Motorcycle Trip, 2004

I should have written the account of this trip earlier. It has been 4-1/2 years, and a few of the details are hazy in my memory or were not sufficiently docmented. But I will recollect the course of events as accurately as I can, now, in February, 2009.

The press of work projects in early 2004 had caused me to delay my trip until late Summer. Finally, the projects under control, I set out on the '94 Harley in August to make it from Pleasanton, California, to Minneapolis, Minnesota, as quickly as possible and visit my daughter Elyse and her husband Boris. Packing for the trip had been a challenge. It took me an extra day to get my affairs in order and organize all the stuff I thought I needed for what I expected would be at least a two week trip, so I was already a day behind plan. Then, when I loaded up the bike the next morning, I went through the usual agony of realizing all the stuff was too much, so unpacking, discarding anything non-essential, repacking again until I arrived at a reasonable and well-organized load. I was employing a new packing method for this trip, having discarded the T-Bag that I had never found really satisfactory on the Harley, and installing a new high sissy bar that, with the passenger-friendly pillow pad removed, could serve as a strong support for attaching duffle bags, sleeping bag, tent, extra helmet, etc., both in front of the bar on the passenger saddle and behind on the sport luggage rack. This worked well, but far from my desire to set off at the crack of dawn, by the time I got packed and hit the road it was already afternoon. It must have been Sunday, August 15.

I rode out of the San Francisco Bay area over the Altamont Pass to California's Central Valley, then through Stockton, Jackson, and via California highway 88 into the Sierras, past Kirkwood ski area, over the Kit Carson pass, and south of Lake Tahoe down to US 395 in Nevada, then north to Carson City where I stopped at a small motel for the first night. About five hours of riding and I made just 200 miles this first day out.

Day 2. Setting out at 9AM after a quick breakfast at McDonald's, I decided to avoid riding through Reno and instead rode east out of Carson City via US highway 50 to Fallon, NV, where I turned northward and rode US highway 95 to Interstate 80, then east toward Utah. Nevada has some beautiful scenery amid long desolate stretches of straight highway that, on a motorcycle, can become pretty boring. So I was happy when, after several hours of riding, the salt flats of western Utah appeared as I crested this pass through the last of the Nevada hills.
Not wanting to repeat my error of the previous year when I fretted about the possibilitiy of running out of gas on the salt flats, I stopped in Wendover, on the Utah line, to fill the tank and have a bite for lunch. Then it was off across 100 miles of salt to Salt Lake City where, having covered 544 miles this day, I stopped for the night.
Day 3. An early start took me up the hill on Interstate 80 and east to Wyoming, following the route of the original Transcontinental Railroad but not stopping to dawdle as I did in 2002 when I was fascinated with the history, having just read Stephen Ambrose's history, Nothing Like It In The World.
I-80 took me east, enjoying the gentle Wyoming prairie terrain, to Laramie where I cut northward and rode Wyoming's two-lane highways through Wheatland, Guernsey, and Lusk, then on to Custer, South Dakota. It was several days after the big Sturgis motorcycle week rally, and a few Harley types were still lingering in Custer. Riding north, I stopped for a quick photo of the partially completed monument on Crazy Horse Mountain and arrived in Rapid City at dusk. Still hoping to make some time, I rode east on Interstate 90 after dark and finally gave it up about half past nine and found a room for the night in Wall, SD. Distance for this day was an aggressive 745 miles.
Day 4. Another long one, but not very exciting. I rode from Wall all the way to Minneapolis, a distance of 532 miles. I followed I-90 until I got to Worthington, MN, where I've found that heading diagonally up Minnesota route 60 through farm country to Mankato relieves somewhat the boredom of the interstate. Always overoptimistic, I had hoped to arrive in time for Wednesday night dinner. But I called ahead from Belle Plaine as the clock passed 7PM. I still had at least an hour to ride through Minneapolis traffic, and then, as usual, I got lost trying to find their house and one hour turned to something more than two, so Elyse and Boris saved me leftovers. Here's Boris in the dining room collecting presents for his birthday, August 21.
Day 5. Elyse had just completed the Motorcycle Safety Foundation course and got her own motorcycle license. Boris, a seasoned biker, had taught her how to ride a couple years prior to that, but now she was official, and the better for taking the MSF classes. Boris was currently riding his favorite, a silver 1992 Honda ST1100, although he also had a BMW GS1100 that he rode occasionally. In honor of becoming an official biker, he had recently purchased a pristine Honda 750 Nighthawk, equipped with a large luggage rack, for Elyse. Our plan for the follwoing weekend was to make a trip north in Minnesota to the Boundary Lakes area, on the Canadian border. Elyse liked to ride as passenger with Boris, but this would be her maiden journey riding her own motorcycle.
In preparation for the weekend journey, we did a practice ride Thursday evening. About 20 miles in the western suburbs of Minneapolis with a stop for dinner along the way.
Days 6, 7, and 8. Friday morning we set out in earnest for the north woods. Riding north on Interstate 35 from Minneapolis, the traffic was brutal. Apparently a lot of people headed out of town for the weekend, and not at all respectful of motorcycles. Lots of big pickup trucks and SUVs seemingly cutting as close to us as possible. Despite the dangers, we made it through Duluth, along the shore of Lake Superior to Grand Marais, about 260 miles north, and then 40 miles inland on the Gunflint Trail through the woods to our accommodations for the weekend at the Moosehorn Lodge on the north shore of Gunflint Lake, a pristine body of water that spans the US-Canadian border. Here are Elyse and Boris at lunch; we stopped at a friendly little cafe along the Lake Superior shore on the way north.

