One More Time

Western Adventure Take III

I can't believe it, but I've managed to get some time off to do yet another epic western motorcycle trip. This will be my third in four years. The two main goals of this trip are to cross Death Valley and navigate highway 50 from Reno, NV to Colorado on the return trip.

I was hoping to visit Death Valley in the spring, but a summer passing will have to suffice; life has a way of dictating schedules. It's not always outrageously hot in summer; maybe I'll get lucky and have a chance to explore the park a little.

Highway 50 in Nevada is billed as the loneliest road in America. I've wanted to navigate that on my motorcycle ever since crossing Nevada on highway 6, which is darn lonely as well, in my mini-van.

Just to throw in a twist and make the trip more interesting and hopefully fun, I'm going to attempt to not stay in any hotels. My lodgings will be either camping or couch surfing ( If you don't know what couch surfing is, Google is always there for you.) And for even more fun, the camping will be of the stealth variety. That is, I ain't gonna pay for it. It should be an interesting time.


My 2006 Yamaha FRJ1300 will once again be my passport to adventure. It is an amazing machine and has never let me down. To keep it in tip-top shape, it does require periodic maintenance and currently it needs a 50K valve clearance check, new tires, oil change, coolant flush and throttle body sync... Glad that's out of the way. All cleaned up and ready to go!

My next major preparation item is to create a Couch Surfing profile. If I'm going to ask people to stay in their homes for typically one evening, odds of my success will probably be much greater if they can actually see what an awesome guy I am. To enhance my credibility, I attended a local CS get together to meet some of the members and make "friends". Friends and references go a long way on your profile.

With my profile finished, the next step is to post my trip itinerary and see if anyone on CS volunteers to offer me lodging. If not, I will solicit them directly.

After much time and effort, I managed to secure three places to stay for the first three days which include stops in: Little Rock, Oklahoma City and Albuquerque. Excellent!

Day One
Ready To Go
My first destination is Little Rock, AR. This stop will eliminate one of the last four states of the lower 48 that I've not visited on my FJR. I can't dawdle too much taking pictures or sight-seeing, because there are many miles to cover for the day. Fortunately, I got a good start and was able to leave at 8:10 AM which gave plenty of time to spare if I didn't over do it with the rest stops. Speaking of rest stops...

The ride to Little Rock was uneventful and pleasant enough. Mileage for the day was 566 miles and I arrived in fairly good shape. All my physical training for the last five months had paid dividends. I didn't have this trip in mind when I embarked on a fairly rigorous workout regiment last February, but it sure did make a positive difference!

My host for the evening was James. He graciously offered me a bed in his apartment without having to solicit him directly. This would be my first experience with a CS host and I was curious as to how it would go. Upon my arrival in Little Rock, it took a little while to find James' apartment but all went well and we had an interesting evening.

Day Two

Next stop is Oklahoma City, OK. Like Arkansas, I've never had my FJR in the state of Oklahoma. After this, only Ohio and Delaware will be on the not-visited-by-the-FJR list of lower 48 states. Jlynn will be my CS host for the evening and I'm looking forward to meeting her.

I decided to take the scenic route through Hot Springs to McAlester to Eufaula to OK City. It's scenic country through the Ouachita National Forest. I enjoyed most of the day's ride and saw quite a few Harleys. I assumed they were headed to Sturgis for the big rally. I've been to Daytona for bike week and it's mildly interesting, but large crowds of folks on Harleys is not really my cup of tea. I'm sure they will all have a great time.

One sad note about today's journey is the loss of innocence for my beloved FJR. I totally flubbed up and had to lay the poor girl down at an awkward intersection. She was fully loaded and I just got over a little too far while stopping before exiting a roadside park; I had to let her fall. It was a horrible sound of non-rubber hitting the asphalt as I launched my body off to avoid getting my leg crunched (dang thing weighs about 750 pounds fully loaded.) I was sick about it for a while. Not much damage to speak of, but she did sustain a few cosmetic blemishes on what was pristine paint for her age. Oh well, we can't all be beautiful forever.

