Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route: American Walkabout

Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route: American Walkabout
What am I doing with my life? Where am I headed? We all reach a point when we question ourselves and the meaning of life. Maybe you’re stuck in a dead-end job, maybe you’re not getting along with your spouse, or maybe the ever-increasing demand for your attention and time weighs you down. The best way to figure it all out is usually in connection with solitude and nature. Time to think. Time to reflect. Drown out all outside noise so you can listen to yourself. A walkabout if you will.

As much as we all need more time alone, the realities of family and work can’t be ignored entirely. It wouldn’t be right leaving loved ones behind for months to struggle while you go find yourself. But there’s a solution: The American walkabout. Eight adventure- and action-packed days on a dual sport through Arizona, camping along the way, will expedite the process. And if that experience doesn’t shed light on the existential questions, then you might as well sell your motorcycle and start collecting stamps.

The section from Globe to Pleasant Valley is one of the toughest but also one of the most scenic.

Motorcycle & Gear

2013 BMW R 1200 GS

Helmet: Shoei Hornet DS
Jacket & Pants: REV’IT! Sand 2
Boots: Sidi Discovery Rain
Gloves: REV’IT! Sand Pro

In April 2013, the non-profit Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) organization put together an orchestrated crossing of Arizona from the Mexican boundary north to the Utah border. Our eight-man, one-woman strong team meets at the Go AZ Motorcycles dealership in Scottsdale to ready our expedition fleet. Among the bunch are two KTM 990 Adventures, one R 1200 GSA, three F 800 GSs, a Yamaha WR450F, and two liquid-cooled R 1200 GSs, one of which I’m testing at the same time. All of the motorcycles are outfitted with luggage and crash protection from Touratech. Trailmaster Adventure Gear provided one of the most useful items, however—a stainless steel shot glass. Good for espresso in the morning and whiskey in the evening. It’s the little things in life that matter.

Nightly bonfires are a great way to rehash the day's ride. Finding firewood was never an issue.


We leave Tombstone early in the morning. It will be the last time we see a bed, or a shower, until we get to Utah. My brand-spanking-new Beemer is fully loaded. My body is filled with adrenaline as I’m just waiting to ditch the asphalt.

The first point of order is to ride southeast to the Mexican border, so we can officially head due north from there. The wide-open, well graded, off-road sections are very easy, and the few directional changes pump me up with confidence. On the incline to Coronado National Memorial, which pays tribute to the first organized expedition into the Southwest, the first curves get thrown my way. On the top, we reduce tire pressure for easier handling. This increases the chance of a flat, however, and I really don’t feel like fixing one in the next eight days. I decide to keep the psi around 20.

The sand is best conquered with a lot of speed and a loose grip on the handlebar.

The entire afternoon, we follow a maze of dirt roads until we come to the Empire Ranch. Just up the trail, we find a suitable camping spot underneath huge trees. The last leg already had a few sandy sections, and I’m not looking forward to more tomorrow.

Sand and Hills

Quite impressed by the NEMO tent and sleeping pad, I wake up ready for the challenge. Justin is already on his knees working on the front brake of his 990 Adventure. I look over at my BMW and wink at it. Out in the wilderness, you have to invite positive energy into your life.

As soon as we leave camp, the path turns to mostly sand. Up on the pegs isn’t working for me anymore as I can’t stay balanced. What does work are my long legs and willpower. The GS wants to lie down too many times, but I drop my feet and wrestle it back up. It’s exhausting. Nine o’clock in the morning and I’m soaked with sweat. Touratech Tom gives me useful advice—barely hold on to the grips, keep your head up, and stay on the throttle. Since it sounds better than my technique, I give it a try. I’m not making it look good, but the survival instinct takes over.

When you can, take time to bathe. Otherwise it's bath wipes and gas station water hoses.

Soon, hills emerge and rocks become the obstacle. Lots of them. One peak after another provides endless practice, and (by accident) I find out that the incline beside the rocky path is a lot easier to navigate up. It’s cooler to pass through brush anyway. It’s not cheating. I’m just taking a different path to the same destination.

A quick look at my watch (and the odometer) reveals that it just took us three hours to go six miles. We better press on.

It’s late afternoon, and I am feeling great. The rough path is still somewhat rocky, but ever so slight whoops are providing infinite fun. A few times I catch some air. I’m waiting at the last turn for the riders behind me when the last two of the group are slowly creeping up. Austin Vince is hurt. He blew his knee. The leaders are arranging his departure to civilization while the rest of us chase the setting sun. We don’t make it to the planned spot, but we find a clearing among the saguaro cacti and feel like real outlaws in this scene straight out of a western movie.