Leaving Alpine

Day 3
12-28-14

The last day in Alpine was, as always, sad. It’s not that I hate to go home, it’s that I hate to leave Alpine. There is a difference. It would be nice if someday Alpine could be home. It made me sad to see the soft light of dawn breaking over the snow knowing that it was the last time for this trip, and maybe the last time until next winter.

We had breakfast in our usual place, packed up, and then tried Hwy. 191 again. This time, we found that the day in between this attempt and our last attempt had made a difference in the amount of snow melted by the sun. The road was almost clear.

As we climbed in elevation, the snow level increased. By the time we passed Hannagan Meadow, the snow was a couple of inches deep. Hal turned into FR25 with the intent of going in to FR24, which was only a mile or so, if that. However, we both thought better of it because here the road had about four inches of snow on it. Without 4WD and snow tires (or chains), I thought it was not going to be safe. We had only gone in about 500 feet, and Hal reversed back to the main paved road after I took a few photographs.


Blue Point Vista

Then we went up to Blue Point vista, and got a few shots up there. The area was nearly deserted, with only an occasional 4WD vehicle passing on the road. The locals know how to gear up for snow, and it triggered many memories of my youth in Wisconsin. I remembered those days of slipping and sliding on the roads. I was a young, inexperienced driver at the time, and found myself in scary winter driving situations more than once.

Finally, Hal and I turned around at Blue Point and headed back toward Alpine, which we’d have to go through to start on the journey home. While we drove on Hwy. 191, we both watched for wildlife, but saw none. I joked that we already have plenty of blurry photos of animals’ butts disappearing into the woods! We stopped again briefly at Nelson Reservoir, and then we went into Springerville. There we stopped at Western Drug so I could get some snow pants that I’d seen on the way. It may seem stupid to get them then, while we were on the way home, but I thought since they were so cheap and I would be back (soon, I hoped) to the White Mountains in winter, I would get them anyway. No luck on the boots that I’d wanted, though.

Right outside Springerville, we stopped at the Little Colorado River pullout to get a few photos, but it was nothing impressive, due to the lack of color in anything – the sky, the dead plants, the water, the rocks. I can always find something to shoot, so I hope a few of the images will be usable.

Usable?:

After that stop, we traveled without stopping, through the volcanic field, Show Low, Heber, then in Payson we stopped for a piece of pie and to check on the NFL teams in a sports bar. All too soon, we were on the final leg of the journey home. As we neared Phoenix, we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The clouds were perfect to light up into brilliant orange from the last rays of the sun.

This week we will have to satisfy ourselves with day rides, when possible. There aren’t many days left to have fun, and soon I will be back at work. I am dreading it already.

**

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2015 will be a good year for all of us.

Finding snow

**

The White Mountains of Arizona, 12-26-14

Right before Christmas, I was idly looking on the internet at the weather forecast for Alpine, Arizona, one of my favorite places. I noticed that it was supposed to snow later in the week so I texted my riding partner, Hal, asking if he wanted to go to the White Mountains and shoot (with cameras) some snow. With us, any excuse to get away is a good one, so we planned it for Friday through Sunday.

On Christmas Day, I kept checking the weather cam shots from Alpine. It rained all day, and the temperature stubbornly hovered right around 34° F., just warm enough to not snow. However, around 5 p.m., the temperature dropped, and it started to snow! The trip was on!

Did we ride? No! Too risky on motorbikes, even the beloved dirt bikes. I wanted to at first because I don’t mind riding in it, but our experience has shown us that when the snow gets too deep, all the forest roads are closed anyway. Not only that, but the temperature was going to dip into the ‘teens, maybe even single digits overnight. Hal and I knew that super-cold temperatures could be really miserable, especially if we were going to be stopping all the time to shoot photos. At that point, we elected to drive the trusty Xterra. Then I could take all my cameras and not have to worry if they were packed securely and safely. It was going to be a short trip, so we might as well be comfortable.

