Monday, May 21 Hendersonville, NC to Phoenix, AZ: We locked up the cabin and piled everything into the Prius. Jill dropped me off at Greenville, SC airport (GSP) and drove on east to Folly Beach, SC for a few days with her son Darren, daughter in law Patty and grandkids Davis and Kate. Of course, Delta makes me pay $25 to check even one piece of luggage, the large duffle to PHX. As the plane was boarding, they announce they were so full, they would check any other baggage for free. So I walked on with only my helmet which drew lots of strange stares and some vicarious grins.
Jack picked me up in Phoenix and took me back to their lovely home in Scottsdale. We had a relaxing and fun evening where we rehashed old times over dinner and brought each other up to date on our families. Jack and Janet are one of the few couples that have known all my 4 wives over the decades. They met Jill on our last trip to Phoenix. Jack has been an important person in my life. He was the reason I finally left Ketchum, MacLeod & Grove, my first agency after 10 years when he got me an interview with his agency, Chicago-based Needham, Harper & Steers. It got me out of spending the rest of my ad career in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh…to beautiful downtown Dayton, Ohio (in the worst winter in its history). But it started me on a voyage through some of America’s best ad Agencies. But that’s another story. I felt really lucky to have had Jack as a good friend for many years and many jobs. Thanks Jack!
Tuesday, May 22 Scottsdale, AZ to Peoria, AZ: Still being on EST, I woke up at 5 and tiptoed around loading “One-Eye”. When he awoke, I embarrassedly asked Jack to UPS the big expensive duffle (remember: which I’d paid Delta to fly to PHX) back to NC with all the stuff I couldn’t store on or in “One-Eye”. Add on another $41.50. Brilliant pre-planning Sam!
My Google Weather search had told me that Phoenix was going to have one of the hottest days of the entire summer the day I was to take off…112 degrees. As Jack and I sat having our coffee on his calming cool patio watching all the doves, quail and hummingbirds he feeds, he read the paper and told me not to worry; it was only going to get to 108, just balmy and my brother always reminds me, “It’s a dry heat!”…so is sticking your head in an oven.
My dear brother Peter and his wife Aneth live across Phoenix in a town called Peoria. I definitely wanted to spend time with them. So my first leg was only about a half hour from Scottsdale to Peoria. I used my Verizon Navigator on my smartphone with earphones into my helmet. It worked well and when Peter called my phone to ask where I was, I told him “right at your doorstep”. He opened the door to find me there, ready for some air conditioning. I spent a very pleasant time with them and Aneth cooked us a yummy dinner. We took some of the time re-examining many of my father’s multitude of files that Peter’s been dutifully storing since Dad and Mom’s deaths. There is so much wonderful work and memories I feel there’s so much I yet have to accomplish to do his life and unique, famous career justice. But that’s another story.
Wednesday, May 23 Peoria, AZ to the Tusayan, AZ – 260 Miles in 5 ½ hours: After loading up “One-Eye” and my belly with breakfast I took off northwest out the heat to the Arizona mountains. The GPS on my brand new Verizon LG Lucid Smartphone stopped working, but that too is another story, and not a good one, but, on with the adventure. My first day was driving in the escalating Phoenix heat toward northern Arizona mountains to the Grand Canyon, which was my hoped for goal for Day One.
Jack, Fred and I had been to the Grand Canyon on one or more motorcycle trips. Here’s Jack lying face down at the “Four Corners” monument (CO/AZ/UT/NM) with each limb in a different state. We were such characters then.
I wound my way up through Prescott (Jack made sure I pronounced it correctly “Presskit”. It became cooler as I gained altitude and I even had to put on a windbreaker as the mountain air thinned out. From the curving mountain road, the shimmering Arizona desert lay far below. It felt good to be back on a motorcycle. “One-Eye” hummed along smartly (and even “growled” a little) as I cut through the mountain passes as I remembered what Fred taught me: how to pick a line through a curve, let up on the handlebars and let the bike lean into the turn and apply throttle to pull out of the bend. I smiled and thanked Fred and Jack for their gift with each turn.
