The DR comes home

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I bought this DR650 a few years ago, and I’ve barely ridden it. I don’t know why, it’s a nice bike. Added to that, since I don’t ride it much, it has starting problems most of the time, and every time I do want to ride it, it won’t start.

I recall only one great trip on it, and that was to Bagdad, Arizona. My riding partner, Hal, and I rode a long way on paved, busy highways to get there, and when we did, we got on a rough road, known as “The Bagdad Road,” that we would ride from there to near Prescott, Arizona. I had done it before, but on my 2006 BMW F650GS. Being fairly inexperienced (at that time) in riding a “big” (to me) bike on rough roads like this, I remember feeling very apprehensive for most of that trip.

On the DR, it was an easy ride. When I got to the part that I called “the wall,” I thought I would find it was much less scary than when I was on the GS. It wasn’t, in truth, but at least I was much more comfortable.

The DR was great on all the roads that we traveled that day. From being in rough country, to highways, and then after having dinner in Prescott, the winding paved road down off Yarnell Hill. It was just before Christmas, and I remember thinking how rare it was that I would see the town of Yarnell in the dark, with Christmas lights. It was an amazing ride that day for a total of a few hundred miles.

Recently, the DR was in the shop for a couple of weeks, and now I have it back. I want to be able to ride it more often. I had such high hopes for many dual sport rides with it, and I’ve hardly gotten to enjoy it at all. I suppose it’s mainly because I’ve been riding all my other bikes, and there is only so much time available for riding.

I hope I can give the DR more chances to become the great bike I know it can be for me. I am looking forward to getting in some great rides before the heat sets in again.

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Rocky Mtn. National Park

In Nederland, CO:

(This story is kind of long, but hang with me until the end. It was a long riding day!)

July 3, 2016 

I was dreaming. I was a marble rolling down a hallway. The hallway was carpeted maroon and purple, a floral swirl, yet there was a track down the middle for the marble – me – to roll on. I rolled faster between closed doors, trying to reach the end of the hallway where a mirror glinted. Suddenly, I gasped for air and surfaced, waking up, thankfully, still in Winter Park.

Day 6 of our trip was mostly not spent in Winter Park, CO at all. We were still based there, but our destination that day was the town of Estes Park. Still kind of bleary-eyed from that weird dream, I started the day having free breakfast at the hotel with Hal, then we geared up and rode across the street to air up our tires. The elevation and temperature changes, I supposed, had changed what tire pressure I’d started with, so we checked to be sure. That experience turned into an ordeal that included a gas station too crowded with vacationers, a giant fuel-delivery truck that took up most of it, a stupid air pump that wanted 25¢ every 30 seconds it seemed (who would have thought a few years ago that people would have to pay for air for their tires???), and a tire gauge that wouldn’t read correctly. Despite all that, we finally got on the road with somewhat accurate air pressure in the tires.

We took Highway 40 again, but this time through Fraser and Granby. I saw “in person” all the places I had looked at from home with Google Maps. I remembered them from those evenings of planning, trying to find a place to stay, and was glad once again that we had ended up in Winter Park! Everything along the road looked extremely crowded, and that was because of the holiday weekend. This condition would plague us for the rest of the day. We took the 40 to Hwy. 34.

What we didn’t quite realize, I guess, is that 34 went directly into Rocky Mountain National Park, and it was the only route to Estes Park. There was no turning back. At the gate we were charged $20 for EACH bike and rider. In my opinion, that was extreme price gouging, especially since we really didn’t want to go into the park on a holiday weekend in the first place. Yet there we were, and we were doing it.

The road started climbing right away, but gradually. The trees were beautiful, the weather was beautiful, and I put behind me the feeling of being fleeced at the park entrance. However, as we climbed, the traffic seemed to increase as we went up, with people in cars and trucks going more and more slowly in front of us. Soon, we were in an unbreakable chain of traffic.

