Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Canon City to Denver, Day 9

rude biker chick
Sash warms her hands on a cup of hot tea in Colorado Springs
When we left the hotel this morning, it actually looked like it was going to be a nice day of riding. And considering how tough it was yesterday, we needed that last 144 miles into Denver (Denver Tech Center) to be a breeze.

But it was more than just a breeze. It was gusty, cold, and I still saw some snow falling.

As we took off, the air temperature gauge on the Honda ST1300 said, 55 degrees F (12.7 C), and the sun was shining. I had on full cold weather gear and decided to strip some of it off.

And it was a good idea that I did. Because as we rode east along US-50, heading into Pueblo, CO, it warmed up to 59 degrees. And very little wind at this point, and only partly sunny skies. I kept thinking, "If it warmed up another 10 degrees, this would actually be a gorgeous day of riding."

But then we headed north along I-25, the interstate, the freeway, the superslab, where it was supposed to be warmer, less windy, more dry, and more safe to ride.

When we got into Colorado Springs, the temperature dropped 14 notches, down to 45 degrees F (7.2 C), and the winds were blowing right at us head on, taking down our fuel mileage. We pulled into a Popeye's Louisiana Chicken for some grub and hot tea to warm up. I saw snow falling, but it was still not cold enough to stick to the ground.

Nonetheless, this was still Sash's day of victory. Only 40 miles left to go before we hit our exit in South Denver. It was exit 196 we were looking for. So for the rest of the way up, she counted down the exit numbers.

And when we finally hit ext 196, she raised her fist in all of her pink-haired female-empowered glory. She had made it (or we had made it). When we pulled up to our hotel for the next couple nights, she hugged her motorcycle.

"I love you Tatonka!" she said.

We had gone 1,504 miles to get here from San Diego.


For me, I loved taking the back roads. On this trip, I got to do a lot of roads that I hadn't ridden before, and got to see some more of the landscape that makes the Western USA such a beautiful place to see.  Albeit some of it was really cold, snowy, and otherwise miserable conditions, it feels good to know that I hacked it with a machete and gave it my best.

And as a lifelong rider, I'm looking to push myself just a little bit more each time I go on a road trip. And I know Sash is pushing herself a little bit more each time also, but that she's still hundreds of thousands of miles behind me in experience, and I'm asking a lot of her to ride along with me.

But then again, she's a pretty tough chick, of the rude biker variety.  You don't see many female riders who take on Wolf Creek Pass under icy conditions.

So over the next several days, at least until Sunday, we'll be in Denver. She's going to hang with her new sisters at the Steel Horse Sisterhood Summit, while I hang with my brother. I'll actually be staying at his place for few nights while Sash devotes herself to the Summit.

Then after that, comes the ride home.

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Sash taped this bunny photo to the inside of her windshield to help her through the ride.
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US-50 east of Canon City, heading towards Pueblo
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Sash on US-50 heading towards Pueblo
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Me riding along US-50 eastbound towards Pueblo
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I-25 northbound entering Colorado Springs
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Sash is happy because we have only 40 miles to go
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Sash raises his arms in victory for reaching our final exit
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Sash hugs her motorcycle after a 1,500+ mile ride through heat, cold, wind, rain, hail, and snow
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That evening, Sash met with Joan Krenning, and the rest of the staff with Steel Horse Sisterhood Summit

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Cold Weather Motorcycle Riding, Day 8

cold weather motorcycle riding
Snowing in Poncha Springs, CO
Our push north through Colorado has been all about the weather thus far. The scenery is beautiful, but with 60mph winds, rain, snow, hail, and freezing temperatures, have made it a big challenge.

And to look back on this, now that I'm writing this on a comfy hotel bed in a warm room, I realize Sash has barely a 1 1/2 years riding experience, with only a little in the cold and rain.

We didn't make it to Denver like we had hoped. We got as far as Canon City instead. All we had to do was ride north along US-285 from Monte Vista, and it would take us right into Denver. But even though we bundled up with all sorts of cold weather gear, we could only ride in this stuff for so long until it bore into our psyches.

Leaving Monte Vista in the morning, we rode up US-285 with 60 MPH winds hitting us on the side, causing us to ride leaned over. The temps were in the mid-40s.

By the time we got to Poncha Springs, temperatures dropped to 34 degrees F, and snow was falling nearly horizontal in the wind, though not yet sticking to the ground. We pulled into a market/deli to get some hot tea.

