Copper Canyon: There’s more to the story

a group picture
Copper Canyon Riders – click for more

On March 29, you got a newsletter about my motorcycle trip to Mexico’s Copper Canyon. If you need a reminder, it is here. While helpful to know some of the details of the trip, it’s not a requirement for appreciating the story in this newsletter, about something incredible and truly wonderful which happened on the last night of the trip, at a small dining room in Nuevo Casa Grande, Mexico, about 3 hours southeast Douglas, AZ where we would end our trip.

Here is a quick background: The allure of Mexico’s Copper Canyon region to motorcycle riders has had it on my radar for over twenty years. A ride there was near the top of my mental bucket list. Thinking I might be closer to the bucket than at other points in my life, in March of 2018 I persuaded a group of my closest riding friends to join me on a seven-day ride from Douglas, AZ down to the Copper Canyon. Skip Mascorro and his MotoDiscovery team put together the itinerary and managed everything. All we did was show up and ride.

First, you need to understand the players. Joining from around the USA were: Roger Hansen from Florida, Mark Dilly from Phoenix, Eric Schmid from Salt Lake City, Kevin Ward from Florida, a friend of Eric Schmid’s from Chicago – Eric Baurele, and my brother Leif Larsen from Minnesota. Roger is an experienced rider, a veteran of several of Helge Pederson’s global rides, including the Silk Road tour. Roger and I had met in 2006 on an American Flyers Motorcycle Club ride in Washington State. Roger was riding a Harley then and found it was unable to keep up with the group, which was mostly on sport-touring bikes. I believe I was testing Yamaha’s new FJR 1300 for one of my magazines. Back on that 2006 ride, Roger and I spent dinners discussing the riding he hoped to do in the future. Once I knew his plans, I recommended he get a BMW 1200 GS. It was less than a month after the Washington trip when he was riding a new BMW.

Kevin Ward is a member of the American Flyers Motorcycle Club. Although in a near-perpetual state of probation with this group, Kevin is a skilled rider, displaying one trait I greatly admire in a motorcyclist – a constant desire to improve his skills. Kevin understands that if you’re not always practicing and mastering new skills and techniques, you’ll regress and your abilities will atrophy. We have an affinity for the same instructors and riding schools. We’ve become close friends.

Kevin had introduced me to his friend Eric Schmid a year earlier, and we’d ridden together off-road in Moab, UT, staying in his luxury trailer/toy hauler. Eric is a superb rider and signed up instantly. Unlike Kevin, Roger and I, Eric was on the younger side of fifty (then for sure, I don’t know about now). For me and most of my riding friends, our transition to a more cautious approach to off-road riding had occurred in our early sixties. For the self-aware in the group, this assessment of our bodies’ speed to heal combined with our inability to turn as fast, wheelie as far or slide the rear tire as smoothly through an entire turn, had gradually dawned on us. For all the rest, it was some sort of crash, mishap, or other “oh-shit” moment, often accompanied by some sort of a physical damaging motivator. Don’t get me wrong, we still love riding challenging terrain, we’re just learning to do it differently. Schmid invited his pal from Chicago, Eric Baurele.

Some years ago, Mark Dilly had made the move to Arizona from Chicago. A key reason for his choosing Arizona and the Southwest was his love of riding. The abundance of great motorcycle roads and the long riding season. When calling or emailing Mark about a motorcycle ride, be it a day ride or more extended trip, he has yet to say anything other than “Oh, sounds like fun. Count me in.”

Talking with my brother, Leif, in Minnesota, I told him about my upcoming trip. Never wave a trip south in front of a Minnesotan in March. He was officially sick of winter and so was added to our group. What Leif lacks in formal motorcycle training, he’s makes up in being a quick study. Although I had some worries, it was mostly “older brother syndrome.”

