From the Oklahoma garage in late September I pull away on my BMW K 1200 GT, wanting to put some miles between the mundane and myself. I ride mostly alone and distant from the crowds, finding solace in solitude and peacefulness on the open road.
My adventure is created in capacious spaces that I traverse on playground corridors. Bliss ensues from the feel and taste of landscape’s fairness and bouquet, which arrive unimpeded to my motorized porch.
A rain shower near Amarillo, I-40 construction at Tucumcari, rush hour traffic in Albuquerque, and one agitated anti-biker trucker sequentially propel my psyche through a much-needed transformation. Stopped at dusk in Gallup, worn out with 730 miles on the tripmeter, I sense the cerebral cortex cells have been cleared, and reset to the freedom and discovery defaults.
The next morning, I leave early-still a bit punchy, but anxious to get going in order to pack everything in and make Moab before dark. Outside Window Rock, the sweet smelling pines of the Navajo National Forest and rhythmic pathway wake the soul up.
Throttling up to the Canyon De Chelly National Monument, I drop in to the visitor’s center and meet Ted Henry, a gifted Navajo jeweler. We converse a little about jewelry, and a little more about life. Ted’s inspiration is greatly seeded in a chance photographic encounter in 1942 between Ansel Adams and Ted’s mother Rose.
Adams was commissioned by the National Park Service in 1941 to create a photomural for the Department of Interior building in Washington, D.C. based on the National Parks, a project uncompleted due to World War II. In 1942, Rose was photographed by Adams in the canyon while carrying her infant child, Ted’s older brother. The result is a photograph titled, "Navajo Woman and Infant, Canyon de Chelly, Arizona". Years later, by chance, Ted’s family discovered the famous photograph of Rose and Ted’s brother.
Ted keeps a worn book of Ansel Adams photography at his bench and his jewelry always carries an artistic depiction of the encounter etched into the back of each silver overlay holding his beautifully created stone inlays.
The canyon is an engrossing place to linger among ancient ruins, chiseled into the walls by our like-hearted sojourners of the past, while sustained by the chasm’s niche environment. Beautiful vistas of the canyon are easily accessed along two rim roads, north and south. After an absorbing north rim photography session, I feel a strong urge to hurry on with the odyssey.
Loaded and underway, I come face-to-face with a large herd of sheep and have to downshift to a crawl. With a confident young Navajo man leading the herd, staff in hand, the sheep part, gently passing close on both sides. I’m favored to believe it was the young man’s grandmother bringing up the rear, casting a colossal wave above her beaming smile. Forthwith, my own smile charged through me plumb down to the pegs, illuminating the metaphorical encounter. Too much hurry and life’s treasures lay buried, hidden from experience.
Cranking it up to Kayenta and turning north, Monument Valley is close. The park is owned, operated, and maintained by the Navajo Nation. I miss a sign requiring a pass to drive down the dirt trail until I am on it, well beyond the visitor’s center; I promise to get one next time. Awesome spires of erosional inspiration soon appear in all directions; I take ample time to soak it in and capture some majestic pixels.
Scouring road signs, merrily humming a refrain, "Don’t miss Highway 261"-a tempting little byway on my map-I find the left-hand turn and happily cruise until that neck bending warning sign presses the panic button. "What? The map doesn’t mention three miles of steep graveled switch backs up a big plateau with no guard rails!"
I start worriedly humming a new refrain, "Don’t want to die," while squeezing the knuckles white on the grips. Surviving the loose unnerving ascent-perhaps there is a bit of GS in my GT-I pound my chest a bit on top. Again on pavement, I rev the motor back up, eventually arriving back in civilization at Blanding. The final leg to Moab is a bit crowded, though scenic and generally satisfying.
"So that’s my Priceline.com room; no wonder I won the bid!" I think to myself, assessing my blind-date accommodations. Later in town, I find a noisy bar, steak, and cowboy singer-all in one establishment on the corner. "Oops. Sorry, Miss. I’ll get some towels and replace your beer.
You say that’s the boyfriend coming this way! Hey, brother, sorry I knocked her beer over, but she’s almost cleaned up! Well, glad you’re laughing and I humbly accept your offer to buy me a beer." Good steak, good music, good-humored folks, and a good 400-mile day.
As advertised, my Priceline.com motel had a free continental breakfast and most of the grazers were definitely from some different continents. I ate up and saddled up before the continentals loaded up on the tour buses.
Arches National Park is just across the Colorado River from Moab. Although chilly, the morning firmament is windless and transposing to brilliant blue. I am spellbound by the park’s grandeur and, just think, we own these places!
I putter carefreely along the park roads, checking out balanced rocks, eponymous arches, and various paradoxical formations-incredible fun. I hate to leave, but the quest and Mother Nature begin calling, so I backtrack to the visitor’s center. "Man, that bathroom line wasn’t there a few minutes ago," I quipped just before observing the continental buses had caught up!
Highway 128 heads east, then north, then east, then north, then south, and, well, you get the picture. Riding along the Colorado River is flat fun, even though initially a bit crowded. Gradually, the traffic grows sparse and the excursion has me grinning as the canyon walls and the river recede behind. Things straighten out and the K-bike winds up on I-70 east bound.
