The Overnighter- Part Two

eating

 

When Diane parked her Harley at the hotel, her frozen fingers stuck to her handle bars were not entirely caused by the weather. In the last two hours of their ride, an icy mist had followed them out of Needles, buffeting the riders with tiny needles of sleet. Fortunately, the warm asphalt melted the icy drops into water, leaving the road wet but not too slick. Their fearless road captain led them down forgotten portions of old Route 66, seeking less traffic and an easier place to pull off if they needed it. She glimpsed shut down motels, gas stations, and road houses as they sped by, looking even more forlorn in the grey weather. “Not a great place to break down,” she thought. Any help would not be close by.

In her mirrors, she could still see a lone car following them. Surely it couldn’t be that same Prius? Then the car pulled out on the left to pass them on the two lane highway. “He’s really going to pass our whole line of bikes?” she thought. As it blew by, she tried to look into the car, but all of the windows were darkly tinted. Through the windshield she had only a glimpse of dark glasses, out of place on a rainy day. After passing their group, the car swung over into the right lane and sped away.

The road curved around a large foothill before spitting them out into another cattle speckled valley. Suddenly, brake lights lit up the road like Christmas, and the bikes slowed to a crawl. Patty looked back at Diane, who shrugged. Obediently, the line of bikes crept around another curve. The source of their caution was revealed as a white Prius stopped in the middle of the highway with its hazard lights flashing. Mitch pulled the group over as he and Dan went over to see if the driver needed help.
“What’s going on?” Diane asked Patty, pulling her bike up next to her friend.

“I don’t know,” Patty said. “Isn’t that the same Prius that’s been following us all day?”

“Doesn’t seem possible,” Diane said. “There’s a ton of those cars out there. That would be creepy, though.”

“I feel creeped out just thinking about it,” Patty agreed.

Then Mitch and Dan exchanged words, pulled their helmets back on, and returned to their bikes. The rest of the group, waiting in the misty rain, eagerly followed them down the road. Diane stuffed her curiosity into a box labeled Later, and focused on keeping her Harley up. “Come on, Charlie,” she thought. “You can do this.” The rain increased into a constant downpour that the bikes tried to outrun. It seemed like the day would never end, suspended in a grey curtain of water.

But all rides eventually come to an end, and she was relieved to get into her room and peel off her wet rain gear and boots. “Why in the movies does the biker girl’s hair look perfectly tousled when she pulls off her helmet, when in real life she looks like a drowned rat?” she thought as she regarded her limp locks in the mirror.

A short while later, the group assembled at the hotel’s restaurant, eagerly studying the menu. The tempting aroma of grilled burgers and steak made their stomachs grumble. Mitch and Dan began their usual harassment of the waitress, who took their orders and fled to the kitchen. Diane gave them both a stern look that was quickly ignored.

She couldn’t wait any longer. “What happened back there with that Prius?” she asked Dan, who was sitting across from her.

The rest of the group dropped their conversations to listen to them.

“It was the weirdest thing,” Dan said, sharing a look with Mitch at the end of the table. “When we went up there to ask the guy if he needed help, he said he was fine.”

“Yeah, he said his car was covering a sink hole that had opened up because of the rain,” Mitch added.

“So we looked under his car, and sure enough, there was a giant hole. Big enough to swallow up a Harley!”

“Was his car stuck in it?” Diane asked.

“That’s the thing,” Dan said with a smile. “The guy said he stopped his car to cover it up so that we wouldn’t ride into it.”

Another waiter had returned with their drinks, so the group helped him distribute the various microbrew beers with strange names. Diane sipped hers, called Bitter Barrel Butter.

“Why would the guy do that?” Patty asked, after all had refreshed themselves.

“I have no idea,” Mitch said before he took another long drink.

With no resolution, the conversation turned to lighter topics. Usually no one in the group wanted to dwell on potential crashes or road hazards. But Diane couldn’t get it out of her mind, even when her plate of baby back ribs was thrust in front of her.

“Was that driver really following us?” she asked Patty after a spicy mouthful of meat.  “Why did he stop to prevent us from falling into that hole?”

“It’s like he was some kind of guardian angel or something,” Patty said. She frowned at her phone. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of Paul all day, but he’s not answering his phone. We always call each other when we ride apart.”

“He’s probably sleeping or something,” Diane reassured her.  She ordered another beer, hoping that it would soothe her thoughts and prevent her from considering whether the man in the white Prius was a predator or protector.

Sea Turtles

sea turtle

 

Ancient eyes watched me struggle to breathe through my snorkel. An immense shell blocked the sunlight filtering through the water and suddenly I was aware of the sea turtle floating close to me. I backed away from its penetrating gaze. Curiosity drew it closer, but I pushed away in obedience to the guide’s direction that we were not to touch the turtles. Hanging in the current, the creature was completely at ease, for it could stay under water for hours without going to the surface for air.

However this was my first snorkeling trip, and I still felt nervous trusting a narrow tube poking out a foot above the rocking waves to provide me with a consistent flow of oxygen. My breathing was rushed and desperate like a newly trained astronaut on their first mission. I remembered all the snorkelers we saw at the beach the day before, their faces in the water, barely moving their legs, arms at their sides. As my breathing slowed down, my body relaxed into the warm tropical water. I kicked farther away from the turtle and followed the other fins in front of me.

The underwater landscape was a peaceful change from the bumpy ride we endured on our Zodiac raft in route to the diving spot. Schools of black and yellow striped fish flowed around the coral reef with little effort. Turquoise and orange striped fish picked algae off the bottom. Tiny white fish streamed out of holes in the volcanic rock. In the distance I could see the massive shapes of other sea turtles, resting in the cradle of current. Pale grey fish, as large and as flat as dinner plates, swam right in front of my face. Streams of bubbles and chopping of swim fins provided the soundtrack to this alien world. My husband and the others in our group hung on the surface of the ocean, mesmerized by the abundance and variety of marine life.

Suddenly I sniffed up some water that had leaked into my mask and I lifted my head, choking on salt water. The waves lifted and dropped me roughly as I found it harder to breathe without the snorkel than when I had my head underwater. My stomach heaved and I got sick, unfortunately still with the snorkel in my mouth.

The guide that remained on the boat called out to me, “Are you alright?”

Not wanting to sound wimpy, I replied, “I am now!”

After rinsing out my snorkel, I replaced my mask and put my face back in the water. The churning ceased as I was back in the calm underwater world once more. This time it was easier to breathe, and I watched the show around me through the window of my mask. Time was suspended. There was no sense of the bustle of the air-breathing world above us. Fish grazed on the algae covered coral like brightly colored sheep. A grey fish with yellow fins and tail regarded me with disdain before swishing past my face. Turtles paddled to the surface for air and dropped back down into the depths.

Gradually I became aware that I didn’t see any other fins around me. Reluctantly, I lifted my head to see the rest of our group back on the raft. The guide waved at me, and I paddled toward her. It was time to return to the world of man.

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.