Alpine, White Mountains preview

Last Friday was a lost day. I sat in a “training” class for teachers, a class that was mind-numbingly boring. I can always get something positive out of anything, but it was mostly a wasted day. I don’t like that because I feel like I don’t have any days to waste on anything that is not what I want to be doing. But, anyway, that was not the important part of my day.

The important part of my day came at 4:25 p.m. when Hal and I pulled out of my driveway in the car with the dirt bikes on the trailer behind it, on the way to the White Mountains of Arizona. We wanted to ride the roads we’d planned to include in our rally ride next weekend.

It seemed very hot when we left, so it was perfect to escape in the cool car, bound for a cool place. By the time we reached Payson and stopped at a Subway for a quick sandwich, the temperature had dropped 20° F. from when we left my house. BTW, lately we have really appreciated Subway food. It is always good, fresh, and their employees wear the plastic food-handling gloves all the time. This is important to me, and it should be to everyone. Hal and I split the turkey-bacon-avocado sandwich, had some chips, and a drink, and then we continued our journey.

It always seems to take forever to get there because I want to be there so badly! We passed through Heber, Show Low, Springerville, and finally, at 9:30 or so, we pulled into Alpine. A million stars shone overhead as we unloaded the bikes, and settled down for the evening, anticipating the wonderful riding day ahead.

Saturday morning was clear and perfect, although I thought it was quite warm for Alpine. I geared up after breakfast, put on one more shirt than I thought I needed (my rule for being comfortable in the higher elevations), and we took off. Our plan was to ride the good ol’ favorite roads that we like, and put together a definite plan for the ride next week. That ride will be part of our rally, and we wanted our friends to enjoy the roads fully.

At MM250:

We started out by going to mile marker 250 on Hwy. 191 so I could take some photographs of the area, still recovering from the Wallow fire. It is in its late spring state of growth, and the burned, dead trees are still there, lurking in the background, far from the road. A few of them have fallen, and some have been bulldozed into a pile on the other side of the road. I have looked at those photographs so often that I know exactly what shots to get by now.

After that, we rode to FR59, another favorite of ours. It climbs up and up, into a fire-devastated section (part of the same one as at MM250), and we could see how the recovery process is going. We found lots of aspens happily growing toward the sun! On the way back down in elevation (returning to Hwy. 191), we rode the switchbacks where we heard the creek running merrily last summer. This time it was so dry I could imagine a puff of dust rising from it.

Once on 191, we backtracked north a couple of miles to get to FR403, a place where the re-growth of the aspens is really exuberant! This road climbs to an area high to the southwest of Alpine. As I look at this mountain, and others surrounding it, I am always amazed at how close the Wallow fire came to Alpine. I was told the whole place was full of thick, choking smoke, and the fire literally came almost to people’s doorsteps on the south side. If I’d lived there then, I would have been freaked out, and joined other residents, digging, spraying with water, and doing anything I could to save this small town.

Up on FR403, another area devastated by the fire, we rode through “corridors” of 5-ft. + aspens. They were roughly 4-5 feet tall last fall when we were here, went dormant over the winter, and now are experiencing the first burst of growth of spring. This year they should grow another couple of feet, and by fall, the corridors will be a profusion of gold. We will be back to check!

After we got to the end of FR403 where it dead-ended into FR276, we took 276 down the long descent to the East Fork of the Black River. The day was brilliant, bright sun overhead, grass fluorescent green and bright in the sun, and the river water sparkling blue. Everything was clear and vivid, everything in sharp focus in the stark light. The Black River was actually dark blue and silver, its splashing droplets flashing in the sunlight as it chattered through rocks.

We followed it for many miles when we got onto FR25. At the West Fork of the Black River, where FR25 crossed it, we stopped for a break. We have stopped here before, on previous trips. We always see something different, though. This time we listened to it run through a small field of rocks, and I photographed a lizard sunning himself on a fallen log.

Before we continued, I asked Hal if I could ride up front for a while. I was tired of eating dust, so I took the lead. Besides, I wanted to go faster than I had been riding because I wanted to see how different it would feel on the KLX compared to previous times when I’ve been on the Yamaha. It was like night and day. The KLX has superior suspension, as I’ve said before, and I was literally flying along. It felt so great!

I slowed down as I approached FR24 because we have seen elk in the meadow right below that intersection. Sometimes we turn off the engines on the bikes and coast, but we just slowed down this time. We didn’t see any elk, though. I was wondering how 24 was going to be because sometimes it can be challenging, usually after a thunderstorm has turned it muddy and the erosion paths are slippery. This time it was super easy, and a lot of fun on the KLX. At that point it is only 10 miles down, up again, then wayyyyyy down, and one more time up, back to Hannagan Meadow, where we stopped for a break.

It was super crowded, and then a car club with several cars in a “parade” turned up to crowd things even more. Plus, an obnoxious guy was sitting on the porch, giving his opinion on everything in a very loud voice. I can only take so much of that before I want to scream, so we went out to our bikes to gear up again. While we were there, another guy came up to us and started talking to us about our bikes. It was the same conversation about going smaller on bike size, and riding dual sport bikes as opposed to street bikes. It’s always an interesting subject, but then it was time to go.

