Things were supposed to start off right after sunset. June 22, 2008. Really, they started a lot closer to 10pm, keeping us from making it to my apartment in San Marcos before midnight. Getting in so late, wasn’t very helpful where trying to make an early start is concerned, so we (my parents and I) left when it was already getting hot. Needless to say, there were few people overly happy with the temperatures encountered between San Marcos, TX and Ft. Davis, TX on the first real day of the trip.
Things got interesting before lunch on June 23rd, when we ran into 6 miles of road construction on FM337. When I say “road construction” I don’t mean painting lines, or shoulder work – I mean they busted up all of the asphalt and we got to ride very slowly on crushed rock, dirt, and loose gravel. My V-Strom riding friends would have likely enjoyed things substantially more than I did on my SV, or my Dad did on his Goldwing. Even with the construction, the ride down 337 was nice, and something I will certainly be doing often now that I live so close. It can’t touch the mountain roads of northern Georgia, but I’ll take what I can get.
When lunchtime hit on our first solid day of riding, we had just made it through the construction on 337 and rolled into Leakey, TX. There were several other motorcycles out front, so we stopped on by The Leakey Feed Lot. They had a pretty good catfish po-boy I scarfed down with some salty fries, and were kind enough to fill my hydration system up with ice for the ride to Del Rio.
The first thing I noticed about the middle of nowhere, was the gas prices. It stands to reason that when you’re the only option in town, you can pretty much charge what you want. On the other hand, I’d wager it costs a little more for them to get the gas delivered to the middle of nowhere than it does 20 miles from the refineries in Houston. Another thing I noticed in the middle of nowhere is that the speed limit is whatever the Sheriff says the speed limit is, because there sure aren’t many signs to let you know otherwise. Fortunately, some combination of my two tours in Iraq, my CHL, or my Mom saying she needed to get to the facilities managed to get us all out of what would have been a hefty ticket just north of Bracketville, TX.
By the time we rolled through Del Rio, the mercury was well over 100˚F. Thus far, my brand new Michelin Pilot Road 2 tires were holding up nicely, and handling everything very well. Then it came time to stop quickly in Del Rio, on poorly maintained, and very oily asphalt. I don’t blame the tires, because frankly I think anything would have slid under those conditions. Somehow I managed to keep the rubber side down, but there was a whole lot of sliding going on out back, and even a skip or two up front. That was about all the excuse needed to lounge around the local mall and Luby’s until it got down to at least 95˚F.
Our ride from Del Rio to Fort Davis took us over the Amistad International Reservoir, the Pecos River, and of course, miles and miles of vast nothing. Fairly scenic nothing at sunset though, and a good excuse to test the high-speed stability of of an SV650S with hard cases and a tail bag mounted. Everything worked out quite nicely, and I managed to turn the worst gas mileage of the entire trip between Del Rio and Sanderson. Such is life at higher RPMs!
Our final destination for the first real ride day was Fort Davis State Park, and the reasoning there was simply because I loved that place when I was a kid. If I had fun running around those mountains well over a decade ago, why not go back and have fun on my big kid toy!? Things still look exactly like I remember, and even pitching our tents at midnight, it was still a great spot to end the first day on the road.
Some rain rolled through Ft. Davis early in the morning, and delayed departure by a few hours. Ultimately we would only make it to El Paso on our second day. Temperatures again crested 100˚F, and traffic moves like pond water through El Paso, so we pulled off to the mall, had some food at Olive Garden, and ended up getting a hotel for the night. The path to El Paso was half fun, half boring. Texas HWY 118 from Ft. Davis to the McDonald Observatory was fun, and well paved. Immediately after the observatory, the pavement goes right to heck and it becomes a good deal less fun. Obviously I-10 was boring, flat, straight, hot, and boring. At least they raised the speed limit enough that the boring part was gobbled up quickly.
