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Common Tread

Arizona ride report, day one: Deep in the sand of Glamis

May 12, 2014

My phone pinged with a text from Billy. "Guys, I have bad news. When I called last week, they said to call back this week to reserve camp sites, now they're saying they are booked through June."

This is what I get for letting a guy with an ironic handlebar mustache be involved in planning our epic trip to the Grand Canyon.

My OCD planning nature kicked into overdrive and an hour later, due to the help of some fantastic friends of friends (isn’t the moto community wonderful?), we had a list of new destinations that would make for a decent substitute trip. I was sad that the Grand Canyon wouldn’t work out, but I’d never ridden southern Arizona and figured early spring was the best time to check it out. There was also the “one of the best roads I’ve ridden” text that piqued my interest.

Two days before we were set to leave, Captain Ironic Mustache sent another text: “The dude covering my shift is now saying he doesn’t remember agreeing to it. Can’t leave Sunday. I’ll watch you on GPS and meet you guys Monday morning.”

Whelp, at least now we knew what kind of trip this was going to be.

Meet the characters

Josh has been one of my closest friends for the better part of a decade. He recently left his job designing apparel for companies like Billabong and Nike to strike out on his own as a freelance designer. He’d borrowed bikes for smaller trips with me in the past and bought his first motorcycle, a 2012 Kawasaki Versys, a month ago. Most of the photos of Josh had to be nixxed because he likes do really inappropriate things as soon as I pull out a camera, which made for a hilarious trip but photos which are hard to post on the internet.

Jeremiah is an art director for some fancy ad agency and is one of the guys responsible for those Taco Bell commercials featuring guys named Ronald McDonald. He rides a 2005 Ducati Monster S2R and recently overruled my wise counsel and bought a Harley Sportster 48, which he is unsurprisingly now selling. He was also in the Marines, which means little guys like Josh and I have someone to hide behind should a bear decide we look tasty.

Billy works at a local bar here in Long Beach and rides a 2007 Triumph Bonneville. He’s terrible at pretty much everything except riding in the dirt, trimming his facial hair, being made fun of, and fixing things, so we keep him around. He spent most of the trip whining about going to Waffle House.

Dean made a brief appearance in the trip as well. He’s a photographer friend of Jeremiah’s who originally signed on when the destination was the Grand Canyon and decided to come anyways for part of the trip since he had nothing better to do.

Day one

Sunday morning Josh, Jeremiah, and I set off. It’s interesting how a road you’ve been on thousands of times feels different when you’re kitted out in your adventure gear on a bike loaded to the max. Maybe it’s looking over and seeing your buddy with his gear. Maybe it’s the way the bike feels different as it moves in traffic. Maybe it’s just the spirit of adventure. Regardless, we wouldn’t get to enjoy it for long.

As with most trips, our first stop was for coffee. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

Google said to take the freeway down to San Diego before getting into the fun stuff but I knew better. Despite it being Sunday morning, we decided to take Ortega Highway, one of Orange County’s best riding roads. Luckily for us, no one seemed to be out yet and we didn’t see many cars or bikes on a road usually littered with them until we got to the top of the hill where the Harley guys tend to stop and hang. Hard to blame them with a view like this.

Photo stops along Ortega Hwy. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

It was nearing lunchtime by this point, but all our bellies knew they had far better things in store if we pushed on. Back down the other side of the mountain, we got through Lake Elsinore quickly to hit the 15 so we could get south with our sights on the Palomar Mountains.

The Palomar Mountains get surprisingly little credit for containing such incredible roads. They cover a much larger area than anything in Los Angeles, have better pavement, fewer people, and far fewer speed traps. More importantly, they contain the tiny little town of Julian, which is known for its apple pie.

Josh really wanted to try Jeremiah's apple crumble pie. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

After filling our bellies, and then our bikes, we set off on the Sunrise Highway. I hadn’t ridden this particular stretch of road before but its twists, elevation changes, and incredible views fought off any pie-induced thoughts I had of pulling over for a siesta. Sadly, we arrived at Interstate 8 too soon and, after a quick descent through some incredible rock formations, we were back near sea level, charging into the desert at full speed.

The Kawasaki Versys at the top of the Sunrise Hwy. Photo by Sean MacDonald.

With Josh singing Michael Jackson in my headset, the remainder of the ride to Yuma — our intended campsite — went by fairly quickly and uneventfully. Excited to get on to the more important things, like setting up camp and drinking beer, I headed straight for a spot in the sand where I could frame a nice photo before fully considering the implications of my actions. Eleven feet later, I had my Versys stuck in the sand with the back wheel spinning and the guys howling with laughter. Yay me. (see top photo).

Now that the sand was no longer filling the area around my tires, and instead filling my pants, we began to realize that the campsites were literally on the side of the freeway. This wouldn’t do. Jeremiah called his friend Dean, who would be meeting us for the first half of the trip and was driving out in his car. Dean happened to be passing through the north side of the incredible off-road riding area officially named the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area but called Glamis by everyone. Dean mentioned that it was basically deserted and Jeremiah called the audible. An hour later we were on competition hill in Glamis, sharing the parking lot/campsite with only one other truck, as the sun began to set over the dunes. Today was a good day.

Our route for day 1. Photo by Sean's awesome Google Map skills.

Day two: Starry-eyed at the Kitt Peak Observatory

Day three: The best road ever

Day four: The wind wants to kill us

Day five: Homeward bound by way of East Jesus