"We just came from Fairplay", one of the other customers said. Fairplay is a town about 60 miles further north on the US-285. "It's about 10 degrees colder there, and the snow is blowing even harder."

We decided taking US-285 was no longer an option.

Poncha Springs was right on the intersection of US-285 and US-50. We could take US-50 east to the I-25, and ride the interstate up to Denver, which should be a little warmer. So that's what we decided to do. But we found more snow fall, more chilly temperatures, and more wind. We got as far as Canon City, and decided we had had enough.


In my college days, I used to ride a motorcycle in 40 degree temperatures. I remember hugging my motor at stop lights to warm my hands. I remember years ago riding through the Sitgreaves National Forest in March, in 20+ degree temps, and feeling my hands on fire. I remember riding the ALCAN under a heavy downpour for some 100+ miles, soaked through my gear, just to get ahead of the storm so that I could set up my tent before it caught back up to me.

I had become used to riding in the cold and wet. I don't enjoy it any better, but I've learned that it's always temporary and that somewhere ahead is a warm dry place, even if it's a mummy bag inside a Coleman tent. And when I look back through my life, I've always saw it as trying to prove something to myself, if I couldn't prove it to others.

But this is really the first time Sash has spent some significant miles through bone-shivering weather. And she took it like a trooper, taking on fierce crosswinds, snow flurries, rain, and even some hail, while also dealing with a sour stomach from a bad meal at a restaurant in Monte Vista.

However, it's not to say that she got through it unfazed. It wore her out. It wore us both out. There's an emotional toll to it as well, and it really tested the bonds we developed over our three years together thus far.

The women at Steel Horse Sisterhood Summit really helped her through it, however. Thus far on this road trip, she's shared her experiences on their Facebook Group, and received overwhelming support and encouragement to keep going.

So tomorrow, Day 9 of this journey, we head into Denver via US-50 to the I-25.

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Sash bundling up at a Conoco station in Saguache, CO
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Looking at Hunts Peak, Red Mountain, and Bushnell Peak, US-285, Colorado
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It's snowing in Poncha Springs, Market/Deli
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US-50 eastbound along the Arkansas River

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Monday, April 28, 2014

Conquering Wolf Creek Pass, Day 7

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Wolf Creek Pass, US-160, Colorado, April 27, 2014
Some days, everything just falls into place. Just when Sash and I thought that we were going to be holed up in Pagosa Springs for 2 or 3 nights, waiting for the ice to melt on Wolf Creek Pass, we got a break.

She and I were sitting in Pagosa Brewing yesterday, having lunch with Jared and Taryn, the two who helped us down from the pass the day before when Sash spun out of control on the icy road, when we got word from Colorado DOT that the road was now clear up and down Wolf Creek Pass.

We had already paid for second night's stay at the hotel we were at, because the weather reports looked grim for that day and evening. But the sun happened to come out for a bit and warmed things up a little. So when Jared called Colorado DOT, and learned that someone had just checked the entire length of the pass and found it clear, Sash and I looked at each other.

"I think this is our window of opportunity", I said to her. "I know we already paid for the room tonight, but maybe we ought to just go now."

We were looking at temperatures of 25 degrees F (-3.9 C) at the top of Wolf Creek Pass, but at least the roads were clear.

So, Sash and I packed up our stuff.

The owner/manager of Hillside Inn, the hotel we were at, was kind enough to refund our money for the night's stay we were giving up, understanding our predicament.

Jared offered to ride Sash's bike, just in case there was some ice up there, and to save her from having to ride in such frigid temperatures. Sash rode in the pickup truck with Taryn, following us behind.


The scenery heading up US-160 towards Wolf Creek Pass was just amazing! Pine trees laden with wintery-white icicles with blankets of pristine white on either side of the road. But the road was clear, quite the opposite just a day earlier.  I looked at the temperature gauge on my Honda ST1300, and it read 27 degrees F.

I was pretty well bundled up, and otherwise didn't encounter any discomfort from the cold.

The eastern side of Wolf Creek Pass is a little more steep, and I found places where the water on the road was slick in the sub-freezing temperatures.

Jared, however, rode that V-Star 650 like a boss. On most days, he rides a Honda VFR 800 up and down Wolf Creek Pass, taking a few runs each time. He already knew the turns and was able to lean Sash's bike pretty hard into the curves.

When we got to the other side, we pulled over, and Sash mounted up to ride it the rest of the way. We said our goodbyes to Jared and Taryn, thanked them up and down, and exchanged Facebook friend-requests.

