Day 2, July 26
Sunday started out at much the same time as the day before. We got on the bikes around 9:30 and headed a few feet north of the lodge on the paved road to a quick escape onto unpaved FR576. We fled down the twisting road that grows less traveled and more remote the farther west it goes. We came to the intersection with FR24 and took the turn to the right onto the previously “closed” part of the road, a former no man’s land. I wrote about it last June when we experienced it for the first time. There weren’t many words that were full enough to describe the beauty and vastness of that open space.
A herd of horses, a surprise “find” on our way towards FR249:
We rode to the Black River, a sight we’d been anticipating since the night before when we’d been told that the river was “roaring.” It was running high and fast, but it wasn’t ripping through its bed.
The Black River looking very blue in infrared:
Still, it was spectacular, the highest we’d seen it in some time. It sighed over the rocks and along the banks, where grass, formerly on the shore, moved in submerged green waves, undulating with the flow of the water.
We stopped and absorbed the sight of it several times, shooting some images as we went along. Then we turned with the road and climbed steeply up FR276 to where we would find FR403.
We rode 403 west to east, and at one point, we waited briefly while some forest service workers finished cutting down the remains of a tree that had fallen across the road, a common occurrence in this area that has been ravaged by the 2011 fire.
I managed to capture this image of a deer that appeared suddenly in front of Hal:
Near the east end of 403, I asked Hal if he’d like to explore 403H, a side road that I have seen many times and was sure would be near an overlook from which we could view Alpine far below.
It turned out to be true, and we got off the bikes where it dead-ended to see the breathtaking view. We were up so high that Alpine looked tiny, and we could see Luna Lake far in the distance. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and the sun shone with that pure golden light unique to high elevations.
After we’d had our fill of the lovely scene before us, we talked about our plan to descend to Alpine Grill for a piece of pie before we rode the route we had planned for the afternoon. This seemingly benign decision would set in motion the events of the afternoon.
When we reached Alpine Grill, we saw that it was crowded. Oh, well, we thought, we’re just going in for a piece of pie. It shouldn’t take too long. How wrong that would turn out to be.
It must have been the work of that darn reunion, but we found the place packed. Even the bar was packed. We knew this because we parked the dirt bikes on the west side under the windows of the bar, and we could hear the rise and fall of conversations, and the clink of glasses and silverware. We were able to get a seat in the restaurant area, but when I looked at the dessert case, I saw that it was empty! We found out later that their ace pie maker was ill, and no pies had been available for some time. Plus, our favorite waitress was by herself, and she was working hard to keep up with the demands of all the customers in the restaurant.
We resigned ourselves to sandwiches, and then began a long wait. There were just too many people in the restaurant. We did not get served for a long time, and then it took a long time to eat and pay. Our afternoon was being gobbled up faster than the food on our table.
Finally, we got out of there and headed east to an area around Luna Lake. Hal wanted to see if we could find a herd of elk that we’ve seen many times in the general area. I was wondering what is the appeal of glimpsing the hindquarters of a fleeing herd of animals, but I wasn’t going to object to an opportunity to ride this road. It took a long time to get to the turnoff that we wanted, the one that would lead us deeper into the woods.
(No more photos of this day, too busy riding.)
Our bikes flowed along the dirt surface, weaving in and out of various landforms. No elk today. I had, however, noticed as we left town that the clouds were building to the east, and had said so to Hal. Normally, I don’t mind riding into the rain, but I was remembering how protected I’d been on Katarina, my 2009 F650GS, during our nine-day trip to Colorado and New Mexico, and didn’t expect the same level of protection on Alex. I just wasn’t in the mood to get soaked and freezing, because these storms come up fast. Plus, I was hoping for a late afternoon of sitting on the porch at HML and drinking hot coffee as I watched the rain.
I thought we were going to turn around at the “elk spot,” but we didn’t. Hal just kept going. He was in one of those “just a little farther” moods, and I was the caboose on this train. By now, the sky was very dark with storm clouds to the east.
“Hal! I see lightning!” I shouted urgently into the mike inside my helmet. I had no desire to be in the White Mountains in a big thunderstorm (again). We’ve had quite a few close calls. Yet, Hal kept riding headlong into it.
“I think we’re almost at the road to Luna,” he said. I was skeptical, but we still rode quite a distance into the storm. It was getting treacherously black when I said, “That’s it, I’m turning around!” I was envisioning being in the middle of a storm very soon, and I really wanted to be back at the lodge.
“Fine!” he said. I was already turning around and he had to come back. We rode like hell, and actually got to the road near where the elk usually are, and turned toward the 180 on a road we’d taken before. We started heading south, and down, and the sky darkened ominously all around us. Sure enough, the rain started, with big drops at first, as it always does. Fortunately, we stopped fairly quickly and put on rain gear. I was even able to get the difficult pants on in time. Later, I would thank myself profusely.
All this time, Hal was wearing my GoPro camera. I hoped he’d captured some of the riding in the rain. When we pulled over, though, he put the camera away.
As we got on the bikes and began to head south, the rain came down harder and harder. I was blinded by rain, and my glasses fogged up underneath my visor. They weren’t the kind of glasses that were made for dirt riding. When I cracked the visor open, the rain came down inside it, and that made it even more difficult to see. I was surprised I could keep up with Hal because I really couldn’t see. I was riding blindly.
I had gotten wet enough before we stopped to put rain gear on that I was getting cold. My hands were soaked (my fault since I refuse to wear heavy gloves), and then I saw a sign, “Luna, 10 miles” OMG, 10 more miles. Then we would have to ride several more miles into Alpine, then the 22 miles back to Hannagan. It might as well have been 100 more miles because I knew we were going to get back late. Again.
All the while I was riding and freezing and unable to see properly, I wished again to be sitting on the porch of the lodge drinking hot coffee. Suddenly, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than that coffee.
Eventually, we reached the pavement of highway180. The surface was shiny and slick, and I reminded myself that I wasn’t on Kat. Not that it mattered, Alex is competent enough in every situation. I was just not in a good mood right then, annoyed that we’d gone so far and not heeded the warning in the darkening sky.
After what seemed like forever, we got to Alpine, and the rain let up a little bit. We turned south onto 191, and watching the steam rising from the warm roadbed, we worked our way through the rain showers back to the lodge. It was about 5:30 when we got back, and I’d wanted to be “home” by 4:00. Dammit, and it was our last full day, too.
We parked the bikes, and took off our gear, then I discovered that in his hurry to get out of the rain, Hal had packed the camera away without turning it off! Oh great, two hours of blackness caught on video.
We soon dried out, and ended up talking to a nice couple from Tucson also staying at the lodge. Later, we cleaned up and went to dinner. We didn’t feel like going out again even though the rain had stopped by then. After dinner, we walked out to the horse corral on the property and met the new wrangler who was taking care of the horses that had just arrived, too. Personally, I think all horses ought to have nice big, clean, enclosed box stalls to live in inside a cozy barn, but that’s just me.
Tomorrow we’re going home already. But not before one last ride …