Monday, September 16, 2019
So for the 5th time in 7 years I find myself at the GUNSITE Academy shooting facility in Paulden, Arizona with a bunch of KLR enthusiasts. And I’m feeling the love!
The Annual Arizona KLR ride put together by my friend Jon usually attracts 20-30 riders from around the US for a weekend of backcountry trail riding, BBQ and camaraderie around the campfire. It was held in April for the first few years but now takes place in September.
Each year we see many familiar bikes and faces, along with some new folks. And this September wasn’t any different. Along with the guys I’ve seen over the past few years, we have a couple newbies...some on KLRs, some on other bikes. And we’re all there to have a great time.
Some of the riders: Jon, the Corey’s (Sr. & Jr.), Darrell, Sal and his friends Tim and Dennis, Chuck B., Ray Ray, Jake, Charlie (ay, yay, yay...), Haldor, Brian, Charles, Garrett and my friend Dave.
Dave and I rolled in from San Diego on Thursday afternoon just in time for a Friday pre-ride. Four of us rode from Chino Valley to Bagdad the back way...80 glorious miles of dirt through some pretty pine forests. The burgers at the Bagdad Cafe are big and delicious. We rode the twisties back to Paulden, feeling the temperatures fluctuate between 90 and 70 as we rode through the different elevations near Prescott Valley.
When we arrived to the GUNSITE facility on Friday afternoon, there were already a few riders waiting. Burgers and dogs on the grill and tents going up meant the ride was coming together. Over the next few hours, 20+ bikes were assembled around the campground: Mostly KLRs but also a KTM 990 Adventure, a Triumph Tiger, a Honda CRF, a Kawasaki KLX250 and a Yamaha 450 were in attendance. And all were welcome.
The evening cool set in as Jon laid out the agenda for the next two days: There would be a visit to an old cemetery hidden in the backcountry, a ride to a UFO he located high up on a mountain—more on that later—a BBQ lunch in Ash Fork off old Route 66, some cliff side petroglyphs and a ride through an old train tunnel. The good times commenced as story telling, catching up with old friends and ride planning went on through the night.
When we met at a nearby gas station the next morning at 8am, a couple more riders had just arrived from Phoenix and Flagstaff. After fueling up, we headed north on Highway 89 in a long line of single cylinder, 4-stroke beauty.
After a few miles of dirt road riding, we stopped to see the historic Puntenney cemetery at Cedar Glade. We also experienced our first issue when a footpeg rattled loose from a rider’s bike—a notorious problem with the KLR. We then headed to some more off-road riding southwest of Ash Fork.
The riding was challenging but fun, with lots of babyhead rocks, ruts and fine dust to contend with. Surprisingly, only one rider laid his bike down on one of the tough hill climbs...but no harm was done to bike or rider. Jon then broke the riders into two smaller groups. He led 8 riders through a difficult route around a mountain, while Darrell took the rest of the riders through a slightly easier route. We all met at the top of a mountain where we found...a real flying saucer! (More on that later.) We sat and enjoyed the cool breeze and wind in the pines as we recounted the ride. We also encountered our second mechanical issue: a loose radiator mount that was quickly fixed by Chuck B.
From there we all made our way down the rocky mountain to a dirt road that led to Highway 40. A few miles before the highway, we stopped to see some petroglyphs along a cliff wall. Very impressive. A short pavement ride later, we all met at LuluBelle’s in Ash Fork for burgers and pulled pork sandwiches. The group of 20 sat outside on the patio and enjoyed the sun and cool breeze. There were plenty of high fives, big smiles and pats on the back as we loudly recalled the ride. This was an animated group, to be sure!
Leaving there, some riders headed back to camp as a large group rode to—and through—an abandoned railroad tunnel. The video of the climb up and into the tunnel would’ve made Evel Knievel proud. Newcomer Garrett caught air with his Gen 2 KLR and resembled a rodeo rider breaking a stubborn bronc.
That night was made for good eating and story telling around the campfire. Lots of laughter as riders told and re-told accounts of the ride. Jon’s wife Kayla brought a brisket, smoked turkey, deviled duck eggs, beans, cole slaw, potato salad and peach cobbler. And there was a LOT of everything! The night was bittersweet as everyone had a great time, but everyone knew the weekend was ending. A special guest—CraigES—showed up in a brand new Camo KLR. Craig is a local and one of the original group of riders.
After dinner, Jon presented the coveted KLR award to Garrett, the rider who showed the most heart during the weekend’s ride. The trophy is made up of different parts that signify what the ride meant to the trophy recipient. Garrett will have to add something to the award and present it to another rider at next year’s event.
Jon then provided everyone the background on the UFO we visited on the mountain top. Apparently, the structure was a flying saucer-shaped boat that once sat in the Los Angeles harbor. An eccentric millionaire then transported the weird shaped vessel in its entirety to the top of that Arizona mountain where he lived in it for years. Definitely and interesting and intriguing story.
Dave and I left early on Sunday for the drive back to San Diego, as several others went for a half-day ride in the local area. After hearing our report of the Bagdad ride, Sal and some of the others rode out there for the burgers and incredible scenery. That’s a truly beautiful stretch of backcountry riding.
I spoke with Jon on Sunday and he reported that there were no injuries and no major bike damage. This was yet another fantastic get together for riders who love their KLRs.
I’ll see you all next year!