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.