In addition to the cosmetic rash that was now spoiling the once perfect paint, the chord of my brand new noise-isolating ear buds was ripped into. They were plugged into my phone in the tank bag. 99% of the time, I keep my phone in my jacket pocket when using the ear buds. I had used them for all of a half a day. Glad I had my backups.

I had plenty of time to absorb the new losses and after 429 miles, I arrived at Jlynn's house exhausted and ready for a shower. She was most welcoming when I arrived at her door and was very understanding as it relates to the shower. After I got all cleaned up, she and I went to dinner at the local On The Border Mexican restaurant. It was a pleasant evening and we conversed freely. I had a nice time. Later in the evening, her boyfriend arrived at her home and we all got along splendidly. Couch surfing is turning out to be the bomb!

Day Three

Today will be I-40 all the way. Nothing like a full day of interstate riding with monotonous landscapes and large speeding vehicles to keep you on your toes. The speed limit is 75MPH all the way and I of course go a "little" faster to keep ahead of the traffic (I really don't like being surprised by vehicles approaching from behind.) The landscape takes on quite a different tone just before entering New Mexico and is a welcome site. I can only take so much western plains agriculture.

Texas Rest Stop
Just outside of Albuquerque I stopped at a rest stop that I had visited on two previous trips to NM. Nostalgic indeed.

New Mexico Rest Stop
Albuquerque is not new to me and the FJR. I passed through in 2012 and stayed in a Motel 6. What a sucker I was! All along I could have been staying with perfect strangers for free!

I had a little trouble connecting with my CS host Cami, but we finally managed to reconcile after a little miscommunication due to an electronic malfunction. My mileage for the day was 570 when I rolled into her driveway. Even though she was a little tense due to the communication misunderstanding, she quickly warmed up to me after I poured on the charm and she realized the difficulties traveling on a motorcycle presents.

Ultimately we got on well and after an extended visit the next morning, I was a bit sad to have to say goodbye to Cami. She turned out to be very good company.

Day Four

This is where the ride gets more interesting. My goal for the day was Mancos, Co, which is just outside Durango, Co. I would be passing through Santa Fe, NM which is hopefully a more scenic route. From there, I would take S-84 to S-160 to Durango, Co. Then it's on to Mancos where my next CS host lives.

Out of the Way Rest Stop
It was so nice to get off the interstate and enjoy the great outdoors on my sweet machine. The scenery was grand and the ride was awesome. This is why I came so far. Life is good!

I arrived at my destination fairly early since my mileage for the day was only 315 miles, and proceeded to make contact with my CS host.

My CS host for the evening was Tyler and he is one interesting fellow. He's a teacher that wants to be a sustainable farmer. He and his fiancee bought a 72 acre farm in Mancos, Co and are building as they go along. He's got goats, pigs, chickens, gardens and all sorts of fun things. His parents were also there visiting along with his brother, cousin and another CS couple. It was a full house including dogs running about here and there. His mom cooked a delicious meal and in the evening we all sat out by the Chiminea enjoying adult beverages and uniquely Colorado diversions. Ultimately I slept on the floor with my sleeping mats and bag but overall it was a very good time.

Farm Living
Day Five and Six

The ride for this day was completely awesome. This has to have been the most scenic route I've ever traversed on my FJR. I have never seen so many mountains and panoramic vistas. From Mancos, CO, I passed through Cortez, CO and took county road G to Bluff, UT, to Mexican Hat, UT, to highway 261, to highway 95, to highway 24, then followed the GPS to I-15 and St. George, Ut.

The ride was interesting before I got to 261, but then I came to the Moki Dugway and it went from interesting to PAY ATTENTION! Man that was a scary road to navigate with a fully loaded top-heavy FJR. Given that I had already dumped the thing on the second day of my trip, I was hyper sensitive to the possibility of another mishap. The roads were steep and mostly gravel -- thankfully the sharp turns of the switchbacks were paved. The traction wasn't terrible, but the FJR just doesn't seem to like anything but pavement. At one point, I had to stop and back up to let another vehicle pass on one of the narrower sections. That would have been impossible if I had been going down the road.
On the Moki Dugway
Moki Dugway
I was really relieved to get off the steep gravel switch-backs. It was fun and I can say I did it, but next time I would rather be on a lighter more dirt-capable machine. After the Dugway, the roads are again level and uneventful. They are however extremely scenic with mile after mile of vast plains and mountain vistas. Just when you think there aren't any more mountains to be seen in Utah, out pops another range. It's almost exhausting.

I Really Was There

As awesome as the ride was, I had to get to my destination of St. George, Ut for the evening and I was running late. I totally miscalculated how long it would take for the route I had chosen and my CS hosts were expecting me earlier than physically possible for me to make it. Fortunately, my CS hosts were very understanding. They too are motorcyclists and knew well the route I had taken for the day. Ed and Ruthie are a seasoned couple and were most hospitable. I actually spent an extra day visiting with them and resting. They had some fascinating stories and I was a bit sad to say goodbye. I enjoyed my time in St. George very much.

Ed and Ruthie
Day Seven

After a very nice rest day, it's time to get on the road again. Today is the day I visit one of the objects of my trip. Death Valley has been on my mind since visiting the park with my family in the summer of 2012. On that trip, we were in the minivan and it was very stress free as the temperature was concerned. It never got over 100 degrees and it rained just a bit while we were there. My hope was that the temperature wouldn't be too hot for my passage on the motorcycle.

I left St. George about 7:00AM and was in Las Vegas in a short while. There was light traffic and it was only a short time before I was leaving Vegas and headed to Death Valley.

I encountered a little rain on the way and was thinking that perhaps it might not be that hot today.

As I entered the park, it was about 100 degrees and the forecast was for a high of 110. The 100 degrees didn't feel that bad so I was optimistic. I had packed six bottles of water and planned to continually hydrate. If it only got to 110, it would be a piece of cake.

As I descended elevation into the park, I was monitoring the thermometer on the FRJ and it was steadily creeping upwards until it finally hit 110 and held for a while. Great I thought, this is as hot as it's going to get. That turned out to not be the case as the temperature kept gradually inching upwards. When it got to 115, I was a little concerned and hoping that would be the peak. It was not to be. It eventually reached 120 and stayed there for quite a while. Overall, I had to ride over 100 miles in temperatures well over 100 degrees F. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't horrific either. There is something to be said for a "dry" heat. Much less stressful than high humidity heat.

Badwater Basin
Pic-Nic Oasis
In fact, I stopped at a rest stop and had lunch. There was a small shade and I needed to hydrate and take on some nourishment. It was actually quite pleasant considering it was hot as heck.

After visiting the Furnace Creek visitor center, I encountered a family from the Netherlands and struck a conversation -- reluctantly. I couldn't believe they wanted to converse in the parking lot for so long. Dang! It was hot and I needed some air moving over my quickly dehydrating body. I had to cut that short and get on the road. There were miles and miles of hotness to go.

Death Valley really is a fascinating and beautiful place. I only wish I could have visited in the spring. I hear it's awesome when the wild flowers bloom and the weather is pleasant.

After Death Valley, I headed up S-395. My next destination of interest will be Yosemite. there won't be time to get there before days end, but I should get close enough that it will be a short ride the next morning. But first, I needed to find a place to stay for the evening. I had run out of CS places to crash.

It's difficult predicting just where I might end up for the evening and the smaller towns have little CS presence. In desperation, I made a last minute request to a CS host in Bishop, Ca -- my stop for the evening. I waited a while at the local McDonalds but didn't hear anything so with storm clouds brewing in the evening skies, I had to get busy with accommodations. For some reason, there wasn't a hotel room to be had. I had seen camp ground on my way into town, so I back tracked to investigate.

Given the potential for extreme weather, I reluctantly gave in and paid for a camping spot. I set up my tent as the rain started falling. Fortunately, the rain wasn't that hard and I managed to construct my camp site before getting too wet. It all worked out pretty good. I met some very nice folks at the campground general store from LA and had a long and enjoyable conversation. The evening turned out to be most pleasant and restful.

As it turned out, the local CS host I solicited had a place for me, but I missed their reply. Oh well.

Day Eight

Bishop isn't that far from Yosemite, so my plan for the day was to visit the park and afterwards head to Reno. Good fortune smiled on me and I was able to secure CS lodging with an older gentleman in the Reno area.

