Home Is Where The Hog Is...
Home is Where the Hog is: A Tourer’s Tale
Like any good road trip, this tale began with a few unexpected twists and turns.
Twas late October, the BiketoberWest and Love Ride events were coming up, and I found myself in need of a trusty steed on which to waddle along the parade routes. Hmmm, what ever shall I ride? A few mouse clicks worth of research revealed that the last time MO did a H-D Road King piece was in 1996. I suppose we can be excused for repeating ourselves once every 7 years or so, eh? A few phone calls to H-D Fleet later, and I was set and ready to roll on a 2004 RK. So far so good, right? Little did I know that a few days later, I no longer would have anyplace to roll to.
The San Diego based BiketoberWest event wound up getting cancelled due to the fact that nobody seemed to want to ride straight through an entire county’s worth of raging inferno just to see the Edgar Winter Band play. Seeing as the Love Ride was practically in my backyard, this now meant that the touring capabilities of the RK would be squandered unless I came up with another story idea. Let’s see, where should I go? South into the fires was out. North up the coast was an option, but the weather was always colder up there, and it was already pretty nippy in L.A.. From where I live, I’ve only got about three blocks worth of West before a bike turns into a submarine. So how about East? Someplace warm. Arizona maybe? How about Flagstaff?
I could barrel out there in between my power lunch with Kawasaki on Tuesday, and the LoveRide on Sunday. One day there, one day back, two days in between. The RK can easily gobble up all of those long straight miles. It shouldn’t be too cold yet this time of year, and I can swing by the Grand Canyon and maybe even Sedona. So I pitched it to Sean as a test and review. “Nah EBass, why don’t we get a few more V-Twin tourers and do a big comparo instead”. Can’t argue with that logic. A Grand Canyon or Sedona piece? Not with one darkness-abbreviated day apiece to do them justice. I needed a catch, an angle, a hook, a raison d’etre for my story.
Hmmm… “Hey Sean, how about I just take off, ride around for a few days and write weird stuff about whatever happens to me”?
“Sure Ebass, just so long as you’re incommunicado and I don’t have to hear from you for awhile”.
That was way too easy Sean… but so what, I’ll take it!
So plans were set, reservations were made, and then it occurred to me to check on the weather report. Groan! Images of balmy Arizona climates were quickly dashed when I visited Weather.com and found the forecast was for highs in the 50’s and lows in the 20’s. Brrrrr! Mental note to self: weather report first, reservations second. Well, what the heck, I grew up in NY. I used to have thick skin anyway. At least they aren’t calling for rain or snow, so let’s look upon this as a challenge. A good opportunity to prove that we SoCal-ers aren’t the fair weather wussies that everyone thinks we are…even though we are. After all, “What would Sonny Barger do?” My guess is he’d pull on a wife-beater, freeball it under his jeans, grit his teeth, and ride until off-yellow icicles began growing out of his armpits.
Which still left me with the question of “What would EBass do?”.
Well, what I did was put on two pairs of thick socks under my boots, thermal underwear under my jeans, throw on a T-shirt, thermal shirt, and my 10 lb H-D FXRG jacket, toss a sweater, chaps, muffler, and a few more T-shirts in the saddlebags, and leave L.A. at 9:00 AM Wednesday morning in fifty degree weather mumbling, “Think warm thoughts. Bali, Fiji, virgin, tanned, island girls fetching me Piña Coladas and rubbing oil on my back… and front…and…HONK!”. OK, maybe I better cool it on the island girls and concentrate on staying in my lane. “My bad, homie. Please don’t shoot, alright?”.
The 481 mile trek would begin with the 10 freeway East which led me to the 15 North and ultimately to the 350 mile stretch of long, straight tarmac that was the 40 East. The Road King proved to be an excellent tool for the task at hand. Between Los Angeles and Flagstaff, there isn’t much to keep you interested. The scenery is fairly mundane desert stuff, the road is straight and long, and if you aren’t comfortable on your bike, it’s gonna be over eight hours before you get any relief. The RK found a fairly effortless cruising speed between 80 and 90 mph, and while H-D’s primitive thumbscrew “cruise control” device always makes me wonder why a $17K bike doesn’t have the real thing, it did serve its purpose and relieved me of the responsibility for throttle pressure. The ergos were more hunched over than I personally prefer, but the seat was devoid of pressure points, the bars and floorboards were well-isolated from vibration, and the windscreen was keeping the worst of it off of me.
