Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Day One, the Mojave Desert

The Mojave desert is more than 25,000 square miles and covers parts of California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Interstate 40 traverses the Mojave West to East, and intersects with I-15 in Barstow, California. After arriving in Ontario and registering for the run (they give you a ribbon to tie to your bike, a wrist band, and for new people, a FNG pin) I was unable to establish communication with my brother and elected to spend the night in Barstow. I stayed at the Days Inn, which was OK, at least I was able to procure a downstairs room on the end which makes it easy to move baggage back and forth and with the window shades open I could keep a close eye on the bike. But a walk around town made me think I could have easily made a better choice of accommodations. I saw one of the motels Lilek had published a photo of on his blog, the Stardust Motel. (OK, the sign is the same, but the state is different. Oops! But you get the idea.) Would have been interesting to spend the night there. The clerk at the Days Inn bordered on surly. She was overweight and possessed of a downright sour disposition. To get even I used the pristine white towels to clean my bike. Also staying at the motel were a couple of truckers. I talked to one at length. He was waiting for a cab by the office and had this plywood contraption with a satellite radio, a Citizen's Band radio, a CD player, and so forth, built into it. He did not have his own truck but worked for a company that moved him from vehicle to vehicle. This device allowed him to carry his electronic creature comforts with him when he changed tractors. He too was a biker. He said he had two bikes one being a Gold Wing. I asked him about the current CB protocols explaining that I was having trouble getting truckers to talk to me. It has been years since I used a CB radio. Used to have one in my Alfa Romeo Spider Veloce convertible. I thought truckers might prefer talking among themselves but he disabused me of that notion. We decided that my little hand held Cobra HH 38 that I have adapted to the bike's communications was probably not putting out a strong enough signal. He suggested that I needed to check the ground.

I walked out the door of my room a little later at the exact same time that my neighbors were leaving their room. First I encountered an astonishingly beautiful young black lady, about 25 or so. She gave me a friendly greeting. Real nice. Following her out of the room was a US Army Sergeant very nattily dressed in desert cammies. He was garrisoned nearby, he said. We shook hands and I thanked him for his service to our country. They got into a beautiful black (what else) Cadillac Escalade and drove away. Maybe they were indulging in a little afternoon love fest. I don't know. When I was a buck sergeant in the Army my pay would barely support the old VW bug I banged around Europe in. Things have really changed. I think it was his car. At least he took the driver's seat.

Later that evening I got to talk to my brother. I would meet up with the group today or latest that evening in Williams, Arizona, the first overnight. He said they would be through around ten a.m. on the 17th. The next day.

After a late meal from Subway I hit the sack and caught a few "Z"s.

Next morning I had time to kill. Getting up at sevenish I needed something to do till ten. That is when I walked down Main street into town. 0945 I was sitting on the bike at the on ramp to I-40 poised for today's ride. I waited for 20 minutes but didn't see any bikers to speak of so I eased onto the highway and rode a few miles, took the access road and putted slowly along a mile or so to the next overpass where I stationed myself over the middle of the Eastbound lane. And waited. Maybe ten minutes later a group of ten bikes or so, and a car pulling a trailer, clearly connected with the RFTW group, passed under me. OK, I thought, these are the outriders and the main body of three hundred bikes will be along shortly. I waited another ten minutes before giving up and setting out on my own. Thinking they might be ahead of me I twisted hard on the throttle and tried catching them. I ran for an hour or so at speeds up to 110 MPH before giving up then settled down to a comfortable five or so above the speed limit (70).

Several hours later way out into the Mojave something was brewing. It is a rare thing in the desert when it rains. And for all the time and torment of heat and aridity that holds back the rain, when the storm finally breaks it is with a profligate ferocity that speaks of long pent up dormant forces yearning to burst forth, and they did. Darkening skies, hail, wind, tear and rend the earth amid punctuations of thunder and lightening. The storm blew in from the North. It was a fast mover crossing my path and I was canting, tacking into the wind. It was so hot before the storm and I was in such a hurry to try to avoid the main force that I didn't bother to stop to put on my rain gear. The coming cool air was delicious in spite of the blowing dirt and the plant debris sweeping the road. I must have collided with over thirty tumbleweeds which, when you hit them at speed, burst into smithereens. It is dangerous to try to dodge them so I just crouched into the back of the fairing as close as possible and rode on. Not far into the storm there was, in the center median, a West bound half of a double wide trailer home on it's side and I could see that the truckers had slowed down considerably in order to better control their rigs in the wind. Most were much heavier than the overturned trailer and only suffered being swerved back and forth. So I got wet, but it was a welcome cool down, and it only took about fourty miles to dry completely out. Later, at the motel, I learned that the state police had shut down the interstate to trucking for awhile during this storm.

