This is the long overdue story about my first solo motorcycle trip from my home in Central CA to Yellowstone National Park.
It's largely copy/pasted from the ride report at ADVrider.com
and is very long because...well, it was going to be a book, remember?
It all started with a plan to spend a week backpacking a section of the John Muir Trail with the besty. We did part of this route back in 2005, before I had the Boyfriend, but it wasn't our best trip, so we got to talking about trying it again.
That was back in March. We set the dates for the week of August 9-17 and I set about nagging the BF about whether or not he wanted to take a week off for it.
The BF and the BFF are made of entirely different materials and I knew the BF might not be in love with the idea of burning half his allotted vacation time to spend a week in the middle of nowhere with my BFF-- even if her hubby and I were along (both of whom, the BF is quite fond of.)
But I never got an answer. He just kept asking me "what dates again?" or saying, "ummmmmm" in a distracted tone while walking away.
Needless to say, at some point, I came to the conclusion that the BF would not be joining us.
Then the BFF went into surgery 8 weeks before the hike date. And nearly died during the procedure-- because that's what the BFF does. She has ridiculously low blood pressure. Naturally, her doctor laughed out loud at the idea of her being cleared to hike over 9,000 feet carrying 50 pounds of gear for 7 days. And our plans were canceled.
By that time I'd already rearranged my schedule so now I had a week off work but the BF didn't. I briefly considered calling all my clients and saying "Psyche!" but then I thought better of it. I do nails for a living-- I've been doing it for 22 years, my business is established and I'm busy. Arranging time off is a pain in the butt.
So I talked to the BFF and asked if she was still going to be off work on disability for that week and she said yes. So I decided I'd just go visit her and hang out with her at home-- she lives in South Lake Tahoe, how bad can it suck to hang out with her in her cabin for a week?
I still had almost 2 weeks before vacation and one day at work I was discussing my impending trip to Tahoe with a client when I heard a voice that sounded suspiciously like my own saying, "... I wonder if he'll let me take the bike..."
I stopped talking and looked around in shock and disgust, ready to lecture which ever woman in my salon (btw: I work alone in a private studio) would dare let her man dictate her mode of travel when I noticed my client staring at me.
We both burst out laughing because we both know me well enough to know that my Significant Other does not have such authority over me.
By the time I got home that night, the BF was in quite a lot of trouble and got a serious lecture about how I am an adult woman and if I want to take my motorcycle to Tahoe, then I will take my motorcycle to Tahoe and if he doesn't like it then he can find a new woman....
He listened intently while looking slightly like a bunny caught in the middle of the trail by a herd of stampeding cows. I'm sure his brain was busy running through every conversation we have ever had in the history of knowing each other, trying to remember ever telling me I wasn't allowed to do anything and making metal notes that even though he couldn't come up with anything, he'd better remember to never do it. Then he said quite meekly, "I don't see any reason you shouldn't take your bike."
That's right, buddy. Good answer!
We did discuss which bike-- technically Pinkfoot is his. Both the DRs are financed by him, registered to him, and insured by him. So I guess my original thought was more along the lines of "would he let me take Pinkfoot" not so much whether he would "let" me go by bike.
And believe me, I was ENTIRELY prepared to take the TW if he said "no" to the DR.
But he agreed that it made more sense to take the DR-- and maybe he forgets that it's still technically his.
Day 1: Saturday, August 9, 2014:
I admit I cried a little in my helmet as I pulled out of the Burger King parking lot in Oakhurst, California, onto Hwy 41 toward my turn off to the 49 north, leaving the Boyfriend in the rear view mirror after he'd ridden that far with me.
I was really doing it. Here I go, off on my own. Riding the DR650 toward Tahoe on my first big solo ride.
I would ride to Topaz Lake, just south of South Lake Tahoe on the Nevada/California border where my BFF would join me on Sunday afternoon to camp with me for a night before I left bright and early Monday morning with the goal of completing an 8 state, 3K mile loop that would take me to Yellowstone National Park before bringing me back home to Central CA 6 days later.
And I was doing it all alone. On my "big bike." The one that sasses back. The one that broke my wrist the first day I had her. The one that I only had 1700 miles on. But also the one that had the gumption to maintain highway speeds-- my beloved little Yamaha TW200 would sit this one out in the garage.
What have I gotten myself into?
It wasn't too far out of Oakhurst that I stopped thinking about all that. The 49 is a beautiful, twisty foothill route that took me through Mariposa (Gateway to Yosemite) on my way to Hwy 108 and the Sonora Pass.
I gassed up in Jamestown and grabbed a Moutanin Dew. Mmmmmm. The Boyfriend does love to mock my tastes in soft drinks and fast food. It was nice to enjoy a sugary, caffeine-laden beverage without him making faces at me.
But my goal was to make it all the way to Topaz Lake before sunset. In order to do that, I had to keep moving. So back on the bike I got and headed into the Sierras.
Just beautiful. I do love the mountains. This was the first time I had taken the 108 through the mountains. The ride was great, and it was especially nice to be out of the valley heat. Eventually I emerged on the east side of the Sierra Nevada and began the descent of the Sonora Pass.
Eegads! Now I understand why the only person I know who's done the Sonora Pass on a bike looked at me with horror when I mentioned I was planning on this route-- this is where I first started feeling like my "big" bike was really quite small and nimble, and glad for it!
All those blind curves and 180 (or more) degree turns. And they all came decorated with these "...% grade" signs along the sheer cliff drop off the side. I eventually came to realize that 7% grade was nothing to worry about, 11% got steep, I wasn't sure at all about continuing when I saw the 25% grade sign!
But I kept it in low gear, cautiously crawling down the hills, using every turn out to allow more adventurous drivers and riders to take their chances at higher speeds.
The views were breath taking.
Don't look at the view!
Wow! Look at that view!
Don't look at the view! Look at the road! Look where you're going because you'll go where you're looking!
And that's when it got cold.
I was over 9,000 feet in elevation, it shouldn't be a surprise. But there are also all these storm clouds to consider. Where did the sun go?
Oh well... it's all good.
The Garmin said sunset was at 8:02 p.m. that night at that location. I figured I easily had about half an hour of "civil twilight" after sunset, but I'm not keen on riding past that. Deer, ya know.
I was making acceptable time, almost out of the moutains, when the road in front of me suddenly looked like someone had hosed it down just prior to my arrival.
I have very little experience riding on wet roads. I have no idea how that's going to change my traction. And with the cloud cover, it's much darker much earlier than I was planning on.
Things are going fine. The wet road doesn't feel any different. I'm fine.
What was that? Was that a bug? Yeah yeah... bugs. Another bug. Another bug....
Ok. After a few hundred "bugs" I had to come clean with myself and admit that it was raining. And from the looks of it, it was going to rain more.
I started to panic a little. I had about 20 miles to go, through unfamiliar territory, in the gathering dark and gloom, and now it appeared the heavens were about to break open.
I passed a sign that said "Sonora Bridge campground." I turned in and made camp.
Naturally, it rained on me the entire time I was setting up my tent and covering the bike. And as soon as I was snug inside and changed into some dry camp clothes-- it stopped.
Between the full moon rising and shining on my tent like someone holding a million candle-power spot light on me, and my worrying about the folks back home worrying about me without receiving an update on my whereabouts, I had a hard time getting to sleep.
Not to mention my lack of dinner. I'd eaten lunch in Tollhouse with the Boyfriend, but hadn't had anything else to eat since my soda in Jamestown. Now I was safe in camp with nothing but a squished Payday candy bar and a couple bottles of water that I'd been carrying along for snacking.
I listened to the iPod once on the entire trip.
Day 2: August 10, 2014: Topaz Lake and the BFF
I found myself waiting for the birds to start singing. It had to be about dawn. Any minute now the first indigo nuances of dawn would lighten my tent....
any minute now...
What time IS it, anyway? Seriously! It's GOTTA be like 6:30 already!
Nope. 4:27 a.m.
Go back to sleep!
I think I managed to get another hour of sleep in 15 minute increments by the time I was satisfied that 6:00 a.m. was late enough and light enough to warrant getting up.
I am not a morning person, but it's hard to sleep in when the sun is shining on your tent, and especially hard to sleep in when the shining sun means it's time to get back on the road for Day 2 of your big adventure!
I tried to take my time, but I was on the road by 7 a.m.
I found Topaz Lake, where I would meet up with the BFF later that day and camp on the shore and I stopped at the gas station next to the Topaz Lake lodge and casino (yay! First state line CROSSED!) The lodge parking lot was filled to overflowing with Harley Davidsons-- this would be a new experience for me... none of them "saw" me.
When we bought our bikes, everyone said, "Oh! it's so cool! all the other bikers will wave at you!... except the Harleys, they won't wave at you. You don't have the right kind of bikes."
But everyone does wave at us around our home turf. Most of the riders in our area are cruisers-- mostly Harleys. And they wave. Almost all of them, almost all the time.
Not in Nevada. Not a single cruiser waved at me in Nevada. Not a single cruiser acknowledged me in Nevada. Through out my entire ride. And I spent a lot of time in Nevada.
But I shrugged it off at that Chevron station and went on along my way, riding into Gardnerville to find a Starbucks for breakfast and wifi to let everyone back home know I was still OK.
Then I headed back to Lake Topaz to set up camp and wait for the BFF.
The guy at the gate of the recreation area was super cool to me. When I told him that I had a friend who would be meeting me later, he told me he'd "get her" for the camp fee, and let me head down to the lake to set up. LOL. BFF had told me that camp fees and dinner at the lodge's steakhouse were on her anyway.
Turns out, I had excellent cell signal on the lakeshore. Normally, I would prefer to just turn the cell phone off entirely and let it take up space in my tank bag, but since I was out in the world all alone with so many folks back home following along and worrying about my progress, the cell phone saw uncommonly high usage throughout the trip. And I had a few hours to wait for the BFF, so I busied myself updating the social media and texting Mom.
The lake was a popular recreation area, with lots of ski boats and jet skis and folks in RVs parked along the shore. I had been looking forward to jumping into the lake, but once I had camp set up all I wanted to do was put on my sweatshirt! I don't know how those people could stand skiing in that lake! The water was cold and the day wasn't entirely warm.
Around 2, the storm clouds began to gather and I had to duck into my tent to avoid the rain.
But the storm blew over quickly and the BFF arrived. We headed up to the other side of the lake to enjoy a steak dinner and play catch up after nearly 2 years of not seeing each other-- who can believe it's been that long already? This grown-up stuff sure does take up our time!
Later, we sat up late in our camp chairs on the lake shore, watching wildlife come down to drink while the GIANT full moon lit up the landscape like daylight.
Day 3:Monday, August 11, 2014: Topaz Lake, NV to Eureka Nevada;
Freezing Cold and Soaking Wet!
But dawn broke early again and I had miles to go before my next night's destination. I had the bike loaded and ready to go shortly after 7. Hugged the BFF and we made more promises to spend more time together, and I was off toward Fallon NV.
What an amazing morning! Bright, warm, sunny, GORGEOUS! Winding through western Nevada, through green farmlands that are just not what you think of when you think of Nevada.
Walker Canyon was a gem! It looked exactly like something out of an old western. I could just imagine it without the ribbon of asphalt winding through it. I felt like I was in one of the Young Guns movies.
Locals on their way to where ever they spend their Mondays stared at me as though I'd gone mad as they passed me while I was busy wandering around snapping photos.
This is where I started really understanding my photo style and realizing I would need to get serious about shopping for a quality point and shoot camera when I got home. I brought the Nikon D90, but it was just too much trouble to dig it out of the case for turnout snap shots. But it doesn't fit in my tank bag, and my tank bag isn't water proof and I was expecting scattered thunderstorms along the way.
My point and shoot has always disappointed in color quality, but it does the job... but as I tried to get a good shot in the canyon, I realized that the light sensor was also a disappointment. Sure enough, I don't have a good shot of the canyon:
I got gas at a random Texaco station on a corner in something that the locals probably refer to as a "town." Maybe Mason?
When we lowered the DR a new, short, kickstand was required. But it still needed to be shortened further. Since the metal fabrication left the new kickstand without its factory powder coating, I painted it pink. Which is how Pinkfoot got her name. I've been saying I still want another 1/4-1/2 inch taken out of it because I'm not comfortable with how vertical the bike sits.
The BF insists that the stand is perfect and the lean angle is damn near factory. Which, I have to admit, it is. The BF's metal fab guy is bomb.
But I still don't feel comfortable with the lack of lean when the bike is on level ground. And sure enough, this trip would confirm my claims.
While I was attempting to park the bike by the gas pump so that the side stand was on the downhill side, a pick up truck pulled up beside me and I looked up to see a bearded grandfather type who reminded me somewhat of my father in law asking me where I was headed?
I explained that I was looking to find the junction with Hwy 50. He confirmed that I was headed in the right direction, gave me some superfluous information about the area, traffic, and weather, complimented my bike and asked how far I was going.
I explained I was headed to Yellowstone, ultimately, having come from central California.
More poorly light-metered Walker Canyon because I don't have a photo of the Texaco station or the guy in the pickup.
He was all smiles as he gave me his blessings and his admiration and drove away telling me, "I think it's great what you're doing! It's just great. Good for you!"
And with that encouragement from a total stranger, my day was officially made. There would be much singing in the helmet on my way to Fallon for my next gas stop.
Fallon was bright and warm when I rolled into another Texaco station for gas and snacks. I made sure to update the social media followers one last time before setting off across Nevada on the "loneliest highway in America" on highway 50.
This was the first official day of my epic solo ride, I was excited and giddy. The day had been perfect so far. Everything I could hope for...
but just west of Fallon, it got windy.
Huge clouds of dust billowed across the road. The cottonwood trees were long out of bloom, but they still had plenty of dead leaves and dirt in them to add to the whirling layer of debris that was making its way over the road in front of me.
I shrugged. I've ridden in wind before. I know it's work. I know it's physically exhausting. I know it requires extra diligence. But I've got this. It's just wind. And I'm headed into the Nevadan interior on the highway less traveled-- I won't have to worry about being in the way of traffic.
I pressed on. Heading uphill into the high desert across sandy alluvial fans with railroad tracks running parallel to the road. Looked like local kids came out here to write their names and short messages of undying love and friendship using dark colored rocks against the white sand along the tracks.
I'd seen that before, along the railroad tracks that run along CA SR62 on a return trip from Phoenix in 2008. I thought of that trip as I tried to read the names while wrestling the handlebars into a forward stance and doing my best to stay upright and within the boundaries of my lane of traffic as the wind blew the white sand out from under the black rocks forming the names.
I didn't get many names read. I have no more idea now as to who drove out to the desert west of town to drag rocks from the surrounding hills and arrange them into the words that serve as statements of those individuals' existence, than I did before I saw them.
There was a lot of wind.
I made it up the initial grade, into the hills beyond the town of Fallon, determined to make forward progress toward my ultimate goal of Provo, Utah by nightfall; a mere 600 miles. By all accounts, totally achievable with 12 hours of daylight and a lonely highway to ride 70 miles an hour on all day.
Shortly after cresting the first ridge, the first flickers of Doubt blew in a frenzied circular pattern across my mind like the whirling wind on the road before me.
This wind is really bad.
It's not a mere matter of leaning into it and holding steady on the throttle. The wind would rush down the mountains from my right, picking up speed as it crossed the narrow valley. It would knock into me at thigh height and push me across the road, dangerously close to the lane of oncoming traffic which, fortunately, was almost always clear. Then it would race up the mountains to my left and presumably turn around and head back down toward me again.
Sometimes it would dance in little curly-cue patterns across the road. Sometimes there were big clouds of dust that I couldn't quite see through. And the heavy gusts that skipped low along the surface of the road, pushing the tires of the bike sideways all at once, feeling like I was riding on a rug while someone was trying to pull it out from under me.
Every headlight that I saw in my rear view mirror eventually caught up to me, and I didn't hesitate to pull over to let them pass. I pulled over a lot. I thought this was supposed to be the loneliest highway in America?
The sky above me was dark. Occasionally I heard thunder: I had been keeping an eye on weather reports for 2 weeks leading up to this trip. I expected scattered thunderstorms, moving across my path from southeast to northwest-- mostly in the afternoons. But all the sort of weather that you can shrug off.
The sky I was looking at was not to be shrugged at. As far as I could see before me, there was nothing but blackness and wind.
However, in my rear view mirrors I could see a hole in the darkness. A bright, blue, happy hole. Way back there, slowly heading in the same direction as me.
Eventually I convinced myself that all I needed to do was pull well off the road and take a break. Wait it out. That patch of azure sky was headed in my direction and it'd probably take about 20 minutes before it caught up to me-- if I'd let it.
So when I came to a big turn out well off the road, I pulled into it. I parked the bike, got off, grabbed a beverage and some beef jerky and proceeded to wait it out.
At this point, I knew there was no way I would make it to Provo by the end of the day. 602 miles in one day was a lofty goal, and I knew that before I started this crazy trip. But as long as I made it across the Nevada/Utah border by the end of the day, I'd consider the day successful. I would still be on track to make it to Yellowstone and home by Saturday while still being able to follow my intended route and ride in 8 different states. It's all about coloring in states on my little where I've ridden map!
I saw a turn off for some nameless, gravel road that stretched away to the north through the desert and into the distance between two mountain ranges. It came with a wide, open area perfect for parking the bike and hanging out.
I busied myself with the task of taking photos of the bike against the backdrop of the gloomy skies. I wandered around. Not much to see in the expanse of sage brush and gravel.
I watched the sky. I watched the dark clouds moving slowly to the north. I watched the road disappear into the horizon to the east. I counted vehicles that passed me. The loneliest road in America was far from the loneliest road I've ever traveled. Not terribly trafficked, but not lonely enough to allow a gal to cop a squat behind the low growing chaparral. ~sigh~ I hadn't planned on being stuck out here on the road long enough to have to worry about whether or not there would be proper rest stops equipped with restrooms.
I was pretty bored. I remained convinced that that elusive patch of blue sky was getting closer and that once it did, the rest of the day would be smooth riding. But it sure was taking its damn time.
I was parked in a big turn out area near the fence by the nameless road and someone, at some point, had dumped a truckload of tiny gravel. Riding on gravel is a daunting experience, and I had parked Pinkfoot at the far edge of the gravel bed to avoid the grueling endeavor of having to pick up a downed bike. But I couldn't help but eye the deep bed of tiny rocks.
I did not grow up in snow country. There were no snow days, no snow forts, no soggy snow clothes hanging to dry in the mud room while I sat by the fire drinking hot cocoa after a long day of building snowmen and making snow angels....
That's some deep gravel...
Tiny pea gravel....
I have all this armored riding gear on...
And a helmet...
I wonder if....
I talked myself out of my nonsensical impulse about 7 times before I came to the conclusion that if I didn't do it, it would be a regret that I'd take to my grave.
I lay down in the gravel and swung my arms and legs back and forth.
It occurred to me that I was getting filthy. And more than one work truck full of electrician looking types had already appeared from the spaces yonder from whence the nameless gravel road ran to offer me a slightly curious and surprised wave as they passed me by and headed down the highway to where ever they needed to be next.
But what the hell? What else do I have on my agenda?
I got up carefully and observed my work. Hmmmmm. I thought it'd come out better. It wasn't very deep and the outlines were hard to distinguish, but there was definitely the faint outline of a gravel angel in the dust and rocks before me.
I figured having a gravel angel to watch over my travels couldn't really hurt me any. I took a picture, took another look at that slow approaching patch of blue sky, shrugged off the dust, and decided I might as well get back on the road.
500 yards down the highway, it started raining.
I'm traveling through the Nevadan desert in the middle of August! It is not supposed to be freezing cold! It's supposed to be hot. I was prepared to be worried about dehydration. That's why I have the softsided cooler with the soda and water with me. I expected I'd be making frequent stops along the roadside to take off the jacket and helmet and pour water over my head.
Somewhere on the other side of Austin, back out in the middle of the desolate no where, back on the road in the cold wind and rain, I started to get comfortable with the idea of riding on the wet pavement.
It wasn't raining hard, so it's not like the road had metamorphosed into a river. I actually had good traction on the road surface. I knew my stopping distance would be increased, but I wasn't terrified of going over 15 miles an hour anymore.
I was just cold and wet.
I had made a habit of moving out of the way for every vehicle that eventually caught up to me. Ego has no place out on the road when you're just a tiny speck in the desert, I don't need to be in front. Besides, I'll be in front again within minutes of letting them pass me!
I saw a small pickup truck with a camper closing the distance in my rear view mirror, so I pulled to the side of the road and let him pass. He swung around me, but didn't speed out of sight immediately.
