Really, it should be The Best of Arizona, because St. George to Mesa sounds pretty mundane. And for all intents and purposes, Mesa is, the whole Phoenix area is, mundane that is; suburban sprawl and clogged arteries called freeways. The mundane disappears when the Joshuas line the Carefree Highway and the Saguaros are crowned with blooms that look much like daisies.
Early Friday we mounted and rode I-15 to the Overton exit and picked up 169 that turns into 167, the road that rolls along the shoreline of Lake Mead on Nevada’s side. Just out of Overton 167 turns into 169 which is under construction, has been for three years now, a gigantic project with divided two-lanes. Just into Lake Mead Recreational area, the road dissolves to perpetually moistened slippery paste for fourteen miles. Beyond that the road firms up but is no consolation to one’s posterior, bumpy enough to rattle loose dental work and random thoughts.
And then the road turns to silk encouraging even the timid and conservative to roll on the throttle. Sweeping turns and grades, fresh tarmac and martian landscapes that give way to views of Lake Mead.
One sixty seven turns into 166 that intersects Highway 93, another major construction project, really, really big. A bridge is being constructed to accommodate 93’s new split two-lanes that spans the width of the Colorado River Gorge known as the Hoover Dam Bypass.
Watch the video and see the arch of the structure reveal as we roll toward the dam.
Construction traffic, and there was much of it, was handled very well. It wasn’t long before we were well on our way down 93 into Arizona. A constant 40 to 50 mph crosswind kept us on a constant cant, tilting into the wind. I took care of the chicken strips on the right side of my new rear Dunlop.
Route 66 junctions in Kingman, and a block past the I-40 interchange will drop you onto that historic road along with a burger joint called Mr. D’z.
Nostalgia and unhappy young waitresses bitching about the over-scheduling aside, it wasn’t much to get excited about. Nothing that Gordon Ramsey couldn’t ramify.
Ninety-three from Kingman to Wickenburg is a polar road, from ragged and forgotten to pristine. Part of the ragged includes Nothing, Az., a one building town that I was traveling too fast to stop for. Shows that I won’t stop for Nothing. Had we stopped at Nothing we would’ve had to something worthwhile so we could’ve have said that we stopped at Nothing to do whatever that something was. But we didn’t. I don’t even have a picture.
After stop-and-go traffic through Surprise and Sun City, we finally made our way via the freeway system, past no less than seven accidents at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Friday. When I learned that we ‘d be riding the Carefree Highway the following day I thought that someone had been a tad too optimistic in naming places and roads in Arizona, Nothing notwithsatanding.
We checked into the Mesa Marriott Couryard near the reception center for my nephew’s wedding reception, the reason for the trip. There’s a reason why the commerce of hotels and restaurants is called hospitality, a reason lost on the front desk guy who checked us in.
The reception was wonderful, a perfect venue to wish a very handsome and happy couple well.
When this trip was in the planning stages I posted onto cbrxx.com, a website for Blackbird owners, the developing details of the trip. A Bird rider in Phoenix responded that he’d like to ride with us on our way to Sedona on Saturday if that were possible. And it was.
I’ve owned my ‘Bird for almost seven years now and in that time have only seen three others, a hammered one in a used-bike lineup at Carter’s in Vegas, a destroyed one in the shop at Pat Clark’s also in Vegas, and one at an intersection in Santa Cruz, California. Rare these bikes are since Honda stopped importing them to the US in 2003, and since more young squids than not seem to be diminishing the inventory as witnessed at Clark’s garage.
So it was with some excitement to meet our companion rider for the day and to see his Blackbird.
Before we hooked up we ran into a group of riders at a nearby Starbucks, hardcore canyon carvers for the most part on their way to the Devil’s Highway. We stood and talked and gawked at the machines, one of which was a Suzuki Hyabusa, the flagship of the marque and the nemesis to the Blackbird. There were three guys waiting when we pulled up, one clad in red mesh who rode a Yamaha R1, and two others – a young guy in full armor and an old guy in reinforced jeans. And I mean old guy in the best of terms, very affable and easy to talk to, pushing 60. I noticed the ‘Busa had a Throttlemeister installed like I had on the ‘Bird so I asked the kid in the armor how he had the set-up.
And this is why I teach about making assumptions. You see, sitting away from the pack was a Goldwing. You would’ve made the assumption, too – old guy/Goldwing, armor-clad kid/Busa. The old guy piped up with a smile, “I put that on a month ago.” Dude! Really? You ride the Busa?
Okay, I didn’t say “dude” out loud, but I was duly impressed. So when I got my foot out of my mouth we talked about how fun it is to surprise the punks when we lift off our helmets. The kid was on an R6 parked even farther away.
Before they took off they bowed their heads in prayer, a Christian riding group, appropriate bidding before one mounts the Devil’s Highway.
We met up with Chase moments later. He showed on his second Blackbird, a red beauty he bought from the stable of a Dallas Cowboy football player. Four hundred miles on the clock, parked in the player’s garage for eight years. What a find. It wasn’t even broke in.
But Chase would take care of that today. On the Carefree Highway after the clock turned 500, he twisted her open and hit the triple digits, my ‘Bird fell in line like she was choreographed to. And the sound, wow.
