November 3, 2012

AES - Black Canyon Trail

November rolled in and with it the prime desert all-day riding season. The beginning of November also marks the start of the Arizona Endurance Series (AES) single-day races. First up, the Black Canyon Trail (BCT). This would be my 3rd race on it, the first year it marked my longest ride to date at 43 miles and damned near killed me! Last year my rig was in the shop so I borrowed a singlespeed for the longer 50 mile variety and was pleasantly surprised by how well I fared on it. This year talk began to surface between Seron and I of actual 'pretending' to race the course, I know, I know, what has happened to me?? Well, before you cast me off as some gram counting lycra clad weight weenie, know this: racing to me is simply trying to beat my own personal time from the previous year. That time was 7:57 (h:mm).

There were two areas of easy time trimming, leave the camera in the car & skip the full out picnic style lunch. (I took 2 pictures the entire day, 1 at the start & 1 at the finish!! So, I'll swipe a couple from my friends and a few from earlier trips for some visual stimulation!)

There was a really good turnout for this ride, 55 riders in all. We had to park in the middle of the lot! Ray was making his rounds, checking everyone in, and we were getting geared up & chatting with the usual suspects.
Ray scouring the signup list.
We rolled out on the neutral start, a five-ish mile pavement tour through Black Canyon City dodging a stray dog or two along the way. Soon enough the road turns to dirt, a quick pitstop is made by many, and the virtual flag is dropped. I had weaseled my way to the front of the pack waiting for the start knowing full well I'd be immediately passed by the masses. I really just wanted to catch a glimpse of Kurt taking off in a cloud of dust up the road, dude is wicked fast!! The course is generally this: 15 miles of dirt road with two climbs (the first one on Maggie Mine Rd is a little over a mile and the second one on Crown King Rd is about 3 miles capping the dirt road section) followed by 30 miles of mostly flowy singletrack with a few jeep road sections & river crossings near the end, but there is one last climb up 8 switchbacks leading to the parking lot.

I mentioned to Seron before the ride that I wanted to keep my bike in a larger gear for the 2 dirt road climbs. It was the one thing I really took away from last year's ride on the singlespeed: larger gear = pedaling slower, but moving faster! We started up Maggie Mine Rd and I was near the back of the pack, I could see most of the people around me downshifting into a really low spinny gear. I left it in the middle ring up front & put the rear in the 4th largest cog (2/4 is how I refer to it). I was a bit surprised how I was able to quickly pass a bunch of riders as we all began to get strung out on the climb. Soon I had to knock it down to 2/3, but it felt good and I was able to maintain that ratio all the way to the top. This allowed me to easily stand and mash every so often mixing the pace a bit. Over the top the road undulates for a few miles, long stretches of flat fast sections and a few short grunts to break it up.
Blink & you'll miss it, even on a bike.
We rode through the very small odd community of Bumble Bee on a very smooth graded dirt road, uphill just enough to make you pedal. I was settling into a groove when....SNAP!! There it was, my chain dangling off my bike dragging in the dirt. Drat. As soon as I stopped I heard a few other riders coming up from behind, 'is everything ok?', sort of. James stopped to lend a hand, but I had everything I needed (I thought), so he pressed on. For some dumb reason I sat there and fiddled with the pin, trying to get it back in for 5 minutes or so. Rider after rider passed on by. I'm sitting there thinking, 'this is the first major-ish mechanical I've had on an AES ride, just figures that it happens on the day that I'm actually riding pretty well!!' Seron stopped to see what I was up to and asked if I had a power-link, duh, yes I do!! After his words of wisdom I shoo him along, no need to hold him up too. A couple of minutes later I'm back in business, I just need to clean off the chain & re-lube. Now where's that lube I just purchased.....dig, dig, dig.....dig, dig, dig. Nothing. Well, I did remember the rag, all wiped off I'm about to go when Mike came by. I asked him if he had any chain lube. He too digs for a bit, but no cigar. Oh well, I'll track some down eventually. Onward I go.

At the beginning of the Crown King climb I saw a few riders not too far ahead. I settled into my 2/4 gearing for the first mile of the climb. Mile 2 brings a steeper grade and I slipped down to 2/3 and eventually passed a couple of riders. At the top I met up with Seron, had a quick snack and took off. I knew Seron would catch & pass me on the Antelope Creek section, dude has no fear of sliding into that canyon!!
Older pic, but still Antelope Creek, it was a bit chillier for that ride.
We made another quick pitstop at the start of the Hidden Treasure Mine section, chatting with Walt & De. I was feeling good, so I went on, pretty much non-stop until the road crossing down by Bumble Bee. By then my stomach was grumbling, time to eat. The next pseudo check-point was at Gloriana Mine. I made good time getting there, Walt and I kept leap-frogging each other until we finally caught up with De. One last re-fuel for the final push.
Seron caught me slacking off, too many rocks in my shoes!! Photo by Seron
Walt and I rode fairly close for a while, but he was really starting to feel the effects of an oncoming cold. I passed him on one of the climbs then last saw him off his bike, head down. What a crappy feeling, but he's the MAN & still finished!! I now had my sights set on a sub 7 hour finish, could I make it? I rode through the last river crossing, it actually had water in it, heading towards the last climb of the route up the 8 switchbacks. There is a bike ramp cattle guard after the river that I failed to negotiate, not enough momentum had me bucking off the bike for a 3 foot dismount. Whoa! 17 minutes to go. My best effort had been cleaning 7 of 8 switchbacks on the final climb, today it was a clean run: 8 for 8!! Woohoo! I crested the summit, sped down to the trail junction, took a peek at the time: 6 minutes to go!! 3/4 of a mile later I was in the parking lot at 6:58!! Made it! Official time does not count the 5 mile neutral rollout, my clock started right at the parking lot. This is a really fun event on a great trail. It's also fun to do as a shuttle with Gnar Gnar tours too!
Post ride BS'ing & beers.

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