Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gravel roads on the BMW

Our BMW R1200GS is designed for on or off-road riding, and yesterday we decided to head off-road. We'd heard about a route using county roads, partly gravel/sand/dirt; that ends up in Williams, about 65 miles northeast of Prescott. It was sunny and warm for November, a perfect day to explore.

We rode north on paved highway 89 out of Prescott, and turned east onto Yavapai County road 71 at the Drake Cement plant in Paulden. Chino Valley and Paulden are ranch country, with wide open fields on both sides of the highway.

Just past the Drake Cement plant, county Road 71 turned into gravel, so we slowed our pace as Mike navigated the bumpy road. It's easy to imagine what people in wagon trains saw when they headed West in the 1800's, because the landscape hasn't changed. This is open range country, meaning cattle wander freely without fences.

We passed one ranch with large solar panels outside the house, necessary in this area where there aren't any power lines. Otherwise, we had the road to ourselves as we traveled through grassy ranchland with far-off views of the mountains. At times the road was soft gravel, at other times red sand. We crossed washes that flood in the summer monsoon rains, and as the road climbed into higher elevations, the grasslands gave way to chaparral.

We felt like we left the wilderness behind us as we turned north onto paved Country Road 73. Even though we were about 20 miles south of Williams, we saw only a couple of pick-up trucks as we now sped through the pine trees in the Kaibab National Forest.

We pulled over at Vista Point, looking out over the forest, before we continued on to Williams.

Williams is a weatherbeaten small town that beckons tourists interested in the old Route 66 or taking the train into the Grand Canyon. At 6,766' elevation it's cooler than Prescott, but today the bright sunshine and unseasonably warm late November weather meant we could sit outside and enjoy lunch at Cruiser's Route 66 Cafe.

We took the fast route home, heading west on Interstate 40 then south on Arizona 89. As we passed by the Drake Cement plant I looked off to the east, thinking about how different it is to ride slowly on gravel roads where instead of paying attention to traffic we could gaze out over the countryside and let our thoughts wander.

Sunshine: a perfect reason for a local BMW motorcycle ride

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm November day - and perfect for a short ride to Bagdad, Arizona, a copper mining town about 60 miles west of our home in Prescott. It's a twisty, fun road on little-traveled 2-lane paved county roads that remind us why we love riding the BMW. We took Iron Springs road west out of Prescott, and along the way passed a train and several people on bicycles. We actually saw more bicycles today than we did cars.

Saguaro cactus don't grow in Prescott because it gets too cold here, but just west of us, on the one paved road into Bagdad, we start to see saguaro covering the rocky hills as the climate warms up.

We joined several other motorcycle riders in The Diner in Bagdad for a late lunch, and chatted with a couple of guys riding dirt bikes as we got ready to leave. One day we hope to travel the old dirt roads from Prescott to Bagdad, but today we decided to retrace our route and head back home.

While we love exploring the country on the BMW, it's fun to ride familiar roads and enjoy our local sunny skies.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

50,000 miles on our BMW R1200GS

Today we rode our 50,000th mile on our BMW R1200GS.

We started from home with the odometer at 49,972 and decided to mark the occasion of hitting 50,000 miles by riding out on Williamson Valley Road. The north/south road is paved and busy with local traffic near Prescott, but as we rode north the houses thinned out with views of Granite Mountain to the west. This used to be ranch country, and today many of the ranches have been developed into subdivisions with names like Inscription Canyon, American Ranch, and Talking Stick. My favorite, however, is Hootenanny Holler, which sounds like it belongs in the mountains of Appalachia instead of the Arizona high desert.

The subdivisions end and Williamson Valley Road turns to dirt, continuing to wind north 45 miles toward Seligman. Williamson Valley is named after Lt. Robert Stockton Williamson who was a government surveyor in this area in the 1850's. This is truly ranch country, with no houses or structures except for long lines of fences and a lone windmill as far as we could see in every direction.

About 4 miles down the surprisingly well-maintained dirt road we stopped to celebrate our 50,000th mile. We purchased the BMW in July 2012 in Albany, New York when we were living in Vermont. We rode to Kentucky in 2013 and 1 month later across the country to Arizona when we moved here. In the past 4 years we've ridden through every western state, many of them more than once. We rode through a hailstorm in southern Arizona, across snowy mountain passes in Colorado, along the Pacific Coast Highway, across the Mississippi River, through more midwestern cornfields than we'd like to remember, during hard rain downpours, on days so hot I felt like I was melting inside my motorcycle gear and on other days so cold I couldn't feel my hands even inside my heated gloves.

