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North To South

By Dennis Peterson

Illustration by T. SoansoWhere I work one cannot have so much as a brain phart without also having a "Lessons Learned" meeting. I've just completed a dream ride. The route was Seattle WA, Boise ID, Rawlings and Cheyenne WY, Las Vegas, Taos, and Gallup NM, Seligman and Kingston AZ, Beatty NV, Reno NV, Bishop and Bridgeport CA, and back to Seattle.

So what did I learn that is worth sharing? It was a trip 100 miles short of 4,000. It was hot where it shouldn't have been and rained everywhere it was not expected to. I met people all along the route that were in total awe that I would be doing such a thing, and they and others whom I befriended along the way were outgoing, sympathetic (it rained a lot!), helpful, offered guidance for local diversions not seen on the maps, and supportive of what I was off doing. Most importantly, I was prepared for all manner of weather and shelter. I was also riding a Harley Fat Boy that never gave me any single moment of concern.

I rode alone - as such I was able to pick and choose my route, layover points, and become intimate with locals all along the ride. I am more convinced than ever that people love to help or lend a kind word to those who arrive into their lives rife with adventure and stories to tell. I had ample opportunity to describe my travels and to treat myself to the local lore at each overnight reststop I rolled into. The age-old longing for the traveler's tale is very much alive in America and it was with heartfelt pleasure that I spent the time available sharing the experiences I accumulated along the way.

It was my first day's goal to arrive in or near Boise, ID. That represents a good long day of riding. I had not expected the temperatures in Eastern Washington and Oregon to be in the 105+ degree range. I had chosen to go east rather than south to avoid the mid-July heat wave in SoCal and AZ. No such luck. I arrived in Ontario, OR (on the border at Or and ID) late in the afternoon, very parched, very over heated, and near collapse. I had pushed too far. Lesson learned.

The route to Ontario was very good - no highway construction anywhere, and no shortage of gas stops. The mountains of Eastern OR were refreshingly cool and I was reluctant to press on to the Idaho border, but I had set a goal. Wrong goal, lesson learned.

Too overheated and tired to pitch a tent, I took a hotel room. When I first saw my face the mirror I wondered why I was not in pain, so red was my face, and outlined in pure white by shadow of the � coverage helmet I wore.

Sleep came easy and by next morning, still feeling no pain at the redness in my face (and now arms), I pushed on. Today's goal was the Wasatch mountains of Utah. The ride through Idaho was hot but richly painted with morning and early afternoon sunlit desert scenes, escarpments, and the oddly placed forest. The ascent into Utah and descent into the Ogden area was punctuated with strong winds right off the nose, probably gusting into the 30 MPH range. The heat and wind worked to dehydrate me and I took several opportunities to wet-soak and cool down. I was wearing a long-sleeved denim shirt to prevent continued burning of my arms, and I wetted it as well as my Levis to help control my body temperature while plowing through the dry desert wind.

I turned east near Ogden and headed up the Wasatch mountains toward Wyoming. It was mid-afternoon at this point. I saw a Harley rider turn off ahead of me at Morgan, UT, and followed a quiet rode well away from the main road. Not knowing what may be ahead, I considered turning around and retracing my route back to the highway, but something kept me on this track. I noted several trucks coming the other way with jet ski machines, and ski boats, and it then occurred to me there was a lake that the end of this ride and damn if that didn't prove to be true. I rolled into the campground Sunday evening as most folks were heading back to town and so I had the most peaceful and serene lakeside evening I had experienced in many years.

Morning came early so I broke camp and cruised lazily out of the grounds. Just as I was leaving the depression the lake was settled into, I came upon a nice straightaway of about a quarter mile so, knowing all those in the camp ground expected it, I rolled on the throttle and filled the valley with the lovely roar of Milwaukee Iron music. I suspect I may have sold several softtails by that unselfish act.

I stayed on the same road which I came to discover would rejoin the main highway to Evanstone, WY. There I took breakfast in a wonderful bar and grill owned by as nice a person as one could hope to meet. I thought I would remember the name of the establishment and hostess, but alas, they are lost to me. I will rediscover this place, however. The B&G was very nicely appointed, even feminine the way many early western watering holes were in the dusty old days, and the food was fantastic. It was memorable overall and if I were 30 years younger, I would not have forgotten the essentials!

