Spring 2015 Motorcycle Trip: Santa Fe, NM, to Sacramento, CA

Total miles: A little over 3000

[ Note: Clicking on most images below will open larger photo in new window. ]

Day 1

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

My wife Eileen left early in the morning, driving to the Santa Fe airport to catch her flight. She opted to travel to Florida to visit friends in her old neighborhood rather than join me in traveling to California, where she finds the traffic intimidating.

About 8:30 AM I fired up my GMC Terrain and drove our little dog Brie with all her stuff to the veterinary clinic where she would board for the next week. Eileen would pick Brie up on her return, as I would be traveling for a few more days than she.

This was the first long trip I took on my new 2014 Harley-Davidson Dyna Switchback, purchased in September. On my return to the house, the bike was ready to go, everything having been packed and organized the day before. I locked the place up and headed out. First stop: El Parasol on Dinosaur Trail Road in Santa Fe for a third cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast burrito.

The plan for this first day was to ride to New River, Arizona, where I would visit my Northville High School classmate Jack W. Boyd and his wife Denise. I hadn't seen Jack for over fifty years, since our high-school graduation in Michigan in 1962. I had succeeded in locating him during a search for missing classmates about three years ago in preparation for our fifty-year reunion by virtue of his authorship of a novel that was listed on Amazon.com. He had since published three other books, two additional novels. I've read all three of his books and liked them a lot. Jack also recently sent me a new book containing his lifelong collection of poems, of which I've read a few. Jack and Denise appeared to be looking forward to my visit and had kindly offered to put me up for the night. The plan for the day's ride was ambitious, however, with highway distance from Santa Fe to New River calculated by Google Maps as about 500 miles, about seven hours driving time.

Along the way, I made a quick stop at the Cycle Gear store in Albuquerque to purchase a Xena disk-lock alarm with a 7mm pin that would fit the brake rotors on my 2014 Dyna Switchback. Although the Harley-Davidson security system had been installed on the bike at the time of purchase, I thought a little extra security wouldn't hurt when parking at motels along the way. Then I headed west from Albuquerque on Interstate 40 toward Arizona.

My first adventure occurred shortly thereafter. I had a pretty good idea of the reserve capacity of the gas tank on the Switchback, having run it to empty a week or so earlier and compared the actual mileage to that displayed by the on-board computer. There was good agreement. I thought about carrying an extra gallon can of gas in one of my saddlebags, but during packing I decided I needed the space for other items. So, having started from Santa Fe with about three quarters of a tank of gas, on leaving Albuquerque the computer showed about 70 miles remaining -- enough, I thought, to assure I would not have a problem finding a place to fill up along Interstate 40 between Albuquerque and Grants, NM, a distance of about 80 miles. As I passed the Route 66 Casino, with its gas station, about 25 miles out I felt confident I had enough gas to make it to the next station. I was riding into the wind, however, and the computer calculation of miles remaining was dropping faster than anticipated. Plus, I wasn't seeing any other gas stations. Finally, twenty miles or so beyond the Route 66 Casino, I began to worry that I would run out. Shortly after that, I saw what looked like a small town a ways off to the left of the interstate. Although there was no sign indicating available gasoline, I got off at the next exit and headed in that direction, hoping to find some in the town. A few miles down the road, I saw what looked like a cafe and gas station along the road, but then I noticed a group of movie trucks around the cafe and decided it wasn't really an operating station, just part of a movie set.

I continued a couple more miles into the small town. There were no gas stations, but eventually, on my left, I saw a fire station. Hoping they would have some gas, I pulled in, only to be confronted by a security guard. When I told her I was looking for gasoline, she told me this was also a movie set, but there might be some gas. She would call someone else who might be able to help. Another woman came out and said, yes, she had a can of about five gallons of gas for the generator of the canteen, but she could let me have a gallon or two. I poured a gallon or a bit more into my tank, paid her the three dollars we agreed on, then headed back out ot the interstate. The bike was running very poorly, with a lot of hesitation and backfires, but when I got up to speed on the interstate it seemed to be better behaved.

