Motorcycling the Southwest: Day 1


I have been sent down to the Kitt Peak National Observatory¬†just outside of Tucson, Arizona to lend a hand in an observing program. This project makes use of the Steward Observatory’s Bok Telescope, which is located right beside the biggest telescope at Kitt Peak: the Mayall 4 meter. Over the 7 night observing run I will be trained on how to use the telescope, and then operate it myself.
I decided to take advantage of this business related trip by tacking on to the beginning of it a small motorcycle tour. Fortunately, my brother, Bryan, lives in San Diego and happens to own a motorcycle. So instead of flying straight to Tucson and heading to the observatory, I decided to fly to San Diego, see my brother, and borrow his motorcycle for a week. Below I chronicle day 1.

Day 1: San Diego, CA to Flagstaff, AZ

Distance: 787 kilometers
Duration: approximately 10 hours
This was a sort of ‘get there’ type ride. My goal, originally, was to make it all the way to Meteor Crater, which is an impact crater just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona. So I hit the road at about 8:30am PST.

This is me sitting on the backed-up bike, ready to hit the road
Packed and ready to go at 8:30am February 10th, 2014.

Bryan’s bike is a Yamaha V-Star 650. The above pics shows me ready to hit the road. The context: Bryan took this pic from inside his car as he was showing me the way to the highway (he was going to work). As previously stated, my original goal was to get to Meteor Crater, which is located about 55 kilometers east of Flagstaff. This ended up being too loftly a goal so my plans changed to just getting to Flagstaff itself. Here’s an image of the route I took on the first day:

Where I went on Day 1 of the tour of south west united states
Where I went on Day 1 of the tour of south west united states. Click for Interactive Map.

—> Or you could check out this interactive map I made of the entire trip <—

The trip started off driving through the mountains of southern California. It was beautiful scenery to start the trip with: here is a picture I snapped just after I got moving:

This was the view from a rest stop in the california mountains.
This was the view from a rest stop in the California mountains in Cleveland National Forest

I also took a picture of my bike in the early morning Sun:

Checking out the bike and the road to be travelled
Checking out the bike and the road to be travelled

Unfortunately, my fun was short lived as the beautiful mountains quickly gave way to boring desert. Referring to the map above, from about El Centro, CA to Phoenix, AZ the drive was relatively boring. It contained wide flat deserts filled with small shrubbery and tumbleweeds. There were very few gas stations (I almost ran out of gas once heading into Yuma). Happily by the time I got to the other side of Phoenix, the roads got much more fun: windy, mountainous, trees, clouds. It was natural art.
However, as I was making my final approach into Flagstaff, things got very tough. I had been running behind, so still roughly 100 kilometers out, the Sun had almost set. This meant that I was going to be riding in the dark. Riding in the dark in this context is not a great idea because a) I’ve never been in the area before so I don’t know what to expect on the road, and b) I’m tired from a whole day of driving. The Sun going down ALSO makes it colder. This may not have been a huge deal had it not been for two other factors. The first, I was heading north, which means the further I drive, the colder it gets. Secondly, Phoenix is at an elevation of 331 m and Flagstaff is at 2106 m, a difference of 1775 m. As I climbed higher and higher into the mountains, the temperature plummeted. Compounding the Sun setting, my growing latitude, and my climbing altitude pushed the temperatures into the single digits Celsius. Keeping in mind I was also driving at 120 km/hr (serious windchill). The last 15 kilometers before Flagstaff were torturous; my riding gear was only meant for hot weather. Upon arrival, at about 7:00pm MST, I spent 15 min at a gas station inside warming up. The lesson here is: do your research before you travel.
I got myself a hotel room and settled in for the night. Slept like a log (after I finished shivering).