Autumn is my favorite season. One of the joys of my life is to be able to ride one of my dirt bikes in the high country where there are four seasons. There is nothing more joyous and spectacular to me than the beautiful colors of autumn. Yesterday, the opportunity arose to go up and ride in the Rim country and stay for more than a couple of hours!
At first I could hardly believe it: I was going back to Alpine! It was going to be a fast trip, only a day and a half, basically, but it was going to happen.
My motorbike riding partner, Hal, and I decided at the last minute to trailer the dirt bikes, and go back and ride some of our beloved roads from last summer. Friday night was an evening of somewhat feverish packing for me, but I thought, throw something in a bag, so what? But then I realized I had to be mindful of packing ALL my gear this time, given what happened last July when I forgot all my motocross pants.
We left this morning, and the sun was glaring down in the Phoenix area, as usual. I did notice, however, that the sky was more blue, not the blasted-out white color of summer. It is a welcome change!
By the time we got to Sunflower, the temperature had dropped into the 60s F., and when we got to the Mogollon Rim, it was in the 50s F. We stopped for lunch at the Subway in Springerville, one of our favorite places, and that’s when I knew it was time to change out of my shorts! I put on my camouflage pants that I bought last time I was here, and I fit right in with the locals.
Soon we were on the road, then we stopped briefly at Nelson Reservoir for a few photos of the waterfowl in the reeds. It was a beautiful fall day, and all the colors of the landscape were brown, auburn, tan, and gold. I felt the brief sting of tears starting in my eyes as I thought of my mother and how she loved this time of year. Perhaps that is why I do as well, because it was such an important, beautiful season for her. I wish she were still here to enjoy it.
The next thing I knew, we were in Alpine at the little lodge where we usually stay. We unloaded the bikes, geared up, and … Hal’s bike wouldn’t start. This is such a usual occurrence that I don’t worry too much. He had to get the jumper cables out of the car again to get the bike to start, but at least it did. I was starting to see my riding day disappearing as I listened to the bike grinding away trying to start. I gazed up into the mountains where the gold of baby aspens was spilling over the top. I had hoped to be on the way up there by now. Finally, the bike surged to life, and then we took off.
Baby aspens at the side of the road:
On the road, the cold air really hit me. I thought I was being dumb by bringing my big heavy riding jacket with the quilted liner, but as soon as we started riding, I was glad I had. I wasn’t super-warm, but I wasn’t cold, either. I also figured that once we got off the pavement and onto the forest roads, it would feel warmer.
The minute we got on FS403, I remembered how different it is to ride in the forest in autumn. “The darkness is upon us,” as one of my friends said last week, and here it really applies. The shadows were long and deep, making holes in the road almost invisible. The road was in fair shape, only a few places where logging equipment had gouged it. This is prime wood-gathering season for those who live up here. The difference between those visiting for a short time (us) and residents of the area is in how we use our weekend time. They have no time to go out and play as we do. They are out in the forest with their pickup trucks, getting enough wood to stoke the fires through the winter. We are playing, they are working. There are large sections of trees set aside and clearly marked for them as “wood gathering areas.”
On 403, my eyes were flicking in amazement over the beauty of the landscape. The baby aspens we’d seen last summer were now in the process of turning gold, or were already gold. Strangely, though, there wasn’t the ocean of sparkling leaves as I’d thought; some sections looked as though they’d been frosted a little too soon. Overnight, the temperatures here are in the 20° F. range. The frost-bitten trees were dressed in duller shades of gold, and the tips of their leaves were brown and curled.
Hal rides through the mature aspens:
All the things I love about autumn:
Then, we rode into the part of the forest untouched by the Wallow fire. The mature aspens were brilliantly golden, reaching toward the intense blue sky. We rode through a tunnel of trees, and on the ground were the coin-shaped leaves that make you know you have discovered riches beyond your wildest imagination. Mile after mile, we enjoyed the autumn spectacle until we finally came out on a naked hillside near the intersection with FS267. We took it down a mile or two to where it joined FS249, the road to Big Lake. However, we turned east because we wanted to ride FS81 again.
Last summer when we’d ridden FS81 we were trying to outrun a storm. This time, we simply enjoyed it. The day was growing later, and as we dove into the shadow of the mountain above it, the cold was starting to become more insistent. We met a white pickup with two hunters in it, and I pulled over to the right. I waved and gestured that I had one more rider behind me. Then, as we continued to descend, we found two more pickup trucks, this time off to the side of the road, their occupants gathering firewood. At this point, the road was narrow and rough in spots. I don’t remember this roughness, I thought. I also saw places where the road was clay, and I don’t remember it being slimy or difficult to get through even though it was starting to rain that day we’d come through here last summer. The tire tracks of larger vehicles told a different story.
At last we finished our descent off the mountain, and were on 2269, a county road. I was confused last time we’d come out here because I thought we’d be on 2108. I found out the answer to the mystery as we reached Hwy. 191 – there are two different counties involved at that intersection, and the road is called both numbers, one for each county. No wonder I was mystified. I was wondering how two roads with different numbers could look exactly the same at their entrance/exit.
By the time we got to the 191 intersection, I could not feel my fingers anymore. I had only one layer of gloves on, and it was time to get back to the lodge – already. I feel so lucky that I got to ride those 30 miles today, and I was so happy to be in the cool weather at last!
Quick turnaround tomorrow – a short ride in the morning, and then on the way home by the afternoon. I hate that this trip is so short, but at least I got to ride here at all.