Some of the finest riding on Earth

October, 2016

On the last weekend in October, Hal and I enjoyed a ride on Hwy. 191, “some of the finest riding on Earth,” in eastern Arizona, USA.

We left home Saturday morning at 7:30 and rode east on US 60 toward Superior, Arizona. It was a pleasant ride, with temperatures in the 70s F. We had originally planned to go to Buckboard, a restaurant we visit often, for breakfast, but once we got on the bikes, we just wanted to ride! We fueled up at Goldfield Chevron, got a couple of Clif bars, and that was breakfast.

I’d been looking forward to this – a nice “juicy” riding day! I had chosen my 2008 F800ST for this trip, a bike that was surely made for the 191. Pearl hadn’t been on a real road trip for over two years, and I think she was feeling thrilled at this opportunity.

Hal and I were especially appreciating every moment of being on the road after several weeks of stress at our separate workplaces. We rode east through Superior, Globe, and then continued east on Hwy. 70. We went through Bylas, which is unchanged (I hadn’t seen it in a couple of years), and still wrenchingly poor. Next is Pima (lots of cotton!), then Thatcher (“Taylor Freeze, 2 miles ahead!”), and then Safford.

We stopped at the edge of Safford because Hal was uncertain if his K75s, with a smaller gas tank than his R1100RS, would make it all the way to Clifton-Morenci. Fueling done, we turned north on 191 outside of Safford, and I felt the joy of anticipation for the best part soon to come.

Next were the two towns of Clifton and Morenci, so close together they blend into one. They are old mining towns, and very interesting to look at. Clifton has a railroad track running parallel to the 191 that goes literally right in front of people’s houses. Like, 20 feet away. I get that it’s because of the mine, but I don’t think even I would like a train right at my doorstep even though I love trains. We had to cross and re-cross the train tracks at weird angles as we made our way through town, and then we climbed up toward the actual mine in Morenci, and the gas station.

We always fuel up here before we get into the twisty section of 191. There is no fuel between here and Alpine, and we know better than to pass up a gas station in these circumstances. We took a break, ate a Snickers bar, then turned on our video cameras to record the amazing, sinuous, legendary Hwy. 191 formerly known as Hwy. 666.

I don’t know why I was apprehensive about the first turns out of Morenci, but I was. They are very tight, climb steeply, and can be technical. When I got there, though, I thought, these aren’t any worse than anything else I’ve ridden lately. The turns are tight, but the F800ST went smoothly through them. Up and up we went in elevation until we were “in” the actual mine, the road runs through it, and in a few miles rode through the blasting zone where we’d had to stop and wait last year. There was no one in the guardhouse this time.

Then we were free of the mine, and into the beauty of the mountains! We found the condition of Hwy. 191 to be absolutely perfect. I have often said that October is the best month to ride this road. The summer storms have washed it clean of any remaining winter debris, and the road surface is dry and fast. The golden autumn light highlights the color of the aspens along with the bronze and wheat-colored vegetation that grows on the forest floor. It is so beautiful in the season that I love.

Pearl flowed through the turns, and I re-discovered how much I love riding this bike. The F800ST was absolutely made for Hwy. 191, and I did not feel uncomfortable for one second. The riding position was great, my new helmet worked great, and above all, the bike handled perfectly. Since we were riding this part earlier in the day than we had last year, the sun was not too low and not directly in our eyes as we climbed.

We came to the part that I call “halftime,” the long grassy plain where the road is flat and straight. We let the motorcycles stretch their legs there as we flew along, but then after a few miles we brought the speed back down as we were back into more turns. It was pure fun and technical riding. We came to places where last year we had seen deer. It was too early in the day for them to be out this time, but we kept a wary eye out for them anyway. You never know!

Time passed so quickly and I was enjoying myself so thoroughly that before I knew it we were at Strayhorse work camp; we started to go up through the turns to Blue Point Vista. There were some black areas in the middle of the road, they looked like melted tar, that were a little “slippy” so as I rode, I tried to stay away from them.

