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MC Dispatch

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A Triumph Odyssey

Dennis Fisher and his 1968 Triumph Bonneville

This is a photo of me and my original 1968 Triumph Bonneville. I drove it home from the dealer through a snowstorm in Pennsylvania in January of 1968. Photo by Paul N. Fisher.

The tagline of Motorcycle Classics inspired me to set out on a six-day adventure around the southwest United States on my 1968 Triumph Bonneville with two friends: my old Marine Corps buddy and fellow combat photographer R.J. DelVecchio “Del” mounted on a 1987 BMW K75, and David Howell, a retired national sales/tech rep for Panasonic, on a 2002 BMW GS1150. David is a seasoned rider and having him along provided some comfort in the fact at least one of us had some recent experience with long-distance motorcycle riding. When I announced my plans for the trip to a few friends in our Central Coast Classic Motorcycle Club the responses were not exactly ringing endorsements. I heard everything thing from “you’ve got to be crazy” to “bring plenty of spare parts” to “not on that old Triumph.” In my heart I felt the bike was solid and had been running without problems for years but in my mind I conjured up a thousand things that could fail. The last time I embarked on a long trip like this was in 1969 when I had returned from Vietnam and took my original 1968 Bonneville on a trip from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to Derby, Connecticut, and back, a 2,200 mile odyssey that saw the Zener diode fail and the battery split open. Back then there was a Triumph dealer in every town and having a bike repaired while on the road was a simple matter. Now I was going to have to be my own mechanic and as a result I ended up taking along a lot of tools and the phone numbers for sources that could overnight parts to me on the road. Prepare for the worst and hope for best was my motto for this trip.

Dennis Fisher in 1969

I rode my original Bonneville from New Smyrna Beach, Florida, to Derby, Connecticut, in 1969 after returning from an 18-month tour in Vietnam in the Marines. This photo of me was taken in West Orange, New Jersey, where I stopped to visit Rich Verderamo, one of my Marine Corps buddies who had a 1967 Triumph Bonneville. Photo by Richard Verderamo.

My wife Mary and I have been married for going on 44 years and she used to ride with me on my original Bonneville back when we were first married. She has endured my latter-day return to the bike of my youth with forbearance and good cheer, which has been a blessing to me. Embarking on a trip like this requires that you have your mind focused and free of distractions. Her loving acceptance of my journey gave me the peace to mind that I needed to enjoy the trip and for that I’m truly grateful. We love to travel together, especially to the National Parks, and have visited many of the locations I would encounter on this trip. I felt some sadness that she would not be along for this adventure even though I knew that this was not something she would enjoy doing.

R.J. DelVecchio and his 1987 BMW K75 along with Dennis Fisher's 1968 Triumph Bonneville

R.J. DelVecchio, in background with his 1987 BMW K75, suiting up for our ride on April 26, 2015. Foreground is my 1968 Triumph Bonneville packed and ready to ride. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

In preparation for the trip I changed the engine oil and topped off or replaced all the other oils in the bike. I put in a new set of plugs, adjusted and lubed the drive chain, checked the primary chain, topped off the battery, adjusted the valves, and lubed the instrument and control cables. In February I ordered a set of Craven panniers and a rack from England to accommodate my baggage and tools but due to a number of delays they didn’t arrive until two days before the trip and the mounting hardware was not correct for my bike. So it was time for plan B that consisted of a medium-sized duffel bag strapped to the seat behind me with heavy duty bungee cords. Perhaps not the best solution but it worked, though I could have used a little more seat space. David’s BMW looks like it just came off the showroom floor and required only an oil change and valve adjustment prior to departure. Del’s bike was prepped by Reg Pridmore’s RPM shop in Ventura with the exception of an oil change, which we did ourselves.