Off to Wickenburg where we’d pick up US 89 diverging from 93 that twists up the mountainside and falls through small towns and Skull Valley.
I had the HeroCam mounted to the faring of my Bird but didn’t realize it was defaulting to a time-lapse mode, my error, so all I have are stills of our initial ascent.
Later on I got the camera to record…
What a road, a path to rival the PCH in turns if not in scenery. It was amazing to see a Bird in action. Chase is about my size as well so it was easy to see myself in a way in relation to the bike. And the cacaphony from twin machines was tingling, at times cancelling each other out as rev frequencies popped through each other. I never realized how big the Bird is compared to the crotch rockets of the Starbucks earlier.
We stopped in Prescott for lunch at a micro brewery. I shot in Prescott (Prescitt to locals) years ago on a project and came across this place when it was just opening and had a great experience there. Likewise, lunch didn’t disappoint us as well.
The car show was cool. What car show isn’t? But Prescott and Mindy and Chase made it cooler.
On the road again and I’m thinking about why we do this. At lunch we were talking about relationships and risks. I’ve written before about this impetus, the innate motivation to move nomadically. Some don’t have it, most I’d say. But those of us who do keep looking like a child who can’t fall asleep because they’re afraid they might miss something. A motorcycle amplifies this, sometimes to distortion, most of the time to saturation of all the senses. Many riders we passed this day are riding because it’s all about the bike. You know what I’m talking about. Others, though, know that the bike is all about the ride; the next canyon, the next corner, the next hangout, the next apex, the next people. Chase is one of these people.
He’s also from Michigan and is a Red Wings fan. A hockey fan and he rides a Bird. There’s a trend. here.
Lifting out of Prescott, US 89 splits to 89Alt that trails up the Black Hills mountain range. Switchbacks with rough pavement make for careful going and skipping at times. Before the road drops around a corner into Jerome there’s a turnout for a look at Verde Valley.
Jerome is built on the side of the mountain, a mining town gone biker destination, and damn it, I was too tired to stop and take pics. It’s a cool little town packed with bikers. The highway drops into Verde Valley and into a frustrating line up of round-abouts through which accompanying cagers wanted to race the Birds. One of the burdens of riding the fastest production Honda ever made is putting up with egos who think they can beat it, especially those mentally underfunded wheel jockeys.
Sedona comes along none too soon as we’re tired and thirsty and ready to make camp. The place was jammed with early-season tourists who thought it wouldn’t be, us included. After grocery getting we continued up Oak Creek Canyon, coming across on full campground after another. At the last stop before 89A hikes out of the canyon we found a great spot next to the river. Chase went on his way, and we pitched camp and cooked up packaged chicken over rice.
Sunday morning we broke camp after we warmed up over coffee (again, thanks Matt) from the JetBoil – an indispensable traveling device.
I must comment as well on my Alpinestars Ricard jacket, another indispensable traveling item. If you’ve read this far you’re a biker and can appreciate this. Fully armored and convertible with a hefty winter lining, this protection served up comfort all across Arizona. I was stupid enough to leave it behind when we did the PCH. It fits well, vents well, wears well, moves well. You forget about it, the tell-tale indication of quality and function.
We packed and mounted 89A to the top of Oak Creek Canyon where there’s a vista turnout to view the canyon we just left.
Bought some Navajo jewelry and snapped a shot or two of the road coming up. Back at the bikes there were two couples road tripping from the Midwest, Michigan and Wisconsin, one couple in a BMW Z3 and the other in a late Vette, perpetually smiling. They know that impetus, too.
Had breakfast at Denny’s in Flagstaff and north we went thinking that we didn’t want to head that way, at least not yet. To relieve this we came across the turn for the Sunset Crater Volcano, Wupatki National Monuments, and made a 40 mile detour. Freshly paved two-laner with sweeping corners and ambling tourists at 20 MPH. It eventually gives way to 45 MPH, not to be abused though. Rangers don’t sympathize. At the middle of the drive is a turnout for a Wupatki ruin, and 800 year-old domicile of impeccable design and craftsmanship, an amazing snap shot to see that intelligence is enduring while at the same time we could be doing so much more with it when it comes to natural resources. This is a magical place where we felt the crowd of its former inhabitants.
Mind-numbing straights eventually drop to mesas and the south side of Glen Canyon where 89 splits again, the main to Page and 89A to Jacob’s Lake. We stopped at Navajo Bridge for photos and to take in the contrast of the green Colorado, the blue sky and the red terrain.
Lee’s Ferry, a historical site I know all too well and a rafter’s point of origin are close by. US 89A takes you up to the wooded plateau where it junctions at Jacob’s Lake with the road to the North Rim.
We dined at Jacob’s Lake Lodge, a familiar stop for us in all our outings to the Grand Canyon. Good food, great pie, especially the peach a la mode.
Heavy sighs and we mount for the drop into Fredonia, passing a trio of novice Harley renters from Italy, tensed and fixated, making us both nervous. We hope they get to where they’re going.
Mindy and I were talking in the decompression of just getting home. I said that the Virgin River Gorge feels like the barrier for me, the gate to the ocean, where coming in from Hurricane Valley made the rest of the ride feel like our backyard, albeit a very big one. And she said that for her, Hurricane is that same barrier, just as the road drops you into town. I think she’s right.