Scottish weather on scenic Utah-12

Day 45 – Saturday 17th August 2013 – Torrey, UT to Mount Carmel Junction, UT

I was seriously beginning to think I really had brought the Scottish summer with me. The outlook from our hotel balcony that morning was dark with grey skies. We could see the rain and lightning not far to the west. Before we’d finished breakfast, the rain had reached us – and it was heavy. We didn’t need to check out until 11am, so we decided we’d try and wait it out, but the forecast wasn’t good. Two or three big bands of rain were forecast to be moving across southern Utah. In the north of the state, there had been wildfires, and they badly needed the rain, but instead, in places they were getting “dry” thunderstorms – lightning strikes without any rain, and these were a major cause of the wildfires.

From Utah, August 2013

Our plan for the day was to take Utah route 12 south to Bryce Canyon. I had ridden the 12 in the opposite direction last time, and I knew Doreen would love it, if only the rain didn’t persist. With half an hour before we had to check-out, the rain petered out, so we loaded our gear onto the Trooper and made a start down UT-12.

We’d only ridden a couple of miles before we were hit by another band of rain, and we had to stop and struggle into the waterproofs. This was going to be the story of our day, intermittent rain all day long. I guess we ought to be used to it coming from Scotland. But all in all, we were pretty lucky since we had dry spells at some of the most scenic points along UT-12. And even riding along in rain, with all the aspens and great views wasn’t such a hardship.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

I was really glad that we had a dry spell when we reached the Million Dollar Road and the Hogsback. This was something I wanted Doreen to see properly. When I’d ridden it 2 years earlier, I’d confused this road with the Million Dollar Highway in Colorado, but they are not the same road, and I now knew better having ridden both.

The part of UT-12 east of Escalante used to be called the “Million Dollar Road to Boulder” when it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the late 1930s. When the road was opened in 1940, it gave the town of Boulder, Utah, its first year-round mail service to be delivered by motor vehicle. Until then, Boulder was the last community in the US to have its mail delivered by mule train. The last section of UT-12, north of Boulder was still gravel until 1985. That would have been a section of road I wouldn’t have wanted to ride the Trooper along.

From Utah, August 2013

One of the best sections of the Million Dollar Road is known as the Hogsback. Here the road runs along the top of a narrow spine of rock between two canyons. There is almost no shoulder and steep 2000-foot drops to either side. The photos below really don’t do it justice, maybe taking a look around with Google street view gives a better impression.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

From the Hogsback, the UT-12 drops down with sharp curves and steep gradients for the next 4 miles. Great riding.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

As we got closer to Bryce Canyon, we hit more of the Scottish weather. After 10 miles of riding, with the rain only getting heavier, we pulled into a gas station at Tropic to seek shelter and to try to wait it out. Its a pity that this was one of the few gas stations that didn’t serve fresh coffee, as we had to wait over an hour before it brightened enough for us to want to continue. We rode on in drizzle, and as we approached the turn off for the Bryce Canyon National Park, we could see the rain hanging heavy over the park. Just before you get to the main entrance of the park and have to pay for entry, is Bryce City, a tourist destination with “Ye Olde West” storefronts, over-priced hotels and a rodeo every night. We took shelter again, and this time managed to get a coffee. Over coffee, we pondered what to do. Our planned final destination for the day was meant to be Cedar City, which was still 80 miles away and it was beginning to get late with signs the weather was only going to get worse. The sensible thing to have done would have been to get back on the road and high-tail it to Cedar City, but Bryce Canyon is one of the most spectacular views in southern Utah and it would be a real shame for Doreen to miss it, so we waited. And then waited some more, until finally, after another hour, we got a brief gap in the rain and we went for it.

The park was 14 different vista points along an 18 mile route. The recommended time to do this route is 3 to 4 hours. We didn’t have anywhere near that time. We could have probably managed an hour, without rain, before we had to get back on the road in order to reach Cedar City before dark, but as it was, there was an angry looking thunderhead fast approaching from the south. We decided to take a look from one viewpoint, and then make a dash for it to try to beat the rain. We figured all the views were of the same thing, only from different directions. One viewpoint should be enough to give the main impression – which was pretty much the story of the whole trip. A whistle stop tour, just skimming the surface and hopefully just enough to give an impression of the real America.

From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013
From Utah, August 2013

Doreen’s verdict was that it was well worth seeing Bryce Canyon, even if only for a short time. But I was beginning to feel a little ripped off by the National Park Service. We were charged $25 for our 20 minutes in Bryce Canyon. Now I suppose that’s our fault for not staying longer, since the ticket is good for 7 days, but I really don’t think a motorcycle, carrying 2 people at most,  should be charged the same as a RV or bus carrying, potentially, a horde of people. At some other National parks, I’d been charged $12 per person on the bike, whereas a car or RV would have been charged $25. I really should have bought an annual pass when I visited my first park. They cost $80 and they are good for a whole year across the whole country. I would have saved myself a fortune and probably popped into more parks, especially on the east coast where time would be shorter.

As we scuttled around taking photos of the canyon, we could hear the huge cracks of thunder and see the black sky to the south moving toward us. We needed to get back on the road, so $25 for 20 minutes it would be.

We hadn’t booked any accommodation ahead, but set off in the direction of Cedar City. As soon as we turned out of the park, it began to rain again and continued to rain as we passed through Red Canyon. With the rain there was little point stopping for photos, but I had taken some during my last visit.

From South Utah
From South Utah
From South Utah

With the rain beating down, we were eager to get off the road as soon as possible. We passed through several small towns, but they all seemed to be lacking one or more of my holy ride trinity – bed, beer and food. We saw a few motels, but not anywhere near the other two.

We pressed on still in the direction of Cedar City. The rain had somehow creep up my waterproofs and had soaked the back of my jeans. We needed gas, and when we pulled into fill up, I checked the weather radar – one of the more useful apps I’d downloaded for the phone. It was showing huge clouds and rain between us and Cedar City. We hadn’t really needed to look at the radar, we could hear the thunder and see the lightning.

The road over to Cedar City looked twisty from the map, and the road sign declaring sharp curves and steep grades confirmed it. I didn’t much fancy that in a thunder storm, so I decided to try to make a dash for it to the south, and see what we could find.

The first suitable place we came to was Mount Carmel Junction. We rode in around 8pm, and at first sight it didn’t look very appealing – just a run down motel and a family restaurant sans bierre. But then Doreen spied a Best Western a little further along the road – it had a restaurant attached, serving beer and wine. It didn’t really matter how much it cost, we’d have taken it that evening. With a guest laundry and a decent wifi, it was paradise by the roadside for us wet and weary travellers.

 

The Super Beast

Day 35: Wednesday 6th August 2013 – Sturgis, SD 

With Rob Zombie playing this evening, I was taking no chances, and as soon as I could, I had the Trooper parked on the front row. Kyle and Jakyl joined me.

From South Dakota, August 2013

I passed the early part of the day in the usual fashion, re-charging the camera and phone, uploading photos, etc. Around mid-afternoon, Rob Zombie and the rest of the band, came out to do a sound check, and we were treated to an impromptu, mini-concert.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

Rob chatted to the small audience that had gathered throughout, and toward the end of the rehearsal set, he said that anyone that wanted to come up on stage should just come on up. A few girls were helped over the fence and up onto the stage. I looked around and Kyle was shoving his camera at me, and then he was up and over the fence. Hey, I thought, I don’t want to be left behind. I’m coming too. And then I was over the fence and shoving his camera back to him.

The Trooper was my first tattoo, but I liked the image from Hellbilly Deluxe so much that that was my second.

156931_1778808428839_5055220_n

I thought it would pretty cool to get a photo of me and the tat, with Rob Zombie.

Security were not impressed with what RZ had instigated, and immediately started yelling at us to get back behind the fence. There was no chance of getting a photo up on stage, but I thought I’d take a punt and try to see if security would help the cause. I explained to one of the guys that I’d come all the way from Scotland to see RZ, and showed him my tattoo. I told him that it would really make my trip if I could get a photo with Rob, and I wandered whether him’d be good enough to ask. He told me I’d have to speak to the head security honcho.

Head honcho was pretty blunt – no photographs, no autographs, period. A little later I got to thinking, well of course not, I hadn’t paid over $200 for VIP access. Why would they help someone out for nothing, when they could make a hefty profit from it. As with everything at the Chip, it’s all about making money.

