Wednesday, January 4, 2017

An Arizona Christmas....

Boy it's been a long time since I've had a real vacation. Now, my vacations don't look like a lot of peoples idea of a vacation, but for me I cant think of a better way to spend my time. I really didn't have much of a plan for the period between Christmas and New Years, I knew I didn't want to hang around the house, I'd only end up working and besides the weather was going to be craptastic.
The weather in the Phoenix area looked to be pretty pleasant for most of the week, it would be cold to start but progressively warmer as the week went on. My plan was to bikepack for as much of it as I could. My left knee had been giving me some issues since being in a walking boot for all of the month of October, I'm hoping it's just a muscle imbalance thing and not a torn meniscus like I think it is.
So I hatched a plan to ride from Apache Junction to Sierra Vista and back with the option to bail out off of the AZT if my knee was not going to co-operate.
 I managed to get out on late  Friday for the start of my trip to Phoenix. The weather was horrible nearly all the way, massive thunderstorms and wind for much of the trip. I quit counting the amount of cars stacked into the guardrail at 15, I bet I saw nearly that many again just in Los Angeles. By Saturday afternoon I was sitting in my campsite at Lost Dutchman State Park. I figured I would start here, If I needed to bail out and do John Schillings' Queen's Ransom route instead of going to Sierra Vista, this would be a fine place to start and finish.
Rainy start to my vacation. 

The rain had been following me from California to Phoenix pretty much non-stop. I managed to get a quick spin on some of the trails around the campground before the rain started. The rain only lasted a few hours in the desert, but I knew that meant a likely change of plans for the morning as I'd likely not want to be on trail for the first few hours. That was OK, I was good with riding up the highway to the Picketpost Trailhead and then seeing how it looked from there.
Picketpost Trailhead

Thirty miles up the highway into a nice little headwind was certainly a good test to see where my knee would be. By the time I reached dirt I knew it was not going to go well. The trail looked good, only puddles and mud for the first 100' or so, after that it was prime AZT singletrack, actually some of the best conditions I've seen on this section of trail. It was cold, I never did lose my leg or arm warmers and just barely felt comfortable without a jacket on. The scenery was spectacular and I was the only soul on the trail, first tracks and not another human or animal was seen, this was going to be a very special Christmas Day.
Snow off in the Mazatals

Prime AZT singletrack.

It really doesn't get much better than this.

Water in the desert.

Spectacular trail and country.

You can see trail in the upper right.

Stunning.
The route from Picketpost out to the Kelvin / Ripsey trailhead is one of the best sections of trail I have ever run tires on. The scenery is spectacular, the trail building is top notch with some sections I just can't believe someone had the balls to build this! There's not much walking on this 36 mile section of singletrack, but the little there is was starting to show that my knee was not going to make it out into the Tiger Mine section of the AZT.
With the decision being made by my body, it was apparent that I'd be doing my second lap of the Queen's Ransom this year. This was just fine by me, I knew I could likely get it done in 2-3 days and that would leave me a few days to explore some of the trails around Phoenix I had not yet ridden.
I managed to make it out past the Ripsey trailhead and past the top of the climb on Florence-Kelvin Hwy before I finished for the day. It was cold and I knew it would be a rough night as this time of the year even if you ride a couple of hours in the dark, you still need to spend a good 10 hours in your sleeping bag, plenty of time to get cold.
I rolled down the dirt road towards Area 52  for a few miles before I scared myself a couple of times in some of the huge ruts in the dark. I didn't want to be at the bottom anyways so I settled down for the night.
As expected, the night was cold, but manageable, likely down in the low 30's. I set the alarm for 6 so I could get going right at dawn. I knew I'd have to do a decently long day to get through the maze of urban trails and roads before I'd get to a suitable place to crash for the night.

Area 52 out there.

View back towards where I had traveled the prior day.

Remnants of a prior time.

The day rolled out as expected, though I'd have a few unexpected surprises due to death mud and high water here and there. McDonald's in Florence was a welcome sight. I don't eat many burgers, but after a couple of days of bars and nuts a burger can be a welcome sight. I usually try to find a little dive when I roll into town, but Florence is a place of convenience, it's existence in this world only to support the prisons that surround it.
More death mud on my way to San Tan regional park made for some interesting route finding. Last time I did this route we all got busted for rolling across tribal land, John rerouted this years route off of tribal land and it was all new to me. As I rolled this new section it made me yearn to be back out in the back country. I'm always disappointed returning to the trappings of human existence in this world, the amount of trash and garbage dumped on the outskirts of town was really disconcerting.


