Monday, October 20, 2014

Salvation Mountain, CA: Brush Strokes Across the Land

i-8 west imperial valley
Me riding west along I-8 through Imperial Sand Dunes, CA
The road is no place to raise kids. They wouldn't understand it, nor what it means to ride it.  It's lonely, long, empty. It gets cold and then it gets hot. There's infinite beauty, and then it dumps you into chaos.

I've met other motorcycle gypsies during the 18+ months that Sash and I have made the highway our home.  Some of them have been doing this many more years than we have, and have logged hundreds of thousands of miles.  Meanwhile, I have yet to put a hundred thousand miles on my Honda ST. On the one side, it inspires me to keep on going.

But on the other, they remind me there's a lot to be said in dedicating your life to something simple. And I'm a guy who doesn't like routine.  I ride from town to town because I hate staying in the same place all the time.  But then again, riding from town to town can become a routine too.

Riding up CA-111 through the Imperial Valley of California, I'm hit with the smell of steer manure, hay, and aerial pesticides. The 91 degree F temperature (32.7 C) feels just fine at 80 MPH, and even though I'm back in my home state, I still feel removed from this land that raised me from a child.

When I owned a home in Riverside County, I figured it was only a matter of time when my property value would plummet due to the eventual disparity of people to water. There's only so much H2O trickling down from the Colorado, and there's so many more thirsty souls pouring into this place, that it's got to come crashing down at some point. When you figure farmers in the Imperial Valley are now focused on selling grain to China, sucking the Colorado River dry has become more about profits than it is about sustaining humanity.

But now that I no longer own property, and now that California is just a place I return to in the colder months, I don't seem to care anymore. I'm just kinda waiting for the crash to come so that I can look back on it and ride away.

Does that make me a doomsday survivalist?  No.  I'm just not attached to any piece of land, that's all.

Meanwhile in 1984, another man, Leonard Knight, decided to dig roots into this state. The Vermont native traveled west by car having finally found Jesus. Through a series of stops and jobs along the way, he ended up in Slab City, a community of snow birds and squatters who live rent/tax free on an old military fort east of Niland, CA. He started pouring buckets of paint on a hill side in the glory of God, and earned respect as a local folk artist.

Salvation Mountain became the name of his new artwork, which he continued to paint and build over the next 30 years. But I'm not sure it's right to say that Leonard considered California his new home. Painting a hillside and constructing a tribute to God was just the highway he chose to ride, and this plot of desert wasteland was a canvas waiting for someone to paint it.

While I'm not looking to pour buckets of paint across the highways of the United States, it's still a canvas I'm painting.  There are millions of miles of pavement creating a web of roads that stretch across this country, and I'm just a paint brush leaving behind a trail of color.  I wonder if I were to sit up in Space, looking down at the USA, what images would I see in the brush strokes I've left behind?

And what of the people I've met?  How did I influence them?  What will become their canvas?

But like with California, I don't really care anymore.  If I influence others to live more simply, or live as a motorcycle gypsy, then great.  If I cause others to do the opposite, then great too. There was a time when I lived for my job, and for my family, and for my friends.  But now, I'm living just for myself, and just for today.

Perhaps I'll die laying down these brush strokes, just the way Leonard did.

Photos of our ride from Yuma, AZ to Palm Springs, CA...

Me riding north along CA-111
past the Salton Sea
Sash at Salvation MountainRiding north along CA-111
through Brawley, CA
Sash riding west along I-8
through Imperial Sand Dunes
Me riding north along CA-111
looking across Salton Sea.
Flowers painted by Leonard
Knight at Salvation Mountain
Me inside Salvation Mountain
admiring the handiwork.
Border Patrol agents with drug
sniffing dogs along CA-111
Sash enjoying the cooler air
inside Salvation Mountain.
The sign marking the entrance
to Salvation Mountain
Some rusted trucks painted by
Leonard Knight
Here's the actual Salvation

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rehabilitating in Yuma, AZ

us-95 arizona motorcycle
Sash riding south along US-95 just miles from the Mexican border
Yuma, AZ has always been my favorite destination when I needed an easy respite from San Diego. And as such, it's always been the best contrast to the frenetic, chaotic pace of metropolitan life.