Mike's thinking about a new motorcycle in the near future, and until then we'll continue to put more miles on the R1200GS, looking for the next curving road with no cars in front of us and the beautiful countryside all around.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

BMW motorcycle ride for lunch - and more

What to do on a sunny Sunday morning in October when we don't have anything on our schedule? A motorcycle ride to Cottonwood for lunch!

We ride the winding, twisting hairpin turns on 89A into Jerome several times each year because the narrow 2-lane road through the Black Hills mountain range in the Prescott National Forest is a gorgeous route made for motorcycles. Tall pine trees cover the hills, stone walls tower over the side of the highway, and off in the distance we can see the high cliffs of the Mogollon Plateau.

89A winds into Jerome, an old copper mining town precariously perched on the side of a mountain. On the way into Jerome we followed two slow-moving cars so we had to content ourselves with poking along while we watched the scenery. On the way home, however, Mike took advantage of the clear road in front of us to zoom through the hairpin turns.


Cottonwood lies in the Verde Valley along the Verde River, one of the largest perennial streams (meaning that it has water all year; many streams and rivers in Arizona and the Southwest are dry except during the rainy season) in Arizona. Our favorite lunch spot is Bocce where we like to sit outside while we enjoy the Sunday lunch special of 1/2 pizza and house salad. Today we watched numerous Corvettes of various vintages drive up and down the main street, part of the local Verde Valley Vettes poker run.

Because it was such a beautiful day, we took the long way home on the old Black Canyon Highway. Originally built in the 1870's, it was the main stagecoach route from Phoenix to Prescott. Today part of it is incorporated into I-17, and there is about an 8-mile section that runs from the Prescott Country Club subdivision in Dewey-Humboldt to the La Quinta Inn in Prescott. Parts of the road are still dirt, but probably not as bumpy as during the stagecoach days. The BMW is built for off-road riding and it's always fun to get off the pavement and ride on dirt.

Arizona-blue skies, mountains off in the distance, hairpin turns, dirt 'highway' - today's ride reminded us of why we love living in Arizona.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Local, familiar rides

We spent 5 days riding a BMW in Ireland last month, and while we thoroughly enjoy riding and exploring new places, this weekend we decided to ride a familiar loop near home. The summer monsoons have ended, and while a few puffy white clouds gathered over the Mogollon Rim, we had clear weather for the afternoon. The end of summer monsoons also means cooler temperatures, so instead of wearing my vented light-gray motorcycle pants and a cooling neck wrap, I opted for standard black motorcycle pants and both warm layers to my motorcycle jacket.

We rode a favorite loop:  north on I-17 for a few short miles to the General Crook Trail exit, where we hooked up with Arizona 260 heading west. General George Crook fought for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after that war, like so many career soldiers, was stationed in the southwest. In 1871 he established a supply route that connected forts Verde (Camp Verde today, where we exited the interstate), Apache, and Whipple (now home to the VA Hospital in our town of Prescott).

When we exit I-17 and turn onto 260 West we're treated to views of the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment of limestone and sandstone that rises 4,000 feet over the landscape to the south. Route 260 winds and climbs onto the Rim, with the temperature dropping 20 degrees as we gained elevation. We sometimes see bighorn sheep on the hills alongside the road, but today our primary company were several groups of motorcycles heading to an event in nearby Cottonwood.

We turned northwest onto 87 for a short distance, and then headed more directly north onto Lake Mary Road. We passed several trucks carrying quads used in hunting, and even saw a couple of elk in the back of pick-up trucks. Mostly we rode through forests with open meadows carpeted with green grass from the summer rains.

One of the grassy meadows is technically Mormon Lake, but the only water today was a large puddle perhaps the size of our house's footprint surrounded by boggy grass. Mormon Lake is the largest natural lake in Arizona, which says a lot about the water supply in our high-desert home.

Lake Mary, on the other hand, always has enough water for fishing and boating. That's because it's a reservoir, actually two reservoirs, built in the early 1900's for drinking water to supply Flagstaff.

