The Misadventures of Ian Heller

Make No Little Plans.

2018 Grand Motorcycle Tour: Day 1

Saturday, April 28th, 2018

This year’s Grand Motorcycle Tour (my third consecutive) began in Longmont, CO for me. Since the grand part of all three tours has been in the western US (this year and last) or partially in Canada (the first year), this is a much more convenient starting point. However, I needed to pick up some friends along the way – two of whom I knew about in advance as well as two surprise riders.

IMG_37595:50AM Longmont, CO

I left our home in Longmont before 6AM this morning, gassed up and headed through the mountains for Del Norte, CO — my hometown, to the degree I have one.

It was 36 degrees.

Okay, not the entire way. During the first 250 mile leg of my journey, the temperature actually soared into the 40’s after a while and then reached a comfortable mid-60’s for the last 50 miles or so.

Once in Del Norte, I met up with Dale Berkbigler – repeat visitors to this blog will recall he was on last year’s trip – and also Bill Dunn. I knew Dale was coming along but it was a surprise to learn that Bill was joining us.

I’ve known Bill for about 40 years but haven’t seen him for 30. He hasn’t changed any more than I have in three decades. Bill’s an attorney, meaning we now have group legal representation to accompany our group physician (Dale).

We again met at Dale’s hangar and he again promised to take me flying sometime and I again said I looked forward to it while not believing he meant it (again). Like Dale, Bill rides a BMW but, also like Dale, somehow manages to be a nice guy anyway.

We mounted up and rode west to Pagosa Springs, CO, to pick up Bob Steffens, our second surprise rider. Bob is a large animal veterinarian and rides a Honda Gold Wing.

It’s really great to have these professionals on the trip with us. I know I personally feel safer having a doctor on the trip in case I get hurt and I’m sure my brother Clive feels the same way about Bob.

Speaking of Clive, we rode west from Pagosa Springs to Durango, CO, where my brother and his wife Gwen recently relocated. They have an absolutely gorgeous home in the mountains outside of town and I should have thought to take more pictures of the views they enjoy but you’ll have to settle for this pic of us having lunch inside along with a shot of our bikes outside their home. Gwen made a phenomenal white bean and chicken chili along with cheese quesadillas and we all ate too much.

IMG_3763From L to R: Dale Berkbigler, Bill Dunn, Gwen Heller, Bob Steffens, Clive Heller. Not pictured (for obvious reasons) — me.

IMG_3768Outside Clive and Gwen’s house. BMW riders always position their bikes closest to the camera. We get it – you’re super discerning and so you ride a BMW.

We then rode west again to a very out-of-the-way and truly hard-to-find National Monument called Hovenweep. Hovenweep is a large group of Indian ruins scattered along 20 miles of rough, desert canyons. It’s desolate, beautiful and frankly a little haunting. The ruins date back to AD 1200 to 1300 and the monument spans the Colorado Utah border.



Three walking paths of various lengths and of course, we took the shortest one (a mere 900 feet) to gaze upon a cluster of ruins built in a canyon. It’s amazing to see what these primitive people did with such basic tools. It must have been back-breaking labor in the desert heat. No wonder they all moved somewhere else: no air conditioning.



Of course, no matter how grand the historical achievement of ancient peoples or how spectacular the terrain, any backdrop can be improved by putting our group of riders in front of it.

IMG_3780I have to say that is was particularly gratifying for me to visit these ruins with this year’s riding group since I was able to thank them, personally, for building them.

IMG_3805As we walked towards the bikes to depart Hovenweep, I reflected that Bob Steffens really struck me as an extremely nice man. I’d heard he is a true gentleman. What I had not heard was that he has a sketchy side – as witnessed by him rifling through this motorcycle. It’s not his. On the other hand, it’s not mine, either, so I didn’t really care. I suppose he might have been looking for large animals requiring veterinarying.

After this adventure, we next rode through the spectacular deserts to our stopping point for the day, Mexican Hat, UT.

Clive and I decided to go on a little photography expedition to capture some shots as the sun set. Mexican Hat is named after the rock in the left side of this picture by someone who didn’t need much imagination:

IMG_3813Mexican Hat the town is named after Mexican Hat, the rock. 

I should point out that I have not manipulated any of the images in today’s blog. I only cropped a single shot and the lighting and colors are exactly as they came out of the camera. Dale really is that pale.

