Hop Along's ride to USITT

Well when word was out that USITT was in Long Beach again this year (I know, tough place to visit-right?!?) I was among those excited.  It so worked out that I would be able to ride from Oklahoma to the conference, including time to visit friends in Los Angeles.  I would also be able to ride with a friend, taking the scenic route out... but knowing that we would need to THE SLAB back... as in, nearly 1400 miles in 36 hours, concentrated on I-40.

The trip out was great.  Gorgeous scenery, curves, and hills.  The first day was the long one, because I had an important place to visit the second day: family in Phoenix, AZ.  I have a cousin who is fighting off one heckuva brain tumor... and defying all bets against his health.  The doctors seem to have one word for him: Anomoly.  So I'd been hoping to visit, knowing full well that he's on round 2 of Chemo and there is a good chance he'll just plain be knackered and unable to visit much.

So how did day 1 go?  Well, it was interesting.  Oklahoma through Lubbock, TX passed quickly as the sheer joy of riding spent a good long time settling, deep into my mind, and expressing itself as a smile.  Typically I don't sleep well before a big trip, but the same excitement that keeps me up all night also is a bit rejuvenating all day.  As we rolled through the day and into New Mexico, elevations rose as temperatures fell... and eventually, the sleet and snow did as well.  We were playing Dodge-em with storm clouds and it seemed we came to the time to make a Decision: stop early for the day in the snow, near Carlsbad Caverns, or continue through the 9,000 foot pass at Cloudcroft and stay near White Sands?  It's like this:  there are hotels here, and then 1.5 hours from here at the pass and beyond.  That's it.  It seems that if we stay, we will have to leave late in the morning after temperatures rise.  If we go... we continue playing Dodge-em with stormclouds, with the possibility that we either get through.... or turn around and come back to where we were at that very moment.  I have to admit at this point, I've always enjoyed playing Dodge-ems at the county fairs and, of course, Cedar Point... so it shouldn't be a surprise that we kept going. 

And sure enough, as we climbed up to Cloudcroft, NM, elevation 9,000 feet, with a good 8+inches of fresh snow on the ground, we came upon the last snow plow pulling into the tire-chaining lot next to the road.  The roads were wet, but clear!  BRILLIANT!  And so we continued, pleased that we wouldn't be turning around.  As we crested the pass, the little thermometer on my bike read a solid 30 degrees.   It would be the coldest temperature of our trip.  We descended into Alamogordos, NM, near White Sands, for  a sunset dinner and a great nights rest.  It had been a 13+hour ride.

The next morning we stopped at White Sands National Monument and rode through the parks roads.  Talk about blinding on a sunny day!  It was also a convenient moment to purchase a new Annual Parks Pass... very useful throughout the year and also for the LRLR rides.  The other interesting bit in these parts was seeing a dirigible... in the middle of White Sands.  Seemed odd to me, but I tried to keep my eyes on the road instead.  Moving on to Phoenix took us on some fun 2 lane roads.  And then.. .rush hour traffic.  bleh!  It took us a short while but we found a hotel room and I made family arrangements... sadly my cousin was, indeed, knackered from the Chemo treatments, but I was able to visit with his twin brother and catch up.  I'm always amazed to hear their stories.

The last day's ride was a little punctuated... as we arrived near Joshua Tree National Park, my buddy needed a new rear tire.  See, I've only been to the southwest twice, but I have begun to appreciate at least one thing besides the great scenery: roads, particularly the two laners, tend to eat up motorcycle tires.  I think they use actual rock.  And for motorcycle tires, this is not a friendly thing.  The rubber is softer, to give plenty of grip.  Remember that whole 2 wheel thing?  Yep, motorcycles like grip from tires... which corresponds to short tire life.  And rough roads mean even shorter tire life... possibly less than 10,000 miles.  So sure 'nuff, off I go on my Honda with my buddy (who shall remain nameless... until he joins the LRLR) to where else but: the Harley Dealership.  Now, I used to own a Buell, so I've got not much against the Harley folk.  Lets just say it cost him a bit.  But I will say this: Harley dealers seem to be especially competent at helping to service folks who are travelling, and getting them back on their way.  Whether that is a compliment or not... I'll let you decide....

Meanwhile, I left my buddy at the dealership while I went off to play in traffic in Los Angeles on my way to meet a friend from Belgrade, and visit a former student.  Traffic was fun, in the sense that my Midwestern upbringing can appreciate one fact:  *I don't live here*.  While highway traffic was lurching at best, surface streets were actually not all that bad.  I did take advantage of the intrepid 'scenic route': by going up 6,000 feet to Running Springs, CA.  Highway 330 was great fun, as you start going uphill there are fast sweeping curves, a few hairpins, and hills that make for a very narrow 2 lane road.  Coming back down 18 was less fun, with a little broken pavement and all.  Of course, I think I had less fun because there was a low sun in my eyes and there wasn't much left of the lines painted on the road... as in, they were all covered with loose cinders.  It had snowed  the week before of course.  If I only had someone to throw a snowball at... but I restrained myself, deciding not to throw snowballs at the passing cross country skiers.