The Misadventures of Ian Heller

Make No Little Plans.

The Fools’ Ride, Day 2: Following Joshua to the Salton Sea for a Brief Glimpse at Salvation

We awoke this morning in lovely Twentynine Palms, California, with the perfect motorcycling day planned – meaning we had no plan. We met for the free (yet tasty) breakfast at our Fairfield Inn and managed to grab a table for six just before a family with three young children reached it. Frankly, one of those kids had quite a bit of baby fat, so maybe skipping breakfast was a good idea for him. Then he again, he was an actual baby, so perhaps I’m too harsh.


Anyway, for us, the table was a MUST HAVE, not a NICE-TO-HAVE: we needed the extra space to spread out Butler Motorcycle Maps for Southern California and Arizona. These maps highlight all of the best motorcycling roads and are essential for touring.

It was exciting to see all of the Butler-approved choices just west of us – the mountains of Southern California are world-renowned for their incredible, curvy roads and terrific scenery.

Then we checked the weather.

Despair: cold, snow and ice everywhere in those same mountains. Almost every route that looked entertaining at all was off limits to anyone exploring on two wheels.

We decided to keep our chinstraps up, though. Even a bad day on a motorcycle beats a day doing nearly anything else. Also, Joshua Tree National Park was close by and – although nippy – the weather was clear, as were the roads. After staring at maps and apps for a good 45 minutes, we decided that we would ride through the Park and make further plans at lunch.

This is how I like to tour – with as few plans as possible. Ed remarked this evening that he’s used to tours where you pick all of your hotels in advance and stick to a pre-determined route. Perhaps if I had the self-discipline and focus of a normal person, this would work. But I’m easily distracted and often head off in various directions just because something catches my interest.

That means I hardly ever make hotel reservations until it’s well into the afternoon of a motorcycling day. I’m aware that this will likely mean I will sleep on the ground some night in the future, but I believe the dozens or even hundreds of nights I’ve opened up to opportunistic wandering will be worth it. So far, so good.

We gassed up in a dusty little town with the same name – coincidentally – as the park: Joshua Tree, CA.

IMG_1082 (1)As we waited for Tom to go back into the gas station for the third time (not sure why – poor hold-up technique?), I strolled out to Joshua Tree’s main drag to snap this very unusual scene – snow on the desert mountains in the background and a drug deal going down in the foreground!

Ed began to exhibit some odd behavior this morning that became a pattern: he suddenly claimed he was very interested in trying out the BMW I was riding – he’d heard good things about them, but he’d never ridden one.

So, while we were gassing up, I politely offered to switch bikes with him and he climbed aboard my rental – which has a power-adjustable windshield, heated grips, heated seat and a real suspension – and I hopped aboard Ed’s Harley Street Glide, which has no heat of any kind and just over 2” of suspension travel in the rear (real motorcycles have two or three times that). The effect of this bad design is that the shock bottoms frequently and violently, sending shocks up your spine. In Harley parlance, this is known as “character.”

I spent the next four hours riding that damn Street Glide over the rough roads of Joshua Tree National Park. It was often cold, always bumpy and not even for a moment comfortable. Ed “offered” to switch back, taking the same tone you’d hear from a kid suggesting he return his Christmas presents since the car broke down and mom and dad could use the money.

Nonetheless, Joshua Tree National Park turned out to be spectacular.

On all of my multiday motorcycle tours, I try to get a good group shot. These don’t always turn out so well, particularly if we ask a passerby to take the picture for us. I very much appreciate their willingness, enthusiasm and dedication – these strangers often take many shots, frame the photos very carefully and nonetheless produce completely unusable pictures.

DSC_5898This photo would have been adequate if not for the Joshua Tree sprouting from the top of my head.

At other times, these bad photos are self-inflicted.

DSC_5887Whoops! The self-timer started – places, everyone!

We eventually found a stranger to take an acceptable picture – this one would have worked if one of the riders (me) hadn’t thoughtlessly left a distracting pile of gear in the background.


But that’s where the magic of editing can bail you out:

DSC_5894 (1)In this picture, Ed is closer to the Harley than he had been in the previous two hours.

Ed – wearing his Harley gear, no less – asked for a picture on my his BMW:

IMG_1086 2The BMW developed a strange metallic rash where Ed’s Harley jacket came into contact with it. We checked various online forums and learned we could buff it out with a soft sponge soaked in Heineken. This worked.

Our next stop was the scenic overlook at Keys View – a one-way road that ends up over at more than 5,000 feet of elevation. It was a chilly ride particularly, say, if you are stuck on a bike you didn’t rent that lacks heated grips, a heated seat and a usable windshield. But the view at the top was spectacular.


Tom impressed us by knowing that the mountain in the distance is Mt. San Jacinto, which he explained was “the tallest mountain in Southern California.

He continued, “I was on top of that mountain once,” impressing us further.

“Was it a tough climb?” Ed asked.

Tom paused. “You take a trolley up and then there’s a trail to the top,” he admitted.

Gorgeous mountain, of course, but as I like to say, there’s no natural wonder so beautiful that we can’t improve upon it by standing in front of it – as you can see:

IMG_1095Mt. San Jacinto, vastly beautified by us.

We saw several brave tourists (mostly young girls) standing on a rock that allowed for a great photo op, considering the spectacular background scenery.

“Hey Ed,” I said, “Climb up on that rock and I’ll take your picture!”

“I can’t,” he said. “I’m afraid of heights.”

So he sat on it instead.


I, however, stood – confident in my fuzzy green plumpness:


It was quite cold at Keys View, so we climbed back on the bikes, allowing Ed and Tom to warm up from the luxurious grips, seats and tall windshields of the BMWs while I grew colder still as I mounted the freezing Harley and felt the wind rush by, a whiff hypothermia in the air.

Before we entered the park, Amateur Botanist Tom had predicted that the recent moisture would have enabled wildflowers to sprout in the desert. He pulled over at one point so we could all enjoy the flowers and marvel at his ability to identify them by genus and species.

IMG_2547When Tom Petty sang, “You belong among the wildflowers,” he was speaking of Tom Gale, who even sports a matching jacket. 



IMG_2451Tom led through this portion of our Joshua Tree National Park Tour. As you can see, the speed limit was 35MPH – a speed at which we rode repeatedly, but usually while on the way to 70MPH. Side note: the road (which, as is apparent in the picture, is quite rough), really wears you out if you happen to be on a bike you did not choose to rent because among other limitations, it has a crappy suspension.

We emerged from the park many hours later and stopped at Burger King in Coachella, CA for lunch. We wanted something better but have you had a Whopper lately? Try one when you’re starving – they’re tasty!

At this point, Ed had been on my BMW for several hours. It was obvious to him (and to me) that it was well past time to return the bike to its rightful renter. So Ed finally did the courteous thing: He turned to Tom and asked, “Hey Tom, have you ever ridden a Harley?”


“No,” Tom replied.

“Well,” Ed continued. “Feel free to try out the Street Glide. It would be a shame to rent three different bikes without having a chance to ride all of them. I’ve never ridden that model BMW.”

Tom had, in fact, rented a different model than mine. It was only natural, I suppose, for Ed to want to compare them. For scientific purposes, of course.

So, I retrieved my long-lost BMW K1600GTL, Ed climbed on the equally plush and warm R1200RT and Tom settled his long frame over the cold, rough, short Harley. We roared out of the parking lot and headed south to ride along the Salton Sea.

The history of the Salton Sea is too extensive to cover here, but it’s an interesting read. In brief, before the water became too nasty (“The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has developed a safe eating advisory for fish caught in the Salton Sea based on levels of mercury or PCBs found in local species,” says Wikipedia), several resorts popped up on its shores in the 1950s.

These are all gone. “The smell of the lake, combined with the stench of the decaying fish, also contributed to the decline of the tourist industry around the Salton Sea,” notes Wikipedia. “The US Geological Survey describes the smell as ‘objectionable,’ ‘noxious,’ ‘unique’ and ‘pervasive.’”

It is, however, quite beautiful – and enormous, albeit in a tragic setting due to the widespread poverty apparent in the area. It’s the largest lake in California and goes on for many miles.


And some people camp there. The bearded gentleman in the center below is Andrew from Seattle, and he agreed to shoot a picture for us, even though he was peacefully relaxing in a t-shirt and boxers next to his RV when we roared up for yet another group photo.

IMG_1149Note: Trains run constantly. The entire Salton Sea area is either industrialized, impoverished or ecologically damaged. In this particular situation, the three seem to be interrelated. Somewhat paradoxically, there are also vast agricultural tracts. 

