The Almost Grand Canyon Trip

amboy

Our first Harley road trip to Arizona was full of storms. When the trip was planned for May, we weren’t expecting any rain. It was unfortunate we couldn’t have made arrangements to test new motorcycle gear, since we experienced every possible weather condition, short of a tornado. In spite of extreme weather, it was an adventure that built friendships and trust.

At 6:00 a.m., things are not as easy as later in the day. Frank and I were layered up with thermals, sweaters, leather chaps and jackets, with rain gear over it all. We never rode with rain gear before, which became immediately apparent when I tried to get on the bike behind Frank. My leg, which never had the range of a dancer to begin with, would not go over the bike. My husband, who has terminal anxiety about being late, looked over his shoulder to see why I was taking so much time. Finally with his help, I was seated, perhaps permanently.

We met up with the brave riders who ignored the weather reports, and Frank removed me from the bike. Feeling like a scarecrow, I peeled off the rain gear. The other riders assured us that rain would hold off so we didn’t need to worry about it until after the Mojave Desert portion of our ride. The ride captain had checked the weather reports for the towns we were passing through, and he was somewhat confident that we could make it through the day.

The first leg of our journey was a blur, not due to excessive speed but the blasting wind as we fought through to Yucca. But my head did not fall off, and we finally reached Twenty-Nine Palms and the desert.

The real kind with sand and no vegetation. Nothing but sand and asphalt.

The old Route 66 went through here, and I tried to imagine cars with no air conditioning crossing the massive emptiness. Then I thought about horses and wagons coming out to California for the gold rush. Were we as crazy as them?

After nothing for miles, we stopped at an antique gas station in Amboy. Two pumps and some restrooms. A motel from the 60s era with a huge sign that said Roy’s welcomed us, but it didn’t look like anyone stayed there. We took a break in the bright sunshine, peeling off leather jackets and chaps.

Time that day was measured by gas station stops, the next one in Needles. The clouds that were threatening all day stretched above us like water balloons. The road captain consulted his phone for weather updates. We traveled a little while longer until we stopped underneath a freeway overpass. Leather and rain gear came back out, for we were headed up in altitude, towards Williams, Arizona.

Instead of taking the freeway, we continued to follow old Route 66 through wind-swept Native American reservations. Miles of scraggly bushes and cows stretched out in all directions. The mountains ahead were obscured by clouds. Bitter cold cross winds came up under our helmets and made our eyes water. Then the rain arrived as mist on our windshield.

As the line of bikes snaked its way across the rolling hills, rain caressed us gently, often mistaken as wind. Cold air pressed down on us as we rode directly through a low pressure cell. In the distance, I could see slivers of blue sky, but I couldn’t tell if our capricious road would loop away or toward the hanging clouds.

Onward we traveled down an endless road littered with the ruins of motels, gas stations, restaurants, and car repair shops that had closed up after the freeway had been built. Route 66 was a road through ghost towns, everything frozen in time.

Finally our road connected with the freeway which had killed it, and we stretched out on the wide, separated interstate that would lead us to our hotel in Williams. The mist continued to fall, but our rain gear did its job, and we stayed dry. The road captain threw up his arm to turn off, and we headed for the hotel. The rain had stopped when we arrived, and we went inside to check in.

Again Frank and I proved to be newbees as we tried to check in, and found our credit card cancelled. After a phone call, we found out that our frequent small purchases at gas stations along the way had created a fraud alert, which blocked our card. After we got that straightened out, we went outside to unload our luggage when it began to hail.

Huge gumball size ice balls pelted us as we grabbed our bags and headed for our room. However, by the time we were ready to walk down the street for dinner, the storm had stopped.

Our range of weather continued the next day as we rode to Flagstaff for breakfast. Instead of the relentless pelting of rain, we could barely feel the gentle caress of flakes. Our warm breath clouded the visors of our helmets and our fingers felt stiff. When we reached the restaurant, I realized I’d been holding my breath the whole time, praying that no one would skid out on the slippery road. But we made it to Cracker Barrel safely, and our troubles were forgotten with the help of coffee and pancakes.

During breakfast, the ride captain studied maps and conferred with his phone, weather again a concern. The Grand Canyon was at a higher elevation that included snow in the forecast.

After much deliberation and a vote from the group, we decided to take a scenic loop outside of Flagstaff that would head back toward Williams instead of proceeding to the Grand Canyon. As much as it was a disappointment, I was relieved that we were going to stay lower where we would face rain but not snow.

Our group rode into Flagstaff past the university and back out to the wilderness. The narrow two-lane road led us through woods and meadows, past ranches and houses that seemed like freckles on the huge expanse of land. Rarely did a vehicle pass us, and when it did, it was a Jeep or a four-wheel drive truck.

But the clouds had not forgotten us. A massive black one loomed to our right, a grey curtain of rain extended from its bottom. Would we make back to Williams before getting hit by a deluge?

On we rode and the road took us where it wanted us to go. The sky became more dramatic as sunshine hit us on our left. and the cold storm front pushed us from the other side. I felt like we were storm chasers, only without the protection of a van. Even if we stopped, there was nowhere to find shelter in the barren rolling land.