Sunday, April 26

The weather is always a concern for on a motorcycle trip and our departure date was purposely left flexible to take advantage of the best possible conditions. Since a lot of our travel would be in desert areas I selected late April through early May to avoid the heat and summer rains. The desert doesn’t get much rain but what it does get tends to fall in the summer months. The spring weather can be erratic but a favorable trend opened up toward the end of April and we decided it was time to saddle up. We departed my home in Santa Maria, California, on the 26 of April just as the sun started to break through the coastal marine layer of fog and we headed east on Route 166 over the coastal hills on our way to California’s San Joaquin Valley. We crossed the San Andres Fault near Maricopa and were making good time in the light Sunday morning traffic. The bike was running strong, the throttle response was quick, and handling good despite the baggage strapped to the seat. We cruised along effortlessly at 60 to 65 mph and I hoped this was a foreshadowing of things to come. My confidence grew with each passing mile. A stop at Maricopa to top off on fuel was needed along with a pit stop for the riders. The 2.8 gallon gas tank on the Bonnie provides a range of about 140 miles but I usually start looking for a gas station after 100 miles. Refreshed and refueled we were back on the road.

New Cuyama, California

Rest stop at New Cuyama, California. About an hour into our trip we stopped to give our bikes a once over and make sure everything was okay. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

The evidence of the ongoing drought in California could be seen everywhere in the valley with many fields laying fallow due to lack of water. We crossed Interstate 5 and were soon approaching the little farming town of Arvin on the eastern side of the valley, about a 125 miles into the ride. The route took us on State Road 223, a two lane blacktop road that began to climb up the foothills on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a nice bike road with gentle uphill curves and it was especially nice that day when traffic was virtually non-existent. I motioned everyone to pull over a few miles before turning on to Route 58 for a final consultation on our next stop prior to entering this busy roadway which is a heavily traveled thoroughfare in and out of the Bakersfield area. It was especially busy this time of year as three of the other passes over the Sierra’s were still closed. I gave everyone instructions on where to exit for our lunch break in case we got separated and took the lead with Del close behind. In the traffic I never did catch sight of David in my mirror and wondered why he was lagging behind. We reached the summit of the southern end of the Sierra Nevada’s at Tehachapi, around 3,800 feet elevation, and as I approached the exit we had chosen to get off for lunch David was nowhere in sight. Del and I pulled over to wait for him but after five or six minutes he still hadn’t appeared. I was getting a little worried and thought perhaps he took an earlier exit by mistake. We decided to proceed to our lunch destination at a nearby truck stop and text him in case he was waiting for us somewhere else. I circled down the exit ramp to a stop sign and continued on toward the truck stop. A glance in the mirror confirmed that Del had now disappeared. I did a quick U-turn and headed back toward the exit only to find a pickup truck on the side of the road and Del’s bike on its side. It wasn’t even lunch time and David had disappeared and Del was down. We were not off to a good start. It turned out that Del had lost his balance when he came to a stop on some uneven ground and he couldn’t hold the bike. A Good Samaritan in the truck had stopped to help and the three of us got the bike upright. Other than some damaged pride, man and machine were in good order. While all this was going on David finally showed up. He told us he had turned the wrong way on to 58 and headed west down the mountain toward Bakersfield. Realizing his mistake almost immediately, he was forced to continue to the next exit some 7 or 8 miles away before he could turn around. Well, we were all back together and after some lunch and a gas stop we were back on the road. Continuing on route 58 down the eastern slope of the mountain to Mojave, we turned north on Route 14 and skirted along the western side of the Mojave Desert.

San Andreas Fault

San Andreas Fault near Maricopa, California. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

The cool air of the mountains now gave way to the heat of the desert and a landscape of sagebrush and Joshua trees. We passed turnoffs for old mining towns like Randsburg and Garlock and then up Red Rock Canyon where they filmed some scenes for Jurassic Park III. Soon Route 14 merged with Route 395, the main highway along the Eastern Sierras. With the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains on our left and the Owens dry lake coming into view on the right I knew we were getting close to Lone Pine and the Portal Hotel, our stopping point for the first day. We fought a pretty stiff headwind for the last 60 miles and it felt good to finally put the bike up on her center stand and call it a day after putting 287 miles on the clock. We checked in at the hotel after David did a little last-minute negotiating to get our room rates reduced, unpacked and gave our bikes a once over in preparation for the next day’s travel. The Bonneville had run well and I looked at her with a mixture of pride and admiration that only another vintage motorcycle owner could appreciate. The first day had done a lot to boost my confidence in the bike.

