My friend Derek and I decided to do a day ride in late December 2009. There were a few roads I hadn’t yet ridden in Southern Arizona that I was eager to see, and we were both on vacation, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get in some saddle time.
Blue skies and the open roads of Southern Arizona were calling and we answered.
We met at a Chandler gas station near I-10 at 7:30 a.m. to fill our bikes with fuel and our throats with coffee (despite this being Arizona, early morning late-December temperatures were in the mid-40’s). After catching up with each other a little, and talking bikes a lot, we then rode about 30 miles south/southwest to the location of the “Burnt Bun Café,” which I hadn’t been to since 2003, for breakfast.
Along the way, we had to go through the now rather large town of Maricopa. When I first moved to the Phoenix area in the late ’90s, Maricopa was a sleepy little backwater. During the real estate boom a few years ago, developers built numerous residential properties here, which sharply increased the traffic to and from Phoenix. Town officials responded by implementing a 25 mph speed limit in town. I was reminded of this as I accelerated spiritedly from a stoplight (but only, honestly, to about 35-40 mph) and found a motorcycle cop honking at me from my left. Luckily, he only gave me a verbal warning before making a U-turn. Derek commented later that he probably just wanted to check out my new Buell.
Once out of town and back on the open road, we accelerated back up to 55 (or thereabouts…). Actually, we really didn’t go much faster as the temperatures out in the countryside had dipped into the low 40’s and neither of us wanted to increase the windchill more than necessary. When we stopped at the cafe, we found to our great chagrin that it was closed, had been renamed “Good Times Cafe” with Miller Lite logos, and didn’t look nearly as charming as I remembered. Determined to find breakfast, we headed east towards Casa Grande, and along the way found a golf resort and hotel in the middle of nowhere. They had an excellent - and open - restaurant where we both ordered the Southwestern Eggs Benedict (with chorizo - yum! No meal pic unfortunately as we were too ravenous to think of anything other than eating).
Amply nourished, we eventually headed south through the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation, though it took us a while to get there due to a few detours. Once there, it took us a further while to find a paved road, though once we did,
In the wide open areas of the Arizona desert, when you run out of fuel, it's good to have a buddy along.
we were rewarded with fresh asphalt, minimal traffic, and outstanding desert views.
Unfortunately, the detours had taken their toll on our fuel levels, and gas stations are few and far between on the reservation. We were both near the bottom of our reserve tanks when we pulled into a health center (the only building cluster for miles), only to be told the nearest gas station was 18 miles away. After unsuccessfully asking around for gas on-site, we decided to press on, with whoever didn’t run out of gas (and would hopefully make it to the gas station) returning with a fuel container for the unlucky one who didn’t make it. I ended up being the latter, sputtering to a stop about eight miles past the health center. Of course, being stranded in the desert in December is a lot better than being stranded there in July! It really wasn’t that bad, and was actually rather serene, listening to the sounds of various desert wildlife in the distance.
Although a few cars drove by that I tried to flag down, only two stopped: a young couple in a Subaru who unfortunately couldn’t give me any fuel (but then, how many people nowadays carry a fuel hose and hand pump in their car for siphoning?); and a Border Patrol agent in his work truck who asked if I had anyone helping me. I let him know my friend had gone on ahead but might likewise be out of gas further up the road. In any event, Derek finally returned with a one gallon water jug full of premium stowed in one of his cavernous saddlebags. His Kawasaki Concours had gone an astonishing 48 miles since his reserve light first came on, and it was still running when he got to the gas station (he probably could’ve gone another two miles for an even 50). My Buell Firebolt ran completely dry after 34 miles on reserve (now I know…). Hey, if nothing unplanned happened, it wouldn’t be an adventure!
We proceeded west to the aptly-named town of Why to top off my tank. The original plan was to then head south through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to the border town of Lukeville, across from Sonoyta on the Mexican side. However, due to the time we had lost with searching for and running out of gas, plus the detours earlier, we decided to skip that part of the itinerary and head north to Ajo for a late lunch. In the ten-mile stretch between Why and Ajo, there appeared to be the prominent remnants of mining operations, with a rugged yet majestic beauty of their own. Ajo actually has some nice, historic-looking buildings in its downtown area, but we didn’t take the time to sightsee (next trip!). The place we stopped at was on the northern outskirts of town and rather basic, though their enchilada-style burritos really hit the spot!
Suman Subramanian and his Buell Firebolt.
After lunch, we proceeded north through a rather scenic portion of the desert, especially in the late afternoon light.
Continuing north towards Gila Bend, we encountered a Border Patrol checkpoint. We had seen another one earlier while heading south, but didn’t need to stop then since that one, like this one, was only checking northbound traffic. The car ahead of us had Mexican license plates, so the guards checked his papers, but when it was our turn they waved us right through (I guess it would be pretty hard to hide a bunch of illegal immigrants on a motorcycle). On a side note, I was amazed by the level of Border Patrol presence on this ride; after we got a few miles south of Casa Grande, it seemed like every fourth or fifth vehicle on the road was Border Patrol.
At Gila Bend, we hopped on I-8, then retraced our steps from the former Burnt Bun Cafe back to Phoenix, ending at a friend’s place for happy hour. Overall, it was a very enjoyable 300-plus mile ride. If you don’t ride, you should, but at the very least please watch out for motorcycles. If you do ride, watch out for cagers and keep the rubber side down!