August 08, 2005 GMT
You Stay Classy, San Diego!

I was reminded of one particularly hot day going through Glen Canyon between national parks. It was absolutely scorching hot. A mid-day furnace with no place to hide, no shade anywhere, and 100 miles between gas stations. I was so thirsty, but it didn't seem worth it to stop in the sun and drink the hot water in my tank bag. Not much traffic at all, so it was easy to spot the headlights in my rear view mirror several miles behind me. The truck caught me in just a few minutes because I was going slowly, trying not to overheat the engine or my tires. So it finally gets right on my tail just as the twisties start. It looked like an armored car, and I remember wondering what it was doing way out here, and where it was going. For 10 to 15 miles, there was nowhere to pull over and nowhere to pass. Just a solid double yellow, in 110 degree heat, no one else around. Finally a straightaway appears, and he moves into the oncoming lane to pass me. That's when I notice the side of the truck. "ICE CREAM! Slushees! Popsicles! Ice Cold!" It leaves me in a cloud of hot diesel smoke feeling like I just saw a mirage, and wishing I could pull the guy over and sit inside the back of the truck for awhile, cover myself in popsicles and ice cream sandwiches.

The trip isn't over yet--but I'm taking a nice week-long break in La Jolla, and it feels good to rest. Makes me wish I had a home to call my own. More on that later.

The last week of riding was a week of extremes. I last camped in Jacob's Lake, just north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The next morning I rode down to Flagstaff, intending to continue to Sedona and dinner with an ex-girlfriend's Mom. (Always nice to keep in touch.) But a monsoon brewed up over Flagstaff and Sedona just as I got there, so I spent a bit of time inside a coffee shop, the bagelry, and the visitors' center trying not to get zapped by lightning. Finally I went down the canyon 25 miles to Sedona and got absolutely DRENCHED like no other time on this trip. I had sent home my winter rain gear from Moab, saving 11 lbs on the back of the bike, but leaving me vulnerable to the elements. My boots, which had served me so well, could not keep out the water that was rolling down my jacket and lap and legs. I arrived in Sedona in need of a shower and a campground, but found neither. I hadn't heard from the friend's mom, so back to Flagstaff I went--through the same monsoon again--and found a dive motel for $40. My cowboy hat, whose brim had been curved like a potato chip and just as crisp, was ruined.

The boots were removed, turned over, and several ounces of water poured out. They would not be dry for another week. I wore tennis shoes the final 500 miles to San Diego.

Had lunch with Sue the next day in Sedona, whom I had visited at Christmastime 2001 with my girlfriend at the time. The town continues to grow, and with its beautiful rock formations and proximity to so many parks, lakes, forests and outdoor activities, it is no wonder. You can tell I was eager to get going for home; for all the beautiful scenery of Sedona, I only took one photo.

It was hard to impress Sue with my tales of Alaska; she's already been to every continent except Antarctica, and she wants to go there next!

Again, I should have taken more photos. I was fuming about having been passed by a car in the pouring rain while coming down the narrow canyon. So much so that I confronted the driver when we got into town and parked. I took off my helmet and said, "Why did you pass me in the canyon like that?" He told me he was late for a Pink Jeep Tour (a four-wheel trip through the red rocks of Sedona). I exploded at him, telling him that he put my life in jeopardy just to get one car length in front of me, and that he better not do it again, that I wanted an apology, that other motorcyclists wouldn't be as restrained as I was being. I never do anything like this, but he had it coming. He apologized. Normally I just silently rage inside. Maybe this trip has changed me. Don't risk my life so you can get 1 second closer to a pink jeep tour--Jerk!

From Sedona, I went through the former mountain mining town of Jerome, which is now a twisty cycling paradise and nice little tourist village on the cool leeward side of a mountain. Next was Prescott, the last town on the edge of the massive Colorado Plateau on which all the canyons and amazing geological formations were carved. Hard to believe it was all once underwater, but the fossils don't lie. The ciccada's were screaming when I stopped at the auto parts store for a spare cotter pin (Keeps the rear wheel from flying off when you least want it to). I descended into the hot Arizona desert, and was treated to a brilliant perspective of the plateau on which I had been riding.

I made it all the way to Quartzite, right on the border with California, before a monsoon which had been on the horizon was now right on top of me. The gust of wind from the storm front blew from South to North (from my left to my right), and blew me from the right lane of the freeway onto a merging onramp. Had the onramp not been there, I would have been literally blown off the road. I merged right back into my original lane leaning at a 30 degree angle to my left. Semis were roaring by at 80 mph, and I was getting buffeted and blown around like crazy. This was as scared as I had been on the entire trip. I pulled into a gas station and the employees were chasing the signs and trash cans blowing away. The motels were closed, and I had to go another 6 miles down the freeway to Ehrlenberg, hoping not to get squashed by a truck, blown off the road, zapped by lightning, or tripped up by car-sized tumbleweeds rolling across the freeway. I was in a life and death game of Frogger, in a near hurricane. I expected a semi to tip over on top of me. Some got off the road, others keep rolling, trying to get ahead of the storm. It would be my second night in a row in a motel ("The Flying J"). The storm was beautiful to watch after I stopped, and the lightning was coming every half second. Incredible light show like I had never seen. I didnít have a lens wide enough to capture the cloud formations all around.