Nonetheless, as I began to climb in elevation and the temperature dropped, I added first the chaps, then the sweater, then caved in and broke out the muffler to complete my Bedouin biker look. Even the most comfortable ergos don’t stay comfortable for eight hours straight, and I altered my body position on occasion by swinging my legs up onto the case savers in lieu of highway pegs, or more frequently, by putting my heels back onto the rear floorboards and copping sort of a Jesse James squat posture. Unorthodox, but by so doing I was able to reduce exposed leg surface due to my bent knees, saving me a few precious degrees of wind chill. Keep chanting EBass, “I’m not a wuss, I’m not a wuss”.
On desolate roads like the 40, frequent gas stops are a necessity, as is the occasional bio break. I tried to keep the bio breaks to an absolute minimum, as they involved a fairly extensive process of peeling off layers and re-applying. What can I say, I’m lazy, alright?! Anyhow, at this juncture, several hours into my odyssey, I knew that it had gotten seriously cold, because when I sidled up next to the burly trucker at the urinal and started digging through my jeans, thermals, and boxers, I couldn’t find Mr. Johnson anywhere. Man, I had to go too! As the errr…pressure mounted and the man-hunt grew more panicked, Big Bubba offers me a strange look and says, “Hey c’mon now dude, that’s sick. Even I use a stall when I’m doing that sort of thing”. “Hey bro, it ain’t like that. It’s just that the cold went and turned my AK47 of love into a .22 snubnose and now I can’t find it, alright?! So either go grab me that cute blonde that was standing by the coffee machine and bring her in here to help me out, or buzz off Bubba, and let me concentrate!”.
It was at about this point that I noticed the vending machines on the wall next to me. Now I’ve been through my share of rural gas stations, and I’ve seen condoms being sold in bathrooms before. I have to confess that I never quite understood the vendor’s choice of marketing gimmicks though. After all, does “ribbed for her pleasure” really count for much at a truck stop? Then there are the goofy colored ones with the little octopus thing on the end. Can you imagine a 400 lb guy named Bubba sporting one of those? I was trying desperately not to. And yet when I looked over at the selection next to me, I realized that this… this my friends was a new low. Hot Fudge flavored condoms are so profoundly wrong on so many levels I cannot even begin to count.
Fair reader, if you should ever find yourself in a romantic circumstance such that prudence would dictate the use of a condom even in areas of the (hopefully) female body that contain taste buds… stop what you’re doing and run, don’t walk, to the nearest church, synagogue, mosque or place of worship of your choice. Because you have officially reached the bottom of the bottomless pit my friend, and it’s time for you to say some Hail Marys, Hava Nagilas, Praise Allahs or something. I’d also recommend that the next stop on your way home be the YMCA to start working off the 200 lb spare tire you’re probably carrying around, and then hit the showers to get rid of some of the funk that’s scaring all the non-disease-riddled women away. It’s past time for you to be making some life changes amigo. And of all the flavors they could have chosen! Hot Fudge! Did they really need to go there?!
I’m sorry but “Hot”, “Fudge”, “flavored” and “condoms” are four words that should never, ever, under any circumstance be used in the same sentence. Highwayman, are you listening?
Bladder empty, mind still reeling, but finally back on the road, my goal was to arrive in Flagstaff before dark, when the temperature would surely plummet mercilessly. I could already feel the cold turning to f'n cold! as the sun went down and I climbed in elevation towards 6,000 feet above sea level. Not to mention the fact that I had been toughing it out for eight hours now and my thin California blood was starting to lose patience with my thick New York skull. Racing the sunset, I turned onto the I-17, exited the 89-A, and arrived in Flagstaff just as darkness (and frostbite) set in at around 5:30 PM. Phew! I made it. To borrow a catch phrase from “The A-Team”, “I love it when a good plan comes together”!