The road grew steeper, and the switchbacks increased. Every single pullout or parking lot was jammed with traffic, and we didn’t dare pull over. I got ZERO photographs in the park because of this. Soon, I looked up and saw that we were climbing even more steeply into the alpine environment above the tree line. There was a steep switchback that we had to ride at about 5 mph, and up on the top, the wind was blowing hard. I started to worry about keeping my momentum, and keeping the bike balanced in the strong wind. Between my bike and me, we weren’t very heavy, so the wind was pretty much having its way with us. I was creeping along on exposed roadway, hanging on the side of the mountains, the wind blowing hard and cold. I didn’t see much except the back of Hal’s bike in front of me, but I saw enough to know that the bottom was V-E-R-Y far down. I was glad I had thought to wear layers of clothing under my riding gear. I saw other riders who were wearing thin t-shirts, and knew they were probably freezing!

I didn’t see much of the natural beauty, either, since I had to concentrate so much on riding, watching for people to do stupid things like suddenly pull over, or stop, or pull out into traffic without waiting. At one point, there were some caribou just laying there, relaxing at the side of the road! The traffic in the lane going in the opposite direction was completely stopped because one inconsiderate person HAD to stop to get a photo (with his phone, of course). I had time to glance for an instant at the amazing animals, but that was all. I didn’t get to enjoy their wild beauty.

I never had to put my feet down and stop, but we continued to inch along. I realized we were finally descending, but we were still hanging on the sides of mountains with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. Get me out of here, I thought. I was tired of having to be so ultra-aware of my riding, worrying about keeping the bike upright, and just generally tired of being in a huge f-ing crowd. Pedestrians kept running in and out of traffic, and I really had to watch what I was doing. Finally, we got back down into the trees, the road split, and it felt like the traffic eased a little. We were still going down.

After a few miles, we passed the gate on the other end of the park. Bend over, I thought to myself as I saw other riders in the line. And that line! It went on literally for about eight miles. We were finally getting to Estes Park, we had seen it far below when we were on top on this side of the mountain, but traffic was a nightmare.

We had thoughts of finding a coffee shop in Estes Park, I had visions of a charming little town with cool places to take a break, but I was wrong. Traffic was an angry snarl, and all I really saw were the backs of cars. At one point, we had to get over into the right hand lane, and I had to put my motorcycle between Hal and a car so he could get over. There were just too many people, and there was absolutely no opportunity to find a place to stop. So much for Estes Park. Later, we both said we never wanted to go there again even though we had once thought being there would be a highlight of the trip.

At last, we eased out of town, and there were more twisty (and busy) roads to negotiate. It would have been fun except for the “crowded-ness,” and we rode many miles through varying terrain. Yet in all those miles after Estes Park, there were no coffee shops to pull into, and it was getting very warm. I still had all my layers on, and I had been riding non-stop for about five hours.

Fatigue was setting in as we finally came to a little place called Nederland, which was, of course, crowded. We ended up in a crazy, uneven dirt parking lot where, after a couple of laps, I amazingly found a wedge of space in which to park. I waved Hal in behind me. Breathing a sigh of relief, I eyed a coffee/sandwich shop where I could finally get some refreshment! Hal, however, had other ideas.

Hal insisted on going into a Nepalese restaurant. It was literally the very last place I wanted to go, but that is where we went. I tried to get something normal (read: “not spicy or exceptionally greasy”) and appropriate to fuel my hunger, like French fries, but I couldn’t seem to get anyone to bring some, even after I thought that I ordered them. Hal ate a huge buffet lunch. I was so overheated that I almost threw up just thinking about it. I did manage to get a cup of coffee just because I needed caffeine, I don’t even remember where at this point, and I eventually pulled a Clif bar out of my side case. Good thing, by then I was shaking and needed to eat. I drank a ton of water, too. It was NOT relaxing at all to sit there amid the dust of the parking lot, in the sun, on a rock or piece of concrete or whatever it was, and chew on that Clif bar. I was grateful that I’d packed it, though.

But wait, there’s more. We got out of the crazy crowded town of Nederland, thought we were done with extreme travel situations, but we rode through a town called Central City that had streets that either went straight up or straight down. Like, 8 or 10 percent grades. Plus, we got stuck behind a tour bus, couldn’t see around it to find the right street on which to turn, almost got in trouble and had to go back the way we’d come (impossible), but luckily I spotted another route that gave us a quick escape.

