A girl, a bike, and an open road

“Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.”
-- Theodore Roosevelt

It often amazes me at how adaptable humans are. Any environment, condition, or situation you inflict upon us, and generally speaking, we will survive or even thrive within it. The suffering our ancestors endured makes all the disasters and dramas we face shrink by comparison. As British archaeologist Alice Roberts put it, “[early humans] were people like you and me, and it is humbling to think of the challenges they faced. People like you and me crossed vast oceans. People like you and me overcame the Neanderthals. People like you and me made it through the Ice Age.”

None of my ancestors dealt with the panic of someone pounding on your door at 1:30am (3:30am rally time), hollering for Emma.

Boy, was he surprised I’m not Emma. Poor thing, with his little pint bottle of whatever cheap booze the kids steal these days, his try-hard crustache quivering as he backed away, apologizing to the middle-aged momma bear he just summoned from her slumber, and turning tail to run back down the hall. Watching his retreat, I heard for the first time the loud music and chatter from other rooms on my floor.

Emma, you can do better.

I collapsed back into bed, but my mind was awake and the worry stone was still tumbling around my brain. So tired my eyes seemed to hurt when I closed them, I would squeeze them shut and turn on my side, counting breaths, then sigh and roll over, staring at the ceiling, listening to conversations and party noises. These kids were having a great time, and I didn’t really begrudge them the audacity of youth, but here I am exhausted and angry in a motel in Las Cruces, NM and for what? Chasing my tail in a competition that seems almost willfully designed to make me fail, where none of my cleverness, my ability to tease out patterns and see the shortcuts will do anything for me. This rally is purely about riding hard and riding far, and no amount of smart helps with that.

I groaned and rotated to my stomach, burying my face in the bleach-scented pillow. What’s even the point of continuing? I could just say a mechanical failure or illness had struck, and no one would think less of me. Finishing this stupid thing gets me what - a 3-digit number and a license plate frame? Bragging rights? I already was letting everyone who thinks I’m some kind of bad-ass down with my performance so far.. and maybe worse, I’ve let myself down. Why continue, when you’re only going to lose? Bail out now. Call Lisa and make up some vague excuse. Turn off the tracker and head back to Pittsburgh a week early.. or better yet, just go straight home. I can be in my own bed in a day and a half. Do that, and all this stops.

The music somehow increased in volume.

Sleep isn’t going to come, so I might as well go. I dragged on my gear, brushed my teeth, and headed to the bike. Standing in the dark parking lot, 4:30 rally time, 2:30 local, looking up at the lit windows of the partiers above, I ate a snack and stubbornly, spitefully, decided to keep going.

37) NMHA - Hatch Chile Mural - Hatch, NM - 1,877 pts

05:09 EDT

Take a photo of the “Welcome to Hatch, Chile Capital of the World” art adjacent the sidewalk in front of the Hatch Chile Market.

A short ride up I-25 from Las Cruces, the tiny town of Hatch, NM was absolutely deserted at.. what time is it? 3am local time? We’d gotten word that a neighbor’s alarm system (or something) was being triggered by bikes showing up here after dark, so I got my photo quickly and moved down the street to a gas station, hovering under it’s soft lighting to do my paperwork, wishing it were daylight so I could bring home a snack or souvenir.

This segment: 88 miles, 4h12m
Total: 1,113 miles, 21h36m
Time Remaining: 40h51m
Points scored: 30,327

Waze and Garmin agreed on sending me southwest on NM-26, cutting around Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument; I can’t say it was scenic, since it was 3am local time. The road was thick with darkness, and I was feeling the lack of sleep after only an hour or so back on the bike. My eyes kept a steady scanning pattern left-ahead, right-ahead, left-behind, right-behind, left-ditches, right-ditches.. repeat. Every couple of minutes, reverse the pattern - right-ahead, left-ahead, right-behind, left-behind… staying alert, watching for deer, or antelope, or whatever it is that lives out here that requires so many wildlife crossing signs!