It was funny watching me pack for this trip. I was only going to be gone for a couple of days, really, but I had to take a lot of layers for each day. I planned on living in tights with sweatpants over them, numerous layers on top, and my heaviest coat, gloves, and knit hat. As it turned out, most of the time I was there I looked like a marshmallow. But I was warm (mostly).

We loaded up on Friday morning, and got on the road. It was cold before we even left town, and we stopped for coffee and bagels to eat on the way north. There was no snow in Payson, but when we got up on the Mogollon Rim we started to see some! It was only a dusting, but the higher in elevation we got, the deeper it was. However, it wasn’t a deep snow as we’d experienced a couple of years ago, and it was going to melt fast.

You can never tell from what’s on the Rim near Payson and Heber what you will find in the White Mountains. We rolled through Show Low, looked at the Forest Energy Corporation plant with its white smoke filling the cold air. I didn’t know it before, but they make wood pellets for pellet stoves, among other wood products.

After we left Show Low, however, we started to see the Springerville Volcanic Field in the distance. One of the tallest cinder cones was gleaming with white in the sun! That was a good sign.

As we passed some of the cinder cones, I took a few “flash by” photos with the little camera, but then we stopped at the one that I named the Snow Volcano and got some images there. I tried to stand in the exact same spot where I’d taken my photo almost three years ago, the one that ended up in the gallery. It was very sunny and bright this time, though, and it didn’t have the same drama as it had previously under advancing winter storm clouds.

Welcome to Springerville!

We stopped in Springerville at Western Drug and General Store. It’s a ritual we have every time we come up here. I was hoping they’d still have some of the boots that I wanted last October (but failed to get), and I should have known they’d be sold out. They were pretty, and they looked warm. I should have gotten them in October. Next we drove down to the Safeway so I could get a can of Scotch-gard to try to make the hiking boots I was wearing somewhat waterproof. Those are the only boots I have that resemble cold-weather boots, and I had intended to buy the boots at Western Drug. After that wasn’t possible, I had to improvise!

After driving around Springerville for a little while, we got on the road to Alpine. It was super-cold, around 20° F., and we decided to go through town and get right on Hwy. 191. There was snow on the ground, but I was interested in the 191 where there would be the most snow. At the highest point, it is over 9,000 feet in elevation, so the farther south we went, the more snow there would be.

We found the road covered in snow in some spots!

Hal drove slowly; neither one of us is used to driving in winter conditions. I lived in Wisconsin for the first 22 years of my life, but it’s been a long time since I’ve driven on snow and ice. There were a few places on the 191 that looked treacherous. We didn’t go too far, only a couple of miles past Campbell Blue wash, and then we turned around. We thought that later in the trip the road might be better. Hwy. 191 is not plowed during weekends, during snowstorms, or at night, but I thought the sun would probably help to clear the road more than it was on the first day of the trip.

We went back to Alpine, ate dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Alpine Grill, and had a relaxing evening.

**

Tomorrow: a full day of shooting photos

Goodbye to the forest

At Nelson Reservoir, on the way home:

Monday, Oct. 6, 2014

I had one last look early this morning at dawn breaking over Alpine. How can this trip be over so fast? I wondered. It has been one of the best.

Hal and I each had a piece of fruit pie, and eggs, at Alpine Grill, finishing off the last of their pies. What is so good about them is there isn’t any added sugar (according to my source!), just the natural goodness of fruit baked into a pie. We even had time to chat with the waitress. I feel like we should be old friends by now since we are in Alpine so often.

The Xterra, and bikes:

Back at the lodge, we packed the joyful Xterra and then geared up for our last dual sport bike ride. Once again, our destination was chosen with a particular goal in mind: to shoot the greenery-festooned rock wall near Blue Crossing, a place that I’ve wanted to shoot since last summer. I had all my camera gear with me, both the standard camera and the IR modified camera. Risky, I know, but I really wanted those shots.

