Henderson, NV to Kanab, UT
Motorcyclist Screams Foolishly at Desert
The cursing method of ending self-sabotage.
Zion National Park most assuredly does not suck.
Even by my own lax standards, my beard was out of hand. I had passed Rutherford B. Hayes and was on my way to Karl Marx. The night before I had Googled around for a nearby barber shop and came up with Your Barber on Warm Springs Rd. in Henderson. Mindy the barber cut judiciously, leaving me looking neater, but not like someone’s tax accountant. Perfect. I packed up and rode back through Vegas, heading north on I-15 toward Utah.
I collected another bike story on I-15, kind of. Heavy construction sentenced us to five miles of stop and go, during which a truck driver shouted his Triumph story down to me from his cab. The truck’s engine and my helmet conspired to block most of it, but his enthusiasm for motorcycles and long-distance riding came through loud and clear. It’s interesting how just being on a motorcycle journey can make the people around you happy. I think it helps that I’m on a smaller, more egalitarian bike. If I was on a flashy, expensive BMW megatourer or a Honda Gold Wing, I’d just be a reminder of their crummy credit rating. On a bare-bones naked bike with a bungeed duffel bag, I could be them, and they could be me.
The previous day’s battle with headwinds had me feeling still a little tired, and the monotony of I-15 drained me further. I had no interest in a fast or challenging travel style, so I set the throttle lock on 65 and let my mind wander, as much as you can when you’re on a bike. I saw an interview recently with a guy who rode the Isle of Man TT, and he said one of the problems is staying focused and not letting your mind wander. I can see how that would be a problem while going 150+ mph along a narrow lane lined with stone houses and stone walls. But at 65 on a straight and empty interstate, a little wandering is not only inevitable but beneficial. Other than a vague idea of riding through Zion National Park, I had no plan and no destination for the day. I liked it. Like Luke said, sometimes nothin’ can be a pretty cool hand.
The lady at the Utah welcome center wouldn’t give me a state map until I signed the guest register. I smiled and complied: Ralph Kramden, Brooklyn, New York. Minutes later I was riding east on State Road 9. Traffic wasn’t bad even though it was the road to Zion. Few people were thinking “National Park Vacation” in April, to my delight.
Faster! We've Got Three More Parks to Go!
I poked along, because why would I ride a few thousand miles and then hurry through the place? The usual suspects did not share my philosophy. Some rode my ass through the hills, looking agitated. I pulled over to let them by, but occasionally some jackass unable or unwilling to transition to vacation mode passed me, looking annoyed. Most Americans only have a week or two of vacation each year, and often they try to do too much. Their vacation degenerates into just another frantic task to complete. They’d have more fun if they did fewer things more thoroughly.
My own similar attitude screwed up the beginning of a 9-month backpacking trip through Southeast Asia in 1995. At first I raced around doing everything possible – Scuba! Motorcycles! Jungle trek! Party! -- and exhausted myself to illness. Some crazy virus laid me flat on my back for five days in Bogor, Indonesia, and for two weeks afterward I couldn’t walk 200 yards without taking a rest. Afterward I adopted a slower, happier rhythm, which made all the difference for the rest of the trip.
Zion: A Treasure of Our Planet
I’m not going to sully Zion National Park by reducing the experience to words on a screen. I will just say this: It is a treasure of our planet, its beauty immune to the actions of the pissant humans driving and walking around it.
I imagined Zion’s creation as part of a competition between a sky god and an earth god. Sky god went first, creating a sunset of great complexity and beauty. Then it was earth god’s turn. Look at the walls of Zion and you can see his swift, sure brush strokes in the cliffs, the masterful crafting of the mountains, the impossible networks of millions of fissures and fractures that cannot be duplicated. Even the stone rubble that lay at the foot of the cliffs was breathtaking, sprinkled with towering evergreens that appeared as seedlings compared with the surrounding boulders and the cliffs above. There, the earth god said, there’s you some damn art. Embarrassed by defeat, the sky god erased the sunset, and night fell. Every day the sky god tries again, and every day he gives up, bested by the cliffs of Zion.
Riding through Zion is fun for lots of reasons, but only one of them do I consider a guilty pleasure. Along the main approach to the park lies a handful of stores, a couple of hotels and a gas station, with a corresponding throng of tourists in the street and on the sidewalk. Motoring along slowly lest a child run out into the street, I became acutely aware of the expressions of envy and longing on many of the male faces I passed. They might as well have been holding signs:
“God, I would love to do that.”
“My wife won’t let me have a motorcycle.”
“My children won’t be out of the house for another nine years.”
At every scenic-view parking area I waved to another wistful, thwarted husband who tonight would be carrying a diaper bag into a restaurant, while I carried my helmet. The poor bastards.
Zion and its surroundings are not easy to communicate by photograph. Formations like this one could hold my attention for days.
That’s right buddy, I’m living your dream. And it sure is fun. At every scenic-view parking area I waved to another wistful, thwarted husband who tonight would be carrying a diaper bag into some restaurant, while I carried my helmet. The poor bastards. Oh well, maybe I’m the impetus they need to take the plunge and do something exciting and fun. Evangelist for the Religion of Fun and Freedom – I can live with that.
I Give Myself the Cure
Zion was over way too fast. If I ever go back I think I’ll turn around at the end and go back through. Once I hit the more pedestrian scenery outside the park, my thoughts turned to home. My wife was back there, alone, taking care of everything by herself. Pangs of worry and guilt dropped into my day like horse turds. I pulled to the side of the road in the middle of nowhere. The quiet was overwhelming. What the hell was I doing? Why was I sabotaging myself?
I wasn’t hungry but I ate some beef jerky and washed it down with warm Mountain Dew. I needed to re-orient. Everything was fine at home last time I called, so why did I feel worried and guilty? My back was hurting. I got off the bike, walked a little ways into the desert. Fuck it, I thought, and laid down, my arm over my eyes. The quiet filled my head. I took a few deep breaths. OK, I thought, when I get up the New Way will begin. All thoughts of anything but the present day will be banished, effective immediately, gone with the first words I say. I stood up and threw forth a mighty wave of creative, cathartic cursing that was heard in Hell and had Satan staring at his shoes. My bike-journey self returned, firmly in the present moment. I had a great ride along the rest of Route 9 through to US 89, where I headed south to Kanab.
Seeing with New Eyes
Kanab has lots of hotels and restaurants. It’s a great place to stop, get your breath and decide what you want to do next. My original, guilt-ridden plan was to follow US 89 along northern Arizona/southern Utah and move quickly toward Oklahoma, where I had relatives I wanted to visit. But now I saw the map with new eyes.
The northern route, the one that would take longer, coiled and squirmed its way through central Utah. It looked tantalizingly steep and twisty. In a flash I knew. When would I be out here again? Possibly never. I owed it to myself to see it all, and the northern route shone like a jewel. The southern route? What an idiot! I would have to backtrack a little, but I didn’t care. I would ride north. I dropped easily into sleep, filled with peace and satisfaction from knowing I was on the right track.