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July QuickThrottle Column

I'm sad that I'm not writing essays and blog entries these days. Looking back, all I've posted this year are my QT columns. I've got lots of things I've started, just never finished -- including my book.  Life seems to get in the way. One day... Meanwhile, here's the July column, which, if I do say so myself, is one of my favorites. It was actually written some time ago as a blog post on here, and when I needed a column idea for July I reached back and revamped this for the magazine. I've lost track of the young man in this piece, he just dissapeared from Seattle before I moved to the desert... I hope you enjoy.
My friend Dan is deaf. And while I knew that, I didn’t really know him, and I really couldn’t say he was a “friend”, just a young guy who hangs out at the same neighborhood tavern I do from time to time. I’d see him standing in the corner with a few other deaf folks and they’d have very spirited and animated sign language conversations.  I often joked that when the bar gets hot and stuffy that I'm going to go stand by the deaf crowd and cool off from the breeze created by all their hand movements.

The other night I rode out for a drink, and Dan waved as I came in and went hang up my motorcycle jacket. After I did that he came up and made a sign like riding a motorcycle -- his fists in the air, cranking the throttle. I nodded yes I rode. He pointed to the door I guess asking if the bike was out there, so I nodded yes.  He gave me a look that I took as if asking "can we look at it?" and I nodded and motioned to the door and he followed me. He saw the bike and let out an "AHHH" and gave me a thumbs up with a huge smile. So I sat on the bike and patted the back seat with my hands and invited him to hop on. At first he was a bit hesitant, but I motioned "come on" and patted the seat again. He grinned and climbed on and started the bike up. Now this bike is LOUD, but I'm sure he couldn't hear a thing, but I bet he felt the big V-Twin rev up because he let out a laugh - making a sound almost like an infant would. It's the only sound I've ever heard him make other than the "Ahh" when he first saw the bike.  

I backed the bike out, and although he didn't have a helmet, we went a few blocks around the neighborhood. He held on to me so tight I couldn’t breathe and I could hear him laughing with pure joy as we rode around for about 10 minutes and I'd rev the engine at the stop lights. When we got back to the bar he hopped off, jumped up and down, and practically danced with delight as he waited for me to stop the bike and climb off. He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back into the bar to the middle of the deaf group and started to wildly sign. They signed back, and introduced me to his friends, one of whom is somewhat able to speak and who said I had made his night and it was his first ever ride on a motorcycle. He was grinning still, as I headed to the bar for my drink.

A bit later I was ready to go, so I got my jacket from the coat check and Dan came up and grabbed my coat and tried to sign something I couldn't understand, and I gave him a puzzled look. He got out his phone and with the keyboard and typed out a note on the screen; "You go now?" And I nodded yes. He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the deaf group again where there was much signing and a very "loud" but silent conversation. He got his friends camera which he pointed to me and to the door, and then lead the entire group of deaf folks out. He wanted to show it to them and have a picture on the bike. So surrounded by a group of deaf folks, I watched as Dan pointed at the bike, gave a thumbs up, and I climbed on, started the bike and all of them put their hands on the tank to feel the vibrations. I invited Dan to join me and there was no hesitation whatsoever this time, as he hopped right on and handed the camera to his friend.
I turned around and said "want to go again?" He nodded wildly yes, so once again we did the loop to the park and around, him hanging on to the seat loop strap this time and laughing out loud the whole way. When we got back to the bar I asked him to email me the picture, so I gave him my phone number so he can text me and my email address.  

The next afternoon I got a text from him: "Hi, it's Dan - thanks again for the ride on your bike, it was sooooo cool." So I texted him back, and said it was my pleasure and anytime he wanted to go for a ride to let me know. He asked if I was serious and I texted back "hell yeah!" Well, long and short of it, later that afternoon I rode up to Dan’s house with a helmet for him this time and we took off again. We headed out around the foothills of the Cascades and down near Enumclaw where we saw Mt. Rainier. When we came around a corner and there was the Mountain looming in front of us he tapped my shoulder and gave me a thumbs up and signaled to stop so he could take a picture. It was one of those perfect Washington days and the Mountain was out in all it's glory.

We continued on our way, and actually spent about 3 hours and did well over 120 miles that afternoon. Neither of us said a word. I was alone with my thoughts as I usually am on the bike - even when riding with someone. When riding with someone you communicate (with hand signals) or chat when stopped at traffic signals, whether they be a passenger or a fellow rider. But this time there was no talking --  however I wasn't alone at all. The only sound I heard was the bike and the wind -- he heard nothing at all, but I know he felt the wind in his face, the sun on his skin, and breathed deep the smell of the fresh air just like I did. He held tight to the seat strap loop, laughed when we went fast around curves, sighed when he saw Mt. Rainier and waved at all the bikers we passed like a he'd been riding all his life. I think we both hated it when I turned back towards his house. We got back to his house and his mother came out and told me that Dan had been a bit down and that since we’d gone riding that night at the bar, he’d been excited and happy and it was the best gift he’d been given in some time. You know I never really thought of it as a “gift”, but I guess the time and the experience was to someone who had never had it.

Dan wildly shook my hand and I got a back slap hug. I got out my phone and typed out a message -- "We'll do this again soon". He lit up and grinned, and before I got home there was a text message saying "I'm free next Saturday before 4pm". Weather permitting, I think my new friend and I will go ride and enjoy the sound of silence.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

June QuickThrottle Column

There's nothing better than a long windy lonely road with no traffic. They are getting increasingly hard to find unfortunately. But there's still a few out there.  This month we take a look at Washingotn State's lonliest road...out in the wheat fields of the Palouse in SE Washington....

In the desert of the Coachella Valley where I live much of the year, our idea of a traffic jam is more than 10 cars at a light, or more than one change of the light to get through it. It’s that way a little bit of the year, in the high tourist seasons of mid-winter when it’s 80 degrees there and minus double digits elsewhere in the country. You get very used to no traffic, and so, as my friends will joke, when I have to go into God awful traffic areas like the SoCal/Los Angeles area it requires extra high-blood pressure medicine or maybe a medicinal edible on my part, and another driver so all I do is sit in the passenger seat and grit my teeth.  Even then I’ve been known to pout and throw a tantrum.  I’ve also been known to take extreme long-ways to get to San Diego or elsewhere in California on the bike just to avoid LA freeways.

