…and my debut as a professional dual-sport rider. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comfficeffice" /><o></o> Let me explain. You see, I’m a grad student at ASU in a fisheries lab. We survey <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-comffice:smarttags" /><st1lace w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Eagle Creek</st1:City>, <st1:State w:st="on">AZ</st1:State></st1lace>, each summer and this year we had 5 participants. That’s one too many for our workhorse F250, so I opted to take the KLR instead of a second truck. Therefore, I got paid to take a 4-day, 800 mile dual-sport ride. What a deal. Here’s the ride report- <o></o> The plan was to meet the truck at a campground on upper Eagle Creek Monday afternoon. I cruised from the house just before sunrise and made a beeline East to Safford. Rain was in the forecast for Monday, so I sort of expected a bit of moisture. Well, it rained on me almost constantly from 7am to 2pm. My Joe Rocket road suit can’t handle that much water. I rolled into <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Clifton</st1lace></st1:City> during a break in the rain and stopped to take some pics. <o></o> <st1:City w:st="on">Clifton</st1:City> is an odd mining town situated on a gradient with one half of the town on the uphill bank of the <st1lace w:st="on"><st1laceName w:st="on">San Francisco</st1laceName> <st1laceType w:st="on">River</st1laceType></st1lace> and the other half on the downhill bank. Therefore, to avoid flooding in the downhill side, they have constructed a huge, gated wall to stop the floodwaters. <o></o> Uphill of <st1:City w:st="on">Clifton</st1:City> is the “unincorporated” town of <st1lace w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Morenci</st1:City></st1lace>. This town is basically a village supported by Phelps Dodge mining company. They have caused amazing landscape devastation in the form of a HUGE open-pit copper mine. Pictures can’t convey the magnitude. Here are 2 pics from the mine overlook. <o></o> Presently known as Route 191 (Coronado Trail), the highway linking <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Clifton</st1lace></st1:City> to Alpine was once called Route 666- Devil’s Highway. Apparently they changed the name to quell the theft of road signs. The original name is quite fitting. It consists of 94 miles of highly-exposed, paved twisties with no guardrails and climbs from 3,400 ft to over 9,000 ft. Mapquest estimates 3 hours for this stretch. I was fortunate enough to get to ride in the rain. Visibility was about 50 meters at one point, as I was riding through a cloud. <o></o> My original plan was to approach the camp on some unexplored FS roads, but I was soaked, cold, and solo. I thought better of biffing off-road in the mud and took the safe route to camp to seek shelter. I exited 666 and cruised down <st1:Street w:st="on"><st1:address w:st="on">Upper Eagle Creek Road</st1:address></st1:Street> arriving at Honeymoon Campground at 1 pm in a downpour. I pitched my tent and got into my sleeping bag to warm up. <o></o> At 330 pm, the skies opened up and the rest of the crew arrived with a flat tire. We fixed it, set up camp, and got to work, which sort of looked like this- We also use a backpack electrofisher and shock the stream to dip out the fish. It’s fun. <o></o> Day 2 we surveyed 3 more upper Eagle Creek sites on our way back out to 666. The terrain here is non-eventful, but requires multiple shallow stream crossings. At the third site, miscommunications resulted in my separation from the truck for quite a while. I got to explore a lot of more technical roads trying to meet up with the rest of the crew, but it was frustrating. When we finally reconvene at an unnamed wash, we make motions towards our lower Eagle Creek sites and head south on 666 back to Morenci. Knowing that our most rugged terrain is yet to come, we opt to get a “new” tire so we can have a spare. We pick up a baldy in <st1:City w:st="on"><st1lace w:st="on">Clifton</st1lace></st1:City> and head to lower Eagle Creek. Less than 10 miles in, the truck gets a second flat and we’re faced with a problem. <o></o> We slap on the bald spare and can’t risk the pending terrain with no spare. The nearest new tire shop is Safford, 50 miles away, and it is late afternoon. We are forced to slab it to Safford, camp nearby, and get 4 new tires on the truck on the morning of day 3 to hopefully end our tire woes. We were originally nervous about making the trip with the 3-year-old BFG’s and our concerns were confirmed. The new set of tires ended the truck’s issues for the remainder of the trip. <o></o> I was having minor mechanical issues as well. On my previous trip, the head nut had backed off completely from the rough terrain. I addressed this, but apparently some damage was done to my head bearings, leaving a lot of rattle in the head because the trees can’t seat properly. The nut backed off again and I was unable to cinch it down on this trip and had to grit my teeth as the front end rattled over every bump. I guess new bearings are in my future. I’ll tear into it this weekend and assess the damages. <o></o> Anyhow, days 3 and 4 were spent on lower Eagle Creek. <o></o> The road meanders down and through the streambed and consists of river rock, sand, and about 30 slimy water crossings. In past years, these water crossings were 6-12 inches deep. No problem. Apparently the beavers have been working overtime in the last year. Many stream crossings were now >24 inches deep. This was a challenge for me on the bike. The deep water is one thing, but the substrate is dotted with large rocks which are barely visible from the surface. I managed all crossings but one, which I detoured on an equally technical, but shallower quad trail. Yes those are 33 inch tires on the F250. I nervously rode through that as well. The water soaked the bottom of my saddlebags. All the paparazzi were in the truck, so there are no images of my crossings. <o></o> Camp on day 3 is located near a bat cave which always provides a nice evening spectacle. The cave was once mined for guano, but now simply houses an estimated 100,000 bats. They all exit the cave simultaneously each evening. It is really cool to see (and hear) that many bats pour out of a cave for 5 solid minutes as they disperse on their nightly feeding frenzies. Peregrine falcons swoop down and grab bats out of the air. <o></o> Day 4 was more sampling and homeward bound. <o></o> The truck returned through <st1lace w:st="on"><st1:City w:st="on">Clifton</st1:City></st1lace> while I headed North on 666 to Alpine. Somehow the KLR became possessed by a sport bike and we carved the twisties like a pro. <o></o> From Alpine, it was 50 mph dirt byway to <st1lace w:st="on"><st1laceName w:st="on">Big</st1laceName> <st1laceType w:st="on">Lake</st1laceType></st1lace>, then slab to home via Eagar, Show Low, Heber, and Payson. Gassing up in Payson at 630 pm and realized that my rear tire was flat. Thank God for firm sidewalls on my K761, because I have no idea when it went flat or how. Fumbled with removing the wheel then I just slimed it and hoped for the best. Still don’t know why it went flat, but I suspect that the valve stem was leaking. I realized that this is my first flat ever. I’ve logged over 20,000 miles on my KLR and assisted with other tire repairs, but never had one myself. <o></o> Made it home safely at 845 pm for about 820 miles round trip. Not a bad way to spend 4/5 of your workweek.