Memory can be a tricky thing. How two people remember the same event can be very different. In 2002, my wife and I, had been married less than a year. She was well versed in my love of adventures and surprises. So, for my birthday, she schedule a weekend for us in Santa Fe New Mexico and scheduled it for May 5, 2002. These were simpler times. Google Maps would not exist for another 3 years and Amazon was still in its infancy of selling more than just books, so simply buying maps of other locations, was still a bit challenging. So with nothing more than a rudimentary version of Mapquest and a paper map showing Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico, we began planning.
To keep the drive interesting, we picked roads that were as alternative as possible, without requiring a four wheel drive. The second criteria was always trying to drive near water. For some reason, I have always had a thing for water. I will plan entire trips around bodies of water; oceans, waterfalls, lakes, rivers, etc. I am sure the astrological types out there could help me get to the root of this. This fascination continues to this day, even after crossing the Atlantic Twice, thanks to a cruise line run by a mouse, I never seem to get enough access to water.
My birthday is in April, so we had a few weeks to plan. When I saw, there was a option to drive along the actual Rio Grande River, my planning went into overdrive. You could hardly have recognized the 32 years that I had supposedly accomplished. I was more like a kid, who had just been told he was going to visit Tatooine! Yes, its a desert. Yes, it lacks water. But, Star Wars fans get the point!
The Rio Grande
Fellow motorcyclists may remember the Rio Grande as a backdrop from its appearance in the 2007 movie Wild Hogs. But for me, growing up on the East Coast, the Rio Grande, has always been the source of romantic and adventurous western imagery. I simply hear the word, “Rio Grande,”and I am immediately lost in memories of John Ford films, ranches, cowboys and the coolness of John Wayne.
In 2002, quality-affordable digital cameras were not readily available. The phrase “camera-phone” were known to little outside of Philippe Kahn’s circles. While a few snapshots of the trip survive, the most critical pictures were never taken. Those are the ones that surround an area that I have dreamt about for the last 15 years. In my mind, it is a mysterious mashup of steep roads, switch backs, some pavement, and a large river on the right. I cannot remember where it was, only that it was somewhere between Alamos and Taos. It is logically the Rio Grande, but exactly where, and how we got there, I have no clue. Over the years, I have searched in vain. I have to discover many more beautiful places, but alas, I have not found it.
I pride myself on being able to visit a place once and return over and over without the use of maps. For whatever reason, this location has eluded me. No matter how many times I have returned to the area, this specific spot has eluded me. For this reason, I often talk about it to whomever is within earshot whether they are interested or not; in hopes that they might have a hint to offer.
Consistently Boring Friends and Family for nearly 15 Years!
July 7, 2017 was the latest time that I brought up my tale of woe. It was two days before the next full moon; aptly called the Buck Moon. The naming of moons come from a Native American tradition. Every July the full moon is the Buck Moon, because it is when Buck’s begin to grow new antlers. Personally, I feel myself, again, getting to a place where new growth is afoot. Perhaps it was the Buck Moon, or simply the the tasty whiskey and delicious smoked halibut, provided, and graciously shared by our fantastic friends, Greg & Stacy, that got me talking. Something compelled me, after dinner, to lament by sadness of this proverbial and elusive great white whale. I was sure I had told them the story at some point before, but that didn’t stop me. I felt chatty, and did I mention there was whiskey?
I have known Greg, and his wife Stacy, for about 17 years.
I actually met them at their rehearsal dinner, when I was my wife’s, then girlfriend’s, plus one. This fateful, evening, as I rambled on, my friend Greg, a pilot by trade, didn’t hesitate. He simply stated. “Oh, I know exactly where that it is.” What?!?! I said in a barely controlled raised voice. How had this never come up? How could Greg know the location? How had we never discussed it. Was this my own personal, treasure in my own back yard, Alchemist story reveling itself? I am not a big fan of social media speak, but WTF definitely earned my respect at the moment.
The four of us have hung out way too many times for this to have not come up! Yet, there was Greg pulling out his iPad and revealing, on a topographic map, what I had just described. There were the steep roads, switch backs, pavement, and a large river, even this strange massive turn that I can still feel my hands turning the wheel of our car to make. Yes, the water source was in fact the Rio Grande and there was bridge that I had failed to notice, in all of my years of searching. It is not even all that hidden. In fact, its shockingly obvious. Could I have been too focused, on the wrong areas, all of these years?
Doesn’t that just scream existential metaphor? Seriously, if you haven’t read The Alchemist, you really should. Like, right now. This whole thing will make way more sense. Honestly, as I write this, I am too excited to keep my thoughts straight. Perhaps, someday, I will rewrite it.
Another Finger of Whiskey and We’re Off!
I helped myself to another finger of whiskey and without hesitation, I announced to our little group I that I would be leaving for Taos in the next 24-36 hours. I asked Greg to join me. I stated that I would be going for an overnight pilgrimage to the site he provided, with or without him, but would prefer his company. As a pilot, Greg’s schedule can be a hard to to track, but the stars aligned, and these two bucks were about to follow the moon towards, hopefully, solving a 15 year mystery.
On July 9, at 9AM we hit the road. Greg on my KLR and me on my GS1200. We meandered on back roads, from Aurora, to Alamosa, where we grabbed lunch at Nino’s. Their fantastic Green Chile fueled our excitement. We were now less than an hour away from where I had tried so many times to find this sneaky road. I was so excited. I really felt like we were going to find it. That was until we got closer to the Rio Grande Bridge.
I have been going to this bridge for 15 years. There was no way my mystery road could be this close. My memory squarely placed us miles from this location. Besides, the only way to cross the Rio Grande in Taos is over the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, and it is 656 feet above the Rio Grande! Or so I thought. With all the mixed emotions, I forgot that Greg had pointed out a much smaller bridge closer to the water in his map program. I refused to let myself get discouraged, but then, the unthinkable happened. I looked in my rearview mirror and Greg was not there.