Sash and I rode further on to South Fork where we stopped for gas at the Whistle Pig Conoco.  Sash's hands were freezing despite wearing rain gloves with Freeze-Out liners.  The gloves were still damp from the day before.  The girl inside the gas station offered to help by putting them in their pizza oven to dry.  That seemed to do the trick

Sash and I rode as far as Monte Vista, a small agricultural town along the US-160. We pulled into the Best Western Movie Manor Inn, a hotel that sits in the back of a drive-in movie theater. The windows in our room give us a full view of the movie, and there's even audio piped into our room.  We watched Captain America.

So, we got a break in the weather, Jared and Taryn happened to be available again to help us over Wolf Creek Pass.  The hotel manager refunded our money for the night's stay.  The girl at Conoco dried Sash's gloves, and we found a really cool hotel that comes with a free drive-in movie.

And it's a good thing we took the opportunity to ride over the pass, because more snow was on the way.

Tomorrow, Day 8 of our 3-week road trip, we head into Denver via US-285.

pagosa springs motorcycles
Jared: "Hey Steve, you see those icy cold mountains in the distance?" Steve: "Yeah?"  Jared: "We're gonna ride up there!"  Steve:  "Fuck."
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US-160 heading towards Wolf Creek Pass
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Beginning the ascent to Wolf Creek Pass
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Winter Wonderland up on Wolf Creek Pass
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Air temperature read 28 degrees F on my Honda ST1300, but it eventually got down to 27.
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Steve:  "So that was Wolf Creek Pass?"  Jared:  "No, we still have to go down the other side!"
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Jared and I riding down the east side of Wolf Creek Pass
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Once on the other side of Wolf Creek Pass, it's smooth sailing (but still really, really cold).
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Sash and I laying in bed, watching the Drive-In movie from our hotel room, with audio piped into our room.

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Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wolf Creek Pass Colorado on a Motorcycle

us-160 highway colorado
Wolf Creek Pass lies along US-160 in Southern Colorado, crossing over the Continental Divide at 10,800 feet. All we had to do was ride over it and we'd be clear from any threat of snow.

But it didn't work out that way.

Sash and I were at Pagosa Springs, eating lunch at Pagosa Brewing, when the bartender there said we had better get moving now if we wanted to get over Wolf Creek Pass before it got too heavy with snow.

"We're leaving now", Sash said, as I was still nursing my glass of We' Heavy Ale. "We're like leaving right now."

About 20 minutes later, we finally got moving.

All seemed fine for about 15 miles down the highway. Even the rain coming down didn't bother us. But as we began the climb up the Rocky Mountain range, the temperature gauge on my Honda ST1300 dropped down to 39 degrees F (3.9 Celsius). The rain turned to snow, but the roads remained wet. For some reason, Sash passed me by. I guess she thought I was going too slow.

37 degrees, to 35 degrees, to 33 degrees, the temperature gauge dropped.

The road seemed slushy, but we still seemed to have good traction. I couldn't see Sash up ahead. The snow flurries became so intense, and she had ridden so far up ahead of me. I looked at my temperature gauge, but so much snow had collected on it that it was difficult to read. I could make out 32 degrees F (0 degrees celsius).

Finally, I saw her pull over to the side, and I pulled up next to her.

"I can't see!" she cried out. Her glasses became iced, as well as her helmet visor and windshield Mine were iced too.

"We can't stay here!" I said. "We'll get trapped in the snow! We have to keep moving!"

We got moving, and Sash darted out ahead of me. For awhile, she did well, piloting her Yamaha V-Star 650 quite well in the light layer of powder, turning left and right in the twisted mountain highway. But eventually, I saw her lose control.

The bike weaved for a moment, and then did a full 360 spin before she laid it down. She went down low side, seemingly falling down gently, and got back up shaken and upset, but otherwise fine. She and I tried lift her bike up, but it was very difficult in the icy footing. Finally, we got it up, and it was pointed in the opposite direction of the lane we were in.


A truck came by with a man and woman, named Jared and Taryn respectively. They stopped and asked if we needed help. They said we still had another 8 miles to go before we crested Wolf Creek Pass.

"We need to go back to Pagosa Springs", I said.

"How about I ride her bike back down", Jared answered. "She can ride in the truck with Taryn".

"OK", Sash said.

