Out of the Cage - and into the Salton Sea.

    Wing World
    Dec 14, 2009

By: Ginny Hill. Tuscon, Arizona

Free at last and blowing town. The warm sun shone on our faces, the playful wind caressed our backs and soothed jangled nerves from the hectic week. Sprung from traditional cage travel, no mass of steel and glass hindered our view of the southwestern Arizona desert. We buzzed along the route to L.A. that I used to call boring, on our hot-rod yellow Gold Wing. Comfort and performance to the max!

“Just think, darlin’, we’re soon to be grandparents.” It’s not a good idea to startle the pilot, so I whispered into my helmet microphone. “I’m so excited—can’t wait to see how cute Jo looks eight months pregnant. Don’t we have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving? Life is transforming for all of us.”
Smiley, my husband and best friend, reached back and patted my knee with his gloved hand. He peeled off I-10 at Casa Grande toward Gila Bend on I-8 to avoid Phoenix holiday traffic. We traveled north on out-of-the-way Hwy 85 to Buckeye and then rejoined I-10 toward L.A.
“Hey, you’re not going to be my Motorcycle Mama anymore—soon to be my Motorcycle Grandma.” He chuckled.
“That’ll take some getting used to…”
We stopped in Blythe for the night, tired but not ‘bleached’. I popped my tight-fitting helmet, skull cap and gloves off the instant the bike came to a stop at the motel and scratched my head vigorously. The heavy, yellow jacket with protective armor came off next.
The next morning, refreshed, I dressed in silk underwear, jeans, shirt, boots and jacket. Order of assembly is very important! My wool neck scarf, leather chaps, and extra-heavy gloves came next and were going to feel good that morning. Helmets and gloves tucked under our arms, we headed out the door.
I’m always delighted with my engineer husband’s skill at packing an incredible amount of stuff into the Wing’s small saddlebags and compartments. Slow and sleepy mornings, however, tend to throw our sequences out of order. “Hey darlin’, where’s my lip gloss and sunscreen?”
“It’s packed!”
He pointed at the bottom of the overfull saddlebag and gave me the ‘don’t even think about it’ look.
“Hmmm, I suppose you would just as soon I pick some up at a rest stop down the road a-ways?”
“Ya think?”
“Hey, works for me. By the way, thanks for the great packing job.”
He grinned.
We flew along the freeway as freely as the hawks that soared above us, leaning into the turns, enjoying the 360-degree view, and luxuriating in the freedom and power to go as far as our hearts desired. People often ask me if I ride my own bike. My answer is always the same. How can I revel in the amber sunset shadows on darkening hills, imagine shapes in white, fluffy clouds, or backseat drive if I’m the pilot? No, co-rider is the place for me.
A couple hours into the morning’s ride, my let’s-get-to-our-destination-in-a-hurry-husband pulled off the interstate for a rest stop.
“They probably have lip gloss here,” he said.
“You’re awesome!” I impulsively tried to kiss him on the cheek, but bounced off when our helmet face shields clanked together. “It’s amazing how often we take breaks on the bike—just you and me on a carefree adventure with all the time in the world.” My arms barely reached around his padded jacket as I hugged him.
“We’re gonna lose position, ya know, I worked hard to pass all those cars.”
Back on the road, my pilot focused on re-gaining our position. The muffled purr of the motor through my full-face helmet and radiant afternoon sun made me drowsy. I struggled to keep my eyes open, startled awake when my head nodded forward with a jerk. “Talk to me Love, I’m fallin’ asleep back here.”
Not soon enough our joyous mother-to-be flung the door open—we saw plastic bins filled with baby-boy clothes and toys stacked everywhere around the living room. I hugged Jo and baby—my arms barely reached around. “You’re beautiful!”  
The proud grandpa-to-be finally got his turn and wrapped his baby in a bear-hug.
Show and tell began right after dinner—the 6’4” father-to-be palmed his favorite baby hat, dwarfed in his large hand. White teeth glinting in his red beard, he patted Jo’s tummy. “Hurry up and get out—how can I play with you in there?”
Smiley’s blue eyes met mine across the room and my heart burst. After so many years together we watched our kids transforming into parents in front of our eyes.
The kids began dinner preparations but discovered we lacked just one thing. Pumpkin pie! The mother-to-be couldn’t live without pumpkin pie. And whipped cream.
“Come on mom, let’s go.” She grabbed her purse and the pumpkin-pie-shopping-team launched out the door. We searched every open store within five miles until we scored.
We marched through the front door giggling. “Taadumm! Now we can have Thanksgiving dinner.”
I sipped a glass of fine wine and put my feet up while the kids prepared our feast. After devouring the elegant dinner, I volunteered the grandparent team for dish duty—the cooks collapsed onto their chairs.
Thirty-six hours later and way too soon, we mounted our trusty steed for home. We passed out hugs like candy and left town early to beat the post-holiday shoppers onto the LA freeway. The ghostly fog chilled us to the bone.
“My teeth are chattering even though I’m stuffed into so many layers of clothes I feel like an abominable snowman,” I said. The wind chill factor on such a cold, wet morning made me yearn for a warm cage to ride in.
“Let’s buy some heated clothes before our next trip,” he said. “Here, let’s take Hwy 111 along the east side of the Salton Sea—it has better twisties.” His silky, deep voice flowed over the intercom system as he stretched his feet out to rest on the highway pegs. We sailed around the turn and headed south on 111.
I cuddled up close to Smiley’s back. “I’m glad you’re finally relaxing—you were wound way-too-tight as we left home.”
“What a visit—they’re gonna make great parents,” he said. “And I’m glad it’s their turn for dirty diapers and sleepless nights—it’s our turn for the freedom of an empty nest.”
We chatted the miles away—conversations always a precious highlight of road trips.
