Thursday, May 15, 2014

Coast to Coast: Day 8: Flagstaff, AZ - Los Angeles, CA. Thursday May 15, 2014

     The temperature was in the 30s when I woke up early in the morning, so I waited an hour for it to hit the 40’s before I packed my bags and headed out. I wasn’t going to risk any chance of hitting ice. I passed the time by adding more details to my journal. I filled up at the Shell station just outside the campsite, and I saw an interesting old VW bug parked near the pumps. The Indian-hippie owner was smoking next to it, so I asked him about it. He said he converted the passenger seat into a makeshift bed, so he always had a place to sleep. The muffler was gone, so he took 3 tin cans and put holes in them and attached them to the exhaust, and the engine was out of a Honda scooter. The gas line fell off a while back, so he jerry rigged the windshield fluid line to work as the gas line. He told me that he was on an endless journey travelling the country, and his entire life was in that car.

The VW Bug

     In order to fund this trip, he sold bead necklaces for $30, but he didn't stop there. He tried selling me everything from a heavy leather trench to marijuana. He said if he couldn't make ends meet, he always had a $700 social security check to live off each month. He said his brother always asks him how he manages to live alone endlessly travelling, and his response is always that he meets people along the way. I can relate to that.

     There was a quick transition from forty two degrees in Flagstaff to eighty degrees by the time I reached Route 66 off of I-40. I took that old highway because I always wanted to travel on it, and the view it gave me was unprecedented. I stopped just outside an area that looked very touristy to get a picture of my bike next to the Route 66 sign, and then I went to check out the town. There were gift shops lined all along a short stretch of the old highway, and I stopped to get a Route 66 sign reproduction.

I felt bad for the tourists, as much as one possibly could. They saw only as much of Route 66 as they could through the window of a greyhound bus while I was enjoying the full, uninterrupted experience on my motorcycle. Maybe I didn’t feel that bad. I don’t like tourists.

View of the mountains from Route 66 

Liz next to the Route 66 sign 

     Another 25 miles later, I took a Gatorade break on a clearing by the side of the road just as a Harley pulled in with me. I introduced myself, and we discussed motorcycling stories. He was even kind enough to take a picture of me on my bike, right before I was about to take off my last layer as the temperature was quickly increasing.

Me on Route 66 with Liz

     A short ride later and I was back on the interstate. I didn’t want to go through the Mojave Desert on Route 66 road because if I broke down again with no service, I figured that would die. I was learning quickly that death and dehydration are real problems in the desert. By the time I reached the desert, it was over one hundred degrees and I was drinking all my bottles of Gatorade every hour (72 ounces, or .6 gallons). Luckily, there was an isolated gas station in the first third of the desert. Everything was incredibly priced (premium gas itself was $5.49 a gallon) but I had absolutely no complaints. This was the middle of the desert.

     I filled my bottles full of Gatorade and bought a tank of gas before sitting at an outside table to catch up on fluid. I met another motorcyclist who was travelling on a Harley Davidson. We had a short conversation before he went over to his motorcycle and pulled two cans out of a cooler in his trunk:

“You want a beer?”
“Umm… I’m nineteen…”

He just kinda looked at me.

“Yeah… ok”

     Alcohol is the last thing I needed when riding a motorcycle, especially when battling dehydration in the middle of a desert. Yet surprisingly I felt very sharp, and the beer only did so much as to help take the edge off the heat. I just had to be a little more careful that I didn’t get dehydrated.

     The funny thing about the desert is that I crossed it without ever getting thirsty. That’s right. I was losing so much water so quickly that I experienced the effects of dehydration long before I would ever get thirsty. Tell-tale signs of dehydration are dizziness, dry throat, and the one that affected me the most: sleepiness. Since I was losing so much water so quickly, I can imagine that by the time I actually got thirsty, I was as good as dead.

     Every twenty five miles I would start to feel a little sleepy. I would pull off to the side of the road, and be taken aback by how much Gatorade I consumed (usually a bottle and a half). Water was a bad idea, because at the rate I was consuming liquid, if I drank water I would die of losing too many electrolytes.

     At the same time, the desert was gorgeous. It was peaceful and quiet, which seemed to balance the danger of the location. At one point I pulled over to take a picture, and the next motorcyclist who saw me slowed down and was about to pull over. I gave him the O.K. hand gesture, and he nodded and continued.

     That’s the thing about motorcyclists. So few people ride motorcycles that we have developed a strong community that supports one another. In fact, the motorcycle culture is the only group I know where one is instantly recognized as a member, and others in his group couldn’t care less about his age, race, gender, socioeconomic background, or beliefs. It is even considered rude and strange if a motorcyclist doesn’t acknowledge another motorcyclist when passing him, even if the two motorcyclists are going in opposite directions. I would certainly have stopped for the motorcyclist who stopped for me, although I would also do the same for a car out here.

A view of the Mojave Desert

     Having said that, I did see a semi-truck carrying luxury cars pull over onto an off ramp that went to nowhere. I saw the owner get out. Knowing how dangerous the desert is, I decided to pull over and see if he was ok. I pulled up next to the truck, walked around a bit, and then saw him get out of one of the cars he was hauling. He introduced himself and said he was ok; that he was just taking a break from the ride. He said that he worked for Nationwide Autogistics, and that he only transported vehicles from Vegas to Ohio. I told him I was from Ohio. He told me that he appreciated me stopping and gave me his business card. He went on to say that if I broke down in the desert, he would haul my bike back to Ohio for $250 dollars. I sincerely thanked him, and got back on the highway.

     The fear of my motorcycle overheating was also very real. I could tell she was struggling, and I was only going sixty miles per hour. Traffic was rushing past me, but I didn’t care. Even with insurance back to Ohio, I didn’t want to risk breaking down. Above sixty miles per hour, my bike started to groan and the acceleration was sluggish. I was taking no chances.

     I passed the “town” of Ludlow, which was really just an isolated Dairy Queen gas station in the middle of the desert. I even looked it up at the end of the day; Ludlow: Population: 10.

The entire town of Ludlow, in one picture

     As usual, the price of gas was expensive; $5, but again, I wasn’t complaining. Of course I had to stop in the Dairy Queen for an M&M blizzard. It was absolutely delicious. I topped off my tank, bought loads more Gatorade, and headed out. As the evening passed on, it got slightly cooler, so I was pushing sixty five. I arrived late at the hotel at about 8:30, so I wasn’t able to get a good view of the city. I was so exhausted that by the time I reached the hotel in Los Angeles, I only had the energy to take a shower and go to bed.

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