Andrew, it turned out, knew how to handle a camera – lack of pants notwithstanding.

IMG_1145This is the first group photo in which Ed is not standing by the Harley, thus giving up the any pretense that he likes it, wants to be associated with it or intends to ride it any further.

IMG_1153Ed, whom I should mention, spent much of his career in sales, told Tom that he should get a picture sitting on the Harley, with the train in the background. “It’s like Americana,” he stressed. Helpfully, he “loaned” Tom his Harley Davidson motorcycle jacket, which he obviously no longer needs.

IMG_1151 A train passes next to the Salton Sea – likely moving goods from Mexico northward.

We got back on the bikes and Tom (on the Harley) led us to Salvation Mountain. The late Leonard Knight, a local resident and devout Christian, decided to construct a “mountain” that could exhibit Bible verses, with a focus on the Lord’s Prayer. His first structure collapsed, which most would take as a sign that perhaps they should find a new hobby. Knight took it as a warning from God that his structure was unsafe (a safe assumption), so he rebuilt it with better construction techniques.


Salvation Mountain has been featured in various music videos and movies and has attracted a large, eclectic but apparently universally-impoverished group of campers, some of whom live there permanently.


We passed up the opportunity to get a “Spirit Reading” for $5, which could come back to haunt us. We did not pass up the chance to take a selfie in front of the sign.


As we prepared to depart Salvation Mountain, I paused to take a picture of God’s actual handiwork as the sun set, creating a spectacular red sky, which I hope was not so colorful thanks to the ruined atmosphere of Los Angeles or the Salton Sea. In any case, it was mesmerizing to me, although not to Tom, who can be seen here checking text messages.

IMG_1183This photo is completely unretouched.

We checked into the Best Western in El Centro, 15 minutes from the border with Mexico and asked the clerk where we could get good Mexican food.

“Mexico,” she volunteered.

“Oh yeah,” Ed said. “I bet they have great Mexican food in Mexico.”

“Or ‘food’ as they call it there,” I replied.

Our rental contracts forbid us from riding the bikes into Mexico, so we went to the Los Cabos Seafood & Grill in scenic downtown El Centro for what turned out to be an outstanding meal. Ed actually rode the Harley there and back (it’s 1.7 miles from our hotel), so I suppose it will be his turn to ride one of the BMWs again in the morning.

While we were at dinner, Ed said, “If I were to rank all of my days on a motorcycle, this would be one of the top three.”

I thought, “It’s also the only day you’ve ever spent on a motorcycle that wasn’t a Harley Davidson.”

Tom said, “I haven’t ridden that many full days on a motorcycle, but me, too.”

Truthfully, it was a spectacular day of motorcycling. That’s surprising, given that we started the day thinking we had to settle for second and third choices of roads due to cold and snow along our preferred route. Instead, we rode through beautiful scenery, saw amazing, one-of-a-kind sights while we laughed, posed for pictures, made fun of each other and met a wide variety of nice people who were mostly not very good photographers.

I don’t think I can “rank” my best and worst days on a motorcycle. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences, but the company, the scenery, the riding and often even the bikes are so different that comparing them is not just difficult – it seems unfair to diminish some memories in favor of others.

But I can certainly grade my days on motorcycles. And today’s ride earned an A+. And that’s saying something, considering I spent much of it on a Harley Davidson Street Glide.

Vaya con Dios and adios from El Centro, California. Thanks for reading and I’ll post the third update from this trip tomorrow night.


The Fools’ Ride Day 1: Las Vegas to Twentynine Palms in Four Hours and 40 Degrees

It’s February, so you know what that means: short days, cold weather, closed attractions and reduced visibility. That’s right — it’s a great time for another motorcycle tour!

Much to the relief (I assume) of my brother, Clive, and our good friend, Dale Berkbigler, this ride features new victims:

Tom Gale thumbnail

Tom Gale is my business partner at MDM. I tricked him into selling me part of his company about 15 months ago – with a “no take-backsies” clause! You’d think he’d have learned his lesson, but no – he agreed to this ride of his own volition. As you’ve already guessed, Tom’s a trusting person.


Ed Gerber is the President of the Industrial Supply Association. We tempted Ed into presenting at a conference we just produced in Las Vegas by offering to pay for a motorcycle rental so he could join us in a ride after the event. Ed declined the offer of a motorcycle and rented a Harley instead.

I invited Clive and Dale to ride with us, but in a shocking display of good judgment, they declined. Much to the surprise of the three of us with non-shocking levels of good judgment, Las Vegas was blanketed in snow this week – for the first time in 10, 13, 61 or 14 million years, depending on which resident we asked.

IMG_1033This was the view outside my hotel window on Thursday morning — the day before our planned trip.

IMG_1041This is me enjoying the thought of getting on a motorcycle in freezing cold weather and riding through the snow. Ha! Ha! So fun.

IMG_1040The Friday forecast was accurate – the high was 50 degrees. That lasted about two minutes.

All three of us had speaking parts at the conference along with critical business connections to make and rare opportunities to meet with important customers, experts and industry titans. We mostly blew these off so we could check the weather apps on our phones and see if there was any way out of Las Vegas that didn’t require tire chains on the bikes.

Fortunately, the sun emerged this morning in Las Vegas and the snow began to melt like the virtue of a young woman who moves there with dreams of a career in tasteful entertainment but with rent and a car payment due.

The conference ended at noon and the three of us packed up and headed out – Tom and I Ubered to the BMW dealer to rent motorcycles while Ed found his way to the Harley dealer to rent a Hog. We signed page after page of unread contract documents, packed up the bikes, and then nodded and daydreamed while one of the dealer employees gave us an “orientation” for each bike. Finally, we hopped on and headed out to find Ed, navigating Las Vegas traffic while simultaneously trying to figure out how to use the turn signals and other controls clearly explained during the retrospectively-valuable orientation.

All of this took an amazingly long time and by the time we met up with Ed at the Harley dealer and headed south – away from sin, vice and ice – it was after 3:00. With traffic, cold weather, potential slick roads and darkness ahead to consider, I instead found myself pondering our just-ended conference philosophically:

Tom and I own MDM and MDM produced the conference, which happened in Vegas but we aren’t staying Vegas. So if what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas but we are not, did the conference really happen?

We chose our route with the practiced ease of experienced motorcyclists: Earlier today, the interstate between Las Vegas and Los Angeles was closed due to snow. Los Angeles is west of Las Vegas so west = bad. North also seemed like a poor choice (north = cold), east was out, blocked by both a large reservoir and a giant canyon, so we scientifically determined that we would ride south.

The Fools Ride Day 1 MapCarefully conceived, professionally-developed, nearly-random trip plan.

Despite our sophisticated navigational methods, the route we chose was cold. The snow had melted off the pavement but lined the roads for many miles. Tom and I had it pretty easy – heated grips, heated seats, tall, adjustable windshields, etc., while Ed rode a “Street Glide,” which is Harley-speak for a shorty windshield and warm-them-yourself grips and seat.

Riding a cold Hog for hundreds of miles would be a test for anyone, but I was highly impressed with Ed – not only did he make the trip; he made it look easy. He didn’t complain, ask to pull over, turn into an icicle, etc., even though it was 40 degrees or so most of the time. Frankly, he really made it difficult for us to lord our superior choices in touring motorcycles over him, although we gave it a good effort.

If you have read previous tales I’ve written about motorcycles, you may recall a certain disdain in my missives concerning BMWs. However, there were no other choices besides some non-touring Moto Guzzis and Triumphs, and I’ve never ridden long distance on a BMW before. So I decided this would be a good opportunity for me to give one a fair shake.

I’m renting the top-of-the-line K1600 GTL, powered by a six-cylinder engine producing about 160 horsepower. My day 1 experience so far has been extremely disappointing – meaning I am liking this bike more than I feel I should. Of course, it’s hardly had a chance to break down yet, so we shall see.

Tom normally rides a 30+ year old Kawasaki KZ550 and is renting a BMW R1200RT, which is more or less like switching from a biplane to an F-22 fighter jet. We have to keep reminding him that the reason he can’t find the kick starter is that the bike doesn’t have one, but otherwise, he seems to have adapted nicely to modern motorcycling.

About 180 miles in, we were crossing I-40 across the Mojave Desert and rode by a highway sign (courtesy of the California Department of Transportation) claiming, “Next Services: 55 miles.” Conveniently located just after this sign is an exit to “Najah’s Desert Oasis,” where you can fill up your gas tank (after walking inside and handing over your credit card and driver’s license, which you get back when you’re done) for the low, low price of just $5.499 per gallon:

IMG_1079 (1)

According to the Dictionary of the Paiute Indian Language, “Najah” can mean either “opportunist” or “asshole,” depending on the usage. Perhaps that’s why they call the place, “Hi Sahara Oasis” on the receipt. You may recall that the Sahara is in Africa; this is not a clever ruse.

