Two Sixty to Pine: Highline Control

3rd time's a charm, right? My prior two attempts to ride the Control rd. from the Highline trail over to Pine were thwarted by poor trail conditions & my lack of conditioning!! The first time was a few years back on a bikepacking exploration ride of sorts with Chad. The second was more recent, last December with Arturo. I was determined to make it this time!!

I rounded up the reluctant duo of Jeff & Nancy to join in on the fun. Jeff always seems to raise an eyebrow when I present him with rides, yet he continues to show up. I must be doing something right. I have a sneaking suspicion that it's Nancy who nudged him in the right direction.
Two Sixty trailhead sans snow.
Our plan called for a shuttle ride, point to point if you will. We met up at the Pine TH, then boogied over to the Two Sixty TH just below the rim east of Payson. At the start temps were cool & sun shining, setting the stage for a perfect day of riding.

As soon as we left the trailhead, I noticed something was different. The handful of deep ruts that Arturo and I experienced in December were gone!! Fully re-routed on sweet singletrack.
Fresh re-routing on Highline. Photo by Jeff.
I already knew the first few miles were going to be good, but some more trail work in the area really made for a fantastic start to the day. We couldn't stop grinning or pedaling. Jeff took most of the early pics because I didn't want the flow to end. Finally, after 3 miles of forested singletrack, I had to dismount for a trail obstacle. Most people only hear horror stories of riding the Highline trail, but that section is 30 miles to the west! (*Also slated for major trail work)
Rippin' rim country. Photo by Jeff.
Nancy all smiles too. Photo by Jeff.
Highline trail exceeding expectations! Photo by Jeff.
Evidence of a fresh re-route.
Forest Service employees actively moving boulders/tree branches into the old corridor. Photo by Jeff.
The next big re-route I noticed was on the long downhill towards Christopher Creek. Before, the trail dipped down into the drainage where it tended to get overgrown. Now, the trail meanders up on the slope while still maintaining a downhill flow.
Missed my timing by 1 second for a good synchronized shot.
More fresh tread in the early morning glow.
Fun techy switchbacks to play on. Photo by Jeff.
Well contoured trail replaced.....Photo by Jeff.
...This. Photo by Jeff.
There were still plenty of challenges on the trail, not everything was buffed out. Photo by Jeff.
As we approached Christopher Creek, my rear tire began to spew sealant. My first flat in...who knows when, it had been a while. I topped off the sealant and was back in business a few minutes later.
Fix-a-flat locale.
Don't slip! Photo by Jeff.
I had my tech game going, felt good on the power moves all day. Photo by Jeff.
Did we time warp to Sedona?
In a matter of minutes we felt like we were riding in Flagstaff, Prescott & Sedona.
I think this trail is about to become more popular.
The switchbacked climb out of Christopher Creek was fantastic, although I ganked 2 of 'em. The variety of the trail continued to amaze and we soon reached the Derrick trail split. We made really good time to this point and decided to stick with the Highline over to Horton Springs. We also knew this section of trail probably hadn't been re-worked, but it was only 2 1/2 miles, so we went for it.

The trail started off ok, climbing away from the Derrick trail. Then it became more steep and had large rock hits & sharp turns. Time to break out the HAB. Now it's a ride!!
Fairly steep through here. Photo by Jeff.
Some tight chunky lines. Photo by Jeff.
I was surprised how much the trail climbed since I thought the overall elevation was about the same to Horton Springs. I guess that's what made this section so tough, intensified grade followed by a super sketchy equally chunky descent. I'm always a big fan of downhill HAB. Not. Overall, the poor sections didn't last too long, but they were strenuous. Not sure I'd take a bikepacking rig on this section. At least the other option on Derrick & Horton Springs trails is rideable albeit longer.

