4.05.2014

Dirty Century on the Black Canyon Trail

Honestly, I was planning on riding the AES Prescott Mega Monster. I swear. Then I saw the forecast: High of 55º & 30% chance of rain. Translation: You'll be wet for 30% of the ride and chilly. It's official, I'm a desert rat and if I don't have to ride in the rain I'm opting out. However, 55º in Prescott means 73º down the hill in Black Canyon City (BCC), where the Black Canyon Trail (BCT) happens to reside.

Once again I had a ridiculous notion that I could ride 100 miles of mostly BCT singletrack in a day. I didn't really try to get any takers on this ride, especially when Ray seemed skeptical. With that, the plan was set, go solo from the BCC (also referred to as Rock Springs) trailhead heading north on the defunct AES route. Return to BCC where my car would have food/water for the second 50 miles. No shuttle required.

Early Friday morning I received a text from the Red Rock Chica (RRC) asking if I had any big rides coming up. I mentioned my plan and invited her to tag along for the first 50 knowing that she was still rehabbing a troublesome knee. She agreed, i.e. took the bait, and we met up around 6am the following morning ready to ride.
Brisk start to the day, but the first climb helped warm things up.
21 miles of dirt roads to get the legs revved up, downhills notwithstanding. Photo by RRC.
It's not a real ride on the BCT without the soothing sound of gunfire.
Here we go, top of the Antelope Creek segment. First time down for RRC.
Entering the über contours.
I had to break out the AES jersey for this ride. Photo by RRC.
Antelope Creek is a hoot, but the crushed granite makes for some slippery cornering. Photo by RRC.
Vistas growing wider.
What's she enjoying more: trail or tunes? (I'm going with trail)
Approaching a re-entry to the land of the Saguaro.
Caught chasing some cattle. Photo by RRC.
We made our way across the flats of the Hidden Treasure Mine segment into some small hills. The BCT through here is classic cross-country type riding. I came up to one of the technical rock crossings, I wanted to get a pic of RRC making a clean ride over it. Instead she came riding up yelling at me, 'I have your camera!!'. Huh? Does not compute. She had to repeat herself a couple of times before I comprehended what was going on. Did I forget to zip up my pack? I've done some dumb things like that before, almost losing my car keys on a ride up here a few years ago. Instead, I found my zipper had separated on my main compartment and my DSLR fell out on the trail!! RRC to the rescue!! At least my pack has a dual zipper on that compartment so all was still good, just a bit paranoid about losing my camera again.
Mountain bikers playground.
Yes. Photo by RRC.
We were about ready for a snack break as we came near Bumble Bee, but were sidetracked a bit talking to a couple from Colorado. They were in town for a riding vacation and were looking for info about the section of trail we just completed. We urged them to go up to Antelope Creek and ride back down, they could even shuttle it if they didn't want to grind up the last 3 miles. I hope they had fun out there, I know we sure did.

Back on the trail, I had stopped at the top of one of the chunkier bits when RRC comes rolling up touting a new orange cape she found on the trail. My first thought was, how did I not see that lying in the trail? Well, duh. It was my jacket!! That's twice I've dropped items, good thing I had company or I would have been retracing my path all morning looking for that stuff. Sheesh.

We ran into another rider heading north all decked out old school style and rocking it. He warned us of some angry bees ahead, but by the end of the conversation we determined he meant last year!! No bees today.
More beautifully contoured trail.
35 miles in, all smiles!!
The dirt road ahead was our first climb of the day hours earlier.
Peer pressure and a camera makes one focus...nailed it.
Closing in on Black Canyon City.
We came up to the first potential water crossing of the day...bone dry. Only a few isolated pools could be seen. This area was flowing only a couple months ago, but our dry winter took care of that. I could tell the RRC was slowing down, this was a huge test for her knee and she was ready to be back at the car.

The second water crossing looked more intimidating. We fumbled around on the bank for a bit looking for a suitable place to cross. There were some boulders downstream that had potential, but they were at least 100 yards away!! Screw it, let's cross here, the water was only mid-thigh deep last time up here. RRC went first, stepped in to test out the water - feels great!! Next step...bloop...over her waist deep!! Not sure how she didn't topple over and still kept her bike from being submerged!! Skillz.

