Stand Out Gear: Choice gear for moto travel

my gear setup for moto travel

Choice Gear for Motorcycle Travel

Sena Bluetooth Headset

Sena Bluetooth Headset

For the first 6 months or so of riding I liked the “quiet” of being in my helmet without distraction. I approached it sort of like hiking, I don’t like to distract from the sounds of everything around me. Once I started getting longer rides in my thoughts on it started to change and I started looking at headsets. Most of my riding is solo but I also knew that I’d be riding, eventually, with more people. So I started asking around about headsets and communication while riding. There are a few options out there but SENA clearly dominates the market and after getting, and using, the Sena SMH10R I can see why.

The SMH10R is super compact and low profile on the helmet, which I really like. It has very decent battery life, good connectivity via bluetooth and pairs easily with other headsets. During our 2 week ride through Baja, J and I both used our headsets continuously allowing for maximum communication as we traveled. We found it significantly useful in cities dodging traffic or looking for hotels and food as well as hugely beneficial tackling off-road conditions. During the long stretches we played with the Sena’s music sharing capabilities.

On our ride through the varying terrain of Baja we were able to fully test the range and obstacle limitations of the Sena setup. It truly works well in line-of-sight conditions up to about a quarter mile. After that it gets fuzzy. Without line of sight though, the intercom is fairly weak making it a little difficult to communicate in tight curves or rolling hills. In those areas we just learned to stick closer together. All in all, the Sena turned out to be one of the most useful and important pieces of equipment we had on the trip.

Rev’It Riding Gear

I am really a new rider. I rode motorcycles and scooters a decade ago or so, but never really got proper gear back then. This time around I was much more serious about getting outfitted properly but I took my time with it. Initially, I bought what I considered to be the bare minimum: a jacket and a helmet. I later got a pair of riding pants, but it was all fairly haphazard and ill fitting. I ride in Arizona mostly and deal with warm weather more than cold, so when I did start researching and looking for some real riding gear I wanted something designed with good protection and fit, but also good venting. I spent a lot of time shopping around and comparing gear features, prices, sizing, etc.

I picked up the Rev’It Cayenne Pro Jacket first in the hopes that it would fit my needs. I like the styling of the jacket and, being desert adventure designed, it definitely seemed suited to my type of riding. The jacket runs pretty small, so I ordered up a size from what I would normally wear and that worked well. I like the fit of the jacket and it has enough adjustability to dial in the fit really well. The protection the Cayenne Pro series offers is really nice, using their SEEFLEX level 2 CE protection at shoulders and elbows. The chest is fully vented with Schoeller-dynatec mesh panels for maximum breathability.

I liked the jacket enough after putting about 2000 miles on it that I ordered the matching Cayenne Pro pants for my ride through Baja. They didn’t show up until after I had left so I had my wife bring them down so I could swap them out in Cabo halfway through the trip. I was a little worried they be too tight with the European styling and sizing of this brand, but they actually fit really well and I fell in love with them right away. The same mesh panels are on the thighs for venting in warm weather and the knee protection is almost 3/4 shin length SEEFLEX that cups the knee very comfortably at the top. Between the knee armor and the boots, my entire lower leg is well protected. The pants have pockets in all the right spots and nice adjustment at the boot so it can fit snugly.

This was a gamble for me, but it turned out to be a great choice and I really felt comfortable riding in the jacket and pants for hours on end, every day.

Forma Boulder Boots

11085202_1455272664764511_757717436_nI love these boots! I was really worried about getting a boot with good protection that wouldn’t kill my feet. Also really wanted a boot that didn’t look like some robo-cop, track-racing, tech-rider. I wanted something that, when the pants are brought down around the boot, looked like normal-ish footwear. The Forma Boulder dual-sport boots are perfect! They felt comfortable pretty much from the first use and broke in even better, they offer great protection and have a no-nonsense styling with a simple full-grain leather finish that weathers beautifully.

I’ve had these boots on in the rain, snow, sand, mud, dust and everything in between and they have kept me dry, warm and safe the entire time. And they’re comfortable enough for regular walking around in. For $250 they are well worth the investment.

Hydroflask

You all know already what a big fan of the Hydroflask I am. It’s no wonder this product is also on my list. Staying hydrated is incredibly important, especially riding in the desert. It’s also really easy to forget to stop and drink often enough on the motorcycle. When I started riding I immediately started looking for a way to strap my Hydroflask to the bike where it would be accessible and out of the way. I found a small cottage company called Blue Ridge Overland Gear that makes an insulated pouch with molle straps for the 40 oz Hydroflask. This allowed me to easily find a place to strap the Hydroflask to the bike and offered quick access whenever I needed it. This was a great addition to the bike setup.

Triple Aught Design Huntsman Henley

A couple months ago the awesome folks at Triple Aught Design reached out to me and offered to shoot me some premium gear. I’ll talk about the infamous Shagmaster and the top-notch Lightspeed Backpack later. For the 2 weeks in Baja I took along the TADgear Huntsman Henley as my main base layer top under all my riding gear. This would be a huge test of the durability and functionality of the MAPP (Merino Advanced Performance Program) fabric they use. When I first got the shirt, it had a little of the typical wool scratchiness, but that quickly went away after the first wash. On the trip, this wool base layer was assaulted daily with hours of sweat, dust, dirt, chaffing and rubbing under riding gear that would send most under garments whimpering in defeat. The Huntsman Henley not only survived the 2 week torture test, but allowed me to survive it as well. It kept my temp regulated in warm and cold weather, didn’t turn south when soaked with sweat, and never really picked up that typical something-died-in-the-men’s-locker-room aroma most base layers get.

The TADgear Huntsman Henley is pricey at $100, but if you need something that can take a beating for days or weeks on end then it’s well worth the investment. It was good enough at it’s job, that I bought a second one.

