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Common Tread

Day ride in an Arizona off-road adventureland

Jan 05, 2016

The four of us (symbolic?) gathered at the trailhead known in central Arizona as the gateway to an off-road adventureland hidden amongst the mountains: the Four Peaks Trail.

Four Peaks Trail
Getting to the Four Peaks Trail. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

We chattered about what lay ahead, anticipating a long ride, although the Internet rated it as “Moderate.” As we set off, wide berths and hard-packed sand, breathtaking views, butt-clenching cliffs and hairpins that came out of nowhere eased our group of two Yamaha XT225s, a BMW F 800 GS Adventure and a KTM 640 Adventure into a rhythmic groove. Smooth, swift, and satisfying. We'd been lulled into a disarming daze before abruptly awakening to two four-wheelers flying toward us at a pace I dubbed “unsafe.” The single-lane road cut between a thick grove of trees and afforded nearly nothing for space to pass and both of the big bikes nearly lost their captains.

Four Peaks trail
The KTM and BMW were able to leave the smaller bikes in the dust on the faster sections. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

The events thereafter were less startling, though the road soon became grittier, steeper and pleasurably, well, unpleasant. Herein laid the challenge: facing a rougher scramble without sacrificing speed. That was the skill Four Peaks tested. It was as unassuming as a man in a skirt. From afar, “she” looks approachable, kind, soft around the edges. Then, when you’ve gotten a little too close, you notice the five o'clock shadow and the lump of Adam’s Apple. This gave us a bit of a fright, but in the end it taught us a lesson about assumptions… right?

Four Peaks trail
Getting away from it all. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Our shock wore off quickly enough. My brakes were becoming hot. I could feel them. Or rather, not feel them. The ol’ XT225s just didn't handle the rugged cocktail of sand, dirt and razor-sharp rocks like our companions’ motorbikes. That and the rapidly changing elevation. Keeping up had become futile. We once again gathered to talk about the ride ahead and the miles behind, this time at the desolate midway point. We concluded that the obstacles were just tough enough to put up a fight, but we were still too cool to admit to difficulty.

Four Peaks trail
Four Peaks Trail. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
Four Peaks trail
Four Peaks Trail. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Despite our stories and the depleting sunlight, we still found time to soak in the sights. The calm was refreshing. Even the sweeping winds that had followed us all day quieted to a whisper. The grayish-green vegetation flecked the beige-red ridges and painted a colorful portrait of a land unlike the dusty reputation that precedes it. Nothing was wrong at that moment.

Four Peaks trail
Arizona canyons. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.

Our only mistake, it seemed, was to ride on a beautiful, busy day. Left, right, forward and rear we found 4x4s clamoring in and out of the park at varying (read: alarming) velocities around the blindest of corners. The only real threat on a ride like this was being flattened or lobbed off a cliff by an overzealous Jeep owner.

Four Peaks trail
Four Peaks Trail. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
What we encountered in this journey was not arduous or even the least bit scary. Instead, what we learned was that this route was a perfect way to inspire our next adventure. One with more torment, fewer people, and varying terrains. When quick and light is your goal, Four Peaks is the place. If endless days of dirt discoveries are your appetite, then it serves up every sort of dish. The road is worthy of an adventure bike, but requires at least a dual-sport. But more than anything, as with any good ride, Four Peaks calls for plenty of time, lots of water and a good head on your shoulders.

Trail comedians at work. Photo by Justin W. Coffey.
Then, when the day is done, head south into Tempe for dinner and a celebratory pint (if you’re into that sort of thing) at the namesake’s brewery, Four Peaks, a watering hole tucked away in a surprisingly quiet part of a busy town — a lot like the trail itself.