Getting the tent dry after a damp night. 
San Tan Park

San Tan Park
It was nice to get back on trails at San Tan Park. The washes were actually rideable after the previous days rains and the scenery in this park are really a nice addition to the area. It had been a really nice day, much warmer than the day before, shorts and short sleeves were the theme of the day. I made my way through the park and into the urban areas of Queen Creek and Mesa on my way out to the trail system at Hawes.
 John has linked up a series of irrigation canals for the majority of the miles across the urban sprawl of Phoenix. The peace and quiet of these stretches along with the warm evening breezes were just what I needed as I got closer to a 100 miles for the day. I managed to make it through the high dollar subdivisions at the entrance of the Hawes trail system before it got dark and was looking  for a flat spot to crash soon after.

This was a cool little treat in the evening light.

TRW?

TRW?

This night would be much better, the warm evening breezes lasted most of the night and it was nearly daybreak before I actually started to get a little cold. Up and going for the final push into Gold Canyon for the day on some really fun trails was a great way to start the morning.
The Hawes and the Usery trail systems rolled out as I had remembered, fun and punchy. The trails were starting to dry out and get a little slippery, much different than the previous days trails tacky goodness.

Hawes

Usery

Goldfields

Goldfields

Superstitions

Jacobs crosscut

Gold Canyon Trails?

Gold Canyon Trails?
I rolled into Gold Canyon about 1PM and made the decision not to continue over to the Picketpost trailhead for a full loop, I'd do the Gold Canyon stuff and bail on the roads that head back over to the AZT at Picketpost so I didn't have to do as much highway back to my truck in Apache Junction. Back at the truck and I was off to get another campsite and much needed shower at Lost Dutchman State Park.
Sunset from Lost Dutchman State Park
Since I had finished the Queen's Ransom route in 3 days I had another 3 days to explore the area. I'd really never taken the time to ride the many parks in the Phoenix area out of either a lack of time or lack of knowledge. I'd done some research before I came out and was pretty sure I'd be able to find my way around a couple of places I'd like to visit.
 McDowell Mountain park was my first choice for a little bit of recovery, everything I'd read about it told me it would be an easy mellow day in the saddle. McDowell is over in Scottsdale, about an hour from the campground but traffic was light and I made it there in no time. A nice gentleman at the entrance kiosk gave me a map of the Competitive Loops and the overall park. I made my way around all the trails in the Competitive Loops and headed out for the main park trails. Even though some of the trails were marked difficult they all seemed pretty moderate to me. I found some nice tight singletrack up in the Scottsdale Preserve that was a nice diversion. Overall a really nice mellow day that I somehow managed to get 55 miles in.
McDowell Mountain
The next day I decided to stay close to camp. I figured I'd just do a mellow day and keep it around 20 miles or so. I poked around up to the Wilderness boundary of the Superstitions and then headed across the highway to the Goldfield Mountains and Bulldog Canyon. I poked around on some singletrack and dirt roads until I came out at the eastern end of Bulldog Canyon. I mistakenly thought that I could take this over to the Usery trail system and loop back home in short order. Boy was I wrong. 55 miles later and a long slog back to camp in near darkness was how I ended my day. Saw some really cool stuff and outside of not being able to find a connecting trail had a great time.I'll definitely go back when I have all day to explore.

Cholla forest beneath the Superstitions

Gold Field Mountains, I made it up into that box canyon before being turned around.

Bulldog Canyon

Bulldog Canyon

Bulldog Canyon

Bulldog Canyon

Goldfield Mountains
Sunset over the Superstitions.

