This time of year I like to get in at least one good motorcycle ride before winter arrives, bringing with it the dreaded SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) compounded by PMS (Parked Motorcycle Syndrome). I headed south, thinking I might make it as far as Mexico, but changed my mind in Gunnison, Utah. The weather was unusually hot; I was cooking inside my armored jacket and my helmet was squeezing my head like a vice.
After airing out in the city park, I suited up and headed east to the picturesque village of Mayfield, thence up Mayfield Canyon toward Skyline Drive, which runs north and south along the crest of the Wasatch Plateau. The unpaved washboard road rattled my bones; a coating of dust settled on my face shield. I lifted the shield in order to see where I was going. A bee bounced off my forehead, fell inside my shirt and stung me on the left nipple. Ouch!
Some road trips are like that. Nothing goes quite right, and before even the first day is up it becomes clear you should have listened to the naysayers and just stayed home. But before I continue, let me say something positive about the Wasatch Plateau. It’s very high (10,500 feet), unpopulated, mostly “undiscovered,” insanely rugged, and very special to me. It is the high country of my boyhood and the place where my coal mining forebears settled after being kicked out of Glasgow. A less humid facsimile of Scotland’s highlands, as it were.
Juniper and pinion give way to aspen groves, which in turn give way to alpine forest as one climbs from one life zone to the next. Cresting the summit, I paused to catch my breath and gaze down upon the emerald green waters of Ferron Reservoir. Many are the times my clan camped there when I was a wee lad. Many are the times my father and I fished at Ferron when I was a teenager. A bit farther downhill is Willow Lake, where our family never fished but often picnicked, always on the eastern shore among the aspens. Although the forest service has added a toilet and a toll booth, the scene remains very much the same as I remember it from half a century ago.
I’d forgotten how very high up in the sky those two lakes are. How did our old 1950 Mercury ever make such a climb without blowing a gasket?
By now the sun had set on my reverie and I began to wonder when, if ever, I would get to the valley below. The thought crossed my mind that I should scout out a camping spot, but then I thought, what with the bee sting and saddle sores, I deserved a nice soak in a tub and a cushy mattress for the night. Never in my wildest dreams did I think there would be no rooms available in Ferron, Castle Dale, or Huntington—none of them popular tourist destinations. By now it was dark, too late to look for a camping spot. So I pressed on to Price, which I know for a fact isn’t a popular tourist destination because it’s where I grew up.
To my astonishment, I learned that every room in every motel in Price was taken, with the sole exception of a smoking room at the Greenwell.
I said I’d take it, at which point I was informed it would be eighty dollars with no senior discount. In my mind’s ear, I heard the skirl of ancestral bagpipes.
“Whenever there’s a high demand,” explained the desk clerk, “they jack up the price.”
I like the way she said “they”—as if to lay the blame on market forces beyond her control. I told her no thanks, I’m not about to support piracy. Eighty dollars is more than I paid for my education at Carbon College!
Outside, I ran into two fellow cyclists who had taken the next to last room at the Greenwell.
“We were going to camp out,” one of them said, “but my buddy here has dumped his bike twice today and he’s not feeling so good. So I’m treating him to a room.”
When it became evident that I’m a cheapskate, my cycling friend suggested I check out the Bates Motel in Helper, where there is almost always a vacancy. I did so, and to my surprise learned Norman Bates is doing a bang-up business. Imagine, a NO VACANCY sign at the Bates Motel. Janet Leigh should be so lucky!
I later learned a major event was taking place in Carbon and Emery Counties. I forget what; all I know is that all rooms were taken. Tired and in desperate need of sleep, I turned toward the little mining camp of Kenilworth and took the first dirt offshoot I came to, following it until I came to a steep hill beyond which I couldn’t see. I said to myself, “This is as far as I go.”
Over the course of 67 years I have slept many a night on the ground. I have also slept in the back seat of my car, on hardwood floors, in pickup truck beds, in a horse trailer. But this was the worst spot ever, perhaps because something in me now yearns for comfort instead of hardship. When you’re young you can take just about anything, because you know things will most likely get better. But when you’re old, all you can think about is how much better you used to feel and all the nice soft beds you’ve slept in. You look up at the star-spangled firmament not in wonderment but in despair. How tiny I am, how insignificant! How brief our sojourn on this small planet circling an ordinary sun, one of billions that comprise our Milky Way galaxy. And what the hell is that? A coyote?
Come dawn I awoke to discover I had slid approximately fifteen feet downhill and would have ended up in a dry wash had not my slippery sleeping bag’s progress been interrupted by a prickly pear cactus. Happily, my motorcycle still stood where I had parked it, crosswise on the trail. I retracted the kickstand and attempted to turn it around, only to find I couldn’t budge it an inch backward. The only way out would be upward, over the same steep incline that had brought to a halt my forward progress the night before. At the top of the climb the trail intercepted a game trail, which descended in a gentle arc through knee-high shrubbery to the highway below. The big trick would be to remain upright, since I know from hard-won experience that at my age I just can’t lift a 500-pound motorcycle.
The fact I’m here to tell about it and not still out there in the boondocks, pinned underneath my machine, slowing dying of thirst, hunger and causes incident to old age, tells you that my plan worked. It was the one thing that went right. I took a quick tour of Helper, recently named Western America’s most colorful, albeit decrepit, small town, then headed north via Route 191 over the Tavaputs Plateau, through Indian Canyon to Duchesne and Cowan’s Café, where a Tea Party convention was in progress. I sure do miss the good old days, when all country folk ever talked about was the deer hunt and donkey basketball. But nowadays it seems there is festering unrest in the hinterlands, even among people who have steady jobs in the oilfield, garages filled with recreational vehicles, nice warm beds to sleep in at night and hot coffee in the morning. Honestly, I overheard so much bellyaching that I decided it was time for me to quit brooding and count my blessings. I climbed on my bike and headed north, then turned west on Route 35, which runs from Tabiona over Wolf Creek Pass to Woodland and is without a doubt one the finest motorcycle roads in the country. Smooth pavement, lots of twisties, no traffic, spectacular scenery and crystalline air. What’s not to like?
Then, before I knew it, I was back on Interstate 80, jockeying for space among a thundering herd of semitrailers and harried commuters. Everyone seemed to be in a big hurry to get somewhere, and in order to keep from getting run over, I had to speed up as well.