ToHellURide 2011

Let’s Go Find Out!

Day 1: Tuba City to Mesa Verde 233 Miles

For some reason, Stacey had thought the first day was going to be short. At least it looked that way on the map…but she was wrong. We put in 233 miles before we pulled into the Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde. Which is long — enough for us!

It took us a few hours to get it together to leave. Bikes had to be unloaded from trailers, the UHaul had to be returned, gear had to be stowed and secured, decisions had to be made. Photos taken. Photos posted on Facebook.

We pulled out about 10 AM and tested our loads over the 5 killer speed bumps between Joan&Kristin’s and the main highway. Filling our tanks in Tuba, we headed northeast on Hwy 160.

The road from Tuba City to Kayenta was flat and open and warm enough to warrant summer jackets. Some red rock, and a good long stretch to warm up the bikes, to check our loads, and start to find our group groove.

Kristin started in the lead, Joan rode sweep. We slipped back into riding patterns established long ago during Red Rock Roar. Soon lovely large red rock formations started showing up and we rode through Monument Valley. Tourists stopped by the side of the road to take photos and became traffic hazards. We cruised smoothly. This was the route we had covered on the last day of Red Rock Roar but it looked different coming from the opposite direction. Different also as the first day instead of the last.

It got hotter. In Kayenta we picked up the 163 north. Our goal for lunch was Bluff, Utah and it was 1:00 when we pulled in — hot and hungry. Going into the Comb Ridge Café, we ordered iced chocolate drinks and we flopped down on the couch — Stacey only then realizing how tired she was and how hard she was pushing past her head cold and fatigue.

Sitting in the shade in front of the coffee shop, we revived ourselves with cold treats and a single piece of quiche, chatting to a friend who showed up. He was a recently retired doctor who is now tending his bees, happy as could be without having to remember another single drug dosage ever again. We thought about life-purpose and the happiness that brings.

Leaving Bluff, we stayed on the 163 towards Montezuma Creek with our eye on a possible shortcut through McElmo canyon. We wanted to go through this little valley that may or may not have been paved since J&K were last there. After asking three different people and still not being sure, we decided to chance it and just go find out. Good decision: green fields, high cliffs, and lovely homes replaced the desert expanse and rez shacks we had been seeing all day, and it shaved forty miles off of what our day’s journey would have been. Nice curves, but as Stacey rode sweep this stretch, she had tailgaters on her ass for most of the way. Still — it was lovely. Paved the whole way and beautiful views of the seldom seen northwestern flank of Ute Mountain.

Rode right through Cortez where Stacey got to see how her new (2009 Softail Harley) bike looked in store windows, and had to share with J&K that that is what you do when you ride through a town with storefront windows. We were looking good, but by now it was getting later in the afternoon. Outside Cortez we stopped at the Sleeping Ute Rest Area for about half an hour to lay in the shade on a picnic table, wash up, and recover before we rode on up into Mesa Verde. We didn’t want to tackle the climbing switchbacks while tired — we wanted to enjoy the experience more than that. Eventually, we realized we had to ride because otherwise we would just sleep right there on the table. It’d been a long day and we weren’t done yet.

Back on the bikes and within minutes we were at the Mesa Verde gate. Stacey paid her 8 bucks and we started the long climb up into the park, the views getting more spectacular the whole way. We wanted to gaze out at the landscapes, but had to keep our eyes on the road every second. The joy began to simmer…and then we pulled into the Far View Lodge.

Met a couple on a Harley, talked a bit, and then went in to register. There was a note from Carolyn but before we could even sign in, there she was standing next to us. When Stacey turned and saw her, her joy overflowed and she felt at home. No longer exhausted, just happy to be with Carolyn and feel the connect again.

Hours passed. Stacey’s room was a little box under another room — like the cliff dwellings were years ago — and J&K were up the hill in a kiva. We all recovered for about half an hour, Stacey & Carolyn catching up on the high points, and then gathered for drinks up at the outdoor lounge. Finally made our way to dinner, talking the whole time. Deer grazed outside the windows, wild horses with their latest baby moved through.

Later, after dinner, and after Carolyn drove back down the mountain, Stacey stepped out onto the little balcony to see the stars. She saw a bright and pregnant moon instead. But the quiet was absolute. Not even the sound of wind. Total silence. Lovely. Going back into her room and completely exhausted, she crawled into the hard little bed, and was asleep before she knew it. Tomorrow would be just as long as we make our way to Jemez Springs — another 250 mile trek.

Day 2 — Mesa Verde to Jemez Springs, NM 230 miles

Stacey: I write this while sitting on the patio outside my room at the Canyon del Rio in Jemez Springs…hummingbirds fighting over the feeder by the koi lily pond that has a raven eternally crouched ready to pounce.

I have returned from a morning stroll down by the creek where the sun is already warm, the birds twittering like crazy, the yucca blooming. This is a very special place. No need to smudge here! There are sounds of breakfast being prepared in the kitchen, and my coffee is perfect.

What a difference a day makes. We’ve only gone 450 miles, but it feels like we’re on a different planet.

We started with breakfast in the cafeteria at Mesa Verde, laughing at little fingers raised while eating sweet rolls. Fighting the tourist crowds to get Stacey’s patch, then back to pack up the bikes and hit the road. Down the hill at an easy pace because the view was spectacular; picked up another Softail along the way — the couple we had met the night before. Stopped for photos at the bottom, then on into Mancos for gas and to get picnic supplies for later in the day. Kristin was pretty sure there was not going to be much along our route in the way of restaurants.

Zuma Foods — a health food store in Mancos — how cool is that? We shopped happily, filled up our tanks, topped off the air in Maggie’s tires, and hit the road. Next stop Cuba!

The valley opened up around us, Kristin in the lead, and then we entered a lovely green stretch that felt a bit like the lushfarming country in California. An iris farm whizzed by, the colors a blur as we kept cruising. We started to gel. It was when we passed a huge sign for the biggest cinnamon rolls ever and Kristin created a new hand signal (hand raised, little finger extended, index finger and thumb making a circle like a big person eating dainty) — that was the moment the trip gelled. Not bad — only two days out!