My gasoline savior:

A few miles farther west I saw an interchange where I thought there might be gas and got off the interstate. Still no gas, but I followed the direction signs toward Grants to the west. Eventually a working gas station appeared. It must have been in the vicinity of the Laguna Pueblo, and I was able to fill the tank with premium fuel. When I went to start the engine, however, it refused to start on the first few tries. Finally it fired up but was coughing and popping and running very poorly. I revved the engine a bit, and it seemed to get better. Heading back out onto Interstate 40, once I got to highway speed, the engine smoothed out and ran well. Don't know what was in the gas from the movie company, but it must have either been contaminated by water or contained fuel of such poor quality that my dyno-tuned Harley engine didn't like it. I resolved never to let the tank get so low again. For the rest of my trip I resigned myself to more fueling stops, filling up at every opportunity when the computer indicated less than seventy miles remaining. Traveling recently, it is amazing to me how many small gasoline stations have closed, are boarded up, overgrown with grass, pumps removed. So many small "mom and pop" stations that used to service travelers along the route of former US Route 66 have closed, and travelers are now dependent on newer, more corporate fueling stations, usually separated by much greater distances.

Riding past Gallup, New Mexico, and on into Arizona on Interstate 40 was uneventful. But approaching Winslow, Arizona, I had decided to take a bit of a bypass down Arizona Route 87, a two-lane, and then Arizona 260 to Camp Verde, likely a more scenic route than proceeding along I-40 to I-17 south toward New River, which I perceived to be a northern suburb of Phoenix. I recalled riding Arizona 260 once before, on a trip to California, although on that occasion I had approached through the high country from Payson. There was some confusion in Winslow which led to retracing a few miles on Interstate 40, then realizing Arizona 87 south was accessible from the town. Eventually, I filled my gas tank in Winslow and headed down the two-lane.

Time was, unfortunately, moving faster than anticipated. Arizona 87 was a beautiful road through wooded national forest land, but as darkness fell I had to ride a bit more slowly, wary that large animals tend to come out at dusk, although I didn't encounter any. By the time I reached Camp Verde and rejoined the interstate at I-17 headed south, the highway was shrouded in darkness. Nonetheless, I proceeded to New River, about 60 miles, arriving some time after eight o'clock in the evening. I had called ahead to my friends on my cell phone from Winslow. Denise answered and offered to provided directions to their house. But I told her I had their address and the navigation on Google Maps, which I could play via Bluetooth from my iPhone through the headphones in my Nolan helmet, would likely guide me.

New River turned out to be quite a rural town, not the developed Phoenix suburb I had anticipated. There was, apparently, only one business of any significance -- the Roadrunner, a restaurant and biker bar that I encountered shortly after exiting from the interstate. Google Maps directed me down the road past the Roadrunner, and eventually onto a series of increasingly primitive dirt roads, at one point through a significant mudhole, the result of recent rainstorms, and eventually to what appeared to be a dead end. I backtracked a bit, without much luck at resolving my confusion, and eventually stopped and called my friends again on my cell phone. There was, fortunately, AT&T service even beyond the mudhole. Denise answered and told me others had encountered similar problems with Google Maps. The program apparently anticipated a road that didn't actually exist, and was sending visitors on a roundabout route that was not successful at accessing their neighborhood. Denise said she would send Jack down in his car to meet me at the Roadrunner, if I could remember how to get back there, and he would lead me to their home. I did succeed in meeting Jack at the Roadrunner, and he led me up a series of gravel roads and one very steep hill to their house, which turned out to be about halfway up the side of a mountain.

It was a good visit. Denise had saved some cold cuts, and we ate and talked for two hours. After a good night's sleep, Jack cooked a delicious breakfast, and we sat and talked for another three hours or so in the morning. It was great seeing them and renewing acquaintance. After a stint in the Peace Corps, Jack had worked for many years for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Phoenix. His first two novels, although fiction, drew from that experience. I enjoyed reading them. Entitled Mary Alice Roanhorse and Made of My Father, the latter a sequel to the first, you can find them on Amazon.com. (Link)

Day 2

Thursday, March 26, 2015

I had planned a much easier ride for Day 2, and leaving New River at about eleven o'clock in the morning provided plenty of time for a leisurely ride to Kingman, AZ, my destination for the next evening. The gravel roads and the steep downhill section from Jack's house back to the Roadrunner were a bit daunting, but the Switchback and I managed to navigate them without incident. My route took me north on I-17 from New River to Arizona Route 69, which I followed north to Prescott Valley. Then via Arizona Route 89A north through Jerome, Cottonwood, and Sedona back to Interstate 40 near Flagstaff. The planned route was about 280 miles, according to Google Maps a five hour drive. A slight error near Prescott Valley resulted in a missed turn and diversion into Prescott itself, but knowing the direction I wanted to go, the problem was rapidly corrected. Meanwhile, I had noticed that one of the LED road lights that I had installed on the front of my Switchback had gone dead. In Prescott I found a Home Depot store where I could purchase a few items including an inexpensive VOM meter that would, hopefully, let me diagnose and correct the problem. The VOM indicated that the lamp was still receiving voltage, so the problem was likely a defect in the lamp and not some problem in the circuit.