Back in Seattle, it’s impossible to avoid as well. Traffic in the Northwest just keeps getting worse and worse and worse. It really shouldn’t take an hour and a half to get across Seattle in the middle of the day, but it does and it’s routine, and we become “used” to it. I have friends who say, “hey it only took me two hours to get home today!” Like this is something to crow about?  This is not good people. We shouldn’t get “used” to this, just like we shouldn’t get used to having a President who only lied three times today rather than his average five and we aren’t outraged by it. It’s the same thing.

That’s why I seek out lonely roads. There is nothing better than having the road all to one’s self. The most famous of the lonely roads of course is US-50 across Nevada. It’s marked on the maps and marketed as the “Loneliest Road In America”, and it’s a popular biker road. I’ve ridden it several times across the middle of Nevada. It’s kind of unnerving until you get used to it. There’s little or no cell service, and only an occasional gas station on this stretch of road. On one trip I went nearly an hour without seeing another car. But once you’ve done it, finding two or more cars at any given time becomes unnerving. It’s why I love that road.

But driving south to Nevada from the Northwest is a multi-day trip just to enjoy the solitude of the highway and America’s Loneliest Road. So, what’s an alternative closer to home? What, do you ask, is the Loneliest Road In Washington?
According to Geotab, a Canadian company who specializes in vehicle tracking and management, the loneliest road in Washington is SR-127 out in the Palouse of southeastern Washington – specifically between the towns of Dusty and Dodge.  You may have ridden through Dodge if you’ve traveled US-12 between Lewiston, ID and Walla Walla on your way to or from Sturgis.  If you sneezed or blinked while riding through you probably missed it too. But if you were to turn north in Dodge and rode up to Dusty, a distance of 28 miles or so, you’d be on Washington’s least trafficked road. You may even pass a car, but it’s doubtful.

What you would see is plenty of wheat fields rolling off to the horizon.  The Palouse area is one of my favorite parts of Washington. I love riding through it, especially in the spring when the wheat is still green, and in the fall when it’s turned golden. The hills are gentle, the road rolls along and undulates with the land, going up and down and around, moving with the earth. At harvest time you’ll see giant combines who’s rotating blades keep time with whatever song is running in your head, harvesting miles and miles of wheat. For a bit you might even forget you are in Washington and think you are in Kansas – but thankfully there’s no tornados here.

It’s an old road too – one of the earliest in the State to be named/numbered and even paved. It was once called the Inland Empire Highway, and it wound through small wheat growing towns all over central and eastern Washington. It was first named in 1913 and it was gravel, running from near Cle Elum up to Laurier on the Canadian border in Ferry County (which gets its name from a former governor of Washington, not from any boat across a body of water). At one time it went through Ellensburg, Yakima, Pasco, Walla Walla, Spokane and Colville.  Back then it was gravel, but in 1931 most of it was listed as “oil-macadam” – today we’d call that chip-seal.

The bridge across the Snake River was built in 1924, and replaced in 1968 with a large new bridge which is worth a stop on either end just to admire its structure and the crossing of this giant river.  You can wander all over the Palouse on roads just like this one – including US-12 which is a great road that will take you all the way across the upper Midwest if you want – or at least to Sturgis if you are going this year.

But if you are looking for solitude – of having the road to yourself – without driving all the way to Nevada for the “official” one, and of staking claim to the loneliest road in Washington, you can. It’s SR-127.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

May QuickThrottle Column

My column for May focuses on the final segment of the US Interestate System being finished later this summer, almost 62 years after it was started -- and the need to keep riding the "non-Interstates" or the "Blue Highways" as the wonderful travel writer William Least Heat Moon called them... I'm missing riding as much as I used to, it seems ages since I've done a long trip. I should probably heed my own advice a bit more...
I love maps – especially older ones. The ones you once got at the fillin’ station. On those older maps, Interstate Highways were more often than not drawn as red lines, US Highways were in black, and secondary roads were drawn in blue. That’s why those wonderful, windy, two-lane, backroads are often called “Blue Highways”. And for me, I’ve always felt more at home riding the blue highways than on the red ones. Unfortunately, over time most maps, including Harley’s Road Atlas, (assuming folks even read maps now since everyone GPS’s their way) now show the Interstate’s in blue and the US highways in red, and those wonderful “other” roads in black.  “Black Highways” just doesn’t sound as evocative to me, so I’ll still call these wonderful meanderers the “Blues”.

Now I don’t dislike the other road colors by any means, it’s just not my preference when I have a choice. I’ll ride the freeway if I have to but give me a wandering side road and that’s where I’ll go even when it takes longer. Back in my younger days when I had the knees for skiing I used to love bombing down a groomed blue or black run as fast as I my thighs and knees could stand, but I had a friend who was much more interested in skiing the green meandering runs at a slower pace. His favorite saying was “why go down a blue run when there is a perfectly fine green run right here that goes to the same place?” And while the freedom one feels skiing is very much akin to the freedom one feels on a motorcycle; my philosophy has changed. “Why take the freeway when there is a perfectly fine backroad here?”

I’ve been trying to gradually convince people to the wisdom of this philosophy – riding the blues and blacks, even in every-day situations. My buddy Henry just a year ago went to the HD riding school on their Vets Ride Free program, got his license, and has already bought two bikes. He moved from Cincinnati to LA and now to the Desert to escape traffic and crowds, yet he’s still taking the freeway to work – until I showed him a nice backroad almost directly to his office, with two stop signs, some great hills and curves, and only a few lights. Yeah, it’s a 35-mile commute rather than a 12-mile one, but he’s sure in a better mood when he gets to work.

That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the interstate on a bike either – in fact one of the most gorgeous roads anywhere is the I-70 from Cove Fort, Utah to Green River, UT, and again up over the Rockies east from Aspen to Denver, and in our neck of the woods I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass is wonderful – and will be getting better on the East side of the pass once the construction is done (but I still love WA-410 and US-12 more).
Indeed, the entire concept of the Interstate Highway system is a marvel if you think about it. Can you imagine the old windy narrow backroads having to contend with today’s traffic and vehicles? It wouldn’t happen. When I ride old US-10 east of Cle Elum, WA, or old US-66 in the deserts of California and Arizona, or US 30 across Idaho, trying to imagine the amount of traffic on I-90 or I-40 squeezing on to those roads is mindboggling.

It was in 1956, 62 years ago, that President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act creating our modern Interstate road system. There was a lot of foresight back then, and we have to thank him and Congress for enabling the construction and maintenance of this system. And later this year, sometime in September – 62 years later, this country’s most famous civil-engineering project will finally complete construction.

