December 13, 2002 GMT
Grand Canyon

Flagstaff AZ turns out to be a lovely little college town. It even has a centre. Hook up with a young woman in a Wee Willy Winky nightgown. It contrasts nicely with her dark brown skin. She talks about energies, the spiritual world and how what happens happens in an inexhaustible tone of profound understanding. I take her out for a ride to Sedona and the Airport Mesa. The rocks are stark and jagged surrounding the town, the centre of the universe according to someone famous I have ever heard of. The relaxed cornering descending into the valley was fun. She can’t believe it. First time on a bike is quite an experience. “It’s like a giant vibrator”. I gear down and she likes it even more. “This is the best day of my life”. I hope that exaggeration is one of her faults.

En route to the Grand Canyon the bike is so quiet and smooth sitting contentedly at 4,000 revs. I am so happy to be alone on a 60mph road through the pines.

Up out of my tent at first light to take my shots, enjoying the low sun on my head as the crisp cold wind blows around the bluff. I have the viewpoint to myself for two hours, with only condors for company, hunting their first repast. “That’s one big-ass hole dude”, says the first tourist to arrive. It is great seeing people’s reaction. It’s often an expletive. The women trickle in with gosh and golly and deep breathes and clutching the railing. It’s like they have taken a blow.

The word aesthetic has a root that refers to the body, despite how it is used now to suggest something wholly intellectual. Western culture can’t deal with the intimate relation of body and mind that the Greeks grasped. We say visceral when we want to describe something that hits us physically, but there is no reason why the two parts of ourselves can’t go together. Isn’t that why a long ride on a motorcycle is so good? After a while of concentrating so hard, you forget you’re thinking; the gulf is bridged and you feel truly relaxed, mind and body talking to one another without the philosophical interpreter. Nike tries to capture the feeling in their advertising slogan, but they omit all the hard preparatory thinking work that it takes to just do it. I sit and look over the miles of ridges and gulfs, having an aesthetic experience all my own, but shared with the others.

The canyon is the first thing in America that deserves the overused adjective awesome.

The drive around Monument Valley is brilliant. Even the thick powdery sand can’t break the atmosphere. I am hot, tired, worried about dropping it, but blown away by the weirdness of being surrounded by dozens of giant red tors, each as old as the planet. Two fantastic geological experiences in one day.

In the Navaho nation the people sell trinkets and trumpet their patriotism. “We support our troops in Iraq” posters are everywhere. One shop on the highway advertises itself in ten foot letters “Friendly Indians”. It reminds me of General Philip Sheridan’s opinion on what makes a good Indian. This subservience is pretty close to death isn’t it?

Posted by at 04:17 PM GMT

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