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Old 01-06-2012, 12:32 PM   #16
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You're Right

Thanks, Pantah...good feedback and great photos...made me think - I actually knew very little about ASU when I wrote this those years ago. I was basing it on the folks I knew from my high school that went there (I didn't like them) - it colored my impression incorrectly. Of course, I also heard that it was full of attractive women, so what can you do? Thanks for keeping me's something to keep in mind when you go back and read things from your past.

And I KNOW I'll be's just too interesting a place and too much to see.
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):
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Old 01-14-2012, 09:09 PM   #17
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Dusting Off and Rolling On

We dusted off a bit, drank some water, took a quick glance at the dam. The river that trickled through the canyon we had just explored really was just a trickle. The dam was one of a series that created a number of lakes for the area’s enjoyment. Our enjoyment was rounding that last dusty corner, getting through some stop signs and intersections, and finally putting ourselves on Route 188 north toward Payson. As soon as I made that left turn onto the seemingly perfect highway, I twisted the throttle as far as it would go and rocketed (as much as a big Harley tourer can) up the road until I hit 85 or 90 mph, which I held without letup for the next 45 minutes or so. Hunter S. Thompson, who liked motorcycles a bit, said something that I come back to whenever I’m pushing “unsafe” speeds on a bike: “Being shot out of a cannon will always be better than being squeezed out of a tube. That is why God made fast motorcycles.” The Harley isn’t “fast” compared to many bikes, but it sure was fast compared to the speed limit and the flap-limits of my cheeks.

Craig was right behind me. To feel a smooth road under us and to get the chance to make up some time after the slow-going dirt was such a reward that we couldn’t think to do anything but just open up and haul ass. I was doing about 95 mph for the first 10 miles, looking over at Theodore Roosevelt Lake to my right and to the scrubby homes and boat camps to my left. I barely noticed where Craig was until he blasted up next to me to take a picture with the disposable camera I’d given him. It caught most of me and the bike, but was totally blurry. Still a cool shot: Morgie relaxing on a big Harley-Davidson, one hand on the throttle, one hand on my thigh, and my jacket still clearly encrusted with dust.

I remembered what those cameras were for and caught a shot of Craig too.

We were racing, finally able to make up some lost time. Cars were passed when we came upon them, but we were mostly just hunkered down against the wind and speed. The sun had gone away, but it was still 85 degrees. The skies were now heavy and threatening. No cops along the route, either. The TR Lake to our right was long, narrow, and clearly enjoyed by fishermen – plenty of boat put-ins and lakeside shacks with cars and trailers.

Craig shoots over his head to see me rolling up behind...

At a rest stop past Punkin Center (that’s right, Punkin Center) on Route 188, we pulled over to check in with each other and talk about the rest of the day’s route. We’d had so much fun flying along in the 90s and taking pictures of each other as we rode, we really weren’t sure where we were in relation to our destination (Sedona). My left arm was still burning from the get-off. I took this chance to blame Craig for the crash because of that dirt road route that he had insisted on (actually, I went right along with it even though seeing the dotted line on the map and wondering if it would void my rental agreement with Eagle Rider [no riding on unpaved roads with the rental bike]).

I needed new pants. My 10-year-old Levis were a bit torn up. Craig laughed at me, saying they were more like gauze than denim. Yeah, I could have bought some better riding clothes – I’m so much smarter these days.

I’ve learned so much since, especially after nailing a deer two years later on my Buell while ATGATT.

I decided soon after that – unless you’re an idiot or you like to gamble – there isn’t a divide between what you should wear when you ride a Hog/cruiser versus another make/model. It’s all about what you think might happen on any particular ride…or what you don’t KNOW will happen on any particular ride. I didn’t think that a buck was going to run across the road at the exact time and place where I happened to be riding my Ulysses, just 25 minutes from home. Nope, the deer and I joined fates. I won that one. I was wearing armored gear up and down my body.

This is from sliding on my back.

This is one of my elbows.

This is the frickin' buckle on my boot! Imagine if that was a tennis shoe I was wearing.

That's another elbow worn all the way into the armor. Again, imagine that if that were a t-shirt I was wearing.

A scuff on my helmet. I don't even remember my helmet touching the asphalt - I had no head issues afterward, so I think it was just a scuff. But again, imagine if I was just wearing a bandana.

I stood up after killing that deer with my Buell, picked up the bike, thanked the witnesses and emergency responders, and rode back home to nurse my sore ribs and a puncture wound caused by road debris. But that was it. Oh, and I had to break the news to my then-girlfriend-now-wife who was out of town at the time. That was almost harder than what it took to pull my sore ass out of bed for the next two weeks. Interestingly, a month later, she was on the back of my rented Electra Glide as we electra-glided down Big Sur…she might admit that it was the best adventure of her life so far.

Oh, and the cop on the scene asked if I wanted this, for good luck:

I still have it. When I get my own garage someday, I'll put it up.

I started wondering about the insurance on the bike. I remembered that I had signed up for the medium level of insurance at Eagle Rider, meaning any damage over a certain amount ($1,500?) would be covered. I felt some relief that I had chosen the plan, not knowing whether or if it would even apply to my crash. That last stretch of hyper-fast road helped to improve my mood.

The laughter at each of these quick stops was one of the best parts of the rides, and it was generally triggered by the fact that I would quietly mumble into my little digital voice recorder about the details of the previous section of the ride: what we’d seen, the details about the weather, and what we’d be doing in the upcoming miles. Craig found it hilarious and maybe a little bit annoying (due to the delay of forward progress it caused), and used it as an opportunity to toss out a couple insults about my slowness.

The most important thing to know about this stretch of the ride was how much altitude we had gained. From Roosevelt Dam, we climbed from 2,300 feet to 5,000 feet up to the city of Payson. The ride up was pretty interesting: curving through the pine woods of the Mazatzal Mountains, dragging behind some slow drivers on Route 188, through that stop at Punkin Center, passing Jakes Corner, and eventually intersecting with I-87, but not before leveling off in some more beautiful forests. It felt a bit cooler too as we curled down the road into Payson.

The town wasn’t much, aside from residences, restaurants, motels, B&Bs, and gas stations. What else do you need? A cool townie bar? It was 4:30pm, we were at 5,000 feet, and the thermometer said 78 degrees (but felt colder). We decided to fill up there. I had asked the Eagle Rider clerk about the availability of gas stations before we left Phoenix. He said it wouldn’t be a problem, but advised that we top off if we got down to a half tank. That’s where I was, according to the gauge on the bike, but I’ve found that motorcycle gas gauges vary in reliability. The BMW I rented in Scotland had a low fuel indicator light, but the Glaswegian I rented it from warned me that some of his prior customers had warned him that it wasn’t working well. “Ye should fill up where and when ye can, just to be safe.” That light came on a couple times out in the deep Scottish wilderness and stayed on for many, many miles as I sweated how many fumes I might have had left. At least on this trip I wouldn’t have to worry about hitchhiking to the next gas station. Plus, I speak the local language.

I put 3.9 gallons into the 5 gallon tank, and that sure as hell doesn’t work out to being half-empty or half full. That was a little scary. From then on, I paid more attention to the miles than the fuel gauge. I do that on every bike now. My road rash burned…it needed Neosporin and a big bandage. Hmm, a first aid kit on a ride…interesting concept.

There at the Exxon station, we checked the maps and discussed the last few turns up ahead. I mentioned to Craig that my friend Eric had said that the stretch of road coming north out of Sedona would be ideal for bikes – twisty with switchbacks up through the canyon until it went north into Flagstaff. Craig mentioned that he was kind of annoyed with himself for bringing his full-face helmet, since he didn’t expect to use it (he eventually would though. I’d brought mine as well, but never wore it). He told me a story about when he first got his bike and would ride it back and forth between his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia and DC, wearing a half-helmet. For some reason, after making these rides, he would always find his face covered in black crud (bugs and road grime, I guess). We rode on, struck by riding in actual traffic and stoplights for the first time in a number of hours.

The next stretch of road was pretty spectacular. From Payson, we came through three distinctly different altitude changes. In the higher altitudes, the road took us through pine forests with burned-out areas from fires (or, more likely, controlled burns)…the air smelled strongly and romantically of smoke, and there was charred evidence of recent activity. Instead of jagged cliffs and dust, there were almost geometrically spaced pine trees, and a bed of brown needles. We blasted through there, getting away from the Payson traffic and roaring through the forests, passing the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park turnoff, zipping through the appropriately-named town of “Pine”, and flying past the oddly named town of “Strawberry”. Then, after a left turn on Route 260 west, we gradually rolled down through savannah, a desert-like chaparral, and a landscape dotted comically (to me) by green puffball-like plants as far as I could see. The sun finally came back out at this point, heating up my jacket and getting rid of the chill that we’d felt before. Craig and I agreed that this was one of the most interesting and inspirational sections of the first day. Maybe because it was mostly downhill.