It wasn't long after this that the road began its climb out of the desert and I was riding through pine forests as I approached Williams, AZ. It was about three p.m. when I checked into the Fairfield Inn using my brother's reservation.

After unloading the bike and having a shower I went down to look for a car wash and met Pastor Dan in the breezeway of the motel. He was from Pennsylvania and had ridden his Harley out to join the run in which he would participate as a chaplain. We rode into Williams where he spotted the car wash for me and then we identified the VFW where the main group would meet for dinner after parading through town. Pastor Dan and I talked about several things and he confirmed that chaplains in military service were not permitted to pray in Jesus name which fact I find highly disturbing. I told him that I had read a report of a chaplain who having defied this regulation was being brought up before a court martial. He was able to confirm this. This is an abomination. Personally I would just as soon "pray" in Buddha's name, but that is beside the point. This is a Christian nation. The whole of Western culture is founded on Christian values and only an idiot would fail to recognize that Christians are tolerant people by and large and perfectly able to live and function in a secular society. To deny our past this way is the worst kind of revisionist crap.

The group came in about six p.m. There was a parade and the townspeople turned out in force to wave flags and applaud and make their friendly greetings known. The group had gotten a late start, something that would plague us all the way across the country. The VFW served us a great BBQ dinner, there was beer, of which I had none, and there were about 230 bikes. I hooked up with my brother and we sat down with Paul, a friend of his from Colorado, and Will from I forget where. I saw and spoke to Paul and Will almost daily from then on. Of course we were all Vietnam veterans but I was different because 99% of the riders wore black, rode Harleys, and had their gear festooned with patches, pins, all kinds of detritus of the military/Harley biker life. I immediately, almost, told brother that I didn't really fit in with this group. But I tried. I noticed pretty soon that the pins/patches were really touchstones and conversation starters. I did wear a NRA hat and that alone started several conversations for me.

Brother said I needed to meet someone. He pointed out a lady with a pony tail standing on the stairs across the way passing out beads. I walked over and introduced myself and asked about the beads. Sizzmo was her name, and, no, she would not sell me any beads, but would trade me a hug for them. OK. She was really nice, had met her husband, a Vietnam vet, in a foxhole in Iraq. I met him later in Salina, Kansas. His name was Terry. Sizzmo had a little speech that she thought Vietnam veterans were the most important people alive, or words to that effect, that it was her mission to help make up for the lack of appreciation they received on coming home from that war, and to that end she made and passed out these little beads fashioned in the same configuration of colors as the Vietnam service ribbon. There are red beads in this matching the red in the ribbon. Hers, she said, were heart shaped, denoting her affection for. This speech of hers of course brought a few tears to my eyes but I recovered quickly from the emotions of the moment and launched into my own speech that we had actually won the Vietnam war and that more importantly the best way to pay homage to old soldiers is to give active support to those fighting today's conflicts and that this war on Islamofacism was far and away more important in the total scheme than the Vietnam war being that Islamism is a graver threat than Communism, which, by the time of Vietnam, while it still maintained some of its fervor, was mainly peopled by cynics out to cash in on the movement, not so much interested in the driving ideology as a world view but as a dogma with which to enslave. Well, she started to back away quite early in this outburst of mine. Hey! She opened the door, I ran in! I don't think this fit her scenario one bit. "Here, take the beads. Give me the hug. Thank you for your service. Welcome home. Sorry, gotta go grab the next old vet and make him cry." Wham! Bam! Thank you m'am! Anyway, I gave this speech several times with some variation during the trek East. Brother got the best/worst of it. I was on a roll, you see. I spoke to Sizzmo several times. She avoided me till one day, at the check in at the motel in Salina, when I met her husband, she warmed to me again. I was joking with her, calling her the "bead" lady. Later I got a picture taken with her which I hope to post at some time. Meanwhile here she is with another subject.

It was a cool evening at that elevation. I looked around for a masseuse but could not find one and the motel had not yet opened the hot tub. My back was killing me. I told brother that we should get a travel trailer and three or four massage tables and staffed with twenty something female masseuses take it on next year's run.

Next, Gallup New Mexico, Red Rock, Navajo gourd dance and Navajo tacos

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