Green Chile Adventure Gear

Green Chili Gear

Green Chili Gear

I took the hard luggage on this trip into Mexico partially for security reasons and partially for storage. Turns out, I really didn’t need all that much storage (except after visiting the tortilleria in San Ignacio). My usual set up, even with the hard luggage, is to have my daily cloths and toiletries in an easy to grab water-proof bag strapped on top of the seat. I started doing this for smaller rides where I just need the one bag and part of what has made this so convenient and versatile is the Uprising Soft Rack Luggage System from Green Chile Adventure Gear. When I was getting the bike outfitted I reached out to the guys at GCAG and asked if they could whip together a one of their Uprising Kits for me in a custom color. They could, and they did, and it’s awesome.

Give them a look and check out the system. It’s the single most versatile luggage strap system out there and it’s incredibly robust, using the same webbing and cam-straps that outfitters use for whitewater rafting trips. You can, quite literally, strap anything to your bike and make it secure. My rack stays on my bike all the time and has proven useful over and over again.

Gear that I was not happy with…

Scrubba Wash Bag

Sadly, there was one piece of gear that I had high hopes for but was sorely disappointed in. The Scrubba Wash Bag claims to be a travel-friendly way to do your laundry on the road. It is supposed to allow you to keep up with your laundry pretty much anywhere as long as you have a little soap and water. Ideal for a trip like this, right?

In theory, yes. But in reality, the quality just didn’t pan out. The dry bag itself, which is supposed to serve as your washing machine, had construction problems and did not hold water. This was a manufacturers defect due to it just being a poor quality bag. Then the valve, which is supposed to allow you to release air so that you can scrub your clothes in the soapy water, popped off the dry bag the first time I tried to use it leaving me with a gaping hole in the side of the bag. I tried to muscle through it and see if I could at least make the scrubbing surface work. So I took the bag into the shower (where the mess wouldn’t matter) and tried to use the bag’s scrubbing mechanism but the rubber backing meant to give you traction on a surface while you scrub didn’t really give me any traction and the bag just slid around on the floor.

In the end, I found it much more efficient to just wash my dirty socks in the hotel sink instead. The bag still functioned as a bag and I was able to use it to store my dirty laundry on the return trip…otherwise though, it was a bust.

 

Turning 40: As good as it gets…

I don’t normally like to make a big deal out of celebrating my birthday. I have even less concern for the number attached to it.

But turning 40 is kind of a big one.

Within a few months of my 39th birthday I began thinking about my 40th. Not with resistance or trepidation, I have no fight with growing older. I welcome it. But I wanted my 40th to be something well beyond ordinary.

On my wife’s 40th birthday I asked her what she wanted to do, where she wanted to spend her 40th. “We can do whatever you want”, I told her. After some thought and discussion, she decided she wanted to gather a few close friends and head to one of her favorite places…Lake Tahoe. She has fond memories of Tahoe and fell in love with the area when she lived in Reno. We started our relationship up there, we got engaged up there, we got married up there. It was no surprise that she picked a place so close to her heart to spend her 40th birthday. So we rented a house not far from the lake in South Lake Tahoe and invited people to join us. We drove up with our dog, Wiley, and met her best friend Cortney for a great week of hiking, sunning, eating, drinking, paddleboarding and kayaking at the lake.

Wiley Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Beer… #cattledogadventures #MerelynTurns40

A photo posted by Dave Creech (@wildernessdave) on

Not many of our friends made it up to Tahoe, but it was still a great birthday. It suited my wife perfectly and made her very happy.

I wanted the same thing, a birthday custom fit to me that would suite my desire for adventure and excitement…and make me happy. Once I figured out what that would be I’d open the invitations and hope to get to share it with a few close friends that would appreciate it as well. I just had to figure out what I wanted to do.

Somewhere in March I finally got my motorcycle running again and began putting in some miles. As my motorcycle day trips got longer and longer I found myself day dreaming at what kind of big motorcycle trips I would like to do. I’ve talked about riding down from Alaska, I’ve looked at long desert rides in the southwest, I’ve thought about riding up to the Pacific Northwest to visit family. Pouring over ride reports and looking at trips there were a couple of things that kept coming up that caught my attention, and they were in Mexico.

My wife and I both love Mexico. We have fond memories of trips to Mexico with friends and family.

“Why would you want to go to Mexico!? You’ll get killed! Or end up rotting in a Mexican prison! Mexico is dangerous!”, says every person who has never been to Mexico, regurgitating what they hear in the media.

Mexico is amazing!

I began to grow fond of the idea of riding my motorcycle through Mexico. The questionable roads, the amazing people, the culture…the tacos! I also really wanted it to be an adventure, which made me want to visit a part of Mexico I’ve never seen before and knew very little about. As the dream of motorcycle trips into Mexico began to take real shape in my mind I was suddenly very excited about the prospect of what my birthday could be. As it came together in my head it seemed obvious to me who I would talk to about coming along as my riding partner.

It was only just last year that I bought my motorcycle and began riding. It only made sense to go to the guy who basically introduced me to Adventure Motorcycle Travel. So, sometime in late Spring I reached out to my good buddy J Brandon and asked, “What do you think about doing a 2 week motorcycle trip in November on our KLRs through Baja California?”

J took some time to see if he could pull it together on his end and I started inviting a few other folks who I thought might be able to meet us in Cabo. While nearly everyone else found excuses not to go, J came back with a near absolute confirmation. In September we met up in southern California and rode to Horizons Unlimited in Mariposa together. I’ve traveled with J before but we’d never really ridden together and Baja would be two weeks of riding, so it was a good experience to get a feel for how each other rides. It would make for a long two weeks if we found out that we were completely incompatible as travel partners. I’ve known J for a handful of years now, though, and we’ve spent a lot of time talking about travel, adventure and what it takes to do it right. I was fairly certain we were both on the same dusty and tattered page about adventure travel, and probably drinking the same awesome-infused-kool-aid when it comes to the role motorcycles play. A few hundred miles, a bottle of whiskey and some tacos de buche later and we were pretty sure our travel styles were compatible.

After that trip, we were both pretty set on making Baja work.

J and I spent a lot of time talking about routes and stops and mileage, but ultimately we both wanted an open trip where we could figure things out as we rode through the country. A trip without a real plan. Our only real timeline would be arriving in San Jose del Cabo in time to meet up with my wife and family that made the trip out for my birthday. The rest of the ride would be all about trying stuff, figuring it out, taking chances, exploring our options and enjoying the freedom of just riding. I wanted maximum flexibility to shape the trip on the fly.