In the morning we rented a canoe, and the three of us paddled across the lake for breakfast at the Gunflint Lodge, a larger resort on the south shore. The canoe sat very low in the water, and we had to be careful not to rock it so we didn't get swamped. I thought I would know how to right the canoe if it did dump. But Boris swore this was virtually impossible. The water was cold, and this trip made me very nervous. But the breakfast was delicious and worth the risk.
It appears I don't have photos of the Moosehorn Lodge or many of our trip. I lost a few when the hard drive in my laptop crashed a couple years ago, or maybe I never took many because I knew Elyse was snapping away. Hopefully she will find a few to send me. In any case, one pleasant aspect of the road to the lodge along the west and north shores of Gunflint Lake was a bog where there grew lots of wild blueberries. A couple of hours of picking netted about a quart of these for consumption on the ride home. The plants were tiny, as were the berries, probably a function of harsh growing conditions. But they were so sweet! The sweetest berries I've ever tasted. Here are pictures of Elyse and Boris picking blueberries.
The weather in Minnesota in August 2004 was atypically cool. Temperatures in the 70s during the days and down into the 40s and 50s at night, and dry. Typically temperatures at that time of year in Minnesota would be in the 80s and 90s and the humidity very high. The riding was chilly; we had to bundle up!
Later Saturday we rode back the 40 miles to the north shore of Lake Superior as a side trip and went to visit this historic inn 14 miles north from Grand Marais on the north shore of Lake Superior that Elyse wanted to see, the Naniboujou Lodge.
Sunday we returned to Minneapolis. Elyse did great riding her own bike, and for part of the way back she and Boris traded bikes. She was able to handle the ST1100 as well with no problem. Then, for a while Boris and I traded bikes, and he got the feel of riding my Harley while I rode the ST1100, which I had ridden once before during our trip to the Grand Canyon in 2002.
Our only minor mishap occurred after we arrived back at Elyse and Boris's house in Minneapolis. After parking the bikes in the driveway and unloading our stuff, while I was in the house with Elyse, Boris decided to help out by walking my Harley into the garage and parking it next to his cherished ST1100. A few minutes later Boris and Elyse appeared with sheepish looks and very apologetically told me there was a problem. Unfortunately, Boris had walked the Harley from the right side and didn't notice that the sidestand had dragged and rotated back. When he sat the bike down it fell against his ST. Boris was worried he might have damaged my bike. I inspected the Harley carefully, and it appeared there was no damage at all. The ST1100, however, was not so lucky. The naked high sissy bar on my Harley had fallen against one of the side bags, chopping a substantial hole in the fiberglass. Boris was bummed. He determined the next day from the Honda dealer that a replacement bag would cost over $800. Fortunately, a couple weeks later Boris was able to find a repair specialist who patched the hole perfectly and painted to match for about $200.
Day 9. Elyse and Boris had to go back to work, and I headed off toward the Southwest -- south through Iowa, then southwest through Nebraska and Kansas farm country. Mostly, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas looked like this:
There was some comic relief however, as I spotted the water tower of one town in Nebraska. This was a long day -- over 800 miles -- riding until sometime after dark I ended up in Dodge City, Kansas. Smell of cattle all around, but I had got used to that after riding through Nebraska and Kansas. I found a good restaurant in an old-west style shopping plaza near my motel and had a great steak dinner.
I was riding toward Santa Fe, NM, because my daughter and her mother, Pam, my estranged wife of a number of years, had visited there for a week the previous spring and told me how much they loved that place. I decided to go visit and see for myself.