Craig took full advantage of the disposable camera I gave him.

The roll into Camp Verde provided the most amazing vista from atop the “hill” – a very un-East Coast view of the desert and the mountains in the distance. It let us “coast” down through the chaparral into the little town, which gave us our first taste of the true West.

The road took us back down in altitude and into some new warmth. The ground was dry and reflected the evening sun in a golden hue. We rolled past some grungy homes and some newer planned developments, crossed a little river, and found ourselves in Camp Verde, where we stopped at a Shell station for snacks (didn’t need any gas) and a last look at the map before Sedona. It was 5:40pm.

That place felt totally different from what we’d already seen – it felt like the true Southwest: lots of cowboy-looking locals, trucks pulling livestock trailers, shitkickers, ten-gallon hats, and just a dusty frontier feeling. We walked around inside the gas station, perusing the snack racks for our snacks. Upon paying, I noticed the homemade tributes to boys serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – little posters made at home with the photos of the slender, blonde kids headed off to the real desert. I felt every one of my 34 years to that point, knowing that it would never be me. Sometimes I did. I always imagined myself serving in war.

I have always believed that most men – deep down, if they really search their beliefs – don’t feel like they are truly men unless they have fought in a war. It just so happens that – at the time of this writing – we were in the middle of a pretty big damn war. But – even though I’ve believed this for about twenty years now – it may not matter. The other war I thought I might fight in was the first Gulf War, which started in earnest while I was a second-semester freshman at college. There was plenty of news coverage about the run-up, and we followed it moderately in the evenings after dinner when we were at home for winter break. Back on campus in late January, we’d catch a bit of the news on the TV in the union building or in the dorm. Someone started a rumor that The Draft had been reinstated. It took me a long shower to determine that I would accept The Draft – as an Eagle Scout – and would go fight, though I was angry and quite sure that the lawmakers that had passed this law wouldn’t have their kids being drafted.

About an hour later, while at dinner in the cafeteria, the men angrily ate and watched as the uninformed women gabbed about what they’d be doing that night, rather than how unfortunate it was that their men would have to go fight in the next few months. We were salty! Dumb women. They don’t have to fight! Well, it wasn’t too long after that we heard that The Draft rumor was just that – a rumor. We men were incredibly relieved. The women had no idea why we were hugging each other and slapping each other on the back. They had no idea how close we came to going to war (ha!). So, we went to Beta Theta Pi and got drunk on free draft beer in their basement, as it was any other weekend.

The locals in the gas station convenience store let us know that there was a rodeo in town that night, for which everyone was getting geared up. This explained all the big animals being transported on the roads and everyone we saw being in western gear. I don’t know about Craig, but I sort of felt out of place, which was a cool feeling – it was clear we were in a genuinely rural and traditional part of America, and we were just tourists there. I complain about the tourists in my current home of Washington, DC. Out in Camp Verde, Arizona, I felt like I was being looked at…rolling through their town on a big, fancy (dusty and damaged) Harley. Just as I complain about how slow and clueless the tourists in DC are, I could see them thinking how funny we must look and annoying we must be, swigging Cokes, scarfing candy, looking at maps, gawking at the pale green mountains all around us, snapping pictures, and talking about our route as if we were in a foreign country. Not long to go to Sedona.

Our stop in Camp Verde.

In Camp Verde, we got our snack on, then headed northwest up Route 260 about 20 miles to Cottonwood and Route A89. In Cottonwood, we turned north on A89 toward Sedona. Cottonwood was the first “large” city we’d seen since Payson…traffic lights, fast food, multiple gas stations, and a meaningful intersection. I got into the wrong lane at that intersection, leaving Craig up ahead in the correct one – the one to turn north on 89A. After a quick correction, we were buzzing up away from the “suburbs” of Cottonwood and into the open desert. The road clearly had adjusted to serve the tourist – smooth, not too curvy, and full of signs letting the driver know how far it was to Sedona and Flagstaff. That always builds the excitement when you’re traveling, especially when you see your day’s final destination on those signs.

Unfortunately, you also have the tendency to make each mile seem to take even longer. I tend to push the speeds and the passing of other cars at those times, which isn’t necessarily the safest thing to do. You imagine watching the sand, grit, and grime running down your legs and into the drain of the hotel shower. You can almost taste the first sip of martini and the first bite of steak. A few years ago, Lao Tzu wrote, “A good traveler has not fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” Lao Tzu never rode a busted-up Harley-Davidson Road King through the desert.
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):

BadWHooper screwed with this post 01-17-2012 at 08:45 PM
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Old 01-16-2012, 11:16 PM   #18
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The biggger they are the harder they fall.

This is quite the report. It is always interesting to hear impressions from people back east. It is difficult for them to understand all the fuss about the west until they see it in person. Pictures just can't relate the beauty of the landscape. You have to see it to believe it. Glad you only injured your ego. Heck, we have all done that a time or two. Keep it coming.
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Old 01-17-2012, 05:47 PM   #19
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Thumb Right on...

I'd even say how the west "feels". The power of the sun and lack of humidity was pretty amazing to me on some of these upcoming stretches.

Thanks for reading...much more and many photos on the way...
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):
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Old 01-17-2012, 08:33 PM   #20
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Ahhh, Sedona...

As we neared Sedona, the scenery began to change. We rose in elevation a bit and entered a dramatic canyonscape. Finally, just a few miles from the city, we pulled off into a rest area with the first view of the red rocks. I apologized to Craig for pulling off so close to the destination, especially as the sky had just started to show the first signs of dusk, but I had to photograph our entry into this place, and the wall of red canyon walls ahead of us were just too good. I wasn’t thinking about work, about my ex-girlfriend, my then-lack of a current girlfriend, money, music, health, the war in Iraq, or even the Grand Canyon that we’d see the next day.

When done correctly, riding a motorcycle causes your awareness and view of life to narrow. There’s no room for the things that are bothering you when you’re focusing on the road and other drivers, and when you’re bombarded with so much sensory input. I love that when I go on a ride in the country over Memorial Day weekend, I can smell the grills and what people are cooking for a half miles radius. Add to that the sound and feel of the wind, the temperature, the impact of the sun (or lack thereof), and the things that all of your hands and feet are doing, often simultaneously. There’s no room to think through issues. I know some people say they enjoy riding because they can mull over problems or decisions in their lives, but for me, when I ride, my brain empties out of all those things. If anything, it’s an escape from the challenges and difficulties that have to be dealt with in life. I’m too busy focusing on the road, on safety, on the sensory input, and on the enjoyment and thrill that there’s really no room for much else. If that happened, it would detract from my focus. Maybe some peoples’ brains work differently, but for me, I leave all the other stuff behind to be dealt with when I get back. The old rider adage goes: “You never see a motorcycle parked outside a psychiatrist’s office.” Though I’m not sure there are statistics in existence to back that up, you get the point.

Craig was totally understanding about the need to stop for a final shot before we rolled into Sedona. The vista unfolded from the parking lot with some of those green puffball plants (gotta’ find out what those actually are),

some small initial hills that bordered the road, and then the famous red rock of Sedona: cliffs and canyon walls dotted with green, and supported by the deep, rusty stripe that we’d been looking forward to. The oncoming evening dulled the colors a bit, but we’d get our fill tomorrow.

Back on the road, it was just another few miles into Sedona. The approach is dramatic, especially from the south. We came over a rise as the clouds thinned out and the sun shone through. Sedona opened up in front of us, reminding me of a crowd inside a gigantic natural amphitheatre. The red canyon walls and cliffs surrounded the town like a bowl – we should have stopped again at that first view of town. I was expecting some sort of old classic desert town right as we rolled in, but what met us was your basic everyday residential. I wondered what all these people did for a living in what I imagined to be a tourism-centric area. There were the usual insurance and financial services offices along the way, and then, as we moved into town, more shops, restaurants, Starbucks, motels, etc. But where were the charming and cosmic-spiritual attractions of Sedona? I guess I had an image of what I thought the place was like – I didn’t think it would have suburbs. And where was our hotel?

Things started to become more commercial – more grocery stores, tourist shops, etc. – but none of it looked out of place. Everything was in the right shade of brown, tan, red, etc. At the intersection of 89A and 179, we saw the big sign for our motel. I was in the left lane at the time and Craig was in the right. When the red light turned green, he held back and let me cut over so we could both roll in to the parking lot.

The Cedars Resort in Sedona wasn’t much to look at on the outside – your standard motor inn at an intersection. And I wouldn’t call it a “resort”. Looking at their website (, you’d think it was a resort in Sedona among the cedars. Not quite, but it was still pretty much ideal for us. I found it in the Frommer’s 2005 guide that I’d borrowed from Eric and his wife Debbie. Eric and Debbie did the “pink Jeep” tour out among the red rocks and recommended it highly. With all due respect (which is the prelude/code for fully disrespecting the thing or person that precedes the statement), I don’t think I would have done that type of trip, especially after being there on two wheels. I was there riding motorcycles with a friend. We were only going to be there for a night before heading off to the Grand Canyon. Eric did convey how much he thought I would love the road north out of Sedona on a motorcycle – he told me it was windy and curvy and uphill through the woods. Eric has never ridden a motorcycle, nor ridden on one, but he got it. I kept telling Craig that the ride out of Sedona was going to be good.