It felt like home after that because we were on the part of the 191 that we know so well. It was cool, and all the vents in my jacket were still open (since Morenci), but I didn’t care. It felt so nice to be cool. We went faster on some of these parts since we are so familiar with them, and it was so different to be riding them on a quick road bike instead of a dirt bike. We loved every moment of going through the turns, enjoying the road. I think this is the best experience we’ve ever had on 191! Two and a half hours after leaving Morenci, we rolled into Alpine. It was about 94 miles since we’d left the gas station.

After we unpacked the bikes, we had time to enjoy a cup of coffee while sitting in the sun and waiting for a herd of elk that was supposed to show up later (they had the two nights before), but didn’t when we were there. We barely even heard an elk bugling, maybe once the whole night, much less see any. The hunt was on, so the elk were probably smart enough to stay away.

Around 6:00, Hal and I walked to our last dinner of the season at Foxfire, joining the locals to shut it down until next May. We sat in our favorite area near the bar, splurged a bit on wine and dinner, enjoyed the live music, and said our goodbyes (for now) to everyone there. The stars were sparkling in the sky as we walked back to the lodge, and the air was crisp and cool. What a wonderful day, the best ever, I think!

On Sunday morning, we ate corned beef hash at Alpine Grill, the best corned beef hash in the world, in my opinion, and said goodbye (temporarily) to all our friends there. Then we had to go home, but it was at least going to be another wonderful long riding day. We were still in the “non-stop” groove, so we only stopped for gas in Springerville, and then at Payson Chevron. It is our habit to have a cup of their wonderful coffee there no matter from where we are returning. We even got back to Phoenix in time to watch some of the football games on TV.

I don’t think I have enjoyed a trip or a ride so much as I have this one, for a long time. I loved the ride, loved being on my F800ST, loved riding the 191 in autumn, loved being in Alpine, loved the last night of the season at Foxfire on a magical pre-Halloween Saturday, and I even loved the nice long relaxing nearly non-stop ride on the way home.

It was the best riding day/weekend ride ever.

Struggling to keep up

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Above: Alpine on a late summer evening

So, it’s been a while since I have posted. I never finished the Taos story from this year, but I am sure you gathered I got home okay. It was another wonderful ride through New Mexico. I am going to tell you the highlights in a minute. Lately, I’ve been struggling through the first anniversary of the car crash last year, and I’m still not driving a car. I know at least one person that I thought was a “friend” who will make some nasty remark, like “big deal,” and tell me to “get over it,” but most people will understand that a person doesn’t just “get over” what to them is a traumatic event. That said, it’s onward and upward as they say. I’m working on it. The struggle is real, but at some point I will “sort of” get back to normal. After all that, though, I still will get on the motorbikes without hesitation, even the street bikes, which is weird, I know, but things can be weird after something happens.

Lately, I have been enjoying the absence of heat where I live, finally, and recently had an especially wonderful weekend ride on highway 191. I will post that story soon. It was probably my best ride … ever.

With that, here is the end of the Taos rally ride:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hal and I left Taos later than I wanted to. We rode along the Rio Grande until we reached Velarde. NM. We crept through the small town, then abruptly the scenery changed to more business-like, inhabited town, growing busier the closer we got to Santa Fe. Albuquerque was also busy, for a mid-day Sunday, and then before we knew it, we were through hot Socorro, climbing in elevation to cooler temperatures and cloudy skies.

We started heading north/northwest, and the sky was dark. Up ahead, we saw a patch of road that was silvery from falling rain. But just for a mile! It was so strange. During that mile, we were pelted with big drops of rain for a few minutes, and then suddenly we were out of it. What just happened? I thought, then laughed. I didn’t have any rain gear on yet, but I also hadn’t had much of a chance to get wet.

