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Member's Travelogue: West We Go!
A View from the Back
By Cindy Culp

WW media header(Most motorcycle travelogues are written from the perspective of the rider. This one is from the perspective of the pillion, though I occasionally toss my thoughts in as well. - Jim Culp)

Taking a short break here to look around and get our picture taken by Howard Jones, a semi-professional photographer, was well worth the stop. Then, back on the bike we headed west across a flat plain. Unfortunately, at this point the winds really picked up and the temps seemed to drop. Kaibab National Forest and Jacob's Lake where we would find some much needed, but brief, relief seemed like miles away. As we left the forest area the winds were strong and gusty as we passed the Chocolate Cliffs and headed into Utah. By the time we made it to Kanab, we were both beat but enjoyed dinner and the magnificent view of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and Vermillion Cliffs in our host's back yard. Did you know that Kanab is where most westerns, including GUNSMOKE, were filmed? It wasn't Dodge City.

Again these winds were steady at 25-30mph, gusts to 45 mph coming from the Southwest. It made it a tough ride for Cindy (not much of picnic for me either).

Monday morning we set out with our hosts, Ken and Shirley, to visit Zion National Park. We had a perfect day and a beautiful ride going into the park. Winding our way down the mountains and through one long tunnel brought us into the park, where unlike the Grand Canyon, we were at the bottom looking up. Zion is beautiful and so different from the Grand Canyon. Zion also has a shuttle system which will take you where motor vehicles are not allowed. The water was high so we couldn't go back to the narrows, but there was so much else to see. We ended the day with a steak in Fredonia, AZ which, was out of this world. Locally raised beef and they really don't know the difference between an eight and twelve ounce steak. The steaks were huge and delicious. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

The high water, due to snowmelt, meant that the waterfalls were even more spectacular in Zion.WW media header

Now we had visited 3 National Parks and still had at least 3 more we hoped to see in Utah, but ... .We hadn't made any reservations anywhere else because we hoped to pick the brains of the locals on where to stay and how long we should take. So that evening, with Ken and Shirley, we started to look at places and make a plan. We began to look on the internet and check out the weather on the television. OMG, they were predicting snow in Bryce Canyon the next day. Rain is one thing, but snow. And to make matters worse, it wasn't just one storm coming through but three, one right after another and who knows how long they would take to pass, not to mention they were headed toward the same places we were. We were doomed to be stuck somewhere for an extended period of time and maybe more than once. My first reaction was, "Okay, we can deal with that. We're retired and have no time constraints." But once NOAA was consulted for the forecast of towns along various routes and the country, and the pros and cons were weighed, it was decided our best option was to head south and then east as fast as we could go, which meant hitting I-40, my least favorite route to take. Further, you know what precedes storms, WIND!

The decision to "bail out" was not unanimous. There were three strong low pressure systems lined up, about 1 day apart. It was pretty clear that we would likely be stuck somewhere for 1-2 days as each system came through; ride/sightsee for a day, hole up for 1-2 days, repeat 3 times or more. Spending the day(s) in a motel room didn't appeal to me very much so I was the primary force in the decision to cut & run.

Tuesday morning the race was on. We headed east on Hwy 89 to Lake Powell and then the road turned south toward Flagstaff. Dark clouds loomed over the area we left but, sunshine was ahead of us and WIND! A STRONG COLD WIND from the west pounded us all the way to Flagstaff. I have never been so excited to see an interstate, since now we would have the wind to our back as we headed east. Once onto I-40 we had some relief at last as we made tracks, now with the help of the wind, to Albuquerque, a 535 mile day.

This is about 200 miles further than we usually like to ride in a day. The tailwind we had from Flagstaff to Albuquerque did provide for some phenomenal fuel economy. I guess every cloud has a silver lining?