November was creeping up on me fast and before I knew it, it was time to go. I had spent October getting the bike ready for what would be a 3000 mile road trip. I had to replace the tires I’d worn out riding to Horizons Unlimited, front and rear brakes, chain, sprockets, doohickey and headlight. I also added a new skid plate and a couple other pieces of protection. Then cleaned the air filter and changed the oil. When it came time to leave I felt like I was riding a whole new bike. Amplifying that feeling was knowing that I was essentially going to be living on that motorcycle for the next two weeks.

  Baja bound! #roadtrip #Mexico #discoverbaja #advmoto #motochat #ATQA   A photo posted by Dave Creech (@wildernessdave) on

I set out on the loaded bike in the early morning sunshine the Sunday before my birthday. I would need to be in San Jose del Cabo by Friday afternoon. Once I fueled up and got on the road, I immediately felt a sense of freedom and happiness that would end up lasting the whole trip.

For two weeks J and I rode our motorcycles through Baja smiling broadly behind our full-face helmets and attacking every day like young kids on a grand adventure. And with every genuine mental or verbal exclamation of “Wow! This is amazing!” that I experienced I really did feel like a kid at times. I wasn’t running full speed toward 40, I was turning back the clock as fast as my KLR would take me. We eagerly soaked in so many great experiences like discovering the Pirate Hotel at dusk at the end of a dirt road in Camalu, stopping to help a group of locals get their bus running again in the lonely stretch of road near Catavina, meeting the talented women in San Ignacio making the best tortillas on the planet, watching kids play while stopped for coffee at an immaculate little shop in the mountains near Agua Amarga, pulling over to try local baked goods in Las Palmas, or leaning through the awesome twisty roads above Buena Vista. And don’t get me started on the tacos…

On Saturday, November 14th, I got up early like I do every day and quietly walked out of our hotel room trying not to wake my wife. It was still dark and no one else in the resort was out yet. I walked down to the beach in the winter chill of the early morning breeze and found a spot on the sand near the surf to wait for the sun to come up. I sat there with my bare toes in the cold sand, letting the rhythmic song of the surf wash over me as light gathered out to the east. I sat alone with my thoughts, taking time for a little introspective reflection in the first hours of my 40s. I smiled to myself and squinted at the horizon as the sun broke the surface of the ocean. “This”, I though to myself, “is exactly what I was looking for. This is how you welcome your 40s.”

Just then my wife found me and joined me on the beach, making the moment even sweeter. And so began my 40th year…sitting barefoot in the sand, with my beautiful wife, watching the sunrise on the beach in Cabo, having ridden my motorcycle for a week through Mexico with a good friend to get there.

  Lordy lordy my love is 40! Happy birthday @wildernessdave   A photo posted by @meclark9 on

I am thankful to Merelyn, Clinton and Mom for meeting me in Cabo for my birthday. I am sorry my in-laws had to cancel joining us due to injury. I am extremely thankful to J for playing hookie from his life for two weeks to join my adventure, it wouldn’t have been the same without him. If this is what turning 40 looks like, I promise to turn 40 every year from now on.

Merrick Backcountry | Fuel for Your Adventurous Dogs

We’re not the kind of over-the-top dog owners that (unnecessarily) carry our dogs in strollers or provide a plate for them at the dinner table, but we do love our dogs as family and we treat them well. Part of treating them well is feeding them well and worrying about their diet and nutrition. We’ve struggled with maintaining Wiley at a decent weight, dealt with allergies and digestion issues. But these guys are super important to us so we do our best. When Merrick Pet Care contacted us to be a part of their Ambassador Program associated with the launch of their new Backcountry line of food products, I had to really consider how it would effect our dogs before I agreed.

Cattle Dogs exploring the river

Wiley has some food sensitivities that started causing problems with her skin and coat a few years ago. We moved her through a few products that our vet suggested and eventually landed on feeding her Wellness Simple diet dog food which is really basic and very expensive. But it worked and Wiley’s issues, for the most part, have gone away. She still seems to get seasonal allergy problems which, from part of what I’ve read, could be related to substandard nutrition. We’ve toyed with the idea of introducing a raw component to her existing diet…but just don’t know where to start.

Max also has some challenges. He was a rescue and had come in to the rescue with some injuries suffered after a “fall” from a moving vehicle. He was patched up pretty well, but he still has some issues with his jaw and damaged teeth. We spent a fortune making sure he got to keep his canines and now have to be cautious about what he eats and how much he chews on his toys.

Nutrition is so important for these guys. Not only for their overall health but as fuel for our play time at home and away. A friend said once, “Your dogs get more adventure than most people!” and he’s right. We often take our dogs camping, hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, backpacking or on long road trips with adventure destinations in mind. We try to feed them well to insure they have the fuel to keep going as long as we do.

You can search #CattledogAdventures on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to follow their adventures.

Merrick Backcountry dinner at Mono Lake

Merrick Backcountry Product Trial

Merrick Backcountry product

When Merrick Pet Care contacted us about trying this new line of food and being a part of their #Wild4Backcountry promotion I had some reservations and a lot of questions. With Wiley’s history of food sensitivities and Max’s teeth problems I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a waste of time having them try this new product. I asked about the ingredients, the processing, where the food was made and where the ingredients are sourced. My worry is always about food processed where regulations are loose and sourcing isn’t a concern. I also look for grain-free products after our experiences with Wiley’s reactions to other commercial dog food. Merrick was great about answering all of my questions and I was impressed with their answers.

Backcountry: About the Product

The food industry for a long time has agreed on the benefits of freeze-dried foods. It is a way to create shelf-stable food products without overprocessing or bastardizing the ingredient. The Merrick Backcountry RAW Infused dry kibble has good sized whole pieces of freeze-dried meat. We opted to try the dogs on the Game Bird Recipe kibble which is made with turkey, duck and quail and has freeze-dried whole pieces of chicken. It’s grain-free (no corn, soy or wheat), processed and packaged here in the states, has 38% overall protein, no artificial colors or preservatives and has nothing sourced from China (seriously, why is anyone eating anything from China?).