Jared hopped on Sash's bike and rode it downhill in what was now about 2 inches of snow. He got up a pretty good click, probably doing about 30 MPH, riding it over snow, ice and slush rather handily. Meanwhile, I was nervous taking the Honda ST down.  The asphalt felt about as slick as bunny slippers on a bowling alley. Jared was probably a half mile away ahead of me when he pulled over and waited for me to catch up.

Slowly, I picked up speed, and managed to do better at keeping up. Eventually, we dropped down elevation enough to where the road was no longer icy, just wet, and we rode back full speed into Pagosa Springs.

Keep in mind, Jared did this without wearing gloves.

Sash's gloves were too small to fit his hands. I just couldn't imagine the pain he was in.

We got back into Pagosa Springs and thanked Jared and Taryn up and down and all over. If we were dogs, we'd lick their faces for a good 5 minutes, Sash maybe longer.

Interestingly, the night before all this happened, Sash's father came to her in a dream.  She said he was proud of her, among many other things he expressed in the dream.  After Sash had dumped the bike in the snow, she couldn't help thinking that her Daddy was there to lessen the impact.  I thought it was odd to see her sitting on the motorcycle while it did a 360 degree turn and then some, and gently laying her down on the roadway.

In Pagosa Springs, we booked a room for two nights, giving us time until the storm passes by.  I'm looking out the window of our hotel room as I write this, seeing snow falling like it was January.

I guess Wolf Creek Pass won this time.

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Chimney Rock, US-160 eastbound, Colorado
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Having a beer for lunch at Pagosa Springs Brewing.
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US-160 gets wet just east of Pagosa Springs
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At the first hairpin turn, going up Wolf Creek Pass, snow is coming down hard
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Sash pulls ahead going up Wolf Creek Pass
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Sash continues to lead the way up Wolf Creek Pass with snow flurries
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Visibility gets worse further up Wolf Creek Pass. My windshield is frozen solid, and Sash is way up ahead.
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Where Sash spun out of control. Jared is putting on her gear which is too small for him
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I'm riding back down Wolf Creek Pass, probably 10mph at this point. Sash took this photo inside Taryn's truck. Jared is way up ahead of me.
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Jared waiting for me. Taryn had passed me by, creating tire tracks for me to ride in, and Sash snapped this photo.

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Saturday, April 26, 2014

Petrified Forest National Park by Motorcycle, Day 5

petrified forest national park
Despite being named a forest, Petrified Forest National Park, in the north east part of Arizona, doesn't offer many standing trees. In fact, the whole time I was there, I only saw one.

It's still makes for a great afternoon destination for motorcycle riders, however.

The Petrified Forest offers motorcyclists a 29-mile route through a landscape of mostly rolling hills, mesas, and grasslands.

It was Day 5 of our 3-week road trip from San Diego to Denver and back, and visiting the Petrified Forest was something that Sash had always wanted to visit since she was little.

The ride starts at the southern portion of the park and goes north towards the Painted Desert. In between, you'll find numerous hiking trails that take you out to some amazing forests of crystallized tree trunks that fell perhaps a hundred million years ago.

But the Petrified Forest National Park isn't just about trees that turned into rocks. It's really more about a unique place where time reveals itself. The layers of strata that settled over a billion years ago are easily seen in the coloration of unique rock formations. Blending from the more recent blacks to the older beige to the more older reds and to the really ancient blues, it's like seeing a billion years of time in a single glance.

It'll cost you $10.00 per car, or $5.00 per person, per motorcycle to get in. The road is largely smooth asphalt with some light bumpiness here and there. Speed limit is set to 45mph in most places and slows down at the Museum and Gift Shop. The road is filled with curves but is easy to maneuver for most riders. Expect windy conditions. When Sash and I rode through yesterday, temperatures were in the mid-70s.

We didn't really encounter much traffic being it was on a Friday, either.


At the north end of the park is the Painted Desert, named for its beautiful swashes of fiery reds, beiges, and blacks, and depending of the time of year, yellows from the grasses. There are several vista points, but the one you want to stop at is Pintado Point, offering by the far the most spectacular. The Painted Desert has its own visitor center with a cafe.

Holbrook, AZ offers the closest town to Petrified Forest National Park with lots of restaurants and hotels. It's located right along the historic Route 66 and provides lots of cool vintage Route 66 kitsch.

After Sash and I finished with the Petrified Forest, we headed north-east on our way to Farmington, NM for the evening. But before getting there, we lunched at a restaurant called "Chieftain Restaurant" in Chambers, AZ, just off the I-40 & US-191. Don't go there, food sucks.