The Portal Motel in Lone Pine, California

R.J. DelVecchio’s BMW and Dennis Fisher’s Triumph parked at the Portal Motel in Lone Pine, California, after completing the first day of travel. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

With regard to accommodations, everyone in our group is retired and camping or sleeping on the ground didn’t hold too much appeal. I anticipated lodging would be one of the big expenses so in an effort to manage that cost as much as possible we planned to seek out “budget” hotels upon arriving at our destination each day. This worked out well for us and we only had one location where budget accommodations weren’t available and we had to make use of a regular chain hotel. We averaged just under $55 a night in accommodations and although they were pretty basic they were clean, had TV, WiFi, good beds and hot showers. That was all we needed after a day of riding.

Monday, April 27

The second day of our odyssey began with beautiful sunrise glowing orange and yellow on Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Nevada chain of peaks that rose up just west of town. With the grandeur of the mountains as a backdrop, we left the Portal Hotel and walked across the street for hearty breakfast at The Grill restaurant. Plans for the day and our 350-mile ride were discussed and maps checked as we waited for breakfast to arrive. We wasted no time finishing our meal, packing our bikes, topping off our gas tanks, and were on the road to Death Valley by 8 o’clock.

Panamint Springs Restaurant

Panamint Springs is about midway between Lone Pine, California, and Death Valley. The Panamint Springs Restaurant is a popular stop for motorcycle travelers and vintage cars on their way to Death Valley. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Del was finding the seating position on his K bike a little uncomfortable and it left his shoulders and back sore after the first day. He’s from Raleigh, North Carolina, and bought the bike in Santa Barbara, California, with plans to ride it cross country to his home. We figured a couple days of riding would acclimate him to the bike and prepare him for the long ride to come. David and I planned to accompany him as far as Albuquerque, New Mexico, and then return to California. We were a little concerned and were going to keep an eye on how he did through the mountain driving that lie ahead of us and perhaps stop a little more often to afford him a chance to loosen up those muscles.

David Howell and R.J. DelVecchio at Death Valley

Photo of David Howell (left) and R.J. “Del” DelVecchio and the west entrance to Death Valley. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Heading southeast out of Lone Pine we skirted around the north and east side of Owens Lake, past the mining town of Keeler and into the Inyo mountains. The sky was clear and the 50-some degree air was still a little cool in the morning, especially as we crested the 5,000-foot Inyo Mountains. The solid exhaust note of my old Triumph was reassuring as I wound my way down the twists and turns of the highway to the Saline Valley below. The ride was beautiful and with virtually no other vehicles on the road we could enjoy the desert panorama that was unfolding before us as we moved along at comfortable pace. The landscape through this area is bare rocks, blackened with desert varnish, and sand with little or no vegetation. It looks very similar to the photos sent back by the Mars rovers. I’ve come to appreciate the stark beauty of these desert landscapes out West, especially in the morning and evening light.

R.J. DelVecchio in Death Valley

R.J. DelVecchio posing with sea level sign in Death Valley, California, during the second day of the trip. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

It was at about this point in the trip something else became clear to me and it had nothing to do with scenery. It was the answer to the question that non-riders frequently ask, “What’s the big deal about riding a motorcycle?” The wording of the question may vary but that is the general idea. So what is it about motorcycle riding that is so enticing to the rider? At first I thought maybe it was the adrenaline rush of an extreme athlete but your body couldn’t sustain that for an extended period of time. Instead I believe it is a sensory rush. Embarking on a motorcycle journey like this has the effect of heightening all your senses to the point of sensory overload. Your hands and feet feel the steady vibration of the engine through the frame and handlebars, your ears are on alert for any unusual sound or sign of trouble, your eyes scan the road and landscape ahead, your skin senses the changes in temperature and humidity, and your nose takes in the smell of the surrounding air. All these combine to write an unforgettable multi-sensory record of the trip in your brain. I think this is why these trips are so exhilarating and why years from now I will be able to recall the events in detail.

