On the way

July 4, 2015
Day 1, Phoenix, AZ to Durango, CO

It was finally happening! My long-awaited road trip of the summer! I had literally been longing for this moment for months, and it was finally becoming a reality.

I rolled out of the driveway about 8:20 a.m. on Saturday morning, July 4, looking forward to a full riding day, and nine total days of being on the road. Pure bliss! The 2009 F650GS felt great, ready and willing to go, and I was very comfortable. All the little problems, and weeks of buying accessories, were behind me at last.

I rode toward Fountain Hills, where I would meet up with Hal. Both of us were so happy to finally be getting on the road on a true road trip after three years of vacations that involved trailering dirt bikes to the White Mountains. That was fun, but it was time to get back to pure moto road trips.

The first snag in our plan for the day happened at Gilbert Rd. and the Beeline Hwy., about 11 miles from home. The Beeline was closed from Gilbert Rd. to Fountain Hills because of an accident, and that is pretty much the only way to get to Fountain Hills without a major detour. I didn’t know what to do, so I made a left hand turn then pulled over on the shoulder. I figured Hal would have the same thought, and he’d show up soon. Meanwhile, I thought we’d probably take the 202 to the 101 to Shea, and then Shea Blvd. over to Fountain Hills. It was out of our way, and would cause a delay when we already had a full day of riding in front of us.

When Hal got there, though, he thought we should go to Bush Hwy. and try that. It would be less of a delay. But I was afraid of 4th of July traffic because this is the route to one of the popular local lakes. After we fueled up, we tried it anyway – with disastrous consequences. We ended up in a traffic delay that went on forever. I sat there, sweating and hot, and thought again about how much I hate the sun and heat. After sitting in mostly un-moving traffic for about an hour or so, we gave up and turned around.

I don’t know why we didn’t take the original detour that I’d thought of, but instead we ended up going east on the U.S. 60, all the way around to Globe, and then past Roosevelt Lake. The detour cost us about 100 extra miles, and a lot of time.

I won’t say it wasn’t pleasant, though. As I was riding past Roosevelt Lake, I thought how nice it was to be riding this bike, something I’d been dreaming of for a long time. To have it work out and feel like I thought it would feel was a wonderful realization. To my happiness, I saw storm clouds building, and it looked like we might be headed right into a rainstorm. I love riding in the rain.

Even though I had been getting more annoyed the later the day got, I finally thought, so what? I’m out here to be on the bike as much as possible, and this is it. I don’t care if we get to Durango at 10 o’clock tonight. Little did I know …

We got our first taste of rain after we got onto the section of Hwy. 87 that climbs into Payson. The clouds were dark and it rained hard for a few minutes, but that was it. When we got to Payson about 1:30, we were about three hours behind schedule. That meant that there would be no stopping for us anymore, only for fuel, and maybe a snack at a few of those stops. That suited me, I would just as soon keep going and not stop until the bike’s almost out of gas anyway.

Putting on rain gear:

Just outside Heber, we were once again under a darkening sky, and we pulled over to the side of the road to put on rain gear. It would be the first of many times during this trip! In Holbrook we gassed up again to get back on track of our usual stops, and then we jumped on I-40 to get to Gallup, NM.

Normally, I do not like Gallup for any reason, but as we approached it from the west, a storm cell advanced toward us from the south. A white cloth of rain draped from the deep blue clouds as they found their way through the canyons of red rock a few miles from the freeway. It was a breathtaking sight. “Look at that!” I exclaimed with awe to Hal. And that was just the beginning. This trip was filled with amazing beauty, many examples of which we would be enthralled with every day.

To create more drama in an already drama-fraught day, we noticed an electronic sign as we approached the exit for 491 north, the road we were going to take to Shiprock. It said something about all the lanes being blocked, and to follow the detour.

“F*** me!” exclaimed Hal. We were both frustrated from all the delays earlier in the day, and how late it was already. It was around 4:30 by then, and if there were more delays, when were we going to get to Durango? Midnight?

“Let’s try it anyway,” I said optimistically. Hal agreed, mostly because we both thought we had little choice.

We proceeded through town without incident, and then we got to our usual gas stop north of town. It was there that we learned that the road was covered with a mudslide about a mile north.

“You won’t get those bikes through there!” chortled one person. Hal and I conferred. We looked at a map and then decided we didn’t want to risk going across the reservation on roads that we were not familiar with. We remembered that we had just passed “hotel row” on the way in on the freeway, and if worse came to worst, we would stay the night in Gallup.

