So I finished my last project and decided I’d take a week and go for a ride.
I debated riding back to Seattle, but already did that a few years ago and know many of those roads. Plus the good roads are all v. twisty and with the pulled hamstring, I was finding it hard to ride twisties…
So looking at Google Maps, I decided to ride to Boise ID. I saw a bunch of interesting routes out and back, and realized I could make it pretty easily; if my leg and schedule was up to it I could even head into Utah for some great roads on the way back.
Another data point was that a good friend lives in Sacramento and wanted to get some facetime; so I decided I’d head up to Sacramento Sunday and north from there.
So the trip kind of took shape.
Day 1 – LA to Sacramento.
I decided to try some twisties, but was late as heck getting out of the house. So I abbreviated the route and went up the 5 to the 58, across the 58 (a favorite road) and then up the 101. I could have taken the 198 back across, but my leg didn’t enjoy the 58 much, so I just took the 152.
I’d bought a Palmer windscreen mount for the Tiger, and put the stock windshield back on it. Set at medium height all the way forward, wind noise and buffeting are almost all gone. The mount still flexes a bit – looking at them, I’d say making the lower brackets a heavier gauge metal would help.
But it was a great purchase and a wonderful bit of gear – made the ride infinitely better than it would have been without it.
I used my Zumo for navigation; typically in combination with Google Maps on my Blackberry – the latter as a ‘scouting and thinking’ tool.
I was missing two pieces of gear that I kind of wished I’d had – music for the straight bits (I gave my son my Etymotics earphones when he deployed) and heated grips which I half-wired on but never had time to finish.
I survived fine without both of them…
I did more slabbing on this day than I wanted, but it felt great to get out on the bike. Visited my friend, helped her set up the new senior apartment for her dad and stepmom (who is suffering bad with Alzheimer’s), and had a great visit…
Day 2 – Sacramento to Burns, OR
And off the next morning – late again – for Carson City over the 50. I’d decided to take the 395 north – I’d ridden it south on the Seattle ride and found it beautiful.
Over the pass, into Nevada, and out of the Central Valley heat. Up the 395, into and through Reno, and out into the countryside.
Usually I travel with TG, but this time I went by myself – I wanted some solitude, and it kind of worked for me. I realized as well that when I’m alone I pay more attention – I’m not paying most of my attention to my companions, but instead to looking out at what’s around me.
Sometimes it’s funny. I stopped at a country store near Lakeview, OR – literally a one-pump gas station with an attached general store – and I do mean “general” when I checked out with my Fig Newtons and Gatorade, they had a bucket of 3′ come-alongs near the cash register – as though for that crowd they would be an impulse item.
On the way out, I was filling the Camelback when a pickup pulled in next to me – a well-worn mid 90’s GMC…and two brothers got out. My first reaction was “damn, those are good-looking guys!” My second was “Wait- does that mean I’m gay?” But seriously – if these guys were in LA or NY they’d be making six figures as models. Six two or three, 210 or 220, fit and with the “high school quarterback” walk. They were wearing work-dirty clothes and there was a pile of chopped lumber and a chainsaw in the bed.
Just then a car pulled up to the pump and a young woman got out who immediately started talking to the guys – and her voice was the funniest, cutest “I have a huge crush on you, just do me now” I’ve ever heard. In fact, if you could bottle that effect and sell it, it would go for billions.
I stalled, fiddling with the bike and gear just to listen to them talk.
In fact, listening was the key on this trip. I managed to walk into more interesting conversations…
Onward, past the great alkali lake and through a haze of dust (I thought it was fog – until my eyes started to burn) and out into beautiful high country and into town in Burns just as it got dark.
When I don’t have a reservation, I typically try and do a lap of the town just to check out the options – there was a nice hotel with a coffee shop attached, but it looked a little Applebee’s-ish to me. There was another less-nice one with a lot of semis in the lot and it was across the street from “Glory Days Pizza” which – as a Springsteen fan – made my decision.
Which was lucky, because it turned out they had a jacuzzi that was actually hot and that has one jet so powerful that it actually cracked my back. Felt great…
Did laundry, walked across the street to eat, ordered my pizza, salad, and beer and sat down next to a table with a huge group at it – like fifteen people. Which turned out to be the PTA for the town, holding a meeting.