Typically when I travel on MO’s dime (and I do mean dime), I’ll stay at a hostel rather than a hotel. This serves two purposes. First of all, it stretches my miniscule expense allowance considerably further, as a dormitory bunk typically goes for $10 to $20 per night as opposed to $35 to $100 for a hotel room. This fact is of no small significance because it means that I will now have money to eat, and more importantly still… drink. Secondly though, hostels are a vastly more social environment than a hotel, and for me, the people you meet on a road trip are typically half the fun (or more if she’s hot, drunk, and just broke up with her boyfriend). Stay in a hotel and you’re probably gonna watch ESPN in your room all night. Stay in a hostel and all you need is to swing by the ubiquitous lounge or game room, meet a few mates, ask if anyone wants to go out for a bite or a beer, and you’ve got a “just add water” posse.
On this trip I had reserved three nights at the Dubeau Hostel in Flagstaff. As I arrived and backed the bike up to the curb in front of the lobby, I was greeted by a blond, blue eyed, bohemian-looking girl, named Marika who immediately began inspecting the RK and telling me how much she loved motorcycles. Funny, I hadn’t even stepped inside yet and I was feeling warmer already. As we talked on the curb, Marika casually smoked a cigarette. I gazed longingly at the smoldering tip and saw a heat source, any heat source. While I don’t usually smoke, I asked if she had another one and she pulled out a pouch of tobacco and papers. Having lost the feeling in my fingers at least 100 miles back, I told her that’s OK, that I didn’t want one bad enough to roll it myself. Marika looked at me like I had told her I didn’t know how to change a tire and rolled a cigarette for me in about 10 seconds flat. Handy girl!
After a nice curbside chat with Marika, I checked into the hostel, and was given a brief walkthrough tour. The Dubeau features a terrific lobby area with comfortable chairs, couches, and a fireplace. The game room offers free billiards and foosball, but is typically so thick with cigarette smoke as to be unbearable for anyone aside from Persian rug merchants and Pennsylvania coal miners. The usual amenities of kitchen, laundry, internet access, etc. were all present and accounted for, so satisfied with my accommodations, and starving from the trip, I went off to find sustenance in town. I located a Chicago-style sports pub called Maloney’s and settled in for dinner. I wolfed down a tasty roast beef sandwich with bacon and blue cheese sauce whilst the much over-hyped LeBron/Carmelo battle of NBA rookies played on the big screen. Sadly, thanks to those bastards at Nokia, even 500 miles from home, I couldn’t get through my meal without being interrupted by my cell phone. To make matters worse, it’s a racer chick I know, attempting to impress/provoke me by talking all sorts of smack about how fast she is, and how she kicked Ben Bostrom’s butt in the canyons one time and would whip my ass at Willow Springs any day. “Oooh baby, I love it when you threaten me with moto-humiliation in front of my peers. Castrating bitches are just my type! How did you know?”. Someday I’ll meet a female sportbike rider without a chip on her shoulder the size of Mount Rushmore… but I’m still waiting.
Look folks, I make no bones about being “The Slowest Man in Motojournalism”.
Look folks, I make no bones about being “The Slowest Man in Motojournalism”. When you spend as much time as I do out on the track with the likes of Keith Code, Jeremy Toye, even our very own super-fast Sean “Dirty” Alexander, self-effacing humor just comes naturally. These guys are way faster than I’ll ever be. They even lap me in my dreams. Nonetheless, it irks me when some fool makes an even bigger fool out of themselves by talking smack about how they’re gonna whip the ass of someone that they’ve never seen ride on a track before. Especially when that someone is me.
Case in point, the last alleged speed demon to threaten me with a track-spanking was Tim “Dorothy” Busch, who incidentally had never even been on a track before in his life, and promptly displayed his moto-mastery by crashing his SV 650 twice in his first 3 days in L.A.. “No thanks Rossi, I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself trying to make it all the way out to Willow Springs. You’re obviously a world class rider. Way out of my league. Now why don’t you go put some training wheels on that thing before you hurt yourself, Valentino”. Do you see my point?
Having finished my meal and verbally conceded defeat in order to placate my would be suitor/adversary and get her off the phone, I returned to the Dubeau and took my note pad into the ante room to thaw out by the fireplace and jot down a few bon mots. A young fellow named Chris came in and joined me. Lean and dark, with a Johnny Depp-ish quality about him, it turned out that Chris had studied anthropology in school and he regaled me with tales of the local Hopi and Navajo burial sites that had been dubbed
“Death Caves” by a man named Miller years ago. The huckster had turned the sacred tombs into theme parks of a sort, and used to sell the bones contained within to tourists as souvenirs. I went to bed that night feeling profound sadness that anyone should have to endure such disrespect for their fundamental humanity. I don’t blame the Native Americans for holding a grudge. There really aren’t words to apologize for something like that.