Curious as to how such an establishment handles the inevitable complaints on social media, I looked up Najah’s Desert Oasis on Facebook (I am not making this up). I found – among the one-star reviews and complaints of price-gouging – this helpful post from the proprietor:

Screen Shot 2019-02-23 at 1.09.24 AM

I’ve decided to take this post at face value, so here is one of my life’s big questions: How do you reconcile the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan (selflessly helping travelers in need) or, for that matter, “Thou Shalt Not Steal” with gas priced at $5.499 per gallon? Millions of people around the world want to know the answer.

IMG_1058Tom’s BMW is in the foreground; mine is in the background. Between them is Ed’s Harley Davidson Freeze Glide.

IMG_1064Incongruously, Najah’s features a fake 1929 Mercedes Benz sports car, made from a kit by Gazelle. You’d think those gas prices might help you afford a real Mercedes.

IMG_1068Tom is geared up and waiting as Ed zips up his jacket, which he had to remove to give Najah’s the shirt off his back to pay for gas.

IMG_1054The desert sunset created a dazzling display of light that was stark, beautiful, colorful and extremely annoying once we were back on the highway.

In any case, we topped up the bikes, thawed Ed for a few minutes and then headed back on the highway. We rode into a blinding setting sun – with me leading and navigating, which offers further insight into the poor judgment exercised by Ed and Tom – and then the ride was further enhanced when the sun went down, making it even colder as well as pitch black. We left the interstate and rode along two-lane roads for the next 90 minutes or so until we reached the warm and somewhat friendly confines of the Fairfield Inn in Twentyninepalms, California – which, for the record — has countless thousands of palms.

We warmed up a bit and ended the night at The Rib Company, where we enjoyed a healthy and nutritious dinner. The people populating the restaurants and inns of Twentyninepalms, California, apparently do not understand how motorcycles work, because several of them asked us, “Was it a cold ride out there?”

“Indeed, it was,” we nodded, somberly.

IMG_1070Dinner at The Rib Company. The guy looking lovingly at Tom asked us if we were “the ones riding the scooters.” We confirmed that we were – and he proceeded to give Tom quite a thorough and tender shoulder massage. If Tom had suffered a heart attack at that moment, no one would know if it was the assault or the brontosaurus ribs he had for dinner.

We have no idea where we’re going tomorrow. Of course, given that I’m navigating, you can assume that to be the case most of the time.

I suspect we’ll explore Joshua Tree National Park and reflect on the ancient history of the area. It’s amazing to think of how the world has changed around this unique and special landscape while it has remained the same – except, of course, that over the last few decades, your tax dollars have been invested to gradually transform the entire National Park from black and white into color, as evidenced by U2’s 1987 The Joshua Tree album cover vs. a shot from the band’s 30-year anniversary tour of the same name:


US 30 year v1

Goodnight from Twentyninepalms, California. Watch this space for more adventures as the three Fools ride into another sunset tomorrow.

IMG_1061We elected Tom “Official Group Selfie-Taker” because he has the longest arms and also because he knows how to use the “diffusion” filter that makes Ed and me look younger.

The King of Cool Kicks off His Farewell Tour

We learned late yesterday that Phil, our 16-year old cat, has lymphoma and won’t be earthbound much longer. It was a very emotional evening for all of us humans, although Phil didn’t seem to be perturbed by the news. Upon his return from a day at the vet, he ate a whole can of cat food, hopped onto Penny’s lap and luxuriated in her unusually abundant (but in his view, richly deserved) affections.

We adopted Phil (or rather, he condescended to move in) with his sister, Lil, when they were tiny kittens. On his way to becoming a 17-pound hunter (he’s likely part Maine coon), he fell from the second floor of our Boulder house (landed on his feet), climbed up a window screen only to pull it loose from the top (landed on his back) and established a mostly-benevolent order in three different neighborhoods.

He’s shown remarkable patience with dogs – his tiny friend Macy kept annoying him until he flipped her over on her back and pinned her with a harmless but meaningful paw across her neck until she stopped struggling — twice. It was a move worthy of a world class WWF wrestler and Macy resorted to quick kiss-and-go’s from thereon, demonstrating the proper deference towards the king.

He’s shown no patience with pretenders to the throne, including a fox in the yard of our Georgia house that shot towards a sitting Phil, who didn’t run, didn’t turn and didn’t even flinch. The fox braked to a sudden and surprised stop as the cat he had perceived as prey looked at him imperiously. When Phil finally and casually came to his feet, the fox backed up, yipped, and then turned and ran away to inform the den there was a new sheriff in town.

When we moved away from Boulder, a neighbor wrote that she was afraid of the pending chaos that would ensue after Phil left. “It’s like the mafia leaving town,” she said. When we left Georgia, Phil entered our house there during a “realtor’s party,” bringing with him a live chipmunk, which he dropped into the middle of the proceedings, scattering agents onto kitchen counters and into adjacent rooms. Under the guise of contributing a dish to the party, he perfectly executed his plan to communicate his alpha status to strangers in his home while immensely enjoying the ensuing chaos.

Phil has been an indoor/outdoor cat his entire life and we really thought that someday he’d just disappear, finally losing a battle with some other predator. According to the “Cat Calculator,” he’s 108 years old, meaning he was over 100 when he got into his latest scrape with a rival feline a few months ago – fierce combat we observed only through his post-battle scars.

One eye swollen shut, cuts and bite marks everywhere, we said, “Phil! You’re too old to be fighting other cats! Look at you!”

“You should see the other guy,” he communicated through his haughty gaze.

This was followed a couple of weeks ago by Blaine and his girlfriend Torrey discovering a crime scene in our driveway: Phil’s fur scattered on the ground, surrounding a perfectly-detached and intact squirrel’s tail, the rest of the victim’s body either disposed of or digested.

Phil in mirror.jpg

A handsome cat and aware of it, Phil was not above admiring his visage in mirrors or sporting bandanas and ties as any feline Beau Brummel should.

Phil in tie.jpg

He was confident in critiquing the fashion choices of his human companions, trying repeatedly to warn Blaine against wearing his bright purple, off-the-rack and cheaply-made graduation gown and cap. Indeed, he refused to attend the ceremony, preferring instead a little more “me” time – and wouldn’t everyone prefer Phil’s company to any other alternative? Phil certainly does.

Phil Blaine graduation.jpeg

Still, Phil was often affectionate, or perhaps just accepting of adoration, so he’d deign to join in cuddling, either a lap at a time or in group settings. In his remaining days here, he’s going to get a lot of that, so I hope he’s amenable. If not, he’ll no doubt head outside to start one more street fight or find one last victim.

Group nap with Phil.jpg

It’s likely there’s a feline afterlife, of course. Such regal creatures couldn’t have possibly achieved mythical status among so many civilizations bereft of souls. I agree with Blaine, who told me last night, “When most cats get to heaven and meet their God, they’re awed and excited. Not Phil. He’s gonna say, ‘Thanks for keeping my seat warm.’”

So, Phil, farewell and Godspeed on your upcoming journey to your new kingdom. Sorry we’ll be stuffing you with pills while you’re still in our dimension, but we’d like to keep you around as long as we can. Thank you for enriching our lives, warming our laps and blessing us with your presence. We’re going to miss you because we love you and adore you. But of course, you already knew that.

Pretty soon, the King of Cool will be gone. There won’t ever be another one but we’re richer for the time we had with our big, confident, unintentionally funny but never embarrassed cat. Safe passage, my friend. See you on the other side.

Phil glamour closeup.jpg

Bikeochondria: A Motorcyclist’s Disorder

Bikeochondria graphic.jpg

Somewhere outside of Jerome, Arizona, I realized the starter was failing on my motorcycle. After our last stop, the engine had fired right up — then the starter disengaged and spun freely, albeit only for a second. Obviously, a sign of impending failure; probably some vital and hard-to-find spring that engages the flywheel.

Various scenarios popped into my head and all of them were bad: we’d stop to take a picture at a remote canyon overlook and when I tried to get going again, I’d hear something important break and I’d be stranded. It occurred to me that I should start parking the bike on a downhill slope in case I needed to try to roll it to a start. But it’s a big v-twin motor, so maybe that wouldn’t work and I’d be stranded at the bottom of the hill, easy prey for mountain lions or wayward semi trucks with homicidal or texting (same thing) drivers.