At the top of that range was the old mining town of Jerome built vertically up in the mountains, quaint and realistic with a dramatic view down into the next valley. As I wound out of that valley, I curved through the beautiful Oak Creek Canyon with a roaring river and sweet smelling pines and cottonwoods on both sides. One of the best motorcycle roads of the trip. But, there’s more…
At the top of Oak Creek Canyon was the very different and even more dramatic scenery of Sedona. I’d been there several times before, but getting there in the late afternoon, the sun was illuminating the famous impressive Red Rocks that encircle the town. Art studios seem to take up every other store on the main street, pretty fabulous place to visit. But you’d better off leaving your American Express card behind.
I kept climbing up through passes to Flagstaff which is at 7000 feet. I’d climbed over a mile vertically since leaving Peter’s. As I turned onto the main street I was stunned by the impressive range of the 12,000 foot snow-capped San Francisco Peak Mountains to the north teasing me about my next day’s ride.
I’d hoped to get to the Grand Canyon my first day and I did…almost. I got to Tusayan, the tourist town at the entrance to the park. I’d been to the Grand Canyon several times and didn’t really need to go again…or so I thought.
Doubting I’d get that far, I’d brilliantly hadn’t made a reservation. So I stopped at a few Tusayan motels. All booked. One of the clerks informed me high season had started the week before and they were all booked up. But maybe, just maybe the Best Western might have a room. I crammed my helmet back on and hauled ass across the street to get the last room in town. I paid $144 for it. Of course, not one of my Choice chain and twice my “budget” and definitely nothing special, but hey, it was a room and I’d ridden a long time since Phoenix. So, I treated myself to a steaming hot bath to soak my tired old body after sitting in the saddle all day. It felt great and gave me a daily solution (sorry, bad pun) to keep my aging aching joints and parts from making the rest of the trip a pain the ass…literally.
Thursday, May 24: Tusayan, AZ to Cortez, CO – 300 Miles in 6 hours: Starting early is key to a trip like this and my body’s mixed up time zones made that easy. The second day I had to put on warmer clothes in the nippy mountain air. By the way, motorcycles eventuate cold or heat at high speeds, even though I’m cowering behind a large windshield. The wind, blistering or freezing curls its way around the Plexiglas and supercharges up your sleeves, under your jacket or up your pant legs. But cool was highly preferable to the microwaving my body had gotten in lower Arizona’s 100+ heat.
Since I’d seen the Grand Canyon, I thought I’d just continue on AZ Route 64 out of Tusayan on to Colorado. But, guess what? The only way to Colorado on 64 was to go through Grand Canyon Park. Cars are charged $25 for entrance; as a motorcycle, I was only charged $12 just to use the road. But since I was early in the morning before the throngs of other tourists like me arrived, I spent some time walking around the south rim. I’d forgotten how spectacular this wound of nature was, truly breathtaking. I thought of Annie as I absorbed the beauty and wished she’d been with me…at least for this part.
The road out of the park was gorgeous, made even better with the cool, crisp weather. I rode for miles and miles through the pine forest with the Grand Canyon on my left until the Colorado River dropped down and cut intricate patterns into the plateau that led toward Colorado.
But before I got to Colorado, there was a side trip I wanted to make again up into Utah to Monument Valley. Driving into it is hard to describe. You’re in the barren desert and in the distance you see what look like small statues.
As you get closer you see they are massive rocks carved by wind and water to leave an art gallery unmatched anywhere in the world. Some of the eroded mountains look as if a sculptor had carved them into likenesses of giant throned kings. Others seemed to be impregnable fortresses rising hundreds of feet straight up.
What struck me all along, at least in the west, was the diversity of types of rocks, terrain and foliage. From uniquely carved granite to sandstone, from vertical to absolutely flat, from sagebrush blowing across the road to giant stands of pine and gorgeous aspens.
Soon I was climbing up again into the Rockies and spent my second night on the road in Cortez, Colorado.