Ahh, stories of the road. I don't know about you but they just make
me want to drop everything and take off into the sunset. Robert brings a
fantastically written account of his recent motorcycle trip to the blog, with fellow
Greet Death Moto Gang members. Robert also happens to be a really great friend of mine
whom I interviewed a few months back. Have a look at that here. Read on fellow
wanderlusters, and get lost in what it's really like to ride thousands
of miles on two wheels with a bunch of stinky dudes.
The gang left Seattle about three weeks before I linked up with everyone. They clocked about half of their 7,000 mile trip before I beat them to a dusty KOA with all-you-could-eat pancakes for $2.99. I can't speak in detail about their trip before it became ours. I left comfortable Carbondale, CO in a hurry. I knew I was leaving but had an uncomfortably busy summer leading up to the trip. Thus, the packing for this trip was sparse and relied on foggy memories of helpful possessions. I changed the oil and fixed the brake light and blinkers (that had been out for about a year) the night before. My speedometer never worked but I figured, how could a cop ever see that if I was stopped by the time he got out of the car?
The first leg of the trip was southwest from Carbondale. My aunt rode her Can-Am to visit something of a local art myth in the medium of stone. Greg Tonozzi is a gifted artist who hides in a pile of Marble in the town by the same name. We continued to Paonia for a slow lunch even though the restaurant was empty. Paonia is determined to operate in the 1980's despite what everyone else says. I ventured down past Telluride and further to a town named Roco, which calls to Paonia to come back to the 1960's. I'd passed a turn-off but it was too wet to slam on the brakes and I continued onto another outcropping and decided it was too exposed to the road and too far from the river. Eventually I got too cold and found a nice camp spot right off the highway. Someone left in a hurry and I used the rest of their firewood to warm back up.
The next day I was headed to intercept the rest of the 'Greet Death Moto Gang' of which I am a proud member from my time in Seattle. The road went straight through silent desert. The 4-Corners Monument was merely a downshift and rear brake off the highway. It left me shaking my head at the misguidedness of people and their beliefs that lines on the map mean anything more than a fable. It was merely a plaque surrounded by far too many seats, like maybe one day the metal might spring into a replica of Jimi Hendrix and sings some tunes. Behind the seats were jail cell cinderblock cubes where sunbaked Navajo folks sold jewelry and T-Shirts. It seemed like more of an RV spot to check a map and realize it's the desert no matter what it's called in your GPS.
I got rained on outside of Petrified Forest and the evening was squeezing my body temp down so I motored on to the KOA. I had a trashbag to wrap up my clothes and skateboard; it was shredded by Seattle. The boys had a 600-mile day and they're always considerably late so I booked the spot. I lied about how many bikes would show up, but it only made an eight dollar difference. I set up my tent and a family pulled up 30 yards away and I thought about how a solo biker in a tent at 8PM might seem strange or lonely, but in context of five other people it would make a lot more sense, and would be a lot louder. The bikers rumbled in about nine. The glue that holds this gang together is mainly skateboarding, drinking, motorcycles, and the will for adventure. I suppose the willingness to tolerate self-imposed suffering could be considered a glue. We had to celebrate their arrival by walking to the nearest bar, which turned out to be an excellent little dive that was several decades old. We played some pool with bent sticks and got a late night snack at the gas station. I found myself thinking a lot about the least evil foods in a gas station because when you strip the motorcycle away, you're basically just sitting, so crappy food just lingers in your gut.
We sent it to the Grand Canyon and had a site booked. I had never been before and realized how the scenery had been crunched into a theme park model. At first glance, this aggravated me. After being crammed onto a bus with a bunch of mouth-breathing, obese Americans I softened up to the idea on the rationale that these people would not be 'experiencing nature' at all if it were not for a temperature controlled bus. We hiked for a whole 30 minutes before the lack of cardio that a bike provides capped our hike. While waiting for one of our members to give birth in a high traffic public restroom, we struck up a conversation with a bus driver. She liked us enough to click the bus door closed, speed walk us to a railing, and point to a spot, made by the founder of the outcropping for smoking privately. We jumped the rails and sat where a woman, in 1880, would have had to hike to smoke because her male contemporaries found smoking publicly unladylike. The feeling of sitting in history, that was roped off simply due to its lack of announcement, felt special.
From the Grand we followed some nice tar to Bryce Canyon. Miles got pulled over and caught back up to us so quickly we didn't even notice. A guest star gang member met up with us at a campsite that was, in all honesty, a Teepee. I tried to last the first night in a hammock but got cold enough to join the rest in the disorganized mess of gear and stinky dudes in the culturally appropriate dwelling. This site had a hot tub that we took full advantage of. Stephen's bike, a borrowed machine, was 'running funny' and after some closer inspection sounded like it was gurgling metal. He got a Uhaul home the following morning. He was relieved in a very apparent way; the road takes a toll on some people. He talked about the remaining days like they were a sentence he was forced to fulfill. Bryce Canyon is some of the most unique landscape I've ever experienced. It's a much more relaxed atmosphere than the Grand, but with colors and shapes I've never laid eyes on before.
The forecast looked grim. We left Bryce in hopes of outrunning yet another storm across Nevada. If my rain gear was graded on a curve, it would still only get about a C. After enough shivering, we pulled off at a gas station somewhere just inside the Nevada border. There was about five nice touring bikes outside and we nodded at a group of Frenchmen obviously attempting to dry out in the Shell-Burger King florescent box. I watched a younger Frenchman buy an older one a pink hat that said 'Merica in bedazzled plastic. We never truly dried out. Matt went to buy some light blue surgical gloves to try and keep his hands dry and took two grocery bags and tied them around his shoes. I thought I was traveling light with only a backpack, tent, and sleeping bag, but his gear bag was slightly smaller than mine, probably because he assumed it wouldn't rain. We were looking at two days across Nevada to Reno. This was the only point of contemplation in turning back to Moab and trying to find some climbers to tool around with instead of riding in a loose formation in a downpour. It's what I imagine a car feels like when its being power washed.
