Alpine, Day 1

Day 1, Alpine
June 4, 2012

No internet available forced me to delay posting this story until today.

At last! The first summer trip of 2012 was upon us. The destination was Alpine, AZ, and we had all day to ride there. I was elated, as I always was, enjoying the only trip of the year when I am really free of the dread of work.

I waited for Hal for 20 min. at the gas station

Finally, he arrived. I was already fueled up and ready to go.

Apparently, I was a little too eager to get going on our trip, and I was very early. So, I waited for  a few minutes, mostly patiently, and then we were ready! It was a slow beginning to the day, but once I got on the road I had the feeling I always do, the feeling of freedom! My BMW F650GS beneath me, a perfect day in front of me, and me without a care in the world, not weighed down by any job awaiting me when I got home.

Hal was once again on his DRZ 400, so we could only go 60 mph. It was a slow ride up the Beeline to Payson, where we had breakfast at the Crosswinds. We found it unusually empty because we are used to seeing it packed with people on the weekend. The best thing about breakfast this morning, especially at one of our favorite places, was that we didn’t have to feel pressured to get home or to do anything else but ride.

We headed out of Payson on the 260 toward Heber and Show Low. I absolutely love the part of the 260 between Payson and Heber, and today the perfect weather made it an even more wonderful ride. By contrast, I hate the stretch between Heber and Show Low. It is supposed to be around 30 miles, but it seems like 130, no matter which way I am going and whether it’s perfect weather or raining. About the only interesting thing about it is being able to see the progress the forest is making in its recovery from the Rodeo-Chedeski fire of 11 years ago. It is recovering, but slowly.

In Show Low, we fueled up and I calculated that my bike got 75.6 mpg. That’s what plodding along at 60 mph will do for ya, but it didn’t make it any more fun. I was falling asleep. And the funny thing is, I have 250 more cc’s than Hal and he got worse mileage. Oh well. (Maybe he’ll get a dual sport BMW soon!) What I noticed most of all when I got to Show Low was the smell of wildfire. There is no mistaking that acrid, almost chemical, smell.

All the memories of last summer and the Wallow fire came flooding back. The fright, the dread, the sadness of destruction; the whole reason our trip changed this year from going to Glenwood to going to Alpine instead is because of the Whitewater-Baldy complex fire currently going on in New Mexico. It is literally at the doorstep of Glenwood, the whole area is filled with smoke. The closer we got to New Mexico, the more I could see the ominous haze of smoke in the distance.

It was not too bad going through Pinetop- Lakeside, and the next thing I knew we were on the way to Sunrise junction. We climbed toward the ski area, the forest bright green with brilliant new summer. When we got to the 273, we turned there to go down to the ski area. We passed the huge snow fence, then the lodge, then the store, where we turned onto the ski area road. At the side of the road was a place that offered horseback riding. I thought I saw the same horses standing there, saddled and ready to go, that I’ve seen all the years previous that I’ve come up here to go mountain biking. Poor things. We found the road blocked off after a short distance, so we turned around and went back to the lodge.

I wanted to find out about mountain biking this year, and the woman in the lodge said that the lift was running for us on Saturdays and Sundays. I am planning on coming back in a few weeks to ride down the mountain on my mountain bike. I’ve been doing it off and on since 1998, which was the only time the MBAA (Mountain Bike Association of Arizona) had finals at Sunrise. 1998 was an awesome racing season for me.

We left Sunrise Park behind, and continued toward Springerville and Alpine. When we got to Alpine, we checked in, unloaded the bulk of our stuff, and then went for a short ride.

We ended up taking 191 south toward Hannagan Meadow. We tried to find the spot that I’ve been photographing, chronicling the progression of recovery there, but ended up riding all the way to Hannagan Meadow then turning around. Are we crazy? we thought. How did we not see “the spot”? We seem never to be able to find it if we are riding south. As we got nearer to Alpine, we found it, only a few miles out of town. We also saw the reason why it was almost unrecognizable to us – all the burned trees from the road to about 30 feet back had been cut and bulldozed into big piles of charred wood! It was a shocking sight, but I guess I should have expected it. Now I will never get my winter shots of those trees.

Pile of wood

“The spot” on Hwy. 191 (Hal took this photo)

I was getting cold

We returned to Alpine in search of a place to eat dinner, and were pleasantly surprised. The Alpine Grill was open and looked inviting, so we stopped in. Amazingly, it offered a variety of salads, which I was hungry for. It even had a little bit of the atmosphere of Alma Grill in Alma, NM, another place near Glenwood that we love.

It was getting dark by then, and before I left the Grill, I took a quick shot of the sunset rays reflecting on the smoke-filled sky, bathing everything in orange. Tomorrow we will attempt to go to Reserve, and maybe even Glenwood, just to visit and check on everyone. We will not be allowed to stay, but at least we can see how everything and everyone is.

Sunset light on wildfire smoke over Alpine


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