I had my cell phone in my lower shorts pocket, better move that up a bit higher. I stepped in a bit to the right, same result. So much for a dry phone. Again, not sure how I didn't fall in the river and keep my bike above the murky waters, but I managed.
We should be able to walk across, right?
About the time my phone stopped working. Photo by RRC.
If anything it was highly entertaining!! Only a few miles remained before we were back at Rock Springs. First was the 8 switchbacked climb, it's been a while, but I cleaned 'em all.

Fifty miles down, fifty to go. Ray had stopped by the trailhead to check on us after rippin' through the Prescott short course, we missed him by 5 minutes.

It was time for a foot-long tuna, chips & Pepsi for me, and the yoga mat for RRC. It was warm enough to dry out some clothing from our 'swim'. I also gave the GPS a boost with my charger for 20 minutes, since I didn't want to temp fate again by using a sketchy zip-tied rig. I swapped out 100 oz bladders, cold Gatorades and a meatball sub for later. I also decided it would be best to leave the camera & jacket behind!! I thanked RRC for the company and began the second half of the ride around 3pm. My goal was to be down at the Emery Henderson (EH) trailhead (turnaround point) by sunset.

Down at the next water crossing I was able to ride right through. It was a nice climb up the Skyline segment, I was feeling good. No camera to slow me down I kept a solid pace.
Top of the Skyline segment. (Old pic.)
I breezed through the Cheapshot segment and the west side of the Lower Pan Loop (LPL) to the next water crossing. This crossing was also easily crossed, simply hopped over it.
Similar flow from years earlier.
Of course as I neared the Table Mesa trailhead the gunfire became audible, but it wasn't anywhere near the trail....this time. I wasn't really looking forward to the climb away from TM, but was pretty stoked when I crested the saddle into Windmill Valley.
Top of the saddle looking north. (old pic.)
I took the eastern trail side of the Boy Scout Loop (BSL) heading south opting to climb the jeep road on the west for the return. The sun was still hanging low in the sky with a bunch of fast flat-ish miles to go.
Top of the Boy Scout Loop (old pic.)
Emery Henderson TH. (old pic.)
The sun dropped below the horizon about 2 miles from the trailhead, but it was still plenty light when I rolled through. 75 down, 25 to go!! I readied myself for the nighttime finish, dual light setup was the way to go. I gave the GPS enough juice for the finish, ate half of my meatball sub, then pointed the bike north around 7:40p. I knew it would take longer for the dark return as I was not going to be taking any unnecessary chances on the trail.

I made it back to the southern end of the BSL quickly, this was the first time I had ever gone on the west side jeep road section. It was fine except for one steep down/up section near the top of the loop. I did a bit of HAB, felt good to walk for a while.

The elevated valley by Doe Spring went by quickly and I popped out on the saddle overlooking Table Mesa road. It was sometime around 9:30p and wouldn't you know it, guns were still a-blazin'!! Do these people ever stop shooting up here? Apparently not.

Down at the Table Mesa TH I checked my phone for life, it worked!! Not a minute later K was calling to check on me. I told her of my phone woes, but to keep an eye on the SPOT tracker. I briefly saw an LED off in the distance while talking to her, I couldn't place where they were located. Were they coming my way or at the top of the final downhill to the trailhead?? Either way, I never came across anyone.
Bottom of the LPL, it was a tad darker when I arrived!!
I was glad to reach the LPL, it was the last real challenge on the ride, a nice climb to start, then a water crossing followed by a huge swath of babyheads leading to a crappy jeep road climb.
It's nice to have a GPS track through here, especially at night.
I took my time getting up the jeep road, walking quite a bit since, quite frankly, it sucked. At the top of LPL I was only 8 miles away from the end on an incredible section of trail. I just had to stay awake!! My legs still felt good, but I was getting sleepy. It was going on midnight and I had been up since 3:30a.

The descent on Skyline was fun, one more splash down in the river crossing led me up to the trail split for the finish. The odometer read 98.8 miles, but there was only 0.7 left. No way I was finishing with less than 100, simply no way. I quick out-n-back up to the cattle guard bike ramp gave me enough cushion. I finished just before 1am with 100.4 miles, BCT Dirty Century complete.

I'm so glad I had the weather window open up for this ride, I didn't want to wait until fall to give it a shot. I'll be back to do this again, the BCT is just so good.
Post ride meal hit the spot, so did the caffeine for the 1 1/2 hr drive home!!
Long day indeed.