Winding our way down the mountain I was startled out of my mental wanderings by an extremely loud continuous noise reverberating off the canyon walls and drowning out the sound of my motorcycle that left me looking in every direction to see what was happening. This was one of those events when all those senses were on high alert. It was a little unnerving so I slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road to try and figure out what was going on. In less time than it takes to tell, an F-18 fighter jet roared over us at low level, leaving as quickly as he came and heading for one of the nearby Test and Training Ranges.

Fifty miles into our ride that day, we came to Panamint Springs and stopped to take a break and discuss the next section of travel that would take us over the Panamint Range, which borders Death Valley National Park on the west, and down to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley for a break and refueling. We arrived without incident, descending into the valley down a long gentle slope. We gassed up the bikes, bought some soft drinks at the general store, and sat down under the store awning out front to relax in the shade for a little while. A man walked up to us and asked, “Who owns the Triumph”? I said that I did and he went on to tell me he heard the sound of my bike from his campsite and came over to have a look at it. He said he owned three old Triumphs and could recognize that sound anywhere. He was a kindred spirit in this world of vintage motorcycles commenting that he had never undertaken such a long trip but was heartened to hear mine had been trouble free so far. I very seldom ride anywhere that someone doesn’t come up to reminisce about the Triumphs of their youth and of a time and place they remember fondly.

Mesquite Dunes

Mesquite Dune complex near Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley National Park, California. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Badwater Spring

Badwater Spring, Death Valley National Park, California. View of the spring and the surrounding salt flats. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Badwater Spring

Badwater Spring, Death Valley National Park, California. View of spring with Amargosa range of mountains in background. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

We were soon back on the road and motoring past the expansive Mesquite Flat Sand Dune complex which stretched off to the north covering an area roughly 4 by 6 miles. The early morning light that defines the shape and texture of the dunes so well for photographers had long since faded but it still provided a beautiful sight. Motoring on we are greeted with signs along the road that display the elevation as we dipped below sea level and back up again. Driving through this desert it’s hard to believe that until the end of the last ice age this valley was a large lake fed by glacial meltwaters. The surrounding valleys and cliff faces are frequently adorned with petroglyphs attesting to a once thriving human presence here. The Timbisha Shoshone people still live here on Trust lands within the park which are their traditional homelands.

David Howell at Badwater Spring

David Howell posing with elevation marker at the lowest point in the United States. Badwater Spring, Death Valley National Park, California. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

After a short half-hour drive we arrived at Furnace Creek with the temperature in the mid 80s. This is “sweatshirt weather” for the locals but for us it was getting a little warm and it was time to rethink our selection of riding apparel. Our next stop in the valley would be even warmer. Badwater is 18 miles south of Furnace Creek and is the lowest point in the continental United States at 238 feet below sea level. I planned on a quick run down there and then back to Furnace Creek for lunch but Del was continuing to be plagued with shoulder and back pain and said he would sit this section out and wait for our return. I suggested he stop by the Visitors Center while we were gone and check on getting a National Park Pass. Both Del and I were wounded in Vietnam and veterans with disabilities qualify for free National Park Passes. I had acquired my pass years earlier and encouraged him to do the same. So, with Del heading out for the Visitors Center, David and I hit the road for Badwater.