Before long, a long turn out appeared along our side of the road and the pick up immediately swung into it and parked as if in a hurry.
Somehow, I knew exactly what the driver was doing and, sure enough, before I had time to pass him, a man in khaki cargo shorts jumped from the cab of the truck and ran to the door of the cab-over camper and enthusiastically waved at me and gestured toward the camper.
I was struck by how sweet his gesture was, but I waved no thank you to him and I continued down the road.
He returned to his cab and pulled back onto the road. But he stayed a respectable distance behind me. Following me. Keeping an eye on me.
It was comforting. I instinctively understood that he posed no threat whatsoever, that he was concerned for the well being of a fellow traveler, and that he just wanted to make sure that no harm came to me out there, all alone.
In a very short time I realized that I had started shivering. This was foolish. I needed to find a good place to get off the road. My summer riding gear had allowed too much rain to penetrate my clothing and the airflow was making things worse. If I didn't take care of myself, it wouldn't matter that I was feeling fine-- I'd have hypothermia and that would certainly be the end of my ride. Possibly my life.
I started scanning the road for places to pull over just as I passed a sign that claimed there would be a rest stop in about a mile. I knew the pick up truck would follow me off the road where ever I stopped to make sure I was OK. So it came as no surprise when his turn signal lit up as soon as mine did.
What passes as a rest stop along the loneliest highway in America is a far cry from the rest areas I'm accustomed to dotting California's freeways. Really little more than a glorified turn out, no rest rooms, just a metal picnic table with attached benches under a corrugated metal awning.
Still, it was shelter. I was even able to get the bike pulled up close enough to the picnic bench that it was out of the rain.
As I dismounted and began the process of disconnecting the straps that secure my tail bag to my rear rack, the pick up pulled up in front of my shelter and a spry older gentleman leapt from the cab. He once again offered the warm confines of his camper as shelter and a place to change into dry clothes.
Honestly, it was one of those cab-over campers that expand, better for gas mileage, clearance, and wind resistance while in travel mode: I didn't want him to have to raise the top of the camper just so I could change clothes. And I didn't want to sit around in his camper with him, waiting out the weather when he obviously had someplace he was headed to.
Just because I chose to ride through a rain storm in the middle of the desert on a motorcycle didn't mean his journey ought to be interrupted.
I never caught his name, but I did ask where he was from. He asked if I wanted to know where he lived? Or where his accent was from?
I laughed and said, first one, then the other.
He has lived in Truckee, California for 30 years. The still rather strong accent is from Czechoslovakia.
My Czechoslovakian guardian angel stayed and chatted for a bit; he was headed to Big Basin National Park. He also rides motorcycles. He has a Triumph. He liked my bike, but he's short and dual sports are all too tall for him.
He shyly admitted that he didn't realize I was a lady when he first saw me on the road. He was only concerned that I was on the bike all alone in the rain and wanted to make sure I was OK. I think he was concerned that I might think he was stalking me with illicit intent and wanted to set the record straight.
I wish I'd gotten his name. I wish I had business cards with my name and website printed on them to give out along my ride. Some way to keep in touch with the people I met.
Eventually he was satisfied that I was, indeed, OK. We shook hands and he continued on toward Big Basin National Park.
Now that I was alone in the loneliest rest area in America, I figured I had better take advantage of the desolation and wriggle into some dry clothes. Not an easy task in an exposed area while still making some attempt at modesty, but I eventually had all comfy, warm dry layers on including new socks. I rolled my wet clothes into a stuff sack and got the whole kit back together and strapped back on the bike. Then I set about zipping the waterproof liners into my summer riding gear.
Feeling much better with dry clothes, a few extra layers, and the wind blocking barrier of the waterproof liners, I resumed my heading toward my next gas stop in Eureka, Nevada.
That patch of blue sky finally caught up to me and I was able to pick up speed and relax into the ride.
The scenery along the highway really was much more impressive than I'd expected. Nevada has so many mountain ranges all arranged through out the desert. The road wound between some of them and over others. Maybe it was the rain, but all the boring gray brush that grows in the high desert climate was unusually green and the fragrant sage brush was exceptionally strong through the area.
Once the sky above me turned to a solid shade of blue, dotted with wispy little white clouds, and the air warmed up a tad, it was an incredible place to be.
I began the ascent into Eureka around 5 in the afternoon. Still 3 hours left till sundown, and only 77 more miles to the border town of Ely, Nevada. Plenty of time to make it to end of Nevada before finding a place to stay for the night.
Everything was good.
I began the tour of Eureka's main street, starting with a small motor lodge on my right. The kind of old fashioned motel that you rarely see left in California these days. Just a ranch style row of individual rooms with a wide, black top parking lot in front allowing each traveler to park their vehicle directly in front of their room for the duration.
Sitting proudly before one room was a bright, shiny, red Triumph Tiger and one of those grizzled old rider-types unpacking it who waved high and happily at me as I passed by.
I climbed the hill to the local gas station, the only sign of chain or big box franchise anything visible in the tiny hamlet-- a trusty Chevron. After filling the gas tank, I looked at the map, did some quick math, and decided I would head for Ely....
And then I saw what was on the other side of the hill that Eureka is built on.
To the west, from whence I had come, the sky was a glistening, promising blue that told the tale of a still early summer evening. Light that would continue to linger for several more hours.
On the other side of the hill, to the east, in the direction I was headed, the sky hung over yet another vast expanse of desert valley with a heavy, ominous, darkness that threatened to swallow the whole of the scenery under the crushing weight of it's blackness.
If I head into that, I'll be headed into even worse than I've already been through. In gathering darkness.
Maybe I'll just stay right here at this hotel next to the gas station that says no vacancy.
Hmmmmm. Maybe not. OK, I'll head back to that motor lodge with the big red Tiger parked out front.
screenshot from Google street view because I apparently didn't bother getting photo of the hotel in Eureka.
I climbed the broken down wooden stairs to the office attached to the circa 1970's mobile home to inquire about a room for the night. The sign outside still said vacancy, but that didn't mean it was accurate.
The man emerged from his living room just beyond the office door, crushing out his cigarette as he approached the desk. I asked about a room and he smiled and greeted me warmly, revealing a few missing teeth. I swear he was wearing a wife beater undershirt and boxer shorts... but he probably did have pants on. Maybe they were pajama pants.
Regardless of how I remember him, verses how he actually appeared, he did not present the picture of professionalism. But he was very nice and did have a room left for me and informed me that the $65 charge included all the state taxes and crap.
I paid him, he handed me a key.
AN ACTUAL KEY! A metal house key on an oblong, plastic keychain. I haven't seen a hotel with real keys since the Reagan administration. I was positively enchanted.
The bike was already conveniently parked in front of Room 5, so I unlocked the door to my new home and admired the furnishings: An old school tube TV that may very well have been the exact same model and size of the one we still have at home, a queen size bed, a twin size bed that made use of the defunct closet space and some lamps.
Clean, warm, dry. All I asked for.
I set about bringing in the luggage off the bike, and while I did the guy who rode the Tiger came out to chat. He was from the San Francisco bay area and was on his way home from the big Sturgis bike gathering in South Dakota.
Like me, he'd had enough of the poor riding due to the unfavorable weather and decided not to push through any farther, so he was also calling Eureka home for the night.
We chatted about his bike, about my bike, about our rides, our routes, and our reasons for it all. My neighbor on the other side of me was outside his room having a smoke and offered his hellos and hand shakes as well.
But soon enough we all went back to busying ourselves with our own interests. It seemed that I was the only person in Eureka that didn't have cell service. The motel didn't offer wifi. I had no way to contact Home to check in and let them know that I was safe for the night, let alone where I was.
~shrug~ Nothing I can do about it now. Let's put on some street clothes and hike up the hill to the Owl Club.
I had seen it on my initial tour through town. The Owl Club. I didn't really know what it was when I read the sign the first time. It sounded like a strip club. But on my backtrack back to the motel, I realized the Owl Club appeared to be, in fact, the only real restaurant in town. So that's where I headed as I hiked back uphill in search of a hot meal.
The Owl Club seems to be both the town's primary tavern-- a dark, smoky bar that reminded me of the bowling alley in the 70's; and the primary family restaurant. I found a small table to myself on the restaurant side and picked up the menu. I order a beer from the bar and set about deciding on dinner while observing my fellow dinner company.
The place was filled with a miss-mash of traveler types and maybe a local or two who stopped by to pick up food to go.
There were two tables filled with construction workers, or utility workers, or whatever sort of occupation lends itself to high viz yellow t-shirts and big, white Ford trucks. The table to my right hosted 3 wind-worn travelers who I'm pretty sure were the trio I saw head up the street outside my motel on small displacement, overladen dual sport bikes earlier. And at the long table in the middle of the room, only 2 guys were seated at on corner-- who turned out to be belong to the Harley's parked under the stairs at the hotel that didn't have a vacancy.
I was enjoying eavesdropping on the trio next to me. They were talking enthusiastically about their ride that day. From the sound of it, they may have been riding the TAT, with expectations to reach Oregon sometime on Thursday.
Two women walked through the door-- possibly a mother and daughter-- and immediately I knew they were not Americans: they sat at the table that was already occupied by the two guys with the Harleys.
Americans don't do that. We don't sit at tables that are already occupied, no matter how much space is available.
I envied that cultural difference, as sitting at a table with strangers pretty much forced the issue, and soon the men were involved in conversation with the ladies who shared their table.
I didn't quite catch which country the women were from, but their tablemates were interested to know more about how schools in their country handled teaching English, and how it worked out that every one got 5 weeks of vacation each year.
I enjoyed watching this modpodge of travelers come together. Most of them thwarted by the weather, some of the white-work-truck crews simply going on about their regular schedules of finding a place to stay when 5 o'clock ended their work day, whether they were on the road or not.
My hot roast beef sandwich was definitely the best meal I would enjoy on my journey. I'd set off with a budget that gave priority to putting gas in the bike; with the credit cards on-call for motels, souvenirs, and a unforeseen bike repairs; and a plan to live off of cheap fast food. If I happened to lose a few pounds in the process, I was sure to make up for them again when I returned home. And, as predicted, the Owl Club was the last home cooked meal and ice cold beer I would enjoy for the rest of the trip. So I made sure to enjoy it before walking back to my room.
I rarely watch television, so the moving pictures and sound are both mesmerizing and overwhelming. Nonetheless, I needed to know what the weather had in store for me the next day, so the TV in the room was left on for most of the evening.
Once I realized that the Weather Channel did not, actually, provide any useful information regarding the weather despite its intriguing dramatic programs on killer floods and when tornadoes attack, I found some local news programs that offered me a bleak glimpse at what the following day had in store.
The Doppler weather map for the following day showed the state of Utah as one giant, pulsing, blob of green.
Which translates into a lot of rain. A lot of rain.
I'll worry about it in the morning.
Pinkfoot outside my room in Eureka after the Big Red Tiger left in the morning.
Day 4--Tuesday, August 12, 2014: So This is Idaho
Morning dawned bright and I was proud of myself for yet another morning up and ready before 8 a.m.
Have I mentioned that I'm not a morning person?
While I was making the rounds of the room, making sure nothing got left behind, I heard the roar of the Tiger's triple cylinder engine leaving the parking lot.
I'd hoped for a chance to wish a sincere good bye and good ride to my neighbor on the last leg of his homeward ride.
Oh well, I opened my door to a bright, sunny albeit a tad brisk, morning and started loading up the bike. I found a small, silver, LED keychain flashlight carefully placed on the seat of my bike.
I like to think it's a gift from the Tiger guy.
East bound out of town at 7:30 am and headed toward Ely under blue skies. Not much story to tell, I pulled into the border town of Ely, Nevada about around 9 in the morning. Ely looked like another cute little town with a mining history, but being on the Nevada border meant it also got by with a little help from the gambling industry. Maybe someday I'll head back through that way and stop for a closer look, but on this day it was all about filling the gas tank and making the final decision whether to head across Utah or north toward Idaho.
Somehow, the early morning ride through beautiful weather, I forgot all about that ominous Doppler weather map that forecast doom and rain throughout Utah that afternoon, so I set off to the edge of town to find my way to the next town.
Maybe Luck smiled on me, maybe I missed a grand adventurous tale to tell... but I opted to attempt to follow Google's turn by turn navigation instructions instead of just looking up at the road signs.
Next thing I know? I'm headed for Wells, Nevada and the next gas is 124 miles away.
I guess the spirits of the American Road have spoken. I'm headed north to Idaho instead.
124 miles between gas stops. Through the wide open expansive Nevada nothingness. But under sunny blue skies with nothing to do but sing in my helmet.
Life is seriously good.
I limped into Wells a couple of hours later with a smidge of gas remaining in the reserve tank, just in time for lunch and discovered that Burger King also offers free wifi to those brave enough to sit through a meal in a fast food restaurant.
This gave me a chance to email home and update social media for the first time in just over 24 hours. Still no hope of actual cell phone signal on my network-less-traveled however. No big surprise to me.
Once again I found myself on the road, through more wide open nothingness till I made it to the northern border town of Jackpot, Nevada for another tank of gas.
Pictures at the Welcome to Idaho sign and headed north on US Route 93 toward Twin Falls, Idaho.
I'd never been to Idaho. It was one of the states I was looking forward to seeing in person on this trip, but now that I was riding into it, I had no idea what I really wanted or expected from it.
The ultimate plan was to head east into Wyoming and Tetons and Yellowstone National parks before looping back on the homeward stretch. I hadn't even planned on being in Idaho today and now I wasn't sure what I was doing there.
I found myself in Twin Falls without the faintest clue where I was headed or where I wanted to be. I still had several hours of riding left in the day so it seemed a forgone conclusion that I should keep pushing on. But at the same time, I wasn't sure which way I was headed from here or why pushing through would land me by nightfall.
I was not loving Twin Falls. I found myself riding along car dealerships and big box stores. There's a Jack in the Box. There's a Michael's craft store, there's a Walmart, There's a Home Depot...
It all looked the same. And it was so busy. Full of traffic, cars upon cars lining up to turn into this shopping center or that one, to buy mass produced commodities in mass.
It all looked just like the town I live in, but it all looked so different from the tiny towns along highway 50 that I had spent yesterday riding through.
The sudden shock of going from hundreds of miles of open land to finding myself back in the heart of middle class big box store America did nothing to clear my mind regarding my route.
Looking at the map I could see that I probably wanted to head east, possibly on I-84 toward Pocatello. I was not keen on the notion of spending time on the interstate. OH! For a better map! How I miss the days of beautifully printed Thomas Guides.
Screw it! I'm here. I'm headed to Craters of the Moon!
I can't remember exactly how long ago I discovered the existence of Craters of the Moon National Monument, but I love the name. Whimsical and frivolous-- so unlike the names our government gives to other forests, parks, and monuments, always trying to make them sound so historical or scientific.
Don't try to tell me that Craters of the Moon doesn't capture your imagination.
I've been wanting to see it in person for several years, as long as I'm already off schedule in Idaho... what the hell? At least it gets me back out on the road.
And so I made my escape to the north on the 93 to ID State route 26 which would take me on a big loop around southern Idaho, circling through the geologic remains of the giant pyroclastic flow that created my destination and eventually leading me back to Idaho Falls.
Stopped for gas in Shoshone, and onto ID state route 26 into a post-apocalyptic scene of expansive ancient lava flow, sage brush, and large areas that had suffered a fire in recent history, reducing the already bleak scenery to an even starker landscape.
By the time I came to Craters of the Moon, I'd seen plenty enough lava flow. Nevertheless, Craters did not disappoint. Although, accurately capturing photos of the black lava against the blue sky proved a task that the light sensor in my simple point and shoot camera wasn't up to.
Naturally, I had to stop by the visitor center for some souvenirs. Which is how I met Jim, a fellow rider on a Honda. We spent some time standing in the parking lot outside the visitor center, comparing notes, sharing stories, and making general chit chat.
No. I don't have pictures of Jim or his bike-- because I haven't gotten comfortable with asking strangers if I can take pictures of them.
We shook hands and went our separate ways.
I passed through the tiny town of Arco, another itty bitty community with a KOA campground and another ranch style motor lodge, one room already had a motorcycle parked outside the door, pulled right up onto the porch.
A tiny voice in my head suggested that this was the place to settle for the night. Another place with character, catering to wear, random travelers from parts unknown on their way to parts far and wide.
Instead, I pushed through to Idaho Falls and found myself in yet another big box store city, searching for the row of chain hotels that undoubtedly lined the interstate where it passed through town.
Sure enough, I found them and checked into a nice, safe room at the Motel 6. And immediately wished I hadn't.
Not that there was anything wrong with my room-- or Motel 6 in general-- but I had to leave the bike in a big parking lot, far away from my room and out of view of my window while I made two trips to haul the luggage from the bike up to my 2nd floor room.
I knew it was a smoking room when I checked in, one of only two rooms available. I'm from California where the state has been working on making smoking a tar-and-featherable offense for the last 30 years. I can't remember the last hotel I stayed at in my home state that didn't require signing a disclaimer agreeing to pay an average of $350 if I smoke in my room. Sometimes I forget that other states still believe in personal freedoms-- even if they aren't the healthiest.
My room in Eureka had smelled of smoke too. For that matter, so did the Owl Club. I didn't think much of it at the time but now, standing in my neat, tidy Motel 6 room featuring all the new and crisp of a profitable chain hotel-- I realized that the smell of cigarette smoke doesn't really bother me that much. The smell of whatever Motel 6 had done to make its smoking rooms NOT smell like cigarettes, however, did.
The room smelled like smoke. No question about it. But it also smelled like some sort of floral room freshener. The two odors had combined into one super-odor that permeated the air in the room to a nearly tangible degree. I never got used to it and it made me nauseous.
I had cell reception there and was able to do all the mundane texting and emailing that is expected of us in today's version of real life and especially of a women traveling alone by motorcycle.
I walked to the big box fast food chain restaurant that shared the parking lot with the hotel and ordered entirely too much food. I rarely eat fast food anymore because the Boyfriend isn't such a fan of junk food. I had looked forward to this trip for weeks exactly for the opportunity to spend a week living off of fatty, greasy, mass produced fast food.
I'd been outrunning weather in Idaho all day.
The windows began to rattle, thunder clapped outside and lightening lit up the room. Another storm was blowing through.
This stormy weather was another adjustment for a California girl. We just don't get enough weather. The summers are bright, hot, and dry where I live. Winters are cold and foggy. Most people lament that we don't even have an autumn and spring lasts for about 2 weeks in February when the fruit orchards explode into bloom.
Thunderstorms are few and far between, and summer rain is nearly unheard of.
But I'd been trying to out run weather since crossing the Sierra Nevada. I'd done a good job today, but now it sounded like the heavens were opening onto Idaho Falls.
Wednesday, August 13: Geysers and Grumpy
Once again, I woke up surprisingly early and had everything unplugged and packed away, sitting by the door awaiting its trip down the stairs to get lashed onto the bike well in time to meet my goal of being on the road by 8 a.m.
I hadn't slept well. I never acclimated to the smell of flowered cigarettes that permeated the room. I wasn't thrilled about making multiple trips up and down stairs to get the luggage and the bike all sorted out.
I grabbed the little seahorse cases first and started my tromp down the stairs. Out the door to the parking lot at the rear of the building where Pinkfoot was parked only to have my heart drop into my boots.
A dark day in Idaho.
There my trusty steed lie, flat on her side, most likely blown over by the storm.
Pinkfoot is a dual sport bike, lightweight as 650cc motorcycles go at 360 lbs. She was built to handle off road as well as be legal and able to carry her rider down the American (or the Mexican, Canadian, or Patagonian, for that matter) highway as well. She is tall and slim with a high center of gravity. Combined with the kickstand that remains a tad too long, she simply didn't stand much chance against the gale that had blown through the night before.
Fortunately, she had fallen well within the confines of her designated parking space, so I had no worries about neighboring vehicles wanting my insurance information.
She just looked so.... sad.
I have always been one to anthropomorphize my vehicles at any rate, but I notice this tendency is stronger on a motorcycle. Your bike is your horse, your trusty steed, your mighty stallion. It is your dog and your best friend. You and your bike are partners on a grand adventure, whether you are heading to the tip of South America or to the local grocery story. Whatever the world throws at you, you are in it together. A team.
Having to leave the bike outdoors at the end of the day while I retire to a warm, dry, motel room already makes me feel like I'm leaving my dog outside in the cold. Arriving in the morning to find her on her side felt like I'd come out to find that my dog had frozen to death over night while patiently trusting that I would come for it.
