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Tales From A Very Long Motorbike Trip

Another piece from 2008, a time when I was all about riding motorbikes . . . the longer the day the better.  This essay was written while on the road from Seattle through Washington, Oregon, California, and Nevada to a town called Tubac in Arizona.  And then back.

I’ve been here before. These roads.  Seen these trees.  Lakeview.  Crummy roadside motel.  Eating alone. But it’s all fresh and different each time I ride by and through. Even the Interstate 8 , my home away from home tonight, has a kind of seedy charm that would be totally lost on me if I were travelling for business.  But after 10 hours in the saddle, it’s a little slice of heaven.

This trip has been a long time coming. My long-time riding pal, Ron, is out of the country so this was to be my first really big ride by myself.  Knowing how things go, I made this one hard to cancel. I signed up for a retreat down in Tubac, Arizona and vowed that I would ride there. Then a client called and asked if I could do a workshop for her team over in Temecula. Pretty soon I had a two-week hole in my calendar through which I would ride 4000 miles.

Booking the trip, planning the trip, and riding the trip are all different things.  When I travel for business, it takes me about five minutes to pack. I always wear the same thing—all black—so there aren’t any decisions to make. My computer bag is always fully kitted out. So, nothing to think about there either. The biggest decisions I face are what color socks to wear and what book or books to bring.

Two weeks gone on a motorbike is something else altogether. The packing part turned into a silly act of obsessive behavior that must hint at some dark unresolved issues. The core bits are easy . . . I always wear black and there aren’t a lot of decisions to make other than some tuning for weather.  Poly pro this, poly pro that. Tops, bottoms, socks, ready, set, and go. But the part about being gone for two weeks has me all turned around. Will I do laundry? When? Where? Maybe not.

What will I wear when I get there? It’s going to be 100 degrees. And what about when I see my client?  Which computer will I bring? Which camera? How many books? How many pairs of socks? I lay everything out on the floor of my office and add and subtract this and then that until I’m just plain out of time.

My indecisiveness and concern about not looking like a stinky rag picker causes me to go well over the volume my normal set-up will hold so I wind up buying a small bag that bungees onto the pillion seat to accommodate the overflow.  After looking at a very pricey unit at the BMW dealer and another in the Aerostich catalog, I settled on a very reasonably priced piece by Tour Master that I wound up really liking.

Extreme packing silliness always arises on two specific items: heated clothes and my monster Canon super-duper professional camera.

I really can’t say why I go around and round on the heated gear. I really hate being cold when I ride and so I have a vest, full jacket, pants, socks, and gloves that all plug in. The round-and-round part is whether to take any of it and if so what.

The nutty thing is that I can wear the top under my riding jacket very comfortably up to the high 60s or even low 70s if it’s turned off. I wind up turning it on when the ambient temp dips into the 50s. I’m good with the full set-up down into the 30s. Given the forecast for the first three days of my ride, lows in the 40s highs in the low 70s, it’s a no brainer. But round-and-round I go until my wife verbally slaps me on the side of my head and I grab the vest and gloves.  Dumb. I wear it happily seven out of ten hours today.

The camera thing is equally silly though for different reasons. I’ve carried a camera nearly daily for many years. Back in the film days, it was either a Nikon (F2 or F3) or a Leica. Sometimes even a Hasselblad. If those names mean anything to you, you know that’s serious gear and I was serious about taking pictures. When I went digital, I started out modestly but pretty soon wound up with the same Canon that the professional photo journalists shoot. It’s large, weather sealed, made of metal, weighs a ton, and makes wonderful images. And it weighs a ton.

The first pocket digital camera I bought was marginally useful. But that’s changed and I find that my Panasonic DMC-FX35 is a thoroughly competent picture machine. So much so that I really have to argue with myself to take the Canon. In practical terms that means I get it out, charge it up, set it down with all the other stuff I’m taking, pack it, and then take it out at the last minute. Probably time to sell it as it travels with me less and less.

My credit card takes a series of body blows in the months and weeks running up to step off this morning. The big ticket is the bike which is due for a 15,000-mile fluffing. Throw on a new front tire while we’re at it and the cash drawer closes on $1200 and change.

Somewhere along the line I began to think differently about my safety gear. It’s a longer story than I care to tell right here, but the net of it was I decided that my all-black sensibility, while fashion forward, was not serving me well on the visibility front.

