Scottsdale / Montrose
July 2002
Day 7


Friday July 5th, 2002
Start: Scottsdale, Arizona
End: Scottsdale, Arizona
186 Miles

Friday morning, we wake up and I've got some phone calls to make. Clean up, have a snack, and start calling.

I explain to Sharon that I think I'll be able to find a place to get us right in, as July is the slow time for motorcycle shops in Phoenix - it's just too hot for the locals to ride, mostly.

I call Kellys Kawasaki, and they have the parts in stock for my petcock. They have time to do the steering bearings, and I have the bearings with me, so we're set.

I bring the bike in around 1:00pm, and as agreed they get it right in. Should be about 2-3 hours to do the work. Besides the steering bearings and the petcock, I ask for an oil change. While waiting, I make myself at home in the showroom. I browse the sales floor, look at posters, and look at parts and accessories.

There's a new 2003 Concours on the floor, just assembled. A very pretty color, a deep red - I'd call it a wine red. Very classy!

I talk to Ginger, the parts manager, and explain that I worked there long ago. I give dates, and ask if she knows any of the people I worked with. None of them still work there, but I wouldn't expect them to 20 years later. Ginger tells me that:

Mark, one of the best mechanics I've ever known, got a divorce and now works for Allied Signal.

Tom C. went into real estate, made good money, and moved to Boulder about 8 years ago. A very charming (though brutally blunt) guy, Ginger tells me that they still miss having him around.

Bill S. the service manager that introduced me to BMWs by loaning me his smoke-gray 1976 BMW R90s for most of a day, went into real estate as well. As did his replacement, Bill K.

John the owner comes around now and then. His son Jeff is the general manager now, in that office over there....

Oh gosh! I remember Jeff, when he was riding around on a little KX Kawasaki motorcrosser, when he was smaller than my own son is now.....

About that time the service manager comes up to me to tell me that I have 2 sets of bottom steering bearings. Shoot..! They'll call around to find another set, OK? Sure... not much choice, the bike is apart and I don't want to take a taxi to Scottsdale or a bus to Pemberville.

After a while, the service manager hunts me up again. They've found the bearings, a full set of Kawasaki bearings, and they'd prefer to put in Genuine Kawasaki Parts. OK, that's fine.... I'll be able to use both bottom bearings if I simply keep the bike for another 120,00 miles or so.

The good news is that the petcock is rebuilt and the oil is changed. And if need be, the tech will stay after a bit to get me back on the road. I can't complain, they're doing their best and they are getting it handled.

I go back to visiting up front - I talk with Jeff the manager a bit. He's the owner's son, and he does remember me though barely. We talk about the past, and about the present motorcycle market. Talking shop, though this isn't exactly my field anymore, is fun.

I let him get back to work, and I browse the Indians next door. Not my style, but what the hey - somebody buys them. Other than maybe style reasons, I'm not sure why...

The tech gets my bike back together just a few minutes past closing, and I'm on my way. I take the old bearings with me, so that next time around I'll be sure to get the right ones. And so that I can double-check and see if I screwed up or if Bryan Moody's parts chart on the Net is wrong. Could be either one, I'm certainly not infallible...

Back on the freeway headed to Scottsdale, and I notice a strange thing - the bike is smoother than it's been! I wonder if the bars have to be free to move (no detent), and when they move they damp out some small amount of vibration? No matter, I like the improvement in any case. Nice to know I didn't bend a rod when the petcock failed!

I pick up Sharon just before sunset so we can cruise the town, i.e., ride to the top of South Mountain Park. We get to watch a beautiful sunset while zipping south on the freeway toward South Mountain Park. I tell her that the sunsets aren't normally that good here, I suspect that the forest fires are helping the sunsets a bit by adding particulates to the air.

We only get a little lost this time on the way to South Mountain Park. Finally, we're there.

Photo by Tom Callahan
Author aboard a Kawasaki KZ-650
South Mountain Park, Phoenix
Circa. 1982
Background is that when I lived in Phoenix, I considered South Mountain Park to be my own private race track. Other riders I worked with at Arizona Kawasaki considered it to be more of a paved motocross track - you could triple the 25 mph speed limit in a lot of places but you'd best know exactly where you were - or the road would turn while you were still airborne. I have a picture here somewhere of me on my KZ-650, both wheels about a foot off the ground. It doesn't look like much, but I was going about 70 mph at the time - I can sort of guess why steering bearings on my bikes only last about 60,000 miles...

The other reason I used to like to ride to the top of South Mountain Park was for the city lights. I learned photography while in Phoenix, and one thing I photographed a lot was the Phoenix skyline at night. A small tripod that I carried in my tank bag, a couple of 35mm cameras, a cable release, stopwatch, and a Thermos of hot tea and I was happy - quietly sitting in a corner of the open-air observation building at the top, sipping my tea on a winter night, nearly alone with my thoughts and my gear. Each exposure took about 4 minutes; I have the basic exposure time memorized still: 4 minutes at F5.6 on ASA 25 slide film.

Other hobbies as well as life in general have kept me away from cameras too long, so this trip I carried three - a digital, and the same two 35 mm cameras I owned and used when I lived in Arizona way back when.

Anyway, we enter the park just after sunset. No problem, I used to zip to the top in maybe 10-15 minutes.... I should be able to do so tonight too. We might even be able to see just a bit of the fading sunset from the top.... Except that we're the last vehicle in a line of about six vehicles. And they're all cars. Old cars. Old American cars. Low-budget cars, from the bario I think...

So OK, no problem... we'll pass them all in one fell swoop the first chance we get! Ancient low-budget cars are simply slow-moving impediments to traffic, right? I'm just so happy to be here, to be riding again in South Mountain Park..!

And then we hit a speed bump. The first speed bump.

After 500', we hit another.

And another...

And another...

And another....

And another.

After about the 6th one, reality hits:. I wasn't the only person using South Mountain Park as their private race track, and they've nuetered it while I was away. Sigh...

Stuck behind a half-dozen ancient American cars, clunking over a series of big speed bumps at low speed, and now we're going to climb a long twisty desert grade in the dark. Think sand, think cars that don't run veryl well, think of overheating... I used to really enjoy the challenge of riding this road quickly at night, having to know where all the curves were in my mind because you couldn't see them ahead of time... but maybe it's safer to go slow for now. We wind our way up out of the valley.

South Mountain Park is basically an east-west ridge of mountains that form the southern boundary of Phoenix. I don't know if it's still true, but in the 1980s when I lived there it was claimed that South Mountain Park was the world's largest Metropark. And here in 2002, it's absolutely amazing to me just how slowly you can crawl up that long curvy grade in the world's largest Metropark. And what a tease it is to realize just how much faster you could get up it, given the chance.

We arrive at the big parking lot at the top, and it's pretty much full. The place is crowded, even! Mostly older American cars, and Spanish seems to be the dominant language. What a change - there were many nights when there were just 3-5 people at the summit enjoying the view, and several winter nights where I was the only one at the top, period.

We get off the bike and get out of our gear. It's warm at the top, but not hot. We walk over to the observation building, and oh my...!! The city lights are as beautiful as ever, twinkling, spread out horizon to horizon below us. Here and there a black void right in the middle of the sea of lights - a mountain with no buildings. And far off in the distance in the northwest, I think I can see I-17 heading north out of the city.

Sharon and I talk a bit; I point out landmarks. I point out the Phoenix business district, I point out cars making their way up the road we were on, I point out other mountains. After a bit, Sharon walks down the mountain just a tad and I take a seat in the observatory, just me and my cameras.... just like the old days. A beautiful scene below, and mine to capture if I can get everything just right...

I set up the tripod and the camera. I have a stopwatch, but no flashlight - so I figure on opening up the aperture and decreasing the exposure time to about a minute. Exact time isn't real critical on long exposures, so I can count the exposure time in my head and on my fingers. I don't really care what people around me think of a guy huddled in a corner with cameras mumbling "One-thousand-one, one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three...."

Phoenix Skyline, from South Mountain Park.  Camelback mountain visible in top-right of photo.  Exposure: approximately 4 minutes at F5.6 using ASA-25 film.  A flash was used to light the inside of the building.  The figure is anonymous.
Phoenix Skyline
South Mountain Park
I take maybe a dozen shots, bracketing the exposures and trying a couple different compositions. The thing about night photography is that you never know what you've got till you get the film back from the developer - and as often as not there's an airplane's landing lights streaking across the shot, or worse yet people... At some point you simply say "I've done my best, time to put it away and go home." I reach that point, and then walk down the mountain to sit with Sharon for a bit. As a younger man 20 years ago, I've set out here till midnight watching the lights twinkle and enjoying the company. It's about 9:20 PM, so we've got all the time in the world to talk quietly about the scene in front of us, and life in general.

Then around 9:25 PM, and a park ranger pulls into the parking lot and announces that the park closes in 5 minutes...


Another change, and not for the better. I'm fumbling with my camera gear while all the people are leaving. There are maybe 5 cars still in the lot when we get to the bike, and by the time we're fully dressed we're the only private vehicle at the top and the ranger is right there with us, telling us to move it along, lighting the way for us with his spotlight - I'm not impressed.

We pull out of the parking lot, with the ranger escorting us down. Bit by bit, he drops behind... and each time he's out of sight for a few seconds I gas it while he's gone. Finally he veers off on the side road to the backside of the park, and we're the only people on the road down from the top. This is more like it, this is the way I remember the place... and for a little bit, it's very good to be home again, taking curves in the dark, enjoying South Mountain Park on a motorcycle.

We catch up to the local traffic just before the entrance, and follow them out into the real world.

Sharon wants to see downtown Phoenix, and I want to see some of the other sights such as my other old apartment in north Phoenix, or Motorcycle Mechanics Inestitute, so we compromise - stay out late and see both. Not to worry, we're not going to freeze - and we're on vacation, we can sleep in if we have to.

So we meander around downtown, in the main business district. I'm completely lost now - many streets are now one-way, and I don't recall any of these tall buildings. So I kick back mentally, and we play the part of tourists.

For a big city, it's.... well, it's a big city. Phoenix didn't used to have such an aura of worldliness. In the 1980s, many major streets still crossed the dry bottom of the Salt River, and when water would flow they'd get washed away. There were citrus groves scattered around the outskirts, cotton and alfalfa to the west, and in places the rural feel was very similar to farms here in northwest Ohio. There was just one freeway, I-17, and that didn't even go around the city - instead, it went south to the Durango Curve and then directly east, then south again just past South Mountain Park.

But now, Phoenix is a modern big city. New buildings. A brown haze hanging over the town by day, and a modern freeway system belting around the entire metro area. Ethnic neighborhoods to the south. Urban sprawl, an endless stream of businesses along the Interstate. And the exact same brand-name stores that we have back in Ohio. It appears Phoenix grew up while I was away, and it seems to me that something special was lost in the proccess.

Having seen downtown, we head north on I-17. Again there's much I recognize, much I've forgotten, and much that's brand new. I'm not sure what to think of all that I'm seeing.... where does it end? What will this all look like 40 years in the future, when the past 20 years have been so full of growth?

We exit at Greenway, and look up my other old apartment. We pull into the parking lot.... This one was nicer than the other place, and still is - this looks like the kind of place I wouldn't mind living in even now. Nice clubhouse, nice grounds, buildings in good repair. I'm glad both places still exist, otherwise I might feel as though all traces of my having lived in the Valley were gone.

It's late, time to head back to the hotel, so we take Greenway east. Forever, it seems. It used to be that the town just more or less ended in that area, and me and my roomates could hop in a car and go driving in the desert looking for parties / bonfires put on by the locals about our age.

Now, the area where we used to party is very nice housing. And shops. Miles and miles of relatively new construction, in an area that my mind still remembers as being just desert. And I do mean miles and miles...! My mind reels - how many people did it take to build all of this? Even given the fact it's been 20 years, good gosh... it must have been an army of construction workers.

We take Greenway all the way into Scottsdale, across what used to be the northernmost edge of Phoenix. It's not the northern edge anymore, not at all. It's late, we arrive back at our hotel room exhausted. It's been a long day, and a full day.

But the room is cool inside, the sheets are clean and smooth... we talk a bit and go to bed.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio