The heat was absolutely mind-boggling. Reflexively I glanced at the temperature gauge on the big Valkyrie cruiser. Northeast bound out of 4-corners, we were headed for Cortez, and later, Durango. Screaming along in the southwestern Colorado desert I was suddenly concerned that the high speeds and heavy load might be making The Dragon run hot. Not sure why I felt the need to look, we had been running hard in these conditions for days and she had not protested a bit.
The Valkyrie does not come equipped with a temperature gauge. Originally I felt that was a bit odd for a water-cooled bike so right after I got her I added one. Since I do most of my riding in hot and arid conditions I felt this was a good idea. The gauge is a stainless probe type thermometer that replaces the dipstick. It really measures oil temperature, but that is an excellent way to watch your engine’s health. It was a bit expensive as I recall…
I should never have bothered with the gauge. 200 degrees. Right where I would expect it, and I could not recall riding in hotter temperatures than these. A superb piece of engineering, in tens of thousands of miles, The Dragon has never let me down. She is not about to start now.
New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona had been experiencing drought conditions for several years. Summer 2002 was the worst of the bunch. I laughed out loud as I considered that most of the load on the bike was camping gear that I had never had a chance to use. Due to the extreme fire danger, all the national forests had been closed. Kind of annoying really…I wish the states or the National Forest Service would have mentioned that on their websites when I was planning this trip.
I keyed up the radio and poked my friend James a bit. He was running off my starboard quarter on “Bunnie” his 81 Gold Wing. “Bunnie” was similarly laden with unused gear.
“Camping’s been great, huh?” I broadcast to the airways.
James did not bother to answer. Except for that single middle finger I could see in my rearview mirror. I chuckled to myself. That would have been my answer too. We had been looking forward to camping.
Oh well. My concerns were really irrelevant. Colorado was having big problems. The entire region we were entering was under a fire warning. Durango was home base to thousands of firefighters, as they were fighting two large fires nearby. Maybe…we thought…possibly. Accurate information was very hard to come by at all, especially on the road, and we were mostly operating on rumor. The rumors ended up leading us right into the heart of the fire zone, but that is another story.
Well at least the highway department was trying to be helpful. Just north of the Colorado border they had put out a series of those electronic “changing letter” construction signs. These are the occasionally useful message signs usually put just before construction zones. They are three lines and each line can only display about 10 letters.
The problem with these signs is that when trying to convey long or complicated messages, they flash a series (usually 3) messages. I have never been able to read all three, as I am usually passing the signs before they finish changing.
Colorado had a complicated message to display. They had put out a series of three signs, each one flashing the same three messages. The problem was that you could see all three signs at the same time, and although they were flashing the same message, the timing was not the same between all three. This resulted in the words scrambling themselves in my head as the signs changed constantly.
I got the first message…that was easy.
I even got the second one:
The rest of the message was a blur as we left the set of signs in the dust and the heat. But I got it. I really did.
I thought about what I had read a bit, and blinked as the message resolved itself in my brain.
Surely that could not be true, I mean, Colorado was hot all right, but not that hot! Fully ten miles passed by while I pondered the rather bizarre implications of the words.
Well, I was tired, and hot, and the shimmering heat could have made them difficult to read. Plus, three of them together could have been a bit confusing. Yeah. That was it.
Just to check I called James on the radio, “Interesting signs.” No need to elaborate despite the ten miles that had passed. He would know what I meant.
“Uh, yeah.” His tone indicated something was up.
“Did you get the whole message?” I asked carefully.
His tone was very dry. “Yes. Yes I did…maybe.”
“What did it say?”
I wanted to get his answer first. “I don’t think I got it.”
He laughed over the radio, “Me neither.”
I know James well. He was not going to answer first. Truly that was my answer, but I still wanted to confirm it. I figured James probably did too.
“Okay, okay. I got it. Maybe. The first one said,
“Yep.” the radio crackled back.
“The second said,
“Uh huh.” James responded.
What the heck, he already knows I am crazy anyway. I keyed up the radio for the final message, “The last said,
There was laughter over the radio. “That’s it! I just wanted somebody to confirm it!”
I laughed back. “Yeah, me too.” After all, I was pretty beat. Maybe the heat was getting to me. At least if that was the case, it was getting to us both. Odd that I found comfort in that thought.
Colorado must really be dry and overheated if their wildlife is running around bursting into flames. Truly we are in the heart of a fire zone if the elk are on fire. Of course it became the standing joke for the rest of the trip.
James started it. “That would really suck.”
I fired back, “What?”
“Running into one.”
“Running into what?” I asked dryly.
“An elk. Especially one that is already on fire. Can you imagine?”
“Yeah. Gives the term ‘crash and burn’ a whole new meaning.”
It went rapidly down hill after that. We got to the “stealth flaming elk of death” and kept going shamelessly from there. We were at it for hours. Most I won’t repeat. Maybe you had to be there.
So. Colorado is home to flaming elk.
Very dangerous…those flaming elk. Very dangerous indeed.
From a motorcyclist’s perspective though they have one redeeming feature, one truly bright side (ugh).
Yeah, we really have to watch for those flaming elk…
But at least they are easy to spot at night…