The evidence for this pending mechanical issue was slim. I’d never had a problem with the starter (or anything else) on the bike. Perhaps the starter had disengaged and spun exactly the way it’s supposed to if you hold down the button a little too long after the engine fires. Come to think of it, I didn’t release that button as quickly as I usually do. Still, I’d be anxious the next few times I started the engine until I was sure there was no problem.

Thus goes the terrible affliction of bikeochondria, the disorder where you regularly think there’s something wrong with your bike when it’s actually perfectly fine. Each of the last three summers, I’ve gone on long motorcycle tours and I’ve spent a significant amount of this time analyzing various – and apparently phantom – noises, shimmies, vibrations, odd lever and pedal movements and miscellaneous other sensations that have turned out to be products of my compulsive imagination.

On this year’s tour, I had illusory problems with the brakes, the drive belt and (of all things) the air filter, which is symptomatic of some fairly severe bikeochondria. Last year it was the front wheel bearings, an engine valve and, again, the brakes – which are a well-known imaginary problem on my type of bike.

I can’t recall the problems of two years ago, but I do remember wondering how I would get help while stranded by the side of road at night in North Dakota with no cell phone signal. I checked into a motel at the next exit. The bike was fine, of course.

The biggest mistake you can make if you suffer from bikeochondria is to read forums about your model of motorcycle. This is worse than Googling your own symptoms when you don’t feel well. It’s more like Googling about all sorts of random ailments that happen to people your age and gender even though you feel fine.

Thanks to what I like to consider “preparation,” I’ve researched these forums to identify the most common problems for my bike and I thus travel with extra fuses, light bulbs, an electronic jump-starter, a spare clutch cable, and various other parts and pieces.

This is in addition to a portable air compressor, duct tape, fix-a-flat, a tire repair kit, WD40, cable ties, a flashlight and a full toolkit – which is particularly pointless given that I am personally unable to repair almost anything on a motorcycle. It has occurred to me, though, that some mechanically-gifted good Samaritan might someday stop to help me out but then drive off and leave me stranded if I don’t have the right tools for the job. You can’t be too careful.

And yet that’s the problem: you really can be too careful. If you worry all the time about your motorcycle, are you really having fun when you ride it? Are you actually safer if you add 30 pounds of gear to the bike, thus slowing down acceleration while extending braking distances?

When the Allies invaded Normandy in WWII, one of the generals was flown in on a glider. In an effort to improve his personal exposure to ground fire, he had a big steel plate installed under where he sat on the aircraft. That plate overloaded the glider and it crashed, killing everyone on board. Sometimes overengineering your safety precautions backfires on you.

Speaking of backfires, my bike produced a few of those on this last trip and I’m beginning to wonder if there’s a fueling problem. I might want to see what tools I need to fix this, just in case somebody who knows how do it stops by to help me. I sure hope the starter works after he’s done.

I was recently researching a motorcycle forum to see what other motorcyclists take on their bikes when they go touring. I was surprised that many other riders also have bikeochondria, at least based on the descriptions of the parts and toolkits they pack.

But one person caught my attention with this post: “I bring spare underwear and a credit card.”

If there’s a drug that could turn me into that kind of motorcyclist, I’d get a prescription for it tomorrow. And then I’d leave the tools and parts at home and pack some bottles of that drug into my saddlebags for my next tour.

I’d be sure bring a six-month supply. The ride is only going to last 10 days, but you can’t be too careful when you’re a bikeochondriac.

2018 Tour Day 8: Splitting Up, Heading Home and Feeling 20 Years Old Again

It will surprise my regular readers to learn that we survived the night in Quemado, NM with no incidents. Our luck continued on the road to Gallup – the tire on Dale’s BMW held out until we arrived Speedway Powersports where Dale purchased a used replacement that was nearly the right size. Chris, the owner, is a kind and generous young man who told me more than once, “We really try to help out travelers.”

IMG_9354.jpgChris took a break from setting up the swap meet at his store to fetch the tire he sold to Dale for only $20. However, Dale won the “strongest grip” contest, shown here just before it began in earnest.

We strapped the tire onto the seat of Clive’s bike and rode to a dealer less than a mile away so they could mount it on Dale’s bike.

IMG_4260.jpgWe made it! Dale can at last retire his tire after many harrowing miles on the cords of his worn-out front carcass. Interestingly, I didn’t notice that cleverly-camouflaged Blazer on the right while we were parked at the shop. It’s barely visible in this photo! You’ll also note that it has no license plate and the driver’s door is cracked open. My guess is that this vehicle was driven by government agents surveilling Clive. The reasons are obvious to me, but I can’t share them here.

Kevin, the shop owner at High Desert Cycles, told us it would be 90 minutes before the bike could be ready, so we walked to breakfast to plan out the day. Additionally, while the used tire Dale had bought was the same inside diameter (has to be in order to fit) the profile (the thickness between the inner and outer diameter) was a little bigger. We assumed it would fit but make the bike handle differently. Additionally, we had no information about the provenance of the new used tire, so we decided not to do any extraneous recreational riding and instead head to Del Norte, where Dale lives part-time and park the bike there.

As I looked at the map, I realized I was a mere 520 miles from home. This would be through mountain roads but even so, nine and a half hours of riding would bring me back to my baby (Editor’s note: that’s you, Penny).

Screen Shot 2018-05-06 at 11.20.38 AM.pngMy chosen route home (in blue) took a little longer but led through valleys surrounded by snow-capped peaks and I rode almost entirely on two-lane roads.

I told the boys I was going to head home a day early. They hardly argued at all and I think there is a message in there for me. But in any case, we walked back to the shop together and took one last trip selfie.

IMG_9355.jpgAs is tradition, we improved another scenic background (in this case, High Desert Cycles in Gallup New Mexico) by standing in front of it. Thanks for a great trip, gents.

We all shook hands and then hugged it out and I mounted up and headed off. In the wrong direction, at least for a few miles. Apple maps had decided that I should take the fastest route after all and tried to reroute me through Albuquerque. I exited, rode uncomfortably near the shop where Clive and Dale were waiting for repairs, hoping they couldn’t see me, and then got back on the road home, passing Shiprock, Farmington, Durango and my sort-of hometown of Del Norte on the way home.

Clive called while I was riding to tell me that the new used tire didn’t fit Dale’s bike after all. It would mount on the wheel but the higher profile meant it rubbed against valuable and important parts of the motorcycle, not to mention making it impossible for the wheel to turn. However, the shop owner had ordered a new tire of the same size tire for another customer and while it wasn’t a perfect choice for Dale’s bike, it was vastly better than a night in Gallup, awaiting rescue by a friend with a trailer. He told Dale that his other customer could wait a few days and mounted it on the BMW. Many motorcycle shops are this service-oriented; do not expect the same from auto dealers while traveling by car.

So, a couple hours after I left Gallup twice, Clive and Dale left once and were able to do some recreational riding after all before heading to Del Norte themselves. We checked in by phone and text (text via voice; don’t judge) and all arrived home safely.

Reflections on the 2018 Tour and Reclaiming Your Youth

Motorcycling is inherently risky but it’s extremely addicting and it’s hard to pin down the active ingredient. I think the best explanation I’ve heard comes from my good friend, John Pendleton. Someone asked him why he rides motorcycles even though it’s so dangerous and he replied, “What would you be willing to do to feel 20 years old again?”

When you’re 20, not only are you optimistic about your future, but you believe you are in control of your destiny and you take risks because you feel invulnerable. As we grow older, the inertia of our responsibilities and limitations (perceived or otherwise) saps our energy and our optimism; we concede to our fears and call it maturity. Climbing on a motorcycle brings back both the thrill of danger and the sense of control. Every movement you make is magnified immediately through the throttle, the bars, the brakes — life shifts into high gear, whatever gear you’re in.

Motorcycling is meant to be an adventure and that involves facing danger. But that’s a good thing: Alain Gerbault, who sailed around the world by himself over 700 days and 40,000 miles in 1892, wrote, “Adventure means risking something.”

Given the e-coli outbreak, we suffered some risk by eating a couple of romaine lettuce salads on this trip and we stayed in some “downscale” motels but those experiences don’t qualify as adventues.  Balancing out the risk must be adrenaline-inducing thrills; in our case speed, leaning over in corners, braking satisfyingly hard and then accelerating even harder. Even occasional fun moments on gravel and “asphalt snakes” (those allegedly-temporary repairs made of slick tar that get more entertaining as they warm up) added to the thrills.