There was a long dry stretch with roley-poleys and we were glad Kristin was in the lead — some of the rises left us wondering what we would find when we reached the crest….another new hand signal…

Leaving the little green stretch, we entered Aztec where we were ready to change to short sleeves, and check the map.

Stopped at a bathroom where they had the most amazing ‘health maintenance center’, laughed a lot, washed the gas off Maggie where it had overflowed leaving Mancos, and made a few wrong turns trying to connect with the 550 heading south. After a couple of turn-arounds, we entered the long long stretch that would take us to Cuba — our chosen picnic spot. The agreement was that we would ride tight for safety because this was supposed to be a very dangerous road. We were ready to go find out.

It was a beautiful road — two lanes both ways, speed limit 70, not too much traffic, and we hit a groove. Kristin had her bike on cruise-control and we changed lanes like the tight formation we become when we gel. Waved at a child in a Bronco who loved the bikes…now move on and get out of our way! Stacey did the mileage math in her head as we ate up the miles that would take us through this challenging, potentially boring stretch. Box on the side of the road advertising a revival — one of countless that seemed to be the culture of this stretch.

Signs warning us of limited visibility at the next highway crest … signs that should’ve been in the rolly-pollies where the crests were truly blind. Big huge sign advertising “Free 72 oz Steak in Amarillo Texas.” Texas? Were we in the wrong state? Do the math: 4 ½ pounds? That was worth a lot of helmet thought, math, and web searching later that night….

The ‘bad’ stretch was not so bad, and we pulled into Cuba, stopping at a gas station to fill up. After a bit of looking we found a picnic table in the shade, parked our bikes across the street where we could keep our eyes on them, and had a lovely time eating the food we’d brought from Mancos. Laughed a lot, took photos, rested up from bike vibrations and enjoyed the peace of sitting (or in Stacey’s case, lying) still. Could’ve eaten Mexican, but chose to eat the food we’d brought. We’d mildly regret that later on…

So lovely and relaxed, but we had miles to cover so we loaded back up and headed for our day’s destination: Jemez Springs. Stacey moved into the lead — we rode south alongside a mountain range to the east. The air turned hazy with smoke from the Arizona fires. Forty miles down the road we turned east on Hwy 4 and started riding up a green canyon through the Native American reservations. (Five reservations today! Count ‘em!) The Jemez reservation was the coolest, with adobe homes and signs of community everywhere. Leaving that rez, we wound through a narrow canyon, along the creek. Shaded lovely rest stops all along the way, making us wish we had picnicked here instead! So many great places…

Canon del Rio had a gravel driveway and it was not fun. We were tired from miles of riding and gravel is not our chosen surface to ride on, especially slowly. But Kristin helped park ISHII for Joan and finally we turned off the engines one last time. Checking in, our jangled road energy clashed with the peace and beauty of this place. What to do first? Check out the spa? Walk down to the creek? Unpack the bikes? Take a shower?

Downing water first (so dehydrated!), we chose the creek. Right choice. Babbling brook, seats by the water, cliffs rising above — just what we needed to release the road. Stacey went back to check out the spa, got on a waiting list for a massage, and took the most delicious shower –washing the grime out of her hair and soaking up moisture through her skin. J&K decided to walk down the road to check out the local food scene.

Stacey wasn’t hungry, so she took her book down to the swing in the meadow and read while the sun set and created an ever-changing light showing against the cliffs. When it got a bit cool, she came back up to her room and kept admiring the surroundings — this was an amazing place.

About 8:30 the masseuse knocked on the door of Stacey’s Hopi room and said she could fit in a 30 minute massage. Hallelujah. The spa was amazing with huge rooms, and windows placed to see the top of the cliffs when you lie on the table. The 30 minutes felt like an hour — one of the best massages ever. Her hands felt like they loved every muscle they touched. That throttle arm shoulder responded to her kneading, that shifter hip responded to the stretches and she felt her whole body let the tension go like it hadn’t in months.

Back to the Hopi room — not hungry a bit — she worked on the laptop happily until J&K returned with a bottle of Pinot Gris. Sprawled on the bed — talk time, debrief time, laugh time, planning time. Life is perfect.

And now it’s tomorrow. J&K are down by the creek and breakfast is being served. It’s going to be a good day.

Day 3: Jemez Springs to Santa Fe — 88 gnarley miles

Morning walks down by the creek, a fantastic breakfast with all the marathon runners, tattoos and coffee …then to load the bikes and ride into the tiny town of Jemez Springs to get sandwiches for lunch. A tense moment when Stacey pulled into a steep parking lot and silently freaked out inside her helmet, thinking she’d gotten in over her head but some backing and filling and Kristin spotting her made it look like she knew what she was doing. Thank goodness for Kristin and the dark face shield on her helmet, hiding the panic she felt.

Sandwiches stored in Kristin’s HUGE bags, we headed up the canyon riding along the river through lush green. We were looking for a hiking spot that Traci had told us about at breakfast. Stopping at a pull out to confer about what we remembered of her directions, Stacey realized that her Off-Run switch had broken.

Broken in the ‘Run’ position thank goodness, so now she’ll just have to kill the engine with the main power switch. At least it’s not an essential that broke and the engine still roars.

Riding on along the river, we found the spot but it was packed full of people. People climbing rock walls up next to the highway. People wandering around looking for other people wandering around. Cars everywhere. Not a place for us. On we rode, hoping to find another spot so we could take a little hike up to a waterfall and soak in this lovely stretch of New Mexico some more before we had to leave. Onward, let’s go find out!

Pulling into a fishing access, we did get to walk down to the river and play on the rocks a bit. Not a hike, but at least we got to spend some more time in the Las Conchas Forest. Sadly, this area was destroyed only two weeks later by a huge wildfire. We took advantage of our brief visit by the creek to take the requisite traditional tattoo photo:

Then back on the bikes to ride to Bandelier National Park — patch and picnic being our goal! We rode for miles next to the biggest meadow in New Mexico — “Valle Grande” — Los Alamos just on the other side. A little creepy. The air began to be smoky from the fires burning down south in Arizona. Climbing up into Bandelier, we rode through dry hot desert that did little to inspire us. Stacey paid the requisite $12 to get in and we rode to the visitor’s center. Hot hot hot. Dry dry dry. The air was marginally cleaner inside Bandelier, but none of us felt like hiking or doing anything more strenuous than finding a picnic table in the shade.

