LA to LA!
Back in September I rode in the Distinguished Gentleman‘s Ride in New Orleans. I had rode my motorcycle down from Ohio to ride in it and left the bike with my good friend Emil in Lafayette. It was now time to ride the bike home to Los Angeles: LA (Louisiana) to LA, it should be great! I arrived in Lafayette early and spent a few days with my buddy prepping the bike for the long journey (as well as enjoying some amazing Cajun hospitality, food and adult beverages). The bike I brought down from Ohio was a Ducati Desert Sled which is a great bike but not one necessarily designed for long distance rides. For the last ride, I added an air hawk seat pad and windshield. For this ride, with the help of Emil’s son (my soul-son) Lewis, I added new panniers, changed the oil and filter, installed heated grips (it was December after all!) added hand guards for wind and crash protection and gave the bike a good overall inspection and tightening of loose nuts and bolts. There is great satisfaction gained from doing all the work myself rather than having a dealer do it.
The weather for the ride was going to be cold, with some rain along the way but only until I got past Dallas. Because of the temperatures I need to stay as far south as I could, hugging the Mexican border where I could. As the departure date approached I adjusted my route based on the weather and potential rain. Rather than heading to Dallas, I had to reroute further south through Austin. Much of the route would cross and sometimes overlap areas that I rode my bicycle through about a year ago. I was excited to see the territory again.
Day 1: Lafayette to Austin
Day 1 arrived and it was a cold start and long day first day out of the box!. I took I-10 for the beginning part of it which was pretty boring through east Texas to Austin. I froze my butt off and the scenery was pretty boring until I got closer to Austin. Not a lot to report but when I arrived at my friends house - the Zambetti’s - they were waiting for me with an amazing meal and great company. Way too much wine and eggnog but great company and fantastic food. Such great people, and a great reminder that life is about the relationships you make and that the good ones are truly fulfilling. The Ducati was running terrifically, better than I expected other than the temperatures. The bike does not have much wind protection despite the added windscreen so the ride was cold. The hand-warmers turned out to be a critical addition, they really helped!
Day 2: Austin to Sanderson
Fortunately it looked like I would miss the rain on this leg of the trip. I traveled from Austin to Sanderson through the Texas Hill country. I took beautiful backroads from Austin to Camp Wood. The twisted sisters area and roads near Leakey TX were awesome. Amazing curves, some hills and no one out there. The Ducati continued to surprise me, it was running great, and I was loving every part of it. As I got closer to the Mexican border, I started to come across immigration and customs check points. I had forgotten about these and they raised a bit of panic in me. My license plates had expired while the bike was stored in Ohio and I had no way of getting new ones until the bike was physically in California. I was worried I might get a ticket or worse, the bike would be impounded! Luckily the border control officers weren’t very interested in me or my bike!
I finished off the ride on one of the legs of my bicycle trip in Sanderson. I decided to save some money and stay at a cheaper motel… Yikes, it turned out to be pretty scary! The place had not been touched in 30 years, pretty shabby. Luckily it was clean and the sheets were fresh and crisp… And no bedbugs! The owners were really nice and brought me homemade traditional Indian breakfast (curry rice and veggies) and tea in the morning which was really nice.
Day 3: Sanderson to Marfa
I traveled from Sanderson to Marfa through Big Bend National Park. I had skipped Big Bend on my bicycle trip because it was too far out of the way but I had heard from another motorcyclist that is was great. It turned out to be the best ride so far, with beautiful scenery through the desert going down to Big Bend and fantastic mountains and deserts and beautiful scenery throughout the park. Not terribly different from Death Valley and Joshua tree and it also seemed smaller but still very cool to go through. One of the highlights of the day was after I left Big Bend and followed the Mexican border along the Rio Grande, FM 170 to Presidio was beautiful, cliffs along the water, road filled with hills and curves, everything you want on motorcycle and nobody there. It was great.
I arrived in Marfa at sunset, tired but smiling. I picked a nicer hotel this time (Hotel Saint George) and got cleaned up to explore the town. The bar of the hotel was nice and I had a beer and a little food there. The town was a little quiet but it has a really cool vibe and feeling to it, not quite sure what it is or why it is but it felt really comfortable there. My favorite restaurant from my last trip was closed for a week but I found a cool Mexican wine bar that was fantastic. I ended the night at the only dive bar in town. My kind of place, it allowed dogs (even on the pool tables, LOL!). Note about the hotel, be sure to get a room that doesn’t face the train tracks!
Day 4: Marfa to Bisbee AZ
It was a long and very windy drive today but really beautiful still. I drove through a ton of beautiful empty desert and retraced some parts of my bicycle ride which was fun. I decided to skip I-10 and take State Road 9 which hugged the border along New Mexico through Arizona to Bisbee. It was a great choice and I had the road to myself. Still a ton of wind in my face (20+ mph) but it was great. I picked Bisbee because it is a unique, hippy town set up in some mountains that looked really cool. It was cool alright, actually really cold! The temperature dropped almost 20 degrees as the sun set and I climbed into the mountains and the next day was forecasted to be below freezing at the start! The Ducati continued to be a terrific ride, having little to no problem with the wind or staying at speeds above 80 if I wanted to. It sounded amazing too. Someone came up to me at a gas station to tell me how cool the bike was and how great it sounded. I loved it. Bisbee is a turn of the century mining mountain town that has retained its old west victorian architecture and feel and has pivoted from mining to tourism. It had a weird intersection of western, country and hippy vibes but was interesting and fun to see. I hit a little dive bar that had locals playing whatever they felt like on stage.
Day 5: Bisbee to Salome
Mighty chilly start to the day! Upper 20s for the start so I bundled up with everything I had. My plan was to cover back roads and highways to Salome, another place I had stopped on my cross country bicycle ride. The route would take me near Tucson and through a lot of high desert areas. The wind was still present but not as bad as yesterday. The route wasn’t super long, 330 miles but 5 days on the motorcycle were adding up and I was tired. I didn’t have a hotel booked in Salome but knew of a nice place that I was sure would not be filled. I also had the option to stop early if I wanted to. The ride was pretty uneventful for most it, the motorcycle was running well and I was really liking it more each day. I had not put a lot of miles on the Ducati since buying it and had been thinking about selling it but not now. It performed great, sounded great, and was the right size and weight. My other adventure touring bike is a Triumph Explorer 1200 which is intended to be “go anywhere” machine. In reality the bike, while fantastic on paved roads and on long distances, is way too heavy to be ridden comfortably off road, particularly load up with gear. The Ducati however has the same on-road/off-road suspension set up but is much lighter and more maneuverable. It does not have all of the travel features such as good wind protection, heated seats, and smoother tires but it was working out to be great none the less.
The cold weather and exhaustion had me stopping a bit more so I was anticipating arriving around dusk in Salome. As I passed Wintersburg the sun was setting and I was hauling butt to finish. I had about 50 miles to go, 19 before I crossed I-10. The road was empty so I was moving fast but 9 miles later the road suddenly disappeared! It went from nicely paved highway to gravel, wash, and sand that resembled more of dry river bed than road, not ideal for a loaded two wheel motorcycle! Sand in particular worries me most, it is difficult to control any motorcycle in sand but especially one loaded with a ton of gear. I could feel my nerves as I crossed from pavement to gravel. After a stop to regroup, I estimated that I only had about 10 miles to the highway. This was supposed to be an adventure so finding an easier route didn't seem right. I decided to push on and put the bike and my limited off-road skills to the test. Standing on the pegs, I was able to motor along at 40 mph, the Ducati did great! There were a few dicey points of deep sand but I never dropped the bike, surprisingly! After crossing the highway the road was paved again which was a huge relief but I had lost some time and it was now dark. I was so excited about getting through the last section I dialed up the speed in the remaining section. Important note about riding in the country, there are less fences for livestock and cows are not reflective animals! As rounded a bend at 60 mph, I came face to face with an enormous bull in the middle of the road! After a split second of shock and panic I throttled back a little, relaxed my grip, and slipped by (at 40 mph) on the edge of the road. Scary moment for sure but having been riding for a number of years I was able to stay relatively calm, which is critical in those situations. My heart was still pounding but the rest of the ride as easy and I arrived in Salome safely. The Westward Motel had a vacancy and was a fantastic place to stay. There is only one restaurant and bar in town for dinner so I stopped in to eat and the went to bed early!
Day 6: Salome to home
The plan for the final day was to travel a little north through Parker and the north side of Joshua Tree back home. The area was very remote desert and so I knew I needed to watch the distances between gas stations. The Ducati doesn’t have a very large tank and I needed to be careful. As I came though Parker I should have stopped for gas but decided to push on. Thank goodness I did. If I had filled up I would not have skipped the next station I came to at Vidal Junction. At that station, the pumps were down so I asked how far to the next one. It turned out that it was beyond what my bike’s range from Parker would have been and I would have likely been stranded! I diverted south to Blythe along hwy 95 which was a cool road. Then continued south along hwy 78 through the Imperial Desert which an amazing place to see. The sand dunes look like you are in the Sahara! In Brawley I diverted up to see Slab City not far from the Salton Sea. The place is a hippy and art commune of squatters that is both cool and bizarre to see. From there I headed up hwy 111 along the Salton Sea and on to home.
The trip was as great as I had hoped, beautiful desert southwest scenery and bizarre and fun towns. I was very happy to see the beautiful landscape and visit good friends. It was great to revisit some places I had traveled though on my bicycle trip and to explore areas I had missed on that trip.
Environmental and Social Impact
I have now done a few motorcycle trips through the desert and have written about the environmental issues in these areas. On this trip I traveled through quite a bit of cattle country and almost killed a cow myself! If you follow me on social media you know that I have been incorporating more of a plant based diet into my life and have dramatically reduced red meat consumption. On this trip I reflected on the cattle industry and my relationship with meat. Just to be completely upfront, I love beef, and in particular, steak and on this trip, while I continued to focus on my diet, I did have some amazing grilled filet in Austin (thanks Kirk!).
But there are some very compelling reasons to consider reducing or even eliminatingbeef from your diet. First there are the health benefits. While there are lots of confusing and competing claims about the benefits and risks of red meat in the diet, there is no ambiguity that red meat increases cardiovascular risk. There are also an increasing number of reports and media highlighting not only the theoretical health benefits of a plant-based diet but also real life examples of individuals and famous athletes that have seen significant health and performance benefits. FMTV’s Transcendence documentary and The Game Changers movie are great ones to watch if you want to learn more.
Beyond the health benefits, there are significant environmental issues associated with raising livestock and in particular beef. This includes the immense amount of grazing land required (and how it drives deforestation in developing countries); significant increases in greenhouse gases (methane); and a tremendous amount of waste and pollution that is created.
On the trip I passed a number of cattle feed lots where cows are fattened up for slaughter. The smell coming from the places was absolutely awful and for me, it brought home the environmental impact and how much bacteria and filth exists where the meat is coming from. I am a big believer in balance in all facets of life and so eliminating all animal protein in my diet doesn’t feel right to me. That being said, the American diet is way more focused on and inclusive of red meat than almost anywhere else in the world, and no surprise, obesity levels in America are also higher than the vast majority of the world. Focusing on a diet that is more plant based and shifting away from red meat to more (sustainable) fish and organic vegetables can have significant health and weight benefits as well as a positive environmental impact.