It's in the low 30s and snowing when I wake up in Santa Fe. I put on my warmest clothes including a scarf I bought 14 years ago at a ski resort in New Zealand. It's amazing how much this one article of clothing makes a difference on a motorcycle. I thank Brian for the hospitality as he helps carry my gear to the bike and sends me off. Just three nights ago I was sprawled on a desert motel bed in my underwear with a barely working window air conditioner and melted deodorant. As I ride through the snow on I-25 toward Albuquerque, I can't help but smile at how quickly this country can change.
I think about how lucky I've been to meet up with friends along the way. I appreciate the time alone, but relationships with others are what makes life truly special. Further up the road, I see two police motorcycles with lights on going in the other direction. A mile further, I see two more. Then I see a massive group of motorcycles, over 1000 in all. I have no idea where they're going or what the event is, but it's quite a sight and for a second I consider getting off on an exit, turning around, and riding with them.
As I drop elevation into Albuquerque, the snow turns to a light drizzle, but I'm well protected in my rain gear and stay dry. There's a bit of traffic, but I'm through the city before long and come over a hill to see ominous clouds on the horizon. I press on, but the rain gets harder and I decide to pull off and check the radar to see what I'm up against. I could use gas too. It doesn't look like it'll last long, so I leave the bike parked under the gas station awning, grab a coffee and a protein bar, and wait it out. An hour of caffeine-fueled web surfing later, the sun comes out and I'm ready to go.
I'm eventually going to Flagstaff, but rather than take I-40 the whole way, I take the scenic route further south so I can ride through national forests and parks. I take Hwy 117 toward El Malpais National Conservation Area that borders five Indian reservations. The dusting of snow covering the ground makes this beautiful ride even better as I splash through puddles down the road. I zip by a sign for La Ventanna Arch and do a u-turn to check it out. You can't see much from the parking lot, so I park, grab my camera, and follow the trail into the woods. It's a short hike and before long, I'm surrounded by amazing, snowy rock formations.
I take my time hiking back to the parking lot, but eventually, I'm back on the road. A mile later, I spot four Elk in the ditch and cut my speed in half. Once they see me, they jump the fence meant to keep them off the road as if it's a mere nuisance and disappear into the scenery. Elk are big. I should probably try not to hit one.
I stop in Quemado for gas and before I know it I'm in Springerville, AZ, the second to last state of the trip. I see my first Safeway of the thus far, the grocery store chain I shop at in San Francisco. I stop at True Value to fix my GoPro and meet a guy in the parking lot who's admiring my bike. He says his first bike was the biggest Honda they made at the time, a 390. He wishes me safe travels and I head next door to Booga Red's restaurant for lunch. It's only noon and I'm close to my overnight town, so I study the map and plot out a detour to Crescent Lake southwest of town.
The climb up the winding road to the lake is excellent. I go a bit too fast, but I've earned a bit of calculated risk. The music on the radio seems to match the ride perfectly and when I crest the hill and pull into a lookout point to take in the view, I can't wipe the smile off my face. The recent fire has claimed most of the green from the forest, but what remains is beautiful its own right. Across the road, men on horses are driving cows over a hill so I take off to see where they're headed. Rounding a turn, I stop again to watch them work.
Still early in the day, I take my helmet off and relax. Today was yet another day I would have run out of gas had I gotten my wish of the smaller Indian Scout. The cold weather likely would have stranded me until much later in the day too. Riding this big Harley is almost second nature at this point and I can't imagine this trip on anything else.
After 20 minutes of peace, I fire up the engine and start down the other side on my final push through Pinetop-Lakeside and into Show Low. The last 60 miles go quick and I arrive at Snowy River Motel at 3 p.m. A kid in the parking lot likes my helmet and writes down the manufacturer. I unload the bike, do some writing, edit some pictures, and decide at around 7 p.m. I should get dinner. There aren't a lot of options near my place so I walk down the road a bit to a steakhouse. I sit at the bar and fall for the special after it's explained to me. It's the worst meal of the trip. Everything is fried and I don't even finish it. When the bartender asks how everything is, I unconvincingly mutter "good", which seems to satisfy what little interest she has in my response.
I overhear the bartender talking to locals at the other end of the bar as I finish my drink. They say they might head to Rumors after they're done and the bartender says, "you mean Tumors?", the laziest pun possible. I love it. This doesn't give me the best impression of the place, but it's Friday night and it's the only bar around. After peering in the windows, I side with the bartender and decide to call it a night. I'm meeting two different friends tomorrow that are coincidentally vacationing along my route and am anxious to see them.