When you drop a bike on a dirt trail, which is not uncommon and, the adventure biking community assures me, does not count as a "crash;" it's usually easy to pick it up again. You're filled with the adrenaline of the ride, of just having your bike go sideways underneath you, you need to get the rubber side back on the road and get out of the way before traffic comes around the corner or over the hill. It's entirely possible to jump up, grab the bars and haul the bike to its feet and be 10 miles down the road before you even realize what happened.
When you emerge from a mediocre motel room after a mediocre night's sleep 3 hours earlier than you'd prefer to be awake at all to find your trusty steed in this condition, there is no adrenaline.
There is a sudden and severe slumping of shoulders.
I very immediately felt very small. I was instantly keenly aware of how old I am, how fragile I am, how weak I am, and how much of a girl I am. Here I am, attempting a serious motorcycle ride on a dirt bike. I'm such an idiot. If I had a ";real" bike it would have been heavy enough to hold its own in the wind. I have no idea how I'm going to pick it up. I have no idea if I can pick it up.
I stood there, dejectedly staring at the downed machine. I looked around. I have never been the sort of girl who elicits the groveling offers of assistance from gentlemen passing by, and at this moment there were no passersby of any sort to beg or bribe for help anyway.
No. I didn't actually take photos of the bike while she was down.
Malevolent notions of mischief and abuse entered my mind; what if it hadn't been the wind? What if it had been mean-spirited youths just looking for an opportunity to wreak havoc? What if some red-necked good ol' boy type had decided that pink kickstand represented some "faggot" who would be "served right" by having his bike toppled? What if it were some "bad-assed" Harley riders who thought it'd be funny to kick the bike over? After all, it's just a dirt bike anyway, anyone can pick it up. What if some 12 year old had excitedly spied it and dropped it innocently enough in an attempt to climb atop it?
What is it about motorcycles that fail to inspire the same respect for being a person's sole mode of conveyance that cars do? Why do people feel that a motorcycle is fair game for pushing, shoving, touching, and climbing on?
Thoughts of human involvement in Pinkfoot's prostrate condition did nothing to soothe my travel weariness of the chilly morning as I stood beside her and considered my plan of attack.
I'm sure it was the storm. The winds were strong, The bike was parked where they would have hit her broadside and that long kickstand doesn't aid her stability.
I conjured all the Youtube videos I've watched of methods for shorter, smaller-- mostly female-- riders to pick up bikes that outweigh them by 100s of pounds. Pinkfoot is a feather comparatively, this isn't going to be as hard as I'm expecting.
It took a couple of tries to find just the right grip and leverage, but I managed to coax the bike back onto her feet. As I stood leaning against her, waiting for my heart rate to return to normal, I caught the disinterested gaze from an older man walking a poodle. He just looked at me without acknowledgment and continued toward the building, lead by the small dog.
I told Pinkfoot to "stay" and made my last trip to the room to get the tail bag and check for forgotten items in the room. Locked the door behind me and finished strapping luggage to the bike.
I inspected the bike to make sure all pedals and levers were still in tact; no spilled gas, no dents, barely a new scratch... what if someone had laid her down gently? Intent on harvesting her vitals organs like some black market doctor from an urban legend? And the only reason everything is OK is because some serendipitous event foiled their evil plot?
Wednesday would be a hard day.
I just wanted out of the city. Out of its citiness. It took me a moment to decipher my intended route on the map then I made my way through what passes for morning rush hour traffic in Idaho Falls, onto hwy 26 for a southern approach to Tetons National Park and Yellowstone via Jackson, Wyoming.
Once I got going, I started feeling better. But I couldn't shake a certain grumpiness that didn't make much sense to me. It didn't take long before I started discovering a plethora of lodging opportunities that would have been well within my reach for my previous night's stay-- lodges and RV parks with cabins and tent sites along the Snake River, Forest Service campgrounds in the Targhee National Forest, I could have made it all the way to the Best Western at Alpine Junction at the Y-intersection of highways 26 & 189/191!
I grumbled a tad in my helmet as I topped up the tank at Alpine Junction. By this point I was hungry, but somehow, I talked myself out of picking up something to eat at the gas station.
I got back on the road and soon found myself in the famous tourist town of Jackson, Wyoming.
I had been prepared for Jackson's over-commercialization, I'd been prepared for its tourist trap tackiness. I'd even been prepared for the big town traffic that congests its small town streets. I didn't plan to spend much time in Jackson, but I humbly admit to looking forward to an over priced coffee beverage-- possibly even from an over-commercialized corporate coffee chain-- and a walk around the town with a cheesy stop for a selfie in front of the famous antler arches in the little park at the heart of the town.
But as I pulled into the heart of the little town's tourist district I was utterly overwhelmed. The cutesy old-west style of the town with it's wooden store fronts, choked by the sheer number of businesses crammed into them. Built in a crazy labyrinth of larger than life signage and logos hanging on every visible surface of every wall. All reeking of money: Gucci and Louis Vuitton and Sotheby's Real Estate, other high end real estate businesses, art galleries, restaurants I can't afford. I just never spotted any little hole-in-the-wall local businesses of the sort that usually find their way into tiny corner spaces of touristy retail areas like this.
The amount of traffic on the roads, the number of cars parked on the side of the roads, and the sheer number of businesses jammed into the retail area were too much for me. Someday I'll head back to Jackson and walk the sidewalks and poke into all those stores and see if my initial impression was right or not, but on this day I couldn't see a single place to park where I felt safe leaving the bike for fear someone simply brushing against it might result in another drop.
I could see that the dropped bike incident was going to weigh heavily on my mind for awhile, and that populated places were over-stimulating after two days of mostly wide open nothingness.
So I let myself get carried out of Jackson by the park bound traffic and found myself In Tetons National Park.
I knew I would have to see both the Tetons and Yellowstone pretty much from the saddle. This trip just wasn't going to offer the leisurely pace required to properly experience this area.
Maybe that contributed to my mood. Maybe it was having to pick up the bike that morning. Maybe it had been spending the night in a generic motel room that smelled like someone had been smoking lavender. Or maybe it had something to do with skipping breakfast.
I just wasn't in the mood.
I wasn't in the mood for the traffic. I wasn't in the mood for the crowds. I wasn't in the mood for the lady who wanted me to pull forward so she could park in my parking space... Seriously:
Naturally, traffic was stopped by bison crossing the road. Instead of sitting in traffic and waiting for the beasts that looked like someone had mated a common cow with a wooly mammoth to finish their meandering path across the road, I opted to turn into the small parking lot right next to their chosen path. The parking area offered an insanely perfect view of the majestic Tetons-- real post card material. I was ecstatic!
I pulled into the parking area and situated myself in a designated parking space. Remember, my kickstand is too long, so I have to position the bike just right to make sure the sidestand is on a slightly downhill slant. I got the bike all cozy in its space and began the process of dismounting and looking for the camera when I hear a woman's voice gruffly barking at me that if I'd “move up” she could park behind me.
I looked behind me to see a woman in a mini van leaning out of her window, glowering at me as though she had just caught me kicking her dog.
Geez, Lady, I AM a vehicle and I AM entitled to a parking space. But I rolled my eyes inside my helmet and pushed the bike forward.
I was thrilled at the view of the mountains and the opportunity to get pictures of them as the bison slowly circled into the foreground as though someone had paid the buffalo to pose for tourists.
While I was attempting to convince my camera to focus where I wanted it instead of where it wanted to, a leather-clad man with a decidedly laid-back, urban speech pattern approached me and asked about my bike and my ride. He was all full of "Yeah man" and "Hoh! My sister, you are brave" and "high five girl, you are right on," he reminded me just slightly of the characters from the movie Airplane who spoke fluent Jive. But he was friendly and eager to share in that "we're all brothers on the road" mindset that I had been feeling so cut off from. He was also energetic and his easy nature lightened my mood.
His Harley was being trailered out of the parks, as he had busted the belt coming down an unspecified grade that he referred to as though I would surely know exactly where he had been. He asked if I'd gotten rained on much and we both shared our stories of the recent weather systems, then he asked if I had "one of those little squeegee things" for my glove. I told him I didn't, but now that I'd spent some time in the rain I was definitely keen on picking up a pair of gloves with the built in squeegee. He told me to "hang on a sec" and ran back to his saddlebags, still on the bike in the trailer.
A few moments he returned and handed me a small, rubber doo-dad designed to fit over the thumb of a glove with a straight edge on one side to squeegee water from your faceshield. It was a gesture of pure kinship from a fellow rider who clearly bore no prejudice against my choice of bike.
He raised his hand in a high-five gesture as he climbed into his buddy's pickup truck and sent me off with a hearty "Ride on, my sister!" And with that, and the return of traffic flow, I set off for Yellowstone.
The problem with Yellowstone National Park, I discovered, was that the road system made no fucking sense. I found myself off the beaten path, parked in a gravel lot, trying to decipher the map that the ranger gave me at the entrance gate.
I had no idea how I'd ended up where I was and no idea where I was. Looking at the map was no help. Everything in the park is named "mud pots," & "rainbow pool," & "south geyser field," & "devil's spa day," or some similar collection of place and feature names that are equally useless to someone who has no idea what they're looking for.
OK. I know what a geyser is. And I know what Old Faithful is. I also know that most people have heard of Old Faithful; so I'll be sure to see that while I'm here. That way, when I get home and everyone asks about Old Faithful, I'll be able to say I saw it.
What I really wanted to see while I was in the Park was-- well. That's the problem. I'm not sure what they call it. I know it's a geological feature formed by travertine rich hot springs that have formed sort of a collection of outdoor stalagmites, albeit wide, flat ones... travertine terraces.
Naturally, nothing on the map said tavertine anywhere. And there were no conveniently captioned photos of the feature I was looking for.
I folded up the map and headed back to the main road-- which I still wasn't even sure how I'd gotten off of to begin with.
The main roads in Yellowstone are arranged in two big loops, creating roughly a figure 8 pattern on a map. What met me upon actual arrival, however, was some sort of LA Freeway cloverleaf style onramp/offramp system. One moment I was on the main road and suddenly there was a small sign indicating that some attraction would be found by turning in one direction or the other, and then there would be an offramp to take you there.
If I ended up making the interchange, I would find myself committed to the new course of travel without so much as a memory of having made the decision. This lead to a lot of pulling over, checking the map, cursing the map, and trying to figure out how to get turned around again.
Eventually I found my way to the parking lot dedicated entirely to Old Faithful according to the signs. The parking lot was seriously at least as expansive as trying to park at Disneyland, but with less organization.
I rode up each row, turned, and rode down the next row. Row after row. After row.
I still haven't gotten the swing of this, "I'm a motorcycle, I'll park under this tree" thinking. I'm never sure where that will work in my favor vs where it will earn me an impound fee and a busted bike after an improper tow.
I made my way through all 120 acres of parking lot and realized there was a smidge of space where I could stash the bike a few rows back. I set about getting back to that spot, only to find myself on my way out of the parking area altogether, riding past a giant gift shop and a lodge... wait! Did that say GRILL? Crap! How do I get back to.....???
Suddenly there's a sign that says I'm about to find myself back on the main road and headed to another park feature with a name that makes no connection in my mind to anything of interest.
And that was the last straw! My inner hooligan couldn't abide this nonsense any more. I absolutely was not going to argue with the inane road system over this! I wanted to be in that parking lot between the gargantuan gift shop and the sign that I was sure promised a hearty meal. A glance in the mirrors and a sharp left turn sent me over a low curb, headed the wrong way up the gravel drive way of the lodge, through a space between some gates and signs that I'm pretty sure told traffic from the other direction that the lodge's driveway was currently closed, and into the appropriate parking area.
I found a space and set about trying to get the bike parked with enough left hand lean angle that it would be unlikely to collapse on its side if someone brushed against it.
All I cared about was finding some food. I was utterly convinced that I was tired, impatient, and grumpy not at all because of the ridiculous roads and hard-to-decipher names of various park features that I may, or may not, want to see in the limited amount of time I had available but was, in fact, entirely due to low blood sugar. I needed to find real food.
I was wrestling with the helmet lock on the bike (it's not very cooperative) when a couple of guys approached a couple of Harley's parked nearby. They made a point to come over and chit chat for awhile and wish me safe travels while they debated whether or not they should don the rain gear before getting back on the road.
I found myself overwhelmed by the size and crowds inside the gift shop, and underwhelmed by what called itself a "grill" at the back of the shop. I didn't really want stale pizza, I had been hoping for a decent burger in a setting that more closely resembled a real restaurant. So I wandered the racks of souvenir coffee mugs and t-shirts in search of a long sleeve t-shirt or a hoodless sweathshirt that might make for more comfortable riding in the chilly mornings.
Totally missed a pic of Old Faithful, but it was pretty impressive. By the time I got within photo range it was back to a smoking (steaming) hole in the ground.
Ultimately I left the shirts and the mugs and the shot glasses behind in search of lunch, landing at the lodge next door in an eatery that occupied a section of the ground floor and reminded me, once again, of Disneyland. It wasn't what I'd hoped for, but it wasn't an unappealing burger and it certainly made a big difference in my mood for the rest of the day.
As I threw away the paperboard burger box and empty cup and began my trek across the street toward the visitor center that flanks Old Faithful, the geyser suddenly shot up, sending water a hundred feet above the roof line of the visitor center. I was impressed at how long it lasted-- having never seen an actual geyser in person before-- but I didn't get any photos.
Old Faithful was on a 90 minute schedule, and I just didn't have that kind of time to wait around for it to spit another fountain of boiling water into the air. I found the souvenir stickers in the tiny gift shop within the visitor center and spent some time looking at a collection of post cards that depicted various features found within the park.
Ahhhhh... Minerva's Terraces That's what I'm looking for! I was thrilled to learn that the thing I wanted most to see on this trip through the park were conveniently located near the north gate in the "Mammoth Hot Springs" area. That just happened to be exactly the route I intended to take on my way out of the park.
NOT MY PICTURE: shamelessly borrowed from the National Park Service-- because I own that!
It was becoming painfully apparent that I needed a week or more to properly explore the park. So many things to see! But I knew this was going to be a drive through tour when I set out on the ride. I mentally noted a rough draft for a proper vacation in the future, paid for my stickers, took a picture of Old Faithful as nothing more than a steaming hole in the ground-- once again, thinking of Disneyland and the geysers in the Grizzly Rapids landscape in California Adventures-- and made my way back to the bike hoping that it was still upright.
I found the bike exactly as I'd left it and nodded my thanks as some passerby complimented the bike and its pink kickstand while I prepared to get back on the road.
I was feeling much better. Everything was suddenly falling into place, approaching thunderstorms were still hours behind me, and I had plenty of time to check out Mammoth Hot Springs and still make it into Bozeman for a place to lay my head for the night.
And then I saw the sign that said I was only a few miles from West Yellowstone, Montana.
How did that happen? Where was the intersection? Where was the freeway interchange that lead me astray? How was it that I had been traveling north one moment and west the next? And where was a good place to turn around?
Nowhere. That's where. I was caught in a steady stream of tourist traffic trying to flea the park in favor of cheaper lodging, more palatable eateries, or just to make miles toward where ever home was. By the time I found a suitable opportunity to reverse my direction, I figured it was easy enough to just go with it.
So go with it, I did.
It's true, I was most excited to see the Tetons on this trip.
I gassed up in West Yellowstone, another over touristed town similar to Jackson, but more spread out and less braggy about the amounts of money that flowed through it. If I'd had more time I would have walked the city streets in search of good food and trinkets to bring back for friends and family. Someday I'll come back to Yellowstone and see it properly, and perhaps I'll make West Yellowstone my base. Perhaps. But today there were still hours of daylight left, so I simply turned north and let the road carry me.
Heading north on Montana's highway 191 left all the stress behind. The scenery turned to forested mountains and rivers and valleys, exactly the sort of rugged topography one expects from Montana. The late afternoon grew chilly but still pleasant. Traffic virtually disappeared around me.
My mind was set on arriving in Bozeman. Expecting a room in a well-recognized hotel and a meal at a well-recognized restaurant. Not so much because that's what I wanted, or even because that's what was within my comfort zone; but because I knew Bozeman would be a big enough town that it would certainly offer these things in sufficient quantities to accommodate me.
My ride along 191 had me passing inns and lodges and RV parks and camp grounds and all manner of small, independent offerings for meals and a night's rest where ever someone had purchased enough land along the highway to offer these things.
Eventually I found myself in the town of Bellgrade. On the south end, Bellgrade felt like a real town. With houses and historic buildings and signs proclaiming Bellgrade's awesomeness. But as I crept past original Bellgrade, it started to feel more like a small city that had sprung up entirely due to Interstate 90 running through it.
Pretty sure this was on the 191. The date/time on my camera was set incorrectly, so putting pix in order has been hell.
Multi-story, box hotels dotted the road near the interstate. Super 8 and Comfort Inn... all recognizable chain names. Then the fast food restaurants. I circled around through the hotel chains and found myself wondering why I hadn't stopped at that last little ranch style inn 20 miles ago, the one that was across the street from the tavern.
Not only did every hotel in Bellgrade have full parking lots, but they would also require that same hauling of gear up stairs and leaving the bike parked where I couldn't see it from my room that had lead to such anxiety in Idaho Falls.
I really didn't want to stay in any of these hotels.
But dark was encroaching and thunderstorms had followed me into town and were now threatening to do more than just drizzle occasionally. I needed to figure out where home was for the night.
That's when I noticed that all the hotels with visible signs had the "NO" clearly lit in front of "Vacancy." I went back to the Holiday Inn Express but they didn't have a sign. I got off the bike and went inside. I stood patiently by the front desk while the staff busily helped check in other guests. The gentleman in line before me politely asked if they had any openings left for the night and the harried staff behind the counter sadly shook their heads "no."
I smiled and said they'd just answered my question as well. And the man in front of me and I walked out of the lobby.
What to do...what to do? I borrowed the wifi while I sat in the breezeway and I looked at the map. I was maybe 10-15 miles west of Bozeman. But I was west of Bozeman. Bozeman might have a room, but it would be another room in another big, square, box hotel and it would require going in the opposite direction of where I wanted to be.
Somehow my desire to continue in my direction of travel won out against thoughts of doing an extra few miles; sleeping in a warm, dry room; finding a hot meal; or avoiding the rain... in the dark.
I had seen some reviews for a hotel in nearby Three Forks that suggested just the sort of place I was looking for. The sort of place where you met the actual owners of the lodge when you checked in. 15 miles to the west. And if that didn't work out?
I'd find something.
It was too dark for me to pick out the street names along the frontage roads and I wasted precious avoiding-the-rain time trying to find the right one. So when I found myself pretty much back where I'd started, I took a deep breath and headed for I-90.
My first-ever miles on the United States Interstate system. In the dark, and then the rain. Doing an impressive job of maintaining about 45 miles an hour, scanning the road for deer and other critters, looking for my exit.
It really wasn't that scary. Traffic was light, no one cared if I was going fast or slow, the rain was still only a drizzle and it was only 15 miles before I reached the tiny town of Three Forks.
Three Forks boasted 3 hotels. The Sacajawea, the Lewis and Clark, and the Broken Spur. I was looking for the Broken Spur. As I headed into town, the Sacajawea loomed on my left, a monstrous, plantation style mansion that had me looking to see if Colonel Sanders was sipping mint juleps on the porch. It was imposing. It also looked expensive. And it looked like they might be less than inclined to oblige any filthy motorcyclists who might wander into their lobby dripping wet.
Billboards for the Broken Spur had dotted the side of the freeway on my short ride to Three Forks, but once I entered town, there was no mention of the place. By this time it was quite dark and the sky loomed low and threatening above me. Three Forks was closed. The entire town was dark and locked down tight, this was the sort of town that rolled its sidewalks up at sundown.
I wandered the deserted streets. It isn't a big town, I'd find what I was looking for eventually. On the opposite end of town, I found myself in front of the Lewis and Clark hotel. More contemporary, and spread out than the Sacajawea, but just as white. And by "white" I mean-- white. Both hotels were painted white. Something about a big, white, building really says, "Don't come in here with your wet, bug-covered gear!" I decided to make one more lap of town in search of my first choice.
I found the Broken Spur on the back side of town, down a little side road. As I turned the corner, I saw the sign outside the office with its warm, red neon "vacancy" sign glowing like a beacon to weary travelers in the night.
A slow realization was kinda starting to dawn on me... I was a traveler.
I parked the bike outside the office, I looked at the very full parking lot of the small lodge. I headed inside and asked the woman if the sign was, indeed, true. Did they have a room left?