There were two main reasons for taking the rather indirect route to Kingman through Jerome and approaching Flagstaff. One was to ride through Jerome, a historic and scenic mining town, perched on a hillside, through which I had ridden a few years earlier on my BMW K1800LT enroute from Santa Fe to Southern California for a business meeting. I hoped to get some photographs of Jerome. Unfortunately, the terrain is not especially conducive to photography from the streets and highways. Likely the best shots of Jerome, in its steep hillside location, are obtained from airplanes. Nonetheless, it is a fun ride, especially the winding mountain roadway of 89A approaching Jerome from the south. The other reason was to visit Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson in Bellemont, AZ, west of Flagstaff on I-40, where they usually have a good collection of long-sleeved Harley T-shirts, although I didn't find one I liked on this visit.

Pulling into Kingman about seven o'clock in the evening, I rode around a bit looking for an interesting place to stay for the night, then settled on the Travelodge Motel on Andy Devine Boulevard near the Interstate, where I had stayed on many previous occasions. Once connected to the WiFi at the Travelodge, I looked up superbrightleds.com on my browser and ordered a replacement for the defective LED road lamp to be shipped to my daughter's address in California for arrival the next Monday. Denny's restaurant next door to the motel provided a good meal for the evening and great entertainment watching the local characters who came there to eat, an experience that prompted me to comment on my Facebook page that Denny's is the "Walmart of restaurants."

Day 3

Friday, March 27, 2015

Wary of the possibility of late-March snowstorms, I had planned to follow a southern route, even thought my eventual destination was the Sacramento area in Northern California. The weather in the high country around Flagstaff, Arizona, had cooperated with no snow on the roads and a high temperature in the low sixties for a comfortable ride. My next destination after Kingman was Death Valley. I had planned ahead a few months earlier and booked a room for Friday and Saturday nights at the Furnace Creek Ranch resort there. En route, I could follow some interesting roads and, for the most part, stay off the interstate highways.

Early Friday morning I walked across Andy Devine Boulevard to the McDonald's restaurant for my favorite McBreakfast, a Sausage Biscuit with Egg. I then packed up the bike and set out toward the highway. My first stop, however, was Mother Road Harley-Davidson, just a mile from the Travelodge down the I-40 access road, where I again browsed for interesting T-shirts, and again with no luck finding one I liked. I'm pretty picky about designs, since I already have quite a large collection. I'm partial to shirts with wolves on them. They used to be easy to find, but more recently Harley-Davidson seems to favor other designs. I don't like skulls; perhaps I'm overly superstitious about those. And girly designs would get me into trouble with my wife, I think. Eagles and bike stuff are OK. I'm not very fond of cartoons. The Mother Road and Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson dealer designs on the back are usually interesting.

It's a short hop west on I-40 from Kingman, about five miles, to the exit for Shinarump Drive. Once off the interstate, an almost immediate right turn put me on the Oatman Highway, one of the few remaining extended sections of original Route 66 from the 1920's. I had ridden the Oatman Highway once before on a motorcycle and driven it once hauling a rather large motorcycle trailer with my previous SUV, a 2002 GMC Envoy. On both those trips, I had taken few photographs. It's a slow, winding, two-lane road over the Sitgreaves Pass through the Black Mountains, with interesting scenery, many switchbacks, and deep drop-offs adjacent to the roadway with few guardrails. The first ten miles after the turn from Shinarump Drive is a straight desert highway. Just before the road entered the mountains, I stopped to install my Action Pro video cam on top of my Nolan helmet and tested the camera to be sure videos were recording properly so that this time I could record the twelve mile trip over the pass to Oatman via the old highway for posterity. Readers can link to the video here on YouTube, or alternatively here on Facebook. (For best video, click the HD selection if you have a fast internet connection.)

Old US Route 66 approaching Sitgreaves Pass

Click on image above to play YouTube video.