We arrived at the spring where a few hikers were also enjoying the oasis. This is a very cool spring as you can witness the source of the water flowing out of the mountainside only a few feet from the trail. I'd recommend this as a day hike as well.
Jeff & Nancy help give the spring a sense of scale.
A secondary spring tucked away to the right of Horton Spring. This one had man-made help creating pools.
This turned out to be a perfect spot for lunch and to fill up on water. It was a bit warm, not hot, and I had gone through a good portion of my 100oz. For some reason I neglected to add more water to my bladder, only re-filled my bottle. Duh.

After a nice break we were back at the trail. The next section over to the Hatchery flew by, the trail was so much fun.
Every so often...Boom! A huge vista would open up.
Handlebar high grass made the trail tough to see for a bit.
Crossed Tonto Creek as we exited the Highline trail below the Hatchery.
The Highline pops out about a 1/4 mile below the Hatchery, so we ventured up the road to check it out and to see if there was a water fountain. There's a small exhibit inside the visitor's center which was really neat to see. We were all surprised by the scope of rivers & lakes this hatchery stocks, some as far away as southern Arizona.

Mostly central AZ, but there are a few outliers.
I don't think I'd like to ride with that on my back.
Fish tales galore.
The tiered residence of the outgoing fish, the bigger the get, the farther down the hill they go.
We didn't find a water fountain or usable hose, so we pressed on. Next up were 29 miles back to Pine on the Control rd. As I mentioned above, I had yet to put tires on it, but was fairly confident the road was in good condition.
We passed by a few isolated communities wondering if some were in direct competition. 
World's largest water bed?? Or simply the area's fire hydrant.
Near the junction of Roberts Mesa & Control rds.
Both Roberts Mesa and Control rds were in great riding condition, well graded and well traveled. A bit more traffic than we would have liked, but it wasn't horrible either as almost all the vehicles slowed down when passing us. The overall elevation trend was downhill to Pine, but let me tell you, there were plenty of opportunities to climb! Thankfully, the slopes were friendly, there were just a bunch of sneaky uphills when I thought we'd be going solely downhill. In short, it was a bit of a grind.

We did luck out on water though. We were about to filter from the East Verde River when we came upon another small community. A church was on the corner and had a working hose on the side and couldn't have come at a better time.
I start down a long downhill section. Photo by Jeff.
 My legs were getting tired as we made our way up the final climb to AZ87, I was ready to be finished. We bombed down a very short, but shoulderless piece of pavement before darting into the woods to finish the final mile or so on the AZT into the trailhead.
Pine TH.
Not sure why there's an AZT gate over here, the AZT leaves from the other side of the parking lot.
To answer my question: yes. The 3rd time was the charm. We had such a nice day and the extra trailwork surprises on Highline really enhanced this ride. I can't wait until all 50 miles of the Highline are finished (especially those shared with the AZT!!).
Full Highline trail.
I think the three of us all agreed that a really nice shuttle ride up there would be to leave a vehicle at the hatchery trailhead and ride from the Two Sixty trailhead over. Two options are available, do what we did and stay on the Highline all the way OR head down the Derrick trail and climb back up Horton Springs trail. This option only adds a few extra miles.

As always, it's great to ride with the SS duo, Jeff & Nancy, thanks for coming out. Read Jeff's take on the ride here.

Photo album:


Pine: Fire on the Rim

I kept missing the Fire on the Rim race held up in Pine, AZ. Now in its 4th year, my schedule aligned and I didn't want to miss out. I had heard great revues of the event, fun course, fantastic local support and funds go back to local trail building. Sounds like a swell time to me.

Of course I wanted to parlay this into a full weekend of riding. It just so happens that I needed to scout the AZTR750 route from Payson to Pine, I only would need a lift back to my car to retrieve all my car-camping supplies (read: beer cooler). My buddy, Doug, came through on that end!!

The FotR race offers riders three distance options for the same entry fee. What's the most bang for the buck? 3 laps & 45 miles, yeah! Let's go!

