The Long Road Home On An Indian
For Part 2 of this 3-part series, click HERE.
Valerie and I had ridden through Old West towns infested with spirits fun and foul. We galloped east near the New Mexico border and the stunning Chiricahua wilderness, a great place to hike or camp or eat a Bologna sandwich. It was a beautiful, sightseeing day, until deep and dark clouds, pregnant with rain, dumped their water on us. We got monsooned. If this has never happened to you, it’s a lot like somebody dumping a swimming pool on your head. Visibility zero, soaked to the bone in milliseconds, eyes filling with stinging sunblock runoff. Yes, it rains in Arizona, sometimes supernaturally so.
Dry gulches can turn to raging rivers; waterfalls spout from every hillside, and road dips will turn into creeks you dare not cross. Since I like making splashes, I crossed a couple anyway. Boots and pants got thoroughly soaked, but in the dry heat pizza oven that Arizona can sometimes be, I air dried quickly.
Those showers behind us were torrential. No fun riding through.
Other stops included Willcox, where the youngest Earp brother, Warren, lost a mortal gunfight. He was so disliked, according to the story, people just stepped over and around his body for hours before anyone came to drag him away. On the drenched day ride, a stop in Benson for directions, twice, then a straight shot back to Tombstone and our ghosty B&B and more of Mary’s divine cookies. Up ahead, through the pouring rain, I could see through a squinted eyeball a sign: “Unpaved Road Ahead.” It was a perfect day.
We took a roundabout way back to Tucson via Patagonia (recommended); Nogales (not so much) on the border with Mexico; up the surprisingly scenic I-19, which offered beautiful views of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon, and on to the tourist trap of Tubac (meh), which was supposed to be an artsy town of crafts, jewelry and original works, but was mostly a bedroom community with fake adobe souvenir shops, without the souvenirs.
One of Tombstone’s “locals”, alongside the Super Chief.
The modernity of the retro-styled Indian Super Chief Limited was in sharp contrast to where we stayed and what we hunted. The bike performed with aplomb, but there were some ghosts in the machine: the instrument pod (Ride Command), which can toggle from screen to screen, offers all sorts of data, including fuel efficiency, riding time, altitude, ambient temperature, GPS navigation, low tire pressure warning light, low fuel light, tachometer, speedo, clock, odometer, tripmeter, gas gauge and other various indicator lights that go on or off with ignition or when moving. It’s a bit fussy for my taste, and sometimes screens changed on their own, which was distracting. It was also missing some indicators I would have included, such as oil temp, oil pressure and whether or not the rear cylinder is shutting off at dead stops, like it’s designed to.
More importantly, some of the Ride Command indicators didn’t always work. The altimeter was slow to react to elevation changes and usually didn’t change with the altitude. The mpg indicator always read 42 (once 43) even though I never got 42 mpg. I believe there is a reset, but I couldn’t figure it. Motorcycle gas gauges can be tricky, and the Indian’s was no different. The needle drops faster on the sinking side of half-full, and while finishing one ride with an 1/8th of a tank, I woke up the next day to the needle on flat Empty.
When it rains, it pours. Seriously.
Gas mileage varied wildly, which a spokesman confirmed has been reported before, although no details were given. I got anywhere from 28 mpg to 50+. Mileage has to be predictable, especially on trips where there may be a lot of miles between pumps. The pod also predicts your fuel efficiency, but it may be a lot less than indicated, which is a problem. On the highway, doing around 80 to 85 mph, I’d get about 110 miles out of the four gallon tank (plus .2 gallon reserve) before the low fuel light would come on. When the next gas station is 20 miles away, you start looking for dinosaur bones to squeeze.
Part of the mpg wild swing issue may be the tank itself. Oddly, once the tank filled to the line, I could still drizzle around another half-gallon of gas if I was patient. And if my arm held out. I had to crook my arm and shoulder at an uncomfortable angle to fill up at pumps that require two hands- one to pull back the rubber boot, the other to hold the handle, such as there are in many if not most states. Indian did not comment on any of these issues by press time.
For all its quirks and oddities, the Indian Super Chief Limited was a superb mile-eater and ghost-hunter. Interesting wall in Bisbee, AZ.
The bike also features three ride modes: Touring, Standard and Sport, which translates to throttle response. There is a noticeable difference, but mainly in first gear off the line. From Touring to Sport, each setting is quicker than the last and takes a little getting used to, so I recommend picking the one you feel most comfortable with and keep it there; otherwise, starts may feel too slow or too fast until you can adjust.
It was a long road back home. We left early the next day, about the crack of 10, on a bright, hot, cloudless day, saddlebags loaded, film spent. The Sonoran Desert is unforgiving. The late September day was still bubbling at 108 and we felt every degree of it. Dressing for extreme heat at high speeds is more of an art than a science. The right fabrics and layers must be carefully chosen as to not cook you further, or expose your skin to sunburning radiation. For me, a cotton long-sleeve shirt under Indian’s Outsider vest worked pretty well. The vest kept the windburn off my chest, offered torso protection and had enough pockets to secure my stuff- phone, actual paper maps, pocket knife, house key, skeleton key, compass, miscellaneous scraps of paper, ghost-repelling talisman, spy glass, reading glasses,… you know, the usual.
Another angle, another portion of that Bisbee, AZ wall I was so fascinated by.
Fortunately, the Super Chief Limited’s cozy ergonomics were up to the task, even if certain bits of my anatomy did not agree. Surfing the heat waves at 85 per for hundreds of miles is, as the sane among us know, not fun. But the years have piled on some leathery toughness, or dumbness, depending how you see it. The bike’s suspension feels a little spongy at the factory setting, at least two-up or under a full load, such as chockablock saddlebags and a heavy pack requiring an engineering degree in bungee cording. As Archimedes once said, “I can tie down the world with enough bungees,” or some such smarty words. The optional backrest serves as an anchor for the pack and all the bungee hooks.
The stock saddlebags look great, but are surprisingly shallow, not providing the space expected. The closures are an adjustable leather strap/plastic clip set-up. Most riders will use the clip, which is too small for big fingers and leads to some fidgeting, especially in the dark or dim light. The clip is small and its fabric strap is oddly thin and short, which doesn’t suggest it will hold up over the long haul.
Galloping for home, after our ghost hunting escapades across Arizona. What a ride it was.
Hurtling down the super-slab, mile rolling into endless mile, can give a rider some time to reflect. I don’t listen to music, can’t be bothered by intercoms. This is a time of introspection, reflecting on drifting thoughts of things done and sites seen. I wondered what phantoms I may have caught on camera, unseen, as I sat nervously in pitch-black rooms and stepped carefully through dusky basements that stank of the moist, decaying earth below. Each closet, each room, each corner seemed to grow darker than the last, or perhaps that was just my imagination. Yes, that must be it. Yet, I have this uneasy feeling that persists even now, a dreadful sense. I fear something has returned with me, something wrong, something decomposed.
*Photos by J. Joshua Placa and B. Valerie Gibbs