Epic Motorcycle Ride: Day 1


Today was the beginning of something I’ve wanted to do ever since I bought this bike in September of 2012. I am blessed enough to have a job which gives me three days off every weekend. So today, at the start of this three day weekend, I began a tour of Arizona on my Victory Cross Country.

The plan is to leave Phoenix, travel up the 89A like I have done several times in the past, going through Prescott, Jerome, Cottonwood, Sedona, and eventually finish the first day’s ride in Flagstaff. I’ve written before about this route and how much I love these roads and this ride. In order to avoid redundancy, I’m not going to spend much time writing about a ride I’ve already blogged to you about. It’s tomorrow and the next day I’m so excited about.
Day two, I will be riding throug Monument Valley to Mexican Hat in Utah as suggested by a riding buddy named Brian. From there, I will continue on to The Four Corners before ending my ride in Chinle, AZ. That will be all about the photos.
Day three, will be the return home, back South through Payson before landing back in the Valley.
As I was riding today I realized how much fear and worry were clouding my experience at first. Did I pack every thing I might need? Do I know where I’m going? What if… What if… What if… only to come to the realization that it’s all going to be ok. The imperfection is what makes it an adventure. Perfect is pretty boring. That being said, I made sure to stay well hydrated all day and not to push too hard after having a big meal at Lone Spur Cafe in Prescott. Just enjoy the ride. Just be in the moment.

Today’s ride was a very windy 234 miles in about five hours. As you can see from the photo, I learned my lesson from my trip to Las Vegas and donned a full face helmet for the first time in over a decade of riding. And with the wind as forceful as it was today, the purchase was well worth it.
Not just any full face would do. Bell introduced a new retro style helmet called the Bullit. It is by far the most expensive helmet I’ve ever bought even after getting a 20% discount by buying it at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show. That is another blog entry I need to write since it involves me demo riding the Indian Scout. Although the Bullit isn’t perfect, I am content with it and would recommend it. Despite the price, no other helmet I’ve looked at solves the full face retro style conundrum that has kept me away from full face helmets this entire time. Sure, it is noisy, and little heavy (compared to my half helmet from Scorpion) but it looks Evel Knievel cool, man.
As you can also tell from the pic, the selfie-stick is in full effect. Since I don’t have a second biker following me around to photographically document my quest ala Ewan McGregor in Long Way Round, I have to resort to this geeky yet very handy little tool. It’s either that or I relegate myself to countless photos of my bike, by itself, at various locations. Tell me I’m wrong: doesn’t solo motorcyclist and selfie-stick just perfectly go together? If not, then too bad; I’m doing it anyway and justifying it by pointing out that I’m half Asian.
Now for a fun evening in Flagstaff, at my AirBnB house to rest before a big day two.

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Breakfast in Payson

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May in Phoenix has been simply amazing this year. I’ve been taking full advantage of the weather by riding as much as I can so naturally for a long weekend, some buddies of mine planned a nice ride to soak up these pre-Summer temps.

Originally, three of us were going to ride but the one guy who wasn’t riding a Victory had to cancel. So it was just my buddy Jacob and me along with his passenger, Echo and my girlfriend, Jenn. Jake rides a Victory Hammer. He loves the bike but admits the creature comforts I get along with my Cross Country like music, and saddle bags are really appealing to him. He hated it every time I plugged my phone into the bike so listen to my tunes. He was able to attach his windshield and put some saddles bags on but he told me it wasn’t the same as having a fairing like I have on my VXC. I will say this though, that fat rear tire on his Hammer is pretty boss and like the majority of Victory’s bikes, I think they can be proud of that design.

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We got a late start but it didn’t matter because the day was so beautiful. The high in Payson was going to be 75 degrees. You typically see me write about the cities along the 89A but today was all about the other side of the state and the 87 straight up to Payson, AZ. The 87 is also known as the Beeline Highway and it takes a North Easterly direction out of town past Scottsdale, Mesa, and Fountain Hills.

I set up my Victory app off of my iPhone before we took off. The app has been taken over by RiderX and all in all I give it a “b”. It’s a good app, better than average which is why it didn’t get a “c” but still needs to get the kinks worked out. The tracking isn’t bad and it’s fairly easy to attach a picture to a waypoint but little annoyances like unresponsive buttons and the counter intuitiveness of labeling things make the app cumbersome.