In the morning, when I made it into the kitchen, the gossip was that the temperature had dropped to 14 degrees during the night. It was still wickedly cold, and I needed no convincing to believe what I had heard. I poured myself a cup of coffee and blearily scanned around for some sugar. “Hey Harley guy, you lookin’ for something?”. I turned to find that the bemused, engaging voice belonged to a cute little blondish thing sitting at the breakfast table with warm brown eyes, dressed in an oversized Tommy Hilfiger sweatshirt and not much more. At least that’s as much as my half-closed, half-awake eyes could make out. “Harley guy, huh?”, was it really that obvious that I was the custodian of the RK? Lessee... black boots, chaps, black leather jacket, bald head, goatee …yeah, OK, it was that obvious. “Got sugar, Sugar”? “Over here, on the table”. “Right, thanks”.
As fate would have it, the cute little blondish thing turned out to be quite a bright girl.
Annie was enrolled at the local university, majoring in marine biology. She had been studying in Australia (where they actually have marine biology) through a joint program but was stuck back in AZ for at least a year before she could return. Deeply religious, and yet more than a bit of an adventuress, one could see that there were few things that she wasn’t passionate about. When I explained who I was and what I was doing in Flagstaff, Annie’s warm brown eyes grew continually wider with excitement. I suspect that if I hadn’t invited her to accompany me to Sedona the next day as my draftee photographer, I would have found her curled up inside one of the saddlebags when I got there, regardless. Annie had never been on a motorcycle before, nor had she been to Sedona, and the only catch was that she was scheduled to work on Friday and would need to see about getting the time off. So away she bounded to work her shift, with promises that she would call me either way once she knew if she could get free.
I was in no hurry to brave the elements for my trip to the Grand Canyon that day, and remained at the kitchen table to hear a rustic fellow by the name of Steve wax poetic about the beauty of Alaska for a while. Meanwhile, Joanna, a middle-aged woman from Switzerland, had been participating in a very spiritually oriented dialog with one of the other guests. Although her English was quite good, she struggled for words occasionally and was using grand hand gestures and facial expressions to get her points across. At one juncture she had difficulty understanding what the fellow was saying and asked randomly if anyone at the table spoke French and could perhaps translate for her. Sheepishly, I allowed that I could speak a bit and clumsily facilitated some of the sticking points in the conversation. It turns out that this rather petite and demure lady had recently suffered a life-altering tragedy in her family that had caused her profound psychic anguish. One day she received a vision of a “black hole” that she quite sincerely believed, allowed her to communicate directly with Jesus. Joanna was instructed by Jesus that there is a hierarchy of the peoples of the world, and that their connection to the spiritual realm had to do with their relative “age”, as she put it. The Caucasian race was allegedly the “youngest”, followed by the Asians, then the Africans, and finally, the “oldest” people in her hierarchy were the Native Americans. Having received this vision, she had summarily explained to her family that she needed to travel to America to be with the Navajo, and left Switzerland for Flagstaff all by herself to seek salvation. She was making daily trips out to the reservations, and according to Joanna, the Indians authenticated her visions and knew exactly what she was talking about. I personally find that sort of hard to believe, unless the local Navajo are more fluent in French than I am, but nonetheless, Joanna’s story was a fascinating one and her journey undeniably courageous if a bit, well…out there.
Having begun my day with more than a little socializing, I left around 10:00 AM for the 75 mile trip to the Grand Canyon along the 180 freeway. By now, the day had thawed out a bit, and the temperature rose noticeably as the sun broke free from the clouds. Unfortunately, shortly into my ride, the clouds took back the sun, as well as its warmth, and the temperature dropped precipitously as I climbed in elevation from 6,000 feet at Flagstaff to over 7,000 at GC. The miles passed pleasantly, nonetheless. The route consisted primarily of wooded, two-lane sweepers that were perfect for a touring bike like the RK. Knowing that I had only a few hours to spend, I had chosen the Canyon’s South rim for its easily accessible panoramic vistas and warmer temperatures. The North rim was nearly 9,000 feet in elevation and was already reporting snowfall, which I earnestly wished to avoid. The South Rim road extends about 55 miles to the East exit and I traveled the length of it, stopping to take in the view and shoot a few photos when an indicated viewpoint arose.
