Wednesday, April 14, 2010


What started as a unique, scavenger style race by Dave C. more than 4 years ago has now turned into quite the the loop. A few days before the Prescott Monstercross, Eric sent Scott an email about the route and a final suggestion, add the Dells. At first I pondered just adding the section next year, but after looking at some aerial shots of the Dells (along with its proximity to the starting line), I opted to add it...and I am glad I did.

We rolled out from Costco in a neutral start before heading on the railroad grade warm-up to the Dells. Having never ridden the Dells, I was anxious to see all the hyped singletrack…

Photo by Eric Nelson

…and let me say, all the hype is justified. The slickrock lines matched up perfectly to form a rideable line. In many sections, a nice fit rock wedged between a gap made for a perfect line. Eric, Scott, and Dan were off the front and disappeared.

Aaron and I would fend for ourselves, following the white lines to the first stream crossing, where we found Eric again giving us cues on where to go next. Eric snapped a few pictures of us as we rode by, giving us specific directions on where to go next. Not only did he have the idea to add this singletrack, he singlehandedly coached us through the area.

Photos by Eric Nelson

After the Dells, Aaron (riding a singlespeed) and I found ourselves alone again. I realized he was without a GPS. I suggested he either catch Scott or take the slower approach to the route, ride with me. He choose the later, smart guy. We descended into Granite Basin flying over water bars and enjoying every turn. A figure appeared on the road crossing. It was Scott, he had twisted his ankle on a slickrock section of the Dells and was pulling the plug. We stopped for a second only to get energized by his encouragement, “Go catch Dan!”

We sped off and had a good run. Our undoing was a gun-like, Stan’s explosion. I was chatting with a local as we rode neared the turn to ride down to White Spar and Aaron was about a few turns back. We waited for about 20 minutes before he rode up. A few feet behind him were Steve Becker and Nino. Shoot, while waiting for Aaron to change his flat, Steve and Nino had caught us.

I rode ahead until the start of Spruce Mountain, where Steve eventually caught up to me. I still thought I could beat him up Spruce Mountain. Oh man was I wrong. My legs did not want to catch him. He dropped me, never to be seen again until the finish line. I blame the lack of big rides on my inability to stay with Steve. I need to start riding bigger rides.

Trail 305 is a brilliant way to end a race, add in some Dells at the beginning and you have a race that will soon become a classic. At the finish line, we enjoyed some PBR and Costco pizza. Scott’s ankle was getting worse. We chatted about the route and future endeavors. A few more riders came in before we started heading back to Tucson.

After a rest day, I headed out to the Tuesday Ride. More exploration in order followed by what could be the last ride with wildflowers. It is starting to get warmer here in Tucson. With the warmth comes two things: less flowers and later start times. I think next week we will be starting at 3:50 at Rubio’s.

Adding the normal route at a “fast” pace made things interesting

Nearly 3 hours of riding and we never had to ride the same trail more than once.

The “fast” pace also meant I took less pictures until we got to the flower paradise.

This really is the best time of year here in Tucson, perfect weather, crisp mornings for commuting followed by a nice cool temperature for a late, after work ride.

And to the many times that we just skipped cleaning a section in favor of speed, we will be back next week to re-session. The picture above has a move that I have yet to do…perhaps next week.

Rocks… they are what make singletrack interesting. I love to ride them. I might not be the fastest person, but I can ride the rockiest of trails with a grace that is hard to find in these parts. Perhaps it is me rationalizing my failure to ride up Spruce Mountain with the speed required to take 2nd place, but man it feels so good to ride what once was thought to be undoable.

The only remaining question now is how to balance technical rides with the longer, all-day endurance rides.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Montrose Canyon

Riding up Lower Alamo was everything a technical ride calls for, plenty of rocks on some steep singletrack. The only thing missing...

....a few riders.

As it turned out, I would be riding my ride solo today. As I was riding up Lower Alamo, I realized that we had always ridden by a trail that ventured north. You would only see the trail if you were walking down (cha, which of course we do not do....ever) or if you were riding up.

The trail is even more technical than most of Lower Alamo. The trail eventually led to the Promise Land of Wildflowers.

Not a soul in site the entire ride today. Bird chirping, water running while I was snapping pictures.

After the past few weeks of riding amongst wildflowers, I can honestly say this is the place to see 'em. I have never seen this many so close to the trails.

So I did what any solo rider would do, take some pictures

and more pictures.

Scott's old bike (if you remember, my orange Leviathan broke on the Gila Ramble and this blue stallion is on loan from Scott) did not know what to do in some sections. Too many flowers and rocks. It slowly warmed up to the new trail.

Despite the recent neglect from its original owner, it is still riding as good as it ever did. Reminds of the classic Old School quote..."you're my boy blue!"

