Why wicked? Well, three slightly shocking things happened today.
We left Aztec after seeing the ruins, then returning to the motel to pack the bike up.
Just 10 miles down the road was the fairly large town of Farmington; never have I seen so many car dealerships and scrap yards! It was a little like a hospital – Life (the new cars) and Death (the dumpsters).
The next town was Shiprock – and we could see that from Farmington; that is because the town is named after a huge rock – 1,700 feet high, rising from the desert floor.
As we approached the monolith, a queue of traffic built up behind us… wouldn’t you just know it! So we had to ride on a couple of miles and pull in to the gravelled hard shoulder and wait for the traffic to pass before turning around and heading back to take photos.
Another biker was stopped at the lay-by – his bike was a Buell. He too had stopped to take photos. We discussed the weather to the north. The other guy was very apprehensive at the dark clouds and decided to turn around; he was concerned about the strong winds building.
Mr Buell climbed on his bike and headed back south. I was taking photos when a car pulled in to the lay-by. A Navajo guy leaned over to his open window and said something. I couldn’t hear him through my helmet so he climbed out of his car. He asked which way we were headed and I told him north. He then said he had grown up at the base of Ship Rock Pinnacle – his family raised cattle. Then he asked if I would like to hear a story? A bit confused, I said, yes, OK. He said, ‘I have a story printed on a paper in the boot of my car – I’ll get you a copy’. Now, this sounds awful – and it was nothing to do with him being an Indian – just the fact he had turned around and driven up next to us. I thought (I am a little ashamed here) that he was going to maybe get a shotgun out! I went to the back of his car to watch him rooting in a big box.
He did have a paper and it was about the rock. He told me more about life living on the reservation and warned me to not speak to strangers as people couldn’t be trusted hereabouts!
He was a very nice guy and, as said, I felt bad at being a bit suspicious. He wanted me to take his photo too.
He said it would be very windy and dusty ahead and to take care then returned to his car and drove off; we climbed on the bike and rode off in the opposite direction.
We looked at the weather and knew the bike was in as good a condition as it could be and that we could rely on it (fingers and legs crossed) and so, decided to continue on-course.
The sky took on a pinky-grey colour and visibility wasn’t great. The wind was rising and, as we rode into it, the bike, and us, were buffeted quite a lot. Clouds of sand obscured visibility – rising like dervishes ahead of us. Tumbleweed flew into us – spiky and crackling dry. The sand hitting my hands felt like red-hot needles. Our visors were caked in dust. At one point, J pulled off the road and I gave him some bottled water to rinse his eyes out – then they stung like hell for a few minutes.
I took a couple of videos early on, but soon realised it could damage the camera, so turned it off and stuffed it inside my jacket.
This was a long road – around 90 miles – so it was with relief we pulled into Kayenta, Arizona.
First stop – Shepherd’s Eyes. The coffee bar and social gathering place run by a dear friend, Ron Watch, a respected person in the tribal hierarchy of the Navajo Nation.
But hell, it looked kind of closed!
(Excuse all the dust spots)
As we peered through the locked gates and into windows showing empty rooms instead of the lovely coffee shop, a red pick-up pulled in. One of two guys got out – Navajo again.
” Ya need help?” he asked.
“We called to see Ron – do you know him? His place is all closed up”
The man hesitated and then said, “He died”
“Yeah, he died – suddenly”
I felt a terrible sadness. I also realised that all the flags in town – The Stars and Stripes, The Arizona flag and the Navajo Nation flag – had all been at half mast.
” Is that why the flags are at half-mast?” I asked, trying not to cry. I thought about the last time year, when we walked in, Ron had a DVD playing in the coffee shop – mine, one I had made after visiting the Custer Battlefield. Ron played it over and over and had been given permission from the council to invite me to a pow-wow. I thought about the little whale we’d posted to him – found in the Azores and carved from whale-bone; he had that hanging at the counter.
He hesitated again. ” Yes”
Oh my God, I said. What happened? Was he ill? Was it sudden?
“Can you spare 2 dollars?” he asked. A little taken aback, J started to root in his pockets and brought out some notes. Seeing them, the man asked could we spare $5?
Recovering his nouse, J said, no, and gave him $2. The man returned to his pick-up and drove off.
We got on the bike and went to fill up, over the road. I asked if any of the staff knew Ron. The owner said he did. ” Where is Ron?” I asked.
” Oh, he ‘s moved to Phoenix.”
If I could have got ahold of that s-o-b I’d have strangled him! But we were very, relieved to hear Ron is not dead.
The flags were at half-mast because a local police officer had been slain two days earlier.
A quick coffee and another look at the map and we returned to the road.
It was about 26 miles to the turn-off, HW 98, that would take us to Page, AZ.
The sky was clear again and it was a pleasant ride through the wonderful desert scenery:
We did stop a couple of times – the bike wasn’t accelerating as well as usual. The Guzzi is air-cooled and we knew a lot of sand/dust must have got into the air intake. Something to look at when we arrived at our destination.
We reached page at about 6pm. Stopped to fill up and have a coffee – and debated staying the night. That way, I might just get into the photography tour of Antelope Canyon the next day.
But I doubted it at this late stage – so we carried on.
Now came our third surprise – actually the most serious of the three.
The wind was still quite high – especially as we reached over 7,000 feet in the high desert that led to Utah.
We were riding along at about 65 mph – on a slight curve, with a negative camber – the wind just took us right over to the far side of the oncoming lane – there wasn’t a thing J could do to keep the bike on the right side of the road! FORTUNATELY – not another vehicle was in sight – pure luck as we had passed a lot of cars towing caravans and trailers and even a couple of 16-wheelers. Phew! Push hearts back down into thorax!
At around 8pm, we pulled in to the welcoming arms of Wayne, at the Sun n Sand motel in Kanab. We pulled up in front of the office – the door flew open and out came the dynamo that is Wayne – “Man, you’re early – you’re always frikkin early! Thought you were arriving tomorrow! Well, your room’s ready. (we get the one with the stove/fridge thingy”
Welcome duly done we went into the office and started to fill in the registration form… Wayne said – F**K that and disappeared into the back. He returned with 2 ice-cold Buds for us. What a Mine Host, what a hero (Y)
The kindness didn’t end there. He told us to stay of the goddam bike and get in his air-conditioned truck. We’ll cross the border (Arizona) for some real beer; ” Ya don’t need this Yewtaw Piss” Beer in Utah has to be less than 3% alcohol!
Thanks for the stonking hangover, mate! 😉