The Frommer’s guide was useful and the only formal guide I used, aside from some Internet searches. I also dug into the travel section archives of the Washington Post and the New York Times, which provided quite a few articles about Arizona and Utah, mainly focusing on the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and a mishmash of stories about Utah’s national parks. The night before I left for the trip, the Travel Channel broadcast a show called “Secrets of Zion and Bryce”. It was late – I knew I should have been getting to sleep so that my flight (leaving probably around 9:00am EST) would be comfortable. It would be a LONG day before I would see a bed. Doing the Scotland trip was even worse – I flew out early in the morning, lost six hours, then took a long cab ride, then got onto an unfamiliar bike, rode on the wrong side of the road with signs that didn’t make sense, then rolled through harsh weather and darkness to an unknown location. I ended up being up and mostly awake for over 24 hours straight on that trip. I was lucky to have arrived at my first stop in one piece, frankly.

On this trip I had only been awake since about 6:00am EST, and there in Sedona it was around 7:00pm MST (2 hours behind EST) or so, so I’d been awake for about 16 hours by this point, and, for the last six or seven hours, hard on the road.

Checking in was no problem. There was a spot in front of the office for our bikes, and everything was in my name, so we killed the engines, hung our helmets on the right-side mirrors, and walked into the circular office. The older gentleman at the front desk seemed happy to see us, two leather-and-denim-clad men who seemed to be no trouble.

I can only imagine what types that hotel guy has seen in that town over the years. Sedona is a crossroads for all types of riders, generic tourists, foreigners, spirit chasers, current and former hippies, and curious people just passing through (like us). Lord knows how clean-cut I am, and Craig had developed a solid career as a Federal background security investigator, so he had to trim his wispy mop into a professional, more-or-less tight cut. Back in our coworker days, when Craig worked on my team, he kept a pretty “airy” hair style, especially after he got his Hog and started riding to work (Hair by Helmet). No problem. He was an adult and a manager who had earned his position. However, there were, evidently, some catty chicks who worked on his team and thought that his hairstyle disqualified him as a manager. They felt the need to express their misery about having to work for a living by sending emails to each other about how much they thought Craig was un-stylish. How did I know this? Well, after enough time of suspecting that these young women were goofing off and sowing the seeds of discontent in the office, we exercised our corporate obligation and read their emails from the server. It was astonishing. They were fired.

The point is, there at the Sedona Cedars Resort, Craig and I shouldn’t have come across to the manager (or anyone in Arizona or Utah) as “scary bikers”. So few riders do anymore.

After checking in, we got back on the bikes and rolled them around the corner to the central parking lot that anchored the surprisingly expansive set of rooms on two floors. In any other place, this wouldn’t be the nicest motel at which to stay, but once we’d backed our bikes into a sloped spot next to the stairs to our second floor room, we realized that anyplace in Sedona is probably pretty special. Craig went up to the room first, of course. I was still fiddling around with my luggage, trying to gather the needed clothes, bath kit, and various items so I could go upstairs in one trip. Some rather attractive young women walked past me as I was unloading. They walked up the staircase near the bikes, and entered a room very close to ours. Why didn’t they take notice that there were two guys on bikes near them? Bikes are cool! Probably because we looked old.

I definitely felt that giddiness that I usually feel when arriving at a motel/hotel. It’s a bit of an adventure – a new environment – and you’re there because you’ve been going somewhere. Later that year, I was doing week after week of travel for work. Checking into a new hotel room every Sunday night – my new home for a bit. It always felt a little bit exciting, like what the hotel has on its basic cable TV is better than what I have on my basic cable TV back at home. You take a couple minutes to snoop around and see what there is, maybe finding little complimentary things, or even mouthwash (a rare and welcome bottle in hotel bathrooms). Add to this the excitement of being in a new and amazing part of the country, and what you had was two guys raring to clean up and get into some dinner, drinks, and cigars.

Craig called down from the walkway outside the room: it was nice, and the view was spectacular (the website had promised a view of Oak Creek). I loped up the outdoor stairwell and into the room, remarking to myself that it looked like a motel room: two queen beds, some low dressers, a bathroom, a TV, and a sliding glass door to a balcony. I dumped my stuff on the near bed and went back out to the walkway with my main camera, a 35mm Nikon N60, something I’d used exclusively since 2000. I’d seen an interesting shot that needed to be taken before I could do anything else. At the top of the stairs and right in front of the room, I looked over the railing and saw our two bikes parked very close together in one space on the brick parking lot. To me, so many of the Harley models are generally (and, in my opinion, failingly) similar (the V-Rod and the Sportsters seem to be truly different from the Dynas, Softails, and Tourers), but the difference of the touring arrangement of our two bikes was dramatic.

My rented Road King (black, the fastest of colors) had alloy rims instead of spokes, big, beefy front forks, and a short rake. It had big engine guards, thank God. It had big cushioned footboards, standard boxes (panniers) on the sides, and a spacious luggage rack on the back. It had two “passing lamps” on either side of the massive headlight to provide additional brightness on the road. The pipes stretched out from underneath each of the panniers. Craig pointed out to me on this trip that one of those pipes was fake! I didn’t like that. If I had a passenger on the Road King, she would have enjoyed a quality seat and a backrest.

Craig’s red Softail was a more stripped-down style, with forward foot controls instead of the mid-position footboards. His legs could stretch way out. The Softail’s front wheel had a much wider diameter, a narrower tire, and a spokes. The front fork was much narrower and raked out quite a bit more. His headlight was small and mounted simply. His slash-cut pipes reached out on the right. Craig had added a windshield (smart move for a long trip like this) and an aftermarket Harley seat – much wider and more comfortable. I had to get used to seeing his bike’s red paint to remember when he brought it over to my house when it was new.

Sometimes you just look guilty. Nice goggles. Need some new jeans...
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):

BadWHooper screwed with this post 01-17-2012 at 08:49 PM
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Old 01-19-2012, 05:08 PM   #21
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A Nite In Sedona

It wasn’t until I’d taken the quick pictures, dropped my stuff on the bed, and walked to the balcony that I understood what Craig was talking when he was saying something about “spectacular view”. BAM!

The panorama hit me like the opening credits of Star Wars in a stadium theater.

Not only did we have a view of Oak Creek down below us (I could hear it rushing), but a spectacular vista of orange and tan mountains, green trees and scrub, and red soil. Dotted throughout were amazing homes, clinging to the side of the hills. We were told one luxury place directly across from us belonged to Madonna, and Robert DeNiro had a place on the other side of that ridge.

And so on. That was interesting, but it didn’t matter. This motel that, when I arrived, I thought was going to be shabby, ended up providing us with an incredible welcome to the area.

It was 7:15pm. We didn’t know where to eat. But, as we unloaded our bikes and carried our necessities up the stairs into the room, we noticed some attractive young women also coming in and out of nearby rooms. Naturally, I tried to be conspicuous as an “interesting-looking person with no wedding ring”, fiddling around with a Harley. The women were awfully young, but I figured they might find two guys with bikes interesting. I may have been totally deluding myself. I may have actually thought that, a) I looked young enough or attractive enough to catch the eye of some 20-something chickie and her friends, and, b) that Harleys are actually interesting to most women (they’re not, at least in the circles and neighborhoods I run in). In the year or so that I’d done Internet dating to this point, I’d met very, very few women who wanted anything to do with getting on the back of a motorcycle. One, who I was really hopeful about, started our initial conversation by saying, “Don’t know if it’s a deal breaker, but I hate motorcycles and will never get on one.”

I replied, “It’s not a deal breaker for me, if it’s not a deal breaker for you.”

We went out for a little while, but it never went anywhere.

To this day, I’ve only had four passengers in my nearly three and a half years of riding.

First passenger: my last long-term ex-girlfriend who almost took the Motorcycle Safety Foundation beginner rider course with me (she bailed at the last minute to go back to the office – couldn’t stand feeling like she was missing out on some chance at advancement or responding to some superior asking, “Where’s So-And-So!?”). She had a lot of experience riding sidesaddle on motorcycle taxis on the rutted roads of Africa while in the Peace Corps, and even says she piloted bikes a bit (not sure I believe her). You’d figure, then, that she wouldn’t have any problem with my taking her around town, but no, she would only ride around a small elementary school parking lot two blocks from my house, and wouldn’t even ride with me up to the lot itself. Instead, I let her drive my car there (I never let ANYONE drive my car until I got married). Actually, it was a lot of fun, and I think it made us a little closer (she probably didn’t think so). I learned how to smooth out my shifting so that I didn’t feel the front of her helmet bashing into the back of mine as I accelerated, decelerated, and shifted gears. She went away to business school a couple months after I started riding, and we broke up about five months later, so motorcycling really became an important substitute (ha!) for her in my life and probably kept me sane through that time.