After passing the old mining town of Oatman, noted for its friendly wild burros roaming the main street, I continued west, following the north fork of the road toward Bullhead City. At the north end of Bullhead City, I turned left and crossed the bridge over the Colorado River to Laughlin, Nevada, then continued immediately straight on Nevada Highway 163 to US Highway 95 north. At Searchlight, NV, about 19 miles north from the junction with US 95, I turned west on Nevada Highway 64, a scenic two-lane which becomes the Nipton Road at the California state line, about 19 miles west. I continued on Nipton Road another twelve miles to the junction with I-15, the main route through the Mojave Desert linking Los Angeles and Las Vegas, NV. The most striking view from the Nipton Road is the Ivanpah solar generating plant, located adjacent to I-15 and visible for quite a distance during the approach to the town of Nipton and afterward. Ivanpah is a unique, at this time, experiment in solar generation. You can read about it by clicking this link.

Ivanpah Solar Generating Site as seen when headed west on Nipton Road:

My route to Death Valley then took me about 40 miles down I-15 to the west, the most frantic and least interesting section of the day's ride, to exit at the town of Baker, CA, after which ensued a 113-mile ride on two-lane roads through scenic desert lands, California Highway 127 north to the town of Amargosa, then California Highway 190 west to Furnace Creek in the national park.

Approach to Death Valley:

I pulled into the registration lot at the Furnace Creek Ranch in late afternoon and shut down the engine of the Switchback with the Love-Jugs cooling fans I had installed prior to my trip howling, which attracted some attention from non-motorcycle types strolling the area. Distance for the day had been about 300 miles. My accommodation for the next two nights was one of the comfortable duplex cabins with parking conveniently located just to the right of the registration lobby and an easy walk to the little plaza with outdoor entertainment, a gift shop, and restaurants.

Entrance and restaurant/shop plaza at Furnace Creek Ranch

View of historic Furnace Creek Inn from Furnace Creek Ranch

My cabin at Furnace Creek Ranch

Comfortable cabin accommodation at Furnace Creek

Day 4

Saturday, March 28, 2015

After a healthy buffet breakfast of eggs, sausage, and biscuit, I made a quick ride back along CA 190 on which I had entered the part to Zabriskie Point and walked the short uphill path to the observation point taking photographs. Unfortunately, the desert bloom I had hoped to see during my visit this last week of March, usually the best time of year for wildflowers in Death Valley, was virtually nonexistent, doubtless a symptom of the severe drought conditions affecting California and the West. My only previous visit to Death Valley had been about the same time of year in the late 1990s when I had ridden my 1993 Kawasaki Concours for a day trip from Victorville, where I had traveled for business meetings with a client. I don't remember the exact year, but it was one of the wettest in history in California, and the display in Death Valley that year was touted as a "100-year bloom." THe pretty blankets of small colored blossoms coating the desert floor that year were markedly different from what I found on this year's visit. Somewhat disappointing to say the least.

Panoramas at Zabriskie Point

From Zabriskie Point I rode back past the historic Furnace Creek Inn to the gas station just beyond my cabin at Furnace Creek Ranch, fueled up the bike, and headed north on CA 190 through the valley, Scotty's Castle, about 50 miles away to the north, my destination for a visit. Along the way I rode a loop around Daylight Pass Road and Beatty Road, just for fun, then northward on the long road to Scotty's. Sweeping views of mountains and the valley are beautiful along this route, but become a bit boring considering the distances, which tempted me to push the speed limits a bit, especially on the return trip to Furnace Creek. At Scotty's Castle I parked in the shade under some trees with a group of BMW motorcycles and hiked the property including the hill to Scotty's gravesite, taking photographs, but demurring on the organized tour of the buildings. The tours were popular and I would have had to wait at least two hours to get a spot in one, so in the interest of a timely return to the Ranch for dinner, I decided to content myself with the exteriors. I hadn't seen Scotty's Castle on my earlier visit. The residence has an interesting history, well covered by the book that I picked up in the gift shop about the character associated with building the unfinished mansion, Death Valley Scotty by Hank Johnston.

Scotty's Castle

View of Scotty's Castle from Windy Point

Gravesite of Scotty and his dog Windy on Windy Point

Memorial to Scotty (Walter Scott) on Windy Point

Tower at Scotty's Castle

Courtyard at Scotty's Castle

For dinner, back at the Ranch, I found the saloon for a cocktail, a good draft beer, and a steak, then listened to music in the plaza and browsed the gift shop one more time. Checking the weather reports on my computer before turning in for the night, I decided that snow would not be a problem in the Lake Tahoe area. So with an early start on Sunday morning I would ride CA 190 north and west to Lone Pine, then follow US 395 north and eventually US 50 through the Sierra Nevada from South Tahoe and west to the Sacramento area. The distance from Furnace Creek to Sacramento is about 500 miles, so a pretty long day.

