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C2C Day 21 to 24: Devil’s Highway to Brazil July 25, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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I woke very early in Mexican Hat and packed the bike at around 4:30.  The night sky was spectacular.  I realized it was really the first totally cloudless, lightless night that I had seen on the trip.  Venus was again shining brightly, but the moon had since revolved around to align itself with the sun causing the solar eclipse that was in the news.  The ebon night was was lit only by the light of billions of stars.  The milky way was showing clearly as a streak of luminescence in the sky.  It was beautiful.

With the bike packed, I silently rolled the Harley down the hill away from the rooms to the front of the motel so as not to wake the other guests at this early hour.  Starting up, I rode the short stretch through Mexican Hat and out of town on US-163 heading north.  The predawn glow was in the east creating an incredible silhouette of mesas and rock formations.  To my right I could just see the outline of the town’s namesake, Mexican Hat Rock as the glow emanated from between two ridges.  I rode on, my eyes beginning to make out features in the dim predawn light, the landscape taking on an eerie character.  Though amazed at my environs, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a niggling thought that I was forgetting something…  My mind was going thought my inventory as I passed the Valley of the Gods, an area that may lack the scale of Monument Valley but made up for it with character and proximity.  I continued to ride until 12 miles out of town I realized that my room key was still in my pocket, and it was not one of those cheap plastic cards, but a real key on an imprinted brass fob. Turning around, I rode back to town, dropped off the key, and headed back out again, affording two more viewings of Mexican Hat Rock and the Valley as the glow of the emergent sun increased. 

mexhat-rock

Soon after, the sun began to emerge and I was picking up US-191 south heading back into Arizona.  I headed east on US-160, stopping at the Red Mesa trading post west of Teec Nos Pos on the Navajo Reservation for coffee and breakfast.  It was quite active for the early morning.  An older couple sat drinking coffee speaking (presumably) Navajo, I language I’d not heard before.  I contemplated the evolution of language and how the language itself mirrors the culture from which it came, and wondered if and how their language has adapted to contemporary times. 

fourcornersI gassed up and continued east on US-160 as it nipped the corner of New Mexico and entered the corner of Colorado.  Getting my ABCs pic for CO, I backtracked to go to Four Corners: the point where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado all converge to a single point memorialized by a small monumental platform.  I suppose it was worth the price of admission, but seemed a bit sparse.  Then again, just how much can one do for a point on the ground?  While there I met up with two bikers from Wisconsin (the only other patrons of the monument) who where heading to the Grand Canyon.  We talked about our rides, sights in Wisconsin, and our experiences of the ferries between Wisconsin and Michigan. 

Backtracking on US-160 took me to US-64 which I rode into Shiprock, New Mexico.  The movie Natural Born Killers mentions Shiprock, when Robert Downy junior’s character, pulp news sensationalist, Wayne Gale, lists off the towns on the infamous Highway 666.  When I was at my cousin’s place in Oregon, she pointed it out to me on her atlas and said that I had to get a picture of the bike with a US-666 sign.  Well, it turns out that her atlas predates the renaming of US-666 to US-491.  Despite an innocent enough origin of naming (it is apparently the 6th spur off of the former Route 66 according to Wikipedia), It turns out that the reputation of the Devil’s Highway drew a lot of sign thieves and risk takers resulting in a lot of thefts and traffic fatalities, so Arizona petitioned to have the name changed, which happened in 2003.

Regardless of the potential cool-factor of the road, my DeLorme mapping software chose US-491 to I-44 in Gallop, NM as my “quickest” route home, so I set off down another piece of Americana.  This turned out to be a significant error.  My mistake was not so much the road as not looking at my hardcopy atlas.  US-491 is one of the most boringly straight roads I could have chosen.  Passing uneventfully from Shiprock to Gallop, I was amazed that any “risk taker” could find a way to hurt himself on this road, shy of rear-ending someone at 150 mph.  What’s worse, there were no US-666 signs… not “Old 666″… not “Historic 666″‘  So pretty much a let down on all fronts. 

My alternative (had I looked at my map sooner) was to take US-64 on what appeared to be a delightfully twisty route Taos, NM.  Instead, I had monotony leading to more monotony in the form of I-40.