Crossing the parking lot we did get hyped by a gorgeous restored Chevy — must’ve been the first mini-van — with national park stickers all over the back window. For Stacey it was a flashback to a baby-boomer childhood.

Perusing the visitor’s center in the AC, we found Stacey’s patch and our passport stamps. We wandered over to the creek and found a picnic table in some shade where we ate our sandwiches and studied the map for the drive into Santa Fe. A tassle-eared squirrel ran by with a high-hop to his gait that had us laughing. Water faucets didn’t work, but the raven in the tree above thought it was pretty funny while we tried! It seemed like every human there was a bit lethargic, wandering around without much energy at all.

Bandelier was named for Adolf Bandelier who had to go into his father’s business but wanted to be an anthropologist. There are ruins to be seen in that park but not by us on this trip! We loaded back up and headed out, looking for clearer air and more miles under our belts. Santa Fe next!

Joan took the lead because she knows Santa Fe, Kristin in the middle and Stacey rode sweep. We hit traffic almost immediately and rode in pretty tight formation so we wouldn’t get separated. After the first few miles of scenery, Stacey quit looking — it was all she could do to concentrate on BTRIX’s ass! It was hot. Traffic was getting thick. It was gnarley. We hoped Joan knew where she was going. We started riding like we do when we’ve gelled — sweep holding the lane for lane changes with all of us moving as a unit. Finally in the City, we made some smooth turns as a unit of powerful chrome and steel — finding a coffee shop that would serve iced coffee to get us on through. WOW. THAT was an amazing ride!

Cooling off in the coffee shop drinking our iced mochas and lattes, Joan connected with her mom and her friend Freddie Sue. Then back on the bikes to ride to our casita for the next two nights. And a garage for the girls.

Lovely little Santa Fe home here tucked in with all the others. Joan walked to her mom’s with a shopping list in hand to get the car so we wouldn’t have to ride and park the bikes everywhere while we were here. Kristin and Stacey cleaned up the bikes so they would show well to Freddie Sue and Andy. Showers and unpacking and cooling off and landing — all happening pretty fast.

Out to dinner for New Mexico Mexican and margaritas — lots of laughs and good times with Freddie Sue and Andy. Culture shock to be in Santa Fe, at a busy restaurant with lots of people. So tired.

Home to the casita and bed. Strange to be in a City as part of our ride, but good to be in one place for two nights in a row. Stacey confessed that yesterday she had absolutely NO idea what day of the week it was (until Joansie said the word ‘Sunday’) and her body had been paying the price for moving around so much.

We’ll do laundry, see what we come up with here in Santa Fe, and sleep in the same beds two nights in a row before moving on. A good time to stop.

Day 4 Santa Fe, NM

The bikes, all shiny and clean, stayed tucked in the garage all day. Stacey woke up early and chose to spend time in the casita while J&K went out for a run. The introvert wanted to make coffee, do laundry, write, and settle into a day in a new city.

Bummer: she just couldn’t figure out the coffee machine — it just wouldn’t go on! But the casita in the morning sun was lovely and she enjoyed not having to hurry, to pack, to think of the road ahead.

Joan came back first with stories of how beautiful a day it was in Santa Fe. She pushed the reset button in the kitchen and the coffee began to brew. Duh. Then Kristin returned saying that it was going to be a hot one. We started to cut up tomatoes and bagels and onions. We feasted on toasted bagels, smoked salmon, honeydew melon and coffee. We reviewed the best way to appreciate the First Sip of Coffee ala Ally McBeal. Read the local freebie papers trying to decide what to do with our one evening in Santa Fe. Eventually J&K talked Stacey into coming with them to see the houses Freddie Sue was finding for Fred and Helen (Joansie’s mom) and then to see a bit of Santa Fe. Stacey loves house hunting.

After all the laundry was done, the breakfast eaten, and we had had enough of lazing around the casita, we loaded into Helen’s little Honda and headed for the first of two housing options that were being considered. It was across town and it was strange that we were in a city. That in itself was disorienting.

We met Freddie Sue and Fred at the first one. It was a two bedroom two bath that needed a lot of work. The energy was not so great. There were speakers in the bathtub wall. I mean, the actual side of the bathtub. (?) The laundry room was at the dead end side of the galley kitchen. Lots of strangeness. Perhaps it could be fixed up to be nice…

The second one was magical. Amazing gardens, gorgeous interior, simply beautiful. The energy was clean and clear and strong. We all could’ve moved in easily, and we agreed that this was definitely the one — if the money could work out. Helen will be out of the hospital (broken hip & wrist after a recent fall) and able to see it later this week or next. Meanwhile, they will put in an offer. We lingered. We didn’t really want to leave — it was so nice.

We headed to Canyon Road, a stretch of art galleries that includes a coffee shop because we wanted something cold to drink. It was hot hot hot so we found a table outside under the trees. Telling stories, we enjoyed a pleasant hour in the shade. Stacey ate ice cream while J&K ate lunch and we all felt somewhat revived. The little waitress felt bad about her service so she comped us cookies. No need, but it was nice.

We began to wander. Funky shops, nice shops, outdoor art. There was a Harley like no other we’d ever seen — Stacey took a video to show Tim. There were galleries to wander through — one in particular that could’ve taken thousands of our dollars had we been able. Ahhh the sculptures! The giraffe! The frog! The owl! Oh the owl! Good thing we were on motorcycles and couldn’t carry any extra weight…

Walking down Canyon Road and beyond, we made our way to the Plaza where we shopped in the leather shop — Kristin bought a great cowboy hat that hardly left her head for the rest of the trip. (See all future photos.) Stacey tried on a fur vest that woulda coulda set her back $1800. We strolled the sidewalk where native vendors spread their wares. Nothing tempting enough to part with cash and then carry for the rest of our trip, but it was fun to shop and look and soak up a bit of Santa Fe like that.

A brisk walk back to the car where we picked up a parking ticket — dang! We piled in to go get food at a local Whole Foods to take to the hospital for dinner with Helen and Fred. After shopping for large amounts of food, we loaded it up and took it out to the car — heading for the hospital.

