On the road: Week two

Monday, May 21

We leave Flagstaff around 10:30am and take the scenic route to Phoenix to visit my brother and his partner. We expect to stay just the one night but we don’t arrive till 5:00 so I ask if we can make it two and they say fine. 

Their apartment is small and in keeping with their history, cluttered and in dire need of a good cleaning. In the bathroom I see a spray bottle of all purpose cleaner and have to restrain myself from asking for a sponge. 

What they lack in cleanliness however they make up for in hospitality. They take us to dinner and insist on paying, and when I can’t eat my fish tacos (a big disappointment, as I was really excited to see them on the menu) because they were too spicy, Ellis offers to make me homemade tortillas and salsa when we get back to their place. I’m touched but it’s late so I decline his offer and make do with watermelon instead. 

Tuesday May 22

We have breakfast with Mark’s friend Al a short distance from the house, after which Mark walks to the hardware store and gets what he needs to move the left foot peg on the bike two inches further out. I have so far burned holes in two pairs of boots because the peg was set so close to the exhaust pipe. We go for a ride later and I notice the difference immediately. I pick up a lightweight compact sleeping bag and Mark buys me a sleeping pad. He really is very good to me.

Wednesday, May 23

We leave Phoenix about 9am and ride to Tortilla Flat, about an hour and a half to the east. I want to stop there for 2 reasons. One is I read they have prickly pear gelato. The other is this town was the setting for one of John Steinbeck’s novels, though I can’t remember which one off the top of my head. The town is itty bitty, just three businesses and no obvious residences, but it does have a lot of character in its history. The restaurant where we use the restrooms is papered in dollar bills (what’s up with using currency as floor and wall coverings?) and the ladies room has paintings of saloon girls in frilly costume all over the walls and doors to the toilet stalls. The gelato is just okay.

tortilla flat wc

From there the next 22 miles are dirt and gravel washboard, jarring and painfully slow going. A surprising contrast to the brand new black tarmac we rode into Tortilla Flat. By the time we get to Globe we’re hungry, tired, hot, dusty and thirsty. We pick up food and find the local ranger station where we ask about camping in the area. The ranger refers us to a campground about an hour further north on Tonto National Forest land called Jones Water. The campsites are just off the road but spacious and few are filled. Each includes a large picnic table and bbq grill. Vault toilets but no potable water. Because it’s considered primitive and on NF land, it’s free. Recommended.

Today is my other brother’s (Eric) birthday.

Thursday, May 24

We ride some very nice roads today, with vast forests of saguaro cacti on either side, some of which are huge misshapen creatures, a dozen or more arms twisting in all directions and lovely white flowers atop each one. A fox runs across the road. We’re in and out of Apache territory. Stop for gas in a tiny town and a brown dog comes up to us, whining with imploring eyes. I cup my hands together and Mark pours water into them. The dog drinks and drinks. I’m sure he’s hungry too, and there’s a big fat tick on his head. Mark says he probably belongs to the gas station owners, or is a local dog, and I agree that he isn’t feral but I suspect he’s been abandoned. He looks too hopeful and scared at once to have a home. I would love to be able to scoop him up and take him with us. You can just tell he would make a great pet, loving and loyal. I can only hope someone will take him in. 

Later in the afternoon we stop in Springerville and ask at the ranger station again about camping. The ranger takes awhile to warm up, gruff at first, but eventually becomes forthcoming. Warns us to camp before we get to the Navajo reservation, saying it’s rough land, “not safe” and there will be no place to camp. Directs us to Lyman Lake, about 15 miles north. We camp there for $20, which includes hot showers, some very cool Indian petroglyphs, and an obnoxious Rv about 60 feet away in which a man, woman and their dog yell at one another, play country music nonstop, and bark incessantly. I see a cottontail.


Friday, May 25

We pass through magnificent scenery on the Navajo reservation land in the form of red, red rocks, columns that look like one smaller rock has been placed upon a bigger one over and over for hundreds of feet up; narrow pillars that are thin and tall with eroded etchings all across them. We see a roadrunner and an antelope. As we ride along I notice the hogans amongst the more modern ranch style houses and mobile homes, some with the open doors I might expect after reading Tony Hillerman’s novels. I look around for Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn or Detective Jim Chee.