Once again, of course, no spectacular panorama is complete without us in front of it, so – like last year – I used my helmet as a tripod and shot this picture of Clive and me and I have to admit I like how it turned out:





IMG_3834The light was particularly flattering so I thought it was a perfect time to take a picture of Clive.

IMG_3827Monument Valley at dusk.

As it began to get dark, we headed back to our motel. As Clive pulled in, I stopped on the hill above to take a picture of our evening dwelling.

IMG_3848You can see our motel on the right. It’s a dramatic setting but ride down to that driveway was rocky.

At last, after more than 550 miles and 13 hours after I left home, I pulled into the hotel for the night. It’s a very interesting place – it’s in a gorgeous setting, it’s loaded with character, it’s run by a mostly-surly staff and it’s a dump inside. So we sat outside and talked and I took some last photos before we headed to dinner. Notably, this motel also has the slowest internet I’ve used since dial-up, meaning it took me half an hour to write this blog and two hours to upload the pictures and copy to WordPress.

IMG_3861Although the architecture fits the terrain, the interior of the motel is remarkably similar to what we saw in the ruins at Hovenweep.

IMG_3865This is the view from where our bikes are parked.

IMG_3867L to R: Clive, Bob, Bill and Dale. Dale ran out and grabbed the comfortable chair before anyone else could.

So, for those of you who complained last year that some of my blog entries didn’t have enough photos in them – I hope you’re satisfied and thanks for the implied insult on my writing.

Kidding aside, the friendship and scenery today were both off-the-charts spectacular. I can’t imagine having more fun on a motorcycle or enjoying more beautiful examples of the breathtaking topography of the American Southwest.

I can’t wait to experience the next eight days of this adventure – thanks for sharing them with us. And a special thanks to my riding buddies who stop so I can take pictures, pose for my camera and then endure my steady stream of cheap shots. I’m grateful they don’t run me off the road. Of course, the trip ain’t over yet.

IMG_3859Goodnight from Mexican Hat, Utah.

2017 Tour Day 9: A Long Fast Run to the End of the Trail. With Dinosaurs. 

I’ve heard a couple of grumbles about my light-hearted shots at my riding companions, so I’ll start this post by stating that the word “dinosaurs” in the title does NOT refer to Clive and Dale. Now, I’m not saying it COULDN’T but it DOESN’T.  We saw actual, honest-to-god, best-in-the-world dinosaur bones today and it’s fascinating and I’ll get to it.

But let’s start in Pocatello, where we decided to leave at 7:30 and actually left at 8. Dale is always the first one ready and I’m usually next — just barely before Clive is set to go, which is my goal. Dale spent considerable time on this trip sitting on his bike, geared up, engine idling, watching my brother and I snap our jackets closed or jump off to close a latch on the luggage or (in my case) remove the key from the trunk so I can use it to start the bike.

Full disclosure: Not once but TWICE on this trip, I left the key to my bike in the trunk only to be rescued by (in one case) a hotel employee and (the other time) a guest who found it and turned it in.

I just checked and it’s on the dresser, by the way.

Anyway, we left Pocatello right on time (30 mins late) and hit the Interstate southbound briefly before exiting onto Highway 30, which is the old “Oregon Trail” (now paved). Given my commitment to taking more pictures today, it wasn’t long before I pulled over to take a scenic shot. Here it is:

Highway 30 was a lot of fun to ride and — once again — we saw no sign of law enforcement. Not that we were speeding.

I tried out a new navigation app on my iphone and it was the best of a sorry lot so far. The problem with nav apps is that they are all designed to get you from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. As recreational motorcyclists, we want to go the scenic, curvy, away-from-traffic route. It’s hard to find an app that does this well AND is easy to use and see while you’re riding. “InRoute” has some glitches but it outshone its awful competitors by a wide margin. It’s the thinnest kid at fat camp.

We eventually crossed into Wyoming (state slogan: “Forever West” — as if bordering states were relocated east) and paralleled the Green River (a river that is, in fact, green)  for several miles before reaching Green River (a town which is mostly brown). Although we generally avoided chain restaurants during this trip, in Green River we lunched at the Grand Daddy of All Chains, McDonald’s.