When we got on the bikes, we rode the 500 feet or so down to Bait and Tackle to get fuel. But, once again, it was out of fuel! I say “once again” because this happened to us with startling regularity last summer; you’d think we’d learn by now. Oh, well, we had fueled up in Eagar the previous day and had only around 50 miles or so on that tank of fuel. “So, do the whole ride anyway?” Hal asked me. I nodded. Why not? I thought we only had around 50 more miles to ride on the planned ride, and we’d gone farther without running out of fuel.

We turned east on Hwy. 180 toward the New Mexico border, but we turned onto a county road that would eventually lead us down to Blue Crossing. On the way down toward the river, on the twisting roadway, we were followed closely by a pickup truck. I couldn’t believe he was keeping up with us, but he was obviously familiar with the road. At the first place we could, we pulled over and let him pass. We were out for fun, and he was probably working. Besides, I wasn’t exactly sure where the place was that I wanted to pull over. At last, the rock wall was “right there” in front of me, and I quickly came to a stop.

I spent about 30 minutes there, drinking in the beauty, shooting blissfully away with the IR camera. So far, I am pleased with how many good shots I got. All the patterns of leaves, the textures of the rock, the green foliage that turns white with the IR capture. Finally, we got back on the bikes and moved on.

Next was an area where, last summer, Hal shot a photo of me riding on the road with the cattle lounging at the side. They were not there this time, but I was able to shoot a few old wooden cabins and a shed, another perfect thing for the IR camera. I shot a few color photos, but they later turned out to be less impressive than the IR.

By now, we were at the lowest point of the road, and I was a little worried what we would find at the two water crossings. I was starting to get nervous about having all my cameras on my back and going through water. Indeed, when I got to the first one, it was much deeper than what we’d seen last summer. It was calm, though, and I could see the bottom. No problem. I went through without incident, and Hal followed behind. I should have stopped to get a photo of the washed out stone bridge, but I was beginning to be mindful of how much time was passing. Hal wanted to get home reasonably early since he had to go to work the next day, at least I thought he would want me to get going. But he was very patient and kind, my “long-suffering riding partner,” as I often say.

Soon we were passing Blue School, then Blue Crossing itself with its small water crossing, and before I knew it, we were climbing up the winding grade toward forest and Hwy. 191. I got “caught out” on the first tight switchback, too fast and too wide, but was lucky there was no one coming from the other direction. I was more careful after that, and we still went up quite fast. Near the top, I saw a sign that said “road work ahead,” and since I had been paying attention to the “newness” of the road surface, realized that the road was in the process of being bladed. Sure enough, a few miles on, I met the grader as I went around a corner, but I had already anticipated that he couldn’t be far in front of me. He was already going back down the grade.

Then, I was in the forest again, and not long after that we popped out on Hwy. 191 across from FR26, and only a few miles from Hannagan. We stopped in, and fortunately, were able to time it exactly right and speak to the owner. Our goal was to get things set up for our BMW club get-together there next June, and we were able to accomplish that. After we were done, we had a fun ride back to Alpine where the Xterra was waiting for us to load up and go.

Our stopping along the way didn’t end there, though. We stopped in Springerville and went to Western Drug again. There were some lovely snow boots there, lined in (fake) fur but still warm, that I wanted so badly. If I hadn’t known I wouldn’t be able to wear them except for one or two days, I would have gotten them. I think I should have gotten them anyway to make myself think that someday I will get to move to a place where there is real winter, with actual cold and snow. I did get some nice reading glasses, though, at Western Drug, and my favorite, Hubert’s lemonade, to drink on the way home.

Another stop we made was to pull over at the side of the road just west of Springerville so I could shoot an old rusty car in the middle of a field. I used my zoom lens for that since the car was on private property. Then, a couple of hours later when we were between Heber and Payson, we turned off at the Woods Canyon Lake road (FR300) so we could get some photos from the overlook on top of the Rim.

I shot some IR images because the clouds were the perfect kind for IR captures, and I also shot what later turned out to be one of the best photos of the trip: an amazing, feathery-leafed tree. I’ve learned that trees seem to be my niche when it comes to photography!

