Yet another end of a trip goes (slightly) awry

Thanksgiving weekend, usually a weekend that my riding partner and I plan some kind of escape from drudgery. However, with both of us approaching mega-mile status this year, we were looking for alternatives to long trips. With that in mind, we planned a quick overnighter to Prescott, AZ just so we could shoot night photos of the courthouse and surrounding square. We are “into” this night photography thing lately, with Hal putting together a calendar of night photos for this coming year.

We left mid-morning on Friday so it wouldn’t be so cold (for people who live in the Phoenix area, temps. in the 50s and below is cold!), and set out through Payson, then up on the Rim, toward Camp Verde on the 260. I have to say all of the riding on this trip was spectacular. I had the best time, starting with when I rolled out of the driveway, to Fountain Hills, then onto the 87, through Payson, Pine, and Strawberry, and the 260 to Camp Verde, one of my favorites. We did not stop through that whole leg. It is one of the things we share as riding partners – hating to stop until we have to for fuel or need a break to stretch our legs. The latter usually comes sooner than having to fuel up!

For this trip, I was on my 2006 F650GS. It is not my choice lately as a road bike, but with the F800ST in the shop waiting for parts, it was my only choice. Except to stay home, but we know that is not an option for me. I was fortunate to have the larger Cee Bailey’s windscreen for this trip, borrowed from Victory BMW. Here’s how night and day that is for me: about halfway up the Beeline from Fountain Hills I finally realized that it was windy. Behind the Cee Bailey’s, it is absolutely quiet, and it sends the air right up over my helmet. Usually I have the disconcerting feeling of my head about to be torn off.

We stopped in Camp Verde for coffee, then I attached the GoPro camera to my helmet in Cottonwood as we were about to ascend to Jerome. I got some good footage of that, and I saw once again why I do not like riding very much while in Jerome. It is narrow and scary, and there is not one level spot in the whole town on which to safely park a motorbike, especially for a “petite” (short) person like me. It’s a crazy little place. I hate when pedestrians jump out in front of me and I have to stop fast, then hold the bike on a hill with my right foot on the brake and then twist the throttle to gently accelerate out of the stop on a steep hill. But I do like the scenery and enjoy twisting through the streets, so as long as I don’t have to put my feet down too many times, I am good with it.

The real fun begins after Jerome, on Mingus Mountain. It was lovely and curvy, and as we went up, there was a dusting of snow on the side of the road, like confectioners sugar blown from a bag while making Christmas cookies. Off in the distance to the north, I saw the San Francisco Peaks covered in snow from last week’s storm. So beautiful, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off the road for too long.

The little F650 went along willingly and happily, carving through the turns, both of us enjoying this rare experience. The sun dappled through the leaves, casting flickering shadows that sometimes made it difficult to see. With the sun slanting low in the sky at this time of year, the shadows can be very long. I certainly was not complaining, though, and loved every moment.

Soon, we came to Prescott and parked our bikes for the night. Later, we had a nice dinner at Gurley Street Grill, a favorite of ours, then we bundled up to be out in the frosty air for our photographic expedition. After my learning experience at Tortilla Flat the other night, my photos turned out much better this time.

Courthouse at night

The magic of the night

Everything looks different after dark

Overnight, the temperatures dipped into the 30s, or maybe even less, and we awoke cozy in our hotel on the square. We went to late breakfast, and took our time loading up. We had very little ground to cover to get home, so we waited until it got warmer. Still, both bikes were not too happy about the cold and it took a little extra urging to get them going. Then, it was on to the White Spars area for some more twisties. I tried to capture this on video as well, but something happened and I only got a few minutes of it. Sometimes these little problems, even though I try my hardest to prevent them, get tiresome. I am still not sure why I did not get the video for this section.

These turns are perfect up near White Spars, and Hal is good at riding them. He was soon far ahead of me, but I was enjoying my bike. I had the thought that I’d have to come back soon and bring the ST because Pearl would love these turns. I think I’d be faster on her, too. They are all rhythmic and consistent, with almost no decreasing radius turns to worry about, although there are a few tight ones to keep your concentration focused.