Second passenger: my own father! It was February 2005. I showed up at my parents’ Florida rental apartment on a forest green Harley-Davidson Road King Custom, about seven months after I’d started riding, in order to finally get the secret of my new hobby off my chest (as well as to go on my first riding adventure). I told them that I’d be visiting, but I didn’t tell them how I would be getting there. They assumed I’d be renting a convertible or sports car or something (and I admit to leading them on in that direction). When I showed up – hours late, in the dark, and in an all-day heavy downpour – they were relieved, but also speechless and amazed at how I had arrived. Yeah, this was the “honeymoon” period with my parents. For the next few months or so they thought my riding bikes was about the greatest thing I’d done in years. Now they’re just worried. Anyway, the next day was sunny and warm, so Dad asked me to give him a lift down the island to his friend’s house, mostly to just drop off something, but maybe also to cause a splash. He came down the steps from the apartment to the Road King Custom (definitely one of the best looking Harleys there are) wearing his bicycle helmet. Mom took the hilarious picture of us on the bike: me with my full-face helmet, green boots, and armored summer weight riding jacket, and Dad on the back with his Huffy helmet and boat shoes.

It was a great little ride, though having a dude on the back probably never feels right (this was my one and only instance so far).Dad had ridden small bikes and scooters in his youth, so I know he enjoyed it too, with maybe a little bit of nostalgia. At one stop sign, I almost dumped the whole thing over, not used to the extra weight and higher center of gravity that a passenger creates. I think he reacted and put his left foot down and helped keep the beast upright. That was a little embarrassing, but, thinking back, isn’t your dad always supposed to be there to put his foot down when you need some stability, so you don’t fall over?

My folks, embracing my new life!!!

I don’t think I’d give Dad a ride on my Buell Ulysses. Unless he asked, and then I definitely would.

Third passenger: an attractive but frustrating woman I met online and went on some dates with. I loved that she was into my bikes and saw them as an interesting, different, and exciting way to get around. She only rode with me twice…once to go get dinner on a hot summer day and again many months later to get dinner after not being in touch for awhile. The first time, I forced her to wear my armored nylon jacket and full-face helmet while I wore my leather and half helmet. I didn’t think we were taking the bike to dinner, so I wasn’t prepared for the helmet hair that made me look a little funny, and having to wear a wife beater because anything else would have been too warm. Anyway, that didn’t matter. Riding with her through the neighborhoods of Alexandria, Virginia was one of the manliest and most empowering feelings I’ve had in a long time – she was the first woman I’d really ridden with, on real city streets. She held on tightly…I could feel her thighs pressing around mine and her body shift as I accelerated, changed gears, turned, and eventually parked. I felt like the BMOC when we parked there in the bustling Pentagon City shopping area and hopped off. It wasn’t long after that she told me that she didn’t feel “the spark”. She also had to get some surgery on her back, so that would certainly nix any followup ride for awhile. I visited her when she was recovering to show my interest. She really appreciated it, too. Not long after that, she asked me if I wanted to go out with one of her friends. We took a second ride down to Old Town Alexandria some months later, and had a thoroughly uncomfortable dinner as she found about a hundred ways to tell me that I wasn’t proactive enough in my relationships. What’s funny is that she was just about as single as I was at that time, yet she was way more critical. Anyway, I think I realize now that her dog treated me WAY better than she did. Do they make helmets and goggles for doggies? I’m sure they do. Oh, and I’m happily married now. And she reached back a couple years ago, just to see if I would take her for a ride again. No way.

Fourth passenger: my last girlfriend before my wife. She loved the Buell. She even had her own helmet – some sort of car racing helmet autographed by two random race car drivers that she met many years ago when she followed that scene. I was just glad she had one that fit. Anyway, I remember taking her on our first ride from Bethesda, Maryland, out past the mansions and horse estates of Potomac on River Road, west along the River Road that no one knows when it becomes one lane wide and winds through some marshy woods, then opens up into bucolic farmland and turns into a dirt road, then to historic White’s Ferry (an actual ferry across the Potomac that started after the Civil War), and on quaint back roads back into town. It was perfect – I locked her in with that route, and it highlighted the abilities of the Buell Ulysses: plenty of luggage, comfortable seating for two, speed and maneuverability, head-turning uniqueness, and off-road capability.

From then on, she and I went on a bunch of different rides, and she was a great passenger – trusting, communicative, and eager to go further. We had little ways of expressing our affection for each other and the enjoyment of the ride…patting and stroking each other’s leg, leaning into each other, and bashing helmets when I’d brake hard. In fact, that became a fun game I used to play. She was new to the Washington, DC area, so everywhere we went was new to her. She proposed going on long rides out into the country, like Skyline Drive in Virginia or the Eastern Shore lowlands of Maryland (got a speeding ticket in Oxford, MD, on our last trip before our breakup, but I don’t blame that on her – I blame her for not doing more to convince the cop to let us go).

Yup, that's the helmet I was wearing in AZ/UT, except with the visor snapped on. It was hot and humid as balls this day!

In fact, the most miles I’d ever done on a bike in a single day to that point was with her, out on the Eastern Shore of Maryland – upwards of 300 miles. And even though she unexpectedly blew me off with an email breakup – after five months of dating – in favor of what I can only assume was more, new, and better, I have to at least be happy in that I finally got a chance to experience a relationship with someone who loved being on bikes almost as much I as I did. Still doesn’t mean that I think any less of the way she dumped me. Hope she met some rich Ducati rider…those things are uncomfortable as hell for passengers.

Since then: my then-girlfriend-now-wife. Note the ATGATT...

Anyway, back in Sedona, I was thinking. It’s always part of a single man’s (and, possibly, too, for non-single men) travel fantasy to pull into a new town and have some sort of wild night and flings here and there, so I was just keeping my eyes out for the potential. While Craig showered, I captured the evening view of the cliffs from the balcony with my Nikon 35mm film SLR (see the previous photos).

Once Craig was done washing up, I took over the bathroom. The sand, dust, dirt, and bug parts flowed off of me in a khaki-camouflage stream down the shower drain…that first leg of the journey being rinsed away by soap and hot water, except for the burning reminder on my forearm where my jacket had given me a little patch of road rash. That wound didn’t feel good under hot water, but I made sure to clean it well. Otherwise, I was still without aches or soreness. My low side didn’t take much of a toll on my body…just my jacket. It wouldn’t be until later in the trip that Craig noticed a bizarre injury to me that I never would have noticed, and still can’t explain.

Showers and street clothes would make both of us feel like new men again. Craig was arranging his stuff on one side of the room as I dressed, but seemed startled and stopped to tell me that I had some sort of “mark” on my back.


“Yeah,” he replied, “It looks like a diamond on your back, like a sunburn.” My back didn’t hurt, and I don’t recall feeling any problem with it since the crash, so I walked into the bathroom and turned my shoulder to the mirror to see what he was talking about.

There it was: a strange, diamond-shaped mark about nine inches tall and six inches wide with a hash-mark pattern. I was baffled. Looking at the inside of my leather jacket, I concluded that it wasn’t the impression from the jacket liner. It was so oddly symmetrical that I discounted the impact with the road (remembering, clearly, sliding backwards on my back, watching – in slo-mo – Craig’s Harley barreling towards me). I began to wonder if I’d been marked by aliens or Native American spirits: “Spare this mortal – this get-off will be his education. He shall remember his lesson by our mark.

Thinking back now, if I ever get a tattoo on my back (aside from the giant battleship and oversized eagle carrying a naked woman in its talons), it might be that weird mark.

'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):

BadWHooper screwed with this post 01-19-2012 at 06:45 PM
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Old 01-20-2012, 11:28 AM   #22
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Read your ride report from Scotland 2005. Following along here...waiting to see if you pull those 20 somethings
keep it coming.
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Old 01-20-2012, 01:00 PM   #23
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Great blog. Bit parallel to my experience. I lived in Scotland for nearly 7 years (Perth) and rode all over - great roads - Scotland has the approach right - mountains are there to twist the tarmac into interesting shapes. I bought my first Harley up there - in 1999 in Edinburgh - about 300 yards from where my father was born and raised. Then learned how to hustle one of those through the mountains (previously on a Harris GSX 1170 and Honda CBR 1000). But this summer I and 2 or 3 lifelong friends (guys I've ridden with for 30 years) are doing EagleRider Harleys from Vegas right across all the rectangular states for nearly 3 weeks and aiming at a lot of your featured places. You're keeping me going through the miserable winter. Thanks.
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Old 01-20-2012, 02:11 PM   #24
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Nice...unusual report

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Old 01-20-2012, 09:28 PM   #25
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Replies Make the Day

Thanks for the insightful's so interesting to hear what the other inmates have to say as related to what this inmate has said. Thanks again for reading my lengthy text, and look forward to some more photos...
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):
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Old 01-21-2012, 01:34 AM   #26
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I've posted this before, but if it makes you feel any better:

Once, I 'saddled up to the bar' in Tortila Flats, and ripped the crotch out of my riding pants.