You laugh – because we all know construction season never ends. The giant project up on I-90 over Snoqualmie pass for example, or that stretch of I-5 from Fife past the Tacoma Dome that has been under perpetual construction since -- well since they stared building it back in the 1960s.  But seriously, the last section of the original proposed Interstate Highway system should finally be finished. It’s back on the east coast. I-95, the country’s most used highway, will finally run as one continuous road between Miami and Maine. The gap on the Pennsylvania and New Jersey border will be closed, turning I-95 into an unbroken stream of concrete more than 1,900 miles long. In doing so it marks the completion of the original US interstate system.  I suppose you could say “typical government project – took way too long..” but when you consider the size and scope of the entire interstate system, I don’t think it’s all that bad.

And it’s done more to transform this country than probably any other civil engineering project, including the BPA and TVA dam projects, and the space program. Where would we be without the interstate system to transport us and the goods we all use? It’s safe to say it would be an entirely different country. My enviro friends will probably say it would have been better if the interstate highway system had never been built, it exacerbated the car culture, destroyed the land, and causes global warming, but I disagree.

You see, by building the interstate system, it took all that traffic off the wonderful blue and black byways that crossed this country before it was built – roads that are still there if you take the time to find them. Use the interstate for what it is – use it to drive to work, deliver your products, and get from A-B fairly quickly. But appreciate and love the back roads for what they were and what they still are – the slow-moving stream that winds through the woods, over hill and dale, through the small towns, and across the mountains. The interstate defined America, but you won’t find America there. You’ll really only find America on the blue and black highways of the old maps. This summer go ride some blues!

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

April QuickThrottle Column

Struggling with getting my May column done -- one of those "I can't think of anything to write about" days, and I start things, get a paragraph or two in and go ... "Nope!".   Got the rest of the morning to figure it out.  Meanwhile, here's the April version of my monthly muse....

Something happened this past March 8th that hasn’t happened in recent memory. It was almost a historic occasion. The Washington State Legislature adjourned sine die on time on the last scheduled day of the session. I felt a small earthquake here in the desert of Southern California that day. I can only conclude it was because of that. The last time the legislature adjourned on time and with no special session immediately following was more than 10 years ago. I’m guessing perhaps a booming economy and lots of money rolling in to the budget, coupled with an election year and a virtually tied legislature even though the Democrats run both chambers and the Governor’s office had something to do with it. But perhaps they ran out of things to do too.

But it’s not like we riders got anything out of the session. I asked my buddy Larry Walker who’s the lobbyist for the Washington Road Riders Association if anything interesting passed in the final days. “Not a damn thing” he replied. And that’s unfortunate, because again riders get the short end of the stick.

As much talk as there was in the halls of Olympia about having to “do something” to provide relief for the out of control cost of licensing vehicles in the Sound Transit district, nothing happened. We’ve all seen the fruits of that ST3 tax and how it’s caused our license plate renewals to skyrocket.  But the inability to fix this one kinda surprised me to be honest. The vox populi have been very loud and rightfully very upset about how outrageously expensive the cost of licensing a vehicle is nowadays, and the majority support in the legislature for “doing something”, in the end got nothing done. The Democrats actually have the nerve to blame Republicans for threatening to “filibuster” the Democrat’s “fix” which albeit minuscule was some relief from that outrageously high tax burden. But a filibuster isn’t allowed under Washington’s legislative rules, so we should hashtag that excuse as a real instance of “fakenews”.  In reality the pressure by Sound Transit and their allies to fully fund their expensive system and not delay it or scale it back by one iota is what killed that deal. So, break out the checkbooks for another year and get ready to pay through the nose when your car and bike tabs come up for renewal. And remember why that is come election time in November.

All the other bills that would concern us riders also fell by the wayside. No fix to the toll reader/HOT lane transponder issue on I-405. No ability to park multiple bikes in a metered spot as long as each pays for its time. No new spending on smoothing out roads and fixing infrastructure. And no helmet law revisions. For now.

The end of the session also brought a number of retirements of long-time legislative leaders, including House Transportation Chairwoman Judy Clibborn. Rep. Clibborn and I have been friends for a long time, and she’s been very good for overall transportation policy in the state the years she has headed the powerful committee. And what’s more, she’s a genuinely decent, honest, kind and honorable person. The kind that we need more of in public service, and it seems that are few and far between these days. I am sad she is going, Washington will miss her, and I will wish her well. And while Rep. Clibborn hasn’t been a champion for rider issues, with one big exception, she hasn’t been overtly hostile either. But she has been adamant in her opposition to repealing or modifying the helmet law in Washington. It’s the main reason that even when the bill has advanced in the Senate in years past, it was essentially DOA in the House. Whether that gave the Senate some cover to pass the bill along in years past or not remains to be seen. But if the House Transportation chairmanship passes to someone who may be supportive of helmet law repeal or modification, chances of that bill advancing improve. Who takes the reigns of that committee won’t be decided until next year after the fall elections, but it will be a fight for a plumb and powerful job. Let’s hope someone with some motorcycle experience and who is a supporter gets the job.

So, with the Legislature hitting the road, they’ll also later this year be hitting the campaign trail. You all know the drill too. It’s a golden opportunity for you to meet with legislators and those running to replace them or fill a vacant seat. It’s your chance to make yourself heard on the rider issues that concern you, whatever they may be. There are more than enough chances to get to meet them this year if you just take the chance. The more of us who “live to ride, ride to live” that do this the better off we’ll all be down the road, whether it be the amount of money we pay to license our rides, the quality of the road we ride down, the amount of traffic we share the road with, and yes, even the type of equipment we are required to wear. Making your voice heard with those who next year will be sitting around Olympia and Salem for long legislative sessions now will bear fruit then. I promise you.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net or www.grgardner.com, and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com

Riding Tips

So two days before the deadline for the April issue, my publisher calls and says "can you do a quick 1000 words for the "Get Ready To Ride" spring issue with tips on getting ready to ride. Ok, sure -- although here in the desert we can ride pretty much year round, back in the old stomping grounds of the Pacific Northwest, it took some work to get ready once spring rolled around. So i reached back into my memory and cranked this piece out for him...In addition to my column which I'll post tomorrow.

It’s April in the Northwest. The sun is shining (sort of), the rain has tapered off (somewhat), and the days are getting longer (most definite). It’s a time when riders start dreaming of getting back on the bike after taking a winter off from riding -- which the vast majority of riders around these parts do. I have to admire those hearty souls who brave the elements year-round on their scoots – they must all have synthetic motor oil running in their veins to be able to keep the bike running and them on top of it, day in and day out 365 days a year.