While snapping a few shots at Grandview Point, two English blokes and a lady wandered up to admire the Hog. They asked if they could take a picture of it, and being an obliging fellow, I told them better than that, to please climb aboard. The blokes immediately scrambled over themselves to get dibs on the bike while the lady was left behind to take pictures. I’m sorry to report that apparently chivalry is quite dead in England. When I told one of the fellows that he could start up the bike for me, he gave me a look like I had just handed him a $100 bill. I showed him how to engage the clutch and push the “start” button, and I watched the H-D fishhook sink deep into his soul as the 88 ci came to life. You could practically see a thought balloon appear above his head, like in a cartoon, with visions of black leather, wild adventure, fast bikes and faster women. “So how much does one of these cost?” inquired the grandfatherly bloke, as a huge gaping smile spread across his face. I bet if I had a contract handy I could have sold an RK right there on the spot.
Scientists will tell you that nature abhors a vacuum. I would extend that theory to suggest that America abhors a tourist leaving town with a few dollars still floating in his wallet. Hence, on the way back to Flagstaff, I stopped to take in a few of Arizona’s somewhat less than world famous attractions. There was the Flintstone theme park and diner, which consisted of some giant sized props such as a big wooden car, a big fake pterodactyl, you know, the kind of stuff that kids in a car will scream over, forcing adults to sheepishly fork over money just to shut them up.
Further down the road, the buffalo petting zoo and jerky factory really got me in the gut. Hey, lets get something straight. I don’t have a problem eating meat …at all. But something about petting my dinner just doesn’t sit quite right with me. Does anyone else but me see the irony in this? Step right up kid, and pet the nice, soft buffalo with the big, brown eyes. Then sit right down, put on your bib and get ready for a shmorgasbord of his dried, smoked flesh. Mwahahaha!!!
Just outside of Flagstaff, The Chapel of the Holy Dove actually broke the mold of the callous money-pit roadside attraction. A tiny, prism-shaped non-denominational chapel, it was open to any traveler who passed by. A few wooden benches preceded a pulpit that stood in front of a glass wall facing out into the fields, with the Snow Bowl mountain framed perfectly in the background. The message was crystal clear, and spot on. If you are looking to commune with the spiritual realm, there is no more inspirational setting, no more uplifting testimony to the beauty and magic of this world, than that of nature. Amen.
Back on the bike, the hostel’s fireplace had taken on Pavlovian significance to me, and thoughts of the warmth and aroma became as much of a stimulus as sex or food. When I reached the ante room, having indulged my fiery fantasies for the better part of a frigid 90 minutes or so, I was fairly devastated to find a sad looking piece of wood glowing faintly orange beneath its ashen crust. I pulled up a chair so that I could sit practically inside the fireplace and poked and blew at the log trying to get a few final flames out of the embers. I’m still not sure why it didn’t occur to me to simply get some more wood, but it didn’t, alright? So when a stout country gal named Julia arrived, she passed by me, offering a quizzical look, and immediately went out, got a pile of wood and some kindling and newspaper, nudged me aside, and had a full-scale blaze going in short order. Handy girl!
Having thawed out from my ride, I decided to lowbrow it, and visited a local Chinese buffet for dinner. It saddens me to report that it sucked even by heat lamp Chinese buffet standards and even massive doses of Sriracha hot sauce couldn’t salvage it. I got a little carried away though, and the next morning would find me howling Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” at the top of my lungs until people started banging on the bathroom walls, asking if I was OK.
“I slathered my roast pork in about a gallon of radioactive chili peppers last night, you idiot! Of course I’m not OK! Go get me a pint of vanilla ice cream… stat!”
But I digress. Back at the hostel, after dinner, I once again pulled out pen and pad to do some notation in the ante room. I had just about caught up to date when Annie arrived looking visibly upset and frazzled. Disappointed, she said that she had tried to beg off of work to go shoot with me the next day but couldn’t get anyone to swap shifts with her. She also stated that she had been doing without some necessities of life, couldn’t bear it any longer, and needed to go to Wal-Mart immediately. Based upon her demeanor, I thought I had a pretty good idea what sort of “necessities of life” she was talking about, and wasn’t sure if I wanted to join her. She asked though, and so being the closet gentleman that I am, I agreed to escort her. As we strolled through the quiet neighborhoods of Flagstaff, we made small talk for awhile, until she finally got around to popping the big question… and asked me if I was a rapist.
