Phil and I have been travelling together since the 25th of July, 2012. That’s two and a half months of spending every day together, and it’s been great. We are lucky that we get along so well. However after we left Flagstaff we had a major disagreement that lasted three days. There was yelling, swearing and tears. If ever we decide not to travel together for the remainder of the trip, it will almost certainly be over this one issue.
What issue you ask?
Phil wants to take the most difficult roads and I don’t.
In Flagstaff Chuck gave us a route to put in our GPS (a Garmin Zumo 220) that would take us on some dirt roads that he likes in his local area. He also printed out some other routes he likes.
Phil was so happy to have his bike working again, he wanted to do them all. So we set off following the GPS route. Not too long into it something went wrong with the route and we ended up on some dirt roads in a National Forest not really knowing how to get out. There were some really rocky sections, with big, loose rocks, and big holes in the road.
I’ve previously only spent a few hours with my friend Dave T in offroad conditions. I found these Arizona rocky sections much more difficult and unpleasant than anything I’d come across before. Having the bike fully loaded and very heavy was definitely a factor.
The GPS was telling us to turn to the right along smaller, less developed trails, and eventually we decided to take one. Unfortunately the one we chose had a small sign saying that the road was closed. I was not happy about going down this road. Phil insisted that we’d be okay. Turns out that after going over some horrendous rocks, around a tree that had fallen over the road, and through a fence, the road ended and there was a sign saying that no motor vehicles were allowed any further due to environmental considerations. This meant that we had to go back over all that stuff.
I found that when I was going over the difficult sections, I had to concentrate with every fiber of my being. It is physically, emotionally and mentally exhausting. I felt like at any moment the bike could fall over, if I just made one tiny mistake. I was not having fun, or enjoying the challenge. I was miserable. It also didn’t help that the last time I was on a dirt road was in Alaska, on our way to Prudhoe Bay. That time I wasn’t even driving and we weren’t going fast but I ended up with a concussion and no memory of that day. Â That experience has really driven home the potential consequences of Â falling off the bike.
I was NOT happy about having to turn around and go back over the closed road. Not one bit. I had no choice though and I did it. We eventually made it out of that area, and back onto a paved road.
I should mention that Phil LOVED the experience – and had “the most fun he’d had on the bike on the whole trip”. A very clear example of how two people can be in the same place, doing the same thing, and have completely different feelings about it.
The next stop on the route was up to a view point that looked over the area. When we arrived at the turn that led up there, I decided that Phil could venture on alone. I had had enough of travelling difficult roads I didn’t need to go down. I sat in the forest and read my book, while Phil rode off up the road.
As I was sitting there, I reflected on the morning’s ride, and I realised that the reason I had found it so unbearable was that we didn’t need to be there. I am more than willing to take difficult roads if that is the only route or if it is particularly beautiful or rewarding to go that way. But if we are there just for the “fun” of it, and actually there is a faster, easier way to get where we are going, then I’d rather take that route.
It turns out that that is not how Phil feels at all. His vision for the trip is that we take every difficult, off the beaten track, road that is available.
After Phil got back from the lookout (which he said I would have hated the road up to) we gave up on the GPS and just started following the printed maps that Chuck had given us. He had marked a road called El Oso Road which is a dirt road that goes over the tops of some mountains. We found it and started winding up the road among the first “real” cactus (ie ones I saw in cartoons as a child).
El Oso Road runs through some very spectacular views. Within minutes of climbing up the steep twists, we were rewarded with this view:
As we made our way further along the road, mostly in 1st gear, I was starting to doubt my ability on this sandy, twisty road too. Especially in the sections where the road dropped off at the side into an abyss, and there were hairpin corners to navigate, all with the sun in our eyes.
I rode slowly, trying to take all the advice Phil kept giving me on how to take corners, how to navigate the sandy sections, the bumpy sections, to go faster, to look into the corners, etc etc etc… I know that he was getting frustrated at how slow I was going, and that was making me feel even worse.
Eventually the sun set, with beautiful colours spilling through the clouds. I was having to concentrate so hard on the road that I really couldn’t appreciate all the beauty we were surrounded with. (All of the pictures are Phil’s, I was in no state to have my camera out.)
We decided to camp in a pull out beside the road, as we didn’t know how much further the road went, and I was not at all willing to attempt that road in the dark. We weren’t the first to have stopped at this particular place. Phil found that someone had left some presents in the homemade firepit.
The next morning we set out pretty early, and switched bikes as Phil thought his fancy aftermarket footpegs might help me feel more stable, which they did. His homemade windscreen (made to replace the beautiful cardboard one he made after the Alaska crash) however is angled further back than mine and kept hitting me in the chin when I was standing going over bumps (which was most of the time).
I was exhausted both mentally and physically from the previous day, and found the remainder of the road a challenge. Despite my inexperience and the difficult roads, I had managed to keep my bike on its wheels over all the rocks, bumps, sand and hills. Until, that morning, a guy on a dirt bike came tearing around a corner on my side of the road, and fell right in front of me. If I hadn’t dropped my (Phil’s) bike I would have run over him.
That incident threw me over the edge, I had been trying so hard to keep it all together, and I just broke down. I felt like I was in miles over my head, was holding Phil back from the thing that he found the most fun, and that I, or someone else, was going to get hurt in the process.
We made it off of El Oso Road with no further incident, and I have never been so happy to be on a paved road in my whole life. I told Phil that I had had enough of dirt for the day and that if he wanted to go on another dirt road I would just turn around and go a different way.
As I accelerated on the highway, I felt that my bike was lurching a bit, like the brakes were being put on while I tried to accelerate. I decided that I would change the air filter at the earliest opportunity.
We headed into Mesa in search of a much neededÂ laundromat. A couple hours later we had clean clothes, full bellies and I had changed my air filter in the parking lot. Turned out to be more difficult that it should have been because the nut that holds the air filter in place kept falling out when I tried to tighten the bolt into it.
There was one more road of Chuck’s that Phil really wanted to do. The Devil’s Highway. It used to be called route 666 and is now called just highway 191. Chuck had told us that it was paved the whole way, but very twisty. As it wasn’t dirt, I agreed to do it.
As we headed in that direction, there was a side loop that went via Coolidge Dam. Phil had all the maps and took us down that road to see the dam. When the road turned to dirt, Phil was too far ahead to be in intercom range and so I had to follow him to catch up.
I had made just one request that day – that we didn’t go on any more dirt roads, and I was NOT impressed that we were on another one. I said as much and Phil exploded. He yelled at me about how this was going to ruin his trip and how this was the reason we had these bikes not road bikes etc etc etc.
All I needed to hear from him at that time was that he hadn’t realised that this road was going to be dirt, and for him to ask what I wanted to do. That didn’t happen and it was the lowest point on the trip for me so far.
It turned out that there was another 70km of road to go, and we didn’t make it back to the highway that night. It wasn’t terrible road, as it had been paved at some point, but just not kept up, however the black cloud that hung over us was tangible. During that ride I decided that if Phil was going to be like this, if my inexperience and reluctance to go offroad all the time was going to ruin his trip, then we would not be finishing this trip together. He could go his way, I could go mine, and we could meet up at various points along the way. I was not going to be held responsible for him having a terrible time, and I certainly wasn’t going to go his way just to keep him happy if it was going to make me miserable.
We found ourselves in the now familiar situation of it getting dark on a road we really didn’t want to be navigating at night, and despite me really not wanting to start ANOTHER day on a undesirable road, it became clear we weren’t going to make it back to pavement and we pulled over and set up camp in a ring of trees just off the side of the road.
There was a frosty silence as we set up the tent and campstove. Had anyone else been there they would certainly have felt very uncomfortable.
We eventually talked about our situation. Phil apologised for his reaction at the dam, and I tried to help him understand where I was coming from.
We came to a sort of truce, but I think we both had a bad taste left in our mouths from the experience.
We woke the next morning to the very loud “moo-ing” of some local cows. It turned out they were closer than we first thought.
Phil got out of bed to protect us from the terrifying beasts. However he ended up luring them closer by practicing his “moo”. The little guy in the picture was getting closer and closer until his mother pointed out that the strange looking “cow” mooing at him was not really a cow. I of course just stayed in my warm sleeping bag throughout all this.
I learnt a lot about myself and what I am hoping to get out of this trip over the space of those two days. In two very long, exhausting days of riding, we ended up about 370km away (a 4 hour drive on paved roads) from where we’d started, we barely interacted with another human being, and I felt drained and miserable. That is not the kind of progress I want to make.
My priorities are seeing the world, meeting new people and experiencing new cultures. The motorcycle to me is how I am getting from the top to the bottom, not the reason I am making the journey. If we have to take a difficult road or cross a river, or build a boat to get to where we are going – I will do it. It wont be pretty or fast, but I’ll be there.
I am not interested in spending every day going the most difficult way, going offroad just for the sake of it, and barely making any progress towards our destination. I do not enjoy spending day after day of 12 hours on the bike feeling like I could drop the bike at any moment. To me that is not fun.
I loved the Grand Canyon. It was stunning. We arrived, set up camp with friends, and then spent two days exploring it by foot, bus, motorcycle and car. That is how I want to interact with the places we go, in a meaningful way that is fun, interactive, and allows me to enjoy the scenery without feeling like a second appreciating the view is likely to cause a crash.
I also recognise that Phil has been planning this trip for years, and that in his mind, he would be mostly riding long stretches of unmade roads, over rocks, bumps, and dirt. I don’t want to destroy his vision. I don’t want to hold him back, or make him regret having me along with him.
There is an amount of compromise that we will both have to make if we are to complete this journey together. As in any relationship, communication and an awareness of the other person’s needs and feelings is vital.
I’m not sure where the discovery that we want to take different routes will take us, but we’ve discussed doing an offroad riding course, and meeting up with other riders who are as keen as Phil to go offroad.
The journey continues…