It is a lovely hospital — which is saying a lot. Helen was so happy to see us. We sat around a big round table in the rehab unit where the nurses were all so very nice and it actually felt good. It was a yummy dinner with excellent conversation and food that felt healthy — salad and sushi. Miniature cheesecakes prompted a guessing game that was fun. Finally Helen was worn out so we packed up and made our way out of the hospital, not without some ups and downs and backtrackings and locked doors. Three physicians trapped in hospital in Santa Fe — the stuff nightmares are made of. Drove back to the casita for a quiet evening at home. Forget the nightlife — we were riding tomorrow!

Stacey Skyped her daughter Cara for her birthday and cheered her up — J&K took the car back to Helen’s and then returned to sing to Cara. Then we all sat out on the porch and drank (Stacey her Amsel light, J&K their white wine) and we watched the stars, talked about the day and people we knew, and started to plan tomorrow’s ride.

Taos… the Enchanted Circle …. A new place. We’re on the down side of the trip and the energy has slightly shifted. We always get to this place where we can’t believe that there are only three more places to go on the trip — but we have many more days of adventures left to us.

Pull it all together and pack up the bikes again. It’s Taos next!

Day 5 Santa Fe to Taos 163.4 Miles

Took us a few hours to move out of the casita in Santa Fe — pulling all our stuff back together, eating up the food in the fridge, cleaning up the broken glass from the shelf that fell down, and re-loading the bikes. The foreign tourists renting the condo across the street from us were fascinated by the whole process. It was almost 11 when we pulled out.

Gassed up at the first station we came to, and then Joan led us out of town — north to Taos.

We were on freeway for just a little bit, then got off onto some lovely rolling hills — some road construction, but mostly just high mesa farms and little teeny towns. In Truchas we stopped at the gallery owned by Joansie’s mother’s best friend — Barbara McCauley and Alvaro, her husband. They were overjoyed to see Joan and to meet K and Stacey, and it was a good stop. We met the three dogs — two of them bulldogs with the most bowed legs and the ugliest snouts that we ever did see. (Don’t tell Alvaro, but we think at least one of them could easily win the Ugliest Dog Contest paws-down!) Enjoyed the art, and Stacey really enjoyed some of their writings. Then it was back on the High Road to Taos.

Beautiful riding took us right into the town of Taos. We made our way through traffic to the Plaza where it got confusing — what to do about parking? Stacey grabbed the lead and led us to a great place right on the Plaza and in front of Taos Mountain Outdoor store. her Nicaraguan parking god was definitely helping us out.

Shopping happened — a new water bottle for J&K and a hat for J. Lots of advice about where to eat… Antonio’s was fantastic. We were so hungry, and we got a table outside where they made guacamole right there at the table for us. Cerviche with mahi-mahi, a big taco salad for Stacey, carne asada tacos for J&K, and we were totally stuffed. Our Santa Fe casita neighbors were at the next table; big reunion!

Waddling back to the bikes, we loaded up again. Lunch had been full of discussion about where to go next: do the Enchanted Circle or go on a hike suggested by the owner of the outdoor shop. Finally deciding to stick to our original plan, we set out to ride the Circle. Kristin in lead, Stacey rode sweep. The pace was leisurely — about 45mph average, so we could really see everything along the way. First along the creek and green trees…then open country surrounded by mountain peaks…waved to J&K’s land at Palo Flechado pass…past Angel Fire …. Badger Pass at over 9800 feet … and Joan and Stacey fought overwhelming sleepiness almost the whole way. If we’d been passengers in a car we would’ve missed the whole thing because we would’ve been snoozing in the warm afternoon with a full stomach.

Stopped in Red River to reconnoiter and agreed that we were really glad we chose the ride around the Circle instead of the hike. In fact, we gave up our plan to do a short hike before finishing the ride — the day was getting long and it was time to get to our Hacienda.

Pulling into the Hacienda del Sol, we found a gravel driveway, which we mastered like pros…and our adjoining rooms. We unloaded, meeting a few of the other guests who were interested in these three girls on big bikes. SO glad to be here!

But someone had to go for wine, cheese, crackers and fruit and it was Stacey’s turn. With Kristin’s backpack on her back, she headed out to Cid’s — a grocery store just a few hundred feet down the highway towards town.

Cid’s did not sell wine. It’s New Mexico — only a “package” liquor store would have wine. Drat. So she started hoofing it down the highway to a liquor store — in the heat and the traffic and it was absolutely no fun. Found the store, grabbed a bottle of Ravenswood Zin, found out they didn’t take cash, almost lost it, but hit the ATM machine, and got the hell out of there. Hoofed it back to the Hacienda and arrived all hot and sweaty and way out of sync with J&K laughing and relaxing on the lawn with their books, watching the developing sunset.

Grrrrrr.

But a glass of Zin and good eats with J&K in the mosquito filled evening changed her sweaty mood, and we stayed out until it was too dark to see.

So very dry. Lips dry, throat dry, drink drink drink. Shower shower shower. Altitude and dry air are so strange for anyone used to the foggy Northern California coast.

Another long day tomorrow will take us to Durango.

Day 6 Taos to Durango 205 miles

Breakfast at Hacienda del Sol was not so great — dry waffle for Stacey, overdone eggs for Kristin, mediocre omelet for Joansie — but the dining room was great and we finally got to see the house and learn a bit about its history. Learned about Mabel Dodge Lujan and what an interesting woman she was; would love to learn more.

Had to clean the bikes from aphid dropppings, then load them up and one at a time turn them around in the gravel parking area. One to ride, two to spot. It went much better than we feared , and pretty soon we were lined up ready to hit the road. Many goodbyes from the folks at the B&B.

Rode on out — past the liquor store .6 miles down the road (sure seemed longer yesterday!) — and out on to the desert. Wide open highways with mountains in the far distance on each side. Glorious clear air, the smell of sage and verbena strong. Passed Earthship’s visitors center — would’ve like to stop but we had just started.

Whimsical houses built into the earth with solar panels exposed. Amazing.

Helmet song stuck in Stacey’s head for hours: Neil Young’s Unknown Legend — perfect for the miles we rode. Came to the Rio Grande Gorge and did stop to walk the bridge. It made us dizzy it was so deep and HUGE.