I say this because in my experience there are only four great certainties in life: birth, death, taxes, and anytime I stay at a hostel I will find myself approached in short order by a sweet, innocent young lady who will ask me to escort her somewhere that inevitably leads us into a dark, quiet, secluded area, and then and only then will she get around to inquiring as to whether I might perchance be a rapist. To which my practiced response is, “Actually no. Why? Are you?”. At which point she will usually giggle and say, “No”. To which I reply, “Hmmm, too bad. I sort of had my hopes up”. Which typically results in more giggles and well, ya'll know how girls get when they're giggly.. (wink).
Having passed her exhaustive rapist screening process with flying colors, Annie and I walked on for a ways and then, out of nowhere, she asked me if I knew where we were going. “Geez, how would I know where we’re going? I just rode into town last night! You live here. I was following you.” Annie said that she had only been here for three weeks and wasn’t really sure but thought that Wal-Mart was in the general direction we were heading. Needless to say, she thought wrong and we found ourselves well lost looking for the mystery Wal-Mart. Time well spent though as the trek afforded us the opportunity to discuss life, love, and my theory that the earth is actually an insane asylum for another planet. We ultimately gave up on finding Wal-Mart and slummed it at an AM/PM instead. Having left our footprints across most of the sidewalks of Flagstaff in search of the tissue paper and hand lotion which turned out to be the necessities that Annie had needed, we hastily returned to the hostel to thaw out.
Annie was hungry and went into the kitchen to nuke up something that she said was alternately described as a carnival squash or Japanese pumpkin, depending upon which continent you were on. Whatever it was, no one else wanted any part of it. We migrated back out to the sitting room, where we were joined by the fire goddess, Julia, who promptly put her talents to work and built us a pocket-sized inferno, and a vivacious and musically gifted red-head named Denise. So here I sat, a lone male amidst three intelligent, engaging young ladies. Meaning that before long, naturally, the conversation would turn to sex. Which for those who have never watched daytime TV, would seem like a very good thing. But we who have borne witness to a flock of women on Oprah, ravenously dissecting a male who has been singled out from the pack, know what a vulnerable position I was in. So I took a deep breath, channeled my inner George Clooney, and as smoothly as possible, commenced to elaborate upon my “tres sophistique” theory of the difference between the shame-based sexual acculturation of American women as opposed to the far more natural and healthy libertine attitude of the Europeans and the manner in which these paradigms manifest themselves in the sack, errr I mean romantically. “Ladies, free your minds and your asses will follow… Um, actually, forget I just said that”. Annie, Denise, and Julia were all way too sharp to fall for my thinly veiled ruse at getting all of us naked in a slithering pile of orgiastic flesh, however, they were kind enough to humor me, and resisted the temptation to rat pack me for every dirty dog thing a man had ever done to them, like errr trying to get them to join in a slithering pile of orgiastic flesh with a few of their closest friends. “Hey, we can’t help it if we think that way, it’s all TV’s fault! We’re victims of society! I blame Hugh Hefner!”. Somehow, despite my best efforts at making an ass of myself, Annie decided that she would call in sick to work the next day to go shoot action photos in Sedona with me anyway. Sometimes it works like that. If you act like a big enough dork, they think you’re cute. Women, go figure!
Friday morning I faced the logistical challenging of bundling up my itinerant photog such that I wouldn’t need a hair dryer to get her unstuck from the pillion by the time we arrived in Sedona. Granted, we were only looking at a 45 minute trip each way, but we all know that women have poor circulation, get cold easily, and get “grouchy” when they get cold. For better or worse, AZ is a no-helmet law state, so that solved that problem, but warmth was another story. I donated my thermal shirt and sweater and compensated for my lack of insulation by throwing on three T-shirts beneath my 10 lb leather coat. A few of the other residents donated some items as well, and before long Annie was layered up and looking like a smaller, cuter version of the Michelin man.
