On the Saturday we were supposed to leave it rained. And Poured. And then rained some more. There was no way we were getting out of town. The roads were flooded and lightning streaked the sky. Sean and I took the opportunity to get some last minute supplies from Wal-Mart and the Factory Surplus store in my area. We were about to embark on a 3000 mile road trip from Carbondale, Colorado to Las Vegas, Long Beach, San Francisco, Yosemite National Forest and then back. The schedule said it would take about 9-10 days on the road. We’ve never taken a road trip in a car that far and we’d be doing it on motorcycles.
Sean flies out to visit me every year in Colorado for his 2-week vacation. He then rents a Harley-Davidson from our local dealership and we do an annual road trip. Last year we rode to the Grand Canyon with our friend John, about 1600 miles RT. Just days after completing that journey is when we began thinking of our next endeavor. Ride to California then up the PCH to San Francisco. The books said it would be roughly 2962 miles, probably more than most Colorado bikers ride in a year, and we were gonna do it in 9-days.
We left on Sunday morning (6/13/2010) around 8:45 AM to a light drizzle and overcast skies. Our first goal was to get to Cedar City, UT. I’ve never been West of Green River UT, so I had no familiarity with that area. All I could to was map it out and trust what Microsoft Streets & Trips told me. I planned our ride for about 300-350 miles per day, which would work out perfectly. Unfortunately I didn’t account for the rain, hail, sleet, and high winds we’d be subject to for the next 4 days. Sean rode a 2010 H-D Road King with 1 mile on it, and I my 2005 H-D Fatboy Anniversary edition. The roads were slightly wet and my iPhone Weather Channel App said it was clear West of Grand Junction so we should be good in a few hours. We rode through patches of sun and drizzle along I-70 to Grand Junction, then stopped for breakfast at Denny’s on Horizon Ave. We stopped off at the Grand Junction Harley dealership to buy Cooldanas (to help us through the desert) and to use the restroom. Owning a Harley-Davidson seems so cliche these days as there are many other manufacturers making really good motorcycles out there. However, when you buy a Harley you’re buying a little more than a bike. Dealerships dot the landscape along most major routes and highways and if you ever need help, parts or just want to take a break on the couch for a minute, there’s always one around the corner.
When we left the dealership the skies turned black. The direction we were riding into looked like it could spawn tornadoes with a well defined black line of clouds along a bright strip of horizon. We were a day behind schedule and already had our rain gear on so either way we were riding.
We rode into Utah and through Capitol Reef. As we got onto the mesa it got damn cold and started to rain harder. A police car raced by us at full speed with lights and siren blaring. It was then that I noticed there was hail and sleet all over the road! As we rode on we saw the cop again, this time stopped alongside two cars that had slid off the road and crashed. As soon as the rain broke we stopped at a rest area just outside Salina to try and dry our gloves and boots for a second. We met another biker heading in the opposite direction. He assured us that the way we were heading was just as cold and wet as whence we had came. We rode for about another hour or two and arrived at Salina where we decided to stay the night. It was getting dark and cold and there no milestones nearby so settled in at the EconoLodge (formerly Best Western) and then head over to Mom’s Cafe for dinner.
Mom’s Cafe was a small place built into an old storefront on Main street. The food was spectacular and the service friendly. Sean had pork chops and I had fried chicken. The dinners came with “Scones” which I thought would be those triangular hard-as-a-rock biscuits you get at Starbucks. In Utah, most restaurants serve scones with dinner and they are basically a deep fried piece of bread like a donut or elephant ear but without sugar. Then they usually give you honey butter or the like to spread on top. After dinner we went back to the room and flipped on the TV. Tomorrow we were going to Las Vegas.
We woke early and had our start at Mom’s Kitchen for breakfast. It was the only restaurant we saw in town save the Indian restaurant our the hotel lobby. We sat in the back room of the restaurant with the locals where there were a dozen or so farmers all sitting together and discussing the price of hay. It was a simple life here, something Sean and I could get used to. After breakfast we headed west on I-70 to I-15 then South. We rode through Hurricane UT, then traveled through a tiny stitch of Arizona, and on to Mesquite NV. I had hoped to have lunch at Four Kegs in Las Vegas, but Sean was famished and had to eat immediately so we stopped at Carl’s Jr. When we rode across the Nevada border it was like someone flipped a switch. The nice 80 degree weather of Utah was nowhere to be found and we were sweating on our air-cooled bikes in a warm 103 degrees. Billboards for retirement communities were everywhere in Mesquite and it reminded me of a drier, hotter South Florida.