None leapt out of the darkness, and indeed the only other living soul I came across, besides some widely spaced house lights set far back from the road, was a large utility truck like a plumber or electrician might drive, the kind with lockers and racks of pipes or cables, a ladder poking it’s head out of the back like a large, angular orange retriever. The truck was going well under the speed limit, possibly due to the large speed boat it was towing, completely mummified in a wrapping of heavy black plastic, but unmistakably “boat shaped.” I pulled past them smoothly and quickly, and the rest of the morning my mind would drift back to this chance encounter, wondering where in New Mexico one would use such a vessel, or indeed where they were dragging it to. Was there some waterskiing championship or yachting club at some obscure reservoir or irrigation lake? It was a ridiculously sized boat for any of the small lakes or rivers I’ve seen in the southwest, other than Lake Mead or Powell, but NM-26 isn’t the road you take to either of those destinations…

A quick gas and bathroom stop in Deming, NM, the town silent pre-dawn. I jumped back onto I-10 here, heading west away from the sunrise that would gradually lighten the sky behind me, yet I stayed wrapped in darkness, batting away exhaustion as I enjoyed the relatively balmy comfort of 88F. I finally couldn’t stand it, needing eyedrops, a bathroom, and maybe a few minutes of sleep, so around 5am I dropped off the highway in Lordsburg, NM, just east of the NM-AZ border, pulling into a Pilot truck stop. After a visit to the ladies room, I slid into a booth at the attached Arby’s and caught 25 minutes of shuteye, taking advantage of the AC and their lack of pre-dawn customers.

The sun was cracking the east when I resumed my westward trek, hurtling across the golden glowing hills and bleach-white playas of southeastern Arizona. A fuel stop on the outskirts of Tucson, and then skimming the south edge of town I kept heading west past the western unit of Saguaro National Park to the access road to Kitt Peak National Observatory, my next bonus stop. This bonus was only available from 9am-4pm, local time, and since I’d cut my rest break so short, I counted on finding some shade and napping for a bit.

38) AZKP - Concrete Donut - Tucson area, AZ - 6,155 pts

12:00 EDT

Take a photo of the painted concrete donut in the Kitt Peak observatory parking lot. Be aware that the road to the peak is closed nightly from 1600 to 0900.

As soon as I got close, I saw signs saying the the road to the observatory was closed due to wild fires, and indeed there was a locked gate with signs reinforcing the fact that only authorized personnel were allowed. I briefly scouted a second access road, but determined it was more of a private, unimproved driveway than a public highway, so quickly gave up. There was one other rally bike parked at the gate, so after a quick call to Jeff Earls to confirm, I got my photo of the locked gate and then parked nearby to wait until 9am to submit it. I chatted briefly with the other rider (sorry, I can’t remember who you were!) before I threw out the bed roll and got some z’s, first grabbing one of my classic “sleepy Kerri” photos.

Around 8:30am, I was awakened by vehicles approaching - the contractors working on repairing the road were showing up, as well as workers for the observatory. They assembled into little convoys of 3-4 vehicles and one guy was flagging them through the gate. I wandered over and let him know who were were, what we were doing, and confirmed that public access was prohibited - after all, if ANYONE can get a photo of an “inaccessible” bonus, then anyone who submits only the photo of the “Road Closed” sign would be out of luck and receive no points.

The flagger thought a minute, and said “well, if all you need is a photo of the donut, I’d be happy to drive you up and then back, if you can wait until 9:30.” I laughed and said thanks but no thanks, realizing immediately that it would be supremely unfair to screw the rest of the field out of such a large bonus; yes, by the rules I would’ve been the only person able to claim the bonus, but it was still 100% off-limits to the general public. This decision, while probably in the spirit of the rules, wasn’t the letter of the rules, and debating the finer points of rally sportsmanship on this situation would be a topic for many a conversation later on… but for now, I went back to the shade.

I barely closed my eyes again when the first of 30-odd rally bikes rolled up, and I became the de facto information bureau, answering everyone’s questions - Yes, the bonus was inaccessible. No, the dirt road wouldn’t get you there. Yes, rally staff are aware. I caught a few snatches of everyone’s Leg 2 experiences so far, and what the plans were - nearly everyone was going to the next big bonus, the Santa Monica Pier.

It was a bit of a crush of getting so many bikes staged and photos taken, and it gave me time to chat. “You’re not going?! What am I missing?” more than one incredulous rider exclaimed, thinking that the genius wunderkind of rally planning had somehow found a way to skip the more than 16,000 points waiting on the far side of Los Angeles. “Nothing,” I had to reply, “Just riding a rookie rally.” They’d nod and wish me good luck, one person confiding they felt better knowing they wouldn’t be fighting me for a finishing spot. I just nodded, wincing slightly at being no longer seen as a competitor. I didn’t think anyone noticed, but one rider did who gently asked why I was skipping Santa Monica. “It’s just a Bun Burner” he said. “I just don’t think I’ve got it in me this time” I shrugged. He looked me square in the eye, sitting in the seat of that Indian, and said “You’re thinking - that’s the problem. Get out of your head and do the thing.” With that, he dramatically fired up the bike and took off with the rest of the pack.