There wasn’t much traffic as we began to head East. Jenn has always told me she really enjoys how comfortable the detachable back rest / luggage rack is for her passenger seat. She has no problem being the envy of other passengers who don’t have that comfy seat. There was just little wind and the skies had a few clouds with plenty of sunshine. It’s two lanes all the way up. The majority of the road is about 65 mph and curvy at spots. There is only one major curve where you need to mind your speed but the most part I was able to cruise comfortably at about 75 mph up the hill and pass the majority of other cars. We were able to climb the 77 or so miles to Payson in about an hour and 20 minutes according to the Victory app.

Riding with another bike in your crew is something I take a little seriously. I am conscientious about spacing and speed. I try to lead by maintaining a line on the left side of the whole lane which is easy when you’re just going straight. But throw on a passenger which adjusts your typical center of gravity and some high speed curves and I wan’t able to be quite as disciplined as I would’ve liked. But Jake was very cool about it and a great rider so we worked well together as we climbed the hill.

Our destination was The Pinon Cafe in Payson. IMG_4513I belong to a Facebook closed group of Victory riders who live in the Valley. The group is made up primarily of people who bought their Victorys from Arizona Kawasaki Victory in Mesa which is a sister business to the store I bought my bike out of in Apache Junction. I posted a question to the group about which restaurant to hit in Payson and got few responses. Other non riding residents of Payson said Pinon was the best so we decided to save the Crosswinds restaurant at the airport for another time. As we arrived and walked in, it felt cozy, and very much like a traditional small town diner. I knew I was in the right place when I saw two metal signs on different walls for Indian Motorcycles. Breakfast was delicious, conversation was great, and soon we were headed back out to find a gas station. IMG_4512 IMG_4510

The ride back wasn’t nearly as open as the ride up because other travelers were heading back to the Valley with their toy haulers. And you could certainly feel the 90+ degree heat as the elevation dropped getting closer and closer to Fountain Hills. IMG_4525The heat off of my engine wasn’t bad at all unless I was stopped. Then it was an oven but that’s just the way it is when you have a 106 cubic inch engine between your legs. One thing I did notice which I thought was cool was on the way back down the 87, as we were cruising through a left curve on the highway, I noticed I could hear the sound of my exhaust pipes as the rumble bounced off of the concrete highway divider. The sound reflection brought a smile to my face.

As the heat of the end of our ride caught up with us, Jenn and I ended up taking a quick detour to a gelato place in the San Tan Marketplace called Frost. It was an almost perfect end to a long, hot ride. I finished my peanut crunch and cookies and cream combo in record time. IMG_4526

Hard to be humbled

The sun was beating me down as I exited the I-17 highway at 7th Ave. in my boots and dark jeans. The music was blaring and the bike felt good as I was stopped at the light waiting to make a right. I was feeling like a bad ass.

But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Pride comes before the fall. I think I’ve even written it.

I didn’t know what it was at first. Something just fell from the sky and made a splash. It happened so quickly. And then I looked down at the left side of my motorcycle gas tank. I’d been bombed. Some POS bird had nailed my bike and the shrapnel off the bird shit had speckled the bottom of my left pant leg as well as my boot from the knee down. Yup. Just when I was feeling like a total bad ass I was reduced to just another vehicle on the road that got pooped on by some bird who doesn’t know me from anything else.

Lesson learned. Well played, God. Well played.

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Williams

I’ve said it before but it deserves to be said again: October is the best month in the state of Arizona. And that applies state wide — especially when you’re riding.

I was fortunate enough to get together with a  group of about 10 other riders on the way to a Men’s Challenge Retreat with Central Christian Church. The destination to a camp/resort in Williams, AZ isn’t more than a few hours straight up the I-17. Unless you decide to make a day of it. If you make a ride day of it, then you meet early in the morning and take the long scenic route.IMG_3201

IMG_3202We began in Mesa and went North East towards Payson via SR 87, the Beeline Hwy.  There we decided to fuel up. It was a great chance for me to get an energy boost.   Since the retreat went from Friday through Sunday, it was a perfect chance to try out the new blacked out backrest WITH a Victory luggage rack. This is the first bike I’ve had with a legitimate luggage rack. I had to go with the Vic rack because I really like how the blacked out look and design carries through. It’s so funny how it’s more than just the performance of the bike. It’s also the attitude and the look. I laugh at myself but the look is definitely part of being a rider. After this trip I’ve decided I am definitely in the market for a new set of soft sided riding luggage.

From Payson, we took the 260 west through Pine, Strawberry, on the General Crook Trail across to Cottonwood, AZ eventually taking the 87A before ending up in Jerome. We took a great break in Jerome to grab some food and enjoy a gorgeous view over a picturesque valley.