After a brief moment of panic, I quickly turned around and found him just a few hundred yards back on the side of the road. He confidently pointed to the right, and said, “we turn here.” I’m sure he didn’t mean to, but, to me, he sounded like Tonto. Once again, telling the idiot Lone Ranger, or in my case, Adventure Hermit, what was up! I smiled, but was not convinced. I didn’t doubt that we were going where he showed me, but I felt strongly, that I wouldn’t have voluntarily took the road we were about to enter. It just didn’t feel right. I thought back on all the years that had passed. Why would we have gone west, when Taos was directly in front of us? Had the Village people been on the radio? I start singing to myself . . .
“Go West” (Excerpt)
by the Village people
(I want you) Happy and carefree
(So that’s why) I have no protest
(When you say) You want to go west
Then I snapped out of it. I, seriously, doubt that I was listening to the Village people. So why would I have turned? It must be a mistake.
I dutifully followed Greg. I acknowledged the fact that I was still excited to be riding with a good friend. Pleased to know we had enjoyed a great day of riding and would still enjoy a night in Taos. But, I was certain we were not going to find MY road. Minutes later we came to another stop sign. Greg, confidently announced that this was the 90-degree angle turn, that I mentioned. He sounded, less like Tonto, this time. I took one look and knew in my heart, that he was wrong. I tried to avoid looking visibly discouraged. But when I looked into his eyes, something gave me hope. Perhaps, it was because he sounded less like Tonto.
We rode 0n, and in less than a minute we were looking over the Rio Grande and the Orilla Verde Recreation Area, from atop a high dirt switchback. My heart burst. I knew, without a doubt, that we were at the correct location. I knew, without a doubt, it was my first correct reaction all day! The steep switch backs with a massive turn, right at the start, descending into the Gorge brought all the memories back. It was exactly how I remembered it. As we reached the bottom, I saw the unique concrete camping structures and the Taos Junction Bridge, two memories that I had forgotten. To our right was a paved road running along the Rio Grande through the town of Pilar, NM. Did I mention, I never doubted Greg for a minute?
I couldn’t help but wonder, why we had turned down this seemingly, “wrong direction” all those years before? I started having flashing memories of traffic. Slowness. Orange cones. For some reason, all those years ago, I now believe, we were routed around the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and down into the canyon. Like many memories around this trip, it is foggy. But I suspect there was construction on, or near, the bridge that forced the detour.
As Greg and I reached the end, and the town of Pilar, we emerged onto State Road 68 across from the Rio Gorge Visitor’s Center. I have passed this area countless times. I even stopped and tried to explain myself to a ranger once. I was unsuccessful. The road was only a few hundred feet away. I was just to blind to see it. Until today.
As I write this, I am still not sure, at this moment, why this route has alluded me for so long. I know there is a lesson to be found here. Knowing when to give in? Not being so stubborn to consider alternatives? Freeing my mind from distractions, so the answers can come to me? What ever it is, I am relieved to be able to stop pursuing this particular “Big Fish.” To once again, simply enjoy the simplicity and quiet of Taos, without wondering the whole time, where that darned road is; not only for me, but, perhaps, even more for my family, who have had to succumb to all of my detours over the years.
Later, as we rolled into town, to my favorite accommodations, at the El Pueblo Lodge and parked the bikes, I felt a giant weight had been lifted. We were ready to celebrate. We started with a margarita at the famous Taos Inn. Followed by Chili Beer at the always excellent Eskes Brew Pub and finally dinner for the best burgers in town at The Burger Stand At Taos Ale House, severed up by the very helpful and informative Whitney!
A mystery solved, but the thirst for the next one is always just around the corner. I am forever grateful to Greg for giving me this gift. I am also very grateful for both our wives, for letting us drop everything at a moments notice and allowing us to pursue the thrill of the chase! Thank you!
It only occurred to me after we had been on the road for an hour or so, that Greg and I were traveling on the same route my dad and I had taken to New Mexico in 2007. As Greg and I rode, I was taken aback a couple of times. He was on my dad’s KLR and he was wearing my dad’s coat. These things were lost on me until I looked into my rear view mirror. In 2013, I rode my dad’s KLR, from Connecticut down to Tennessee, after losing him to a motorcycle accident in 2012. I then headed from Tennessee to Oregon, off-road, for 2 months, attempting to heal on the Trans-America Trail. To date, Greg is the only other person, other than me, to ride my dad’s KLR. Were there perhaps 3 of us on this latest ride? I can’t say for sure, but, I’d like to think so.
I am also now made aware, through the magic of math, that that this year marks the 10th anniversary of that first ride with my dad. Our families followed behind, in a car, as we traveled down to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.
A lot has changed since then. A short, 5-years later, I lost my dad, to a motorcycle accident in 2012. My oldest daughter, Sophia, who was only 3, is now 13 rocking an awesome mohawk. Her sister, Nya, who we measured in months back then, is now an all grown up 10-year old! My dad’s wife lives in a beautiful tiny house on a lake in Connecticut. Sadly, without my dad, but with his memory forever close. And Beth . . . my first wife, is still my one and only! She continues to be a contestant beacon of support – and THAT can in no way every be underestimated in a relationship!
Next Up . . . Homer to Homer
In less than a month, my friend Bill and I are riding to Homer, AK (Homer was my Dad’s nickname). I will again be traveling with his ashes in my saddlebags. Alaska, was a place he and I always spoke of riding to together, but we never got to go. Realizing, through the writing of this piece, that it is the 10th anniversary of our first ride, makes the choice to go now, that much more special!