Start: Sherman Oaks CA (18061)
End: Beaver UT (18581)
AT LAST. The start of my wonderful cross-country trip has arrived! Of course, I don't get nearly the early start I wanted, with last-minute gear checks, getting everything loaded onto the bike, saying goodbye, etc. I get myself to the corner gas station for The Official First Tank Of Gas And Odometer Reading (it says 18061 miles) at around 10:00 am. Head east via the 101, 134 and 210 freeways. The later start is not such a bad thing after all because the morning rush hour traffic has started to die down. In San Dimas (less than 50 miles from home) a fellow in a pickup honks to get my attention, points to the rear of the bike. I wave thanks and pull off the next exit, wondering what part of my gear I haven't strapped down properly and is about to fly off. No, luggage and spare jacket are secure ... oh, it's the darn license plate, it's hanging by one side because the other bolt has fallen off. The first one fell off three weeks ago. Haven't fixed it properly yet because the ziptie has been holding it on just fine, thank you. Great, now the license & rear turn signal bracket shall be attached with TWO zipties. LOL. Looks ugly but works great. I guess I DID forget to use LocTite when I relocated the turn signals. D'oh!
First gas stop in Barstow. It's getting hot, so I switch from leather to Joe Rocket jacket. The attendant asks me where I'm headed, and I proudly answer that I'm on my way to Virginia. He's amazed ... that I'm going so far, or that I'm by myself? This is the first of many, many repetitions of this conversation that I will encounter on this trip.
I-15 north. Cross over into Nevada. Get caught in early afternoon traffic in Las Vegas. I remember that I'm not in California any more and can't split lanes. I see a guy on a brand-new shiny Indian (he was dressed in shorts, baggy tank top, minimalist beanie helmet) who can barely ride the thing. It's painful to watch.
Past Vegas, I'm on roads that I've never been on before. There is NOTHING out here. Ride, gas, ride some more. The road sings to me. Looking at the map, I-15 crosses a little itty-bitty corner of Arizona before entering Utah. Riding through, I see a huge butte rising out of barren lands directly in front of me. Where the heck does the road go? I can't see it going off to the left or right, and all that's in front of me is a big freakin' rock wall, getting closer. And closer. And closer. At the last minute, I see where the road enters a narrow canyon. Suddenly vertical walls of red rock surround me. A river winds next to the road. This is the Virgin River Gorge, an amazing gem of a canyon rising out of the desert, and my entry into Utah foothills. I smile beneath my helmet, and breathe thanks that such lovely places as this exist, unknown to and undreamt by most folks. The canyon twists, gains altitude. About halfway through, the skies suddenly darken & winds start to gust. I think I see the flicker of lightning to my left, in the west. I smell the sharp smell of water on hot pavement ... rain in the desert. Only thirty or so miles to St George. Please let me beat the rain there.
I do, but just barely. I'm meeting Pooh for dinner in St George so I pull into a Denny's parking lot and give her a call. Within five minutes, the skies open. Pooh arrives and we sit down to eat. I talk the poor girl's ear off, I'm afraid. I am happy and almost giddy from my first day on the road, chatting about the sights I've seen and where I'm heading. It's nice to be off the road for a little while now, sitting down with good company. The rain tapers off and ends by the time we finish dinner. Decisions, decisions. Pooh tells me a good hotel I could get in St George, but I scan the skies -- still a couple hours of light left, and the rain seems to have mostly passed. I bid farewell to Pooh (she is welcome in Los Angeles any time, I hope she visits soon!) and suit up, determined to make another hundred miles or so before day's end.
Humming along, Utah mesaland gives way to low mountains dotted with piñon pines. The road is wet in places, but no more rain falls. I start seeing ranches, cattle, the terrain opens up into lovely rolling farmland dotted with occasional small towns. Sunset lights the formerly threatening clouds with all the fires of heaven, a flaming red lightshow in my rearviews. Miles click off. As the sun goes down, the temperature plummets (I am back in my leather jacket, at least) but I am still about twenty miles away from the next decent hotel. I pull into Beaver UT in full darkness & get a room for the night.
A great day to start the trip :)
Next: Day Two