Man, that was an embarrassing ride home.

These days, I get the table

Great report so far, keep it coming!
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Old 01-21-2012, 09:31 PM   #27
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Wrapping Up the First Day

HILARIOUS, Marlowe...gotta' watch those saddlehorns, too.

With renewed energy and the eagerness to get out into Sedona, we bounded down the stairs into the parking lot, bade goodnight to the bikes, and headed up to the Y-intersection of 89A and 179. At the end of the trip, I’d be taking 179 through the canyons out of town and south, back to Scottsdale. Craig and I still had no idea where we were going to eat. The only suggestions I had were from my guidebook, and none of them sounded like they were in walking distance from the hotel, and, frankly, our intent was to have such a dinner that riding our bikes would not be a wise option.

Across 89 was a major chain hotel and a row of nice shops, a Starbucks, and some restaurants. It looked promising, so we sprinted across the busy main highway and walked up the stairs. I had been given recommendations by a bartender at my local Scottish pub back in Wheaton, Maryland. I checked them out, including the popular Shugrue’s Hillside Grill, and none of them were in walking distance to our hotel. Luckily, at the little shopping development on top of the hill next to the hotel, we found the menu for Bistro Bella Terra (, though I SWEAR it was called something like the Blah Blah Butte or something. The menu had a variety of slightly higher-end dishes, an inviting bar, and was right there in front of us. Craig and I looked at the menu outside, nodded at each other, walked right in, and found two stools at the bar in front of an attractive female bartender.

I got the martini that I’d been craving all day and also found some interesting fish on the menu. Craig stuck with his Coca Cola-based mixed drinks (Jack Daniels, always Jack). Dinner was fine. We had brought our own cigars and were eager to enjoy the warm weather and their patio overlooking the main drag (and our motel). The bartender was great – she gave us a free round and set us up outside with whatever extra cocktails we’d need, even though barely anyone ventured out there. Craig and I lit up our stogies and sipped Scotch. The pillars on the patio were interesting: fist-sized rocks bundled and wired up into substantial columns. The hills and cliffs around the area were dark, so there wasn’t much in the way of a view, but feeling the fresh, warm air and seeing stars overhead was exhilarating.

Craig and I shot the breeze about everything. It mostly focused on women and dating issues, but inevitably trickled back to our shared experience at our old company, reminiscing about the ridiculousness of many of the employees there, and wondering about some of the cool coworkers…where were they?

Occasionally on this trip, we would get into politics and the war in Iraq [this was 1995]. As I talked about earlier, Craig had been in the US Army. Plus, he’s from a small rural town in southern Virginia. Stereotypes start piling up here. I grew up in southeastern Ohio and am an Eagle Scout. He knew I’m liberal and not impressed by W, and I knew that he thought W was better than anyone the Democrats could have put up there. I believe, that deep, down, Craig knew he couldn’t win that argument (his smile when we’d talk about W told me so), so he just kept up his old ways just to needle me. I remember the slippery slope we were on, and remind myself of some of the absolute truths in the world: the ends – when dealing with our democracy – never justify the means.

But that’s where we’d come down to it with our political discussions: Craig would posit that Al Gore would never have had the balls to take the offensive after 9-11, citing the old GOP mantra, that “Clinton fought terror with lawyers”, and that John Kerry could never have led the country decisively in this “new world” we’ve been forced to live in. I disagreed. I believed their Vietnam experiences were important influences to their world view. Who knows? See you in Jo Momma!

Regardless, we were having a great time out there on the patio all by ourselves, like it was reserved for us. The tourists really hadn’t arrived to the area en masse quite yet, so we got pretty attentive service wherever we went. Eventually, some other smokers saw that the two guys outside didn’t die after staying outdoors at night for more than 30 minutes, so we started to get a little bit of company.

We did talk about the fairer sex a “fair” amount. I rambled on about my most recent long-term ex-girlfriend for probably an hour. Craig didn’t share much about his sweetie down in San Diego, even though they’d been dating for quite some time. I think they’d even broken up awhile ago then gotten back together.

One of the restaurant managers came out to check on us in the chilly air…he was a cigar aficionado as well and stayed out to chat about good smokes. Craig was a bit more up to date on cigars than I. Sedona restaurants were smoke-free. We had no problem with this. Craig was used to California smoking laws.

My first ever trip to California came in October 1999, just after the smoking ban went into effect. What I found was a burgeoning alternate social life: the doorfront smokers. They were people in the bar who were forced to step out into the small area right outside the establishment. They found themselves standing around with strangers with one key thing in common: they had to be there if they wanted to smoke. A guaranteed unexpected side effect of the ban – chatting, sharing smokes, shaking hands, kvetching a bit, and bonding. And probably a lot of romantic connections. I recall barhopping around San Francisco on that trip and remarking how the best conversations and flirtings were going on outside the bar, out among the smokers. It’s no secret that smokers have their own little klatsch at offices, but here we were in the first place in the country to ban smoking in bars!

The bartenders created a system to accommodate the new regulations: the bartender would put one of those paper coasters (Bierdaechle, auf Deutsch) on top of your drink to let others know that you’d be coming back and to not take your stool. I thought it was fascinating, and took it that I was on the edge of a cultural revolution. In fact, NYC started cracking down on the smoke and noise that these temporary loiterers cause.

Craig used to be a cigarette smoker, but around the time we started planning this trip he talked a lot about cigars, so I guess he made that somewhat common – yet not-half-stupid – switch from cigarettes to cigars. After about an hour, a few re-lights of the stogies via Dawson’s gas-jet lighter, and plenty of views of the main street, moon, stars, and motor inn, we closed it out and made our way down the long concrete stairs, across the street, and back to the Cedars Resort. Back there, we took up on the quiet balcony overlooking the vague outline of the canyon cliffs, and the rushing sound of Oak Creek. We took some time to wind down the first night, sipped a little bit of the various flasks of Scotches that we’d brought, and made small talk about what we’d expect on the ride the next day. We’d need to check out, find some breakfast, time the ride up to the Grand Canyon’s south rim, and factor in anything worth seeing along the way. Neither of us had been to the area before and had no idea what we’d see – that’s really the basis of the excitement of a trip like this. The conversation drifted into a little bit of current events again (how can it be helped?) and relationships, but mostly a recap of the day’s ride: the unbearable heat and traffic of Scottsdale, the euphoria of getting out of the city and into the country, the crash, the panic of getting the big Road King out of the ditch, hauling ass away from that dirt road, reveling in the rural roads, seeing the first red rocks of Sedona, savoring the first taste of cold gin, and enjoying the relaxed conversation of ride’s-end.

Craig turned in first. I stayed on the balcony and listened to the frogs down by the river, mumbled the night’s memories into my recorder, and let my mind go blank in tired and carefree bliss. It wasn’t too long before I went back inside and crashed onto my bed.

Finally, day two...
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):
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Old 01-28-2012, 08:03 PM   #28
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Day Two!

Day Two – Saturday, ate Year="2006" Day="22" Month="4" ls="trans" w:st="on">April 22, 2006ate> – Sedona to South Rim, 224 Miles Ridden (441 To Date)

“Carry all those phantoms

Through bitter wind and stormy skies

From the desert to the mountain

From the lowest low to the highest high.”

- Neil Peart

The next morning was Earth Day, or, as I like to refer to it, “Erf Day”. How appropriate that we were in one of the “Erfiest” places in the country. I woke up for the first time around 6:00am (my internal clock thinking it was more like 9:00am). I rolled over to try to get back to sleep and shield my eyes from the growing light coming in through the sliding glass door. A few hours later, waking up again, the main thing that struck me – as it always does – was that I was not at home but in a hotel room. In a close second was the realization that there was another dude in the hotel room with me. It wasn’t a fearful or homophobic thing, but just an awareness that guys get that tells us we are not alone, and that the other person sleeping in the same room is not a chick. Craig was a bit of a snorer, as was I – or so I’ve been told – but neither of us could complain about having trouble sleeping. Gin, whiskey, Scotch, cigars, and a day in the wind saw to that.

No hangovers on this trip. None. Or nothing that some riding wouldn’t cure.

I stirred once or twice more, but remembered that I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I got up, grabbed the leftover Diet Coke, my voice recorder, and my camera and walked out to the balcony to sit and take in the vista. I was surrounded by towers of red, orange, and tan. Ducks were flapping and quacking down on the river below. I snapped a few pictures – duplicates of the ones that I’d taken the evening before when we’d arrived, when it was cloudy. These shots, in contrast, were bright and golden with the blue skies and bright sun. Why was the sun already so high?!