For those who don’t get the periodic transfusion of Syn-3, we have some getting ready to do as we start planning our summer road adventures. First and foremost is getting the moss and rust off the old bike and getting it ready to run. Yes, I said moss and rust. It’s wet in the Northwest. The longest I have gone without riding is 4 months, and that year I had some fungus growing on the spokes and some moss on the seat, I kid you not. I also had a family of mice make a nice nest underneath the bike cover and a black widow spider build a web from the kick-stand to the floor. So, in all seriousness, watch for the effects of moisture and critters if your bikes been in a corner of the garage for more than a month or two.

Now any biker worthy of the name in the Northwest knows that if you don’t ride all winter you at least keep your battery on a tender and charged up. If your bike is less than a few years old, all those new fancy things Harley and the other manufactures are putting on their bikes drain your battery even if you aren’t using it, and we all know how quickly bike batteries go out and how ridiculously expensive they are. Things like keyless fob starting and security systems put a constant drain on the battery even if it’s not running and after even four months or so you could be facing a dead battery. Make the investment in that trickle charger for next winter now while you are thinking about it. But If you’ve already done that, you know your electrical system is ready to roll.  If not, well, that’s the first thing you need to check. Make sure your battery is charged and working.

The other nifty trick us mossback riders will do in the fall before putting the bike up for the winter is add a fuel stabilizer to the gas tanks. I find this a heck of a lot easier than draining the tank, which also can tend to make water condensation a problem in the Northwest’s moist climate. If you topped off your tank after adding a bottle of stabilizer, your fuel system should be good to go. If you didn’t, open the tank and check for gunk and stratification. If you have bad gas, it’s wise to drain the tank and fuel lines (and carburetor on a non-fuel injected bike) and refilling with fresh gas before starting it -- and making a mental note to put in stabilizer next winter and avoiding that mess in the future.

Check your oil. I’ll do an oil change generally in December so in those months I don’t ride I know I’m full of good clean oil, and assuming any of it didn’t leak out over the winter, I’ll be good to go. If you didn’t do an oil change, now is the time to consider doing one or having it done. Oil degrades over time and settles and loses its viscosity. Make sure the oil is up to snuff. Check for other leaks as well – brake fluid, primary case, and coolant if applicable (remember those new Milwaukee 8s have their liquid cooled heads you old Hog-heads.)

Then check your tires. Make sure the air pressure is up to where it should be. Dollar to donuts they have lost a lot of pressure sitting over the winter – not enough to see with the eye or even feel with a good squeeze – but enough to affect performance. If they are low and you don’t have a pump, assuming they aren’t all the way flat, a short slow ride to the nearest filling station is in order to get the air back in. Also check for worn spots, cracks, and other flat spots.
After that, it’s time for essentially a good expanded T-CLOCS checklist. You should be doing this before every ride anyway, and a more thorough and expanded one before your first ride of the year after winter. When you fire the engine up the first time, make sure you let it idle a good minute or so. Make sure that the oil is circulating well, the charging system is doing its thing, and the engine is well warmed up before roaring out of the garage. It’s been sitting a while, and like a human operator, it’s going to be a little stiff and sore.

Finally, the last thing to check out is the operator. You. Ask yourself, are you ready to ride?  How long has it been since you sat on the scoot. They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and that might be somewhat true. But we all forget our basic skills. We also may have (in my case definitely have) put on a few pounds of winter insulation – so we and the bike will handle a bit differently. Our muscle memory isn’t what it is. I know that after a long stretch of not riding, it takes me a few trips to build up strength and stamina for a long 200+ mile ride.  If you suspect you are rusty, and a winter in the Northwest makes everything rusty, take it slow and easy the first few miles, or better yet, go practice in a vacant parking lot somewhere for a bit. Get those skills and muscle memory back in shape before riding off down the highway.

And remember that the highway is going to be different after months of rain, snow, ice and traffic. More potholes and road cracks where there weren’t any before, bumpier rides, and lots of sand and road, especially in the curves, from road de-icing and plowing. You’ll want to be especially careful watching the road conditions early in the riding season.
Hopefully you’ve spent the winter pouring over maps and dreaming of places to explore so you have your list ready. Remember, spring cleaning isn’t just for the house. It’s for the bike and yourself. Get it done and enjoy the summer. See you down the road!

March QuickThrottle Column

Here is my March column in QuickThrottle -- in which we discuss the silliness that is Harley-Davidson's creating an electrick motorcycle... No.  Just no.

Last month I wrote about the death of Harley’s Dyna platform. Since then however, I’m seeing the early signs of what might be the impending doom of the entire sport as we know it. Sales of motorcycles are down. Way down. Polaris is closing-up the Victory line, but leaving Indian, who’s sales are miniscule. Harley just announced they are closing the Kansas City factory, consolidating production at the York, PA facility. The K.C. factory produced the now dead Dyna and V-Rod lines, as well as the Sportster and Street models, which now move to PA. What’s driving this downturn?  The economy is humming along. Harley is doing what they can to attract new riders, redesigning bikes for that younger crowd, but we oldsters are apparently dying off faster than new riders are coming into the market. My gut tells me that Harley’s top of the line massive cruisers are priced so high they keep folks out of the market. But what do I know?

So, what’s the answer? How do you re-tool an entire sport for a new generation? How do you take a 115-year-old institution like Harley and remake it for the next 100 years? Can you? I’m glad I’m not the CEO trying to figure that one out. But in the same corporate earnings report where Harley announced the Kansas City plant closure, they also announced their apparent vision for the future – and it isn’t a traditional loud piped V-twin motor.

In about eighteen months – sometime in late 2019 if all goes well, we will see the first electric Harley-Davidson. An electric bike, as incredulous as that sounds I know.  Think back a couple of years ago to Harley’s “Project Livewire”. When I first heard about it I thought it was a joke in a satire magazine. Harley? An Electric Bike? Yeah, sure and I’m gonna trade in my Hummer on a damn Prius. But it turns “Livewire” wasn’t a fluke, even though it looks like a metric crotch rocket.

And I just have to shake my head and wonder. Maybe I’m just too old school, but I love the smell of motorcycle exhaust and the rumble of pipes and a V-twin. I just can’t see myself on an electric bike, although I do admire the engineering complexity of the Livewire bike. It’s linear induction motor and the power that it is capable of is amazing. And while it only gets about 60 miles of travel at this time, I’m sure that technology will change that as time goes on. But still, an electric bike? Come on! It’s just so “not Harley.”

