One week on a Harley

01 March 2009

So I was in Las Vegas on business, and I decided to take a week of vacation while I was there, rent a Harley and live the American Dream for a while.

Day 1 Vegas to Zion National Park (166 miles)

I left my hotel and headed to Eagle Rider to grab my bike. I chose a Road Glide, mostly because I didn't want the high pillion seat of the Electra Glide, but I did want a decent fairing and accessory socket for my Zumo. The bike comes with two decent hard saddlebags too.

I took my draggin' jeans and sidi courier boots with me, then I hired an old-school leather jacket and helmet there. The helmet was a 'bowl' thing that seems very common over there - you know, so you can feel the wind in your face. (More on this later). Along with my Ray-Ban Aviators I was all set to look very cool

The bike rental was a very efficient process and they gave a good briefing on the bike. I was apprehensive about a 1582cc twin monster between my legs and riding with feet forwards, but they make you do a lap around the block before taking off, and within 200yds the bike makes sense. Its as easy as...riding a bike! All the big Harleys share this same engine. It vibrates and throbs violently at idle, but the vibes really disappear at speed. The torque is massive and you can stay in 4th all day if you like, but the power roll-on is very lazy so it needs a shift down to get a move on for overtakes.

Heading out of Vegas on the i-15 freeway on a strange bike is a bit nerve-wracking for the first time, but soon got into the flow of things. At points, this freeway has a 75mph limit and I quickly realised that although I looked dead cool in the Aviator glasses, all that space around the eyes means a lot of wind in the eyes. I was squinting like I was constipated, but 60 miles or so north of Vegas I saw a sign for a Harley Dealership. £15 later and wearing some nice HD wraparound glasses I was off again, and this time I was able to see.

I made it to Springdale, slightly south of Zion National Park by the mid-afternoon and checked into a very nice motel there. Traffic is banned along most of the scenic drive through the park, so you take a shuttle. But the time I made it into the park, the sun was setting:

With a bright sky and shadowed mountains it was breath-taking, although not the best time for photos.

Arriving as late as I did, I didn't have to pay to enter the park in the evening.

Day 2 Zion to Capitol Reef Nat Park via Bryce Canyon (208 miles)

The following morning I splashed out $80 for pass that gives entry to all US National Parks for a year. I rode half-way up through the park to stunning vistas, and turned right onto Route 9, which was a biking highlight of the trip.

This Route 9 heads east through a 1 mile tunnel, followed by the Mount Carmel hwy, which has a series of fabulous twisties that are even fun on a Harley.

There are scenic viewpoints every half mile or so it seems where you can stop, admire the view and take pictures. Although it can be 75 miles between gas stations or places to grab a drink.

I should add at this point, that after my ride from Vegas to Zion, I had a sore throat by the time I got there. The hot wind, the dust in the air and general dryness wasn't helping. By the morning when I set off for Bryce Canyon I was into a full-blown cold. The day before I realised that water in the panniers gets hot very quickly in these temperatures, so I spent a whole $2 on a polystyrene cooler in a gas station and tied it to the back of the bike. It doesn't look cool, but the water is chilled. Just the thing for a developing cold and sore throat.

Anyways, I picked up Route 12 which continues east, up to an elevation of around 9600 feet.

Route 12 continues to climb to the north-east, and the plateau below is more green than the Canyons.

At one stop I met a group of five other HD riders who had also come from near Vegas. They said the dust and pollen count was particularly high, so I wondered if my 'cold' was in fact hayfever. In any case, I got my buff out and did the rest of the trip with my face covered.

My coolness is deserting me by the second! But inside I am more comfortable.

I was able to score some drugs from these riders (Claritin for my Hayfever) and they rode off.

This picture is not me! Just a friendly HD rider. Apparently, HD riders dressed like this are not necessarily "friends of Dorothy", so be careful not to make any unwanted passes.

Next stop was Bryce Canyon, another National Park and absolutely stunning. Less heard of than its Grand cousin, but equally impressive in its beauty, and less busy. 

I only stayed a couple of hours, but it would have been nice to spend more time in this area. I was supposed to meet with a couple of guys from Utah that I met at the BMW off-road school in Wales, but our dates got muddled and they came and went 24 hours earlier.

I stopped shortly before Capitol Reef National Park for the night in another nice motel.

Day 3 Capitol Reef to Monument Valley via Glen Canyon (210 miles)

The journey south-east was spectacular, including Glen Canyon and some nice vistas

My Zumo directed me towards Monument Valley and somehow we had to get from nearly 10,000 elevation to sea level. The road to do that would have been scary on my 800GS with TKCs on, but on a 700lb Harley I was very nervous tackling this:

All gravel road, with a speed limit of 5mph. No barriers to the drop-offs in the event of a slide. RVs are banned from this Route 261.