So, I ordered up a brand-new Kevlar riding jacket from Motoport in proper British Copper High-Viz yellow. It’s a stunning piece of gear in every way. From the Kevlar outer, to the cutting edge next generation armor from GE, to the Goretex liner, it is as high tech as anything I own.  Together with the Kevlar bottoms, it’s over 10 pounds of kit. Ring the register again Max.

And for reasons I can’t quite explain, I bought a new helmet. Actually, I can explain it. I’m a believer in having multiples of everything related to riding, particularly safety gear. Until recently, my front-line helmet has been a Suomy and my back-up an Arai, but I have become rabidly anti-Snell these days and so the Arai has been retired.  I was musing about a Fulmer or the new Wiki but as luck or providence would have it, my favorite local outfitter, Seattle Cycle Center, was blowing out their inventory of Suomys.  So I bought two.

Lakeview, Oregon: June 2, 2008 538 miles

Finally, it was time to go. I hate leaving. It doesn’t matter for how long, where I’m going, or why, I hate leaving home. Even to go on a much-anticipated motorcycle trip. I’ll have to talk to my shrink about this one.

My wife finally ushered me down to the garage and pointed me towards the road. I hugged her like it was the last time.

Once rolling, I’m fine. It takes about 100 yards and I’m all about the trip. Funny how that goes.

Most of the riding I do is around the area. I have a couple of loops I like to do, one of about 70 miles, another of about 200, and a third of a bit over 400. In all cases, I’m thinking about coming home within a relatively short period of time. So the rhythm is riding out then riding back.

Multi-day trips are like that, but not. In this case, it’s four days of nothing but riding by myself, then five days at the retreat, then a day of riding, then two days of working, then two to three days of riding. So that sense of out-then-back won’t show up for quite some time.

A couple of hours in and I am thinking how much I like riding knowing that I’ll get up and do it again tomorrow and the next day . . . it gives the whole endeavor a long loping rhythm that’s not like anything else I do. I concentrate on not concentrating, just riding and noticing everything and nothing. The bike wants to go faster than I want to so I’m constantly monitoring the mirrors, the GPS, my speed, and the chirping radar detector. I’ve gotten too many performance awards from the local constabulary in the last year to want another.

Crossing into Oregon I decide to make a route adjustment on my GPS. Before leaving I installed the latest maps. Unknowingly, I also installed the latest version of the software, the wretched 4.2 build that is Microsoft-grade unstable. Entering an address causes the unit to crash and shut down. How they managed to ship software on a GPS that won’t let you enter an address is a complete mystery. And a pain. It’s not until I get to the motel that I’m able to repair the situation by installing version 3.9 of the software . . . and wipe out my first day trip log. Oh well.

All my new gear performs flawlessly. Walking around in ten pounds of gear is a complete chore, but once in the saddle, the weight disappears replaced by a kind of solidity and support that I really like. It’s too much for track riding by twice, but over the road, I find comfort in the bulk and feeling of substance that all the high-tech fabric and armor delivers. Knowing that you can see me from outer space is an added bonus.

Going on a two-week trip with a brand-new helmet is probably folly, but the Suomy Vandal fits me perfectly . . . unlike my Suomy Extreme which was painfully tight in the same size. I’ve outfitted the all-black (of course) Vandal with spiffy retro-reflective arrows on the back for added visibility. The helmet is averagely noisy, vents well (ask me again after I get to southern Arizona), and is decently aerodynamic. And wonder of wonders, changing the screen is easy as you please . . . also unlike the Extreme which requires four hands and a master’s degree.

My route has me hammering interstate down to Salem, and then cutting across to Bend on well-traveled secondary roads. As is always the case, just when things get remotely photogenic, they also get seriously ride-worthy.

I suppose if someone were paying me to provide photos and words, I’d make an effort to stop and snap, but for the life of me I can’t otherwise manage it. I run a constant dialog in my head where I argue with some faceless being about why I should or shouldn’t stop to take pictures for posterity. The winning argument is that it’s my ride and the whole point, after all, is to ride. So I compromise and grab random snaps while I whisk down the road . . . truly the worst of all worlds.

The road to Bend gains altitude until the woods on either side of the road are deep with snow. Spring is coming slowly. Dropping down the eastern slope of the Cascades the remains of winter are everywhere: water in abundance; birds galore; soft shades of green covering the forest floor.

It’s all lovely.

Later, as I glide the last few miles to Lakeview, the fields on either side of the road are green dashed with Lupine as far as I can see. The sun has finally muscled through the persistent cloud cover to paint the landscape with yellow-orange light. My body aches but in a good way. I find the Interstate 8 Motel. Finish this blog and it’s bed time.

Day 2: Racing the Weather

Ely Nevada: 505 miles

“Take what the road gives you.” My riding pal Ron and I talk about that when we do our long rides. It’s something he learned from spending years riding rivers (change the word “road” to “river” and it makes sense).

Day 2 of my long ride down and it’s raining. Been raining for hours and looks to continue that way for 40 days and 40 nights. I love living in the Pacific Northwest and wouldn’t want the alternative, but I am well and truly done with the winter.

I’m mostly indifferent about riding in the wet, though I don’t like it on the track.  But I can’t say that I was yipping with glee at the sight of the 1000-foot ceiling, soaked roads, and persistent rain.  I had to remind myself of that good maxim as I prepared to ride. Take what the river gives you. I mean road.

My route took me back a few miles so I could hook up to Route 140 which drives east across miles and miles of miles and miles to Denio Junction in Nevada.  A couple of miles in I stop to examine the pavement. It looks like loose aggregate but it’s not. It’s aggregate alright, but stuck in like it should be. So, lots of traction.

The same wasn’t true when it came to visibility. The magic goop I had applied to my face shield was performing miserably and I just flat couldn’t see the road. A bit of scrubbing got the goop thinned out and all was as right as it was going to be.

This road is made for winging it but not today. Climbing and then descending I proceed cautiously, hanging off to keep the bike upright in the corners, trailing my brakes deep into the turns to maintain stability. Finally, the road opens up and the weather raises and I can flog the FJR just a bit.

Once on 140, there is just about nothing until you get to Denio Junction, which isn’t much. The nothing is lovely this time of year. The high lonesome is still fifty shades of subtly different green. Any place water can run or gather it does so all the riparian flora and fauna are duly present and accounted for. If it wasn’t pissing rain I’m sure I’d stop for a closer look.

That’s what I tell myself.

I mean to get gas in Denio Junction but they’re out. Us city folks don’t even begin to understand that concept. Out of soy milk yes, but out of gas? How can that be? My choices are to head north to Fields (20 miles and then come back) or turn towards Winnemucca where I’m going and stretch it to Paradise, another 60 miles on top of the 140 I’ve already collected since my last fill up. I go south, figuring that I’ll cover the additional 60 miles with pints to spare. I’m right.

One of the things I like about riding motorcycles is how vividly the concept of decision making is brought to life. Packing is a good example. Space and weight are precious, so it’s a constant game of choosing wisely. It’s not possible to cover all contingencies and this trip will cover 4000 miles and everything from cold rain to triple digit temps. Then there are tools, tire kit, pump, and other bits and bobs to keep the bike in the game should a time out be necessary.

Riding is the same way. Do I go north to Field or south to Paradise? I can’t do both. Should I run fast and clip my mileage or run slower and save a few ounces? Should I pass this car or hang back?

For a trip like the one I’m on, routing is a constant decision game. There are a dozen obvious routes from Seattle to Tubac, Arizona and probably another thousand if you throw in all the slight variations.  And much like war, most of the plans go by the wayside once things get rolling.

South of Denio Junction I’m finally clear of the rain but only just. By the time I fill up at Paradise the front is back on top of me. I spend the next hour or two racing the front, first South, and then dancing along its edge as I head east to Battle Mountain.

There’s an answer to the obvious question about Battle Mountain, but I don’t ask it. It’s the same question I have in the half dozen towns I stop in along the way. Why do people live here? Finally, when I reach Ely, the end of the ride today, the very nice lady who runs the B&B I’m staying in tells me: Copper. When the price is up, the town booms. When it pulls back, so does the town. Much of Nevada is like this.

I read somewhere that the Great Plains are the Saudi Arabia of wind. Riding south on 305 between Highway 80 and Route 50 I know why. I’ve been north and south through Nevada several times and it’s always the same. It just blows like the devil. I don’t know the economics of wind farms, but I have to believe the time will come when they’ll plant the state from horizon to horizon with wind turbines and solar arrays. It’s not like anyone will notice.