To get to Farmington, we rolled into Gallup, NM and headed north on US-491. At the town of Newcomb, we went east on Navajo 5 until it ended at US-371. Then we took 371 into Farmington.

Along the way, the speedometer cable on Sash's bike broke. Somehow, where the cable connects to the front wheel, the threads on the coupling stripped, and won't screw back on. We'll have to wait until we get to Denver to get it fixed.

Tomorrow, Day 6, it looks like rain as we push north, hoping to reach Monte Vista, CO.


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Thousands of crystallized tree trunks like this are all over everywhere at Petrified Forest National Park
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Sash pointing to something, at Petrified Forest National Park
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The Tee Pee rock formations at Petrified Forest National Park
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Yours Truly riding along inside Petrified Forest National Park
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Sash doing her thing at Petrified Forest National Park
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One of the viewpoints at Painted Desert National Park
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The Chieftain Restaurant in Chambers, Arizona. They have some Navajo items on the menu, but food is not that great here.
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Sands blow across US-491 north of Gallup, NM
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Shiprock (left), because it's supposed to look like a ship.  US-491, New Mexico
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Sash demonstrates proper hydrating form while riding along the N5 through the Navajo Nation
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Sash on her V-Star 650 along the N5 inside Navajo Nation

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Friday, April 25, 2014

Beeline Highway Arizona Motorcycle Ride, Day 4

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Beeline Highway, Arizona
State Route 87 between Fountain Hills, AZ and Payson, AZ is also known as "Beeline Highway". Originally, it was named that because folks in Phoenix could make a "beeline" to Payson to get out of the desert heat.

But today, it's appropriately named because they widened it to four lanes allowing motorcyclists to race at 100+ MPH along the 72 mile stretch.

You won't find tight twisties along the Beeline Highway, but you will find some really fun wide sweepers that weave in and out of Arizona's best display of desert flora. Mixtures of cactus including Saguaro, Cholla, Prickly Pear, Barrel and Hedgehog are easily visible from the highway. Unique rock formations and cliffs frame stunning views of mountain ranges and valleys as the highway crests and falls.

The road conditions are mostly smooth asphalt, with occasional rough spots where rocks have fallen, as well as tar snakes slithering in some random places.

Beeline Highway starts just north of Mesa, AZ, right where highways 202 and 87 intersect. Go north until you finally get out of Fountain Hills where it pours into Tonto National Forest for the show of scenery. The road gently climbs elevation as it runs along the Mazatzal Mountains until it reaches its crest just west of Mt. Ord, an elevation of 4,565 feet.

On a Thursday afternoon, Sash and I found minimal traffic. We noted several other motorcycle riders of various makes and models, many of which moving between 70mph to 90mph.

There's not many places for a potty break along the Beeline Highway, but I didn't spot any state troopers with radar guns either.


Once you get into Payson, drop by at The Pinon Cafe. Located at 1001 S. Beeline Highway, it used to be the old Knotty Pine Cafe, now owned and operated by a local family who's been in the Payson restaurant business for decades. They offer a full line of gluten-free dishes, including breakfast all day.  Open from 6:00am to 3:00pm.

After lunch, Sash and I continued on to Holbrook, taking in Highways 260, 277, 377, and 77. As we got into the Sitgreaves National Forest, the temperature really drops and the landscape changes to pine trees and signs warning you of elk crossings. But as we diverted onto highway 277, it changed to grasslands and cattle pastures.

Eventually we crossed Interstate 40 and found our way into Holbrook, one of those towns that saw better days during the height of Route 66.

For Day 5, the plan is Petrified National Forest, Painted Desert, and then on to Farmington, NM.

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Sash leaning into a curve along the Beeline Highway

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Capturing Sash in my mirrors

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Taking a rest stop along the side of the highway

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We raced with this Goldwing up the Beeline Highway, notice the two cupholders on the right handlebar, and a third by the passenger.

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The Pinon Cafe in Payson offers great local eats in a family-run restaurant.

cutrano troop run
The Cutrano AZ Troop Run is Saturday, April 26, 2014, at The Steel Horse Saloon, 8:00am, and benefits children of fallen soldiers.

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State Highway 377, Heber Road, north towards Holbrook. 

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About Steve

San Diego, CA-based motorcycle rider who likes long road trips, old rustic bars, craft beer, and tough women. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, writing about the mysteries of life. (Read more...)