We had managed to stay ahead of the storm, but would our luck hold as we made our way to Oklahoma City on Wednesday? The Weather Channel said it would be a close call and predicted the wind would shift on us at some time during the day to a south east wind and possible late afternoon thunderstorms. That's typical, but I hate it when I see WINDY and strong gusts. There isn't anything in Oklahoma to block the wind and sure enough the WIND switched about 2:00pm. You know you're in trouble when storm chasers pass you on the interstate! I have never experienced wind like we had. The truck blasts in Kansas were little puffs compared these gusts. Remember we are trying to out run a storm and we really wanted to try and get to Oklahoma City though it would be another 530 + mile day. We got off the interstate once to try and find a room. I thought we were going down then, the gusts were so strong. I don't think I have ever been so scared on the motorcycle. Though we couldn't find a motel, the little town provided some protection from the wind. We ended up stopping in Yukon because I said, "NO MORE!" We must have looked pretty rough, because we got the executive suite for only $10 more than the last room available which was a smoking room. After eating soup and sandwiches in the room, I took a swim, soaked in the hot tub and went to sleep. Boy, did I sleep. I dreamed of going to the chiropractor and getting a massage. Did I tell you how sore my neck and upper back were from trying to keep my head from snapping back and forth?

Winds on this leg were gusting over 50mph from the southeast. Cindy was really getting blown around! She was a real trooper though and didn't complain. If you've never been on the back of a motorcycle in extreme winds, I don't think you realize how rough it can be. The windshield gave me more protection so I wasn't "beat about" like Cindy but, having it come late in the day, when I was already fatigued, made for a very tiring experience. I was pretty much "worn slick" by the time we stopped. I don't know how those Iron Butt Rally participants do it.

Our original plans were to try to go back to my parent's home in Kansas City or head to their place in southern Missouri. Since it was raining in KC and rain was forecast for all week in southern MO, we decided to continue east toward Nashville. So far we had stayed ahead of the rain but the long days and (especially) the wind had taken its toll on me. I was tired and very emotional. NOT GOOD! Thursday morning brought more forecast of thunderstorms and WINDY with gusts for the area. What can I say, I saw those words and I lost it. The tears began to flow and I just didn't think I could take another day of gusting wind. So what do you do? After I had gotten settled down, I expressed my concern about how far I could travel that day. It was agreed that we'd start out and only go as far as I felt like it. The wind God was listening for the winds died down and we made it to Little Rock, AR before calling it a day. We had finally managed to out run the front.

Thank goodness! Cindy's tears had really depressed me as I felt completely responsible for the discomfort she'd been experiencing, even though intellectually I knew I wasn't. I was really regretting and second-guessing the decision to head east. Hopefully this experience would not turn her off to touring by motorcycle.

Friday afternoon found us in Nashville with beautiful weather. Though we hadn't made it to all the National Parks I had hoped to, we did manage to ride through several states we hadn't planned on, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and on a section of I-40 I've never travelled. It truly was the best of rides and the worst of rides. The beauty and diversity of the country we saw, though, was stronger than the wind. Plus, how do you prepare for wind? Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature. As a long distance traveler, watch for the "signs" and count on plans and routes to go "blowing in the wind".

We had electric gear for the cold. We had waterproof Aerostitch Roadcrafter riding suits for the rain and sun. We thought we were prepared for whatever Mother Nature could throw at us. Although I've been riding for over 4 decades, through all kinds of weather, I'd never experienced the kind of sustained windy conditions we'd experienced. I've had strong, gusty winds before but never for day, after day, after day!

Note: The system we finally outran was the one that produced the tornado which devastated Joplin, MO (the route we decided not to take).

EPILOGUE: Cindy's line above, "It was the best of rides; it was the worst of rides." is truly accurate (with apologies to Charles Dickens, of course). The USA is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country with scenery that rivals any in the world. Touring it by motorcycle is a fantastic way to see it BUT, Mother Nature still dictates the rules. Should we have just "hunkered down" and waited out the storms? Hard to say. We do have another trip planned for late this summer. This time we're heading north to Vermont. Hopefully the weather, especially the wind, will be more cooperative this time.

Read More Featured Stories From January 2012 Wingin' It.