After pretty much the perfect travelers breakfast, day two started out brisk and windy. Windy would be the theme of the day. As I started out on the former Route 66, the winds were only about 20 to 25 mph and the chilly temp was perfect for my leather jacket.The plan for this particular Saturday was to make it to Mexican Hat Rock, follow around to the Four Corners Monument and end the day at Chinle, near the Canyon de Chelly Monument.
The ride up the 89 to the 160 to Kayenta was the cost I would have to pay before getting to the heart of my day’s journey. As I began the day fighting the wind, I quickly realized if I had to put up with wind noise reverberating inside my helmet I wouldn’t mentally make it through the day. It was time to put in my custom ear plugs to drop the decibel level around 30 less than what I was dealing with. After a quick stop at a gas station I was set. The wind noise was still pretty significant but it was much more tolerable at a lower volume.I’d never experienced wind as gusting as this through a desert route like I did this particular Saturday. At one point approaching Tuba City, sandy dust was being blown across the roadway in front of me that it looked like smoke. Until I was riding through it. Then I felt the effect of the sand hitting my neck and fill all the crevices of the bike while I was still in motion. The sand hit me in waves as the procession of cars I was part of pushed through.
By the time I hit Kayenta, I still wasn’t hungry. I was well hydrated and my energy was good. I had pee like no one’s business. So after using McDonalds for their restrooms, I grabbed a quick snack (some bars I had stored away for this exact reason) and I headed towards Monument Valley.
I had seen pictures of Monument Valley and always dreamed of visiting. Very quickly the red rocks rose in jagged fat spires out of the ground. It was the payoff which was so worth the ride to get there. And the thing that makes the whole experience even better is how close you can get to these formations. There I was, like a typical tourist taking a selfie of me, the Utah boarder sign, and some of Monument Valley in the background. I must have stopped five or six times to take more photos shortly after that.
A travelers’s tip: if you didn’t already know the best view, in my opinion, of the Valley is on the North Easterly side. You head uphill along a straight away and the perspective is one gorgeous view. The road has several pull offs for exactly this reason. I had already stopped several times to take pictures, only to ride through and see the perfect photo in my rear view mirrors. I had my pics by now and was ready to just ride and rely on my memory from here on out.
I had a great breakfast but my expectation was to get some food in Mexian Hat. The ride to Mexican Hat was gorgeous as well. The red rocks layered like stipes on a flag with ribbons of different colored rocks separating each section made for a scenic ride. The road curved and swooped and quickly I was crossing over the San Juan River and getting my first look at the hotels which were imbedded in the rocks. But the problem is this big city boy had hoped to find a restaurant above and beyond the tourist locations and hotels. Mexican Hat is far from a bustling metropolis though. I had researched Mexican Hat Lodge online and since they bragged about their bar-b-q, it seemed like a great place to grab some food. When I actually stopped at the lodge, there was no one to be found. I literally walked through the entire front lobby and restaurant area and the only person around was a Native working on the landscaping. He tried to help me out but the place didn’t open up for food until after five which wasn’t for a few more hours. So just like in Kayenta, I took a quick break to sit down, rehydrate, and down a snack or two before heading back out on the highway.
I know I’ve already talked about the wind. What’s funny is everyone I talk to about my trip mentions the wind being a factor and it certainly was. I feel like I’ve been initiated into some club. I’m sure many of you who ride have been initiated but for those of you unfamiliar with riding in wind gusts let me attempt to describe it to you. Imagine instead of riding upright at a 90 degree angle, perpendicular to the road, you are going straight but leaning to the side pushing against the wind, counterbalancing against it. But the wind isn’t consistent so it’s a constant adjustment. I would chuckle silently to myself as my helmet was being pressed up against one side of my face and the inside of one of my calves would warm to the heat of the engine despite traveling over 60 miles per hour. There was really only one time the entire three days where I was concerned for my safety because of a gust of wind. Later Saturday I was on my way to Chinle and taking a curve along the highway at about 50 miles per hour when one significant wind gust was powerful enough to catch me off guard. Even though I was already negotiating the wind, this gust surprised me. My bike moved right and I regained control and could feel my heart in my throat. In my head I told myself to focus and concentrate to get through this turn. And just as I did that, another gust of wind, just as powerful as the previous one, moved my bike again to the right. I initiated a little more counter steering and attacked the turn and rode out of it. I was able to compartmentalize my fear for the time being and get myself back to where I needed to be in order to make it to my destination but that was one close call I won’t soon forget.
But I digress. From Mexican Hat, I intended to take the 163 all the way around the San Juan River, into just inside the Colorado border, and down into the Four Corners Monument before heading to the lodge for the night. But instead I took the 191 heading South. Not the worst thing in the world but I ended up having to go a little out of the way 30 miles East to Teec Nos Pos on the way to Four Corners Monument which was another five miles down the road.
As I drove up to the monument which was pretty much out in the middle of no where, I saw a ticket booth. It was $5 to get in to see the monument. I didn’t have any cash — and the Navajo Nation doesn’t accept anything else but cash. There wasn’t an once of sympathy in the face of the Native American woman in the ticket booth. With a soft smile she mentioned there was an ATM… just five miles away … back in Teec Nos Pos. There was no charity to be given to this rider that day. So I turned my bike around and parked in front of the New Mexico sign just outside the entryway to the monument. I wasn’t about to make another 10 mile round trip for $5. Today, after hours of riding and fighting wind, I was going to concede that I wouldn’t get that fourth state in — there was no more Colorado on this quest. From here on out, I’ll have some cash in my pocket. I was easily able to let it go and sleep fine that night.
It was the last 95 or so miles from here to my lodge in Chinle, AZ at the Canyon De Celly Monument where I would hang it up for the day. This would be the windiest part of the day and the most challenging at a time when I was the most road weary. The scenery was still attractive but at this point all I wanted was rest. I had accomplished everything I wanted to for this leg of the journey and was ready to take it easy. I looked down at my wrist. There was a thin band of exposed skin. I didn’t even realize how it had been punished by the sun all day and was now burned. Engaging the cruise control on my VXC to pull down the sleeve over my left wrist wasn’t working. The wind would slowly move it back up. Eventually I stopped to wrap my wrist with a handkerchief I had until I made it to the lodge.When I was this tired, I really appreciated my riding position. The ergonomics of the bike to me were a decent fit. Maybe not perfect but a good fit nonetheless. My posture was good enough to keep my back from any major aches. I really came to appreciate the bike, and its balance, and design.
The Thunderbird Lodge was tucked away with the best access to the Canyon and the most affordable prices of any of the other major chain hotels. It was a part of the Navajo Nation. They didn’t have a restaurant as much as they had a cafeteria and there wasn’t going to be any beer for me tonight. They didn’t sell it at the Lodge. But the bed was comfy and the wind had no more power over me.
The majority of the road was conquered and the adventure would conclude in one more day.