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From Jerome we twisted to North of Prescott before connecting with the 89 North towards the I-40 which would speed us on to Williams. I’ve lived in Phoenix for over 18 years now and I’ve been to Flagstaff countless times but have never driven through the city of Williams. This is another part of Historic Route 66 and they’ve done a great job of making the Main Street down the center of down town look like it is frozen in time. The evening is dotted with neon from the diners. The shops along the street have cowhide rugs and metal decorative street signs for sale. The more time I spend in this part of Arizona the more I love it.

All in all the day was about 262 miles over the span of five actual hours riding. We started about nine AM and landed at the camp around three in the afternoon. This was the first chance I’ve had to use the revised version of the Victory ride app on my iPhone. The company partnered with RiderX so even thought it’s not as aesthetically pleasing it functions better. I tracked the entire time on the ride and was able to put in way points.IMG_5583IMG_3205

The next day offered a few hours to break free so a pair of other riders and myself escaped the camp and took off North towards the Grand Canyon. According to the nav, the ride was about 50 to 60 miles one way. It was a direct shot and the traffic for a weekend wasn’t bad in the least. When we got to the park, it was a $12 entry fee (which was good for an entire week oddly) and we were in. Approaching the Canyon from the entry roads felt a lot like when you’re traveling towards the ocean and you summit a rise and see the water for the first time. Except, instead of water it was a vast crevice.

I’ve been to the Canyon several times and hiked and camped down inside, but seeing it is a powerful experience for me every time. For me, I cannot help but realize my own insignificance against the spectacle of one of the Seven Wonders Of The World.

IMG_0249And when you have landmarks you gotta have pics. The guys I was riding with were great about humoring me. We rode along the various roads in order to find a great picture spot — one not interrupted by other cars or busses or people and that would capture the day and the amazing scenery. We were like kids. But the result was fantastic and one of my favorite photos with the Vic XC.

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After I got home from cruising down a boring and crowded I-17, I settled in to watch the Cardinals finish off the Eagles in the final seconds. And grab a beer. My right boot turned out to be a graveyard for some unlucky bug as I was at speed on the highway. But that didn’t look nearly as bad as my windshield. The odometer passed 10K so it’s time to bring the Pumpkin in for maintenance.IMG_3232

Rides exactly like the one I took this particular weekend are exactly what having this bike is about. The ride was scenery, comaraderie, discovery and spirituality. And the weather was perfect.

Customer Appreciation event

IMG_2017Yesterday, Victory of Mesa held a customer appreciation event at their dealership. This dealership also owns the Apache Junction dealership, Arizona Kawasaki where I take my bike for service. The main reason I wanted to go to this event was because of a raffle they were holding. One of the raffle prizes was a set of tires which was really appealing to me. I recently had to replace my back tire because of an f-ing nail in the tire which caused a slow leak. That was about $300 I wasn’t looking forward to paying out. But you had to be present to win the raffle and I wasn’t intending on staying the whole day… can you say backfire?

IMG_2018But it was cool to see all the bikes together. Like a mini Victory motorcycle rally. And I ran into some of my friends from the Victory Owners Group Meetup who also happened to be attending. I did get a free hot dog and some Cheetos out of the deal.

I also ran into a buddy of mine who had just purchased a 2014 Vic XC with the sweet metallic flames on a green paint scheme. I haven’t been on Facebook in a while and he asked me if I wanted to see what happened to his ride. I was a little confused until he explained to me that he was rear-ended while he was stopped at an intersection. He was hit by a vehicle that was rear-ended by another vehicle.

IMG_2019I was really happy to see he was ok. He said nothing happened to him. But his poor motorcycle… the picture says almost everything. He explained that the car pushed him into another car but he was able to veer right and lay the bike down without having much more damage. Because he was already stopped the collision was “low speed”. What a heart breaker. I felt really blessed at that moment that I was safe and able to ride without any issues.

Ride safe out there, folks. Take care of yourself and keep the rubber side down.

Rough road

If you own a motorcycle and you live in the Valley Of The Sun, inevitably you will be asked about riding the 88 by Canyon Lake on the way to Tortilla Flat. It’s “that” motorcycle road. On this morning, I had just finished riding South Mountain (see previous post) and had plenty of time so I decided to head East to Apache Junction and to Tortilla Flat which I’ve done countless times before. I think the first time I rode to Tortilla Flat was in 2002 or around that time. This road was my introduction to twisty turns and where I came to love really twisty roads.

Again, this morning was a really warm day relative to the season and by now I was down to my fingerless leather gloves, just my leather jacket and not my vest, and welcoming the wind cooling my bare neck. The 60 freeway is the price one has to pay to take advantage of the 88. I think I’ve posted in the past how I’m not a huge fan of the 60. It’s just a long boring straight away to get to the lake. I started my Victory app on my iPhone from the gas station that is right off the freeway exit to the 88.