Already people are putting down deposits on something that isn’t even in production yet so they can be the first to have an electric motorcycle. I guess so they can ride to get some gluten free ice cream and a vegan salad maybe, and park it next to their Prius or Tesla. It makes sense and should sell wonderfully in the Northwest. According to Toyota, Washington is the highest per-capital sales market for those damn Priuses.  At least I think that’s how you pluralize it – maybe it’s Prii?  (And I just realized that these electric vehicles can’t be pluralized readily – for instance the Nissan “Leaf”. Is the plural form “Leafs” or “Leaves”?   If Harley goes forward with this they better come up with a name that can be readily pluralized.)

But there is this gross misconception about electric vehicles: that driving them makes some sort of “environmental statement” about saving the planet from terrible carbon pollution. But what most self-righteous Prius drivers seem to forget is that electricity in most parts of the world comes from burning the same fossil fuels that power a gasoline engine. In the Northwest, our power comes from hydro dams and windmills, which according to some factions of the environmental world, are just as bad as fossil fuels since dams mess with salmon and windmills are nothing but giant Cuisinarts for birds. Nothing is somehow “non-polluting.”

So, while all you electric vehicle drivers may think you are saving the planet, you actually are not making one iota of a difference. And if that’s Harley’s marketing ploy to get younger hip riders, I think they missed the mark. Younger hip riders would rather pay less than $30,000 for a bike I’m guessing. There’s your niche market guys.

Meanwhile I’ll go on enjoying my carbon spewing fossil fuel burning 103 cubic inch V-Twin rumbling between my legs and breathing in those wonderful smelling exhaust fumes as I roar out of my driveway and into the wind thank you very much.
But I know my time on earth is as limited as the fossils that fuel my engines, and one day I too will die out along with the rest of my kind (or ilk if you prefer.) The bikers of the future will be zooming around Sturgis on their electric bikes, the town will obviously have to put in some sort of massive magical power plant to produce enough plug-in stations, but that won’t be my problem. So, go forth Harley. Change the world with this first step. As a shareholder, I applaud the ingenuity and forward thinking and willingness to get out ahead of the curve. I hope it saves the company. My retirement savings will thank you.

But while I can, let me enjoy the rumble, the heat, and the smell of exhaust, and the freedom of the open road, my fists in the air framing the road ahead, and the wind blowing in my face. An electric bike? Sorry guys. Not for me.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com

February QuickThrottle Column

Desert life is good -- especially this time of year. Sunny and mid 70s. I'm close to finally getting my garage cleaned out enough to park the truck in too. Been doing a lot of camping, hiking and some riding around town, but I'm due for a long ride and am itching for it.

My February QuickThrottle column tackles my impending geezerhood somewhat, as I mourn the loss of one of Harley-Davidson's iconic lines...
So, the first of February means its roughly halfway through this year’s Washington Legislative session, and the legislature is busy pondering all sorts of issues. For us riders, aside from the perennial helmet law repeal and lane splitting bills – both of which had in the past passed the Senate, but given the new Democratic majority in both chambers won’t see the light of day this session – there are some issues percolating that do affect us riders that you should be paying attention to.  Things like car-tab relief if you live in Western Washington and are getting hit for the first time with giant renewal fees that are causing mild heart attacks among some of my friends. But keep in mind the ultra-greenies who predominate in the legislature will maybe offer a modicum of relief for those high fees, at the same time they are proposing reducing by 60% the fees paid by electric vehicles that pay no fuel tax at the pump from $100 a year to $60! Remember that when you write a check to DOL for $500 for that Ultra Classic’s tab renewal.

There may also be some changes that would allow multiple motorcycles to share a street metered parking space, and to work around the need for a transponder to ride free in the high-occupancy toll lanes. All of these issues hit the pocketbook in one way or another, and will affect those of us who ride. Make sure you stay in contact with your rider organizations and clubs like Washington Road Riders, and ABATE, and stay involved.

And while our elected officials ponder what to do about those issues, and the other things on their plates, I’m sitting her pondering my ever encroaching apparent geezerhood. It’s coming from the fact that Harley-Davidson has discontinued the Dyna platform in 2018 and I’m a long-time Dyna rider. Dyna’s have been my preferred big-twin bike since, well, since I could legally ride. Over the years, I’ve owned many a Milwaukee product across all their lines. I’ve loved them all, but I’ve always loved Dynas the most. I kinda feel like the old bikers I knew when I was a young buck, who would lament and cry over the loss of their shovel-heads and pan-heads and wish they were still in production. I’d roll my eyes at them I suppose like new younger riders will do to me in a few years when they look over at my twin-outside shock ride with its square battery box on the side, rubber mounted engine and its rugged frame and wonder about that “old dude on the antique bike” just like I used to.

In some of the articles I’ve read in the trade press about the end of the Dyna era, they’ve described those of us who prefer the Dyna platform as “purists”, which is what I used to call shovel and knuckle head riders back in the day. And now I’m one of them I guess. I always loved the vibration that Dynas had due to the rubber mounted engine, especially at a stop light. And I’ve always felt much more confident in the curves and bumps with the twin shocks than I did on a Softail. Hell, the last Softail I had, a modified Rocker that I chopped, I couldn’t corner worth a damn in it – kinda like steering the Titanic, I’d have to start a turn a block before I needed to just to get it to corner. Touring bikes, while they felt great on long rides, I’ve never found them to be as responsive as a Dyna, and I love to carve a turn.

I have more fond memories of trips on my Dyna (and even my Sporster, which face it is just a mini-Dyna) than I do on my Softail or Touring bikes. My beloved Angus is a Dyna, and we’ve gone Coast to Coast and Border to Border together. And my other bike these days is Bandit, my Nightster which is so responsive that if I even think of carving a turn I’m half way through it. I’ve never had that kinda fun in a Softail or a Touring bike.

So, as I thumb through the catalogue of the 2018s I see that the boys in the Milwaukee styling shop have done a fair job of making the Fat Bob, Street Bob and Low Rider kinda look like the old Dynas. Maybe no one will notice. No one except us “purists” I suppose. I look at them and see some elements of the Dyna, but where’s the damn battery box on the side? And that curved oil tank under the seat just doesn’t look right, and no shocks! Nope, you can call it a Fat Bob, or a Street Bob or a Low Rider, but it’s not, it’s just not.  I almost wish they’d have retired the name along with the frame.

I’ll ride Angus as long as I can and as long as I can make reasonably inexpensive repairs to him, which should be a good while. But when he’s gone I’ll miss that vibration that those old rubber mounts give, and I’ll miss the ground hugging I’d feel throttling up as the twin shocks did their magic as I sunk into a nice turn. Everything eventually changes, and the fact that I struggle with it is further evidence of my slide into geezerhood.

