Sunday, February 03, 2008

AZ Trail Solo Ride

I rarely write about epic trips to the extent of this AZT report. Most of the time, I start to write about a ride and I realize that the story might not be very reader-friendly, so I end up writing some quick, lame report. This one (I hope) is different. This is a ride that any intermediate-advanced mountain biker could do, given a GPS, time (some might need more than others), and a little love for the outdoors.

I packed my stuff on Thursday. I had originally packed my fleece sleeping bag, the one that did not keep me cold on top of Mt Lemon during the AZT 300 race, consequently I bailed at the same time. This time I brought my zero degree sleeping bag tied on the handlebars (which worked out fairly well). Also, I brought a stove (thanks Mom!) and cooking pot.

Approx view of route (note: this is not 100% accurate as my GPS was off most of the trip)

I started from my house early and headed up Mt Lemmon via Redington and Molino/Prison Camp. More road to the top of the Control Road, where I got my first encounter of snow/ice:

Oracle Ridge trailhead in the nice sunlight... there was no snow here. It looks save to do the traverse of death...

Or so I thought... there was a bit more patches of snow and ice than I thought. I stayed the course in order to find how Oracle Ridge trail is fairing these days. Can you find the trail in this picture?

A look back at some icy sections that I had to bike/try to walk across.

I was cursing myself for doing Oracle Ridge when I could have taken the Mt Lemon Control Rd down. The snow patches were a little dicey in some sections, but the fallen trees in addition to the snow patches were making it more difficult. Looking back, the combination of snow and trees were more of a nuisance than anything.

After about an hour of constant half-riding and pushing through overgrown brush, I was in need of some sweet singletrack. Frankly, I needed to get into to some fun singletrack to lift up my spirits. Cody Trail was another 3-4 miles of bushwacking, and man do I mean bushwacking. Rocks, trees, and shrubbery (... we have brought your shrubbery, may we go now?) lined most of the next 3-4 miles; constant hike-a-bike was the only answer to the trail now. Finally, I got to some fun singletrack above Cody Trail.

As I was descending Cody Trail and #9, a huge stick rolled up into my fork and tire and I immediately flew over my handlebars. It was pretty amazing how I went from fast to oh-my-gosh-I-am-flying-over-the-handlebar moment. I immediately thought of Paul B.'s thread on crashing. Luckily, the ground was pretty soft, so I just took out the stick and continued on. I started flying down Cody when a drop of took me by surprise, another flying over the handlebar moment. I couldn't believe it. Again, there was mostly dirt on mylanding, so no bad injuries. More shots of Oracle Ridge.

Headed into Oracle for some Mexican food at Casa Rivera and coffee at Circle K (the Station was closed) before jumping back on the AZT toward Superior. There is something to be said when a mountain biker relishes the sight of pavement, man was I happy for some pavement and a trip to get some coffee. Truthfully though, I grew up around Oracle, my grandparents owned land here up until the late 90s, it is just one of those places that you have to relish, especially the small town restaurants (Casa Rivera, De Marco) and cafes (the Station).

As night was quickly closing in, I needed to make some ground. This was some of my hardest riding since I had been on the bike for 15 hours. I switched on the Ipod and began to go into a daze, the mtn bike daze where you know you just need to keep peddling despite what your body is saying. I have to be honest here and say that I am horrible at mountain biking with a LED light, especially on some of these sections of the AZT, where a killer switchback is around every corner. These are switchbacks I cannot even do in the daytime, so you can imagine how they are with my little LED light.

Not sure what time it was when I went to bed, but sometime later, a herd of cows started to make some moooing noises. Cows sleep, don't they was my immediate thought, it cannot be a cow was my second. I thought I was hearing things at first, but then I realized that I was not. So I did what any tired person would do: get up out of that warm sleeping bag and run them off with rocks and yelling. This was not one of my finest moments during the trip, as I am sure I looked stupid flailing my hands and yelling at cows, although flying over the handlebars was not any better.

That must have got my adrenaline going because when I got back to my camp, I could not go to sleep. It started to get colder around 1ish, so I decided to make a little fire and relax out of the bag. If bringing the stove was not evidence that I was in fact riding at slower than race-pace, taking the time to build a campfire was enough evidence.

It was nice to be out of the sleeping bag and around a camp fire. It was classic, the cows had left, the starry sky was gleaming over head, and I had created a fire. Scenes from Dances with Wolves and Tom Hank's Cast Away immediately went through my head. I got back in my sleeping bag on top of the fake mattress, a silver window visor from the Benz, and went back to bed. No sooner had I dozed off, I heard at least 8 coyotes running through the sticks and begin howling like crazy (I assume around 8 because there was a lot of howling going around really close to my camp, sounded if they were biting each other while they were howling). I immediately sat up to look for them in the shadows of the dwindling fire, I saw nothing. I listened as they kept howling; then, they slowly ran out of range, howling with each passing moment. I went back to bed. At some points during the night, I would wake up or I would think I would wake up and I would have to question myself, did I really fall asleep?

I was glad when the sun came up because then came the hot tea and oatmeal/raisins. I packed up and headed for Antelope Peak, seen here from the Kelvin/Florence section of the AZT.