Farther west on the 60, though, as we headed toward Pie Town, we saw more dark clouds gathering, and I asked to stop to put on rain gear. It was a good decision, because we rode right into a very active thunderstorm. First there was a bright bolt of lightning to the north, then another to the south! Hal said, “this is scaring me!” It was me, too, but I said “we’ve only got about three miles to Pie Town.” We kept going. It turned out that I was right about the three miles, and with relief we turned into the parking lot of the pie restaurant at the west end of town.

The thunderstorm was calm for the moment, but more was coming. We shed our wet gear when we got inside, and sat down. We ordered pie and coffee, and as we started eating, a thick bolt of lightning hit within a mile of the pie store, followed immediately by a shattering BOOM! Hal and I looked at each other, each with a forkful of pie halfway to our mouths. Wow, that was close.

A couple traveling in a car came in, sat down next to us, and we ended up talking to them for quite a while as we waited out the storm. They had, coincidentally, been to the Taos rally last year, and asked us if we were returning from this year’s. That’s how the conversation started, and it went from there. The restaurant was supposed to close at 4 p.m. New Mexico time, but the owners allowed us all to sit and talk as they cleaned up. The storm was slowly calming down, and we finally left.

Hal and I rode the glistening roads to Quemado for our next fuel stop, then got on highway 32. We made good time, and it was beautiful to look at the amazing clouds and spectacular scenery. We’d been on this road before, but it’s always a treat. Along the way, I saw an amazing geological formation with vertical columns of rock right on top of horizontal strata. One could “wax poetic” on such story-telling abilities of the earth.

At last we made it to Reserve, NM. It was still damp, but got warmer as we descended. Once we got on hwy 180 for the last section toward Alpine, it cooled down again, but here, oddly, the road was dry – for a change! I couldn’t remember the last time we’d come through here and found dry pavement. It was fun to ride the turns, and soon we were seeing the familiar outline of the mountains surrounding Alpine. As we parked and unpacked the bikes, I looked up just in time to see an amazing rainbow stretching across the dark blue sky on the eastern horizon behind Alpine.

We walked to dinner, then Hal, whose back had been hurting for most of the trip, went right to bed, hoping he could get up and feel well enough in the morning to make it home. I worried that he wouldn’t be able to, that’s how bad it was.

Maybe because we were in Alpine, Hal’s back was much better the next day, and we made it home. Back to work after that, with our minds already on the next trip soon to come.

Rallying

September 9, 2016, Taos, NM

Our third day on the road, and I am washing some socks in the sink of the hotel. The main thing about travel that I learned last summer was that I don’t need to bring so many changes of clothes, and underwear for every single day on the road. It results in giant, unwieldy bags of dirty laundry that are difficult to fit on the bike. It is easier to wash a few things as needed and just keep on wearing the same pieces over and over. Besides, there’s a Wal-Mart in almost every town in case I get sick of the same old clothes.

On this day, Friday, we worried at breakfast if Hal’s bike would run normally, and if it didn’t, if it would ruin our trip. Since we both theorized it had something to do with fuel, when we got on the bikes we rode north on the main street to find a Chevron station for good gas, i.e., gasoline without too much ethanol in it. We did not know that our usual Phillips 66 station had NO ethanol in Premium grade! We found that out later …

So, after fueling up at the Chevron, we rode out to the rally site. The ride was beautiful! – golden sun trending toward autumn, vivid green leaves, and trees that were just starting to turn gold at the very tops. I had an amazing ride. Hal was worrying about his bike because it was still not running right. In order to help diagnose the exact problem, we planned to ask one of our friends who is an extraordinary mechanic.

Our favorite scene:

At the rally, we checked in, and I talked to one of my friends, Jan, and then Hal and I walked around the rally site. Not many vendors appeared to be in the exhibition area this year, and those that were seemed to be still setting up.

We decided to leave, but before we could, we had a conversation with some other riders. One was a F800GT rider, and he loves his bike. My F800ST was the precursor to the GT.