And I’m sure many of you have just as fond a memory of your favorite Heritage Softail or Deuce, or Breakout. You’ll probably even tell me that it’s my riding skills not the bike – that your Softail corners better than any Dyna, or that a Dyna rides too hard for you. And that’s cool too, you have your opinion and I have mine and we’ll all be happy riding off to Cumberland together for Taco Thursday come spring. But when we get there, I’ll likely find a cadre of fellow geezers and we’ll cry over the loss of our Dyna’s over in a corner for a while. We’ll be the pan-heads and shovel-heads of the next generation down the road when the Dyna is forgotten and we’ll have to scour junkyards for parts. Just don’t laugh and make fun of us old farts on our old bikes will ‘ya?

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com 

January QuickThrottle Column

Here we go again, the start of another new year. The Washington Legislature started it's session yesterday, and I'm happy to be out of that mess. We are enjoying a much needed rain shower here in the desert today -- its not rained since September. It makes the desert smell wonderful, and I'm cozy in my house watching the raindrops hit the pool and trying to figure out what to write for my February column. And while I struggle with that, I'll post the January one, which by the way, in case you can't tell, is just a wee bit sarcastic....
Happy New Year!  And we know what a new year brings right?  Yep, a Legislative session in State Capitols across this great land. In Washington, this year it’s the “short” session – that is it’s supposed to be “only” 60 days, and will, in theory, end in early March after starting on January 8th. That hasn’t happened in years, but here’s to wishful thinking. In Oregon, the session is also “short”, and starts February 5th. It means that our elected representatives will gather to decide all sorts of things, and many of them will affect us as riders.

In all the years that I’ve been writing Road Signs I’ve always stressed how important it is for riders to get involved, either on their own – engaging and letting their own representatives know how they feel about issues, or as part of the many rider advocacy groups or ideally both. Each year the advocacy group ABATE of Washington sponsors Black Thursday, a day for riders to gather at the capitol and make their voices heard. This year it’s on January 18th. Weather permitting, you should ride your butt to Olympia and take part. You are welcome to go even if you aren’t a part of ABATE or any of the groups.

And while it’s a bit early to know exactly what issues may pop up this session, I know of a few that are pretty likely. Parking equity – i.e. allowing more than one bike in a parking spot should come up, hell I hope it does. This simple fix would go a long way to solving those parking issues in Seattle. There’s the dreaded High Occupancy Toll Lanes charge and whether or not you need a transponder to ride in them, not to mention the high cost that has car drivers screaming is something that’s likely to be addressed. I also expect the legislature to attempt (whether they actually do something is another story) to address the high cost of car tab fees in the Sound Transit jurisdiction. And who knows, maybe they’ll again tackle lane-splitting.

And for certain – as certain as salmon return to the stream where they spawned – there will be a helmet law repeal bill.  It’s great that ABATE still pushes this – it is pretty much why the organization was formed. However as much as I personally support a riders right to choose whether or not to wear a helmet, the arguments to date for giving riders that choice unfortunately have not been persuasive to the legislature. Until maybe now.

You see now we have the bicycle folks making the argument for us!  And we all know how the bicycle cadre gets damn near pretty much everything they want these days. It’s absolutely ironic, not to mention hysterically funny to read the weeping, wailing and hand wringing of the pedal bike crowd as they bemoan the fact that the apparent reason the bike-share program in Seattle failed miserably is because it required riders to wear a helmet! It wasn’t the steep hills, or the perpetually wet skies, or even the atrocious traffic that kept folks from using bike-share, it was the helmet requirement – a law in King County and in the city of Seattle.  And since Seattle tends to worship at the altar of those who ride the skinny tired contraptions, their arguments get some traction.

So, I’m guessing that the “law” that bike riders wear a helmet is somewhat more of a “suggestion” these days in Seattle. Three new bike-share companies have popped up to replace the one the city itself invested a few million tax payer dollars in that failed miserably. Despite the law, none require riders to wear a helmet. The city has only required that the companies “inform” riders of the law, not that they provide them with a helmet. Seattle and King County are the only major metropolitan areas with a bike helmet law, and police officers can cite riders without them – it’s a whopping $30 fine. Contemplate that next time the Highway Patrol pulls you over and looks over your helmet for a DOT sticker.

And helmets are apparently not what bike share advocates are suggesting needs to be focused on when it comes to bike safety at all. The real cause of injuries, crashes, and collisions outside of rider error, are, (get this) “cars and distracted drivers.” Hmmm, now where have I heard those exact statistics and that argument before? Aren’t those the leading cause of accidents to motorcycle riders too?  Hello??? They even have studies that show helmets make a minor contribution to cyclist safety. Wait a minute, don’t we have those studies and been saying that too? And they even tout that bike-share systems have been around for almost a decade all over the country, how many people have died using bike-shares in that time? Two. After millions of trips. Two.

So, is what’s good for the goose good for the gander? Can our rider groups take these same arguments and demand rider equity? Can ABATE and the rider advocacy groups learn from our other two-wheeled riding friends and perhaps sway lawmakers like the bike riders seem to have done?  Maybe if we all wear spandex on Black Thursday instead of leather, and instead of beards and long flowing hair (for those that have it) we all sport man-bun hairdos and hipster beards, and we show up driving a Prius instead of a pick-up truck, could we possibly get lawmakers attention?  Couldn’t hurt right?  Well maybe the spandex could hurt.  I don’t think I could squeeze into anything that tight, and if I could it would surely hurt the eyeballs of everyone around who looked at me. But hey, they seem to have won the helmet argument where we can’t. I think we need to join forces with our spandex wearing brothers and sisters. After all, the reason they ride are pretty much the same reasons we do, and they hate their helmet law like we hate ours. We probably have more in common than we think.

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com

Digging Up Roots

Although I am an adopted child, I’ve never really felt like one -- that I didn't belong to my family. And my family’s history is, in my mind, my history too. Although in a technical sense this may not be true, in a legal and emotional sense it is. I have always enjoyed exploring my roots, not out of a need or sense to “find” me, but because of my appreciation of history and my connection to it. Even little things like learning my paternal grandfather who spent a few years of the depression working for the Union Pacific Railroad as a signal electrician, was once posted at Kelso, CA – living in the depot dorms that are now restored as part of the exhibit at the Mojave Preserve visitor center. I'd always loved that building from the first time I saw it, and found it incredibly cool and fun long before I learned about the connection with my grandfather, it now has a personal connection that I feel whenever I visit it.
Growing up Mormon doesn’t hurt either. The Mormon church puts a great emphasis on family genealogy and knowing one’s ancestral history. The church has the world’s best genealogical resources on earth, and on paper I can trace my family back for many generations on both sides. Thus those of us who grow up in the church know a lot more of our family history than most folks do. And we Mormons (and ex ones too) often don’t have nice simple family trees either. With the early church’s practice of polygamy, those of us with early Mormon ancestors have what amounts to a family bush or hedge rather than a “tree”.