The trip to Yosemite was uneventful and I had a nice time in the park. I did a couple of passes in Yosemite Valley looking at the big rocks and then settled down for lunch which consisted of a Subway sandwich and chips. It was most relaxing sitting in my camp chair by the creek. I would have stayed longer but I didn't want to get to Reno too late, so I headed out of the park around 2:00PM.

Leaving Yosemite Valley on highway 120, my GPS directed me west instead of east to Lee Vining. Ultimately, I crossed the mountains on the Alpine State Highway-4. This road was fascinating and tedious. At one point it becomes essentially a one lane road -- almost like a driveway -- winding through the mountains for about 30 miles. Rarely did my speed exceed 30 MPH. There was just no safe way to go any faster. I definitely wasn't going to make Reno before dark. I was becoming very concerned about being out in the wilderness on such treacherous roads with darkness approaching.

I managed to get off the mountain and that narrow road just after the sun set. I was really happy to be done with that road at that time of day. I did however have to ride another 150 miles in the dark before getting to Reno. I don't like riding in the dark for several reasons the major one being I can't see as well as I used to and it's just not safe. I think it was about 10:30PM when I arrived at my CS host's house.

My CS host Bill is a single older gentleman with a very large and very nice house in Reno. He was most welcoming and I was so grateful to get off the road. I had my own private suite with a most comfortable bed and slept very well indeed.

Day Nine

I got up reasonably early the next day and decided to take a ride over to Lake Tahoe. Bill was OK with me staying another day, so it seemed like a nice diversion while he was at work.
Lake Tahoe

After my day trip, I stopped in at the Pepper Mill casino to visit Bill at work. He went out of his way to make me welcome and gave me a private tour of the facility. I wasn't expecting that and had a great time. As luck would have it, there was a huge auto show in town for the week and the parking lot of the Pepper Mill was one of the host sites. It was a lot of fun checking out the restored cars.

Chevy Nomad

Later that evening, Bill invited me to dinner with his family which consisted mainly of his grand kids. The youngest had just graduated high school and the other two were in college. I was very impressed with them all and had a great time.

Day Ten

The route for the day was highway 50 across Nevada. I had been looking forward to this segment of the trip ever since crossing Nevada on a mini-van. After saying my good byes to Bill, I was on the road with a lot of excitement as the weather was perfect.

I had to catch 50 off of I-80 at Wadsworth. Highway 50 originates in Carson City, but I wasn't going to cover that stretch of road again just to catch the very beginning of the highway; I had come through Carson City on the way up to Reno.

I have to say that highway 50 did not disappoint. It is truly a fascinating stretch of road. I could spend a whole week tooling around Nevada and I'm sure it would be a blast.

Getting Late
After a splendid day of riding, it was getting late so I started looking for a place to bed down. I had decided I was going to engage in a little stealth camping, but I wasn't seeing any good spots to pitch a tent. After passing through Delta, Ut, I spotted what looked like an inconspicuous site off the road beside the Delta city welcoming sign. I was able to ride into a field about 50 yards off the highway (not an easy feat on the FJR as it is a pig in the dirt.) It seemed to me at the time to be a pretty good place and I was able to set up the tent just before it got really dark.

One rule in stealth camping is to set up camp at dusk. Leave just enough time to see how to put the tent up, but not any more. It's better to limit your exposure.

Campground 50 Yard to Right
Day Eleven

Considering I was camping in the middle of a barren field of which I knew nothing about, I slept pretty good. I was up and breaking camp just before dawn; I Didn't want the folks on the highway to see me packing up my tent. Even though packing up took about 30 minutes, I was out of there before anyone was the wiser; I think.

For not having taken my contacts out the night before, I wasn't having any related eye discomfort and my vision was fine. I was out of there and the day was looking to be a good one for riding.

My goal was to make Denver before rush hour as I had made previous arrangements with a CS host. From Delta, Ut, it's not that far to I-70 which might just be the most picturesque interstate in the country, or at least the Utah and western Colorado portion. I could make good time and enjoy the scenery. Denver was just a bit over 500 miles away.