Zabriskie Point

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park, California. View of rock formations with Death Valley in background. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

The ride was pretty much a straight shot down a two lane blacktop road with little traffic. Traveling south, we were paralleling the base of the Amargosa Range, a string of barren rocky hills which rose up rather sharply on our left and the Badwater Basin, a vast salt flat, stretching off to the right. Seven or 8 miles into the ride the Artist Drive road looped off to the east and wound its way through some very scenic colored hills, tinted with various minerals that saturate the soil and rocks. In a little over a half-hour we arrived at Badwater, a flat expanse of salt crust with a small spring of undrinkable bad water. We took a few photos and spent about 20 minutes there taking in the sights. It was time to head back to Furnace Creek for some lunch. We found Del relaxing on a rare patch of grass in the shade, parked our bikes, stripped off our riding gear and headed to the saloon/restaurant for lunch. Our timing couldn’t have been better. We were literally steps ahead of three tour buses disgorging their passengers for the same purpose.

We still had a lot of miles to cover this day so after lunch we headed up past Zabriskie Point and out the east side of the park to Pahrump, Nevada. Some of the higher elevations in the park were still carrying a golden mantle of wildflowers that were in stark contrast to the barren rock landscape below. The remainder of the day was spent skirting around the west side of Las Vegas down to Henderson and Boulder City before crossing the Colorado River at Hoover Dam. From there it was a direct line down to Kingman, Arizona, where we would spend the night. We covered a lot of territory that day putting another 356 miles of road behind us.

Death Valley wildflowers

The wildflowers were still blooming in April as we traveled through the higher elevations leaving Death Valley National Park. These flowers were along the road to Dante's View overlook. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Dennis Fisher's 1968 Triumph in Kingman, Arizona

Dennis Fisher’s 1968 Triumph at the Economy Inn in Kingman, Arizona, at the end of the second day of travel. We had covered 643 miles at this point. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Tuesday, April 28

The next day dawned bright and clear, if a little chilly, and after some truck top pastries and chocolate milk we eased our way through town to the Route 66 Museum and the start of our ride down that historic highway. Kingman is in the high desert of western Arizona at an elevation of 3,336 feet which accounted for the cool morning we were facing. A T-shirt and sweatshirt under my leather riding jacket was enough to keep me comfortably warm on the ride. Once the rush hour traffic of town was behind us a vista of green sagebrush presented itself for our enjoyment spreading over a landscape of low hills. Our first stop was Hackberry, Arizona, a short 30 miles from our motel but in our enthusiasm to get on the road our arrival was greeted with a “closed” sign on the general store. The location is awash in Route 66 memorabilia, old cars, signage and appliances from the past. As we were taking photos and checking out some of the old items, Del motioned for us to join him over by his bike and I wondered if he was having a problem. As David and I joined him he told us the shoulder and back pain were not abating and our scenic route to Albuquerque was just going to take too long. These physical problems had caused him to reassess his ability to make the cross country ride to Raleigh and instead he was going to take the Interstate directly to Albuquerque, ship his bike back to North Carolina and fly home. The disappointment was clear on his face as he said he would stay with us as far as Williams and then he was going to get on I-40. Nothing we could say would dissuade him from this new plan but it was a reminder that anyone planning an extended trip on a motorcycle needs to make sure they are physically up to the rigors of a long journey. So, after gassing up at Williams, Del bid us goodbye and headed for Albuquerque. As I would find out later in a phone call, he made it after a day-and-a-half ride and followed through on the rest of his plan without incident.

Hackberry general store

Hackberry general store with display of car memorabilia and antiques along historic Route 66 in Hackberry, Arizona. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Model T Ford on display at Hackberry general store

Old Model T Ford on display at Hackberry general store. Hackberry, Arizona. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Route 66 memorabilia

Route 66 memorabilia covers the front of the Hackberry general store. Hackberry, Arizona. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

With Del’s departure my original plan needed a little reworking and there is no better way to work on it than to relax over a chocolate malt and lunch at the Galaxy Diner along Route 66 in Flagstaff. David and I headed east on the Interstate for the short ride from Williams to Flagstaff and with map in hand settled down in a booth at the Galaxy to revise our itinerary and partake of a little lunch. The original route took us up through northern Arizona into New Mexico and then diagonally southeast from Farmington to Santa Fe and Albuquerque. With Del’s departure we no longer had a reason to pursue that line of travel and instead decided to explore some of the Anasazi Indian ruins and the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. After lunch we were back on the road heading north out of Flagstaff on Route 89. The elevation had been steadily rising since we left Kingman from 3,300 to 7,200 feet as turned off 89 on to a scenic loop road that led to the Sunset volcano crater and a number Anasazi Indian ruins. This road was a delight to travel and in the hour and a half we spent on it exploring the Indian sites we encountered no more than a half-dozen cars.

Seligman, Arizona

Seligman is another popular stop along Route 66 in Arizona. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

The first thing we came to was the Sunset Volcano crater, a dormant cinder cone that rises about 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain. It first erupted around 1040 and continued off and on for several hundred years. The road winds through the lava fields that are a jumble of jagged black rock amid a pine forest. Continuing on the loop road we came to the Wukoki ruins, a fortress-like three-story high structure of fitted stone built upon a large rock outcropping in the 1100s by the Puebloan people that inhabited this area. The structure is masterfully built and considering it is still standing after all these years it is a real tribute to their building skills. The next site we came to was the Lomaki ruins that dates to approximately the same time and showcases the same building skills.

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument north of Flagstaff. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

State Route 545

State Route 545 north of Flagstaff. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Wukoki pueblo

Wukoki pueblo located north of Flagstaff, Arizona, in the Wupatki National Monument. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Lomaki pueblo

Lomaki pueblo located north of Flagstaff, Arizona, in the Wupatki National Monument. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Arizona Route 545

Scenic view of the landscape along Arizona Route 545. Typical of the high plains of the Colorado Plateau that covers the four corners area where Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico come together. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

The loop road eventually rejoined Route 89 and we headed north toward Kayenta where we planned to spend the night. Our route took us across the Little Colorado River Gorge at the Cameron Trading Post, an Indian trading post established back in 1916 where the local Navajo and Hopi would come to barter for goods. The place is now a popular tourist stop with a gift shop, motel and restaurant for people heading to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. About 16 miles north of Cameron we veered off to the northeast on Route 160 through Tuba City and finally on to Kayenta. The scenery through this portion of the Navajo Reservation was sort of a desolate looking high desert landscape with a scattering of trailer homes and traditional hogans. We rolled into Kayenta around 5 o’clock and began looking for a “budget” motel. To our dismay there were none to be found. The Wetherill was the only hotel with any vacancies in the $100 range and David and I got the last two rooms, considering ourselves lucky at that. It had been a long day and the 344 miles we covered seemed even longer. As I unpacked the Bonnie I began to ponder the fact that this would be the end of the line for us and starting tomorrow we would be on the homeward leg of our trip. The Triumph had performed well so far, no problems at all over the first 987 miles. I couldn’t help but be proud of her even though she was gathering some road film and oil around the engine and on the exhaust system. I would have plenty of time of shine her up when I got home. Dinner at a local Mexican restaurant helped revive our spirits after a long day on the road but David’s yearning for a “cerveza fria” was not in the cards, at least not on the reservation where the sale of alcohol was forbidden.

Wednesday, April 29

Our first order of the day was to take advantage of the complimentary hot breakfast offered by the motel. On the way to the dining room I checked with the front desk to see how far it was to Monument Valley and the lady said it was only 22 miles. So after breakfast we left our luggage in the rooms and motored out to the valley. The weather remained clear and sunny but we were still on the Colorado Plateau at around 5,700 feet which made for a cool morning ride. Huge red rock formations rose up from the plateau and the buttes and mesas along our route appeared to glow in the morning sun. The size and scale of these rock formations are deceptive until you saw a herd of horses grazing nearby or a hogan near the base of one for reference and you realize some could be a thousand feet high. This ride was a feast for the senses and perhaps the most beautiful part of our journey. About 7 miles after leaving Kayenta the road passed close to Agatha Peak, also known as El Capitan, a cone-shaped ancient volcano plug which we observed yesterday as we approached town. Rising about 1,500 feet above the terrain it is visible for almost a hundred miles, depending on where you are, and according to a local Indian we spoke to was used as a gathering place for the tribe during certain times of the year. The Navajo Nation has done a wonderful job of preserving the beauty of this vast area that in turn has drawn tourists from all over the world.

Sentinel Mesa

Sentinel Mesa, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Dennis Fisher with his 1968 Triumph Bonneville near Kaibito, Arizona

Dennis Fisher with his 1968 Triumph Bonneville near the town of Kaibito, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. Photo by David Howell.

We soon arrived at Monument Valley, paid our entrance fee, and rode up to the parking lot. From the observation deck we had an unobstructed view of the whole valley with Mother Nature’s handiwork on full display in any direction you chose to look. This valley was the location for many Hollywood western movies. Perhaps that is why it looked so familiar, especially the Mitten Buttes. Technically the orange red sandstone cliffs are part of the Culter Formation that dates back 160 million years to the Permian Period but to me it was one of finest displays of the natural world I’ve seen. After taking in the view and capturing some of the vista on my cell phone camera we went into the Code Talker museum. Here the history of the Navajo Code Talkers and their contribution to the Pacific Campaign in WWII is chronicled. All of the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers have now passed away but there were over 400 in total. Those that are left won’t be with us long. I would like to have stayed in the valley all day but it was time to head back to the motel, pack up our gear, and move on down the road.

Upper Antelope Canyon

Upper Antelope Canyon near Page, Arizona. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

The rest of the day's travel was uneventful but the scenery on this plateau remained the key attraction. We reached Page, Arizona, around noon, stopped for lunch at the Fiesta Mexican restaurant and topped off the gas tanks before heading across the Colorado River at the Glen Canyon Dam. By mid-afternoon we had covered the 75 miles to Kanab, Utah, and decided to call it quits for the day. Including our detour up to Monument Valley we had covered 233 miles and we were ready to just relax for a while. Our side trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon was scrubbed since both of us had been there before. We checked into the Sun and Sand motel, backed our bikes up to the door and unloaded. While David went in search of some cold beer, I gave the Bonnie a checkup. I heard the chain rattle against the chain guard when I hit a bump earlier and suspected it was getting a little loose. A quick check revealed that to be the case and I opened my tool kit for the first time on the trip. The problem was quickly resolved but I continued my check of the bike just in case something was coming loose. With nothing else detected, I pulled up a chair and joined David in a cold beer, some wasabi almonds and a rehash of our trip and the 1,220 miles we had put behind us.

Kanab, Utah

David Howell, background, packing up his 2002 BMW GS1150 for Day 5 of the trip. Dennis Fisher’s 1968 Triumph in foreground. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Thursday, April 30

This day started off as the coolest so far. Temperature-wise I think it was probably in the high 40s but the humidity was high and it created a damp cold. The motel provided a nice selection of homemade muffins, fruit, juices, cereal and coffee so we didn’t need to go anywhere for breakfast. We packed up, checked out, and were on the road destined for Primm, Nevada, on the border with California. We headed south to Fredonia and then west through Colorado City, Hurricane and on to St. George. The road was like most we had been traveling, two lane blacktop and lightly traveled. A range of cliffs off to our north lined our route through the Kaibab-Paiute Indian Reservation. Once we were on the I-15 with a 70-75 mph speed limit my Bonneville was put to the test. She did fine cruising at those speeds but as a rider with no windshield I prefer 60-65 mph.

Kaibab Paiute Reservation

Red rock cliffs near Pipe Spring National Monument on the Kaibab Paiute Reservation in northern Arizona. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

Although one doesn’t expect much in the way of scenery on a desert interstate highway, the drive down the Virgin River Gorge was very nice. With construction going on in that area I had to keep my eyes on the road but managed to enjoy a lot of the canyon anyway. The ride through Las Vegas was a little slow. There were three big events going on in the city starting the next day, include a big boxing match, and the roads were packed with visitors coming into town. Once clear of the city traffic, the ride to Primm was more enjoyable.

David is a regular at Buffalo Bill’s Casino and Resort and scored a free room for himself and a $45 one for me so we pulled in there in mid-afternoon. Staying at hotels with valet parking and more than two floors was a new experience for us on this trip. The noise and glitz of the casino was in stark contrast to the budget motels and quiet pace of life we had become used to. David was lucky at the slot machines that evening and won enough to pay for a good portion of his trip. I on the other hand was not so lucky and after giving up $10 to the slots I called it a night. We planned on making it back home tomorrow and I wanted to be rested and ready to go in the morning. I reflected back on the 242 miles we made that day and concluded it was my least favorite day for riding. Most of day was spent riding at high speed on I-15 with little time to let your eye wander from the surrounding traffic. My mind kept going back to the beauty and serenity of the ride out to Monument Valley. But with 1,462 miles behind us, home was quickly approaching.

Friday, May 1

This would be our last day on the road if all went well and I was looking forward to getting home. But life on the road is a little addicting and a part of me wished I could just keep on going to some other exciting destination. After breakfast we had the bellman bring all our baggage to the front of the hotel while David and I walked over to the motorcycle parking area to get our machines. I straddled the Bonnie, pulled in the clutch, and kicked her over a few times to break the clutch plates free. As I turned on the petcocks and tickled the carbs I began reflecting on how well the bike had performed and the adventures so many vintage bike owners were missing out of some misplaced fear these old machines were not reliable. I turned on the key and the bike sprung to life on the first kick. Well, mine had proven 100% reliable and any bike that is properly maintained should do so too. I rode around to the hotel entrance and found the bellman waiting with our baggage. We loaded up and began our final stretch of the trip. About half of this day would be spent on four lane divided highways before we finally get back onto two lane secondary roads.

David Howell in front of Peggy Sue's Diner

David Howell posing with his 2002 BMW GS1150 in front of Peggy Sue’s Diner near Barstow, California. Photo by Dennis Fisher.

About 10 miles north of Barstow we stopped at Peggy Sue’s Diner for a short rest and a chocolate malt (strawberry for David). It is a '50s themed diner that has been around for a long time and I think just about everyone who travels I-15 to Las Vegas from southern California knows about it and has stopped at one time or another. But for the fact I was traveling by motorcycle I would have bought one of their homemade pies to bring along.

At Barstow we got off the I-15 and jumped on a section of old Route 58 which took us north of town and ultimately joined up with the new four lane Route 58. We motored across the Mojave Desert to Kramer Junction where we stopped to stretch our legs. This is a modern-day oasis in the desert where routes 395 and 58 intersect. A handful of eateries, gas stations and tourist shops surround the crossroads that provide the only services for many miles in any direction. Our eyes were presented with a bleached out landscape, under a hot midday sun, that is typical of the high desert with sage brush and Joshua trees providing the only color. Forty miles down the road we came to the intersection of routes 58 and 14 near Mojave where we turned off for Lone Pine six days ago. We had now completed a very large loop, or more of a figure 8, around the Southwest and were on the final leg of our journey. After a late lunch and gas stop at Tehachapi we headed down the mountain to Arvin after picking up Route 223. Now we were retracing our first day's ride across the San Joaquin Valley and on to Route 166 to Santa Maria. The cool marine air told me we were nearing the coast. I pulled off the 101 at our exit and paused to shake hands with David before we each headed home. Solo now, I rode the last couple of miles to my home, put the Bonneville in the garage, turned off the key and shut the petcocks. The steady idle of the engine ceased and the hot metallic smell of the engine rose around the now still motorcycle. I was home. 1,821 miles and six days of riding. My Bonneville had performed flawlessly and any misgivings I had about her reliability were now put to rest. I hung my helmet on the handlebars, tossed my gloves inside, shut the garage door and went inside for a much anticipated reunion with my wife.