Mini-Gypsy Tour, April 2015

And so the catch-up bloggage begins, now that visits and trips are over and I once again have time to blog. I hope you’ll forgive my temporary absence.

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South of Flagstaff, Arizona

My friend and motorcycle maintenance guru Ed is a fellow Goldwing rider. We get along well, see eye-to-eye on how to ride, and like cross-country trips. This time we rode a five-day, three-state round robin from Tucson to Flagstaff, then on to Cedar City, then down to Prescott via Las Vegas and back to Tucson.

Ed had an appointment to meet with his son’s graduate program advisor on Friday at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, so we left Tucson on Thursday, April 23rd. I booked us into two rooms at Fort Tuthill, the Air Force recreation camp outside Flagstaff, where we stayed Thursday and Friday nights. We avoided freeways by taking back roads through Oracle, Globe, and Payson, riding up high on Arizona’s Mogollon Rim, coming into Flagstaff on a little-known back road bordering Lake Mary on one side with alternating forests and alpine meadows on the other. It was a gorgeous ride in clear weather, but the closer we got to Flagstaff the colder we were.

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Ed suiting up for the cold outside Flagstaff, Arizona

Friday morning was rainy and cold. While Ed was at NAU I decided to ride 100 miles west and then north. My destination was the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, halfway between Williams and the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Rain was intermittent, but I wore my rain suit and full-face helmet, so I was comfortable and dry. I was a little concerned when rain turned to hail just outside Flagstaff, but was soon out of it. When I told the folks at the museum I was a volunteer docent at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, they treated me as an honored guest, giving me access to all sorts of interesting stuff. I’ll write a separate air-minded post about the museum when I finish this update.

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Planes of Fame Museum in Valle, Arizona

It rained all the way back to Flagstaff and into the night. It was still coming down Saturday morning as Ed and I rode out of Flagstaff. Once we turned north into the Navajo Nation the rain stopped, though it was still cold and overcast. A hundred miles later, near the trading post on Highway 89 at Gap, we had to pull over and put our rain gear on again for the ride into southern Utah. At a gas stop high up in the Buckskin Mountains, the rain turned to what I would have called hail, but which Ed called “frozen mix.” Whatever it was, it wasn’t freezing on the ground, so we pressed on toward Cedar City.

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Putting on rain gear outside Gap, Navajo Nation

Throughout the trip we paid careful attention to the temperature, constantly checking forecasts on our iPhones and, while riding, monitoring the outside temp gauges on our bikes. As long as it’s above 40°F, bridges and overpasses won’t get icy. Below that, it’s best to stop and wait for the temperature to rise. Fortunately, temps did not dip below the line for us.

It rained all the way through the mountains and into Cedar City. When we got to our hotel I was disappointed to see it didn’t have its own restaurant … I didn’t want to get back on the bike to ride to dinner. No problem, said Ed, we’ll call a cab, and that’s what we did. We ate steak and baked potatoes at a rustic place up in a mountain canyon, just the thing after a long, cold, wet day in the saddle.

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View from the steakhouse outside Cedar City, Utah, a good indication of Saturday’s riding conditions

Sunday morning in Cedar City, and snow. Neither hail nor frozen mix, but snow! Nevertheless, the temperature was rising and the forecast was good, so we loaded the bikes and left. Ten miles south of Cedar City and a thousand feet lower, the sun came out. We stopped at a truckers’ pulloff area outside Mesquite, Nevada, and took off our rain suits. Good weather held all the way to Las Vegas, then south to Kingman and west on I-40 back toward Flagstaff, but as soon as we turned south toward Prescott we saw dark clouds and mile-wide sheets of falling rain ahead. Ed put his gear back on but I chose not to. As it turned out we skirted most of the rain, and even with the little we did get I stayed dry … as long as you’re moving, you’re in a dry cocoon behind the Goldwing’s fairing and windscreen.

As we rode south to Las Vegas, we saw more and more motorcyclists on the road. By the time we got to Kingman, Arizona, bikers outnumbered cagers and truckers. When we stopped for gas outside Kingman we got into a conversation with a tourist biker from Ireland, who told us they were all coming from the annual River Run at Laughlin, Nevada. Ed and I have both been to a few River Runs, a sort of American Southwest mini-Sturgis motorcycle rally. Had we realized it was River Run weekend we could easily have ridden thirty or forty miles out of our way to swing through Laughlin, but our bikes were so filthy by that point they probably wouldn’t have let us into town.

Cedar City to Prescott was our longest leg, somewhat over 400 miles, but we were in town by 4 PM, and the hotel was great. We stayed just off the historic town square, but Prescott being old-fashioned, all the good restaurants were closed for Sunday. We ate at a little pizza parlor near the hotel.

Monday morning it was finally dry and sunny. Our last leg was a 200-mile ride back to Tucson, mostly on freeways. I took the lead once we hit I-17 southbound, set the throttle control at 78 mph, and didn’t touch it again until we hit the outskirts of Phoenix. South of Phoenix I engaged it once again and didn’t touch it until we hit the outskirts of Tucson. We were home by noon.

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USAF Camp at Fort Tuthill

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USAF camp at Fort Tuthill


The only casualty of the trip is a burned-out headlight, which I’ll replace today or tomorrow, after I clean a very dirty motorcycle. This was my spring motorcycle cross-country; apart from local rides it’ll be too hot to take another one until the fall … but this fall we’re going on a long car trip to the Pacific Northwest, so my next Gypsy Tour may not be until next spring.

Ed’s a great friend and riding companion, and that’s really important on a motorcycle trip. We had a ball in spite of the cold and precipitation (liquid and frozen) … we packed right, dressed right, and stayed on top of the temperature to avoid ice, the only kind of precipitation that really is a show-stopper.

Now to wash that bike!

© 2015, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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