Kyle was going to hang around the bikes for the rest of the afternoon that remained, and Jakyl had already disappeared  back to camp shortly after depositing his bike. I decided it was probably time to put my kilt on, so I could be back in good time for the shows. As I was struggling into my boots, Jakyl called over and asked if I wanted to eat some of the brats that he’d been cooking with Mike and Donna on their BBQ. It was only 5pm, so I gladly accepted the offer of eating with friends.

A little later, as Jakyl and I walked back to the amphitheatre, Jakyl received a text from Kyle.

“Where are you? You’ve missed it.”

We weren’t sure what we’d missed, but we were only 50 yards from the amphitheatre, so we picked up the pace a little, and when we got there, Kyle told us exactly what we had missed. About twenty minutes earlier, Rob Zombie had come out and had been walking around inside the amphitheatre, saying Hi to people, shaking their hands, signing autographs and doing photos. As far as I know, he is the only performer at the Chip that did this. All the others came and went, without really interacting with their audience.

If only I hadn’t stopped to eat those bratwursts, I’d have been there and I’d have had my photo. At least, Kyle got the photo he wanted.

From South Dakota, August 2013

We stayed around the bikes, drinking beers. We were all feeling a bit edgy. Machine Head, Mastodon and Rob Zombie were going to attract a very different crowd from Kid Rock and Toby Keith. A big proportion of each night’s audience, just bought tickets for the show and didn’t camp at the Chip, so the make of the audience changed night by night. We wondered if there might be a lot of South Dakota metal-heads in, and if so whether they’d be a mosh pit down the front. The last thing we needed was people moshing right by the bikes.

Some people might not need to worry about there machines being pushed over. This dude on the trike was going to have the best seat in the house as well.

From South Dakota, August 2013

When the first of the evening’s Miss Buffalo Chip rounds was on, I slipped off to stock up on beer to put in my saddle bag. When I got back Texas Phil, who had his bike parked to my right, asked if I’d mind doing a favour for a young guy who had travelled a hundred miles to see Machine Head. The young man wanted to stand between the bikes right at the front for Machine Head and said he’d go back for Mastodon and RZ. With his Machine Head cap, he seemed a real fan, so how could I deny him. And Machine Head put on a good performance for him.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

Although Jakyl didn’t seem too impressed.

From South Dakota, August 2013

And Kyle seemed really chilled for Mastodon.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

Machine Head and Mastodon were good, if you like that kind of music and I do, and by now I was buzzing for the Rob Zombie extravaganza to start. The dude on the trike seemed to be getting real popular by now. I guess people wanted to share the best seats.

From South Dakota, August 2013

Love or hate Rob Zombie’s music, his stage show is spectacular. The show he’d brought to Sturgis wasn’t as big or as impressive as the one I’d seen in Glasgow a year earlier, but in my opinion, it still kicked Kid Rock’s ass in terms of both music and showmanship. I admit I’m biased, but most of the other people I spoke to agreed.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

I think it was the best show of the rally at the Chip by a long stretch, only ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd came close to the ball park. My only complaint was that Rob Zombie’s show was really short, at just an hour. Most of the other headline act had played for an hour and a half. I’m used to seeing headliners, such as Metallica and Iron Maiden play for 2 hours plus, so the length of Rob Zombie’s show was a little disappointing and missed out many a great show tune.

One thing I did notice at the RZ show, was a distinct lack of boobies on display from the girls that got up on shoulders.

From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013
From South Dakota, August 2013

My friend, Todor, has a theory about this. The worse the band, the more boobies. Steel Panther certainly has lots of boobies when Todor and I saw them, and kind of bares this theory out.

Some people weren’t so pleased with this state of affairs, and offered a plaintive call for more.

From South Dakota, August 2013

I don’t whether it was because the show had been short or whether the show had just got me hyper, but I wanted more, so Kyle, Jakyl and I moved onto the Bikini Beach bar and saw the “house” band, the Living Dead. Boy, did that girl show her bass some action.

From South Dakota, August 2013

 

An English ambassador for Scotland?

Everywhere I’ve been so far in the US, people have been mighty friendly. Outside the cities people tend to say hello to each other just in passing.

My bright yellow British number plate is very different from all US plates, which are predominately white. It’s drawing a lot of attention. People do a double-take and take a real good look.

