Bonneville Salt Flats

September 09, 2008  •  Leave a Comment
 

 

The Road to Bonneville


This trip to the Salt Flats was not one that was planned months in advance, it WAS visualized, it wasn't charted, detailed or mapped out, it was a pilgrimage of sorts, not just for the motorcyclist in me but sustenance for the soul as well. It was something that had to be done. In 1958 Triumph launched the Bonneville Motorcycle at the Earls Court motorcycle show, this would be the 50th anniversary of the Bonneville at Bonneville, so named after Johnny Allens records on a Triumph in 1950.

The Bub Speed Trials took place at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, this year between Monday Sept. 1st and Saturday the 6th.

The trip for me began on the Saturday prior, I gave myself a leisurely 2 days to make the 655 mile trip, leaving the San Francisco north bay area towards Sth. Lake Tahoe on highway 50. Hi way 50 is like any other till you exit the back side of Carson City, Nevada and start to traverse the historic route of the pony express and you enter into what is known as the loneliest road in America. It's called this for good reason, the road strikes out into the vast wasteland that is central Nevada with authority and an introspective that waits for you, as it has for many that have passed before, on four wheels, two wheels or a sweating panting horse galloping across the plain with a riders hat tipped back in the wind as his heels coax his mount on. It seems that upon leaving Carson City and entering into this previously unknown world my heels coaxed my steed into a conversation with the local Nevada Hi way Patrol, I tried to explain that I h ad seen the movie "The World's Fastest Indian" and according to it there was no speed limit in Nevada, officer Crisp was polite but obviously not humored, not to mention that conversation took place under this road sign, the first I had seen until I dropped the kickstand beneath it. Could Hollywood have really gotten it wrong, if old Burt could get his Indian Scout into the mid triple digits why was my quest being interrupted by this well meaning public servant.

The solitude of the road makes itself evident in no uncertain terms, there is little traffic to take your attention from endless miles of straight blacktop that seems to unfold in 10 mile lengths, only to end in a quiet little dogleg right or left and then continue on into another mind wandering span of road disappearing off in the distance to the edge of the horizon. The speed of my bike seemed to edge up again till it was resting peacefully in the 90-100 range, the lack of any buildings or passing traffic belay the quickness at which you are actually eating up the miles, only the glance down at the odometer gives any idea how far you have travelled and to remind you that your attention can not wander less you find yourself being launched into the brush that seems to relish this part of the world.

There is not much in the way of visual entertainment, anticipation of the next fuel stop and a cool drink to quench your thirst is what the immediate quest is about. The town of Austin lies approximately mid state, 172 miles east of Carson City, about that time it was getting to be late afternoon and I was looking for a soft spot to lay my head, after chowing down on a tasty burger and a MGD ( imported beer in that part of the country) at the Toiyable Cafe I proceeded through town and 5 files or so I pitched my tent in a small state park (the name escapes me), found my stash of tequila and basked in the dwindling light of the sunset as the agave worked it's magic and the day dissipated behind the shadows of the hillsides.

Daylight or my prostate woke me about 6:00 or so and after admiring the front half of the sun, I packed up and anxiously headed off to Eureka, about 90 miles east, for a cup of coffee or three and some breakfast. Eureka is best known as a mining town that peaked in about 1878, I'm sure I'm wrong but it seemed like from one end of town to the other there were about 25 buildings in all, never the less I found the Owl Club Casino and breakfast joint, coffee, eggs over easy, hash browns and homemade sausage started off that yet was to be another memorable day. With a much satisfied stomach, I put my jacket on and swung my helmet over the back of my head, out of the corner of my eye I caught a small group walking down the boardwalk and before I could button her up heard "Now, that's a proper British Bike", not exactly the first time I've heard that, but this was different, and as I pulled the helmet back off and turned I found four Brits hanging over the railing like a bunch extras from an Italian Western. Turns out the lads have flown into the San Jose, rented a small flock of Harley's and were on their way to the Bonneville Salt Flats. We spend about 5-10 mins. discussing the merits of Milwaukee Motorcycles and a couple of different routes before i pulled out of town on my way to my next destination, Ely. Ely will be the final stop before Wendover.

The anticipation out of Ely builds and again the speed just seems to role on faster and faster as the bike is starting to act like a magnet is drawing it home with a greater urgency as each mile rolls under the Pirelli's.

No change in the road, long empty and desolate, however there is a change in the air, it's cooling some and getting ever thicker, the light is fading and the ominous dark clouds start to move across the sky before the first crack of thunder flashes from the heavens to the deck of the desert. This is followed in short order by a strong wind coming out of the north and a moderate rain. So after all this with just 25 miles to go, nature is throwing a bit of nasty at me, so much so that I'm holding onto the handlebars for dear life, I can't see my knuckles, but under my gloves I'm certain they are a lily white.

The thing about a strong crosswind, especially on a wet road is the indecision that comes with it, do I slow down to 40mph and prolong the beating or speed up to 80 and make it go away as fast as possible, then the right side of the brain kicks in and says "when you launch yourself off the road do you want to be going 40 or 80", the sensible part of me decided a compromise of 60 was best suited for the situation and I rolled into Wendover wet but unscathed and just a little worse for wear.

I didn't anticipate the search for a room would be very fruitful based on conversations with friends that had attended previously and so i was quite happy to see the Motel 6 had vacancies and for only $29.95. A warm shower was more then welcome. After a quick "kip" I was up and out to see what Wendover had in store, based on the run through town it looked like it was mostly all about Casino's, being as the stateline of Utah and Nevada intersected the town about midships, this was the playground for the gamblers in Utah. Well low and behold in passing the office I didn't notice four Harley's parked outside, yep my four Refugee friends from old blighty were checking in and eventually ended up just a couple rooms away.

Before dinner I had to go to the place that had brought on this trip, I needed to see the "Flats", there was still enough daylight and the rain and slowed considerably. I headed out of town and followed the signs to the Bonneville Salt Flats Speedway, I was here many years ago as a lad travelling from Canada to California, but now I was mounted on my 2002 Triumph Bonneville heading towards my bikes namesake on the 50th anniversary of it's introduction.

The exit off of hiway 80, swoops around and crosses over the freeway, and about a m ile on turns nrth east about 3 miles where it ends at the salt. there is a small sign that announces your arrival and discusses in brief the history of the salt flats, the fact that the Donner party got hung up here and well the rest is history. On this evening it's cold, the clouds hang ominously over the great white expanse of grayish salt and a small lake that has formed at the bottom of what is to be known as the boat ramp in the coming day.


Feeling good despite the cold and wet, I head back to town where Cyril, Bill, Dick and Lee, the refugees from the UK ask me to join them for Dinner. Walking down the sidewalk towards the casino's I notice that Cyril, Dick and Bill are a few years my senior and Lee a few my junior, somehow out of the conversation Cyril mentions he has Leukemia . Not sure quite what to say I could only ask him how he felt, "I feel like shit"....... but having said that he goes on to say had it not been for a new drug he was on, he have been dead several years back. All I could think of was "Bucket List", I had just seen the film recently and now somehow I was in a sequel. Waiting in line at the restaurant, I made some small talk about motorcycles, Cyril had on his Vincent Jacket and the conversation naturally tilted in that direction. Egli Vincents come up in conversation and Cyril declares that he is one of 3 or so people in the world that make the frames for them! Ok.........somewhere through dinner Cyril also professes that he made formula one frames for Emerson Fittipaldi and the Coopersucar Team in the 70's.......quite a gent it turns out. Subsequently I find out that there is a lot more to Cyril then this and during the next 3-4 days he introduces me to all of the Vincent "heavy hitters" present at the Flats. Quite the end to a terrific day.


 

to be continued.......

 


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