In Gallop, I gassed up and met another group of bikers coming home from riding in Alaska: a very diverse group of quite talkative personalities from Louisiana.  We left at the same time; I ended up riding in their group for a few tens of miles until they pulled off (presumably for a more interesting ride).  I continued on I-40 with my objective being Albuquerque, NM for my day’s stop. 

I had left Mexican Hat early with the idea of beating the heat.  The “problem” today was that the heat never materialized.  So rather than stop, I pressed on riding 660 miles that day to Amarillo, Texas (all interstate from Gallop on). 

I pulled into Amarillo in the early evening and stopped at the Harley dealership on the west end of town to buy a shirt and find out where the best/nearest biker bars were.  I got a strong recommendation for a little roadside restaurant called Smokey Joe’s on Historic Route 66 – so I headed there.  Pulling into the motorcycle parking right out front, I found a table on the patio right behind my bike and ordered a beer.  A biker at a nearby table, Sheldon, asked me about my trip which started us talking…

sheldon-and-randyWe talked about rides and collecting states.  (Sheldon claimed to have all 48 except Virginia.  I had to remind him that that would be “47”…)  His friend Randy showed up and I got the scoop on the various famous, infamous, and eccentric personalities of Amarillo. I got the in’s and out’s of all the oil money families in the area.  I was having a great time, but having done so many miles for so long that day… I had to retire early.

I got the the hotel exhausted.  It was the first time on the trip that my backside actually got sore  (the most common question when telling non-riders about my trip) and my back was aching. 

The next morning I was up not too early, packed the bike and hit the I-40 interstate again, to Oklahoma City picking up I-44 toward Tulsa.  It was another boring “ride for miles”, without the advantage of an early start, and today there was heat.  By late afternoon going through Tulsa, I was fortunate enough to perceive that I would soon be headed for another bout of heat exhaustion.  To avoid it, I pulled over at a truck stop with wifi northeast of town and hung out for an hour in the AC drinking lots of water and Gatorade and planning my route.

I figured to press due east on US 421 toward Arkansas, and would stop for the night at the first interesting motel I would find.  Getting back on the road I immediately made a wrong turn losing 421.  Even though I wasn’t much further than the truck stop, that little error broke my momentum and I stopped at a convenience store near the Hard Rock Casino for lodging and entertainment advice.  An amicable local whose name escapes me recommended a couple of local bars near “a local motel”, and he went to far as to lead me there on his way home.  Unfortunately the “local motel ” was an over-priced Holiday Inn Express.  I almost headed back on 421 but  had lost a lot of time and instead checked in. I debated whether to go the the Redneck Bar next door (not a slur… that’s the name of the place) or to go over to the casino to parlay my meager Vegas winnings into something worth writing home about.  In the end I did neither…  I was again very “tired” and called it an early night.

The next morning was the same…  Pack the bike and head out.  This time not on the interstate right away, but on a mission nonetheless.  I headed east on US-421 to pick up Arkansas, then I cut back into Oklahoma heading north to pick up Kansas. I was then back on the interstate plowing across Missouri with an objective of making St. Louis.  Making it only to Sullivan before I had to crash, I was quickly realizing I was no longer having any fun.

I was plowing through miles, not seeing the country, not having adventures… totally defeating the reasons for the trip.  Like a losing gambler reaching for his ATM card, I foolishly went “looking for adventure” in Sullivan — which of course never works out.  I retired to my room tired and disappointed and wondering what happened to the ride.

The next morning, with another late start… and a lot of soul searching… and a conscious decision to GET OFF THE INTERSTATE and STOP RIDING FOR MILES, I set out.  I rode up I-44 but got off on US-40 a short while later.  It was an immediate relief,  until I looked over and saw that I was paralleling I-44, seeing the same scenery along the same route… just making worse time.  I was half-thinking about chucking the whole thing and hitting the interstate again to at least get the miles… until I hit Vandalia finding…

vandalia-dragon

Now THIS you don’t see on the interstate.  The big silver dragon in the middle of rural Illinois was exactly what I needed to see.  I was immediately taken back to the campsite in southeast Minnesota, hearing a young flautist slowly piping Puff the Magic Dragon.  I vowed to stay off the interstate until I was within my “normal” weekend riding range of home.