All too soon we were descending Yarnell Hill, and then it was just blah old flat straight road all the way into Wickenburg, then on to the 74 past Lake Pleasant. As we passed Boulders OHV area, I could feel the magnetic pull of it, a little voice saying, “bring your dirt bike back here soon!!” I loved it when I rode it with Jim G. and the guys. Hard to believe it was a year ago that I did that on my TTR-125.

We stopped at the famous Chevron station at Carefree Hwy. to get juice and say good-bye, our trip coming to an end already. It was too short, as always. We got back on the bikes, and we parted at the 101/I-17 split to go our separate ways home. But, as I was to find out, that was not the end of my adventure.

I sailed down the 101, keeping a good pace, but still not keeping up with traffic. People always want to do 90 on that road, but with the little bike, I was not going to match that. So, I stayed in the diamond lane almost until the 60 split, then stayed to the right on the 60. All was well until I exited at Gilbert Rd., and then as I made the turn onto Gilbert Rd., I heard a “clunk” and knew my chain had either broken or jumped the rear sprocket!

I coasted into a gore point at the next left, then turned on my flashers. I shut the bike down and got off to take a look. The chain was sitting above the rear sprocket, but nothing looked too bad since I had pulled the clutch right away and not asked any more of it. A man came running up to help me, talking about riding and bikes the whole time he was helping me push. I really appreciated that because I was tired and not sure I could push my 400 lb. bike very far, although I was ready to push it the two miles home if I had to. The man who helped me is a rider as well, so he was more inclined to help me than the typical cagers. He left me when we got the bike to safety, and I immediately got on the phone.

Hal was apparently not home yet as he didn’t answer his phone, so the next place to call was Victory BMW. Jim at first thought I was calling to bug him about if my parts came in on the F800ST, but then promptly sent Charlie to rescue me with the trailer. As luck would have it, Charlie was in the area. He graciously delivered me to my doorstep in about 10 minutes. Only I could be that lucky, as Hal always says.

So, I had a great trip, but now I realize I have managed to “break” both my BMWs, although both situations should be fairly easy fixes at this point. The plan for Sunday was to go dirt riding since I only have the Yamaha left as two-wheeled transportation, but with the rain, Hal and I decided to go two-up to coffee, then have the rest of the day for catching up on “doing stuff” that needs done around the house.

You know how that is: pleasant time spent on the bike always has to be paid for dearly with tasks of drudgery, like laundry, cleaning, visiting, and of course the all-time most dreaded, thinking about work rearing its ugly head on Monday morning. Ugh.

When’s that next trip??

Halloween Ride

10-31-10

Today, Halloween Day, in an effort to at least partially redeem myself and get some fall color footage, Hal and I planned a trip to Flagstaff via Payson and Lake Mary Rd. on our road bikes.

It’s always cool to look at planes!

Our first stop was Payson Airport for breakfast. All the wait staff were dressed up in Halloween costumes, adding to the festivity of the day. We sat for a while, drinking coffee, working on a couple of projects, talking. Finally, it was time to move on, and we got on the bikes to continue with the rest of our day.

We rode through Pine and Strawberry, enjoying the curves and the golden sun. When we got to a pretty spot with lots of colorful leaves, I pulled over and we attached the GoPro camera to my helmet.

On Lake Mary Road

I pulled over to take this photo because the water was absolutely glittering in the sun. It was so beautiful!

I think I got some good video of some colorful leaves! I also saw a really weird-looking tree, it looked kind of unnatural to me. When I looked more closely, I realized it was unnatural: I was looking at one of those goofy cell towers made to look like the surrounding trees. I could just imagine the real trees having this conversation: “Oh, look at George (the fake tree), Fred.” Fred (a real tree): “OMG! He is such a poser!!”

In Flagstaff, we fueled up and I changed the memory card in the camera. Then, we headed down 89A toward Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona. There were some beautiful leaves there as well, and the ride would have been perfect except for the ever-present slow car traffic to spoil everything. I don’t know if it’s possible to ever fully enjoy this road because of the cagers. Too many rats in the box, as Hal always says.

Proof for the contest that I was in Sedona today!

(That HD in the photo above is someone else’s!! Obviously!!)

