On the Road: Week Three (the last week)

Monday, May 28

We get up early, as Bob has generously offered to drive us into the mountains and put us in the Colorado River in his two kayaks, then pick us up downstream a few hours later. Mark and I take one kayak, Bas the other. When we get to the edge of the river we strip down to whatever we don’t mind getting wet and put everything else into the dry bags. 

On the first rapid I almost fall out of the boat as Mark, in the “driver’s seat “ with the only paddle, struggles to get the hang of navigating the current, or at least keeping the kayak upright. I scream and grab the canvas ribbing atop the inflated rubber. I am holding my binoculars, which are actually opera glasses that I inherited from my mother, and I barely manage to keep from dropping them into the river. As quickly as I can I cram them into the pocket of my shirt, where they’ll remain for the duration of the ride, and zip it closed. Luckily the kayak rights itself and we both soon grasp what we each need to do going into and through the rapids, which according to Mark (who has done this several times, albeit not recently) are Class 1 and 2 with a few 3’s thrown in. Eventually I start to enjoy myself, although the water is cold and within an hour we are soaking wet. Bas too is wet, and when we pull onto a small island an hour later for a snack and a rest, he discovers his dry bag is not, after all. Everything inside is saturated, with the fortunate exception of his cell phone which was in a separate dry bag within. Too late, I realize that in spite of the coolness of the air the sun is strong, and apply sunscreen to my bare legs. Later I’ll wish I had put it on before leaving shore.

Tuesday, May 29

Bas left this morning around 6, Monique is working and Bob took Mark out for a Jeep tour of the area, so I’ve had the place to myself this morning. I am grateful for the time alone to read, write, talk on the phone with my brother, and think about what the hell I’m going to do for income when I get back to California until I can find a lodger. 

When they return Bob goes off to do errands and Mark tells me I missed some of the most beautiful scenery so far. When I look at his photos I have to concur. 

Moab

Wednesday May 30

Monique has left for work by the time we get upstairs to eat breakfast, so I don’t get to say goodbye to her. Bob good-naturedly hops on his motorcycle and escorts us first to the bank so Mark can get cash, then the gas station, then rides with us a few miles out of town before he turns off and waves us on our way. He and Monique are friendly and interesting people, and exceedingly gracious hosts. I hope to meet them again.

We ride as far as Escalente today. We cross the Dirty Devil River on our way into the small town of Hanksville, which is surrounded by lush green fields. Further on we see several antelope, a heard of deer, and a giant jackrabbit as we pass through some of the most varied and stupendous scenery I have ever seen. As I gaze out at canyons, mountains, red rocks and trees in every direction as far as the eye can see, I am reminded that I love this country; that I can be here seeing this, and I can have this experience again and again in place after place. There is much wrong with the U.S. but when it comes to the wilderness we have set aside, we did something very right. 

We spend the night in a dispersed campground called Hole in the Rock, a lovely setting with pinyon trees all around. Unfortunately the few other campers that arrive after us all congregate in the same general area as us, in spite of all the vacant sites to be had some distance away. Why do people do that?

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Thursday, May 31

We each eat half an avocado and a hard boiled egg for breakfast, then we leave the campground and stop in Escalente at Boots Cafe, which advertises free wifi. Saddles hang from the rafters and there is a stuffed grizzly in one corner and a lynx in the other. The bear is wearing a cowboy hat. We order coffee and Mark gets a second breakfast of granola and yogurt. Both are clearly store-bought and it costs $6.50. There is no half and half for the coffee, only the liquid creamer crap, so I ask for milk. I can’t be sure but I think she rolls her eyes at me before turning away. On the plus side, the restrooms are clean, the wifi is strong, and there is an outlet where I can charge my phone.

On our ride today. I see a female wild turkey.

We camp in one of the three campgrounds within Great Basin National Park in Nevada, which does not charge an entry fee. At the site next to us are three motorcyclists traveling together, two of whom are English. They come over to greet us when we pull in and invite us to share their site, but we don’t see a flat spot so opt to pay for our own. After checking in we visit them for awhile before dinner. They offer us a cup of tea and interesting conversation. 