This segment: 301 miles, 6h51m
Total: 1,414 miles, 28h30m
Time Remaining: 34h00m
Points scored: 36,482

“Get out of your head and do the thing.”

Oof… that phrase would stick in my head the next few hours, like a mental popcorn kernel between the back molars that you just can’t dislodge. I continued on to the north, brain stewing in my helmet as the thermostat slowly began to stew my body inside the gear. I thought I was upset before, but by the time I got to the Phoenix metro area following I-10 as it sped north, the cluttering and clanking sound inside my head was turning to the angry hiss of escaping steam, an engine fueled by fire and smoke threatening to explode. I needed to get off the bike and reset.

39) G2 - In-N-Out Burger - Chandler, AZ - 207 pts

14:38 EDT

Get a receipt from any approved In-N-Out Burger location and take a photo of the same restaurant with your motorcycle in the photo.

I sat in the A/C for 45 minutes, enjoying a double cheese, animal-style fries, and a medium Coke – that should set me right.

This segment: 130 miles, 2h38m
Total: 1,544 miles, 31h08m
Time Remaining: 31h22m
Points scored: 36,689

As long as I was stopped, I might as well do my call-in, claiming another 1,000 points. Making the call right as I got off the bike, I was still a ball of anger and unhappiness, and I tried not to sound it, but once I left the relevant information I felt like I had to at least give a status update. I kept it simple - “How I’m doing… I’m angry. I’m pissed off. I am full of resentment and frustration and… I’ll just leave it at that.” What more needed to be said? I was unhappy, and keeping my emotions to myself has always been a struggle.

40) CALL2 - Leg 2 Call-In Bonus - 1,000 pts

14:39 EDT

7:00AM and 7:00PM MOUNTAIN DAYLIGHT TIME, June 23, 2023 Call xxx-xxx-xxxx and leave the following information:
(1) Your name
(2) Your rider number
(3) Your location (city/town and state/province)
(4) The last bonus you scored
(5) The next bonus you are heading for

Points scored: 37,689

Getting back on the bike, the temp had risen to the low 90s, and traffic out of the Phoenix metro stew was slow, methodically 5 miles under the speed limit. I gritted my teeth and tried to let the last bits of lingering frustration slip out my pores with the sweat I was generating, but I was mentally stuck. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d made a huge personal blunder by choosing not to compete, to just “ride to finish”… that I should be 4 hours west, riding towards Santa Monica and keeping up with the pack. If I’m not competing, if I’m not striving and trying, why even bother? I could just go home right now; I could be in my own bed in 2 days. Just make up an excuse, no one would care.. some badass I am, huh?

Realizing that I wasn’t able to disrupt the negative loop in my head, and feeling myself getting angry at the pokey traffic, I called up Johanna for an impromptu coaching/therapy session. We talked through the rally, what I was seeing, what I was feeling, what my plan was, given where I currently was. Having someone to talk it all out with was massively helpful. By the time I started winding through the Salt River Canyon, with it’s dramatic cliffs, the road hairpinning its way through ancient gorges, I was starting to feel more grounded and my normal self. Eventually our call dropped, signal blocked at last by the dense walls of the canyon rising above, but I felt a renewed sense of purpose and direction, the choppy waters of my brain finally settling out as I finally came to feel at peace with the decision to “rookie ride.”

Emerging at last from the canyon, the cooler air of the high-altitude pine forests of central and eastern Arizona offered relief at last from the scorch, and my improved attitude held steady as I passed through Show Low, AZ, home of my ex-in-laws (my out-laws?) Familiar streets and businesses slid by as I rolled along US-60 heading east. I briefly considered making a detour to visit my father-in-law’s grave outside Concho, AZ but it would add a couple hours, and even if I was feeling more collected and chill about flower-sniffin’, I still was on a clock. My next bonus was a daylight only, and I had plenty of time.. but not enough for nostalgia.