Friday was my last day to ride. I packed up camp and headed over to South Mountain Preserve. It was a bit out of my way for going home but I'm glad I made the trip. SoMo is a very rocky, technical and popular riding, running and hiking area. I arrived at about 9 am and the place was already starting to get crowded. Everybody was super cool as I rode my way up the chunky National Trail. My plan was to do this out and back, but boy was it a tough go with nearly 325 miles on my legs already. It really is a spectacular trail, filled with really hard moves and short, really powerful climbs. I made my way to the end and turned around to head back.
After climbing back up to the saddle I decided to head down the Pyramid trail. This was a shit ton full of fun, some walking but overall a blast. At the bottom I was given a couple of options. I could cruise back to the car on the tame Desert Classic trail or hike a bike back up to the saddle on the Telegraph Pass trail. I chose to head back up even though it required a pretty good hike with my bike on my back. Surprisingly my knee was pretty good going uphill, it was anything downhill that was near impossible.
Once at the top I continued back down National to my truck. This was a super fun, albeit tough trail and I was happy to see the bottom.

National Trail

National Trail

National Trail
All in all a great Christmas vacation and I'm so glad it all came together.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

A normal winter!

A few pictures from today's ride along the North Fork of the American River. We've had a ton of rain lately and the normal streams and waterfalls are all starting to flow pretty good. Here's hoping it continues.Sun, rain and snow on today's ride!










Sunday, November 1, 2015

Bicycle Tour of Colorado

So, a funny thing happened this year. I fell in love.... I didn't think it would happen. Wasn't looking for it to happen. Sometimes that's the way life works out I guess. How does that relate to the Bicycle Tour of Colorado you ask?

 Amy is what I would call a recreational cyclist. She has a nice road bike and loves to ride, just not at a level that I am used to. This is fine. I had really taken a step back in terms of cycling, both in terms of a mental outlook as well as a physical outlook on something that I consider essential to my well being.

 This year will be my shortest in terms of mileage in more than a decade. I'm alright with that. It isn't, and wouldn't be fair to try and nurture a new relationship while continuing with my sadistic life of work and play.

So she came into my life at a perfect time.

I wasn't looking for someone to try and keep up with me on any level. I somewhat get those couples who do everything together, I've been in that relationship. As long as both persons are doing it for the right reasons it can work. My experience is that very few couples fit that description. Someones running to or from something, and the other is just along for the ride.

So, here I am just happily going along for 10-20 mile road rides and the occasional tandem MTB ride with Amy when she notices the BTC flyer on the counter ( I've done it a couple of times so I'm on the mailing list).

"What's this?" she asks.

" Well, it's a supported tour across Colorado, I haven't really looked at it though"

" Can we do it? " she asks.

"Umm, err, well, sure. It's kinda hard though."

" Great, when is it?" she asks.

" Next month"

" I guess I better start riding then"........

So that's how it started. I think to this date Amy's longest ride was somewhere short of 30 miles. We would be doing 500 miles in 6 days over 12,000' passes...... Yikes!

I was sure that Amy could do it on her own, but that it might be easier for her to do it on a road tandem, plus we would get to share more of the experience, for better or worse. Those of you who have ridden tandem with your SO know that it can be a double edged sword. It can be a source of great satisfaction, or pure hell depending on the couple.

A plan was hatched to see if we were compatible.....

First I needed to secure a road tandem, no small feat. I knew where a really nice one was, at my ex-wifes house.... She got the road tandem, I got the Ventana mountain tandem in the divorce..... So, all I had to do was see if she was up for loaning me a bike that had only been ridden by she and I to spend a week with my new girlfriend.

 No problem....

Actually it wasn't much of a problem. Mary and I have a great relationship of respect and love that will likely never fade. Neither of us wants to be married to each other again, but that doesn't mean you can't find goodness in each other and respect that.

So about that plan.... The coast seemed a good idea. Guerneville to Gualala and back with a nice stay at a hotel on the beach. Winner!

Still smiling.... it's early.

Nice view.....

Still smiling on the way back.....
We had a great time. 55 miles out and back with King Ridge and some other notable coastal climbs thrown in. It was Amy's longest ride to date and she did great. A little rough on the way back to the car, but really a great first tandem ride.

O.K. we seem to be able to do this tandem thing, she didn't swear at me or anything so I guess I did something right. But the California coast is a whole other world from the oxygen deprived air of Colorado.

 We didn't ride the tandem much for the next month, Amy really needed to find her own legs without me and she was really determined to be in the best shape she could be in. She was riding more than I was and it was starting to worry me. She's going to kick my ass all across Colorado?