I lingered over the beer, listening to them talk about fundraising, and how they had raised over $1,050 to send some group of kids somewhere (I’d walked in midconversation). I really and truly love that kind of stuff…
Set the alarm for early, and packed the bags…
Day 3 – Burns, OR to Ely NV
On the road at 6:15…decided to grab breakfast on the way. About an hour later, pulled into Vale, OR and saw the Starlite Cafe – with a full parking lot. My experience is that country cafes tend to do early and then very late breakfasts – some people eat after chores.
This place was almost full, and I got a lot of attention as I walked in wearing my HiViz Aerostich. A couple in the corner booth – he was in his 60’s outsized (huge hands) and she was petite with a neat white perm looked me over as I stripped off the layers and he asked “Kinda brisk on that motorcycle, isn’t it? But it looks like you’ve got the gear for it.” I explained the Stich (Yeah, it’s Gore-Tex and has armor in it) and sat down. He asked where I was from and where I was going. I told him Boise and he shook his head. “You know we’re gonna have weather tonight, right?” I told him I’d been watching and figured I’d run south into Nevada. He told me not to linger in Boise too long and went back to his breakfast.
It was wonderful – not just the food (yes, great American breakfast) but the conversations. I was seated between the couple I’d been talking to, and three women who’d walked in just before me – two sisters and a cousin, I gathered. Across from me at the counter were two ranchers.
All three groups had conversations that I was fascinated to hear. the ranchers were discussing a hand that one had sent over to work for the other for a bit.
“Did you ever get any work out of him?”
“Well he painted a fence and helped me roof a shed.”
“It took him like two weeks.”
“No, two weeks.”
“Paint a fence and do some roofing?”
“Sorry about that. He never did much for me either. I thought it was just me.”
The women were discussing a broken-down pickup, dogs, and a new house the cousin had just moved into.
“Yeah the truck broke down so my husband went up to get it. I told him I’d wait here for him to get it running and come down and get me. He had to take a trailer because I had a horse on the back and the hitch is different from his to mine.”
“How long do you think he’ll be?”
“No way to know with him and that truck.”
“You like the new place.”
“It’s nice enough. Lots more to clean.”
“How are you gonna do when it snows up there?”
“Should be the same as before. We only had two bad weeks last year.”
“I’m waiting to see which dog we’ll wind up keeping out of the litter. There are five good ones, but the one I like is a bitch dog.”
“Yes, I think so. Bitch dogs just seem to do more, don’t they?”
(these are from notes I took on my Blackberry)
I needed to make time, so paid up and started to leave. The guy in the booth I’d been speaking to asked if I had everything I needed if the weather turned bad. I thought about it for a sec and said I ought to go to a hardware store and get some overgloves.
“Down the street to the Dairy Queen, one block more, turn left and it’ll be right there. Say hi to Bud and tell him John will be by later on.“
Bud was helpful, and I picked up some heavy chemical handling gloves that were well-textured and fit over my Held winter gloves.
And off to Boise.
At Ottawa, the road shifted to an Interstate, and at a gas station I hit Yelp on the BBy and found a coffee house when I figured I’d sit for a moment, get some cocoa and check out the local scene.
Went to Dawson’s, had some great cocoa, and outside saw a blue Prius with the bumpersticker:
“Lincoln freed the slaves.
Obama/Bush enslaved the free.”
I’m not in LA any more, Toto…here they all come from the dealer with “Obama/Biden” stickers.
The skies are getting dark and it’s time to head south. I decide to make for Elko, NV and start down from Boise to Mountain Home where I’ll pick up the 225 south.
Now the fun begins…
On the 225 south, as soon as I cross into Nevada, there’s nothing. No traffic, no towns, no crossroads…nothing. No police, either. So 80 becomes 90 becomes 95 becomes 102, and after about half an hour of that, I think “why not?” and run it up to about 124 on the GPS. For the next hour, the Tiger just keeps rolling along at well over 120 the entire time.
It’s kind of weird. Trucks and cars are doing 80+ and I’m closing on them at 40mph. The first few times, it’s scary. Is that truck stopped? But after a while I learn to read it and it’s fine. I know I’m kind of playing with fire – if there’s a police car coming the other way I’ll never react in time; if a tire blows, whatever happens – I’m hung out there.