She looked at me. Not condescending. Not judgmental. If anything, maybe a little perplexed. She looked out the window at Pinkfoot. She looked back at me. She seemed to be processing a lot of information all at once and trying to solve some unsolvable equation.
She asked, "It's just you?"
"You're on a bike?"
She looked out the window again, "That's a little bike."
I don't know what to say to that. Pinkfoot is a 650cc dual sport bike. She weighs 360 pounds unladen. She is a "little bike," especially by road bike standards. But she is exactly the right size for me. And, as we all know, if she falls over, I can pick her up. Which has always seemed an important feature in a vehicle that might fall over.
The lady in the office was now wearing a look of disappointment mixed with regret and determination.
I was worried that the rooms had been rented for the night and the sign had simply not been updated. But she looked like she didn't want to tell me this, like maybe she was trying to come up with a Plan B. But then she said, "All I have left is the kitchenette, the suite, and the cabin."
That sounds like there's a room left to me. But I understood the inclination of her voice; she was telling me that the only thing left were the premium rooms. Bigger than a solo traveler needed, with prices that would be likewise.
But I was done for the night. Rain was imminent, it was well past dark. I had no idea where I was or what was on the way...and everyone kept telling me there were moose in these parts. And grizzly bears. Maybe this was not the night to initiate myself to the habit of stealth camping on roadsides.
So I tried not to show my concern. I think this is a Californian thing, the mentality of not letting people know you think a price is too high or you might not be able to afford something. You don't haggle in California, you don't flinch at a price. You have to make eye contact, stay relaxed, and smile like the price is nothing to you. If you don't want to pay the price, it's not because you can't afford it, it's because the product is substandard.
So I tried not to show the gulp I took just before replying, "OK. How much is that going to cost?"
She told me to go with the cabin, as it was the least expensive. She took a breath and looked me in the eye as though she really didn't want to deliver the bad news, then she said, "It's 84 dollars.... is that OK?"
I tried to look coy. Totally blank. I was under the impression that I was supposed to think this price was too high. "Is that OK?" Was I supposed to haggle? Was I supposed to be insulted and threaten to head for one of the other hotels in town? The hotels where prices for basic rooms started at $120?
I tried not to look visibly relieved. I gave her my credit card.
The Broken Spur Inn is run by a husband and wife team who live on site. Their house is connected to the large main room where they serve a continental breakfast in the morning. The office is a small room in the corner of the main room.
My "cabin" was a free standing room located around the back of the entrance, set between the house and the 2-story lodge. My room was #34, so I assume there are at least 34 rooms.
I got to park directly in front of my front door. My room was clean, neat, and comfortable, with a queen size bed and a futon that could have served as an additional bed, but made a great place to throw my gear.
I had wifi connection courtesy of the hosts, so I set about contacting the people at home who were more worried about where I was than I was and set about finding outlets to charge all the infernal devices.
Thursday, August 14 :Lost and Alone on Some Forgotten Highway
I was up at an impressive hour to enjoy a hot shower before strapping all the gear back onto the bike. Ready to ride by 8, I left my helmet and gloves on the bike with the GPS fired up and ready to record the day's travels, and I walked back to the office to turn in my key... my real key. Feeling 120% better than I had the previous morning. Nothing could go wrong today.
I walked into the main room attached to the office and found a man sitting at the big dining table, all alone in the room. A variety of individually packaged pastries were set out on the counter, a sign that said fresh orange juice and milk could be found in the refrigerator and 2 air pots full of coffee beckoned to me as I stood there.
I introduced myself to the gentleman sitting at the table, he was the other half of the husband/wife team who run the establishment and, before I knew what had happened, I was sitting at the other end of the table with a cup of hot coffee, deep in conversation with him.
He was a dead ringer for Christopher Lloyd-- around the time of his Doc Brown days from the Back to the Future movies, but without the wild, mad-scientist hair style.
A Dead Ringer
He wanted to know where I was from, where I was going, why I was doing it, and he positively came alive when I mentioned I'd been to Yellowstone the previous day.
Oh no! I've stumbled on a fellow geology geek. Albeit one with a few years of study and experience on me.
While I sat there, sipping my coffee and listening to his tales of previous guests and the geologic history of the surrounding area, I worried silently about getting on the road. I weighed my desire to live in the moment, to not be so concerned with schedules and destinations that I can't find time to enjoy the experiences along the way, against my very unfortunate-- but very real-- need to get to the next location on the route in a predefined amount of time.
But right here, right now, was where I was and where I was enjoying being. And maybe that was my tipping point. The point where all the conditions of my trip came together and lined up in a single place. The point where I relaxed and gave in. The point where I ultimately accepted that I may never get to do something like this again, and if I didn't make it home by Saturday night I still had Sunday as a time buffer... and if I didn't make it home by Sunday? Well then, I would have to make a lot of phone calls and rearrange my work schedule. But right here, right now, I was right here. And here is the only place I've ever wanted to be, really, no matter where it has happened to be.
And then I looked out the window behind Doc Brown's head-- and saw the rain.
Sheets of cold, wet, stinging rain pouring down outside. Occasional flashes of lightning. Distant, rolling thunder.
Well that just cinches it, doesn't it? If that's not a sign I'm not sure I could tell you what is.
I popped up out of my chair and interrupted my conversation partner to let him know that I needed to get a few things off the bike and out of the rain, and then I would be back inside for another cup of coffee and to listen to his next story.
I didn't leave my hosts at the Broken Spur until 10 a.m. The only day of my trip that I didn't make my "on the road by 8" goal. But I shrugged it off-- I'd been ready to leave at 8.
Good bye, Three Forks, Montana
As I left the gas station on the way out of town, the sky was clearing to reveal a bright shade of blue rarely seen back home.
My mood could simply not have been matched that day. I found those frontage roads that had been virtually invisible the night before and wound my way through sprawling hillsides toward Helena.
The ultimate goal today was to sleep in Walla Walla, Washington: when I had been doing my route planning, I was determined to make it into the state of Washington. Otherwise, my map would have all the surrounding states colored in and leave Washington blank. I've always wondered how people manage that? When ever I see travelers with their maps of places they've been to on the sides of their RVs, trailers, and motorcycles, how do people manage to go to every state but Ohio? Really? You couldn't have managed to just made it across that state line? Just for the sake of coloring in that state on your map?
And that's how I felt about making it in Washington. I couldn't bear the thought that I would have Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, and Oregon all colored in but leave Washington untouched. It seemed unthinkable!
So I had studied the maps before I settled on my route, insisting on finding a way into Washington that didn't add more time than I had to spare to the trip.
There are surprisingly few major roads that cross into the western states across our mountain ranges. I'm not sure I was entirely surprised by this, but it certainly was frustrating for my purposes.
This meant that I was headed to Missoula, Montana this day, and would head south from there to a tiny town called Lolo, where I would turn right to cut across Idaho farther north than my previous visit, leading me into Washington so I could cut across the southwest corner in a manner that most people would probably say didn't even count as riding in the state.
I justified it because I've already driven through enough of Washington to say I've done it, all I had to do was put my wheels in it this trip to say I've "ridden" Washington.
This was Sacajawea country, and boy do they want you to know it!
Montana was an entirely new experience. Everyone I encountered was pleasant-- downright friendly, even-- even the Harley's were waving again.
I rode through Helena and didn't feel like I'd entered Big Box Chain Business-land. Helena felt a little like riding through my hometown and even navigating their city roads in afternoon traffic didn't intimidate me.
On hwy 12, I was ecstatic to see haystacks in the fields along the road. Haystacks! Real stacks of hay. HAHA!
I come from a huge commercial agricultural area, I've seen hay. I see hay all day. I see it grow, I see it harvested, I see it baled, I see it bought, sold, transported, and consumed. We bale our hay. In big rectangular blocks. Farm kids build forts out of hay bales. We stack them on flat bed trailers and sit on them in parades.
I am no stranger to hay.
Traveling through other areas, I also see big jelly roll style hay bales.
But the only place I have ever seen hay stacks is in childrens' books. These were the things you can't find a needle in. These were the things that Rapunzel had to spin into gold. These were the things that kids climb on and slide down.
I was pretty giddy about them. It's probably a good thing I was alone on a nearly deserted highway.
The hay stacks were huge. Bigger than my house. And each one was confined inside an adorable little corral fence which I can't imagine actually kept deer out at all.
I wanted to ride into the fields and take pictures of the bike in front of the hay. I wanted to climb up the side of one of the stacks and jump in it, roll in it, side down the side, pick up the loose hay by the handful and fling it at the sky.
Who knew my inner child would be so delighted with a big pile of hay?
Holy Shit! Would ya looky there-- Motherfuggin HAYSTACKS!
I also didn't want to get chased out of a field by a pitchfork-wielding farmer or hungry Border Collies, so I settled for some photos from the highway and kept on riding. Dancing in the saddle and singing every road trip song I could think of.
It was just an absolutely magical day. And I was in it. It doesn't get better than that.
I found my way into Missoula easily enough and opted for a McDonalds for lunch and wifi. I took all the obligatory photos of the bike in front of the MickeyD's and posted them on all the obligatory social media sites that I knew folks back home were using to follow along on the adventure.
After lunch I checked the map and set off through Missoula's college district in search of gas and, ultimately, hwy 12 toward Washington.
I was impressed with how much I liked Montana's cities. I was near Missoula's state college and everywhere I looked there were signs rooting for the home team. It gave the city a feeling of community spirit. It made me want to go back to Missoula, maybe for a college game or a parade. I wondered what it would be like to live there.
Train pic for the BF.
A man at the gas station broke through my thoughts to tell me how much he liked my bike. He had a '92 model of the same bike-- which I remarked was only 10 years younger than mine. !!! Duh! I always do that. It's like the first decade of the century never happened. I guess his bike was actually 20 years younger than Pinkfoot. But we had a pleasant conversation while we pumped gas. He asked where I had started from, where I'd been, and what I thought of Missoula.
I answered all his questions and assured him that Montana was my favorite state so far, and that I was especially enjoying how friendly everyone was. So he smiled broadly and welcomed me to the state as he continued on his way.
That was a nice welcome. Californians are not welcome everywhere. We have a reputation that is not entirely unearned. I wouldn't have been surprised if he had told me to enjoy my visit but don't think about moving in.
I love the Dinosaur gas stations. We don't have them in CA. This one even had DINOSAURS!
Hmmm. Maybe I'll consider moving to Missoula.
I found Lolo easy enough. Riding along hwy 12, marveling at the War of the Worlds-ness of the extra tall, angled-in street lamps. Busy taking in all the sights in the small town, on the watch for signage signaling my right turn into Idaho.
I saw a big, digital sign that announced there was a fire on ID 12 and that travelers should expect delays.
I considered whether I wanted to go ahead and take the 12 if that were the case.
The next thing I knew, I found myself in Hamilton, Montana. It occurred to me that I had obviously missed my turn. A little map math revealed that I had been daydreaming for approximately 37 miles.
I considered turning around and heading back. But some internal switch had been thrown and I had given myself over to the spirits of the road. Where I was was where I was supposed to be. So I kept going, heading south on 93.
I fell in love with the small town of Darby, Montana as I drove through its old west style section on the south end of town.
I made note to come back here with the Boyfriend.
I made a lot of notes on this ride to return with the Boyfriend. So many places that made me think of him. So many places to stay a night, take a hike, grab a beer.
Traveling alone has always been an uninhibited, completely free feeling for me. I love the simultaneous senses of total control and total abandon. I love that I can stop when I want, where I want, for as long as I want. I love that I can change directions on a whim. I love that I can sing at the top of my lungs, I love that I can sing whatever I want. I love that I can make as much noise or be as quiet as I feel at any given moment. I love seeing what I see and thinking what I think.
I have always loved a road trip in a car. Somewhere along the way, I learned that I also love to hike alone. Now I was learning that I love to ride alone.
I suck at selfies.
DANGER! PHILOSOPHY AHEAD!
For as long as other people have been part of my life, other people have recoiled in horror at the thought that I would dare to climb into my car and point it in any direction other than my own home. With windows rolled tight and locks securely locked. They haven't be been comfortable with my trips to visit friends in other cities or other states.
They haven't been comfortable with my trips to mountains, oceans, rivers, or deserts. They haven't been comfortable with my trips after dark and they certainly haven't been comfortable with the trips that only served to deliver me to the beginning of a new trip-- backpacking alone through forests and valleys on trails they've never heard of and can't find on a map.
Choosing a career as a manicurist has meant that my entire daily life is filled with intimate association with other women. After 20 years of holding hands with America's female population, I can only shake my head.
We truly are a demographic of sorrow and fear.
Women are so afraid to leave their homes. To leave their comfort zones. Their well-worn tracks of the familiar.
When I leave for a trip, they all want to be assured that I will either have a man with me, or a cell phone.
There is no understanding that the places I travel rarely have cell phone service. And I can't understand what I'm supposed to do with cell phone coverage if I had it? If a drooling bear is chasing me, am I supposed to call the police?
Even if I encounter a situation that would warrant a call to the police, what am I supposed to do? Sit and patiently wait the 3+ hours for them to arrive while the ax murderer dismembers me?
Have we really divorced ourselves so thoroughly from our instincts? Have we allowed our survival skills to atrophy so much that we can no longer comprehend the need to use them?
Relying on alarm clocks and television schedules, GPS navigation and well-lit streets to carry on with our daily routines and feel at all safe to do so?
It's not uncommon for women to worry what will I do if I get a flat tire? What will I do if I get lost? What will I do if I can't find a hotel? There are always women who are concerned about the people I will encounter along the way, but it's the men who are convinced that the world is dark and evil and lying in wait to pounce on me. They immediately warn me that at every turn, there will be someone waiting to rape, torture, and kill me.
Pointing out that evil lurks around the corner as I'm walking to my car after work each night is futile. That my chances of being a victim of a violent crime while I'm working, or sleeping in my own home, or shopping at the local mall, are higher than while I'm traveling alone.
That women are in far more danger of being beaten and raped by their own spouses than by total strangers.
If I clung to every horror story fed to me by a sensationalistic media or by paranoid-- albeit well-meaning-- friends, co-workers, and clients, I might as well kill myself, as I wouldn't even feel safe locked in my own home.
The world is a scary place. Bad things happen to good people. Danger is real. But it's not guaranteed. And I don't have time for everyone else's fear. I have places to go and things to do and see; miles to put under my wheels and feet and wind to feel in my hair.
The world is an amazing place. Good things happen. Adventure is real. But watching it happen to someone in the movies isn't good enough.
My mind raced along with my wheels over the smooth pavement of hwy 93. Following the Salmon River through Idaho.
I thought of the Boyfriend waiting back home. I know he's anxious about my trip. I know he'd prefer that I wasn't out here without him. Partly because he worries about me, partly because he is not made of the same solitary material that I am.
He requires little human company, but he isn't good at being alone. He needs the company of a mate and he doesn't understand being separated once he's found her.
We knew each other for years before we became a couple. I've watched him go through more than one attempt at mating for life.
I'm not sure how it was that we didn't start dating when we met. I'm not sure it was a good idea to start dating so soon after he and his second wife separated. I'm not sure it was a good idea to start dating at all.
But we did. By the time he got around to admitting an interest, I had come to the conclusion that it was probably for the best that we had never gotten romantically involved. We had been close friends for years at that point. I'd seen two marriages wither away beneath him. I can't say he was entirely innocent in that. I'd had plenty of opportunity to get to know him well enough to see what made us a poor match.
I'd gone through 2 relationships of my own in that time that had left me determined to avoid another "opposites attract" fiasco. I was on the search for my glass hiking boot, and it was going to be carried by a man who already owned backpacking gear, whose point of view on religion and politics was congruent with my own.
But there he was. All humble and questioning. Asking if he had missed his chance. Wondering if maybe we ought to give it a try.
I had to know for sure.
And so here we are, nearly a decade later. More in love than not. More laughter than tears. More looking forward to the future together than making excuses to spend time apart.
I know he doesn't understand so much about me. He doesn't understand why I would want to take this trip without him. He doesn't understand why I need the alone time. He worries that my leaving him at home is akin to my leaving him.
That maybe I'm out here on the road thinking how great it is to be without him. That maybe I'll come home still thinking how great it would be to be without him.
I can't take responsibility for his insecurities. It's not my job to fix that. It's certainly not my responsibility to betray myself to placate him.
I occasionally have to point out this philosophy to him. To remind him that he wanted the woman who was a whole person without him. He thought this woman was desirable the way she was, traipsing off on her own with no sense of obligation to anyone else.
That's the woman he wanted, so that's the woman he has. Be careful what you wish for. Kiss me, I'll see you in a few days. And just because I am having the time of my life, doesn't mean I don't miss you. And just because I miss you, doesn't mean you're invited.
Face it, boys. Women are hard to figure and we're rough on the ego. But you seem to like us like that, so stop complaining.
Part of the Salmon River-- I also saw a herd of Big Horn Sheep-- super cool!
I am so glad I am getting to see this part of Idaho. It is so completely different from the southern portion.
I had stopped worrying about where I was, or how far I would get before nightfall. There were RV parks and campgrounds, tiny inns and bed & breakfasts sprinkled all along the mountain highway. Where ever I was when the sun went down, I would find a place to sleep.
I was in love with the scenery I was riding through, I was in love with the ride itself, and I was deeply engrossed in a thousand far away thoughts that poured through my mind with every turn.
Thinking of my current relationship with all its quirks, what I love about him, what I don't; what keeps me with him, what makes me think about a life unencumbered... and soon my mind started drifting to all the other boys who have taken up residence in my heart, or have simply taken a piece of it.
I strongly considered stopping to inquire about cabin prices when I came to an RV Park with adorable little cabins painted white with deep blue trim. They looked more like they belonged at the coast than here along the river in these mountains. But something kept me heading further down the road.
I don't know if I was just enjoying the ride so much and wasn't ready for the day to end yet, if I was too lost in my thoughts, or if I just wanted to cover as many miles as possible before it got too dark to ride safely.
I do know that this was the day when I came to trust that I didn't have to stress about finding a place to stay. I would simply find a place when I was ready.
I rolled into Challis, Idaho just after sunset.
There was a large, square, multi-story building with a big sign that read "MOTEL" at the northern edge of town. It wasn't a big chain, and at first I wasn't even sure it was open for business. But as I got a little closer, I saw a few cars in the parking lot.
My first instinct was to make the sharp right turn into the parking lot. But I knew I'd rather find one of those little ranch-style set ups where I could park right in front of my room. If I just kept going, I'd come across one soon.
Just a few yards later, I saw the sign that said "Holiday Lodge." It was still pretty light outside, but the vacancy sign was lit. I walked to the office, found the proprietor of the establishment and went through a conversation that was hauntingly similar to night prior at the Broken Spur.
Linda looked at me and said, "It's just you?"
Then she looked at the bike and said, "You're on a bike?"
Then she observed that I would just need a single room.
Then she got that worried look on her face like she wasn't sure I'd be happy with her answer and announced that the room was going to set me back $52.00.
I tried not to look too overjoyed. 52 dollars? Heck! I'll take 2!
She ran my credit card and handed me my key-- my real key-- and walked outside to point out which room it belonged to. The lodge was a small one, with only 10 rooms. My room was #10.
We then spent the next hour standing out side her office talking. It was well after dark when she went back to her own room and I moved the bike to its new position outside my window and carried in my gear.
I knew all the eateries in town would be closed by then, so I headed across the parking lot to the gas station/mini market next to the motel in hopes of finding something in the way of a microwaved burrito and a 24 ounce bud light. OK. I admit, I was hoping for something a little fancier than a Bud Light.
My daily life consists of far more beer and coffee than is good for me. And is mostly responsible for for being 2 sizes larger than I'd prefer. But what I mostly learned from Weight Watchers was that I'd rather spend my money on beer and over-priced lattes than on weighing in and listening to more successful dieters assure me that "nothing tastes as good as being thin feels."
It turns out, there's a lot of stuff that tastes perfectly size 14.
This trip had been a lesson in detox. My last beer had been with dinner at the Owl Club in Eureka on Monday. My last latte had been in Gardnerville, NV on Sunday morning. Maybe Thursday morning's coffee at the Broken Spur had been a terrible backslide, but by Thursday night, a beer with dinner was sounding mighty good.
For that matter, dinner was sounding mighty good.
I knew I had more budget for gas and lodging than for food for the entire trip. I'd planned on living off of fast food the whole week. But by the time I rolled into Challis, a real meal was sounding good.
