Monday, 2 December 2013

And now for something completely different

The beast at Sedona Airport
I've always hated the term "bucket list," but if I had one, then touring around some classic Arizona highways on a massive Harley would be on it.

Happily I was able to take advantage of the enforced four-day Thanksgiving holiday to do just that, and even more happily a very generous friend actually lent me his massive BMW 1200 KT while he visited home, so I didn't even have to shell out for the hire.

OK it's not a Harley, it's about 40 years too modern for that. But the beemer is a true "full dresser" touring bike. It is huge. It is very heavy. It is brimming with gadgets.

It features cruise control, a stereo with CD changer, heated seats, heated grips, ABS, electric adjustable screen, a gear indicator, a fuel computer, shaft drive, a gigantic squishy seat, paralever suspension, tons of storage and — I kid you not — reverse gear and a make-up mirror.

I have to confess from this list of apparently superfluous gadgets, the only ones I did not find useful were the cruise control (I didn't go on any long straight roads) and the stereo (virtually inaudible at highway speeds). Oh, and the make-up mirror.

Route 1: Red Rocks of Sedona

Route 1: Sedona View Larger Map

The first trip was to the beautiful red rocks of Sedona, via route 87 and Payson. Although mostly a two-lane highway, this route snakes its way north and upwards between dramatic rock buttes and steep passes.

It is a bit unnerving being overtaken by giant RVs towing giant trucks at 90 mph in this kind of scenery, but the roads are so good they somehow get away with it.

After Payson I turned onto the smaller route 260 which weaves west and stays high, following the Mogollon Rim through evocatively named pioneer towns like Strawberry and Camp Verde.

The route is lined with natural and Indian sight-seeing attractions including Tonto natural bridge (pictured), Montezuma's Castle and the hilariously-named Wet Beaver Wilderness Area (not far from Dry Beaver Creek).

I had the road more or less to myself. The beemer is no sports bike and doesn't like to be chucked around,  but it will settle into a nice easy rhythm on the curves. There's loads of low down torque and engine braking so hardly any need to trouble the brakes or gear box to make steady, relaxed progress.

I didn't bank on it being quite so cold up in the hills (look! snow!), and I was very grateful for the heated seat and adjustable screen.

It can be raised up to cocoon you in a bubble of still, quiet air. The only problem being you then have to look through the screen, which is impossible when riding up-sun.

I just made it to Sedona Airport's amazing restaurant in time for my decadent five-course Thanksgiving lunch. If you are ever in the area, be sure to visit this excellent 'up-scale' restaurant.

I had hoped to come back via the amazing route 89 through quirky Jerome and hicky Wickenburg, but time and daylight were getting short and I had to settle for the same route home - not much of a hardship!

Route 2: Show Low and the Salt River Canyon

Route 2: Show Low View Larger Map

I managed an earlier start for the second route, and was rewarded by a face full of low sun and a screen covered in dew for the first stretch to Globe. But it was well worth it, as the route climbed and climbed through scenery full of pillow-shaped rocks, towers and cactii reminiscent of a Western movie.

I passed through strange half-dead mining towns Miami and Top of the World full of decaying Americana and a photographer's dream.

But the real treat was the Salt River Canyon at Seneca (funny that). A mini-Grand Canyon with huge spires and the river pounding away far below. The road winds all the way down, across an ancient bridge and back up the other side. The problem is where to look; at the hairpin bends or the scenery?

Just short of Show Low I reached cloud base and began to freeze. At 6300 feet, it had a true alpine feel, snow everywhere, pine trees and even small ski lodges. I stopped in an old-world diner for breakfast and to rewarm.

Thankfully the fog did not last too long, and halfway to Payson a weak sun returned. I was back on the 260 with its fast flowing curves and great views. The traffic thinned out and sped up and I was able to get into that only half-conscious flow, alert but distant, merging with the bike and the road. Sounds nuts I know, but you bikers out there know exactly what I mean.

A final stop at the pretty Saguaro Lake marina for lunch left just the familiar and fun Usury Pass back home to Phoenix with plenty of day left to spare.

So a big thank-you to my generous friend for the bike, and for all my other generous friends who chipped in to my Movember fund-raiser. £150 raised for the cause.

This coming week is a big one for my training; I have the last three lessons on the twin followed by the all-important commercial pilot licence test, as soon as Thursday if all goes to plan.


  1. Glad you had a good Thanks giving weekend- getting you ready for uk weather. Good luck this week with your final leg in Phoenix- and punctual return to the UK.

  2. Now I'm jealous! All the very best of luck with your test.


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