We awoke and packed the bikes. Houston’s was supposed to be the shit for breakfast, so we head over for our ritualistic morning coffee and breakfast. We had some great meals on this trip, and Houston’s Restaurant was probably the best so far.
I had their trademark Breakfast with biscuits and gravy. It was John’s birthday today, so Sean and I took turns treating him to meals and such. We sat and discussed our trip thus far. Our third day, and we were about to see the Grand Canyon. A biker couple sat in the booth next to us.
“where you heading?” The man asked.
“Grand canyon.” Sean retorted.
“Nice, we just came from Bryce Canyon. You guys see it?”
“Nah, we gotta have some reason to come back for our next trip” I replied.
“Yeah, you got that right.” the man replied with a chuckle that soon turned into a smoker’s cough.
They were a handsome couple, mid to late fifties maybe, and I envisioned Kim and I in their places some day, going on our own trips, for a personal vacation or honeymoon maybe.
When we left, there were two bikes parked aside our ours. The couples, and another with a makeshift wooden rear rack affixed to the sissy bar. The rack was made out of 3/4″ plywood, and was about 24 x 36 inches with tie down holes cut into it. It seemed functional and handy, albeit not very cosmetic. Sean relished the fabrication and examined it closely.
“Look at that, huh? Thats all you need … not saddle bags.” Sean chuckled.
It was definitely handier than our miniature luggage racks. And when I was ready for my bike to look like a makeshift road dog like something out of Mad Max, I’ll consider it. We mounted up, filled our tanks, and were off. Next stop… Grand Canyon.
The road out of Kanab was spectacular. Probably 10 miles of straight road.. almost to the horizon, desert on either side, with a slight glimmer of elevation in the distance. It was cool, the sun barely up, with no sign of civilization save the isolated gift shop / fruit stand about 2 miles in. We could cruise at 90mph, without any traffic or worries. It was the one part of the trip where you felt like you were all alone, just you and your bike, and you could leave your worldy worries and concerns in the dust. As we began to climb in elevation, the road became curvier, and the temerature, surprisingly, got hotter. We stopped off at a rest spot, with some Navajo selling their wares, where we could get a photo of the trek we had just made. We wanted to get to the canyon though, so the rest stop was brief.
The road to the Grand Canyon was unremarkable and desolate, and when we turned off of Hwy 89, we were in National Forest. The only likeness of civilization were the few spotted campgrounds and Jakob’s Lake Inn, the welcome center / Diner / Hotel some 40 miles from the North Rim. We paused, gassed up, and did a map check. Yep, we were just forty miles from our goal for the past three days.
Riding to the canyon was a nice ride, save the numerous rental RVs swerving and speeding along. We also managed to get stuck behind a Sysco tractor trailer bringing supplies to the North Canyon visitor center. After riding though some burnt up forest fire remains, we happened upon a nice meadow surrounded by trees, some 10 or so miles out. I could only think what settlers must have thought back in the 1800s when they happened upon this utopia, on their way westward, with absolutely no idea what obstacle lie in their paths. Then coming upon the canyon, tired from their journey, weak. I’d imagine they felt pretty screwed. From the meadow, the entire ride up to the visitor center parking lot was shrouded in trees. One would have no idea what they were happening upon, if it weren’t for the vast majority of tourists and RVs. Not until we were near parking our bikes did we get even a glimpse that something lay ahead. Then there it was. Oh my.
We walked along a viewing path, then out along the camping cabins and visitor center to the overlook pathways. Yeah, the Grand Canyon is freakin huge. I couldn’t think of a better example to make you feel insignificant. Not even the vast ocean where I grew up was an accurate comparison. Viewing it all at once, in one take, was quite the experience. The straight yet gorged horizon seemed to go on forever, as if we were viewing it right up to the curvature of the earth. It was breath-taking.
However, how everyone regarded the North Rim as the least “touristy” of the canyon views was beyond me. English was definitely a minority language. When you heard it, it was surprising amidst the Japanses, Russian, Slovic, Hindi, and other various vernacular we experienced. The area was filled with RVs, tour busses, and little old ladies eating home wrapped deli sandwiches from their purses. A busload of Japanese schoolgirls, no I’m not joking, dominated the scene. They were giggly and bouncy, constantly poking each other, right out of a scene from the movie Babel. Although none lifted their skirts for us, the whole scene was still a distraction, and I wished there were some other way to view the spectacle. Just then John had an idea for a better view.
“When I came here with my friend years ago, there’s a really cool arch just down this hiking path… like five minutes away.” John stated. “Let’s check it out.”
“Roger that. Sean, lets go!” I added.