Day 5

Sunday, March 29, 2015

After another delicious buffet breakfast, I packed up the bike and hit the road about nine in the morning. California Highway 190 heading westward and out of the national park is a fun motorcycle road, with sweeping curves, long vistas, and a few twisty sections. For a distance I followed two other riders on Harleys, one of which appeared to be a black Switchback, similar to my bike. We pulled out at a viewpoint where there was a large group of other riders, and the rest allowed for some lively conversation. Of the two I had been following, the lady was riding the 2012 Switchback with, she said, about 50,000 miles on the odometer. Her husband was riding a Harley Ultra Classic Electraglide similar to my other bike. They were headed home to Los Angeles. A number of other riders in the group were from towns closer to Death Valley.

I stopped for gas in Lone Pine. Another rider, Mike, struck up a conversation at the station. I mentioned my plan to ride north and most likely, assuming the pass was open as I expected, to leave US 395 at California Highway 89 and ride over the Monitor Pass into Markleeville before continuing on to US 50 in South Tahoe. Mike was headed south, but we both knew of the old saloon in Markleeville that I had visited years before during a ride to Tahoe from the San Francisco Bay Area. It was famous for its funky atmosphere and items of female undergarments festively hung from the ceilings. Before leaving Lone Pine, I rode down one of the little residential side streets and snapped some photos of Mount Whitney, with an elevation of 14,505 feet the highest point in the contiguous United States, with my large Sony camera with the 50x optical Zeiss zoom lens. Amazingly, Death Valley, with a low point of 282 feet below sea level, the lowest point in North America, and this high point are separated by only about 85 miles.

Mt. Whitney from the town of Lone Pine, CA:

The ride up US 395 is very scenic. This time of year, most of the passes through the Sierra Nevada to California's central valley are normally still closed to traffic due to residual snow. The Monitor Pass and other passes near Lake Tahoe, however, were open. I stopped at the overlook on the upgrade just north of Mono Lake for photographs, then stopped in the town of Bridgeport for gas. An especially pretty section of US 395 is the stretch from Walker to Topaz, where the road follows the West Walker River, a babbling stream flowing through a deep valley in many spots. California Highway 89 over Monitor Pass is a great motorcycle road with twisty sections alternating with occasional fast straightaways. Ominous clouds to the south seemed to be threatening rain as I road through the pass, but nary a drop was felt.

Panorama of Mono Lake from US 395 overlook

Mono Lake from US 395 overlook

West Walker River along US 395

Arriving in Markleeville, I recognized the building in which I remembered the old saloon to be and parked the bike in front. The town looked much different than I remembered it from the 1990s however, much more upscale. When I entered the building, I discovered that it was no longer the funky saloon that I remembered, but the bar of a classy restaurant that now occupied the rear portions of the building. There were no longer ladies undergarments adorning the ceiling, but the beer was good, and a number of other patrons made interesting conversation. After downing my pint, I returned to the bike to continue my ride. About that time, a group of riders on BMW's pulled up and parked. Conversing with several of them, I mentioned my plan to ride US 50 into the Sacramento area. One of the riders suggested, this being Sunday evening, there would be a lot of traffic on US 50 headed west from the Tahoe area. He suggested I take CA 88 instead. I agreed. It was a nice ride past Caples Lake and Kirkwood Ski Area down to Pine Grove without much traffic, but slower -- well, maybe not considering the US 50 traffic -- anyway, pushed back my arrival at my daughter's house by an hour or more from what I had expected. It was almost dark when I arrived.

Days 6 - 12

Monday, March 29, through Sunday, April 5, 2015

Parked my bike in the garage and spent the week with my two grandchildren, Eva, 9, and Leo, 6. This was their week off from school for spring break. Their parents had to work most days, so I was the sitter, chauffeuring the kids, picking them up from nature camp by the American River. One car, the Toyota minivan, was available for my use, since my son-in-law Boris rides either a bicycle or his 1991 Honda ST1300 about 12 miles to work each day. My daughter was off work for a couple of days at the end of the week. We went to Auburn for lunch and a hike along the American River, and on another day we went to downtown Sacramento and toured the California State Capitol building. On Saturday, Boris joined us for another hike in an area off Foresthill Road east of Auburn where we hiked a mile or more downhill on a trail to Lake Clementine, on the American River, then back up. Good exercise. This week also gave me a chance to meet Daisy, their five-month-old Golden Doodle puppy, now a formidable 40 lbs. and still growing. Daisy is lively, but a sweetheart. I love dogs.

