MOTORCYCLE DIARY: 7

SPARKS, NV – JUNE 23, 2021

RECORDED IN SPARKS, NV

[START OF AUDIO] Okay. 11:33 PM, Wednesday, June 23rd, Sparks, Nevada. I have to go to sleep, so I will try to make this brief, even though I’m making up for a few lost days. I am behind schedule, which is totally cool. This was a possibility. I’m okay with it. My priority is safety and not overdoing it. Man, so much to recount. How about working backwards?

Earlier this evening, I was downstairs in the casino at a bar, watching the Atlanta Hawks play the Milwaukee Bucks, and the bartender and a patron were having a conversation. If there’s any doubt that you are in America, and in the West, let this conversation of theirs be proof that you are. Take a wild guess. Employ stereotypes, don’t try very hard, wing it: What were these guys talking about? If you had to guess, a $100 bill for you, if you get it right. Yes, you’re right. They were talking about their– the bartender’s AK-47 and the caliber of munition it used. The patron then compared it to his AR-15, and then they segued from assault rifle ownership and specifications, to the outrageously high price for goats.

Goats, goat prices are going up, guys. I don’t know if you knew that, but I know that now. We’re talking over $150 for a goat. There are goats in the parking garage here. No shit. Lots of goats in the parking garage, two levels below my motorcycle. Actually, they’re sheep. I believe there was some sort of a rodeo happening. Okay, moving backward in time. Fuck no, that’s too hard and it’s too late. I left Pasadena, went to Sequoia. I made it. Did I even talk about this already? I don’t know.

Got to Sequoia at night. Miraculously, found my small campsite and the little number 87 pegged to a stick, found it, rolled in, set up camp, slept. Holy shit, did it. I’ve taken a wiggly road into the national park, found the turnoff for the Azalea campsite, where I was staying. In the morning, top of mind was, pack up, get out of there, find coffee, have breakfast and get on the road.

Azalea Campground, Site 87

The attraction, of course, is the General Sherman tree, which is the largest, I believe, tree in the world, or it is possibly the oldest living thing on the planet. Really wanted to see it, but I felt that I had probably passed it by, and so, I thought, “I can always come back. Maybe this is not the time.” I thought, “Okay. Well, I’m going to pull out of this campsite and keep going on the road I was going on.”

The Sherm

Worth noting, no cell service whatsoever, nor did I have a park map. So I kept going on the road that brought me into camp. Long story short, that road goes nowhere. I think I went maybe 25 miles out of my way, or in the wrong direction. Ultimately, found somebody to ask – a guy who was working at the one small convenience store. This is on a road, a wiggly road in the middle of this aggregation of national parks.

He said, “Oh no, no, man, you’re going the wrong way. This is the– If you go a couple more miles, it’s what we call The End of the Road.” I doubled back, another 25 miles back, started sweating that I was going to run out of gas.

I stopped at the entrance to– I’m just basically going to rattle off everything I can fucking remember before I pass out. I stopped at an outdoor area. Was it a trail head? The starting… I guess trail head speaks for itself. It was the trail head for a cavern. I ate a Cliff Bar there and drank a bottle of foul Starbucks coffee milk, and asked the woman working there how far to the next town. It’s like, “Where is the next town?” She answers, “There’s no town, there is no town.” [chuckles] I was like, “Okay. There is no town.”

There are two locations to mention, there’s the trailhead for the cavern where I ate a snack and many miles back was the market attached to a lodge where the guy told me I was approaching the end of the road. Somewhere between the two I had passed a very small, rustic, remote gas station slash ice cream stand. I learned it was my only option for fuel. Period. So back I went again, after departing the cavern trail head and pressing on for another 15 miles – in the wrong direction. Again.

Doubled back. Passed the cavern again and headed in the direction of the lodge, hoping I’d read — reach — [chuckles] Jesus, I’m so tired. Hoping I’d reach them before running out of gas. They have a sign posted in one direction that reads, “Warning, ice cream ahead.” I kept my eyes peeled for that sign while intermittently checking the low fuel light in the instrument cluster, which of course was lit in piss yellow. I delighted when I saw that ice cream sign. I went to that place, got gas, thank God. I was almost almost empty. It was amazing.

You roll in and roll over the wire that dings inside the garage. This was a common thing in my childhood. You drive onto a gas station’s pavement, and they have these wires laid out. You roll over and it goes ding, ding. Then, the guy inside knows to come out and pump your gas. I actually did that for the first time in 20 years. I was like, “Oh, shit. The ding-ding rope.” Went over the ding-ding rope. Guy comes out, and the gas pumps are like 19– I would say, 1940s era, big clear glass, cylindrical gas containers at the top of old, steel or iron pumps. He pre-fills it. Pumps or primes it by hand, and we chat a bit. Anyway, the long story short is that instead of waking up at the Azalea campground, caffeinating and feeding myself and pressing on, I spent the entire day in Sequoia and Kings Canyon.

Worth noting again: No cell service, few human beings, just riding from one end of each canyon to the other on the bike. I did this because I’m a fucking idiot, and didn’t know where I was going, but I learned subsequently, that what I actually did was, I rode Kings Canyon from one end to the other, which is a noted motorcycle route, so that was beautiful and amazing.

Once I realized early on in the afternoon that I was fucking not going anywhere, I embraced it, and decided, “Well, I’m on vacation, this is what I’m doing.” I spent probably 10 hours on the bike with breaks here and there, sweating, working, practicing. It was great. The end.

I finally made my way out of the park, and all day long I was keenly aware, the entire fucking day was that it was my first– It was the first full day after departing Pasadena, and I had no service, no contact with the world beyond the bike and the national park.

Of course, I had told Michelle that I would text her at the end of each night, and if texting was not possible, I would send an email – and that email would sit in my outbox until it would eventually send whenever I reached a service area again. Needless to say, spending almost the entire second day with no cell coverage of any kind, no Wi-Fi anywhere, of course… I realized the whole time like, “Okay, every hour that goes by, she, and possibly Micah, and possibly some of my friends, possibly my parents are starting to think, ‘Hmm, maybe he died on the first day.'” So – a day that ultimately evolved into an unplanned all-day practice day in Motorcycle Heaven was colored by the knowledge I was most likely worrying the Hell out of a handful of concerned parties.

Finally, I got out of the park! I headed back down the road, like the whatever it is, like the county road that leads into the park from the south that I had come in on the night before [NOTE: E. Kings Canyon Rd, aka 180]. I saw a filling station. “You know what, I’ll pull over here. I think I have service again, now that I’m out of the park. I’m going to make some calls.” I pull in into the lot and in the parking spot next to me: another 2002 BMW 1150 RS. I can’t fucking believe it.

Troy and his 2002 R1150RS, with Pidge

Dude comes out with a six-pack of beer. Troy. We talk for a bit, take some photos. And I had been looking across the street. There was a place that maybe… I was like, “Maybe that’s lodging. Maybe I can just stay there.” (My ambitious goals set at the beginning of the day eventually crystalized into: JUST GET OUT OF THIS PARK AND FIND A PLACE TO SLEEP.) I had gotten out, stopped at this place, met him.

I eyeballed this place across the street as I was getting off the bike. He’s like, “We’re staying just across the street. Come have a beer, man.” Me: “Oh, wow. I was just wondering if I might find a room there.” There were no rooms there, but his wife, Caroline, called her friend or someone, and they recommended a motel that was five miles down the road.

I called them, got their last room. I hung out with Troy and his wife. We shot the shit, had one beer, talked about motorcycles and traveling, and life in Philadelphia, and different rides and motorcycle gear. It was very, very nice. It was a welcome respite after a very long and very, very hot day, which, while enjoyable, was imbued with a little bit of stress, because I didn’t know where I would ultimately end up, and I knew that Michelle was probably worried.

Troy and Caroline + 2x BMW R1150RS’s

After, I puttered down the road five miles to the Squaw Valley Motel. I will probably for the rest of my life regret not getting a photo of the purveyors of this establishment. Husband and wife, boyfriend-girlfriend, unclear. I instantly got Harry Dean Stanton in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me vibes – except they were about 30, and a couple. Perhaps that’s uncharitable.

