Touring with the Sport Bikes

By Deryle Mehrten 

     A big thanks to Craig Littlefield for inviting Wanda and I along on his most recent overnight ride.  Several months back Craig set up an overnight ride to Kingston, New Mexico, staying at the Black Range Mountain Lodge.  We tried to link up with Craig and company on the way but a longer than anticipated stop for breakfast through a monkey wrench into the works and we didn’t ride a single mile with the guys.

     This trip Craig set up the breakfast at the restaurant in Willcox just off Exit 340 of I-10.  We would have no trouble meeting them and joining the collected riders for the ride up Mule Creek then New Mexico 180 to Alpine, Arizona for the night.  Craig reminded us several times that we had lots of time so we could take our time.  Craig’s definition of “take your time” turned out to be quite a bit different that ours.

     We left Willcox about 8:30.  The Fort Grant / Bonita road is now paved and is a much better ride that I-10 and 191 straight up to Safford.  Once at Bonita Hwy 266 takes you back over to Hwy 191, about 17 miles south of Safford.  Hwy 266 is a nice road with little to no traffic.  It climbs a few feet so the temperature is about 10 degrees cooler than Safford.  More on that later.

     Turns out our 2008 GT was the odd bike out (well not totally, John was on a GS ;) ).  The other three bikes were sport bikes, Craig on his K12S, Dave on his Yamaha, and Steve on his Honda 1000RR.   None of these guys, including John, had any chicken strips on their tires.  I didn’t either…I had Turkey Strips!

     After a quick gas up in Safford it was off to Mule Creek.  From Safford to Three-way Wanda and I ran right along with the guys, although we were running a bit faster than we normally do.  Once past the old drive-in movie theatre, the pace picked up noticeably.  Approaching the twisty turnies going up into the Gila Forest in New Mexico, the other bikes were immediately out of sight.  It’s been a few years since I have pushed the limits on any of the motorcycles we’ve recently owned and it was obvious right off that to try and follow Craig and the guys could be disastrous.  Even so, I did push our envelope a bit, leaning the K1200GT over to new angles.  My Turkey strips were coming down to Chicken strips.

     Steve, Dave and John hit the junction of 78 and 180 and kept going.  Craig fell back to make sure we were coming.  I felt a bit like a newbie on our first ride, holding everybody up.  Again it was obvious that their cruising speed was our top speed.  From that point on I would not even try to keep up.  With Craig trailing us, we stopped at the Leopold Lookout to use the bathroom. 

     We caught up to the rest of the guys at Glenwood where the sport bikes gassed up and we ate lunch.  The Blue Front is still the restaurant of choice.  Wanda and I had sandwiches while Craig, Steve and Dave had ice cream with chocolate syrup and John had a glass of water.  Watching their waistlines?

     We took a short ride up to the Cat Walk after lunch.  When we turned off 180 towards the Cat Walk we noticed the cabins that had lain vacant for several years seemed to be open and doing business.  When we came back to 180, Craig suggested we ride up to Mogollon, the old mining town north of Glenwood.  Wanda and I have done the Mogollon “road” before and decided we would check out the cabins as a possible SEAT overnighter location instead.  Glad we did as the road over to Mogollon wasn’t any better than it was back then per later conversations.  Turns out the cabins are very interesting, we’ll find out more about them on-line later.

     From Glenwood Wanda and I rode alone…and it rained…hard for a bit.  We stopped at one of the picnic areas before New Mexico 12 and to put on our Frogg Toggs.  We sat around for a bit and had a cup of coffee.  Back on the road, it was only about 5 miles farther up and we pulled over to take off the Toggs.  It went from 59 degrees at the picnic table to close to 80 pretty quickly.

     We got into Alpine and gassed up before we parked at the Sportsman’s Lodge.  The lodge owners, Frank and Phyllis Barnes, are Beemer folks and their rooms are reasonable priced and always clean; highly recommended.  Craig and the guys showed up about 20 minutes later.  They stopped to put on their rain gear only to have the rain stop.  I believe Craig said he didn’t put his on, and John didn’t need any rain gear, he was wearing his one piece Aerostitch suit.  They missed a real downpour.

     After a reasonable time hanging around the Lodge it was over to Ye Old Tavern just across the highway for a cold one.  Ouch, they were $3.50 each.  Easy to get a $20 bar tab right now.  John took a liking to the Queen of the Bar and made his move.  To make a long story short, she broke his heart.