Also saw a career opportunity that might’ve been a great idea if it was still 1976.

Then back on the bikes. Kristin in the lead, we climbed up out of the desert and into green roads with spectacular vistas: snow capped rocky mountain peaks, big valleys, great curves. As we climbed it got cooler and cooler until Stacey’s summer jacket became a liability and she got cold — chest, hands, arms — too cold to do anything but work to stay warm.

She rode slower, cutting the wind chill, tucked in tight next to her bike, and covered her chest with her shifting arm. Finally, we started to descend into lower elevations and the air warmed just enough to cut the chill. She realized it was going to be okay, speeded up, and the three of us pulled into a gas station together in Tres Piedras.

Big talk about how it had been cold and why it had been cold and who could see what and how we all felt terrible about poor Stacey being cold. She filled up her tank, cleaned the bugs off the windshield, and we made friends with two people from Iowa on Sporties who were on their very first road trip. They envied our bikes. Nice folks.

Finally warm enough to ride again with no chill left — Stacey took the lead so she could pull us over if needed. We headed for Chama, a cool little railway town and our intended lunch stop.

Chama was a sweet village with a café for lunch. Free pickle and cookie with the sandwich — the cookie was great! But it wasn’t until we were many miles down the road that we remembered they forgot our pickle!

Drat! Too late…

Once again with Stacey in the lead, we rode a big stretch of two-lane highway. We spread out and Joan got stuck with a car on her ass. We tried to slow enough to bunch us up so he could pass, but Joan never caught up with us. So we had the car on our butts the whole way. When we stopped for gas in Pagosa Springs, there was more big talk about how to ride so others can pass our wild bunch. We talked strategy, we changed positions, and then we practiced.

Boy we were good! We let folks pass while we rode through beautiful mountain meadows on our way into Durango — flowers blooming, baby horses, cowboys and horses working their ranches, birds zipping around — unknown raptors! Awesome, and once again riding tight.

Durango Harley — evil spirit bells for J&K — then into town to the Rochester. Cookies and juice were ready for us on our arrival. We checked in — lugged all our gear upstairs to our rooms and got settled in. Quick showers and change of clothes and the evening fun began…

Across the street to a wine bar K had wanted to try out — we ended up getting cocktails instead of wine. A 12- Year old single-malt scotch for Stacey, a lemon frou frou drink for J&K. We took and sent a birthday greeting to Betty and laughed our way through our drinks.

After much discussion about where to eat, we decided to go to Cosmos, it’s sister restaurant in Telluride is a favorite of J&K’s. This dinner was going to be on Stacey — to pay for the motorcycle trailer back in Tuba.

Walking to Cosmos through old downtown Durango, we got a table and knew we had it right. The menu was so yummy and everything was expensive enough to make it worth J&K giving up their trailer! But first… wine. When Stacey opened the drink menu, she saw a Cosmotini that was made with her very favorite Van Gogh dutch chocolate vodka. So she asked for one of those without the milky stuff, and J&K picked a bottle of red wine. When that martini came, with chocolate swirls and a cherry in the bottom, J&K each took a taste of what Stacey swears is one of the yummiest drinks on the planet.

One taste, and we were together on the Dark Side — the dark chocolate side. Ahhhh. A good start. Oh — and their wine was pretty good too. It did have a picture of a woman on a vintage Harley on the label.

Pork for J, Beef for K, Scallops for Stacey. Everything was delicious, and laughter made it all taste even better.

Lots of food. Good food. Time for our beds back at the Rochester. Tomorrow is one more glorious ride to Mecca: Telluride!

Day 7 Durango to Telluride 125 long slow miles

Breakfast at the Rochester was lovely out in the garden patio. We loaded up the bikes again — having completely unloaded the night before since we were parked out back of the hotel in an alley. Then, in chaps and warm clothes for the day’s ride, we had coffee and a pretty good meal before checking out of the hotel and getting further layered for the ride. We were starting a whole hour earlier than usual, although we were an hour later than we had planned/hoped. It was 10:45 when we pulled out and drove through downtown Durango towards a gas station. K in the lead, J in the middle, S taking sweep. We would ride this way all day long, because it worked so well. Joan had a chance to use the storefront windows as a mirror for the first time, and joined the club of Aren’t-We-Looking-Good girls. And oh yes we were!

After filling up and washing the bugs off the windshields with Windex offered by the gas station owner, we headed out of Durango along beautiful roads through the mountain meadows with huge peaks on either side.

The train to Silverton ran alongside us, stopping us briefly while it crossed the highway in front of us. We started to climb towards the passes we would cross as we headed north. Gorgeous homes built on the rocky mountainside, horses, cows, goats working hard to eat the grass on the outside of the fence. Perfect temperature since we were all wearing leather and layers.

As we climbed through the San Juan National Forest to the first pass — Coal Bank at 10,640 feet — Stacey was overcome with the grandeur of Mother Nature and, as she had done a few years earlier when riding with the girls into Zion, tears of gratitude and joy welled up inside her helmet. But the curves demanded full attention so only quick waves of overwhelm were allowed. The curves were lovely — easy to take as a smooth team. We were all (especially K) remembering just two weeks before when she had ridden the Iron Horse on her bicycle, and wondering how she had ever pulled that off. There were places where the headwinds were intense, and the climb relentless. A real grunt on a bicycle, a cool breeze on a V-twin.

At Coal Bank we stopped for a photo op, bathroom, and scenery break. Lots of tourists stepping out of their cages with cameras, and a few bikers doing the same as we. Snow on the ground, and a bit of history –how the Utes were kicked out of their ancient territory so the settlers could mine the ore out of these mountains. Sad.

Beautiful.

Back on the bikes for more overwhelmingly gorgeous views on our climb to Molas Pass at 10,910 feet. Taking this ride on a motorcycle is so much more than doing it in a cage — the wind, the smells, the air — it’s all in your face and it becomes a total immersion experience. Those who only know it from a car would have a hard time imagining the difference being out on a motorcycle makes. K says it’s even better than a bicycle because that was just so hard! (But satisfying…oh yeah)

Photo op at Molas Pass, chatting with the bikers we had met at Coal Bank, and just taking in the scene. We lingered. We soaked up the view. We knew we were on a peak experience. It was good.

