Kanab, UT to Blanding, UT
Poor Little Roadrunner Runs on the Road All Day
The crown jewel of the entire trip.
Escalante's Desert Doctor offers a cure for my ailing bike.
Taking the northern route meant I had to negotiate the gravel/construction part of US 89 again and backtrack to the 89/9 intersection, where I gassed up and got some caffeine. Then I rode north on 89 to pick up Utah State Highway 12.
Highway 12 is the reason to come out west. It rolls and winds through the quintessentially American landscape of John Ford and Chuck Jones. That’s right, I just mentioned John Ford and Chuck Jones in the same sentence. This is coyote/roadrunner country, which made me think of two Roadrunner songs, the cartoon one and the Jonathan Richman one. Now I had two roadrunners stuck in my head. I knew all the words to both, and alternately serenaded the countryside with one or the other. The terrain gives a great new meaning to the Jonathan Richman’s “magic power of bleakness.” Riding across the country with no music forced my mental jukebox into “play all” mode every day. In the end it’s a little more fun.
I played on the curves and mountains all day, against a backdrop of ridiculously beautiful scenery. State Highway 12 is technical enough that it’s best to stop when you gawk, for safety’s sake. It’s easy to bog down in the sand on the shoulder – just like Death Valley, I almost got stuck again. A few times I turned around and burned through an especially delicious curve a second and third time. How cool not to be forced to consult with anyone.
The God Damned Front Brake
Traveling solo offers lots of perks, chief among them being you stop, go, eat and sleep when you want to. For a guy like me with four kids, 2 grandkids and a wife, all pulling me in different directions, time alone with no schedule was truly my wellspring in the desert.
Despite the mechanic’s and my attempts at bleeding the front brake, it still felt mushy. I searched through the Triumph online forums, and everyone bitched uniformly about the front brake – near impossible to bleed. I wasn’t screaming through the corners – drag a knee? I don’t even scrape the pegs – but the brake lever stopped too close to the grip for my comfort. No way could I find help out here in the desert.
Or so I thought.
The ghost of empty gas-tanks past floated at my elbow all day, murmuring constantly in my ear and creating unnecessary worry. What a waste of energy, given I had half a gallon reserve bolted to my luggage rack in camping-fuel bottles. Even so, I stopped in Escalante to fill up on unleaded and caffeine. A local sitting at a table outside said if I needed anything for my bike a guy in town could help me out. Right about then a gray-haired guy on a Harley came up the road, and the local flagged him into the gas station. A couple minutes later I was in the Desert Doctor’s repair shop.
Maybe This Will Work
The Desert Doctor rolled through Escalante 20 years ago out of Chicago, and decided to stay. He’s been here ever since, providing an oasis of motorcycle repair in the desert wilderness.
I sat around and talked with the Doc for awhile. He showed me his shop and the adjacent building, to which he has affixed a gazillion signs, each with the hometown of a motorcyclist whose tire he fixed. The Doc says he gets quite a few flats and blowouts, in addition to damage from accidents caused by overspeeding into corners. A lot of rental bikes piloted by inexperienced, 1,000-mile-a-year motorcyclists find their way onto Highway 12, and some of those find their way to Escalante and the Doc’s shop. He gave me a cool little metal cross for my keychain, which he gives to all his customers. I bought a syringe that would allow me to send the fluid from the valve up, rather than pouring it in at the master cylinder. I figured I’d give it a try at the end of the day.
Look at Me, Look at Me
I’d gotten distracted earlier when I met the Doc and left the gas station with my caffeine but no gasoline. I pulled into another station at the other end of town. A few minutes later these three guys I had seen earlier in the day pulled in – guys in their late fifties/early 60s, riding big touring Harleys with their exhaust baffles out. They gunned their engines a lot and looked around to make sure everyone saw them. They reminded me of the bikers on South Park.
I nodded hi for the second time that day and they nodded back. I started to say something to one of them but the guy turned away, no real reason to talk to me as he’s on a Harley and I’m not. I have dealt with this more than once – people in a group ignoring me because I’m riding alone. It’s like, we don’t need you, we have a group. Yeah, whatever. If that bothered me I’d be riding with a group of my own.
I stopped plenty of times along 12 for the scenery. Speeding through would have been a crime. At one point the Doc caught up with me; he was testing out some new parts. At the same stop I met a guy from Salt Lake City, riding the only other Triumph I saw the whole trip – an early 2000s Bonneville. He was headed to Tucson, so I recommended that he take a ride up Mount Lemmon while there.
The Harley riders gunned their engines a lot and looked around to make sure everyone saw them. They reminded me of the bikers on South Park.
Utah's Highway 12 is the main reason to come out West.
Of the seven billion people in the world, I became one of the few who would see these natural wonders from the seat of a motorcycle, with no obligations other than to enjoy myself as much as possible.
The Desert Doctor stocks a wide variety of parts for the stranded motorcyclist.
If the Desert Doctor fixes your flat, your hometown joins all the others on the outside of his storage shed.
I savored the rest of the day’s ride through some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the world. I couldn’t believe my luck. Of the seven billion people in the world, I became one of the few who would see these natural wonders from the seat of a motorcycle, on a beautiful sunny (but not hot) day, with no obligations other than to enjoy myself as much as possible. Throw that on top of living in the USA and the whole thing starts feeling like an embarrassment of riches. Once again, I felt guilty for enjoying myself. Stupid Protestant work ethic.
I stopped for gas again at the intersection of 24 and 12. Just as I left the loud guys pulled up, revving their engines and looking around for admirers. Maybe I’d get lucky and they’d go the other way on 24.
The magical landscape petered out. Things got flat and boring again toward the end on State Highway 95, which I took south. I ended the day in Blanding, taking a room at an old motel next to a restaurant/diner. I unloaded the bike and flopped down onto the bed, my cell phone connected to the motel’s wireless network.
Then I heard them, far away at first. The sound increased as they neared, and as they parked, blipping their throttles constantly, I looked out the window. The loud guys had landed at my motel. I walked over to the restaurant next door and had the Navajo taco, a giant piece of frybread covered with cheese, beans, meat, lettuce, tomato. Why not? I can get a steak or a burger in Philadelphia.
I had spied a coin-op laundry on my way into town. After dinner I stuffed my dirty clothes in a plastic grocery bag, tied it to the luggage rack and rode over. The TV was on a Spanish station with no remote, so I played gin rummy on my phone and watched a grandmother try to control a toddler while folding her laundry.
When I got back midnight had come and gone on the East Coast so I skipped calling home. I also skipped the shower. It looked clean, but it had a grim vibe that threw me off. I flipped on the TV, took the map out and devised a crude plan: Ride as far into New Mexico as possible. I didn’t check the weather. What was the point? I had to go east no matter what, and I could always find a place to duck in out of the weather, right? Right?