We had some things to wrong on this trip – Bill’s broken bike, Dale’s worn-out tire and my imperfect navigating, but that was all part of the experience: Yvon Chouinard, the billionaire founder of Patagonia and lifelong adventurist, wrote, “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong – that’s when adventure starts.”

So a motorcycle trip qualifies as an adventure, at least to me, because it’s risky and things go wrong, but mostly because it makes me feel 20 years old again. These are related as noted but reclaiming my youth when I twist the throttle and lean the bike over makes it not only worthwhile but – critically – thrillingly addicting.

Thanks for coming along virtually on this year’s great motorcycle adventure. I understand why some people are reluctant to ride; the risks are substantial and people need to decide for themselves if they want to incur them. However, I do believe that everyone would benefit from finding their own adventures that include risks they can tolerate.

Goethe said that “The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety.” Spending your life avoiding all risk means not living at all.

Go out and be 20 years old again.

See you next year (and maybe sooner).


2018 Tour Day 7: Scary Bird Tales and Dale’s Surprise Retirement

Today was strange. Long periods of time riding the best motorcycle roads you can imagine, punctuated by peculiar events and places.

We started out in Lordsburg, New Mexico bound for Silver City. I was excited to visit the latter, not only because it features prominently in one of my family’s favorite movies (“Rat Race”), but also for its reputation for being pretty cool.

Things got odd quickly. First, the restaurant we picked on Yelp and navigated to via Apple Maps turned out to be a house down a long dirt road (not fun on road bikes). The next restaurant we chose was on main street and looked promising.

IMG_4218Downtown Silver City looks charming and quaint.

IMG_4219Nancy’s Silver Café had all the looks of a hole-in-the-wall with great food. It’s halfway there.

This restaurant was disappointing, but breakfast allowed me time to look up where “Rat Race” scenes were filmed. As it turns out, they were shot in Ely, Nevada, which stood in for Silver City, meaning my plan to take photos in front of the train station from the movie were dashed.

All that dissipated quickly, though, as we hit the road and spent the next few hours riding some of the best-rated motorcycle roads in New Mexico. We first rode north on highway 15 towards Gila Hot Springs (which would sound better as “Hot Gila Springs” but what’s done is done) and then swept down highway 152 towards Hillsboro.

IMG_4228Highway 15. New Mexico vistas aren’t as striking as those in Arizona but the roads are twisty, empty and blessed with great weather.

IMG_4229Our favorite type of road sign, and there were many of these, although none as frequently targeted.

IMG_4230Highway 152, looking west towards Silver City. It’s like this for 34 miles.

On both roads, we saw very few cars and were almost never slowed by traffic. Generally, New Mexico roads are in worse shape than surrounding states but never bad enough to be a problem.

During one of our stops, Dale noted that his front tire didn’t feel very stable. It was worn and slightly over-pressurized, so we took a few pounds of air out and he said that helped. That was not the end of the saga [Editor’s note: that last sentence is a literary device called, “foreshadowing.”]

IMG_4231Dale exhibits no stress or wear even though his bike’s front tire is showing both.

IMG_4233Clive laughs at Dale’s trouble, thankful that his own bike has no issues. Our family has a long history of laughing at others’ mishaps, provided they’re not too serious. Right, mom?

We rode back through Silver City after enjoying the roads around it and then turned north towards a little town called Quemado, where I’m writing this. On Butler Motorcycle Maps, this entire route is highlighted – meaning it’s a great road to ride on a bike. It was 150 miles of wonderful riding – long, sweeping corners, beautiful vistas in every direction, mostly good roads and perfect temperatures.

Again, we saw almost no traffic in either direction. We went for 20 minutes and more without seeing other vehicles and just leaned into turns and let the bikes “stretch their legs” on the straightaways. In fact, it was so good that I elected not to stop the entire route; I was just having too much fun. Thus, I have relatively few pictures from the road but I can’t apologize…the road was irresistible.

I did run into one small issue. Actually, I ran into two small issues at the same time – birds. Inexplicably, two birds dived down from the left, swooped in front of my bike and I ran into them at 65 miles per hour, creating an instant and sudden explosion of feathers and other bird detritus. Both Clive and Dale (who were following me) saw the catastrophic and total avian destruction and were almost as startled as I was – though none of us were as shocked as the birds. Fortunately, their surprise didn’t last very long.

I feel awful about this, but it was truly unavoidable. Hopefully over the next millennium, natural selection will result in birds who avoid motorcycles, assuming the latter still exist. And the former, I suppose, given how man seems intent on planetary destruction in one form or another.

I shook this off and we rode on. Only a few miles later, a large, wild turkey suddenly strutted across the road, left to right, and I managed to miss it by a few inches. Dale told me it gave him a dirty look when he rode by.

I had called ahead to the Largo Café & Motel – the only place to stay in Quemodo – and was told that not only did they have vacancy but that not one person was registered for the night. Yelp even gave a high rating to the café. So, we pulled in and in some ways the place exceeds expectations and in others, not so much.

IMG_4242It’s adequate as a hotel – for example, I’m using my phone for Internet since the WiFi is barely useable – but the café was a great surprise.

IMG_4240The Largo Motel is clean, neat and very dated. We all agree we have stayed in worse, but many more times in better.

IMG_9347Dinner was superb. Clive enjoyed a green chile cheeseburger, Dale loved his pork chops and I indulged in a delicious hamburger steak. We also ordered the green & red chili French fries – a tasty but massive dish we barely touched. [Editor’s note: Penny, I hardly had any fries at all. I promise!]

About 10 buzzards circled as we ate dinner and then perched on these trees, as though waiting for us to emerge. It was a very strange day for birds.

IMG_4247Hooded birds wait to gather round their next dinner guest.

There’s little to do in Quemado, but we decided to walk to the Country Store to check out the merchandise there, which turned out to be…eclectic. Along the way, we passed an abandoned motel (the Largo now has no competition) and some other reminders of days gone by.

IMG_4253The pay phone is dead, the motel is abandoned and the blank marquee is a sign of the times.

And then we walked into the Country Store and things got stranger.

IMG_4255How could anyone shoot a bear wearing a hat and overalls? Also, what’s with the little dude on the left holding the knives?

IMG_4256In Quemado, Antlers are the new black. Stephen King should visit here to find out what creepy really means.

If you’ve read this far, you probably wonder what all of this has to do with the title of this blog. Well, it turns out that Dale’s front tire has decided that 2018 is a Goodyear to die.

IMG_9344You definitely never, ever want to see the cords of your tire and plenty of them are showing on Dale’s bike.

Since Dale’s bike needs a new tire, that makes tomorrow his “re-tire-ment.” As a result, we are making a sudden change of plans and taking a long, slow and careful ride to Gallup, NM in the morning – 104 miles of delicate progress with frequent stops so we can check to see how the tire is holding up. There’s a motorcycle shop there that has a used tire for the low, low price of $20 that is almost the right size (same diameter; a little taller profile). That shop doesn’t have time to mount the tire since they have a swap meet tomorrow, but a nearby shop has offered to do it instead.

So, it’s been a fascinating day. The “bad” stuff has mostly just been interesting (although fatal to two innocent but misguided birds) and the motorcycling has been off-the-charts fun. It hasn’t dampened our spirits one bit and – assuming we make it to Gallup and get the tire swapped – it’s mostly just a great memory and story to share.

IMG_4237Clive and Dale have “cocktail hour” every evening at the hotel. Tonight was no exception, although we did have a moment of silence for two birds. The drink of choice? Wild Turkey, of course.

I look forward to updating you tomorrow night – it will be Clive and Dale’s last day on the road this trip while I will head from Del Norte to Longmont on Sunday morning. Thanks for virtually riding along.

IMG_4258The sun sets on Quemado, New Mexico. The zombies should be here soon.

2018 Tour Day 6: Geronimo Finally Returns to Arizona and Farewell to Herbie

When we awoke in Safford, AZ this morning, we had no idea we would help to close off a major chapter in southwestern US history – let alone participate unwittingly in a spiritual event 130 years in the making.

IMG_9323If Clive and Dale rode Victory bikes like I do, that sign in the background could have been about us. Alas.

These events began to unfold last night as I was writing yesterday’s blog. My sister (and Clive’s) Rosalind strongly urged us to visit Chiricahua National Monument in southeastern Arizona. She was insistent that we’d love it, that it was worth the ride and that she could nearly feel the spirits when she and her husband Bob visited there.

I wasn’t familiar with Chiricahua National Monument, but this area was Geronimo’s home (he was a Chiricahua Apache) and close to where he was captured. The story of Geronimo is very tragic – his wife, mother and three children were killed in a raid by the Mexican army while most of the warriors were away.

