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South to North

New Mexico to Seattle - Part 1

by Dennis Peterson

Those of you who had the pleasure of reading Dennis' tales about his ride down to New Mexico have probably been wondering what happened on the way back home. So now that you've read his Iliad, here's the Odyssey.  Peterson's writing is infectious so don't be surprised if you get half way through this story only to realize what you think is a Jack Kerouac novel is actually a story in Sound Rider! - Tom Mehren/Publisher & Editor

Since I've been immobilized by a flu bug and a dislocated disc I figured I'd try to finish up my tour from Seattle to Taos and back. As I recall, I left you all hanging in Seligman, AZ on old Route 66.

There was a trike gathering going on and a classic car/trike/motorcycle parade set up on the main drag. I'd spent the day before getting caught up on laundry and such and hopped around the little town's beer halls meeting and bs'ing with the locals. Being as how I had no particular place to be, I got into the parade. It was a hoot and a half, and the closest I'd been to a party since before leaving Seattle.

There were some beautiful cars there - '57 Chevies, T-Birds, Corvettes, hot rods, etc., as you might expect in such a parade but you got to see a map of just where Seligman is - or isn't. It's way out of the way. Dozens of trikes turned up. They had been swarming in all the previous day and into the evening. As with any good gathering there were some highly customized rigs present. My Kodak throwaway camera had already become waterlogged from all the rain so I haven't any pictures, but if you find your self out that way try to catch this event. It's well worth it. Last year's event was on July 24.

I headed north and west on Old Route 66. This road loops up and around a pretty but sparse desert. In all the excitement of being in a parade and such I left town without filling the tanks and I knew I didn't have enough to reach Kingman on the main highway. I determined a mid-point and if I didn't find gas by then I was going to have to turn back. As it happens, there is an oasis out in the middle of nowhere called Nelson which had no gas, but has a tourist spot called Grand Canyon Caverns which I took the time to tour. I also bought an official "I Traveled Route 66" patch which still needs installing on something. The caverns are a busy place as it happens, and I picked up a couple fossils and conversed some with a FXE rider who was headed out at the same time I was. He said there was an Indian village on the way to Kingman and would have gas there and so off I went to Peach Springs where gas was plentiful and folks seem to appreciate Harley Davidson motorcycles.

It was warming up quite a bit now. I had been at high elevations for much of my ride from Utah on, and while it was hot, the thin air was never cloaking with heat, in fact I'd been in a lot of heavy rain. I believe the altitude was probably around 3500 feet or so, and the heat was becoming problematic. The area was picture perfect desert and the road was in perfect condition and there was no rain that I'd been hammered with the last 1200 miles. By the time I rolled into Kingman I was parched and needed a long break and fluids. I'd been carrying 3-4 quarts of water with me at all times and was down to my last jug as I hit town. I refilled them and bought two more from a convenience store as well as some Gatorade and found some shade while I pondered my next course change.

I'd intended to ride up 395 in California and meet with my Brother in Bridgeport and I wanted to cruise through Barstow which had been an important place in my old dirt bike days (Barstow to 'Vegas and Check Chase races). The weather man convinced me it was not a good idea as it was forecast for 125 degrees all over eastern California. So I nosed the Fat Boy north by west on Hwy. 93 and Las Vegas.

I've never been through this part of Arizona and I was a bit surprised at the number of people who live here - there isn't anything for miles around, but maybe that is the draw. The road from Kingman to Boulder City is excellent and I had only one problem - the sun was bouncing straight off the speedo and chrome headlamp into my face and the glare was miserable and I didn't have a fix for it. I'd thought it was hot between Seligman and Kingman but nothing compared to the heat as I neared Boulder City. The road cuts at a right angle through miles of deep ravines and the near vertical cuts reflected and trapped the heat on the road such that I had to breath through my mouth because my nostrils were cooking. I also picked up quite a bit of traffic and the road got pretty twisty. I got a few horns blown my way because I was not playing tailgate with the locals the way they thought I should. I rolled into the Boulder City Dam visitor center and grabbed three bottles of water (which were warm) from the cooler and went into one of the overlook areas where water mist is sprayed continuously and emptied all three jugs. After sitting in the mist for about 45 minutes I refilled one of the bottles and returned to my bike and emptied the bottle onto my shirt and pants to provide evaporative cooling. It was 125 degrees on the thermometer and I now had to wear a helmet as I was in Nevada - I emptied another water bottle into my full coverage hat and strapped it on.

Back on the road again, the wetted clothing doing it's job, I was soon in Las Vegas looking for an off ramp with a gas station and an on-ramp. It is nearly all roof tops from Boulder City to L.V. and traffic was the worst and greatest threat since I'd left Denver. I got gas and used the station water hose to wet down my entire body. The water was actually pretty damn warm and letting it run for a while didn't help much. I hopped back on the highway and stayed on Hwy. 95 and was gladly out of L.V. in short order. More gorgeous desert, little to no traffic, and a long stretch of highway ahead. This was pretty damn nice.

I rolled on for about an hour or so and started feeling a bit hungry. I caught sight of a cafe/casino up ahead on the left so I diverted into it. Shit, oh dear, what have we here? There was a monster lottery somewhere and this little shit hole was selling tickets and there must have been 500 people lined up in the heat to buy them. I grabbed what little shade I could, popped a water bottle, and just watched dumbfoundedly as these silly-assed people proved a fool is born every minute. I wish I could remember who it was who said "Lotteries are for people who are bad at math". I refilled the water bottle and got back onto the road.

