Day three was going to be our short ride day. We had initially intended to ride farther southwest into Tombstone, but by this point in the trip everything had taken quite a bit longer than expected. We'd heard about some falls and, after having the falls at the Grand Canyon ripped from our trip, we were all eager to find some water. Plus, sleeping late felt nice. I will say, the cafe at Hotel Congress was fantastic and it was nearing noon by the time we actually got on the road.
The road to the falls turned to dirt for several miles, which gave our resident new guy, Josh, his first taste of dirt on street tires. I’d talked him into buying a Versys, his very first motorcycle, a month or two prior and he was taking to it quickly, but everything was new to him.
Luckily, the hike down to the falls was very short because, upon finishing our descent, we learned there was no flowing water and the little water it contained was getting pretty stagnant. Josh and Jeremiah decided to go for a dip anyway (seriously, we were really looking forward to the falls in the Grand Canyon) and Billy and I opted to ride back into town and catch up on Clash of Clans.
Two hours later we were reunited at the base of the Catalina Highway, which stretches up to the top of Mount Lemmon. I’d heard a bit about this road and its beautiful asphalt and this was supposed to be one of the highlights of the trip. Unfortunately, my little Versys was packed down with far too much gear to make anything twisty much more than a disappointment, but at least it would be cooler on top of the mountain, right?
Catalina Highway — also known as the Sky Island Scenic Byway, Mount Lemmon Highway, and Arizona Forest Highway 39 — may be the best road I’ve ridden to date. Its 6,000 feet of elevation change is full of near-perfect asphalt minus one little visitor center area and one rough transition. We were told it didn’t contain a single decreasing radius turn, though Jeremiah would beg to differ as he ran wide in one and claimed it was a decreasing radius. About a fourth of the way up the hill I realized I was going to have to stop and shoot photos every few hundred yards or not at all for fear of not capturing it all and the desire to set up camp drove us farther up the hill.
The top camp sites sit at around 8,500 feet and, with the wind we’d had this week, we opted to head back down to about 5,000 feet to make camp. The entire mountain was nearly empty of people and every site we’d stopped at was vacant so we weren’t worried about getting some space to ourselves. We dropped off the gear quickly and decided to head back down the hill to grab dinner. With our bikes finally unburdened of our extra gear, it felt incredible to get in a spirited ride. Riding twisties in Los Angeles is OK, but the visibility is terrible and there’s always some terrifying danger around the corner ready to teach you a lesson. This felt more like riding on a track, with great visibility around the corners that allowed you to set each one up perfectly and then knock it out of the park. Side note: the Versys is surprisingly easy to hang off of.
With full bellies and fresh beer strapped to the bikes, we made our way back up the hill in the dark. We all wanted to push it again, but the desire not to have an agitated beer explode in our faces kept us in check. We arrived at the campsite in yet another windstorm and, after discovering it was way too windy to make a fire, huddled in a tent to play cards until the wind calmed down. Unfortunately, that never happened, so we spent the night in our respective tents wondering whose would be the first to blow over.