Colorado is just down the way. Exiting near Fruita, I see no fruit or fruits, but definitely fine farm country. Highway 139 north is a grand path, and chances are you will come upon bikers in good weather. It starts off straight, and then runs up through the foothills and over the pass, where it’s real twisty. The progressing fall foliage envelops me in its warm and pleasant color space-my spirit is lifted and soothed.
Coasting out of the hills and onto flatter terrain on a perfect Sunday afternoon, I am chilled out and taking it easy. "Whoa, where did that Ford truck come from?" I am unexpectedly rocked from behind to a more cognizant state. Feeling besmirched, I conjecture that the farmer needs a speed lesson and kick it up to 90 mph, then 100, and since he is still pulling away, press it to 110. "What the heck is under that farmer’s hood? Oh, forget it, and just drift back to tranquility."
Back to a normal pace, I cruise up and over toward Steamboat Springs-special thanks to the on-coming farm truck with emergency flashers and driver hanging out the window waving. I slow way down, thinking, "Maybe a little much for a cop sighting?"
Around a couple bends, I encounter a hay truck turned over in the middle of the thoroughfare. "Appreciate it, man!" I shout in gratitude to the rear. All in all, a very nice jaunt, notwithstanding a little hay in the way.
Arriving in Steamboat Springs, I quickly locate the head waters of my favorite spring, dead center in the Rio Grande restaurant-a margarita spring that is! But first-things-first.
Needing sleeping quarters within walking distance, I pull into the Rabbit Ears Motel. "Yes, lady, I have been riding for a while and am babbling from road dementia-glad you figured out I want a room even though words aren’t aligning in my brain."
Now the Rabbit Ears has value-even a pot of flowers outside the room, and that’s a solid recommendation from this babbler. After a hot shower and a nap, I stroll down to the Rio and up onto the roof seating in time to catch a glorious sunset, enjoy a fine dinner, and sample the spring. "Yes, waiter, I do recall a margarita limit; are you sure that was number three?"
The next morning it is too cold for comfort. But, by 9 o’clock I just can’t wait any longer, even though the temperature was only up to 36 degrees. I turn up the heated grips and seat controls; at least the digits and posterior will be toasty. In a few miles, I find Highway 14. It’s a northern passage I had been looking forward to with great expectation; I traveled it a few years ago from the east and put it on the do-again list.
There is no traffic, and it’s nice and easy to Walden. I pause there for high-octane fuel, and also a little gas for the K-bike. Browsing around the station sipping my sugar free Red Bull, I discover a large selection of moose T-shirts for sale, and two saleswomen. "Hey, ladies, there aren’t any moose around Walden. Sorry, no offense meant! So, you claim there are many moose; any proof?"
With no words spoken, Lady One shoots out from the counter and magically re-materializes from behind, handing me a post card. In unison, the girls point and prompt me to look out the window. "OK, a cemetery? What, your proof is a postcard of the Walden cemetery with moose strolling through?
Hey, I’m a Photoshop expert!" Gas on the fire! "Okay, gals. Settle down. Tell you what, give me your written Walden moose sighting certification on the back of the card and I’ll purchase the card and that All-Moose-Asleep nightshirt over there. Gee, better start looking out for moose on the road."
Don’t retire the bike until you wind through the mountain and canyon coils along the Cache la Poudre River. The route’s exhilaration is engulfed in so much natural beauty, especially in the fall; it will make you squeal with delight. At trail’s end, the Rio Grande restaurant in Fort Collins (yep, one on both ends-good planning, huh?) is the setting of choice for lifting a one-margarita toast of restrained celebration.
Following a restful evening with friends Jon and Paula in Colorado Springs, I zig and zag all day across the wide plains of eastern Colorado and western Kansas, exploring my way to cowboy central-Dodge City. My mood becomes lighthearted and "Yahoo, cowboy!" while stopping to read a marker about a famous 1872 buffalo hunt-near what is now the town of Kit Carson-that included the likes of Col. George Armstrong Custer, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickok.
Soon, however, my mood takes a somber turn at a rest stop in Eads, Colorado. There, a plaque documents the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864, only eight years before the glorious 1872 buffalo hunt, in which over 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho men, women and children were needlessly and unmercifully slaughtered. I travel Highway 96 outside town wanting to see and experience the monument, but I can only pull off the highway at the exit because the eight-mile entrance road is sand and dirt.
A real sense of sadness, reality, and admittedly shame comes over me as I park there and ponder my life, my trip, the individuals, and families impacted by the massacre. My mind continues to the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City which took 168 lives, an event of 15 years ago still fresh in my mind, and other reality checks. It’s a crazy world, one often unfair and so unjust at times.
Although painful and burdensome, we just have to learn from the legacy we all share-both the good and the bad. I like to think we’ve come a long ways, but we have a long ways to go.
Upon a pre-planned and perfectly synchronized late afternoon arrival in Dodge, I meet up with three buddies from home for an evening of refreshment and less-than-serious conversation before trekking home the next day.
"Good morning John! Yeah, my head hurts a bit, too, but less after some coffee. Where are Dave and Bill? Sleepin’? Ahh, leave a note and let’s ride; you know me!"
"Hozhoò doò" (In Beauty and Harmony)