We ate dinner in Payson, then got a big cup of coffee at the Circle K where we fueled up for the last time of the trip. It was so much fun descending in the dark on the Beeline Hwy. cozy and safe in the Xterra, drinking coffee, and chatting about future rides. It was a wonderful ending to a wonderful trip, one of our best ever.

This is only a temporary “goodbye to the forest.” We will soon return.

A forest’s beauty and evolution

One of the areas most devastated by the Wallow fire of 2011:

Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014

Today started early when I got up around 5 to look out the window, the second day in a row that I’ve been able to do that. This time it was earlier, and darker, and there was only a faint hint of light at the horizon. I could still see the stars shining brightly, and the window felt cold when I touched it. Once again, I crawled back into the warm bed where I had just finished a very vivid dream where I had been the hero in a crazy, violent movie. I slept again until about 7, then got up, anticipating a good, full day riding in the forest.

On the way to breakfast: the delights of being in Alpine:

Curious sheep:

Hal and I walked to breakfast at the Bear Wallow Café. I know this restaurant is a favorite of a lot of people, but I certainly don’t know why. To me, everything tastes like the same old grease that everything must be cooked in. I thought it was disgusting, and I do not ever want to go back there. The cook at the Alpine Grill is superb, and I love the people that work there. It’s a no-brainer (in my opinion) which place in Alpine is the one to go to.

We had planned our riding day to include a route through high elevation forest that should include golden aspens. We left Alpine and got on FR249, which is now paved. It will probably become part of 273 and soon be designated that way. We saw that happening in July when we were here last, and I hoped it wouldn’t be true. Sadly for us, it was paved almost all the way to Big Lake, the eastbound lane still had to be done for a few miles, but I think that once again, a nice dirt highway has been ruined. It’s not only that I hate how paving will increase the traffic from RVs, but it will also open the area up to more human desecration. It means that beautiful areas will now become victim to human invasion, and human trash. It disgusts me to find beer bottles and plastic of all kinds in areas where I think I am out in the middle of the wilderness. Inevitably, this will happen here.

Soon, we passed Big Lake, and continued toward FR112. It is a pretty road, and we stopped at one point so I could hike a short distance to get some photos of a particularly beautiful clump of golden aspens. The whole road had many examples of the amazing transformation that autumn brings to the leaves. I was looking everywhere, and I loved every moment of being there.

We reached Hwy. 261, and shortly after that, we got back into the dirt on FR117. This is the road that eventually leads to the “snow volcano,” and that was our goal. I had all of my cameras with me in a backpack made for carrying them, and I wanted to use them to their best advantage. My weapon of choice for the fall color shots had been my Canon T2i, and I hoped to use the modified Xti for infrared shots on top of the cinder cone. We wove through the aspens, and then the evergreen forest, toward the Springerville Volcanic Field. Then, we started to descend toward Hwy. 60. After a short distance, we were at the road that climbs up the volcano.

That road had deteriorated a lot since we were here last July. The cinders were deep at the bottom having been washed down during the summer storms. I began to climb, and Hal was behind me. The erosion ruts were very deep, about a foot, and I had to choose my lines carefully. I kept going, though, powering up the short, steep climb. The bad thing was, though, when I got to the top, there was a pickup truck parked there, too, and two guys were shooting bullets into the exposed side of the cinder cone. I understood that, since it was a safe place to shoot, but I wanted to shoot, too, with a camera. I was able to get a few quick shots. Meanwhile, Hal had an issue of his own.

“I gotta get to a hardware store!” he said, urgently. An important bolt had fallen out of the tail section of his DR, and if it had to go through too much more bouncing, more of it was going to break. We were about 16 miles west of Springerville, so I suggested we ride the paved U.S. 60 to town. We headed back down the volcano carefully. I wouldn’t say it was my most graceful descent that I’ve ever ridden, but I got down unscathed. We took the 60 into Springerville, then pulled into Davis Ace Hardware store.

Hal went into the store to get some parts, and I waited outside. After about 10 minutes, he came out, and he did a temporary fix on the bike using a new bolt and some baling wire. Then, we were good to go. The next stop was Western Drug and General store to get a snack and look around. We got a Zero candy bar (to die for, BTW), and some lemonade. So, we sat on the curb in the shade, looked at the map, and planned the next segment of our day.