3.30.2014

Salty-Gila Tour '14: GPS Woes & Dirt Roads

Continued from Day 2: Oasis in Gila Country

Day 3: GPS Woes & Dirt Roads

We were stirring at daybreak once again in anticipation of a huge mileage day to finish off the tour. Stopping short of the Kelvin trailhead left us roughly 85 miles from the finish. That ruled out any play time at Area 52, so we'd take the bypass through there. My GPS was charged, so I thought, as we began pedaling sometime after 7a.
Our campsite down by the river.
The gate appeared quickly allowing us to warm up our legs on a few miles of easy dirt road. We even caught a glimpse of a white-tailed deer hanging out!! During the next couple of miles the trail contours the hillside along the Gila mixing in short steep climbs and fast fun descents. Every once in a while a nice view of the water appears below.
A river of life in the otherwise arid desert.
Our day was barely 30 minutes old when my Garmin alerted me of a 'Low Battery'!! Really? It was showing a full charge back at camp. Larry's charger had already been max'd out, so he was running on empty as well. It wasn't a real cause for concern as I knew the route...mostly. There were a few turns here and there that I would need to consult on my electronic friend. I typically get an hour or two of life from the GPS after the first warning, so I knew time was limited. I was more bummed about not recording an 'official' track.
The Gila can be a dangerous place if you're not paying attention!!
The guardsmen were keeping a watchful eye on us.
Tire sniper!!! Gah!!
This pea-sized pebble sliced my tread like an arrowhead piercing flesh.
I heard the pssssttt the instant it happened. I quickly got off the bike and spun the tire to get the puncture to seal, no luck. I lost all the sealant in a flash. At first glance it looked like a giant cactus barb was lodged into the tread. I tried a couple unsuccessful attempts to inflate the tire in hopes the sealant would finally plug the leak. As I was about to accept the fact that a tube was needed, Larry remembered he had some tire bacon!! Nancy had used one of these plugs before and I really wanted to keep my setup tubeless. The first plug only lasted a short bit, operator error I'm sure. I don't think I inserted it far enough into the tire. The second plug did the trick and armed with a fresh bottle of sealant, I was good to go.

A couple of miles later the GPS died for good. This was now the second time during a 3-day ride that I've had power issues. I had been typically getting 3 or 4 full charges on a set of AA's. The only thing I can think of is the charger doesn't power off during the night after supplying a full charge to the device, draining the batteries. The charger was giving me enough juice to power up the GPS long enough to see if we were on/off route. That was the game we played until the finish.
Larry making his way up the Electric Ave climb.
Getting close to Kelvin, one 'little' climb left.
At the top the wildflowers were once again on display.
We reassessed our water down at the auto crossing of the Gila River. We were ok, so we kept going. Up at the Kelvin trailhead we topped off at the cache. It was now 12:30p and this is where we thought we'd be camping the night before. The goal now was to get to Florence before nightfall while not getting lost in the maze of jeep roads in Gila country.
Climbing away from the Gila River on the AZT.
Kelvin trailhead, end of our AZT segment.
A 6' Bull snake lying across the Florence-Kelvin Hwy.
We were now on our last real effort of the ride, the 4+ mile slog up the Florence-Kelvin Hwy. It wasn't too bad on a loaded bike as I settled into a rhythm spinning the middle ring. I was still very glad when I cleared the final crest.
Larry topping out the F-K Hwy climb.
I cycled the GPS power to get my bearings, turn here, then the second left out to the power sub-station. Go. I/We were really looking forward to the long gradual downhill over to Area 52. However, I made the mistake of trusting my memory instead of verifying with the GPS. We veered slightly left at the sub-station instead of staying straight. This kept us under a set of powerlines. The initial mile or so looked familiar enough and it was downhill as expected. Then it became sandy, real sandy, but still rideable. When I pulled out the GPS I saw we were off-route, paralleling the course too far to the south. Drat. We kept our eyes peeled for a split to the right so we could re-join our track, but one never really materialized. More sand for us.
Sandy, yes. Still riding and trending downhill was a bonus.
Multiple checks of the GPS later, we finally met up with the intended route just as we were hitting Area 52. A short HAB section through some deep sand led us to a very rugged 4x4 road. We bounced our way through topping out after a couple of miles.
Great fun for a 4x4 enthusiast.
Area 52. A giant freeride rock outcropping in the middle of nowhere.
Looking back at the Gila River Canyons.
We were now on the fast track towards Florence. Miles and miles of 2-track skirting the southern flanks of the Gila River. We never really saw the water along this section, but riding under a canopy of mesquite trees told us it was just over the embankment.