I still wanted to get over to Hwy. 395 in CA and a couple options were coming up. I could cross Death Valley from Beatty, cross over at Lida, or go on up to Tonopah and take the big asphalt stripe. I decided to lay over at Beatty and check out conditions with the locals as there had been hellacious thunderstorms in the area the week before. Beatty is yet another one of those towns that begs the question "Why the hell is it even here"? I don't know, but it had several restaurants, plenty of gas, and multiple choices for lodging. As I rolled into the parking lot of the motel and shut down I heard some shouting and screaming coming from the office. Seems the young gal who was the day manager was taking a load of crap from her pimply faced SO who left her finally in tears as I walked in. I gave him my meanest "Bronson" look as I was peeling off my "Go ahead - make my day" gloves. Image is everything in the super hero business. I got a room, stripped off my T-bag and emptied my saddle bags, and dialed "Arctic" on the AC. Nothing. Lots of humming, lots of fan noises, no air. I pulled the grill down and looked into a solid block of ice. I reversed the thermostat to "Sahara" and went to dinner. Over dinner it became pretty obvious I would become an interesting statistic if I chose to ride across Death Valley so I went with plan B which was Lida pass. I chose well as this is one of the prettiest rides I've ever been on. When I got back an hour later the ice was gone and with "Arctic" once again selected, I had a nice cool room. The bike was parked right outside the door and was daisy-chained to a column, a rose bush, and a water pipe - it looked safe and it was. I got a pretty good night's sleep on a lumpy bed and was up and rolling early.

The road from Beatty to the Lida turnoff is surrounded by truly ancient desert vistas rich in patterns and colors. This was my first trip into Nevada and I hope to have more. It is absolutely everything I enjoy about desert traveling. I'd hoped to buy gas at Scotty's Junction but no luck and the map showed the next stop would be Big Pine in CA or Tonopah where I didn't want to go. I turned off and headed toward Lida Pass. It's a twisty two-lane road that climbs steadily from the Sarcobatus Flat desert area Hwy. 95 crosses. Broad vistas, gnarled desert pines, scrub brush, pucker bush and elkhorn cactus make up the flora. Buzzards, bugs, and small birds are the fauna. Signs warn of deer crossing but I never saw any. I crossed over a wide stretch of the road that had recently been under water. A few flash floods had been through and highway crews did a good job of marking the rough stuff. It would get worse, much worse.

The top of the pass is unremarkable except that the road stops climbing and starts descending. The evidence of heavy weather, mostly missing from the east side, was abundant now. Wide slashes were cut by fast water. In several places it had crossed the highway leaving debris everywhere. Again, highway crews had been at work. The road was quite safe, but a lot of damage had been done by the flooding. This is a fantastic area to ride through and I enjoyed every mile except the very last - "ROAD CLOSED AHEAD". Oh great - I'm just about on fumes and the road to the only reachable gas stop is closed. I wandered up past the signs for a short ways and saw why and knew that road would be closed for a long time. It was gone.

I drifted around for a bit and located a ranch house with a pickup truck throwing up dust and headed that way. I met the truck at an intersection and a mighty darn pretty gal told me the town of Dyer had gas but it was Sunday and may not sell any. She said if I couldn't get any gas there to come on back because she had some jerry cans in the barn I could fill up from. Maybe it was the heat, or the fatigue, or the unlikely composition of the circumstances, but I do believe I would have split a cord of wood for another one of those smiles. I left her with a wave and headed to Dyer where I filled up both tanks and grabbed some junk food.

Dyer is a postcard town in a long, wide and green area called Fish Valley. Absolutely a stunning eyeful of world. The longer I stayed in Nevada the more I'd come to appreciate the range of beauty found there. The weather was perfect, warm but not stifling, and deep blue skies. After a bit of conversation with the store owner, who is as friendly a gal as you could hope to meet, I pushed on to the only open route to California - Hwy. 6. The route to Hwy. 6 allowed me to travel quite a bit of Fish Valley and left me with some memorable mental images of a place I would like to travel through again.

Hwy. 6 has the ubiquitous "State line" casino so I rolled in and had lunch. I must have looked pretty scruffy because I was getting that recognizable show me the money look so I pulled a twenty out and ordered a beer and service got better immediately. It had been my intention to drop into Bishop, CA which is my personal gateway to the California Sierra's, but it was well out of the way. A shorter route to Bridgeport would to be through Bentson, but to hell with that, I was after adventure and memories. I took the long way and went into Bishop where I bought gas and had a long look around. More years ago than I care to count I used to come through here to go fishing and hunting. The place where I broke down a split rim and fixed a flat doesn't look any different since I was there. We were bombing Vietnam at the time.

Hwy. 395 north from Bishop is another gorgeous ride. I'd driven it many times in cars, trucks, vans, and even flew over it in a Piper Cherokee, but this was my first time on two wheels. The view from the seat of a Harley is even better than from the Piper. After hitting some light to moderate rain I finally pulled into Bridgeport and made some phone calls to hook up with by big bro. But since this is getting a bit long, I'll pick it up in another post.

...continue to part 2


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