We didn't realize that there is a significant paving project on Lake Mary Road, and passed the time while we were stopped on the now one-lane road talking with another motorcycle rider. We swapped stories about the amount of time we've spent stopped for construction, riding in the rain and hail, and favorite local roads.

Lake Mary road eventually became a busy road when we reached Flagstaff, where we stopped at Tourist Home Urban Market for a fantastic lunch which included wild blueberry pie and a large loaf of pizza bread that we brought home.

The best part of the trip over, we chose the fast way home, riding south on I-17. At least the scenery is some of Arizona's finest - the red rock formations of Sedona framed by the white sandstone and limestone cliffs that I-17 climbs and winds through.

We've ridden this way several times, and each time I'm awed by the wide-open views, hawks lazily circling on the updrafts in the sunny blue sky, and the winding highway that leads us through scrubby high desert into the ponderosa-covered mountains. Every day we're on the BMW is a day to be treasured, even a familiar ride close to home.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Hiking the Dingle Way in Ireland

The primary reason for our 2-week trip to Ireland was to ride motorcycles with Celtic Rider to discover the winding back roads of the countryside. After 5 days sitting pillion on a BMW, I was ready for a different means of transportation - walking. We thoroughly enjoyed a 4-day walking trip with Wonderful Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland.

Our walking trip was just what we love - miles of gorgeous paths through stunning countryside carrying only a daypack; accommodations pre-arranged in small inns or B&B's complete with the Irish breakfast we've come to depend on to jumpstart our day; bag lunches packed by the inn owners; and the day stretching out in front of us. We chose to walk part of the Dingle Way, one of over 30 long-distance walking paths in Ireland.

Day 1: travel from Dublin to Dingle

We took the efficient Irish Rail, or Iarnrod Eireann from Dublin to Tralee and were picked up by taxi for a 1-hour drive over Conor Pass, at 1496' the highest paved mountain pass in Ireland, to Dingle and Emlagh House, our first inn.

We walked around Dingle, a small, lively tourist town on the Atlantic Ocean in the afternoon and enjoyed a seafood dinner to complete our first day.

Day 2:  Dingle to Dunquin, about 15 miles

We knew starting off today would be a long day, so we started off early, walking through the empty streets of Dingle that the day before had been crowded with tourists. Our route today took us on 2-lane main roads, smaller paved minor roads lined with brilliantly colored flowers and bushes, even narrower boreens (grassy paths that are often boggy and muddy, especially when also used by local cattle), and sometimes on single-track through hedgerows so tall I couldn't see over them.

This is a mountainous, rocky peninsula with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the many harbors and bays that dot the jagged coast that made it difficult to choose between watching my footing so I didn't slip in the mud and cow dung, or exclaiming over the ancient stone walls that cover some of the hills, the ever-present sheep, and the views.

A highlight was a 1.5 mile walk along the sandy Ventry Harbor where we watched a few people swimming in the Atlantic while we sat on a rock with our bare feet in the water.

Our route took us on steep climbs over ridges on the shoulder of Mount Eagle where there are seemingly hundreds of clochans, or beehive stone huts, scattered around the brilliantly green fields defined by ancient stone walls, some as tall as I am. We watched the tour busses navigate the narrow 2-lane highway that hugged the coast and were very glad that we were walking high above the road.

We arrived at the B&B in Dunquin after 8 hours of walking, tired and muddy yet excited about everything we experienced. Our host prepared dinner for us since there are no restaurants in Dunquin, and the only pub, operated by an elderly woman, is open only at her whim.

Day 3: Dunquin to Ballydavid, about 12 miles

The wind was so loud during the night that we could hear it thundering against the B&B, and we watched rain coming down hard sideways while we ate breakfast. Luckily, we encountered very little true rain, and mostly sea mist that swirled around us as we set off down a very boggy, muddy and wet path through flowering hedgerows before we joined a narrow paved road.

Our route today took us along a 3-mile stretch of hard-packed sand at Smerwick Harbor, where we could clearly see Ballydavid, our destination for the evening, on the far side of the bay. Even though it was very windy with dark, cloudy skies and rain threatening at any moment, we watched several people happily wade into the ocean and splash around in shoulder-deep water.

Our route today was much flatter so we finished walking earlier than we expected, which of course meant we had time to enjoy local cider at Tigh TP, one of two pubs in this small town that hugs the coast. The building that housed our lovely B&B is also home to the local post office, and at breakfast the next morning we watched the horse next door and the ocean out the front the window.

