Slow and steady wins the race, at least through the muddy parts. After the GS and KTM took a tumble in the slippery stuff, Ken took a more cautious approach on the V-Strom.
We were now racing a rapidly sinking sun but we were still in the middle of nowhere, far from any hotel. We fueled up at a desolate gas station, geared up with cold-weather gear, and set off for an unknown destination - we were going to ride as far as we could before exhaustion or hypothermia.
We had hoped to take the twisty Alternate 89 on our eastward path, but a local strongly advised us against taking it at night - suicidal deer were a definite possibility. So we headed north at Fredonia toward Kanab and the regular Highway 89 as the sun lit up the sky in a burning amber and crimson display.
Running in a closely knit staggered formation to help better penetrate the inky blackness, we flew down the road at a speed I'd rather not disclose. The Aprilia's instruments told us the ambient temperature had dropped radically. That meant the Buell rider was shivering behind its teeny windscreen (a taller one is optional) while the Beemer pilot was enjoying the delight of its optional heated grips.
While the wind-chill factor made us all wish for more fairing protection, the wildlife factor chilled us in a different way. Kenny, riding up front in the left wheel track, spotted a pair of four-point bucks strolling across the road, but they thankfully scurried away before a venison interception. Later on, while I was running in slot number two in the curb lane, a carcass lying near the centerline suddenly popped out of the darkness, putting Kenny on a collision course with the downed deer.
With the sun dropping into a beautiful sunset, it was time to motor on toward food and shelter in Page, Arizona, a welcome relief after 15 hours on the road.
"As I was scanning from right to left, my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of a large object approaching," remembers Hutchison. "I swerved and dodged the giant putrid conglobulation of spilled guts gone road pizza and actually squished through a bit of the goo on my way by!"
Obviously our speed in the darkness was a little too brisk, and from then on we motored toward Lake Powell at a more sedate pace. It was a long day, from the rim of the Grand Canyon, across some gnarly terrain, crashing two bikes, and having a few near-deadly run-ins with wildlife. At this point we were tired, hungry and cold, so we settled in for the night in Page, Arizona. We had been on the road, such as it was, for almost 15 hours.
We had expected this trip to take four days. However, our stumbles and delays meant we were still at least 600 miles from home. So while Dean was once again rigging a way of attaching the Beemer's battle-scarred saddlebag, we realized there was no way we were going to have time to take in views of the Grand Canyon from its spectacular south rim and
make it home in a single day.
Our time spent at the majestic Grand Canyon was much too short, but we had work to do, bikes to test.
Taking an extra day sounded like a good idea to all but one of us. Roderick needed to make it back to the OC by the next morning in time for his magazine's deadline crunch. Since by this point the Aprilia was clearly the least favorite of the bunch, we sent T-Rod south toward Flagstaff once we reached Cameron, Arizona, while the rest of us went west toward the Canyon. We'd miss Roderick's wit and laughter more than we would the rather ordinary "'Nard."
"What are these people thinking?" asks Lavine of Aprilia. "It's heavy, wide and a handful in the dirt. I don't know what this bike did well, if there was anything."
With time still in short supply, our visit to the Grand Canyon was regrettably, painfully, brief. Sure, we stopped a half-dozen times along the route to Grand Canyon Village, condensing wonder and amazement into short bursts. The gorge itself is 8 to 16 miles wide, and the river flows about 5000 feet below. It's been called "a land to humble the soul," and it indeed makes this impression even in succinct doses.
A quick bite to eat and we bid the Canyon au revoir
, heading south on Highway 64 toward Williams. Stopped at a construction area, we noticed the blustery weather that had threatened all day now looked to be closing in from the east. We waited impatiently as ominous black clouds swirled in our direction before finally being set free. Speed limits were largely ignored as we blitzed south in harsh crosswinds, knowing that we could outrun the storm once we again headed west.