First, I had to get to Pine. I bolted work after a 1/2 day and was spinning out of the Payson Walmart parking lot by 1:15p. I recalled hearing stories about this section of the route being much tougher than people had anticipated. I knew it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, I just hoped I wouldn't be walking my bike for miles on end.
A short gaffe in GPS navigation and I was finally on route through a Payson neighborhood.
A fun short bit of trail linking the neighborhood pavement out to AZ87. 
A very short fast stint on AZ87 brought me to this: ripping forest road!
The soothing sounds of the East Verde River.
Not sure if this was normal height for the river, but it was a few inches deep flowing over the road.
One hour into the ride and I had knocked out 10.5 of the 26 miles to Pine.
I knew my pace wasn't going to last. The road began a series of short steep climbs, the first few were rideable. Soon the road surface deteriorated into a more traditional AZ jeep road, couple that with an increasing grade and I was off the bike in push mode.
A bit too steep & loose for pedal power.
Shade break!
The chunk continued and rumbles began in the distance.
The HAB topped out to an expansive view of the Mogollon Rim.
I had my doubts at the turnoff to this section, a lava rock strewn 2-track, but it was rideable and gave way to this.
The dirt road gave way to a bit of pavement riding on the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park road. I didn't realize the route came so close to the park, it's a cool sight if you haven't been. My route peeled off the pavement 1/2 way down a monstrous 14% downhill grade. The dirt road portion of the downhill led me to a secluded community along Pine Creek.
Bombs away!!
This will get the brake pads warmed up.
The lower downhill into Pine Creek.
Nice bit of singletrack tucked behind the homes in Pine Creek. It wouldn't last long.
While my pace had slowed considerably over the next 10 miles I was still making good progress and 'only' had 5 1/2 miles to go. What I didn't know was the next 3 1/2 miles would take me an hour and a half to cover.

It began the instant I crossed Pine Creek. Straight up the opposite side. Overall the grade wasn't terribly steep, but what it lacked in pitch was made up for in chunkiness. Couple that with overgrowth and it meant a bunch of walking. Every now and then I was able to ride for a few hundred yards.
Typical terrain leading to the AZT.
This fella was enjoying the solitude until I came by.
Oak Spring, just a few feet before reaching the AZT.
I met up with the AZT for barely a 1/4 mile before turning off onto the Walnut trail. This would lead me up to Hardscrabble road where I could zoom down into Pine and the camping venue for the race.

Once again my hopes were dashed for a rideable trail. I really wanted this particular section to be worthwhile as it would be a key connector in putting together a nice loop around Pine.
Some trail, huh?
But then it would get buff like this...
...only to yo-yo back to this.
It was slow going all the way up to Hardscrabble rd. Hopefully this trail is on the short list for trail work.
I had visions of loose rubble on this road, it was my lucky day. Clean sailing down into Pine.
On my way down the road I passed by Doug, who was staying at a friends house, and we arranged to meet up after I ate some dinner to grab my car back in Payson.
Nice to see an entire community (or two) come together for an event like this. Photo courtesy of the FotR
Map of the race course, and the cool fiery mountain biker logo. Photo courtesy of the FotR
Expo area. Photo courtesy of the FotR
The pre-race festivities were well underway when I rolled in. I signed in for the race, found a few more friends who were camping RV style and joined in to their corner campsite on the final turn of the race route. Doug drove me back to Payson and I was back in Pine shortly after sunset.
Do NOT camp on the final straightaway!!
One of the few spots with shade.
I was about to set up my tent near the fenceline when I was informed that it was part of the course!! Oops, wouldn't want to do that. I was pretty worked over, so I made it an early night in preparation for the 7:30a start the next morning.

Rise & shine!!

I slept really well, grabbed some breakfast and readied myself for the race. 7:30 rolled around quick and I found Jeff & Nancy hanging near the middle of the start pack. The announcer barked out the final seconds and we were off!!
Bringing up the rear of the 45 miler pack, Jeff & Nancy just ahead of me. Photo courtesy of the FotR
Off we go. Photo courtesy of the FotR
The road gave way to graded dirt up Hardscrabble road. The climbing became steep, but I kept spinning in granny gear. The entire climb didn't really seem so bad at such a slow pace! I was still ahead of a few racers when I passed the aid station at the top. The ensuing downhill on forest road was fun, but before I knew it I was getting passed by the lead riders of the 30 mile race. It was like I was standing still when the two leaders zoomed by. Dang, they were fast!! They also had a 10 minute gap on the field barely 5 miles into the loop.