I even found one sweet B-line that is on the trail. Next weeks ride is going to do the same loop. Methinks I may even head back out on Thursday for a quick ride to see more wildflowers.

Black Canyon Trail to the Bradshaws, day 2

The next morning, Lee and I awoke to a cooler morning. Today would dictate the rest of the trip. Plenty of unknowns lay ahead. Lane Mountain Trail, Bradshaw Trail, Milk Ranch, Cottonwood Canyon and De Soto Forest Rd along with numerous forest roads that I had drawn in from aerials. In deciding to take forest roads (instead of the Crown King Rd), we would be doing a steeper, longer route to the north through De Soto Mine.

Basically, all of the proposed route was from aerial shots and moto GPXs...

We finished off the remaining Black Canyon Trail (BCT) singletrack

before pressing on to Crown King Rd to the town of Cleator.

At the town of Cleator, we found a closed bar and General Store. Cleator is a town of about 8 people and 9 corresponding houses. It was still pretty early in the morning, so the ghost-like feel of the town only increased our curosity to take a quick break in look around.

After a quick snack, we pressed on to the De Soto Mine Rd.

Lee has is running a 20x36 on his Leviathan, ergo you know it is steep when he is walking something. We went up and up on the De Soto Rd.

Checked out the De Soto Mine and a few others only to see that we had to drop down into the next valley.

and then climb back up again. We did this a 4 more times, super steep drops followed by a super steep ups, some of the steepest I have seen. We did find some singletrack on route, but it was too late.

The General Store at Crown King was closing at 4pm, nearly 2 hours and about ~4,000 feet of climbing from our current location/route. Also, snow storms were predicted for that night and the following day. We re-calcuated and hased out the plans. Continue up on route to Crown King or bail back down to Cleator?

The words from Lee echoed in my head as we chatted about the next pass..."Crown King or Bust!"

We hit the wall and hit it pretty hard. Getting shut down by your own route, a route that you carefully designed for at least a week, is tough. Weather dictated our change of plans to the BCT (instead of doing the McDowell-Cave Creek) and it was forcing us to change again. Although shortly lived, I felt discouraged.

Another epic quote from Lee put things in perspective...."We are lucky, lucky to be out here, to have time off, the fitness level required or even to have bikes and gear that are capable of doing these things"

Amen, amen and amen...we are lucky.

Crown King singletrack exploration will have to wait a few more weeks/months. For now, I was just happy to be riding in this remarkable area. We headed down to Cleator for some much needed food and liquid that came from the only place really open.... the 100-year old Cleator Bar. The place looks like it has not been cleaned for the past 15 years, dust from the dirt road in front lines every inch of the place. Insulation is sticking out of the ceiling, the place is lined with old license plates, signed dollar bills, and mining memorabilia.

We got the background about the bar and town of Cleator from the only paid employee in Cleator, the bartender. Basically, 90-year old Betty Cleator owns the entire town. Nobody has ever seen her; they just send her checks each month to her address in Texas. When she passes away, her son will inherit the town. Nobody has seen him for 15 years.

Bailing to Cleator also meant a change in the food. The Cleator Bar only had beer and chips. We had to head to Cordes Junction to resupply, a 10-mile, one-way detour. About half way up the dirt road to Cordes, a local of Bumble Bee asked us if we needed a ride. We politely accepted and got whisked off to Subway.

Stomachs full (and an extra sandwich for each of us), we headed back to Black Canyon Trail singletrack.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Black Canyon Trail to the Bradshaws, day 3

I woke up a little disappointed having not completed the route up and over the Bradshaws. A loop is always more appealing, especially one that has new, unknown trails.

But alas, we were stuck riding Plan B, more singletrack on the BCT. Not too shabby of a Plan B.

complete with the same stunning views seen on Day 1 of the trip....

...and 4 river crossings.

Pause a moment with me and think about riding at this place in early March with about 10-20 of the funnest, outgoing bikepackers around the southwest. I call it a Bikepacking Rendezvous. The plan: we start at Black Canyon Trail at Emery and complete the loop. Plenty of old mines, saloons, singletrack, views, bail out points, etc.

Let me talk with the Mr if we can make it happen for 2011.

I am not sure if it is the time alone on these trips but something really allows my mind to wander, endless ideas about bikepacking, life, Arizona, geology, etc.

I think part of it is the absence of noise. How many times can you really hear the wind, the ripple of a river (especially in Arizona) or the wings of birds flying over year heard? It's a special time in a special place enjoyed on a very, very small percent of society. During our 3-day trip, we saw 2 mountain bikers and probably about 10 hikers.

While I was pondering about bikepacking, I started thinking the Grand Arizona Loop (more like a figure 8 since you have to ride the Antelope Peak/Boulders AZT section twice) in Arizona. Here it is:

Seven Springs
Cave Creek
De Soto Mine Rd
Yankee Doodle
Spruce Mtn
Prescott MC to Dells
Coconino Loop Race to Grand Canyon
Arizona Trail (Telegraph-Ripsey route)
Sonoran Hot Dog Loop
Tucson Mountain Park
50 Year
Char Gap
Arizona Trail (Boulders-Area 52-Picket Post route)

Just a vision and plenty of unknowns to iron it. I'd guess there could be about 50/50 singletrack to doubletrack.

At one of the stream crossings, we saw two bald eagles scoping out some fish. I tried to slowly move in for a photo and managed to get the following picture before they flew away. Pretty impressive wing span. They circled above us for about 5 minutes, gaining altitude with each circle with each passing gust of wind.

More incredible switchbacks. I encouraged Lee on with an occasional "Smack it!" shout.

We took the west section of the Little Pan Loop on the way back.

The final stats: 148 miles with 21,000 feet of climbing.

Black Canyon Trail to the Bradshaws, day 1

Time spent on the bike leaves you pondering about all sorts of things, especially about future routes. A few weeks ago, Scott and I were riding out at Black Canyon Trail north of Phoenix when we both realized the bikepacking potential for this place. As the dream started to grow bigger and bigger, I started to think about developing a near complete loop from Phoenix.

The following week was spent looking at aerials, downloading GPX files, asking questions from other riders in the area (which coincided with Yuri's similar idea).

As mentioned earlier, the route hit up some major Phoenix Preserves before heading north into Cave Creek/Seven Springs. I got an email (half-jokingly) questioning my route... "only 18,000 feet of climbing?" It did seem kind of week for nearly 160 miles. I started to look at more miles in the Bradshaws. The finalized loop, per some Scott's calculations, was about 230 miles and 35,000 feet of climbing.

With temperatures rising, Lee and I headed for the cooler, northern part of the proposed route....the Black Canyon Trail. The plan was a 3-day loop of Black Canyon Trail up the Bradshaws via some forest road and down with a combination of "singletrack" (used lightly here since it is only based on aerial shots) and forest roads.

The southern section from New River to Table Mesa gets very, very little traffic.

which means the singletrack is greener and skinnier.

Near the Table Mesa TH, the singletrack heads below a "shooting range." Just like typical Reddington-style, 3 people were shooting off right over the trail. We paused for a second to let them stop and reload before trying to speedily whiz by them.

As we passed Table Mesa and continued to Black Canyon City, the views only got better.

Easily my favorite part of this trail...this trail was built with mountain bikers in mind, quite possibly the best bikepacking trail I haver ever ridden

nearly 35 miles of singletrack, 99.9% rideable.

the .1% is the 4 river crossings that were flowing pretty well.

Lee had a near bonking moment while we were close to Black Canyon City; he insisted we head into the Chevron, a mere 2 miles off-route, as the temperatures began to get in the mid-80s.

A zoomed in version why this place is so special...the rock work that they went through to build this trail is stunning.

You can see it on the side of the trail nearly every mile as you ride it.

Massive stones were layed down to create symetrical stream crossings that look like pathways.

Frankly, this trail is a bikepacker's dream. The trail builders were artists and their final work, well, it is a masterpiece. If you ride this trail in a day from south to north, you will ride away in awe of the length and work into building this trail.

That night we slept just before the singletrack ends at the Crown King Highway. Just a few mosquitoes buzzed around at sunset before complete silence fell over the night sky. Ahhhhhhh, complete silence and a full moon sky.

In the background, Sunset Point could barely be seen. Many a days I have passed that rest stop pondering to myself..."Is there riding over there in the Bradshaws?" That question would be answered the following day of the BCT-Bradshaw.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Gila River Scramble, day 2

Area 52 would have to wait for another day.

The mandatory camp site huck on Scott's bike was the first thing we did after breakfast. The plan of attack was to head in the direction of the car, periodically checking the frame as we continued.

We headed down, Scott choosing fun, rocky lines as I would try to baby the bike over the smoothest lines.

It seemed to be working, so much that we even opted for a powerline road that eventually led to singletrack and 2 places to get water from a wildlife tank.

Since the frame was holding together, we opted for some new-to-me AZT singletrack on the north side of the Gila River. Flowers and flowers lined the trail.

Some pretty amazing rock work went into building this trail.

It was an out-n-back and there was plenty of spots to stop and take it all in.

I think Scott uttered a few times "oh sweet, another break."

I decided to really give "oran-gee" one last go at singletrack and "raced" the last few miles of singletrack. Despite the broken frame, we managed to still ride 12 hours with 10,000 feet of climbing.


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