Desert Riding
By Vic Paladini

Arizona's deserts are beautifully unique. They contain endless adventures, vistas and places to visit, some of which are on paved roads; some on less traveled gravel roads. Hidden among this quite beauty are also hostile environments that can trap the unprepared rider seeking adventure and/or solitude. Before traveling on any desert road, away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, make sure your "ride" is ready for the adventure. From my experience give special attention to these three critical items:

Your cooling system is especially critical in hot weather. If you have an air cooled "ride" make sure the cylinder fins are clean, clear of obstructions, and are not blocked by tool rolls, camping gear, or brush. If your two wheeler is liquid cooled, check the fluid level, hoses, and radiator fan and thermostat for proper operation.

Tires are the second critical item. Know the correct tire pressure for your "ride". Then, check your tire pressure just before you leave - not a month before. Are your tires worn and need replacement? Worn tires are much more susceptible to cactus needles, rock cuts, and just plain old flats due to lack of tread.

Lastly, how about the electrical system? A half-worn out battery can easily strand you half way out in the middle of no-where! Check the battery acid level, check the level of charge, and the cables for tightness before you depart.

Away from the main highways, the desert has become a major recreation area for hikers, rockhounds, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and urban dwellers seeking remote areas on weekends. Any of these desert lovers could easily get into serious trouble without proper preparation for what can quickly become a hostile environment. Don't let this hostile environment become your demise - plan for a safe trip to and from your adventure.

Desert Riding - Part II - Some Desert Riding Rules

Riding Arizona's deserts requires some unique rules:

Tell someone. Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return. Yes I know, motorcyclists are an independent lot and sometimes want to take the road less traveled just for the fun of it. However, if you don't return from a 3 hour off-road ride to Southeast of Bisbee for a week, the Cochise County Sheriffs Department would be starting a recovery operation rather than a timely search and rescue event.

Carry a small survival pack. Water, concentrated food, matches, basic tools, cell phone, maps, compass, flashlight, signaling device all help assure your survival. And know how to use them! If the worst happens ... (for me, been there, done that!) Don't panic. If you have a breakdown, consider the alternatives. Rig a tent or space blanket for shade. Collect brush for a signal fire. Make yourself seen! Inventory your resources. Stay put and think! Stay with your motorcycle. Your horn can be heard for long distances, especially at night during a search for you. Even a "broken ride" can offer some shade and shelter. Remember, it's much easier to spot a shiny motorcycle on it's side from an aircraft than a person walking alone.

Don't park or camp in dry washes. During storms, these gullies become raging rivers of water and debris in an instant.
Carry a spray bottle. To conserve your water, spray it into your mouth. If you have plenty of water, spray your skin to prevent dehydration.

Relax and remain calm. Help is on the way. Watch for aircraft or other off-roaders and be prepared to signal them! Food and water will last much longer if you remain calm.

Lastly, swallow your pride and seek help - from anyone! I was on one search where we overflew the lost biker at least three times. He was very healthy and very much alive, but sitting in a group of rocks rather than on top of the biggest rock, because he was embarrassed. He was lost, out of gas, and too proud to flag down the helo that was looking for him!! We finally found him because he did leave his XL Honda in the middle of a clearing 1/4 mile away.

Desert Riding - Part III - Survival Items to Bring

Riding the desert requires some unique planning. Tell someone where your going, plan your gas stops, and take:
Extra water, Food, Matches, Basic Tool Kit, Wire cutters and knife, Work Gloves, Manila Rope, Mini-Mag flashlight, Compass, Signal mirror, Extra motor oil, Plastic spray bottle, Cell phone with freshly charged battery, Firearm if desired and legal.

None of these items are worth the space on your motorcycle if you don't now how to use them. So, learn how to use them. When riding off-road make sure to take the time to stop and chat with people you meet "out in the middle of no-where", especially if they need your help. The Arizona deserts are tremendously beautiful and fun to explore so enjoy them.

I'll see you out there. Stop and say hello.

Vic Paladini

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