Sunday, November 27, 2011

Final Drive: The Long Ride Home

Pashnit - CA 36

Ross and I left Crescent City Thursday morning and headed back out on CA 199 towards Grant's Pass and on to Medford and beyond. On our return trip we decided to take the most direct route possible in order to save a few hours. After passing Medford on I 5, we pulled over for gas in Ashland Oregon. Ross thought it was a good idea to take OR 66 as a shortcut to Lakeview Oregon so we could pick up route 140 to NV 95 and head to Winnemucca Nevada, where we would pick up I 80. I wanted to go farther down I 5, get off at route 89 and head towards CA 395, which would take us to Reno, where they have the world famous Awful Awful burger at the Little Nugget Diner. Of course this would have put us about 170 miles west of Winnemucca, which is about two and half hours in travel time. Word to self: There's no such thing as a shortcut, not in this life, nor in the next one.

Between my frayed goofy hands and the layout of the road, I would welcome the end of that day. About 10 miles after Ashland, there are a series of curves that are almost switchbacks, climbing in altitude, with no guardrail and not a lot of bargaining room either. On one of the turns, a left-hander, a car came around and much to my surprise, two squids attempting to pass the car. At that point I had a few thoughts passed through my mind. One, I wasn't going to try hang-gliding a 570 lb motorcycle into the wild blue yonder, so the choices were predicated on what the squids did next. If they kept tight with the car, I could get around them, if not, I would impale their skinny worthless asses with fine German engineering. Luckily, the first situation presented itself. Outside of a 20 mile stretch of crushed stone where they were repaving the highway and a couple misses with mule deer, things would get better, but it wasn't an easy road to make time on.

El Aguila Real - Bobblehead Biker
Getting to Lakeview seemed interminable. What was only 282 miles probably took seven hours. My route would have added about 80 miles to Winnemucca, but I have to wonder, which one would have taken longer? At the end of that day it really didn't matter. I was happy to be done with it. Ross and I checked into the Freemont Inn in Lakeview, which was pricey for what it was, but at least I could lay down and relax before dinner. It was already past my dinnertime, but there was a Mexican restaurant a couple blocks away. While it doesn't look like much, it was pretty good and probably the best bet at that time. The best part was the Dos Equis, although I wasn't feeling up to being the "Most Interesting Man In The World". Sometime during dinner, a well weathered gal sauntered into El Aquila Real wearing technical gear that told me she must ride some sort of enduro or adventure bike. She looked as rugged as the landscape and my journalism instincts, if I had any, told me there must be a story there, but it was getting late and I wanted nothing more than to hit the hay. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Upon getting back to the motel, I found that the internet access sucked. Being the inquisitive techie suffering from internet withdrawal, I decided to take a look see as I had seen a wiring closet on the way to our room. From what I could tell using Netstumbler, I came to the conclusion that one of the WiFi access points was down. Oh well. I would have to sit in the lobby to check my email and get my internet fix, although the hotel manager was appreciative that I troubleshot his wireless problems. I suppose getting tech help in that part of the country is hard to find.

Sin City Stan, Teri Conrad and Noel Burke - Stan Folz and Joel Schneekloth
There was some bad news that night. A couple riders crashed their bikes, bringing the total to three that had crashed their bikes on the way, during or after the trip to the Rally in the Redwoods. Sin City Stan was the first, crashing his Nomad on 299 I believe, totaling the bike with him and his wife getting banged up. I found out that night that Noel "Badger" Burke and Teri Conrad crashed as well. While Noel totaled his Nomad, he wasn't hurt bad, but Teri did not fair so well. I believe she dislocated her left hip, broke her right ankle and banged up her right knee while riding in Oregon. Not a good end to a trip and being far from home has to suck. It seems that every rally I've been to has had at least one spill and some a few, so may be it is to be expected, but it's something I really don't want to get used to hearing about.

The next day came quickly and I was looking forward to getting back on the road and out of there. There was a contingent of Goldwing riders that were staying at the motel, all with the latest generation of the Goldwing and all from Canada, the province of Alberta if I recall. They were heading to San Diego by way of Las Vegas. After riding through part of Nevada, I agree that what happens in Vegas should stay there. I think the state motto is Gambling, Drinking and more Gambling. You could find yourself in a ghost town and it would have functioning slot machines in the abandoned saloon. They even have superstores for liquor. I get the feeling that the temperance movement in the last century must have skipped Nevada. Not that I blame them. After riding NV 140, NV 95 and I 80 through the state, all I saw was tumble weed, jackrabbits, liquor stores and gambling. It was also hot as hell or nearly so. According to Cactus Jack, hell is a little farther south in Arizona. I'll take his word on it. Arizona is hot as well. We did run into some tumbleweed and Ross got a real nice gash on his shin that went through his jeans. I was glad I had tall riding boots on as the tumbleweed was and would be of no consequence for me. Before getting on I80, Ross and I stopped for gas at the Sinclair on the eastern end of town. We were quite surprised to see a man walking around the store in his underwear. At first I thought may be some indigent was perusing the isles looking for a freebee or may be it is some sort of Nevadan midday ritual that is required to remove the evil spirits acquired from a night out of gambling and drinking. Of course I was wrong on both counts. It was the owner of the store and husband of the woman working behind the counter. They must have different cultural norms in Pakistan or whatever south Asian country from where these people came.