Navajo land 

Everywhere I see signs for Christian churches, Red Rock Baptist church this way, Lamb of God church, turn left. We stop at a gas mini mart with a sign on the front door that says “Help our community, don’t give handouts to panhandlers.” We’ve seen panhandlers lurking outside markets and gas stations all day, and this stop is no different. We no sooner return to the bike when a Navajo man approaches us. “Nice bike,” he says. Mark tells him the make and year, and the man asks where we’re from. He slurs his words and is wobbly on his feet. After a couple minutes of chitchat he asks for money. Mark replies that he’s just spent his last $2. I doubt if the man believes him. I know I don’t. He then asks if we have change. Mark gives him his coins. We both know he’s more likely to add it to whatever else he’s accumulated and buy a bottle of booze than food, or a book, or anything else that might, even temporarily, improve the quality of his life. Still, it’s hard not to give something. Everyone we meet, the alcoholic panhandler included, has been very welcoming and friendly. As an American of European descent, I can’t help but feel ashamed. As if it wasn’t enough to eradicate as many of the indigenous peoples as we could via outright slaughter, we had to further reduce them with poisons like small pox, poverty, religion and alcohol.

Further along we meet a pair of cyclists on the road from the UK, going around the world. They are allowing a year and a half. 

We ride to Navajo National Monument where there is free camping in Sunset View campground. In spite of the ranger’s caution yesterday, it is safe and accessible, with potable water and even flush toilets. In the campground we meet another cyclist, from Germany riding across the US to raise money for a children’s charity. Also a motorcycle rider, on an Enfield, from South Korea. 

I keep thinking about the dog from yesterday.

Saturday May 26

Today proves to be a hard day. We decide to stay in our campground for a second night as it’s so nice and free, and take a ride up to Monument Valley and around a loop back to Kayenta from the east. It starts out okay but by early afternoon the wind is blowing hard, and the majority of the ride is grueling. It’s the most uncomfortable I’ve been on a motorcycle so far. 

Sunday May 27

Today we are headed for Moab. We ride again through Monument Valley, which seems to take less time today in the calm, cool morning air. We get to Moab by mid afternoon and locate the home of a guy named Bob whom Mark found through the ADV Rider tent space forum. We’re prepared to set up the tent in his yard because he said someone was already in the spare room. But when we arrive, Bob tells us we can sleep on the floor in the basement instead, so we go for it. Inside we meet Bob’s wife Monique, who is Belgian, and the other motorcycle traveler, Bas from The Netherlands. He’s tall and thin with a friendly face, and like so many Northern Europeans, his English is impeccable. He’s on his own and seems eager for companionship so we invite him to get dinner with us. We wind up at the Moab Brewery where both men order burgers but I get a veggie wrap, saving myself for a grass fed burger tomorrow night at a place I saw on Trip Advisor. I find I can’t stomach meat any longer if it comes from factory farmed animals. It might smell good and even taste good, but I know too much about how the animals are raised to be able to consume it.

Bas is a nice guy and well traveled. I am anxious as always when around strangers that the conversation will move into dangerous territory. I never seem to manage to have a pat answer at the ready for the hard questions. Fortunately we talk easily throughout dinner, and Bas doesn’t pry into my circumstances when I mention I’ve been traveling for some time, by backpack, public transportation, and motorcycle. He seems like an easygoing guy and when he mentions wanting to go to Central and South America, I fantasize momentarily that he’ll suggest I might want to accompany him part of the way. I sense that we’d be fairly compatible and given our age difference (his face is unlined and youthful but there is grey in his whiskers and hair, so I’m guessing he is in his 30’s), I can feel fairly confident there would be no doubt in either of our minds as to the strictly platonic nature of the relationship. But he makes no such suggestion, whether the idea occurred to him or not, and I wistfully let it go. When I picture his bike parked back at Bob’s house, a KTM dirt bike, which would make for a very uncomfortable ride, not to mention it’s so high I don’t know how I’d get on it, I feel slightly less wistful.


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