Some decisions are easy. For an early January journey from my current base near Palm Springs, California, to Phoenix then Las Vegas then St. George, Utah, and back, I looked first at my Volkswagen Jetta wagon with heated seats and then at the Mysterious Red Sunglo Harley-Davidson Street 750 parked beside it.
Would I rather be indulged or listen to the wind rush past my helmet? I found my saddlebags and loaded up.
There’s no denying the first part of this trip, on Interstate 10, is dull, but the Street easily held 80 mph and had plenty of roll-on power if I wanted to nudge it up to 90. The only remaining questions concerned range and comfort. Boredom intensifies discomfort, so I shifted my torso ever more forward, thinking this was going to be a long trip. The low-fuel indicator lighting up sooner than expected was like an early Christmas present. In Tonopah I calculated fuel economy. Could 35 mpg be right? With just a 4.3-gallon tank, long-distance comfort wouldn’t be a concern.
After a good night’s sleep in Phoenix, I made my way to Vegas via Arizona Route 60. The chief attraction would be the forest of Joshua trees between Wickenburg and Wikieup, a sleepy trading post. As the road started uphill before Wickenburg, I saw a sign indicating a photo point ahead on the left and thought, “Why not?” The crossover was just ahead. So I flicked the Street 750 onto the apron and got on the brakes.
But the apron was shorter than expected. Then I saw the gravel. Target fixation set in. I didn’t even attempt to throw the bike into the open track that turned left. Instead, the front tire skidded, and I went down, feeling astonished at the implacability of physical forces, appalled at the grinding and crunching, and sick about dropping the Street on its Screamin’ Eagle aftermarket pipe.
I bounced to my feet and hit the Street’s kill switch. The bike was scraped but not broken. The turn signal had popped out of its stalk, but that was it. I popped it back into place. My left thumb had whacked the mirror and was already swelling, but I could still reach Vegas before dark.
Finishing business and nursing my injuries, I left Vegas a few days later, eager to be back on the bike. If you don’t mind scrubby vegetation, weird geography makes the ride across southeastern Nevada fascinating. Two rivers, the Muddy and the Virgin, flow almost side by side into the tail of Lake Mead. St. George is only 125 miles from the Vegas Strip, yet topographic and cultural shields make it seem like a different planet. The city hunkers down inside a bowl of vermillion sandstone, with the brawny Pine Valley Range beating its own chest to the north.
Finally, on the last day of my journey, I retraced the course to Las Vegas and then made my way home through the Mojave National Preserve, 1.6 million acres of wondrous lava beds, sand dunes, and granite mountains. The nubbly road from Baker, on Interstate 15, leads through tortoise habitat to Kelso ghost town. Testifying to the heyday as a railroad stop and mining center, Kelso’s restored depot serves as the Preserve’s welcome center. From the Preserve’s southern border, I covered the 18 miles to Amboy, on Old Route 66, and filled up once more before the final 90-mile stretch home.
I pulled into my driveway feeling halfway fresh. Fuel economy had improved to 41 mpg overall, but long stretches of desert encouraged stopping for gas at every opportunity. What bothered me most was the suspension’s lack of compliance. Otherwise, my ambiguous feelings of the first day were transformed into a strong connection with the motorcycle; after this long run I accepted the Street’s quirks. I unloaded my saddlebags with a feeling of accomplishment, proving to myself that the Harley-Davidson Street 750 isn’t just for the street, but it works well on the highway too.