     Dinner was at the Bear Wallow.  The Friday night special was fish, catfish, and the Cajun version Wanda and I had was excellent.  From dinner it was to the bait and ammo shop.  They sell beer and food as well.  We picked up a six pack for less than we spent on two beers at Ye Old Tavern.  The Lollipop Shop was our next stop.  Wanda got some sugar free taffy and I got a big chunk of fudge.  Got to love that Lollipop Shop.

     Back at the Lodge it was beers and BS.  Actually there was more BS that beer.  John was looking forward to going back over to Ye Old Tavern and I was looking forward to hittin’ the sack.  After two beers it was time.

      The next morning we planned to leave at 7:00 am.  Everyone was up and a couple of the guys were gassing up when John couldn’t find his gloves.  While John looked for his gloves and the other guys were gassing up, Wanda and I left for Greer, the agreed upon breakfast stop.  Greer is a bit over 40 miles away and I was surprised Wanda and I got there before the sport bikes.  They were only a few minutes behind us though.  They get right down the road.  Turns out John didn’t find his gloves, must have lost them the day before after he got gas.  Dave had a spare pair that fit.

     The café in Greer was excellent.  We ordered up breakfast and got our server to take a picture of us.  The temperature was 51 when we left Alpine and it was up to the low 70s by the time we got up to pay.  About that time a gentleman and his wife walked in that really looked familiar.  Turns out it was our pervious family doctor, who retired quite a few years back, and now lives in Greer.  He was a good doctor and a good guy.  We enjoyed our visit with them.

     Meanwhile the sport bikes were firing up and reading for the dash home.  The route was to be through Whiteriver.  Sorry guys, I must have called it Whitewater a dozen times, my bad.  Wanda and I visited Fort Apache just down the road from Whiteriver way back when on our K100RS.  We didn’t recognize anything.  It was a four lane highway through town.  Past town the road went back to the narrow, two lane road like the one we remembered.  Nice ride upset only by a pack of dogs that crossed the road right in front of Dave.

     At the junction of 73 and 60 the sport bikes gassed up.  Two guys on nicely done KLRs pulled up and BS’ed a bit with us.  After some Gatorade and a trip to the restroom the ride was on.  The plan was to ride down 60 to Globe for a gas stop and the last leg home for the Tucson guys.  It just happens Salt River Canyon is in between our gas stop and Globe, one of those “best rides” in Arizona.  If you’re not aware, the rest stop at the bottom of the gorge at the river is closed.  Too bad, it’s always been a nice stop.

     Wanda and I kind of kept up with the guys for the first mile or two.  After that is was catch up.  Craig and Dave must have had mercy on us and kept it down for the last half.  John and Steve disappeared not to be seen again until we were coming into Globe.

     Globe is where we said our goodbyes.  Craig and the guys were going on down 77 to Tucson.  For us it would be east on 70 to Safford and home.  Did I mention that the temps were in the 100s as we came down to the Salt River?  Did I mention that it was over 100 in Globe?   It was hot and getting hotter.

     From Globe to Safford the highest temp I saw on the dash board was 107, the lowest 102.  Wanda suggested we stop in Pima at the Taylor Freeze.  Good call.  When we came out after a milkshake and chicken sandwich, the dash read 102 parked in the shade.  It was 104 coming into Safford.  Hot…

     Our plan was to take the same route back from Safford that we did coming over the morning before.  When we turned west onto 266 towards Bonita the dash read 102.  About 10 miles later it was 91.  I don’t ever remember saying 91 was cool but in this case it was.  We stopped at the Bonita junction and had a cup of coffee.  From Bonita we can get home sans Freeway.  To do so though it adds about 40 miles and more than hour.  When we got to the freeway at Willcox to gas up it was back to 104.  We decided to jam down I-10 to Hwy 90 and home.  I set the cruise control on mumble-mumble-mumble and we were home in about an hour and a half.

     Sierra Vista was a pleasant 97 when we pulled into the driveway and parked in the garage.  The air conditioner was on and it was 80 inside…so nice.  We did about 685 miles and really enjoyed the ride and the company.  Touring with the sport bikes though ain’t easy, just ask Wanda.

 Photos are by Craig and Deryle 

Wanda & Deryle Mehrten, John Willman, Craig Littlefield, Dave Delie and Steve Beatty

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