Just as I had invited people on this ride, Skip Mascorro surprised us all. He had extended an invitation to join our group to Kaz Uzunoglu, his partner for planning and executing motorcycle tours in Europe. I’d met Kaz in 2001 on a ride in Italy with Lotus Tours but really got to know him on an American Flyers Motorcycle Club trip to Turkey in September of 2005. AFMC member Andy Forrester had instigated the trip and Kaz had pulled it all together. This time, Kaz flew to Texas from Turkey where he met up with Skip, then rode to Douglas, AZ with Skip and the crew. Skip’s team included Juan Stanglmair of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Juan is a walking encyclopedia of all things automotive, including racing and classic cars. We were joined in the Canyon portion of the trip by Ivan Fernandez, a registered tour guide with vast knowledge of the Sierra Tarahumara (or Raramuri to be more correct). Ivan’s instincts and contacts make sure we didn’t end up someplace where we shouldn’t.

There are some parallels between people riding together and going through military boot camp. Jokes and constant ribbing abound. When it’s all men, few things are out-of-bounds: choice of bike, your inadequate gear, lack of preparation, your lousy physical shape, bad hair, general ugliness, and of course, ridiculously poor riding skills. Oh, and flatulence. Very macho and all fun, with that certain edge. But something grows as the days go by. Concern for others in the group is evidenced by the speed at which everyone rushes to the aid of a fellow biker who’s gone down, and this trip, pretty much everyone went down at least once – except maybe for Eric.

While riding, your head is encased in a helmet. You are not talking with your fellow riders. As Rich Marin, the founder of the American Flyers Motorcycle Club, explains in Chapter 1 of his book, “The Ride Is All,” nothing is more whimsical or fickle than seeking to be alone in a group. Riding is a solitary endeavor with nothing to restrain you or anyone to annoy you. You live in your helmet with your thoughts. It’s very much a solitary experience.

However, every breakfast, lunch stop, and dinner you are together. At every gas stop or rest break, you are together – every single day of the trip. You talk, you get to know each other, learn what others do, what they’re working on, care about, and the people important to them in their lives. This group became aware of Eric Schmid’s business issues, my open heart surgery and its complications, and all our various political ideas.

Overhearing Roger Hansen on a few cellphone calls, we learned he was helping his daughter and the recovery homes she’d founded to assist recovering alcohol and drug addicts. We learned Jennifer Hansen had emerged from a drug habit that had nearly ended her life. She was now taking on a cause and struggle that she knew all too well. Her Serenity Houses are set up exclusively for men or for women. All residents living in the Serenity Houses are expected to work full-time, go to school, or volunteer. Roger agonized over how and why the State of New Jersey, rather than helping these efforts, worked to stop these homes and shut them down. At one dinner, Roger pulled out his phone and showed a video residents had helped put together, eloquently expressing how these homes had saved their lives.

On a tour planned and operated by a tour operator, it is traditional on the last day for members of the group to gather tip money from well-mannered participants. Typically the money is pooled; those not perceived to have given enough are cajoled to give more. One person holds the money and watches for an opportunity to present it, along with the thanks of the group. This typically occurs on the final night dinner and when beverages and glasses are available for toasts, and that is what happened for our group.

If you know nothing of the motorcycle touring industry, know this: One should not go into it with the idea of becoming wealthy. Besides Skip, I’ve known several other tour operators that I admire greatly and have ridden with repeatedly over twenty-five years. Their motivation is to make some semblance of a living while doing what they love most – showing remarkable parts of the world and its citizens to like-minded individuals who can see and appreciate this particular experience. So, tips at the end of a trip are never refused.

Mark Dilly took the leadership role and pulled all of the money together. Mark was a pretty effective fund-raiser and so, following his very nice speech thanking Skip and his crew, the pile of cash he pushed into Skip’s hands was not only decent, perhaps even slightly better than average.

Tradition then calls for the recipient of the tip to thank his crew, pledge to share a portion with them, and tell the participants that they are indeed, the absolute best group he’s ever had the pleasure of leading.

As Skip Mascorro began his speech, one he’d given countless times before, we could see him hesitating, losing his train of thought. His words and direction began to change. Of course, he said all the nice things about his crew and how great it was to ride with us and how he’d love to do it again sometime. But then, he took the ball cap full of tip money and pushed it in front of Roger Hansen, saying: “If it’s okay with all of you guys, I’d like to give this money to Roger Hansen’s foundation to help his daughter and her Serenity Houses.”