After lunch we rode South past Nellis Air Force Base and on to Las Vegas. Our first stop was at Four Kegs for a quick Capt. Morgan and Coke. It was hotter than Hell in the parking lot of Four Kegs and I couldn’t get my helmet off fast enough. We walked inside to what appeared to be a typical bar. This joint was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and this place definitely fits in the Dives category. The bartender bore a cliche Jersey accent and the eating area was sectioned off from the bar with glass walls making the patrons in the restaurant on-display to the bar locals. We had a quick drink, used the restroom, then rode on to Old Town.
I found that the inhabitants of Las Vegas fit into four categories. There are the elderly who came in on the bus from Mesquite and were there to gamble away their social security checks. They walk around with an all-business attitude and aren’t there to play around. Keeping to groups of three to four, they push their way through the crowds and dominate the penny slots. The next type of person I saw was the crack addict meandering around aimlessly making eye contact with everyone passing by. Whether that eye contact meant “Need a hit?” or “Do you have a hit?” or “I’ll take that purse” I wasn’t sure but these guys were looking for something. Then there was the down on his luck gambler who just lost everything. These people were sulking in corners and bore a quiet type of desperation in their eyes. Then there was the attractive young couple. They walked around with their strawberry daiquiri yards strapped to their necks with a look on their faces like there was still good in the world. They were there for dinner, a show, some light gambling, and a night of steamy sex in one of the various grand hotels before making their way back home to California. Finally there were the people like us who didn’t gamble and were just observing, people-watching and wondering what they were doing in such a place. We visited he Harley-Davidson merchandise store and then decided whether we were going to stay or leave. Either way we were going to the Hoover Dam so we left the strip to go check it out. On the way to the Dam stopped off at Las Vegas Harley-Davidson, which was one of the biggest dealerships in the world. It was immense. At least 200 bikes lined the showroom floor and it was the size of a supermarket. We hung out for a minute, cooled off and then head out to the Dam around 3:30pm or so.
When we arrived at the Hoover Dam the temperature was probably 105 degrees. As we rode the traffic got corralled into the 2-lane road across the Dam. When we missed the parking turn off I knew we were screwed. The traffic was stop and go and we got stuck riding across into Arizona. On the other side, you could see the switchbacks heading up the mountain into Arizona were bumper-to-bumper stopped traffic. With nowhere to turn around we were stuck riding across the Hoover Dam. On the Arizona side we managed to spin around in a pullout and start heading back to the Nevada side. If you weren’t standing still in the traffic you were traveling about 2mph. Our air-cooled bikes started to sputter and overheat. My legs got so hot next to the engine I thought I had 2nd degree burns on them. Every time my pants made contact with my inner calves it felt like I was touching a hot iron. After about 20 or 30 minutes in this inferno we managed to get into the parking garage and let the bikes cool as we walked the Dam.
By the time we got parked and started walking the Dam it was 5:00pm. The tours were over, the concessions were closed, so we walked around and read the plaques and guided ourselves. The Dam was immense, truly a modern marvel. The Nevada / Arizona border split the dam in two and there were large clocks on the water intakes that displayed the change in time zone. Strangely enough the clocks were in sync. Nevada was on Daylight Savings Time, and Arizona which didn’t observe DST, was now at the same time-of-day. We toured the place for a few hours then decided to try to find a place to stay in Boulder City. I set my GPS for a Best Western (to help get some more H-D points) and we head out.
We arrived at yet another disenfranchised Best Western now called the Hoover Dam Inn at about 7:00pm. The Asian guy behind the desk was super cool and suggested a great little Italian restaurant Called Big Horn for us to eat dinner at. The next morning another clerk, now an attractive Asian woman, was also very nice and pointed me towards a hose to sponge my bike off a little and lent me some lint-free towels to wipe it down as well. This place had nice clean rooms, great service, and was biker friendly for sure. I’d highly recommend it for anyone riding through the area. After dinner we returned to the room and watched re-runs of Top Shot. It was a blistering hot, long day and tomorrow we were ready to ride through the Mojave Desert.