We also got to try a variety of the wet canned food options available in the Backcountry line. These include some different meats than normally seen in dog food like rabbit and venison. I was especially impressed with the Chicken Thigh Stew recipe that actually includes whole bone-in chicken thighs, cooked to make the bone safely digestible for the dogs so they can get the additional nutrition it provides.

The Backcountry kibble products are available in 4, 12 and 22-pound bags and range from $19.99 to $69.99 per bag which is comparable to what we were paying for the Wellness Simple Diet we had the dogs on before. The 12.7 oz cans retail at a competitive $2.99 per can.

Some of the Benefits:

  • Merrick Backcountry recipes include healthy ingredients that make dogs healthier and happier companions.
  • Quality proteins support growth and development in dogs and lead to increased energy levels.
  • Grain-free ingredients avoid issues like gluten intolerances, chronic skin conditions and stomach distress.
  • Fats and amino acids contribute to a healthier skin and coat.
  • This nutrient dense formula allows for smaller servings and helps to optimize weight management.

Merrick Backcountry on the road

Max and Wiley have never really been casual about feeding time, they love to eat. But their excitement level has definitely gone up a couple of notches since we put them on the Backcountry product. Wiley (our oldest) is much more energetic about meal time and Max is much more focused and attentive. They are pretty crazy about their new food and they both have done well on it.

The transition from their old food to Backcountry was pretty quick, we’ve seen no negative reactions in them and they seem very satisfied. We expected to see Wiley show signs of some reaction within the first few weeks if it was going to happen, but she is doing great.

We’ll continue to watch both dogs for reactions or sensitivities to the food. But so far, we are happy to keep them on the Backcountry food from Merrick and the dogs are pretty happy about it too.

What others have had to say:

“Dogs need high-protein foods to repair muscles, and foods dense in calories – specifically fats. The Great Plains Red Meat recipe has a whopping 38% protein and 17% fat. This is an optimal ratio for hard-working dogs. This particular recipe also includes 1200 mg/kg of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate – two ingredients I’ve found help my older dog from getting too sore after a day in the field.  A thoughtful addition.  These fats and amino acids also contribute to a healthier skin and coat – which I noticed within one week of switching to Merrick Backcountry.” – Lowell Strauss

“My once slow and picky eater (Yuri) is finally finishing dinner every night. Just showing him the food is enough for him to go flying to his food bowl. We even had to swap him to a slow feed bowl because he is that excited.”Jillian Bejtlich

“I scoop a half of a can onto her dry food for breakfast, and she is *literally* besides herself with joy. It even led to a new phrase in our household: All I have to say is, “Tals, do you want some Beef Stew?!” and it’s game over. She will launch up, run downstairs and stand by her food bowl, prancing and leaping in circles. She even throws a few 360s and a shoulder slide in for good measure.”Heather Balogh

“Labs are prone to hip dysplasia and I’m doing what I can to help Sprocket maintain his mobility for as long as possible. Backcountry promises 1200 mg/kg of (Glucosamine & Condroitin) which is a 200% increase over his previous food.” – Beth Lakin (and Sprocket)

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Disclosure: We were provided product and compensation by Merrick Pet Care for this review. But, as always, I wouldn’t endorse, support, or write about anything I don’t love. All opinions are honest, unbiased, and mine (and the dogs’) alone.

Gold Point: Photographing a Ghost Town

Known originally as Lime Point, this area was first settled about 1880. The early camp was abandoned by 1882. In March 1908, a silver strike brought a new camp into existence. Called Hornsilver, it flourished for about a year, boasting about 800 residents, at least 11 saloons, a post office, telephone service and a newspaper. Most of the businesses closed the following year. After a number of small booms and busts, the town was renamed Gold Point in 1932. Two local residents eventually served in the Nevada State Senate, Harry DeVotie and Harry Wiley, whose wife, Ora Mae served as postmistress from 1942 until 1967. The post office closed in 1968, and in 1979 stabilization of the town was started by Herb Robbins.

The town of Gold Point currently claims a population of 27…

Gold Point Ghost Town

Street view of Gold Point main road

Gold Point Ghost Town street sign

desert scene with old outhouse in Gold Point

old rusty antique truck wreckage in Gold Point

Old gas station pump and yucca at Gold Point

Rusty bathhouse at Gold Point Ghost Town

abondoned house in Gold Point Ghost Town

old skull and rusty junk at Gold Point Ghost Town

front of abondoned home in Gold Point Ghost Town

old gallows with noose at Gold Point Ghost Town

The Magic of a Mexico Sunrise

I don’t know what it is about a Mexico sunrise that makes them so unique but they are unlike any other sunrise I’ve ever shot.

On all my trips I make sure I’m up to watch the sun come up at least once while I’m there, my recent trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico was no different. Sometimes it’s a bust and there isn’t much to see, but the experience of watching the world come to life in a new place is still amazing. Occasionally, though, my early morning wake up is rewarded with an incredible show of light and color. That’s what my wife and I were rewarded with on our most recent trip to Mexico.

Puerto Penasco Sunrise

 

We were lucky enough to get to stay in a great little condo rental at the Sonoran Sun, right on the beach with great balconies overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Both mornings I managed to get up in time to see some of the great, soft pastels that seem to be unique to Mexico. The gradual transformation from star lit dark, to soft light with deep blues, to a dome of changing colors spotted by puffs of softly colored clouds makes for quite a show over a hot cup of coffee. It’s especially fun in these coastal fishing towns where the quiet surface of the water is dotted with boats of all shapes and sizes collecting the morning’s bounty for the fish market.

Puerto Penasco Mexico Sunrise

 

Puerto Penasco Mexico Sunrise-1

 

We used to go to Puerto Penasco all the time, at least a couple times a year, but it has been a long while since I’ve been down there. It has changed quite a bit, but there are still aspects of it that are familiar and remind me of why I love Mexico so much. It’s close enough to us here in Arizona that there really is no good reason why we don’t go more often. I’ll have to make more effort to get us down there again soon.

