me. There were signs threatening double fines if the speed limit was exceeded, but as usual, we were the only ones obeying it. They should change the name to “revenue corridors” since in truth that is what they are really for.
On 64 toward Farmington, it took forever to go slow and get through the congestion. I kept looking behind me at the dark blue clouds. We stopped again to fuel up before Farmington, and while Hal filled up the bikes, I went in and bought us candy bars. We were both hungry – it had been several hours since we’d eaten breakfast, and we were getting tired as well. We had about three hours of riding left, and we were aware of how out of shape for long distance travel we were. While I stood in line inside the convenience mart of the gas station, I waited for four people who were all buying only beer and hard liquor. That told me a lot.
Soon, we rode through Farmington’s downtown area, and I noticed how charming it was. I definitely don’t remember that from previous trips, but then we’ve only been through it once or twice before, and the first time was in the dark. Finally, we were through the populated areas, and were out on the fun part of the road toward Dulce. Hal was keeping the GS at a slower speed than he’d ride his RS, so it seemed to take longer. I remembered taking this road much faster a few years ago and enjoying the heck out of it! It’s a fun, curving road, and on this trip especially so after riding all the long straight stretches. The distance of this leg was about 111 miles, and then we had to fuel up again in Dulce. Our fuel stops are usually timed so we ride a couple of hours and then get a break. Any longer and we get too fatigued. We stood there at the gas station, and as we left town, we got a look at the magic mountain that is supposed to be home to aliens. It is supposed to have powers and vibes, I guess. Whatever. We were anticipating another 120 miles or so, but at the end of those miles we would be in Taos!
Leaving Dulce, NM on the 64, we found the road pleasant, and the 12 miles to the intersection with 84 very nice, where in the past it was under construction for three or four years. At the intersection of 64 and 84 toward Chama is where I once rode my fully-loaded F800ST through slippery, muddy singletrack in a construction zone just before the black sky opened up with a deluge of rain.
We took 84/64 to Chama, then took 64 to Tierra Amarilla. That’s where the fun started. The road here climbs to a summit of 10,505 feet in elevation with wonderful curves all the way up. As a bonus, it is usually deserted. Just before we started the “twisties,” Hal, riding in front of me, pointed to the right side of the road. But I had already had the impression of it – a whitetail buck with full antlers, standing right at the edge of the road! He was beautiful, and he flashed by so fast that I thought he was a dream. If I hadn’t seen Hal point because he’d seen the buck, too, I would have thought he was a hallucination because of me being tired!
We moved closer to the centerline of the road and slowed down. That was a good choice because a few more miles up the road, another deer, a young one, leaped across the road right in front of Hal! We were going to have to continue to pay close attention all the way to Tres Piedras. The rest of the ride was a fight within myself between wanting to ride fast on this road, and the fear of hitting a deer. It was hard to concentrate and keep my eyes moving when I was getting fatigued from sitting on the bike for so long in one position.
At the summit, the clouds were black-purple, heavy with rain. However, they were soon hovering in the background, and we reached Tres Piedras at the intersection with 285 without hitting a deer, and without getting wet!
In the distance, I could finally see the purple folds of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. That’s when I know I am almost there! Taos snuggles at their base, and soon we could see Taos as we rode toward it. To my right were fields of yellow flowers at the base of hills that were backed by the purple cloudy sky. It was a spectacular sight, but I should have known. We were in New Mexico, and near Taos.
At last, we got to the north end of Taos and took the “secret” route in on Blueberry Hill Rd. to avoid the in-town congestion; we could look across at the gold rays of sun coming through veils of rain from the dark clouds. These people get to see this every day! I thought as I rode past the houses built on the ridge where Blueberry Hill Rd. snakes its narrow way along the top of it.
After one more left hand turn, I was so happy to see the sign of our hotel up ahead, and after I turned into the driveway and parked the bike, I saw that it was 602 miles from my house in Arizona. Later, Hal and I ate dinner as we watched the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers play the first football game of the season. I love football (and those two teams!) anyway, but it was even better because I was watching the game while in Taos, NM.
I fell into bed, tired and happy, anticipating a fun weekend ahead at the rally and riding the surrounding roads.