Sean was beat from the ride, with an upset stomach, and decided to stay at the visitor center and relax on the sofa facing the window wall overlooking the canyon. I left my water bottle, grabbed my camera, and john and I started what we thought was a mini, five-minute hike.
“Where the fuck is this thing John?” I exclaimed an hour later.
“It was right up here.. hold on.”
We had walked about 2 miles, in our motorcycle boots and riding pants, no water. The kevlar lining of my pants had been cutting into my leg for the last quarter mile and each step I took felt like I was trying to clench a cheese grater with my groin. The trail exited the visitor center, wound around the nearest campground site, and continued along the rim of the canyon. We continued for a bit, my heavy SLR camera and zoom lens slung over my shoulder… and I was parched. The weather was starting to go arye, darkened clouds were rolling in from the canyon, and thunderstorms were imminent.
“You know .. maybe it was the South Rim we went to when I saw that arch.” John said. I stared at him for a moment, blankly. “Hey, what are you gonna do? Come to the Grand Canyon and not go for a nice hike?”
We both stared at our dirty motorcycle boot, John’s became gouged by a rock or something on the trail and sported a nice split across the toe. And on my boot, the zipper had popped open below the pull. I could have strangled him right then and there, but he was right. We are at the Grand Canyon we can’t just take a nap at the visitor center like our pooped comrade. We had to look around. Our dismay turned into a laugh, and we started back.
Instead of taking the same winding trail back, we decided to cut through a campground, and take the shortcut along the main road to the visitor center parking lot. It had been about 2 hours and I was dying of thirst. My only mission was to get back to the visitor center and buy a deliious icy refreshment. But that wasn’t going to happen. As we approached the center we noticed there was some form of alarm going off. It was the visitor center fire alarm. Like a herd of livestock the people floundered out of the center and into the parking area. Neither frightened nor annoyed, they meandered out at a perfunctory pace.
“FUCK FUCK FUCK !!!!” I yelled. The visitor center was being evacuated, John and I were both dying of thirst, and the nearest place with water was 40 miles away. Just then amidst the drones we saw Sean, his bright orange Harley Jacket on, walking towards the bikes. “YO! You have my water?”
“Nah I left it in there.” he replied. He looked as if he had been abruptly awoken by the alarm, and was still a little disoriented.
After a moments deliberation we decided that our day at the Canyon was over. We needed to beat the traffic and the rain and find a hotel room. We got to the bikes and quickly prepped to be on our way. Just then Sean, always planning for the worst, pulled two bottles of water from his knapsack. It was like the clouds parted and a ray of sunshine shined upon him. He may as well have been offering us the Golden Chalice. John and I quickly snatched the bottles and drank them whole. Then we mounted up and got the Hell out of there before the rush. Until next time Grand Canyon!
We rode back out of the park, and the black clouds above us churned. John was ahead of Sean and I, and I saw him pull over into a small dirt pulloff with another few cars. “What the….?” There was a herd of Buffalo grazing feet from the road. John knew I had my camera and pulled off so I could photograph them. I was focusing on the storm clouds and would have probably driven right by them. They were amazingly docile. I took some shots, enjoyed the sight for a moment, and then repacked my camera. It was time for rain gear so we took a moment and suited up. It was about to pour any minute and the lightning was starting.
Many people think that as long as you’re on rubber tires you’re safe from lightning. Not true. The fact you are generally safe in a car is because you are encaged in a metal shell which dissipates the shock energy to safe levels. Motorcycles are open air. Not only is there no cage to dissipate the lightning, but you have a giant conductive hunk of metal between your legs. So contrary to popular belief, it is very dangerous to ride a motorcycle in a lightning storm.
So there we were, some 30 miles from Jakobs Inn, riding through a lightning storm. The lightning was far from us, so there was no terrible danger. Should the storm close on us further, and the time between lighning strike and audible thunder shrink to within five seconds apart, we’d have to pull over and huddle in a ditch. Luckily it wasn’t that terrible other than the sheeting rain. We arrived at the Inn some 40 miles from the canyon absolutely soaked. We pulled over, grabbed some hot coffee, sat under the front porch awning on a bench and waited out the rain.
“You guys got soaked huh?”
The No Shit award goes to a pair of twenty-something chicks who joined us, coffee in hand. They were leaving the Motel, and heading in the opposite direction as we. They too were waiting out the rain under the front porch. They were young enough to act giggly and goofy, yet old enough to drink as they discussed their previous night’s binge. We shot the shit for a few minutes then said our farewells. Now it’s time to search our maps for a plan. The nearest hotels from our current position were roughly 40 miles away just inside Navajo Nation. The rain thinned a little, and we decided to make a break for it. We ditched out coffees, zipped up our rain gear and headed out.
