This is a Friday morning like no other. The work this past week has been wonderfully different than the emails, meetings and thought-work of any Monday through Thursday I have known, even the ones spent on vacation.
My daily agenda has been to put about 300 miles of two-lane blacktop behind me. My task list has been shortened to keeping two-wheels spinning below me and absorbing the beauties of Highway 64.
This final day starts in Farmington, NM under a high sky and sunshine. This is an unexpected treat because rain is predicted.
The first few miles are forgettable suburban sprawl, but at Shiprock the road turns 90 degrees to the right for a final, spectacular dash west across the Colorado Plateau toward Teec Nos Pos, Arizona and the end of the road.
I’ve seen the Shiprock once before. Standing on the high ground of Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado, you can see the Shiprock clearly. It rises 1,583 feet straight out of the New Mexico dirt like a grand, three-mast clipper--an imperial tall ship christened by the hand of God.
This is Navajo land. The ancients of the tribe had never seen a clipper ship. Their name for the Shiprock is TséBit ‘a’ i, which means rock with wings. Ancient Navajo traditions tell of a time when the Navajo lived on top of the winged rock, and descended only to plant their fields and get water. One day a huge lightning strike wiped out the trail. The women and children stranded on top of the rock starved to death. Today no one is permitted to summit the peak, in part for safety reasons, but also because the Navajo do not want the spirits of their ancients disturbed.
The Shiprock is a harbinger of the majestic peaks and towers of the famous Monument Valley, which have been standing for millennia in Utah about 100 miles to the northwest. Like the towers of Monument Valley, Shiprock is a stone remnant formed in the throat of a massive volcano perhaps 27 million years ago. The rock is breccia, the composite of smaller rocks and minerals fused together by heat into one majestic tower.
The volcano eroded away, but Shiprock stands tall and compelling. It can be accessed from US 64 via five miles of unpaved road.
At this point Highway 64 shoots straight west toward the mountains of northeast Arizona. It is quite clear a change in landscape is imminent. It is as if the state line ahead marks the boundary of another room, designed by a different architect, one with a penchant for odd angles and magenta.
To each side and in my rearview mirrors, New Mexico is tan, dotted with sage and the occasional gray mesa. Ahead of me are jagged reddish rocks and purple peaks. The mountains are making weather. Rain is rolling our way.
I’m flush with the idea that this is it. This is the end of the journey. This is the last hour of the last day of a 30-year quest, and I want to soak up every detail. A 64 West sign looms in the distance. Is this the last one? Stop and take a picture. Take 12 pictures. Breathe the morning air. Listen to the wind. Stare at the curtains of rain covering distant peaks. Stare at the red desert thirsty for every imminent drop of moisture. Stare at the parallel lines of the chip and tar highway that narrows and vanishes into the scene.
As the Shiprock disappears over my shoulder, the road seems to fall like a rollercoaster, perhaps a thousand feet or more downhill. I feel myself clutching the Kawasaki tighter as I start the descent. This is part of the East Defiance Monocline, an ancient fold in the earth caused by a massive uplift that created the nearby Corrizo Mountains. For a second or two the sensation feels like riding down the side of a bowl of broken glass. I’m falling fast and the view ahead is all points and angles.
On either side of the road, looming, eroded, sandstone rocks stand like sentries of a new land. At the bottom is the village of Beclabito, home to about 300 Navajo citizens. I see a few rusted buildings and earth-moving machines, remnants apparently of some long-closed mining operation, perhaps a uranium mine. This area was the epicenter of a cold-war uranium boom back in the Fifties. People still live here, but they don’t seem to work here. I wonder as I pass how anyone makes a living.
Past Beclabito the road turns northwest toward the Four Corners and--I can really feel it now--the end of the road.
My heart is filled with conflicting emotions. I’m equal parts joy, gratitude, satisfaction and grief. Joy for the adventure of it all. Gratitude for the time, resources and health to pull it off. Satisfaction for a dream fulfilled. And grief? Grief for a dream coming to an end.
My feeling is most like a funeral for an aging, ailing friend. You’ve long known the end is coming, and that has provided you time to express your love and admiration, to reminisce fondly, and to share a few last smiles. But at the end of it all, you still grieve what’s no longer there.
It’s clear Arizona does not care much about its little portion of Highway 64. The state line is marked only by a small sign and gravel pull-out. We stop for a photo so briefly we don’t remove our helmets. Back quickly on the bikes we sprint about six miles to Teec Nos Pos and a tall highway marker bearing the message we travelled 2,336 miles to read. End 64.
Teec Nos Pos is Navajo for round tree. We see nothing that fits that description. There is a scruffy trading post and some type of machine shop. Two men at the shop taking a smoke break seem amused by Raymond and me hugging each other and taking selfies on the shoulder of their road. We have to stoop and lean comically to get the End 64 sign in our background.
Raymond and I thank and congratulate each other, call our wives, and post a photo to Facebook. We take one good, long, last look around, then get back on our bikes to ride a road no longer named U.S. 64.