But Linda had told me that most of the places in town closed around 8-8:30. It had been 8:30 when I found the hotel. There was no hope of finding chicken fried steak anywhere at this hour.
Gas station burritos and beer it would be. At least I'd be able to take it back to my room and kick back on the bed while watching the Weather Channel.
Alas. It was not to be. They were turning out the lights at the mini market before I had crossed the motel parking lot.
Oh well. Back to my room for a dinner of potato chips, beef jerky and warm Pepsi.
It was surprisingly satisfying.
It had just been an overall great day.
I watched 4 episodes of "How I Met Your Mother" while I tried to catch up with social media and emailing the BF.
The BF was eager to help with the impromptu trip planning. It's what he loves to do. Since I was off course, our new mission was to get me headed west and into Oregon. We agreed there was just no way to get back into Washington without adding another day to my trip.
The new route would take me west on the 75 to the 21, past the Sawtooth range and through the Boise Mountains into Boise. From Boise I could continue on the 20 into Burns, Oregon and get headed south on hwy 395.
I ought to be able to get to Alturas, California by the end of Friday.
Friday, August 15: California or Bust
Another bright and early start. I was ready to ride around 7:30.
I waved good bye to Linda as I roared out of the gravel parking lot... OK. Puttered. Gingerly. Back onto solid, predictable blacktop, only to make the sweeping right turn into the gas station next door to fill up the tank and restock my stash of snack foods.
I wove my way through Challis on my way to the 75. It's a small town. Linda had mentioned some restaurants, but I didn't see any. They were probably farther down the 93. Yeah. I'm sure that's it. That's probably why I didn't see them.
Today wasn't met with the enthusiasm and joy that had fueled my ride the day before. I wasn't back in the same funk I had been in on Wednesday, but something felt wonky. Not with the bike, with me.
Outside of Challis, the terrain turned back to rolling hills and my road was another curvy ribbon of tarmac following a river. I passed ranches and alfalfa fields and various small settlements that didn't show up on a map.
A couple campgrounds down along the river made me wish I'd kept moving last night. Even though I knew I stopped at exactly the right time, at exactly the right place for my Thursday lodgings.
I'd meant to do more camping on this trip. It would have helped with the budget, sure, but I just plain like to camp. Instead, the obligation to stay in continuous-- if not constant-- communication had driven a need to bed down someplace with Internet connection if not phone service each night.
I don't like being obligated to people. I don't like having people relying on me for things, I don't like being needed.
I felt I had found a perfectly acceptable compromise on this trip, making sure to check in at least once a day. I made sure to at least get an email to the BF to let him know where I landed each night and update him on any changes in my original plans.
So far, he had taken the whole thing in a surprisingly Zen-like stride. He hadn't so much as wrinkled his brow when I told him I was planning on going to Yellowstone. In fact, he had gone to the maps and started helping me plan routes. It almost seemed that he was excited for me.
His emails along the way hadn't been filled with snarky admonishments or lectures. He had mentioned that "some people" were expressing concern that they wanted updates more often than every 24 hours but he hadn't been giving me grief about needing to know where I was every moment along my way.
Granted-- the BF doesn't have a cell phone. There's no texting him. He doesn't do social media, he doesn't have a Facebook page or an Instagram account. He isn't watching my ride unfold the same way my friends and clients are. And I'm not talking to him on the phone every day because I genuinely have not had cell phone service in most of the places I've been; I can't figure out how to set the phone up to make calls over wifi; hotel rooms don't have phones in them anymore, and finding a pay phone anymore is like trying to find a needle in one of those haystacks back in Montana.
Quite frankly, I felt I was doing a pretty good job of keeping in touch. But I'd already had 2 nights on this trip that had left me unable to report my whereabouts to the worry-warts back home. And I did worry about them worrying about me. So camping had kinda fizzled out of the equation.
One one hand, the sort of trip I was on wasn't really out of my comfort zone. I was on paved roads the whole way, major roads. I was off the beaten path, but still on a path. I hadn't been anywhere where there wasn't a steady stream of traffic, even if it was well spaced out.
All I'd done was go for a ride.
I have a hard time grasping why something as simple as a road trip was met with such awe and concern from the average person. I don't understand why driving alone through Idaho is any scarier or more dangerous than driving alone through my own town? Or why riding a motorcycle instead of driving the car makes the doing it alone so much scarier to people?
But so many people were stunned at the notion that I would do it.
We do love our comfort zones. After all-- they're so comfortable.
Camping alone does push my comfort zone. It's not that it's particularly statistically dangerous; but when I'm trying to sleep alone inside a thin, nylon hut, my imagination becomes downright competitive. Working overtime to come up with its best yet scenario to make every horror movie I've ever seen seem like a childrens' tale.
Every falling pine cone, every scurrying mouse, every wind-blown leaf is a rabid, alien, bear looking for human women to carry back to its home planet. Or eat on the spot. You can never tell with rabid alien bears.
Even so, I still really enjoy camping, even if it's just by myself.
And pushing comfort zones helps keep them from shrinking till they crush you against your own headboard until you smother from the weight of your own imagination.
I'd much rather go up against the rabid alien bears out here beside the Salmon River.
But camping hadn't ended up being as big a part of this trip as I'd originally planned. I'm really only one step ahead of the BF as far as my relationship with modern communications technology is concerned. I have a cell phone as a concession, not an obsession. I knew I was unlikely to have cell signal throughout most of my route. I didn't expect to be able to update my progress often. I hadn't factored in how this was going to worry the masses at home though.
I thought we'd all come from a generation ago-- grown up in times with out cell phones, or Internet. I figured the friends, parents, and boyfriend all not only knew who they were dealing with, but could grasp the concept of a land without phones.
But I guess having a support crew back home isn't a bad thing by any stretch and it's nice to know that someone will come looking for me if I fail to report in after too long. And, with the exception of a couple of my clients' husbands, no one had tried to forbid me to go on the trip or collapsed in a fit of hysterics, so the least I can do is make sure I check in each night to let them know where I'm laying my head and give them an idea of where to look for me if they stop hearing from me.
The rolling hills became steeper. The expansive grasslands turned to trees and the already chilly morning temps dropped a few more degrees as the road begin to climb into the mountainous region that is western Idaho.
The scenery was stunning.
The Sawtooth range came into view as I came into the town of Stanley. Stanley was sparsely populated, by filled with rugged, outdoorsy types in hiking clothes or hauling kayaks. I rode past a lodge or two and restaurant that looked like it promised one of those breakfasts consisting of a mountain of hashbrowns under an equally obscene amount of scramble sausage and eggs which would have been absolutely irresistible if I'd been passing through about 2 hours earlier.
Oh how I was missing coffee.
There was no excuse for my not imbibing daily, really. Just too lazy to take a moment to brew it, or too hurried to sit still somewhere with my hands wrapped around a hot cup, waiting for the dark, molten liquid to cool to a drinkable temperature.
I like this motorcycle thing. But maybe I do miss my cup holders.
The Sawtooth Mountains were a breath taking sight against the tiny community, all snow capped and glaciated craggy spires jutting up impossibly straight and tall over the valley floor before them.
WHERE ARE MY PICTURES OF THE SAWTOOTHS?!!!!
I could live here.
I have a tendency to do that-- I think about what it would be like to live in pretty much every place I visit. Stanley, Idaho made its way to the top of the list pretty fast as I turned onto the 21 heading west toward Boise and, caught up in true motorcycle Zen mode, decided I could skip a stop at the gas station... there'd be another gas station when I needed one.
Linda at the Holiday Lodge in Challis had shivered visibly when I told her the route I was taking into Boise. She mentioned something about a pass and "no guard rails" and how I was "brave" and that she never takes that road when she has to go to Boise.
So far the mountains had been beautiful, the road had been wide and twisty, the cliffs had been steep, but there'd been guard rails on all the corners. Well, most of them anyway.
I marveled at the scenery, I filled my lungs with clean mountain air, I eyed the odometer suspiciously.
The DR is a simple machine: old school, carbureted, manual transmission, no dash board warning lights, no cup holders, no fuel gauge. I have to pay careful attention to the amount of miles I've racked up since my last fuel stop in order to figure out how desperate I am to come across a gas station. I was flirting with 120 miles since Challis.
This trip was a bonding experience for me and Pinkfoot: I had left home with the notion that I had a range of about 150 miles on a tank of gas. My windy, rainy trek across Nevada on Monday had been a wake up call as to just how much that range can vary, bringing my normal 57 miles per gallon fuel economy to its knees at a pitiful 45 miles per gallon which had me switching to reserve around 100 miles. And now that I was thinking about it... I'm not really sure how big that reserve is, after all.
Maybe I ought to start looking for gas.
By this time in the game, I had come to trust that gas stations would magically appear when I needed them. So I was a little disconcerted when the next "town" warranting a name didn't actually have anything to offer in the way of something called a "town," most notably, a gas pump.
I let the tank run dry before I leaned over to turn the little indicator on the petcock to the "reserve" position. This has become my habit for running out of gas on my smaller TW200. When it runs out of gas, the engine cuts out and the bike coasts peacefully on until I steer to the side of the road to switch to reserve. Then I just turn the key and start the little bike up and continue on until I found fuel.
The DR runs out of gas a wee bit differently. First, it coughs rather violently. Not violently enough to throw me off, mind you, but enough to wrest me out of whatever day dream I might be firmly ensconced in. A couple of rough hiccups, lurching me forward like someone learning to drive stick shifting into 1st gear. Then it goes dead. In a manner much less peaceful than the TW. The DR actually makes me feel like I've strangled the poor thing into unconsciousness.
Once I've put it onto reserve, it doesn't just roar back to life like a morning person at first light. It stutters, lags, makes that chuggachuggachurnchurn noise that engines make when they haven't caught. It always takes longer to start back up than I think it ought to. I worry. I turn the key off again. I wrinkle up my forehead and stare perplexed at bike. I wonder if I've killed it. I wonder if I've flooded the engine-- a concept that I barely had time to grasp before fuel injection took over the automotive industry and swept my mind clear of such concerns.
I turn the key again, it makes some protests-- more like me waking up in the morning-- and then it catches and roars back to life and everything is as it ought to be once again.
Maybe I shouldn't let the DR run all the way out of gas before I switch to the reserve position.
Now I have no idea how many more miles I can count on before I'm out of gas for good. But I'm over the summit and on the downhill side of the Boise mountains, headed for "Idaho City" where, sure enough, I found a gas station just in time.
I was out of the mountains and headed into Boise on my way to Oregon. The day was still early and I had every expectation of spending my last night on the road in Alturas, California.
DAMN BOISE! And Google's navigation for that matter.
I crossed the I-84 and found myself at what appeared to be the southernmost border of Boise at one of those giant freeway offramp/onramps that had served as little more than a place for travelers to find food and fuel for the last several years, but was now under construction and was destined to become another cookie cutter suburban neighborhood.
Great. Another Idahoan city, just when I was starting to like the state.
But there was a big, square, shiny Burger King up on a hill overlooking the urban sprawl going on around it and by now I had come to understand just how prevalent free wifi access had become in major fast food restaurants. So that looked like lunch to me.
I ate my chicken sandwich and updated the social media, sent some emails and tried to figure out how to get from where I was, to where I was going.
Actually the McDonald's in Missoula-- but you get the idea.
All I had to do was hop on I-84 north then turn left. But the whole idea was to avoid the interstates. Especially here in what was, quite genuinely, a city in the middle of Friday afternoon lunch time.
So Google maps and I had a pretty serious lunch date. Knowing that I'd lose all hope of data signal as soon as I was out of city limits, I set about diligently zooming in and saving maps as screen shots to my phone's photo gallery. In the long run, I had an impressive collection of step by step directions on navigating Boise's surface streets northward to US route 20 into Oregon.
It was only about 12:30 in the afternoon; I had 8 more hours till sunset and 7 hours to Alturas. I left that Burger King with a smile in my heart, eager for a new state to color in on my map, new terrain, new scenery.
Half an hour later, I found myself at an over populated Sinclair station on the outskirts of Boise, but not the outskirts of Boise I was looking for.
I filled the tank and consulted the maps.
I backtracked a few miles. I turned. I backtracked. I continued on. I turned. I backtracked. I turned the other way.
I pulled over and consulted the maps.
I backtracked. I turned. I pulled over and consulted the maps.
I saw a lot of Boise. I cruised through historic residential streets lined with trees. I cruised through busy business districts on main thoroughfares 6 lanes wide. I cruised through agricultural areas out of town. I saw coffee shops and car dealerships and roadside fruit stands. Some of them twice.
The maps smirked at me. They taunted me. If I'd just gotten on the interstate, this would have gone much easier.
Eventually I found my way into the heart of Boise's business district, heading straight for the state's capitol building.
Similar to our own capitol area in Sacramento in architecture, city structure...and traffic.
But traffic surrounding me was doing a good job of not trying to kill me and at this point, I didn't have much choice. I'd finally found the signs leading the way to my promised land.
I kept waiting to see some sort of "Welcome to Oregon" sign. Something to verify that I had managed to escape Idaho's clutches once again.
I was almost in tears by the time I was trying to navigate my way through Nyssa. How can one road be so many different roads? Am I on the 26? the 201? the 20? All I want to know is that I'm going in the right direction.
I passed the gas station. After all, it hadn't been that many miles since that busy Sinclair station where the odd man with the RV insisted on turning off his propane refrigerator before I started pumping gas.
What was that about, anyway? Seems to me that if you have an appliance that shouldn't be around a gas pump, you should have turned it off when you parked. Or was it just me?
But the point was, I didn't see how I would need gas before arriving in Burns, Oregon.
At some point the don't litter signs along the road stopped saying Idaho and the slogan changed to something equally inane about Oregon.
I guess I made it to Oregon.
I was riding through some sort of no man's land between the states, where I could imagine that the residents weren't particularly concerned with where they lived. Their families had probably farmed this land for years before the state borders were put in place around them, or through them.
The land looked a lot like home. Wide open farm land at the base of brown, grassy hills. Corn fields, cotton fields, alfalfa. John Deer vs Farmall, Chevy vs Ford.
It was all so familiar. And then a new crop appeared to my right. Trellises maybe as tall as 20 feet erected in rows with long cables securing giant V's. Covered in climbing vines.
Field after field of commercially grown HOPS!
Not my picture: because I can't find mine.
Very cool. I've never seen hops growing commercially before.
I miss beer.
Beer and coffee. Both things I can live without, both things I don't want to live without.
Maybe I'll have a beer in Alturas.
The BF and his family have friends who live in Alturas. I know I can just show up on their doorstep and they'd let me sleep on the floor of the log cabin that they built by hand. Or be just as happy to let me pitch my tent out in the field of the 20 acres they live on.
But I also know that I will spend too much time listening to T ramble on about Church and State and who's responsible for the world going to Hell in a handbasket this week. And I'll have very little chance of getting on the road at an hour that will get me home by Saturday evening.
So I was planning on spending a quiet night in the little motel next to the Brass Rail Basque restaurant along Hwy 395. And sitting in the delightfully 1970's-esque bar at the Brass Rail for a drink and dinner.
I was daydreaming again, looking forward to my first real meal since the Owl Club and being home with my dogs and the BF tomorrow.
I was climbing out of the farm lands and into the dead, dry, desolate hill country of eastern Oregon. The wind was almost as bad as it had been on hwy 50. I slowed down and pressed on.
There wasn't much traffic out here with me, but what there was wanted to go fast. Much faster than I would think appropriate for these curvy roads. Once again I found myself seeking ahead for turnouts or wide shoulder areas along the road to let traffic pass me by.
Oregon was the first place I have been-- on this trip, or others-- where I truly felt like the traffic was out to get me.
I wasn't keeping pace with the traffic, but I wasn't crawling along the road either, so I was somewhat surprised at the rental RV gaining on me on the uphill run. I started searching for a turnout, but this giant box on wheels was bearing down on me and showing no mercy.
I made sure to turn on my signal so he knew my intentions as I slowed and pulled to the shoulder. The shoulder was not particularly wide at the point, but it was wide enough to allow the DR to get off the road. I had just made it to the other side of the white line and was putting my foot down as the lumbering beast blew past me at what was really quite a blistering speed for an RV on an incline.
I don't think I can adequately describe how close the passenger side rear view mirror came to hitting my head. On a stretch of road with no other traffic, and clear view of the opposite lane, the RV made absolutely no attempt whatsoever to give me any berth as it continued on its course as though I wasn't even there.
It took me a moment to wrap my brain around that. It was, by far, the most inconsiderate move another drive had ever made toward me since I'd begun riding. It drove home all the insistences that other riders made about drivers who simply had no tolerance or sympathies for the elevated vulnerabilities of motorcyclists.
And frankly, I was kinda pissed off at him. I felt that I had made a polite gesture in volunteering to pull out of his way. I didn't have to. I had just as much right of way as he did and I'd been traveling well within the legally posted speed limit.
Instead of being grateful and saying "thank you," his driving communicated a clear "fuck you" instead.
Well fuck him too. Hrumph.
I got back on the road a little less humble, but a lot more afraid of my fellow travelers. Several cars passed me, several could have given me more room as they did so. But no one else made me feel like they were blatantly trying to kill me.
The odometer was creeping into the 120's again. The 130's. Was that a sputter? or the wind? Cough cough...choke, gag. Deathly silence as the bike coasted down the hill.
Burns was just a few miles up the road, no worries. I switched to reserve, got the bike started again, and stopped at the first gas pump I came to.
This is Oregon.
Few people outside of Oregon seem to be aware that you cannot pump your own gas in Oregon.
It is actually illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon. If you pull up to a gas pump and attempt to start pumping your own gas you will most likely encounter an angry, shouting, belligerent attendant as he or she runs toward you, arms flailing, sputtering an incoherent string of words that will make you hope you don't have young children in your car.
Or so I've heard from many a traveler who had found out the hard way.
I had been forewarned of this many years ago before I had ever set a wheel across the state line.
Being required to let some one else pump my own gas in my car is of little bother to me. Like many women, the idea of sitting in my car while someone else stands in the heat or the rain and ends up smelling like gasoline sounds like quite a treat.
To the BF, however, it is an abomination: we drove to Seattle several years ago and I was, at the time, amused that he had carefully mapped out the mileage between the last gas station in California and the first gas station in Washington to make sure that we would not need gas at all while we were traveling through Oregon.
The BF insists that it is a bad idea to let "some minimum wage moron" put gas into your car for you. That the attendant will "screw it up" and cause somehow ruin your trip.
The Boyfriend is perhaps a bit, as some would say, anal retentive.
Now that I had a motorcycle, however, I had a completely different point of view on the matter of who should be in charge of filling the fuel tank of my vehicle. Putting gas in a motorcycle is not the same as putting gas in a car. You can't just shove the pump into the tank and hold the lever. It won't just automatically shut off when it has reached a certain full mark.
And since the gas cap to my tank is located directly on top of the tank, you have to have a certain finesse to maneuvering the pump over the tank without dripping gasoline onto the painted surface.
I had asked an online motorcycle forum about traveling through Oregon before I made this trip, and had been assured that motorcycles are an exception to the gas pumping laws. I could expect the gas attendants in Oregon to hand me the pump and allow me to do the filling myself.
But you still have to find the attendant.
I was no where near the bustling interstate of western Oregon. I was out here in the middle of nowhere. This tiny gas station slash mini market slash restaurant slash souvenir shop was a small block of a building that appeared to be made of adobe with one gas pump outside.
I rolled up to the pump, making sure to roll over the little hose that would ring the bell inside.
I'm lucky I'm old enough to remember full service gas stations from the 70's.
No one came out.
So I went inside.
The woman who appeared to be charge of the establishment was behind the counter at the register talking to a tall young man who appeared to be a local. I stood there patiently and wondered at the amount of turquoise jewelry for sale.
Eventually they parted ways and her attention turned to me, so she got the keys to the gas pump and followed me out to my bike. She unlocked the pump, turned it on, and did indeed hand me the pump.
We chatted while I filled the tank, me bent over to see inside the tank to make sure I didn't over fill it, her standing beside the pump smoking a cigarette.
Yes. Standing next to the gas pump, smoking a cigarette.:eek1
We talked for a bit about the whole "you can't pump your gas" laws and about the motorcycle exception when something occurred to me: that means there's no pay at the pump!
I am missing some key photos: Here's a screenshot of the place taken by Google in Oct 2009
There won't be any stations where the pumps are open 24 hours as long as you use a credit card. What happens if I run out of gas after closing time? What time to stations out here in the boonies usually go to bed?
She said she usually closes at 5:30, and I wasn't likely to encounter any stations that would be open late since I was traveling through such sparsely populated areas.