Roger Hansen is a tough guy, but he couldn’t keep the tears from rolling down his face. Nor could the rest of us.

Note: Photos of the riders are listed at the bottom of this newsletter’s page.

Epic car trade-off: BMW M5 vs. Acura NSX

My BMW M5 in Arizona driveway.

Early in 2000, stories circulated in the automobile universe about an extraordinary new car from BMW called the M5. Journalists and car nuts nicknamed it “the Beast.” At 400 HP and 398 lbs. of torque, it was a rocket ship. With scary 0-60 times and a top speed of 180 mph (with the limiter removed), it was the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing, as its outer skin was a generic-looking 4-door sedan. Think about it: here is a “family car” faster from zero to 60 than a Corvette, quicker in a quarter-mile than an Aston Martin DB7, better than a Ferrari F355 Spider in cornering (measured on a 300’ skidpad) and faster through the slalom than a Lamborghini Diablo. Throw in a manual gearbox and brilliant handling and what’s not to love? I had to have one.

In my friend Philip Richter’s most recent blog post, he wrote about this car, known by BMW and car people as the E39. You can read Philip’s report on this amazing car, here. In addition to Turtle Garage, Philip also writes for the king of all collector car publications, Keith Martin’s Sports Car Market Magazine. If you like reading about cars, I recommend you subscribe to Philip’s Turtle Garage and Sports Car Market.

Back in 2000, I rushed to my local BMW dealer (Motorwerks BMW in Bloomington, MN) to place my order. Soon I’d “configured” a new M5, chose its color (Titanium Silver), interior (red leather), and a host of options. I went whole hog on the extras and recall the car pricing out around $80K, a staggering amount of money in 2000. Adjusted for inflation, $80k is roughly $122k in 2020 dollars. But as it was 2000 and the pinnacle of the boom and I was on the founding team of a successful Internet company, what could go wrong? After I’d signed the papers and paid my deposit, I learned there was a 14-month wait for the car. Huh? This was something I’d never experienced. I was livid. I threatened to cancel the deal but learned this would only move me further down the list for one of these most-coveted icons.

Okay, okay, I finally agreed. “But what am I going to drive between now and then?” I pitifully wailed. The new car manager (Alan Krutsch) introduced me to his used-car guy (Paul Kline), who put me together with Troy Chamberlain, and we began to talk. Now here was an interesting young man. He was thrilled to find I owned a Lotus Elan, which he had raced. It turned out Troy was a talented and experienced race car driver currently piloting a BMW set up entirely for racing which he campaigned, with sponsors, at tracks throughout the Midwest. We spent hours talking about different cars and how they handled and the best ones for the road.

My final question to him was: “What is the best handling, most amazing streetcar you’ve ever driven?” He replied, “Easy question. That would be an Acura NSX.” It turns out he’d owned one for a year when he’d lived in Europe, and both he and his wife had loved it. An NSX had parked near my office building when I worked in New York, so I was familiar with the spectacular look of the car, if not its performance. But it sure sounded good. As Troy described the remarkable attributes of the NSX, I was soon hooked. Because the NSX was rather rare, they had none on the lot. But as promised by the new car guy, they’d find me a car at auction, which I would purchase from them and they’d take it back in trade for my BMW M5 when it arrived, with zero markup, provided I kept the car in good condition. No charge for miles added.

Before my next visit to the dealer, I’d done my research and knew the precise NSX I wanted: a red car, black interior with a removable Targa top (NSX-T). It had to be a manual transmission, low miles, and a 1995 model year or newer, as Acura had added a Targa top in ’95 as well as upgrading the engine to 295 HP and 298 lbs. feet of torque. With that firmed up, I began the wait. The first prospective NSX popping up a couple of weeks later wasn’t perfect, and after some coaching from the used car manager and Troy, we decided not to bid on that car. Two weeks after, I got a breathless long-distance call from Paul Kline. He was at an auction and had seen and inspected the perfect car. It met everything on my wish list, but he said, given it had the carbon fiber interior kit and CompTech factory exhaust upgrades, it would likely be bid up over what we’d agreed I was willing to pay. Would I go higher? Then he said, “Tell you what, I’m so convinced you’ll love this car, if you don’t want it for what I buy it for, I’ll buy it.” So, I told him to go ahead and I increased my maximum bid amount by $5,000.

