Catch up on the first Chapter: 1
As I mentioned, I was still operating on Mountain Time and had to wait for the breakfast from the lobby. I managed to dump coffee all over my shirt so had to rinse it out in the bathroom sink. It didn’t take too long to dry the shirt on the back of my bike. This actually made me smile as I thought of a similar circumstance on the previous trip, washing my clothes in the bathroom sink of the motel.
After topping off the fuel I started one of the most pleasant motorcycle tours I’ve ever taken.
US 89-A used to be the primary road south of Flagstaff toward Phoenix but was bypassed in the late 1970s by Interstate 17. The old road is still the most scenic way to Sedona and the primary route to Prescott and beyond. And one of the bonuses (at least to gypsy motorcyclists) is the ride down Oak Creek Canyon. The canyon rivals Zion National Park for its dramatic colors and spectacular scenery. At the bottom I am sure that I had the same feeling this year as 40 years ago; “I want to do that again!”
I had chosen a non-weekend day for my ride and was rewarded with light traffic. It really didn’t matter as I was in no hurry and was enjoying the ride. A couple of times I let people go around while I rubbernecked.
At the base of the canyon I discovered that a building that had been an important part in the earlier trip was still intact. In 1970 it was a Texaco gas station that had an air hose that I needed to fix my flat tire. Today it is a thriving deli and general store. The original Texaco oval sign now was painted for the new business.
The flat tire on the rear caught me by surprise on my return trip. I had the tools to repair the tire and, fortunately, a Texaco station was right there with an air hose.
The problem was that then, as now, I have the mechanical ability of a bonobo. Every time that I would try to mount the repaired tire, I would pinch the tube causing a new leak. It was well past dark and the owner said, “I’ve got to close and I need to shut off my air compressor!” I was still fighting myself and begged him to leave the air hose. I finally convinced him that I would push the air hose thru the hole in the building when I was finished. After multiple attempts I was finally able to get the tire to hold air and headed on to my last night in Flagstaff.
The last time that I had passed through Sedona I had caught it at rush hour and was trapped in traffic. Today I had the road to myself and was able to enjoy the beautiful setting of the city. Riding in through the red bluffs reminded me of our own red rocks at Jemez Pueblo.
The town of Jerome is perched upon the hillside and the road matches the destination as a narrow, two-lane road. It was there that I discovered a fundamental fact about some humans.
I was behind two cars on a road with no passing zones. As I was going nowhere, I put some distance between myself and the car ahead. I was going the exact same speed as the cars in front of me, merely at a distance where I would not have to worry about sudden maneuvers. This drove the guy behind me completely batshit insane. On a short stretch of road ahead he passed me across double yellow so that he could follow the two cars ahead of me the remainder of the way with me still following behind.
Lynn and I have stopped at Jerome in the past and toured the tourist spots. This is one of the places that I could retire to. I could totally see myself operating a hamburger stand there. Unfortunately for me, it was 9:30 AM local and no place was open for lunch.
The ride to Jerome is only the beginning of the curves and slopes of 89-A. For a motorcyclist, this was heaven, tight curves and little traffic. I took my time, enjoying the scenery.
A few miles on the other side of Jerome I encountered some minor road construction and I found myself at the end of the traffic behind the pilot car. I was in no hurry and kept back in the pack, looking for a place to take some photos of the highway curves. Finally I came to a spot where I could photograph the road and the valley below from the highway. Because of the traffic control I knew that I had plenty of time so I stopped the bike, leaned it on the kickstand and pulled out the camera.
A few photos later I was ready to move on. After putting the camera away I readied to raise the bike off of the kickstand. And discovered that I was unable to do so.
The place that I had chosen was on a curve and I was on the slope, leaning downward. Probably the deal-breaker was my bag on the back, its extra weight just enough to keep me from getting upright to where I could balance the bike. Regardless how I pushed, I could not get the motorcycle vertical enough to raise the kickstand.
This was ridiculous. Although I wasn’t in immediate hazard I knew that it was only a matter of time until the next wave of cars was released by the flagman. I couldn’t get my short legs to push enough off of the pavement below to get the bike into an upright position where I could balance it.
At last I dismounted and held the bike up from the downhill side. I was able to start it and, holding the clutch in with my left hand, engage first gear with my right and walk the bike to the shoulder. There I could mount my motorcycle and continue on the road. It was easy to laugh about it afterward but I was in a bit of a fix for a bit, there!
The city of Prescott is one of the nicest towns in all of Arizona. Set high in the mountains it is surrounded by pine covered hills and miles and miles of open space. As I was thinking how pleasant the town of Prescott was I crossed Pleasant Street! Coincidence?
89 continued with more curves and light traffic.
By this time I was getting very hungry and resolved to stop at the next place that I saw for some lunch. Driving through Yarnell I spotted a restaurant, the only one that I had seen. The criteria that my brother had established (the more cars around a place, the better it is) was appropriate as the parking lot was full and I stopped for a well-deserved break.
Walking in I instantly felt a sensation of déjà-vu; I knew that I had been here before.
In 2002 Lynn and I had traveled to our niece’s graduation in California and had done a loop trip that included 89-A. At dinner time we were still a long way away from our hotel in Prescott so we stopped at a roadside diner for dinner. Yep, same place. To top it off, as they advertised being in business since 1948, it is entirely possible (yet totally unremembered) that I stopped at this very place for lunch in 1970.
I still had a few more miles of curves ahead to be enjoyed. The road at one point became so steep that the uphill and downhill lanes were separated. This removed the hazard of uphill traffic and allowed me to enjoy the view without worry of traffic.
