In the Arizona desert, you usually get just what you deserve! In this wide sweeping post we do some dog-sitting, meet this quality publication’s youngest aficionado, add some Swedish to Annie’s collection, suffer our hardest hit since the crash in Mexico, learn what a burning clutch smells like and hunt for an iconic AMC Pacer. We also visit song place 86 of 92: Catalina.
Friday, August 30th, 2019 AD (cont.)
Winslow, Arizona, USA
Putting Winslow into my mirrors almost felt wrong. The people there treated me so well that I definitely could have lingered longer. But Everywhere is calling progressively louder as my list dwindles. South we go.
I gassed up in a little town called Happy Jack, home of the second smallest post office in the country. (there’s got to be a story here)
The air was cool and crisp as I was over 6,000 ft. of elevation. The climate and the pine trees are definitely not what come to mind when one thinks of Arizona.
I made a comment about this discrepancy to one of the locals. His face got dead serious as he said, “Please don’t tell the Californians. There’s already too many of them here. Tell them that it’s all dust storms, rattlesnakes and 120 degrees.” 🙂
This was the Friday of labor day weekend. The oncoming lane was chock full of traffic from Phoenix dwellers climbing out of the valley to escape the heat. Outside of Payson, traffic was bumper to bumper over four miles outside of town.
As one descends towards Phoenix, the heat hits hard and fast. But with the heat Arizona’s most succulent specimen arrives, the Saguaro (sa-WAH-row) cactus. I had forgotten just how fascinating these plants can be.
Though these cacti are often used as general symbols for the Southwest, their natural range is fairly small. They are only found in the Sonoran desert.
I was going to be hosted by some new friends in Phoenix. Meet Cale:
He, his wife Jill, son Hunter and dogs Dakota and Daisy would be providing me with much needed shelter from the heat. Cale first became familiar with my story when I made a post on the website reddit about the construction of my Sonic figurehead, just five days into my trip. The post was quite successful, being viewed 250,000 times. It brought a lot of traffic to my website, still statistically my best day ever for views. I’m not sure if this is because Sonic is that cool, or if I’m just that bad at marketing.
Cale was one of the first strangers to offer me a place to stay. We had been corresponding for almost two years, so he was much less “strange” than when he made his initial invitation.
A couple of weeks before I arrived, he mentioned that he and Jill were expecting their second child soon. The due date was just two days after my arrival. Still, they welcomed me in, fed me some Chinese food and I had a great time getting to know them better.
Saturday, August 31st
I woke up to a text message informing me that Cale and Jill had gone to the hospital. The baby was on the way! As is often the case, I was deeply offended by their priorities. They decided that bringing their new child into the world was more important than hanging out with me.
At 8:49am, little Bennett arrived to the world!
I was unsure of whether I should stay or go, but I was able to be of some assistance by taking care of the dogs. I had a great day just hanging out and watching football. It almost felt like being back in regular life.
During the Husker’s opening game last year, I was still in the Peruvian Amazon. That stupid monkey, Jerkface McCreepyhands, had just tried to steal my toilet paper (this post).
The company this year was much more congenial.
I went out for supper with my cousin, Josh, who lives in the area. We probably spent about three hours chatting. It was great to catch up with him.
Also, the photo of him signing has some really neat lighting.
Sunday, September 1st
The whole family arrived home in the morning and I got to meet Bennett. I tried to tell him about my cool blog, but he didn’t seem too interested.
It makes me happy to think that I will be a strange little anecdote connected to the story of his birth. They were so gracious to let me stick around during this special time for their family.
Cale let me take his dirtbike for a spin and we talked about riding Baja someday. I definitely wouldn’t take much convincing! I left their house with some more fond memories, some extra cash in my wallet, a nice heat-wicking shirt and one of the best stickers I’ve received:
Thank you for everything, Cale, Jill and family!
Catalina, a little community just north of Tucson, was set to be song place 86 of 92. Some have posited that the official “Catalina” should be the island off of Southern California. While it might be referred to as “Catalina” by locals, it is properly known as “Santa Catalina Island.” I have no second thoughts about this selection.
The ride south was hot, but still very pleasant. I just love the scenery of the Sonora Desert.
There are many little trails which run parallel to the highway. I had fun exploring these.
This was the final day for the street tire that I’ve had on the rear since Ecuador. When the mechanic there told me he thought I could get 10,000 miles from it I was skeptical. In reality it lasted 15,000, an incredible number for a rear tire loaded like this one is.
Though it had served me well, it had no traction by this point. Perhaps predictably, I got myself stuck in one of the sandy washes. I totally deserved it.
This actually ended up being about a 40 minute ordeal of pushing, grunting, examining and lamenting beneath the glaring Arizona sun. I eventually needed to tip Annie over to get her rotated and pointed back in the way I came.
I was relieved…and a little disappointed….when I finally got out.