Day 10. After riding out of Dodge City, KS, (hopefully never to return) I passed through the northwest corner of the Oklahoma panhandle. Here are a few pictures from that part of my trip. I loved the beautiful horses, and stopped to watch them for a while. A ways farther down the road I stopped for gas and spied a roadside stand selling beef jerky. I bought a large bag. It was really good and kept me nourished for most of the afternoon.
When I first spied Black Mesa in the distance, I was so excited! It was the first significant topoligical feature I had seen on the horizon for hundreds of miles.
The border sign telling me I was leaving Oklahoma also got me excited. Not that Oklahoma isn't exciting... I just mean...
Along the Santa Fe Trail in New Mexico, a number of markers testify to the historic significance of this route, and also the rude disrespect for public property exhibited by some of our fellow citizens.

Riding into the Sangre de Cristo mountains of New Mexico produces multiple surprises, not least of which are the broad fields of sunflowers that light up New Mexico highway 58 between Interstate 25 and Cimarron.
I rode through several towns in a beautiful area of high meadows and ponds before arriving in Taos, where I wandered a bit before heading south toward Santa Fe. It proved to be a slow ride because US highway 285 on the approach to Santa Fe was under construction and traffic was stop-and-go for several miles.
I arrived in Santa Fe at dusk, hoping to quickly find a small motel with vacancy for the night. Unfortunately, the route into town from US highway 285 on the north led me to St. Francis drive, a busy commercial street but with absolutely no motels or hotels a far as I could see. So I wandered a bit until a spied a sign pointing to St. John's College, and figuring there would surely be accommodations in the vicinity of a college I rode that way. Again, no luck. St. John's sits in an up-scale residential area with no commercial enterprise nearby. Now, in the dark, I was totally lost and found myself riding a two-lane road, which I now know to be Old Santa Fe Trail, higher and higher out of town with vistas to my right where I could see the lights of the city becoming more distant. So I made a couple of right turns and ended up on a road that ran parallel to a freeway and took me back, I thought, toward town. I now know that this was Rodeo Road. Again, no motels. But after a few miles I started to see more commercial activity, and the road brought me to a large shopping center, where I eventually found myself turning onto Cerrillos Road, the main commercial artery running into Santa Fe from the south. After a bit more wandering, I found the Silver Saddle Inn, to which I was attracted by its brightly lit emblematic longhorn sign and its beautifully decorated southwestern style check-in lobby. It provided comfortable accommodations for two nights. I don't remember exactly where I found food that first night, but I think it was a carry out from one of the fast-food restaurants on Cerrillos that I took back to my room and munched as I settled in. The only difficulty for a biker at the Silver Saddle is that the parking lot is paved only with deep loose gravel that provided a challenge for maneuvering on the way in and out. I'm glad I had the Harley on this trip. I would never have stayed upright in that lot on the BMW.