When morning came to El Paso, we saddled up and rode west yet again. The rise in altitude as we climbed further into the mountains in New Mexico was quite welcome, as it knocked huge chunk of temperature out of the air. The clouds didn’t hurt any either, nor did the overcast from several forest fires throughout the area. New Mexico HWY 152 to US HWY 180 was a nice ride, but by far the highlight of the trip from El Paso to Globe, AZ was New Mexico (and Arizona) Highway 78 through Gila and Apache National Forests. One could probably do some serious peg dragging there, but one could also fall a few thousand feet to the ground below. With my parents behind me, and no overwhelming desire to flirt with death again, I kept the pace at a sane level, and still enjoyed quite a bit of lean angle.
The route was meant to take us into Clifton, AZ on HWY 78, and then north to Springerville, AZ on HWY 191. Allegedly this would have been the highlight of the entire trip, from a motorcyclist’s point of view. Unfortunately, those forest fires I mentioned earlier, were burning across HWY 191 just north of Clifton. Thankfully, my GPS has maps loaded for the entire country, and we were able to find an alternate, but still fun looking path to The Grand Canyon. After riding up to see the incredibly huge mine in Morenci, we headed back down HWY 191 and headed west on HWY 70 towards Globe, AZ for the night.
Martinez Standard Time dictates that you never actually leave on time for anything, so it was no surprise to me that we rolled out of Globe a solid hour after I’d wanted to be rolling down the road. Our tardiness ultimately caused the worst part of the entire trip. While riding by the Roosevelt Reservoir on HWY 188, I caught an insect of the painfully stinger equipped variety, with my neck. Nearly took me clean off the bike, and made the next hour of riding pretty much the exact opposite of fun. The fresh oil on the asphalt did not help matters any either. Neither did the heat. Things that do not bother you suddenly become quite irritating when you get stung in the neck.
Eventually we made it into Payson, AZ and stopped for lunch. Everyone happened to notice a nasty storm heading generally in the same direction we were, that would prove interesting a bit later. Mexican food in AZ is pretty good, the portions were great, and the grease was plentiful. Just the way I like it.
After lunch, we were within a few short hours of The Grand Canyon, a day behind schedule, but finally close enough. A few glances at the clouds, wind direction, and my GPS told me if I tucked in behind the windscreen and rolled the throttle on, I could squeeze between scary-lightning-producing-thunderhead to my east, and not-so-threatening-but-definitely-raining cloud to my west. Fortunately, I was right, and we didn’t get anything more than road-spray from 18-wheelers between Payson and Flagstaff. A little west of Flagstaff though, we did ride smack through a spot of rain. Personally I welcomed it, because I was getting a little toasty in my black leather.
HWY 64 into the South Rim is easily one of the most boring roads in the entire nation. Things aren’t very scenic, and it almost makes you wonder if it was even worth it to venture to those parts. That all disappears as soon as you roll into the park and actually see the giant mile-deep hole in the Earth we like to call The Grand Canyon. If you’ve read this far, you already know I’m seldom at a loss for words, but for now, I’ll just have to let the hazy photos (“controlled burn” gone wrong, on the North Rim) do the talking.
click for size huge
click for size huge
click for size huge
Enough photos yet? The rest are obviously all up on my Flickr page, if you want to see them large, you’ll have to get an account and add me as a contact – so I can add you back. That will get you the permissions to see the original sized shots. Anyhow, the Grand Canyon was beyond awesome, and I’ll be heading back one day to ride the North Rim. From there, we rode on to Las Vegas. Everyone knows about Las Vegas. Sin City. A great place to throw away money. That’s pretty much exactly what I did. While my money was more than 200% what it started as, I left with enough for a tank of gas. At least I had a “vegas fund” and didn’t put my entire bank account in play like many end up doing. Cirque du Soleil’s Mystere was pretty awesome, and Jubilee was fun too. That’s that for Vegas.
After Vegas, we rode back to The Hoover Dam to see one of modern engineering’s most impressive feats. They moved a whole heck of a lot of concrete, in an impressive amount of time, and harnessed the power of one huge body of flowing water. Of course, standing on top of a giant bowl of concrete in the middle of barren dessert, gets pretty toasty at the end of June. Very toasty. Probably too toasty.