Annie waddled up to the RK, awaiting my instructions, and I told her to hop on and start her up for me. She gamely climbed aboard and I gave her a brief tutorial in what the controls did. Then I checked to make sure it was in neutral, and directed her as to how to turn the engine over. The infamous H-D “potatoes” came tumbling out of the pipes, and by the look on Annie’s face, I could tell that it was a huge thrill for her. After letting her gun the engine a few times, I relocated Annie to the pillion and we left for Sedona. Doing 65 mph, I got passed by everything but Noah’s Ark, but I wanted to get her acclimated to both being on a bike and dealing with the cold. After a short ways, Annie said that she was doing fine on both counts, and urged me to go faster. My kind of girl! As I approached a straight downhill grade, I asked Annie if she wanted to join the 100 mph club. She didn’t say anything, but squeezed onto me a little tighter, and we actually coaxed the RK up to an indicated 110 mph with a few hearty smacks on the gas tank and urgent cheers of, “C’mon Bessie you can do it”!
When we arrived in Sedona and pit stopped for gas, to my pleasure and surprise, the pilot got a big hug and a kiss from his exuberant passenger, which is probably what they’re talking about when the H-D brethren say, “If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand”. Fat, bald, old, ugly, none of that matters when Milwaukee’s finest is working it’s magic on a young girl’s heart. But please Bubba, make it a little easier on yourself and try to keep your breakfast out of your beard. Even the silliest of silly girls do have their limits.
It wasn’t long before we found a small turnout on the 179 that seemed like it had great potential, as there were 3 different rock formations available for backgrounds from the same shooting location. We had a real struggle on our hands though, as the road was heavily trafficked, making it nearly impossible to get a clean shot off. In trying to time both lanes of traffic, I felt like a flamenco dancer stutter-stepping my way down the road. Speed up, slow down, move onto the shoulder, wave someone past, all trying to time my pass such that Annie could get a money shot. It didn’t help that Annie was also struggling with our digital camera’s substantial delay, and that I wasn’t much help in aiding her. Eventually she got the hang of it though and after a couple of hours, we had garnered several nice, clean shots, and so headed for a well-deserved lunch.
Having filled our bellies and analyzed our tactical shortcomings, we made our way to the local airport for some more action photos, and were actually able to get what we needed in fairly short order. Then we raced back to Flagstaff before darkness set in. Annie could hardly wait to show the other residents her photos and tell them about the trip, but we were famished and went into town for dinner at a local restaurant specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. We split our orders, and each enjoyed the pasta with chicken and artichoke as well as a Prime Rib. Despite the chill evening temperature, we took a nice long walk to digest afterwards, and somehow amidst the warmth of our conversation, forgot how cold we really were.
Returning to the hostel, Annie and I peeled off our numerous layers of insulation, and enjoyed some romantic quiet time alone by the fireplace. Before long though, some of the other residents came in, and Denise and Aaron took turns serenading us with an acoustic guitar. Denise sang only original compositions (including the most brilliant and hysterical impromptu jam about having sex with animals ever conceived) and Aaron played only cover songs. Sort of a sensitive brute, Aaron introduced every song in his own inimitable fashion. He would begin quite romantically, then suddenly become self-conscious, swear a bit, and launch into the song. “Oh, you two look so happy together. I’m going to play you two a song OK? You like Eric Clapton? This song is about a man who looks at his woman and he becomes so filled with love that he wants to cry. Everything about her, her hair, her eyes, her dress just make him fall in love over and over again. Oh f*ck this bullsh*t I’m gonna play you the song… ‘It’s late in the evening ….”.
At around 1:30 AM, everyone said their good nights, and got up to go to sleep. Knowing that I would be leaving in the morning, Annie and I wandered over to the RK to spend a few final moments together before heading back to our dorm rooms (lack of privacy being one of the shortfalls of hostel life). Annie told me what a magical day it had been for her, and we embraced and shared the kind of kiss that only happens between two people who know they may never see one another ever again. Then I scooped her up, swung her around, and sat her down onto the RK’s high side hard bag and ... "Hey, what is this turnin’ into, some freakin’ Jackie Collins novel?! Get out of here all of you and give us a little privacy wouldja?! We’re tryin’ to have a 'moment' here! Geez… damn nosy bikers!"