Our original plan had been to stay near 117 and then explore the network of dirt roads to the west of there. However, the problem with the DR had changed things, and we went to “Plan B.” The map said that we could take 285 south of Springerville/Eagar, ironically, the road on which we’d finished our summer riding in July. From 285, we would take 85 east, possibly take FR57 up to the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area, and then cross Hwy. 191 to take FR275 all the way back to Alpine. We got on the bikes after our break, and headed south toward the edge of town where we fueled up. Soon we were on 285, and after we wound our way up another mountain, turned on 85.

FR85 sounded familiar to me, but it turned out we had never been on it except for a couple of miles last July as we had exited the OHV loop. This time, we were headed east, past Grand View Camp, and a mile or two right after that, the narrow winding road wove through an area that had been absolutely devastated in the Wallow fire three years ago.

I thought that I had seen it all with regard to that fire, but this area surprised me in so many ways. When we first rode into it, I thought that the grassy fields had hundreds of little orange traffic cones. That didn’t make any sense, but then I saw that they were not cone-shaped, but cylindrically shaped. They are actually orange plastic cylinders protecting ponderosa pine seedlings from browsing animals. More information is here: http://wildfiretoday.com/2014/10/07/climbing-trees-to-harvest-pine-cones-after-the-wallow-fire-in-arizona/

Seedlings everywhere. Look closely and you can see the protective cylinders all over the terrain:

The more I looked, the more the “grassy fields” looked like a bomb had gone off there. Everything that had once been a tree or a bush, or anything living, had been consumed by the fire. If only I had known about this area, if only I had been riding dirt bikes like I do now, I would have shot my progression photographs here. I had chosen MM250 on Hwy. 191 because I was on the street bike the first time I rode into the burn area, and I was not familiar with anything else.

Hal and I continued to ride slowly through this discovered burn area, looking at it, intrigued by how completely ruined the area is. I stopped to take more burned tree photos, as if I haven’t enough already, but this area is remote and some of it is untouched. It is just as it is the day after the fire roared through. Abruptly, we reached the edge of it, and from then on, it was green forest and scrubland.

We were going to take a road that we thought was FR57 and go up through Sipe, but two SUVs were blocking it and we couldn’t get around them without riding off the road, which we did not want to do. We turned south at an intersection about a mile farther on 85, found it gated and locked, then turned around and headed north. Soon we were going east, and it looked familiar. We came out on Hwy. 191, across from FR275, which we had taken last July. We knew it would take us back to Alpine, and it would probably be beautiful because we both remembered it being lined with aspens.

At first it is high desert, then goes into the trees. To say this part of the ride was amazing is an understatement. We rode reasonably slowly through it all because most of the time we found ourselves in deep chasms between tall aspens, both green and gold, and even among those special ones that are gold and tipped with red. Some of the gold ones, flame-shaped, were “sparkling” as the leaves fluttered in the wind. I sighed. It was achingly beautiful.

Up ahead were mountains that we could barely see through the trees surrounding us, but when we did, we saw that they were covered with vivid green and bright gold. The late afternoon sun was lighting them up, and even the air looked gold around them. As I wound through the golden trees, taking in the beauty, I thought when I die, this is how I want to leave, as a ghost rider through the autumn beauty to the blackness beyond. The sight was so spectacular, it is almost indescribable.

Finally, as we were going down a grade, I realized that we were close to the river that has cut deeply through the lowest part of this road. Soon after that, we twisted our way up a very steep grade. It was difficult to see with the dust hanging in the air, and the sun’s rays slanted so low, and it seemed like we were in a different world. When we were on top, we were only a few miles from where we come out on Hwy. 180 near Luna Lake, and only a couple of miles from Alpine. Soon we were “home.”

We each had a cup of coffee, sitting on the porch, and then, after the sun disappeared behind the mountain, we walked to dinner. Sadly, it is our last night here. The trip has once again gone much too fast.