After restarting our hearts (and bikes), we rode south on highway 530 until we crossed back into Utah — the same state we rode on our first day of this adventure (it’s big). We soon reached the “Flaming Gorge,” so named by John Wesley Powell (famous explorer) in 1869. Although Powell was thinking of the spectacular red sandstone cliffs, apparently the guvmint thought he was referring to actual flames because they built a dam to stop the flow of the Green River and create a huge reservoir to put out the fire.

We rode down to the Visitors’ Center and dam. In the Visitors’ Center, they told us that in order to access the walkway where you can take pictures of the dam, you must pay for a “Guided Tour.” I told them that I only go on “Misguided Tours,” and they laughed, although I was seriously talking about this motorcycle trip in which I am generally leading, meaning we are often misguided. Bottom line: no dam pictures!

But we did take some shots around the reservoir:

I am particularly proud of this shot, which may be the best candid photo I’ve ever taken of my brother:

Dale smiles all the time, so this one was easy:

We also witnessed this scene. I’m calling this picture, “The Reluctant Dog,” because this poor pooch REALLY did not want to go into the water. Or maybe he’s afraid of tennis balls.

But the big finish to our trip was ahead of us: Dinosuar National Monument, a unique and amazing place. I’m embarrassed to admit that I lived in Colorado for 23 years of my life and never made the effort to visit this historic and awesome destination. I’m even more embarrassed for Dale and Clive, who have lived here much, much longer and have never visited either.

We parked at the Visitors’ Center and hopped on a short bus (appropriately) for the ride to the Quarry Exhibit Hall:

See that rock on the right? It is exposed on the interior of the building and it’s chock full o’ bones.

Here’s the short version of the story:

In July, 1909, a paleontologist named Earl Douglass (no relation) was instructed by his employer — Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh — to look for dinosaur bones east of Vernal, Utah. By August 16th, he hadn’t found much and he wrote in his diary that he “Felt rather discouraged.”  On August 17th, he changed his search area a bit and found “eight of the tail bones of an Apatosauros in exact position…it was a beautiful sight.” He spent the rest of his life in Utah, most of it running the dinosaur quarry at what soon became Dinosaur National Monument.

That rock wall used to be several times larger — it was excavated over the years and many full skeletons were removed and are on display across the US and a few other places as well. The current Quarry Exhibit Hall protects and displays a 150 foot wall still containing an estimated 1,500 dinosaur bones. Here’s what it looks like:

Note that it’s TWO levels — here, you see visitors looking at the upper portion while Dale and Clive (right) are walking down the ramp to the lower level.

A few perspectives:

Here’s how the current wall compares to the original (before they started excavating. You can see why they call it “a quarry.”)

Now some detail shots and exhibits:

There’s a lot more to Dinosaur National Monument, including many artifacts from ancient civilizations and some amazing petroglyphs (which are carvings; the ancient cliff drawings I photographed at Capital Reef earlier in the trip are pictographs). But, it was time to go. We decided to take snapshots at one overlook in the park before hitting the road:

We rode Highway 139 south over Douglas Pass; it was a narrow, winding, rough and sometimes harrowing but wildly fun ride to I-70. Douglas Pass’ speed limit is only 25MPH for long stretches and that’s well-deserved. Clive called me before we reached the narrow part and warned me to watch for deer. As if they had been notified, two deer showed up in a corner, one jumping across my path about 20 feet in front of me. It wasn’t close because I was being careful. Thanks, Clive.

We are, at last, in Grand Junction and we enjoyed a great dinner at one of my favorite restaurants here, Bin 707.

Now the bikes are tucked in for the night and Clive and Dale have probably been slumbering for a long time. We’re meeting at 7:30 for breakfast and then, regretfully, splitting up as Dale heads for Del Norte, CO and Clive and I ride to Denver. I’ll get to spend some time with my son Blaine and see Gwen, Clive’s wife, too.

I’ll add one more blog post about this remarkable motorcycle adventure soon and upload all of the photos in full resolution to flickr. But for now, I need to get some rest and prepare for one more day on two wheels before flying back to Atlanta, my wife, my job and my life.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading this and (as we are told at virtually every stop):

Stay safe out there!

2017 Tour Day 8: Pendleton to Pocatello, Pedal to the Metal

We thought today would be all about interstate riding, but that was only half the day and less than half the story.

Instead of droning on cruise control in (relatively) straight lines for nine hours, we instead spent the first half of the day on some incredible motorcycling roads. Frankly, the Oregon mountain passes from Pendleton to John Day (that’s a town) offered well-maintained roads with countless sweeping turns through canyons and forests for 120 miles of two-wheel bliss.

