Day 5 and final of Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

January 21, 2013: Back to the real world today, where I work to live (not live to work), which makes fun and adventure possible.  It is also where I connect with my family and friends to share joy, sorrow, hopes and fears. And with whom I give and receive support through life’s challenges and accomplishments. Little did I know, as I was brushing my teeth this morning, that I would also be sharing sorrow and support with a complete stranger today.

We were chatting with the La Quinta shuttle driver on the way to the El Paso airport at 7 a.m. today, when she suddenly blurted that her nephew was in an accident on New Years Eve that resulted in his death. She went on to share a fair amount of detail about his accident, death and subsequent arrangements. As we pulled up to the airport, I offered her my condolences and quietly shared with her that my 17-year old nephew had also been killed in an accident on New Year’s Eve. I expressed our kindred pain.

As she helped me take my bag out of the back of the van, she hugged me and told me that she would be attending to cremation details later today, in support of her sister — as I was in North Dakota for a week prior to our motorcycle adventure, in support of my brother. She wished God’s blessing on me and my family, and I reciprocated.

What are the chances that in a La Quinta van in El Paso, TX, I would be confronted with sorrow that so closely mirrors that of my own family? I’ve been processing this encounter all day: Why I was connected in such an intimate way with a stranger this morning? What lesson was I supposed to learn from it? What did this experience mean for me?

I called my oldest daughter tonight to tell her I had returned home safely, and catch up with recent events in her life. I told her about the conversation with the shuttle driver, and my questions. With the wisdom that often startles a mother, when coming from her child (even a well-into-adulthood child), my daughter said, “Maybe the reason was because she needed you, not that you were meant to get something from her.” Wow. I am a humble learner on this journey.

So, my Sweetheart (SH) and I boarded American Airlines’ 9:00 a.m. flight from El Paso to Dallas. There, we connected with the 12:45 flight to Minneapolis to continue our reentry into the real world. Grateful for five wonderful days exploring geography, relationships, spiritual connectedness and the meaning of life — the Zen of Motorcycle Adventuring with SH.

Somehow the 15 degrees below zero wind chill in Minneapolis didn’t seem so bad, in light of the warmth of my youngest daughter’s greetings when she picked us up at the light rail station to save us from a five block walk home. Furthermore, loss, love and sunlight can bring a lot of perspective to a mere temperature reading.

Later this week, I’ll share the full (high-level) 2012-2013 Motorcycle Adventure itinerary AND some tips and gear feedback for those of you planning your own adventures.

Glad to be home.

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 4, Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

January 20, 2013: Bonus day! My Sweetheart (SH), motorcycle adventure planner extraordinaire, built a day into the schedule for unexpected delays and to check in to the storage unit where our bikes will rest for 39 days until we begin the next leg of our adventure. The office of the storage place was only open from 11 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., so exploring the region on our bikes was not a good option for making the most of the day.  Our adventures are never thwarted by mere logistics, which we demonstrated by renting a car.

We had a great breakfast at Denny’s, next door to our La Quinta. Then we caught the motel shuttle to the El Paso airport to pick up a Ford Fusion from Thrifty at 8:00 a.m. under sunny skies and 46 degrees. I am grateful for the great suggestions for “must do” activities on our play day in the area from my brother and sister-in-law, who lived in El Paso 23 years ago.

From the airport we drove the Trans Mountain Road, which dissects the mountain that divides east and west El Paso. On our way to take a picture of the house my brother and his young family lived in “back in the day,” we stopped at The Bagel Shop on Resler Road for my beloved latte and some blogging time in this pleasant, inviting environment.  After snapping the photos and sending to my brother for nostalgia’s sake, we headed back to the motel to get our bikes tucked away into storage.

That task finished, we pointed the Ford in the direction – I thought – of White Sands, one of my brother’s recommendations. When I Googled White Sands, the first thing that came up was White Sands Missile Base, including directions and a little bit of background, so I thought we were headed for a history lesson. After reaching the gates, we found that we mere civilians were not welcome to go further. As a security measure, I’m sure, there is no bypass road to cut through to the highway that would take us to White Sands National Monument, which was the intended recommendation!