But when I slowed down it felt like I was crawling, and soon enough I’d wick it back up.
I’m riding under broken clouds, and soon a wind picks up…
And after the second or third gust, I realize that riding a fully loaded touring bike at 100+ with crosswinds is not a good idea. So I back down to 95 or so – just a little faster than the traffic. The winds are manageable at that speed.
And pretty quickly it’s evening, and I’m in Elko.
I find a motel, check in, and before I drop my stuff, decide to go get some food. Over my burger, I look at weather.com on the BBy, and uh-oh – it’s supposed to be 34 degrees, with mixed rain and snow in the morning tomorrow.
Hmmmm. I think about it a bit and go back to the motel. When I get there and go to the room it’s a smoking room, so I don’t even drop my gear – it’s a sign from God that I’m supposed to move on. The desk clerk is really nice – I explain about the weather and he just refunds my money and notes that I wouldn’t take a smoking room. So I head down to Ely, which I’d somehow thought was about 100 miles. When I look at the arrival time on the GPS I go “huh??” – but it turns out to be about 190 miles.
And it’s dark, and the wind is just hammering across the road. It’s right-to-left, which I prefer – my nightmare is a car pushed over the yellow line into me. At least I can manage this.
It’s gusting 40 according to the weather, and I’m trying to keep a pace of 70+, which is overdriving my headlights (memo: get aux lights for the next trip) and the road makes it more challenging. It’s about 4 feet above the desert floor (flash flood protection) and has no shoulder – just past the white line, a gravel slope down to the desert floor is guaranteed to dump me on my ass.
So I struggle for an hour, then accidentally hit on a magic formula. I’m pulling up to pass a truck and just in back of it, there’s an air pocket – where I’d draft it if I was looking for great gas mileage. And in that pocket, the crosswinds hardly exist.
Of course, if there’s any debris on the road, I’m pretty much toast. But with the puny Triumph headlights, I’m pretty much toast anyway, so I tuck in and sit for an hour looking up at the shiny tailgate and just relaxing after the tiring ride.
It starts to rain, but interestingly, the truck shelters me from that as well, and there’s not enough to make the road wet and drench me in spray for a while.
It’s not wet enough to make put something over my leaky Stich; just enough to keep wiping my visor.
But after a while it is, and I back out from the pocket and just follow the truck a half mile behind.
Dark, cloudy night – no moon or stars – just the lights of the truck and a small splash of light from my headlights on a wet road.
The next day I checked them – they were so dim I was concerned – and discovered that the inside of the lenses are filmed and dirty. I’m not sure how to clean it out – maybe pour alcohol in swish it around, and pour it out??
But that night they were just dim and it was dark and kind of scary waiting to see what would roll toward me into the light.
Finally, I make Ely and see a hotel on the side of the road. I pull into the lot – it’s late but the building’s lit – and something’s wrong. Where’s the office? Where’s the registration sign? I orbit the lot to check the sign and discover that the sign says “Big Four Ranch” I’m puzzled – wondering where the “vacancy” and “AAA” signs are and if I’m just so tired that nothing makes sense – and suddenly it hit me – I’m in Nevada…it’s a brothel!! I decide that spending the whole night there is probably going to overtax my budget – I’d taken $600 in cash when I left town to pay for everything except gas.
So back onto the street and finally I turn into the lot for the Jailhouse motel. And see, just behind it, a clean looking place with $35 rooms. Hmmm…back to the “Four 7’s” I go, and I get a small but clean ground floor room right in front of my bike.
It’s drizzling and damn cold, so I get everything off the bike and into the room. I put all the bags in the bathroom and go back to the office to see if they have any old towels I can use top get the gunk off the panniers. He gives me a few rags and tells me to keep them.
It’s late, so I call my wife and ask her to look at the compute and check the weather for tomorrow. She says it’s supposed to be awful, but break the day after. So I tell her I may be stuck here in town. Looking on Google Maps, I can’t find any bookstores. I’m crushed what will I do all day if it’s storming? It’s too far to walk back to Big Four…
Day 4 Ely to Las Vegas
I get up, and it’s not raining. The ground is wet, and it’s freezing…check the weather and it’s supposed to warm up and then about 2pm a rainstorm is supposed to hit. I decide that I can leave about 10 and haul down toward Vegas, which is pretty close, as long as it’s not going to be near freezing.