The lodge, still “recovering” (get it?) from the fire a few years ago:

By the time we finished talking, Hal and I changed our minds about leaving because we saw our good friends, Paul and Voni. They had just arrived. We went back to the lodge area and we started talking with them. Two hours passed quickly, and I knew again how Voni and I are so alike, kindred spirits in beliefs and common sense, and we share many of the same experiences. Voni is a celebrity in the BMW motorcycle community because she has logged over one million documented miles on BMW motorcycles. Yes, one million.

Voni always wears red:

Voni and I even talked briefly about my car wreck (good, sympathetic advice for me), and of course, bikes and riding. I heard the story of how she and Paul started riding all those years ago, and the rest, as they say, is history. We talked for over two hours, and it was the one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. Finally, we got around to talking about Hal’s current bike problem, and Paul suggested using a can of the product “Heet,” which is supposed to get rid of extra water in (bad) gas. Paul had a can of it, so we “borrowed” it to see if it would work.

Eventually, we left to go back to Taos, and after adding the can of Heet, Hal’s bike was running almost normally. I knew Paul would know what to do to fix it! In Taos, we picked up a can of Heet at a hardware store to replace Paul’s. Then we went to an Albertson’s to see if we wanted to get something to eat for dinner. After wandering around for a while, we decided that since we were in one of our favorite places, why not enjoy every aspect of it and eat at our favorite restaurant.

Back in the hotel, we sat in the grassy courtyard area for a while, just as we had two months ago, enjoying how beautiful it was, and is. We had a glass of Merlot to celebrate another wonderful day in Taos, then went to dinner (we did not ride after drinking wine!).

Tomorrow we will go back to the rally site early in order to hear Paul and Voni’s presentation titled “What could possibly go wrong?” And we’ll probably stay all day. The rally will be in full swing, and after dinner tomorrow night it’s mostly over already. These great times go by way too fast.

September rally

BMW rally at Sipapu, 2016

The adventure of our riding lives continued in September. After a month of dehumanization and browbeating at work, I became aware that Labor Day weekend was fast approaching. Happily, the following weekend Hal and I would be on the road to Taos again, this time for our annual trip to the BMW rally held at nearby Sipapu ski area. When the Wednesday after Labor Day arrived, we left the heat of Phoenix as soon as we could escape from our workplaces. It was an uncharacteristically “cool” day, and I was grateful for the uncommon overcast. I was on Kat, my 2009 F650GS, ready for another wonderful trip.

We rode to Heber, knocking off the first 110 miles, arriving in the dark. We walked to the Red Onion restaurant and had dinner there, a tradition that we started nine years ago. How could it be that long ago? we asked ourselves. The years have really flown by and yet we are no closer to our goal of being able to ride almost all the time.

Thursday morning we got on the road earlier than we usually do, probably because we were both longing to hear the road singing beneath our wheels. We rode across the high grassy plain that runs along the 273 toward Holbrook. I had the same sensation of freedom that I had felt the last time I did this (in July), although for as much as I had anticipated this trip and wanted to GO, now that I was on the trip I didn’t feel the overwhelming joy as I should have.

Maybe that was just because of the stress of work, that “thing” that always hangs out there like an ominous brown cloud. I am never free of it until summer, yet that is my most hated season because of the heat and sun. It would be so nice to travel in September for a couple of months, or maybe not have to come “home” at all.

The weather was cool and sunny, no trace of the comforting clouds of the day before. I was even deliciously cold riding into Heber last night, dressed only in a thin short-sleeve t-shirt and perforated leather jacket on top, mesh pants on the bottom. I knew the day ahead of me would get to be hot so I didn’t add any layers.

Next, there was the interstate part of the journey, which would last most of the day. We stopped at a different gas stop than the usual “Pilot” truck stop because it’s now called something else, and we flew on by before we knew we had. Instead, we got off at an exit near Grants, NM that had a Love’s Travel Stop and a Chevron station.

At the Chevron, there was also a Chaco Canyon museum that was interesting, but we didn’t have time to stay too long. It was much easier to get in and out of that place, and it was … Chevron! We fueled up, drank coffee, ate Clif bars, and continued our journey.