(I think the heat had made its way into my brain by then!)
I reached the community of Oro Valley, prepared to make another new friend. An ADV Rider named John had invited me to take up residence at his abode. I also used his address for shipping and I was glad to see a new tire waiting for me. Upon pulling into his garage, I was thrilled to meet one of Annie’s sister’s. An automatic version of the NC700X named “Solie.”
John is a former Navy pilot and worked for years as an engineer at a nuclear plant. It took some time for me to get used to not being the most interesting person in the room. 🙂
Tuesday, September 3rd
I used John’s garage to complete (knock on wood) the final tire change of my journey. I’ve been running a street tire on the back for about 20,000 miles (due to availability in South America), so it felt good to have something with some tread on the rear again. If we go back to Ombabika, this will be essential.
John provided an extra hand or two just when I needed it and the changing process wasn’t as bad as some of my previous attempts.
It was a productive day of writing as well, though the view was often distracting:
Wednesday, September 4th
John is also Swedish and had good stories about visiting his relatives in the mother land. We had a full Swedish morning with Swedish pancakes, Swedish egg coffee, and even:
While I had the wheel off, I decided that I was going to change bearings too. I had let my mechanical spreadsheet slide for awhile after I got home from South America, so I wasn’t sure whether these ones had about 10,000 miles or about 32,000 miles. There was a little bit of drag, so I decided to play it safe and change them out.
In the evening we rode out to a Mexican restaurant. When two NCs are riding together, they get around 120 mpg. (I think that is how math works…)
I have been continually searching for the best enchiladas suizas since I came back to the states. The ones I had here were the closest to my mind-blowing meal in Chiapas.
Thursday, September 5th
Visiting Catalina is a little difficult. It is easy enough to locate, but tougher to define. It is not actually an incorporated city or town. Rather it is merely a “census-designated place.” How exotic!
It was a hot day and I was only going to be riding around town, so I left John’s place in just a t-shirt and jeans. I found it interesting how the pavement would just end on some roads. The trail below was right in the middle of “town.”
I explored the east end, towards the Santa Catalina mountains, finding one of my favorite Saguaros.
These cacti are very slow growing. After 10 years, they are usually only a couple of inches tall. They do not grow their first arms until they are about 75 years old. This specimen is probably over 150 years old.
I stopped into Catalina State Park which has some nice hiking trails. It was not the right time of day for a hike, so I didn’t see very much there.
There was no visitor’s center of Catalina, but I was interested in learning more about its history and culture. I decided to go to the library. A nice librarian helped me as best as she could and I also met a nice guy in the parking lot who pointed some things out to me. But don’t worry, I’m not going to go into full “history mode” like I did with Winslow. 🙂
I grabbed some grub at a local joint called “Claire’s.” Besides being a restaurant, it was also a gallery for local artists. Nice place!
I knew I wanted a Saguaro themed picture to represent Catalina, but I hadn’t found the one just yet. On the map, I’d seen a little line called the Charloux Gap Trail which ran towards the mountains. There were plenty of signs for “4 WHEEL DRIVE ONLY!!! HIGH CLEARANCE VEHICLES ONLY!!!”….but I’m pretty used to just riding right by these. I did let some air out of my tires, but I wasn’t too concerned about the road ahead.
The trail got progressively rougher and I began wishing that I was wearing my padded gear. I’ve been pretty conscientious about having this on, even on hot days.
The hills became steeper and more covered with loose rocks. I was just about ready to turn around, but I wanted to see what was around the next corner (famous last thoughts…). The following steep downhill had a hairpin curve at the bottom and the slope was covered with loose rocks. Though I tried to creep down it, I eventually started sliding. I rode it out for as long as I could, but got tossed off pretty hard at the bottom of the hill. (I accidentally deleted this moment from my dash cam. Dang it!)
This was definitely my hardest hit since the crash in Mexico. I can’t believe I wan’t suited up. I got just what I deserved. It wasn’t my bloodied elbow or knee that caused me the most concern though. I looked back up whence I came and the ascent looked nearly impossible. As always, pictures do a poor job of capturing “steepness:”
Because of the turn at the bottom, I couldn’t get a running start at it. My first attempt at it went pretty well though, and I made it almost half of the way up.
From here though, it was slow going. I had to push from alongside of Annie while trying to feather out the clutch. We made progress by the foot, but a couple of times I had to intentionally tip her over to keep her from sliding down the hill.
Then I made a BIG mistake.
On one of my attempts, I was pushing and let the clutch all the way out. I thought the rear wheel was spinning as I revved the engine. Suddenly, I realized that the wheel was not moving. If the engine is spinning and wheel is not, that means you are burning up the clutch. I was mortified, as the smell of burning clutch plates wafted through the air.
I waited for about ten minutes, letting everything cool down and trying to convince myself that I wasn’t stranded. These were tense minutes. I knew I wouldn’t have many more opportunities, so I gunned it hard, popped the clutch and blasted the rest of the way up. I’m still not quite sure how I made it.