So I wander off to breakfast, where I get another great conversation. I’m the only customer at the Jail House coffee shop, and I sit at the counter to make it easy on the staff. The four waitresses are talking. One of their sisters is having a terrible run of luck, and is broke and sick.
The one whose sister they’re talking about explains that she may have to give her a part of her liver.
“They can take out a third of your liver and it’ll grow back if you’re healthy. And then that third will grow in her and make a whole new liver. She can’t drink or do drugs any more, though.”
“Yeah, I knew it was her liver. As soon as I saw her eyes, I knew it was a liver thing.”
“Her enzymes are off the charts. They want to watch her for a while and see if they go down and if not we’ll do it.”
“You’ll have to be off for a while won’t you?”
“Not too long they say.”
“How’s she going to get home?”
“Yeah – does she have gas money?”
“No, I told her I’d give her some after the shift” Looks out at the empty room, and laughs.
“Well, I’m tight with the Salvation Army lady and if she goes over there I can call and she’ll get some gas money.”
“That’d be great.”
I finish breakfast, check my cash and realize I’m way ahead of budget. I slip a $20 under the plate as I leave…
Go over the bike, lube the chain, load the bags on, and set the GPS for the Rio hotel – I’d asked TG to make a reso there for me so I could go see Penn & Teller…
And we’re rolling 110 pretty quickly. But soon there are enough cars that I have to drop down to 90 – 95 on the theory that a ticket at 100+ is pretty much a guarantee, but I might be able to talk my way out of one for just going 90.
Soon enough, I’m out from under the clouds, and it’s a beautiful clear desert day. And it’s Vegas. I pull into the valet line and drop the kickstand and get off the bike – and the nice valet manager runs up to me and tells me to move the bike.
“As soon as I give the bags to the bellman, OK?”
It’s always fun to pull up to a hotel and hand the hard luggage to the bellman…they get a kick out of it.
Pull around back, check in, clean up, get a ticket to the show and I’m out cold.
I’ve been a Penn & Teller fan since they did a show at the Olympic festival here in LA in 1984. They knocked my socks off (along with everyone else who saw them) and I try and see them every few years.
This year, the show is overtly political. They are staunch libertarians, and do gag after gag poking fun at the government. They do a whole bit with an aircraft metal detector, which winds up with them shilling for their traveler’s copy of the Bill of Rights – laser etched into a small metal plate, just the size to put in your pocket so that when you go to secondary search, you can hand it to the TSA agent.
They’re amazing. But I scored a seat in the second row, and I may – just may – have figured out one or two of their tricks. Others still leave me completely mesmerized and confused. They’re great, go see them…
Over dinner, I eavesdropped some more; two French couples at the table next to me talking smack. I mentioned in French that we have a phrase in the US – “the walls have ears” – which cracked them up so much they bought me two drinks and dessert and we chatted some more. They mocked my French pretty hard – but complimented and thanked me as I left.
Day 5 – Vegas to home
So it turned out that the hot water heater at home had broken, leaving TG and the boys to shower at the gym or in cold water. My plans for extending the trip over to Utah had been scratched up in Boise, and I’d committed to hustle home from Vegas.
I did get to have breakfast with a friend who was there for a corporate event of some Ralph Lauren fashionable caliber.
I took Blue Diamond Highway over toward Pahrump – to avoid the slab as much as I could – The GPS short-cuts me on a road I’d never taken before – down to Tecopa.
I swear to God, this is a 200mph road. It’s one of the few public roads I could imagine fully winding up a modern superbike.
Nothing on either side of the road, a great road surface, and straights that go for three or four miles. I got the Tiger up to about 135 on the GPS and that was about it for me. But on a faster bike…
Amusingly I passed the Front Sight Institute on that road – a controversial shooting school cum real estate development. And even by the desert-rat standards I’d been seeing for the last few days, it’s in the ass end of nowhere.
I used to go to Pahrump to buy fireworks for the 4th of July – highly illegal ones in CA. And on the summit of the Ibex Pass, as I headed to Baker was a new sign, they’d just put in for me – “Transport of Illegal Fireworks Prohibited”.
Into Baker, and onto the slab home.
Got cleaned up, dealt with plumbing, and slept like a log…