Lunch at the Alehouse in Auburn, CA

American River near Auburn

Hiking on the trail along American River

Daisy at five months: love this golden doodle puppy!

California State capitol building in Sacramento

Schwarzenegger bear in California capitol building

Bagels for lunch at Lake Clementine

Hiking uphill, overlooking Lake Clemintine

Meanwhile, I replaced the defunct LED light on the front of my bike and also did some handyman work around their house, installing a ceiling light fixture in one bedroom and looking into some other electrical circuit problems in the kitchen that I wasn't quite so successful in fixing.

Day 13

Monday, April 6, 2015

Bike packed up and ready to go

On the road again. I set out about 9AM and rode California Route 99 all the way from Sacramento to Bakersfield, then CA 58 up over the hill at Tehachapi, past Mohave. Made the right turn on US 395 at Kramer Junction, and arrived at the Travelodge motel just off Bear Valley Road in Victorville about dinner time. Not much of interest on this ride, but I always enjoy the sweepers on CA 58 going over the Tehachapi Pass.

I walked about two blocks, across Bear Valley Road, and found the Whiskey Barrel Restaurant and Saloon for dinner. It's basically a big open sports bar. But it was the NCAA basketball finals night, so lively. Coctails and beer were good, very attentive waitress, and one of the best New York strip steaks I've ever had. My daughter's alma mater, Wisconsin, unfortunately lost the game.

Day 14

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My plan for this day was to ride to Phoenix, Arizona, then drop in on some other former high-school friends from Northville, Jim Wharton and his wife Carol (née Simon). I didn't know how long it would take, and didn't know for sure if I would find them at home, not having alerted them to my intentions. But surprising old friends is half the fun of riding around America.

From Victorville I avoided the hectic traffic on the interstates, I-15 and I-10 through San Bernardino, Palm Springs, and Palm Desert, instead following the two-lanes east. Bear Valley Road east to CA 18, then CA 247 to Yucca Valley, and CA 62 through Twenty-Nine Palms across the Mojave Desert and crossing the Colorado River and into Arizona at Parker. It's a peaceful ride, beautiful desert scenery, and virtually zero traffic. From Parker, I rode AZ 95 and the 72, opting to turn south on the connector near US 60 and follow I-10 the rest of the way into Phoenix in order to arrive there on a reasonable schedule in late afternoon. I fought Phoenix rush-hour traffic for a while, but managed to show up on my friends' doorstep in Queen Creek, on the southeast side of Phoenix, about 5PM. Fortunately they were at home. Jim was surprised when he came to the door, but recognized me immediately. We sat and had a beer, talked, and reminisced for a couple of hours. Carol is an artist. Jim is a former GM marketing executive turned author, now having written and self-published several novels in the science fiction genre. I managed to read one of them, The Destiny Project, on my Kindle for Macintosh before arriving for my visit.

Demurring on an invitation from Carol and Jim to spend the night at their place, I left just about dusk to ride to Apache Junction where I found accomodations at the Best Western Inn for the night. I wanted to get an early start the next morning in order to arrive back home in Santa Fe by dinnertime, and I thought staying the night in Apache Juction would allow me to avoid the rush-hour traffic in the morning, which it did. The Best Western was virtually deserted. Off season compared to spring-training time according to the desk clerk. He gave me a room right next to the lobby and suggested I leave my motorcycle parked by a rail fence in the check-in area just opposite the lobby where the staff would keep and eye on it all night.

Apache Junction is a very dark place at night. I walked across the road from my hotel and found Cobb's Restaurant & Lounge, a little family restaurant with a bar and a lot of characters dining there. Again, I ordered the New York cut steak. In this case it was a very thin steak, served with mashed potatoes, gravy, and vegetables. Delicious, and reasonably dietetic, which at this point in my journey was to be desired since I had probably already gained my typical five pounds or more from eating out while traveling. Walking a bit after dinner, I found several other small bars and restaurants that looked interesting in that neighborhood on the east end of Apache Junction. They were all very dark and unassuming, however. No bright lights or signs to draw much attention, although likely familiar to locals.