I continued on up US-40, “National Highway” riding through non-extraordinary countryside, fields, pastures, rolling hills, and trees.  Though one may consider it drab compared to the hills of western Wyoming, the mountains of Yellowstone, the coast of the Pacific, the mesas the Southwest…  this was real heartland Americana and so wonderful to just cruise.  The small towns, each with their own character and pride passed slowly by.  Adhering to the speed limits was somehow not problematic.  I didn’t make great distances that day… but that was completely ok, and I found the peace I had lost in the three days prior. 

I decided to finish the day relatively early as I passed into Brazil, Indiana.  Stopping at the Casey’s convenience store I was given lodging and entertainment advice by the clerk who quite obviously hated living in the town.  (Lesson learned:  Don’t blindly follow such advice.  Talk to someone who at least likes living there.)  She had steered me to the Howard Johnson’s, which was much farther on the outskirts of town than I hoped.  Checking in, I thought this motel which could not possibly have been much worse than the Brazil Motel I had been dissuaded from.  But it all worked out well…

On my way to the Ho-Jo’s, I passed the fairgrounds and saw that there was a demolition derby starting in about an hour.  After checked in, unpacked, and stopping my a convenience store, I arrived right in time for the National Anthem.  There is something about a small town’s solemn respect for the Anthem that you generally don’t see a lot of more populated areas.  The stands of people were completely giving it their full attention.  Latecomers were stopped in attention right where they were upon hearing the music being sung passionately by a local woman.  Her unpolished performance was met with a sincere roar of applause, and the festivities began.

The stands were packed.  I’d estimate 700 to 1000 people were there, across all generations from infants to infirmed.  The drivers had come from about half the state.  The arena was a small patch of mud surrounded by concrete blocks with the spectators a mere 16-20 feet away.  While I do have a very vague recollection of having seen a demolition derby once as a child in South Dakota, for all intensive purposes, this was my first one. 

The field of 28 main competitors was broken into three heats (8, 10, and 10 cars).  They pulled into the pit, parked on the ends facing outward, half on each end.  Upon the waving of the green flag, engines roared and mud flew and the two lines of cars raced backwards at each other.  The the revs of engines and the crashes of twisting metal filled the air as the competitors smashed into each other until, one by one, each vehicle was either disabled or so wedged into the wreckage of someone else that they couldn’t move.  As each car was debilitated,  its driver waited patiently amidst the chaos waiting for the heat to end, as the other cars performed an amazingly coarse ballet of destruction about them, carefully avoiding the eliminated competitor.  There were no roll bars, harnesses, or nomex suits – just a helmet, eye protection, and seat belt (shoulder optional).  The heat would end when two drivers remained to go onto the main event.

demo-consol-pan

At the end of each heat, tractors and backhoes would extricate the wreckage, and the audience made a dash for the concessions stand for warm aluminum-foiled pre-made burgers, nachos with that viscous, orange cheese-like sauce with the skin-forming, or that great super-oily/salty popcorn you only find at a fair.

They ran three heats of cars, one of trucks, two consolation heats for the losers who could get their cars running again to have a shot at the main,  one for compact cars, and then finally the main event.  I had a great time.  There is a reason accident rubber-necking slows a morning commute, because the amount of damage two vehicles can do to one another can be quite fascinating. 

demoderby

 As the evening progressed, it cooled off under clear black skies.  I large lightening storm was presenting a great show over the flat open land safely south of town.  I rode back to the motel eerily vacant with only about a half dozen cars in the lot.  My room was in the most desolate location on the far side of the outer building looking south across a field.  Not a single car was back there, but there was one sole light in the room above me that went out as I pulled up, leaving a Bates Motel aura as I went to turn in.

I went to bed feeling a “good tired”.  Three days ago I took a turn onto the Devil’s Highway and lost the ride, but today I found it again, and in doing so adventure once again found me.