We saw no police officers on this route, meaning Clive and Dale’s plan of putting me in the lead as cop bait failed again. There were very few cars. We did, however, see hundreds of other motorcycles and there were two oddities about this:

  • At least 90% of them were BMW’s
  • They were all coming towards us — in other words, on the other side of the road and thus, out of our way

This struck us as curious, so tonight I googled a bit and found this online:

Aha! We were watching the Chief Joseph Rally of the BMW Riders of Oregon, which was based in John Day, solving both riddles.

I plead guilty for not taking many pictures today. I was frankly having too much fun to stop, so I only snapped pics at gas and meal stops. The first of these steps was in Mount Vernon, Oregon, which if you think about it, really belongs in Washington. We did not buy any quilts.

We thought the fun was over after this memorable stretch of road, but were delighted to find the next 115 miles to Nyssa, Oregon were nearly as good.

Along the way, we stopped in the very interesting town of Vale, Oregon, which phonetically sounds like it belongs in Colorado. I checked Yelp and even in this little burg, I found a restaurant that had terrific reviews: Chabelitas Taqueria, which — in addition to the Yelp ratings, enjoys a perfect 5 star Google rating, albeit with just 25 people weighing in.

The ratings are well-deserved. As is often the case with Mexican restaurants, the quality of the food is inversely correlated to the quality of the interior design. The place is rustic and you pay at the register when you go. But wow — those taco’s. Delicious, soft shell, corn tortillas and perfectly prepared. As Clive said, “The cilantro really makes it,” and he was right. It was fantastic.

As we walked back to the bikes, Clive looked at this building and said, “Vale’s got a real termite problem, I guess.”

Since this is a motorcycling blog, no entry would be relevant without a gratuitous shot of the bikes and (in this case) two of the three riders. So, here are Dale and Clive, to whom I must credit with never seeming to tire of my incessant photo-shooting:

From Vale, we made a dash to the Interstate and quickly crossed into Idaho (old state slogan: “Famous Potatoes.” New state slogan: “Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations.” I am not making that up).

We discovered two wonderful things among the potatoes and destinations: An 80 MPH speed limit on the Interstate, which made for a fast pace and a cooler ride, as well as this t-shirt:

In case you’re curious, this is the ride summary from my GPS app:

We are almost done with this ride, which all of us have described as the best motorcycle trip we’ve ever experienced. I’ll reflect a little on it at the end, but I’m sad it’s nearly over while very excited to see my wonderful wife soon. As an added bonus, I will get to spend several hours with our son, Blaine, before I fly back from Denver to Atlanta (I’m shipping the bike).

Somewhat ironically, while I’m with Blaine in Colorado, Penny will be with our other son, Austin, who flew to Atlanta from Chicago. He made a spur-of-the-moment special trip to be with her because she had to put down one of our cats earlier this week and was really upset about it. We have great kids.

We expect to make it to Grand Junction, CO tomorrow and I will provide another update from there before wrapping this up early next week. Thanks for reading and more soon.

2017 Tour Day 7: Farewell, Pacific. Don’t go anywhere.

Riding up Highway 101 on the Oregon Coast first thing in the morning brings certain benefits. Such as the view.

We could have stood there for a long time, just reflecting, feeling the breeze and listening to the waves. But since I was there, we took a lot of pictures instead, including this one of my traveling companions. Clive, who doesn’t understand how cameras work, looked away just as I snapped the shot.

Speaking of reflecting, sometimes you take great shots purely by accident — like this one (in my humble opinion):

If you continue riding north on this road, you eventually run out of Oregon and have to resort to Washington. That happened to us, so be forewarned. However, we were blessed to cross the Columbia River, which separates the two states for many miles, allowing us this gorgeous view of the river and Mt. Hood:

I’ll be interested to see how Dale’s picture turned out, given that he has his phone turned around the wrong way and he is accidentally taking a selfie. My guess is that his first reaction was, “Oh my God — Mt. Hood looks just like me!

Dale and Clive make me lead most of the time. This isn’t out of deference or respect but because the leader is most likely to get a speeding ticket and the bikers following can usually slow down in time to avoid getting caught. I admit that I got us lost once today but the upside was that we only went about 7 miles out of our way (okay, 14 miles in total) and I led us right up a fantastic and curvy mountain road (and then back down). We also found an offbeat gas station with a couple of tongue-in-cheek signs:


Ignoring the clever sign (“WE COOK” – Ha!) are Clive, who is preparing to put on his helmet and Dale, who is urinating in the parking lot.