But unlike my mother’s side of the family, who’s personal history I know quite a bit about, I really know very little about my father’s family. For whatever reason, my dad was not one to talk about his family history, nor did we spend a lot of time growing up with members of his family who could tell me about it. And while I have the biography and journal of my great great grandfather, one Archibald Gardner, who was among the pioneers settling Utah and who had numerous wives and kids and who’s name is affixed to things all over the Salt Lake valley, I know very little of my own father, or his father, or my great grandfather. On my mother’s side I know a lot of both my mother's and my grandmother’s personal story – where they was born, raised, lived.  And I was close with her mother and several of my grandma’s brothers and sisters – people who would be my great grandmother and great uncles and aunts, and even some of their siblings who are alive today.  I’ve even written about them before on several occasions.

But on my father’s side, other than his younger brother -- my uncle Paul -- and his kids who are my cousins and with whom we spent time with growing up -- we really never knew any of his other siblings or my other cousins. My father’s maternal grandmother was alive when I was younger and I vaguely remember her, and I remember his father, my grandfather, and his second wife—my dad’s mother passed before I was born. But that’s really about it.

Like I said, I know all about my maternal grandmother’s early life, as well as my mother’s. I’ve heard their stories, first and second hand, and visited many of the places in their history. Not so much my father’s. Dad just never really spoke of his childhood, or his family. I do know that my dad was born in Nephi, Utah, but that’s about all I know. Whenever we’d travel through Nephi, Dad would never stop and show us or tell us about where he grew up, and he never had any pictures from those days. Mom was born in Clifton, Idaho, and we’d go there often when I was a kid and I know where she grew up, where her grandmother’s house was, where she went to school, the canal she swam in, the fields they farmed and on and on and I have a number of photos of her as a child in Clifton.

This past summer, she and I even visited and documented all the houses she lived in after they moved to Salt Lake City.  I never got the chance to do that with dad before he died, and I’m not sure he would have done it if I’d asked. In revisiting her history with mom this summer I got curious as to dad’s early history. When I was in Salt Lake in August I went to the church’s genealogical library to see if I could find any records of where they lived in Nephi so I could stop by and see since Nephi is on my route to and from the desert.

I found a copy of the 1930 US Census, which was taken just before my father was born that summer, and it showed my grandfather Eldred, and his wife Florence my grandmother, and their daughter Margaret – my aunt -- along with Florence’s brother and his wife, who would have been my Dad’s uncle and aunt -- living at 129 S.100 E, in Nephi.
I took a copy of that handwritten census page from the 1930 US Census, and then stopped by the address on my way back to the desert this past September.  Unfortunately, there was no 129 S. 100 E. There isn’t even a vacant lot there.  I was stumped, so when I got home and I enlarged the PDF of the census page, the 129 is likely 124, and there was and is a house at 124 that dates from at least 1930.

I had my cousins ask their Dad, my uncle Paul, what he remembered, and he said that he grew up at another address on 300 N.  So, this past week on my way to Mom’s for the holiday’s, and having to stop in Nephi to mail a package at the 1930s vintage post office on Main Street anyway, I went over to that address.
According to my Uncle Paul, this house at 54 E. 300 N. (above) belonged to his grandmother – my great grandmother – Florence Inscore. I barely remember my Grandma Inscore and visiting her at a home on Hudson Ave. in Salt Lake City when I was a child. But I have no idea how she came to be at this address in Nephi or any of her history.
Next door at 70 E. 300 N. is this smaller square house, which according to my uncle Paul, was apparently built out of railroad ties by my grandfather Eldred Gardner in about 1930. That would have been the house my father lived in until he was 13, when they moved to Oak Ridge, TN so my grandfather could work on the nuclear project during WWII.
This house, at 124 S. 100 E. is a couple of blocks from where Great Grandma Inscore lived on 100 North and where my Grandfather built the house next door. The census shows my grandparents and aunt living there on April 19, 1930. My grandmother would have been pregnant with my father at that time – he was born a couple of months later, on July 27, 1930. My cousins say that the family lived at this address while grandpa built the small house, which would have been completed in 1930 or 1931. I'm guessing, from the position of the house and the location it was built on his mother-in-law’s land as it is just next to their home. Grandma Inscore's house is rather fine and grand for Nephi, and I understand her family was somewhat well-to-do. But you see I don’t know – and I don't know if anyone living knows.

It is amazing to me that all of these houses are still standing and in good shape. It’s probably not surprising since Nephi is a small farming community, and hasn’t grown (and more likely has shrunk) since then.

I’m sad that my Dad never spoke of those years. For whatever reason he didn’t. And I’m sorry I never asked him about it. Perhaps he never felt a connection to Nephi, or perhaps he was embarrassed to come from there, or maybe he just didn’t care to remember his personal history. But even though he probably didn’t, I do, in a small way, feel connected to Nephi, just as I feel connected to Clifton. It’s part of my roots and I wish I knew more.

The New Road Home

For many years, my road home at Christmas has been south from the Pacific Northwest. Even after I moved to the desert last year, because I went back to Seattle before Christmas, my road home was the familiar trek across Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Northern Utah. It was pretty routine, with a route that only varied slightly. There was always a one or two day stop in Boise, Idaho to visit family there and drop off Christmas gifts. Then there was the familiar bump in the road on I-84 when I crossed from Idaho into Utah just before Snowville, a bump that told me I was “home”.