The United States unilaterally cancelled a treaty Geronimo’s predecessor Cochise had negotiated preserving their lands. And when he finally surrendered in 1886, he was treated like a prisoner of war, relocated to Florida where he was shown off as a “bloodthirsty savage” to tourists and was finally moved to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he died and was buried.

He was never allowed to return to beloved Chiricahua home. It’s easy to see why he missed it.

IMG_4126.jpgDale is very happy to be at Chiricahua — he is smiling so wide his eyes are squeezed shut. Clive adopts a “we’ll see, we just got here” expression.

IMG_4130.jpgI don’t remember what these formations are called, but there are many thousands of them and they’re very tall. And they’re not lava chimneys; they are left over when the softer material around them erodes. The literally used to be part of the mountain on which they stand. 

IMG_4147.jpgThis viewing deck at Chiricahua National Monument was most likely constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930’s. We learned in the visitor’s center that more than 3.3M young men took part in this program and among their many projects was building the road, trails and various paths around this monument.

IMG_4145.jpgThis particular formation is among the thinnest for its height. I wish I knew that feeling.

IMG_4137.jpgFor this photo, I asked Dale and Clive to pose with goofy looks. Not really; they did this on their own.

IMG_4159.jpgIt’s hard to tell from photos, but these formations are large and they go on for miles. Not unlike Clive and me on a motorcycle ride.

IMG_4149.jpgDale and I took turns standing between these rocks for pictures. Wouldn’t you?

IMG_4162.jpgClive next to his steed.

IMG_4164.jpgI like being the official trip photographer because it keeps me out of most of the photos. But here’s one for my fans.

Something strange happened at Chiricahua National Monument: Dale began to stop acting strange. The delusional behavior we experienced earlier in the week – centered around his alleged “invisible friend Herbie” began to dissipate. I first noticed this as we prepared to leave; I’ll explain what caused this transformation at the end of this blog entry. It’s an amazing story…

IMG_4167.jpgDale – back to normal (for him).

We really enjoyed Chiricahua. In fact, it was so great that we decided to follow Roz’s next suggestion destination, the mining town of Bisbee, AZ.

IMG_4189.jpgNot sure why they have an “Historic District” in Bisbee. The whole town seems historic.

IMG_4182.jpgOne disappointing “historic” aspect that Bisbee has retained for more than a century is a reliance on child labor for mining work.

IMG_9331.jpgWe decided to eat at a restaurant Rosalind recommended (Bisbee’s Table) and as I was taking a group selfie, a local man literally took my phone from my hand. He said, “Since this picture is in Bisbee, it needs to be weird,” and tilted the camera like this intentionally. True story.

IMG_4183.jpgThe interior of the restaurant was really cool, nicely incorporating elements of the past into a contemporary establishment.

IMG_4193.jpgAs we prepared to depart Bisbee, I couldn’t resist taking this picture of my riding buddies, whom I should collectively call, “Va Voom!” from now on.

Prior to visiting Bisbee, I had checked the mileage from there to this evening’s destination: Silver City, NM. I informed Va Voom that it was only 88 miles, so we lingered awhile in Bisbee. Upon getting on our bikes, I checked again and found I was off by nearly 90 miles. That meant it was too far to ride this evening, so we wound up in Lordsburg, New Mexico instead. Sorry, gents — but I”m looking forward to riding to Silver City for breakfast tomorrow. One of my family’s favorite movies (“Rat Race”) ends there.

Right as we left town, Dale suddenly pulled over because he had a bug in his helmet. Not the type from the NSA – the kind with six legs.

IMG_9333.jpgDale preparing to remount after getting the bug out of his helmet. Conveniently for him, BMW riders feel entitled to park on sidewalks. 

Along the way, fate brought us across something very interesting – the site where Geronimo surrendered for the third and last time.

IMG_4202.jpgDale jumped up onto the pedestal of this monument and even took a picture of the plaque.

Dale was particularly fascinated by this memorial. He insisted we stop and then spent quite a bit of time studying it – all of it out of character, but since he seemed now otherwise “cured,” I didn’t really give it a second thought.

It wasn’t until I imported the photos from today’s trip that everything suddenly connected in my mind – Dales behavior, his “invisible friend, Herbie,” the spiritual connection we felt to Chiricahua and his demonstrated fascination with the monument. “Herbie” wasn’t an invisible friend – he was the ghost of Geronimo!

Group photo with Geronimo v1.jpgLook carefully on the right and you will see, at last, “Herbie,” who is really Geronimo. This is the first picture I’ve ever taken that was photo-bombed by a spirit. Hint: If you’re viewing this on Facebook on a mobile device, click the menu in the top right (three dots) to open up the blog in a web browser so you can zoom in on pictures.

I went cold when I saw this photo. But as I researched Geronimo’s history, everything became so clear. First, Geronimo was never a chief – he was a medicine man. There were Apache legends about his ability to heal people. Who would he want to escort him back to his homeland – a trip denied him while he was alive? A man like Dale, who’s a doctor, too!

And Geronimo knows nothing of modern transportation. Airplanes would be a mystery and cars are likely beyond his spirit’s comprehension. But a motorcycle is the closest thing to a horse he’d see on the roads.

I think the spirit of Geronimo has been searching for his homeland and then he came across Dale, a “medicine man” like him and heard something of his motorcycle journey to Arizona. Fearing he might still be wanted by the US Army, he adopted the “Herbie” persona – probably derived from President Herbert Hoover, since Geronimo was known to have great respect for Presidents.

Since my sister Roz visited Chiricahua not long ago, the other Apache spirits there most likely connected with her subconscious to have her urge us to visit the monument. They knew our connection to Dale and so the entire Apache nation in the afterlife conspired to help us return Geronimo home after all these years.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense, obviously. Dale must have a strong connection to the spirit world himself. So strong that he sensed Herbie’s presence, which was quite real, of course, but it was a reality Clive and I could not sense (we have not historically enjoyed a strong connection to the spirit world; both of us received low marks on the subject in school).

And so we say farewell to Herbie and Godspeed to Geronimo. We’re very happy to have played a role in returning his spirit to his homeland and I’m glad the readers of this blog were able to follow along. We’re especially glad to have the old Dale back again but we will certainly miss all of the comments and questions about Herbie – which far outnumbered any concerns about Dale’s health, curiously.

I hope something else offbeat and interesting emerges during this adventure so I can report it to my readers. Somehow, I think it will.

Goodnight from Lordsburg, New Mexico.




2018 Day 5: The Best Motorcycle Road and the Biggest Copper Mine in America, through Sleet, Snow and 6,500 Feet of Elevation Change

I find it difficult to summarize today’s events in one sitting. As we walked into our hotel in Safford, AZ this evening, Dale said, “I can’t wait to see how you synthesize everything we did today in one blog.” He and Clive both suggested I break the narrative into two blogs. But there’s a pacing to this adventure narrative and so one entry it is. Here goes.

It was simply an amazing day of extremes and never-to-forget experiences. We started out in Globe, AZ after a short delay at our morning gas stop. Dale had installed a rumble seat on his motorcycle so he could ride in the back as his previously-described “invisible friend” Herbie drove.

IMG_4049Clive gasses up in the background as I wait for him to help me persuade Dale to get out of the rumble seat – and that Herbie shouldn’t operate a motorcycle without the proper endorsement. Dale finally relented when we pointed out that Herbie cannot have a “photo ID” since it’s not possible to take a picture of an invisible person. The rumble seat is cool, albeit useless.

We finally headed northeast and took the long way to Eagar, Arizona. We quickly found ourselves in the Salt River Valley and it’s gorgeous. Rocky, rugged and spectacular, with sweeping curves, very little traffic and some convenient spots to pull over for pictures.

IMG_4051This was our first real look at the Salt River Valley. We rode along this canyon for many miles.

IMG_4052Across the valley, we could see the remains of an old underground mine. It was once operated by Yosemite Sam’s sister, Salt River Sally.

Towards the end of our trip along the Salt River valley, we pulled over again to take in the landscape once more.

IMG_4070This abyss kept yawning at me. Strategically-planted (by God) prickly pear cacti discourage visitors from hopping the wall. The butte across the canyon guards the rugged terrain with watchful eyes (see next photo).

IMG_4069We don’t know if these caves are natural or mining remnants but I think the former, mostly because few 19thcentury miners were over 100 feet tall – which is what it would have taken to stand on those ledges and drive a chisel into the side of the cliff. In any case, they make these bluffs look like some Lord of the Rings creature and they’re kind of creepy.

IMG_4075Part of our ongoing “What’s the deal with Herbie?” diagnosis involves running Dale through various cognitive tests. Here, Clive asks Dale to count the motorcycles. Dale got it right in one try in less than a minute.