Finally, we reached Sedona, got a perfect parking space in front of the fudge company where we always get fudge and coffee. We did just that, then sat on a bench in front of the bikes, looking at the street. While there, we watched people and laughed our heads off.

First, there was the “cowboy,” or shall I say the escapee from the “Not OK” Corral, who held up traffic while he walked across the street with his spurs clanking loudly. I am still trying to figure out if he was wearing that getup for Halloween, or if he really thought he was it.

Next, a woman in a van came barreling into a parking spot right in front of us and stopped so close to the vehicle next to her that she couldn’t even get out of the vehicle. So, she backed out and tried it again, pulling forward until she solidly hit the concrete bar at the front of the parking spot. I am convinced this is how some people drive: pull forward until they hit something, then back up until they hit something else. Then pull forward again and hope they miss the first thing.

Then there was the guy driving one of those little shuttle carts around, the only passenger a woman who was talking nonstop. We figured he was going to pay her to get out and leave him in peace.

There were lots of entertaining Halloween costumes, like the couple in the convertible Porsche. He was dressed up in a skeleton mask, and she was wearing a full witch costume. I thought that was pretty cool because all they were doing was cruising up and down and having fun. Lots of little kids were walking around in sparkly costumes (the little girls) or monster or superhero costumes (the little boys). Some teenagers were dressed up as well, but they weren’t nearly as cute.

Soon it became the time we hate most of all: the lateness of the afternoon told us that it was time to go home. Coming in off the road is always difficult, but then, when I got on my bike and tried to start it, I heard the dreaded click-click-click of a nearly-dead battery again! I was so surprised and frustrated. Guess that’s what I get for laughing all day and having a good time. Fortunately, we were able to bump-start Pearl again, this time after only three tries, and we got on the road. Other than that slight problem, my bike felt absolutely great to me again today. We’ll get this problem figured out, whatever it is.

I rolled into the neighborhood, saw a few trick or treaters out already, and got home in time to help pass out candy! It was a great day!

Happy Halloween!

Scary-looking tree I saw long ago, on a different ride. I thought it fit great here, though!

Color Tour, Day 3

10-17-10

I woke up in Glenwood, NM, a tiny, but pretty, town. A place with no cell phone service, much less internet service. Last night we went to dinner at a funky little restaurant. The food was surprisingly good. We learned the only way to make a phone call in this town was to go to the pay phone across the street. I stood there in the dark, in the glare of the bike’s headlight, and plugged 50¢ into the phone so I could call home. Around me, the darkness was so deep, the stars actually cast a slight glow. It was a quiet, remote place, so different from home.

My riding partner and I got on the road reasonably early Sunday morning. We wanted to do, or I should say Hal wanted to do, a road up through the mountains to a ghost town called Mogollon. It was only nine miles long, so what the heck? How much time could it take, right?

We found it about four miles out of Glenwood. It was a two-lane road surrounded by meadow, but we could see that it went up into the mountains as we’d been told. As it started to go up, it became really steep. We kept winding toward the top, and the road became narrower and narrower until it was only the width of a car wide, no shoulder on either side, and no guardrails. It felt like we were hanging out over the edge of a several hundred foot drop. The grade became steeper as well, about 10% in some places. We wound up and down and traversed several tight switchbacks. To be honest, I was scared to death in some places and tried not to look down.

 

The road actually doesn’t look too bad here

 

When we reached the mining town, it was beautiful, and worth the scary ride. I wish we’d been able to take more photos while riding through Mogollon. I have a picture in my mind of the road through it, the golden sun slanting through dust hanging in the air, and passing like an epiphany through the gold, green and red leaves of trees that lined the narrow pavement. Cozy homes lined the roadway, joyous with flowers in colors of reds, purples, and yellows.

 

The store formerly known as The General Store in Mogollon, NM

 

Then, we had to ride back the way we’d come, which was mostly downhill, and even more scary. The highlight of the return to earth was when we came around a turn and saw a deer in the middle of the road! By the time Hal got his camera out, the deer was gone. We don’t know where she went, it was very steep on the road and off to the side where she disappeared.