As it turns out, I couldn't meet up with my CS host due to  unforeseen circumstances and had to call and cancel. I wasn't prepared for her reaction and was a little surprised. She pitched a fit and vowed to leave CS. I guess it was good fortune that I missed her because she was and probably still is crazy.

Back on the road again, I made excellent time and was able to get through Denver essentially unscathed and started the long boring flat land interstate drudgery. Eastern Colorado has to be the most boring landscape in the US.

Getting Late
Even after camping with no shower the day before, I was able to do 750 miles for the day. That wasn't bad at all. My vision was still good and I was still feeling remarkably well as I was considering my lodging options for the evening. CS was out of the question as I was in the middle of nowhere Kansas. Since I was feeling really good overall, I decided to do some more camping. It was time for some creative camp site selection. 

I discovered that in western Kansas, rest stops are frequent and uniquely conducive to stealth camping. They usually are bordering a fenced field with a hedge planted between the fence and the rest stop grounds. That leaves a shielded area at the perimeter of the rest stop that is invisible to all unless someone makes an effort to walk all the way out to the edge of the rest stop grounds. There's corn behind a fence on one side and a hedge on the other and a nice grassy alleyway in between. Perfect.
Sneaky (It's Darker Than it Looks)
After waiting a bit for minimal folks in the rest stop parking lot, I rode right up to the area behind the hedges to set up my tent. I had it set up in about 15 minutes and I was ready to bed down for the evening. After a dinner of left-over Subway sandwich, I got in the tent and broke out my sleeping bag (the night before I slept in my jacket only and was uncomfortably cold.) As I tried to sleep, I noticed the site was not as nice as I had originally assumed as there was a small engine running in the field all night. I guess it was an irrigation pump or something. Annoying but not the end of the world. I eventually went to sleep and got some rest.

Day Twelve

Man, that was two nights in a row for the stealth camping. My contacts are definitely starting to cause irritation and I really need a shower. Oh well, today my destination is my sister's house in southern Illinois. I can clean up and rest a couple of days before heading home.

The morning started rather drearily as it was overcast and hazy. The fog and haze didn't clear until well into late morning. I suppose everyone has to be from somewhere, but I just couldn't live in western Kansas.

All I can say is that I was so glad to get off the motorcycle at the end of the day. About halfway, my eyes started to get irritated by dust on the road. It was like a micro abrasion for the eyes. Between Kansas City and St Louis is probably one of the most distasteful stretches of interstate in the country. It's crowded, rough and dirty. It was particularly bad coming up behind 18-wheelers, of which there are a plenty on this stretch, as they kick up the dust something awful. 

When I got to my sister's house, I had done 750 miles for the day. That was 1500 miles in two days. That's a lot for me and a personal best for two days. I still felt pretty good other than my eyes and they were really burning.

Day 13, 14, 15

After spending a couple of interesting days with my sister and extended family, I fired up the FJR for the final leg of the journey. From Illinois to my house in the Atlanta area is about 575 miles and I have done it several times. As usual, I got rained on just a little but otherwise it was uneventful.


Overall, the trip was fun, but I have to admit to doubts about any future far west solo trips of this magnitude. Like my 2013 trip, I quickly started hating the easterly ride once past Denver and vowed to never do it again. It is such a boring landscape and fatigue from the previous days of riding doesn't help. Maybe it's a better idea to fly to Vegas and rent a bike from there. There are so many places to see from that epicenter that it would be worth it if a reasonable motorcycle could be rented. I guess I could even ride a Harley if I had to.

As for the couch surfing, it turned out to be awesome. The people I stayed with were amazing and it made the trip so much more enjoyable. I enthusiastically endorse the concept!

I do love riding and seeing new places on my motorcycle, but for the foreseeable future, I think I will focus more on regional intermediate distance adventures. For that mission, I will be enhancing my Yamaha FZ1. It's a great machine and only inferior in a few areas. It doesn't have the wind protection, range, luggage capacity, fuel economy or comfort of the FJR, but it's lighter, smoother, faster and more fun on certain types of roads. It's perfectly fine for 400 mile days or less.

My next fantasy trip is to visit the Florida keys on the FZ1. That should take about a week or so with multiple CS stops and beaches involved. Wouldn't that be fun.