Route 50 is billed as the loneliest road in America. Or maybe it’s the loneliest highway. Between towns, there’s just high lonesome forever in all directions. This time of year, it’s lovely in its winter green. I’ve never been through in the clutches of summer but I’m sure the loneliness quotient steps up a few notches.

Every once in a while, there is a sign with a squiggle and a dire warning that there are corners ahead. Waaaahooooo! They’re not much but after hours of knifing from horizon to horizon, any bit of left-right is a blessing. By now the road is bone dry and I dance the big FJR from apex to apex. We’re good partners after three years of riding together. It talks, I listen. I lead, it follows.

Austin and then Eureka come and go and finally there’s 80 miles left to Ely. My back is talking to me and it’s not happy. As much as I just want to let the miles roll by, I feel myself pressing to get to Ely and get off my mount. Hard boiled long-distance riders sneer at a mere 500-mile day, but ten hours is plenty of Zen-in-a-helmet for me, at least this day.

My home for the evening is the too-cute-to-be-true Steptoe Valley Inn, in Ely. The building has been a grocery, a saloon, a boarding house and who knows what else and is now a Bed and Breakfast.

The couple that owns it also owns the Barbecue joint next store and a couple of pieces of property nearby.  It’s all tucked away on the other end of town down by the old Nevada Northern train station, now home to an historic steam train that goes nowhere and back several times a day during tourist season. I fantasize about living here until the nice lady tells me: a) the history of boom and bust Ely; b) that they’re trying to sell the place; c) when they need real medical attention or want to visit a Walmart, they drive to Salt Lake City . . . which is 240 miles away. Another fantasy dashed.

Day 3: Against the Wind:

Flagstaff Arizona: 485 Miles

It wasn’t until mid afternoon that I finally got it.  The big storm system that had been chasing me since I left Seattle was keeping temperatures down. Rather than grumbling about the cold and off and on-again drizzle, I should be happy.

This flash of insight occurred to me when I finally got out ahead of the system only to find the temperatures had shot up into the high seventies and even eighties.  Later I discovered the other gift of the leading edge of the storm: massive winds.

For the first two days of the ride I had been racing the leading edge of a big storm . . . running from cold, dark, gray, and wet towards bright, light, and warm without ever getting there. Every time I got out from under, the weather would catch back up when I stopped for gas, food, or photo ops. The general theme had a grim familiarity to it . . . stuck between, not really leaving and not really going.  I say familiarity: Part of the purpose of this trip is to spend time consulting the spirits while down in Tubac, AZ and this occasional sense of foreboding is one of the wells I intend to plumb.

I woke this morning, Day 3, in Ely Nevada to the sound of hail.  I laughed out loud. So more running with the devil is it?

I’m new to the whole bed and breakfast thing so I was delighted to be met with a hubcap sized plate of scrambled eggs, bacon, and homemade French Toast. And yes, the bread was home baked as well. It was more calories and cholesterol than I’m used to by twice, but an epic trip requires an epic breakfast.  I ate it all and the slice of melon it came with. It was to be my last meal until dinner.

I rolled out of Ely at 10:00 after spending an hour on the phone with a client. I related in my first post my general sense of dread at the idea of leaving home. Once I’m rolling, the feeling inverts. I find myself frustrated, even panicky if I can’t get a clean launch. Three minutes gone and my GPS decided that it needed to navigate to the beginning of the route which was downtown Ely (if there is such a place). I knew what it was doing but I had to stop and consult a map to get myself properly sorted out. That’s when the panicky “let’s get the hell out of here” feeling leapt up and grabbed me.

Ten miles on, in the midst of reminding myself to breathe, be in the moment, ride the bike, this road, this day, I looked in my mirror to see that the rain cover on my seat bag had come loose and my bike cover was trying to rip itself out of the pocket it was stored in. Once again, I was on the side of the road fighting back waves of frustration at my inability to get the journey going. As I write, I’m reminded of a Nicolas Cage movie, Leaving Red Rock. Me leaving Ely.

Before I motored for real I grabbed a picture of the sky behind me. Dark, with an anvil like malevolence to it. It followed me all day. It’s sitting over Flagstaff as I type.