Thanks to Seaside Reservations for setting up the trip and providing the condo. They were great to work with and we will use them again.

If you are interested in seeing more images from this Mexico trip you can visit my travel gallery here.

Camp Creek Road: Solo Adventure on the KLR…

Plans change.

Uncertainty seems to be the only hard and fast rule of adventure. I had originally planned a short ride on the KLR for Saturday to find some dirt and break in the new tires. Sunday I would meet up with a buddy to do a little exploring and check out some rarely visited ruin sites north of Phoenix. All in all, a solid weekend of outdoor fun. Then the shop called and said I wouldn’t have my bike back before Saturday. Great, there goes my Saturday plans. Then I got a message that my buddy came down with some kind of flu and had to bail on our Sunday excursion. My weekend of adventure was falling flat.

I spent Saturday getting caught up on some things around the house, which was far more practical use of my time but had all the excitement of getting a box of no. 2 pencils for Christmas. By Saturday night I was still trying to decide if I would explore the ruin sites solo, or do something else and wait for my buddy to recover. He’s as much of a history nut as I am and we usually team up to hit new ruin sites, so I finally decided I would wait on those and, instead, head out on the KLR for a substantial ride. Well, substantial to a new rider like me at least.

Seven Springs to the Verde River: FR24 and FR269

If you take Cave Creek Road north out of town and drive until you run out of pavement, that’s Seven Springs Road and Forest Route 24 (also known as Camp Creek Road). The approach brings you up Cave Creek Road through some of the most prestigious luxury golf course communities in Scottsdale like Desert Mountain, Mirabel and Tonto Hills. Shortly after that you’ll reach the turn-off for Bartlett Lake and the Tonto National Forest Ranger Station. Just past the Bartlett turnoff any traffic drops off considerably and you’ll essentially have the road to yourself. At least I did on Sunday.

Riding Seven Springs Road to FR24

Last year I did a backpacking trip into Tonto National Forest toward Skunk Tank north of Cave Creek. We backpacked in from Seven Springs, spending a night in the desert along the creek and then packing out. That was the last, and only time I had driven up Seven Springs Road. There is a short unpaved portion of the road before reaching the trailhead, but I really hadn’t made it out to the true dirt roads of FR24. Other than a little map research and a vague general knowledge of the area, I had no idea what kind of conditions I would find or whether I would be able to handle them when I got there.

Being new to this bike, I don’t yet have a lot of confidence in my skills. As I mentioned in the last post, I hadn’t really been on a motorcycle for 6 or 7 years before buying the KLR and I never really drove much dirt. This whole Dual-Sport Adventure Motorcycle business is entirely a new thing to me. I headed out anyway, determined to gain some experience on dirt roads.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Just past the turn-off for Bartlett Lake is a small Hohokam village ruin site known as Sears-Kay. It is one of many sites dotted along the Verde River and it’s tributaries like a long chain linked by one of the only continuous water sources in the state. The sign on site says that Sears-Kay is nearly 1000 years old, but other sources argue it was first occupied as late as 1500 AD. The hilltop site was discovered in 1867 by soldiers from nearby Camp McDowell and later named after J.M. Sears who founded a ranch nearby in 1887 called Sears-Kay Ranch.

Sears-Kay Ruin

Early on this particular Sunday morning I pulled into the parking lot for Sears-Kay and found it completely empty. I parked near the trailhead and turned off the bike only to be engulfed in complete silence. After stashing my gear and grabbing my camera I casually headed up the trail enjoying the peace of a morning alone in the desert. I made short work of the easy 1 mile trail and took my time walking among the partially reconstructed dry-stack stone walls. Some recent summer storms had brought moisture to the desert and the site was ripe with smatterings of color from seasonal wildflowers.

Camp Creek Road (FR24)

I didn’t stay at Sears-Kay long. I was anxious to get into the backcountry and a little worried about letting it get too late, too hot and too crowded. I drove the rest of the way up Seven Springs Road switched between pavement and dirt as it twisted it’s way back into the canyons. Eventually the pavement, and the people, completely faded away and I had the desert to myself.

One of the things I’ve always loved about hiking in Arizona is getting back into the untouched desert environments. The KLR offers a similar experience but allows me to see much more of the desert in a shorter time and get much further back into remote areas I wouldn’t get to otherwise. Ultimately, I’ll start combining hiking trips with motorcycle trips for a deeper look at Arizona backcountry.

As I rode down FR24 I kept a pretty moderate pace, still a little tentative about riding on unstable surfaces, which allowed me too look around a bit and enjoy the scenery. I stopped often to take pictures, explore a little side trail, or just turn off the bike and enjoy the amazing views in silence.

KLR on FR24

FR24 is a pretty well maintained road and was perfect for feeling out the bike. The hardpacked dirt was decent and not overly rutted out from storms, no muddy pits, no loose sand. It was a fun, easy, twisty bit of fun that I was really starting to enjoy. I expected FR24 to be more active on a Sunday morning with other traffic but I did not see another vehicle the entire time I was on this road. The solitude was an unexpected bonus and, at the same time, a little spooky in case of something going wrong.

KLR on FR269 with saguaros

FR24 (Camp Creek Road) ends at a T junction with FR269 (Bloody Basin Road). At the wide intersection there is a sign post showing the mileage along Bloody Basin Road to I-17 going west and to the Verde River going east. There is also sign at this intersection that talks about the Great Western Trail, a 3000 mile backroad route from Mexico to Canada. Apparently, the Arizona section of this trail uses Camp Creek and Bloody Basin to work it’s way north. I had the choice here to turn back, but I was making a day of this and it was still early. Besides, I really wanted to get out to the Sheep Bridge and put my feet in the Verde River.

FR269 is a pretty nice road as well, until the first creek crossing. Tangle Creek is the first big creek crossing and the first place I saw other people all day. A guy in a big 4×4 bronco was stuck in the soft sand of the creek and an older gentleman in another truck was working to help him get free. They had most of the creek blocked but as I approached they waved me through and darted around them praying that I wouldn’t bite it on my first creek crossing…especially with an audience. Coming up on the wide creek I could see tons of loose sand, river rock and mud and I really didn’t know what the bike would do or how I would handle it. JUST DON”T FALL.