I was thinking by then that the motorcycle gods were completely throwing every single weird situation at me that day just to see if I were worthy of being a true “adventure” rider! There was one more situation – a gas station that was all catty-wompus (is that how you spell that??), and was not in any way shape or form an easy in and out. –sigh- By the time I got on the Interstate, I was kind of done with all the juking around. I still felt elated, though, because I MADE IT.

Riding down Hwy. 40, I was struck by the feeling of déjà vu as we rode the same route we’d taken two days earlier to reach Winter Park. As we rode back into Winter Park, closing the loop of the day’s ride, I felt content, loving the clouds and the cool temperatures. We pulled into the hotel parking lot, tired but happy.

Before we walked to dinner, Hal and I thought we deserved a soak in the hotel’s jacuzzi. We were lucky, no one else was in the pool area, and we were able to totally relax in the hot water without nine million people around. Then we went to dinner at the Smokehouse, a BBQ place. They had “burnt ends” which were charred and crusty on the outside and tender and meaty on the inside, all dipped in wonderful BBQ sauce. Heavenly. I tried to restrain myself, but between that and a huge salad, I ate more than I should have. I was so hungry from earlier in the day that I couldn’t help it.

Along Vasquez Creek:

But, no worries, we walked up and down the main street of Winter Park, this time for the last time of the trip. We stopped at the bridge over Vasquez Creek with its bottom of black and brown and gold “babyheads,” the water rushing and plunging, polishing the stones with its white water. We decided again that we love Winter Park, as if we didn’t already know, and definitely will return someday.

Tomorrow we ride to Taos! I thought.

I sank into sleep, and dreamed of the purple/golden sunset I had witnessed the last time I was in Taos, NM. Between the purple of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the golden grasses of the Taos Plateau, I looked forward to soon being folded into that familiar embrace.

 

Hannagan get-together

Another get-together for our local motorcycle riding club has come and gone. It was held at Hannagan Meadow Lodge in the White Mountains of Arizona. This year we are missing a very vibrant, strong member of our club, a dear friend who passed away in December. It was a different sort of gathering without him, but we still managed to make the most of the riding. He would have wanted that.

Here are a few of the highlights from Hal’s and my experience.

Saturday morning, riding the part of a forest road that had been closed for about three years because of the wildfires of 2011. We had despaired of ever seeing it, until a year and a half ago when it re-opened. It was worth the wait. So beautiful, as always, and quiet:

Hal riding another forest road toward Springerville. We were on the way to check on the progress of seedlings that had been planted to help recover from the Wallow fire:

Seedlings were planted inside cones:

Some said it was a “failed experiment,” but we found more surviving seedlings than dead ones:

There were several that were this tall, and had a small cone on top! Worth the effort to replant and nurture, in my opinion.

Blue Point Vista in the afternoon, where we went to get cell service (sketchy) so I could “phone home:”

Later that evening, we had dinner with fellow riders. It was nice to sit and chat, relaxing, instead of standing around in full riding gear, ready to race off to the next destination.

On Sunday morning, we rode another forest road and saw a herd of deer. There were about 20 total that we saw that morning:

We got back to the lodge around 11 o’clock, stood around talking with part of the HML “family,” and loading the trailer until around noon, then began the (sad) journey home. I never want to leave the White Mountains, and our time there is always too short. It was quite a contrast to return to the heat and glare of the incessant sun. Overnight in the White Mountains, it had been in the low 50s F., and deep in the night, sleeping with the windows open, I heard the scream of a big cat from the darkness of the forest.

The White Mountains are a beautiful, unique place, away from the constant “noise” of everyday life, and always a welcome relief for me.

Leaving Nevada

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Just outside Beatty, Nevada. It’s completely devoid of any light out here at night:

The following morning, Hal and I reluctantly loaded up the truck and trailer, and headed down the main street of Beatty. All week, I’d watched people going through town, or pulling out of the RV park on their way to somewhere else. Now, we were heading out, too.

We turned east, and drove into the parking lot of Mel’s Diner, a place we’d come to enjoy during the last trip here, for breakfast. It was made of good food, and local conversation. We ate our breakfast, then got back into the Xterra for the long drive home. As I leaned back in the seat, watching Beatty recede in the rearview mirror, I imagined the diner, our table being cleared, ready for the next people to come in. A swirl of dust, and we were gone, as if we’d never been there. Much like life, I suppose.