I will admit that I had an expectation. In the past — years ago — when I rode this road the last time, I remember a lot of traffic and a lot of fun. Today was a Friday morning and I didn’t expect a ton of traffic but it was later in the morning and I know how much of a tourist trap Tortilla Flat is. On the way in I was caught behind a car but our speed was fine and it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was in fourth gear heading into the sweeping turns and I immediately noticed the road. Having just come from the well maintained smooth roads at South Mountain, I was getting beat up badly from the worn down 88. Looking at the pavement it looked as if two layers of the road had been worn down and the constant cracks in the pavement sent punches up through my shocks and into my body. The effect only got worse the farther into the road I rode. I have my bike suspension set for over 350 pounds and I’ve never had this issue where a road beat me up so bad. The memories and the expectation I had for this road were quickly replaced by the significant lack of fun I was having. I found certain parts of the road were worse than others and that caused me to want to slow. Another issue was as the pavement deteriorated there would be sand and gravel from the asphalt coming apart. Heading into a turn regardless of the bank, I didn’t feel comfortable my tires were gripping the road like I would have liked and I found myself not committing to turns like I’m used to for fear of losing grip. There are a couple of bridges on the way to Tortilla Flat and they were such a welcome break because they were so smooth in comparison.

One of the nice things I will say about this ride is the water. Canyon Lake was full and high and a gorgeous blue. In the last couple miles to my destination you could see the little old west town that was Tortilla Flat. It was nice to park the bike and get off the saddle to recover from the bumpy ride. I marked the way point in the Victory app and thought I took a photo but apparently I mistakenly didn’t log it in with the waypoint.

When I saw an opportunity to head back without being behind a car I took it. I didn’t stay at Tortilla Flat because I had been there before, I wasn’t going to eat anything at the restaurant, and the band wasn’t playing. It was late in the morning and I had a lunch appointment so I headed back. If I was going to come back I would either come in my SUV or I would rent a BMW dual sport and continue on past the point where the pavement ends and the dirt road continues to Roosevelt Lake. I figure that would be the best two wheeler to deal with this road until some time way in the future when they repave.

On the way back I decided to stop at the Goldfield Mining Town. It’s not a real town but I figure at some time it did serve as a mining out post. Now it’s a tourist trap focusing on the old west complete with a mini-train, a restaurant, and no shortage of taxidermy. Again, if I had more time I would spend it here but I never drink and ride. I entered another waypoint in the Victory app and ended the tracking. The photo is pretty much the only redeeming one I pulled from this ride.IMG_2010

By all means, don’t let my negative review of this ride discourage you from trying this same road. I figure my expectation got in the way and had I been more realistic about what I was about to experience I would have approached this with a better attitude and understanding. Like I mentioned, this is “that” ride that everyone does. I’ll look forward to riding this road again in the future when work has been done to emphasize the flat part of Tortilla Flat. IMG_2011IMG_2026

Getting high

IMG_2003It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. There are all kinds of reasons why — holidays, travel, weather, and most recently a personal loss which needs to turn into an opportunity for growth. I’ve ridden my motorcycle in that time for various reasons but not for passionate enjoyment. I would ride to and from work or to run errands. But not his day. On this day I was riding to heal, to get closer to God, and to my true self.

On the anniversary of Arizona statehood, the weather was gorgeous. I have no idea who will be reading this but more than likely, if you’re not in this region, your weather is not anywhere near as great as mine. There are few places in the country that would allow for an 80 degree motorcycle riding day in the middle of February. It’s an invitation when the conditions are this excellent. And I took full advantage of that invitation.

I knew with having Friday off I wouldn’t have much other traffic. The sun came up around 7:30 am and after a quick coffee and breakfast at the Starbucks coffee shop, the temperature reading on my display said 62 degrees. I had my winter gloves on,  a Buff around my neck, and my leather vest underneath my leather jacket. I was very over dressed. I left the intersection of 24th street and Baseline and headed south towards the mountain.

I prefer this route to towards South Mountain because it takes you along the base of the park through neighborhoods and along golf courses. The side streets are only 25 mph but the slower speed makes it easier to take in the scenery to my left. I remember one time taking this same route to South Mountain and seeing a javelina along the side of the road. I had to stop and appreciate the chance to see one of the local beasts up close. On this day, there were no furry distractions which was too bad. There were also no other cars. It was early enough on this weekday that I knew I would have this ride all to myself. As I turn to go South on Central Ave. I pass a few horse stables and go through a pair of security houses before I’m officially in the park.

