Thursday, September 1, 2011

USA National Parks

A trip I undertook as pre-running for Central/South America Trip...3000miles later...I survived round ONE!

After landing in the USA I had a crazy learning curve with the final exam being life or death, maybe a little extreme but learning to ride a motorbike x6 as powerful than the last time I rode and doing so on the RIGHT side of the road and in Los Angeles traffic leaves little room for error.

I flew in to LA and immediately started the preparation...transferring the bike into my name and organising nasty little extras like insurance and fixing niggling issues with the bike.

I then began lessons...Adrian turned out to be a great teacher...starting with getting used to the balance and weight of the bike in a car park doing figure of 8's...just like the METAL motorcycle course...except when done with that he found the nearest corners and over the next week I "gained" some level of comfort riding and maintaining speed through the bends. The addition of 'saddle-bags" was not nearly as scary the weight "forced" me to lean into the corners.

There is only so much once can go to the beach alone before you need a change of scenery so I left very quickly and was rewarded with an afternoon exploring Joshua Tree national park a mere 2-3hrs from LA if you time the traffic correctly. I loved dry and desert...just like home! I was fascinated by the vegetation, cactus and hardy desert plants very different but very similar adaptations to the plants at home.

Then I set off to the Grand Canyon...only to be distracted by the Red Rock region of one mentioned this area and with hiking/crazy red sandstone and perfect weather I couldn't help but spend a night here.

I struck a famous afternoon Arizona thunderstorm on the way to the canyon and found out quickly riding in the rain is even less fun than riding in the baking heat. My aim for the Grand Canyon was to hike to the bottom...preferably Rim to Rim to Rim...50miles thereabouts. Fortunately I had no problem getting camping permits and I set off. The first glimpse I had of the canyon sent butterflies loose in my stomach...I had bitten off more than I could is HUGE...the decent into the canyon was not nearly as hard on my legs due to the numerous photo stops...I was wearing new "shoes" for hiking...not a good idea to do so on hills at anytime but particularly as these weren't exactly "shoes" rather Chaco sandals...I was hiking over 6000ft down steep trails in sandals...'stupid boy'. I was however shocked by the ease and support the Chacos offered...sadly my croc wearing days are over! However I did decide not to push them and my feet to the limit and stay on the south side of the canyon.

The bottom of the Grand Canyon is not nearly as impressive as the view from the top but the reward and your respect for the canyon is increased with the effort. The heat was as hot as any summer day in Alice Springs but funny in that it actually got hotter overnight as the rocks release the heat and it gets trapped in the canyon. The evening ranger program was also interesting as we went hunting for scorpions with a UV must see this before you die...crazy little fluro critters! Climbing back out of the canyon was much easier than the decent...good cardio workout but easier on the legs!

Next on the trip was the Navajo Monument Valley...this area is famous for the cowboy movies...and is simply awesome to see while I also had the opportunity to ride my steel horse through the towering buffs. Don't forget to also take the time to see "valley of the gods" if you are in this area...just as impressive and less people. That night I got caught out camping on an amazing view point overlooking the valley. The weather turns late in the afternoon and I found myself in the middle of a spectacular lightning show...not that I enjoyed it being the highest object in the area and I spent it huddled in a rock crevasse certain I was still going to be crispy fried!
The scenic byway No. 12 lives up to its name...a great road and some sensational country to travel through (next time I will do it with air-conditioning or not in the peak of summer). Utah could easily be my favourite state except for my soft spot for Alaska and the relentless heat. I actually began to question motorcycle travel...why do I want to ride? It was so hot you often didn't stop for pictures as the effort of removing helmet/gloves/jacket was to hot and hard...and when you stop moving all that protective gear becomes an oven! I suppose I could become an 'organ donor' and ride as many were in shorts/T-shirt/no helmet but I have had road rash as a kid on a mountain bike...x4 the speed and it must be much much worse!

Bryce canyon was a neat National Park...the colour of the Hoodoos (earth formations) is phenomenal and then I was blown away by the sandstone cliffs of Zion National Park. I spent 2 days peak bagging and was more than impressed by the safety concern/risk management strategy of the NPS..."your safety is your concern". The Angels Landing walk was awesome with the top part of the trail scrambling on rocks next to a 1000ft cliff...Ayers Rock gets closed for any possible reason...this trail is far more dangerous/steeper and it was nearly as hot as home yet they didn't even have warnings placed at the bottom!
The narrows is another great walk of Zion NP where I followed the river up the canyon for 3+miles and could imagine myself being in the gorges of the Western MacDonald ranges just in a much deeper and steeper slot canyon.

I decided to see the Valley of Fire and Death valley rather than the shorter easier ride across Area 51. The outstanding moment was riding the bike down Titus Canyon into death valley...lucky I was on a bike...the big American pickup trucks would not have fitted on this one-way road down the centre of the canyon. Death valley hit 127 F (52deg C) as I rode through...that's hotter than anything I think I have experienced...CRAZY and I was inside a black helmet wearing full motorcycle own personal sauna!

Yosemite was the last National Park on my list for this short pre-run trip. It was well worth the ride to get there. I found myself LOVING the riding experience here...I was not over heating...loving the twists and turn and enjoying the "freedom of the road" only riding a motorbike gives you. I then left the bike and secured my permit for walking HalfDome and spent 3 days soaking up perfect weather and stunning scenery. HalfDome is another legal nightmare but the NPS simply states 'your safety is your concern'...crazy! The last section was hauling yourself up the sheer granite on made the chain going up Ayers Rock look horizontal.

I scooted home to LA down the Pacific Coast Highway and again found myself enjoying the riding...particularly lane splitting through traffic on the freeways...something I always considered suicidal...but then considering the planed trip south perhaps that's exactly what I am?

So USA's desert parks V's Central Australia? Without a doubt everything is bigger and grander in the USA...BUT...its not about the size I was always told...Central Australia has a vastness that the USA doesn't perhaps remember the journey more in AUS as it is so far between anywhere and the vegetation/ area's are utterly stunning and amazing but there is no place like home/Alice!