After this, we took a long ride through the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and then everything went downhill. Because we went way, way uphill. My navigation app had popped up with two weather warnings, forecasting snow along the route. Clive and I found this hard to believe and we didn’t even inform Dale of this development. In fact, when we left Globe, I told Clive about the warnings and he replied, “Don’t worry about it; it doesn’t matter.”

This was patently not true. It most certainly did matter and we could have done something about it, such as change routes. It’s not like we’re on a schedule on this ride. We’re not racing to an important client meeting or catching a flight. However, Clive is my big brother and so I trusted him. You would think after 55 years of this, I would know better, but this time my own logic told me he was probably right.

Here’s why: I don’t know about you, but my paradigm of Arizona has always been that everything south of Flagstaff is a desert. Perhaps mountainous in some areas but rocky, barren and very definitely hot. Our planned route was in the far east side of Arizona, but its latitude was almost even with Phoenix at the start and then went nearly straight south until it ended about even with Tucson.

Surely our assumptions developed in spite of never visiting this part of the country were far more accurate than professional and well-trained meteorologists armed with millions of dollars of highly-sensitive electronic equipment and dozens of reporting stations.

Today’s score: Meteorologists – 1; Ian and Clive – 0.

We found ourselves quickly leaving the saguaro behind and riding higher and higher into an alpine environment. It became cold and then very cold. Clive tracked the elevation on his GPS and when it reported we’d crossed 7,000 feet, he predicted over the headset, “There’s no way we’re going higher than 8,000 feet.”

At 8,000 feet, I asked him, “Do you think we’ll get to 9,000 feet?”

“I can’t imagine there are any roads that high in Arizona!” he said.

At 9,250 feet, he didn’t say anything because all of us were focused on the road since it was snowing, sleeting and 34.6 degrees (you can thank Dale’s BMW thermometer for that number; the Germans do things very precisely).

It was so cold that even Dale’s Aerostich magic suit couldn’t keep him perfectly comfortable. Of course, he didn’t complain, nor, for that matter, did Herbie.

After a couple of hours of this, we finally rode into Eagar, eager to warm up. I pulled into the first restaurant I found and we relaxed our death grips on the bikes and walked inside like three poorly-oiled robots.

IMG_4077None of us had heard of Aliberto’s, which is obviously a chain. It even has a drive-through. But the food was wonderful, with homemade tortillas and fresh ingredients. Who would have thought you could get such good Mexican food so close to Mexico?

IMG_4079Clive noticed this oddly-named store across from the restaurant. I wonder if they only hire child labor?

Bellies full of fine Mexican food, we mounted up again and headed south, happy to leave the cold and snow behind us.

That didn’t turn out so well. Our route took us right back up into alpine country but through absolutely pristine wilderness. I had planned the “scenic route” which turned out to be 46 more miles of frigid cold, snow and sleet but dramatic beauty as well.

IMG_4082Snow moves into the valley below us towards Eagar, AZ, where we just left, relieved to have “missed the storm.” However, the same system quickly closed in on our route.

IMG_4094We stopped to “gear up” thanks to the cold (except for Dale, whose magic suit kept him reasonably comfortable – NASA should contact Aerostich about using this garment in place of expensive space suits). The background reminded me of the Smoky Mountains. 

IMG_4086I tried to take several pictures of the snowy conditions, but this is the only one that turned out. Dale was a good sport about my fearless misleadership.

Much to our dismay, we broke both of our dreaded and related records for the day: Dale reported the temperature dropped to 34.2 degrees and we rode to an elevation of 9,365 feet. The temperature remained in the 30’s as we stayed over 8,000 feet for a couple of hours today. Some desert.

The conditions were miserable but we were not. We were laughing our heads off at each new record low temp and record high elevation. Every time we stopped, we compared notes, shivered together as we talked about how we’d never forget this ride and agreed it was one of the best days we’d ever had on motorcycles.

Little did we know, the best was yet to come because we finally arrived at our most-anticipated destination of the day: the Coronado Trail, aka, “the Devil’s Highway.” This route is 100 miles of motorcycling heaven – despite its nickname, which was actually derived from its old number, US 666. The government had to change the road number (to US 191) back in 1993 because people kept stealing the road signs.

However, the name “Devil’s Highway” still suits this road due to the danger you face when you navigate it. There are more than 400 switchbacks along its route, there are no guardrails, few stretches with shoulders and several “decreasing-radius” turns – meaning the corners get sharper as you ride through them.

IMG_9312One of the few switchbacks on the Devil’s Highway with a shoulder suitable for parking.

Decreasing-radius turns are particularly dangerous on a motorcycle because you must lean the bike to turn and you have to lean more the faster you ride. That means you might lean into a corner at a speed perfectly suited to the shape of its initial curve only to find you must quickly lean farther over because the corner has become sharper.

However, motorcycles only lean so far and if you can’t lean any further, you run off the road. Of course, you can hit the brakes to slow down, but this has the effect of levering the bike upright, and then on its opposite side, thus tossing you off – a “high side” crash. In either case – running off the road or being flung off the bike – your landing spot on the Devil’s Highway route will be in the canyon far below.

IMG_4102Towards the bottom of the Devil’s Highway, we stopped to take some pictures. It’s much straighter here but you can get a sense for the excitement this road offers as you see it snaking from left to right and then emerging again in the distance.

So, as you can guess from this description the Devil’s Highway is ferociously fun on a motorcycle. You may have heard of a road in the southeast called, “The Tail of the Dragon,” which boasts 318 curves in only 11 miles. It’s on every biker’s “bucket list” but having ridden both, I can tell you you there’s no comparison. Not only is the Devil’s Highway nine times longer but it’s much more scenic and there’s virtually no traffic – unlike the Tail, which is often packed with crotch rockets, race car driver wannabes and cops.

IMG_4097 (1)Once again, our group of riders significantly enhances an already-spectacular view.

Off in the distance, you can see what looks like a huge mountain of sand. That is the Morenci Mine, started in 1872 by the Detroit Copper Company. It produces more of copper than any other US mine and it’s absolutely enormous. It took us 20 minutes or more to ride between the enormous pits and we stopped three times to try to take pictures of it to share the enormity of this undertaking. It seemed we said, “Look at that – it keeps going!” a dozen times as we rounded a corner only to see even larger, artificially-terraced walls, deep pits and gigantic equipment at work. It’s a very stark contrast with the meager mining effort we saw abandoned on a hillside in the Salt River Valley and pictured earlier in this blog.

Tonight, Clive said, “I’m still trying to get my head around how big that mine is,” and I agree. It’s a large canyon by any standard and the manmade nature of it makes its size all the more impressive. For my environmentalist friends who complain that this is a scar upon the land, I can only point out that when you ride through eastern Arizona, you see seemingly-endless stretches of completely untouched land stretching out in every direction.

Modern economies require minerals and in the scheme of things, even this enormous mine is a tiny dot on the map. If you really want to focus on places where land is being sacrificed for development, complain about big cities — each of them probably develop more land each year than this mine has consumed in a century and a half.

IMG_4115This is a small part of the Morenci Mine. If you look carefully at the far wall, you can see a line rising from mid-frame upwards to the right. Those little dots on the line are massive trucks.

IMG_4119These trucks are the “little dots” in the previous picture. They look like toys here, but the tires are twice as tall as a man.

IMG_4122See what I mean?

IMG_4116As we stood in front of one of the world’s largest mines, Dale entertained himself by playing the “Asphalt Xtreme” driving game on his iPhone – which you can tell by how he’s standing. Meanwhile, Clive is taking a picture of the mobile solar panel below, which fascinated him thanks to his extreme concern about environmental issues.

The Devil’s Highway terminates at the “company town” of Clifton, which is at the base of the mine, meaning we rode right through it. Clifton turned out to be a fascinating town, obviously laden with history. We rode past a massive steel gate nicknamed “Jurassic Park” that protects the southern part of town from floodwaters when the San Francisco River overflows its banks. It’s a very impressive structure and really does look like it could protect the town from hungry tyrannosaurs.

From Clifton, we made an easy 42-mile run, angling towards the sunset and our final stop for the day in Safford. Tomorrow, we’ll likely ride further south and east towards Bisbee, AZ and then on to New Mexico.

