WanderlustBy Sam Lepore

Subject: WanderLunch 2 - almost Santa Fe, New Mexico
Date: Sat, 22 May 1999 16:44:36 -0700

The morning mountains of the desert are full of unfulfilled promises.

        So it seems, anyway, when you can see their heat, feel their shimmer in the warming air, and imagine how unforgiving they really are when they warm to their task of persevering in desolation. As I ride through the open arid space that separates the Colorado River from the sea, I am thankful that at least some of the technology we have invented and imposed on our environment can bring back an appreciation for what we rarely take the time to observe. Sailing across the vast emptiness at 75 mph on a machine that hums contentedly, on an unbroken ribbon of pavement, I can't imagine how anyone ever crossed it on foot in less than a lifetime. It never fails to amaze and astound me that there is so much open emptiness in America when I have seen the barrios of L.A. and the ghettos of Chicago.
        It is easy to get lost in mysticism when you are alone with your thoughts for hours on end. That is one of the magical properties of long rides on a motorcycle, although some people have conditioned themselves to require aural abstractions - cassette, radio, cb. I choose to listen to the many voices already in my head shouting for attention. (Guess it is my nature to like being alone in a crowd.) In the 'normal' world, they have too much competition and are often unable to be heard. The helmet is impermeable from the inside, and so they bounce around freely and happily. Where am I going with this? Unsubstantiated, I have noticed that people who do not like to ride bikes (I mean are actively against .... not just 'don't care') tend to not like themselves as people. Makes sense. No one likes to be alone with someone they dislike.

        This is my first trip with a GPS unit, and so far I've tried to do it without looking at a paper map. This aspect of new technology being bent to common use is something that is fun (ok, so I'm a geek) but it has a long way to go before it is ready for grandma to use ... no matter what the Cadillac commercials say. By following the GPS indicators, I made three complete circles of Needles, California looking for River Road - and Needles is only two circles wide :) . But it did work. The nicest thing about a GPS is that you exactly where you are when you are lost. That's a technological improvement.
        A month or so ago in his column in Motorcycle Consumer News, Fred Rau wrote about a side trip he took to a small town that isn't on some maps anymore. Oatman, Arizona is on the original Route 66, which has almost disappeared. I left the Interstate at Needles to find the road to Oatman, which the GPS pointed to plus-or-minus 52 feet. (Could be tricky. The road is only 25 feet wide. :) As soon as I turned onto Oatman Road, I noticed that Route 66 literally DOES disappear. The pavement is pressed tar and gravel, not the more common black bitumen. It was made with local rock, so the road surface looks the same color and consistency as the open ground on either side of the road (remember from yesterday 'no ground cover'?). Look far ahead on the road ... and you can't really see the road for the terrain. It would be easy to drift off if you let your attention wander.
        Another immediate image is the high power poles. There are three-wire transmission towers running along the road which are shaped like saguaro cactus. Not just angled cross braces, but actual swooping arms, two on one side, one in between them on the other side, bent gracefully upward. Arizona blends with itself - I suppose you could say 'you are what you heat'.
        Oatman is just like Fred wrote. A ghost town with clean sheet ghosts. Not quite a tourist trap, simply because not enough tourists go there. But my friend Kaaren would like it. They have a herd of burros wandering wild though the streets. The road caution signs have the outline of a burro.
        Quaint and charming as it is, I do not recommend approaching or leaving Oatman on its east side. Old Route 66 snakes around the mountains, but the road is *covered* with tar snakes. And they were biting. (For the non-moto readers, tar snakes are cracks in the pavement filled with what looks like roofing tar. When they get hot, the tar becomes gelatinous, and crossing them - especially leaned over - can cause bike tires to slip several inches. Not a problem for a car, but bad news for a bike.) But come to think of it, I don't remember ever hearing someone having an accident because of the snake itself. Very scary, anyway.
        So, I got my kicks, so to speak, on Route 66. What was more of a kick was going 66 on Route 66 (marked for 30!). Some nice sweepers west of Kingman. But alas, that 45 mile "shortcut" cost me almost two hours, and I had agreed to have dinner in Santa Fe. Damned inconvenient about those time zones, too (I forgot!). And now there are a mere 500 miles of I40 before me. Not quite the "Take me!" of yesterday. More like "Shove this under your tires, buster."
        One more chuckle before the velocoraptor of the interstate consumed me (high velocity, but it eats your brain): Approaching Flagstaff I noted the sign that said I was entering the Kaibob National (Treeless) Forest. Look to the left. Look to the right. See at least 50 miles to the horizon in either direction. The tallest thing in sight would be a chipmunk standing on a fence post. National Forest?

        Didn't make it to Santa Fe. And didn't make it in condition to write last night. Just out of Albuquerque a blast of dirt in my contacts put me down for the night. Hurt too much to finish. So I stayed in Almost Santa Fe.

FuelPlus 740 miles, 11:32 hrs engine, 65 mph average
Barstow I40, 3 circles of Needles, US66, I40, I25 Almost Santa Fe

Sam Lepore, San Francisco
Wanderlust Rider

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