Thursday, February 4, 2010

Dark Desert Highway

Blythe, CA
9:45 pm

What an incredible day's ride! No bugs, no critters, no tickets and NO RAIN! Six hundred and forty miles of sunshine and a constant 60F temperature made yesterday's mess a distant memory.

I spent the morning racing a mile-long Union Pacific freight train across the New Mexico desert. I had to give him a head start because although we were both bucking a gusty 20 mph headwind and he had 5 locomotives to work with, I still kept inching past the lead engine. I wonder what mysteries lurk inside all those freight cars.

Afternoon and evening were for Arizona, first the long and gentle climb into Willcox, then through the short, steep, rocky pass and down into the mountain-rimmed valley leading to Tucson. North of Tucson I was treated to a delicious pastel desert sunset, all too brief at this latitude, but still a watercolor wonder of subtle, shifting shades.

Picacho Peak, midway between Tucson and Phoenix, was backlit for a few minutes by the last of the sunlight, its rocky outcrops forming a perfect silhouette of a coyote, its head back, howling at a moon that was not to rise tonight.

I love riding in the desert. For all its miles of straight roads and seemingly bland scenery, it is beautiful in an austere way. Certainly nothing smells like the desert: even in winter, it has a scent like no other place and I rode for miles with my face shield up, tasting the subtle tones.

In the darkness, half way between Phoenix and the California border, one of my earplugs worked loose. At exit 69 I pulled off Interstate 10 to fix it, stopping on the side road a hundred yards from the roaring freeway. When I took my helmet off I rolled my neck around to work the knots out and, as I tilted my head back, I caught my breath.

Overhead in the moonless black of the desert night were more stars than I have ever seen in my life. I put the errant earplug back in to silence the noise of the trucks on the tarmac and I laid down on the grassy slope of the ramp, just staring up at the sky until I felt dizzy. I was there maybe ten minutes but it felt timeless.

People sometimes ask why I ride or, more recently, why I still ride at my age. The answer to that question, as to so many others, is in the stars.

Today's 640 mile magic show:

Tomorrow, it's the city where Tony Bennett left his heart and dinner (probably late) at my favorite Chinese restaurant, Brandy Ho's in Chinatown!