The Summit road starts with a sign reading, “… curves ahead. 15 mph”. I’m in third gear as I begin the climb on the road that starts out with sweeping lazy curves. Can I just say that I love the smooth well maintained road surface. At the lower speeds on twisty roads this surface compliments the experience ideally.

As I climb I drop into second gear and actively shift back and forth between first, second and third as the twists demand it. Even though I’ve ridden this wonderful road before I still really enjoy the balance and feel of this motorcycle. I can attack curves if I want or just lean in and flow with the bank of the road. The engine easily powers up the mountain with smooth transition between gears. Starting out with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” playing over my speakers is a great touch to the whole experience.

I decided to try out the new Victory app on my iPhone. I’ve logged in and activate the GPS tracking at the beginning of the ride. Then I plug the phone into the bike and take advantage of the music as the bike also charges my phone. I’m really curious to see what I can do with this app and this ride. If I haven’t explained it before, Victory made the option of a phone or MP3 player connection standard on their Vic XCs. I plug in the iPhone in the rear left saddle bag and have a control cluster on the left handle bar in order to manipulate the music and volume. The biggest question I get is, “Can you hear the speakers?” and the answer is yes. I hear them up to about 80 mph with the Arlen Ness windshield I added which takes care of the majority of my rides.

IMG_2005Towards the top of the mountain, you are given a choice to go to various look out points. I chose to head on TV Tower road first. For those of you who might read this who don’t live in Phoenix, the very top of South Mountain is populated with several towers for television, cell phones, Ham radios and pretty much everything else you can think of in regards to broadcasting a signal. At night the towers are defined by bright red lights which you cannot only see vividly from the air but also serve as a kind of light house for the rest of the city. You can pretty much see the towers from any part of mid-town or uptown Phoenix.

By the time I enjoyed all the twisties to the end of the TV Tower road I stopped at a circular parking lot that showcased the towers on the one side and a gorgeous vista of the South East Valley on the other side. As the sun was low in the sky I took a panoramic photo. There were no other cars. I was free to fully enjoy this moment without interruption. After a bit, I took out my phone and marked a waypoint on the Victory app.

Next I headed back down the road and chose the Buena Vista Lookout for my next stop. It was a short trip to the lookout  point and I was behind an older pick up truck. As we arrived at the parking lot the driver got out and carried his newspaper to a bench about 100 feet from the parking lot. I had no idea who that man was but I respect a man who takes the time to drive up a mountain to read a paper overlooking all of Phoenix.

IMG_2007A nice surprise was a helicopter that had decided to land just up from the parking lot I was in. On the side of the chopper it said Fort McDowell Casino. I had noticed it when I was at the parking lot at the Towers because the helicopter was at a lower height than I was. Now having ridden to Buena Vista I was below the helicopter’s landing. I took a few moments to take some photos and then mark another waypoint in the Victory app before I left to go to the last stop, Dobbins Lookout.

Dobbins Lookout is by far the most popular of all the scenic points on South Mountain. There were a lot of other cars here; people who had just finished hiking workouts and tourists with cameras. I have been up here on several previous occasions. For me the TV Towers road was a brand new experience and as such seemed to fit better for today’s ride. I really just wanted time to myself to ride and connect with such a wonderful opportunity to ride today. I didn’t spend much time at this lookout because of my familiarity but I would highly encourage anyone else who rides up here for the first time to wander. At this lookout there is a circular dais with a neat metal legend of sorts which will explain where various other cities are. There is a large stone structure which resembles a house and a lot of different places to watch planes take off and land from Sky Harbor airport. I marked another waypoint and then got back on the VXC to head down the mountain.

Luckily, no traffic on the way down. The twisty turns felt amazing and at the bottom I was able to pull off and conclude my ride on the Victory app and grab a drink of water. As you can see from the screen shots I took, the app was pretty cool way to document the trip. I’m not sure if it goes to a general “cloud” where others can take a look at my ride but I have it saved and there is a share option for when I want to show someone else about this amazing ride.

I cannot recommend this ride highly enough. It is a short ride that will only take an hour or two but the twisty road is conveniently accessible and offers gorgeous looks. But I know this road gets crowded so if you come on a weekend be prepared to be behind a car which will take away from really enjoying the turns. Once a month, the park offers a “Silent Sunday” which prohibits any motorized vehicles on the mountain. And once a month, the San Juan road is open to motorized vehicles. I’ve written about San Juan in a previous post.

The great thing about starting early this particular morning is that I have time to head East for another ride to fill my morning. Next up: Tortilla Flat. IMG_2008IMG_2009