AES: Kentucky Camp '17

I was less than 24 hours removed from my ride up Montana Mtn. and I was driving south, beyond Tucson for the annual AES Kentucky Camp ride. I signed up for the long course as I normally do, but I had a sneaking feeling my legs weren't up to the task. I decided to let it play out while on route, if I felt good at the Kentucky Camp split, I'd go for the long route, otherwise I'd stick to the short one.

I arrived a whooping 20 minutes early, so unlike me, and was greeted to the sound of gunfire. LOUD gunfire!! Why? There were a few guys target shooting in the same parking lot we were staging our ride. Nice. It's not like we didn't have a few people camped out the night before or anything OR that there was a perfectly fine..and empty shooting lot across the dirt road. Whatevs. Welcome to Arizona. It's not a real mountain bike ride here unless you hear shots fired. #pewpew
Chad shouting last minute tips over the gunfire.
We rode out of the staging area onto Helvetia Rd. for a short spin to link up with the Arizona Trail. Normally, I like to at least be mid-pack when we get to the singletrack since it's a switchbacked climb. Today however, I was dropped like a lead balloon and essentially had the entire climb to myself.

I kept a few riders within eyesight over the early miles and rode with a few late starters for a bit. I knew right away I'd be doing the short course, might as well enjoy the scenery.
The fire damage from last year was hardly noticeable.

Chad came and went after we exited the singletrack.

A smidge beyond the halfway point.
A bit farther up the dirt road the Goold's caught up to me. It was great to see Ryan back out on the bike after a most unfortunate crash last year. He's a super strong rider and great guy. I got ahead of them on the descent from the high point of the short course and kept rolling until taking a break after crossing Box Canyon Rd.

I heard the metal AZT gate open and a rider quickly approached. It was Courtney, leading the long route!! Neil was hot of his heel and I joked with him about taking so long to catch me...I only spotted them 17 miles!!
Neil, all smiles as he mashes his singlespeed.

I must've passed Chad when he took a break. Here's the classic shot of Mt. Wrightson.

Brooding skies and tall grass.

Chad cresting on of the final climbs.

Look closely, Chad is on the ridgeline near center.

Chad slowed down for some photo ops before the finish.
I knew we were getting close #pewpew by the sound of gunfire. The shooters from the morning had been swapped out with another duo. At least they were shooting responsibly, nothing against target shooters if done right.

However, when I went over to my car to change clothes I could hear bullets whizzing overhead. Like really close!! A few other riders noticed it too. It was rather unnerving not knowing where they were coming from. The fellas in our staging area were shooting into an empty hillside in the opposite direction. These bullets were flying overhead from the other side of a hill to the south of us. I heard a few more fly by then I joined the rest of the gang at the other end of the staging area.

A little while later a USFS Ranger pulled up and began asking us what was going on. At first no one really gave a straight answer. He then mentioned that he had recently relocated to AZ from Texas and couldn't find any trail running groups or mountain bikers to ride with. Well, that sort of smoothed things over!! In a matter of 5 minutes we had him signed up for a 50k run and a slew of riding options. He told us where those stray bullets were coming from too. A group of yahoos were randomly firing their guns not aware of anyone on the other side of the hill (us). Thankfully, he got them to stop.

It ended up being a great day for a spin in southern AZ under overcast skies with a light breeze.
Skypainters putting on a show.
Afterwards I met up with Shannon & Beto at their new place for dinner. Their house is in a prime location for accessing the AZT and has great evening views of the city. I'm sure it'll make a great jumping off point for many grand adventures.

Thanks again to Chad for putting on another fun event. Until next year...



Bloodbath on Montana Mtn.

The AES Picketpost Punisher event was rapidly approaching and I hadn't heard anything about the trail conditions up on Montana Mtn. That section of trail tends to get wildly overgrown with catclaw after the monsoon season. I decided to make a trek over there, clippers/loppers in hand, to survey the trail.

I left the trailhead around 9a and immediately noticed a set of fresh tire tracks. Was someone else out here today? It's not a very popular ride and I wondered if we'd cross paths. I assumed whoever it was was pre-riding one of the routes.

The first two miles of trail weren't too bad, only some minor clipping out to Hewitt Station Rd. Now the dirt road climbing began on FR8 and then FR650. It had been a few years since I last rode 650 and I was feeling good, ready to climb away.
Snack break at the first saddle.

4x4 train. I had never seen so many OHV out on this road, must've seen at least 20 which I thought was a bit odd for a Friday.

The climbing kicked up, but my legs didn't.

The 650 serpentine had a tight grasp on me this morning.

As I rose higher, seemingly in constant HAB mode, it became clear to me: I lost a lot of fitness since the Colorado Trail Race a few months back. Too many short, social paced rides had taken their toll, not that I regret any of them.

After the main climb subsides, 650 wraps around the north side of the mountain exposing the rugged Wilderness to the north.

Picketpost Mtn. is the dark shawdowy flat-top in the background. The foreground shows the drainage the AZT follows.

Passing by one of the Wilderness trails.

At long last, the AZT. Took me over 4 hours to get up here. Bleh.
As soon as I was on singletrack the clippers came out. The catclaw up here wasn't too bad, it was the thorn bushes that were out of control!! The task was painfully slow, but as I looked back I could now see the tread. Progress was being made. A group of hikers came up the trail, part of the AZT Expeditions. Most of the group were young teenagers and they looked whooped!! Most had run out of water to my surprise, but thankfully a van was meeting them at the road with supplies. They informed me of a second group who was having more difficulty a bit farther back. They also told me about another biker who was a bit ahead of me. Aha!! That rider must've come up FR172 on the west side of Montana Mtn, pre-riding the B route. I felt sorry for them knowing how much I had trimmed. I wished the group luck on their journey and continued to cut away.
Westerly view into the Superstition Mtns.

A rare bit of clear trail as I begin the descent down Montana Mtn.

99.9% of all the green in this picture has thorns.
I found the second group of hikers taking a break in the shade. One of the kids had an Achilles flare up and was having a tough time with the hike. A few others had shed their packs for a later pick up. Seems like this hike was a bit above the groups threshold.

I kept my slow pace going and noticed it was now after 3p. It had taken me a little over 2 hours to trim about a 1/2 mile of trail!!! I still had 12 - 13 miles to go, time to get moving. That meant riding through the catclaw for the next 4 miles or so until the trail crossed 650, at which case I could bail.

The good news? I was finally able to ride down the upper switchbacks for the first time since they were reworked over a year ago. That was a nice improvement. Strand by strand the catclaw grabbed at, poked, sliced and diced my legs and hands. My left leg in particular was so raw from the constant scraping, I couldn't wait to get off the trail. I still had a couple miles to reach 650 and decided I should reroute the B option this year to avoid this mess. It's a huge trimming project and not enough time to get it done.
There were a few spots I had to trim on my way down.

Mud Spring looking a wee bit dry.

While I did make progress on the upper reaches of Montana Mtn, the AZT took the overall win today.
In the past week or so, a few more hearty souls have gone out there and done a bunch of trimming. Passage 18 is almost ready for some winter riding. It's a beautiful stretch of Arizona Trail, check it out sometime.



Moab Pilgrimage

The work schedule was altered slightly to allow for a four day weekend in Moab, UT to hopefully meet up with my ScampLife friends, Scott & Eszter. They've been known to hang out in slickrock country the past few fall seasons. But, as the dates grew near, Scott was lured to northern AZ for an AZT bikepack. I can't argue with that. My plans were still set on riding the rocks of Moab and I was able to lightly coax my buddy, Sam, into tagging along. It would be his first time there. Last October was really my first time getting a full taste of what the area had to offer and now I'm thinking this should be an annual pilgrimage.

Sam and I left the traffic behind on Thursday afternoon and eventually rolled into Moab to secure a camp location some time after 1am local. The dispersed camping area north of town was fairly packed in, but we managed to find just enough room for my car, at least for a short night of sleep.

We took our time the next moring before heading over to pick up my rental bike at Chile Pepper Bikes. This year I'd be playing on a Salsa Pony Rustler with 3.0 tires. Something completely different than what I'm used to. The forecast for Friday was wind, the 20+ mph variety. I figured a good bet would be to start with an all-time Moab classic: Slickrock Bike trail. I had never ridden the entire loop and it had been 18 years since I last put tires on any of it. The wind did stir up some desert dust and my nose wouldn't stop running all day, such a PITA.
The rental sled for 4 days. Photo by Sam. (SG)

It felt good to be back in this parking lot after all these years.

Sam getting his first taste of premium grade A slickrock.

For the most part, white dots mark the mountain bike route & black rubber indicates the 4x4 path.

Grinding the big rig up a steep grade. The weight was very noticeable to me, somewhere around 8-9 lbs heavier than my Ti hardtail. SG

Bombs away!!

There were a few pitches that were a bit too hectic. Here, some random rider assumes the position. SG

Soaking up the scene. SG

It seems like most of the trails in Moab lead to a sheer cliff. Slickrock is no exception.
A couple of riders framed by the La Sal Mtns.

If it says STOP, you better listen.
We took a short break at the overlook, marveling at the surrounding area and views of the Colorado River. On our way back to the main loop there was a short, but steep roller just beyond the junction. Sam hit it flawlessly. We were only a few miles into our first ride of the weekend and perhaps I was still trying to find my comfort zone on the Pony. I may have forgotten to drop the seat and as soon as I began rolling I could tell my weight was too far forward. I think I compounded the issue by staying on the brakes too long. As I neared the bottom I fixated on a small lump of slickrock directly in my line of travel. This was the fatal flaw. I knew if I hit it, I'd go over the bars. When my front wheel got close I attempted to lift it over the hump, but with my weight forward and the extra front end mass of the bike nothing happened. Well, something happened. I went over the bars...more like the bars simply fell out of my hands. I recall seeing the solid rock of terra firma rapidly approaching my face. Somehow I was spared a full faceplant into the slickrock. My elbows hit first, then the bike landed on me. Oof. WTH.

I was a bit stunned as I lay under the Pony kissing the rock. A quick system check and I came out unscathed for the most part. Some small cuts / scrapes on my elbows & knees...and a cracked sub-layer on my GPS!! Gah! And a busted GPS mount. Darn it. While i checked over the bike, my elbows began to throb and tighten up. Ruh-roh. I began pacing to ease the discomfort, but it wasn't doing much. I was afraid I'd have to head back to the car. I kept pacing and 15 minutes later the throbbing subsided and I felt fine. It was a close call and I promised to not leave my elbow pads in the car for the next ride!!
Sam in power mode.

Slickrock switchbacks. SG

Parked on a wave of rock. SG

Do these tires make my butt look big? SG

Another Colorado River viewpoint.

There were a few pools & pockets of water along the way.

One thing about the Slickrock trail, you're either going up or going down. No flat riding here.

Moto playground too.

The trail is well marked all the way.

Sam grinding out one final push.

Back to the sea of humanity at the trailhead.

The wind wasn't much of an issue, too many dips kept things mostly sheltered. It turned out to be a really nice day for a ride. We were ready for lunch and I had spotted a local gem on the way to the trailhead: Milt's!!
Excellent choice!!
After Milt's we went on a hunt for a replacement for my busted GPS mount. It took three stops, but we tracked one down. The afternoon was growing long, but I was ready for another ride. I think Sam was a bit apprehensive at the notion, but he agreed to head out.

The wind was still kicking and I thought another good ride would be the now famous HyMasa / Capt. Ahab loop. Wind shouldn't be an issue there. It wasn't.

The trailhead was bustling, but most of the riders had wrapped up their rides and were leaving.
Obligatory sign pic.

Surrounded by giants.

A short break from the climbing on HyMasa.

Late rays overlooking the Colorado River from Capt. Ahab.

Blue dots mark the way on Ahab.

A brief show of sunlight. SG

A cool aspect of Moab is most bike shops offer public showers. It's nice to freshen up after a ride especially if you're camping out like we were. Unfortunately, we spent too much time at Moab Brewery and missed the shower cutoff by 10 minutes!! Oops. I thought we had until 7:30p at the couple of places I knew about, but apparently not. Oh well, the cooler temps & winds all day kept us from sweating too much anyway. Better luck tomorrow.

The next morning was crystal clear.
We have a visitor at camp!!

Rte.313 is a beautiful drive.

My friend, Julie, recommended an outer loop ride here. These trails are part of Dead Horse Point SP. SG
My elbows were still a little sore from my Slickrock crash, so I was hoping these trails would be more cross-country in nature.
Jaw dropping views into Canyonlands NP.

The rock features were fairly tame on this ride.

The trail rode fast most of the way.

La Sals with a fresh dusting of snow.

It was tough to keep your eyes on the trail.

Dirt to slickrock to dirt to slickrock was the name of the game.

More fun?? You don't say.
We really enjoyed the trails here, it was the right mix of what we wanted on this day. The parking lot had turned crazy in the three hours we pedaled. We hardly saw anyone out on the trails though.

We grabbed some lunch while there, then made our way over to Navajo Rocks for an afternoon spin.
Look!! More slickrock!!

Pony crawler. SG

A few riders make their way across a fun, off-camber bit of trail.

UT313 cutting a line through the desert.

These dudes know how to pack!!