So? If I need gas, I might find myself camping out by the pump at a station until they open in the morning?
Suddenly Oregon's gas pumping laws didn't set so well with me. What if I make it to Lakeview and all the stations have already closed? I am not so all about camping at a gas station.
I checked my maps. I would need gas again in Lakeview. Just 50 miles north of the California border and Alturas. I have one gallon of spare gas on the bike. I'm getting out of this state tonight.
The actual town of Burns was farther up the road than I'd thought when I stopped for gas. As I passed the last gas station on my way back to open road I looked at my odometer. Only 30 miles since I filled up. Not worth stopping to top off the tank, it wouldn't even take a whole gallon at this point. Certainly I wouldn't be cutting it that close? (Cue ominous music and the sound of thunder rolling.) And off to the junction to the 395 I went.
Only one other vehicle turned onto the 395 south with me, a red pickup truck that looked like it was off in search of a lake to spend the weekend at. I followed it for miles through the sheer, mind-numbing nothingness of eastern Oregon.
This area was absolutely fascinating for it's stark expanses of bare land, totally devoid of civilization. There were fences and the occasional sign, but otherwise, nothing but undulating land covered by ancient basaltic lava flow, now covered (mostly) with the typical variety of desert plant life. It seemed like the sort of place where there should be antelope, maybe elk... I didn't spy so much as a jack rabbit.
I can't think of any place that has left me feeling so utterly alone. I found myself making sure I kept the pick-up in sight.
I eventually decided I needed to stop for a photo. And maybe a drink of water. Maybe a candy bar. Maybe to just walk around and give my knees a chance to straighten out. So when a wide turn out appeared on my side of the road, I pulled into it.
The red pick up continued on its way, growing smaller and smaller as it disappeared into the horizon and I was left finally, utterly, alone.
I stood there on the side of the road for quite awhile.
I took pictures of the bike against the landscape. I took pictures of the road stretching out into the distance. I stood in the middle of the road and took photos in both directions.
No other cars came by. No cars. No trucks. No other motorcycles. It was just me and Pinkfoot out there.
I could have screamed. I could have stripped all my clothes off and run naked down the street. I could crash and who knows how long it would be before someone noticed?
It was a sobering thought. The experience was chilling. And liberating. Peaceful, but so final.
But I had 2 1/2 hours till sunset and a little over 3 hours to my destination. Fighting my way out of Boise had stolen precious daylight from me and I didn't have time to sit in the Oregon Outback to ponder Solitude. I would have to absorb it as I rode through it.
The road stretched out into the future in a picturesque sort of way. Not completely straight, but far from twisty, moving with the land. Rising, falling, turning, curving. It was alluring, really. With 360 views around me, I had no trouble scanning my surroundings for the antelope I anticipated seeing and with nothing resembling traffic competing for the road I was free to go as fast or as slow as I chose.
This was as good as alone as alone gets and suddenly I found myself keenly aware of just how alone alone is. This is what people are so afraid of. What everyone was worried about when they found out I was planning this ride. The unshakable realization that it really is all about you. No one is watching. No one is waiting. No one knows exactly where you are and there's no way to tell them.
If anything happens, I have to experience it by myself. I have to take care of it myself. I have to make decisions myself and I have to execute those decisions myself. There is no one else to blame. There's no one to ask for guidance or help.
But more than that, even if everything goes perfectly, there will never be anyone else to share the experience with me. Even out there in the rain and the wind last Monday as I gingerly edged my way across Nevada, I met a Czechoslovakian man, a geology buff, there were other motorcycle riders that didn't wave at me, but they were out there with me. None of us were alone. There exists some infinitesimal chance in this universe that I might, someday, find myself in the same place as any one of those people and we will have a shared experience to bond us together.
Not here. Not out here in the forgotten desolation of the Oregon wilderness. No one will ever share this experience with me.
And that is a loneliness that is difficult to describe. Not entirely a sad one, but just the sort of aloneness that people-- overall-- seek to avoid experiencing.
And here I found myself, breathing it in like oxygen.
I thought of all the women who didn't think I ought to do this. I wondered where their fears came from.
I thought about the husbands of clients who flat out told me they wouldn't let their wives do this, the men who couldn't believe that the BF would "let" me do this by myself.
I started to understand where those womens' fears came from.
I thought about why anyone would let someone "let" them do something or not. I thought about how lucky I am to have found a relationship with a man who understands that, who understands that about me.
I know the BF has his issues. I know he would prefer to have all the components of his world within his reach and within his control. We have our sources of conflict. We knew each other for so long before we became a couple. He knew what he was getting into.
More importantly, that's what he wanted to get into. He knew I had a penchant for independent adventure. He had plenty of time to develop an good idea of what being in a relationship with me would be like, and he still wanted to try it.
Nearly a decade later, there have been plenty of pushes to change some part of my nature. Wake up earlier, not work so late, give up green beans... not go off on grand adventures without him. But I have to believe that he fell in love with the me that I was when he fell in love with me. Changing might make our relationship more convenient, but it would also make it shorter. Because he loves who I am. And so do I.
I wish I had understood that about relationships long ago. That when a man wants you to change something about who you are, doing it will only end in catastrophe. You can change your hair-- cut it off, grow it out, dye it blond, stop dying it blond, dye it some other color; you can change your wardrobe, "Honey, you don't need all those mini skirts and high heels anymore. I don't want other guys to think you're available;" get rid of the convertible; stop hanging out with your friends, "those girls are sluts;" trade in your snow boarding hobby for good, safe, knitting. It doesn't matter. People fall in love with who someone is and then set about attempting to mold them into something else. It's not exclusive of men but...
What's that saying? "A woman marries a man expecting him to change and is disappointed when he doesn't. A man marries a woman expecting her not to change and is disappointed when she does."
Time and time again, throughout my own relationship history, men have always gone to Herculean efforts to initiate change in me. I've seen my girlfriends go through it. 20 plus years in a career of holding hands with other women has given me insight into a thousand other examples.
And then one day, he looks at you and says, "You're not the person I fell in love with. You've changed." And leaves you for a girl who is exactly like you used to be. Leaving you alone, confused and broken hearted with a closet full of clothes that you don't even like, driving a sedan to your fuckin' knitting group.
You don't even like you.
Because you agreed to change for someone who didn't really want you to change.
So why do they push so hard to change us?
And now I'm riding through the rugged landscape contemplating all the stupid boys from my past.
I wonder what they would think of me today? Who would just sneer and tell me I got fat? Who would want to reminisce? Who would try to get in my pants, "for old time's sake?"
Who would think that I would be out here now, riding a motorcycle across an endless road in the middle of nowhere, all by myself?
Who would be impressed? Who would be surprised? Who would try to take credit for having so much influence on me?
The guy who once called me a "fucking video camera" because I didn't think snorting lines of coke off his cousin's coffee table looked like fun? That guy?
Or the one who one day told me with great sympathy and in all sincerity that when the zombies came, he was just going to leave me alone in the apartment. He seriously told me he had considered just putting a bullet through my skull to save me from suffering, but he wasn't going to take me with him on his escape from city because I'd just slow him down and get him killed.
Really? He didn't even own a gun. The only guns he'd ever shot were paintball guns and he had to rent those. But he was so utterly convinced that I wasn't going to make it through the zombie apocalypse. I was only going to slow him down and get us both killed.
Mind you, this was the same guy RAN AND HID down an alley when a troop of BUDDHIST MONKS walked by us on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica...when I found him, he was curled into the fetal position, crying.
Monks scared him, apparently.
That was the same boy who talked me out of buying the first motorcycle I ever seriously considered, a 1986 Honda Rebel. I was living in the San Fernando Valley of southern California in the early 1990's, and his argument was that the 250cc engine wouldn't provide me with enough power to navigate the legendary LA freeway system.
Mind you, I weighed all of 115 lbs, soaking wet back in my early 20's. The Rebel would have gotten me everywhere I needed to go.
Namely, far away from him.
I was shaken from my trip down angry-memory lane by the wind whipping me sideways as the road began to climb out of the low, flat sage-covered desolation, and wind between tall rocky spires and through short canyon style cuts. These were scary, the wind blowing through the rocky cliffs that rose up on both sides of the road, it was difficult to prepare for which direction the wind would hit me from. I was glad these sections were short.
Soon I found myself following the road along an escarpment, rising high above Lake Abert with steep rocky slopes rising above the road on my left and a decidedly unappetizing drop off the edge of the shoulderless road on my right.
Speaking of "unappetizing" what is that smell?
I'd known the lake was coming, I'd seen it on the map. I knew it was an alkali lake, and I figured that meant it wouldn't have much in the way of fish. Looking down to the shoreline, the lake had such a surreal, almost prehistoric feel to it.
There weren't many birds, and certainly no people camping or fishing along its shoreline.
No signs of life at all, except for patches of vivid green grass along the upper border of the beachy shore.
The smell crept into the air around me, sneaking in around me so that I almost didn't even notice at first. When I finally had to admit that the fragrance of the air had changed, and not for the better, I shrugged it off. I decided it wasn't that bad. It wasn't an overwhelming stench. It was just a faint smell wafting on the early evening breeze. A lilting hint of decay, slightly sweet, like fermenting fruit left to rot in an orchard after the harvest.
The smell brought a line from Leonard Cohen's "Take This Waltz" to mind,
As the road climbed higher along the ledge of the escarpment, the boundary of the lake stretched out before me into the distance, the low light of the late afternoon sun giving the whole scene an eerie, flat look. Like I was riding into an old, painted backdrop from a Hollywood movie. Maybe from a Jules Verne novel turned movie, like Journey to the Center of the Earth, or The Land that Time Forgot. I started scanning the landscape for dinosaurs. It looked a lot like the giant diorama in the train tunnel at Disneyland.
It was obvious that the lake had been victim of hot summer evaporation, shrinking the waters away from the shore, exposing long sandy beaches. The sand showed ragged traces of past waterlines, making it appear as though there were waves washing up on the sand. Except, they weren't moving, adding to the feeling of being in an oil painting.
The lack of wildlife at such a large body of water was unnerving. And the smell.
I thought I would have acclimated to the smell. After all, it wasn't particularly overpowering. It wasn't like riding through the Bog of Eternal Stench or anything. But I wasn't getting used to it. I was becoming more keenly aware of it.
It smelled like Death.
Not like a lot of dead things. Like Death. A corporeal, animate, entity. No matter how I tried to envision the Reaper-- from "Dead Like Me" to the Adam Corolla-voiced Family Guy character to a young and handsome Robert Redford from that chilling and poignant episode of the original Twilight Zone-- this is the smell that must precede whatever being comes to escort you to whatever awaits beyond.
I found this thought inescapable. I was keen to get past this lake and its unnatural stillness.
It was also time to pay especially close attention to the odometer. I had moved the indicator to the reserve position before the road had begun climbing out of the chaparral covered wasteland, and now I was traveling along the edge of a road with no shoulder to speak of whatsoever. Turnouts were few and generously spaced, and it was starting to look like this lake went on forever.
I started to wonder if the town of Lakeview, Oregon was, in fact, named for its view of this particular lake. Why would anyone build a town overlooking this miasmic pool?
I was going to run out gas before I found out. No question about it. If I'm lucky, I have 15 more miles left before I find myself alone on a shoulderless highway above a stagnant lake in the setting sun while Death itself gains on me.
I hadn't seen another vehicle since letting that red pick up truck out of my sight 100 miles ago, but I sure as hell didn't want to find myself out of gas with no place to get out of the way if one should show up now.
I decided not to push my luck. The next turn out appeared and I pulled into it.
Through out my journey, I had ridden with the coy assurance that comes from knowing that if I run out gas, I'm not really out of gas. I'm carrying a full gallon of spare fuel in a container called a "Rotopax" that is cleverly designed for exactly this purpose. It fits snuggly up underneath one of my side supports and quietly waits for an opportunity just like this one.
I've traveled with spare fuel containers of varying sorts for decades. It had never occurred to me to "practice" using the Rotopax. So here I was, safely off the road at some turn out on this deserted highway, discovering new skills.
First, I could not access the Rotopax without taking off the entire side support. I couldn't take the side support off until I had taken the tail bag off the rear rack. I couldn't take the tail bag off the rear rack until I had unhitched, unlatched, and untethered it from the rack.
Now I look like a college student just arrive home for winter break, with a semester's worth of dirty laundry, books, and personal belongings strewn haphazardly in a 10 foot radius around me. It looked like my bike had exploded. But I was able to set about wrestling the Rotopax from the side support.
The Rotopax is your basic, red plastic fuel jug, only it has been cleverly designed with a long, narrow hole in the middle of the jug. With an equally cleverly designed bracket, this allows you to mount the fuel canister on a variety of vehicles and surfaces; the hole slips over the bracket and holds the jug in place, then there's a bolt that screws down into the bracket and tightens against the jug.
Here's where the cleverness ends. At least as far as a woman with delicate hands who would prefer not to break a nail goes-- the bolt has a long, narrow handle that, when tightened down to the jug itself, lines up with two little nipples in the jug, creating a self locking mechanism that prevents the bolt from coming loose when you're bouncing over rocks and ruts and roots off road or through Patagonia on the way to Tierra Del Fuego.
It's possible to tighten this bolt down considerably farther than necessary however, and the Boyfriend prefers to err on the side of caution.
Unfortunately, erring on the side of caution often equates to preventing me-- with the delicate hands who prefers not to break a nail-- from being able to unscrew the thing at all.
So now, I'm sitting in the dirt in the turnout on the side of the road by the lake of death in the setting sun with my side support (hard case still attached) between my knees with my legs outstretched as I desperately attempt to get a firm enough hold on the narrow bolt handle to leverage any movement at all and damn the nails.
A thousand more clever methods of design for this damn thing occurred to me as I repositioned myself on top of the cursed jug in a manner that I'd learned from watching too much wrestling on late night TV.
I'm pretty sure my Rowdy Roddy Piper impersonation would have disqualified me in a match, but the bolt moved.
My celebration was short lived, the bolt moved off of the little knobs molded into the plastic, but they couldn't turn freely until I had once again wrestled the handle over the demonic protrusions-- and over and off of them, yet again. Twice. Before I could manage the mechanism within my own level of efforts.
Once I had the Rotopax jug free of its side support prison, I had to open the cap. Ahhh, CARB. That would be anagram that stands for "California Air Resources Board." Since I live in the famed state of sun and surf, the fine folks from the Rotopax company and the distributors of its products are prohibited, by law, to ship me a container that MAKES ANY DAMN SENSE or is, in any manner imaginable, usable as intended.
So I unlatched the little child-proof locking mechanism that keeps the lid from loosening its contents inadvertently. I removed the lid, and pulled out the nozzle that-- cleverly-- sits inverted inside the neck of the container. I pondered it for about 10 seconds, and set about assembling it into a proper nozzle and reattaching the whole thing onto the jug.
This CARB-approved nozzle has a little green doo-hickey that slides from the position that shows a little locked padlock to the position that shows a little unlocked padlock.
I unlocked it.
I opened the fuel cap of the bike.
I tipped the jug up.
I once again pondered the Rotopax. Wouldn't it be helpful it there were instructions somewhere on this thing for this tavern-puzzle nozzle?
I experimented with some techniques.
Apparently the trick is to now push the nozzle down, as if trying to shove it inside the jug, while pouring.
I mean. It pushes in. But it's not really allowing gas to pour out of the nozzle. Not to mention the insane contortion required to stand over the fuel tank of the bike while holding the nozzle in, while holding a one gallon jug of gasoline upsidedown without pouring gas all over the bike.
In a whirling of black plastic parts, I had the entire cap off in a few seconds and just dumped the gas directly into the tank from the red jug.
Naturally, this resulted in some spilled fuel.
Some of which ran over the painted surface of the gas tank and under the edge of the seat.
I grabbed a bandana, mopped it up and poured the rest of the spare gas into the tank.
Putting the whole thing back together and repacking the bike went more smoothly.
Now I was ready to make my exodus from Oregon.
How much gas had I spilled? How much made it into the tank? Did I add 50 miles to my range? or 30?
And what about the gas that had seeped under the seat? Where had it gone? Had it pooled into the battery compartment? Had it evaporated? What if it had expanded in the battery compartment and would explode as soon as I hit the ignition switch?
So I sat there contemplating these possibilities. Wondering if I was being silly? Or if this was exactly the sort of thing that people failed to consider every day that resulted in their names being entered for Darwin Awards?
In a move that will be sure to make the final cut of the movie version of my life, I jumped off the bike, turned the key, and hit the start button from as far away as I could stand and still reach the start button, while visions of being catapulted over the railing, down the cliff, and into the Lake of Eternal Stench by the blast filled my mind.
Much to my relief, if not entirely to my surprise, absolutely nothing happened other than the bike's engine beginning it's deep purr, eager to be on our way.
I looked up Lake Abert later, trying to figure out why it smelled so bad-- apparently it's full of Sea Monkeys-- home to a healthy population of brine shrimp who have virtually no competing species for the water. I don't know if that's why it smells so bad. I suspect the receding waters have left billions of the happy little creatures decaying in the sand. But mostly, I was interested in learning that while the lake covers nearly a square mile of land, it is only 11 feet deep at most.
The sun was dipping below the mountains to the west but I assured myself that that didn't actually mean it was setting. It just looked like it was setting because of the mountains. I really still had another hour before actual sunset. Plenty of time to get to Alturas before true darkness fell.
That's what I was telling myself as I continued around the lake, refusing to look at the GPS unit which would have called my bluff by telling me that sunset was in "11" minutes.
Now I had to consider just how much gas was in the tank. I had emptied the spare fuel into the tank before I had completely run out of gas, but not much before. And some of the spare gas hadn't quite made it into the tank.
My mistake had been gassing up outside of Burns, adding an additional 15 miles or so to the mileage I was asking from this tank of gas.
By my calculations-- which I admit to being pretty rough and based, at that point, entirely on the "pulling it out of my ass" method-- Lakeview, Oregon remained approximately 35 miles away. I could no longer deny the impending sunset, and the newfound knowledge that I might have to camp at a gas pump if I arrived after closing time made me wish I'd strapped both Rotopaxes to the bike.
I was over Oregon and their crazy gas pumping laws.
I reached the end of the lake, passed through a few more hills, and descended with the road to an intersection boasting one, lonesome, blinking red light. Directly across from the light-- an oasis in the desert!
It has been over 5 years since the Google Street View car has had the courage to travel my path-- The Valley Falls gas station DOES NOT look THIS GOOD any more!
A GAS STATION!
And the "open" light was still on.
I was ecstatic. I was sure the Gods of Roads Less Traveled were smiling upon me.
It was a ramshackle building in the middle of absolutely nowhere. At the type of crossroads where one would expect to be able to show up at midnight to make a deal with the Devil.
There was a line of sad, decrepit gas pumps outside of a run down building that appeared to serve as a small convenience store...or possibly someone's house.
I pulled up to what I deemed to be the appropriate pump and was met with an enthusiastic black lab, who appeared to still be in full puppy mode, despite weighing a good 70 pounds already.
Once I determined that the dog was not going to eat me, and that no one was going to come out to greet me, I parked the bike and approached the door of the establishment.
This is where the little voice inside my head who's duty it is to speak up at times like these, began to warn me that I might, in fact, be entering a horror movie.
To begin with, the door wasn't the type of door usually found on stores. It was more of a residential front door, with a door knob. Giving me the feeling that I was about to walk into someone's personal home uninvited.
I looked around. No. There was clearly a neon "Open" sign in the window to my right. Through that window I could see cash register and a counter covered in various items of just the pointless sort that adorn most gas station and mini-market countertops across the country, if not the world.
It appeared to be a store.
On the other hand...
Through the window on my left, I could see what appeared to be someone's living room. Couches and end tables with lamps, a coffee table with a plate of food, a large flat screen TV playing what appeared to be some sort of action suspense movie.
But no sign of any people.
The store and the living room were obviously contained within the same building, with out so much as a beaded curtain serving as a border between them.
I looked down at the friendly puppy, who seemed concerned with my intentions to open the door.
I couldn't help but think she might have a point.
My mind played through thousands of movies from my internal library: I like horror movies. I'm not the aficionado of the genre that some people are, but I've seen plenty in my time. I think about 60% of them started like this. Solo female traveler, out of gas, finds hope in a tiny, isolated store in the middle of nowhere, place is deserted, she walks in to find someone to help her out... and spends the next hour and a half running for her life from a guy with a meat cleaver and a pair of skidding tongs.
