Highway 70 took us at full tilt for 360 miles from Denver, Colorado to Moab in Utah, the start of our ride home. A long day for us but it was worth the effort ten-fold. It seemed sacrilege not to take advantage of Utah’s sweet spots. Hiking up to the red rock wonders of the Delicate Arch, just one of two thousand natural sandstone arches, my heart was pounding at the top. And not because I found myself in a world where the sun gleams over a shadowy, giant world of rock. I’ve just become unfit.
Arches National Park gave us ample opportunity to get our fill of balanced rocks, fins and pinnacles set in a striking environment of russets, radiant reds and ochre against unblemished blue skies. In some areas, faulting had exposed millions of years of geological history, it was extraordinary. Once my heart returned to a normal resting rate, I stared into it all in meditative tranquility.
I clocked a chipmunk, disturbed by the folks lying around its rock, and watched it glide silently into the middle distance. With the grace of its kind, another cupped its body to brake on the air, dropped onto the bark of a tree, and vanished into obscurity. I wondered, ‘How do they do that?’
More mesmerizing landscapes carved out of sedimentary sandstone took us to Canyonlands, where landforms and textures piqued my interest just as poignantly. The park continues to preserve a spectrum of colour within countless canyons, mesas and buttes, broken up the confluence of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Sat in a vast basin bordered by sheer cliffs where one of the jaw-on-the-floor vantage points can be viewed at Dead Horse Point. I felt as though I was riding through the pages of National Geographic magazine. It was another piece of a dream come true.
Indian petroglyphs, natural stone arches and spectacular vistas of Canyonlands opened up at virtually every corner, especially when we found ourselves teetering on the edge of a cliff at 2,000 feet. Better known as the Shafer Trail, we took in some of the 18 miles of dangerous dirt–on a par with Bolivia’s Road of Death–it’s one of those roads that will humble the biggest of egos.
Although the afternoon was calm, I shielded myself from the winds that were stirring up by the canyon’s vastness. The sun was on its way down. It threw a hammered, golden light onto the cliff faces, which tumbled down into an unsteady, shimmering lake of translucent purple darkness that appeared to be bottomless. I danced ecstatically at the top of the trail, emitting surprised little groans. I caught hold of the camera, and swung it up toward a vivid pink gash of cloud. At that hour, the area was empty. The late afternoon light, brilliant but without warmth, washed our faces and clothes. “Amazing,” I said to Jason.
Lo and behold, who goes and spots the ridiculous ground clearance of Pearl back on low-level terra firma in Moab? A chap called Ed March travelling around the world on his Honda C90 pulled up and engaged us in some ‘Who-knew-we’d-bump-into-each-other-here?’ banter. Within minutes of him scooting off, biker EH Alberts (also known as Eugene) approached me with, “Your motorcycle wouldn’t happened to be called Pearl by any chance, would it?”
Pearl was firmly in the limelight that day and I think she rather revelled in it. Eugene rides a 1200cc with a side car for his new dog Chaco, while Janell and Stu (The Pack Track) from Sydney had temporarily teamed up with Eugene. But each of the Aussies carried their own dog—both of whom poked their cute heads out of parkas—on the back of the bikes. Seemed like Moab was a magnet for biker dogs that day.
Having kipped on Ed and Rachel’s floor for the night, spending all morning nattering away and the night previous getting to know a great couple, we lost sight of the small stuff. And put the world to rights by painting our combined bigger picture, and reluctantly made tracks. Jason and Ed shared more in common than I think either realised, and I clicked immediately with Rachel (Wander on a Honda), with whom I adored speaking ‘Woman’. She was the epitome of lovely.
Group dynamics were sensational, we all took to being wildly demonstrative and lacked any stiff reserve. It was refreshing to dive into the gritty informalities that come with meeting seasoned travellers on the road. Just feeling comfortable to plunge into deep conversation–made all the more meaningful by its unguarded undertone, an absence of the usual niceties and superficial pleasantries.
With eyes hungry to ravish more red-sand desert, the road trip led us to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Straddling the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah of the Colorado Plateau sits another incredible cluster of towering sandstone buttes, mesas and spires. The natural architecture is impossibly pleasing, steeply sloped and despite its iconic beauty inspiring the location for countless movies, it remains a preservation site for the Navajo way of life as part of the Indian Reservation. Like all of our visual encounters in Utah, few places elsewhere have made such an impact. The sky that night was blacker than black but lit by Jupiter looking down on Venus.
A brief rest in Flagstaff, a pit stop in Prescott via the stunning sights of Joshua Tree National Park and a final push onto the Long Beach apartment of Mark (a glorious guy, also known as Radioman) in Los Angeles, concludes the first half of our journey through the Americas. With more than 33,000 miles, 21 months and 17 countries across three and a half continents under our belts, the pair of us have discovered a new way to live. Life on the road has been endlessly fascinating, filled with learning, high highs, the odd grueling low and salt-of-the-Earth people. I laugh and sing and my soul dances more than it ever has. I’m the person I want to be. And on top of all that, I’m existing on a fraction of what it cost me to keep afloat in England. Where’s the incentive to stop?
That said, we’re equally as excited to holiday with family and friends back in old Blighty, recalibrate ourselves in order to come back in January ready for the next chapter. Although a part of me already wonders if my explorations on one end of the spectrum will ultimately reduce my ability to enjoy the pleasures at the other end. I hope not, and don’t wish to impatiently race through my visit back on English soil, wishing I was elsewhere.
My soul gets nourished in faraway places. Sometimes I wonder if it’s a biological need, or a DNA flaw that compels me to seek the excitement and challenge that comes in a place unfamiliar to me. And then there’s my compulsion to stay in one spot for a while, sink into it and get more than just a feel for the place. Heck, it took us 9 months to leave Argentina. I learn best by doing, touching, sharing and tasting. When I’m somewhere new, learning goes on all day, every day. I never know if a place will pull, tickle, tease, challenge or enlighten me.
Once refreshed will put us back where we want to be come the start of the New Year in order to keep appreciating the two-wheeled lifestyle. Namely the States: associating with all walks of life, connecting with the wildlife in the great outdoors and I hope, completing the ride up to Alaska.
As we pulled up to the airport, I felt explosively free. Jason was in basic pre-flight anguish while we negotiated through the bodies and backpacks that were flopped and strewn all over the floor. I snuck a moment to reflect a little. Back in 2012, I learned to ride a motorcycle (albeit by accident through winning the runner-up prize of a competition at a motorcycle event), and dreaded how I’d fare long distance astride two wheels. I remember thinking 100 miles was a long way and shrieking out loud when a small gust hit me on the motorway coming back from Derbyshire, our neighbouring county; a mite compared to the monsters I’ve since tackled.
I’ve come a long way since leaving Nottingham, in all senses of the word. Pearl has left me immeasurably proud, saving me from myself more oft than not. She’s like a fine jewel set in an old ring. I think about my life as a traveller, always living in different worlds. At what point on the trip that I realized that I wanted more than wholesome food, good evening entertainment and worthy weekend pursuits in my life, I couldn’t tell you. I’ve become comfortable operating on a personal level; asking about family, revealing a little about my life if people are interested and digging beneath the superficialities of situations wherever I can.
Having wended my wheels through sandy deserts, over 5,000-metre mountain passes and up volcanoes, I’ve negotiated gravel, sand and river crossings. We’ve been snowed in twice, wild camped in -22 degrees Celsius while spooning a complete stranger and both of us have been towed ‘bike-to-bike.’ I have slept above boa constrictors in the rainforest; inspected the teeth of a live Piranha and hand fed a family of howler monkeys. I’ve cooked yucca bread on a fire with an Amazonian woman and watched the healings of a Shaman. I’ve meditated on the beaches in El Salvador, prayed in colonial churches, feted and felt the Inca spirits of the dead in Peru, and deepened my belief that there are other levels of existence through the ancient ruins of Mesoamerica.
I’ve learned to listen to my soul. I’m a white woman from a world beyond the clouds who has blended voices, laughter and joy amid gentle, dark-haired and caramel skinned children with big smiling eyes of the Guatemalan highlands—immersing myself in their way of life for a short while. Despite the language barrier, there’s no sweeter feeling than seeing pleasure in someone else’s eyes, satisfaction in their smile and the look of pure joy spread across their face. Just because they’re innately happy. Being from opposite ends of the spectrum on Earth, we still shared a core that makes us human. And somewhere, wrapped in boundless enthusiasm, became one.
I’ve shared meat and Malbec with Argentineans whose steadfast friendship I will value for life. I have known the milk of human kindness, gentleness and warmth from every corner of the trip. And learned that being human and open is all it takes to connect. I’ve made tracks with the Gentoo penguins in Antarctica, dived the Cenotes (underground rivers) in Mexico and been so overwhelmed by the perfection of my surroundings that I can barely talk.
Having voyaged for a month on a container ship across the Atlantic to kick-start the trip, I’ve meandered through some of the world’s most exhilarating roads, and having frightened myself silly as the cat with 99 lives, I am convinced I have a moto guardian-angel.
I feel as though the conventional ties that have bound me to a place, the western culture, have finally been cut, and I am free to be me in the world. Through motorcycle travel, I have experienced serenity deeper than I have ever known. Cómo no?
Having felt a new and ethereal flow inside of me, a deep sensation of well-being, it’s time to reconnect with my family for a short while.