We wrapped up the ride, enjoyed a cold one while watching the rocks morph into a fiery display.
We rolled into town only to find out the showers we were going to use closed earlier today than y'day!! Dammit. There were still employees hanging out and one fella pointed us towards Canyonlands Campground, behind Texaco on the south end of town. Come to find out, they have untimed public showers available until 9pm!! Score.

We got cleaned up and found ourselves at the most unusual Mexican restaurant, El Charro Loco. The place was jam packed, almost to the point of a fire hazard. People were standing all around, but we kept hearing how great the food was. It appeared there were maybe 5 employees handling the 25 tables or so, and the chekcout, and perhaps cooking too, who knows. It took almost 30 minutes just to get our name on the sign in list!! We were minutes from bailing, but finally got seated. From that moment on, it was mostly normal service and yes, the food was amazing!! I'd definitely go back, just maybe not of a Saturday night!!
Early rise on Sunday for our 8am shuttle run down The Whole Enchilada.

Coyote Shuttles got us to the top.

We had seen a dusting of snow up on the La Sals in the days prior, but assumed we'd still be getting dropped at Burro Pass. We ended up starting at the Hazard Co. trailhead due to reports of ice on the road & trail. That was ok as I wanted to add in the longer Jimmy Keen singletrack section anyway.
A bit of the white stuff up high.

The ride gets the blood pumping early with a climb out of the trailhead.

Hazard Co. gives you a small taste of the aspens.

Things open up and the downhill begins. Rocky, flow trail style.

We took turns caving some arcs.

Lean into it!! SG

This year, I stopped a couple times on my way down to give my hands a break. We opted to skip the Kokopelli fire road in favor of singletrack.

The Jimmy Keen singletrack section was pure XC fun.

I'm guessing this yurt is available for rent.

The trail had good flow overall and a couple of nicely graded climbs.

Sam bobbing & weaving through the cattle.

Snack break as we rejoined the Whole Enchilada route. SG

From alpine to desert in a few hours.

Token Castle Valley & bike shot.

One of the many features on the Upper Porcupine Singletrack, UPS.

Freeride play time.

Tucking for the steep roller.

Postcard shot.

Such a fun trail, plenty of rock features to keep your attention.

We watched one fella ride down the Snotch, all others walked down.

I wanted to see how gnarly the Notch was, so we went that direction.

We saw a couple guys start down, then balk. We opted to walk down as well.

Way above my pay grade.

The Notch also requires a 90ยบ right-hand turn to exit.

I kept the fat tires on terra firma. SG.

Sam landing a ledge drop.

A long series of undulating jeep roads eventually bring you to the Porcupine Rim singletrack.

Another old school legendary Moab trail.

My perch for the next photo... SG

Colorado River opens up below.

There were a few tricky spots along the way, but the finish line is now in sight.

6800' of descending led us here.

 We knocked out the final few flat miles back into town and made a beeline for Moab Brewery. Another stop at Canyonlands Campground to grab a shower and we were actually back out to our camp location before dark for a change.
Not a bad place to watch the stars come out.
Our final day was upon us. We opted to keep it close by and relatively simple. The Klonzo trails were in the same area we were camped so it was an obvious choice. We plotted a quick route that incorporated the Sovereign trail, a popular one I had heard about.
Ride #6 on day 4 gets underway.

It was nice to climb on a few miles of smooth XC type of trail.

Even the slickrock areas were fairly smooth.

Signage in the Klonzo system was superb. SG

Sam drops into Gravitron, Moab's version of K-trail in Gold Canyon.
We exited Gravitron to wrap around to Sovereign trail, but I think we both would've been content to stay on Gravitron. We made a short, but steep, wrong turn up a loose jeep road before realizing our mistake. Bonus climbing!!

Sea green hues dominate this feature.

We made it to the trail, it was anything but easy. SG

We weren't expecting this level of HAB.

Topping out on the HAB. SG

From here, it was mostly downhill on mixed slickrock & dirt trail. SG

Not drone footage. The trail cut back under a cliff edge for near vertical viewing.

A couple fun miles back to the car.
We passed a few riders who were climbing up our exit route. I'm glad we rode Sovereign in the direction we chose. Overall, it was decent, but next time I'd just stay on the Klonzo trails.

I dropped off the bike, then we grabbed some quesadillas from a food truck downtown before hitting the road.
Mexican Hat rock is a popular sight along the way.
Another Moab trip successfully in the books. Thanks for coming along, Sam. It was great to ride and hang out for a few days. Perhaps I'll try again in the spring to track down Scott & Eszter. It's easy to see why they keep coming back.