North of Gallup, waiting for the road to be cleared:

After asking the people inside the gas station market, who were very nice, they said that mud was indeed covering the road right over the hill, and that crews were working to clear it even as we spoke. It was going to be another 45 minutes or so. The mud was there because of heavy rains that we had narrowly missed. One of the men working at the counter even went so far as to call to find out how the work was proceeding. The update was that it was going to take about 30 more minutes. I sighed with relief. That we could handle!

“Hay and Pawn,” an interesting juxtaposition of terms. I was shooting photos of random things while I waited:

We snacked, drank coffee, and talked with people at the gas station. Everyone was so nice, and we especially enjoyed talking with a couple that had a Harley-Davidson in the back of their pickup truck. They were headed home; I think they said they were from Lukachukai. After about 20 minutes, though, they left. The man from the food mart came out to us and said the road now had one lane open, and that we could get through. Hal and I geared up, and after over an hour at the station, we got back on the road.

Over the hill, we saw it, the mudflow. Traffic was still down to one lane, but there were only a few cars waiting. We approached it carefully, still didn’t really know what was under the mud. Watching the cars in front of us, we saw that it was shallow and easy. As I went through it, I could feel how sticky it was, and knew that it was pasting itself all over the bottom of my (formerly clean) bike. Then, we had to ride over an uneven median strip. This was nothing to me because of my dirt riding experience, but I wondered what riders would do who were mounted precariously on bikes that weren’t as easily managed as mine.

This wasn’t the end of the mud. A few miles up the road there was water running and mud flowing in the town of Yah-ta-hey, two stretches of it. After Hal and I went through those two, both of our bikes were properly dirty with the gray mud of the area. We kept going toward Durango.

It is only about 80 miles north on the 491 to Shiprock from just outside Gallup, but it always seems endless. The sky was darkening toward evening already, and we had at least another hour and a half to ride. In Farmington, we fueled up one last time. Darkness was falling, and the heavy clouds that had been hanging over us since we turned east began to drop their burden of rain. Big drops fell at first, a few at a time, and as we got underway, spattered the windshield intermittently.

As the night drew down, we were treated to sporadic displays of fireworks along the sides of the road. It was the Fourth of July, after all. I “oohh’ed and aaaahh’d” at the appropriate times, trying to keep us both entertained and the fatigue from setting in.

Once we turned north on NM 170, the night grew very black and the rain began to fall in earnest. This was what I had feared earlier in the day, that we would ride this narrow, dark road, possibly in the rain, while we were tired and ready to be done for the day.

The darkness closes in:

In addition to the rain, we were going to have to scan for deer. We’d seen them many times on this road in daylight. We hoped that they were staying “in” because of the rain and the fireworks that we still saw exploding in the night sky to our left and right, an eerie display in the rain.

Everything turned black and shiny, and it was hard to see. I rode right up behind Hal since his headlight wasn’t aimed very well. Whenever there were no vehicles coming toward us, I had my bright beam turned on so we both could see. There was a truck behind me, but he followed at a respectful distance, probably wondering what in the heck these crazy motorcyclists were doing out on a night like this.

It seemed to take forever to get to Hesperus, CO, and Hwy. 160, the road that would take us the short distance into Durango. It was still black, the surface of the road wet from the rain, difficult to see, but at least we knew we weren’t far. My right hand was asleep from being in the same position on the throttle, and it was wet and cold. In the complete darkness, I wasn’t exactly sure where the rocker for the heated grips was, and I didn’t want to start pushing on things and maybe hit the “kill” switch by mistake. I waited until I got a quick glimpse under the one streetlight at the intersection to quickly flip the heated grips to the “high” position. At least I had a little heat then! Other than my hand, though, I wasn’t cold.

We descended into Durango through slick black unlit turns, and then, as we reached the edge of town, the battery died on my Scala unit! I desperately needed the lifeline with Hal that the communication system provided, and it was poor timing for it to quit then. We had been on the road more than 12 hours, though, so I wasn’t entirely surprised. We coasted into town, made one small wrong turn because we couldn’t see the road markings very well in the rain, and finally pulled into the parking lot of the hotel around 10 p.m. local time. Even that was an ordeal, as there was only one parking space in the whole place. I’m surprised I didn’t drop my bike because I couldn’t see very well in the rain, and the particular place we had to park was very uneven. But I made it, and at last we had arrived safely! It was still raining.

After unpacking and dropping our bags inside, we dragged ourselves to the restaurant for our first proper meal of the day. I didn’t eat much anyway because it was so late. I got out of my wet gear, took a nice hot shower, and then fell into bed, my eyes still scanning for deer under my closed eyelids.

What will the rest of the trip be like if it started out like this?? I wondered fleetingly as I drifted off to sleep.

We shall see …


Next, Day 2: A day in Durango



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