Within 30 second on the bike, my visor fogged completely. I pulled over and tried to defog it with little success. John and Sean were already ahead of me, so I got back on the road and followed as best I could. My only hope was to crack my visor about a quarter way open and tilt my head up as I rode. The humid wind in my face helped brush the water droplets away momemntarily, as my soaked gloves only smeared my vision. When my eyes filled with water, I then tipped my helmet forward to look through the momentarily wind cleared plastic. The alternation of these two motions kept me on the road.
As we pulled out of the National Forest and onto the desert plains, the wind picked up. Almost a constant 30mph+ gust blew from the tops of the mesas trying it’s best to push us off the road. We rode at almost a 45 degree angle into the wind, as if in a curve, just to stay on a straight line. We drove about 40 – 50mph on the two-lane highway as the cars, RVs and Semis flew past us in the opposite direction at about 80mph+. The gust from each vehicle was like being smacked with a 2×4, and the effect it had on my 1000+lb bike (loaded with me and gear) was surprising. At least twice, the crosswinds from a semi heading in the opposite direction had almost tossed me over, my bike pushed to wihin 105% of its recommended maximum lean. I was ready to pull over until I saw John’s brake lights in the distance. We had arrived at the Marble Canyon Lodge.
We pulled into the parking lot and got off our bikes. My boots were so soaked it was like trying to walk on two salmons strapped to my feet, and all of our feet gasped and wheezed water bubbles as we walked. I went to the front desk for a room. The attendant was Navajo, about 6’2″ tall with short jet black hair and reading glasses. We was in his 50s, wearing jeans, boots, and a brown leather jacket. He was reading the paper.
“Hello, do you have any rooms?” I asked.
The man continued to read the paper for about 10 seconds after my inquiry, as if trying to finish the rest of his paragraph before answering.
“Yeah.” he said without even a glance.
“Cool, we’ll take one for three men. You have any cots for our third guy?”
Another pause. “Yeah.” The man lifted his head and looked past us, surveying the property. “You can have that room there, and park your bikes under the roof right outside your rooms. That section is closed so you won’t bother anyone.”
I couldn’t tell if he was being cool and giving us a break, or trying to keep us away from his other guests, but either way it worked out for us. We rode over to our room and pulled the bikes up into the walkway and under the roof, parking them right outside our room. We paused for a moment, and gave a thought to what we had just rode through.
“Whoo hoo! THAT was AWESOME !!!” John yelled slapping Sean and I on the back and pulling us in for short, congratulatory man hugs. “HOT DAMN !!! WE ARE BAD ASS !”
“Fuck yeah” I added collapsing on the bed. We were famished and exhausted. I pulled off my soaked socks, boots, jeans and shirt and threw them over my bike outside. John and I put on shorts and fresh shirts. Luckily we brought alternate camping shoes we could wear in lieu of our waterlogged boots. “Lets hit that motel restaurant and grab some food, I’m famished!” I said.
“Eh, I think I’m gonna stay here.. I’m not feeling right. Can you guys bring me a big glass of milk?” Sean responded. He was laying on the bed, apparently suffering from some uncomfortable stomach problems.
“You sure man? Want us to bring you back some dinner?” We asked.
“Nah, I’m good. Hey, can you just grab some newspapers on your way back so I can stuff them in my boots to help dry them out?”
“Sure dude.” I told him.
John and I head over to the restaurant, the deep red dusk just peeking though below the black clouds at the horizon. It was a great day and the warm, strangely humid desert air was comforting after freezing our asses off in the cold rain. We entered the restaurant, and procured a table. The restaurant was rustic and woodsy, and mostly vacant save the group of three or so hostesses and the chef cackling at the bar. The waitress was pleasant, and took out orders promptly. I had an open faced hot roast beef sandwich, and John had meat loaf covered in green chili sauce. One thing we noticed about the Navajo was that the women were very nice and friendly, yet the men were all quiet and stand-offish. It was their way I guess, and I don’t blame them one bit for it. We ate our scrumptious vittles, complete with desert and coffee. It was probably the best meal I’d had on the trip… and I can’t say if the food was really that good or if I just was in such desperate need for it after our stressfull, stormy ride.
John and I returned to the room with newspapers and large milk in hand. We stuffed all of our boots with newspaper, locked up the bikes, and retired for the evening. It was the end of a great day and a great ride. I looked forward to our next day on the road. Tomorrow we were riding through Navajo Nation.
Day Three Photos: