A throng of tourists milled around. It was your unusual untidy ragbag of a group, gaudy jumpers, open-throat shirts and creased clothing beneath a sea of excitable faces, a rainbow of complexions, all agog to peer down. One rather buff looking guy in a snug fitting t-shirt caught my eye and reminded me of Clive James’ description of Arnie Schwarzenegger: that he looked like a condom filled with walnuts.
An overnight pit stop in Joshua Tree National Park—a tent utopia as it goes—saw us once again ensconced in its ecological melting pot, lined by a jumble of stacked boulders and walls of imposing granite. The convergence of two great deserts: the Mojave and Colorado, blended together in a barbed landscape adorned in Sonoran flora and fauna. Such marvels of dry arid regions simply keep going about their business, adapting to relentless sun, little water and temperatures from below freezing to above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The prospect of coming home after 33,000 miles through 21 countries on my motorcycle, was a welcomed and warranted one. Taking temporary leave from living out of panniers and a roll bag for two years short of a quarter—to being lavished in comfort at my mum’s house was beyond appealing—hand washing will only get you so far. For me, Christmas could not have been made more special; I reunited with my family. I cherished every moment with my nephews Max and Ollie, who at ages 8 and 6 have blossomed into wonderful, young boys adept at keeping their Aunty Lisa highly entertained. Their innocence and energy was exhilarating as much as exhausting.
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.
Ahead of us lay open country, reddish-grey, studded with cacti. Arizona was the first place I have been for a while that turned out to look exactly like I’d pictured it. As we rode along the blindingly bright highway, I felt happy and charmed. Nestled at an elevation of over 1,500 metres amongst the State’s biggest offering of ponderosa pine forest, Prescott became our next ‘Go to’ base. Usually boasting perfect weather at around room temperature, we rode into an uncharacteristic heat wave for the autumn—amongst granite mountains and all the worthy accomplices of lakes, streams and rolling meadows. Perforated with historical landmarks, you’re hit by the rich history of the Old West. Cowboy style saloons dotted along Whiskey Row fused with the more modern aspects of the traditional town, there’s nothing not to like.
Wheeling up to the US border at Tecate was more of a ‘Triple Whopper with fries but better make that a diet coke’ drive-thru experience than the usual cacophony of queues—left, right and centre—about the Latin American customs and immigration offices. The familiarity of my old, comforting Latin American life was about to leave me for a strange and first world new one. A civilised US border official greeted us formally at the barrier. Plenty of pleases and thank yous but no warm pleasantries to which I’d become deeply accustomed.