On the road (for a bit), Week One

Monday May 15: We take 101 to Santa Margarita and pick up Hwy 58 East. Funny how the desert begins almost immediately once away from the coast. I see an antelope. We stop in the tiny town of McKittrick for a cup of coffee at the unimaginatively and unaptly named McKittrick Hotel (it has no rooms). It redeems itself with its friendly waitress, humorous signs on the walls, and creative decor, namely a bar tiled exclusively, floor to ceiling, in pennies. If the sign is to believed, one million of them. This is on the wall in the women’s bathroom:


Further on we pass “something-something ginnery.” I don’t know if  this is a distillery, or a facility to do with cotton and/or cotton gins. We drive on through a green irrigated valley of fruit trees in stark contrast to the brown hills in the distance. Looking at them brings to mind the song by Kate Wolf, Here in California.

A few miles outside of Bakersfield I see the longest freight train I’ve ever seen. I will see many more today and tomorrow, as highways 58 and 40 parallel the railroad tracks.

We stop at Tehachapi for gas and wifi, then find a campsite in nearby Tehachapi Mountain Park. 

Tuesday May 16: I didn’t sleep last night. At all. This morning when Mark got up he threw his down sleeping bag over me and I finally drifted off for about half an hour while he made coffee, tea etc. I brought some melatonin with me and took 5mg before we went to bed, but either it wasn’t strong enough or nothing was going to let me sleep being so cold. 

On the way to Kingman AZ today. Several miles before we get to Barstow I see Joshua trees. To the unfamiliar, from a distance they resemble an evergreen, but closer up they look more like skinny palms gone berserk, with branches shooting out in all directions. Then as quickly as they appeared they are gone, replaced by sage, mesquite, and a big scraggly bush with yellow flowers I feel I should know the name of. Creosote maybe.

I’m dismayed to see continuous trash along the roadway. There’s the cast-offs and remains from vehicles, like shredded tires, broken glass, hubcaps, pieces of plastic and metal from accidents; even entire tires. Then you’ve got beer bottles, soda cans, water jugs, plastic cups, plastic bags, styrofoam containers, cardboard, newspapers, and all manner of trash, as if people just roll down their windows and eject whatever happens to be close at hand. In addition to general detritus I see: a pillow, a five gallon gas can, a plastic bucket, a broken chair, Mylar balloons, and even a shopping cart. I see no warnings of fines for littering like there are along the CA coast.

In Barstow there are no clear signs for directions to Highway 66, which Mark wants to take. We drive through town and at least 10 miles beyond before he realizes by the position of his shadow next to the bike that we’re going west rather than east. (Evidently I’m riding with a Boy Scout; I should pay attention.) Here we see a yellow road sign: “When flooded turn around don’t drown” and a white lizard by the side of the road.

Somewhere along the way I begin to see signs for washes, with names like Lava wash, Siberia wash, Orange Blossom wash, Old Dad wash, Van Winkle wash, and Holy Moses wash. None of these contain a drop of water.

A billboard outside Needles announces that in Lake Havasu Arizona we’ll find “Guns and ammo! Indoor machine gun shooting range!” 

We get a motel room tonight in Kingman. I sleep.

Wednesday May 17:

In the distance, the hills have become mountains, rocks with deep etchings and iron ore deposits tinting the vista. Gradually the west has turned into the southwest. We pass a dead coyote on the road, and more washes: Rattlesnake wash and Peacock wash among them. In the historic old town of Seligman we stop for coffee at the Roadkill Cafe. Sitting at the table next to us is a young man who owns the Suzuki parked out front. His name is Chris, he’s from the Bay Area, and he too is headed to Flagstaff for the Overland Expo where, like us, he’ll be a volunteer. On the wall of the women’s bathroom is this poem:


We get to the park in Flagstaff by around 4 or so, where we check in with the Volunteer Coordinator for Expo then ride downtown to the place where the vehicles in the “Cool Ride” contest are displayed so people can vote on them. The winner will receive a $500 gift certificate. Mark’s BMW motorcycle is one of 8 finalists.

May 18-21. Overland Expo, Flagstaff 

Thursday: It’s fucking freezing here when the sun goes down. After my first sleepless night, I mention to Tiffany (a friend of Mark’s, I met her at the HU event in Wales last summer. She has just rolled in from Los Angeles where she gave a travel presentation) that I don’t have a decent sleeping bag and she spreads the word. Before long a small woman with dark hair in braids named Nicole shows up at our tent with an emergency blanket, a sleeping bag, and an inflatable pad. She calls me Angel. Over the course of the weekend I overhear her talking to others and realize she calls everyone Angel. 

Throughout the day I see Chris, riding around the park on patrol, his 3 volunteer shifts of 4 hours apiece rolled into one. The Volunteer Coordinator, named Cyan, has dyed her blond hair to reflect her moniker. She is adorable.

Friday: I wake up a bit late and can’t find my badge, turn the tent upside down looking for it. When I show up for my shift I’m assigned traffic duty. In the afternoon I attend two presentations, one by Sam Manicom and the other by Elspeth Beard and three other women (including Tiffany) about their travels by motorcycle. Later I attend Ladies Night, where I’m offered free wine and chocolates and meet a woman named Jane who works for BMW. She is the 8th generation from the mother of Thomas Jefferson, and if that’s not enough, also related to Pocahontas. I speak briefly to Carla, who will be squeezing as many women into a Ural as possible tomorrow. I bow out, but offer to do my part to encourage Elspeth to join in.

Saturday: My shift today consists of helping out in the Authors and Exhibitors tent where, between fetching water and chairs and covering for bathroom or coffee breaks, I spend a good deal of time talking with Ted Simon, the legendary British journalist who rode around the world on his motorcycle twice, and wrote several books about his experiences. I am impressed with how easygoing and down to earth he is. He lives in France these days and I mention going to visit my friend Enza one day soon at her new B&B along the French Camino. I hope he will invite me to stop and see him on my way. He doesn’t.

Sunday: Today I have no volunteer shifts to perform so I go to presentations instead, talk to other travelers, and drink Pims at the drinks party Tiffany organizes in the afternoon. Tomorrow we will head south to Phoenix to spend a couple of days with my brother.

The people whom I met here and will remember:

Elspeth Beard, the first British woman to ride her motorcycle around the world (1982-84). Her book Lone Rider is now on sale in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is gracious, charming, and incredibly talented.

Sam Manicom, another world traveler and writer, who is warm and witty and a wealth of good information.

Jane, of lofty ancestry.

Tiffany, who is funny, generous and genuine. I like her more and better every time we meet.

Chris, fellow volunteer, a musician, setting off on his own overland adventure. 

Dave, a guy selling storage/organization cubes for travel who lives coincidentally a few miles down the road from me, possessed of a great smile and twinkling eyes.

Nigel, another British friend of Mark’s who was great company all weekend.

Nicole, to the rescue.

Maggie, a young woman who has taken to living in her Land Cruiser with her dog almost full time; we swapped stories of depression while traveling compared to depression “at home”, and the pull of the road.

Ted Simon, aforementioned, who said to Mark and me upon hearing that we hadn’t had a shower since Wednesday, “I’m leaving tonight so you’re welcome to take a shower in my caravan. Hell, you can sleep there if you want.” (We did.)

And this memorable guy,

dog at expo

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