The road rolls under the wheels of the FJR. I ask each part of the bike if all is well and my instincts tell me we’re good to go. Before leaving I had replaced the front tire but not the rear and I’m now concerned that it won’t make the loop. By the end of the day I will have nearly ridden the center out of it. I will have to see about a new one either in Flagstaff or perhaps Tucson.

I’ve got the hammer down from the moment I clear Ely. It feels important to me to get to Flagstaff before 7:00, though I’m not sure why. The FJR inhales the road. There aren’t may turns of consequence and any sign of a squiggle is welcome. 180 miles go by before I stop for gas.

Somewhere on a never-ending straight I find myself grappling with a deep sense of existential angst. The shadow bag yawns open and all my yearnings, fears, and deeply seated ambivalence come tumbling out at once. I feel lost at 80 mph. If ever I needed a sign, this was it.

And then it happened.

I turned my head to see a massive, nearly black mushroom cloud gripping the western slope of whatever mountains I was riding alongside. It was a dark as I was feeling. And just as I looked, a bolt of lightning connected earth and heaven. It was a sign. The sky remained dark but the black cloud I had been riding with lifted. I’ll leave it to you to interpret this how you will.

Not three minutes later I looked to the right and there was sign number two: the mountainous face of a man lying in repose looking at the sky, the green of the trees outlining his brows and his beard. Hello there!

I often sing in my helmet . . . I loathe the idea of listening to music. For the past two days I’ve been humming and singing a Beatle song called “I’ve just seen a face.”

I’ve just seen a face,
I can’t forget the time or place
Where we just meet.
She’s just the girl for me
And I want all the world to see
We’ve met, mmm-mmm-mmm-m’mmm-mmm.
Had it been another day
I might have looked the other way
And I’d have never been aware.
But as it is I’ll dream of her
Tonight, di-di-di-di’n’di.
Falling, yes I am falling,
And she keeps calling
Me back again.

Something about the ride down from Seattle to Tubac connects me to the idea of falling. Like falling from Seattle to Tubac. It’s a good connection and a good feeling.

The colors of the high desert in spring are impossibly lovely. The distant hills are deeply blue, purple, and gray. The wide sweep of land leading off in every direction is a softly textured sage sprinkled with brown and later bottle brush. The sky is mostly gray with some black and some white and later blue. So, the visual is gray, blue, sage and then the road. Taking a picture of it is pointless. You miss the bigness of it all, how it wraps around you without every coming near.

Finally, I break clear of the storm front as I descend into St. Georges. The temperatures start to climb and I pull off to shed layers and change my face shield from clear to dark gray. I’m just shy of half-way.

Jagging north on Hwy 15 towards Salt Lake, I lose the big road at exit 16 and take 9 towards Zion National Park then on towards the Grand Canyon. The road gradually gains altitude and the temperatures drop yet again. Finally, there are twisties but the posted speed in 45 and an Arizona Statie has some poor vacationer pulled over near whatever summit I cross.

Descending towards Cliff Dwellers and the Vermillion Cliffs, the temperatures turn up yet again. I stop to take a photo of the famous cliffs and to swap my face shield yet again and I’m engulfed in a sandstorm of powdered red rock. My bike is covered in it.

From this point to twenty miles out of Flagstaff the wind howls and pummels and blasts. It’s like nothing I’ve seen and certainly like nothing I’ve ever ridden through. I keep thanking the FJR for being so sure footed. I lay down on my tank bag to get my head behind my windscreen. I ride this way for 90 miles, hugging the bike and hanging on with every aching muscle I can muster. It’s the hardest riding I’ve even done.

Gaining altitude towards Flagstaff, the temperature breaks back into the low sixties. The sky has closed in yet again and the winds have pulled back their claws. I stop for gas on the outskirts of town and clean the bike with the windshield squeegee. My rear tire is nearly done.

Finally I arrive at my home for the evening, The delightful Aspen Inn Bed and Breakfast. The owner, Joe is waiting outside to greet me. I’m the only guest tonight. It’s a charming place just a few blocks from the historic section of town. Joe tells me the house was built at the turn of the last century by Wyatt Erp’s cousin. Apparently the two were close and Wyatt spent a lot of time in Flag in his sunset years. I’m telling myself that Wyatt spent time in the room I’m in right now and perhaps even slept in the room I’m headed for when I finish this.