Outside Room 8, Squaw Valley Motel. California.

I feel like those two are going to be there until they’re 70. Anyway, it was very “interesting”. The room was great because it had walls and a door, and a clean bed, and a shower. Even though one of the shower doors was off the rails, literally had to pull it out of the shower unit and lean it against the wall, and [chuckles] didn’t care, showered. The end. Survived.

The next day, what did I do? I left there. [chuckles] Yes, I don’t know. I left there and headed toward Reno. First to Sacramento, and then to Reno. The plan was just, like, get on the route generally and start heading in the direction of the rally, generally. Then, I would like, I ride fairly slowly, blah, blah, blah. Man, so much has happened…

Same spot after some life saving sleep.

By the way, I’m aware this isn’t an emotional accounting. I’m saying nothing with respect to state of mind – the bliss, stress, fear, relaxation, meditation: the actual experience of doing it – it’s just, I went here, I went there, I went there. Honestly, at the moment, I can’t remember, but I came into Reno at night over– I took I-80, and I went over Donner Pass, ultimately, I guess. Needless to say, that was a bit of a nail-biter.

It’s long, winding inclines up over, up to the pass, I guess, and then back down, two lanes with Reno desert driving speed people, and Californians, who are accustomed to the freeway, and long haul truckers, and me. There was a lot of white-knuckling in the dark, but I made it. Oh, right. Anyway, yes, fucking scary shit. Stopped at In-N-Out Burger at some point, too– Oh, right. I stopped at In-N-Out Burger somewhere on the way here, before I did the big stretch that led into the night and over that pass. I had departed Sequoia, ridden wherever the fuck north.

I decided post-Sequoia that I needed a GPS unit, because I didn’t want to be cut off like that. Again, I was also– We were having other issues, the fucking phone overheats in the sun, even though the bike is moving, and whatever, blah, blah, blah. It was the desire to head north, hook up with the route to the rally, and find a GPS unit that led to the decision to come to Reno, and stay here, because here in Reno– I apologize.

I’m actually in SPARKS, Nevada, which is adjacent to Reno. The BMW dealer, Sierra BMW is also in Sparks. Anyway, they had the GPS unit. I talked to them. They confirmed it could be hooked up to my bike, which is 20 years older than the technology we’re talking about, but it wasn’t a problem blah, blah, blah. But, I was not going to be able to get to Sierra BMW before they closed at 6:00.

My plan was, “Fuck it. I’ll get up there to Sparks/Reno and spend the night, and in the morning, I will get up, go get the unit and be on my way.” That’s what informed the decision. Then, that evening, the ride from In-N-Out Burger in Some Place, Some State, USA to the Nugget Hotel that I’m sitting in right now, was at times, glorious, and at times, terrifying. The end. Anyhow – my plan was to get up super early this morning or somewhat early and– Oh, like just to get my shit together, have some coffee, have breakfast, and then get to the dealership when they open at 9:00, conduct my business, get in and get on the road.

What happened instead? Woke up crazy early, checked the clock. Where the fuck am I? Oh, right, I’m in a hotel in a place. What time is? Crazy early, before 6:00 I think. I was like, “Okay, but I am up. Let me just lie here. Why not lie here? I want to see how I feel.” Boom, fell back to sleep. Blackout curtains, hotel bed, air conditioning, woke up at 10:00. Got my shit together, checked out, brought shit downstairs, dealt with the valet yada, yada, yada.

By the way, the guy who I think runs the valet desk, like valet and bellhop service is a imbecile/penis, but a guy who works with him, Brian, is the guy who came up here and got my shit for me this morning, and he saw the bike cases and the helmet. We started to chat. Sure enough, he too, like every fifth person I’ve talked to, owns a bike or owned a bike. He owned two. He owned the predecessor to my bike, the 1100 back in the day, and then he had another one, yada, yada.

Brian at The Nugget Casino Resort Hotel

Came down, saw the bike, flipped out. Nice dude. There’s been a fair amount of that happening by the way. Boop, boop, boop. Yes, I just wanted to, you know, mention Brian. I took a photo of him. Nice guy. Then, went to the BMW dealership. Sure enough, they had the thing. They had the thing for me. I bought the thing. They were kind enough to do the actual splicing of the electrical that needed to happen. Popped it in.