The search for fall color

Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014

Early this morning, at 5 o’clock, I woke up. I got up and went to the window so I could see the sight that I always long to see: Alpine in the pre-dawn glow of light at the horizon. It was so calming and pleasing to me that I stood there looking for a while until I got too cold. Then I went back to the warm bed where I had made myself a cocoon. I was sleeping in tights, a hoodie, and my brother-in-law’s old socks, things I’d taken with me in case I got cold. I think I would have been cold if I hadn’t worn all of it!

Later, Hal and I walked to breakfast, the sun was already up and beaming down strongly by then. We had breakfast at Alpine Grill (awesome bacon), and then we trudged up the hill for our pilgrimage to the thrift store. Not much this time for me, but Hal got a nice sport coat to wear to work. It cost $1.

We finally got on the bikes, and then rode FR403 onto the mountain south of Alpine. We wanted to see at what stage the aspens were. Were they gold yet? Were they past it? Were they still green? The answer was “all of the above.” The ones at the highest elevation were already almost bare, the leaves hanging on them had that freeze-burned look, but there were few leaves left. A little lower in elevation, the trees were golden, and very beautiful. Occasionally, there were a few trees with the red leaves at the very top. We stopped several times to photograph them. At the lower elevations, the aspens were still green and thriving, although I saw a few of their leaves tipped with gold, a promise of amazing, shining beauty to come. It is too bad our “break” at work comes a week earlier than it used to, and now I miss a lot of the fall color, at least in the White Mountains.

As I rode on 403, I noticed that the logging operations had moved farther west on the road, but the machinery was still there. I imagine they work until the snow flies. I also saw water running on the road as it made its way down the slope. I thought of all the rain and storms that had rumbled through between July and the end of September. When we were last there, in July, the summer thunderstorms had just begun; we had even been caught out in a crashing lightning storm and had to shelter at a forest service bathroom building. I kind of miss the drama every day of the thunderstorms building, but I had my whole day in which to ride and enjoy.

When we got to the 276, we turned left so we could go down to the Black River, another extraordinarily beautiful place. We followed the narrow road as it curved steeply down the grade, and we were soon meandering alongside the river as it bubbled happily along. At this time of year, it is a dark turquoise color, and when it reaches rocky areas, it leaps happily in a white arch over the stones. I looked around me. Here I was, fall color all around me, paralleling the beautiful Black River. I thought, this is it for me, this is all I want. This is the place for me. I was in the moment, and drinking in the richness of being here in this lovely place. I was very content as I rode along looking at the amazing beauty. I wish I could be here forever.

Once of the things I noticed again on this trip is how dark the forest gets in the fall. The light from the sun is starting to be very slanted, so it makes the trees cast long shadows. There were many areas that I really had to pay attention to where I was putting the bike because I couldn’t see what was there, if there were rocks, or a big hole, for example. I hit a big hole in one of the shadows once that I hit too fast because I didn’t see it in time.

After a few miles, we reached the FR24-25 split, and we decided to take FR25. However, after a couple of miles, I passed 25J, and remembered what a great road that was. We turned around, and took 25J. It goes past a place called Brentwood. At Brentwood, where last summer it was a small city of trailers and RVs, it was now deserted. I only glimpsed it as we flew by on the road, and I knew the road got rougher from this point north. It wasn’t too much rougher, though, only a few places with small rocks. Soon we rejoined 24, which we had crossed earlier, and took it to 249E to by-pass Big Lake recreation area.

About a mile up the road, we saw to our dismay that it was true that 249 would be paved. Half of the road was already done, which meant the whole thing was probably done the closer it got to Alpine. I looked at the half-paved road. Half-paved, or half dirt? I mused. I was on the dirt half, and both literally and figuratively I was looking at it as “half dirt.” It was depressing to know it would all be paved very soon.

