Summer of 1984

A friend posted a “motorcycle photo challenge” on Facebook recently and it got me sifting through old albums to find appropriate images. As pictures often do, these sparked memories (always a good thing for the aging brain) of adventures past.

After changing careers in my md-30’s, in 1983 I was in my second year of law school and through some various circumstances I was one of the students invited to Atlanta to interview for summer clerkships with law firms around the country. I accepted an offer from a firm in Albuquerque NM and at the end of term in mid-May of 1984 I departed from home in my old pickup truck, with the Green 1975 BMW R90/6 in the bed, for the summer.

I found a one-room apartment across the street from the law firm, with a parking lot where I could lock up the R90. Law clerks are expected to work insane hours for little pay, but since I was out there alone, I could work daylight til bedtime during the week and then on Friday evenings, head out on the bike to explore the southwest. In those days, we didn’t have so much technical gear and therefore didn’t know we needed it, so I rode in jeans, boots and a t-shirt with my old thin leather jacket, the one I’d had since I was eighteen. I carried my cheap tent and an old Boy Scout sleeping bag rolled up on the back of the seat. I camped everywhere then, which among the many things that I now wish I still could do so easily.

My trips were not planned extensively, usually just a direction, with the idea of going as far as I could until I had to make my way back for Sunday night.

In June, I discovered that a BMW club in Albuquerque had Sunday morning meetings at a local restaurant . I made my way there and was welcomed into their group as the new kid from back east. It was, like many, an eclectic group including a mechanical guru, Bob, a couple of pilots, a guy who worked at the atomic labs and therefore couldn’t talk about his job, an “older couple” (younger then than I am now) who had been into BMW’s for donkey’s years and some characters who wandered in and out occasionally. The club made some group rides and I joined them on a few over the summer.

One of these was an excursion to a  BMW club National gathering at Flagstaff AZ, where we camped together in the high meadow surrounded by mountains.. I recall that a young couple loosely attached to the club had made this trip their honeymoon and camped next to my tent on the wedding night. Neither they, nor I, got much sleep.

When I crawled out of my tent the next morning, I was freezing and noted the thick layer of frost on my bike’s saddle. I decided I’d had enough of the old Boy Scout sleeping bag I was using and set off down the mountain to buy a new one in Flagstaff. As I was inside the store making my selection, the sun melted the asphalt under my stand and the Green Bike laid down in the hot parking lot to rest. From freezing to melting in the space of an hour or two. Welcome to Arizona in the summer !

I detoured on the way back to Albuquerque to visit the Meteor Crater in Winslow, AZ and of course to “stand on the corner”. I was not checked out by a girl in a flatbed Ford, nor in any other conveyance for that matter, so went on up the mountain to see the crater. What is left of the meteor is on display in the visitor center and it is difficult at first to see how this rock, which would fit in the bed of a large pickup truck, made that enormous depression in the ground, until one considers the physics of the speed, that “E=MC squared” thing that Dr. Einstein came up with. Traveling at an estimated 26,000 mph, the space rock was quite a bit bigger until its progress was impeded by Arizona soil and the energy transfer was no doubt impressive, had there been anyone there 50,000 years ago to see it.

Later in the summer, the group planned a camping excursion to Alpine, AZ and I decided to stop by on my wanderings to join them. They had rented a “cabin” where cooking and such could go on, but most were camped in the yard around it when I arrived late in the evening. I set up my tent off to one side and joined the group around the campfire where stories were being invented on the spot and memories being made for later incorporation into new tales.
The next morning, I left the camp early and headed alone down what was then Rt. 666 ,”the Devil’s Highway” (since renamed to remove the infernal connotation). This road follows the ridgeline of the White Mountains much the way the Blue Ridge does in the east. Unlike the Blue Ridge, this road was empty except for me. Looking around from the highest points above the tree line, one could see for miles with nothing but rolling brown hills that continued until vision faded into a blur. If ever a person wanted to get lost and stay that way, this would be the place to do it.

At the south end of 666 is Morenci, AZ, a town dominated by a huge copper mine. As I descended from the mountains, I could see the pit taking shape ahead of me, an impossibly large hole in the ground with tiny toy vehicles in the bottom and along the sides. Only as I got closer did I see that these were tractor trailers and a full size cargotrain.

Down in the town, I noticed that nearly everyone, and I do mean everyone, was armed. This was decades before the “open carry” movement, but most of the adults on the street, including the ladies in dresses and men in suits, were wearing sidearms. At the end of the street, I pulled into a gas station to refuel and the attendant came out, .45 automatic holstered on his hip, and went straight to the back of my bike to look at the license plate. He asked me, not in a friendly way, “what are you doing here?” I would have thought that an out of state motorcycle with a tent and bedroll on the seat might have been self evident, but I answered that I was just passing through and needed gas. He softened immediately and explained that there was a strike at the copper mine and out of town workers were being brought in to replace the striking miners resulting in things getting, well, a bit out of hand between the (literally) warring factions. He had wanted to make sure I wasn’t one of “them”. I didn’t really want to know what he would have done if I had said I was. I moved on, thankful for a full tank of gas to put distance between me and Morenci and that, despite the Arizona heat, my jacket had remained “unventilated”.



About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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