We pressed on into the 'Loniest Highway in America'. It was the type of scene I feel most people envision when they're thinking of a classic motorcycle trip. There were no cars, just open roads and purple amber clouds authoring light beams onto the sage fields. The engines created a harmony of combustion and we took over the whole road. The sun set and we somehow threaded the needles through the isolated thunder storms as a sign read 'Gravel and Oil Ahead'; and the sign wasn't joking. We were all pretty cold at 10PM at a nondescript gas station town. Ian and I each got a room at what I called the Bed Bug Motel. The woman was sweet and told me I looked cold and she would put me in Room 9 since the heater worked well. Across from the Bed Bug Motel was Trump Thumper Bar, which I never actually saw anyone go into but the signs were overt and obvious. I added my opinion in the form of stickers on top of the billboards and knew it would only make this jerk double down on his opinion, but at least it showed someone wanted to say something back.
Highway 50 kept being lonely like a cranky trucker. We stopped at the perfect exit for breakfast. The diner used to be a rest station for the pony express. It doubled as a diner, bar, barber, therapist office, hell... maybe even medical advice was given out too. There was something preserved there, like it was too far from a major interstate to be exploited by corporate interests. Well, until some cooking show host with frosted tips comes to sample the hash browns, which were pretty good. Ian and I rolled into Reno at a coffee shop that catered to motorcycle folks. That meant they sold expensive gloves, sparkplugs, photo books, and switch blades with their coffee. The gang was busy getting replacement parts, vegan food or skate shoes all across Reno so Ian and I continued to Lake Tahoe. If a giant magnet sucked up all the tourist cars, that would be a 5-Star road for riding fast. It truly is unbelievable that from an ugly step-cousin of Vegas, you climb 3,000 feet to a misplaced emerald in the desert. We finally had clear weather and found a funny little bowl for skateboarding. There was some sort of field day event a stones throw from the park and our bikes stood out in the sea of BMWs and Lexus. I'm sure a member of the Parent Teacher Association was delegated to keep an eye on the bearded man-children still skateboarding while the middle school games took place.
We got a campsite on the southwest side of the lake and the boys started hyper-ventilating at the forecast declaring the low was going to be in the 30's. Miles and Matt decided they were going to race the sun to the nearest store that might have long underwear. They both have the most crashes under their belt and loved to push each other. Everyone's girlfriends who knew of Matt didn't like him. The two guys let their high-powered crotch rockets loose on what might as well have been called the spaghetti strip, and Miles lost it around a corner. His bike low sided into a guard rail and, thanks to his fully padded space suit, he hobbled away mostly unscathed. We got word and Matt told us they had it under control and he would meet us at the bar. They tarped up the bike until they could get a Uhaul in the morning. The local guys really didn't like us in Tahoe. There was enough tension, shoulder bumping, and sideways glances I was halfway expecting a bar fight to emerge. I guess the local girls were bored of hearing about how sick the mountain biking was that day and needed a new story and looked to us to tell it.
The morning grocery store we sought breakfast at was fully staffed by the sideways glancing bros from the prior evening. Ian's toast took 30 minutes. A bar fight would have been spicier than passive aggressive hung-over toast making. We helped Miles lift his bike into the Uhaul and altered our plan away from Crater Lake since the low was in the 20's. Ian and I split for a 600-mile day to Portland. The Northwest was still on fire from some idiot kids playing with fireworks during a drought. It was uncomfortable to see blue haze late in the day when it should be misty fog.
Ian is from Portland and we were greeted by tacos, more rain and his parents. A laundry checkpoint was critical and I stopped by while my clothes were drying to see my friend who makes glass-making equipment. Portland is changing in the same way tech money does to everything it can sniff out and declare hip. Warehouses are turned into condos and rents are as absurd as conditioned beards. From there we reconnected at the boarder of Washington with the remaining crew members and headed north to Seattle.
I arrived once again shaking and cold to a hot shower at my best buddy's house. I didn't want it to end. The creature comforts of a city are nice, but I think people resonate with travel, especially in a nomadic tribe model because that is how we were raised on the plains. In all honestly, riding a motorcycle a long distance isn't all that hard. With some mechanical knowledge and some buddies, you just have to keep your meat sack on the machine and turn your wrist. While that statement may bruise some egos, it's the suffering days that stand out more than the sunshine. I think under the smiling photos of motorcycle freedoms, its more about the return to the nomadic tendencies we were evolved with, and less about destinations or purpose. The focus then becomes more on the group and thinking as a unit, which is much harder than changing spark plugs.
After a few days of karaoke, friend visits and ripping around on the bike, the reality that I missed the weather window had closed for my solo return. My intended route through the high country already had snow on it and the bike was having some strange electrical issues and the clutch was slipping. I drove it to my friend's factory after always having to park it on a hill to bump start it since arriving in Seattle. I hugged the machine like it was my horse that I wasn't going to see for a long while and got a ride back to the city. I found it uncomfortably empty to reverse all those miles with two hours of airplane travel. Just like that the trip had ended. We all agreed that if someone could sponsor us we would never stop. Throwing yourself to uncertainty was fun, but real life has a tendency to pull you back. Until the next group text is sent out and we decide what to do, the bike is in a factory and the snow is falling in the mountains.
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