Day 4: The Kindness of Strangers

Tubac, Arizona319 miles

Every day on a journey like this has its own story. What’s important is that you stay open to it because it’s often not the story you had in mind.

Much of the attraction of riding is the opportunity to be alone in your helmet for long stretches of time. When the road tightens and twists, all thinking stops and your attention is riveted to the road ahead. You conscious mind picks lines and your body knowledge and intuition makes a million adjustments per second to make the bike dance that way.

Riding the desert is a completely different experience. The distance from Lakeview to Tubac is nearly all like that . . . long stretches of highway and byway that barely deviates; long vistas in every direction.

Some of the time is spent musing and day dreaming; some of it is spent in conversation with people not present; some of it is spent in the stillness of the moment. But in all ways, it’s a solitary contemplation at speed. You’re going somewhere, but because of the far horizons your sensation of traveling is diminished to almost nothing. The bike is moving but you’re not. You’re still on the bike. Sitting.

Today was different from the three previous because of the gift of a nearly worn through rear tire.


Joe entered my story last night as I rolled up to the Aspen Inn Bed and Breakfast. He stood as a beacon after a hard, hard day of riding. After hours of wrestling with the wind, Joe was there to welcome me home, if only for a night.

Joe was back in the morning to cook breakfast . . . coffee, juice, fresh fruit, and homemade southwestern eggs Benedict.

“Mind if I grab a cup of coffee and sit with you?”

“I’d love it.”

Joe moved from Los Angeles to Flagstaff about twenty years ago. The sign for him was picking up the local paper to read the lead article . . . about a pick-up truck rear ending a Mercedes. That was the big news of the day. A big contrast to what was going on in the LA Basin in the early 80s.

“Why and Bed and Breakfast?”

“My wife is from Spain and Germany. Her relatives would come and visit. And then cousins. And then friends. After a while I figured that we were basically running a B&B already, so why not do it for real?”

I wound up asking Joe one of my favorite questions.

“Tell me about your first bicycle.”

Joe got that far away look so many people get when they time travel.

“That’s a good story.”

“You remember mini-bikes? The ones with the little wheels and the lawn mower engines? Well when I was 13, my younger brother and I worked a paper route. We would get up at four in the morning and fold papers. We worked and saved our money until we could afford to buy a mini-bike. “

“We had it about two days. Riding it we got stopped by a cop who told us what we were doing was illegal. ‘But all the other kids are doing it!’ ‘And when I catch them I’m going to tell them the same thing.”

“Our Dad told us we needed to take it back to where we bought it and trade it for bicycles. So we did. It was a huge disappointment. We wound up with really great Schwins, the kind with the banana seats and the high-rise handle bars. We rode those bikes for ten years. They took us everywhere. You couldn’t break them. They were these really great bikes but there was always that feeling of let down. That for a couple of days we had a mini-bike. And then we had to give it back.”

As Joe told the story I could feel myself wanting to cry for young Joe and his brother. We both did.


Joe gave me directions to Northland Motorsports, the local Yamaha dealer. I decided to present myself first thing to see if they could do something about my shagged rear tire.

Northland is a spiffy new dealership that handles all the Japanese bikes plus Can-Am. Doug was juggling a phone that wouldn’t stop ringing, customers, and either two or three missing technicians.

“We’ve got nobody here today but let me see what I can do.”

That’s what I like about motorcycles. I have no idea what the locals think about Northland Motorsports but Doug was bound and determined to help a complete stranger, someone he probably will never see again, for the simple reason that I was traveling through on a bike.

As it turned out they didn’t have a tire for my bike. So Doug got on the phone and called a shop up the road. They didn’t either. So he got on the internet and found a place in Tucson (where I was headed). And when that didn’t look promising, he got me the phone number of the Yamaha dealer in Tucson.

It turned out that Doug had worked as a commercial fisherman up in the Seattle area and had family up there. We shook hands.

“Good luck. Ride safe.” 

“Service, you have a call waiting.”

Pennsylvania Riders

Out in the parking lot bikes and riders were flocking. Parked opposite my FJR were three Gold Wings.

“That’s the trouble with those things,” says I. “You park one of them and pretty soon there are a bunch of them just flocking around.”

We all laughed.

“Where you from? Where you headed?” It’s like one long word.