The “wrong” trip to White Sands Missile Base was actually pretty interesting. So we weren’t overly bummed about a long re-route, which took us through Los Cruces, NM, where we stopped at a gas station to grab coffee and a snack.

On Hwy 70 East, traffic was funneled through a customs / homeland security checkpoint through which we were filmed with multiple video cameras and ultimately had to stop for a brief encounter with an officer who glanced in the car and wished us a good day. I have to tell you, it was a little creepy — I wondered what is next in the evolution of government oversight of its own citizens. I know I’m flirting with a very complex topic with many passionate points of view. I only mention it to encourage myself and each of you to consider increasing our awareness of what is occurring in the name of security to make sure We the People, whom the government exists to serve, are informed as we make decisions about the individuals and institutions we hire for that service.

We were racing the sun at this point, but for some reason, it was really important to me that we see White Sands. After arriving there, I understood the reason. In the middle of nowhere, the White Sands emerge like a brilliant diamond from the surrounding mountains and relatively plain desert landscape, a mystical place full of ancient and contemporary spirits. The temperature dropped several degrees in the area. In the 4:30 p.m. twilight, the sun played with the pure white sand dunes and the mountain shadows to create a magical mood that moved me to tears. I was grateful to be sharing the experience with SH, yet there was something very personally powerful this place offered me. I’ll be processing this for some time.

I snapped pictures until I killed the battery of my little Nikon, wishing I had my Canon D50, but knowing that neither will capture the profundity of the experience. That will be for my heart to hold.

We chose to return to El Paso through Alamagordo, NM, an 88 mile route. The area is frying pan flat, surrounded by mountain ranges. The range to the west, which we completely circled in our travels today, looked like the backs of a line of slumbering dinosaurs, backlit by the fire of the setting sun. There was a lot of very poor housing in this stretch of highway, and actually is pretty consistent with the economic condition we observed in much of New Mexico. It appears to be a hard place to make a living.

On the outskirts of El Paso, we stopped for dinner at The Great American Land & Cattle Company. I had one of the best rib-eye steaks I’ve ever eaten, and SH was equally impressed with his burger. The “cowboy caviar” (baked beans) and coleslaw were also notably good. Great atmosphere and a manager who knew how to work the crowd – thank you Yelp! I’ll be adding my 5-star review there later.

After returning the Ford to Thrifty and catching the shuttle back to Room 148, we prepped for a 7 a.m. shuttle back to the airport to complete this leg of an awesome adventure.

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day3 , Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

January 19, 2013: Great to wake up this morning when my body told me it was ready to,   at 7 a.m. At that time, it was 21 degrees in Lordsburg, NM, which meant a leisurely morning waiting for the thermometer to rise to a point where it would be safe and comfortable to ride the motorcycles to our next destination — El Paso, TX.

We had breakfast in our hotel and enjoyed visiting with the Brownings, from my home state of ND. They are Bismarck residents who are spending a few weeks in Arizona. Then we chatted with a man from Arkansas who was in the area to get medical treatment for his wife. Talking with people from around the country is one of my favorite aspects of our adventures!

When the mercury hit 40 degrees and the clock showed 10:30 a.m Mountain Time, we were packed up and on the road – I-10 East to be exact. The sun was warm on our backs and we had prepared for these temps by packing and wearing layers that could be peeled off as the temp rose throughout the day.

Halfway between Lordsburg and Deming, NM, we crossed the Continental Divide at an elevation of about 4,500 feet. The desert has lots more native vegetation than Northwest Arizona, which we traveled on Leg 1 back in November, but the sand is still very unstable. We saw many highway signs warning us that zero visibility was possible due to high winds and blowing sand. Fortunately, the winds were light and the weather was friendly to these adventurers!