Red 1995 NSX-T
My interim car – a 1995 NSX-T. Who knew I’d fall in love.

A few days later I was at my BMW dealership, looking at a freshly detailed 1995 red Acura NSX-T, VIN: JH4NA1186ST000274. It was gorgeous. I couldn’t believe it. And then I drove it. Sublime! It handled like my Lotus Elan, but it was much faster – and it had air conditioning, a working radio, cruise control, and more creature comforts. Put the windows up, it was as quiet as, well, a Honda. Roll them down, electric windows of course, and the exhaust note of the engine was symphonic. I was in love.

For my 50th birthday party, Maggie rented a paddle-wheel boat for a night and invited a hundred or so of our closest friends. Parked outside the boarding plank was my red NSX with a huge ribbon and bow around it. While I’d had the car for a few weeks, few of my friends had seen it yet. We pulled it over on them that Maggie had got it for me as a birthday gift. Someday I’ll tell you the story of that party.

Fourteen months flew by. I loved the NSX. Maggie loved it. Ginger even learned how to drive a stick shift in the NSX, after failing to learn on our Toyota 4Runner. Like many girls her age, Ginger was oblivious to car brands and had no idea what was in our garage. One day I dropped her off at her high school in the red NSX vs. the Toyota daily driver. When I got home from work that night, she started asking me some very uncharacteristic questions: “Dad, what kind of car is the red car? How many “horsepowers’s” does it have? How fast will it go?” It turns out some of the boys at her school had seen her being dropped off and she had now piqued their interest.

Then BMW called to say my new M5 was in and ready to be picked up. At the dealership the next day, I spent an hour or so on paperwork, got briefed on the new car, which was very cool, and gave them the keys to the NSX.

Then I drove the new M5 home. It was less than a dozen miles. The first drive in the M5 was amazing, even though it was in its break-in period. I came into the kitchen, tossed the keys on the counter, and said to Maggie, “I think I may have just made a big mistake.”

Don’t get me wrong, the M5 was an awesomely wonderful car. It would hold four adults. It was blindingly fast. It was as solid as a tank. You could cruise at 80-90 mph and it felt no more than 40 mph. The sound system was incredible. But it scared Maggie to death. Ultimately, she refused to drive it. “It’s frightening; it goes 40 mph in neutral,” she said. “I just look somewhere and before I know it, the car is there.” And then there was the gas mileage. It averaged between 10 and 14 miles per gallon, no matter how you drove it. That pissed me off. And it burned a quart of oil every few thousand miles. Now, I could tolerate that on my Elan or other older cars, but weren’t new cars not supposed to do that? We found ourselves driving it less and less.

And this whole “wolf in sheep’s clothing” concept echoing in the head of every car nut turned out not to be as compelling as I thought. Sure, you can pull up at a stoplight next to a new Corvette or some other hot car, and the M5 would just smoke them. But who cares? Who were these people in the other car and did they even know you were racing with them? It turns out pulling up to a stoplight with the NSX and have other drivers drool over it, was just as satisfying.

Then we moved to Arizona. The M5 made the trip in the back of a moving van but made even less sense for me in Arizona. I no longer needed a backseat. Arizona had not improved the M5’s gas mileage. The NSX siren songs began. It occurred to me one nice January day in Arizona in 2003 that Acura dealerships in the northern part of the country might have an unsold NSX. How many people there were walking into Acura dealerships asking if snow chains could be fitted on an NSX? So I started calling, and sure enough, in Libertyville, Illinois, I found a dealership with a brand new NSX. It was last year’s model (a 2002), so they were willing to deal. And it was yellow. My knees went weak.

My new yellow NSX arriving in AZ from Illinois, February 2004

Explaining I had a slightly used BMW M5 with just 9,000 miles on it, I suggested to Brian Cole in Libertyville that we should trade them even-up. I reasoned the M5 was something that could be driven (and sold) in winter. It took several days of haggling and ultimately I needed to pay about $10K, but we agreed to trade cars. I shipped them the M5 and they shipped me the NSX. I still have this 2002 NSX. It has over 40,000 very happy miles on it, and looks new and runs perfectly. Maggie loves driving it, although finds she is occasionally followed by young men driving Asian tuner cars.

As Philip explains in his article, the BMW M5 was an iconic car. On the one hand, it was the end of an era, given its manual transmission, an actual key to start the car, and a real dipstick. While not as rare as an NSX, almost 10,000 M5’s were produced; it remains a truly wonderful car to drive and a high-water mark in modern BMW automotive history. But would I trade an NSX for one? Not me. Never again!

You can read more about my car collection and see more pictures here.

When the M5 came out, I captured some of what the press said about it:

“The fastest production sedan on the planet.”
Road and Track, March 2000

“… the M5 is as close to faultless as any car I’ve driven. Set the bar as high as you like, this thing will clear it. Unbelievable!”
–Jeff Karr, Motor Trend

“The M5’s performance, compared to any production vehicle, is nothing short of stunning. Compared to any other 4 door sedan in the world, it is simply unmatched.”
Car and Driver Magazine

Best Motorcycle Mishap Ever

One of the most humbling experiences of my motorcycle career was attempting Trials Riding. Trials bikes are purpose-built motorcycles supporting a very precise and particular sort of riding competition. The sport is generally referred to as “mototrials” or “motorcycle trials” and is big in Europe, South America and other parts of the world, but has a more limited following in the US. If you’ve never seen a Trials bike ridden well, click HERE. This video will give you a good idea of what it is and what a skilled trials’ rider can do. It is highly exacting and rigorous riding focused on balance and control over speed.

Before I relate my mototrials riding experience, know that I took from that experience a healthy respect for those who learn to ride a trials bike well and compete in the sport. Later in my motorcycling career, I became good friends with former mototrials champion, Gary LaPlante. I rode with Gary and went on a few trips with him, and wrote about him and his riding school, MotoVentures, for different MC magazines. Gary’s off-road motorcycling training is superb. He is a masterful coach. I also had the good fortune to meet Geoff Aaron and do some publicity photos for him. Geoff is an exceptional mototrials rider and went on to gain sponsorship from Red Bull and now makes a career of giving mototrials riding demonstrations at Red Bull events. You can see more about Geoff here.

My trials training was done under the tutelage of Griff Wigley, one of the best teachers on the planet. Griff can teach just about anyone anything. He’s patient, kind, observant and somehow knows precisely the right thing to say at the right time. Griff is very civic-oriented and spends most of his time with non-profits, helping them build their communities, online and otherwise. There are few people who I admire more for their commitment to the greater good.

So, time for my trials story: Many years ago when living in the Twin Cities area, Griff volunteered to loan me one of his trials bikes and teach me some basic trials riding exercises. Taking him up on his offer, one Saturday morning I found myself some miles out of Northfield, MN near a park with a lot of trails.

Typical modern trials bike

Griff unloaded the bikes from the trailer, explaining to me their nature and operation. Trials bikes have super grippy tires running 5 – 8 lbs of pressure. Gas tanks hold less than 1 gallon, so they have a range of only about 50 miles. But with no seat, few use them for serious transportation. Top speed is less than 40 mph and most riding is done slower than 10 mph. The bikes weigh only about 150 lbs., putting them in the rarest form of motorsport vehicle, where the vehicle weighs less than the rider. The bikes have six gears, with the first four being super short with high torque. What and where riders manage to ride these bikes is mind-boggling. A trials bike can climb to the roof of a house. I’ve personally seen one ridden up the side of a semi-truck trailer to its top. I couldn’t wait to see what I could do.

After a morning of the basics, with Griff not letting me out of his sight, he allowed me to begin the afternoon on my own, working on the exercises he’d shown me: jumping over logs, balancing along a railroad tie, and riding over some big rocks.

At one point, Griff took off on a jeep trail that wound around and around the mountain, through some beautiful large pine trees, up to the top. I followed but, of course, could not keep up, and soon he was far ahead of me. About half-way up the mountain, I came across a log on the trail. I slowed, recalling Griff’s instructions on how to approach the log slowly, then blip the throttle as I pulled up on the handlebars, to raise the front wheel over the log. This time I grabbed more throttle than intended, and the bike reared up like the lone ranger’s horse. As the bike began getting away from me, I grabbed the handlebars more tightly, twisting the throttle fully wide open. The bike took off on its rear wheel without me, over the steep drop-off at the edge of the road. After checking myself for damage and finding none, I tiptoed to the side of the road and looked down for the bike. There it was, hanging from a tree limb, about 6 feet up from the ground.

Further down the hillside, I spied a bit of the road that circled the mountain. That was a good sign. I slid down the steep ten feet or so to the base of the tree and looked up. Sure enough, there it was, stuck about six feet up. I scooted down another few feet to the roadway below and waited for Griff to appear. Eventually, he did. As he rode up and stopped, he instantly realized I’d crashed and began looking around for the bike. I just stood there. He looked, not seeing anything anywhere. Finally, he said, “Okay, I give up, where’s the bike?” I took him to the side of the road and pointed up into the tree. There was his other bike. Griff looked for a while, then started to laugh and laugh. Then he finally said, “Wow, I wonder how many points you’d get docked for losing your bike in a tree.”

To understand what Griff said, you need to understand how scoring is done in trials competition runs. Each contestant starts with zero points. Points are added for errors. Dabbing a foot down adds 1 point for each dab, 5 points for going out-of-bounds, which are the sections marked with ribbons, 5 points for going backwards, etc. Like golf, the person with the lowest score is the winner. Griff had no idea how many points I’d “earned” for getting a trials bike caught over six feet up in a tree, a pine tree no less.

By the time we got the bike lowered to the ground, we were covered in pine tar. The bike was unhurt, but my riding prowess had taken a considerable blow. The next day I woke with every muscle in my body complaining. I could barely move. It eventually dawned on me that the skill, balance and physical conditioning required to ride a trials bike vastly surpassed other sorts of motorcycle riding, and I still believe that to this day. After I got into teaching precision riding, I often told students that learning to ride properly at slow speeds was critical. Unskilled riders often use speed to hide poor technique. Top riders know that executing maneuvers perfectly at slow speeds means you’ll always be able to do it right when the speed increases. BTW, in the years since this has happened, Griff has gotten into off-road bicycle riding. You can find his site here.

Polaris RZR and Rocky Point

Chasing the Dakar Rally frequently involved riding in blinding dust.

In 2012, I spent 14 days chasing the Dakar Rally as it transversed South America, from Buenos Aires across the Atacama Desert and Andes mountains to Chile, up its coast, then back to Buenos Aires, on the back of a BMW 1200GS motorcycle. On the flight home, I had an epiphany.

(Note: This story isn’t about the Dakar Rally, but that’s a great story, too. You can read my Dakar Rally article for The Overland Journal.)

My epiphany on the flight home was that I was no longer at an age where dirt bike riding should continue to occupy a bulk of my free time. This was not a happy thought, but I knew it was true. One rather important aspect of riding off-road across sand and rocks is keeping your speed up. Going too slow can lead to accidents as well as going too fast. Getting off a fast-moving motorcycle, invariably results in damage to oneself, despite good armored riding gear. And after sixty years old, I was learning that healing was a much slower process than when I was younger. Damage seemed to hurt more, too. As a result, over the next few months, I sold my off-road motorcycles. To avoid an argument, we’ll not discuss how many that was, because what matters for this story is that it was enough to purchase a new Polaris RZR 800S. In 2012, these 4-wheel drive, high-clearance, side-by-side vehicles were just beginning to get popular. Since one of the things I love most about Arizona is its vast expanse of desert and mountain terrain covered with tens of thousands of miles of old mining and forest road trails just waiting to be explored. The RZR was the next best thing to a dirt bike for properly getting out there.

A few days after purchasing my new Polaris RZR 800S, I took it out to an OHV park called The Boulders. It’s west of Lake Pleasant, north of Hwy 74 and covers about 60 square miles and hundreds of great trails with the Picacho Wash running through the middle. It had been a favorite place for me to ride off-road bikes. Heading down the large, flat, wide sandy wash, and finally comfortable with the vehicle’s handling, I decided to test it for top speed. The guys at the shop said it was good up to 65 mph and with the aftermarket goodies I’d added, they thought 70 was possible. Best to give it a test: I pointed it down the middle of the wash and pushed my foot to the floor. The RZR lept forward, obviously eager to get out and run. Faster and faster I flew down the wash, gripping the steering wheel and thankful for the seatbelt as the RZR bounced over the ruts and rocky ground. With no windscreen, the air tore at my face, pulling my cheeks back into a grotesque site. Even though I was pretty sure I’d maxed out the RZR, I kept my foot in it, searching ahead for a smooth place so I could momentarily shift my eyes down to the speedometer and see how much north of 70 mph I suspected I was going. Finally, I got the nerve and glanced down, photographing the speedometer in my head while quickly shifting my eyes back to the obstacles racing by me in the wash. A quick re-glance confirmed what I had first seen: I was traveling just over 35 mph, heading for 40. How could it be? It felt like 90, okay, it felt like at least 80 miles per hour. I slowed down, enjoying the rest of the afternoon at a more leisurely pace. Driving home with the RZR on the trailer behind me, it occurred to me that having a vehicle that made 40 mph seem like 80 was a good thing. I had plenty of vehicles in my garage that made 80 mph seem like 40.

Brand new RZR 100S XP4

The 800s was wonderful and I loved it, but it would only take two people. I wanted to give more people rides and experience the desert scenes together. So, I sold the 800S and bought a new 2015 RZR 1000S, XP4 with 4 seats. It would go further and faster (theoretically a genuine 70 mph), and climb even more heavy-duty rocks. With a mass of additional upgrades, it was my ultimate and most reliable vehicle for exploring Arizona’s amazing outdoor spaces.

The number of places to ride in AZ is amazing. Only 18% of Arizona land is in private hands. The rest is owned by the federal government, meaning all of us. Some of this is controlled by US Forest Service, other parts by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense and some by the Indians. But by far the largest amount of this land is under the control of the Bureau of Land Management. And their charter is to keep the land open and available to the owners, the public, meaning the citizens of the US. That means no fences and a complete absence of No Trespassing signs. It means we can pretty much use it whenever and wherever we like, camp where we want and ride all over and explore it. Of course, you always want to stay on the trails and roads to help preserve it. Friends from the Midwest, Texas and other states marvel at our wide-open spaces and tell me about how very little land in their home states isn’t fenced off, with the public being locked out. It’s the opposite, here.

Maggie and I would occasionally go RZR riding with neighbors at the end of our block who had a highly modified 2-seat RZR. Ralph drove it fast, but his wife, Koena, drove it even faster. While I tended to take friends out into the Arizona wilderness to leisurely see the amazing sites, Koena viewed those roads as a wide-open race track. She was fun to try and keep up with! It’s important to understand, riding in the RZR was never near the top of Maggie’s “Most Fun Things I want to do today” list. In fact, it wasn’t on her list at all. But if I took her to nice pretty places and didn’t go too fast, she could be convinced to make time for a ride, especially if she liked our traveling companions. And she did like Ralph and Koena.

All of the above is so I can tell you the following story: Ralph and Koena own a home in Rocky Point, Mexico. Well, technically it’s Puerto Peñasco, and is just 3½ hours south of Phoenix. Located on the Sea of Cortez, it is often referred to as “Arizona Beach.” One day Ralph stopped and showed us a flyer for an upcoming RZR Off-Road Rally in Mexico, starting and ending in Rocky Point. Would we like to come with them, bring our RZR, ride in the Rally and stay at their place for the weekend? For me, this was like asking a Great Dane if he wanted to visit a butcher shop after hours? Maggie, seeing me bubbling over, said, “Okay, sure, maybe we could go. It might be fun.”

I could hardly wait. The event was a couple of months away and I spent nearly the entire time prepping the RZR and buying new stuff for it. The day finally arrived and we left after Ralph and Koena got off work on a Friday and arrived at their home after dark that night. The following morning, after checking in at a local hotel to get our Rally T-shirts and goody bags, we headed to the Rally staging spot just North of Puerto Peñasco. At the top of the hour, a pistol was raised into the air, fired and about 30 or 40 RZRs took off in a line across the desert, pretty much as fast as they could go. It was clear from the start this wasn’t going to be the ideal ride for Maggie. We were a dozen or so vehicles back from the front and the dust was overwhelming. It was almost impossible to see or breath. Fortunately, we’d brought good googles and masks to cover our mouths and noses. Blasting down the roads, occasionally launching into the air, we were certainly exceeding 40 mph, in fact, I’d guess we were going closer to 60 – which as you know, would feel like at least a 100.

Riding in the RZR was never one of Maggie’s favorite things to do.

After about an hour we reached our first rest stop. Everyone pulled into a rough circle somewhere out in the middle of the desert and ultra-loud blasts of hip-hop music began competing from various sound systems. Finally, we got a chance to meet our fellow riders, mostly heavily tattooed and pierced young people, happy to start slamming down a few beers at 9:00 in the morning. What had I gotten us into? But it wasn’t long before some of the group came over and began asking about our rig, and we wandered around to check out all the enhancements the others had made. No one’s vehicle was stock. Aftermarket engines, exhaust, suspension, and tire mods were everywhere, to say nothing of the added music and light packages. All too soon, we were back on the road, but this time I realized to avoid much of the dust, I needed to get near the front and stay there. Although this level of speed wasn’t Maggie’s thing, she said little and we powered through the rest of the day, with somewhat less dust.

The high-speed ride, oppressive heat, massive dust, and uneven terrain and bumpy roads – when there were roads – slowly took their toll. We got used to the music, began to admire the tattoo’s and piercings and enjoyed the lunch and other occasional stops and awesome views. Coming into town, we joined other participants at an outdoor Mexican restaurant for beers and burgers, before heading back to the Tapscott’s at dusk, exhausted and happy.

After healthy doses of Advil, showers and margaritas while watching the sunset, we finally headed for bed. I lay there, thinking about the day, and finally turned to Maggie and said: “Honey, I know this isn’t your favorite thing to do, but you were such an amazingly good sport, it’s hard to think of how to thank you. You didn’t complain once all day. You were super friendly to all those weird people we met, you didn’t scream at me to slow down and didn’t beg to go home. You were awesome, and I really appreciate it.” I paused, then continued, “I’ve been thinking about it, and when we get home next week, one day I’m going to come into your art studio and spend the entire day in there with you – every single minute.” It was dark, so I couldn’t see her face, I just heard Maggie let out a low groan and two words dripping with insincerity, “Oh, great.” We both started to laugh, and couldn’t stop for about five minutes. When we finally calmed down, I said, “You know, I could watch over your shoulder, point and say things like, ‘I think you could use a little more blue over here.’” Another bout of laughter.

It’s one of my favorite memories of my years with my RZRs.

Epilogue: The Polaris 1000 and trailer were sold in 2019 and the Tapscott’s moved to Lake Havasu in early 2020. We miss them both. A BMW 1200GS dual-sport motorcycle sits in the garage with a set of off-road tires hanging on the wall. It’s carried me on two back-road rides in and around Moab, Utah, a wonderful place to ride off-road motorcycles. I also rode it down and through Mexico’s Copper Canyons. But I don’t ride as I did when I was younger. I’m not doing wheelies nor sliding around corners as I used to. But I do miss the RZR and will be sure to at least rent one for my grandkids when they come to visit.