This was one of my favorite days ever on a motorcycle. Accompanied by my brother and our good friend, Dale Berkbigler (and ostensibly by Herbie, who has yet to make an appearance and likely cannot, given his invisibility), we rode what we all agree was the best motorcycling road we’ve ever experienced. We enjoyed a frigid, windy, snowy adventure in Arizona mountains we didn’t know existed, despite our long residence in a nearby state. We woke up thinking we’d face rain and instead experienced much-preferred sleet (it doesn’t soak you the same way) and we warmed up at lunch with surprisingly good food in a small town in the middle of the journey.

Everywhere we stop, people approach us. This is unique to motorcycling, at least in my experience. At Alberito’s in Eagar, two men told us of their own riding adventures and increased our anticipation of riding the Devil’s Highway by sharing their love of this road that is local to them. People are eager to accommodate us when we ask them to take group photos and they ask where we are from, where we are going and tell us about the bikes they own, used to own or hope to own some day.

But unlike any other day we’ve ridden, separately or together, today we were almost the only riders on the road. On our 340 mile trip, we saw fewer than 10 other motorcycles. Between the remoteness of the roads and the unusually-inclement weather for this part of the world, motorcycles and cars alike stayed away. At one point, we rode nearly an hour without seeing a single vehicle. During our trip down the Devil’s Highway, we passed no vehicles in either direction and no one passed us. That’s 100 miles of group solitude on the best motorcycling road in the world.

At least to us.

Goodnight from Safford, Arizona, elevation 2,917 feet. Wheels roll tomorrow bound for new adventures.

2018 Day 4: A Haunted Mining Town, a Bridge in the Desert and an Indian Casino Hotel

We rode more than 350 miles today, up and down more than 4,000 feet of elevation and in temperatures ranging from the low 70’s to the mid 40’s. We arose to a cold, windy and cloudy Flagstaff – but it’s good we got out when we did since it’s 35 degrees and snowing there as I write this from Globe, Arizona.

IMG_3978It was in the 40’s as we prepared to leave Flagstaff this morning. Here, Dale is helping his previously-explained invisible friend Herbie put on his helmet. As you can see, Herbie is apparently quite short.

Poor Dale. I told Clive today that Dale has to be lowest-maintenance person you could possibly take on a motorcycle tour. He’s always the first one ready, he doesn’t care where we eat or stay and he has one fantastic Aerostich brand motorcycle outfit he wears no matter the weather. I call it his “magic suit” because while Clive and I stopped repeatedly to add or remove layers, Dale patiently sat on his bike and watched without complaint or correspondent adjustment. He doesn’t even need rain gear since it’s waterproof despite breathing just fine in hot weather.

Come to think of it, the suit is perfect – the lowest-maintenance outfit for the lowest-maintenance rider. Kismet.

We planned our route with the Butler Maps Arizona edition. Butler makes absolutely fantastic maps especially for motorcycle riders. Not only are they waterproof and tear-resistant, but they rate every road in each state in terms of how fun they are to ride on a motorcycle.

I programmed the route into a smartphone app called, “InRoute,” but I have to say that while it’s a great piece of software, there’s no substitute for a real map when planning a ride. I highly recommend the combination of a Butler map and InRoute for your motorcycle touring needs.

We first rode past Prescott, Arizona into Sedona. Sedona is a really cool town but we just stopped long enough for Clive and I to take off some layers since it had warmed up about 20 degrees (Dale watched). Then we went on to Jerome, Arizona, a fascinatingly weird and allegedly haunted mining town way, way up on a mountain. We stopped at the first roadside pullover in town to snap some pictures.

IMG_3979A tour guide explains the history of Jerome to a group of paying customers while we linger nearby pretending not to listen. Note the “J” on the mountain. We speculated about what that meant but came up empty.

IMG_3991We further inconvenienced the tour guide by asking him to take a group photo – greatly enhancing the appearance of Jerome. Note that Dale has his hand in the shoulder of his invisible friend, Herbie. By now, we are certain that Herbie is not real and are wondering how to break the news to Dale.

IMG_3980This is a former asylum in Jerome that is now a restaurant – and I assume has other functions as well unless it’s the largest restaurant in the world. We were going to go to lunch at the asylum, but Clive was leading and “couldn’t find” the entrance. I think he was afraid they wouldn’t let him and Dale leave once they entered.

IMG_3986This cool, old Chevy truck was parked near the entrance to Jerome. I took a picture of it because it’s a cool, old Chevy truck.

IMG_3997This retail store in Jerome coincidentally shares Clive’s biker nickname.

IMG_4000There are almost no “English” restaurants. You can find Italian, Chinese, French, Mexican and even German restaurants by the hundreds before you’ll find a single English restaurant. Of course, there’s a reason for that – the Brits are famously bad at cooking (no offense to my mom, who’s both English and a great cook). If you look closely, you’ll see that the round sign – which looks much newer – advertises “Bobby D’s Bar-B-Q Pit,” which has no doubt helped business quite a bit. After all, what sounds more appetizing to you: a helping of “spotted dick” or a BBQ brisket dinner?

IMG_3999It’s hot in the desert, so many homes in Jerome are extremely well-ventilated.

IMG_4015Even the post office in Jerome is original – and still functioning. When’s the last time your post office offered, “General Delivery Stamps” and “Postal Savings?” The Postal Savings program ended in 1967.

IMG_4028Another well-ventilated structure in Jerome. No idea why there is a ghostly being suspended by chains over a rusty, ancient bunkbed on the right. Perhaps it’s the last asylum patient.

IMG_4016Shot 1 of 2: This apparently exotic home caught our eye when we first parked in Jerome. However, when we walked to a higher elevation and looked down on the home, something appeared to be missing. Among other things, the roof.

IMG_4017Shot 2 of 2: Not only has it no roof, but you can see a pretty large tree in the foreground inside the building…meaning it’s been a long, long time since it had a roof. Also, check out the fancy street light in the back of the place.

A quick internet search lead me to believe that this structure was originally a dormitory for miners called, “The Little Daisy Hotel.” There are cars parked in front and some activity there, so something’s obviously afoot but just what remains a mystery.

We headed southwest out of Jerome on state route 89A past Mingus Mountain on what is simply a blissful motorcycle road.

Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 10.17.18 PMLike a two-wheel roller-coaster that lasts for miles. 

We stopped for lunch in Dewey, AZ at a fantastic diner and then headed east – away from the rain and cold and towards our final stop in Globe, AZ.

IMG_4030Steve & Kathy’s has been around since 1980. We saw at least a half dozen to-go orders picked up while we ate – always a good sign. Great place.

As we descended in elevation, we suddenly came across saguaro cacti. These enormous “Joshua trees” dotted the landscape in all directions. It’s stark but beautiful and for the first time in our three days in Arizona, we were in the desert.

IMG_4045Saguaros often grow to more than 40 feet in height and live 150 years plus – they don’t typically sprout an “arm” until they are between 75-100 years old. The tallest saguaro ever measured was 78’ tall before it was toppled by a windstorm. They also bear ruby red fruit that is edible. Unrelated: Isn’t Wikipedia great?

We rode along deserted mountain roads, through twisty canyons and a barren, rugged landscape that I love. As we neared Globe, we rode for miles past Roosevelt Lake – which is actually a reservoir because it’s man-made but “Lake” sounds cooler, I guess. Fortunately, there was a terrific place to pull over and take pictures between the dam and a very elegant bridge.

IMG_4038Handsome bridge by the Roosevelt Lake dam.

IMG_4036The bridge looks even more handsome in this picture. The difference in lighting between this and the previous photo is a mystery and definitely not due to some editing designed to make us all look better.

IMG_9294One thing I’ve learned from blogging is that panoramic shots don’t show up too well here. But trust me, this composition is simply brilliant – I even have my riding partners in the frame on the left to balance out the beauty of the bridge on the right.

IMG_4044Clive and Dale were getting a little grumpy, so I put them in “time out” in the picnic shelter by the dam.

Finally, we rode through Globe, which is a rugged mining town that looks like it hasn’t changed in years. We even rode past an old motel with a marquee sign probably 60 years old that advertised that the rooms are “refrigerated.” On the other hand, perhaps it doubles as the morgue.

I did make one tiny, little mistake today. When we were at lunch at Steve and Kathy’s, I made room reservations and found a fairly highly-rated establishment near Globe called the Apache Gold “Resort” (defined very loosely, as it turns out). Among its dubious features besides badly needing remodeling – or at least a good carpet cleaning – is a freight train that runs right out front, sounding its horn liberally (safety first!)

IMG_9296This the view from our window. Good news! We can see the bikes. Bad news: TRAIN. More bad news: These bikes may be gone in the morning. I actually took this picture and the next one more for evidence than for blogging. 

That’s the news from around the Globe, AZ area. Lots of rain and wind moving in tomorrow, so it should be an interesting day.



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