“I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name; it felt good to be out of the rain.” -America (1972)
I’ve been out of town a few days. Beyond a few shifts at work, some blogging, and rain that apparently reached biblical proportions, I don’t think I missed much here in Western Washington. In exchange I was extremely lucky to experience Arizona. It was a paradox of discomfort and adrenalin rush, desolation and breathtaking scenery, dangerous riding and freedom beyond compare.
Along with seven buddies, I flew into Phoenix, rented a Harley and rode a big loop through the Grand Canyon State. We went south to the border and the historic mining town of Bisbee, north through the Devil’s Highway and its 400 switchbacks topping out at 9000 feet, and then back south through the red rocks of Sedona. We managed to see everything but the big canyon itself.
Along the way we made the slow but steady transition from vacationing suburban dads, husbands and career-minded individuals, into an increasingly tight group of weekend warriors hurtling down sun-bleached desert roads. My buddies come from all walks of life, from salesman to surgeon, from contractor to dentist. We all share the common bond of kids, wives and friendship, but our growing passion for motorcycles, in particular the American archetype, Harley Davidson, has become a surprising gift to us middle-aged guy types.
If you’ve never ridden, let me tell you that the first realization from the saddle of a motorcycle is that everything becomes personal. The road surface, with its changing composition, cratering, and heat production, has the power to replenish or diminish you. The cars, which never seem to realize that your bumper and your flesh are one and the same, treat you like a bastard step-child whose existence is merely tolerated. The wind can be frigid or burning, sideways or in your face; it is a constant and exhausting companion.
But the motorcycle riders you meet are your brothers. I get that now.In the couple years that I have been riding (with the exception of a crotch rocket period in my early 20’s), I have learned to return the constant peace sign that other riders offer in passing. Despite the differences between riders–weekend warriors and the motorcycle clubs, BMW off-roaders and young guys on racing bikes–the common experience of riding a motorcycle carries an irrepressible sense of kinship.
It begins with the shedding of two tons of automobile, a commitment that is both liberating and perilous. At its best it is like strapping on a rocket and hurtling through a sky choked with airplanes and chunks of floating asphalt. At its worst it is like traveling through a wind tunnel while being force fed a diet of bugs, at the risk of becoming an expensive heap of twisted chrome and leather-clad roadkill.
But the payoff is huge, especially amid the stunning visual of canyons and jagged peaks that make up the desert landscape of Arizona. Riding a motorcycle is simply the personification of individual freedom, and I hope to be riding again soon.
More on Arizona later.