Just a couple of miles down the road is the “Maryhill Stonehenge,” a full-size replica of England’s genuine article (in much the same way that “New” England is a copy of “England,” for example). The Maryhill Stonehenge was commissioned by businessman Samuel Hill on July 4th, 1918 and completed in 1929. Samuel Hill thus inspired the colloquialism, “What in the Sam Hill is this?”

In any case, the monument was supposed to honor US servicemen who were killed during World War I. Interesting story and you should read about it online. But for now, some glamour shots from Stonehenge:

We eventually made it to Pendleton, Oregon, where we are about the sleep after a long day on the road. But there is a British sports car club rally going on at this hotel, so I had to go and take a bunch of shots; here’s one:

But the parting shot must belong to the stars of our trip, our wonderful and trusty bikes:

It’s late and I’m exhausted — goodnight.

2017 Tour Day 6: There Are Bigger Lakes But None Are Crater

[Author’s Note:] When you first learn how to use a computer, you’re taught, “Don’t forget to save your work.” That remains good advice and ignoring it tonight led me to lose more than an hour of work on tonight’s blog entry. I did learn (re-learn for the 20th time) a valuable lesson. I’m now saving my blog entries as I write them.

Since it’s late here and I need some sleep, tonight’s update will be mostly pictures with some brief comments and captions. More of a travelogue than a column.

We took a long detour away from the Oregon coast to see Crater Lake National Park. We were astonished by the amount of snow still at the visitors’ center, given it’s June 21st, but they had a record year for snowfall.

Once inside, we were disappointed to see that the lake is much, much smaller than we’d anticipated. In fact, it was Barbie-sized:

At the visitors’ center, they told us that only the road to Crater Lake Lodge (a hotel built in 1915) and one mile of the road around the crater were open. This is the lodge, which experienced 612 inches of snow this past winter and there’s a bunch of it left.

On the back deck, you can rest in one of 50 rocking chairs and enjoy this view:

We left to ride the one mile of road we’d been told was open and within a few miles ran into construction traffic:

Much to our delight, just as we arrived, the construction crews opened a large section of the road! We were able to ride around about a third of the crater. After traversing a rough, muddy and rocky temporary road surfaces for a couple of miles, we reached a vista point and mugged for a shot of us wth our bikes in front of the wall of snow lining the road:

The effort was worth it to get shots like this: None of the shots of the lake have been edited in any way.

Of course, in this part of the country, you can look directly away from the lake and see plenty of gorgeous scenery:

It was extremely cold in the Park, of course, so we then cruised to the Ranger-recommended Beckie’s Restaurant in tiny Union Creek for a delicious lunch.

Our bikes needed some nourishment too, of course, and there aren’t many choices in these parts, so we wound up stopping at this throwback service station:

We rode for a few hours in mid-90’s temps and spent most of the day with no cell phone coverage. But eventually, we made it back to the coast, the temperature dropped to 60 degrees and we rode the 101 north to the town of Florence, maintaining the faux-Italian theme we noted in Fortuna as well.  We found another great Best Western — this one with a nice view and a decent restaurant.

I walked a bit to capture this view of Florence and its historical bridge (so says the sign).

Walking back to the hotel, I came across Doc — a very nice gentleman who is walking the ORegon Trail. By himself. He said after years of working in offices and raising kids, he wanted to “just walk,” so he’s walking. He was kind enough to let me take his picture and I gave him my blog address. So Doc, if you’re reading this, thanks for the chat and I hope the walking is everything you wanted and needed.

I will hopefully have more to say tomorrow. We’re riding north for another 50 miles of coastline and then turning east to catch the Columbia River road before heading towards home. Yes, we are at that point in the trip when we need to plan with our destination in mind. Hard to believe we have only four more days of riding. I hope they all are as easy, fun and interesting as the days we’ve enjoyed so far.

Goodnight from Clive, Dale and me.

2017 Tour Day 5: This Brief Blog Entry is Worth 9,000 Words

After I posted last night’s blog entry onto Facebook (and even though I apologized for the lack of photos), I had at least one complaint that I failed to share enough pictures. I’m looking at you, Brandy Serfazo.

