It was a cool April morning in Arizona’s Apache National Forest. The motorcyclists were just cracking the sleep our of their eyes as the sun broke over the mountain tops. For a moment they were confused as to which state they were in. The previous day’s drive had taken them from Colorado through New Mexico and just across the border into Arizona. After coffee and breakfast had washed away the fog they jumped into their gear and got ready to head off and test their mettle on the Devil’s Spine – Hwy 191 from the sportman’s town of Alpine to the miner’s town of Morenci. They had been talking of this ride for a long time, and the expectation had reached apocalyptic proportions. 1,100 curves in 92 miles!? It must be heaven…
Chomping at the bit and waiting on one of the slower members of the group the posse of sport bikes head out, and there is very little restraint. As is typical with this crowd, the pursuit of speed is in full effect. The slowest bike in the group, an SV650 is dragging behind significantly, very close to it’s suspension limits and heading towards it’s engine limits on the straights. The curves are amazing, but it is still cold, and the road is quite dirty. A skilled road rider only needs a 6″ wide track of clean road to scream around a corner, but at triple digit speeds those 6″ seem like 1″. After 40 miles 4 bikes come to a rapid stop, one after the other. The riders jump off and run towards the edge of the road to see the 5th bike, a brand new Austrian beauty on it’s side, 5 feet below the road surface on a very steep slope.
Initial feelings reflect panic, concern and anger. Luckily the group is experienced and know what the priorities are. Stabilize the rider. The rider waives off any help with a disgusted expression, baring his road-rashed hand. Another rider has a strap in a tail bag, and with a little bit of planning and a lot of grunt, the Austrian stallion, now less beautiful is pulled up and onto the road again. A quick diagnosis and the bike starts and is ride-able, but stuck in 3rd. There will be some clutch work in order to get her going. Good thing she has oodles of torque! The posse limps back to camp. Once arrived, over the efforts of the mechanically inclined among the group a discussion on what went wrong ensues.
After discussing the weather, the road, the motorcycle’s condition and the rider’s mindset. The collective conclusion is excitement. Too much excitement to the point of wanting to achieve that zen-like state where man and machine meld, where the tires seem to find surreal grip and become hard mounted to the earth. Where time no longer exists and the feel of falling over in a specifically controlled manner is enough to make a person sacrifice even the most bestial of inclinations. Excitement at having tasted heaven, and chasing after it again. Excitement that could very easily kill.
After some repairs, taking much longer than anticipated the posse head out again, this time at a much safer pace and arrive frustrated at the largest open-pit mine in the US, Morenci, AZ. After some food for the riders and gas for the bikes attitudes are up and the return trip embarks. Half way towards home, the Austrian who crashed realizes the headlights were never plugged back in after the repairs and heads home with a break neck pace to beat the sun home. With excitement tempered by the day’s earlier events the rider arrives safe, although a bit rattled from the other road occupants, of the fairly large feathered nature. The other riders arrive at camp, one by one, carefully and without incident.
The beers and hard stuff is pulled from the motel’s fridge and stories are swapped. With time the intermittent smiles of the day prior turn into solid fixtures on the rider’s faces. It was hard, it was scary, it was frustrating and dangerous but in the end, it was worth it. All around they learned lessons. All around, they found what they were looking for. All around, it was a trip to never be repeated, but never forgotten.