Day 11. Between Taos and Santa Fe, a few miles east of the main highway, sits the town of Chimayo with its historic sacred sanctuary. I had heard about this place from my wife and daughter, who had visited the sanctuary during their visit the previous Spring and obtained some of the blessed dirt that is said to have miraculous healing powers. Having not had time to stop on my way from Taos to Santa Fe, this next morning I rode back northward to visit Chimayo. It's a pilgrimage that every visitor to Santa Fe should make, and many who reside here do frequently:
Back in Santa Fe itself, it was the height of the summer tourist season, but the historic plaza was green and serene. It was a sunny day. The temperature was in the low 90s. I parked my bike on San Francisco Street near the Cathedral and wandered around the shops bordering the Plaza for a couple of hours. Then I rode around a bit, checked out the Inn of the Turquoise Bear a few blocks up Old Santa Fe Trail from the Plaza, where my wife and daughter had stayed during their visit (and recommended highly), and managed to find Cerrillos Road and get back to the Silver Saddle in time to venture a bit farther to Tortilla Flats, at that time a rather unassuming Mexican restaurant on the opposite side of Cerrillos Road, where I found friendly staff and a delicious meal. The dining room was full and there were several parties waiting. But since I was alone, I took a seat at the counter next to the checkout counter at the entrance and was served dinner by the manager, an attractive hispanic lady who told me she had grown up in San Jose, California, but moved to New Mexico a few years before. She said California had become too expensive and congested, but she loved New Mexico and would stay here forever. All in all, a very pleasant dining experience.
Tortilla Flats still stands in the same location on Cerrillos Road, but the building was completely renovated a few years ago. It is now far fancier than the simple family restaurant it appeared to be during this, my first visit. But the staff is still friendly, the service excellent, and the food delicious. In my opinion, one of the best Mexican restaurants in Santa Fe.
Santa Fe, New Mexico, was definitely a unique and beautiful place, just as I had been told, and I hated to leave.


Day 12. I rode out of Santa Fe in the morning and took the road to Los Alamos, NM, because I wanted to see what that town looked like and also get a peek at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, site of creation of the first atomic weapons during the early 1940s and still an active center of nuclear as well a biological research. Los Alamos is quite different from Santa Fe -- none of that southwest-style adobe and faux-adobe architecture that is so consistent in Santa Fe and gives it so much charm. Los Alamos is in a mountainous, pine-wooded area. The business district is nondescript. And the houses in the residential areas appear to be comfortable, well-maintained, middle-class homes, but of typical suburban design you could find in virtually any upscale community in America, particularly in the East and Northeast. Almost as if aliens from somewhere in Maryland or Virginia had landed here one day and decided to set one of their communities down in these New Mexico hills on the edge of the Jemez Mountains to make themselves feel more at home.
On leaving Los Alamos, I wanted to ride to the Four Corners area where the states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet at a single point -- the only place in the United States where four states come together this way -- and I planned to do so via the little town of Cuba, NM. But rather than ride around the main route, New Mexico highway 4 through Jemez Springs to US highway 550, then north to Cuba, I saw a small road on my map, New Mexico highway 126, that cut across from highway 4 to Cuba looked like probably a good short cut that promised to decrease the riding distance to Cuba from 100 to about 70 miles. I got lost in Los Alamos trying to find the way out of town, but finally succeeded after an hour or two of wandering. There were not good signs.