We made a left turn onto FR285, which I knew would take us north to 88. We flew along on these good, familiar roads, and enjoyed every moment. I was looking at everything, and I wanted to find a place where the section of red dirt could be in the same photograph as an aspen with red leaves at the top, but I was not so lucky. As I said, the leaves are only just beginning to turn, and in the area of 88, few were beginning to show signs of fall. However, as I passed the reservoir, I glanced down the steep slope that is its edge and saw that the surface of the water on the south end was covered in almost fluorescent green and yellow algae. There were a few golden trees there, and the combination looked intriguing. We turned around so I could stop and get a few photographs.

The sky was clear autumn blue, and the sun was so golden. Dust particles hung in the air. It felt like time hung there, too, waiting, the season slowly changing. I gingerly stepped down the steep slope to get closer to the water so I could shoot. I was lost in the moment and the beauty, everything else ceased to exist. Finally, after about 30 minutes, Hal and I got back on our bikes and continued toward Hwy. 191. We rounded the curve where last time we’d been here we’d seen a huge thunderstorm barreling down on the neighborhood below us. Today, it was sunny and bright, and we enjoyed the calm descent.

We took Hwy. 191 back to the lodge where we are staying, and sat for a couple of hours on the porch, drinking coffee and replaying the riding day. In the evening, we walked to dinner as the night closed down around us and the stars came out. It was a peaceful, contented feeling, a perfect ending to a perfect day.

On the road to the autumn forest

As I packed for this dirt bike riding trip, I pulled things out of my closet, cold weather clothes that I hadn’t seen for a while but wanted to see. I happened to look down at the “shoe mess” on the floor of my (too small) closet. What was making it a mess was the plastic grocery bag of sandals that was taking up room where my boots should be. Realization hit me then. It’s October, I thought, I no longer have to wear sandals, or anything else associated with summer, if I don’t want to. Trust me, I don’t want to.

I grabbed the broken bag, let all the sandals spill out, and then stuck them all in a sturdier shopping bag. I tied the top of it closed, then took it out and threw it into a smaller hall closet. Out of sight, out of mind. This pleased me to no end, and I paired and straightened all my boots. No longer did they have to put up with the insulting presence of the sandals, at least until next May.

Why was I packing for a trip? you ask. Well, it is time once again for me to escape for a few days and return to Alpine. Yes, I marveled, I can have it all back! The dirt bike trails, the beautiful forest, the favorite restaurants, the thrift store, Western Drug and General Store, along with everything else in and around Alpine and Springerville that I love so much. It was and is a wonderful feeling.

Friday afternoon, Hal and I piled our gear into his new (to him) Nissan Xterra and drove effortlessly to Alpine. The Xterra climbed almost without any effort, and we were there in record time. It was dark and cold when we got there, too, in the 40s F. Nice! I put on almost all the warm clothes that I had brought, and I was warm.

It’s going to be a wonderful few days of riding and escape from the heat. And, I hope, some beautiful fall color to see and photograph.

Tomorrow: In search of gold

I was never here – Epilogue

NM 434 as it snakes its narrow way toward Mora Valley:

**

Taos, 2014

Epilogue

Musings from the road, to New Mexico and then back home:

When I left town on the Wednesday night before the rally, it was 108° F. I was wearing a textile jacket, not a mesh one, and I was comfortable. The heat doesn’t usually get to me unless I am fed up with it, but this time I suppose my mind was already on the road, and I don’t complain about too many things when I am on the road since it is my paradise. Soon, I was out of town, up in elevation, and before you know it, I was riding in temperatures in the 60s F. I was still comfortable, and I was so happy to be on the trip.

I was surprised how long it took me this year to physically get back into riding the long day (day 2)  to Taos. My shoulders hurt really badly when I got off the bike the second day. I wish we’d done some long road trips over the summer instead of just jumping on the bikes for this trip and expecting to do 400+ mile days. I still felt tight in my shoulders through the whole trip and I wondered if I was losing my ability to ride for long distances. But, by the time the trip was over I was back to being “in shape” for riding long distances. Darn, I’ll just have to go again.