I gunned it through the creek, goosing the throttle a little so I could maintain some speed and the KLR cut a path through the sand and over the rock without a hitch. YES! After Tangle Creek the road progressively got worse. There were two or three other creek crossing with the same loose, wet sand and every time I crossed one the road on the other side deteriorated a little. I eventually got used it, even started to enjoy the feel of the bike hoping around and finding traction on the rocky surface. It felt good to dial in and get a real feel for how the bike handles on terrain.

View of the Sheep Bridge at the Verde River

Verde River Sheep Bridge

I finally rounded a corner and caught my first look at the Verde River and the Sheep Bridge in the valley below. The structure is pretty cool and as I approached I found it interesting how natural the setting felt. This man-made structure in the middle of the desert at the end of a long dirt road didn’t seem out of place at all, it made sense. As I cruised down the switchbacks toward the bridge I passed a small corral and the old concrete slabs of structures that once stood near the bridge. I rode up to the bridge itself, designed as a footbridge, and for a split second debated if the structure would really hold me and the bike. But there were tire tracks and the new bridge looked solid enough. The Sheep Bridge is a 476 foot suspension bridge originally built in 1943 then rebuilt in 1989. Remnants of the old bridge foundation are still there next to the new bridge.

On the KLR after crossing the Sheep Bridge

KLR at the Sheep Bridge

Our summer storms have been pretty active this year, making for some interesting developments in the creeks, washes and rivers around here and the Verde is no exception. It was obvious the water had come down after a recent swell had saturated the banks and flooded the riparian plants that line the river’s normal shoreline. The muddy brown water was flowing pretty good around the tight corner just upstream of the bridge, slowing where the river widened then picking up steam again as the river narrowed downstream. The Verde is normally a very pretty deep green but this turbulent muddy mess was a sign of recent weather upstream.

I hiked down the little rock trail from the bridge to the gravel bar along the river. There was no one else around and I had the place to myself, at least for a while. The shoreline was a muddy, sticky mess and it looked like a couple of people had attempted to trudge through it before me. I chose to hike a little further down stream for something a little more stable. I found a spot where I could approach the river without sinking to my calves in muddy clay and dipped my head in the water to cool off.

I sat listening to the river for a while. My time rafting in the Pacific Northwest has given me a keen appreciation of rivers and their unique character. I love the sound of moving water and find it to be the closest thing to meditation I have experienced. I eventually pulled myself away from the river, suddenly very aware of my water supply and the increasing heat.

I passed two trucks on their way to the river as I rode back. Having left when I did, I kept my experience at the river unspoiled and was thankful for the timing. I noticed much more confidence on my return, riding a little faster, taking corners just a little harder, worrying less as I approached the sandy washes. Once I hit the graded road on the other side of Tangle Creek I opened her up a little bit and cruised down the gravel road at a pretty good pace. Other than the two trucks near the river, I saw no one else on the road back. A few people had made it in and stopped at one of the many open camp sites along the road, but that still left me with the road to myself.

Riding KLR on FR24

What did I learn?

Getting back home I started going through the pictures from the ride. I really enjoyed my Sunday morning adventure on the KLR and I am anxious to get back out there. There are a few things I learned on this ride that will allow me to be better prepared next time I go out.

For one, I didn’t take nearly enough water. That’ll be remedied next time I head out. I had underestimated how long I would be out there, and I underestimated how dehydrated I would get sweating in my riding jacket and helmet. Dehydration could have been a big problem and I was feeling it’s effects as I wrapped up the ride. I had some emergency gear in case it became an issue but bringing more water is easy enough.

Second, I was very under-prepared for a problem. I guess I expected to see a lot more people on these backroads and figured extraction would be easy. I need to bring some basic gear that would make upwards of 72 hours of survival easier to manage. It will likely never be an issue, but it will give me peace of mind to be prepared.

Navigation was poor. Knowing the route I wanted to take, it wasn’t a big deal but when I get more confident on the bike I want to be able to explore more of the side roads, trails and washes. Better maps, GPS and a compass really should be part of my regular gear. Really, I need to treat these outings more like I would extended hiking trips and less like road trips.

Food! I foolishly headed out without breakfast and didn’t bring a damn thing to eat with me. That was downright stupid and won’t happen again.

Thoughts for the next adventure…

Studying the area a little more now that I’ve been out there, I want to explore some of the other roads. Mount Humbolt, Maggie May Trail, Table Mesa Trail, New River and Bloody Basin are all now on the list. I want to look further into the Great Western Trail and how far north that will allow me to ride. I also learned that there are natural hot springs at the Verde River near the Sheep Bridge…reason enough to go back in Winter and make camp. The other direction on Bloody Basin Road is the Agua Fria  National Monument, a 71,000 acres protected area created in 2000. There are supposed to be upwards of 400 archaeological sites within the Monument, some as much as 2,000 years old.

However, I think the next adventure will be in a different area. I have really been interested in exploring Castle Hot Springs Road near Lake Pleasant. Not a technical ride, but there are a lot of side trails and backroads of varying difficulty. I just may have to check it out.

Adventure Takes a New Direction…

Standing quietly under the broad, green canopy of a twisted old mesquite tree with my camera in my hands I watched a dozen wild horses graze quietly on tufts of green grass while the early morning light streamed through the dust stirred up around them. I thought to myself, “If only I had brought the gear to make coffee, this would be a perfect morning.”

Wild Horses at Butcher Jones Recreation AreaI recently made the decision to buy a motorcycle. The desire to ride has always kind of been there but I just didn’t have a direction. Several years ago when I started attending the Overland Expo in northern Arizona I was drawn to the “Adventure Motorcycles” and the awesome stories from riders who had seen a good portion of the world’s gritty underbelly from the seat of their trusty bikes. The little Film Festival at Overland Expo was full of presentations, documentaries and dreamy films of adventure on two wheels…

..and they were winning me over.

