110 Miles of Bliss  

qship52 64M
187 posts
4/2/2006 5:32 pm

Last Read:
4/6/2006 10:49 pm

110 Miles of Bliss

The weather was not even ideal, it was perfect today. Sunny, no wind, about 72 degrees in Phoenix, and probably 52 degress at my destination: Prescott. So the planets all finally aligned, no work was calling me, and I had no excuses not to (once again), take The Ride. Qship was ready to go - freshly tuned, new tires, proper inflation, and all the problems fixed.

Qship has made The Ride many, many times before, but not for about 15 years. Once children came along I quit riding, because I always rode with my wife, and she couldn't ride anymore.

Eventually Qship got parked in the garage, and days stretched into months, and months stretched into (10) years.

Then my marriage went on the rocks, and there was really no reason not to ride Qship again, except that she (he?) needed a lot of work and repairs after sitting 10 years. That work was done last summer, and since then I've ridden up and down the west coast (ALL of it), and to Death Valley.

But I still hadn't taken The Ride again, until today.

The Ride - 110 miles from north Phoenix to Prescott, via Wickenburg. Easterners can't imagine the spacious, wide-open vistas, the long stretches of (often) empty road where you can let the throttle out, for mile after mile. Midwesterners can only drool at the mountain curves, flowing into each other, one after another, with perfect rhythm. The Ride has some of everything - some city driving, a bit of Interstate, two & four lane desert highway. Roads with traffic. Roads with almost no traffic. A change of weather, with a 20 degree drop as you climb to 6100 feet. High speed curves with two lanes, and one, both uphill and downhill. High desert scenery morphing into scrub oak and juniper, then finally changing to ponderosa pine at the end. And perhaps best of all, some of the most wonderful low speed curves near the end - 15 miles of them. Curves that beg to be ridden with some speed, to be danced on, with a left-right-left-right rhythm that most curvy roads can never achieve. S-curves that flow into each other with perfection, each properly banked.

This was My Ride. I first found it in 1980 when I moved to Phoenix. I've had 4 BMW's in that time, and all have made The Ride many times. Sometimes twice in one weekend. But I haven't been on it on a bike in 15 long years, until today.

I put it off for several reasons, after Qship was ready to ride again. Mostly due to some fear.

The Ride involves some speed, and I was not sure I could still ride fast enough to appreciate the rhythm of the curves, and do it safely. 15 years is a long time, and you need constant practice to ride fast. And if you don't believe you can drive a bike fast through a curve? Well, it simply doesn't lean for you, and it doesn't want to go where you want it to go. My fear was based on knowledge of The Consequences, and the realization that my skill level is nowhere near what it used to be when riding.

Nevertheless, today I decided to do it. I wanted a fix of pure speed, and I wanted to ride those curves again. My tires had several hundred miles on them, and they still had most of the little rubber nubby thingies sticking out of the rubber from the mold - I had not leaned into a curve far enough to rub them off.

The anticipation built with the preparations. I don't just hop on a motorcycle for a tip like this. Boxer shorts, because even on a short ride like this one, the elastic edge of briefs will cut into your flesh by the end of the ride and give you a case of butt squirm. Boots - the same ones I wore the last time I took Qship on The Ride. The edges of the boots worn down some from dragging in the curves. The aerostich riding suit - keeps me warm in the cold, and dry in the rain. And hopefully safe from road rash if something should go wrong. Earplugs, because the wind noise is trememdous at speed.

Speed - today I wanted a good dose of it. 1000cc of four cylinder motorcycle can provide that, even a 20-year-old one not noted for its power when it was new. But fast enough to do the job.

One of life's pleasures is being on a motorcycle when you need to pass a car in front of you, and I wanted to have that pleasure many times today.

Finally it was time. I was suited, earplugged, and ready to go. Plugged my earphones (mounted in the helmet) to my radar detector, turned the key, and hit the starter button. Backed up out of the carport, turned around, and I was off. What adventures would await me?

First impressions - the smell of the desert. A dog running beside me. Tall saguaro cacti on all sides. Clear skies, great visibility. The feel of the wind. Vibrations in the bars and footpegs.