The afternoon wore on and our discussions trended towards topics of food & drink. We were ready for Florence!! I was ready to see the gauging station signaling our crossing of the now diverted Gila waters leaving us only 7 miles from dinner.
Getting close now.
We were now on a river frontage road providing us with panoramic views downstream. As we rounded a corner a car was coming our way!! We were surprised to see anyone out here, especially in a sedan. It was the first person we'd seen since passing those riders back near Picketpost a day earlier. We moved over to pass by the car when the driver leans out...it's Arturo!! He has ice cold drinks too!! He SPOT tracked us knowing we'd be low on supplies by now and how right he was. I don't think we said too much before ravaging the cooler for Cokes & Gatorades. That really perked us up. It made the last 7 paved miles into Florence a bit easier to tolerate battling a stiff headwind.
Two happy campers at Arturo's SAG wagon.
We arrived into Florence with plenty of daylight to spare. Grabbed a high calorie meal, then prepared for some night riding for the final 40 miles. We left town right after sunset.
Walker Butte in the distant far left, Poston Butte in the foreground right.
The first order of business, stay on the southside of the canal to avoid the often loose dogs on the northside. That worked....until the dogs ran through the dry canal bed and began chasing us!! Time to crank!! They didn't pursue for long as we hit the Hunt Hwy frontage road. We quickly churned out the miles. We left the Hunt Hwy corridor in favor of some seldom used dirt roads near Walker Butte. As we approached a railroad crossing there was a brand new barbed wire fence & gate installed. The gate was strung so tight we couldn't open it!! At least the fence was high enough off the ground to easily crawl under. We had to repeat this one more time a few hundred yards later.

Across the tracks there was a road littered with 'Keep Out' signs, I consulted the GPS one more time. This wasn't our turn, ours was another 1000' feet down the road. We started really cruising on the well graded smooth dirt road. Larry found his legs and began to pull well ahead of me. I was feeling good, enjoying the nice evening, glancing up at the stars, trying to begin to process the incredible three days of riding we were about to finish when I looked down and saw the road disappear!! I came skidding to a halt less than a foot from diving into a severely washed out section of road. That could've been bad, very bad. It was at least an 18" drop and 3-4' across. I was thankful I was able to stop in time.

My heart, now racing, had me focused on the road for the remaining miles back to the Hunt Hwy. I met up with Larry at the gate and was about to consult with the GPS to find our next entry point back onto dirt when something wasn't quite right. The GPS was GONE!!

I have two mounts on my handlebars, the main centered mount I use all the time and a second mount to the right that I use when I have to run the unit directly off of the charger. Unfortunately, the second mounting clip has been broken. My short-term remedy was to use a couple of zip-ties to secure the GPS to the handlebars. It has worked a few times recently, but not on this night. Somehow, the unit slid off the mount and worked its way undone from the zip-ties somewhere along the remote dirt road. I was very upset. I can't afford a new GPS right now, plus all our ride data was gone. Boohoo. Larry kindly offered up his GPS if I couldn't find mine as his was the same model and he rarely used it. I opted to not go looking for it in the dark, but would come back early the next day. It HAD to be there, lying in the road.

We still had one more off-road section to complete over towards San Tan Regional Park, but there were a few new wrinkles I had added and without a GPS we chose to skip it and finish up on the road. I was a bit bummed about not finishing with a fun whirl down the Dynamite Trail, but more upset about losing the GPS. The pavement miles went by quickly and we finished up around 10p back where we started.
Final slightly modified route. 201.4 miles & 13k of climbing right from my front door.
Larry, thank you for sticking with it, I really enjoyed your company out there. Best of luck as you prepare for the Tour Divide in 2015!! We'll ride again soon.

Postscript: The next day I went back out to that lonely dirt road in search of my lost GPS. I headed south scouring the almost white graded road for a black piece of electronics. The miles went by and nothing. I made it out to the last known location I had it. Still nothing. I hoped on my way back the shadows would be different and I simply missed it heading south. One thing I didn't miss was seeing the washed out section of road I almost crashed in.
I came a bit closer to a certain wreck the evening prior.
About a mile farther down the road an ATV approached, I waved as it sped by, but it had me thinking that someone beat me to it early in the morning. I have my name/address on the back, perhaps a good samaritan would find it? I almost gave up hope of finding it when I crested a small rise only to see it lying in the middle of the road!! Score!!
Not sure how I missed that on the way south.
Alls well that ends well. I'm already looking forward to doing this again next year. Perhaps a 4-day variety is in order?? Stay tuned....