Suddenly, I felt a bucket of water dumped over my head. The storm had caught us! The ride captain slowed down as we were lost in a wall of rain. Only the yellow center line reassured us that we still followed the road. I shut my eyes for there was nothing to see. Surely we would stop somewhere and wait for the storm to pass.

But the road saved us as it turned to the left, away from the storm’s fury. We kept following it until it led us back to the freeway. Two short exits and we were back at the hotel, taking hot showers, and getting ready for dinner.

We all shared our stories that night. Some of us knew each other before the trip, but others, including us, were new. Some of it was more personal than the lunch conversations of a day trip. But riding through wind, heat, rain, sleet, and snow had changed our group. After surviving the storms together, we were ready to share the other storms of our lives as well.

 

 

Deer in the forest

deer

Because of pneumonia, I saw three deer in the forest.

Six long months ago, I booked our camping trip at the beach. Those of you who have made reservations at California state beaches know the degree of difficulty is at least an 8. But I did better than that– I booked one of the sites directly on the cliff at Carlsbad. These camping spots are wide, and trailers are allowed to park sideways so that your dining table window is facing the ocean. In order to secure those sites, you have to be on the ReserveAmerica website at exactly 7:55 am on the first– wait a minute! I’d better not reveal my secrets.

Six months later, time is approaching for our trip. The October weather forecast is promising days of 80 degrees and nights down to 60. Perfect. I’ve made my camping checklist, scheduled each day to do part of the prep work. School’s been tough, and I’m ready to check out of the desert for a weekend.

Three weeks before the trip, our six year old grandson goes into the hospital suffering pneumonia. His mother, my husband’s daughter, is a nurse practitioner, so we know she’s on top of everything. All of the family takes turns visiting him. After a week of treatment, the doctors send him home. Everyone takes a sigh of relief.

But one week later, our grandson goes back into the hospital again, sicker than he was at first. Raised voices from his parents produce a specialist who determines that our grandson’s lungs need a procedure. By now, his mother, who knows too much, and did I mention she’s in her first trimester of pregnancy, has become officially hysterical. (Who could blame her?) Her husband has now become the last sane person standing. Family members come and go to the hospital, like the changing of the guard.

A few nights before our camping trip, my husband and I look at each other. How do we dare leave the area while all this was going on?

I called and cancelled the reservation.

Meanwhile, our grandson started to recover, and that weekend, the weekend we had planned to go camping, he was allowed to leave and receive treatments at his home. Sunday the family was getting together to celebrate. But we had Saturday free.

A friend called and asked us to ride with him up to the mountains. After all the tension of the past weeks, we were ready to jump on our Harley and escape the heat. We rode up Highway 18 to Lake Arrowhead for lunch. We sat outside eating sandwiches, enjoying the sunshine and crisp cool air. After that we rode through Big Bear Lake. Our friend suggested we take Highway 38 through the mountains down to Yucaipa, a little used road that served as the access to a few campgrounds and fire roads.

Leaving the traffic of Big Bear behind, we cruised up the narrow winding road that would through the towering pines. Forest surrounded us on either side, and for most of the way there were no other cars. We swooshed back and forth in the curves like snow boarders. Lulled by the hum of the motorcycle engines and the rustling of the trees, we settled into the rhythm of the road.

Then three small heads with pointy ears turned our way from the forest’s edge. We had startled some young deer, which stared at us with suspicion, and then showed us their white tails as they bounded away. Although we had frequently visited our local mountains, this was the first time we had been far enough away from humans to catch sight of any wildlife.

If not for our grandson’s pneumonia, we never would have seen them.

Flying with Superman

Riding as a passenger on a Harley is a unique experience. When my husband and I purchased the bike, he had years of riding dirt bikes and street bikes compared to my one experience of riding with my father in Nassau. I did not expect to discover a superhero.

When we took off down the road, I suddenly felt like I was in a car with all its windows down and doors taken off. The bumpier-than-I-remember street and closer-than-I-remember cars were our intimate companions on this adventure. Every car that passed us seemed sinister as it wooshed by our fragile machine. Pedestrians at the street corners were unpredictable, often stepping out in front of us with no apparent concern for their lives. A whole new world of peril opened before me.

But as the wind buffeted the top of my helmet and tickled me under my chin, I started to relax and enjoy the movie unfolding beside us- the proud mountains, meandering canyons, and the expanse of valleys. This was much more than glancing out of the “Lexus cages” that Jon Foreman sings about. On the Harley, you don’t travel to a place, you travel through a place. Complete with road bumps and fragrant wildflowers. Bikers talk about the freedom of riding, and suddenly I understood.

And as a passenger, there was more than just freedom. I had to trust my husband who drove us on and on along the winding road. For a moment, I was Lois Lane rescued by Superman, just in the nick of time. I was not in control of my situation, but that loss of control gave me the freedom to enjoy the ride. My husband’s helmet partially blocked my view of where we were going as much as Lois couldn’t know exactly where she would land. But I know my husband, and so I can trust him to get us there.

I had known I was going for a ride but I had no idea I would be flying with Superman.