This mad road was followed by streches of long, straight highway to Monument Valley. By this time I was feeling dog rough and had already gone through 3 litres of water. I needed to find a bed to crash out, so I motored through monument valley and didn't stop for pictures. I stopped in Kayenta for the night in a shoddy motel that was very expensive, as there is nothing for miles in any direction.

Day 4 Monument Valley to Grand Canyon South Rim (158 miles)

Feeling slightly better today after a decent rest yesterday. Passed through a couple of reservations and entered the Grand Canyon from the east.

The first stop is the Desert View lookout:

There are loads more stops (and a million more pix) along the road that runs round the South Rim of the Canyon. This is the Grand View lookout:

I carried on to Tusyana, just south of the Canyon to check into my motel. Having showered and stuff I headed back to the Canyon during sundown to enjoy the view some more. This was Mather Point.

It was kind of hazy during sundown, so I didn't quite get the pictures I was hoping for, but the view in real life was amazing. It's hard for my small brain to comprehend the sheer size of this canyon, the pictures never do it justice.

Day 5 Grand Canyon to Kingman via Historic Route 66 (184 miles)

Heading back west towards Vegas, you can leave the I-40 and take some smaller roads that are part of the old Historic Route 66. Well worth it, as the passing traffic is avoided and you get all these nice roads to yourself. You pass through a load of almost-ghost towns, towns that would probably have died were it not for the resurection of the Route 66 as an historical scenic drive. Loads of typical american diners in these towns, and a chance for some amazing breakfasts

Funny thing happened today - as I was whizzing along, I got hit by a big bug on my forehead, in the gap between my glasses and helmet. I stopped in Kingman for the night - not a glamorous place in any sense, mostly motels and a massive railroad interchange. The freight trains were incredible, they were like quarter of a mile long!

Anyways, around midnight I started with a fever. Whether it was a result of the bug exploding in my forehead (it caused a gash) or whether it was the cold breaking into a fever I don't know, but I seriously though I was going to die in this dodgy motel room in Kingman. The fever lasted 8 hours, with me wrapped up in every sheet in the room. It was horrible. I took Nurofen and Dayquil in the morning, and felt human enough for the last run back to Vegas.

Day 6 Kingman to Vegas via Hoover Dam (105 miles)

A short blast today, and more than enough given how I was feeling. The Highway actually goes over the Hoover Dam itself. This strech back into Nevada was the hottest of the trip and probably the lowest elevation. The traffic was moving at around 25mph for 20miles either side of the dam, this was the only time I took my leather jacket and gloves off for the whole trip. On the whole, the rest of the journey was fine with all my gear on.

There are free car park/look outs either side of the dam, but if you want to park and go inside it costs $$$. I was still feeling rough so I skipped that.

I made a last dash for Vegas, looking forward to crashing out in a decent hotel again. However, it looks like the travel agent stiffed me and the accomodation was not exactly what it sounded like when I booked it:

All in all it was an amazing 6 days. I had a great time, ate a lot of bad food, saw some amazing sights. Only slightly marred by being ill, and if you're going to feel shitty its better to feel shitty at 90mph with the wind in your hair then lying in some crappy motel room. :)

If I did the trip again I would take my full face helmet, or buy one there. They can be had pretty cheap. If the weather was going to be any hotter I would look for an armoured mesh jacket too. You could easily stay somewhere central like Page, Arizona and ride out to a different park or monument every day for two weeks. Or you could easily spend a week in any of the National Parks hiking and taking photos. I only had six days and the pace was about right. The Road Glide was armchair comfy, and you need to stop for a drink before your bum gets numb or the bike gets thirsty. Its a different kind of ride to the GS, but equally valid! Although, given the option I'd like to rent a GS in this area in the future, there are trails and gravel roads everywhere and it made me long for my F800GS a few times.

The photos on this trip were taken with my new Sony Alpha A200 with a Tamron 18-250 travel lens. And I picked up a $12 tripod over there and dumped it at the end of the trip.

Here is the Mapsource plan of my route:

And there you have it.

View One Week On A Harley in a larger map


About This Blog

I had been saving for a ST1300 for a long time, as it was clear that my Deauville wasn't up the task.

In November 2007 I saw pictures of the F800GS and ran to the dealers to place a deposit.

On 13th March 2008 I took delivery and have never regretted it.

On 13th April 2009 my 800GS joined me in Singapore for a new life and adventures...

This is my F800GS Blog.


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