Day 6: From Gallup to Sedona, Arizona

I’m sitting in our hotel room in Sedona and we’re (Jeff, Kevin and I) reminiscing about Kevin’s motorcycle accident last summer where he officially “broke his neck”. That was a scary time but, thank God, Kevin is pretty much back to normal and normal was never his strong suit. But he’s sitting in a chair across from me, his legs crossed at the ankles and he’s sipping a St Pauli Girl beer. He was in critical condition for a few days and spent five days in the hospital in Kennesaw Georgia. Jeff and I were there with him about 18 hours a day during this time. Kevin was on a tremendous amount of pain medication and only remembers bits and pieces of the accident and his subsequent recovery. So Jeff and I, in the tradition of loyal and supportive friends, are reminding him of his more embarrassing moments, including the imaginary ones that we made up about him just for fun. “Hey Jeff, do you remember what Kevin said to that red haired nurse?!”

It has been a long recovery for him, physically and mentally, but he’s doing great now. We’re thankful. Now we can tease him again with a little less guilt.

Today started well for us. Up early, on the bikes and on the road in Gallup, past the Chinese massage parlor, the combination Greyhound bus station, laundromat, convenience store, fax center, bait shop and down to a restaurant for breakfast. We had a number of restaurants to choose from and since I was leading I decided to skip the one that had the café, liquor store and adult store all in the same building. Clearly people had to be multitalented in this kind of climate and location, to survive. But all I wanted for now was breakfast. And it was a great breakfast, which was served to us by a charming Chinese woman.

Now we had to get back onto I-40 West. I took the lead and we drove a few miles and I saw the sign ahead for East to the left and then West, farther down to the left. Jeff, unfortunately took the East road.  I went West. About an hour later he caught up with me as I had stopped at our exit to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest.

The Painted Desert was awesome and I hope to post some photos of that. We rode through it and the forest where over time the wood had turned to stone and some even to crystal. The landscape was absolutely stunning. We pulled over to an area to have a look and were immediately, warmly welcomed by some bikers who were from the UK and who were on an organized tour of Route 66. Incredibly friendly and witty, extroverted and self-effacing, they too were amazed at what they were seeing. One of them, David said, “How can I explain these sights to my mates back at home? I can’t.” We exchanged stories about motorcycles we had owned, rides we had taken and dreams we still had left. They too were heading for California and we all figured we’d meet again.

Arizona is one of a few states in America where you don’t have to wear a helmet to ride. I think it’s actually written somewhere in the US Constitution that Congress shall make no laws prohibiting the applied idiocy of motorcycle riders. In Arizona Jeff and I seemed to be the only ones wearing helmets. Well, don’t tell my sisters but I succumbed to the idiocy and rode a good hour, sans helmet. It was amazing. I could feel the wind in my hair and hear more clearly the beautiful staccato of the engine. When we hit the main highway I put it back on.

Now we had just about an hour’s ride to Flagstaff and a further 30 minutes to Sedona. Our total mileage for the day would be around 250 miles. Piece of cake after some of the 400 mile days we had endured. I was wrong. The 88 mile or so ride to Flagstaff was awful. We had 20-30 mile an hour cross winds from the south along with blowing dust to deal with, on top of the usual wind battering and buffeting we received when we were behind or passing trucks. (I could write a whole essay on the complexities and vicissitudes involved in passing trucks; how you get sucked in and out, the impact of the Bernoulli effect, and all that-but not now.) Our speed ranged from 80 mph to 50. We didn’t make it to Flagstaff in one go. After about 50 miles I couldn’t take anymore and I pulled into a rest stop and Jeff followed. Jeff’s a much more skillful and experienced biker than I and I thought he’d “slag” me about my failure to keep going. I was relieved when he took off his helmet and muttered: “thank you for stopping”. We had a drink and a smoke and he asked: “Did your whole body just tighten up when those winds came? My hands are numb from holding onto the handlebars so tight.”

We somehow survived more battering in the last 30 miles and then headed south towards Sedona. I’d heard the route was amazing for bikers but it looked pretty basic to me: pine forests. I pulled over to wait for Jeff to catch up and then we continued on. Slowly things began to become amazing. There were some challenging twists and hairpin turns (Speed limit 15 mph) and the views became more and more awesome: lush green aromatic forests, white water streams sidling alongside the road, deep canyons, and towering stone formations-this was the Arizona I had heard about and seen in the old cowboy westerns!

We finally rolled into Sedona, and contacted Kevin. We rode over to meet him. Kevin and I almost always hug but didn’t this time. Looking back now I realize that I was in a daze from all that we had gone through that day. We got to the hotel. I took off my huge armored and padded motorcycle trousers and my heavy boots and put on some jeans and running shoes. Jeff made a few phone calls and Kevin and I went for a walk, nachos and a beer. Jeff caught up with us. Afterwards we went back to the hotel. I crashed and they headed out to go see some sacred mountain site. To some degree I agree with Robert Pirsig who said that the Zen you find at the mountain top is only the Zen you brought there.

We’re long finished our discussion and now they’re asleep. I would say that they look like sleeping angels but that would be a bold faced lie. And of course I’m wide awake! We have a long ride tomorrow up to and around the Grand Canyon and down towards Kingman. Kevin heads to Phoenix.

All in all it was a great day. I am here with two of my best friends and I am filled with love and gratitude.

One thought on “Day 6: From Gallup to Sedona, Arizona

  1. A deep bow of gratitude to you both for sharing your adventure with us. Excellent writing all ’round, filled with wit, good humor, and insight. Ride safely, with clear eyes and full hearts. Here’s a poem for today, by Wendell Berry:

    The question before me, now that I
    am old, is not how to be dead,
    which I know from enough practice,
    but how to be alive, as these worn
    hills still tell, and some paintings
    of Paul Cezanne, and this mere
    singing wren, who thinks he’s alive
    forever, this instant, and may be.

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