But this year -- my first full year of living in the desert after uprooting from Seattle -- I went home for Christmas on a different road. It’s a road I’ve traveled many times before – but not home for the holidays which conveys another set of emotions. Coming down from the Northwest if it wasn’t rainy and cold it was snowy and cold, setting the stage for the holiday season. Coming up from the south one doesn’t hit snow until the second day afteer getting well into Utah. The first full day of driving is across the high Mojave Desert of Southern California, into Nevada, and Southern Utah, where the temperature remained in the 70s, the sun shines, and the vegetation is sparse. And like the route in from the north, the drive covers vast empty spaces – across a landscape where very few people live and work, and where most travelers grumble about how “boring” it is and how long it takes to get across. Not me. I love the great empty, and I find it starkness quite beautiful.
Like the road home from the Northwest, I’ve driven this road many times – most recently a few weeks ago on a run to Las Vegas. It’s quite familiar, I know every dip and bump, every climb, every pass, and all my familiar landmarks. The abandoned microwave tower at Sheep’s Pass, the salt mines and the old Roy’s Motel along Route 66 in Amboy, and coming up to the former Union Pacific Depot in Kelso -- now the Visitor Center for the Mojave National Preserve, where I stop for the first time since leaving the house. I visit with the rangers and look over the depot, and hope a train goes by. My Grandfather once worked here when he worked for the Union Pacific as a signal maintainer during the depression when this was a major rail center, and my Mom recalls him telling her he was in Kelso, so aside from it being a cool place it's got a bit of a family connection as well.
Time passes quickly – almost too quickly. Before long it’s up and over the Cima Grade, passing a train I wished I could watch rumble past the depot back in Kelso, then on past the abandoned store at Cima and through the “forest” of Joshua Trees and then onto I-15 at the California/Nevada line, all the while being able to count the cars I pass on one hand. It's why I like this back road through the empty land.
But suddenly there are people. Lots and lots of people. All streaming towards the casinos of Las Vegas, all pouring up 1-15 from SoCal, and for those who can’t wait to gamble there are the casinos built right on the state line at Primm, Nevada. A few years ago, just outside of Las Vegas an “artist” created one of those massive outdoor “art” projects called Seven Magic Mountains. It consists of a number of boulders piled on each other and painted neon bright colors. It is a sudden burst of color in the muted hues of the desert. I’ve wanted to stop and look at it every time I've passed, but again this trip failed to exit in time, so had to drive past it and double back. The place is crawling with folks taking pictures, so it takes some time to frame it so there aren't people taking selfies in every shot, or guys shooting their "wannabe model" girlfriends posing like Madonna is singing Vogue in the background. It makes what could be a very interesting art installation a tacky tourist stop for the Las Vegas crowd and that's unfortunate.
Then it’s back onto the freeway and into Las Vegas where it’s stop and go traffic all along the freeway through town, even at 3pm in the afternoon. It takes nearly an hour to get through the city. Once safely on the north side the road climbs up towards the appropriately named Apex before heading across more empty desert towards Mesquite and into Arizona. The sun goes down and it’s dark by the time I enter the Virgin River Gorge and start the climb into Utah, and crossing the state line from Arizona into Utah there is no “bump” to tell me I’m home, just a sign saying, “Welcome to Utah – Life Elevated”  which is almost lost among the lights of St. George. St. George is like Boise – the half way point on my journey home. But I don’t have any relatives to visit here, so it’s a quiet night by myself in a Holiday Inn Express.
The next day the sun is shining on the red rocks of St. George and the climb into Utah continues – headed North, passing Zion National Park’s Kolob Canyons, gaining elevation, and finally seeing snow just outside of Cedar City.  I texted Mom as I was leaving St. George, and she said “good, you’ll be home by lunchtime” and I replied “or thereabouts”, to which she just said “yes, knowing you...” She knows my propensity is to wander, to explore, to stop and take photos. She used to say when I’d leave Boise headed south, “you are the only person I know who can take a ‘normal’ four-hour drive and make it a ten hour one.”
But for some reason, this time I’m not in the mood to wander. I have no idea why. I’m not in a hurry to get home either, but the desire to stop frequently and often wasn’t there for some reason. I’ll pay for that with stiff legs the for next few days, but I just was comfortable in the cab of my big truck,  enjoying the emply land, the mountains, the long flat valleys dotted with cattle, and playing CD’s and eating sandwiches I’d packed the day before. The road just rolled away under my feet and I didn’t stop once, even for gas, until I got to Nephi, Utah.Since I wasn’t going to go through Boise, and my sister wasn’t going to make it to Salt Lake City this year, I needed to mail their gifts, so I had an errand to do in addition to getting gas and stretching. Nephi – the county seat of Juab County, Utah is also where my father was born and raised. It’s a small farming community named by the early Mormon pioneers -- like many other towns in Utah -- after one of the main characters in the Book of Mormon. The ancient post office sits on Main Street, on what was once US-91. The town, now bypassed by I-15 which circles to the east, has pretty much dried up as a result. Main Street is filled with abandoned two and three story turn of the century vintage buildings, with a few café’s and stores still open, along with the stately Juab County courthouse, and a wonderful vintage post office built in 1931, the year after my father was born there.
I wandered in with my package and unlike any other post office in a big city, there was no line at all today. The clerk weighed and sent my package on its way to Boise and we chatted for a minute.  I told her she was lucky to get to work in this classic old building, and I was glad to see the Postal Service hadn’t closed it up and moved to something a bit more suited to its present operation and less costly to heat than this neo-classical Romanesque edifice.  She agreed and said the folks in Nephi “are proud of their post office” and wouldn’t stand for it. I'm happy. “Merry Christmas” she said, and I replied back as I strolled out of a building I imagine my father visited a few times as a kid mailing letters for his folks a time or two.Then it's back on I-15 headed north, inching closer to my own hometown, although I feel very much at home anywhere in Utah it seems. And while I’ve not lived here for almost 35 years – since 1983 – I don’t think I’ve ever really left. I know these roads like the back of my hand. But much has changed and it’s almost unrecognizable in many places, it’s grown so much. The traffic starts just before Provo now and lasts almost to Mom’s house in the middle of Salt Lake – at 3pm on a Friday. The stretch of highway between Provo and Salt Lake that I drove nearly every day all the time I was in college at BYU is now 10 lanes wide and full of cars. I used to drive through miles of farm land that is now all covered with office parks for tech companies.

Around Point of the Mountain and the entire Salt Lake Valley sprawls out before me, the valley ringed by the mountains that embrace me as well as the city. I’m home. I feel it in my heart. It’s Christmas. What’s not to be happy about?  I drive into Mom’s driveway and while it’s not the house I grew up in, it’s still home. She’s happy, and a litle surprised to see me so soon. She’s got soup on the stove and rolls in the oven and once again I’m back. In my head I hear John Denver singing “Hey it’s good to be back home again…” In the days ahead family and friends will gather, we’ll eat her great food, tell stories, reminisce, catch up, and enjoy the love we have for one another. Once again we are all together. It won't always be like this, we are all getting older. But for now, it's time to enjoy it all -- to soak it all in, capturing it, and holding it our hearts for the time down the road when we can't.

And while it feels a little different coming home from this direction, no matter what I'm home and glad to be here. For the foreseable future this will be the road home and I'll be here until its time to head back to my own home in the desert -- heading back south across the vast empty spaces of the West, to the sunshine and warm winds of the Coachella Valley.