Day 15

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Up early in the morning, I rode from Apache Junction east on US 60 about 50 miles to Globe, Arizona, a mining town, where I stopped at McDonald's for my favorite breakfast. I then headed north, again on US 60, toward the Fort Apache indian reservation. This is a fantastic scenic two-lane, and one of my favorite rides, especially the area spanning the Salt River Canyon, a deep gorge with switchbacks down the rim to the bridge across the river. I mounted my Action Pro camera on my helmet before leaving McDonald's, and shot video while riding through the canyon.

Cattle grazing on vertical mining pasture near Globe, AZ

Click on image above to play Salr River Canyon video.

After that I rode north, taking the AZ 73 cutoff through White River, still on the Apache reservation, and then AZ 260 east to Eagar and Springerville where it reconnects with US 60 for the ride into New Mexico. Most of this route, especially on AZ 260, is beautiful woodland, then the road opens up into broad meadows and panoramic vistas on the descent into Eager. The Sunrise Park ski area is prominently visible in the right after leaving the forest. I fueled the bike in Eagar before heading east on US 60 into New Mexico.

Sunrise Park ski area

Sunrise Park

US 60 in western New Mexico is a rather open and desolate highway with a smattering of tiny towns, notably Quemado, Pie Town, and Magdalena along the way. It is well paved, with sections that pass through woodlands where caution in case of roving animals is prudent interposed with long open straight runs through open prarie where visibility permits one to ride relatively safely at higher speeds than law would allow. There is virtually no traffic, and no noticeable law enforcement. A few miles before entering Magdalena, the road passes through the VLA (Very Large Array) radio-telescope installation, a rather spooky appearance with its movable large parabolic antennas and a popular tourist attraction. I had intended to record video and many still shots on this stretch with my Action Pro helmet cam, but unfortunately had inadvertently apparently turned off its power. So no photos were obtained.

As I slowed down approaching Magdalena after riding a stretch at high speed after passing the VLA, I sensed the rear of the Switchback wandering a bit, and pulling off the road into an abandoned gas station discovered that I had, on the rear, a completely flat tire. I connected my portable air pump and plugged it into the Powerlet connector from my battery, but could not get the tire to reinflate. Looking ahead about two blocks, I could see the only working gas station in Magdalena on the left. I decided to walk the bike, straddling the saddle and slipping the clutch in first gear, to the station in order to use the stronger air pump there -- fortunately they had one -- to attempt to inflate the tire and see if I could detect the leak. I did find one near the right shoulder of the tire, and I pulled out my tire plug kit and managed to educate myself regarding how to insert a plug in the puncture. Once that was done, I again attempted to inflate the tire, but detected another leak in about the same position at a distance around the tire. Another plug was inserted, and attempting to inflate again failed. There was a third leak. Plugging that one resulted in no improvement. I finally gave up trying to patch the tire. It had been about five o'clock in the afternoon when I first discovered the flat. It was now close to 7PM and beginning to get dark. My AT&T cell phone had no service in Magdalena. I had been expecting to reach home in Santa Fe where my wife Eileen was planning to prepare a welcome-home dinner about seven, but had borrowed a phone from the station attendant and called her telling her of my problem. Having decided the tire situation was hopeless, my next quest was to find accommodation for the night, then dinner, then arrange a tow to the nearest Harley-Davidson dealer in the morning for a tire replacement.

There was a small motel just across the street from the gas station, but it appeared to be deserted. No action in the lobby, a "No Vacancy" sign posted, and only a couple of vehicles in the lot. Walking a bit further down the main street, on the other site, I found the High Country Lodge, which appeared to be a working motel, although of ancient vintage. The lady desk clerk, one of the owners I think, arrived at the lobby to greet me. There were plenty of rooms available and I took one for the night with cash payment of $55. The lady let me borrow her cell phone to call Eileen and tell her what was happening. Fortunately, the High Country Lodge also had WiFi, so there was hope of summoning help in the morning via my MacBook computer.