Near Albuquerque, I felt myself getting super tired. NO! I told myself. I had to get through Albuquerque safely, and I made myself wake up. The traffic wasn’t too bad, and I found myself thinking about the 1975 trip to Albuquerque when I went to the Arabian horse Nationals. I remembered us going on the tram to Sandia Crest. There was nothing around it back then, it was not as “developed,” a questionable term if there ever was one. I was talking to Hal on the intercom, mostly to keep myself alert, and he said some guy he knew described Albuquerque as “… like living on the moon, but with wind.” Accurate, I guess, but I still have some fondness for the town because of my first trip in 1975. I certainly never dreamed then that I would be back, much less so often, and on a motorcycle, no less.

At Bernalillo, we fueled up again. Then we were near Santa Fe. We took 599 to 285 through Española and all the crowded places that led up to it. It wasn’t as hot as last year, but it was tedious having to stop at all the traffic lights.

Hal and I were both tired by then. We hardly looked at the beauty of the Rio Grande Gorge as we rode through it for the last few miles into Taos. We’d hardly ridden since we got home from our last big trip in July, and riding long days does require “staying in shape” for it.

Right at the edge of Taos, Hal’s F800GS started acting strangely – it stalled, and he said it wasn’t responding to the throttle properly. We limped to our hotel, and Hal was very worried about it. I thought it might be a fuel issue. Kat, on the other hand, was a pleasure to ride all day, but I was still glad to have arrived safely in Taos.

After a wonderful dinner that tasted all the better for being in Taos, we watched Game 1, Week 1 of the NFL football season! At last! It’s funny how when these things that I love so much finally happen I can hardly believe it. I don’t know why I love football so much, I think I just like all the excitement and drama. The season started the way it ended with the same two teams – Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, and it ended the same way with Denver winning. The only thing I like about the Broncos is their mascot, a beautiful Arabian horse. It’s a strange choice, I always think, because a beautiful, refined Arabian is about as far away from a “bronco” as a horse can get.

Well, we’re here. It’s been a nice start to a traditionally great trip. I hope the brief respite from my real life doesn’t go by too fast!

Next: Day 2 of the rally trip

A dirt route to Mogollon, NM

Alpine/Mogollon, late July, 2016

As promised, the story continues with a return to Alpine, Arizona, in late July.

Once we returned from the 12-day vacation in Colorado, things oozed back to normal very quickly, like lava flowing over the terrain of my life. I had to go to some classes for work, and the depression of having to return to work full time loomed on the horizon. With that in mind, Hal and I wanted another short trip to make us feel human before the onslaught began (at least for me). Hal never seems to get a real break, but that is why we value our time while on the road.

Before I left home, I suffered through three days of “training” for work. We are supposed to be using “thinking maps” to teach, but they don’t make as much sense to me as they should. I don’t need a “map” to think, and the people who make these things up must think that we don’t know enough to come up with these concepts on our own. I also “think” that the different versions of the “thinking maps” are somewhat redundant in that a person could apply any of the versions to anything. The instructors tell you to “use this map for this, use that map for that.” Most of the time I don’t agree with how the “thinking maps” should be applied. Anyway, that’s just me …

As we were on the way to Alpine, that was what the conversation between Hal and I was about. I was analyzing the presentation with Hal as he mostly listened. I was objecting to it because I don’t learn that way. I learn best by listening, taking notes, and going back and processing the information on my own later. But perhaps a very small percentage of the population learns that way?? – probably, hence the need for “thinking maps”? I don’t know, I’ve always had a problem with thinking too much! 😉 (now that I’m thinking about it! Did I say that word enough now??)

As we left the incessantly hot Phoenix area around 4:30, we were in the Xterra, the dirt bikes on the trailer behind us. It was cool and dark when we arrived in Alpine six hours later, When we got there, we had a late snack then soon fell into bed awaiting the next day when we could explore an area that we hadn’t before.