At last we reached the bottom and got back onto NM180. It dipped and turned and was fun to ride, a nice reward after the craziness of the mine road. The bike felt great, I became part of it as we took the turns at speed. A few miles outside Luna, NM, we stopped at a little restaurant for late breakfast. It was a quaint little place, and the coffee and breakfast were good.

With our hunger sated, we continued down 180 toward Luna, then back into Arizona. We came out on 191 at Alpine, closing the loop we’d started the day before.

The trip was uneventful as we passed through Eagar, then as we approached Sunrise Junction, the colors of the leaves were again spectacular. I shot more video with my GoPro camera, adding to my fall colors video. We enjoyed the ride on the 260 through Pinetop-Lakeside, then Show Low, then through Heber, and back to Payson for a fuel stop. We took a break because by this time it was mid afternoon and we needed to be off the bikes for a few minutes. We couldn’t stay long, though, because it was another forced march with the pressure of work on Monday morning driving us home.

 

Mountains calicoed with fall colors

All was well until just south of Sunflower when I went to pass a car, changed lanes, and as the bike hit the reflector bump on the center line, the plastic part holding the camera to the bike broke in half! The camera went flying off the bike onto the left edge of the roadway. I was too stunned to do anything, or notice exactly where I was. All I could think of was the loss of all that wonderful video I thought that I’d shot. It was a terrible moment.

Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for those involved, there was a big wreck up ahead, and traffic slowed to a stop so I could communicate what happened to Hal. We inched past the wreckage of an RV (another rollover from someone going too fast again), and then found the nearest turnaround point. We went all the way back north to Sunflower, got turned around heading south again, and then I had to try to find the spot where the camera flew off.

After stopping in the wrong place, then inching down the road on the right hand shoulder, I saw the place farther down the road. We rode south a mile or so again, and pulled over again. All of this was very risky and dangerous, I know, but I wanted that camera back!

After about an hour of searching, and with traffic flying by in excess of 80 mph as it always does, we had found the clear plastic outer case (smashed), the entire camera, intact, even the batteries. However, the most important part, the 8 gig memory card, was missing! It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, but then I reminded myself that we’d found everything else, which was a miracle in itself. We searched until it grew too dark to see, but came up empty. Finally, we got back on the bikes and eased into the fast-moving traffic. At least, I thought, the accident site would be cleared by now, and the traffic jam gone.

I was right about the accident site, but wrong about the traffic jam. It had all moved down into the single lane fiasco, which we will have to put up with, apparently, until next May. So, we rode along, already late to get home, in painfully slow traffic of about 10 mph until we reached the bottom of the last big hill before “Rock Garden” where the jam-up finally broke free and we were nearly up to speed. As we came down into Rock Garden, we were up to the construction zone speed limit of 45 mph, After that we were able to travel at the speed limit of 65 mph all the way in to Fountain Hills, and then to Gilbert Rd. where we turned toward home.

It was a depressing, stressful ending to a trip that should have been wonderful. For some reason, I didn’t appreciate it as I should have. I had been working on a big creative multi-media project, and I think my brain was on “empty.” I was tired and mentally drained to begin with, and with the terrible end to the trip, was completely exhausted. This work week is going to be terrible as well, especially with the knowledge that my long-term goal of being on the road full time is that much farther away with the loss of that video.

I rolled into my garage at 7:13, my lucky time of day, which was about the only thing lucky about the end of the trip, except that I was home safe and the bike unscathed. I was happy to be home in some ways, but as usual, torn between being home and being on the road.

All I can say is what I usually say: I am counting the days until I can get out there again.

Color Tour, Day 2

10-16-10

The temperature up on the Mogollon Rim was not quite as cold as I’d thought it would be as we got on the road this morning bound for Show Low, then 191 to ride our fall colors ride. In Show Low, we turned east onto 260 to go through Pinetop-Lakeside, a place I hate because of the slow speed limit and traffic congestion. At least today the traffic wasn’t too bad, and as we got past the Hon-dah casino, traveling toward Sunrise Ski Resort, the colors were beautiful. Once again, I saw the shimmering gold aspens against the dark green of the evergreens, glittering in the sun as the wind blew through their leaves. Some of the trees were closer to red than gold, and they were spectacular.