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C2C Day 20: Swinging Ribeye July 21, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in Rides.
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Some time ago I watched a miniseries on the Food Network called Feasting on Asphalt, where the host, Alton Brown rode his motorcycle across America eating only “road food “- i.e. dining only on that which one finds in the little local roadside cafes, diners, and dives.  He had two rules: Avoid the interstates where possible, and absolutely no chain restaurants.  The show is really quite inspirational both from a biker and “foodie” point of view.  In the first series he went to three places that I vowed I would as well:  B&R Old Fashioned hamburgers in Hawthorne, CA; Dino’s Dogs also in Hawthorne, and the Mexican Hat Lodge in Mexican Hat, UT.  I had gone to the first two on business trips to Northrop Grumman in Redondo Beach, CA during the development of the LCROSS spacecraft.  …but that is another story.  This one deals with the Mexican Hat Lodge’s Swinging Ribeye.

I was quite lucky bedding down in Kanab the day before.  The weather in the entire area turned quite nasty for riding and I managed to get a lot of work done on the blog.  That evening, I enjoyed a nice cesar salad, ribeye, and a couple of glasses of wine at their at the Rocking V there in Kanab (I recommend it.)

Having started the trend of departing early to beat the heat, I stood to arrive at Mexican Hat quite early.  I packed the bike and left Kanab, UT via US-89 to Page, AZ.  It was a very pleasant morning ride with great scenary.  Lake Powell seemed starkly (but beautifully) desolate.  There were housing developments going up there, and while I found the scenery quite lovely to look at, the whole aura of the place has a harshness that would preclude me from building a house to live there.  Lake Powell is formed by the Glen Canyon Dam which is crossed by US-89.  Crossing over and seeing the resulting canyon was really amazing.  Sheer red walls to the Colorado River far far below.  I was very impressed (again). 

I got off US-89 to enter Page to find gas and coffee.  The town is not that old, established in 1957.  I rather liked it.  It is a well proportioned blend of city convenience, country friendliness, and rustic scenery.  I would like to go back and spend more time there. 

Standing out in front of the Circle K while drinking my morning coffee, my bike caught the attention of a gentleman who asked me about my trip.  We chatted for a while.  Orginally from Alabama, he and his wife rode around the countryside the on his Harley for eight years until she developed MS.  She started having trouble with the heat, and getting on and off the bike.  When he would start the engine, tears would come to her eyes at the thought of him being on the road without her.  So he sold the bike, and bought her a convertible: their “Harley with a windshield”.  He stood staring at my bike as he spoke.  We wished me well and advised that I keep riding for as long as I can.

I went back to US-89 south to pick up SR-98  crossing  into the Navajo Indian Reservation.  The road that early morning was very desolate, the kind of conditions I love to ride.  The scenery continued to wow me with so many beautiful erosion-induced rock formations, mesas, ravines, and washes. 

On SR-98, I happend upon another biker (Jim) coming the opposite direction who was just pulling over to the shoulder looking back at the road behind him as if something had fallen off…  something vital had.  I pulled over and asked if he needed assistance.  He had lost his cup… a special cup for his Capt’ Morgan and water that he carries with him.  Figuring there was little I could do about that, other than keep my eyes peeled, I wished him good luck and continued on scanning the road.  Until about a mile up, I saw a steel cylinder lying in the middle of the road.  I pulled over and picked up the cup just as Jim was coming up behind.  He stopped his bike and we got to talking about our trips.  Jim had been laid off a while back and decided now was the time for a big trip.  Dipping into his 401k, he was travelling a western states route meeting up with friends along the way.  Monterey, CA was on his agenda, so I told him about the CA-1 ride a few days earlier.  We talked for a while longer and went our separate ways. 

I picked up US-160 to US-163 which head back into Utah.  The scenary was nice: wide open spaces with large mesas and rock formations in the distance.  I approached Monument Valley; the road seemed to be guarded by two memorable formations.  On the right Agathia Peak rising powerfully and majestically up from the plain.  On the left, Owl Rock perched upon a ridge (though to me, at certain angles, it looked oddly like the bassett hound god).  Riding closer, more mesas and formations reached from the earth.  While very impressive, the distance lacked the intimacy I had experienced at Zion National Park.  I started up the road to the park entrance, but slowed and turned back feeling that given the distances, even the park view would not be much better than that from the road.

mon-valley-pan

I continued up US-163 to Mexican Hat, a tiny little town on the San Juan river named after a nearby rock formation.  As you may have seen from my earlier megatweet, I had arranged to stay in the Lodge TeePee thinking that was pretty much all that was available.  I was warned that the TeePee was not particularly comfortable in the heat, and the heat was coming on as I arrived in early afternoon.  It had no shower or bathroom, though there was a campground shower/bathroom available.  But one of the biggest drawbacks was no wifi, and I had an afternoon free to work on the blog.