Gassed up and back on the road, I was now feeling the wear of the road. Tired as I was I took notice of the gorgeous canyons of SE Wyoming and the Green Gorge area. years earlier I had seen an interesting geological discontinuity in the cut along the freeway there. I again discovered this anomaly and was seeing it from the reverse direction so was pleased to discover my first impressions of it were less than complete. It was (difficult to describe) a buckled lake bed which had been worn perfectly flat then overlaid with a hundred feet of sediment and volcanic ash. The break between the folded layers and the overburden is a textbook example of geologic deposition and plate tectonics. You had to be there! :-)
I stopped in Green River, WY at the local H-D dealer to see if I could end the only irritation of my trip-the left hand grip kept working its way down the bar, requiring frequent adjustments as I tooled along. They offered a tube of genuine Harley-Davidson hand grip glue which I applied. Needing to let it set up, I took up a seat in front of the dealer on a bench seat and watched the locals come and go, and chatted up a bit with another rider. He surprised me by being fully leathered up with chaps, vest, and cap. I was melting down into a pool of Seattle sludge at the time and couldn't comprehend the ability of this hardy fellow to carry such dress. He passed me later on eastward towards Rawlings, and to be honest, he still looked too hot. He told me he was a trona miner there and that most working folks in that area also worked the mines. It may be that it is relatively cool on the surface after you have been grinding the earth's bowels all day long. Oh-I also bought a very cool T-shirt at H-D of Green River. It is a really pretty place - probably Wyoming's best kept secret.

Feeling the strain of the road, I pulled into a KOA near Rawlings. The grounds owner let me know it was common knowledge that it was going to be raining with severe thunderstorms that evening and that I might be more comfortable in a KOA Kabin. I didn't argue - I took the Kabin and disassembled my kit.

As it was near a town, I took the opportunity to putt in and picked up a six-pack of Bud and motored back to the KOA. One by succulent one, I sucked up those Buds while listening to my little transistor radio (oldies from Salt Lake). I was about 3 brews into it when I decided to start singing along with the tunes. By the time the sun went down I was happy, shit-faced, and tired. It was a cruel morning. Lesson learned.

The dawn arrived and I was dried out, cotton-mouthed, and couldn't remember a single lyric of any song heard the night before. I was sore, cranky, and thinking of going straight north to Montana and west to home. I groped around and found some Tylenol, popped two, broke my camp and rode on eastward, and while sulking at my near-defeat, looked for a breakfast spot.
Once fed and rendered immune to pain by the Tylenol, I headed east through Wyoming, detouring north briefly to go through the old town of Medicine Bow - the town featured in the old western book "The Virginian". I was actually looking more for fossils and such, but never found them. I bought a postcard at the Virginian Hotel instead.

The Medicine Bow cutoff rejoins the main highway toward Cheyenne and soon I found myself heading south towards Colorado. The terrain was changing quickly, going from arid desert to a plains/grassland kind of world. I also began picking up traffic as I headed into northern CO on I-25. I also picked up my first rain. Colorado seemed to mark a change in mood for the trip. I not only hit lots of traffic and rain, but I had to replace my battery in North Denver. I stopped at a B&G for dinner and when I got back to the bike I did something I hadn't done before. I checked all the lights (they all worked) before I started the engine. It didn't start. Click click click click... No potato potato potato.

I pulled the T-bag and seat off then popped some caps from the battery and found nothing in there but lead plates. Dry. I was lucky enough to have a convenience gas station/mart next door so I went in, bought a gallon of distilled water, used the bottle cap to refill the cells and got my potatoes back. I immediately replaced the seat and T-bag and road into Longmont to the local Harley dealer (I LOVE those guys) who sold me a new battery, let me soil their parking lot, gave me cold fresh drinking water, a place to wash the acid from myself, and disposed of my old battery. If you are near High Country Harley-Davidson stop in and buy something. They are good bike people.

Out of time and tired and wet, I pulled into the North Denver Campground, picked tent site #1, pitched camp, and discovered mosquitoes all over the place. Colorado was being naughty. I had brought along some Off! so I was feeling prepared. For the most part, it worked fine. I wish I remembered what I did about dinner that night, but the fact is, it was morning before I knew it and time to break camp and move on. I took breakfast in the campground which was provided by the hosts, was certainly affordable, but again, ridden with mosquitoes. I had too much faith in my Off! and so I am still as I type this scratching at a half-dozen bites I suffered over eggs and sausage.