I came back here. Got my shit from the valet, loaded up the bike, called Michelle, had some water, had a lunch. Whatever the fuck I did. I was like, “All right.” It’s 2:00, it’s 3:00 but whatever. No big deal. I’ll ride until 8:00 PM. It will still be light out and wherever I am, I am. I started, got onto I-84. Then, the GPS went dim, I was like, “The Hell?” The screen was dim. “What gives?”

Anyway, got off the interstate, pulled off. Found a place to pull over, checked, and sure enough, GPS is not getting power off the battery at all. Fuck. Went back to Sierra BMW. Again, they were awesome. Lots of troubleshooting. What the fuck? Ultimately, they agreed to do the service for free, brought the bike into the garage. This involved taking off the fairing, taking off the gas- lifting up the gas tank, so they could get underneath and access the battery, and do all the shit.

The Pigeon at the doctor’s office, with other patients

Anyway, they did all that. It did take a while. I basically spent the bulk of my waking hours at that dealership today. I started to get, I think wrung out from standing around on the sun, going back and forth, lugging luggage upstairs and down, dealing with the hotel, and so on. I just called it. I said, “I didn’t want a repeat of what happened the previous night, rolling in somewhere I’ve never been before, at night, at 80 miles an hour with semi-trucks bearing down on my ass.”

“Fuck it. I’m staying here again, Nugget it is.” The end. I am here at The Nug. All good. Helmet transmitter talks to the GPS. The GPS is great. It is powered by the bike. Everything is gravy. I’m going to get into bed now in the air conditioning and sleep. All good. Tomorrow, I try again. All I’ve got to do is get up, get on the bike, and head North. Take my breaks every two hours, drink water.

NUG LIFE

When I get tired or when I get bored– Not bored, when I get tired or wrung out, or too hot, where I’ve just had enough for the day, that’s where I will stay. Honestly, the rally starts tomorrow, Thursday. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Honestly, if I don’t get there until Sunday, if I don’t get there at all, it’s totally fine. It would suck, but it’s fine. My only priority is stay safe, keep going, see where I end up.

I’m trying to be present and appreciative of what is happening in the moment. Nothing has gone according to plan, to the extent there was a plan. I met Troy and his wife. I talked to a lot of great people. Everybody at that BMW place was awesome. I’m in a weird casino tonight for about an hour. I just left the hotel on the bike, no agenda. As far as I can tell, all the speed limits here in town are really low like 20, 25 in some places.

There was the thunderstorm earlier this afternoon. It rained, it cooled down. I didn’t have anywhere to be. There was no stress, and so I just putted around Reno at 30 miles an hour on fairly empty streets at night. It was really nice. That’s what my day ended up being, and it was great. Tomorrow, I set out. Whatever, unless I don’t.

There was something else. Oh, last thing. When I first got to Sierra BMW and talked to the guys about what I wanted to do, and what I had outside. I think the owner, like the senior dude there, he was helping me out a lot. He came outside. He says, “Let me see.” He came out with me and he looked at the bike and he went, “Ah, now, that’s a really nice old scooter.”

We were chatting a little bit in the sun, and then he looked at the odometer and he said, “Oh, 57,000 miles. It’s just a teenager.” [chuckles] I thought that was cute. That’s it. Every single day I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this recorder because, A, I enjoy doing it. B, I wanted to try keep a record every day. So much is happening, but I just haven’t been able to.

“Just a teenager.”

Just so exhausted and fully consumed by the travel itself. Yes, I’ll revisit this particular topic at a later time when I am not exhausted, but I want to talk about the motorcycling itself. God, it’s so all-consuming and incredible in a way that I was not prepared for, and in a way that I don’t at all recall from my first experience with a motorcycle back in the early 2000s.

It takes priority over photographing, sightseeing, the landscape. Some of the photographing and some of the audio recording and everything else, they have to be secondary, because the motorcycling itself is The Thing. Anyway, I’m safe. I am in bed. I am behind schedule. It’s all good. [END OF AUDIO]

MOTORCYCLE DIARY PART 8