Above: Giant’s workbench
Saturday, July 5, 2014
(I managed to be able to post today after all. This is the first half of the story about today. Tomorrow finishes it, and then I will be headed home. I hope you enjoy the story!)
The cool pure air of the high mountains wafted into the window as I woke up this morning at around 4:30 a.m. Light was just beginning to glow at the edge of the horizon, but the sky was cloudy and the moisture from yesterday’s rain hung in the air. I wondered if we would have a chance to ride today. I snuggled deeper into the blankets and went back to sleep for a couple of hours.
After a breakfast of granola bars and bananas washed down with strong coffee, Hal and I geared up and looked at the map. We hadn’t decided which roads we wanted to explore, so we just got on our dual sport motorcycles and headed south on Hwy. 191. Six miles down the road we turned onto the old standby – FR25, the dirt super highway that leads to most of the network of roads and trails in the area of the White Mountains of Arizona in which we were staying.
Soon we came to a small dirt road that we’d passed many times, but this time we turned onto it. It climbed steeply up and away from 25, and we soon found ourselves on narrow two-track. Surprisingly, it began to circle a cleared area surrounded by trees, and on one end, a big pile of boulders. In the middle of it was a large slab of wood supported by logs. It looked like a giant’s workbench. The watery sun had finally decided to appear, and that made the scene even more odd.
We skirted the circle of woodwork, as I called it, and went farther along the two-track, which was covered with more and more vegetation, and grew narrower and narrower. I was not thrilled with that, it seemed hot and close, very claustrophobic, to me. There is something about being in closed in, thick vegetation in the deep forest that makes me feel a bit uneasy. Finally, Hal went down a depression in what had now become a narrow trail, and found that it was disappearing altogether ahead. So, we turned around and went back out. There was no number designation on that trail, and I don’t think it was an official forest road.
When we got back to 25, we rode down toward the Black River. Hal had mentioned something about “finishing” 25D, one of the feeder roads that we’d explored a year or two ago, and where we had once seen a small bear running in the woods. We’d turned around a short way down that day, so this time Hal wanted to explore it either all the way down, or until we gave up for whatever reason. At first, I didn’t want to ride down into it. I have this thing about roads that go nowhere. But, Hal persuaded me to go, and I followed along as 25D dove steeply down and turned hard to the left. Then the road descended more gradually, and became a very pleasant, pretty road. It was a fun, easy road, and I started getting into the rhythm of it.
The road was very remote, but yet I saw fresh tire tracks in the dirt. I knew they were fresh because it had rained the night before, and these tracks were clearly visible. They looked like they had been made by new tires, suggesting the vehicle was fairly new and well-maintained, and judging from the size of the track, a pickup truck. I immediately thought of a forest service truck, or another agency that had an interest in studying the forest.
At one point as we rode, a huge elk cow bounded across the road in front of us, very close. It was so surprising, and she was very big! It was another amazing thing that can only happen while we are out in the deep forest.
We followed the road for about five miles until we saw the vehicle, a white pickup with a conservation service logo on the side. No one was in it, and we presumed that the driver was out in the woods doing whatever his job is. When I was a kid, I wish I’d known there were jobs where you can be out in the wilderness, in the forest, either collecting data, or watching over it. I would give anything to have a job like that.
Finally, about another mile later, we started down a fairly steep rocky grade. The “road” was nearly non-existent, so we decided to turn around and go back out. After looking around for a little while and taking a break, we got back on the bikes and rode out. The surface of this road was moist, made up of mostly gravel and a few rocks thrown in. A very fun, easy road to get our exploring for the day off to a good start.
Back on 25, we rode it west, over the Black River, and then to the far end of the “circle” that it makes, ending up on the part of the road where we were yesterday. Hal kept glancing right and left, looking for roads to go on. Then, he chose 416, off to the right. When I looked at it, it seemed familiar, and I thought we had been on it before and found mud. Guess what? I think it was the exact same road because we soon found ourselves in mud again. After slipping and slopping along for a mile or so during which we had to go around a huge fallen tree, we again turned around and went back to FR25. My bike got nice and muddy, and for a while, the tires were flinging mud mixed with the gravel from the main road.
We passed FR72 where we’d ridden yesterday, and came to FR68 again. Yesterday, we’d started up it, but then picked up 72 instead. This time, I really wanted to ride 68 because I thought I remembered it being a good road. It was! After we got past the first couple of miles, which were very busy yesterday, the road opened up and was mostly deserted. It rose higher and higher, into areas that had been burned, then logged, and the road started to turn serpentine. My day was improving as I flew through those turns, faster and faster. I have never enjoyed a bike as much as I have this Kawasaki KLX250S. It is so lithe and responsive, and it happily does absolutely everything for me. Tight trail? No problem. Mud? Whatever. Racing through switchbacks and curves at speed? Let’s go! It’s a great bike for me.
I was loving life, flying along, looking alternately at recovering forest, and beautiful intact forest. But then I had to slow down again as we were getting into a more populated area. It was nice riding because we’d hardly met anyone on the roads. It seemed that everyone had gotten to their destinations yesterday, and were now “there,” and staying there. We passed camping areas that were full, but they were off the road and away from us. We were again in the Big Lake area, and the closer we got to that, the more people we encountered. Finally, we turned onto 249E again, but this time, a few miles up the road, I saw another road, 285. We initially passed it, but then I pulled over to look at the map.
After consulting, Hal and I decided to take 285 because it intersected with another road FR88, that would ultimately take us to the same road that we ended up on after riding 81 the first day of this trip. 88 became 2108, and then blended with 2169, the road that 81 became. Then, we would find ourselves at the intersection with 191, near Nutrioso. Hal was starting to glance at the sky. “We’re running out of time,” he said, and he was right. The clouds were building, and we were surrounded by the heavy rain-bearing clouds like the one that had opened up on us yesterday. For the moment, though, we turned away from the most ominous-looking ones as we turned onto 285.
285 was narrow, but a lovely road. It was the black volcanic surface common in the area, but was moist and fast. We rose into the trees, and since we encountered other vehicles coming from the other way, mostly quads and side-by-sides, we slowed down a bit. Out of the trees, and into a valley, then soon we turned onto FR88.
When we did, we saw a big sign that said, “Road impassable during high water.” It is nowhere near “high water,” so we didn’t worry about that, but it made me curious as to what we would encounter.
(Tomorrow: part 2)