NV 140 - Joel Schneekloth
Getting on I 80 was a relief as we could haul ass and make time. We had hoped to make Salt Lake City by that night. Riding across Nevada was uneventful except for an uneventful stop for gas in Elko, before hitting the salt flats in Utah. Temps had been in the low 100's in this section of the trip and I shed my leather jacket so as to keep cool. Even so, I was pretty warm and my arms were pretty red from the sun. The one thing I will advise to anyone riding in the desert heat is to keep well hydrated. I try to drink a two to one ration of water to Gatorade when out riding and it seems to serve me well. I probably drank close to a gallon a day without needed to go to the bathroom when in high temps, so that tells you how much fluid is lost just sitting on a bike.
Bonneville Salt Flats - Ross Chess

Coming down the hill in West Wendover, the highway lines up with the runway on the air force base and for an instant, I thought I'd be going down there for take off. Once past the border of Nevada and Utah, the road becomes flat and straight going across the Bonneville salt flats. To some, images of The World's Fast Indian might come to mind, but at this point all I could think about was motel, food and bed in that order. The one thing I didn't count on was the wind. Holy smokes does it get windy on I80 going across Utah. I felt like I had to put the bike at a 45 degree angle to stay in my lane. Of course it wasn't 45 degrees, but the wind was bad enough that I kept to the right lane as the wind was coming from the south and riding in the left lane was problematic when trucks would disturb the airflow to the extent that it really threw me off. I'd have to say the wind was more than a constant 50 mph and it was so strong that I remember riding through Stansbury and the water was getting blown off the lake  and it was spraying me to the point it was like rain. By the time we reached the Comfort Inn in Salt Lake City, near the airport, I was pretty much shot. Ross and I were so beat that we decided to skip dinner, but I ran out for beer and chips at Roy's Phillips 66 on Admiral Byrd Blvd. It was like an expedition too and I recall the guy working behind the counter giving me the more than once over as if he though I was already in the bag or wondered if I was going to rob the place. I must have been a sight to see for sure.

Buford Wyoming - Jenny Glenn
The next morning, after a visit to the lobby for a complementary breakfast (something Comfort Inn does well with) we were ready to take off on the next leg of the trip home. With over 550 miles the day before, I was looking forward to another 540 plus miles that day heading to Sidney Nebraska, while Ross would be splitting off at I 25, heading south to Lafayette Colorado to visit with a friend, which would make his day almost 530 miles. We took off at 8 AM and headed into somewhat busy traffic on I 80 and on our way up I 80 around Park City, Ross and I became separated as he likes to ride a little more vigorously than I do at times. We didn't connect again until I stopped in Rock Springs for fuel, which was 166 miles later. At this stop, we agreed to stop in Rawlins for lunch and continue on from there.

Traveling across Wyoming seemed almost interminable as Nebraska at times, mostly because I just wanted to get home and also because a lot of it isn't very attractive, at least not on the I 80 corridor. It's quite a bit different than Jackson Hole, that is for sure If you've ever traveled any great distance, it seems that the closer to home one gets the more impatient one becomes. It's sort of an inverse relationship and between my goofy hands, increasingly sore ass and impatience, I was starting to fray around the edges a little bit. Luckily, Ross and I stopped in Buford, the smallest town in America, so he could fuel up and we could say our goodbyes. While using the rest rooms I was treated to what I would describe as a combination of comic relief and the twilight zone. While using the rest room standing up, a gentleman entered and went to use the stall with the stool. I was treated to an autodidact in a rural accent of pretty good New York dialect. From what I could tell, the gentleman probably had tourette's syndrome and possibly worse, although I was glad he wasn't pissed at me and god help whoever he was pissed at.

After saying our good byes, Ross and I rode off and he split off at the I 25 interchange near Cheyenne, where I continued on to Sidney Nebraska for my last night on the road. At this point I increased velocity to about 85 mph and set the cruise control. The interesting thing is that I got the best mileage of the trip on the stretch from Rawlins to Sidney, which is a 250 mile stretch and I used three quarters of a tank for 51 mpg. Not bad for the speeds and 400lb load of rider and gear. At this point in the trip, I had a different kind of anticipation . Instead of worrying about being able to do it, I was impatient to get home. The closer I got to home, the more impatient I became. The weather would temper that as I ran into the edge of a storm going across Nebraska on my last day on the road. It was windy, overcast with threatening skies that remind one of tornado weather. The one thing I hate about riding in the rain is lightning. I finally ran into rain and stopped at a McDonald's in Aurora Nebraska to wait it out. I was still 250 miles from home, but I knew that I would be home that day. A quick text home revealed that it was raining there and it was raining in Aurora too, so I put on my rain gear and decided to head out. By the time I got to Lincoln, the weather had cleared and traffic picked up, but so did my pace. I had never felt so relieved as when I crossed the Missouri river into Iowa. It was a combination of joy, relief, anticipation and contentment on some level. Some might say even cathartic. I got off I 80 in Council Bluffs to fill up on gas and get my rain gear off. At that point, I was close enough to home I felt I could walk it if I had to, even if I was still another 120 miles from my home. Riding back on I 80, the bike and I hummed along at 80 mph, where the road was just flowed beneath me and I really wasn't aware of it. It reminded me of flying in a single engine airplane. I had a lot to think about on this trip and I will visit with it in an epilogue that will be forthcoming in a couple posts. My next post will be about another expedition I did almost 20 years ago, entitled, "When things go bad". Until then, keep the shiny side up.