Everything here is amazing and beautiful. June bug and leaf:
July 28, 2014
This morning started out uncertainly. It was still gray and overcast, and I wondered if we would get to ride at all on our last full day of summer riding. It looked very doubtful, and it didn’t improve much by the time we’d finished our breakfast.
It did, however, feel less like rain in the air, so we hopefully uncovered the bikes and geared up to go. We thought we’d go back out to FR275, take it to 851 (which becomes 385 as it goes into New Mexico), and then ride north on FR19 in New Mexico, maybe as far as US60.
We see this sign everywhere in the White Mountains:
I thought we might see some flooding on 275 because of yesterday’s rain, but it was almost as dry as the last time we’d been there. We followed the road, winding up and down, and after a while we were at 851. We turned east onto it, and it soon became 385. We were riding through moist green forest, but the clouds finally seemed to be breaking up.
Suddenly, up ahead we saw a very large herd of elk! There had to be at least 30 or 40 animals, and they were moving swiftly away from the sound of our motorbikes. This was almost the exact same place where we’d seen them the last time we’d ridden here. We turned off the bikes and coasted to a stop, and Hal walked down into the ravine where they’d disappeared. I stayed closer to the bikes, and I could see the flash of their brown bodies between the trees. The most amazing thing to me, though, was all the sounds they were making, that high-pitched squealing sound that they make when they are communicating with each other. I was standing still most of the time because they were moving away from us anyway, and I could hear them squealing and calling to each other. After a while, even the sound of their voices faded. Hal managed to get a couple of quick photos, but then the elk were gone.
We got back on the bikes and continued riding on 385. The sign on the road said “narrow, winding road,” and they were correct. I thought this was such a beautiful road the last time we’d ridden it, and this time we met no one riding toward us. We were descending again toward flat bottomland, and FR19.
Once we got to 19, it was mostly flat, open land where free-range cattle roamed. We passed many groups of them, even one group where three of them ran right in front of Hal’s bike. Not the smartest move on the part of the cattle, but then … they are cattle! We were in the middle of the several ranches that lined the road.
The road’s composition was clay, and the kind of dirt that turned into slick, slippery mud when it rains. There were a lot of deep ruts in it, and in the areas where it climbed, it was obvious that someone had driven a pickup through it when it was wet. I could tell which direction the person had been driving by the way the mud had flailed from the tires, digging deep channels up the hills.
The last 10-15 miles of FR19 before it reached Hwy. 60 were wide open, alternately sandy and dusty, and we were able to travel very fast. Soon we came to the 60. From the south end from which we had come, to the north end where we met the 60, was a distance of 32 miles, one of those facts that might come in handy in the future.
We got on Hwy. 60, and I didn’t think it was going to be too far to Springerville, AZ. In fact, it was 26 miles. I think if I’d known that, I would have tried to find an alternative route that included more unpaved roads. I don’t like riding on the pavement, and today there was a strong headwind to battle. There were a few other vehicles on the road as well, but not very many, really. I was riding so that I was “laying” on the fuel tank, trying to help the KLX as much as possible. The little KLX250S does a surprisingly good job, though; I just have to manage the throttle on long steep grades when we are fighting the wind. All in all, it was able to maintain between 60-65 mph on the paved road where the speed limit was 65 mph. My fuel mileage suffers, though, as you might imagine.
In Springerville, we fueled up again. We had 88 miles or so already, and there was no sense in taking a chance that we’d run out. We were carrying extra fuel, but not enough to fill both of our tanks. There was a gas station right there in front of us, so we took the opportunity. Long distance riders know never to pass up a convenient fuel station when you have less than half a tank left.
Yesterday while in the car, we’d explored the towns of Springerville and Eagar, and knew that if we took the main road that goes south out of town we would run into an unpaved road that I was almost certain was a segment of FR285. We turned there, and a mile or so into that unpaved road, I saw the sign that confirmed it – yes, we were on FR285. There was supposed to be an OHV trail somewhere near, and soon we found the road, FR74, that led to it. We knew it because there were signs at the entrance to the road, and because we had been told that the name of the road was “Saffel Rd.” We went about a mile into it and found 74D, and the trailhead for the OHV trail. We didn’t ride it then because we thought it was a closed trail and didn’t lead anywhere, but later we found out differently when we continued on FR285. As we were deciding our plans for the rest of the day, it was starting to get to that magic hour in the mountains when thunderstorms happen, and we knew it was time to get home as quickly as we could.
Yes, that is a horse standing in the road by the sign:
We were riding FR285 south at this point, and we were in the high grassy plain we’d seen yesterday. As we went down into a small valley, there were some horses near the road; in fact, one of them was right at the edge. We stopped to pet him, and then three other horses came over to see how interesting we were. One was a baby, a colt, and he let Hal pet him, but he shied away from me. I think it was because I had my helmet on with the chin piece flipped up, and I looked like an alien!
Boy meets baby horse:
A serene trio:
The plan was to hook up with FR88 again and ride it down to Auger Canyon Rd., but this time take the pavement back to Alpine. However, as we passed 88D, which we’d been on yesterday morning, I flagged Hal down.
“Should we just take 88D back to 249?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Hal answered. This proved to be a dumb decision on my part because when we got to FR249, traffic was stopped at the intersection with 88D because of road construction! I had forgotten that it was Monday and workers would be out doing their jobs. We had to wait in a delay, and all the time we were standing there, the sky was darkening, the rain was coming closer. I had already put on my raincoat, and was trying to decide if it was a good decision to go back on 88D and follow the original plan. Hal was getting mad at me by then, so we stayed with the FR249 plan. Luckily, the pilot truck came back right away and we followed him, although we had to ride slowly, about 25 mph. The rain began to pelt down, as you might expect. I hadn’t put on my rain pants because I didn’t want to do the “pants dance” in front of all those people sitting there in their cars, waiting, and anyway I thought we were going to go back to 88. Now, I was unable to stop and put on the rain pants, so I just got wet. I didn’t “just” get wet, I got soaked, and but fortunately I was still reasonably warm since I’d had the heavy quilted liner inside my jacket all day.
The moment the pilot truck driver waved us by, Hal and I took off. Later, we were laughing because we imagined what the people in the four-wheeled vehicles behind us were saying. Like, “what happened to those dirt bike riders??” As I said to Hal later, “one adventure rider plus one adventure rider equals ‘gone’ when the pilot truck pulls over!” We were flying along in the rain and mud at about 50 mph, desperate to get back to Alpine and out of the rain. As Hal said later, “so much for thinking that those (new) tires wouldn’t do well in the rain!” He was riding on brand-new Heidenau tires that had less than 100 miles on them at that point.
At least there hadn’t been a lot of dangerous lightning this time, but we were partially soaked and muddy. We put the bikes up, wiped them off, and threw the covers over them. Then we got out of our wet clothes. We finished our day on the porch drinking coffee again, enjoying the rain as we did yesterday.
Later, we watched another rainstorm come in from the west, over the area where we’d been caught in it the last two days, and decided that the 249 is a natural corridor that storms follow day after day in the summer rainy season. Low clouds hung over the mountains, drifting like ghosts between them. It was so beautiful it made my heart ache.
As the sun set on our last full day of vacation for this summer, I watched the thin sliver of a crescent moon sink into the low clouds west of Alpine, almost as if it were sinking happily into a gray woolly blanket and going to bed.
Sleep tight, little moon.