I hate to say it, but the ride the rest of the way through Colorado was very unmemorable. It was, at times, pastoral and picturesque, but the traffic and the rare unpopulated areas were not enough to make me want to spend a lot of time there. The rain squalls were not helping, and I had planned to spend at least a day in the Pueblo area, but just couldn't develop that "Rocky Mountain High" I had expected. I stayed on the road to New Mexico with little urge to stray from I-25. There are those who will tell my I rode past the most marvelous part of the Americas, but I didn't see much of it. I'll be back.

It was with mixed emotions that I approached the southern border of the Mile High state-there hovered over that invisible frontier a most formidable thunderstorm. I followed a caravan of military trucks and HummVees toward Raton, NM. Just over the state line the storm which I had been fondly admiring broke open into a cold dark gully washer. I pulled off the road after just � mile of this and parked under an overpass. While I was deciding what to do about this, I noted with astonishment how quickly both sides of the road were filling with runoff, and that soon it would be over the road. I unbundled my rain gear, donned same, and set back on the road to Raton, NM. It rained heavily and lightening struck on all quadrants for about 10 miles at which time I reached a quiet spell and a rest stop.

Since I was already soaked under the rain gear, I hoped to strip it off and dry off in the dry desert breeze-alas, yet another T storm came in and I sought refuge under a shelter at the rest stop for nearly an hour. It was obvious that I would spend the rest of the day there waiting for a break in the weather, I decided to suit up again and get back on the road. This I did and took all the weather NM can dish out until I reached Las Vegas, NM where I decided to lay over for the night.

It was really gut-wrenching to have logged into the KOA desk and to have pitched my tent but to have a T storm break open overhead as I was packing my things into the tent. I was soaked again, my T-bag and sleeping bag were OK, but my maps and various papers and disposable camera were ruined. I decided to do some laundry and while milling about took a conversation with the hostess of the grounds. She and her husband are transplants from Oregon and are also bikers, having some kind of Honda or some such thing. We chatted it up quite a bit and I found that a road from Las Vegas to Taos, highway 518, was recommendable. She was quite a good conversationalist and I enjoyed our brief time together. I also appreciate the suggestion to take the 518 route to Taos. It was beautiful, high, and cold (I had to put on full leathers for the first time since leaving the Snoqualmie pass area of Washington). I stopped at a ski area for breakfast before rolling down the western side towards Taos. I also picked up another T storm but was able to suit up while still dry. I hit many other storms on the road to Seligman, AZ, but I never again put on the rain suit. Too many, too close together. Lesson learned.
Taos is a simple town, split down the middle by modern development and shingled on the rough outside by impoverished adobe homes and corrugated shacks. It is the best and the worst of what America has to offer. One would be hard put to suggest a more beautiful place to offer up a town. The arroyos and rolling hills, storm-filled rivers and gullies, range animals and hamburger stands sets this place apart from my life experiences. It looks like a hard life for some, a real hard life for others, but a life free of much of what clutters suburban life in cozy Seattle. It seems to be a place hard to settle in for an outsider, but hard to leave for a native. Life is funny. Or maybe the perception life is funny. I like it here. Lesson learned.

The road from Taos to Santa Fe is along a lazy winding river. Today it was boiling from recent thunderstorms, and so too is the highway. I decide to forego the urge to be dry and instead take what nature dishes out. I am influenced by several local H-D riders who seem to think a T-shirt is more than enough for this area. I'm embarrassed for my wealth of rain gear et al, and suffer with them. It turns out to be a not-so-bad thing. Ten minutes of rain is dried by 30 minutes of riding, and my earlier experience with my pack tells me that it will not get soaked. With that decision I press boldly on down the winding canyon road to Santa Fe.
Taos was my destination goal. I made it on time and under budget. It was an exhilarating and sometimes difficult ride. I went through some 115+ temps in Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. I stared down the collapse of the July Heat Wave only to face the July Monsoons. I continued on through the steady rains of eastern Arizona and found some relief finally when I tumbled down off the high plains into Seligman where I found myself lined up on Route 66 with a bunch of three-wheelers getting ready to head down a cordoned off main drag-it was an annual event and I was lucky enough to have gotten there on that day. I met some really great folks at the Black Cat B&G, and all around the townsfolk were really fun.

The ride back to Seattle was also rich with experiences including a couple days with my brother and family near Bridgeport, CA (I caught a nice trout in Twin Lakes, nearby). Ask me sometime about the ride from Kingston, AZ to Beatty, NV, to Bishop, CA, on to Reno, and the nonstop from Reno to Seattle.

 

 


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