Riding down here from Las Vegas the week before, we nestled ourselves into a hotel and have enjoyed a rehabilitation from the madness and noise of Sin City.

Even more so for Sash.

Her inner-ear infection seems to have gone away the days we've spent in Yuma. She was also able to produce some work in the form of social media postings for clients and even produced a video for Ride Empowered.

Even though Yuma and Las Vegas are only a day's ride of 295 miles along the US-95, the two cities are world's apart in culture, amenities, and character. Yuma is slow. People aren't in a hurry to get anywhere, and it doesn't take that long to get from one end of town to the other. There aren't many choices here either, with the exception of taco shops.

In other words, Yuma is a good place to go if you don't want to think.

It has only one tourist destination, Yuma Territorial Prison. There's only one choice for craft beer, Pint House Bar & Grill. There's only one Harley dealer, and one metric dealer. If you want a coffee shop, there's only one, aside from the seven Starbucks.

It's rather relaxing having fewer choices. Sash and I have fewer arguments about where to go for lunch. Everyone here dresses the same and acts the same, and that has an homogenizing effect on you. It's like going to a mountain retreat to refocus your sense of self.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence too that here in Yuma we've stepped up efforts to eat healthier and exercise more. That is, the last four months we've put on a lot of weight, particularly during our two weeks in Sturgis.  I've actually been hitting the hotel gyms the past 30 days or so, but have since increased my workout regimen here in Yuma.  Now, Sash is hitting the gym too, and the two of us are tracking calories on MyFitnessPal, an Android app on our phones.

And that's something about living the motorcycle gypsy life. It's otherwise a lot of riding, eating, and hanging out with people.  Folks always insist you eat at their favorite place, and others are wanting to buy you dinner.  You need the metabolism of a sea otter just to keep from looking like Roseanne and Dan Conner.

While we were in Yuma, we got to meet Dennis Munden who runs a business called "Motorcycle Maps". He's actually from Boaz, AL, but was in Yuma visiting other people.  His business produces apps for iPhone and Android that list names and locations of great little hole-in-the-walls and mom-and-pops across the United States. It's like a database of cool places for motorcyclists to go to.

On our last full day in Yuma, we took a ride south to the Mexican border, though didn't cross. We only made a loop along US-95 and then came back around on AZ-195. The ride gave us an opportunity to discover some of the more authentic, ethnic Mexican eateries, instead of the Americanized-varieties you find closer to the Interstate.

Today, we're leaving Yuma and are headed to Palm Springs, CA for a few days.

Here are photos from our week in Yuma...

Sash looking "gangsta" along
US-95 towards Mexico.
Downtown Yuma is the best
place to go drinking.
Having carne asada tacos at
La Flor Mexican Restaurant.
Me, Sash, and Dennis Munden
at Logan's Roadhouse.
My Surface Pro 3 at The
Coffee Bean
in Yuma.
Dennis Munden showing his
Motorcycle Maps app.
Outside La Flor Mexican
Restaurant in Yuma.
Awesome chow at Tacos Mi
Ranchito in Yuma.
Sash made this bean, meat, &
cheese dip for the NFL games.
Our healthier breakfast at the
Having chef salads at Penny's
Diner in Yuma.
We bought Sash the new LG
G3 smartphone.
They don't have speed bumps
in Yuma.
Me riding south along US-95
headed towards Mexico.
Tacos Mi Ranchito in Yuma
has awesome Mexican food.
I bought Sash this turquoise
skull bracelet in Yuma.
At the Yuma Quartermaster
Sash "getting physical" at the
hotel gym.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

All Packed Up and Nowhere To Go

kofa national wildlife refuge
Sash poses along US-95 Arizona, at Kofa National Wildlife Refuge
For the first time since we started Road Pickle in March 2013, Sash and I found ourselves all packed up and ready to leave town without a destination in mind.