Random helmet thought: Bug juice on the neck of the water bottle sticking out of the saddle bag. Road hazards.

Next stop Silverton. More mountain riding, a pocket of no traffic ahead or behind, and lovely mountain curves down into that little mining town. A walk through town, a stop for coffee and a snack, and a chance to soak up a bit of local color. Shopped in a store downtown for trinkets — a patch for Stacey’s bag — and then back to the bikes. Old men and little boys love our bikes — women often walk by and smile, but the men stop to talk. Boys have eyes that get really really big, and love it when we stop to talk with them.

Ouray and lunch was next on the route, and K reminded us that there were going to be some tight switchbacks and gnarley curves on this part of the day’s ride. There were. There was traffic, but all was moving slowly — no choice. There was construction, but brief stops were no problem. There were waterfalls everywhere and again, the scenery was overwhelming. But it took full attention to do the ride — all our old skills coming back to us: press on the inside handlebars … raise your head to look up into the hairpin curves where you want to go … accelerate coming out of the curves. Taking many of them in 1st gear, we smoothly rode our way to Ouray. A mile outside of town we passed the 1000 mile mark on Magdalena Pearl’s odometer.

Ouray was a good lunch stop. We walked and found a deli where we got sandwiches. The altitude was getting to Stacey and all she wanted to do was take a nap — not hungry, just overwhelmingly tired. Pepsi didn’t help, but taking off the hot chaps and cooling down did. She knew once she got back on the bike she’d wake up out of necessity. So she was glad when we were ready to move on.

Next stop Telluride — but to get there we had to ride around a mountain and down through a valley along the river. We were looking forward to becoming Festivarians, but had some work to do first. No problem. We ran into some huge crosswind gusts that buffeted us pretty good the whole way. There were times when it felt a bit scary — when the wind would hit suddenly and we’d be riding along the edge of a cliff — but our bikes are big and they did just fine.

The scene started happening even before we got into town. The campgrounds were a colorful array of tent-tops set in the woods a few miles outside of town. More campgrounds were set up inside the town limits and we passed those on the way to our condo. We easily cleared the vehicle checkpoint where everyone waved us past with a smile, except the cop who was rather grim. No worries.

Making our way into Telluride, J took the lead. She and K conferred several times as we wound our way toward the condo — Stacey just kept quiet and followed. Finding the condo next to a rushing stream that is usually a trickle at best, we parked the bikes on the street and started the process of figuring out Where to Park the Bikes for the duration. Much discussion, walking about, talking about the gravel parking lot behind the condo, talking to the plumbers who took up lots of space. When will the plumbers move their vans….is the gravel too deep and soft to be safe? We hate gravel. Will all 3 bikes fit?

Finally seeing that we could park on the street behind the condo, J&K came around with their bikes from the spot a few blocks away where we had left them. J parked fine. K was trying to back up as close to the curb as she could when suddenly her bike was on its side, leaning into J’s and threatening a domino disaster. Scariest moment of the trip — but we three picked it right back up again and no damage was done. We were just tired, hot, and really shaken.

Stacey walked back to get Magdalena, by now admitting exhaustion and nervous about the whole thing. But in spite of an SUV that had moved in and parked right on her ass, and the scary parking back with J&K, all went well and we were soon ready to schlep everything into the condo.

A quick shower, a partial unpack, and a shift in our stuff. We were transforming into Festivarians! We walked through town…past a store where we got laundry detergent which Stacey carried in her festival bag for the rest of the night…and then to the end of the canyon where we would turn in our tickets for wristbands. The excitement was infectious. We could hear Steve Earle ending his set as we came through the gates. Our bags were checked, our wristbands were checked and double-checked, and we were suddenly in the middle of a Happening! No chairs, no tarp, we headed over to the left side of the field and stood there assessing the possibilities of finding a place to land in the grass. Seeing some folks picking up their chairs, we moved in and took a great spot big enough for 8. J&K were thrilled and headed off to get food and beer. Stacey sat there to save the space and soak up the scene. Nice people in front of her — that’s where she met Charlie who sweetly shared. And the scene was altered.

Before J&K returned Stacey had lost most of the space we’d found to other Festivarians, but there was still room for the three of us. Sarah McLachlan started her set (she’s SO bluegrass) and her music complemented the mountain bowl perfectly. The rest of the night was all about the music. When the sun set behind the clouds at the entrance to the box canyon, the light and the music made magic happen. It was hard to wait the half hour after Sarah for the House Band to set up, but we managed — Hank & Holly (J&K’s doctor friends from Tuba) showed up — and pretty soon J and Holly were dancing their hearts out. We were surrounded by lots of laughter, lots of dancing, and lots of very happy people.

Children with big pink ear muffs. Folks of all ages passing the herb openly. Festival attire that was worth plenty of laughter. The scene felt good and friendly and safe and open.

It got colder, but we layered up and then the first drops of rain fell. We’d watched the clouds moving into the box canyon — dramatic as they do in this part of the world — but not much water was shed.

When the music was over we walked back to the condo where Stacey did laundry and J&K walked for chairs and a tarp so we could set up our space at the Festival tomorrow. They got rained on pretty good while walking home but now we were set with everything we needed for the next day at the Fair.

Sleep came by midnight — tomorrow promised to be a big day full of Festivarian activities well into the night.

Telluride Day 2

Joan was up and gone early — wanting to get to Town Park shortly after it opened and find us a place to be.

Kristin and Stacey took some time to be in the condo…to eat an instant oatmeal breakfast…and to take some time to land in Telluride. Then we slung our festival bags over our shoulders and hoofed it to the other end of town, sometime around 11 in the morning. The town is pretty much shut down for the Festival — all the streets belong to pedestrians, and at that time of the morning it’s pretty quiet since everyone is down at the Town Park. As we got closer to the entrance we could hear the music and feel the crowd’s energy. It’s infectious!

It took us awhile to find Joan — she wasn’t in the area to the left of the sound tower where we had been the night before. Our texts to her had difficulty sending in that box canyon, but after about five tries they went through and we got an answer back: “I’m to the right of the tower. Enter the Yellow Zone with humility and gratitude!” We found the little yellow flag and there was Joansie, with Holly and all their friends — plus some new ones. Including Hawkeye.