In any case, I’m making up for it tonight with nine pics. Given the famous 1000:1 value of pictures to words, I’m writing less copy. Who am I to disappoint my fans? (I have so few.)

We are at the Olympic Inn in Klamath Falls, OR. Klamath Falls has a large “geothermal district” — meaning many government, commercial and residential buildings are heated by hot water that occurs naturally underground. That’s a great plan until the earth’s core finally cools, I suppose, but if you’re fine with temporary solutions, it’s a good one.

There are many taximerdied animals in the lobby here at the Olympic Inn, as well as a breakfast and snack area where footwear is apparently optional.

We arrived here today via a route that included a stop in a redwood forest as well as spectacular views of the California and Oregon coasts. I’ve never seen redwoods before and they are truly majestic. I pondered today what the European explorers thought when they saw them for the first time. I imagine their immediate reaction was, “I wonder if the bears in the area are similarly proportioned?” This particular example is called (imaginatively), “Big Tree.” It’s more than 300 feet tall and 21 feet in diameter:

I placed Dale and Clive between two of the monsters so I could share this picture of them to help them feel insignificant:

As we passed this tree, I tried to get it to explain what tragedy had struck it but it said it had already spilled its guts:

Of course, not all trees in this forest are freakishly large. Some are freakishly mossy:

After leaving the redwoods behind, we headed up the coast on Highway 101. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to line up the bikes with the ocean in the background so we could do the perfect “poster shot” for printing after the trip. I think I have it:

The big rock in the background is surrounded by mist – it’s stunning and you can see it better here:

Journeys are defined not only by where you go but who travels with you. My traveling companions on this trip ride safely (most important), swiftly, never complain and have wicked senses of humor. However, I realized this evening when I went out to my bike that both Dale and Clive are embarrassed of their motorcycles. So embarrassed, in fact, that they cover them up every night so no one can see what they ride. As a proud owner of a Victory bike, I leave mine revealed for the many admirerers to see — it’s like a sculptural masterpiece parked right outside the door of the hotel. I should ask for a discount for the business it’s bringing this establishment while we stay here.

“Brand anxiety” is a common problem among riders who don’t buy Victory motorcycles. Personally, I think that’s why Dale and Clive brought along a whole bottle of Crown Royal as well as a QUART-SIZE “flask.” They seem to be making good progress on both.

Tomorrow, we’re off to see Crater Lake National Park. According to the Google reviews (4.8 out of 5 stars), it’s an amazing sight and the source of some of the best photos some reviewers have ever taken. You can be the judge when you read tomorrow night’s post.

2017 Tour Day 4: From the Prairie to the Mountains to the Ocean (White With Foam)

Variety is the spice of riding and it was a day full of variety — a great way to cross 3,000 miles on this trip.

We left Truckee, CA early this morning and crossed Donner Pass, legendary for its beauty and famous cannbalism episode of 1846. The Donner Party, traveling by wagons, became stranded in a blizzard and wound up spending the winter on the mountain. 45 of the 81 settlers survived by eating the other 36.  In contrast to our trip today, the Donner Party had no variety (same food day after day) and no spice (what’s a good seasoning for bicep?)

The view was spectacular — you’ll have to take my word for it because I didn’t want to stop in case a blizzard stranded us and my riding partners decided I should become the first entree on the survival menu.

Next came a long, long trip across the state of California. Granted, making your way east to west is a fraction of the challenge vs. riding north to south but it took us awhile to get to Fort Bragg — which I envisioned as a hardcore military community and was surprised to find a coastal paradise. But getting there took us across vast valleys and plains, with the temperature hovering in the high 90’s for hours.

The last 35 miles on highway 20 were spectacular — endless numbers of sweeping curves, the road undulating up and down valleys and mountains, much of it through dense forests that canopied the road for miles. This is one of the most incredible motorcycle roads I’ve ever enjoyed. Adding to the pleasure were reasonable speed limits (i.e., not too slow) and dozens of “turn outs” for slower vehicles — which the motorists used frequently and freely to let us swift but sane bikers pass them safely and easily.

On this trek up and over the mountains to get to the coast, the temperature plummeted into the mid 60’s; it was breathtaking to feel cool air rushing by after the long, hot heat of the afternoon.

