Friday, February 26, 2016

What I learned about Arivaca Arizona: Riding the 2016 Arivaca Outback

If you die in Arivaca, Arizona, you’ll end up in several places. In addition to the local obituary column—and either heaven or hell—you’ll end up on the wall of the La Gitana Cantina and as a crack-filling paste in the aforementioned cantina; by that, I mean your ashes will be turned into a putty and used as a filler for cracks in the old bar. True story.

Built in 1880, La Gitana was named one of Esquire's Best Bars in America in 2011. With bloodstains, bullet holes, and the occasional free dental extraction from a pliers-wielding biker, La Gitana has a bit of a history. The cantina dedicates an entire wall to members of its bar family who have passed away. I observed framed photos of gone-but-not-forgotten friends displayed near the pool table and jukebox. Hoping my weekend riding activities wouldn’t conclude with an honorable mention to said bar wall, I drank my beers and listened to the group of local musicians play a decent version of REM’s “Losing my Religion.”

But this ride report isn’t about La Gitana, or even the town of Arivaca; it’s about the 6th Annual Arivaca Outback, a series of tech/ride days held 10 miles north of the Mexican border in February.

My invitation stated, “Every year a bunch of us get together and ride around the mountains in Southwest Arizona, eat BBQ and sourdough pancakes, tell a bunch of stories, and some of us sleep under the stars.” Well, that was all I needed to hear.I packed up my fat KTM on a Friday and rode the 465 miles from San Diego.

Pulling into the town at dusk, I saw a smattering of old buildings that comprised the downtown area. I bought some alcohol-related necessities at the local mercantile and headed a couple miles down the road to Andy Spears’ ranch where I tossed my tent and began drinking in earnest with the other attendees.

Andy is the consummate host and quite the character; he fits right into eccentric Arivaca.

He explained that the town is a very special place for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its beautiful setting, sparse population and the many dual-sport riding opportunities. He used the term, “phenomenal” in describing the area’s riding. Comprised primarily of old mining trails, fire-roads and Border Patrol paths, he told me that there was something for all rider levels and plenty of nice asphalt for those who’d rather stick to the "twisties." The weekend’s events were unstructured in that a participant could work on his or her bike in Andy’s workshop, shoot the breeze/drink with other riders, join a group heading off to one of the many nearby trails, choose to ride solo or just sit on the porch and stare at the stunning scenery.

I noticed a variety of riders and bikes: KLRs, DRZs, BMWs, small Yamahas and KTMs (and even some big KTMs) and an Aprilia. I knew 4 or 5 of the other riders from previous events and got to know the others.

There was a good vibe to the evening and I could tell then that the weekend would be enjoyable indeed.

For dinner, a group of us went to the La Gitana for beers and green chili burgers. It was then that I learned that crevices in the bar at which I was sitting were filled with a putty made from the ashes of deceased Arivaca locals; a cast of intriguing individuals assured me it was so and I contemplated that as I drank my beer.

On Saturday morning, after a pretty good night’s sleep under a clear, beautiful sky, I found myself with a small group who were undertaking a 50-mile loop ride described as Level 3 (6 being crazy technical and 1 being n00b). We grabbed breakfast at nearby Gadsden Coffee then headed south toward the border via a hard-pack dirt road with a few small water crossings. There were slight changes in elevation but we saw no other vehicles. I was enjoying the scenery, though I thought that the route was more of a Level 1 ride. The terrain would become a little more challenging, but nothing too severe.

We came upon a couple green-clad border patrol agents right before we arrived at the border fence. They waved to us good-naturedly and we waved back. No smuggling of drugs or people today, sir. We posed for photos as we took a break at the tall, rusty iron fence. It was 80 degrees and dead quiet.

The trail took us through a game preserve (quail?) and some interesting sand and gravel washes on our way back but again, nothing technical or difficult. The leader of our ride (Drunk Uncle) overshot a corner and parked his pretty Tiger in some scrub brush, missing a tall cactus by 10 feet. He was no worse for the wear and so we continued on, reaching the main Arivaca road just 4 hours after we’d started.

Once back at Andy’s place, I decided to work on my bike—and my sun tan—as I threw back some suds with some other riders (or non-riders, as it were). That would be the end of my riding for the weekend.

A full meal was being prepared and I talked bikes and planned rides with other like-minded folks as the scent of BBQ wafted through the air.

At one point I counted 30+ participants, but there was a lot of coming and going so I was never sure of the actual count.

Dinner was everything I hoped it would be.

There were more beer runs and more lies….er, stories…told throughout the night. When I ambled off to my tent for the night, the party was still in full swing. But I was on California time, so…

It was a brisk 45 degrees when I awoke on Sunday morning. I grabbed some coffee and stood around the fire with other riders as we planned our day on Andy’s maps. I would be heading back home before noon, though many folks planned to explore the area.

Shortly thereafter, buttermilk pancakes and eggs and potatoes and bacon were offered to the hungry group. There was so much food…

I took my time packing up as groups started their day of riding the local trails. Some were off to see the Nogales area, others would try our route from yesterday or would ride to the “chiminea.” After loading my bike, I thanked Andy and headed back to San Diego via a different route. What a great weekend with a fine bunch of riders.

As you can imagine, I highly recommend the Arivaca Outback ( if you want to explore that part of Southern Arizona.