In the morning, I was determined to get up and out early, and surprisingly, managed to do so. The temperature felt warmer for this leg of the journey, as I was both acclimated to the cold by now, and traveling downward in elevation, which meant that I was getting warmer the farther I went, instead of colder. One of my favorite things about long, straight, cross- country runs is the time it affords you to just drift off and let your thoughts wander. You could have lots of little thoughts, or sometimes devote hours and hours to giving an important subject a really thorough going over. I once met a Tibetan lama (no not the furry critter, smart ass, a Buddhist High Priest) and told him that I had a very hard time meditating. My knees always started to hurt from sitting cross-legged, and I experienced difficulty clearing my mind of all thought for any period of time. As opposed to most religious authority figures, Buddhist lamas typically have quite acute senses of humor, and this particular lama was no exception. He told me, “Eric, what you describe is not meditation. I am always amused by these people who twist up their bodies in uncomfortable positions trying to impress others, and screw up their faces in exerting their total concentration. If someone so much as passes through the room, it is a huge hindrance to them.” At this point, the lama made a hysterical “excreting a boulder face” and ad libed, “Sssshhhh, quiet… meditating …must concentrate” and we both cracked up laughing. “Eric”, he told me, “meditation is nothing more than giving a subject, of your mind’s choosing, considerable and focused contemplation so that when you finish, you have hopefully achieved a fuller understanding of it than when you began. You do not need to twist up your body, nor screw up your face. You can do it anywhere and at any time.”
And so it was that as I rode the RK home, I found myself meditating upon the warmth with which I had been embraced by complete strangers along my travels. Annie, Denise, Julia, Aaron, Marika, Joanna, Chris, Steve. I had forged such enriching connections with so many good folks in the space of two short days. This was not the exception in the course of my journeys, but rather the rule. What is it about encountering a traveler that seems to bring out the best in people? What is it about being a traveler that seems to attract good-hearted folks? While I was meditating intently upon this subject, I should have been meditating on my fuel gauge, because when I looked down, I realized that the needle was pinned on “E”. Crap, I was in the middle of Nowheresville to boot!
I mentally prepared myself for the inescapable conclusion that I was going to run out of gas... and soon. I bypassed the usual "Code Orange" appeals to the Gods of fuel mileage and escalated immediately to "Code Red" status and fervent prayers to the Gods of cell phone coverage. I also began shutting off the engine, and coasting in neutral through all of the downhills I could. Miles passed by and then some more. I went into that hyper-vigilant trance where every skip of a half-beat in the engine’s cadence surely means that the end of your fuel is looming near. So I’d toss the bike back and forth a bit hoping to jiggle a few more sacred drops into the fuel injectors, reassuring myself that these magical gyrations could surely keep the motor running for a few miles more. The noises would disappear and I’d return to my “engine sputter vigil”. This is how I spent a good half an hour, listening, jiggling, coasting, listening, jiggling, coasting. Then miraculously, it appeared. At first I thought it had to be a mirage. When you’ve traveled about 25 miles past dead empty on the gas gauge, a Chevron station looks a lot like Heaven. I couldn’t freakin’ believe I made it. I can’t decide if the guys who designed the gas gauges at H-D have a strange idea as to what constitutes empty, or if they just like to share a chuckle about all the fools like me, making all sorts of promises to God with our fingers crossed behind our backs in exchange for a few more miles out of a not-as-empty-as-I-thought gas tank. Quit laughing ya’ Cheeseheads!
While I travel often, and savor the opportunities when I do, once back in Santa Monica, I am always happy to be home.
I live in the perfect place for me, with the beach for a backyard, coast and canyons minutes away, and a vibrant city to play in at night. But this time, as I opened the door, my apartment seemed so quiet, so empty, so cold compared to Dubeau Hostel. It was just me here. Me and my things, which all seemed mockingly lifeless. Almost cruel in their “thingness”. Why can’t people in L.A. be more like the folks in Flagstaff? Perhaps something about cold weather makes folks more aware of one another. It huddles people for warmth, both literally and figuratively. Watching one another’s breath appear visibly as smoke, we become conscious of sharing the same air. Walking in from the cold into a warm room of people, one begins to peel off layers of clothing, symbolically leaving the outside, the past, the solitary struggle against the elements behind, and joining in the relative nakedness of the community, feeling the warmth of the room, the invitation, the pleasure and possibility of the moment, of the way station of “here” in between the cold, loneliness “out there”. At Dubeau, everyone was just exactly themselves. They were good-hearted people who accepted a rather strange stranger into their midst. And in doing so, for a time, they had made life on the road seem more like home… than home.