The road opened out, and I reveled in the feeling of the wide-open space that fascinates me every time we travel here. I was looking out the window at snow-covered peaks, just visible up over the lower, closer mountains.

It made me want to be on the road all the time, the same longing I always have, a longing few people understand. These vacations are too short, and there are so many places I want to see, and be. But then I think of my sewing machine at home, sitting idle for four days (!), waiting for me to come home and create something. And, most of all, Desmond, also waiting for me to come home. I am always torn, it seems.

In the truck, I amused myself by noting the interesting “stuff” I saw being carried by the big trucks. The list included:

• railroad car wheels/axles;
• big machinery, possibly for use in building the future Interstate 11, or maybe just “building the future;”
• a giant powerboat being carried away from Lake Mead. (Why? I wondered. Where was it going next?)

A stop in Kingman for gas and coffee, and then another stop in Wickenburg for more coffee, and the next thing I knew, I was home.

The trip went by way too quickly. The allure of this trip, much like the ones to the White Mountains, is to be on the dirt bikes, exploring, getting into rough stuff, having adventures, and discovering new and beautiful places that are in areas that most people do not get to see and experience.

As I was putting clothes and gear away or into the washer at home, I wondered when will I get to go back to Death Valley?? And, for that matter, how will I see all the places that I want to discover before time runs out?

Only time will tell.

 

A day at the Racetrack

Day 4, Death Valley, March 15, 2016

Our day started at Gema’s Café again. We ran into the same couple that we had seen yesterday, another moto riding team. We were all waiting for tables, and when Hal and I were called first, I asked them to join us. We had a nice breakfast and conversation together. Tiana just started riding a year ago. Yet, she rides a big H-D, and has ridden 17,000 miles in the last year! Her partner has an Indian, and a few other bikes, and he rides with Tiana most of the time. It was nice to meet another female motorcyclist who rides many miles. She is very courageous because she will ride alone. I am not too keen on that, especially after the car accident, and I am always grateful for Hal’s company.

As a result of a too-long (but nice) breakfast, Hal and I left late from Beatty. We were on our dirt bikes, of course, headed toward “The Racetrack.” It was going to be a full riding day.

We rode down Daylight Pass, across the floor of Death Valley, then north to Ubehebe Crater, about 67 miles. It was a long time to be riding dirt bikes on pavement. Finally, we got to the black, deep cinder surface of Racetrack Rd., and since my tires were aired up for pavement, I felt almost like I was out of control! “Hey, I’ve got to air down now!” I said urgently over the intercom.

“Sure, we’ll find a place to pull over up here somewhere,” Hal answered.

On Racetrack Road:

“Uh, hopefully before I go down!” I said. It really was crazy trying to ride with too much pressure in the tires on that loose, deep volcanic surface. Quickly, we pulled over to the side of the road and aired down to avert any drama. The road soon became “corrugated” as well, and I was glad that the suspension was working on the KLX! The suspension worked best when we were at speed, floating over the top of the surface.

Empty playa:

When Hal and I got to the playa that is the Racetrack, we were dismayed to find that most of the rocks had been stolen! People take the rocks for their “mystical quality.” I think I saw one rock of any measureable size out on the playa. It is very selfish for people to do this, now no one else can enjoy the rocks, see the evidence of an amazing natural phenomenon. Besides, once the rocks have been removed from the playa, they no longer have meaning. I was glad Hal and I had been there two years ago to see more of the “moving rocks.”

The playa two years ago:

Hal and I took a break at the edge of the playa, drank some water and had an energy bar, then got on the bikes and turned back toward Teakettle Junction. We took a couple of photos, and then a guy in a jeep pulled up. His jeep said “Jeep Kitchens,” and we discovered that his company makes camp kitchens that are made to fit into the back of jeeps.

Hal at Teakettle Junction. Al’s Jeep Kitchens jeep in the background:

We talked for a little while with Al, and found out that he is going to be at Overland Expo, held in Flagstaff, Arizona, in May. Perhaps we will see him there then! (We did!)

