As I hurtle toward my 60th birthday in a couple weeks, I’ve become more conscious of my bucket list, at least in terms of filling it up. No, this is not some sappy sentimental “good bye” or “woe-is-me” message. It is a reminiscence of an event that has been tossed in the bucket, and I thought I’d share some of it.
I love the mountains and the desert. Don’t know why, but to me, the sight of a mountain or a desert is like a moth to fire, white to rice, or…well, you get the picture. My wife’s sarcastic psychological commentary aside, the sight of mountains captivates me. So, I’ve always wanted to ride a motorcycle through a mountainous area.
We’ve been in Cave Creek AZ, just north of Phoenix, for a few weeks. It was a spectacularly sunny day Wednesday and I determined it would be a good day to ride. I donned my obligatory best Indian Motorcycle T-shirt, black of course; jeans, boots, and shades. Dressed properly for the event, I made my way to the bike, pulled on my helmet and reached down to the electric start button. It did absolutely nothing. Nadda; zip. That damn bike would not start. It would not even turn over. This is a fairly new model mind you with minimal mileage on it. After some intense cussing and investigating, (the cussing was intense, not the investigating) it was determined that someone, during the last ride, had left the speakers on, which drained the battery.
I put the trickle charger on and waited. Three hours later, at just about dusk, the bike had enough charge to show it was at least still alive! Well, that riding window had closed on me, so I called it a day and drank bourbon instead. Nothing comes easy when working on a bucket list item, you know?
Thursday was another spectacular sunny day. Before donning the requisite biker outfit, this time I went out to make sure the big Indian Chief would start. And by golly, she started right up for me, growling like a tiger. I went back in the house and put on my other best black Indian T-shirt and was off.
I made my way around Black Mountain to ride through the tiny towns of Cave Creek and Carefree, both located on the north side base of Black Mountain. There are four biker bars in Cave Creek, so any self-respecting biker worth his salt would have to roll and growl through town just to make an appearance. I was so busy looking at the people to see if they were looking at my bike, that I managed to blow through the one four way stop in town. Thankfully, there was no one looking.
Not one to drink while riding a bike, I refrained stopping for a brew and drove out, heading east on Cave Creek Road into the area known as the Tonto National Forest. My trip took me mostly around what I later learned was Continental Mountain in Skull Mesa, although I was in a triangle formed by the Continental, Black, and Humboldt mountains. I could usually view any one of the three mountains if I was not in a valley area.
At first the trip was through a more or less developed, or perhaps developing, area known as the Desert Mountain, which was considered more for the wealthy and elite. Beautiful green golf courses were cut out of the sides of the hills and mountains, their fairways undulating at a hectic pace. As green as the fairways were, the “rough” was a dull brown, as if forming a border between the fairways and the desert. One would do well not to chase his brand-new Titleist Pro-V1 into the desert, a tip I learned just the week before. Sand traps were more than plentiful and it made me reflect of the lifetime I’ve spent in sand trap hell.
Once the civilization stopped, the real beauty began. Mountains! And they were cactus covered. Actually “infested” might be a better word – they were infested with cacti of every stripe. As busy as I was viewing the nature, I had to keep an eye on the road too, as the thoroughfare was prone to go an unexpected way on an unwary rider. At times when topping a hill, you had no idea which way the road was going to go. Options included left, right, straight and down. Straight and level were never an option. One only found out when they got to the top. This would be a good time to point out that all my previous riding was on flat land, so I was invariably in the wrong gear at any given time of this trip. Also, I learned, gravity has a huge effect on a 900-lb. bike being held up by two very arthritic knees on uneven land. There was no shortage of uneven land either.
Once a hill was topped it was to be followed at some point by a nasty downhill ride that would make a sharp turn at the end. A couple of times I swore I recognized my own rear end as the turns were so sharp. Fortunately, I was mostly by myself, and nobody saw me struggle through the ups and downs and sharp curves. This is where I got to view, up too close, the valleys, washes, arroyo’s and ditches. It is also where you would see critters – mostly roadrunners, coyotes and javelina’s. If you are not aware of what a javelina is, imagine a hairy pig, only uglier…and with a nasty disposition.
I stopped for a rest at the Sears-Kay Hohokam Ruins rest area, up a gravel road on the side of a small mountain. Stretched my legs, took a few pictures and read the history, I did. In case you are interested, the Hohokam Indians built a fort there in 1050 for about 100 people. I read where one would have to hike there through one-half mile of steep terrain and to watch out for rattle snakes. Discretion being the better part of valor, I determined that was a trip I did not need to make as it was not on my bucket list. I got back on my bike and rode back down towards Carefree, a little more quickly this time.
Once in Carefree, I decided to go straight north to see what was there. More houses, hills, and cacti…everywhere. The town is listed at 8.9 square miles – if so, 8.8 lies north of the main road nestled on top of steep hills or down in valleys. Yes, I got lost. But not technically, cause I could always see Black Mountain and I knew it was south of me. I just had to find the right combinations of roads, hills, and valleys to find the damn street. Passing the same lady for the third time I asked her how to get out, and two right turns at a stop sign and I was back out to the main road, driving by the biker bars and looking cool to all the world. Can’t wait to go back!