Keep in mind...the following shots were all taken from the balcony of our motel. NICE! And it says a lot for the beauty of the region, too!

The screen door slid open and Craig stepped out to take in the morning. The air was rather cool, but the sun was surprisingly powerful (especially after flying in from the Mid-Atlantic the day before) and felt really good. It was easy to understand why people keep coming back here.

Craig and I talked a bit while taking in the views and snapping morning shots. My 300mm zoom pulled in an interesting shot of the bridge over Oak Creek, way up north of the motel, north of the edge of town.

The canyon walls, coated with a green blanket of scrub and pine, layered themselves and overlapped behind the bridge.

Later that day, we’d cross over that Midgely Bridge on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Craig took first dibs on the shower, which gave me the opportunity to think about the previous day and look around at the valley as if I were traveling solo.

So yeah, I crashed the bike. I needed to call rental place. My brain scrolled through the images and thoughts of the event: gravel, dirt, sand, downhill, 12 mph, knew I was heading toward ditch, but my eyes locked on it, couldn’t slow enough or control. It slid right over into the ditch. Don’t remember anything until I was sliding on my left shoulder downhill, then saw Craig coming at me, which seemed funny. Realization hit that I was sliding and that I was wearing a leather jacket and that I crashed the bike, that it was somewhere over away from me – thinking I heard the bike crash into the ditch – for the first time ever, I crashed a bike while riding it, and it might be trashed and unrideable and I’ve completely ruined the vacation on the first day…all while sliding on my shoulder. Leather really does work.

We were getting ready to roll out in search of breakfast, then to go up to Airport Mesa, a panoramic overlook of the area accessible by a short hike. I was hoping for at least a moderate hike to make the trip feel well-rounded and worthwhile. This was a legacy of my ex-girlfriend: no trip is worthwhile unless some sort of hike is undertaken.

Leaving the room at around 10am, we were pretty sure that we wouldn’t be back in time for checkout, so we packed our bags and loaded the bikes lightly with the intention of leaving the bulk of our stuff in the motel office while we grabbed breakfast and did some sightseeing. I was looking forward to a slightly lesser load, as I’m sure Craig was – he had his entire luggage in one big touring bag behind him, strapped to the front of the sissy bar like a backrest. To see him leaned back and relaxing as he passed me on the road always burned me up.

We carried our stuff down to the Harleys in a couple trips, giving us plenty of time to notice the other groups gearing up for their big Sedona adventures, primarily the bus full of hot girls getting set for some sort of bike ride or something athletic (so we guessed, based on their tight-fitting attire). The problem was, they weren’t really that blown away by two older studs saddling up on Hogs. Oh well. We enjoyed the quick, helmetless ride through the parking lot (makes you REALLY feel like you’re breaking the rules, even though Arizona doesn’t have a helmet law) over to the motel office. My bike’s trip odometer turned 218.

After dropping a couple bags off at the office, we rolled back south on 89a to look for someplace to eat. I noticed what looked like exactly the right place…a small, locally owned breakfast/lunch café. We parked around back and walked in.

I was learning a bunch of tips from ol’ Craig. One was about parking a motorcycle. I was impressed with how Craig would roll up past the parking space, curl away from it, stop, and gracefully roll it in backwards. Makes for an easier and more dramatic exit, and sometimes that’s even more important than your entrance.

The restaurant was a small place on the end of a multi-unit retail place on the main drag in Sedona. Its neighbors were arts and crafts-type places, kite stores, and rainbow-essence healers. They had coffee, tea, a small menu of homemade breakfast items, and outdoor seating, which was just what I was looking for. We got a table outside, ordered tea and coffee, and watched the traffic pick up in the bright sunlight. I had a smoked salmon croissant with scrambled eggs. Craig had baked French toast.
'06 Buell XB12X Ulysses; '07 H-D FXDB Dyna Street Bob

Solo Around Scotland (BMW R850R); AZ and UT (H-D Road King):; Death Valley & Vegas (BMW R1200GS):; NW Colorado (BMW K1200GT):
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Old 02-09-2012, 06:12 PM   #29
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The Day in Sedona

After breakfast, we headed down 89a just a little ways to a left turn into a residential neighborhood, following signs for the Airport. According to the Frommer’s guide, the Airport Mesa would be a great short hike with outstanding views. Trail markers showed the way up dusty red paths through cactus and scrubby green bushes. The views were genuine, providing vistas in all directions at the striped cliffs and mesas that surround the area. The path led up to the eastern facing cliffs first. The wind was powerful on those promontories.

Up there with us were quite a few other tourists of various shapes and sizes, as well as a couple Native American arts-and-craftspeople selling jewelry, crystals, and various little bottles of something. Their wares were spread out over large blankets on a flat part of the clifftop, each corner weighted down by red stones.

The “hike” was barely that…just a couple hundred yards up the steep and dusty trails to various lookouts. Frankly, with our schedule (it was around 11:30am) and our desire to see as much of the state as possible, it was perfect. We got a great taste of Sedona’s scenery that morning. The red/brown/tan and green stretching into the distance, interspersed with low houses and retail, was inspiring. The best views out east were from bald stone hilltops, which took me back to my Boy Scout days, scrambling and jumping around on rocks in central Kentucky’s Red River Gorge area.

We got enough of a look of the east side. My three(!) cameras got a workout, much to Craig’s chagrin. A couple shots from the 80mm Nikon lens, a couple shots from the 300mm zoom, a couple shots from the black-and-white throwaway, and a couple shots from the panoramic. At one point, I became frustrated that my Nikon was out of film and I hadn’t brought an extra roll with me, so I hurried back down to the bike. As I said, it was a short hike. In fact, Craig even got a distant shot of me digging through the Road King’s right pannier for more film. A white-haired old lady can be seen next to me, expressing her disapproval of my chosen mode of transportation.

Back up on the cliffs, I noticed the homes scattered among the cliffs. Despite the beauty of the area and my previous comments, I still knew I would want to set down retirement/dream house roots in deciduous/seasonal areas over single season. I can sit next to my lake in Maine overlooking the White Mountains of New Hampshire, shaded by 100-foot pines, serenaded by loons, and lulled into serenity by the sounds of water.

On the west side of Airport Mesa, Craig and I got a couple of women to take some shots of us and the vista behind. There was hamming to be done.

The scenery was spectacular…I’d never seen anything like it. Mix in the hot sun giving me the feeling of being under a low-grade broiler, yet with the moderating, cooling winds and dry air, I started to wonder where I really was. America? Definitely, but it would take me another couple trips here and there to realize it. So big and diverse, yet still full of – essentially – the same kind of people.

Our group photos were right next to an irresistible patch of cactus. I asked Craig to get a shot of me getting cozy with the cacti. We don’t have cacti where I live. I sat down on the red scrabble and snuggled up. I had no idea that I had gotten much closer to those quills than I thought. Days and even weeks later, I would scratch my right thigh raw, trying to remove the “imaginary” quills and barbs from that brief photo op in Sedona. Those things must have been poisonous.

We ambled down the dry paths back to the bikes, saddled up, and continued on the road to the airport. Up on a broad plateau, and with shockingly little security, was the Sedona Airport. A handful of everyday little private prop planes bordered the property, but there were also a couple sleek, serious looking jets that might belong to Madonna and Robert De Niro. Over to one side was a row of three gorgeous red biplanes: Waco YMF-5’s, part of the Red Rocks Biplane Tours fleet, all tied down and ready to take tourists around the canyons.

We rode on, heading back down the mesa to Route 89A south, then toward the little ghost mining town of Jerome. We stopped at the rest area on the southern outskirts of Sedona where we had paused the night before – this was my choice. I tended to lead our little two-man convoy most of the time, and I wanted to get a picture of the same vista of red-tan-green striped mountains in the daylight as we had in the dusk from the night before. Believe me, it looks very different. In the day, the air almost seemed crystalline, providing an interesting, hazy, but bright view of the cliffs, whereas, the night before, the colors were muted and almost a letdown after such a big hype-up from friends and bartenders.

As far as our side trip to Jerome goes, my old bartender at the Royal Mile Pub back home had recommended it, as did my Frommer’s travel book. Paul the bartender described it as the quintessential southwestern desert ghost mining town, hanging precariously from a golden, dusty cliff, in a lost canyon. It was sort of like that, but not quite as tight or steep as I imagined. It was also more occupied than I thought it would be. Regardless, it was worth the trip. From Airport Mesa, we cruised south out of Sedona, backtracking our way into some hot and bleached desert hamlets – some sorts of “suburbs” of Cottonwood and Clarkdale. To me, the houses and shacks and shops on the outskirts looked parched, bleached, and practically abandoned.

The ride from there up into Jerome was dramatic. 89A started taking sharp switchback turns up a sudden group of mountains. A strange white “J” appeared on one of the hillsides, apparently spelled from white stones in an attempt to let aliens or International Space Station astro-cosmonauts know where Jerome, Arizona was.