 

Beautiful fall colors

 

 

Fall’s spectacular palette

 

We stopped in Alpine to take a break and attach the GoPro camera to the front of my bike for the trip up 191. I was glad because the moment we got into 191 and started moving through the turns, it was so beautiful. There was one turn in particular where Hal went through it in front of me and stirred up some leaves that had fallen onto the road. They swirled in the air behind him, and the moment was pure gold magic! I was hoping the camera “saw” that part, but then I realized there was no replicating the real event, and no way to capture it on any type of recording device. The clear air, the golden sun of autumn, the brilliant shining leaves, there was only one term for it – magic.

When we got to Hannagan Meadow, I would have been just as happy to have turned around and gone back through those lovely turns because they are my absolute favorites on 191. But we went on up and enjoyed the rest of them. Lots of them are decreasing radius turns that keep you from zoning out. At one point, a big bird, probably a wild turkey or a pheasant ran across the road in front of us. I am not sure what it was, it moved so fast.

Soon we reached the big meadow where you can run at any speed because it flattens out. I let Pearl step out a little because we were both tired of relatively slow speeds and constant carving. At mile marker 191, we stopped and I took a photo of Hal taking a photo of the actual 191 mile marker sign on Hwy. 191, a photo in a photo, so to speak. It was awesome.

 

“A picture within a picture.” Hal gets his photo.

 

We came to the last tight turns just above Morenci and I was disappointed that there were no safe places to pull off to the side to take photographs of the road winding as it ribboned below us. Once we were down, we went through the mine area, which still fascinates me. At last, we stopped for fuel since we hadn’t since Show Low, and took a break. I ate a Butterfinger bar and drank some limeade. It sounds like a weird combination, but was a good energy booster as I was getting kind of tired.

Then we took 191 to Arizona/New Mexico 78 which ended up being another curving road that was fun to ride, at least until we rode into a big black cloud. Fortunately, we stopped in time to hurriedly pull on rain gear at the side of the road. We were pelted with rain for several miles, during which the sky darkened to almost the shade of night, and looked like it would never end. Soon we turned on to NM 180 and found that our destination, Glenwood, was only 20 miles away. I actually was glad since I had been tired since Morenci, and was getting to the point that I wanted to be off the bike for the day. I think my brain was temporarily emptied out this week as I finished a major project that I had going. I’m already writing the next one in my head, though. Somehow, it has to do with fall, and riding … Hmmmm.

We pulled off the road for the day under overcast skies and cool temperatures. I ended my perfect day with a cup of coffee in hand, the bike covered and cozy, as I listened to the pattering of rain and watched the clouds and mist drift across the Mogollon Mountains of far western New Mexico.

 

View from the porch at the end of the riding day

 

Color Tour, Day 1

10-15-10

Two o’clock on a Friday afternoon. It’s a warm drowsy fall day, the streets near my house are quiet. In the hush between the lunch rush and late afternoon rush hour, I escaped the city for a day or two on the road. Pearl purred beneath me, freshly serviced, happy, approaching 36,000 miles and then out of factory warranty. We reached it in two years, not three. Who cared? I didn’t buy this bike to let her sit in the garage.

It was 95° and I was dressed appropriately. I knew as soon as I got to the Rim I was going to freeze my butt off, but until then I wasn’t going to worry. Riding the Beeline out of town after we met up in Fountain Hills, my riding partner and I felt the good comfortable feeling of being on the road. Every turn was good, even as traffic increased.

Predictably, by the time I got through Payson and turned east onto the 260, I was getting colder by the minute. The air temperature reading went down into the 80s, then the 70s, and finally the 60s, dipping briefly into the high 50s. It grew overcast and dull, and near Christopher Creek the road was damp from recent rain. It was a sullen gray fall sky, almost a winter snow-sky. I pulled over to put on more layers, and even with my heated grips turned on, I was still shivering slightly.

We got off the road early, and now I sit in an anonymous little town, in a generic hotel, the gypsy blood coursing strong through my body as I care little for where I am, just that I am on the road and momentarily free.