“We’re from Pennsylvania. We flew out and rented these. We were going to ship our bikes bit it was cheaper to rent.”

Growing up I used to watch my Grandfather have exactly these sorts of conversations with strangers. I don’t recall that he was a particularly warm guy with the people he was related to, but there was something about a taxi driver or someone in a restaurant or a cashier in a store that brought the gabby out in him.

We were like long lost pals, the Pennsylvania riders and me.

“Were you riding yesterday? How about that wind? Where you going today? And after that?”

We shook hands all around.

“Ride safe.”

“You too.”

Wet Dog

As I was getting ready to load up Wet Dog pulled around to say hello. I had seen is 2007 FJR when I rode in and he had seen mine. Now we were looking at each other.

Wet Dog (his forum handle) is a computer teacher to high school kids and proud of the fact that his little class in his little high school was rated tops in the state. I’d be proud of that too.

“You got risers on that? How are they? Do they take the pressure off your hands?”

“I do. Got them from Motorcycle Larry. It’s actually a complete triple clamp. They move the bars up and back. Here, see for yourself.”

More bike talk. More bench racing. More pointing and commenting. It never gets boring talking about bikes with other riders. You’d think someone had just discovered a crashed space ship from Mars. People don’t ride bikes can’t begin to fathom what could possibly be interesting about a hunk of metal or a seat that costs $800, or . . . how can you possibly explain it to the unwashed.

We shook hands.

 “Ride safe.”

“You too.”

I meant it. I think he did too.


I called down to RideNow Powersports ( and spoke to someone in service.

“I have a problem, maybe you can help me out.”

“I’ll try.”

“I’ve ridden the center out of my rear tire. I’m up in Flagstaff and expect to be in Tucson around 3:00. I need a 180/55 ZR17, preferably a Michelin Power Road, but I’ll take anything you got.”

“Let me see what we have. Can you hold?”

He came back a minute later. “We have a Michelin.”

“Can you put it on for me today?”

“Let me ask my service manager.” Another pause. “Yes, but you have to get here before 4:00.”

It was 10:30 and I was still in Flagstaff. I had in mind to ride down through Sedona but now the day was about getting to Tucson and getting a tire. So the ride of discovery became a ride with a temporal, prosaic objective. I packed the bike, geared up, and said my good byes to Joe.

“Ride safe.”

The descent from Flagstaff is a favorite road that travels from sub alpine, to high desert, to the Saguaro cactus kind of desert in the space of two hours. Oh, and the speed limit is 75. Once in the Phoenix area, the fun and magic of riding drains away replaced by the drone of pounding through urban traffic. The ride down to Tucson isn’t much better. Put the hammer down and go straight for another two hours.

“High, I’m Kevin. I called about a rear tire?”

“Hi, I’m Robert Sanchez (the service manager). Let’s get you set up.

“How long do you think it will be?”

“My tech is finishing up a job and can start it in 15 minutes. I’ve got a waiting room you can camp out in and there’s food next door.”

Does it get any better than that? At the risk of repeating myself, let me repeat myself. I have no idea what the locals think about RideNow Motorsports but Robert was bound and determined to help a complete stranger, someone he probably will never see again, for the simple reason that I was traveling through on a bike. He couldn’t have been nicer.


I loaded all my junk off the bike and into the waiting room and went next store to Arby’s (big shout out for their pecan chicken salad sandwich). By the time I got back, Jim had the bike up on the lift with the rear wheel off. As he finished reinstalling the freshly shod rear wheel I went in to talk to him.

“I’m all done. I’m going to take it for a test ride to make sure everything is fine and then we’ll wash it and you’ll be on your way.”

“You’re going to wash it?”

“Yup. Part of the service.”

While Jim was out riding I attended to my gear, repacking this, adjusting that.

“Did Jim tell you that he adjusted the front end as well?” That was Robert.

“No, what did he do?”

So I went back out to the shop.

“Yeah, I noticed when I was riding it that the front end didn’t feel right. So we checked it out and your forks we’re out of alignment. So we adjusted that for you too.”


“No worries, that’s why we test ride them.”

I found myself wondering why my dealer at home, the one I had just spent $1200 with, hadn’t noticed that. Back on the bike, I could feel the difference.

“Ride safe.”

Finally I arrived in Tubac where I’ll be for the next five days. Safe.