Once out of town on highway 4 west, I found the turnoff for highway 126 and headed toward Cuba. But a few miles down this two-lane road the asphalt disappeared and the pavement became gravel. Not so bad, I thought. On the Harley I can handle it. In fact, I was getting good practice with a little slipping around, getting used to it, and whipping along at increasing speeds up to about 40 mph. Then I saw a sign, something like: "Caution. Narrow, Unpaved Mountain Road Ahead. Not Recommended for Large Vehicles." And I thought, well... Harley-Davidson... not a large vehicle. Just keep going. (NOTE: Do not make this mistake unless you are riding a GS or a dual sport motorcycle.)
Another four or five miles down the road the gravel disappeared and the pavement turned to dirt, which had become dust in the dry August New Mexico heat -- light, fluffy dust -- six to eight inches deep in spots. But there seemed to be solid material underneath, so I kept going, thinking, "How long can this last? It has to end soon." And, besides, it was easier to keep going through it than it would have been, probably, to stop and turn around. Also, as long as I kept going at a reasonable speed, 20 - 25 mph, the dust I kicked up stayed behind me and so was not getting sucked into my air cleaner. And there seemed to be no other traffic on this road, so I didn't have to worry about that complication. All of which was fine, until I started to have a tremendous desire to pee. I tried to ignore it, but it got worse, and finally I yielded to the urge, pulled to the side of the road and stopped, set the side stand down on the invisible surface below the dust, and stepped into the woods for relief.
Just as I was starting to feel good, I heard a noise. I looked up, and down the road came two gigantic 4x4 pickup trucks, each one hauling a montrous RV trailer, moving at about 40 mph as they passed, kicking up a tremendous cloud of dusty soil that trailed their path for hundreds of yards and gradually setted down on me and my bike, covering us with a fine light gray film. Couldn't get any worse. At that point, there was nothing to do but get on the bike and ride.
Another couple of miles and I came to a turnout at an overlook and decided to stop and regroup. As I stood there, up came a fellow riding a yellow Yamaha 650 Twin who was headed in the opposite direction. He stopped, and I asked him how far the road surface stayed like this in the direction from which he had come before it got back to some reasonable pavement. He said, "Only four or five miles, then you come to blacktop." Thank God, I thought. I took his picture, and we each headed off in our separate ways. As I started down the road, however, I realized I was now on hard gravel pavement. There was no more deep loose dust going in my direction, and I thought, "That poor guy! He has no idea what he's about to ride through."
A few miles on I cam to a T just after a 90-degree left bend in the road, and at my right was a sign with an arrow pointing rightward that said: Rte. 126. So I turned right. Still on gravel surface, I rode for several miles, but saw no more route signs for 126. Instead, I was seeing county road signs with a different number. I kept riding, however. And riding. And riding. At some point I realized I had made a mistake. I should have been at Cuba by now, and on blacktop. I was still riding on gravel, but I figured, "This road has to go somewhere." So I kept going --or about 50 miles. It was a beautiful road, through woods and farmland with every now and then an interesting little house or barn, and a few overlooks with distant views of red-rock mesas. At one point I saw a large rock with a window through it in a field to my right. I pulled the Harley up to the rock, set the side stand, and got off and took a picture. Finally I emerged at a two-lane blacktop highway and saw a young man riding a four-wheel off-road vehicle down the shoulder. I waved to him to stop and asked if I was anywhere near Cuba. He looked at me strangely and pointed ahead. "About 40 miles," he said.
An adventure it was. The Google map shows the route I probably took in solid blue. The dotted blue line is the way I should have gone on highway 126 at the T. As close as I can figure, the direction sign with the arrow pointing to the right was meant for traffic coming in the other direction, from Cuba, telling them to turn right onto the road I had just come on, and I misinterpreted the sign as meant for me. The red-dotted line shows the conventional 100-mile route from Los Alamos to Cuba via blacktop roads. I would recommend going that way unless you're up for a somewhat messy adventure.
On the way to Four Corners, I passed through Farmington and then saw the Shiprock, a prominent feature on the northwest New Mexico horizon.