The Antelope Peak Challenge had some great singletrack, but it left me wondering about the singletrack after AP... my camera died after I took this picture (Error 30... What does that mean? Like a paper jam from Office Space), so I do not have any pictures of the Sierra Anchas/Area 52 in the background of this fun singletrack. I passed a few old ranches/windmills, always thinking of m great grandfather, who had a ranch out here called Diamond A during the early 1900s. The bottom line is wherever you go, there is usually some kind of history. If you know the history to the places, I am sure you will come to appreciate the area more, especially in this section of the Sonoran Desert.

Somewhere in my head, I had concluded that finishing the AZT300 was necessary, it was in fact a race that I had quit due to my own unwillingness to battle the elements of nature and fatigue. During the course of this ride, I thought about this and concluded that I was out here to have fun, so when my water went about half way, I would turn around and head back to Tucson instead of going into Florence for food and water. And that is what I did. I turned around at the Gila. I was glad to have saved most of the battery for the Ipod until then; I rode most of the way back to Tucson with it on.

Turned around and headed back to Freeman/Willow, finishing off on Junebug and later Highway 77. Somewhere on Willow, but shorts quit doing their job and my butt started to hurt a little. I have never worn chamosis, although it is still in the pack in case of emergency. I continued on riding, ignoring the chaffing. As I was riding back on Willow, cars and cars of 24 hour riders were coming out to "test" the course out. I probably looked a little odd with a sleeping bag on the front of my bike and an old reflective window visor on the side of my camelbak. Highway 77 had a pretty big head wind, 5-10 mph. I mostly stayed on the electric dirt line on the right side of the road to avoid the cars and bike lane.

On the way back into town from Catalina, I caught up with a roadie and drafted for awhile. We had an interesting conversation when he saw all my gear:

Roadie: "You doing that 24 Hour Challenge in a few weeks."
Chad: "Yeah, I'll be riding in circles."
Roadie: "Does that get boring?"
Chad: [thinking] "yeah, yeah it does. But there is beer, people and a camp fire"
Roadie: "Well, good luck man."

I started to think about doing a 24 hour race or an overnighter on the bike with some friends. Which one would I rather do? A few cars drove by with mtn bikes on top of their cars drove by, apparently out riding the course. Assuming I was in the company of some friends (Max, Dave, Jeff, Scott, Lee, etc...), I would choose an epic, overnighter over any 24 hour race.

My mind went back to food and beer, put my head down and started to hammer home.

I almost went over to Nico's for a breakfast burrito, but opted for my suburbia route back to my house. Lentils, peanut butter and crackers, 2 bananas, more pb and crackers, followed by carrots, and topped off with some salmon, crackers, and cheese. Mmmmm.

The GPS was off and on during the trip (to save the rechargeable batteries that last around 7 hours), but I estimate I rode 160ish miles with about 16,000 feet of climbing in 2 days. I saw nobody on any of the trails that I rode, although I frequently saw cars along stretches of Willow on my way back to 77.


Max said...

Chad sounds like you had a great time. I hope to make it for the next one.

Dave said...

Wondered how Oracle ridge in the snow would be? Glad it all worked out, though it sounds like booboo needs some more nights in the backcountry.

Once in the wilds of Northern California I was repeatedly woken up by deer with an intense interest in using my pack as a salt lick. I was not amused.

YuriB said...

I've done an overnighter out there.
I recommend a beer cache.

Chad said...

Beer would have been nice out there... The coyotes and cows were more of a nuisance than anything else, i really just wanted to sleep. The deer thing sounds funny, although when it is dark, things start to get annoying faster.

Gentlemen, when are we doing to do some more over-nighters in the Sonoran boonies (with beer and campfires of course)?

Rockin' said...

Sounds like you needed to have Roger the Shrubber to lead you, Dances with Cows.

I am with you on the overnight epics over 24 Hour races. I just can never talk any of my friends into doing it. I want to do the multiday ride in Montana that was posted up on MTBR last year.


ScottM said...

Good stuff Chad, thanks for the report.

There are few rides harder than "Oracle ridge in the snow." I've done it once, and that was enough. Those north facing sections are deadly.

But the pull of the sunny trailhead is strong. It sucked me in on my snow ride, too.

Nice work nearly finishing the 300 - you get bonus points for riding home, too. Major bonus points.

Sonoran overnighters - GET exploring, anyone?

Dave said...

GET!!?! Let me know.

Lee said...

Traveling solo is sure different than with friends. Both ways are good, but the cows thumping and grunting in the night are much quieter when friends are around. Your writeup was good!


Matt said...

Awesome report Chad. Man that is quite a challenge and sounds like a really fun time. Cows are scary at night too - they creep up on you but make some horrific noises.

I'd like to do that ride sometime, so if you want a group let me know.

Wrenchette said...

Wow Chad! Awesome adventure and story. Thanks so much for sharing it with us!

Anonymous said...

Nice read. Had to chuckle a bit with the part about the shrubbery because I was battling it myself the week before on the Sutherland Trail (hiking). Also, what a difference a day or two makes. Mt Lemmon was pounded by the storm Sun/Mon which dropped quite a bit of snow at the top.

Steve N.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...



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