Exhilarated by this experience and given that we’d finally reached the Pacific Ocean, we decided it was time to stop and memorialize our arrival:

We then picked up Highway 1 and took it along the coast for several miles. In this part of California, there are relatively few cars and bikes to contend with and the coastline is nearly completely undeveloped. It’s rugged, beautiful and rocky, with the road often cut into large cliffs overlooking the ocean.

Then Highway 1 turns inland and we rode the curviest road any of us ever rode. By comparison, there’s a “bucket list” route in the southeast called, “The Tail of the Dragon, which is famous for its 318 turns in 11 miles. We didn’t count the turns as we rode Highway 1 for 22 miles from Hardy to Leggett, but I think several dragons contributed to building this road because it was incredibly tight, twisty and intoxicating — almost hypnotic. This map gives you the general idea but there are curves within curves all along the route.

Tonight, we are in a Best Western in Fortuna, CA. (I texted that information to Penny earlier and she replied, “How FORTUNAte!” That girl knows how to get to me 🙂 As a side note, Best Westerns are noted for being motorcycle-friendly. They usually have great places to park and often have security cameras to keep an electronic eye on your steed as you slumber.

We are still in the “no planning” part of our vacation — we don’t have to do any serious map-plotting until we are within a few days of Denver — I fly back the afternoon of June 27th and my brother Clive will help me ship my bike back to Atlanta. I don’t mind the long ride back across the country but if you have limited days on the road, it’s better to spend them in the mountains.

I do know that tomorrow we will continue north and ride along the Oregon coast. I haven’t visited there since I was 9 years old and even in that long-ago memory, it’s rocky and gorgeous. I can’t wait to see witness it again and will report on the experience tomorrow night. Watch this space.

2017 Tour Day 3: A Doctor and Two Aliens Ride the Extraterrestrial Highway

We rode today from Caliente, NV to South Lake Tahoe, CA.

Along the way, we covered the entire 98 mile stretch of Nevada State Highway 375, which is officially called “The Extraterrestrial Highway” by the state. This highway and others we covered in Nevada today are incredibly barren — the little gathering of buildings you see in the picture above (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons) counts as a major population center in this part of the country. We went more than 140 miles between gas stations at one point and saw wild ranging cattle, hundreds of munitions bunkers, several rabbits and two snakes. But alas, no aliens. Well, except for this one where the road starts on the east end:

Area 51 is close to this road and experts debate the origins of the many strange objects witnessed in the sky by travelers. We rode many miles without seeing other cars and we saw only one Nevada State Trooper along the way — and he just stopped to check on us when we pulled over to take this picture.

In retrospect, I should have asked him if he’d had any strange encounters since he no doubt drives this road more than just about anyone. I was frankly preoccupied thinking that if we hadn’t stopped for the fake metal alien photo op, we’d have crossed paths with this officer several miles down the road when the only mystery would have been whether or not he caught us speeding before we saw him coming.

For yet another day, the topography was indescribable. The vastness of this country overwhelms you when you spend hours and hours traveling through empty lands where you can see nothing manmade but the road in every direction. Further, where you’re traveling is, by definition, the most-developed part of the land that’s visible towards every horizon.

No surprise: it was hot today. Traveling hundreds of miles at a steady speed, on long, long straights of highway, immersed in simmering heat, makes it difficult to stay focused on your riding. Every motorcyclist knows you must maintain “tactical awareness” at all times but no one can do this perfectly. Inevitably, your thoughts wander or you get distracted on the song or radio show in the bluetooh system in your helmet.

At times like this, riding just above the speed limit actually helps you stay alert for the simple reason that you’re scanning the environment for cops. Our law enforcement professionals provide a great assist here because they show up randomly, with little warning and they typically drive vehicles much like the other cars on the road, meaning you regularly get a little shot of adrenaline when a Tahoe suddenly approaches from the horizon. It’s a game and assuming you don’t drive at a dangerous pace, it probably makes you safer, all things considered.

We reached Minden, Nevada around 2PM and rode up Daggett Pass, crossing into California at the end. In just a handful of miles, we ascended from 4,700 feet of elevation to more than 7,300. It was as though we were rising above the oppressive heat of the desert and punching through to a cooler layer of air blanketing the mountains. We emerged in South Lake Tahoe and took the western route around the lake, stopping just once for a few pictures — unlike yesterday’s post, today’s photo offering is meager. We also took zero selfies today since I kind of overshot with those yesterday.

Tonight, we are in Truckee, CA, a gorgeous, western-themed town, which is appropriate since we are staying at a Best Western. We walked to a microbrewery for dinner where none of us ordered beer despite this sign:

Tomorrow, we’ll take highway 20 to the coast of California — Fort Bragg. Then we’ll work our way up Highway 1 towards Oregon. Maybe. We have left our planned routes behind us — it’s an 11 day ride and we only planned the route for the first day.

In case the title of this post interests you, allow me to clarify in my closing remarks. My brother and I are the aliens (he was born in the UK; I was born in Canada) and our friend Dale Berkbigler is the doctor. And even though the Extraterrestrial Highway was only 20% of the miles we covered today, it’s an interesting hook for a blog post, don’t you think?

Goodnight from Truckee, California.

2017 Tour Day 2: From the State of Saints to the State of Sinners — One Group Selfie at a Time

We woke up in Utah this morning, the most religious of states in America. Utah is relatively dry in more ways than one — my co-travelers insisted we stop at a liquor store in Colorado prior to entering the Beehive State.

We took off from our hotel and rode into the town of Capitol Reef — which I slighted in last night’s post. It’s actually a fascinating little village in southern Utah and it’s blessed with a fantastic little restaurant, The Capitol Reef Inn & Cafe, which doesn’t look like much on the outside but boasts an appealing interior and even more appealing food.

After breakfast, we remounted our iron steeds and I learned as we entered it that Capitol Reef is also the name of a national park. In addition to some mysterious pictographs (for example, why did Indians thousands of years ago draw four-fingered characters wearing helmets?) we also found a great place to park the bikes, climb a little hill and take a couple of snaps, including our first group selfie of the day. This time, I perched the camera on a little pile of rocks I built; I predict that in 1,000 years, some future archaeologists will wonder at the religious significance of this tiny shrine built by the foolish and superstitious people of our era.

After departing Capitol Reef, we drove up a pass and pulled over again to a vastly different landscape. We met a couple of elderly brothers from Detroit and offered to take pictures of them in exchange for their services in snapping shots of us.

Later, we spotted a fascinating landscape by the side of the road and pulled over to see a gorgeous desert below us with a river running through it. If you look closely, you’ll see the greenery thriving thanks to what is really a small amount of water in what is paradoxically a gorgeous wasteland.

It then occurred to us that only one thing could possibly improve the beauty and grandeur of this scene, so we took another picture — with us in front of it.

We then toured Bryce Canyon National Park — a favor to me as both Clive and Dale had seen it just last year.
The pictures will give you a sense of what the landscape is like but (you know what’s coming), you have to see it for real to “get” the breathtaking scope and scale of this unbelievable topography. It’s just stunning. I added a series of photographs below; in the last one, I zoomed in so you can see the people hiking on a trail to the bottom of this canyon. This is an 18x zoom and yet the people are still tiny little figures in the frame.

In the heat of the mid-afternoon, we left Utah and entered the land of sin — Nevada. We rode for a few hours across vast deserts, over a mountain pass and across an enormous plain ringed by mountains on three sides that reminded all of us of the San Luis Valley in Colorado, where we began our journey.
We ended today’s travels in Caliente (Spanish for “hot”), Nevada, where it was — thanks to a permanent municipal ordinance, I believe — exactly 100 degrees when we arrived. According to the menu in the “restaurant” (not recommended) where we ate our dinner, Caliente thrived during the steam locomotive era as a place for trains to stop to take on water. These days, the train station is the town hall; as you can see below, two Union Pacific logos still flank the edifice.

Caliente is part actual village, part misdirection and part ghost town. The Exxon sign here is an illusion — this establishment does not sell fuel. The J&J Mini Mart is part of Caliente’s ghost town persona; the faded sign offers long-ago travelers a list of staples and indulgences to sustain them in their treks across this vast desert.

We’re staying at what is likely the nicest establishment in Caliente — The Shady Motel.

When we checked in, the desk clerk told me the wifi password is, “shadyguest.” I replied, “What a coincidence — that’s what I am!”
She looked at me seriously and said, “Everything in Nevada has two meanings.”

This is a complex and diverse state. Mountains and deserts, ghost towns doubling as working villages, huge cities and glamour along with illusory riches and, I’m sure, despair for people who came to “make it big” but now just try to make ends meet.

The desk clerk is right. Everything in Nevada has two meanings.

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