December 10, 2011

AES - McDowell 46

Original plans called for a 60 miler, but a running race was competing for trail space and it was decided to chop of the competitive loops portion of our ride. Oh, don't fret enduro friends, that's no 46 mile walk in the park!! The route still contained four substantial climbing efforts with the mandatory HAB sections, bring it!!

Last year I wasn't quite ready for such a bit effort, but this year I was chomping at the bit to get a taste of this course.  Most of the route had seen my bike's tires, but there were a few connector trails that were new helping me complete my McDowell spiderweb network. One set of new-to-me trails in particular that I really enjoyed were the ones in the center of the McDowell Mountain Regional Park. They cut the tiresome north side of Pemberton Trail right down the middle giving the area a true singletrack that flowed in and around a few bluffs.

Krista & Todd Park making some last minute adjustments

The neutral rollout before the hammer is throw down
The ride was about to start when Seron rolled up with a flushed look on his face & a broken shifter lever in his hand. "I may be out" he muttered. I felt really bad for him as we were both looking forward to this one. While he was toying around with a possible singlespeed effort, I caught up with the pack. As the group hit dirt, the riders at the front were gone. It always amuses me at how quickly I'm left riding solo, but on this day I was able to reel in and pass about 10 riders on our march over to Sunrise Pass. I stopped at the base of Sunrise to peel off my arm warmers when Seron rolled up, singlespeed and all. Cool, I wouldn't be riding alone after all!! We went up & over Sunrise then began the tedious march towards the dreaded Sonoran Trail via some jeep road.

The last time I rode on Sonoran Trail I crashed into a metal retaining pole & broke my left pinkie finger, (@4:32 of this video by Sam) I still can't quite straighten it out almost a year later.  That section of trail comes up quick & I declined to attempt it again opting for my post behind the lens.

Seron showing me how to properly clean this section
I made up for that by leaning into a cholla getting an entire ball stuck in my index finger....ouch!! All told I thought the Sonoran Trail wasn't all that bad, sure some HAB, but nothing too heinous. We've seen much worse this past year by far.
Cholla do's & don'ts, ^^^ Don't.

The cholla extraction required a pair of needle-nose pliers
Next up was the climb up Prospector. We both enjoy this one as it leaves us on the edge of discomfort never quite pushing you over the edge.  We stopped for a quick snack before heading up when Jonathan rolled up behind us. We met on the Lemmon Drop ride a couple months back and he rode with us on and off the rest of the day sharing stories from the trail. The lower part of climb beat me up on this day, my legs were feelin' it and I had a sinking voice inside goading me to get off the bike & walk. I resisted as much as I could, but alas I walked a few sections. I did recover before the top to make one more decent push to the top.
Prospector climb, photo by Seron
We were nearing the halfway point of the ride with the brunt of the climbing out of the way. The only real challenge left was to summit the north end of Tom's Thumb. One more snack session at the top of Prospector had me feeling pretty good, plus a nice long healthy downhill awaited us. As we began to hit the flats leading up to the Pemberton Trail Seron started poking around with his shifter and viola! He MacGyvered a fix to his shifting issues and could use the bigger gears after all!! Nicely done. Sure beats spinning @150rpm on Pemberton!!
The flat section of Dixie Mine...ho hum. Photo by Seron.

Cool looking cholla forest, BEWARE. Photo by Seron.
This year's route detoured off of Pemberton as much as possible adding those new-to-me trails from the inner area of McDowell Mountain Regional Park (Tortoise, Wagner, Granite, Bluff). They were a nice change of pace to the now wide sidewalk like surface of Pemberton. We even stopped at the park Nature Center to top off water and discovered they had a good selection of snack foods if ever in a bind.
Nature Center
We made quick work of the trail over to the base of Tom's Thumb, took a short break, then readied ourselves for the push to the top. This trail rises quickly and had us HAB'ing in no time. A few hikers chuckled at us lugging our bikes up this long steep incline, but did they know the reward on the other side? The views from the top are worth the effort to get there. I promised myself I would give a better effort on the switchback laden descent and I did. I still walked around a bunch, but I cleaned way more than my last attempt in the heat of summer.
Jonathan with big views all around

Seron diggin' hard

HAB fun on Tom's Thumb. Photo by Seron

If he's smiling during a sustained HAB, then the knee is doing well.

Looking out towards Pinnacle Peak.

Saddle where the East End Trail merges. Photo by Seron

I love the topography at the top, so many boulders. Photo by Seron

Jonathan about to be ambushed by two trail ninjas! Photo by Seron.

Although the standings don't reflect it, Seron was across the line a minute or two ahead of me, he was blazing fast down the switchbacks. It was nice to see a few riders still hanging around for the post-ride party, we've become used to only seeing our vehicle when finishing. This ride was also a special treat as we got to rub elbows with two future Olympic mountain biking long team members, Krista Park & Jeremiah Bishop!! How cool is that? Krista was teaching us the fine art of the mastered switchback decent & giving nutrition tips, be sure to root them on in 2012. Yet another highly successful AES event, next up: Antelope Peak Challenge - 65 miler in late January.


  1. Good seeing you guys out there. Despite my intestinal meltdown and back problems, I still had a blast riding with you. Anytime you guys want a tour de Tucson trails hit me up for some of our finest. I will definitely be seeing you for the Antelope Peak Challenge for sure!

  2. I'll definitely take you up on that offer, so much good riding down in Tucson. Hard to believe it took me 15 years to finally get down there to ride, sheesh. See you at the APC65.