My hand hesitated on the door knob. Camping out at a gas station in Lakeview would make for a great story, after all.
I opened the door and gingerly walked across the threshold. I called "hello?" a couple of times, not entirely convincingly-- I didn't really want to interrupt any inbred mutants who might be tanning human hides in the basement, after all.
I was about to breathe a sigh of relief and turn around to head for Lakeview when a man appeared from the back room. All casual and friendly just like you'd expect an inbred mutant who'd been tanning human hides in the basement to be.
He was most likely in the same age bracket as myself-- mid 40's-ish, with thinning hair on top; long, gray pony tail in back. Overweight enough to be fat, but not fat enough to be fat. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt that-- had I made an effort to read it-- probably said "Live Long and Prosper," or "Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and good with ketchup."
I told him I was just getting ready to give up, I wasn't sure anyone was here.
He followed me out to the gas pumps while assuring me that when a "cute girl" walked into his store, he wasn't going to let her get away.
He unlocked the pump and handed me the nozzle to fill the tank, while explaining that the two exceptions to Oregon's law were "exotic sports cars and motorcycles...and that almost counts as a motorcycle."
Then he continued on about what sort of Harley he rode. I didn't interrupt him to ask exactly when he had ridden this supposed Harley or where said bike was now? I just nodded and smiled and let him go on... and on...
I finished filling the tank. I played with the dog. I listened politely while he gave me a summary of his life story and how he came to own the store-- and live in it-- and his grand plans for its future.
He called me a "cute girl" again.
When I said I wasn't sure how he could tell, whatwith the helmet and the armored gear, he assured me that after all the years he had spent with the Renaissance fair circuit, he could spot a woman's figure under any amount of padding.
Oh. So you do Renn Faire, do you? Now tell me something that'll surprise me. I pictured the popular "Condescending Wonka" Internet meme in my head.
Well it's getting late! It'll be dark soon and I'd like to make it to Lakeview before it's so dark that I can't see the deer.
Comicbook Guy suddenly remembered that I owe him money for the gas. I laughed as I reached for my wallet and made some light-hearted comment about leaving without paying. To which my gracious host assured me that that would not be the reason that he'd tie me up and keep me.
I've known hundreds of guys just like him; lonely, horny, socially awkward; with no clue how to relate or communicate with girls. Adopting fantasy personas to help them cope with their terror when they find themselves trying to flirt with a real, live girl.
WORST Pickup line EVAR
Too many Alexander Dumas novels and watching 9 1/2 Weeks too many times on late night cable TV in the late 80's and they're all convinced that every woman is looking for a scandalous tryst with a devious musketeer-- who treats them like a lady by day and ties them to the bedpost with silk scarves all night.
Stupid Fifty Shades of Grey hasn't helped dispel this notion. How is it they always overlook the obscenely rich and good looking part about the heroes in these books?
It didn't even pass my mind to be concerned about his offer until I was several miles down the road. I had taken his flirtations in stride, without blinking. I probably should have given him gentle council to avoid making such generous overtures to any other females who happen through his establishment unescorted. He's likely to get pepper sprayed or tased.
Alturas was 76 miles away. It was just past 8:30 now, the sun had set on me back at the loneliest gas station in America and now I was straining my eyes in the fading twilight to scan the road for deer or elk or rabbits or whatever else might feel the need to run in front of me.
Normally, traveling by starlight doesn't phase me in the slightest. I know to be extra alert and cautious on the bike, but seriously, I ought to be able to make it down a highway after dark. But it soon became painfully apparent that my reluctance to ride after dark was well founded, not just due to the elevated threat of critter attack, but the stock headlight on the DR was woefully inadequate for providing the necessary illumination to maintain highway speeds.
The high beam added more visibility on either side of me, making for better critter-alert, but did little to increase the view of the road ahead of me. I soon found that 35 miles an hour was my new comfortable speed, otherwise I was outrunning my headlight; answering the age-old conundrum of what happens if you are traveling at the speed of light and turn your headlights on.
Trust me. I was traveling no where near the speed of light, and I was still out running my path of illumination at around 50 mph.
So if you are ever traveling in a speed-of-light vehicle after dark, you will need a much better headlight than the 2012 stock Suzuki DR650se comes with.
And so it was, as I entered the small town of Lakeview, I admitted to myself that attempting the additional 60 miles to Alturas in the dark would be foolish.
I found myself surrendering to the Best Western, right off the 395. With its parking lot filled with Harley Davidsons who's owners would be sure not to wave at me in the morning, and one beastly BMW GS1200 authoritatively commanding its parking space even while wearing its cover.
Little Pinkfoot the DR looked like a moped compared to the big bikes in the parking lot. I left her in the breezeway outside the office, cowering apologetically, at the mercy of the other bikes while I stepped inside to inquire about a room.
Once again in luck, with only a couple of rooms left, I emerged moments later to reposition the bike to a more suitable spot for her to rest overnight. Far from the bully bikes, to a spot in the far corner of the parking area where I carefully positioned her on a downhill slope to compensate for the too-long side stand.
And where she would be unlikely to land on someone else's vehicle if she did happen to land on her side again.
I carried my gear up the stairs to my room. No more simple, ranch style motor lodges. No more apologies from front desk staff for the cost of the room. And no more rooms that cost less than a hundred dollars. But I could see my bike from my room.
I went about all the anticipated updates and emails, and once again went to bed without anything that passed for a proper meal.
I didn't care this time. I was tired and I was sorely disappointed that I hadn't made it to Alturas. That meant another hour of riding to make it home tomorrow. As I traveled farther southward on my return trip, sunrise got a few minutes later and sunset got a few minutes earlier each day, giving me less daylight to travel by. My route from Alturas to home was already pushing the 12 hour time frame, and now that I understood just how seriously I wanted to avoid traveling at night, I wasn't at all optimistic about reaching my doorstep by the end of Saturday.
I lay defeated across one of the queen size beds in the room. Contemplating what lay ahead of me, and where it all went wrong.
Stupid missed turn in Lolo. Stupid out of gas by the stinky lake. Stupid Renn Faire guy at the Loneliest Gas Station in America.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Right there and then, all I could focus on was all the stuff that had gone awry. I had really wanted to make it home on Saturday. To have an entire day of downtime to decompress, to appreciate being home with the boyfriend and enjoy the company of the man and the dogs that comprise my immediate family.
And right there and then, I was not feeling at all like it was going to happen.
Saturday, August 16, 2009: So Close and Yet so Far
I woke up at the crack of dawn, still in a funk. I was dressed and packed and had everything strapped back on the bike before 7:00 a.m.
It is an intimidating experience to walk through a hotel lobby wearing all your riding gear, through the small dining area where the complimentary breakfast is served, to check out of a hotel, when that dining area is populated by bikers who don't think your bike is a bike.
As I looked around I saw a room full of the type of "bikers" that bikers don't think are bikers: the upper middle class professionals who bought high dollar machines with heated seats and hand grips, stereos and cupholders, and extra cushioned seats for their trophy pillions who are skinny enough to look good in that much leather and won't challenge their riding skills if they squirm on the back.
I smiled at them. Did one of those half head nod things in an attempt to appear approachable. But if ever I have experienced one of those scenes where I walked into a room and everyone stopped talking to look at me suspiciously, this was it.
I kinda wanted to scold them for a moment. If this was a movie, I would have sighed in exaggerated exasperation, shifted my weight to one foot, tilted my head to the side and said, "OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE!" at them.
Then I would have gone on to lecture them about their sneering and called them on their hypocrisy at acting like a bunch of school boys trying to convince themselves that they are cool. Like they think they're some sort of Sons of Anarchy badasses in their North Face pullovers, sitting around their morning coffee at the Best Western, talking about the economy and what time they have to get to the office in the morning.
Seriously! I CAN HEAR YOUR CONVERSATIONS, you aren't a biker gang, you're a middle aged accountant going through a divorce so you bought a $50,000 bike and a 23 year old girlfriend to help you cope.
At least I didn't bring a car on a bike trip! Maybe what you really meant to buy was a Miata?
I'm particularly fond of the notion of hearing Jimmy Stewart screaming "Oh for fuck's sake!"
In the movie version that speech will go over really well and our heroine will strut out of the office with confidence and dignity while the accountants hang their heads in appropriately "owned" shame.
In reality, the 10 seconds of eye contact was much more awkward for me. No one smiled back at me. I shrugged meekly and went out to the bike and hoped she started up without complaint and that I made it out of the parking lot, away from their stares, without doing something stupid like falling over.
I managed to sneak out of Lakeview while it was still very early in the morning. Quietly riding through the downtown district amidst historical buildings filled with all sorts of small, independent businesses that told a tale of the inhabitants of the town.
At this tender hour of the burgeoning weekend, the streets were still silent, the sidewalks still rolled up, the windows still shuttered. I wonder what the town is like when everyone wakes up and the little shops come alive? Is this the dying district of yesteryear? Or the still strong heart of a proud hamlet?
Sometimes its hard for a random traveler to determine these things from just a casual glance around as they pass through a town to the open road on the other side of town.
50 miles of more open space and sporadic dwellings dotted the remaining road into California.
Well...home state, anyway. The guard at the agricultural check point waved me through and the early risers of Alturas shook their heads in bemusement at the stranger hugging the gas pump at the local Chevron station. They're probably used to it.
Until yesterday, I had no idea what a revolutionary invention Pay-at-the-pump was. Ahh, the miracles of the 24 hour gas station; representing true freedom for the modern nomad of internal combustion.
The BF and his family have friends who live just outside this town and I've been delighted to spend some time here, enjoying the hospitality of the couple in their log cabin that they, themselves, built by hand.
I could have stopped in for a visit, but I would only end up staying longer than my time budget allowed for. So I slipped quietly out of town, continuing southward bound on hwy 395 toward another state border to Reno.
The space between Alturas and Susanville was much bigger than I'd expected. And I found myself starting to watch the odometer and doing mileage calculations in my head again as I kept track of the roads signs counting down the distance to Susanville.
Road work brought traffic to a halt at a place that referred to itself as "Litchfield--" one of those dots with a name that looks like a town on a map, but looks more like some guy's farm when actually passing through it.
Crews were busy resurfacing a few miles of road here and flagmen were stopping traffic and making us all wait till a sufficient number of vehicles had backed up far enough to warrant sending the pilot car out to navigate us through the one-way traffic section.
So there we sat. Waiting for traffic that didn't exist. Nearly an entire hour of my precious daylight trickled past us: one passenger sedan, one semi-truck, me and a small pickup truck that was piloted by a good looking guy in his mid 30s who pulled up next to me to tell me he liked my bike.
We talked about bikes and lives and jobs and such for the duration, and he reminded me that I didn't have to go all the way to Susanville to find my next gas station, just make the next left turn and I'd find myself in Standish, and aiming right for Nevada.
The pilot car finally delivered us to the other end of the road work and I found my turn, and Standish. Which is a gas station, and I don't think much else.
Now I was feeling like I was back in some familiar territory, no longer worried about all the little named dots on the map that promised towns only to deliver farms.
Next stop-- Reno, Nevada!
Actually, I had no intention of stopping in Reno. I hadn't yet figured out if I even planned on staying on the 395 through Reno. Reno is a city that bustles and the 395 is a busy, fast-moving freeway through the area. Even my stint on the interstate into Missoula had left me mostly alone on a vast ribbon of concrete; my inadvertent tour of Boise had put me in closer contact with the local traffic but on surface streets where we crawled from traffic light to traffic light at 25 miles an hour.
I wasn't sure Pinkfoot would be able to maintain the type of speeds I was likely to encounter through Reno. Mostly, I wasn't sure that I could maintain the speed of traffic through Reno.
But I was going to spend this night in my own bed, dammit! I had been on the road an hour earlier this morning in order to account for the extra time I needed. Sitting and watching the birds fly over Litchfield for an hour had robbed me of precious miles toward my goal.
I just didn't figure I had time to dawdle by veering off the main highway to putter through Truckee and Tahoe in order to bypass Reno. So I guess we'll be finding out what city freeway traffic is like. *gulp*
But I had several leisurely miles of desert sage brush and scattered, dilapidated buildings from yesteryear first. I was in full day dream mode, lost in one of the introspective reveries I'd been enjoying throughout the ride, when I whizzed past it.
OMG! OMG! OMG!
I made a loud "SQUEEEEEEEE" noise in my helmet. I might have done a little dance in the saddle.
I had to find a place to turn around!
And turn around I did. Backtracking to the dead tree I had passed less than a mile back, pulling into the turnout and parking beneath it. It-- the dead tree-- and its glorious shoes!
Shoe trees are a cultural phenomenon. No one really understands them. Why they happen. Why they happen all over the place, at random, with no connection to one another. But all over the country, there are old trees that are covered in shoes.
People just keep tying shoes into trees. For no rational reason.
I am fascinated by this. I could travel the world and spend years of my life gawking at shoes in trees just to stand beneath them and ponder, "Why?"
So coming upon a shoe tree was already a weird little treat for me.
Let me tell you a little story about shoe trees. OK. I don't actually have a little story about shoe trees, but this one time...
[Pay CLOSE attention-- this will be important later!]
One of the first long road trips that the BF and I took together was over a holiday weekend to Phoenix, Arizona where the BF attended tech school. And worked at Burger King, and had his first apartment, and his first "real" girlfriend, etc, etc, and-you-get-my-point-we've-all-been-there. So it was important to him to take me back to the nexus spot between child BF and adult BF and show me around.
I had never considered visiting Phoenix, Arizona recreationally. It's not that there's anything wrong with Phoenix, but it is notoriously hot and I'm not so much a fan of hot weather.
At the time, the BF was quietly trying to convince me that Phoenix wasn't actually that much hotter than where we live now and I think he was hoping that I'd fall in love with it and consider it as a possibility on our list of places we might someday move to.
I knew that wasn't likely, but I do like going places I haven't been before, and I love a road trip, so we set out for Phoenix on Memorial Day weekend.
It hit 103 while we were there. 'Nuff said.
We had a grand time on our shopping mall tour of the greater Phoenix area. Seriously, he took me to four different malls! I had to laugh. He was, after all, 17 years old when he moved to Phoenix for school. Even he had to shyly admit that maybe it's not quite the way he remembers it.
What I really learned from that weekend was how differently we approach the concept of the American Road Trip.
I'm all Jack Kerouac: I'm on the road. I go out there with a loosely defined destination and a hunger to see, feel, and experience everything I encounter in between. I'm open to the possibility that my destination may change with my course as new experiences take me in new directions. I want to stop and take pictures, I want to absorb the scenery, I want to quietly contemplate the meaning of Life, I want to stand under a tree covered in shoes and ponder the ways of Man.
For me, a road trip is all about experience, creating memories for my old age, and gathering the stories I will tell.
For the BF, a road trip is all about how fast you can get to your pre-determined destination, and the only data you need to collect along the way for sharing with friends and family is your time, average speed, and fuel economy.
Woe be to your passenger if she needs to stop for a bathroom break along the way.
This is why the BF doesn't get to drive on our road trips anymore.
On our return trip from Phoenix that fateful weekend, we opted for the long way home, weaving through the U.S. highway system on lonely roads eschewed by modern travelers who opt for multi-laned Interstate bliss, bypassing the dying communities in favor of easy-on/easy-off rest stops and gas stations.
We were westbound on US 62, a simple, 2 lane road that stretches toward sunset in a straight, endless line of ebony ribbon against the pale tan desert hills on the backside of Joshua Tree National Park.
The BF was at the wheel and we were headed home at an impressive speed. But hundreds of homeward bound vacationers were also on the road with us. Caravans of boats and RVs and travel trailers traveled with us. No one was going slow, but most of the traffic was going slower than us.
The BF was downright gleeful as he made repeated use of the nearly deserted opposite lane of traffic to pass by 20, 24, 31! vehicles at a time, with my little Nissan Sentra singing along at speeds flirting with 100 miles per hour. This was bliss for the BF; counting how many vehicles he could pass at once.
I watched the desert fly by outside my passenger side window. Marveled at the endless railroad track that managed to keep pace with us, stretching across the desert at least as far as any road, and the names and pictographs that decorated the rise of sand along them.
This area was devoid of human establishments aside from the road and the tracks. Where did the people come from to carry the white rocks to the side of the tracks and how long did it take to arrange them in the shapes of names and flowers and promised of undying love?
Were the rocks naturally white? Did people paint them before deciding their careful placement?
Was this something that the railraod companies tolerated easily? Or did these people have to sneak out under cover of night, and flee like cockroaches from the sweeping beam of a sheriff's spot light?
I turned my head from the tracks on my right for a momentary glance at the expanse of desert to my left.
I saw it come into view long before we reached it. It was long and square and positively reeked of human construction. It appeared to be fence.
As we got closer, I could see that it was just that. A fence. A fence around nothing in the middle of nowhere. Just a big, fenced-off piece of space by the side of the road in the middle of the desert with out much clue as to what used to be in the middle of it, or if there ever had been something in the middle of it.
It was a totally random fence.
And that totally random fence was covered in shoes.
I heard angels singing. The shoe fence called to me. It was like the Mecca of shoe gatherings and my soul reached out to worship at its altar.
My head swung around, eyes fixed upon the vision as the BF gunned the accelerator and sped past the shrine without so much as a muttered "hrumph."
"GO BACK!" I cried. "GO BACK!" My voice sounding like a child who's parents just drove past Disneyland.
The little sedan's speed never faltered. The BF said "Why?"
I excitedly said, "I want to see that!"
In his best dad-voice and with out so much as glancing sideways at me he replied, "No you don't."
If he had begun the process of slowing down and pulling over when I first told him to, I would have had quite a hike back to the fence. But it would have been within hiking distance. We were on a simple, two-lane highway; the act of turning the car around and driving back to the fence was not outside of reason. But by the time it sank into his neandrathalic pea brain that I actually meant that yes, I really wanted and it was kinda important to me, to go stand in front of the damn shoes on a fence in the desert, we were well into 29 Palms; 73 miles later.
The Rice Shoe Fence stands in the history of our relationship as the first major exfoliation of a great granite dome face. The moment when a huge chunk of the façade on our Happily-Ever-After gave way and began to form the inevitable talus pile that every long term relationship eventually develops around its base.
For the last 8 years, and forever more, the Rice Shoe Fence has been a source of great contention between us. It is the brilliant and beautiful illustration of what makes us different. It is a metaphor of our relationship, and a metaphor of what separates the minds of women from the minds of men: whenever we tell the tale in mixed company, the men are united in their horror that such a thing is even allowed to exist. They all agree with the Boyfriend-- shoes in the desert is exactly the sort of thing you should flee post haste.
Women, on the other hand, never need coaxing for sympathy, they are always fascinated by my description and deeply disappointed to learn that I never got to stand before the Great Fence of Shoes.
Now here I was, on my road trip. Doing it my way, all on my own. And when I see a shoe tree, goddammit, I can stop and ponder it!
So ponder it, I did.
I stood under that tree laden with hundreds of castoff shoes, I walked around it, I took pictures of the tree, I took pictures of the shoes, I took pictures of Pinkfoot with the tree and the shoes. I examined the Converse, and the Vans, and the Reeboks and wondered that there were at least as many high heels as there were sneakers. Fascinated that most of the shoes were in pairs, and many looked to be in better condition than you'd find in a second hand store.
I almost wanted to shop. But it felt sacrilegious to handle them. Like I would be removing an offering from an altar.
I wondered exactly what gods would be pleased by old shoes?
Probably the Flying Spaghetti Monster.
I didn't have any footwear of my own to spare for the sake of winning favor and safe journey from the Great Carbohydrate In The Sky, so I did my best to appease him with a humble Pastafarian prayer before resuming my progress toward home.
Reno was, as I had suspected, terrifying.
I saw it looming ahead of me. I saw my last chance for escape. I found myself in the middle of it all. A real, honest to goodness, American city. 6 lanes of 75 mile an hour glass, steel, and rubber whirring around me, driving alongside of me, coming up behind me, passing by me. Getting on and off the freeway, changing lanes, talking on cell phones, eating lunch at the wheel, changing radio stations, doing all sorts of things that did not involve watching where they were going in order to be sure to avoid making inadvertent contact with the girl on the tiny motorcycle sharing the freeway with them.
I put a lot of effort into holding the throttle open and keeping pace with the throngs. I decided my best strategy for surviving freeway traffic was pretty much the same as going up unarmed against a mountain lion: I sat up very straight and tried to look as big as possible, setting my jaw, and wearing a stern "don't fuck with me" look on my face in order to establish dominance over my lane.