I still regret the the decision to cancel the TeePee.  I ended up in the San Juan motel by the river.  Small but comfortable, and I managed to crank out three days worth of blog articles that afternoon… So I guess it was good in the practical sense, but I still kind of rue the decision.

The Mexican Hat Lodge was open for steaks at 6:oopm, so I worked on the blogs, got a shower and rode over.  It was better than I remembered in the show.  It was outdoor dining with the tables set up in a small patio where the infamous grill was set: a long metal box housing the wood fire, and over it, a large rectanguler grill swinging lazily back and forth over the flames.  The setup is great and allowing great conversation with the owner as he is cooking.  I talked with him for quite a while, a really amicable gentleman.  I identified myself as the guy that backed out of the TeePee – he had no problem at all, and rented it soon after I cancelled.  (Mexican Hat was packed)  I told him my story of seeing him on the Food Network and planning my return ride around this steak.  We talked for a while about flame cooking and steaks (how each individual steak has its own personality) and a little about country music. 

As the story goes, years ago he ran out of coals to cook the steaks and was forced to cook with wood.  But cooking over an open flame was so time intensive to avoid overooking, that he didn’t have time to tend the wood and fire.  So, he rigged up the swing to keep the steaks in a constant flame-kissed state without burning up.  Personally I love the taste of meat kissed by wood or charcoal flame much better than the radiant heat of coals or especially gas.  So this was a dream come true for me.

swinging-ribeye

The menu was focused on the meat.  An 18 ounce Ribeye, a 12 ounce New York Strip, an 8 ounce burger (I think there was chicken in there as well)…  For sides: beans and salad with the house dressing.  That’s it… no other veggies or substitutions.  Clear, simple, and carnivorous.  The meal is served on one of those hot metal plates.  The metal plates are kept in the top on an antique wood burning stove.  When the steak is ready, a plate is pulled from the stove and a ladle of beans is added with a hiss.  The salad is place in the middle right on top of the bean spillover, and the steak added at the end. 

mexhat-ribeye

The steak was excellent.  My preferred preperation is charred medium rare, which is quite difficult to do with a cut as thick as 18 ounce.  Mine still had a bit of “moo” in the middle, but he had no problems at all with throwing the middle back on for a little while essentially creating two great meals for me with a little break in between. 

Though the band wasn’t playing that night, I spoke with the band leader (who I think is the owner’s father).  Ialso had a great conversation and chance to practice speaking German with a charming mother/daughter travelling team from northern Germany who were touring the western US before heading on a New York shopping spree. 

With my stomach full, I made a fairly early evening of it, again figuring to rise early to beat the heat, but stayed up quite a bit later than I planned adding photos to the blog… at least I got caught up a bit, justifying the TeePee for wifi trade… Maybe??

I gotta TeePee!! July 20, 2009

Posted by dakotabiker in MegaTweet, Rides.
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UPDATE:

I really really hate to admit this, but I have to stay true to the story…

The teepee has no wifi, no bathroom, no shower (which is kind of why it doesn’t rent well).  Pulling into Mexican Hat, I saw motels with AC, bathrooms, showers, wifi, and vacancy…  so I wimped out and cancelled the Teepee and checked into the San Juan Inn on the San Juan river for about the same price.  For the record, I did call the Mex Hat Lodge and asked if they would have any problem with my cancelling in the interest of bath and wifi – and they were cool with it. 

_______________________

This is too wild.  As some of you may know, the focus of my southern route home (besides collecting states) was to have a Swinging Ribeye at the Mexican Hat Lodge. Figuring hotel vacancy may be at a premium, I just called to book a room… and of course they were “booked solid”.  I told the guy about the trip and how I arranged my southern route for the express purpose of having a Swinging Ribeye — so he is renting me the TeePee!  Apparently even when full-up they don’t rent the TeePee as it is a little “uncomfortable”, but it has a bed and it is all mine. You have to see this…  I can’t wait.  The adventure continues.