West Side story

 

White minerals shine,
Sun bites down, an angry glare;
heat sinks to the depths

Hal, Juliette 3207 small

March 14, 2017

Heat, shimmering white minerals, and vast distances – that was what I thought I would experience today on West Side Rd. during our last riding day in Death Valley for this trip.

The day started much the same as yesterday, with a ride up and over Daylight Pass. However, Hal and I took the “Beatty cutoff” down toward Furnace Creek. Our plan was to ride West Side Rd., a road that runs between the floor of Death Valley and the Panamint Range.

As is typical for the deceptively vast distances in Death Valley, by the time we got on West Side Rd. we had already ridden 50 miles from our starting point in Beatty. When you look at a map of Death Valley, you often don’t realize how spread out it is, and how far it is between destinations – and fuel stations.

Road behind us 3217 small

West Side Rd. started out heading west from the paved road. It went through the white mineral deposits on the floor of Death Valley. We stopped to look at it, how amazing and unique the white snow-like minerals are.

Minerals, closeup 3210 small

We also aired down our tires since the road’s surface became corrugated, alternating with sections of big gravel. As the road turned south, we were able to travel quickly, but we stopped at a few roadside attractions.

Shorty's grave 3225 small

 

There was a hidden spring, which we never did find, then a prospector’s grave, and then a plaque that told of a group of people trapped here in the valley for a month, unable to go on. The story was that they sent a couple of younger members of the party to find help, and the young people eventually returned with provisions so the rest could make it out alive. I wondered how many stories similar to that one that have never been publicly told or acknowledged. I am sure there are many.

Bennett's Long Camp 3230 small

As we did this stop-and-go thing, it was getting hot. Finally, there were no more things to look at, and we just kept riding to keep the air flowing. All the vents were open in my riding jacket, and I appreciated my dual sport helmet. I haven’t worn it too much in the past, but lately I have really taken advantage of its many benefits. During our exploration of West Side Rd., we passed four different roads that led into the mountains, all designated “four wheel drive roads.” We talked about exploring them on our next visit!

The road is 40 miles long and it is made up mostly of deep gravel. There were a few small spots of deep sand as well. I haven’t quite learned the technique of going faster and floating over the top of the sand, but I made it through anyway.

Airing up 3235 small

Finally, we made it to the south end of the road, aired up the tires, and got back on pavement. We stopped briefly at Badwater Basin, officially the lowest spot in Death Valley, and talked for a short time with another rider.

 

Badwater Basin 3242 small

GPS at Badwater 3241 small

Hal wanted a photo of his GPS showing 289 feet below sea level in elevation. Earlier, he had seen it read as low as -307 feet as we came through areas near the mountains on West Side Rd.

After Badwater Basin, we rode the 90 miles back to Beatty. When we got there, we were “done” from the heat, tired and dehydrated. Hal got some cold sweet tea from the candy store and I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything so good.

We went to dinner at Gema’s again, which was super delicious. Then Hal drove the Xterra out to Rhyolite so we could look at the stars in the complete blackness. We also tried (in our own little amateurish way) to shoot photos of the stars, but that was ridiculous since we really don’t know how to do it. It was beautiful to see the myriad stars anyway, away from the light pollution of any populated area.

Today was our longest day on the bike – 175 miles, making our total for this trip 490 miles. Tomorrow we leave Beatty behind (already) and return home. These great times and great rides seem to always be over in the blink of an eye.

A dirt route to Mogollon, NM

Alpine/Mogollon, late July, 2016

As promised, the story continues with a return to Alpine, Arizona, in late July.

Once we returned from the 12-day vacation in Colorado, things oozed back to normal very quickly, like lava flowing over the terrain of my life. I had to go to some classes for work, and the depression of having to return to work full time loomed on the horizon. With that in mind, Hal and I wanted another short trip to make us feel human before the onslaught began (at least for me). Hal never seems to get a real break, but that is why we value our time while on the road.

Before I left home, I suffered through three days of “training” for work. We are supposed to be using “thinking maps” to teach, but they don’t make as much sense to me as they should. I don’t need a “map” to think, and the people who make these things up must think that we don’t know enough to come up with these concepts on our own. I also “think” that the different versions of the “thinking maps” are somewhat redundant in that a person could apply any of the versions to anything. The instructors tell you to “use this map for this, use that map for that.” Most of the time I don’t agree with how the “thinking maps” should be applied. Anyway, that’s just me …

As we were on the way to Alpine, that was what the conversation between Hal and I was about. I was analyzing the presentation with Hal as he mostly listened. I was objecting to it because I don’t learn that way. I learn best by listening, taking notes, and going back and processing the information on my own later. But perhaps a very small percentage of the population learns that way?? – probably, hence the need for “thinking maps”? I don’t know, I’ve always had a problem with thinking too much! 😉 (now that I’m thinking about it! Did I say that word enough now??)