As we climbed, we got through the fun switchbacks and found ourselves among numerous motorcycles making the trek. Off to the right, among the lower cliffs and hills, was what must have been the original, primary mine. The rusting equipment and intriguing, abandoned buildings drew me in immediately – I have a thing for abandoned buildings…I want to snoop around in them to see if anyone left anything (don’t get me started on the lure of old asylums or sanitariums). We watched as a horse-drawn cart worked its way up the road past the old mine area…must have been some sort of tour, except that the horse “wrangler” appeared to be working by himself to corral the horses into the same direction. Most of the image of the “old west” was put to rest when we did our first lap into the commercial area of Jerome…there were more jewelry and painting galleries than I’ve seen since Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

In its heyday, Jerome was huge for the area – 15,000 people fit themselves up on the side of that mountain, pulling mostly copper, silver, zinc, and gold out of the ground. In 1953, when the last major mine closed, the town began its final drift into “ghost town” status. In the late 60s, when artists and hippies started making their way into the area, Jerome’s location and low cost of entry was extremely attractive, hence today’s abundance of galleries, shops, and restaurants. It all caters to tourists now.

Jerome was perched on the side of the mountain in two or three tiers, but it was thronged with people. Lots of bikes and my most “undesired” type of tourists: slow and clueless. Craig and I parked our bikes in a crowded dirt lot, walked up a block, took in the amazing views of the valley and old mines, and eventually turned into Raku Gallery, a fascinating, two-story art gallery situated in an old building that looked like it was barely attached to the ground. The rear wall of the main floor was mostly old brick and glass panes, looking out over the desert from where we had come. Craig was dating Veronica at the time, and I was dating no one. I wasn’t even CLOSE to being in a relationship – no reason to buy something simple to bring back to a girl.

I reminded Craig that he really did need to bring something home for his lady friend, even though he wasn’t sure where the relationship was going. I’m pleased that he has since married a knockout from Portugal. Craig found some interesting earrings for Veronica, and I found something for myself. I’ve always wanted a money clip – I’ve been a big fan of “The Kramer” for awhile now: wrap your cash around your credit cards and driver’s license and stick it in your back pocket. It negates the need for a big, fat, bulky wallet. What more do you need except for your ATM card, a couple credit cards, your driver’s license, your insurance card (something I know carry with me because of The Sopranos episode when Tony only got good medical care when the EMTs discovered that he had insurance), and your cash?

Turns out, that was my only true “souvenir” of the entire trip. I bought a “Sedona Choppers” t-shirt from their shop, but they don’t actually make any bikes there. I ordered a Harley-Davidson t-shirt from the closest shop to the Grand Canyon (“Whiskey Row”) online about three months later, but we never actually went there. Oh well. It’s good that we didn’t need to…with my crash and all. Besides, Harley dealers attract other people on Harleys, and Craig and I were enjoying just waving at the others we saw along the way. In fact, Craig mentioned to me that he’d never waved at so many other bikers since he’d moved to California. Apparently, “The Biker Wave” is not practiced as much out there.

Even though Jerome was an interesting place to visit, neither of us took a single picture there. Not even the grand overlooks inspired us to stop and shoot anything. We walked up to the next terraced road and chose the Mile High Grill for lunch over a couple other somewhat interesting options…one of them is one of the oldest saloons in Arizona. You could tell. The Mile High Grill (referring to the altitude of the town…kind of cool, when you think about it, since everyone thinks of the desert as being way down low and cities like Denver [also around a mile high] being way up in the mountains) was just fine. We finished up our sandwiches/wraps and walked back out onto the streets at 1:40am.

The street we were on featured some interesting 1800s-era buildings to look at, but more interesting was the British classic car club rally going on. A parade of Triumphs, Jaguars, Morgans, etc. was puttering through town on its way back down to the desert, piloted by – inevitably – large old dudes with gray goatees. Nice cars, rolling slowly in a line through the streets, and eventually down into the valley, where we’d see them here and there on our way back north from Jerome. We walked back to our bikes and enjoyed the ride down the big hill, back to Sedona and the motel to pick up our bags which we’d left for storage earlier that morning. We really hauled ass on the stretch from Cottonwood to Sedona – it was time to get to the Grand Canyon.

Back at the motel, we reclaimed our bags at the lobby, and I asked to use the restroom. It was an emergency. “There are no restrooms in here”, the shrew-like manager said. What motel office doesn’t have a restroom? One that has a manager who doesn’t want customers to use it. Great service. I almost thought about going back to my room, which was probably being cleaned, but I figured I’d just go across 89A and hit the Starbucks. I walked in, pretended to browse the stainless steel travel mugs as if I was about to buy one, then zinged into the men’s room. Coming out, I again pretended to get in line to purchase a coffee, then pretended to change my mind and hurried out the door to get back on the road to the Grand Canyon. I’m such a wimp. When I got down to the bikes, Craig said I should have just taken a dump on the motel office floor. If you could hear his south Virginian drawl saying that, you’d really appreciate how great it was to travel with him.

Once the bikes were loaded with the extra crap we’d stored in the restroomless motel office, we rolled north on 89, through the touristy bit of Sedona where all the strip of “old-west” looking shops, restaurants, and tour offices were. It was mobbed, so we could only slowly make it out of the town and into the countryside. As we neared Oak Creek Canyon and the bridge over it, the lines of cars grew. Both sides of the road were packed with parked cars. Once across the bridge, it wasn’t too much further that we descended down into the valley, surrounded by tall pines, shaded campgrounds, rustic B&Bs, and luxury cabins along the creek.

Next up...riding north outta' Sedona towards the Grand Canyon...

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BadWHooper screwed with this post 02-11-2012 at 08:23 PM
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Old 02-19-2012, 07:58 PM   #30
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Out of Sedona to the Grand Canyon

The road wound and twisted beautifully, but we were stuck in a long line of cars, held up in particular by one old lady in a white Dodge Neon. She held us back the whole way, most frustratingly in the fantastic switchbacks out of the canyon where motorcyclists most want to get some speed up and test the cornering limits of their bikes and their skills. Add to that the urge to crane one’s neck high to the left, where majestic, jagged, cliffs and rock formations towered over us through the trees. I could see why it would almost be more valuable to have a place down in Oak Creek Canyon than out in wide-open Sedona proper…the river, the trees, the towering cliffs – it was truly another world, and I’d never seen anything like it. The sun seemed to be a little more golden down there as it streamed its way into the valley. I asked myself if this was, potentially, the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. It’s definitely high on the list. So do I leave that question unanswered?

If only that old lady would have pulled over. I was the one behind her, using all my ESP powers to try to subliminally convince her to realize that her actions were driving many other people absolutely nuts. She was ruining my vacation. Well, at least that hour of my vacation. Creeping around gorgeous uphill switchbacks should be something to give you a bit of a thrill and challenge your riding skills. Not this time. Like I’d said before, my friend Eric had told me that I was going to LOVE the ride out of Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon, and now it was being ruined. I clung to the hope that on my return trip two days later – downhill – that I would get to enjoy it as it should be enjoyed – at just enough speed to give you a buzz as you lean your bike way over and scrape the floorboards.

Being followed by Craig was stressful enough. Having someone you perceive to be your superior in a skill (riding a motorcycle) looking over your shoulder is never easy. I felt very self-conscious making those tight turns, trying not to cross the double yellow, or accelerate too jerkily. There was the time when I went on a country ride on my Buell with a bunch of Ducati riders whom I had just met. At the first chance of a long stretch of road they dropped the hammer and disappeared over the rise at what must have been 100+ mph. The big Buell is fast, but its rider doesn’t want to do that, not on little country roads with blind curves and rises. It was a funny juxtaposition from riding with the boys from the local HOG chapter – those guys don’t mind speed, but it’s more about turning your head from time to time, looking around, staying in a nice, tight, staggered formation, and using the proper hand signals to identify the roadkill and potholes. Those poor bastards with sportbikes…they so rarely get a chance to use them for what they’re capable. You can’t blame them for opening up when the chance for interdiction is low.

At the Flagstaff gas stop, I did a lap or two around the bike as I talked to my hand.

The Road King was holding up well – nothing broken was falling off – but I told myself that I should call the Eagle Rider people in the next day or so. I kept thinking that I’d need to wash the bike to get rid of the “evidence” – the grime and dust from that damn dirt road. The Road King was nice, though the handlebars were a bit uncomfortable. I don’t know if I wanted them to be lower and more swept back like the Road King Custom that I rented in Florida in February 2005, or just lower, but they weren’t quite right. I noticed more dings and damage: the clutch lever and left grip were scuffed up by the crash. Craig walked back to the bikes with a Twix of his own. “Quit talking to yourself!” He admonished. It was the running joke. We finished up the stop by planning the upcoming route and how much time we had to see certain things.

