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OUR FIFTH ANNUAL COLUMBUS DAY RIDE REPORT! - On a slightly chilly Monday at about 6am, ten hearty souls embarked on a four-hundred-plus mile journey to the Old Pueblo to partake in scenery, camaraderie, and some fantastic roads. Yours truly was first to show at RideSmart's Global HQ, followed in short order by Chris, riding an immaculate '04 V-Rod with what has to be the LOUDEST aftermarket exhaust ever fitted to a motorcycle this side of a MotoGP paddock. George, riding a '10 Harley Road King, was next to arrive. Kyle ('09 Yamaha R1), Maria ('09 Yamaha R6), and Todd ('08 Kawasaki ZX14) followed minutes later. Rounding out the tensome were Brian ('07 Suzuki Hayabusa), his wife Tracy ('07 Suzuki SV650S), her son Austin ('09 Kawasaki Ninja 250), and Mystery Man ('08 Yamaha FZ1). After a short pre-ride route briefing and an admonishment to not get lost, ticketed, or crash, we mounted up and swung out onto Loop 101 Eastbound, ceremonial Ride Grand Marshall Ralph waving us out of the parking lot from the relative safety of his beater Dodge Truck. We settled into a staggered ride formation, with me on point setting a steady speed-limit-plus-five pace.
The sun had yet to show over the Superstitions, traffic was heavy but not slow, and we quickly dispatched the first fifteen miles of the trip with judicious use of the car pool lanes on L101 and 202. As I glanced in my mirrors to check everyone else's progress, I caught a glimpse of my first potential spot of premature fatigue - Mystery Man, on my right flank in slot number two, was already dangling his feet off the pegs, a sure sign of ride conditioning problems, lack of potassium, or both. Honestly, I was already starting to get a bit cramped, but I was this groups' Fearless Leader, and showing any sign of weakness at this early stage would be tantamount to admitting defeat, so I squirmed around minutely so the troops wouldn't see and soldiered on.
US60 took us from the fringes of western civilization all the way to Superior, where we got some needed fuel and leg-stretching. I received a face-full of Regular Unleaded when I saw a flash of light out of the corner of my eye and simultaneously re-directed the fuel flow from the pump nozzle away from the insides of the tank onto the top of the tank when I turned my head to see what caused said flash. The others had no trouble, however, and after a bit of chit-chat where Mystery Man revealed he had just set his personal one day mileage record (!) we headed southbound on SR177.
The towns of Kearney, Winkleman, Mammoth, Dudleyville, and Hayden exist only for one reason; to allow the employees of the Asarco Copper Mine to have an address close to their jobs. As we whistled through these sleepy hollows, we saw no visible signs of life other than an occasional vehicle heading the other direction. The group retained formation through the hilly terrain, entered the outskirts of Tucson at roughly 9:30, and stopped for the second fuel stop of the day at the corner of Oracle and River Roads. After an uneventful (for me at least) gas-n-stretch, we made due haste for our first big attraction of the day; Summerhaven, a tiny burg at the summit of Mount Lemmon, known primarily for it being the End of the Road. We were anticipating a brisk ascent up Catalina Highway to Summerhaven, and the first couple of miles were exactly what we expected. Unfortunately, our pace turned into something decidedly more slothlike after we caught up to the Mount Lemmon Hermit and his wife, Bridge Troll. They were obviously in no hurry to be anywhere, and took it upon themselves to be a one-car rolling buzzkill for our ride group. Since Catalina Highway has exactly two passing areas along it's roughly twenty-five mile length and these Twins of Douchbaggery were not about to use any of the "slow vehicle turnout" areas, we had to wait until they were satisfied they had completely stopped our fun. There is a very simple rule I follow that strictly forbids me to pass on a solid yellow, that being basic traffic law - well, that and my self-preservation instinct. Since I was leading the group meandering behind these Hyundai-driving mouth-breathers, I was afforded an opportunity to whip by them in the first passing area, followed closely by Maria and Mystery Man. The rest of the group were still stuck in arrears, so I marked time a quarter-mile ahead of team I-Don't-Give-a-Shit-I'm-Not-Moving, waiting for something to give. Eventually I had to up the pace as I had a strong sense that the rest of the group were not going to stay stuck behind the Happy Couple for long, solid yellow or not.
Three miles further into our less-than-banzai charge up the hill, I decided to pull over and see whether the group were playing it safe or had taken it upon themselves to temporarily abandon their lane assignments and basic posted speed. Maria and Mystery Man flashed past, then a lull. Another thirty seconds of relative silence was shattered by a faint rumble, much like the sound a jet engine would make if running in full afterburner under water. The noise grew to an acoustic assault in short order, Chris's V-Rod shaking boulders loose from ancient moorings and forcing all woodland creatures within a five-mile radius to involuntarily release their bowels as he rounded a bend and shot past me, the rest of the group in single-file lock-step immediately behind. The Mount Lemmon Hermit and Bridge Troll were nowhere to be seen, and the pace of the ride had increased significantly.