As we left the incessantly hot Phoenix area around 4:30, we were in the Xterra, the dirt bikes on the trailer behind us. It was cool and dark when we arrived in Alpine six hours later, When we got there, we had a late snack then soon fell into bed awaiting the next day when we could explore an area that we hadn’t before.

Day 2

The feeling of being on the road for real is one that can never be duplicated unless we are really on the road. It is there only when I am on our annual road trip, a feeling of being un-tethered, of not having to be in a particular place at a particular time, and not having to play by the rules. Of not having to go to work, or caring what day it is, or having to do the usual day-to-day crap. I miss that feeling.

Today was an amazing day, though – Hal and I finally got to do the Reserve, NM to Mogollon, NM back roads route that we’ve wanted to do for so long.

After a good breakfast, we headed out on Hwy. 180, a paved road that led to Reserve, NM. We then took FR435 south out of town. It turns into FR141, and it is (somewhat) paved for quite a distance. Finally, 60 miles from when we left Alpine, it became a dirt road. It was easy gravel, and a good surface that twisted lazily through the mountains as we climbed. We saw many elk and deer in this section of the ride.

Typical of late July, the clouds were already building toward the afternoon storms, and we kept a wary eye on them. We were a little worried about being up high in the mountains when the thunderstorms hit, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time if we were.

Willow Creek:

Eighty-five miles into the ride, we finally reached Willow Creek, which was down in a hollow between mountains. It was very green and lush, but I began to see signs of the 2012 wildfire that destroyed much of this section of the Gila forest.

Right after Willow Creek, the road turned rocky and climbed up a steep grade. At 95 miles in, we came to a sign that said “not maintained for low clearance vehicles. Not safe for trailers.” We had also seen a sign that noted the mileage to Glenwood – 37 miles. I knew we must be near Mogollon, then, and would probably soon come to the part of the road where we turned around in 2011.

At first, this part of the road was rocky, but it had recently been bladed. The trees were burned and what was left of them was slowly deteriorating. It was the fire-ravaged area where the effects of the fire were most severe. Then the road got narrow and very rocky with a steep drop-off on the right. It wasn’t super-challenging, but I had to pay attention. The sky was darkening, but it wasn’t raining or thundering yet. We continued riding the narrow road, and a dark cloud moved over us. Then we came to a wide pullout that had a spectacular view to the northwest. I asked Hal, “do you recognize this place?” I asked him this as we were hurriedly taking photos because the thunder was rolling ominously and getting closer.

What it looked like before the fire:

What it looks like now:

Me, looking at the view from the same place:

“Yes,” he said. It was where we had been five years ago. It was barren and windswept, all the lovely old tall pines had been destroyed by the fire. It was a striking, heart-breaking contrast. We could see forever into the distance, but we didn’t stay long. The threat of the incoming thunderstorm was real.

Back on the bikes, we started down, soon passing the rock fall where I’d posed on my 2006 F650GS. As we descended the winding road, the switchbacks were as steep and tight as I’d remembered them, and there were areas of sandy soil. I was amazed that I’d ridden the big (to me) GS on this tricky road. We met a group of riders on KTMs coming from the opposite direction. I met one of the riders as I was going through one of the steep switchbacks, and there was just enough room for the two of us to pass in opposite directions with inches between our handlebars.

I knew we were close to Mogollon when we started going through the creek at the many water crossings. Back in 2011, there were about three water crossings, and now there were too many to count. We’d heard there had been severe flooding here, and there were changes to the road.

At last, we reached Mogollon, and we stopped for a break. We’d been riding for hours by then. We got coffee and a root beer float at a place called the Purple Onion.

We talked to the man who owns it, and he said that during the flooding, he had three feet of water in his establishment! The water had been incredibly high in the entire town. He said that the flooding had more to do with the amount of rain than the erosion from the effects of the fire, but I am sure it didn’t help.

I also went shopping in an antiques/souvenir shop where I looked at all the shiny things and eventually bought a beautiful scarf with sequins on it. I don’t know if I will ever wear it, but at least I will remember Mogollon when I look at it.