Tomorrow, the annual “tour de fall” begins as we ride AZ 191 and explore the glory of all its sinuous turns, lined, we hope, by golden aspens and dark emerald pines.

I sleep, I dream, the insides of my eyelids painted with the flash of yellow lines as the road speeds by beneath my wheels. It waits for me out there.

Taos, Finish

The best and worst of this trip

 

Best ride: NM 64, between Tierra Amarilla and Taos. Also, NM 518 from Taos to Mora.

Best junk food: Plain milk chocolate fudge from gift shop at the ski resort.

Shining moment: Being right on time to watch the 480 leave Durango, CO for Silverton.

Best breakfast: Eggs, cheese, and spinach scramble with potatoes and sausages from City Market in Durango.

Best dinner: Steak dinner at a nice restaurant in Taos. The steak was done to perfection.

Best coffee: Single packets of Mount Hagen regular coffee, brought from home. Chevron coffee is surprisingly good as well. Most restaurant coffee sucks.

Best rally moments: Sitting on the bridge over the silvery creek that runs through the ski resort. Seeing people I don’t get to see except for a few times of the year at the rallies, like Jim and Judy from CO, Al S., Steve from Durango.

Best free thing: High-viz yellow long sleeve t-shirt shirt that a guy at the Albuquerque BMW dealer’s booth gave me just because I said I thought it was cool. (I’m kind of diggin on that color lately.)

Worst ride: I-40. As always.

Most hated signs: “Road work ahead,” “Loose gravel,” the leaping crazy deer sign, “Elk crossing.”

Coldest temperature: 47° on the Mogollon Rim.

Warmest temperature: 101° back in Phoenix.


Friday night HH

March 26, 2010

On Friday nights, it is the tradition for me and my riding partner to ride from Fountain Hills to Sunflower, turn around, then head back to Fountain Hills for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It is about a half an hour up and a half an hour back, hence our pet name for this ride, “happy hour.” It is the happiest hour of the week – on the bike, and don’t have to go back to work for the next two days.

As I crossed Gilbert Rd., I found the Salt River moving more slowly than I’d thought, almost lazily sliding around the wrecked east roadway, turning in slow whorls in and out of the supports, pausing to squeeze among the debris that floats there. I also found the air colder than expected, and I shivered a little.

After fueling up in Fountain Hills, we headed out. It was a clear evening, the sky pastel in the late afternoon light, Four Peaks aloof in the distance. I looked with longing at the dirt trails to the right. Tomorrow we’d be there.

Several DPS cars were lying in wait as we ascended. I let all the “rabbits” in the pickups go by for bait. At the moment, with my radar detector not working properly, I am on “VFR,” but I manage to see them in time. Tonight the wind was an issue anyway, so I had to be careful. My bike only weighs about 400 lbs., and I am only 120 lbs., so together we still weigh less than a lot of touring bikes. It was a smooth ride up, enough to leave the dregs of the work week behind. We reached the turnaround point and paused for a moment. Then, we went.

When it was deep winter, in December, we descended into cavernous dark. Now it is light on the way back, twilight pushed later into the evening. I have often said the turns south of Sunflower are perfectly engineered, and I ride them with joy and abandon, the bike weightless and clean in my hands. Near the bottom, through White Bridge, Brown Bridge,  (yes, I named them all over the years), and past an old accident site. I back off then, the bike breathes a little as we come back down to earth, past all the places where DPS hides. Lap traffic through Rock Garden is predictably irritating with all the cagers hitting their brakes, and soon afterward we are parked in front of Starbucks

A cup of coffee and some good conversation later, we are riding home, the wind still blowing. There is a loneliness in the open fields of bending grass, the cold wind of early spring racing unimpeded until it comes to where the mountains form, the dark of the road now like a tunnel, unbroken until we pass the writhing flame of the methane torch where it tears at the dark at the edge of the garbage dump. Over the same bridge as before, but now the river glints metallic, running flat in the hint of light at the edge of the horizon, remnants of a long-past sunset.

Up the hill and back into town, I leave the stress of the week out in the stretching dark, the lights of town welcome me back. I am finally calm and happy, and ready to enjoy my weekend.