After checking in, I walked back to the gas station, then walked my bike the two blocks to the motel, again straddling the seat and slipping the clutch in first gear. Two other bikers, one riding a BMW and the other a Ducati, had also checked in when I returned and were unloading into the room next to mine. We had all been informed that the only place to get a bite to eat in town was the saloon, where we could get pizza pie, about two blocks down the road opposite the gas station. We gathered there for beers and pizza and had good time talking. These two were Englishmen, one now living and working in LA for a bond-trading company, and the other living in Bucharest, Rumania, a moviemaker, who was visiting his friend in the US. They had decided to take an adventure ride and were en route from Los Angeles to New Orleans. About 11PM we all returned to the motel and retired for the evening. I got on my computer, connected to the WiFi, and figure out how to rig Skype to make calls to telephones, then called Eileen to discuss the situation with her before going to sleep. I was disappointed not to have gotten home. This day had been an adventure, but the latter part of it one I had definitely not planned.

Day 16

Thursday, April 9, 2015

First thing in the morning, I used Skype on my computer to place a digital call to the Harley-Davidson HOG Club roadside assistance line. The lady who answered the phone took all my information, then put me on hold for a few minutes, and when reconnected told me she had located a tow company that would send a truck to pick me up with my bike, scheduled arrival time abut 10AM. The nearest Harley-Davidson dealer was Duke City Harley-Davidson in Albuquerque, about 75 miles away. There was likely no shop that could sell or mount an appropriate tire on my Harley-Davidson any closer than that. The agent on the telephone, who happened to work for Road America, the contractor HOG uses to arrange roadside assistance, told me the insurance included in my HOG membership would cover $100, but the estimated towing charge was $430, so I would be responsible for $330. I winced, but consented. What choice did I have?

With about an hour and a half until scheduled arrival of my tow, I took a quick shower, packed up all my bags, then walked down the main street to look for a place for breakfast. I had seen a restaurant adjacent to the motel the night before, but it was closed. A couple blocks further, past the saloon where I had eaten the night before, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing down a little side street that advertised a restaurant with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. About a half block off the main street, I found this nice little cafe, the Magdalena Cafe at 109 Main St, possibly the only working restaurant in Magdalena, sat down in a booth and ordered breakfast. There was only one other patron in the place, in the booth next to mine, and he moved around the table to position himself for conversation. He was an avid talker, and began telling me tales of his life, having, he said, been born and grown up in Southern California, but recently returned to New Mexico where his ancestors had been ranchers in the Magdalena area. He said he had inherited a large ranch, but there was a problem with unpaid taxes. Then he began telling stories about the wild west, and outlaws, and such, much of which I suspected may have been fabricated. About the time I finished eating my breakfast, the manager of the motel showed up to tell me the tow driver had arrived with his truck. He was about half an hour earlier than I had been told to expect him. The motel manager and his wife gave me a ride back to the motel. They apparently had had no problem finding me. There was only one place in town I could possibly go for breakfast.

Back at the motel, John, the tow driver from AMJ Towing in Socorro, NM, told me he had another job, but had cut that short and dropped the vehicle in Socorro, realizing he could pick me up with my bike, then retrieve that car that he had to tow to Los Lunas, and kill two birds with one stone. John was extremely competent, helped me load the bike on the flatbed truck and tied it down securely, then drove me to Duke City Harley, picking up and dropping off the other vehicle along the way. We had a lively conversation in his truck as we made the trip.

I had called ahead to Duke City Harley-Davidson to make sure they had a tire to fit the rear of my bike. But after arriving around noontime, the service manager discovered that their inventory record on the computer was in error. Fortunately they were able to obtain a tire from their sister dealership, Thunderbird Harley-Davidson, across town but still in Albuquerque. Inspection of the flat tire after removal revealed that it had suffered a puncture in the middle of the tread that I had not found the night before. Unlike most instances, whatever sharp object had punctured the tire on the road to Magdalena had completely departed, and thus the tire had lost pressure almost immediately rather than still holding air and losing pressure slowly. Consequently, as I rode on the flat into Magdalena, the shoulder of the tire had been completely destroyed and had developed multiple leaks. In fact, I had noticed a distinct smell of burning rubber as I approached the town. So this scenario made sense. I cooled my heels, shopping for T-shirts, arranging my photos and videos on my computer, and finally about 4:30PM my bike was ready with a new rear tire, at a cost of another $300 dollars or so. Altogether, with the motel, the tow, the tire, and labor for mounting, this adventure had cost me about $700. I rode home to Santa Fe at last, arriving about 7PM, in time for Eileen to cook me that special dinner she had been saving from the previous evening. It was good to be home.

The End