I think my buddy, J Brandon, could smell the desperation to ride on me (after multiple days of camping I’m sure that’s not all he could smell). The final straw for me was sitting in the Overland Expo theater watching a presentation by Phil Freeman of MotoQuest. He spent most of the presentation talking about opportunities to ride in Alaska and see some of the most amazing country North America has to offer. Then he started talking about some of the other places they ride like Mexico, Iceland, Tierra Del Fuego and India and that was it, I wanted to ride…I wanted to be able to do those trips.

At that time, J extended an open invitation to come ride with him in the Sierra foothills next time I was in the Reno/Tahoe area. So when my wife and I made plans to head up to Tahoe in July for her birthday I decided to take J up on his offer and get myself on a motorcycle for the first time in probably 6 or 7 years. That first ride took a little work to knock the rust off what meager riding skills I ever possessed, and a decent helping of patience from J. But once we got out on the road I started to feel more comfortable. I also started to feel a lot more desperate to have my own motorcycle.

Last Week I bought a bike. It took some searching and a fair amount of advice, pointers and general help from J to nail down what I was looking for and what would be an acceptable price. I eventually found a guy selling a really clean 2000 Kawasaki KLR650 and got him to settle on a price I was comfortable with. Now I am working to outfit the bike for adventure travel while I look for opportunities to ride locally without undue suffering in the heat.

Why I chose a KLR-

The Kawasaki KLR650 is often referred to as the “Jeep” of dual sport motorcycles. It’s damn near impossible to destroy, can go anywhere and is fairly inexpensive to buy, maintain and repair. Kawasaki didn’t change the bike for 30 years so the aftermarket parts and accessories are literally everywhere. It doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but it does all things pretty well making it nearly the most versatile motorcycle available. Their attraction for adventure riders is the same attraction that 4×4 guys have with jeeps and gun owners have with AK-47s…they work, in a lot of adverse conditions, with little support and if they break it’s pretty easy to get them going again.

To me, it’s a good choice for a bike that needs to be able to go everywhere I want to go without too much fuss. And it will look bad ass bouncing down a dirt road with a couple of fat panniers, a duffel bag and a case of beer strapped to it while I chase down fish tacos in Baja.

Bush Highway on the KLR

I have been trying to get some bike time all week and put some miles on the bike to build my comfort level and feel out the new ride. Meetings had been getting in the way all week, but today I got up at sunrise and blocked out some time to hit the road while the temps were cool. When I set out this morning the sun was just cresting over Four Peaks to the east, shooting rays of orange light through the haze that was already forming over the dusty farm land on the reservation at the edge of town. I cruised through the farmland and headed out on the Beeline Highway.

While pouring over some maps, I had found a little road leading to a small recreation area on the north side of Saguaro Lake that I didn’t even know existed. I was curious to see what kind of lake access was back there and, even more, I wanted to scout a new hiking trail and possible dirt roads for the KLR. I turned off the Beeline at the Bush Highway and after a few miles took the turn onto Butcher Jones Drive. I could feel the air cooling as I descended into the canyon toward the lake and when I pulled up to the Butcher Jones Recreation site I was pretty impressed.

Riding the Bush Highway on the KLR

The beach wasn’t much to look at but the whole site looked pretty well cared for with clean bathroom, nice picnic tables and a really nice grassy area surrounded by old mesquites. It was still pretty early and there was only one other vehicle there belonging to a couple of older fishermen who had set up shop a little ways down the shore. I stripped off the riding jacket and helmet and walked around for a bit enjoying the rare coolness of the air, unheard of in August. With only a few boats out on the lake and the only other visitors a couple of quiet old gents, the lake lay still and glassy soaking up the early morning sun.

Jones Canyon Cliffs

Part of the reason I chose this route was to scout a new trail and see if it would be something I would want to explore when my niece and nephew get into town later this month. The Butcher Jones Trail is listed as an easy trail and only about 5 miles round trip, which is perfect for a couple of younger kids. I found the trailhead and started hiking to get some trail time in before the sun got too overbearing. The trail starts off paved, and follows a metal guardrail that curves along the lake shore for a while seemingly for fishing access. The trail is in shade throughout the morning thanks to the tree canopy overhead and the tall ridge it skirts.

Hiking trail at Butcher Jones area

Then you pass through a boundary into the wilderness and the trail becomes a proper trail. Still fairly easy though narrow and with some minor exposure. The trail doesn’t seem to be traveled much and is overgrown in many places with much of the trail winding through thick unmaintained mesquite groves. Much of the trail is rocky and the wildlife seems to be active. I didn’t see any snakes, though I was on the lookout and expected to. It looks like a pretty cool trail overall and I can’t wait to bring the kids out to explore the rest of it.

Boat anchored at Saguaro Lake

When I returned from my quick scouting expedition I was greeted by an amazing and fairly rare sight. From where I stood coming off the trail it almost appeared as though fog had settled into the grassy area under the mesquite grove and rays of light streaked through the canopy of the trees illuminating a dozen wild horses in ethereal light. I slowly moved in closer and watched as the group grazed lazily in the grass, played with each other and rolled blissfully in the dirt kicking up dust. This was about the time I lamented my lack of coffee and wished I could stay and watch the horses all morning. It was a perfect Arizona morning experience and I wanted to stretch it out as long as I could.

Wild Horses at Saguaro lake

A few more people arrived and as the “tourists” rolled in talking a little too loud, getting a little too close and gawking a little too much…they ruined the moment. I grabbed my gear and stowed my camera then hopped on the KLR and headed out, slowly and quietly as I could so as to not unnecessarily disturb the horses. A few looked up and watched as I rode by on my way out. I continued down the Bush Highway toward Mesa to complete the loop home. I stopped a couple more times to take a pictures and catch the last of the morning light.

KLR Saguaro LakeI think I will do this ride again. Maybe every week as I get used to the bike and continue to work on my riding skills. Maybe next time I’ll remember to bring some coffee.