A brief stop for gas, and the ride really begins. Two-lane desert with traffic. Feeling the surge of power as I drop to 3rd gear and pass lines of cars pulling boats to Lake Pleasant. 60mph when you pull out to pass, 80+ by the time you get past the first car. Wonderful!

Past Lake Pleasant, and the traffic thins a bit as boats pull off to the lake. Keeping the speed down a bit - if you start fast here, you tend to just get waaay fast later, and you should pace yourself a bit.

I'm not doing too well on the pacing part. Coming past Lake Pleasant, you get to essentially an 18-mile long straightaway. I'm doing 85mph before I get to that, and there is nowhere for the speed to go but up.

Catch up to a line of cars, and have to wait to pass because of oncoming traffic. I pull past them, and I'm nudging 100mph now. Well, why not. Now is the time, and this is the place. There is a long stretch of empty road in front, and I pull hard on the throttle. Qship is giving me the train sensation = so fast and rock solid it is like a high speed train. I'm doing 120. Still no cars, so I duck down tight against the tank bag on a mile downhill and get under the windshield.

135mph and Qship can do no more. I wonder to myself if I take off the saddlebags if I can hit 140 again - Qship once did 143 on the autobahn in Austria. She cut her teeth on the Alps in Austria and Switzerland, but since 1980, she has lived in Arizona.

Slow down for lines of cars, and lines of Harleys. Why so very many Harleys today I wonder? I pass hundreds during the day, and only when I get back do I find out it was Bike Week here.

Back on the throttle - when I pull high speeds, I don't so much go fast as reel in the horizon with a roll of the hand. Distances simply ... evaporate. Sometimes I don't slow down as I pass a lone car, and get a guilty thrill at passing them at double their speed.

Slow down for the 10 miles to Wickenburg. Two lane divided highway, often patrolled. It's lovely in the little valley along the Hasayampa here, with green trees, lichen on the cliffs, and riparian habitat.

Turn on the road to Las Vegas, but only for a few miles. Then exit on the road to Congress - and Yarnell.

Yarnell - a little town, whose main claim to fame to me is not the town, but the hill named for it. Yarnell Hill is like a local legend - the temperature drops a good 10 degrees from bottom to top, which is certainly most welcome in the summer when the temp is well over 100. The hill itself is mostly two lane all the way up, and very smooth. Because it is two lanes, you almost never get stuck behind a slow car, or worse, a slow motorhome. The start of the hill is marked by a right hand curve, marked at 35mph. I used to take that curve, on the inside lane, at 80mph.

Not today. Today I haven't been on the hill on a bike in 15 years. Even though Qship earned her nickname on this hill, today the ammunition is lacking. (Qship used to have fun passing 19-year old Disco Drivers on their new Ninjas trying to drag knees in the curves).

Today I start up the hill passing a pair of Harleys. I'm in the outside lane, doing 70. Geez. Well, it's ... not so bad! I'm not scared, and Qship is going right where I point her, wondering why I'm driving her so slow. I redeem myself a bit by accelerating to 75 by the end of the curve, but there is no way I am going to be driving as fast today as I used to, especially on a road I had only been on twice in the last 15 years (both times in a car).

The curves on Yarnell Hill were a dream today. So smooth. So perfect. It helps that I KNOW the bike is well within its limits - after all, the very same bike with the very same rider used to go much faster many times in the same places. This sort of knownledge does wonders for your confidence, and anyone who has ridden a bike fast knows that confidence is essential.

Then - top of the hill, and slow down to go through Yarnell. The temperature has, as usual, dropped significantly. I pull over and put on my fleece 'triangle' - a velcro-attached piece of riding gear that covers your neck and helps keep you warm.

On for the next 15 miles or so through beautiful high desert. Canyons to the side. Mountains all around. Tall cottonwoods with no leaves - in the summer they will be filled with green, and datura weeds will roam into the shoulders of the road. For now, all is dry.