Soon enough the time came. We headed out for the start of the tour in Breckenridge. The format of the tour is this: You and 500 of your closest friends camp out in what usually ends up being the local towns high school football field. You pack and unpack your camp gear, set up for the night and pack it up in the morning where it is driven to the next town. You then get to ride all day until you start the whole thing all over again.

We arrived a day early in the town of Frisco, 9600' above sea level. A quick spin up to Breckenridge revealed that we were in for a tough go the next day. Oh well, what are you going to do? We have all day to get to the next town and nothing to do but ride our bike, what else could a person want?

Sucking wind on the way to Copper Mountain

Heading up to Fremont Pass

Fremont Pass, our first one together. On our way to Leadville.
Yeah right, I can't do anything at 11,000'


Our first day was Breckenridge to Leadville, a relatively easy 55 mile day over Fremont pass. I managed to double flat in a weird drainage grate that luckily saved us both from passing out on the way up to Fremont Pass. Man, was it going to be like this all the way across Colorado? What had I gotten us into? We made it, it wasn't pretty, but we made it to Leadville in pretty good time.

Did I mention that the West was in the middle of a record heat wave this week? Yeah, 100+ degree temps would chase us all the way across CO. Lovely, nothing like being in a tent at 10,000' in Leadville with it being 90 degrees outside. We were able to find some respite in the grass and shade of a nearby hospital until the temps finally became manageable.
Tent view in Leadville.

 The next day was a pretty stout day from Leadville, over Independence Pass, through Aspen and down to Carbondale, about 95 miles. Luckily this day wasn't as hard as it seemed on paper. Sure, Independence Pass is tough, but when you start out at 10,000' the day can be relatively easy. We had a really good day, Independence Pass was just gorgeous and the descent into Aspen is a wild ride that few have the balls to really let loose on, luckily Amy was all in as we passed nearly everyone on our way to Carbondale.

Headed out of Leadville to Twin Lakes

Headed up....

Stunning.

Pee stop?

Starting to get up there.


Nearly there.

Made it!

Aftermath.....

Carbondale was a cool little town. We made it in to town pretty quickly, much faster than I would have thought so we got a great place in the shade away from everyone. A quick shower and we were off to find some food at a cool little pizza place. There's something cool about going everywhere you need to by bike. It seems so normal for me, but it was a new experience for Amy and she seemed to be enjoying it.

The next day was from Carbondale to Hotchkiss, the low point elevation wise for the trip, which meant HOT! It's about 75 miles between the two with a really nice route up through a river valley and over McClure Pass, our lowest pass of the trip, but one I'd remembered was difficult the last time I was up it. We made it up and over no problem but it was as steep as I remember towards the top, more difficult than it looks like it should be certainly. The drop off McClure is FAST! GPS said we hit 58 miles mph somewhere!
The rest of the route rolled out as expected. We got into a bit of a fast pace line with another tandem that proved to be faster( and younger) than us on our way into Hotchkiss. The added speed meant we rolled in to a nearly empty school ahead of most of the other riders, and more importantly the truck with our bags....

The truck finally arrived and we were sure of our schedule for the day. Find the pool! We had a nice day hanging out at the local pool with all the awkward teenagers and little kids. It really was the only way to manage the 100+ degree heat at 6500'.

On the way to Hotchkiss.

North Fork of the Gunnison River.

Getting close.

That's a big pass in California!

It's a little warm.....

Pretty much every food or drink you could want!

The next day was one of the easier days mileage wise, about 65 miles, but the trip from Hotchkiss to Crested Butte had the most elevation gain of the entire route in the least amount of miles. This, coupled with the fact that a significant amount of it was dirt road made for an unusually tough day. Dirt roads are no big deal for me. Even on the road tandem I find that most dirt roads are pretty doable. This dirt road was not one of them. The carnage was spectacular. Busted rims, blown tires, flats everywhere and lots of pissed off roadies. I was pretty worked by the time we reached Crested Butte, climbing and descending on loose, rock filled dirt roads for 30 miles was a lot of work and I was really glad to hit the pavement of downtown Crested Butte.

Damn flats!

Headed to Crested Butte.

Good dirt road, it didn't last long.....

Big sky country.

Headed to Crested Butte.

Headed to Crested Butte.

Crested Butte High School.

Before the afternoon thunderstorms come in.

Crested Butte was our off day. It's a nice, albeit touristy town. Last time I was through here I rented a MTB and did a big ride out through Mount Crested Butte. This time I spent most of the off day trying to secure a rear tire to replace the brand new one that was destroyed on the previous days dirt roads. Only one tire was to be found in town, every other one had been bought by other riders who had destroyed tires as well. It was still warm in CO. It was in the high 80's in Crested Butte, but we managed to lounge the day away nonetheless.

Crested Butte

Crested Butte

Mount Crested Butte.
Our second to last day looked to be a pretty cool adventure. Crested Butte to Salida, about 110 miles total with about 25 miles of dirt road over Cottonwood Pass. I'd done Cottonwood Pass before and I think the Pro-Tour did that pass this year so I knew it would be in good shape. The roll up to the base of Cottonwood Pass is a lightly traveled road up a beautiful river canyon. It really was a great day to be on the bike. Amy had her first( and only) little meltdown going up Cottonwood. We sat for a bit, pulled it together and were on our way in no time, she's a tough one for sure.
Amazing!

Headed to Salida.

Ranch on the way to Salida.

Big country.

Headed up Cottonwood Pass.

Up we go.

My kind of dirt roads.

Almost there.

High point of the trip!

Headed down to Salida. 
It was a really nice up on Cottonwood Pass, the last time I was here they were shuttling people off the hill in a blizzard! Unfortunately we had to descend back into the heat of the lowlands. It was a pretty miserable 30 miles from Buena Vista to Salida along Hwy 50 in 100 degree heat. We managed to get in a nice paceline unnoticed so we didn't have to pull everyone into town. We again made pretty good time into Salida, a quick shower and a ride into town was in order. Salida's a pretty cool town. I had spent a couple of days here on my Colorado Trail adventure a few years ago and remembered it to be a nice place. It did not disappoint, certainly the best town of the trip.

A really nice dinner on the Arkansas River and a walk through a closed off downtown during Artwalk night with great shops and live music was definitely what the doctor ordered after a really long day. A nice thunderstorm rolled in as we headed back to the high school, just enough moisture to cool the evening down for our last night of the tour.

The last day of the tour was an unknown for me on roads I had not traveled before. Salida to Breckenridge logged out to about 95 miles. We had to do two passes on the day, Trout Creek at 9,400' and Hoosier pass at 11,500'. We were both pretty ready to be done. My shoulders and elbows were really beginning to bother me from wrestling around a tandem for the first time in years and Amy,was ready to be off of that damn seat.

The road to Trout Creek Pass was somewhat sucky in that it was pretty narrow and filled with weekend traffic headed back to the Front Range. Once we turned off and headed for Fairplay it was a much better scene. Rolling through the grasslands on our way to Fairplay was a nice break to the beginning of the day.

From Fairplay we were on a nice paved bike path along what would have been a sucky road up to Hoosier Pass. At Alma we were once again on the Hwy. to Breckenridge. All of the cars on this stretch were really cool, as there was not much of a shoulder to ride and the pitch was pretty tough for our tired legs. Hoosier Pass finally emerged and we sat for a bit at our 4th and final pass over the Continental Divide.

Only one more pass!

Last one!!!
A final long, fast descent into Breckenridge finished our week long adventure. I had a really nice time. Amy and I are still pretty new to each other and spending a week doing something this strenuous can be difficult at best, but I think we came away with a new respect for each others abilities and perseverance.

We spent the next couple of days in Frisco, just hanging out before heading back home. Our plan was to take some time and explore some of Utah, which Amy had never been to. Unfortunately the heat wave that was bearable in Colorado turned out to be unbearable in the desert. 114 degrees in Moab had us hiding in the car with the A/C on for all of our sightseeing. Walking even short distances was really a tough go in that heat so most of our time was relegated to the car unfortunately.
Have to come back in cooler temps.

Castle Valley

Beautiful!

All in all a wonderful week with a wonderful woman. We finished off the trip with an evening with Steve in New Harmony and meandered our way back home in the morning. A trip I will always remember!