Friday June 1

We stop in Ely this morning for coffee, where Mark receives an email that his friend Cecelia just died. His eyes are moist but he doesn’t cry, nor talk about it. He is a “stiff upper lip” Englishman after all. We are riding along Highway 50, the “loneliest road in America” when I am suddenly hit with a wave of sorrow. For Cecelia? For Mark? I can’t say, just that I am familiar with this emotion, which descends quickly into desolation followed by a physical pull to hurl myself off the closest metaphorical cliff, in this case Mark’s BMW at 65 mph. I concentrate on breathing and assigning a pictograph to these thoughts as my grief counselor has advised; a hot air balloon that I can release into the air. I watch it growing smaller and far away in my mind’s eye. It keeps coming back. I keep releasing it. Eventually there is space for something else, at which point I say “Be here, now” to myself. Gradually I become aware of the warmth of the sunlight on my face, the smell of sagebrush all around me. I inhale deeply and close my eyes. When I open them I am looking past Mark’s shoulder and there in the distance are snow-capped mountains. My heart leaps. Within the space of a few minutes I have gone from having lost the will to live to feeling grateful to be alive. This is my emotional life these days.

We camp in a dispersed camping area near Spencer Hot Springs, Nevada. There are a few other campers in the vicinity but when we walk over to the closest of the several pools in the area shortly before sunset, the previous bathers are just leaving so we have the “tub” to ourselves. It’s murky and silty but quite hot, which at this altitude and after a long day’s ride, is welcome. 

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Saturday June 2

We continue on Highway 50 today. In Fallon we pick up Highway 95 going south where Mark has found us a place to sleep on the ADV Rider Tent Space thread again. Our host is a young man with a large house, a collection of motor vehicles and two large dogs. He lives a short way from the town of Silver Springs, at the end of a gravel round, surrounded by dirt and sand. 

Reid is the son of a midwestern farming family who chose an alternate career path, leaving his brother to follow in the family tradition. His parents visit from time to time and leave him with a freezer full of steaks and cinnamon rolls. He pulls a few steaks out now and they thaw while we make small talk. This is my least favorite part of the day, in spite of the fact that I very much appreciate the kindness of these Tent Space people, offering a bed in their home to a complete stranger and sometimes even, as in this case, a meal. Fortunately this evening the conversation doesn’t stray far from the topics of travel and motorcycles. A friend of Reid’s named Nate from Carson City shows up, keen to talk to someone with exactly the same bike as his and compare notes. He listens raptly as Mark recounts the places he has been with his R80G/S and what has and has not gone wrong with the bike. Nate as it turns out has not taken his bike outside of Nevada yet, and is still becoming acquainted with the personality and quirks of this older model BMW. When Mark begins to nod off after dinner I take the opportunity to say how tired we are and slip off to bed.

Sunday June 3

We leave Reid’s house about 9:30 and head south into California. Again we see antelope, rabbits and herds of wild horses, as well as a few burros. We camp in the only campground within the Stanislaus National Forest that we can find clearly marked from the road. During the night a bear raids the dumpster. I hear it but think it is someone banging the door open and closed to the toilets. In the morning there is trash scattered everywhere, which a ranger comes and picks up.

Monday, June 4

We are headed home today. It is increasingly hot as we descend in elevation, until we get to Sonora and I have to remove the lining of my jacket. As we approach Merced we pass a farm with several exotic animals, including this guy. Mark tells me this is called a “zedonk.”

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A digital display on a bank clock in one of the small towns we pass through flashes 97 degrees. Riding in this kind of heat is decidedly unpleasant when you are dressed in full gear. It’s not until we approach Morro Bay from Highway 41 that the temperature drops, and by the time we get there it has plummeted. Suddenly I’m trying to stay warm and recalling how it felt, only an hour ago, to feel like I’m melting.

We get to my condo about 6:30 pm, three weeks to the day since leaving. 

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