We rode north on Hwy. 191 to get to FR37, our favorite road in this area. It’s the “world’s funnest road” as I called it last year. We found it dusty, fun and fast. It was just as great as it ever was, even more on the KLX. About 12-13 miles in, it intersects with FR405, but we stayed on 37. We came to the “T” where 403 dead-ends, where we’d been earlier in the day, only this time we went down the hill to FR249.

After we got on FR249, we did something that we have never been able to do before: we traded motorcycles! I got on Hal’s new Suzuki DR650, and he got on my KLX. I have wanted to find a 650cc dual sport bike that I could feel comfortable riding, and thought that maybe his recently-acquired DR might be the one. He had taken the trouble to put the low seat on it, for him to try and maybe for me, too. I was a little hesitant, as I always am when it comes time to ride a bike that doesn’t belong to me, but he assured me everything would be okay. I’ve heard that one before, but this time it seemed like it really would be. So, I got on the pretty blue bike!

The throttle was really stiff, and I had to roll it farther to get started than the KLX’s throttle, but then we took off. The bike felt really good to me. The one time I’d previously sat on it, the bars felt wide to me, but this time, when I was actually riding it, I didn’t even think about that until I had been on it for a couple of miles when I thought, huh, the bars must be fine because I didn’t even think about that until now! I rode the bike for a total of about five miles, the last mile or so on the pavement. It definitely was easier for me to handle than my GS, something I’ve suspected for a long time. Wow, I thought, this is the bike I could ride to Alaska, in Alaska, and all the way back home. I see some doors opening for me with this bike (if I decide to get one of my own) that were closed before. I never felt real comfortable with the GS in the dirt, I never felt it was well-balanced. This Suzuki DR650 was well-balanced, and I could ride it with confidence even though I am small. I felt like the suspension on the KLX was better, but I am sure the suspension on the DR could be adjusted, at least somewhat. This is my impression so far, and I will ride the DR again next weekend, if Hal allows me to, to see if I really want one of my own.

I rode the Suzuki back to where we were staying, and we parked the bikes, Hal on the KLX. Then, we sat for a few minutes, cleaned up, and walked to dinner in Alpine. There is nothing better than sitting on a porch, drinking good coffee, and watching the glow from the sun sink deeper into the saddle made by the mountains west of Alpine. I think we both slept well that night after a day of good, pure riding, and breathing the clean air at 9,000 feet.


(Tomorrow, Day 2 of our short trip)


4 thoughts on “Alpine, White Mountains preview

  1. Dr650, I almost bought one myself. Down side: Weight (330), 5 speed (a dual sport needs a 6 speed), it’s got a carb!, it’s air cooled. Good thing is they’re cheap! Don’t tell Hal I said any of this!

    I really don’t want you getting another bike unless you get my ok first. 😉

    • Ron,

      Let’s address the concerns, one by one:

      Okay, weight: still is less than the 400+ pounds of excess on my GS. 5- speed: well, okay, you’re right on that one. Carb: good, I can adjust the jets if necessary, and I don’t have a complicated f-ing computer-driven fuel injection system to deal with if I have problems out in BFE; air-cooled, well, the DS has a giant radiator on it, so we’ll see.

      Positives: it’s a 650 and I can ride it without fearing what I am going to get into. Lighter weight than the GS; better balanced than the GS; can take 87 octane fuel, unlike the GS that needs 91 (not always available in remote places); MUCH cheaper to maintain than the GS; MUCH less complex than the GS to fix; the DS does not need BMW parts, which apparently aren’t even manufactured/fabricated until you order them, judging by the time it takes to get them.

      I do not expect to ride the Suzuki 650 where I ride the KLX, which is still probably going to be the bike of choice for most dirt rides. The Suzuki 650 is for going to … Alaska, for example!

      So, those are my thoughts right now. 🙂 I appreciate you raises those issues, though. I want to make a fully-informed decision! Based on those responses, what do you think?

      • Just my thoughts, take it or leave it. 😉

        Your car is fuel injected, how often does it fail? I have never been stranded by a bad fuel injection system or computer, ever. Can you re-jet a carb? If not are you willing to learn? I go on rides where my 300 pound WR is all I can handle, I can’t imagine having a heavier bike for where I go. But, if your going to Alaska the weight is not an issue. Having a 6 speed is BIG. My GS (and probably yours) is designed to run on high octane, but in remote areas I run crap gas with no noticeable difference in performance only possible because the COMPUTER will adjust the timing due to inputs from the knock sensor. Price of parts are cheaper, your right. You can find nice DR’s for $3,500ish around here, no need to spend serious cash.

        When do you plan on the Alaska trip?

        Again, I’m not trying to be an ass. I still worship your every move. 🙂

      • Thanks, Ron. I always take your comments as constructive and thoughtful. 🙂 Also, I was wrong, the DR is oil cooled, and I was thinking of the big oil cooler on the front of it.

        As I said, I am “still thinking”! I agree with you about it’s good to have 6 gears, but sometimes sacrifices have to be made.

        I agree with you that I couldn’t imagine anything bigger than my KLX on some of the places I ride, either. I am not replacing the KLX. I love it too much. It’s crossed my mind that it’s all I need.

        I don’t know when we’ll go to Alaska, but we’ve been talking about it for years. I just couldn’t imagine taking the GS, but I can imagine taking the DR or something like it.

        We’ll see. 🙂 BTW, it’s 108° F. here today. Ugh. This is how we pay for those lovely winters.

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