The course turned onto a private ranch, only open for a few pre-race rides and on raceday. By now I was getting a steady dose of the 30 mile field passing by me. The road climbed, but wasn't steep, until near the top at the water tower.
Private ranch road.
I managed two shots while still 'racing'.
The pitch up to the water tower was steep and loose. I relented and hiked up the final bits. My legs were already feeling worked over. The ensuing downhill didn't do much for my confidence levels. I was having a difficult time seeing the trail in the early morning shadows. The singletrack descent was steep. and coated in moon dust. Not exactly my preferred conditions, but I didn't crash.

Next was a double track climb, again it wasn't steep but I couldn't really muster anything. It was then that the thought of DNF'ing began to creep in.

Another sketchy downhill followed and I had a few close calls with terra firma but managed to keep things upright. Two more times on these descents I thought. Hmmm. What are the odds I don't craxh, I wondered. Some pavement followed and soon I was at the Pine/Strawberry trail. I've been trying to ride this trail for a few months, but kept running out of time. Today was the day.

It too began with a gnarly descnt with a few rock drops and goofy twists, yet I still kept going. It was actually a really fun trail, but had more climbing than I expected. My legs were in full-on revolt, no power, nada. Somewhere in here I decided I just wasn't feeling it and pulled the plug. I backed off my already slow pace and freely allowed anyone behind me to pass. I did want to ride the Pine/Strawberry trail until the end instead of taking the course exit about halfway through.
Racer on the Pine/Strawberry trail.
I stopped and sent Jeff a text letting him know I was done. He replied back that he was already back at the car!! That made me feel a bit better knowing he bailed as well. Of course Nancy kept going.
Nice views from the trail.
The trail switched from sunny & open to forested.
It was getting toasty, so a shade stop was a must.
I reached the checkpoint out at Hardscrabble rd and informed them of my decision to call it off. There were a few of us getting set to bomb down the road for the nearest beer.

I really don't like quitting, especially an event I paid for, but it was an easy decision on this day. I was in no mood to suffer through another two laps on dead legs. In the end I think I wasn't fully recoverd from the Grand Canyon hike the weekend before. My legs didn't feel 'normal' until the day prior to the race, then I went and did that tough ride to the venue from Payson. Any other time that wouldn't have mattered. Oh well. I'll be back to give this one another crack.

Back at our campsite we pulled out the chairs and brews to help cheer on the racers as they finished up.
Nancy finishing up the 45 miler!!
And the crowd goes wild!!
Making it official. Photo courtesy of the FotR
A few of the volunteers, err cheering crew! Photo courtesy of the FotR
The only other item to settle was whick team was going to finish higher, the guys from Estrella or those effin' Vassago guys. The Estrella crew had a lead going into the third and final lap in spite of Derek's wicked crash on the first lap. Dude is core, stopped his bike and 20mph momentum with his face, got up, dusted off and finished the lap!! As someone noted back at camp, it looked like he went 5 rounds with Tyson. He was checked out by the medical staff and deemed ok, sans the multitude of shiners. He was in good spirits as he held a huge icepack against his melon.

We were all whoopin' & hollerin' when Cory from the Vassago team came flying by securing a third place overall finish in the team category. Nice job fellas.
Rob snagged an impressive 2nd place in SS.
Nancy on the top platform!!
Effin' Vassago guys on the right & my buddy, Tanner, part of the winning team in the back.
Way to go Pine, you know how to put on a fantastic event. Kudos to all the locals who allow us to be a part of their community for a weekend. As a bonus the registration funds go back into the trails of the surrounding area. Very cool. They are working hard to make Pine a mountain biking destination. Keep it up, you're well on your way. I'll be back for more next year.

Official race photos here.

Payson to Pine route:

My shortened Fire on the Rim route: