Scottsdale / Montrose
July 2002
Day 8


Saturday July 6th, 2002
Start: Scottsdale, Arizona
End: Scottsdale, Arizona via Payson
244 Miles

I've been looking forward to today for a long, long time. I'm going riding with my friend Tom Smith.

Tom and I go way back. Tom is my best friend from childhood, from about second grade on. Our roots are deep, and tangled. We grew up together - he lived about one block from me on the East Side of Toledo. We attended the same schools from second grade through high school. Tom nearly married the girl that taught me to ride a bicycle, but instead he married, and later divorced, a cousin of mine. Tom's mom was my Cub Scout den mother, and most days she gave me a ride home from school with her kids so I wouldn't have to walk a mile home. We shared lunches and rode bicycles together.

In high school, Tom and I tried out for basketball together, and both of us were cut.

After high school, we fell in and out of touch. Tom joined the Air Force and became a fighter-jet mechanic, then a supervisor of younger techs. I moved to Arizona and went to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix, and later moved to Ohio and attended college for mechanical design before working in product design in the auto industry. We've lived in a lot of the same places, but not at the same times.

The last time I saw Tom was this past spring. He was visiting Toledo to see his mom, she was dying. We met at the hospital and I hung out for a bit with his family after seeing his mom. Not exactly a good setting, which is why I've been looking forward to this day for a while.

And the last time we went riding together on two wheels, we were on bicycles, and we weren't old enough to drive.

The only problem today is that we haven't figured out where to go - or if we're even going to go anywhere at all.

The other reason I'm thrilled is that Sunday July 7th is Tom's birthday, and his wife Dawn had secretly emailed me to invite Sharon and I to a surprise birthday party for Tom while I was in town. But she had a problem - she couldn't think of a way to get him out of the house for an afternoon while she got the house ready for the party.

To Dawn, I suggested that Tom and I go riding together for an afternoon.

To Tom, I suggested that after the ride we all head back to his place... Pick up his wife Dawn; then Sharon and I, and Tom and Dawn, would all go out for a nice dinner and drinks together. Tom took the bait, and the problem was solved.

I was thinking of riding to the Tonto Natural bridge, because it was only 100 miles away. Which meant more time spent talking rather than riding all day in the heat. Hiking down into the mini-canyon would be a pleasant way to talk and catch up on life. And hiking over rocks and trees and across a creek in the canyon would be like being kids again, back in Ohio.

So Saturday morning I pulled info from the 'Net on Slide Rock and the Tonto Natural Bridge. The bridge is an ideal destination, about 100 miles away, but all state parks have been closed due to the fire danger. I call the bridge anyway, and they're open!

Tom's not due for a bit, so I check out the bike... Shoot! It looks as though the dealer overfilled the engine when they changed the oil yesterday. I check the bill, and sure enough there's 4 quarts on the bill when the bike takes only 3 quarts. Shoot!

I call the dealer, and they check. Yes, they put 4 quarts in. If I'd like to come in, they'll drain it out.... I pass, Mesa is about 30 miles from Scottsdale and I've got better things to do with my time. Maybe I can drain off the extra at a quick oil change place, or at Tom's house.

I still have some time, so Sharon and I attend another talk - this time by a Native American on "Spirit vs. Intellect". He stresses "acceptance, faith, and respect". Good values to have, though it took him a long time and a lot of words to get to the point.

Tom shows up on his Harley Softtail with Camelback, his swim trunks packed away. Up for anything, we can attend the Mensa Gathering or visit the flight line at Luke Air Force Base or what? He doesn't sound like he wants to go riding.... It's awfully hot out.

I tell Tom about the Tonto Natural Bridge, he's never been there. He says it sounds good, and we take off. We head northeast out of the valley. It's incredibly hot, Phoenix and the West are experiencing a heat wave and the heat is smothering.

Part of the charm of riding to Payson 20 years ago was the two-lane road to get there - somehow a two-lane road seems so much more intimate and personal, much more adventurous, much more like real travel. But the old two-lane road to Payson is now a modern and fast four-lane road. AZ-87 is new and perfect pavement, sweeping curves, but four lanes...? The price of progress, I guess.

On the bright side, once out of the city limits the scenery is exactly as I remember 20 years ago. Outside Scottsdale but still in the Valley of the Sun, there are large stands of saguaro cactus and mesquite bushes, brown rocky soil, and rugged brown mountains.

The road climbs slowly out of the valley up to Payson, and over the course of 100 miles the scenery goes from low desert to high desert to pine forests. In Payson, we stop for lunch at Subway. It's still hot and sunny, but since Payson is around 5,000'-6,000' in elevation the heat isn't as intense as it is in Phoenix.

We stop at a Subway sandwich shop, and make small talk over lunch. Nothing deep, but there's a process of warming up to somebody that you haven't seen in awhile and we're simply enjoying the air conditioning and the sandwiches.

After lunch, Tom wants to walk over to the nearby drugstore and buy a hat - he forgot his... He asks if I want to go with him; I reply that I'll watch the bikes. He takes off, I watch him leave, making sure he's out of sight... Then I take out the fake oil spill that I bought from Aerostich / Rider Wearhouse when I went shopping for this trip. It's very convincing, and cost only about $5. I put it under Tom's Harley, and then take some pictures of our two bikes parked there. Tom comes back, I show him the view through the viewfinder, he's pleased and then I hear him say: "Aw, shit!" Tom walks toward his Harley slowly...

I have the camera focused on the Harley, and I'm trying to hide my entire face behind that SLR... I'm not good at keeping a straight face on stuff like this. But Tom's so intent on the oil beneath his bike, he doesn't notice my grin at all. He bends down to touch the oil, realizes it's black rubber. He stands up with an angry look on his face, looking straight at me.

Taken just seconds after Tom realized he'd been had by a fake oil slick placed under his otherwise perfect Harley...
Gotcha, Tom..!
View from the road into the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, lodge and lawn visible in middle of photo.
Tonto Natural Bridge
Payson, Arizona
The hiking trail into the gorge...
Tonto Natural Bridge
View of the Tonto Natural Bridge from the bottom up.
Tonto Natural Bridge
Click - I get the shot..!

Oil slick by Aerostich: $5.

Photo of childhood friend when he realizes he's been had: Priceless.

And then Tom simply bursts out laughing, asks where I got it, and tells me what fun he could have with it at work back at Luke AFB. He tells how he nearly messed himself, as the Harley had just been in for its 10,000-mile service. But no harm, no foul - it's all in fun. We fill our drinking bladders with ice and water, and head north to the Tonto Natural Bridge on AZ-87.

A couple miles outside town, we take a left at the sign for the bridge. The road to the bridge leads down into a small, very picturesque valley. The mountains surrounding the valley are covered with dense stands of pine, as far as the eye can see are pine covered mountains. The road itself is in great shape, very twisty as it drops into the valley, and it's even paved! It was dirt the last time I was here, back around 1983.

The bridge had also been privately owned the last time I was here, and now it's an Arizona state park. Once in the valley there's a tollbooth and a small guest lodge. We pay our money, and are given a map and a talk about the various trails.

We park, and make some more small talk. Use the facilities, and then start down into the canyon and under the bridge.

State ownership has done the bridge good. Boardwalks and wooden stairs have replaced handholds carved in the rock, and ladders and steel cables - it used to be a bit more of an adventure than now. It's still great exercise, and great fun, hiking down the narrow trail among the pines as the trail switchbacks down into the gorge.

We hike down into the gorge, and then through the bridge / tunnel. The hike is hard at times, with us scrambling carefully over some large boulders. The bridge is a travertine bridge, created by mineral deposits - similar to the way stalactites are formed. So there are strange shapes and nooks and crannies to crawl into. Just two kids, older and wiser, but we're still just two kids.

Along the way, we talk about growing up, our parents, our kids, our bikes, our careers. Tom's parents are both gone, mine are both alive, so I ask what he'd like to do with his parents if he had each one for a day? Tom gives it some serious thought, and then decides that he'd spend a day fishing with his dad, and a day just visiting his mom with his kids in tow, letting her enjoy the kids.

How good it is to simply enjoy the day hiking, heat or no. How glad we are that we didn't blow off riding to the bridge..!

Somewhere along the way, Tom mentions that he'll be 40 year old tomorrow. Really, Tom...?

We hike back up out of the canyon, and our timing is perfect - our water's gone at the top.

We ride up out of the valley, stopping halfway up for photos. Today is the kind of day you remember forever: good weather, good roads, good riding, good scenery, and a good friend all together in one time and place. No problems and no worries. The planets don't align like this very often - you have to recognize and savor the moment when it happens.

On the ride south, I lead - and all the way back to Scottsdale I've got a huge grin on my face. In spite of the heat, in spite of the four-lane road or the heavy traffic in Phoenix... Life is very good today.

At the hotel, Sharon's out swimming. We're running later than planned so I suggest that Tom call his wife to let her know we're 0K before we leave the hotel. I have ulterior motives - I want her to know exactly when to expect us. Then Tom, Sharon, and I all hop on the bikes and head west on the freeway along the north side of the valley, to Tom's house on the west side of Phoenix.

Arriving at Tom's house, there's no sign outside that anything is up. No extra cars, nothing amiss. Dawn has done a very good job of hiding the evidence..! I ask Tom if he wants to take a car or the bikes to go out to eat, and should I bring the tank bag in so it's not stolen while we're gone? Yeah, sure.... I also make sure Tom is in the lead as we enter the dark house. The suspense is killing me...!

Tom opens the door, somebody turns on the lights, and maybe 20-30 people packed into the living room yell "Happy Birthday, Tom!!!" in unison.....

Our job is done - we've delivered Tom intact to his party. His local friends and co-workers surround him, as Sharon and I purposely fade into the background. I've had the pleasure of his company all day, time to back off and relax and let other folks have their fun with him.

There's a buffet on the back porch, coolers in the backyard, and misters spraying water on the guests from the back porch eaves. It's a hot night, but between the cold drinks and the cooling mist life is alright... We grab a plate and soft drinks, and simply relax.

One guest, Tom's neighbor, asks us about Mensa and the convention - it's been in the local news. And he'd been told we were in. We answer his questions rather sheepishly, and then the conversation moves on to more comfortable things such as Harleys and the economy and work and kids... It's nice to just sit on the sidelines drinking a pop and eating a slab of submarine sandwich and birthday cake.

Looking around, and the young guys are all military from Luke AFB. They remind me of our Luke AFB customers when I lived and worked in Tempe at Arizona Kawasaki in the early 1980s. Young, active, energetic, and obviously military; with their whole lives ahead of them. It's fun to be around younger people, to see things through their eyes and catch a bit of their enthusiasm and machismo.

Time goes by; eventually it's late. We say goodbye and return to our hotel room in Scottsdale.

Laying in bed, I reflect on the day's events... What a day, and what good luck! How many grown men get to be a kid again for a day, reunited with their best friend from childhood? Tom and I out riding our bikes all day, climbing over rocks and trees and crossing creeks and simply exploring... the kind of things we did 30 years ago, the kind of day to remember forever.

I only hope that I'm so lucky in a couple more years, and that we don't wait so long to do this again. Life is good.

I go to sleep exhausted and content.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio