Fast forward to this past weekend and it was time for another go at it. This time I'd cut out a small section of AZT at the top of the equestrian bypass in favor of climbing Sunset Tr to the recently re-opened Little Bear Trail.
A few requests were sent out and Steve was the only taker, but Ray decided to join us for the first half of the ride. He is now in taper mode leading up to the official group start of AES's Coconino 250, launch time is this Friday, Oct. 5th. Steve and I will be joining the mix on the 12th, more on that later.
We took off Friday after another week of work, stopped in Flag for some sandwiches for our 1/2 way SAG stop during the ride, then made our way up FR556 to the camping spot Seron and I found a few weeks ago. It was cool, borderline cold, outside and the nearby elk were chatting up a storm well into the night! This was going to be my first night out in the chilly night air with my new tent setup, a Tarptent Contrail. So far the handful of overnight bike trips I've been doing have led to a very minuscule amount of actual sleep. I end up just lying there with my eyes closed and rest for long periods of time, hopefully with more experience I'll drift off into a deep sleep one of these trips.
The next morning I was also able to give my new stove its first test run and a hot bowl of oatmeal kicked off the day just right.
|Sunrise from our camping spot.|
|The top of Waterline Rd. leads to this: the turnoff to the Inner Basin Tr.|
|Ray captured this shot of me coming down the Inner Basin trail just as a large bug flew into my mouth!! Bleh!!|
|We're famous!! Well, at least our backsides are. Where's Ray??|
|Northern AZ may not get all the brilliant colors of an eastern fall season, but the golden hues are magnificent.|
|We were up near the thick patch of gold.|
|Nothing better than riding into a postcard.|
|Ray & Steve all smiles and ready for more.|
|Ray taking off down FR418.|
|Ray captured Steve and I approaching the Bismark Lake turnoff, 4 miles into the climb.|
One problem, on the last uphill my left quad cramped up something fierce!! Stopped me dead in my tracks. First time that's ever happened. I think I jinxed myself a week earlier when talking with a co-worker, who frequently gets cramps, how I 'never' get cramps when I ride. Oops.
|This photo op brought to you by my cramping left quad.|
|Deep blues and golden aspens, aaaahh!|
|Give it another week and the trail will be hard to find.|
|Steve passing me by.|
We crossed Snowbowl Rd and made our way over the undulating terrain towards the Fort Valley Trail system. We bid farewell to Ray and set our sights on the SAG wagon back at the Sunset TH. Time for my tuna sub from Crystal Creek and a coke!!
We re-fueled our bellies, stretched our legs, then began the first of five remaining climbs for the day. A 1.8 mile grunt up Sunset Trail to access Little Bear Trail. WOW! That did not disappoint. I'd gladly trade a couple short HAB sections to ride that trail. Little Bear hugs the side of the mountain, through a burned out section of forest (result from the 2010 Shultz Fire), as it meanders gradually down to its junction with the AZT. We passed a couple of folks on horseback riding up the trail and then another mountain biker making the climb.
|Not all the forest was burned.|
|Awe inspiring views all around.|
|Waterline Rd. cutting across the mountain.|
|Both old and new, the cycle continues.|
We were near mile 50 at this point closing in on 4pm with 40 miles to go. Time to get moving. I knew the AZT from here was fast, two of the five climbs were upcoming, but not that long. I wanted to try and make it through the Fisher Point downhill before nightfall. From this point on the camera stayed in my pack, I'll show a couple of pics from the last ride through this area to break up the text.
|Little Bear junction with the AZT.|
|After completing climb #2, we had to navigate through a sandy 2-track for a short stretch.|
|Always nice to see water on an AZ ride.|
|Easy to miss gate here, the trail splits off a long private drive with little warning.|
|Home on the range.|
|This was the scene only 4 weeks ago, not much color this time.|
|Took another snack break here, approaching the I-40 underpass.|
|Real fast segments near Walnut Canyon.|
|By this point the sun was beginning to set, but I knew we'd make it down & up out of Walnut Canyon before needed the lights.|
|More flowy singletrack leading to Fisher Point.|
|Fisher Point, but it was dark and we couldn't see a thing!!|
|Crossing back under I-40 and into Flagstaff.|
I really wanted to do a pure AZT route through Flagstaff since my last ride here was detoured due to heavy rain. A couple road miles, then onto a gravel urban trail which took us to Buffalo Park and the final AZT singletrack to Shultz Creek.
|This guy looks eerie at night.|
The trail then turned upward, HAB. Push, push, push, now some downhill....too chunky - can't pick good lines, HAB. HAB some more, then push, push, push upward again. Is this going to get better? Still 2.2 miles until Shultz Creek!! More HAB ensued and finally after 2 1/2 hours we emerged at the Shultz Creek TH. Yikes, that took forever!!
Steve had enough and opted for the forest road climb. I was sticking to my guns & went with the trail climb. Shultz Creek isn't steep, but it's 4 miles long. I really didn't feel all that bad, but my power meter inside was low and any short burst needed resulted in a quick HAB session. It took me about an hour to get up to the Sunset TH & the car, it was 11:05pm. I leaned my bike against a tree, turned around and saw Steve some rolling in, we were done!! We did it after all, woohoo!! Time for a chocolate milk & coffee because we still had to drive home!!
|Route for the day with elevation profile.|
If anyone does the lower loop, do yourself a favor and skip the Rocky Ridge trail!! Maybe it's more fun during daylight hours on fresh legs, but boy is that a tough one.
Thanks for checking this out.