41) NMPT - Pie-O-Neer Homestead Cafe - Pie Town, NM - 3,257 pts

19:54 EDT

Take a photo of the “Pietown, NM” history sign on the front porch of the Pie-O-Neer Homestead café and store.

Unfortunately, I arrived about an hour after closing time, so no pie for me today.

This segment: 283 miles, 5h15m
Total: 1,827 miles, 36h23m
Time Remaining: 26h07m
Points scored: 40,946

I took a beat here, sitting on the porch, to look at the map and see what the plan was for the rest of this leg. My next bonus location was in Grand Junction, CO, several hours due north, passing through Farmington, NM and Durango, CO, but I also needed to take my 8-hour rest bonus break, which HAD to start before midnight. I was still feeling the exhaustion of a sleepless night, so decided that Farmington, NM was going to be my first goal; if I still felt good and the timing worked out, I’d stretch to Durango, but I had a couple reliable hotels in Farmington bookmarked from previous trips through there.

With that in mind, I double checked the routing from Google and Garmin. It looked here were a couple routes from Pie Town, but Google wanted to send me on 20 miles of gravel.. or I could take an extra 5 minutes and stay on pavement. Not really a hard choice when you get down to it. It meant I had to backtrack ~15 miles west to Quemado, NM before turning north. You never like to backtrack, but the timing and convenience made it only a minor pill to swallow.

If only I knew what the next hour and a half of riding would bring! 20 minutes or so after taking NM-36 north out of Quemado, I turned right onto NM-117, and I settled into another long, boring stretch of Southwestern scrub-desert, when I passed a sign - “Entering El Malpais National Monument”! I’d somehow managed to route myself onto one of New Mexico’s scenic byways, “The Trail of the Ancients”, and it did not disappoint! Shortly after entering the monument, the road begins to slip between towering yellow sandstone cliffs to my right, and to the left, the rubble and debris of a barren lava field stretching out as far as the eye could see. Arches and bluffs, lava falls and tubes, the occasional stand of scrubby piñon and juniper trying to find purchase amidst the lava, isolated on small kipukas (islands that the lava flowed around), aspen filling in the margins on every scrap of thin, sandy soil left untouched by the flow of molten rock. These lava flows were as new as 3,000 years ago, surely witnessed by the men and women who lived in these lands. I began to smile as I rode, even laughing a bit at serendipity gifting me such a wonder to behold. I stopped to take photos several times, and left behind me in that volcanic badlands all my anger, fear, and negativity I had been carrying since Tulsa. My heart was clean for the first time in days.

La Ventana Natural Arch

Like all moments, it had it’s end, passing through the ranger station at the north end of the monument and I soon found myself heading northwest-ish on I-40 for 40 minutes, exiting in the small town of Thoreau, NM, heading north on NM-371 through Navajo Nation trust land, Chaco Culture National Park, and Navajo Nation itself. Pronghorn grazed far back from the highway, a lonely road only traveled by dusty pickup trucks and big rigs hauling who knows what supplies to the small settlements along the way. The sun was low in the west by the time the road dropped into Farmington, and I soon found myself unloading the bike at a hotel I’ve stayed at a few times, a small bit of familiar, ready to be off the road and close my weary eyes.

Lights out by 10pm (midnight, rally time), my spirits remained high, peaceful even, as I lay in that bed and thought of all the things I’d seen and the places I’d been so far, the emotions that had been going back and forth like sloshing water in the bilge of my brain. I’ve done big rides, ridden long rallies, but this.. this was a low and a high together that I’d never grappled with before; how I could be so close to calling it quits and then have it all fly away with the smallest of things - a phone call from a friend, nature revealing it’s scale and majesty, the immensity of El Malpais shrinking my rage and anger into petty whining, letting me ride clean for the first time in days. What a gift this day was.. but it was nothing to the gift the rally would give me tomorrow.

Day 5: 12,496 points -- 1,046 miles
Leg Total: 22,700 points -- 2,123 miles

all tags:
2o18_alaska_womens_tour 50cc Baja California Coddiwomple FS25 Mexico alaska bro6 butt_lite_gt canada colorado d2d2019 florida heart heart_of_texas hot23 housekeeping ibr23 interview iron_butt_rally ldx new_zealand north_by_northwest preview rally rants southwest tour_of_honor travel trip_report washington west_coast_66 wrenching