Day 7: Angel Fire

Day 7

‘Can I take a picture of your license plate?’ a voice asks me while at a scenic overlook I am getting my photo camera from the saddlebags to shoot this magificent canyon landscape on the road to the high mountains above SanteFe. I look up, a lady in her sixties, a party of 6 people. ‘Sure, go ahead’. But I have to pose near it and be in the picture. What is so special about this license plate? I ask. Well, she says, just to show to my son that something from Indiana made it all the way up here. You see, my son lives in Indiana. Of course I ask here, where? Embarassing silence – ‘my gosh I don’t remember’. Addressing her husband: ‘where in Indiana does Jerry live?’ The answer is predictable: well, let me see, .. he lives in Indiana. I wonder: don’t they know there are towns and cities in Indiana? Consultations with the rest of the group. One volunteers: around the border with Kentucky near Louisville? Another contributes: something with ‘green’ in it. They must be a close family seeing each other often. Hearing my foreign accent: turns out their family comes from Holland. By the name of Bos – just added an extra ’s’ when they came over. Explaining the Napoleontic history of last names, they had no idea of the meaning in Dutch (forest, woods). They learned something today, after-all.

At stops, anywhere, MS draws attention and conversation. I talk with men each day who upon hearing what and how I am doing (it), start to shake hands and give their names; saying things like “I really envy you’, ‘you know, I have a CB900 which I haven’t used for three years – now I must do something’ or ‘you’re doing it the right way, man’. And the person at the gas station who goes back in time: what I used to do, he recalls, was take a theme. Like: the stars & planets. I’d ride , he explains, 7000 miles across the country to towns with star and planet names – in Indiana, there is a Saturn, yu know. No, I don’t.

Today, I am doing the trip the Guzzi guy of yesterday advised. Up to Taos to the National Vietnam War Memorial at Angel Fire. Up the scenic route over small hill and mountain roads, back through the deep gorge of the mighty Rio Grande river (the gorge is a mixture of the Grand Canyon in Arizona and the Black Canyon of the Gunnission in Colorado). We go high up, 9000 feet. Wooded mountain hills, snow here and there, it is cold. Skies are filled with very dark blue clouds – rain coming down from them. As well as lots of lightening. I am heading there and watching my comfort zone.

The Guzzi guy had warned me. It is dangerous out there, north of SantaFe. Hail and heroine. It is the time of the monsoon. Set your clock by the start of the daily downpour. Perhaps 30 minutes. But hail is normal, egg-size, and lots of lightning. Get off the road immediately! And make sure that you are back in time. Don’t pass by – he points at a small town on the map in front of us – because they have the worst heroin problem out there of the whole USA. Gesturing at MS, he says: they won’t bother with this one; but these guys out there steal a Harley off you in two minutes. (I pass by there in the morning; looks pretty harmless to me.)

Lightning everywhere in the mountains. Is this Angel Fire? Angel Fire is the name of the hole in the ground which is my destination for this one tourist day I am allowing myself; the memorial is there. OK, I stop over at Taos for coffee because various people told me it is a must-see. Taos is an historic pueblo village, but these days with a thick Disney layer and lines of tourist junk outfits. The grand La Fonda Hotel cafe serves excellent expresso. On the road up the mountains. High above Angel Fire is the memorial. Set up by a person whose son was one of the tens of thousands of Americans who got killed in Nam; and it is now being expanded by the State of NM. A Huey in LZ landing position sits outside, the pilots in full battle fatigue in it. Nearby a statue of a soldier writing a ‘Dear mam’ letter but not knowing what to say. Inside a movie theatre. If ever, fellow triple riders, you need a destination: head to Angel Fire. Make sure you get some strong coffee in Taos. And watch the 90 minutes original footage, nothing dramatized, simple narrative, music with the popular songs of the time. The arguments by the politicians and generals, their remoteness from the troops in the mud for whom it doesn’t take very long to see that their is no point in this war, the ordeals the soldiers survived (or not), totally unsettling. If and when you go, look in the mirror before you go in, look again when you get out. You will see a different person forever.

Two categories of people should see this documentary- in addition to probably just all Americans. First the entire US Senate; it is absolutely nerve-wrecking to see the copy-paste similarity to present-day Iraq. So says also the Vietnam veteran who did multiple Nam tours in the sixties and now volunteers as ‘hello’ person at the entrance behind an empty desk. As well as the people who are about to exit but are not ready to go back into the real world yet. I am amongst them. I sit on a wooden bench, talk with those present, I need 15 minutes to recover enough steadiness to head down the mountain again. Tears, had predicted the Guzzi guy – who said he would look for my report on the website. He was right. This documentary is pure Michael Herr quality, the Huey pilot who was the first of a few soldiers who in the very early seventies tried to regain sanity by writing about the hell they happened to survive. (There are just a few honest heart-to-heart books like Herr’s; what came soon after is mostly garbage written for money). Ah yes, the second category of people: the industry of shoot&kill&gettem computer games.

The mountains clear the mind. Lightning and rain, I just get around. And MS helps. She thunders up the steep inclines and eases down again. I just play her gear moods, she likes RPM’s. Downhill, I have almost never to use the brakes however steep down we go, like into the Rio Grande river with its massive walls of age old rock. Up and down, together we lean in the tight curves, the hairpins, making sure we don’t launch ourselves into the deep ravines – nothing is protected here by railguards. (We encounter various crosses with heaps of colorful plastic flowers as a memory of others who failed to follow the road properly.) Cold it is, signs warn me to look out for ice and elks. We came in from the heat.

On the road: this old minivan is definetely starting to burn, it is afire, I hope the people got out in time. A very large folded-out carton box almost blocks the road. The wind is real strong – I have to sail-ride again – and just hope the box stays where it is and doesn’t start to move just before I get there. It doesn’t.

Pecos River & Mountains, Rio Grande, Santa Fe. Names like a mantra with a spell-binding effect. This landscpae Karl May must have visioned when he wrote his Winnetou and Old Shatterhand classics (the descendants of Winnetou’s white-patched horse, they are here everywhere, too.) You can’t be have been here and still believe some God created it all in one hallucinating moment of clairvoyance. MS and me. We are here together, it is love for life.

Now – close your eyes. Bring back the Forst Gump scene where he stops dead in his tracks, canyon land around him. He tells his wondering followers: ‘my running days are over’. I am sure now, that was shot in New Mexico.

Harold – “Ride to write”

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