More images from Mogollon, NM:

Main street in Mogollon:

 

After about an hour, we got back on the bikes. As we left town, we experienced more of the effects of the flooding. We were on FS159, which had been completely washed out at one point. Another person in town had told us that there was a big piece of metal high in one of the trees at that end of town, but I must have missed that because I was too busy paying attention to the condition of the road. I don’t doubt it, though. Mogollon was severely affected by the flooding, and it was doubtful for a while if it would ever reopen to tourists.

We descended on 159 to Hwy. 180, and, back on pavement, we turned north to Alma where we fueled up and looked around inside the little store.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember how we loved Alma, its general store, and its restaurant, the Alma Grill. We spent time there in 2011, and at the time, watched and listened to updates about the frightening Wallow fire that was burning fiercely in the nearby White Mountains.

The Wallow fire burning in 2011; the sight gave me a powerless, insignificant feeling:

Back on the bikes, we turned toward home in Alpine. We watched a big storm to the west, bolts of lightning striking everywhere, and I wondered if we should have waited it out in Alma, or if we were going to run into it at all. But as we rode, we always seemed to skirt it, going through a few sprinkles here and there, and traveling over wet roadway, some parts covered in mud.

We didn’t get rained on until the scenic overlook not too far from Luna, and then we had to pull over and put on our rain gear. I was actually getting cold and wet, and only a few miles earlier, in Alma, I had been complaining about heat! We rode in light rain and 60° F. temperatures all the way back to Alpine. When we got there, Hal and I had done it – the Reserve to Mogollon route we’d been hoping to find and do for five years! The trip was 169 miles total for the day.

In the evening, we ate dinner at the Foxfire, walked back to the lodge, and later collapsed into well-earned relaxation and sleep. I woke up later on purpose to look out the window and see the black sky full of stars. Only here do I get to enjoy them so thoroughly. In the deepest part of the night, I clearly saw Andromeda, and in the complete silence, I could almost hear the faint song of the stars.

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.

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.

DV, Part 2, Titus Canyon

Hal in Titus Canyon

When I went out to my bike the next morning, not only did I notice that all the other dirt bikes were already gone, I noticed that one of the fork arms on my bike had some oil on it, a fork seal had “blown.” My heart sank. This is one of my “most looked forward to” trips of the year, and there I was, staring at something that could potentially ruin everything. However, nothing appeared to be leaking badly, so Hal and I decided to chance it and ride Titus Canyon anyway. After all, we didn’t have too far to go to get onto the Titus Canyon road, and if we at least made it through the canyon, we’d be riding on pavement back to Beatty anyway. I could evaluate the fork problem then.

So, after a late breakfast we set out, rode southwest out of town, past the ghost town of Rhyolite, and then onto the road. Alex, my dirt bike, didn’t feel any different than she usually does. She’s pretty tough, so I hoped for the best as I rode the corrugated surface of the dirt road toward Titus Canyon. I was trying to find the “smoothest” line, but quickly figured out there wasn’t one.

 

A couple of miles in, we started climbing from the long flat gravel road into the mountains. From this point on, the ride is exciting, and I had to pay attention to what I was doing. The views are spectacular on this part, and in some places, the serpentine, narrow road is at the edge of deep drop-offs. It isn’t a rough road, nor is it difficult, but there isn’t much room for error. I was enjoying my day, though, and I stopped worrying about the fork seal.

We passed a truck with a broken axle, and wondered how that had happened. As I said, the road isn’t real rough, and there isn’t a part that I thought would break an axle. “That’s going to be an expensive tow,” I thought at first, but then I thought the owner would probably come back with parts and fix it on the spot. At least I hoped he would.

We went along, flowing along the curving road. At one point, it looks like it drops off into the air, and then turns sharply to the right. Across the abyss is a rock wall that was shining in the spotlight that was the sun. I made the turn and continued down a steep grade, winding down to where far below I saw a couple of SUVs that had parked. Soon, we were down, and past them.

We passed Leadfield, once a mining settlement, now a collection of abandoned buildings, saw the mine over on the far mountainside. Although there is a small pullout to park, we did not stop. We’d seen it before, and there were too many people parked there already. From that point, we continued to descend steeply, and then the road leveled out as we went into the high walled canyon that would take us all the way out to the west end.

 

We passed between high canyon walls that gleamed golden and multi-colored in the spring sunshine. The sky overhead was incredibly blue as I looked up past the high tips of the rock formations above. A hawk wheeled in the wind currents, looking deceptively small from where I stood.