We ended our conversation with Al, then rode back to the crater. By then, I was getting my second wave of energy after feeling really tired.

The amazing crater:

My dusty pants and boots:

Hal airing up his tires:

We took a break in the tourist parking lot, listened to many languages being spoken, aired up our tires, looked over the edge at the deep crater, then headed back on the long paved stretch of road to Beatty.

That evening, after we’d cleaned up a bit and put the bikes up for the night, we walked over to Mama Sara’s for dinner, a local restaurant that serves amazingly delicious fajitas. We marked our last night on the road, at least for a while, by toasting our adventures with a glass of wine, and hoped that our next trip wouldn’t be too far in the future.

Next: Going home

Some “‘splorin'”

“Let’s do some exploring,” we said the night before. So, Hal and I explored areas in and around Death Valley that we hadn’t seen before.

After breakfast at Gema’s Café in Beatty, which was excellent and not at all like the bad experience I had there last time, we stayed close to Beatty all day, starting with a road that was supposed to be Fluorspar Canyon Rd. One of the things I learned quickly was that in any place outside actual Death Valley National Park, you can forget about signage of any kind. We turned left on 95 just outside of town, found a dirt road, and hoped for the best.

It was a lovely overcast day, and at first, the road was easy, like a dirt superhighway. We climbed a bit and then found an old cabin near the mine for which the road is named.

 

We took photographs, enjoyed the stunning view, and then continued riding the road. It climbed a bit, then dropped down, and we thought we were on the right road that was supposed to rejoin 95 north of where we were staying. Somehow, we took a wrong turn and ended up going east through gravel that got deeper and deeper. We turned around because we still wanted to find the end of the loop.

Then we ended up on another track that turned out to be a wash that was even deeper gravel and an even steeper descent. That was okay, but then when it dead-ended into a narrow streambed that obviously wasn’t part of any road, we had to climb our way out of it. By that time, though, I was starting to enjoy getting practice in riding deep gravel.

Next we popped back out on 95 by going back the way we had come in, took it back through town, and found Pioneer Rd. It was supposed to be easy, but after a couple of miles, it got very un-maintained.

We found an old mine, got some photos, then took what we thought was the rest of the road (again, it was supposed to loop back to 95 farther up). It wasn’t. And again, we ended up in deep gravel and rocks, then when it became obvious this wasn’t part of the planned road (or even a road at all), we turned back.

We rode back to 95 and took it farther away from Beatty, going west. We actually found the other end of Pioneer Rd., but by then we were looking for a different route. We were supposed to find Phinney Canyon Rd., but I am not kidding when I say there was absolutely no road that was where that road was supposed to be. We were on pavement at this time, which I hate when I am on my dirt bike. So, since there wasn’t any turnoff where it was supposed to be, and we kept getting farther and farther away from Beatty, we modified the plan to go back, then turn in on the other end of Pioneer Rd. and find out where we should have turned to complete that loop. As I said, this was a day for exploring and learning some new roads!

The turn was obvious at a small settlement called “Springdale,” and we turned in. The big wide dirt road quickly narrowed and became rougher. I kept seeing lots of “horse apples” on the road and wondered why. Soon we found out. There was a big tank off to the right and dozens of donkeys hanging out there. Descendants of pack animals brought by those who worked in the myriad mines throughout the area, no doubt.

Once again, we found ourselves on narrow two-track in deep gravel. It was kind of fun by now and I was hoping we could actually ride this road through to the other end where we had come in before. At one point, I crested a rise and the road dropped down steeply in front of me. I came to an abrupt halt, and said “NO!” Visions of my spectacular crash (in a similar situation) out on Cherry Creek Rd. a couple of years ago, and maybe a little bit of tentative-ness from the car crash made me stop. I admit to walking my bike down that short descent. You know how it is, once you stop on something like that, it is very hard to get going again and ride down without freaking out. Oh well, as we used to say in mountain biking, “walk today, ride tomorrow.”

After that, it was easy, and I rode several places of deep sand without dropping my bike! I am admittedly not the best in deep sand, but I did well this time. Within a couple of miles, we were back at Pioneer Mine, only this time approaching it from the back. We saw that earlier we had totally taken the wrong road, but it was okay, all good in the name of exploring. We closed the loop as we rode the rest of Pioneer Rd. back to the 95 where we’d entered earlier in the day.

As we approached Beatty again from the north, we tried to find the Fluorspar Cyn. Rd. north entrance, but we never found it. We did find an old airplane that had crashed long ago, but now was covered with graffiti. All the expensive pieces have been removed, but the aircraft sits out in the hot desert sun, deteriorating little by little with each passing year.

By then, we were right by the hotel so we stopped to use the bathroom, but once we were off the bikes, we were kind of “done.” Besides, a dessert we’d seen on the menu of the Denny’s the night before was calling our names. A dessert that we so richly deserved, ice cream and an apple caramel crisp, and all manner of mmmmmmmm! Plus coffee.

That part of the day enjoyed, we then walked around Beatty, exploring the stagnant pools of the Amargosa River. We found millions of little black tadpoles, the placid green water was teeming with new life. I was fascinated, and we spent some time there, just looking and shooting photos.

When we walked back to the parking lot, we saw an actual Tesla automobile there recharging. I had joked earlier about the eight Tesla charging stations, and how unlikely it was to see even one Tesla there. I found out it wasn’t so unlikely!

That afternoon there was a beautiful black Model S, and to my surprise, the next morning I saw a dark silver Model S. I was actually thrilled, since I hope and think that Tesla will revolutionize automobile travel as we know it. Not to mention help to save the planet.

After our walk, Hal and I got into the Xterra and drove to Daylight Pass to shoot images of the mountains and wildflowers at sunset. We finally made it back to town long after the sun went down, and then had an enormous dinner at KC’s. It was excellent! By the time we walked back to the hotel, I was tired, but it was a good tired from another wonderful day in Beatty/Death Valley.

Panamint Annie

March 13, 2016

A note to “Panamint Annie:”

Dear Annie,

Well, I came back – again. A lot has changed with me, most notably the aftermath of a serious car crash, but I still love being here in Death Valley. I still have my adventurous spirit (the thing we share), even though I thought I’d lost it. I was lucky I “only” lost my car – I could have lost my husband, or my own life. I know you had many difficulties in your life, and mine pale in comparison, but this experience, for me, was traumatic nonetheless. For a while, I thought I’d never ride again, but I got back on the bike, and here I am, standing where I never thought I would again.

Today, our first full day here in Death Valley, we explored Titus Canyon on the bikes, as we did last year. I was a little nervous in some areas, but I loved being there and experiencing again how beautiful it all is, from the multi-colored rocks, to the blue sky overhead. I am sure you fondly remember these things. On the Titus Canyon road, there is one spot where it looks like we truly do ride off the edge into nothingness. Across the chasm there is a sheer rock wall, but we can’t look at it too long because immediately there is a sharp right turn to go down some more steep switchbacks. It is an exhilarating place!

There are many wildflowers this year, more than in years past, and I stopped to enjoy them at the west end of the canyon. Do you remember years when there were so many flowers? I think we were a little early, and I’ll bet we missed the high point of the display. It seems there was more rainfall this winter than in recent years.

It was hot while we rode, but then as we climbed back up to Rhyolite and Beatty, it got very cool again. The wind was blowing hard from the west. I wanted it to be storming again, like it did four years ago when we were here. I love weather drama, the clouds, the rain, the wind. I know you lived in Beatty for a while, and I am sure you remember how different it can be from Death Valley.

I also wish I could have met you in person, our lives overlapped by 20 years. I would love to talk to you and hear about your adventures, and your thoughts about all the things that you did. I wish I could know where you are now, and where we all end up. Your life was full of adventure and you were an adventurous, wild spirit; it seems such a waste that such a vital person as you would no longer exist in some form or another. I feel your presence whenever I am near Rhyolite and can visit your grave. I know you are not “there,” but I feel your spirit. Maybe there is something on the other side after all.

My friend, Hal, and I will be visiting for two more days, and I will love and appreciate every moment I am here. I will be thinking of you.

Love, Jo

Read more about Panamint Annie here: http://www.weeklypioneer.com/2009/08/panamint-annie.html