Once we finished roasting at the dam, we rode up to Zion National Park for the night. I will also return to Zion to get in some serious camping, and probably some hiking as well. For only spending a day there, the scenery is just as impressive as The Grand Canyon. The road was nice and twisty too. Good times.
Things become a blur around the Arizona/Utah state line, and you forget which state you’re in, this next photo was from the middle of a Navajo reservation in Arizona. I don’t know what the rock is called, but it was impressive enough to make me stop and take some photos. The entire ride from Zion National Park to Mexican Hat was very nice in terms of scenery. The road was fairly well paved, and decently fun to ride at some parts.
On the way to Mexican Hat, my Mom noticed flags on the mile markers – every single one of the mile markers. Just as I arrived at Hat Rock Inn, I noticed my parents weren’t behind me anymore. Fearing they’d managed to drop the fully loaded down Gold Wing, I blitzed back down the road only to find my Mom taking photos of one of the flags. They were put out by the people running Run for the Fallen – something already on my list of things to do. More on that later.
Mexican Hat was a cozy little town, it takes about 38 seconds to ride through. We ate at one of the two choices that were immediately obvious, and had some OK food, and listened to some OK music. I did get some great sleep though.
From the time we left Mexican Hat, I noticed every single flag along the roadside. A few times, thanks to whichever song my iPod had playing – things got a little misty inside my helmet. If my throttle lock wasn’t mostly worthless, if I had cruise control, or some other way, I probably would have stood on the pegs and saluted every one as I rode by. By about the 30th mile, I’d pretty much decided I was changing my ride plans to intercept the guys doing the running. When I stopped seeing the flags, I pulled over and did just that. The internet was kind enough to tell us that they’d be in Mancos, CO, so that’s where we headed.
When we arrived in Mancos, no one had a single clue what we were talking about. As luck would have it, one of their vehicles drove by the restaurant we were enjoying lunch at, so I bounced up and gave chase. Eventually I rolled by them again on the motorcycle, pulled over, and chatted for a bit. Less than an hour later, I had a motel room reserved, and plans to run a few miles with them in the morning. At least one for the each of the people I knew very well that didn’t make it home alive. Unfortunately, I had not expected the near-8000′ altitude, and below 45˚F air to take quite the toll on my lungs. The fact that the only pace I know how to run a mile in is no barn burner, but not what anyone I know would call “slow”, probably didn’t help me much as I started my first mile. By the end of my second, I was toast. I rode another, and walked my third. One for each. Come August, I’m flying to Virginia to finish the run to Arlington National Cemetery.
After sleeping for another hour after the run, we set off from Mancos, bound for Santa Fe, NM. Of course as we left, my Dad nearly lost the load he had bungied to his Goldwing. I honked my horn, and went to pull along side of him. I underestimated the distance from my pegs to the ground on my right side and quickly found that my bike had just exceeded it’s tip-over angle. Gravity took over from there, but I provided as much resistance as possible – and got things set down on the ground without damaging the bike. Had to happen at some point. At least it didn’t break anything.
The rest of the ride was fairly boring. We rode straight into a heck of a thunderstorm just north of Santa Fe, and ended up having to bypass the city after waiting several hours for it to pass. Santa Rosa had hotels, so we got one and stayed there. The next day was a killer – Santa Rosa, NM all the way to San Marcos, TX. I parted ways, not really for the most mature reasons ever, with my parents somewhere in central Texas. Mom wanted to see fireworks, I wanted to stop riding. Nobody could make a decision, so I made one. Since I’m paying $33 a night for my apartment, I probably should sleep in it every now and again. As I headed back, I made it just west of Fredricksburg, TX in time to see some fireworks from the road, and pulled into my place just before midnight.
All in all, the ride was great. I saw some excellent places, and I’m headed back to some of them at some point. Thanks to everyone that gave routing input, and cheered on the effort. Next time though, I think I’ll be riding something a little more comfortable!
- High Gas Mileage: 63.93mpg
- Low Gas Mileage: 41.82mpg
- Average Gas Mileage: 52.98mpg
- High Fuel Cost: $4.69/gal
- Low Fuel Cost: $3.89/gal
- Average Fuel Cost: $4.19/gal