Day 2

The feeling of being on the road for real is one that can never be duplicated unless we are really on the road. It is there only when I am on our annual road trip, a feeling of being un-tethered, of not having to be in a particular place at a particular time, and not having to play by the rules. Of not having to go to work, or caring what day it is, or having to do the usual day-to-day crap. I miss that feeling.

Today was an amazing day, though – Hal and I finally got to do the Reserve, NM to Mogollon, NM back roads route that we’ve wanted to do for so long.

After a good breakfast, we headed out on Hwy. 180, a paved road that led to Reserve, NM. We then took FR435 south out of town. It turns into FR141, and it is (somewhat) paved for quite a distance. Finally, 60 miles from when we left Alpine, it became a dirt road. It was easy gravel, and a good surface that twisted lazily through the mountains as we climbed. We saw many elk and deer in this section of the ride.

Typical of late July, the clouds were already building toward the afternoon storms, and we kept a wary eye on them. We were a little worried about being up high in the mountains when the thunderstorms hit, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time if we were.

Willow Creek:

Eighty-five miles into the ride, we finally reached Willow Creek, which was down in a hollow between mountains. It was very green and lush, but I began to see signs of the 2012 wildfire that destroyed much of this section of the Gila forest.

Right after Willow Creek, the road turned rocky and climbed up a steep grade. At 95 miles in, we came to a sign that said “not maintained for low clearance vehicles. Not safe for trailers.” We had also seen a sign that noted the mileage to Glenwood – 37 miles. I knew we must be near Mogollon, then, and would probably soon come to the part of the road where we turned around in 2011.

At first, this part of the road was rocky, but it had recently been bladed. The trees were burned and what was left of them was slowly deteriorating. It was the fire-ravaged area where the effects of the fire were most severe. Then the road got narrow and very rocky with a steep drop-off on the right. It wasn’t super-challenging, but I had to pay attention. The sky was darkening, but it wasn’t raining or thundering yet. We continued riding the narrow road, and a dark cloud moved over us. Then we came to a wide pullout that had a spectacular view to the northwest. I asked Hal, “do you recognize this place?” I asked him this as we were hurriedly taking photos because the thunder was rolling ominously and getting closer.

What it looked like before the fire:

What it looks like now:

Me, looking at the view from the same place:

“Yes,” he said. It was where we had been five years ago. It was barren and windswept, all the lovely old tall pines had been destroyed by the fire. It was a striking, heart-breaking contrast. We could see forever into the distance, but we didn’t stay long. The threat of the incoming thunderstorm was real.

Back on the bikes, we started down, soon passing the rock fall where I’d posed on my 2006 F650GS. As we descended the winding road, the switchbacks were as steep and tight as I’d remembered them, and there were areas of sandy soil. I was amazed that I’d ridden the big (to me) GS on this tricky road. We met a group of riders on KTMs coming from the opposite direction. I met one of the riders as I was going through one of the steep switchbacks, and there was just enough room for the two of us to pass in opposite directions with inches between our handlebars.

I knew we were close to Mogollon when we started going through the creek at the many water crossings. Back in 2011, there were about three water crossings, and now there were too many to count. We’d heard there had been severe flooding here, and there were changes to the road.

At last, we reached Mogollon, and we stopped for a break. We’d been riding for hours by then. We got coffee and a root beer float at a place called the Purple Onion.

We talked to the man who owns it, and he said that during the flooding, he had three feet of water in his establishment! The water had been incredibly high in the entire town. He said that the flooding had more to do with the amount of rain than the erosion from the effects of the fire, but I am sure it didn’t help.

I also went shopping in an antiques/souvenir shop where I looked at all the shiny things and eventually bought a beautiful scarf with sequins on it. I don’t know if I will ever wear it, but at least I will remember Mogollon when I look at it.

More images from Mogollon, NM:

Main street in Mogollon:

 

After about an hour, we got back on the bikes. As we left town, we experienced more of the effects of the flooding. We were on FS159, which had been completely washed out at one point. Another person in town had told us that there was a big piece of metal high in one of the trees at that end of town, but I must have missed that because I was too busy paying attention to the condition of the road. I don’t doubt it, though. Mogollon was severely affected by the flooding, and it was doubtful for a while if it would ever reopen to tourists.

We descended on 159 to Hwy. 180, and, back on pavement, we turned north to Alma where we fueled up and looked around inside the little store.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember how we loved Alma, its general store, and its restaurant, the Alma Grill. We spent time there in 2011, and at the time, watched and listened to updates about the frightening Wallow fire that was burning fiercely in the nearby White Mountains.

The Wallow fire burning in 2011; the sight gave me a powerless, insignificant feeling:

Back on the bikes, we turned toward home in Alpine. We watched a big storm to the west, bolts of lightning striking everywhere, and I wondered if we should have waited it out in Alma, or if we were going to run into it at all. But as we rode, we always seemed to skirt it, going through a few sprinkles here and there, and traveling over wet roadway, some parts covered in mud.

We didn’t get rained on until the scenic overlook not too far from Luna, and then we had to pull over and put on our rain gear. I was actually getting cold and wet, and only a few miles earlier, in Alma, I had been complaining about heat! We rode in light rain and 60° F. temperatures all the way back to Alpine. When we got there, Hal and I had done it – the Reserve to Mogollon route we’d been hoping to find and do for five years! The trip was 169 miles total for the day.

In the evening, we ate dinner at the Foxfire, walked back to the lodge, and later collapsed into well-earned relaxation and sleep. I woke up later on purpose to look out the window and see the black sky full of stars. Only here do I get to enjoy them so thoroughly. In the deepest part of the night, I clearly saw Andromeda, and in the complete silence, I could almost hear the faint song of the stars.

New helmet

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A helmet – essential riding gear for me. I wouldn’t think of even going around the block without one. For the past 12 years, I have used “modular” helmets, ones that you can push the chin piece up and out of the way when you stop. It’s convenient, but I always wondered what would happen if I landed on my face in a modular helmet, like I did with a regular full-face helmet, a Shoei. In that mishap, “nothing” happened. I had to get checked out for a concussion, but I walked away from the accident. The Shoei saved my life.

Several years ago, this helmet saved my life. It has the scars to prove it:

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My helmet for the last 4-1/2 years, a Shoei Multitec, was getting worn out, and I felt it on the way home from my latest trip. I can always tell when a helmet is “done,” it starts vibrating and being super noisy in a crosswind. Also, some of the small pieces start to break, or become too worn to use anymore, for example, the snap on the throat strap, and the plastic on the chin “curtain.” The throat strap end starts to flap against the helmet and makes an irritating snapping sound. On a long ride, it drives me crazy.

It was time. I had been thinking of going back to a standard full-face helmet, and now it was time to make that decision. When I went to the local Cycle Gear, I was in luck! They actually had a size XS Shoei GT Air, which was going to be my choice. That helmet was calling my name, so I bought it. Hal, my riding partner, got one, too, at the same time.

On the left, the modular Multitec, on the right, the standard full face GT Air:

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A week later, last Saturday, I finally got my comm. gear switched from the old helmet to the new helmet, and off I went. How did it feel? Although the new helmet isn’t actually lighter, it feels much lighter, and its shape is more aerodynamic. It has more vents. I also think it is quieter. Of course, it felt a little tight, but that’s how new helmets feel until they conform to your head. There is a slight break-in period, kind of like shoes. In other words, I wouldn’t take a brand new helmet on a long trip unless I had to.

I know you can buy cheaper helmets, but for me it’s worth the extra money. I will gladly pay for things like safety, superior design, comfort, and quiet. I sometimes spend 12 to 14 hours traveling during a day on the road, and during that time I am wearing a helmet. In all the years that I’ve worn Shoei helmets, I never have had an issue with comfort even during long days.

So far, I have only worn the GT Air one time, but I am sure it will work out great.

