Rocky road


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An afternoon of escape from our everyday lives beckoned as Hal and I planned to ride a new-to-us unpaved road near Queen Valley, Arizona. We did not know what to expect in terms of difficulty, so I chose my trusty Kawasaki KLX250S (“Alex”). She hadn’t been out for some time anyway, and I didn’t want her languishing in the garage any longer. The KLX turned out to be the right choice once we got out on the road that was our destination.

It was 12:30 p.m. when we left my house, and after a stop for fuel, we arrived at the intersection of US 60 and Queen Valley Rd. about an hour later. We’d traveled part of this road, FR357, before, but this time we were going to use it to access another unpaved road that would take us (we thought) up to Montana Mountain.

I had once tried to find out about this route by asking one of my fellow club members, but I got a very elusive answer, like somehow it was a state secret that I wasn’t privy to. So, judging from the staging point, a map, and the research that I did on the internet, this was the way to go.

FR357 was easy, and this time I knew where to look for the “new” road. Soon we turned onto it, and it was, as expected, rougher than the dirt highway we’d just left. It was rocky in places, and much narrower, although still pretty easy. The beautiful scenery, though, is what struck me the most, and I hoped the road would continue to be easy so I could look at the scenery.

Hillside of saguaro cacti:

As we began to climb, there were more rocky areas, and I had to pay attention to what I was doing in a few places. The jeep road was like a roller coaster, gaining elevation with each series of whoops. I could see in the distance that there were more – higher – mountains ahead. I wondered if we were going up and over the highest one.

I was in the lead, and in one place, I came around a turn and found myself going down a steep grade too fast (again). I ended up in big gravel, and I really worked to keep the bike upright as it slewed through the rocks. Whew! I thought as I made it through, both upright and unscathed. Memories of the crash on FR54 almost exactly a year ago made my left knee tingle. There are still parts of that knee that are numb.

The more we climbed, the steeper it got, and the rock parts were more frequent. Then we pulled over to the side to confer. As usual, the afternoon was getting later, it was already 2:30, and we didn’t know how much farther we had to go before we began our descent. We also noticed a pickup truck making its way slowly down from the highest part of what I thought was the road. I was gauging how long it would take us to go up by watching it make its way down, and I figured we could go up much faster.

You can almost see the pickup on the road, the thin line going across the mountain in the distance. The truck is the white object on the left side of the road, about to disappear behind the mountain in front of it:

I also was “learning” the road by watching the progression of the pickup, and since it was white, it was easy to see its progress. It would disappear behind a mountain, and then reappear. Then, it disappeared for a while, and all of a sudden, it was almost right in front of us, coming up a small grade. I had told Hal I was going to stop the driver and find out if he’d come from the other side. I also wanted to know what shape the road was in. I flagged him down.

“Did you come from Hwy. 60 from near Superior?” I asked.

“No,” the driver said, “I only went up to the trailhead, and turned around.” It seemed that the trail climbed even more than what we could see, and the driver said he couldn’t get a 2WD vehicle up the last grades. Hmmmm, I thought. “But it would be no problem on those dirt bikes,” he concluded.

After he left, going toward the way we had come, we had to make the decision to either keep going or do the road again sometime when we had the whole day. We chose the latter. We geared up again and turned the bikes around.

The only slight problem was I hate descending on a steep grade on loose rocks, again due to the crash last year, and also because lately we haven’t been riding roads that were very technical. However, I took the lead again, and immediately I was going down something steep and “slippery.” I made it down, and checked my rear-view to see if Hal was okay. He was soon right behind me.

Right away, there was another steep grade down, this one even more precarious, and this time I chose the wrong line. I made it most of the way down, then the front wheel washed out when it hit some gravel. I was determined that I would not drop that bike, though. I was able to put my foot down, recover the bike somewhat, and didn’t let it fall, but I didn’t have the strength to pull it back up. The grade was making that impossible. I was standing there on the side of the mountain, holding my bike on a steep grade, and not able to do anything. “Help!” I called to Hal. The urgency in my voice was just because I did not want to drop that bike!

Hal got to me as quickly as he could, and together we brought the bike upright. There were only a couple of feet left to ride on the grade, so we just walked the KLX down. I got back on, and we continued. Hal rode the grade behind me without a problem, and he rode very well all day.

I soon came to the gravel streambed again, and powered through it, then hit the steep uphill on the other side. I was able to ride a perfect line up as I am much better on climbs than downhills! When I got up the other side, and the road flattened out a bit, I looked back in time to see Hal coaxing his bike out of the berm on the side of the rocky streambed. I got off my bike, intending to go down to help him, but he had the bike out and back under control before I could get very far.

The rest of the road was uneventful, and we got out fast since the road was mapped in our heads from the trip in. It seemed much easier, and I enjoyed the scenery this time through much more than I had on the way in when I was concentrating on riding. The sun was dropping low, and before I knew it, we were back at paved US 60 where we had come in.

“Do you want to stop on the way back to town?” I asked Hal.

“Sure! I could use something to eat,” he said. In truth, I was dying for a cup of coffee, so we made a plan to go to the Subway in Gold Canyon. Subway has great sandwiches, and a Keurig machine!

Later, over a cup of coffee, we reflected on our fun ride and vowed to go back and complete the loop, maybe from the other side. We’d found another great, unpaved road to ride, and one that is not very far from home.

Just as in the old western movies, we rode off into the sunset, heading west toward home as the moon rose behind us.

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