Dry is good on this ride. It means that in the curves ahead, there will probably not be gravel washed into the road. Gravel in a curve is one of my nightmares, especially after an incident that (probably) forever swore me off giving full throttle into a blind curve.

Today, all is near perfect. I pass some Harley's (Damn, there sure are a LOT of them out today! They may be dog slow, but at least they are always out there riding, and I appreciate that.) Suddenly I am alone. No cars in sight ahead or behind me - and I can see for miles. Long sweeping curves, down into valleys, and up out of canyons. I'm blessed today.

Across this ... plain between hills, and I'm at Nowhere, AZ. This marks the beginning of The Curvy Section, and is where I hope to put my worries about riding curves behind me. The vegetation almost instantly changes to scrub oak and juniper. I'm fortunate that traffic, inexplicably, is very light. For the next 15 miles, there are only about 3 passing lanes, and if a car doesn't pull off for you, well ... you use the power of the bike and pass them on the double yellow. (Not as bad as it sounds, because frequently you have a car going about 20mph, and you can easily see far enough ahead to pass safely, when on a bike).

Now I remember why this part of The Ride is The Best. God, these curves are wonderful! They are soooo smooooth. The visibility is at least adequate. There are no curves that have tricky decreasing radius bits, or are negatively banked. Best of all, my memory of them has come back.

I'm leaning into the curves with more and more confidence. I feel good.

Suddenly I'm up on a car. He pulls to the side and waves me by. Bless him. Then I am behind a pickup. He doesn't pull over, but I quickly come to a part with good visibility and zoom by him on a left hand turn.

The curves are picking up speed now - left, right, left. I can smell the forest around me. A hawk circles overhead. Bikes pass in the other direction, and we wave to each other.

I come to the ultimate part of the curves - the best of the best. I am doing OK. I am not embarrasing myself to myself. Qship is proud of me, and I have ultimate faith in her.

Then - I'm into the ponderosa pines area, but in an area that burned in a forest fire three years ago. So sad to see all the blackened tree stumps, and so different from the rides I remembered before. Then I'm past them, and into Real Forest. Big, green, piney-smelling trees all around.

It's like heaven.

When you live in the Sonoran Desert, there are some things people just do. You go out on the porch in the summer when it rains and you watch. If you see snow on the mountains around Phoenix, you take a picture. And if you get to a place with real, with big trees, you just ... marvel at them.

Then I'm into Prescott, and back into putt-putt mode. Grab some fast food, and relax a bit.

When you ride with speed, it clears your mind. Maybe that is what appeals so much to me. If you are riding REALLY fast, you have no room in your mind to think of anything else. When you get back from that ride, you realize you have not thought about work, or money, or anything that might have bothered you that morning. You lived in the moment, and for the moment. During that time, you were Alive, and it was Good.

On the way back, I was more confident. Not just because I finally had some good cornering practice, but also because I had seen all of the road, and I knew there were no nasty gravel surprises. Also, in some key sections, the rhythm of the road is better coming out of Prescott than going in. Places were you had to slow down through a series of curves now is the opposite - you can speed up through that section. And Qship, being a 1985 BMW K100RS, has something called the shaft drive effect. Basically, it means that it corners better, with more ground clearance, with the throttle on, so the best way to ride curves is with acceleration.

It was wonderful coming back through the curves. I stopped at an old, familar spot, and took a couple of pictures of the bike, and me with the bike. Then it was on through the last 5 miles or so of curves.

Then it happened. In a left hand curve, I was leaning through it, and suddenly my boot sole scraped the ground! I bobbled a bit with surprise, and recovered. Woohoo! I'm not such a slug in the curves after all! Of course if I had been riding aggressively there, with the throttle on, I would have had more ground clearance and not scraped, but - it was OK for me, today, at my age.

The rest of the ride back was much like the ride out. Beauty all around. Wonderful weather. Traffic, but enough openings to pass. Only got it up to 129 (once) on the way back, and then came back to reality when I came up on all the trucks leaving Lake Pleasant pulling boats.

The Ride is over now, after about 5 hours. And it was as good as ever. I feel alive again. I feel refreshed. It's good to be alive.

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