Our original plans after Las Vegas was to ride into Huntington Beach, CA, for a few weeks, deep in the heart of Orange County. We actually had a hotel booked there. However, an ear infection kept Sash resting in our Vegas hotel room longer than we had planned. So, we cancelled the hotel in Huntington Beach and stayed in Vegas for a few more days.

Instead, we looked at San Diego, and found a condo on Airbnb in the North Park community, just a block from the famed "30th & University" corner where all the cool bars are located. We booked it, but the owner declined, explaining that he was still living in it, and forgot to update Airbnb.

So when the few extra days in Las Vegas was finally up, and the hotel told us they couldn't extend our stay due to being booked for the weekend, we had to vacate.

I asked Sash if she was well enough to ride.  She said she was still dizzy and nauseous, but felt she could ride.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "We can just find another place here in Vegas."

"I'm sure", she said. "I'm sick of Vegas."

So, we sat at a bistro table next to our bikes right outside the hotel, trying to figure out where to go. We talked about St. George, UT. But I didn't care much for the idea, mainly because it would put us into colder weather. I had actually entertained Death Valley; there's a nice hotel at Furnace Creek, but I didn't mention it.

"What about Lake Havasu?" I asked.

"Where's that?" Sash asked.

"It's on the Colorado River, about a couple hours south of us."

"Yeah! That's sounds good!" she said.

"And there's also Yuma, about another couple hours south of Lake Havasu."

"Oh, Yuma!" she exclaimed with excitement. "I love Yuma, let's go there!"

"Are you sure?" I asked. "We're looking at about 300 miles. Can you make it?"

She insisted she could make it. She figured some time on the motorcycle would do her good. So, we jumped on our bikes, and took off.

I was nervous at first about Sash getting a dizzy spell and having her vision turn upside down while riding a motorcycle at 80 MPH. But she seemed just fine. Much the highway between Las Vegas to Yuma is sparsely driven, meaning little need to swing your head over your shoulder and shake up your balance.

Much of the route covered US-95 south, with a short stint along CA-62.  We got to see how the desert scrub of the Mojave Desert transitions itself to the Saguaro cacti of the Sonoran Desert. The former is more flat and arid while the latter is more colorful and rocky.

By the time we pulled into a hotel in Yuma, Sash's dizziness seemed gone. We checked in for a week here, hoping the serenity of a smaller, quieter town would do her good.

In the end I found that leaving town with no idea where to go gave me a great sense of freedom.  Most of the time we leave somewhere, we have plans and often commitments to uphold.  As a result, we end up feeling pressured to get there. It's like we lose some freedom that way. On the other hand, not having any place to be, feels liberating.

Photos of the ride from Las Vegas to Yuma...

Bikes are packed up & ready
to go, just don't know where.
Decided to head south to
Yuma, AZ.
Sash giving the A-OK on her
The Searchlight Nugget
Casino in Searchlight, NV
The casino serves up the best
eats in Searchlight.
Sash and I continuing south
along US-95 through NV
US-95 enters California for a
short stretch.
The desert highway is full of
dips and rises like these.
One of the best places to ride
US-95, just north of Needles.
Ahh! The freedom of the open
Power lines cross US-95 and
seemingly run forever.
Getting caught waiting for the
train is fun in times like these.
Where CA-62 crosses the
Colorado River into Arizona
The shone brightly on us
today, but wasn't that hot.
We took a butt break at an old
tire shop in Parker, AZ
Taking a photo op along the
side of US-95 in Arizona
My shadow follows me close
behind, just like Sash
Making the final stretch into
Yuma, AZ

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About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)