I glowered at the kid in the Honda to my right who had just merged onto the freeway and still had his left turn signal on, "Do not even think about changing lanes into me, asshole! I am a badass biker bitch. I will fuck you up!" I tried to adopt the appropriate facial expression to convey this message, taking grim satisfaction from the knowledge that at least the bike would fuck him up if he hit me. Good ol' Pinkfoot-- she's got my back, she'll avenge me.
Inside I was a quivering, gelatinous mess. "please let them see me, please let them see me, please let them see me" was my far more honest thought process, but I couldn't show any fear. American city freeway traffic can smell fear. I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere.
Much to my surprise, I made it through the congested freeway traffic without incident. Everyone saw me. Everyone gave me the appropriate amount of space. It was like they thought I was a real motorcycle or something; except the Harleys. I was back in Nevada. The Harley's weren't waving anymore. I miss Montana.
The last time I'd been on this stretch of road through Carson City, Nevada, there was a Weinerschnitzel here. Of course, there was also a bar-slash-wrecking yard-slash gun range that boasted a giant spider made from car parts. And there might have been a whorehouse on this road. You just never can tell what you'll run into in Nevada.
Now the new freeway bypassed Carson City and left the old 395 running through the middle of the business district to serve as just another American business route through what was fast disintegrating into just another American city business district.
The empty spaces I remembered had been filled up with giant cubes housing fast food places, grocery stores, and myriad other big box businesses.
I couldn't even figure out where the Weinerschnitzel had been.
We don't have a Weinerschnitzel in my home town. I know its also just another fast food chain, but at least they tend to have unique architecture... and it's something I don't have the option of at home. I was really hoping for some mini corndogs.
I stopped for gas and gave up on the hunt for mini corndogs. I still had 8 hours of riding ahead of me and not quite 8 hours of sunlight.
I found myself at a Taco Bell in Gardnerville for lunch, with lousy wifi for searching Google Maps for my fastest route through the Sierra Nevada.
Half an hour later, I was on hwy 88 headed for Kit Carson Pass.
I'm sleeping in my own bed tonight!
By the time I crossed the state line back into California and found myself once again in the solitude and open air, my mind was back on the ride. Taking my time and enjoying every twist and turn as the road rose and fell with the land it followed.
Kit Carson Pass on Hwy 88 was another new pass through the Sierra Nevada for me. I can see why it's the preferred route for Google Maps as the lanes stayed wide and the curves were relatively large and sweeping throughout; making it more suitable for RVs and boat trailers, buses and trucks. Not at all steep, crooked, and folded back on itself like the Sonora Pass was. This was easy travelin'.
I kept thinking all I had to do was get through the Sierras and then it was smooth sailing all the way home. As long as I made to Oakhurst by sunset, I was good. I didn't mind riding after dark as long as I could get out of deer country and back on home turf.
I was on a mission.
I found myself routed through the heart of downtown Sonora. Maybe there's a way to bypass the busy downtown, but I missed it. As I crawled along the little downtown district, past all the restaurants and bars, watching groups of people walking along the sidewalks in the historical boomtown from California's gold rush days, I was really wishing I'd called the Boyfriend and had him meet me here. He could have gotten a room and been waiting for my arrival and we could have hit the town and enjoyed a good Mexican food dinner and a couple of beers in one of the saloons.
I hadn't realized how hungry I was, and I was passing through at peak dinner hour.
But it was too late to call the BF and have him come up here to meet me now so I pushed on.
Somewhere south of Sonora, but still north of Mariposa, there's a stretch of Hwy 49 that motorcyclists refer to as "the little dragon." I assume it's in reference to the piece of road near Deal's Gap, North Carolina that everyone calls the "tail of the dragon."
The Tail of the Dragon in NC is famous for something like 318 curves in an 11 mile stretch of road.
Have I mentioned that twisties don't set my heart all a flutter? I'm an abomination to the motorcycle community, I guess.
Anyway, there's this nasty section of the 49 outside of Mariposa that is just a zillion switchback on a cliff. I'm pretty sure that's the section that the locals refer to as "the little dragon." I refer to it as "ugh." I like winding roads, not twisty ones.
Just before the steep switchbacks started, I found myself in a turn out. My knees are getting old. I'm getting old. I was racing sunset, but I needed to get off the bike and stretch the joints. Then I was back on the bike and up those switchbacks, just in time to watch the sun dip below the horizon. By the time I reached the crowded streets of Mariposa, it was just plain dark.
Mariposa is a popular gateway to Yosemite National Park, it's all duded up, Old West/Gold Rush style and looks a lot like a miniature version of Jackson, Wyoming, now that I've seen both.
Mariposa is close enough that I've traveled through it a few times, close enough that I've never had any reason to stay overnight. But far enough away from home that I don't go there often.
This was one of the last weekends of the official summer season; only 2 weeks before Labor Day weekend. This was one of the last weekends of official summer vacation season. The sidewalks of the small tourist town were overrun with tourists. Tourists wandering like zombies down every road, on the sidewalks, along the streets, in the streets, across the streets. It was madness. I felt like I had stumbled onto some sort of college town celebration. I started looking to see if anyone was wearing a toga.
It was officially dark. But there was no chance I would be able to find lodging in this overcrowded tourist trap. I was so close to Oakhurst, and once I made it to Oakhurst, I felt I was pretty much home. So when I made it to the last stop sign on the south side of town, I kept going.
Now I had to traverse the section of the highway between Mariposa and Oakhurst. Have I mentioned that highway 49 is a winding, 2-lane, country road through the hills? And the section between Mariposa and Oakhurst is pretty much devoid of civilization. Well, there aren't any real towns anyway, a couple of communities and hamlets, but nothing that would light up the streets or keep deer and wild pigs and turkeys off the road.
I was surprised to discover how much traffic was on the road, though.
I guess there's plenty of tourist traffic running between the two towns, people who went in to Yosemite one way and came out the other, in addition to local traffic getting to and from work shifts or just looking for a night out in the next town. But there I was, with my stupid headlight, getting in everyone's way.
As long as there was no opposing traffic, I could keep the high beam on and then I could see well enough to travel at an acceptable clip. But competing headlights coming up behind me and a steady stream of traffic coming toward me had me crawling along at about 35 miles an hour, pulling over every chance I got.
Pulling over to allow traffic that got piled up behind me proved gut-wrenching, because I couldn't always see the side of the road well enough to determine if there was enough shoulder to pull over onto. By the time I could see what lay on the other side of the white line to my right, it was usually too late to make a safe stop.
I'm sure I pissed off a lot of drivers who wanted around me.
But no one tried to run me down.
I can't even say I was happy to reach the light pollution of the Oakhurst city streets. By the time I rolled into town and parked the bike in the Taco Bell parking lot, I was beat.
I carefully uncurled my fingers off the handlebar grips-- I might have been hanging on a bit tight.
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew I was not sleeping in my own bed tonight. It was just a smidge after 9 p.m. when I called the Boyfriend. I immediately announced that I was in Oakhurst and that he should come get me.
He didn't seem to be taking me very seriously. But he did try to find me an alternate route home that avoided circumnavigating the critter-infested forests surrounding Bass Lake while equally avoiding the traffic congested freeways through Fresno.
It was hopeless. I could do one, or the other. But there was no way I was avoiding both. And taking the 41 out of Oakhurst into Fresno, meant I was likely to encounter both.
It was suggested that I should look for one more hotel room and ride home at a liesurely pace in the morning sun.
Hrumph. I hardly see what the problem was with going over to his parents' house, borrowing the trailer, driving nearly 2 hours to Oakhurst, loading my bike onto the trailer and driving back home.
Oh sure, maybe we wouldn't have gotten home until 1 in the morning, but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable idea.
Instead, I told him I'd give him a call again when I knew where home would be for the night, hung up the phone, and set off to find a hotel.
Naturally, finding a hotel room at 9 o'clock on a Saturday night, at the end of summer, in a town right outside of Yosemite National Park was a challenge.
I rode to the farthest west end of the town and started working my way east, and since every hotel in Oakhurst can't be bothered to make use of one of those ingenious "Vacancy/NO vacancy" signs, I had to pull up in front of the office door at each hotel, make sure I was on level ground so Pinkfoot's slightly-too-long side stand would be sure to keep the bike upright, shut down the engine, dismount, walk inside, and wait my turn in line just to be told "No" when I asked if there was a room available.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I was on my 4th establishment, walking into the lobby of the local Best Western franchise. I really, really wanted this place to have a room. This Best Western had a lovely lobby. One whole wall, possibly 2 or 3 stories high, entirely covered with small river rocks with a fountain of water cascading down from the heights. It was just nice. And I'd found a place to park outside where I could have left the bike overnight without worry.
I walked to the counter. I flagged down one of the ladies working the front desk. She slowly shook her head back and forth.
No room at this inn either.
But there was hope! She informed me that a small independent up the road had just called to let them know that he had a room available still for $159.
A little piece inside me shriveled up with the noise that PacMan makes when he dies. I guess that makes up the difference for those rooms that had come in under budget.
I didn't have many choices left and it was looking like either I take this opportunity or I gingerly feel out my way home and, truth be told, I was getting tired. So I asked where this "Pinerose Inn" was and would they be so kind as to call to let the proprietor know I was on my way and please don't give the room to someone else.
The Pinerose was conveniently located along the road that I would be taking in the morning anyway, just out of Oakhurst on the way to Bass Lake. This was a very dark road, and the small structure that referred to itself as a "bed and breakfast" was set back from the road with only a small light bulb illuminating the sign indicating the drive way.
I found it. I parked in the small, paved parking lot in front of the building. I looked around and tried to figure out exactly where I was supposed to go.
Directly in front of me was an expansive patio area. On the other end of the patio was a homey building with open French doors revealing a kitchen next to a living room with a large, flat screen TV.
To my right was another room in the structure. It also had French doors, but this room was closed and dark with only a dim porch light burning beside the doors. Nevertheless, this seemed the more obvious of the two options as being the office.
As I turned my approach toward the darker of the two doorways, the tiny wooden sign staked in a planter pot caught my eye; it said "Office" and pointed toward the brightly lit doorway at the end of the patio.
The whole property lacked cohesive design. Finding the office wasn't intuitive, and I wasn't sure it was just because it was after dark. I didn't feel like I was arriving at a business, I felt like I was intruding on someone's dinner time.
I poked my head through the open doors. A man was in the kitchen. A large man; tall and decidedly pear shaped. He greeted me eagerly.
I immediately started wondering what I had gotten myself into.
He was a very nice man. I truly hesitate to tell my tale as it unfolded because I just don't feel it's fair to him, but I'd be skipping part of the story if I failed to mention how much his demeanor resembled Norman Bates.
Hey! Norman was a nice guy too.
I felt like I was wandering into someone's personal space, but I crossed the room to join Norm at the breakfast bar of the kitchen where he was standing. He made some pleasant small talk, confirmed that I was the person he was waiting for, and wrote out a bill and gave me the total.
I handed him my credit card. He looked at me and an expression of slight puzzlement flashed across his face for just a fleeting moment. Then he said, "Oh. You want to use a credit card." Period. Not question mark. It was a flat statement, but his voice held a touch of surprise. Like it was unusual for people visiting his inn to present credit cards. Which seems weird, given it being the middle of California, USA outside of a major tourist attraction like Yosemite National Park in the early 21st century and all. But running my card wasn't a problem and he handed me a receipt to sign and a key to my room.
But he didn't pull out a map to show me how to get to my room. Nor did he simply use a series of gestures and prepositions to explain its whereabouts. He emerged from behind the kitchen counter and began escorting me to another section of the building.
He was all niceties and jabbering away about how "we" serve breakfast buffet style around 8 and how running a bed and breakfast is so much fun and about all the interesting people "we" get to meet.
I never saw any sign of another person working there or living with him.
Um...Norman? How's your mom?
I followed him at a respectable distance as he walked out of what I now assumed was his home-slash-office, onto the patio and around a dark corner. I suspected the covered section of the patio housed piles of treasures that most people would relegate to the junkyard, but I couldn't quite tell in the dark.
The place was dark. And getting darker the farther we wandered from his dining room.
As we turned the corner we had to descend a short section of steps-- wooden ones, home-made looking wooden steps. The kind you'd expect to see leading to an unfinished basement in a horror movie.
At the bottom of the short stair case, we landed in front of a dark room with a sliding glass door and walked across and down what I suspected was the parking space for the room that apparently wasn't mine, even though it appeared empty. The parking space was a narrow strip of blacktop asphalt that stretched steeply downhill.
It just kept getting darker.
We were now downhill, around the corner, and underneath the main floor. There was absolutely no light down here and we were completely out of sight of the road. I was walking pretty far back, holding my helmet very securely by the chin straps with one hand with my key to the bike in the other.
But Norman just kept walking along, talking about living in the mountains and running the inn and all sorts of things like this was totally normal and shouldn't creep the guests out in the slightest.
We walked downhill along what appeared to be a small road or alley way that snaked around the back of the property and disappeared into the darkness. We were now 3 stories underneath his apartment-- or 2 and a half, depending on how you count it, being on a hill and all-- and completely facing the other way. Norm proceeded up a slight curb, across a gravel parking area, through a small wrought-iron garden gate to a set of French Doors.
I stayed in the gravel parking area.
This was the first time he turned around to look at me and maybe it occurred to him momentarily that I wasn't quite as close to him as he had expected me to be. But he didn't say anything about it, he just unlocked the doors and reached inside to turn on some lights.
This was really a cute little room.
He walked back down to me, gave me my key and reminded me about breakfast. Then he asked if the gravel parking area was going to be an issue for the bike, but I assured him it was fine.
He meandered back up to his own quarters via the same convoluted path we'd taken down, and I hiked back up the road to the bike and rode down to my room.
The room would have made a perfect studio apartment. It was completely self contained, including a small, but full kitchen.
But it was a strange room. The floor was terra cotta tile, chunky and uneven. The kitchen and the bathroom were on a higher level, 2 steep steps up from the main floor. On the right hand side, right in front of the kitchen area where one would normally expect to put one's dining table, was a giant, two person jacuzzi bathtub completely tiled in with marble tiles. It sat on the diagonal in the corner with a shower head poking out from the marble that ensconced the wall. Two brass curtain rods jutted out from the wall and met over the tub in a right angle with heavy black curtains-- that I think were shower curtains-- hanging from them like drapes framing an elegant window. The marble tiling was crude, but imposing and created almost a hearth effect around the tub.
It was definitely a statement piece.
Next to the tub was a small, cast iron wood stove that didn't appear to be suitable for actual use, but there didn't appear to be any other source of heat for the room so I wonder what guests do when visiting the area when it's covered in snow.
On the other side of the room was a king size bed with a large art deco armoire on the other side of that, blocking a large window. Next to the armoire, in the corner of the room at the foot of the bed, a 40 inch flat screen TV sat on a sofa table, next to a little settee covered in sage green crushed velvet.
On either side of the bed was a night stand, but not a matching set. And on each night stand, continuing the eclectic things-from-your-grandma's-attic chic decor, were two entirely unmatched lamps.
The room was decorated with lots of rich brass tones and dark woods with lots of black thrown in for a very art deco feel. It was entirely too crowded for a room at any sort of inn, but the decor was not without taste and character.
I kinda liked it. It was funky and it made me feel like I was visiting an elderly, eccentric aunt who might also be a witch.
Like I was an eight-year-old in a kids' novel. I dug it.
Outside the French doors was a small patio with a white wrought-iron bistro set that matched the little fence and gate that separated my room from the rest of the world.
If I were single again and living in a big city, I would love to have this as an apartment.
I sat at the little bistro set and signed into the wifi network and emailed the boyfriend, since, naturally, I had absolutely zip for cell signal out here in the wilderness and I really wanted to make sure someone knew where I was.
I'm sure my personal Norman Bates is very sweet-- I just don't know who this "we" he keeps referring to is.
For reasons I'm not entirely sure of and, in a move pretty uncommon for me, I looked up the Inn's online reviews.
They were unkind. Several of them came from people who came off as sniveling, spoiled city dwellers who have never actually been in real mountains before.
Yes, mountain properties have dust and sometimes ants.
My room did not have any insects that I could find. I had plenty of hot water, enough to fill the giant tub-- but the jets for the tub did not work. Frankly, I hadn't expected them to and I wouldn't have tried them if I hadn't read the reviews.
I wasn't planning on attending breakfast, the BF had emailed back right away and we had made plans to meet up at Tollhouse for breakfast in the morning.
A family in a Mercedes SUV arrived and moved into the room above me. They did not seem impressed.
I retired to bed and explored what the TV had to offer. I ended up watching 3 episodes of some travel channel show dedicated to haunted hotels. I tried not to think about how much this place looked like one of the places on the show and I tried not to worry about how easy it would be to break through the lock on the French doors-- or just break the doors.
The bed was big and soft and comfy and I finally drifted off singing "grandma's feather bed" to myself and trying not to worry about what portal to another dimension the wardrobe next to the bed might hide behinds its doors.
Sunday, August 17: HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This was the first morning that I work late and blurry eyed, as if my subconscious was keenly aware of how close to home I was and that today's ride wouldn't require much in the way of physical and mental exertion and wasn't going to cover any new territory.
I opened my eyes to the morning sunlight pouring through the windows and French doors. I blinked a few times. I looked around the crazy-aunt room, relieved that everything had remained in its place; no signs of elves or trolls or possessed furniture attempting to attack me in my sleep but still, something about the room did not seem quite as I'd left it.
I stretched and looked at the alarm clock to see what time it was. I did, after all, have a breakfast date an hour away.
The digital clock was dark. Then I realized I had left one of the lamps on which was also now dark.
Power outage? Was it the entire hotel? Just my room? Had the zombie apocalypse started? Was it trolls? Was it Norman Bates upstairs? I got up and found my cell phone where I'd left it plugged into its charger on the kitchen counter.
I got dressed, brushed my teeth and packed the bike.
By the light of day, I could see my suspicions confirmed. What looked quaint by starlight, looked haggard by sunlight.
The building needed several coats of paint, preferably in a new color. The borders of the property were lined with various cast off treasures; lumber, rail road ties, planters, rolls of chicken wire... the sort of things that a clever mind might look at and see wondrous creations. "We'll just put that over there for now." "NO! Don't take that to the junk yard! I'm going to make something with it!"
the driveway down to my room-- MUCH steeper in real life than it appears.
I know how these minds work, my grandmother is the queen of them; sitting on her throne in the midst of her treasures, insisting that it's not trash while she fantasizes about all the fabulous things she will do with her hoards of old magazines and VHS video tapes, boxes of rocks and twigs, Styrofoam egg cartons and meat trays stacked on furniture long ago discarded by less imaginative folks.
Who ever owns this hotel is cut from the same cloth as my grandmother.
I parked the bike in the street level lot and set about hunting down Norman to give him back the key. I could have just left it in the room, but it just feels like the right thing to do to return it and say thank you and good bye in person, the guy might seem a little odd, but he's really quite sincere and sweet and besides, I was pretty sure I could out run him.
I found him in the kitchen again, behind the long dining table covered with entirely more coffee cups than the small inn would ever need and big bowls of fruit salad and cups of yogurt.
There was no one in sight. The cars that had been occupying parking spaces the night before were deserted. I suspected the other guests had begged out of breakfast with feigned politeness and excuses of wanting to get to Yosemite as early as possible while they set off in the direction of Oakhurst's Denny's and McDonalds'.
Norman was all aflutter with the morning's excitement-- apparently the power outage was widespread. It had taken out the entire area and meant that "they" couldn't make breakfast. "They" had spent all morning running around trying to come up with breakfast options that didn't require cooking.
He was disappointed that I wasn't staying for some fruit salad and yogurt. I think he was more upset that there was no one left to talk to. Or maybe his imaginary friend liked me?
I bid my farewells and was on my way again. Back on home turf now, I did my best to take my time and enjoy the last leg of my ride. I was excited to see the BF. I was excited about a genuine breakfast in Tollhouse. I was excited about getting home to the dogs. I was excited about telling my story.
I had to stop for gas in North Fork before navigating the foothill roads into Auberry and, finally, to Tollhouse. I had just turned onto Tollhouse Road with the diner in sight when the BF went whizzing by in the opposite direction. I was running late and he'd grown impatient with waiting on me, and had started to worry.
He swung his own bike back around and we engaged in the sort of heart warming middle-of-the-street reunion usually reserved for romance movies. If it had been raining, it would have been the perfect happily ever after ending: run credits.
In real life, we had breakfast to eat, another hour and half of riding till home, unpacking and laundry ahead of us still.
And work the next day.
Breakfast at Tollhouse