10 Days »
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In August, 2002, my wife, Sara, was going to be in Laughlin, Nevada. By road from St Louis, Laughlin is only a day past the Grand Canyon, so when Sara and I were deciding on our vacation spot, I said that since Sara was already in the area, I would meet her at the Canyon. Her sister could drop her off at the South Rim, and I could ride the Harley to the North Rim. We could hike down from opposite sides and meet at the bottom. My friend, Aubrey, at work said, "You should fly. You are going to waste three days on the road getting there." I cried out, "Waste? Waste? Who could possibly describe three days on a Harley as a waste? When you're on the road on a motorcycle of any kind, you are already THERE. It will be three days of heaven! And six days of heaven on the way back with Sara. Waste!?" Aubrey just shook his head, I shook my head at Aubrey shaking his head. They're used to me at work, but they just forget sometimes. My three days on the Harley was indeed heaven.
For the technically minded, my Harley is a 1975 FLH 80 cubic inch Shovelhead, converted from some sort of dresser to a Wide Glide. We call it "Tucker" in honour of the previous owner, whose name still appears engraved on the points cover. It has a suicide clutch and jockey shift with a glass doorknob. It has kickstart only. It is hard to start, leaks oil, has a spray-can paint job ("Autumn Red"). I bought it in 1987 in Phoenix when it spoke to me in the front lot of Bob's Motorcycles. A Harley rider once told my friend Rudy that FLH stands for "Fricking Large Harley" (he didn't say "fricking", though). There was a minor delay at first when I checked the weather on the Internet and saw great green blobs right on Highway 70, and moving towards me. Green blobs mean thunderstorms, so I decided to shave my head and then take a nap for a while. I had planned to leave at 5pm, but finally left at 10pm, after the storms had passed over. I got half way across Kansas in the dark, which is the best time to see Kansas from the road unless you like wheat farms. After dawn it was a long, flat day. And pretty hot. At the Colorado border there was more flatness. It's a trap for travelers heading west to think that the Colorado border means mountains. It does, but not for another several hundred miles. Eastern Colorado is flatter than Kansas, and they're both flatter than the Nullarbor Plain in Australia. Finally, the Rocky Mountains loomed on the horizon. But to my left, the south, was a huge black thunderstorm and it was heading north. I had been watching it over the plains for quite a while. It looked like it was going to cross my path at Denver. A few long fingers of cloud that looked as heavy as lead crossed the highway in front of me. They were so low that I ducked as I went under them. A few ominous drops hit my glasses. I could see the city of Denver as I approached, or rather I could see half of it. The southern half had disappeared under torrential rain that made the clouds meet the ground. Flashes of lightning pierced the solid gray. The good news was that the highway went through the north part of the city, and I hoped I could ride fast enough to pass the storm before it engulfed the road with me on it. The bad news was that it was 5pm, rush hour traffic. I hit a lot of very heavy traffic, it slowed to a crawl several times and a few big drops hit me. The blackness and lightning was creeping ever closer. I would have to stop if it got to me. Just as the big mass of clouds reached the road, the traffic opened up and I sped past the storm. The rain obscured the road in my rear view mirror as I headed up into the foothills. I had escaped by only minutes. There were still a few rain clouds around up in the mountains, but no lightning. I dodged them for a while by sheer luck, but finally I had to stop and put my rubber pants on. I didn't want to stop as long as there was a patch of clear sky ahead, which there always seemed to be. So I pushed on through the mountains, over the divide, until the weather cleared. Then I spied a Subway, a welcome sight on the road, and stopped for a sandwich at about 10 pm. I don't know if Subway has made it to Australia yet, it's a sandwich chain. They make good, fresh sandwiches, much better than the Fried Fat type of fast food places. On the road for twenty-four hours straight. I had enjoyed every second, but now I was more than tired. I stopped at Glenwood Springs to ask about a motel. Seventy dollars a night seemed a bit steep, "Well, it's a resort town", said the innkeeper as explanation. I pushed on. I got a room for $40 at the next town, Salt, Colorado. It was about midnight, and I was ready for a shower and a bed. I checked the weather, Grand Junction fine and 105f next day. It was going to be a hot one.
The next morning I stopped at Grand Junction for a map, food, and oil. The old Harley uses a bit of oil at the best of times. I always tell Japanese bike riders that I'll worry if my Harley stops leaking, then it'll be out of oil. At mid-morning the temperature was already 100f, and the sun was beating down. Heat is better than rain any day. I was cruising at about 60 mph, taking it easy on the old bike in the heat. >From Grand Junction I headed south into Utah, on one of the great roads in the world, Highways 24 and 12 to Kanab, Utah. It goes through country which is amongst the most heat-blasted barren desert in the world (comparable to Coober Pedy, South Australia). Large areas were nothing but coloured eroded dirt with loose rocks and a few rocky mesas. Then a surprising river valley with red cliffs. I passed Capitol Reef National Park, a spectacular red-rock desert area that Sara and I had visited before. Then the road leads over a high mountain range with green meadows, aspen and pine forests. The temperature drops 20 degrees up in the forests. The first time we were on this road, we drove through sleet in the summer. Luckily we were in a VW van, and not on the Harley. The ridges open out to views of multi-coloured deserts in three directions. Down the mountains, over a high frightening rocky ridge with deep canyons on both sides. The top of the ridge is barely enough to hold the road. A bit of wind makes it a real thrill. Then through the remarkable fairyland scenery of the Bryce Canyon area, with its bright red, yellow, purple, white and orange clays eroded into amazing shapes. Kanab,
Utah, is a beautiful little town. It's a vacation town on a famous driving circuit of National Parks including Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and Arches. All except Grand are in Utah, which is hardly ever mentioned in Australia as one of the most scenic states, but it definitely is. I liked Kanab additionally because I was starving and there was a good restaurant. Sara saw Kanab on the way back and said that she could retire there, like right now. I agreed. We're only pennies away from retiring (in our dreams). On the second night out, I slept at Jacob's Lake, only a few miles from the North Entrance to Grand Canyon. It was cool enough for me to sleep in my sleeping bag and keep my head tucked in. I arrived in the dark and woke up in a beautiful Ponderosa pine forest. The road continued through high mountain meadows and forest. I saw a family of wild turkeys, a few deer, and several circling birds that could have been hawks or eagles or buzzards, or even one of the California Condors that have been released in the area. When you reach the end of the road at the North Rim, it seems the Grand Canyon opens the earth in front of you to eternity. A fair bit south of Highway 12, but a good add-on to the trip. At the North Rim campground, the hosts George and Shirley (retired people who volunteer at the Canyon in the summers just for fun, what a life!) found a place to stash all my motorcycle baggage, and I was set. I packed my gear, and despite losing three granola bars to a thieving crow, I was in good shape for the morning. I even had time to walk a short way down the North Kaibab Trail just to make sure where it was, because I would be leaving in the dark next morning to see my Sweetheart at the bottom of the Canyon. SHEP
Story by David Sheppard