Rawhyde Adventure (Graduation test)

It was 10pm on Sunday night as I zipped up my rain gear. To the northwest, a storm grew and lightning struck in the distance.

Sunday's Storm
(For many reasons, I don’t have pictures of the stormy ride home, so these are shots I took from Rawhyde’s Colorado base.)

It had been an exhausting weekend, but with the knowledge I learned and the thought of sleeping in my own bed with my wife, gave me the energy to ride the 3 hours home.

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Raindrops hit my visor and windscreen and I started my bike and turned off the ABS. I had become a pro at turning it off, and skilled at riding off-road. Even today we took a fun ride through the slickest mud I’ve seen since my first epic fall in the mud trying to complete the southern Colorado section of the Great Divide Trail.

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If you peruse my past ride reports here (at least those on two wheels), you will see the recurring theme is of me falling, or trying not to fall, and for quite a few years now I’ve been lamenting not being able to take a class that would teach me how to ride my GS off-road.

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Sure I’ve known of the Rawhyde classes, but I wasn’t going to travel all the way to California to enroll. I simply didn’t have that kind of time or cash. But when they opened up shop here in Colorado I had no excuse but to save my pennies. I even thought of the class as a way to save money from not buying all the parts I might break on my bike in the myriad of falls I take (this is still only a hypothesis, so don’t quote me on that!) Plus, I want to upgrade to the 800 GS soon, so getting some skills and confidence are high on my list of “upgrades” I’d like with a new bike.

I kicked my 650 into first gear, revving the engine and slipping the clutch. Since I spent the entire weekend without loaded down panniers, the bike responded sluggishly and I had to add more throttle. I crunched out over gravel, rode through the gate and into the darkness.

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Naturally the rain started right up. Big drops indicated towering cumulus clouds above. I switched between high and low beams, wishing I had an auxiliary light. But I kept the speed slow and my upper body loose as I stood on the pegs, taking the turns back to the main county road.

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When I got to Country Road 53, the rain came down steadily and since I stood, it ran down into my gloves. I flipped on my heated grips and kept riding. What else could you do? The smartest thing would’ve been to stay the night.

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Lightning flashed in the distance, briefly illuminating the landscape and reminding me of the storm scene in All the Pretty Horses. A rabbit, caught in the side beam of my headlight raced toward my front tire only to veer away at the last moment. Way too quick do one of the panic stops we learned that day.

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I kept riding. More lightning, more rain in my gloves, and more miles passed below me. The road varied between washboard gravel, hard packed mud and just slick sections with puddles, but my training served me well. Every once in a mile there was a wobble and a slight meandering of the bike, but I stayed upright and didn’t worry, even smiling at some of the small challenges that cropped up.

Once I hit the highway, I turned the ABS back on, and lit out for home. The rain had stopped and eventually the roads would dry out. I crawled into bed after midnight and even now as I write this, I am looking forward to my next off-road adventure. Maybe the road to Moffat Tunnel. Now I just have to find the time.

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It had been a short but packed weekend, but that final ride in the rain felt like my graduation test. And I feel I passed with flying colors.

The Final Push to Prescott

“If we’re riding on the BDR tomorrow, we’re getting up at five,” Dezso said, sounding petty adamant.

I had another friend on another road trip so very long ago that was also adamant that we get up at five. He said he’d even start off driving so everyone could still sleep. And sure enough he’d get us all up, hop in the driver’s seat and thirty minutes later ask someone else to drive because he was tired and wanted to nap.

They never did find his body.

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“No way! Seven”

“Six, “ Dezso countered, “and we’re getting up and getting on the road. We’ll stop for coffee later.”

“But there’s free coffee and breakfast downstairs!”

So we settled on 6 and free coffee, not even realizing that in a few short hours we’d pass into Arizona which doesn’t believe in Daylight Savings Time, thus gaining another hour to ride. It was my turn to panic. My odometer showed two hundred miles and I figured I had about seventy miles left. Dezso said he still had half a tank and we both know my single cylinder 650 gets way better gas mileage than his. So once the morning fog cleared out of my brain, I figured I hadn’t zero’d out my trip counter from the last fill up.

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Our first stop was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest national parks. Last year I had purchased a national parks pass and shared it with Dezso, so he did the same this year and I got in for free. I haven’t been here in decades. I remember having gone here on a family vacation, but I can’t really tell you how much it’s changed over the years. I’m pretty sure the adamant tone regarding not collecting things in the park and the search stations at the exits are a more recent addition. But if you really need a chunk of petrified wood there are a million shops right outside the park.

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I was surprised to see a lot of desert flora in the area (duh).

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I guess I didn’t know what to expect but grasses and brush grew in the area.

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We pulled in to each turn out, sometimes getting off the bike for photos and sometimes just standing on the pegs to get a look out over the edge.

