After my rest day, I’m anxious to get moving. I have two more days of riding planned. I’ll head to Joshua Tree National Park today, camp overnight, and then make my final push into Los Angeles tomorrow. That’s the plan, at least.
My first stop is the Oatman, AZ “living” ghost town in Western Arizona. They call it “living” because a handful of people still live here and put on shows for tourists on the weekends during peak season. It’s neither a weekend nor peak season, though, so I spend a few minutes wandering the streets by myself before hopping back on the bike and moving.
I take turns making up time on I-40 and then exiting to enjoy the scenery on Route 66 as I cross into California. Right over the border, gas increases \$1/gallon.
Heading south, I pull into the Joshua Tree Visitor’s Center parking lot and peel my jacket off as quickly as I can. I overhear the park is experiencing unseasonably warm weather and my phone already shows 100° at noon. The low for tonight will be over 90°. Somehow camping doesn’t seem as enjoyable. I grab some food and weight my options. I wanted to ride and hike through the park and check out a couple of outdoor art exhibits in the area, but this heat isn’t fun. My other option is to skip some of my stops, extend my LA hostel reservation, and plow forward. I decide on a bit of a compromise. I’ll ride through the park, find a short hike, and then make my way to LA.
The park is beautiful. It spans both the Sonoran and the Mojave Deserts. The former is lower and hotter while the latter is higher, drier, and home to the namesake Joshua Trees. After a quick hike to see “Skull Rock”, which I never end up finding, I pull into Jumbo Rocks campground, the place I was going to stay. The oppressive heat reassures me I’ve made the right decision and I follow signs toward the park exit and onward to LA.
I throw my jacket back on and take the freeway in a vain attempt to cool off. I ride for about 100 miles, my butt hurts, I’m thirsty, and I’m not in a good mood. I drive through a valley with windmills all around and “Dangerous Crosswinds” signs littering the roadsides. This reminds me of the horrible crosswinds in New Mexico as I lean into them to keep from getting blown to the shoulder. And did I mention it was hot? Sweat Niagra Falls forms down my back as the temperature hits 109°. This matches the highest on the trip back in Big Bend National Park in Southern Texas. It’s nearing rush hour and the traffic seems to get faster and more congested by the second. This takes me back to the death trap that is freeways through Houston on a motorcycle. From the drop at 55 mph in Big Bend, the phone part of my phone still doesn’t work. But that wouldn’t matter anyway because the heat and lack of service drained the battery and I still need to call my hostel to make sure I have a place to sleep tonight.
On the last day of the trip, this is the worst I’ve felt. But that thought forces me to consider it further. Imagine if all this was happening 17 days ago, on the first day. I hope not, but I might have called it quits right then and there, booked a flight, and flew home. The bike’s too big, I could have said. I can’t keep it on the road, it’s too uncomfortable to make it 4,000 miles, my phone doesn’t work, and these crazy drivers are going to kill me. This isn’t the first day. You’ve had over two weeks to face each of these obstacles individually. And you’ve conquered them one by one. You’re still here, you’re still riding. It’s the last day, the test of everything you’ve learned, the final boss. Determined, I regrip the throttle, battle the elements, and plow ever closer to the coast.
Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. ―Henry Ford
I stop at a Target in Riverside, CA to return the sleeping bag I bought in Daytona Beach, FL. I packed and unpacked my tent and sleeping bag every day of the trip and never used them. I explain that my phone is dead and broken and ask if they have a payphone. They laugh at me and say I can use their phone. They even look up the number for me. I’m appreciative, especially since I’ve invented a new level of BO that’s causing everyone within a 100-foot radius to wrinkle their nose.
With accommodations taken care of, I sit in the corner of Starbucks sipping an iced coffee and charging my phone so I can look up directions to my next stop. After seeing NASA’s Saturn V moon rocket a few days into my trip, it seems only fitting to visit SpaceX, arguably the future of space travel, on the last day.
I have watched the Falcon 9 rockets landing on land and autonomous drone ships over and over again. So to see the rocket that performed the first successful landing is quite an experience. As a bonus, Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s proposed new form of transportation through an evacuated tube, has its test track alongside SpaceX headquarters.
And before I know it, I unceremoniously park at Eagle Rider Motorcycle Rentals. Honestly, I want to turn around and ride back to Orlando. The ups far outweighed the downs and the pace of about 300 miles each day was perfect. I made decent time and could stop almost whenever I wanted without fear of riding into the night. I don’t want this to end.
A guy comes over to get the mileage and check for damage. Luckily, there are so many bug guts covering the bike that he doesn’t see the small scrape from when I dropped it so many miles ago. This bike and I have been through a hell of lot in the past couple of weeks. But just like that, it’s on a trailer getting hauled away to the next renter.
My Harley Street Glide was more than capable of gobbling up miles, it just needed someone to fire it up and point it in the right direction. Orlando to LA is a five-hour flight or a 16-day ride. 4,133 miles. About 50 cities, 8 states, and 4 time zones. I prefer the long way.
As I did with the Atlantic, I need to touch the Pacific to truly make this coast-to-coast. On the way to the water, my mind is racing with memories. I had this crazy dream shortly after learning to motorcycle. Dreaming it was easy. And it’s where most people stop. What followed was months of hard work and preparation to ensure it actually happened. Don’t get scared away by the hard part. How many great stories have you heard about someone’s dreams?
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. ―Earl Nightingale
I take off my shoes, roll up my jeans, and the moment the first wave breaks against my feet the sensation rises through my entire body. More memories, memories of the old friends I saw and the new ones I met along the way, the tough times I overcame, and the incredible moments still crystal clear in my mind wash over me. In many ways, I am the same man I was in Orlando. But in significant ways, I am not.
I watch the sunset over the vast ocean and this incredible journey sets along with it. But there will be more.