Day 4:  Ballydavid to An Bothar guesthouse, about 6 miles

Our last day walking is a shorter day so that we can catch the 3pm train back to Dublin. We walked along a grassy path high above the cliffs that border Smerwick Harbor, watching the waves crash against the rocks far below us.

The mud wasn't finished with us, and in fact seemed to be deeper than ever as we slipped and sloshed our way through fields, climbed stiles from one field to the next, and waded through armpit high grass.

The entire 4-day walking trip we rarely saw other people on the path, and waved to local people walking, riding bikes, or running along the paved roads. Today we watched a farmer feed his sheep, guarded by the watchful sheepdog who seemed to dare them to try and get out the open fence gate.

We made it to An Bothar guesthouse with a couple of hours to spare, so Mike and I continued walking down the paved road to the creek where St. Brendan the Navigator supposedly set off on a trans-Atlantic voyage around AD 512-530 with 14 pilgrims to discover the Garden of Eden, which ended up probably being Canada.

We walked into a stiff headwind back to the guesthouse where we enjoyed yet another bowl of Irish vegetable soup and brown bread for lunch before the taxi picked us up for the ride back to the train station in Tralee.

This was our final full day in Ireland, taking us from a quiet narrow path along the coast to loud and boisterous Dublin. We fit quite a lot into our two weeks here and are already planning a return trip in a few years to explore northeastern Ireland and possibly Scotland. There are miles of road in front of us, just waiting to be explored.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finding the craic in Dublin

We're back in Dublin for 2 days before we start part 2 of our Ireland adventure - hiking! While we love riding a motorcycle, it's fun to include something more active as part of our vacation.

Saturday we spent 2 incredible hours at EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum.  It's only been open about 18 months, and features 20 interactive galleries that explain why millions of Irish emigrated over the years, and how the Irish emigrants influenced other countries, including our own. Mike, Wayne and Colleen have Irish ancestors, and watching the stories of people who decided to leave Ireland due to famine, economics, or lack of opportunities was both heart-wrenching and inspiring as we learned how they created incredible lives for themselves out of often horrible circumstances.

Outside the museum is a group of bronze statues depicting people during the potato famine in 1845-1850 when 1 million Irish died from hunger or disease, and another 1 million emigrated. In 1840 there were about 8 million people in Ireland, and by 1871 after the famine and emigration there were only 4 million residents. The population has been under 8 million since 1840, with current population at about 6.6 million.

Sunday was a busy day with the Rock n Roll half-marathon for me and the 10K for Mike, Wayne and Colleen - the first race ever for Wayne and Colleen! We ran through the streets of Dublin with a band playing about every mile, finishing in Phoenix Park which at 1762 acres is the largest park within any European city. It was established in 1662 as a royal deer park, and there are still deer living within the park. The Irish president and US ambassador to Ireland live within the park, and the park also contains statues, monuments, and the Dublin Zoo.

On our way back to the hotel after the race, we stopped for lunch at the Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub. It was established in 1198 and is a delightful warren of low-ceilinged, dark rooms with advertising memorabilia from centuries of beer, whiskey and other types of alcohol on the walls.

In the afternoon we took a tour of Kilmainham Gaol, built in 1796 as the Dublin County Gaol and operating until 1924. It depicts the history of the Irish struggles for independence from Great Britain, especially during the 1916 uprising where 16 of the leaders of the rebellion were executed within Kilmainham Gaol. The uprising and executions eventually led to Ireland declaring independence and the treaty in 1921 that established the Irish free state and Northern Ireland.

We immediately recognized the interior of the Gaol which was used in the original Italian Job movie, and could imagine Mr. Bridger walking down the stairs to the cheers of the inmates. 

We ended Sunday and the weekend with the fantastic Celtic Nights traditional Irish music and dance show at our hotel, where we learned 'lilting' as we attempted to sing along with the musicians and finally figured out that 'craic' (pronounced 'crack') is the Irish term for fun, gossip, and entertainment.

Tomorrow is an early start on the train to southwestern Ireland where we'll hike for 4 days on the Dingle peninsula. We thoroughly enjoy the frenetic pace of Dublin, and are looking forward to some quiet time hiking.