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We were both suitably impressed with the park, and I’ve love to see it from the air as the maps show a large swath of geography that “looks like tye dye” covering a good chunk of the area. From the ground, there are lots of colors although none looking like an old weathered hippie.

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The landscape range in colors from faded desert tans to reds and purples. It almost reminded me of the colors of Petra, Jordan. Most of the overlooks (by definition) looked out over the landscape from the top of buttes, but there were a couple at ground level that looked up onto hills (named the Tepees) which gave a different perspective.

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Just before we crossed over I-40, there’s a pullout for Historic Route 66.

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Jack Kerouac traveled this often, so it always holds a little place in my heart. Pair that with my love of maps and travel and I’m hooked. I want to have the time (and money) to travel its length on my Ural.

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To be fair, I would also like to travel Rte 66 in a car like this.

We took a side road leading to Newspaper Rock. I assumed a place where people came to sign their names in the soft rock (there’s a place like that out…somewhere. Montana? I’ve forgotten where because I think I’ve seen a couple of them. One in Montana where Lewis and Clark signed their names and one in Nebraska or Kansas.) This one had Native American Petroglyphs instead. You could stand on a platform and use scopes to look down on a couple of large boulders that had been covered in glyphs.

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Soon we started seeing chunks of petrified trees. Dark brown chunks of rock laying on the distant landscape. Since we rode from north to south, it took a while to hit the more grand chunks of forest and they saved the grand finale for last.

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At the Petrified Forest Museum they have a park you can walk around in. Some have the upper formations of roots, some are really large in diameter, but they’re all just gorgeous to look at.

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Crystals mixed darker minerals, all showing tree rings. It really is amazing to see and I highly recommend a stop if you’re passing through.

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We stopped at almost every pullout and it only took us an hour. There’s building labeled as an inn inside the park, but it only functions as a museum. All I can think of are the millions of stars over this stark landscape that would make for some amazing photographs (provided you know what you’re doing). Oh well, another vague plan thwarted.

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The wind picked up and as we rode into Holbrook, we got hit with some significant gusts that had us leaned far into the wind and weaving in our lane. We stopped for lunch at a mom and pop Mexican American restaurant that hovered right around mediocre. We jumped back on the road and headed into Heber. We were still bucking a strong crosswind which didn’t stop until we got into a landscape with a few more trees.

The landscape started off with a windswept prairie that graduated to pinions which eventually changed to a pine forest. The temperature dropped and clouds built up. Mom wrote and said it was overcast in Prescott and so we might get some rain. Not a good sign since we still hadn’t started riding where the pavement ended.

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Why’s it always gotta rain when I want to ride off road?

Just west of Heber we picked up the AZ BDR on Rte 300. This is a section that follows the Mogollon Rim. We had climbed about 2000 feet in elevation, so we had to pull over and don some warmer layers. Just then the drizzle started and we watched the side roads to see what they ground would be like once we hit dirt. Since we’ve never ridden off-road here, we weren’t sure what the ground would be like (mud, gravel, quicksand) and since I’ve already taken a good spill in the mud, I wasn’t too keen on repeating the maneuver.

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Fortunately (or un) Rte 300 was paved for a while. We stopped for a photo-op looking out from the Mogollon Rim and could see the wall of rain approaching. Still optimistic we continued on. Eventually the pavement ended, turned to eroded pavement, then gravel, and finally hard packed dirt which slowly turned to mud in the rain.

We turned around based on my “recommendation.”

On the plus side it knocked a couple of hours off of our trip.

We back-tracked a mile or two and rejoined Hwy 260 and rode into the Verde Valley. As we descended in elevation and the rain stopped we had to take off more and more layers until we were sweating in our Kevlar. We passed quickly through Cottonwood, and started our climb into Jerome.

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Yeah, this is Arizona, so it is best to leave people alone.

Jerome is a fun little town with a motto of “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” It used to be an old mining town and is the home of Caduceus Cellars, expensive wine made by the front man of the band Tool and Puscifer. I would normally scoff at such a wine, and I did so until I tried it on a previous trip. In fact wines from this area are pleasant and I’ll usually buy a bottle for special occasions (like the one I’m saving for when I finish my second novel) or friends who’ll cook me a nice meal. But paying $40 for a bottle of wine is something I’ll rarely do. There are too many great bottles under $20 that are just as, if not more, enjoyable.

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(Looking toward Sedona)

Since I still had a fair amount riding left to do today, and had been riding for two days straight and was tired, I just popped in and purchased two bottles of wine I had previously enjoyed without doing a tasting. Now it was the final stretch into Prescott. We were tired and saddle sore and Mom had mentioned dinner at a deli near the house. I was sad that I didn’t get a chance to ride off-road, but we’ve got the Rawhyde class and Colorado BDR coming up in a month. Stay tuned for more reports!