We became Festivarians. Totally and completely. We danced, we laughed, we drank beer and wine, we shopped in the craft booths, we danced some more. Stacey took videos to capture moments and she took photos to see the musicians up close. Telluride became a blur of people and color and music and FESTIVAL.

Taking a break in the middle of the day, we took off for the gondola — to ride it to Mountain Village and see the sights on the other side of the mountain.

Took a photo for Nancy’s birthday and then rode back over the mountain. Shared the way over with a man who had just ridden his bicycle on some trails — the bike was hooked on the outside of the gondola car and he stunk the whole car up all sweaty. But nice. Shared the car on the way back with two fellow Festivarians who had been to a Night Grass show the night before and couldn’t stop talking about it.

Lunch was Italian in town, then to Elk Park for the more intimate experience — the Punch Brothers playing in that venue. Elk Park is the BEST!

Back to Town Park and the Yellow Zone for the night’s lineup –Trampled by Turtles, Emmy Lou Harris, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones — and more fun with our friends there. Nonstop. But it is true: Walking all over Telluride was a bit of a challenge for Stacey at over 9000 feet — she was huffing and puffing. No oxygen.

Finally. Condo. Sleep. Festivarianing is exhilarating and exhausting and just plain awesome fun.

Telluride Day 3

Today was the day we decided to go our own ways. Kristin and Stacey had decided not to ride the bikes — too hard to get parking and too far to ride to the nearest national park. So while Kristin decided to go for a hike, Joan had tickets for the Punch Brothers movie in town, and Stacey just wanted to find her own way at her own pace around town.

Stacey: When I left the condo later that morning, I got a latte at the coffee shop and made my way across the street to Elk Park to listen to music there. Got there just in time to hear Bela Fleck and friends — an awesome set with musicians from all the different bands, getting together with Bela to jam. Abigail Washburn…Chris Thile…Noah on the banjo with Bela…wow.

The set was over so I walked to town to find something to eat — nothing looked too interesting. I still wasn’t all that hungry and the good places were crowded with lines of Festivarians buying food. So back to Elk Park to get a gyro and sit in the sun. It was between sets and I watched Bela talking to fans over on the side, in the shade. So casual and personal a venue — it makes it more about the music and less about the stars.

Finishing my gyro, I decided to finally make my way to Town Park — we had agreed to meet there in time to see Yonder Mountain String Band and the Decemberists. I walked down a quiet side street, wanting to be outside the crowds for a bit. But soon there were people coming up behind me, chatting away — so I moved out onto the empty street to let them go by on the sidewalk. Looking up I realized it was Bela and Abigail and without really thinking, I said, “Thank you for taking me to Africa!”

“Oh you were no trouble at all — you were a good guest. I hardly knew you were there,” he answered. And we had a conversation about marking your instrument — is it cheating? NO — whatever helps make the best music is what needs to happen. Edgar Meyer — the best bass player ever — marks his bass and gets teased about it. But he makes the best music. I told Bela that I would share that viewpoint with my marimba troupe. Then they popped into their hotel, and I walked on towards the river where I would find a rock to sit upon.

The water flowed so clear, the mountains rose above me, the sky was perfect blue. Although I could see and hear the festival, here it was relatively quiet and only a few folks were walking by. Lovely. I spent time on a couple of rocks before I was ready to hit the Yellow Zone again.

The three of us re-found each other as planned, and the evening took over! Music on the main stage — then dinner was a burrito there in the park. We had tickets for the 11PM Night Grass at the Palm Theater with Matthew and the Atlas and The Head and the Heart. Long long festival day.

Walking to the Palm and then back to the condo about 1AM we found an SUV parked so close to the bikes that Kristin couldn’t even get hers out because there was no room to bring it upright. We tried to get the owner, but no one home. Thought unkind thoughts — like slashing their tires, etc. Pulled up their wipers, flipped their side mirrors in frustration. Did not slash tires, which was a good thing. I mean, they weren’t evil. They were just clueless about motorcycles. And still out partying. But that SUV was literally 1 inch from her bike!

Nothing to do but go home and deal with it in the morning. . .

Telluride Day 4

This was going to be a full day at the park — starting with gospel music and going straight through to the end with Robert Plant and Band of Joy.

First — get the bikes straightened out. J&K went over, fixed the wipers and mirrors, and then made friends with the SUV owner by waking him up and telling him the problem. They got it all figured out — making room for everyone in that space. Then it was off to the Festival.

We got there during the gospel set which was lovely. Several members of the Band of Joy were part of that group, and as we walked into the gates we heard Abigail Washburn singing a new fave: “I sing because I’m happy….I sing because I’m free…..” making Stacey sing and bounce around with happiness and joy. Quickly setting ourselves up in the Yellow Zone, we settled in for the long haul. Hawkeye was dressed in pirate garb and then we realized it must be Pirate Day at Telluride because there were many pirates in the crowd.

Edgar Meyer did a solo bass set that was rather slow and jazzy — livened up a bit when Bela joined him for a few. Then Abigail Washburn came on and did her set — wonderful with Chinese bluegrass complete with arm gestures. Where else but Telluride on day 4?!?!?

We took a break during Peter Rowan for J&K to return the chairs to Holly’s and for Stacey to go find some cash since every single ATM in town was out of money, but were back for the Punch Brothers main stage event. During Abigail’s set we were burning up — Hawkeye’s gold medallion was literally burning his chest because the sun was so strong. But during the afternoon the weather turned and by the time the Punch Brothers came on the sky was dark, the wind had picked up, and the rain had started to fall in earnest.

But we were brave — we had our rain suits and we were prepared. We started layering up and did not flag. Dancing in the rain, on the wet tarps — it was grand.

Then it got colder. And darker. The rain settled in in earnest, and Kristin and Stacey went to hang out in the Merch tent to stay drier. We made it back to the Yellow Zone for Mumford and Sons but only lasted through a couple of their songs. The crowd had thinned, folks couldn’t see each other through all the rain and ponchos, and the rain turned to hail. The mountains started turning white.