With Craig in the lead, we looked for a turn that would have kept us on Route 89. Somehow, in all the suburbia and strip malls, we missed it, and found ourselves on old Route 66, that tiny section mentioned in the famous song that made it sound like Flagstaff would be a major and impressive landmark on the ultimate American road. Unfortunately, the song was well out of date – Route 66 had been overcome by time and progress, and replaced by a bigger road. Despite its good east-west lie. It was neat to be on the famous stretch, but it wasn’t impressive. 66 in Flagstaff was lined with sad looking hotels, wannabe 7-11s, and rusting tributes to what the road used to be. To me, it was a frustrating strip of constant red lights. What I did like was the big set of locomotives pulling a long line of box cars right alongside us. It epitomized The West to me, at least at that point. The unimpressive part of Flagstaff that we saw didn’t do justice to what we would eventually get to once we made it through the town, past Northern Arizona University and finally back onto Route 89. I guess it was good travel luck for us to have missed our turn – I can now say that I’ve ridden a classic section of Route 66 on a Harley-Davidson.

Finally free of the city, we raced north, mostly uphill, through interesting farm towns and rural villages that made me again wonder: “What do these people do for a living?” It began to look more like Rocky Mountain scenery, with thick pine forests, and to our left, the still-snow-covered Humphrey’s Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona (12,633 feet). You could certainly tell by the air temperature. The vents were closed and I had already switched from my thin leather cruising gloves to the thicker gauntlets. About the time that I started to worry about the time again (concerned that it might be getting too late for us to take a detour to see Sunset Crater), we came up on the turnoff (State Forest road 545 east). It wound us through some lovely pine forests and dry chaparral meadows to the visitor center and museum. It was 4:20pm – we were about 20 miles north of Flagstaff. The cute blonde woman at the front desk – no older than 24 and oddly sexy in her tan and green State Forest uniform – explained that we could drive by the Painted Desert, but that access to it was restricted at this part of the year. We quickly walked through the geo-historical presentation about Sunset Crater to absorb as much as we could in the short amount of time we had, and headed back out to the bikes. The Painted Desert was something I’d heard of and wanted to see – I imagined an amazing mosaic of colorful cliffs and eye-popping flora and fauna. Eh…

Not far past the visitor center, we enjoyed some mostly-empty, twisty roads (always the threat of a tour bus). The ideal stop was at a dramatic lava field.

The black/brown field filled the valley among the surrounding hills like a choppy lake made of rock.

Looming above us was the crater itself…again, not what I was expecting. You hear “crater”, and you think hole in the ground, until you remember that the opening of a volcano is also called a “crater”, and that’s sort of what we saw. Sunset Crater was a big black pumice pile that the road curled around. There were approximately 400 other smaller craters scattered around the park, but this was the biggest and most prominent (and youngest, having been formed in the late 1000’s AD!). I would have loved to have hiked to the top of the cone.

The ride from that stop at the lava field was a riot, careening on fast curves and downhill through dry pines. Eventually, I started to fear wasting too much time on this detour and put the hammer down, passing some old lady in a Buick in the process. I must have been doing nearly 100 mph down a long straightaway towards some open desert. Craig got stuck behind the old lady in a no-passing zone and I lost him in my rear-view mirrors.

Craig caught up to me once my fear of park rangers and speeding tickets kicked in enough to get me to slow down a bit. As I approached what we believed to be where I should have found the Painted Desert, Craig’s headlight appeared in my mirrors. I pulled over at the Painted Desert sign and Craig parked behind me.

Was this it? The Painted Desert? I guess we didn’t know what to expect. The cliffs were so far in the distance that they were barely visible, even with my camera’s 300mm zoom lens.

Their colors were muted and bare, and the desert leading out to them was the same kind of desert we’d been seeing for the last half hour. Maybe it’s better in the summer. At this point, there was no reason to stop or pause for anything. We had made the decision to take the whole loop around so we could check out the Painted Desert, knowing that it would eat into our daylight on the approach to the Grand Canyon. So, once we’d seen the paint, we had no other goal but to haul to the South Rim.

I took the lead and roared off, aggressively passing the occasional car we came to. That section right after the Painted Desert was quite fun – lots of dipsy-dos (is that a navigational term?), fast turns, blind curves through dusty hills, past turnoffs for archaeological sites from the A.D. 1200 Sinagua tribe (things I hated to pass by), and vista points. No time to stop for photos or even to slow down. It was a challenging road until we started heading west again into Wupatki National Monument, and eventually back to Route 89. Turning right (north), we raced away from the snowy mountains to some amazing, flat, grazing land. Some illegals were being rounded up by ICE on the side of the road, reminding me of how close we were to the border, and that this line probably served as a bit of a thruway for the folks south of the border who wanted to be north of it.

We blasted north from there, into a much dustier and hotter environment, hurrying to race the sun, which was quickly moving down on our left and turning redder by the half-hour. Truly back in the driest of deserts at this point, we also started seeing signs for the Grand Canyon, as well as more Native American craft stops (some advertising that they were run by “friendly Indians”). We were entering the southwest corner of the huge Navajo Indian Reservation, which stretched north into Utah and east into Colorado and New Mexico.

Out of the cool temperatures and into solid desert and heat, we took a left onto Route 64 east, Navahopi Road toward the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Just being on this road gave us a great sense of being “almost there”, almost to the ultimate destination of the whole trip. 64 started off with the heavy, golden sun in our eyes as it descended toward a large row of cliffs. On the right were small, dusty farms and what looked like the start of a river winding along with the road in the distance.

That little river underwent a very dramatic transformation as we traveled westward. It came closer and closer to the road and was clearly not just a river but a full-fledged canyon. It wasn’t The Grand Canyon – it was the Little Colorado River Gorge, and it was spectacular. Craig and I finally overcame the will to press on to the hotel/beat the sun and pulled over at one of the gorge overlooks, which also served as the parking lot and showroom for a group of Native American shops. Their buildings were dilapidated, the wind was blowing fiercely, and they clearly only had enough to get by, but they still kept their wares out on display – mostly silver and turquoise and woven things. I never bought anything. I never looked, either. I feel bad about that, but it never crossed my mind – I wasn’t in a shopping or souvenir-hunting mindset. I know I would have found something to bring back.

We parked the bikes on some “safe” gravel and walked down to the edge of the gorge. It was almost 6:00pm. As I talked into my voice recorder, I knew it would be hard to understand because of the strong wind.

What a sight. It was like an appetizer for the main course ahead at the Grand Canyon. We walked right up to the edge of what must have been a 400 foot drop to the Little Colorado River on its way to the Colorado.

Seeing this gorge snake its way along our westward route was easily one of the most unique parts of the trip. The land was so flat and oddly green that seeing a gash in the earth like that almost seemed unnatural. We weren’t expecting to see anything that resembled a canyon until we got to the “grand” one. Craig and I took turns standing on the absolute edge of the sandstone – right by the drop-off – for some good photos.

So brave. The sky was clear, the wind was punishing (especially on the next leg of the ride), the sun was getting low in the sky, and we were feeling pretty much like conquering adventurers as we had at any point in the trip.

Back on the bikes and flying westward, leaving some annoyed Friendly Indians in our wake, we started getting into a more vegetated area. On one straight, fast stretch, I looked back to see if Craig was following. He was, and I noticed that he had just run over a piece of paper. I hadn’t seen any garbage in the road as I rode, which made me wonder, crane my neck, and look back again: my left pannier wasn’t closed. Hell, it was wide open and stuff was flying out of it. Freaked, I realized the paper I saw Craig run over was probably my map. I pulled over, looked back, and saw him doing a U-turn to collect my stuff that had flapped out of the box. When he eventually rolled up next to me, he had my map, but also my beloved blue Dickinson College hat!

The road from there tightened up (as did my luggage). We cruised faster and faster away from the desert and into pine forests. Along the way, some areas clearly smelled like forest fires (controlled or otherwise) had been through recently…that was one of the scents that will now mean “the Southwest” to me. You don’t get those scents much in the northeast. Burning logs or brush, maybe, but not the smell and sight of burning forests.

Regardless of what Lao Tzu said, we knew we were getting close and the excitement of seeing the canyon, as well as getting to our motel and cocktail hour and dinner, drove us faster. The chill of the elevation and disappearing sun started to seep into my leather. I was only wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and a leather jacket. I’d switched back to the thin leather gloves long before, and was dying for an excuse to stop and put on the gauntlets – as well as another layer. But I wasn’t going to be the one to halt our forward progress for just some warm riding gear. Getting there was too important to sacrifice sunlight.

Suddenly, a sign for Navajo Point, the first overlook of the Grand Canyon! We turned into the dim parking lot with excitement and a complete unawareness of what we were about to see. Again – this was the point of the journey (aside from the journey itself), and we’d made it. The crash seemed like a year ago. Sedona seemed like six months ago. Phoenix? What’s Phoenix? I have a job somewhere? In other words, mission accomplished. We had arrived at the Grand Canyon.

Next up...seeing the Grand Canyon for the First Time

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