We stopped in Deming to top off the gas tanks and eat lunch at La Fonda, which the gas station attendant recommended. I love Mexican food, and my Sweetheart (SH) is usually agreeable to eat anywhere he can get a decent salad, so I was happy to follow up on that recommendation. The lunch buffet looked and smelled de-lish, but unfortunately they put flour in all their sauces, so the pickin’s were pretty slim for this gluten-free girl.

Although disappointed by a pretty plain lunch, we were delighted by a couple places in downtown Deming on Gold Avenue. The main business street that we rode into and through town had a lot of shuttered businesses, but downtown appeared to have a number of cute shops. I enjoyed my latte and SH his mocha (our “usuals” when we can find them!) in a Christian bookstore called The Wayfinder. After catching up with the world, thanks to The Wayfinder’s free WiFi, we stopped into a little boutique down the street on the way back to our bikes. I found my souvenir of the trip – a beautiful black wrap. But apparently the real reason we were drawn to the shop was the deeply touching conversation we had with the young woman shopkeeper – all about blessings and gratitude.

We avoid freeways on our adventures whenever possible, so we continued the day’s journey on NM Hwy 11, south of Deming, before turning east on NM Hwy 9, which would take us the remaining distance to El Paso. There is some agruculture in this area, including some kind of orchards – I’m going to research what types of trees they were – perhaps nuts?

We took a little side trip a few miles further south to take a peek at the United States / Mexico border. It was interesting and a little unnerving to see all the border patrol measures and activity. That whole area, all the way to El Paso, was crawling with border patrol SUVs, a blimp monitoring the area, radar stations in the middle of the desert terrain, etc.

We reached the El Paso city limits about 4 p.m., a little surprised at how large the urban area is, including the more industrial Juarez, Mexico, across the river. I’ve never liked city freeway driving on my motorcycle, and it’s even less enjoyable when I’m in unfamiliar territory.  However, I am proud of the fact that I’m now a competent biker in these conditions, after only three years of riding. I’m happy to have grown beyond “terrified” when riding in heavy freeway traffic!

We found our La Quinta near the airport without mishap – again very grateful,for our excellent helmet communicators! After locking up and covering the bikes, we rested, showered, and then took the hotel staff’s recommendation and their shuttle service to Carlos & Mickey’s Fine Mexican Dining. I loved this place! Live music, high energy, great people watching and fabulous food! I  enjoyed a margarita and SH a Corona as we chatted with two Army guys who are here attending the Academy while we waited for a table.  My chili-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp were delectable and SH didn’t leave a crumb on his plate, so I’m assuming he was equally satisfied with his Steak Rancheros.

In all, a wonderful day of sights, sounds and sun! Tomorrow we will be El Paso tourists.

Hasta la vista!  Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 2, Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

January 18, 2013 – Tempe AZ: Groaning to the insistent 6 a.m. jingle of my iPhone alarm, I rolled out of bed knowing the excitement of the bike ride ahead would soon chase away the impulse to snuggle in for another hour or two of sleep. Following a quick breakfast at the Best Western on Priest Drive, my sweetheart (SH) and I headed out for the 2-mile walk in 46 degree temps to the storage facility where we had parked our bikes in early November.

The plan was to pick up the bikes, gas up, top off the air in the tires and head out to meet Minnesota friends who are spending a couple months in Arizona this winter, for breakfast before hitting the highway toward Lordsburg, NM. That all happened, but not quite on that timeline.  A little glitch occurred when SH’s bike battery turned out to be dead. We had planned ahead and had a battery charger stowed on my bike, but it was a trickle charger that would take hours to recover the battery. After a couple of hours of charging and no results, we called a certain auto club with which I have a membership AND the “Plus RV” rider, which  covers motorcycles as well as cars. A vendor was dispatched and arrived, but technically, his company’s policies didn’t allow him to jump start motorcycles. Fortunately, the guy was willing to help us, off the record, and we were off and running, a few hours later than planned.