And then there’s my accent. I get a lot of folk saying “You’re not from round here, are you?” or asking “Where are you from?” or “Where is that licence plate from?” (one person asked if it was German).

My home is Scotland now, so I say “I’m from Scotland”, or “It’s from Scotland” – the plate says Edinburgh Harley-Davidson after all. Now I bet most of those folk go away thinking I’m Scottish, but I’m more English than anything else, and I certainly sound English. My father is English, and my mother Irish. I was born and brought up in England.

I wonder how that would go down in Scotland, that an Englishman was being mistaken for a Scot? I remember the “Anybody but England” camp in Scotland during the last football World Cup. Scotland didn’t make it to the World Cup finals, and there was a movement among some in Scotland to support any other country to win the World Cup, except England. That movement seemed alive and well when I watched England’s last game in a pub in Linlithgow. Every other person in the pub cheered whenever Germany touched the ball. Aw well, I don’t care – I love Scotland and I love a Scottish woman, but the thought of being an English ambassador for Scotland still amuses me.

Actually I could probably find a tenuous Scottish connection if I tried. My mother is Irish, but her family name is Campbell – one of the big clans from Argyll – infamous for the Glencoe massacre.

Orcadian Nudity

When I met Doreen, she wasn’t big into bikes, but she seemed to quite like the idea that I had one, especially a hog. I remember the night we met. We were getting on like a house on fire and as we chatted we managed to sink a fair few beers. Bikes certainly weren’t a major part of our initial conversation, but since it is an important part of who I am, sooner or later it was bound to come up.

I told Doreen about my ambition to ride Americana one day when the current project finished – at that time I still didn’t know when that would be. I also told her that I was looking forward to some warm, dry weekends (a rarity in Scotland) so that I could get up and ride the Scottish Highlands. I think the idea appealed to Doreen, because she went further and joked about how cool it would be to ride around Orkney naked on the back of a Harley. Or perhaps she wasn’t joking.

A few months later, Doreen had to be up in Orkney for her work. Neither of us had forgotten the conversation about her riding naked on the back of a Harley around Orkney. Doreen suggested that we go up to the Orkney’s before her work engagements and make a long weekend of it.

For those that don’t know Scotland so well, the Orkney islands are a group of small islands off the north-eastern tip of Scotland. They’d been invaded and for a long time settled by Norsemen. Orkney is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and has some of the oldest and best-preserved Neolithic sites in Europe.

Orkney had two other claims to fame that interested me: it is both the home of Highland Park, one of my favourite whiskeys, and the place were Erik Tricity was born and breed. Erik is my buddy and my brilliant tattooist. His business card reads “Tattooist, Musical Genius, Deity”. Modest he’s not. Awesome he is. I was really intrigued to see what kind of place created someone as unique as Erik. So how could I refuse the prospect of Doreen riding naked on the back of my hog, and seeing the home of Highland Park and Erik Tricity?

One of the few downsides of long rides is a bike’s limited luggage capacity – especially with a pillion. For Doreen, Orkney was the starting point for a week-long tour of some of Scotland’s renewable energy projects. She was going to need to take her laptop, smart business clothes for the week, as well as stuff for the wet and windy weekend with me (you can’t be naked all the time in Orkney!). With my luggage on top, there was no way we could both go up on the bike.

We decided that Doreen would fly up to Orkney and that I’d ride up and meet her there. That gave me the perfect opportunity to tour the Highlands on the way there and back – all good training for riding americana! The ride up through the Cairngorms, and especially the ride across the top of Scotland and down the west coast is both stunning and beautiful – but as this is meant to be a blog about riding America, I’ll say no more than if you get a chance to ride (or drive) the west coast of Scotland, I recommend you jump at it.

The real point of this post was that our trip to Orkney was Doreen’s first chance to have a real blast on the back of the bike. For those that dinnae ken Scotland, it can be a wee bit wet here, and she hadn’t had the chance to get a good long ride before. Blasting around the Orkney’s Main Land and across the Churchhill Barriers down to South Ronaldsay whetted Doreen’s appetite for bikes. It didn’t take long for her to decide that it might be even more fun for her to ride her own bike, and so the dash for a licence began.

Some of you may be wondering whether Doreen did ride naked around the Orkneys. I couldn’t possibly comment. When she comes over to Sturgis, perhaps she’ll do a guest spot on the blog and answer that herself.