The Day the Sky Turned Brown
Deryle & Wanda Mehrten
What a weekend to remember! Our planned four day ride through the byways and back roads of SoCal the last weekend of April never happened. Day one through the Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation Friday went as planned, although we hit some minor road construction just past the turn off to Kitt Peak. The weather was beautiful and it was smooth sailing through Sells, Ajo, Gila Bend and to Yuma for the night. We did get off the freeway at Mohawk and rode some of Old Highway 80 then around the foothills on the east of Yuma to Highway 95. Nice ride, nice weather.
Saturday morning the weather app talked about 34 mph winds from the west. There were lots of alerts about blowing dust and winds across most all of the southwest. Although it looked bad, we decided to give it a shot and left the Coronado Best Western a few minutes before 8 am. The wind on I-8 was blowing up dust, palm fronds, tumble weeds…stuff everywhere. When we were heading directly into the wind it was like trying to ride on a two-by-four. The slightest change in wind direction and we would bob and weave, swinging side to side.
When the freeway veered north or south, we got the full force of the side winds. We actually changed lanes several times but never went over the fog line. Coming up to the dunes where there’s a rest stop in the middle of the freeway, the Interstate was a river of sand and dust. There were instances where I had very limited visibility in any direction. We were fighting the wind on a road covered in sand. The fun factor went to zero and below.
It felt like we had been on the road for hours and had traveled hundreds of miles. Unfortunately I couldn’t tell how many miles we’d ridden or for how long – the dash had gone berserk. At first the bottom half went blank; then the whole dash went completely blank. Time to rethink this…we pulled into a gas station in El Centro. After twisting the ignition key on and off a couple of times, the dash lit back up. We’d done about 60 miles in just short of an hour and fifteen minutes. We ordered a cup of coffee in a fast food restaurant and contemplated what we should do next. At one point I went out to the bike to bring in the maps. That’s when I noticed the sky had turned brown from horizon to horizon. A huge dust storm was covering the world!
Not wanting to miss the Saturday night dinner with all the other guys and gals in Alpine kept us optimistic for the next hour. During that hour the wind speed from El Centro to Alpine was projected to be between 40 and 60 mph…things weren’t getting better, they were getting worse. It was a bummer but we decided to turn back. We contacted the Ayers Lodge and told them it was unsafe for us to travel any further and to cancel our reservations. The gentleman who answered the phone advised us the cancellation period had come and gone and we would be billed for the room. Kind of cold on their part. The Space Coast Best Western in Gila Bend had a room, so it was back to Gila Bend.
The ride east wasn’t nearly as scary. The dash continued to have a few quirks. I couldn’t cycle through any of the display options and at one point nothing seemed to be changing, it appeared to be frozen. For the most part we had a tail wind with occasional vicious side blasts. We stopped in Dateland for lunch and a loaf of their date-nut bread and came into Gila Bend about 2 pm. Debris and palm tree fronds were scattered all over the place. Store and motel signs were swaying, some pretty precariously. Our gas mileage when we gassed in El Centro before we turned back calculated out to 31 mpg. When we gassed up in Gila Bend it calculated out to almost 48 mpg. It was good to get inside and out of the wind.
Sunday we rode home via Hwy 238 through Maricopa, over to Coolidge, then south on Hwy 79. We cut across Park Link Dr and gassed up in Marana. From there it was Sandario down to Kenny Rd, then south on Mission to Sahaurita, down Hwy 83 to Sonoita, and home. All in calm winds and cool, sunny skies. It kind of made up for the Saturday disaster…kind of.
One final note. The stress of riding 230 miles in a damn wind and dust storm wasn’t enough. We got a text from our son Daniel about 6 pm Saturday night that a new fire, the Aerostat Fire, was coming down the mountain towards Sierra Vista and we were on a pre-evacuation advisory. Now we’re talking stress. Good news came about 8 pm when it was announced the fire was under control, though the pre-evacuation advisory hadn’t been lifted yet.
It was good to get home Sunday afternoon, real good.
Deryle & Wanda Mehrten