Day 6 – Miles for Peace Motorcycle Adventure –
I’m happy to say that although we are creatures of habit, we broke the norm and as part of our new early morning routine, we woke up at 7:30am and we’re ready to depart by 9:00am to REI for the tent pole repair and then are are off to Moab. From Albuquerque to Gallup, New Mexico was slowly transforming into some of the most beautiful and open land I’ve seen to date. Unlike Texas, there was no Hooters (joke) but to be more specific, for what Texas has in cattle ranches, New Mexico has in semi-arid open space.
As we turned onto Route 550 and into Navajo Nation we saw in the distance what seemed to be a fairly large group of about 50 bikers on what I assume to be almost all Harley Davidson Motorcycles. After catching up to this group, I ride almost them for a few minutes and as I merge into the left lane to begin the process of passing them I feel a swelling a sense of pride to have hidden to opportunity to ride with them. Just as I pass the leader, who happens to be wearing a gold band around his arm and GPS unit attached to his handlebars, I lower my hand and flash the two biker salute before I speed off further down Route 550.
As we pass the town of Counselor (New Mexico) we find what we are looking for and pull into a small gas station. Within a few seconds, I hear that something is different. There is a language being spoken that I have never heard before. It takes me a second to realize, but I quickly catch that all the people I see around me are Native Americans. Being a small percentage Native American myself I feel a swelling of pride and want to talk to some, however I feel as thought it would be more than a little patronizing to directly ask someone, “where can I learn about your culture?” So I head into the gas station convenience store and decide to but a protein bar which will give me some time to inquire with the cashier about the cultural spots in this area. He nonchalantly directs me to a US Park Service guide to “Chaco Culture” as he hands me the receipt for my purchase.
Excited about this new possibility of seeing some Chaco ruins, I open the Google Maps app and am surprised to see that the map is not responding. I quickly learn that I have no service and decide that seeing “Chaco Culture” will probably not be on the agenda for today. We pull out of the gas station and not more than 5 minutes up the road we see a sign for “Chaco Canyon” so we pull in and start down a fairly well paved road to the “Chaco Canyon” ruins site. In only shout 3 miles of the 16 mile ride I find out with great disappointment that a about 13 miles of this road is unpaved. Not one to give up so easily, I slowly ease this large beast that is a Bonneville T-100 onto the gravel and start down the road. In only a few hundred feet I learn that this is a bad idea as I hear a rock bounce off the underside of the bike. Hesitant about scratching / causing any damage to the bike, we decide to turn around but not before a photo-op.
Just as we reach, what was the beginning of the road, we see any looks like a small flea market of cars lined us horizontally at the back of a dirt parking lot. We decide to stop and excited about the chance to purchase some “authentic” Native goods. Walking to the first few shops, we see a table full of old tools (hammers, pliers, etc), another talbot displayed picture frames and wallets with some home-made fabric (540 Para Cord) keychains with a metal tipi woven into the strands, prominently displayed. Being more keen for a conversation than actually goods, I decide to strike up a conversation with the the next merchant I see, a middle aged Navajo man with a black tank-top and baseball cap turned backwards. We start talking about Navajo culture and loss of the language with the yonder generation. We continue to talk and I learn that his name is Billy and his wife is named Ann. I also learn about their children and their current project of building, by hand, their second home. Soon I purchase some ear rings for Sigga and exchange emails with them, before getting some Fry Bread (Navajo Bread) from a vendor next to them.
This experience actually had a very profound impact on me. First, let me give some context; I recall that over the past few days I’ve seen countless signs advertising “authentic” Native Goods, whether it be pottery, bracelets or bone relate items. All of this billboard advertising and promise of an “authentic” Native Experience are obviously all manufactured and I know this, but that is the only connection I could have to anything “native.” Fast forward to this spontaneous native flea market just outside the entrance to “Chaco Canyon”; looking though pairs of jeans, DVD’s and kitchenware, I had somewhat of an epiphany. This idea of “Navajo Goods” is a marketing ploy. Native people don’t sit around in their Tipi’s making bracelets for tourists; they sell whatever they can sell whether it be DVD’s or a pair of blue jeans. They live in the same conditions as us and have the same worries about their lives. Now you may be saying, yes of course Mike, I already know that they are people too and my response is, yes I know that but I can’t help but hold that romanticized image of the Native American craftsman spending their time making goods to sell and this is in no small part due to the massive marketing campaign around these type of goods.
Passing through the flea market and then Monticello, we come close to the 100 mile mark on the odometer and decide to stop to fill up the tank before our final push to Moab. As Sigga and I are attempts to ponder the possible differences between ‘unleaded’ and ‘blended’ options that are available, I notice a fairly large Kawasaki Dual Purpose bike pull just next to us. I look over to see a red bandana just above black sunglasses and a beard coming down about 4 inches off his chin; what you would imagine a ‘biker guy’ to look like. His name was Bruce and he was interested in the T-100 which we immediately started to talk about. Our conversation soon meandered from the strong winds that were ripping across Route 191, to the most scenic routes for our ride out of Moab and to Vegas. After about 30 minutes of talking he recommended that he show me on a map exactly the roads he was talking about and I was soon in the presence of two other middle aged but equally intense and highly skilled riders. We once again chatted about our trip and were provided with a map and recommendation on a small and scenic road called Route 12.
As the light faded and we still had about an hour until we reached Moab, we decided to head out in search of a campsite in the famed city. After hearing from our new biker friends that we can camp anywhere in Utah (legally) we set out to look for some backroad camping spot. After finding some promising long stretch of road I suddenly hear what sounds like a crack and a thud/crunching sounds consistent with the rotation of the chain. I immediately stop thinking the worst and hesitantly bend over to check the underside of the bike.
I see a black object wedged in the spokes and yank it out. I look at Sigga and she recognizes then as her sunglasses which she now cannot find. We get back on and after riding for a few seconds, hear the same crunching/thud with the chain rotation. Once again I immediately stop and now more exacerbated than ever, we both struggle to get the bike on its center stand so I can once again inspect the underside. After rotating the tire and watching the chain travel through the sprocket, I see what seems to the the problem; a small piece of plastic from the sun glasses has lodged itself in the chain and with some finagling, it comes out. Hesitantly, we ride off and decide to look for the local KOA.
As we arrive and are greeted with a pleasant but equally inconvenient ‘sorry were full’ from a employee standing near night registration box, we’re off to a ‘Spanish Village’ that we hear is just down the road. Arriving in that seems to be horse boarding establishment, characterized by 4 large buildings packed with individual stalls for horses and dusty roads, we seek some semblance of the familiar night registration box that we have become so familiar with. We find one, along with some envelopes, which seems to indicate that this in fact for horses due to the box on the registration form that asks at which hotel we will be staying. After some disagreement between myself and Sigga as to what ‘dry camping’ means, we put our $25 in the envelope, sliding it into the thin slot and hear it ping off the metal bottom. With a clear conscience, we drive around to find a suitable place to rest our heads for the night.