We met Bobby and Sue at TC Eggington’s in Mesa, AZ. It was great fun to catch up with these friends from the ‘Bou coffee crowd in Burnsville, MN, who are spending a couple of months in Arizona on their own adventure. (By the way, Bobby and Sue, did I ever tell you that my oldest daughter’s name is Bobbie Sue?! 🙂 I highly recommend connecting with friends AND eating at Eggington’s, which had an impressive breakfast menu including the delicious Frattini Kalmata Omelette I enjoyed.

About noon we said our goodbyes to Bobby and Sue and jumped on the bikes (mileage on my bike was 29,210) to find Hwy 60 East and begin enjoying the sun, 72 degrees and beautiful landscape in Southeast Arizona. Around Globe, AZ, the mountains and highways were especially rugged, beautiful and inspiring. After Globe, we continued East on U.S. Hwy 70. We were racing the thermometer, knowing that it would drop dramatically as the sun began to set. We stopped for gas and a butt break in Safford, AZ, and were quickly back on the road. Just a few days before the trip commenced, we had ordered new communication devices and were thrilled to find them a huge improvement over our previous set. It was so much fun to point out areas of interest to each other and chat as we rode.

We rolled into Lordsburg in 50 degrees about 5:45 p.m. and checked into the Comfort Inn. A hot shower thawed me out before a half mile walk to Kranberry’s Family Diner for dinner. The lack of sleep this week and 236 miles on the bikes today had me sound asleep by 9:30 p.m.

I want to mention here that SH and I had the opportunity to work through some upset Thursday night and Friday. Between running late for our flight from LA to Phoenix and a way-too-long-day Thursday, and the frustration and delays this morning lead to tension that could have easily marred the adventure. However, our ability to communicate honestly, patience with each other’s imperfection and sincere commitment to continually building our relationship, rather than engaging in words and actions that it break down, we got through the upset quickly and without residue that could mar the trip and the future.

I end the day grateful for SH, our ability to communicate and get through upsets quickly, our friends, and the incredible opportunity to explore this beautiful country with my partner.

Love, Tomboy Tam

Day 1, Leg 2, 2012-2013 Winter Motorcycle Adventure

Day 1 of this motorcycle adventure started January 17, and actually entailed trains, planes and automobiles and a “side trip” to Los Angeles to pop in for a quick visit with 103-year-old Uncle Walter. My sweetheart (SH) and I left my place in downtown Minneapolis shortly before 5 a.m. and walked quickly in 5 degree temps (probably below zero wind-chill) to the light rail station. The train took us to the Humphrey Terminal where we boarded the 7:55 a.m. Sun Country flight to LAX.

I used the flight time to finish some deliverables for a current communications consulting client and enjoyed the beautiful sunrise views from the airplane window. After an early arrival at LAX, we rented a car and headed to Redondo Beach where we had brunch at one of our favorite places – Redondo Beach Cafe. Who would expect a hockey-crazy diner in Redondo Beach CA?!

Then we headed to The Coffee Bean in Redondo Beach in our favorite neighborhood. They have a lot more seating and outlets for all our electronics than nearby Starbucks, where we often hang out – next to Trader Joe’s. After emailing my work in to the client and attending a conference call, we jumped into into the car to pick up Walter. We had a lovely afternoon with him, before heading back to the airport to catch our Delta flight to Phoenix, where the motorcycle part of the motorcycle adventure will begin. We dropped into bed at the Best Western where we have stayed a couple times before at about midnight.

It was a grueling, but rewarding, 20 hour day – work, family time, enjoying a beautiful, warm environment (mid-70s) and the anticipation of a great long weekend of fun on bikes in relatively warm weather in JANUARY! First time these Minnesotans will ride motorcycles in January! Hang with me over the weekend, and I’ll share our route and some of the planning that results in an affordable adventure. I am so grateful to have the work flexibility, fun partner and modest budget to do it!

Love, Tomboy Tam