The closer we got to the end, the more people we encountered, people who had hiked in from the exit point. There was more traffic coming up behind us as we slowed down, careful of the people hiking literally right next to the deep sandy path. In the darkness of the shadows, it would be easy to miss seeing a hiker until it was almost too late.

 

We stopped at the petroglyphs to take photos, and I finally was able to shed a layer of clothing. In the close, sun-filled canyon, I was getting too warm. I noticed the sign that said to not deface the rocks, that they are irreplaceable. Yet I saw plenty of graffiti that had been scratched into the rocks, so much that it was hard to tell where the original petroglyphs had been. You know how I hate it when people ruin things for others.

Finally, we came to the west end of the canyon where it opens out and I got my first glimpse (this trip) of Tucki Mountain and the huge, beautiful alluvial fan that spreads down into the deepest, lowest part of the valley. It is a breathtaking sight no matter how many times I see it. We rode a little farther west, past the actual hiker’s trailhead, and parked our bikes. It was time for a break, an energy bar and some water. I also got a couple of photos of the wildflowers that were more abundant this year than before.

 

Alex’s fork was okay, there was no additional oil seeping or running down, so I was fairly confident that the problem had happened on the trailer and would get no worse. Hal and I got back on our bikes, and we headed down the deep gravel track toward the paved road that would take us back to Beatty, a leisurely dinner and a relaxing evening.

Death Valley, 2016, part 1

Every year in spring, Hal and I make our way to Death Valley. It’s our “rite of spring.” Our first time was in 2012, a truly adventurous trip, and we loved it so much despite its challenges that we planned to go back. Every year since has been an amazing experience, from visiting with our friends in Las Vegas on the way, to the great riding and the enjoyable time we have hanging out in Beatty, NV.

Here is the beginning of this year’s story:

Hal and I loaded my Kawasaki KLX250S on the trailer at my house on Saturday morning, March 12, and soon we were on our way, Hal driving the venerable Xterra with the bikes behind it on the trailer. We left a little before 10 a.m. and I felt like we made good time to Wickenburg (I-10 to 303 to the 60). We stopped at the gas station just outside of Wickenburg to get some coffee, then we went on to Kingman. It was uncharacteristically cool from the moment I went outside at home (it’s usually like stepping into a furnace), and then for the rest of the day. The weather was changeable, windy, a capricious spring day, full of excitement and possibility.

In Kingman, I felt the wind pushing us around more than I had before, and when we left and headed toward Las Vegas, we had a good tailwind. We were there by 2:30 local time (we gained an hour), and met our friends, Tom and Cecelia, for a late lunch. I met Tom through this blog, and met Cecelia when we met in person a couple of years ago. They have become wonderful friends!

We spent a good two hours or more talking – it was so great to have good conversation with people I enjoy. We talked about riding, bikes, work, a little sewing (since I am teaching myself to sew starting last July), and life in general. A brief discussion about the accident and the subsequent depression, but I wanted to keep the conversation positive. I don’t want to think any more about “that.”

It seemed that time had passed too quickly, but Hal and I got back into the Xterra and drove on toward Beatty. The rest is my favorite part of the journey. The wide-open space, the nearly deserted road, the snow-capped mountains in the distance, and the gently rolling hills closer to the road are always spectacular for me, and I have loved it since the first time we rode our street bikes on 95 north a few years ago.

As we drove west, the sun painted the clouds pink and gold as it went down. Dusk found us at the “alien” gas stop/convenience store to (once again) get a cup of coffee. We walked around the store looking at all the touristy, kitschy “alien stuff.” We laughed at all the funny stickers, magnets, t-shirts, you name it, none of which we needed at that particular moment.

Back in the car, I had that on the road feeling, the feeling that I was out, traveling, belonging nowhere and everywhere. It was a familiar, good feeling. I’d missed it. It is something I knew first when I was a young teenager, traveling to horse shows. I loved it then, and I love it now. I hope I never lose it.

Finally, we made it to Beatty, pulled into the parking lot of the casinos and motels, and saw many other dirt bikers already settled in for the night. Funny thing, though, we saw none of the big-pig adventure bikes as we’d seen in past years. All the bikes parked there were smaller-sized ones with real knobby tires on them. (Yeah! That’s what I ride.) Everyone seems to do a spring pilgrimage here, and one of the best things is that Death Valley is so big, we all can enjoy it without getting in each other’s way, or having to ride the same things over and over, unless we want to.

Hal and I unloaded the bikes, and after that, I began to feel my body relax for the first time in months. I had been looking forward to this trip for weeks, and it was time to savor every moment.