The truck stop filled up with travelers trying to wait it out. This was my first time at an interstate truck stop, and they had all kinds of things to cater to truck drivers, including internet, massages, food, phones, and showers, which they called out like numbers at a deli. "Shower number 469..., shower number 470Ö.Ē

Two nights of motels in a row is unprecedented on this trip. Alaska and Canada and Utah handed me some tough weather, but it was Arizona that whooped me. The next day I rolled down I-78, I believe, through southern Southern California. I saw where our beef comes from--and have not had a burger since. I also came through fields of crops that I couldn't place, but zillions of little yellow butterflies flew through them and across the road constantly. Try as I might, I could not avoid all of them, and had to pull a few from the radiator as well as out of my jacket and pant legs when I stopped to fill up. Not quite as bad as the butterflies for motorcycle rider in The Gumball Rally, but I felt his pain.

Finally into San Diego where the freeway was so fast, so crowded and so dangerous it made me want to sell the bike and give up riding. It was that insane. I stopped at a divey taqueria and had some real Mexican (or at least California-Mexican) food for the first time in months. Yum. Sorry Valdez, Alaska, but your canned salsa flown in from Seattle doesn't cut it.

Thankfully my friend Mary lent me her truck so I could make a quick weekend trip up to San Francisco to keep my promise to go fishing, and also to pick up mail. Being in a car was strange; so quiet, music playing, perfect temperature, comfortable seat. I wanted to nap! I found a Peet's Coffee in Thousand Oaks. I was grinning like crazy when I got my first Peetís coffee since May 30 at 9:00 a.m. in San Francisco. Ahh! I also visited my cousin Carrie on the Paramount Studios set in Hollywood. She introduced me to actresses, directors and everyone else who works on the show Charmed. Great fun. On Saturday I went salmon fishing with former co-workers. I didn't get a nibble, but didnít get seasick either. Given my history, I called it a success.

My generous friends and family have put me up now for more than a week. I think I have been in 10 beds, floors or sofas in 12 days. I definitely feel a longing for a place to call home. But just where should that be?

Several months before I left on this trip, I saw a message scrawled on a bathroom wall at Zeitgeist, a motorcycle bar in San Francisco: "Leap, and the net will appear." Positive, uplifting and inspirational quotes are not what one usually finds on motorcycle bar bathroom walls. Although I donít believe in Ďsignsí, I certainly recognized that sign-seers would see it as a sign. My friends said that opportunities I never anticipated would arise on this trip, and that not knowing what would happen after it was over shouldn't keep me from going on the trip of a lifetime while I had the chance. They were right, but the future is still unclear. I have opportunities in SF, LA, and NY, as well as an invitation to ride with friends all the way to South America. And Jackson Hole, WY, was my favorite place I visited on the trip.

As much as I would love to keep riding South, I didn't really prepare myself for it. I wouldn't know what to see, other than Copper Canyon and Macchu Picchu. A Lonely Planet Guide would help, but there is nothing like The Milepost, the essential turn by turn guide to Canada and Alaska Highways. I would love to keep entertaining everyone with tales from the road, but I feel like I have nothing more to prove to myself. I have truly convinced myself that there is nothing I can't do if I can just get over my fear of what could go wrong. That may have been the goal of the whole trip now that I think about it; to get rid of that nagging stress pain in the bottom of your stomach that tells you something in your life isn't going the way it was supposed to.

I need to be my own boss and see if I can control what I do from day to day, and maybe even how much I make in the long run. There has to be a way to incorporate creativity into the process too, rather than just doing things by the book or the way someone else did them before you. Making yourself uncomfortable for a while, like I did on this ride, forces you to see what is essential for survival, and what is merely a matter of comfort. You might be surprised when you find that running water and electricity are in the latter category, and that love, friendship, creativity, expression and adventure (the free things) are in the former.

So it looks like I'm headed up to SF next week, taking my time, driving up the coast on Hwy 1, which many say is the best ride in the USA. I will put mile 15,000 behind me along the way. Had I gone straight down the Pan American Highway to South America instead of up to Alaska, I would have been to Ushuaia and back up to Buenos Aires by now. I'm going to extend my summer for a few more weeks by flying to New York to visit my brother and sister-in-law, but I'll be back soon to find a place to live and set up shop. In the meantime, if you like motorcycle adventure stories, great photos, and stories from people learning about the world and themselves, you should follow along with my friends Dave and Ericka as they travel two-up from Paris to Australia.

Great writing, great photos, great people!

A couple more entries to go here and then I'll hand out some Ichies; the first (annual?) Ichiro awards. Stay tuned.

Posted by James McPherson at August 08, 2005 07:12 AM GMT

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