“Hey, remember the west side of the Salton Sea we explored last year?” my husband asked.
“Do I!”
I visualized the abandoned world we discovered on that ride—the lonely wind, crustacean-shell sand dunes and seagulls offered the only visible life forms on that side of the sea. We looked over our shoulders every few minutes and expected alien creatures from a B-rated Sci-fi to step out from behind the crumbling shoreline homes rooted in several feet of salt water. Salt crystals clung to the decaying structures. That resort once bustled with activity and now was molded in silence in the aftermath of two 100-year tropical storms—Kathleen in 1976 and Doreen in 1977. We peered through glass-less window frames at the forsaken rusty refrigerators and stoves. The memories gave me goose bumps.
What adventure awaited us this year?
We lowered our speed and cruised into a ghost town of a day area. The ‘sand’ crunched under our boots, and pelicans dipped into the salty sea feasting on the abundant fish.
“Look here.” Smiley walked to the Salton Sea shoreline and waved me over.
“Nothin’ but thousands of dead, stinky fish everywhere you look.”
“Their little tails stick straight up.” I wrinkled my nose as I tiptoed up beside him in an attempt to avoid stepping on the dead fish. “Hundreds more are washing up in the waves.”
We ran into a local expert on the beach and he explained the eerie phenomena.
 “The Tilapia, the most common fish in the Salton Sea, is really sensitive to low temperatures and low oxygen levels,” he said. “In the winter, when the temperatures in the Sea fall, a lot of fish may die off. Then in the summertime, the algae blooms die and use up a lot of the oxygen in the water—and the fish die off once again.”
Smiley let out a long, low whistle.
Our new friend rambled on. “The Salton Sea’s salinity level is 25% more than the Pacific Ocean. Most people don’t know this, but the Colorado River feeds the Sea and it brings in about a trainload of salt every day. There’s no outlet, so as the water evaporates it leaves the salt behind. The salt accumulates, kills the fish, plus the birds that eat them. It’s necessary to remove several million tons of salt every year to maintain current salinity levels.”
“Thanks a million—we better head out now,” we said. We walked back to the bike shaking our heads. My pilot mounted the bike after we pulled on our helmets and gloves.
“Ready?” I asked, poised to climb on once he gave the go-ahead.
He tapped the kick stand up, steadied the bike, and nodded his head. “What a crazy world our grandson will grow up in.”
I swung up behind him. “I wonder about the Ross Gull we read about in the L.A. Times a few days ago. He sure got a lot of press from the bird experts, being from Siberia and all. I wanna see this famous bird.”
“Yeah, this adventurous gull’s never been sighted this far south. But our next landing spot is lunch!”
I-8 took the yellow Wing and us by the windswept Algodones Dunes. An army of dune buggies scurried up and down the barren wastelands. Hundreds of parked RV’s, trailers, pickups and tents stretched for miles. The four-day holiday weekend appeared to be a popular time at the dunes.
We stopped for the night at the retro Space Age Lodge in Gila Bend. The wisdom of not over extending one’s limits on a bike trip became obvious. The rumble of three bikes downshifting to enter the lodge parking lot caught our attention. The second rider cut the turn short, popped over the curb and went down. Smiley ran over to help ‘right the wronged bike’; a tired, 50-something woman emerged from beneath her helmet and refused the offer of his outstretched hand.
Her response surprised us. “I lay my bike down occasionally, but this is the first time on my new bike—but its okay, I could ride all night!” Her over confidence distressed us and even more so when the three bikes headed back out into the black night a few minutes later in search of other accommodations, the closest about100 miles away.
Our Rider Education instructor’s voice rang in our ears: “Stop when you’re tired—a great strategy to stay out of the Emergency Room. Extra responsibility comes with the freedom of cage-less travel.”
We shot up a quick prayer for their safety. I’m thankful we stop often—trips are way more fun when we’re rested and can enjoy out-of-the way places. And I really like the safety factor of traveling on a shocking-bumblebee yellow bike with matching jackets—we’re hard to miss. I like it that way.
We explored the quirky lodge with its crazy space ship on top of the lobby. Brilliant stars glowed in the crisp night sky. Delicious aromas from the Space Age Restaurant teased us in the front door.
After dinner we put on our bathing suits, slid through the spaceship nose-cone pool entrance and soaked our weary muscles in the hot tub.
The titanium décor with space memorabilia peppered throughout the Lodge maintained the Space Age theme and made for a unique stay.
The next morning the brilliant sunshine sparkled in the chrome of our 800-pound machine. My biker leaned over, puffed some air on it, and polished it to a mirror finish with his handkerchief. 
“Let’s go home, Babes.” He aimed the Wing out of Gila Bend on Hwy 85 and headed south to I-8. A colony of saguaro cactus dotted the landscape and waved their gnarled arms at us as we flew by.
Soon back to the crazy truck drivers on I-10, we headed south on an east-west freeway.
I wiggled in my seat after awhile and yawned. “Hey, I’m ready for a hot cup of coffee, how ’bout you?”
After sailing off the freeway and sipping our coffee, we basked in the sun for a few minutes, then removed another layer of cold-weather outerwear. “Coffee was a great idea, Grandma! Ya know I was thinking, riding our bike has changed the way I look at life. I see people with more care and respect now.”
I smiled. “As we transform into our new season of life, I’m thrilled to follow the voice of freedom as a Motorcycle Grandma. Not travel around in a warm, dry, risk-free cage all the time. The Wing awaits us.”
Articles and accompanying photos courtesy of Wing World.
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