Days 14-16: Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and Home

Miles ridden: 1,570; Money Spent: ?

Somewhere between the Grand Canyon and Utah, I cracked the 5000 mile mark for the trip. It was a good feeling, knowing I’d hit the mileage goal I’d set before leaving Wisconsin. And my other goal–14 days–well, it just happened to be day 14. I seemed to be doing all right.

The one problem–there I was in Utah, 1600 miles from home with one Ben Franklin, a Jackson and a pocket full of change to get me home. The third goal, $1000, was in serious jeopardy.

That’s when I decided, falling asleep in my $25 motel, I might as well try to hit for the cycle and throw in a thousand mile day as well. Not just a good idea, a damn good idea!

It started off much like yesterday, with strange rock formations appearing out of nowhere.

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And people less ambitious than I wasting valuable saddle time by climbing to the top.

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I took I-70 east into Colorado, along probably the best stretch of interstate I’ve ever seen. I even managed to get my one-handed, take-a-picture-at-70-mph-without-stopping trick down.

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Scaling the Rockies was the day’s goal, and, still early into the day, they first came into view. I rested at the roadside, admiring the view and wondering how long it would take me to reach the park, hoping I could get lucky and catch the sunset over the peaks before my descent down the far side.

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At a rest stop late into the day, after hours of rushing across Colorado, I ran into a guy on a GL1800. We talked about bikes and trips and the pass across the Rockies. He looked at his watch.

“You better hurry, you don’t want to go through there after dark. We saw like 200 elk on our way through.”

I was getting close.

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And finally, arriving late and not having to pay the entrance fee, I made my back and forth up the curvy roads, until they were almost eye level.

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I putted along the awesome road in the dark, squinting for elk that lined the roads. I rode up and up the mountain pass, simply amazed at how dark it was in the Rockies.

“Man, this is dangerous,” I thought, creeping along with three fingers on the brake, thinking every branch was an elk jumping across the road and, after forty-five minutes of slow driving, still climbing up and up and up.

Then, at 10:30 at night, barely able to see the road, I realized I was still wearing my sunglasses.

And I hadn’t even cracked 500 miles yet. Maybe a thousand wasn’t such a damn good idea.

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In the daytime, with the sun glaring off the snow-capped peaks, it has to be just stunning. Too bad I only got to drive them in the darkness.

Late at night, it sure was cold.

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I climbed down the pass oh so slowly, between the elk and the photos it took me 3 hours for the 70 miles, and found my way to the interstate. I tried to push through the night, stopping at one rest stop to catch a nap, then ride, then a nap at another.

At the western edge of Nebraska I found a great rest stop and slept on their cement bench, which, maybe I was just that damn tired, was the most comfortable bed ever. I’d only gone 740 miles and it was late into the night, but I figured I could nap until dawn and then push the final stretch in the morning. With the day’s late start, I had until eleven before my 24 hours were up. More than enough time.

Playing musical chairs along the benches, occasionally awoken by the sprinklers with a wet head, I slept.

*****

Back in California and nine days into the trip, I got a message from my buddy telling me he got a teaching job in Oshkosh and trying to convince me to move upstate with him. Later in the day, talking to my mom, I learned my grandma had colon cancer and would soon be heading into surgery. Then I got two text messages from another friend. One saying simply, “I’m going to propose tonight.” The next, “She said yes.”

Life, it seems, had continued to run its course while I was off on my little adventure.

I still had a few hundred miles to go to hit the rather arbitrary goal of 1000 miles in 24 hours. Silly really, but along with spending the afternoon trying to play the alphabet game with the road signs (giving up first at q, then later in the day not even cracking h), I needed something to pass the time.

The interstate lulled me to sleep, unlike the mountain roads that shot me full of adrenaline, so, with the slightly less arbitrary goal of arriving home not dead, I napped again, under the sun in the middle of the plains, and only hit 900 before eleven rolled around.

The wind, which howled across the openness all morning, threw my bike towards the edge of the road, and passing each semi came with adventure: fight the gusty wind by leaning right, push left as the truck sucked me in, then push back right before the wind came across the semi’s front and tried to throw me off the road.

On the eastern side of Nebraska, between Lincoln and Omaha, I found something to break the monotony–the National Air and Space Museum.

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Inside is a hanger full of airplanes and WWII-era memorabilia. Huge cargo planes lined the ground, smaller photo and single-man fighters hanging from the ceiling. In the corner sat an original flight simulator, used in the 30’s and 40’s, the first to offer pilots a true flying experience, and the light blue box and tiny frame make it look more like a ride you’d put a quarter in and watch your children laugh on than a sophisticated piece of machinery.

I posed next to General Electric’s J-73 Turbo Jet, which broke two new world speed records in 1954, including nearly breaking the sound barrier in a 100km closed course run. The ZZR is fun, but 692 mph has to give one hell of a rush.

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Two hundred fifty miles from home, with darkness finally setting in and having passed the 1300 mile mark in 36 hours, I pulled into an Iowa rest stop, did some work using their wireless internet, and without a hint of fear in Iowa’s fine rest stop, laid on the bench and slept my last night on the road.

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Tomorrow would be home.

*****

Over the final 250 miles the land gradually changed from flat and windy to hilly and humid, until finally, after more than two weeks, I pulled into home.

It was a welcome sight–I hadn’t showered since Utah–and after getting a drink and plopping into the chair, I sat in the air conditioned house wondering what the heck I was supposed to do now.  I could sleep in, rest up, and get back to life

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I added up the receipts from the last few days, discovering I’d come in over budget a whole twenty bucks–not bad for 16 days.

A funny thing happened on the way home as I droned on the interstate. I began to think of the east coast, imagine a run up and down the Mississippi and contemplate a ride along route 66. Traveling, it seems, can be quite addictive.

Someday a giant North American tour just might become a strong enough itch to make a pretty interesting book. I was home only a couple of hours and already searching for angles for another trip.

I looked through my photos, emailed my professor, and, already nostalgic, thought about the highlights. It had been one hell of a trip. And one hell of a college class.

Total money spent: $1019.99

Total miles: 6,620

Days on the road: 16

Sleeping: 5 camp sites, 4 rest stops, 2 nights at Gil and Becky’s, 4 motels

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Best road: Highway 1 along the Pacific Ocean.

Best State: Northern Arizona/Southern Utah. It was unlike anything I’d ever seen in the Midwest.

Best moment: Sunset over the Pacific.

Best people: Gil and Becky from Eureka, CA

—–

Money

$513 – Gas
$251 – Motels and Campsites
$160 – Food and water
$82.50 – Park passes
$7 – Oil Change
$5 – Flashlights, lighters and batteries

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The whole trip:
Days 1-3Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and the Badlands
Days 4-5Wyoming, Dinosaurs, and Yellowstone
Days 6-7: Yellowstone, Idaho, and Oregon
Days 8-10: California, Dinner with Strangers, and a Pacific Sunset
Days 11-13: San Francisco, Yosemite, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon
Days 14-16: Utah, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, and Home