End of the road (for now)

 

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Above: Oh, the sadness of a road trip ending

July 9, 2016 Our last day, for a little while, anyway

Hal and I moved slowly this morning, dragging out our last day on the road. It would be at least a couple of months before we would be able to go again. We had a leisurely breakfast in Alpine, talked to all the locals that we have gotten to know by now from our many trips there.

We walked around town for a little while, then went back to where we were staying and slowly (really slow motion) packed the bikes. After that, we walked back up to the Thrift Store to look around. You never know what you’ll find in a thrift store, especially in a small town. I found a rodeo shirt there once. But this time we didn’t find anything we couldn’t live without, which is good because there was no more room on the bikes anyway.

We had decided that we would really drag our feet coming home so we could avoid the heat of the day in Phoenix. But Hal was getting restless, so we left at 12:00 instead of 2:00, which was what we had originally planned. We rode to Springerville and stopped at Western Drug, one of my favorite stores. I actually bought a couple of patterns to sew, as if I was going to have any free time once work started up again.

It was somehow an ordeal to find a working gas station (out of premium gas at the station at the west end of town, and no sign to warn us), but at last we found one and left Springerville behind. It is always sad to see Alpine, then Springerville, fade in the rear view mirror.

The day was sunny and hot (what else?), no lovely rain and storm clouds like last year. In fact, there were no clouds in the sky at all, even on the Mogollon Rim. I had hoped for cloud cover at least part of the way. Ice falling from the sky in the form of hail would have been nice, too. Our next stop was in Show Low to visit a friend who had moved there from Phoenix via Seattle (kind of a long story).

Next we rode through Heber, looked longingly at our favorite places, then after few miles, stopped at the Woods Canyon Lake road, first at Military Sinkhole overlook so we could gaze over the abrupt edge of the Colorado Plateau, then again in the big parking lot where we first turned off the highway. We ate Clif bars and drank water. I was so tired that I didn’t know how I was going to make it home.

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It was the days of not sleeping well, and the depression of returning home that made the fatigue wash over me in waves. We took a break for a while, and I felt a little better.

We stopped in Payson for gas and Douwe Egbert’s coffee (the best in the world, in my opinion) at the Chevron station. I needed some caffeine. We were watching the sun getting lower in the sky. I did not want to return to the furnace of Phoenix with the sun still glaring like an eyeball under a raised eyebrow. We waited for a while, drinking coffee, and I was feeling very downcast.

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It was good that we waited, though, because the sun set by the time we got past Rye, a small town about 10 miles south of Payson, and the ride was much more pleasant without the sun ruining it. When I got closer to the city, the temperature never went over 104° F. Bad enough, but better than the 114° F. when I’d left 12 days before.

It was hard to go our separate ways when we reached the split point. Hal and I had been through so many days and miles of amazing riding, and I wondered when I would again get to be behind the windscreen of my F650GS and experience day after day of not having to worry about anything else but the road unraveling toward the horizon in front of me.

On the other hand, I was glad to finally get home when I did. I missed my husband, and my dog. I was beyond tired. But, in a tiny room in the back of my mind, I also missed “the road” already.

**

Thoughts at the end of the trip:

  1. Perfect schedule: two weeks on the road, two weeks home. Repeat.
  2. One of the pleasures of traveling is being in places where we are able to get tap water that is both cold and drinkable.
  3. Country song title of the day: “The music was good when we couldn’t hear it.”
  4. Hal and I talked about getting foldable mountain bikes for traveling. This thought was inspired by our riding adventure in Winter Park, and how much we’d enjoyed it. It would be nice to ride mountain bikes in many other places as well. I used to race mountain bikes.
  5. All my “stuff” and me when I am on the bike still weighs less than most adult humans.

 

Below: Washing my side cases from the bike (lots of bugs stuck on them) after I got home:

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A souvenir from Winter Park (I actually got this when I was there in the 90s, but kept it all this time):

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Until next time, as they say …