 

 

Waiting in Nazca…

The ancient plastic chair groaned in protest as my dad plopped down next to me disturbing the thin layer of dust that seemed to settle on everything in town.  I was reclining in my own relic of a chair with my feet propped up on my dusty, overloaded backpack settling in for what we knew would be a long wait.  The sun was already getting low in the sky, stretching long shadows across the dirt lot beside the run-down metal and brick building that passed for a bus station in these parts.  The buses that traverse the Pan American Highway through South America were notorious for running on no schedule whatsoever.  Our intrepid bus was already an hour late and not a living soul could tell us when it might make an appearance, “Es coming….no problem.”  We didn’t care, it was all part of the adventure.

It was toward the end of our first week of a month long trip through southern Peru.  My dad and I had spent the last couple of days in the despairingly dry deserts around Nazca.  We’d made a friend the first day in town who served as our guide and chauffeur, happily driving us around town in his faded blue American-made muscle car that belched thick black smoke with every throaty rev of it’s powerful engine.  Like most people we met in Peru, he seemed genuinely happy to show us around “his” town and share his local knowledge.

Dad in the Deserts outside Nazca Peru

After a simple breakfast near the hostel our new friend had taken us out to the local air field where we took a small, private plane on a flight tour over the Nazca Lines.  Afterward, he offered to drive us out to one of the few hills that offered an elevated view of the lines from the ground.  Our driver patiently waited for us and even offered to climb up the hill and take our picture, the whole time telling us stories about the area.  When we cruised back in to town we grabbed a bite to eat and made our way to the bus station to check in and wait for our ride.  We’d had a long day and Dad and I were every bit as dusty and tired as the rest of this old desert town.

Dad and I near the Nazca Lines

A common thread in our travels through South America were locals enthusiastic about helping us with our Spanish.  My language skills were decent but my dad struggled with sentence structure and pronunciation to the great amusement of our hosts.  But no matter where we were, they would greet our halting, butchered attempts at conversation with a friendly smile and patience.  Settling in at the bus station was no different and as more people filtered in to wait for their ride we soon found ourselves attempting a clunky conversation in broken Spanish with a friendly local.

I had been studying Spanish in preparation for our trip, but this early in country I was still fumbling with the language.  Still, I was doing better than Dad, so as the conversation played out I tried to translate for him as best as I could.  Our guy was a local worker who commuted back and forth from the mountains to the lowlands.  He asked us the usual questions about where we were from and how we were related.  But soon I was in over my head and with the conversation in danger of a slow death a woman who was sitting nearby started to help translate.  It turned out she was a Canadian who had been in South America for the last two years teaching English on her way to the southern tip of Chile.  Soon, she had moved in to our circle and joined the conversation as we all introduced ourselves and told our stories.

With the Canadian helping the flow of conversation we learned that our Spanish speaking local was there with a friend, a local Quechua who only spoke his native language.  Not wanting to be left out from what was quickly turning into a very entertaining event, he joined the conversation telling jokes and laughing with us as his buddy translated for him.  It was now dark and the weak, flickering florescent lights cast their unnatural glow on us from overhead.  Our Quechua friend introduced a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola and took a big swig, topping it off with Rum before passing it around.  With every pass of the 2-liter we would drain a portion of the bottle and when it made it back to our Quechua friend he would top it off with Rum.

Street scene in Nazca Peru

Our laughter grew louder and our stories more animated as we became more comfortable with the conversation being translated from English to Spanish to Quechua and back again.  The Rum flowed as we all shared jokes and stories and laughed as if we were old friends.  The bus was over four hours late arriving at the bus station that night but we didn’t mind.  We shook hands and slapped each other on the back in farewell as we boarded and soon we were sleeping as the big bus rumbled it’s way through the night down the dark highway.

Many months later,  my dad and I were rehashing details about the trip when I realized that our last day in Nazca had been his birthday.  I suddenly felt guilty for letting it slip my mind and not wishing him a happy birthday, getting him a gift or doing something special.  As I apologized to him he began laughing at me, his big hearty laugh that was always so contagious and said, “Don’t be sorry, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.  That night at the bus stop in Nazca was the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

A couple of years before he died, my dad told me how grateful he was that I had invited him to go to Peru with me, and many other adventures after that.  It meant a lot to him that I would want to share those trips with “my dad”.  I had to explain to him that it never really was about sharing the trip with “my dad”, it was more about inviting the best partner I could think of in any adventure.  I just happened to luck out that the best guy for the job happened to be my father.  I hope he understood how amazingly grateful I was that he made the time to travel with me.

He is missed, and every new adventure reminds me of him.  It’s not very often you can find someone who greets challenge and adversity with a hearty laugh and a smile and is game to try anything at least once.

Happy Father’s Day…

Dad in Peru overlooking the valley

Weekend at the Overland Expo 2012…

Every Wednesday afternoon for a couple months now (I think) I have been a regular participator in the Adventure Travel Q&A Twitter Chat hosted by J. Brandon (@AmericanSahara) and Katie Boué (@TheMorningFresh).  The chat is sponsored by the Overland Expo and my first week participating in the chat, I won a day pass to the 2012 Overland Expo at Mormon Lake, just outside Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had never heard of it, and had no idea what I was getting in to, but it was only a couple hours drive and an excuse to go camping.

I spent a little over 2 days walking around and looking at some of the most amazing overland travel machines and gear I have ever seen!  I was introduced to people who have made overland excursions a lifestyle and spend months (or sometimes years) on adventures across the planet.  I won’t get into detail about who was there, who had the biggest/bestest rig or gave the best classes.  Suffice it to say, it was a huge show with many impressive products on display and many knowledgeable people sharing their wisdom.

I’m a hiker and backpacker, primarily.  I travel light and lean and don’t require a lot of support.  Whitewater rafting is a little different and closer to the Overlander mindset.  However, this event introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about travel and adventure.

What it really did was get me thinking about how I might be able to travel and seek out adventure with a new family.  I will be getting married in October to a beautiful, adventurous woman and we’ve talked about having kids.  Exploring the world with a young child is a much different experience than we are used to.  Seeing the way some of the people were equipped for their overland adventures really got my mind racing about the travel possibilities with my future family.  We both want to raise a child that is no stranger to travel, exploration or the outdoors.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do…but the possibilities are exciting.