Four Corners is a short side-trip of a few miles up US highway 160. It hadn't changed much since I rode there in 1996. There's a colorful monument and marker, and a lot of little structures where Native American artisans sell their wares. I still have an inexpensive silver ring with turquoise chip inlays that I bought there on my first visit for $10.
I left Four Corners and rode US highway 160 to Kayenta, Arizona, where I found a cheap motel room for the night and a good Mexican dinner.
Day 13. From Kayenta in the morning I made another side-trip up US highway 163 into Utah's Monument Valley. Always a beautiful place to see. Then back to highway 160 and westward.

I took a right turn onto Arizona highway 98 to Page. Stopped to take a photo of an interesting rock and then to gawk at the monstrous coal-fired power plant, which appears to have its own rail line extending up from an area west of Kayenta where there must be coal mines, and the dam and gorge on Antelope Creek, which runs northward into the Colorado River
I continued into the town of Page where I gassed up the Harley, my sojourn at the local gas station made more exciting by yelling at and lecturing some stupid young teenagers who were smoking cigarettes as they filled the tank on their ORV at the pump next to mine. I also lectured the station attendant about not keeping a more watchful eye on what was going on in his station. We could have been all blown to Kingdom Come.
From Page I rode west on Utah highway 89 and then did another quick trip through Zion National Park, always a beautiful place, on Utah highway 9, finally hitting Interstate 15 and riding hell-bent 85 mph with traffic all the way to Las Vegas, NV, where I arrived after dark. As I came off the freeway in Las Vegas, I heard a strange rattling noise in my bike which seemed to occur whenever I passed through a certain engine speed around 2500 RPM, and I started thinking, "Oh, oh! Mechnical problem!" What could it be? I pondered as I got stuck in a horrible downtown traffic jam and had to listed to this sound every time I accelerated. I found an older motel on the strip, kittycorner from the Mandalay Bay resort, and parked the bike outside my room for the night, walking across to have dinner at the House of Blues restaurant inside the Mandalay. The resort was clearly not designed to allow patrons or residents to easily walk in and out from the street. After searching around the block for a pedestrian entrance, I finally had to walk the curb up the taxi ramp and enter through the door at the top of that.
Day 14. In the morning after loading up the bike and starting out with the engine fairly cold, I didn't notice the noise I had heard the night before. But a few miles down the road, before leaving Las Vegas, I started hearing it again. So, when I stopped for gas I started inspecting and wiggling everything I could, and discovered by doing so that the problem was the mounting bracket for my Vance & Hines ProPipe exhaust. One of the mounting bolts had vibrated loose and fallen out, and the second was loose and headed the same direction. A few blocks farther on I found an auto parts store and was able to buy a couple of bolts with the right thread, which provided a temporary fix until I got back home and had my mechanic, Greg, take a look and threadlock the whole thing back together properly. Anyway, mystery solved, and no more scary noises.

A few miles north of Las Vegas on US highway 95 I took the turnoff to Mt. Charleston, a drive I had done with a rental car once back in the 1970s when I had some free time during a visit to Las Vegas for a scientific trade show. The road rises up from the desert floor into a gorgeous pine forest and an altitude of nearly 8000 feet. The road is a loop that runs north to the Lee Canyon ski area then west back down to highway 95 descending through pine forest that magically transforms into a joshua tree forest at the lower altitudes. This is such a beautiful area; its hard to believe it's just a few miles from the desert drabness, heat, and urban sprawl that has become a Las Vegas more than ten times the size of the convention city I remembered from thirty years before.

Back on highway 95, I stopped for a bite along the way but decided my gas would hold out until I got to the turnoff for Nevada highway 266 where I planned to head west into California and over the Sierra foothills into Big Pine. Surely there would be a gas station at such an important highway junction. No such luck; no gas, only the Cottontail Ranch brothel, which wasn't going to help my fuel supply any. So I limped through the bristlecone pine forest down into Big Pine, shutting down the engine and coasting on the downhill stretches whenever I could to save fuel, and made it to the first gas station on US highway 395 running on fumes. I found a motel room in Bishop and stopped for the night, then rode US 395 north and crossed the Sierra on California highway 120 over the Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park to return through the Central Valley to my apartment in Pleasanton on Day 15.

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