Devil's Highway Shakedown

Published on July 3, 2017

At the end of June, I took my shakedown ride to make sure everything was in place. Back in April, I had the first real test ride with this configuration and found a few things lacking. This time, I was prepared. I set out from Phoenix toward Safford so I could tackle the Devil's Highway a second time. The first time, two years ago for the shakedown before Epic Road Trip 2015 to Seattle and the Pacific Coast Highway, was awesome, but wet and I was ill-prepared that time. This year, the rain held off until later and was much lighter.

The ride started early so I could make it across the desert before the heat really set in (it was forecast to be 113 that day). Shortly after sunrise, I hit the road with the first stop in Globe for fuel and a quick break. It was already getting warm (though it was only a little after 8 when I arrived), so I didn't linger. The rest of the desert was an easy 122 miles across Highway 70, through the reservation, into Safford (where there was a wildfire burning near Mount Graham, a short distance away), and winding through the foothills to Clifton. I made it with plenty of time to spare.

I had intended to grab lunch in Clifton, but my pace brought me in a bit earlier, so I settled for brunch at PJ's Cafe and fueled up for the long stretch of twistys with some pancakes, sausage, and coffee. I was happy to see a table tent with a warning to visitors about texting and driving (I keep hoping they'll pass a ban on it that statewide). After a quick stop for fuel and some additional snacks for the next stretch of empty, twisty goodness, I was off.

The climb was as fun as I remember it. I passed on the overlooks of the mine, wanting to get to the good stuff. The first stop was a look back into the valley toward Clifton and Morenci.IMG 20170624 112752

Thankfully, I was able to see more on this trip. The clouds didn't look ominous until a short distance (perhaps 10 miles or so) outside Hannagan Meadow. Even when it did finally rain, it was light and not a torrential downpour. I took in the sights, with a break at a particularly awesome vista and picnic spot. After the first climb, the ride across the mesa was amazing. Work trucks were present at several spots along the highway, thinning the vegetation to assist Mother Nature with rejuvenating the mesa. It was at Blue Vista point that the clouds began to show.

IMG 20170624 115244
Cows on the mesa
Blue Vista Point
motorcycle storms
Storm clouds

Once I finished the 90 miles through Hannagan Meadow and ended up in Alpine, I was greeted at the gas station by a mass of bikers. Little did I know that the White Mountain Bike Rally was the same weekend I had chosen for my shakedown. I relaxed a bit and just used the fuel in the spare cannisters to top off the tank and get me to Eagar. After admiring the various bikes and the number of people, I departed, stopping to fill up completely in Eagar. I also picked up the last few supplies I would need for my overnight - some water (as well as a soda for morning caffeine) and some additional food.

Leaving Eagar on Highway 260, it was only a few miles before I arrived at the Big Lake Junction and highway 261. The road was windy as it took me back up in altitude from where I had dropped into Eagar. I was presented with a scenic view where I stopped quickly since it was once again raining.

scenic view

After connecting with Highway 273, I cut north. My final destination was Winn Campground. It required a short mile or so riding along a dirt road (which was interesting since it had rained here, too), but I arrived and got checked in. Plenty of available campsites and I found one away from the main entrance road. There, I spent the night with a campfire, a trail beer, and some quiet. The next morning, I packed up and returned to the heat of the Valley using Highways 260, 73, and US 60.


Lessons Learned

I was wearing hiking boots (versus my usual riding boots). I have frog togs and other waterproofing gear and thankfully the rain was light. If it had been any heavier, I'd have had some very wet socks/feet. The hiking boots are waterproof, but the waterproof pant covers didn't drop low enough to come over the top of my shoes. In order to ride with the hiking boots (the riding boots are not made for any amount of walking, as I learned on my Seattle trip), I need to get a nice pair of gaiters - which I've now done.

I also had to move the picnic table over so I had some place to sit, which is fine, but may not always be an option. I needed to bring a blanket to sit on or some kind of portable chair (which is an interesting idea on a motorcycle). When I picked up the gaiters, I also purchased a backpacking-sized portable chair (REI Flexlite - though I had my eye on some Helinox, but were a bit pricey) that will have minimal impact on the overall gear configuration.

Fire was another interesting part of this. Obviously, I can't port firewood, but there's options to gather. With the rain, I purchased a bundle at the camp host's site that was nice and dry. I had backed the Firebiner from Outdoor Element and I'm overall pretty happy with it. The issue was with the homemade firestarters and not bringing a backup method of lighting a fire. The Firebiner is a special caribiner with a built-in flint wheel. I got the first homemade firestarter (cotton ball and petroleum jelly) lit no problem. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough to keep things going. The others I brought were sealed with wax, but caused me to get a bunch of the jelly on my fingers which transferred to the flint wheel. That caused some problems getting the fire lit. A backup lighter is going on Epic Road Trip 2017 and I'm going to skip the wax sealant and opt to just keep some petroleum jelly-infused cotton balls in a freezer back (I also got purchased a package of Wetfire tinder as a backup).

After this ride, I'm ready for the trek north to Glacier National Park. I've learned a few more lessons, and I'm excited to get the bike loaded up. Catch you on the road!