I rode pretty hard the rest of the way back. I was more worried about taxing the clutch than I was about crashing. Ascending the final hill was a real relief!
(Sorry for the sunscreen on the camera lens)
I don’t take too kindly to a road getting the best of me, so I fully intend to come back here. Next time, however, I’ll probably be on a machine which is 300-400 pounds lighter. 🙂 For now, I decided that this would be my last off-road experience of my journey. We will be sticking just to asphalt from here on. I can quit gravel anytime I want….
Back on the pavement, I realized how much of my clutch was gone. I readjusted to get some free play back in the lever. It was a relief to get back to John’s place and be able to clean up my wounds. About 2/5 of the hair follicles on my left knee were left in Chiapas, Mexico. Another 1/5 or so remain in Catalina. Though I feel bad for my knee, this has given me a great song idea to rewrite the words of “I left my heart in San Francisco.”
I still needed my Catalina picture though, so I headed back out after John made me supper. I decided to find a place in Catalina, at Catalina State Park, with the Santa Catalina mountains behind me.
I have no qualms with environmentalists, but if they were really committed to their cause they would go beyond tree-hugging. Other plants need hugs too, especially those in the cactaceae family. I give you, Catalina:
There is nothing simulated about the facial expressions. I really tried to get in there.
These cacti are well engineered stabbing machines. I got what I deserved.
Wyoming George has been a great mechanical consultant for me on my journey and I gave him a call in the evening. He was great about giving me advice for how to proceed. He also didn’t scold me too severely for being such an idiot. You’re a good friend, George.
Friday, September 6th
It was time to get back on the road. John crossed off Catalina for me and added a signature in Swedish.
I’ve been putting off getting some “real” motorcycle gloves since I like having my fingers exposed. I had ordered a pair with my tire to reach the threshold for free shipping. John also had a pair that didn’t fit him that he gifted me. Now I have lots of options!
I’m trying to work them in slowly…but they still feel unnatural…like a cat wearing socks.
We weren’t parting ways just yet, though. We were going to do some riding in the Tucson area. I lived in an AMC Pacer in this city for about 2 months while I was in college. It was a strange, confusing chapter in my life, but one that I am thankful for. It was here that I learned it was possible to eat on about $1 per day. It was here that I first experienced the kindness of strangers. It was also here that I found my passion for homeless outreach which would eventually become a seven year career for me.
Also here was the best thing that I had ever seen in the history of things and stuff. I just hoped it was still there. John and I rode to where I had last seen it and…….
Yes, drink it in. An AMC Pacer used as a prop in the (terrible) movie Good Burger. Perhaps the biggest “never tell me the odds” moment in my life happened in 2006. Upon arriving in Tucson, I slept in the Kmart parking lot in my Pacer across the street. When I woke up, this monstrosity was the first thing that I saw.
Note the crinkle cut fry bumper:
It is an advertisement for a diner which is in the adjacent shopping center. I had to inquire and it is currently not for sale. It really should be kept inside as it is deteriorating quickly. I have a phone number, so I may make some more inquiries. 🙂
John and I rode up to Mount Lemmon, the highest peak of the Santa Catalina mountains. It is a fun, winding road to get up there.
There is a huge contrast in climate with the arid desert below. Up above 9,000 ft, there’s even a ski area at the top.
John treated me to lunch at the diner with the Pacer and we parted ways. He did invite me back for one more night if I needed. I rode around the city for a bit, seeing some things that awakened long forgotten memories.
I left town heading west and did a ride through Saguaro National Park.
The variety of the cacti offer many great photo opportunities…
…and strictly for professionals:
In the park, I decided to leave the paved main road and ride on one of the trails. This meant that I achieved somewhere around 26 hours of sobriety since swearing off of off-road riding. For anyone attempting to abstain from a certain chemical or behavior, anything over 24 hours is pretty good for your first attempt. 🙂
The trail was closed about 3/4 of the way through, meaning that I had to back track. This cost me some time. Additionally, I had some electrical gremlins invade my dash camera and my topside charging port. I decided to head back to John’s for one more night.
Saturday, September 7th
Though I was up before 6, John still got up to make me breakfast. He was such an amazing host and I can’t say enough about everything he did for me. Arizonans cared for me so thoroughly throughout my visit. It was a tough state to leave. People there were so….”supportive:”
6 to go!
Stay prickly, yet huggable, everybody
Realtime update: I am still in the Sacramento area. Though I maybe could have gotten free lodging at Folsom Prison, Mom got me a hotel for a few nights so I could relax and get some catching up done. Reno will be up next, either today or early tomorrow. Then Winnemucca, then Crater Lake, then up to Vancouver for a bit, then (hopefully) another swing at Ombabika, then Nebraska, then nap.