Stacey thought she would like this a lot better in the dry warmth of the condo, so she beat it out of there. She was right. Dancing to Mumford & Sons in the condo was great. Kristin came back before Robert Plant, but Joansie lasted for the whole thing. Amazing.

Last Day: Telluride to Tuba City 266.7 miles

The plan was to leave about 8AM since we had such a far piece to go. We had to climb up another thousand feet over a pass to get out of Telluride, then miles through the desert to get home. But we woke up to a white world. Not only had it snowed up on the peaks, but Telluride was dusted too!

“OH FUCK!” was the general consensus.

Lots of discussion. Should we take another route that would get us down to lower altitudes sooner but add an extra hour and a half to the trip? Stacey called the radio station and the KOTO DJ assured me that the pass was clear. It would be cold, but not icy. The DJ probably thought we were crazy — this snow was nothing for Telluride. But icy roads? Hmmmm. What could we do…let’s go find out.

We packed up the bikes and moved out of the condo — which took at least an hour. Our saddles were full of snow, but they wiped off well. The air started to warm up a bit, so we walked downtown for breakfast knowing this would be the last good food for miles. Town was crazy. Everyone wanted breakfast and there were only three places serving. Went to The Chop House, ran into (literally) Abigail and Bela, and were told there would be a 45 minute wait for what would be lunch by the time we had a table. Left that place, made our way to the Mexican restaurant and got in line for an excellent Mexican breakfast. So tired, so worried about the pending ride, but needing to fuel ourselves for the day ahead. Crowded, loud, and crazy Day-After-The- Festival Telluride.

Back to the bikes — J&K had bought sandwiches to pack and eat when we got home to Tuba City. Dressed in five layers, we waddled to the bikes and climbed on. The snow in Telluride was melted, and the temp was up to 42 degrees. Good enough! Off for a gas stop before climbing to the pass.

Once on the bikes, the old skills came right back and we realized it was going to be okay. The temp in the low 40’s assured us of little risk of ice, even if we climbed over a thousand feet. The rain had almost stopped, so after gassing up we started the climb. Passed Lizard Head Peak through mist with no problem and started down towards Dolores and Cortez.

A brief pow-wow in Dolores decided to nix the stop at Anasazi Heritage Center to see Carolyn. We wanted to keep riding towards warmer clime. We had too far to go — too late a start — too much to do. So we cruised on down to the desert and ate up the miles.

Our first real stop was at Four Corners where we peeled off layers. We went to see the cross, decided a photo of us straddling all four states wasn’t worth the wait in line, and we had no interest in the tourist scene.

We headed back to the bikes. Talked to a woman on a solo motorcycle trip all across the country, compared notes, got back on the bikes and took off. All we wanted to do was ride.

Stopped for gas in Kayenta — Stacey called CJ to tell her we were okay, and she agreed to keep a candle burning until we got home to Tuba City. Then she took the lead for the last leg and it was smooth sailing all the way back through the rez. We rode well together — in sync, and passing and being passed like the tight precision team we had become.

It was a mixture of sadness and relief to get home to Tuba — Macy Gray SO happy to see her moms — us happy to have the trip successfully completed. At least for J&K. Stacey still had two days to go.

Saddlebag-flattened sandwiches and strong vodka drinks on the back patio ended the last day of an amazing adventure through four states. Whew! What a good night sleep we had that night!

Tuba City to Hwy 5 (or Stacey Goes Solo) 630 miles

Stacey: Hooked the trailer to the car. Took it to fill tires with air. Lost the hitch & trailer on the way back — had to fix that. Missing cotter pin. Hmmm — someone’s idea of a practical joke? Lesson learned. Went to load Magdalena and chickened out — so Kristin did it for me. Strapped her down in her new trailer and was ready to leave.

Drive drive drive drive. Just keep driving. Music the whole way — picturing the musicians I had just met and spent time with. Stopped in Flagstaff for gas, to clean the red dust out of the car so everything wouldn’t be quite so gritty, and to get fruit and yogurt at Safeway. Soda at a Taco Bell to ask for directions trying to get back on the highway, and connected with some young Festivarians also making their way to California.

Happy connect. Everyone still carrying the high.

The trailer felt smooth and I forgot about it before I even hit Flag. Glanced in the rearview mirror and jumped to see a Harley tailing my ass … only to remember that I was towing my own bike.

Drive drive drive. Music music music. Talking on the phone. Lost the connection — crossed the Colorado River and entered the State of California. Worried about getting through inspection with my fruit, but the inspector lady rode motorcycles and all she wanted to do was talk about my beautiful bike in that trailer there! Never asked about fruit — just wished me happy days of riding, and I did the same to her. 109 degrees.

Drive Drive Drive. Passed the place where we broke down in 1974, and the trailer where we stayed while they fixed our bus. Remembered Don almost getting taken in for a murder he didn’t commit. Trees have grown up there, but I recognized it….

Through Barstow where I should’ve gotten gas, but just couldn’t stop. Kept thinking I’d see a big truck stop on the far outskirts of town. Panicked when I entered the Mohave Desert with the Empty Tank light on — worried about running out of gas in the wilderness. Getting 17 mpg pulling the trailer, nothing ahead but desert.

STUPID! Freaking out, I was ecstatic to come upon an oasis truck stop and would’ve paid anything they asked for a tank of gas. Filled up, got a couple of cold sodas for the cooler and kept going.

Made my way to I-5 and stopped at a Best Western. No vacancy. Exhausted, I drove north another 30 miles to a cheaper motel that did have a room; and a lighted area to park the rig. I schlepped my stuff up the stairs to the room and literally passed out for 8 hours — don’t remember much of anything except pulling back the covers and falling asleep.

Home again to Santa Rosa ~270 miles

On the road by 6:45. Stopped at Mike’s Roadhouse for eggs and pancakes, and then drove drove drove. Home by 1 in the afternoon, bike in the garage (thank you Tim!) by 3, and the trailer out at Linda’s by 9 that night. Hard driving home down Hwy 12, but back home and in bed for a good 10 hours sleep that night.

Culture shock. Surreal.

What just happened over the last two weeks? FUN! That’s what!

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Stacey Kerr’s story.