I also watched Hal ride my 2006 F650GS, and was thinking long and hard about if I really want to sell it. I probably don’t need four bikes (when I get the DR that I want) but the GS is almost new mechanically now. I think I will be less assertive about selling it, and see what happens.

I wish I had been “in the moment” more on this trip. I kept thinking of other things, like work. Every year it gets more and more difficult. Teaching is an impossible job in the current political climate. Am I making a difference? I don’t know anymore. It has become more and more like trying to roll a boulder uphill in the mud. Working with kids all day is very tiring, despite what people outside education think, and I never, ever get a break during any day. It wears on me after a while.

When we got to Farmington, after the dullness of Gallup, and the 491 to Shiprock, I was pleasantly surprised how the town center of Farmington was actually quite charming. I loved riding NM64 to Dulce, and after that, the twisties. The closer we got to Taos, the happier I was.

I wanted to enjoy NM 64 between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Piedras because it is twisty, and deserted. However, since we had seen a buck (deer) standing at the very edge of the road before we even started the turns, we had to be completely on alert the whole time. It was good that we’d slowed down because another deer leaped right across the road in front of Hal. I so wanted to go faster and ride with abandon on that stretch of road, but I couldn’t, for safety reasons. Plus, by that time on Thursday I was tired and wanted to already be in Taos. I did enjoy it, though, I couldn’t help it. There is a long right hander on the way down the mountain that is so fun to just set the bike into it, leave it alone, and lean it all the way around. Wonderful!

One of the most magical things of the trip was the storm that blew into Taos just as we were returning there on Saturday night. After stopping to shoot photos of the amazing sunset, we realized that we were also looking at an advancing wall of rain. The wind got very wild for a few minutes and we just barely got to the hotel, got the bikes covered, and then the rain began to fall heavily. That is one of those memories that we’ll think of later, things that on future trips we’ll say “remember that time we came into Taos and arrived at the same time as a storm?” Of course we will remember! It was an exciting moment.

One thing I will say for myself is that no matter how tired I am, I can always ride. I am always able to be alert, keep my eyes moving, and not do anything stupid. I am able to handle my bike. On the first day that we were in Taos, for example, we rode NM434, a very narrow road with many hazards (but lots of fun!). Also, on the way home, it was a challenge to get through the heavy surface street traffic of Albuquerque (due to the closure of part of I-25 through town). A woman in an SUV almost cut me off, almost turned right into my motorcycle. I am always able to see things like that before they become a problem. As is usual with these drivers, she acted like it was my fault, she was so annoyed that I was “there.” Nice.

In the blink of an eye, the weekend was gone, as I knew it would be. As we walked to dinner at Red Onion in Heber on the last night, I closed my eyes briefly, and thought, I must remember this moment. This is our trip we look forward to all year, and it’s already almost gone.

The drama wasn’t over yet, though, because the last morning of the trip, the extra day off that I had so looked forward to, was not what I had envisioned. It started out with text messages advising us to “be safe” on the way home, and when we turned on the news, we found out why: Phoenix had been hit with heavy rain, a record amount, and it had nearly brought the city to a standstill. My husband texted me that Hal and I should wait a little longer to come home, have an extra cup of coffee, and maybe the rain would be over. It was, in Phoenix, but then it started where we were. That was okay, it was a pleasant cool ride home in the rain for at least part of the way. I actually love riding in the rain, and I wish it had lasted longer, if not all the way home.

Another year is over, another trip to Taos over too quickly. Even though we keep saying we want to come back and stay longer at another time during the year, as Hal said, “If we came (to Taos) at any other time of year, I expect the trip would have a whole different feel.” The solution will be when we finally get to retire, soon, we hope, and get to stay for maybe a week or so on either side of the rally, so we can take our time and fully enjoy it. I would really like to be lucky enough to be there when the trees are in their full autumn glory. I absolutely love autumn!

Hal and I consider this the “end” of our riding year, and now a new one is beginning. There is a trip north to see fall color, a group ride, a dual sport ride to Young, and other rides being planned. It’s going to be a great fall and winter season, our best, I hope. We have so many miles yet to ride.