Title: Southwest by Two-Stroke
Riding 350 Yamahas to California
Author: Brian Franzen, Michael Newlun, Jeffrey Ross
Book Heat Level: 1
BLURB: Southwest by Two-Stroke
Our 1973 motorcycle ride took us from Beatrice, Nebraska, to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, Albuquerque, Phoenix, San Diego, LA, Vacaville, Lake Tahoe, Denver, and then back to Nebraska. We were teenagers, and we had relatives, friends, acquaintances, and girlfriends to see all along the journey. Some nights we camped out, others we stayed in a friend’s travel trailer, and some nights we enjoyed regular beds and access to a swimming pool.
Each of us rode a 350cc two-stroke motorcycles on the 3500-mile trip. We had no cell phones, roadside assistance insurance coverage, custom ear plugs, or sound systems.
The early 70’s was different than the 60’s, but not that much different. The attraction of the open road and the Pacific Ocean was very powerful. None of us were worried about breaking down or the costs of the trip. We had to go see western America. And we did.
EXCERPT: Southwest by Two-Stroke
From York, Nebraska, to Phoenix, Arizona-Brian
The first day of the trip, when Jeff and I rode from York down to Beatrice to meet up with Mike, I forgot to take my watch off my wrist. The next day, I had a good sunburn right where the watch rested. No amount of sunscreen could protect my wrist for the rest of the trip. I applied sunscreen liberally thereafter, but the sunburn blistered and never completely healed for three weeks. I would ride for long periods holding onto the mirror support, which provided shade to my sunburned wrist (and tanned my inner arm).
After our first full day of riding from Nebraska into Kansas, we camped at a rest area outside of Dodge City, Kansas, along US 50. No problem. No concerns for our safety or decision. Today, in 2019, we would probably be arrested for camping in such a place. Back then, we just rolled out our bags by a picnic table and spent the night.
The next day, we went past Springfield, Colorado and just before turning south toward Pritchet, Colorado, Mike's bike ran out of gas (due to the extended forks that prevented him from fully utilizing the reserve gas in his fuel tank). Jeff and I kept riding into town before we realized Mike wasn't with us. We turned back and I pushed him into Pritchet by nudging his bike along with my right foot pressed against his left rear shock absorber.
We rode to Philmont Scout Ranch outside Cimarron, New Mexico. (I worked there the previous summer.) We had tent and cot accommodations and got a couple of nice meals and showers because I knew some of the guys at Philmont. I also had an opportunity to visit with some of my old ‘colleagues’ from the camp.
Then, we headed to Albuquerque. We headed west on Highway 54 from Cimarron to Eagles Nest and on to Red River, NM. We rented little Honda motorcycles and thrashed the mountain roads around Red River. Back on the Yamahas, Team B continued through Taos then down I-25 to Albuquerque where we stayed with my friend Jeanette (who I got to know the previous summer, at Red River, when I worked at Philmont) and her folks. Jeanette and I were good friends, but I never saw her again after we rode out of Albuquerque.
Jeff, Mike, and I slept out in a small travel trailer. Jeanette was into listening to the JohnnyWinterLivealbum and Cream. Johnny Winter was playing a live concert in Albuquerque that summer, and his band was a very hot local topic. We took Jeanette and two of her girlfriends on the back of our bikes down I-25 to a mall or someplace after dark. I didn't feel very safe riding on the highway not wearing a helmet (with a face shield) and with a passenger behind me.
Later, well into Arizona, we enjoyed riding down the switchbacks heading into Salt River Canyon, and then ripping back up the canyon curves—a great time on the Yamahas.
You go down about ten miles, curves everywhere, cross the Salt River Bridge at the bottom, then go up through wonderful twisties again for another five or six miles and exit the canyon. Jeff tells me the road has been improved since then, but US 60 through the Salt River Canyon in 1973 was a real blast for bikes! This is where I lost fifth gear. My bike just wouldn't “find the gear” when I shifted into fifth, so I stayed in fourth gear as high gear the rest of the trip.
When we were east of Phoenix, we rolled through Globe, Arizona. Not a pretty town. Globe was a mining town. Rich in history, though. Billy the Kid apparently rustled some cattle around there in 1877 or so. I believe the last stagecoach robbery in American history happened, back in 1899, near Globe, too. I recall the city was hot and dusty as we drove past the big open-pit mine.
Somewhere after Globe, still on Highway 60, during the late afternoon, probably near Superior and the Bluebird Mine area, we were riding through some pitched and curvy section of the highway when a blue VW Beetle (the old-fashioned Beetle) swerved into my lane and nearly took me out. We had been gazing into the sun and moving in and out of patches of shade created by the canyon walls. Good thing I saw that Beetle and avoided a crash. That rattled us a little bit, and we had to pull over and regroup before riding the last forty miles or so into Phoenix.
We made it to Phoenix and enjoyed the hospitality of Jeff’s grandparents. They lived near 40thStreet and Indian School at the time. We also appreciated their air-conditioning and swimming pool. Just outside the sliding door in the room where we slept was their swimming pool, which was so cool to have so close. We swam a lot, even after dark. I was impressed by the low berms surrounding their entire lot—both front and back yards. The berms were used to contain water used to irrigate their lawn and trees. But other than swimming, we pretty much stayed indoors and rested and avoided the heat.
We did get out to visit a motorcycle shop. As I mentioned, I had lost fifth gear on my motorcycle someplace during the Salt River Canyon run. I would keep up in fourth gear ok, but a higher RPM multiplied the vibration and the engine whine. I got a larger-count counter-shaft sprocket at Apache Cycles in Mesa, Arizona which trimmed the higher RPM a little bit for the rest of the trip. (I didn’t want to get the transmission overhauled at this point of the trip—time, work, and money!) This was a clever solution and dropped the rpms to a suitable level at sixty-five mph. I believe this was the only mechanical issue we suffered on the trip, other than Mike’s occasional low gas problem. While we were in Mesa, we also visited Jeff’s aunt and uncle, Deanna and Steve Cooley.
Albuquerque and more—Jeff
We spent the night in a travel trailer, or maybe it was a camper shell on jacks, in Albuquerque. The trailer was parked, next to Jeanette’s house, on a concrete driveway or apron. At some point in the late evening, Team Black Rock was sitting out on lawn chairs just outside the trailer. The three girls were inside the trailer whispering about witches and brujas and ghosts! After things settled down, we could call it a night. No, the trailer was not haunted. Fun.
The ride south from Albuquerque to Socorro and then west to Arizona is interesting. Lots of open high desert, rolling hills, and big skies. I-25 runs near the Rio Grande River and heads south to the city of Socorro. (Why Socorro? “Socorro” means “help” in Spanish. Apparently, a group of worn-out Spanish settlers were given water and food here by local indigents in 1598. The settlement then received its event-marking name: Socorro). At Socorro, motorists can pick up US 60. There are several picturesque New Mexico villages along the way, including Quasimodo, Pie Town, and Magdalena. At the time, the Very Large Array radio telescope installation was being built about fifty miles west of Socorro. We didn’t see any of the large dish radio telescopes back then that dot the landscape today. We just noticed bulldozers, trucks, and surveyors. US 60 West across New Mexico, while scenic and peaceful, is brutal in one respect. A vicious head wind is usually blowing during the spring and summer months.
Arizona has several climate zones: high plateau in the northern third, forest in the middle, and desert in the south. Elevations and scenery change abruptly. Steep mountain grades and brake check turn-outs abound. A totally interesting place, seldom mentioned, is Gonzales Pass, about seven miles west of Superior on US 60.
After rolling along at 2500 feet elevation on a curvy mountain road or so for several miles, you suddenly crest the pass and then can look out across the burning Sonoran Desert toward Phoenix. The flat landscape, and dusty haze, and sporadic desert peaks rising from the desert floor, especially when gazing into the late afternoon summer sun, provide for a stunning vista. And as you descend on a motorcycle, the rise in temperature as you drop 1000 feet or so is very noticeable. Into the furnace!
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