Chris, Kyle, Brian and Todd had broken away from the pack and were busy chasing down Maria and Mystery Man, while I settled in behind George, Tracy and Austin in the tail gunner's position. George, old salt that he is, had obviously done this curvy-road thing once or twice, as he set a pace on that land barge of a motorcycle that would shame many "hardcore" sport bike riders. The summit lay before us, and as we pulled into the visitor's center parking lot, we enjoyed the dry briskness of the mountain air, something us Phoenicians hadn't experienced since February last. Time for some photos and conversation before charging down the hill. Mystery Man, in another of his interesting revelations, mentioned he had to work at three o'clock and, by the way, how much longer was this ride going to be? We checked our watches; eleven-thirty. Now the calculations began - half-hour down the hill, half hour through town, gas, food, at least one stop, two hours just to Phoenix proper, let alone Deer Valley Airport, where he is employed. Dude has never rode this far in one day, and now he has to go berserk in order to get to work by three?!? We broke the bad news - you're screwed by at least thirty minutes. Leave NOW, which he did, kind of. "How do I get back?" he asked. We provided him a simple mental template that he could follow and bid him adieu. George then said his g'byes and took off to parts unknown. The rest of us followed ten minutes later, with me again on point, Kyle immediately behind. The first half of the descent were uneventful, but I sensed that my pace, although somewhat above the posted speed, was a bit too parade-like for Kyle, so I waved him by. All I remember seeing was a vapor trail and a flash of light as he, uh, eased by on his way to Ludicrous Speed. I called on his raise ("I'll see your fifty mph and raise you, ummmmmm, twenty") but wisely backed off after a few corners to settle into my rhythm. When we convened for McLunch at the bottom of Catalina Highway, we all compared notes on the descent and made plans for Our next stop, Pima Air and Space Museum, near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. After ingesting what I could only label as the driest, least flavorful Quarter Pounder I have ever eaten, Kyle and Maria decided to split off from the group, and the remaining six of us motored over to look at some old planes and wonder what had happened to our youth.
In a fitting tribute to the theory of global warming, temperatures on this normally pleasant day in mid-October rose to just a shade under one-hundred as we piled into the museum. Good part about a museum when one is looking at ancient mummies or detritus from a sunken ship is the climate-controlled environment such trinkets require for preservation. Bad part about an airplane museum? You need a pretty big building, which the Pima Museum doth not have. Don't get me wrong, this particular museum has come a loooooooooong way from my first visit, where the sole structure on-premises was a single-wide trailer. Now, at least three "hangars" house many old aircraft, but the bulk of the planes still sit outside. The open-air part of our tour was a mini-death march where we shuffled past dozens of airplanes, including a few that Brian and I had personally worked on during our tenure as active-duty saviors of freedom. None of us wanted to admit it, but we were all dreading the freeway slog home - even more so after Brian's Hayabusa refused to start, it's battery withholding all free electrons from entering the starting circuit, much like the French shunning routine bathing. With a push-start reminiscent a cardiac treadmill stress-test, we were off to fuel and a leisurely ride home - or that's what I thought, anyway.
Cue up "Wagner's "Flight of the Valkryies". Since Brian's bike was a question mark, we allowed him to lead, and lead he did. Settling into the number-four slot, I noticed a subtle upping of the ride pace until we reached ninety-five, a point at which Austin's poor little Ninja could accelerate no further. I watched him wring the throttle like a damp washcloth in an effort to keep the number-two slot on his stepdad's right flank. I was in a perfect position to experience the aural tsunami that was Chris's exhaust for the entire trip home. The staccato beat of the barely muffled V-Rod engine made my thought processes scramble like eggs in a blender. I must have made it home on instinct or willpower. A short respite in Casa Grande primed us for the final leg home. Brian's motorcycle miraculously started on its' own and we departed Big House.
The last seventy miles of my journey were a blur - made possible by Brian going all Mr. Chekov on the acceleration through the metallic clots of traffic and the eerie calm I experienced once I broke off from Chris and the Evil-Rod, which made me feel like I was riding a magic carpet for the final ten miles. I looked at the trip odometer as I pulled into the garage - 453 miles. I pulled off my helmet, took out my ear plugs and threw my gloves and jacket on the workbench. I wandered inside to greetings from my family - unfortunately, they were muffled by the constant din in my ears. I could only hope they were glad to see me.
Great ride - too bad you missed out. I have photos to prove it. Maybe next year?
Till Next Time – Ride Smart
The RideSmart Staff