At one point there was a vista point which showed the industry of the Congress valley below. At last it was warm enough so I took off my leather jacket and stuffed it into my saddlebags. In hindsight it was here that I made a major tactical mistake by not buying and downing serious amounts of water. It was soon going to manifest itself as a potentially life-threatening situation. One of the most enjoyable mornings of riding was going to be followed by one of the most miserable afternoons that I’ve ever had.
The winds had been blowing all day but the trees of the forest had kept most of the pressure off. Now that I arrived at the desert they returned with renewed vigor. The wind that had been a nuisance was now a major force. Passing through Salome on Highway 60 I saw a dust devil that was more of a tornado. I watched its progress so that I would not be caught up in it, awed by its impressiveness as it soared thousands of feet above. Still, the winds! Pounding, unrelentless and sucking the very moisture out of my body. Now that I was out of the mountains I felt that I could open up the bike and cover the remaining miles. I didn’t count on the effect that the heat, dryness and winds would have on me.
I carried a water bottle on the inside of my windshield where I could get at it easily. But the constant pressure of the winds plus the traffic, particularly the trucks, meant that I generally felt uncomfortable taking my hands off of the handlebars so I failed to keep drinking fluids. And what happens when one becomes water-deprived? They lose common sense, including the incentive to drink water!
I was lucky to gas up in Congress as it was the last gas for many a mile down the road. I’m not sure that I would have made it from Prescott to the next gas station. The pleasure of the two-lane road was offset by the horrendous winds and the terrific heat. I’ve lived in New Mexico most of my life and am used to 100 degree days but this heat was at least ten to fifteen degrees above that and I was in gale-force winds and staring directly into the setting sun. Things didn’t get any better when I joined the truck traffic on Interstate 10. I was lightheaded trying to find gasoline in Blythe and drove around much of the town in a daze.
I pushed onward. I only had about 100 miles to go and I figured that I could endure whatever was necessary. That endurance proved to be a test of my mortal abilities.
My destination was Indio. I had forgotten how desolate this portion of the desert was. Scores of miles passed by with no sign of civilization. Exits were for roads through the desert and there were no services to be had. I pushed on, dodging the trucks and fighting the unrelenting wind.
The wind also sucked the very moisture out of me and I suddenly felt an intense burning in my right eye. The hot, dry wind irritated it and I could provide temporary relief by closing the eye. After a few minutes my vision in that eye turned totally white and I was blind in that side.
At the time I concluded that I had sunburn on the eye. Although I was wearing UV-protective sunglasses my thoughts were of people who watched arc-welding and the subsequent first-degree sunburn that it caused.
I pulled off at the first exit and splashed water from by water bottle into my eye. The cool water cleared my vision for a few moments but the wind quickly dehydrated it once more.
I had to assess my options, and they were pretty few. There was no other town until Indio, another 50 miles away, where I had a motel reservation. I could sit at the exit until my vision cleared or I could push on one-eyed. Daylight was slowly fading and monocular driving could only be worse at night. I had no choice. I closed my eye and returned to the highway.
I felt pretty pathetic by the time I got to the Motel 6 and had to make a decision to take a downstairs room or a room with wifi. I chose the latter and had to haul my bag upstairs to the room that was diagonally across from the top of the stairs, the farthest room away.
Finally I was able to soak a washcloth to put across my eyes and lay down on the bed in the darkness. After dozing for half an hour or so I discovered, to my relief, that my sight had returned. The nap had restored my energy and I was ready to find some dinner.
As I washed my face I could see the dead skin of second-degree sunburn on my cheeks. Although I had used sun blocker it was obviously not near enough for the intense sun. Fortunately I had picked up some aloe lotion in Flagstaff and applied it liberally to my face.
I was finally ready for dinner.
As a general rule I avoid Mexican food outside of New Mexico but the neighborhood where I was staying looked an awful lot like the South Valley of Albuquerque and if I wanted to eat, it was going to be Mexican.
I discovered, to my joy, that the offerings looked a lot more like home than the usual sour cream and guacamole encrusted glop of most Californian “Mexican food.” I ordered a beer and water. And water. And more water. I guess after a while the waitress figured from my face what was going on and brought me a pitcher.
Not knowing their chili I went with the fajitas. The flavor of the carnitas took me back to the steaks that Dad had cooked years ago. I don’t know what they used that was the same.
On the way back to my room I noticed that the motel next door bore a strong resemblance to the one that I had stayed in on my original trip. The location was about right and the layout was as I had remembered with a separate building in front and a strip of rooms to the right. If it was, indeed, the same place (now named “Economy Inn”) then it was quite a coincidence being right next door to where I was staying!
Originally my trip was to have been two days out, a couple of days in Tujunga and then a return home via San Francisco. Quite the trip for a sixteen-year-old on a dirtbike! My plans got changed for me by a sandstorm while crossing the desert and I was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Indio.
I checked into a motel next to the highway. The room cost $8, one tenth of my entire traveling funds. In addition, the TV required a dime for each half hour of viewing. I bought a buck’s worth of dimes from the office and rolled the bike into the room to get it out of the gale.
I was a bit concerned about what that dust was doing to the innards of the bike so, in between washing my clothes in the bathroom sink and feeding dimes into the TV, I tore down and rebuilt the carburetors. When I checked out the next morning I left a good-sized gas/oil stain on the rug.
I really didn’t feel up to visiting with the locals and the remoteness of my room meant that there wasn’t anybody strolling by, anyway. I hit the bed early.
To be continued.