March 16, 2013

AZSF: Picketpost to Kelvin '13

There are rides and there are RIDES. The route from Picketpost Trailhead down to Kelvin is the latter, definitely in my top 3 and a certain Arizona mountain biking bucket list ride. Sometimes coordinating the shuttle logistics can be a bit of a challenge, but when the call goes out for a group ride things tend to come together nicely.

Freshly armed with a set of hydraulic front brakes, my bike was back in business. A good group of 13 showed up for this ride with a few opting for the out-n-back variety. The forecast had been calling for mid-80's all week and a few riders were getting antsy about the rising temps for this remote ride. I came equipped with 200oz of h2o, a bottle of Infinite, plus 2 small bottles of Ensure (that stuff is awesome!).

The group got rolling around 8:30a with a few who left early while we were dropping the shuttle vehicles. I started at the back of the pack while my Garmin finished loading the course. I love the way this trail starts, a swooping climb up the flanks of Picketpost Mtn for 3 miles. Plenty of incline to get you warmed up. Early on, I noticed two fellas going rather slow, so I waited for them about a mile into the ride. They said everything was cool, they were just slow. That's fine, this wasn't a race, but at least a 4mph average really needs to be maintained to avoid riding at night.
Early on.
Somewhere about 2 miles into the ride my chain jumped, attempting to get on the big ring. I was surprised that it held there even for a little bit as I solely use that ring to smash rocks, hence the multitude of missing teeth! I tried adjusting the shifter, but it was locked solid. Drat. I messed around with it for a good 10 minutes before the other two riders, Ron & Dustin, showed up. Another couple rode by and thankfully, Travis, was a bit more knowledgeable about front derailleurs than I. We manually adjusted it back to the middle ring, but there would be some rubbing in low gear. As I also found out, low gear wasn't working so well either. Looks like I'd be doing this ride in 2-2, a bit larger than I would have liked, but doable.

I rode out near the 3 mile mark where there is a faint split in the trail, I waited for Ron & Dustin for 20 minutes, making sure they didn't take the horse trail. When they arrived I was getting concerned about their pace as it had now been 1 hr 15 minutes to travel 3 miles! We had yet to arrive at the real climbing efforts so I tried to instill a bit trail-sense for the days outting, by highly recommending an out-n-back (OnB) ride. Neither rider had been on the trail before, no GPS & only an emergency flashlight. Not a good place to be.

I had to press on as I knew I had to pick up my pace and hopefully catch up to someone in the group. I really like the flow of the trail over the next few miles, gradually uphill contouring climbs, dip down into a wash, climb some more with views of Picketpost Mtn slowly dipping below. Five and a half miles out is a nice rock outcropping overlook, but I kept going on this day. No such luck cleeaning switchbacks on this day. I came to Telegraph Canyon Rd (FR4) and made a quick half-assed attempt to locate Trough Springs. I little better pre-ride research would have led me right to it, but my late arrival home the previous evening prevented that.
Just past FR4.
Steve came down the trail, having already been to the 10-mile overlook, on his way back from his OnB ride. He mentioned the others were a good 20 minutes ahead. Before pushing on I had Steve also attempt to persuade Ron & Dustin into an OnB of their own. This would hold true for the next couple of returning riders. I was chatting with Travis on his way back and out of the blue he asked me if I was the guy who bikepacked to the 24hr race last month! He recognized my bike while messing with my front derailleur earlier in the day, too funny.

Up near the 9 mile mark the trail begins a stout climb to the 10-mile overlook, it was somewhere on that climb that I found Brett waiting trailside for signs of his two buddies, Ron & Dustin! Brett had already been waiting an hour!! I told him their situation & while he contemplated what to do, Joe came down the hill. Joe was doing an OnB, but was going to drive around to Kelvin anyway to help shuttle riders back. Perfect. Brett made the call to continue on with me and we made Joe promise to at the very least, get the car keys from Ron!!
10-mile overlook from a previous ride.
I became envious of Brett's smaller gears almost instantaneously as I poked along up the climb. There is a gate about 2/3 the way up and last time here it had disintegrated beyond use, but now was replaced with a nice modern easy latching mechanism. Just like the 5 1/2 mile overlook I didn't stop at the 10-mile either, pushing through the downhill & subsequent 'Pearly Gates' climb to the 12 mile point.

This is where the route enters Martinez Canyon and turns great into epic. The next few miles are some of my favorite in all of Arizona, made even more special by the effort it takes to obtain them. Brett was apologizing for wanting to stop for picture taking!! Stop all you want, savor it, this is God's country.
Cool rock spire breaks up the HAB switchbacks.
Brett cruising through Martinez Canyon.
As we neared the 14 mile saddle at the end of Martinez Canyon I spotted a couple riders traversing it in the distance. I needed a lunch break so I knew we wouldn't catch up to anyone else quite yet, but it was good to see some of the group.
Lunch with a view, looking back into Martinez Canyon.
Soaking up the views while munching down rejuvenates the soul. Time for the sweet 6 mile descent to the Gila River!!
Brett dropping in.
The marvelous trail construction.
We are just a speck on this mighty planet.
Down, down, down we went. There are a few short uphills to give your brakes a rest, but it's mostly flowing downhill contouring. Then about a mile and a half into the descent I was moving at a good clip coming into a rip-rap dip in the trail. I thought I may have a bit too much speed for it and sure enough....PSSSSSTT!! Rear tire losing air pressure! Quick, stop and get the Stan's to seal it up. No luck. I fiddled with my pump for a few attempts as I pinpointed the hole...I thought. After three unsuccessful inflations I knew it was time to throw in a tube. Bleh. I'm so over riding with tubes in AZ, but now I HAD to as I was 15.5 miles from the trailhead with 21 to go to the end. While changing out my tube I managed to locate the culprit. A small 1/8" hole just above the bead of the tire, no way Stan's was going to seal that. By now, Brett had realized I wasn't behind him and he rode back up the trail to find my bike sprawled out over the trail. A couple minutes later a through hiker came flyin' up the trail, he was really hoofiin' it and with a ton of gear. Very impressive.

The tube was now ready to go. I was a bit nervous at first, really keeping an eye on the trail for cactus and any rock I thought would pose a threat. The trail was fairly clean of any cactus debris and soon I felt like I was back to just riding my ride.
The trail blanketed in greenery.
At least it was a nice spot to change a flat.
It was hard for me to believe that I was 5 hours into the ride and still hadn't reached the Gila. Still averaging under 4mph for the ride with all the stops. At least the days are longer now. I had plenty of water (still cold too) and food with most of the hard riding behind us. I just wanted to keep a nice pace going along the river.
The 'real' Picketpost, taken last year.
Brett was anxious to make the river and he blew right by the 90ยบ left at the bottom of a steep jeep road. I spent a few minutes chasing after him to get back on track.

The trail down by the river is surprisingly good. I think it gets a bit lost in the shuffle on this ride due to the splendor of Martinez Canyon and the long descent to the Gila. As far as XC trails go, this section is a blast. The trail parallels the Gila River all the way into Kelvin, but there's only a handful of times the river is in view.
One of the newer trail work areas, first time through here we had to climb over boulders to escape the wash.
Another cool spot, taken last year.
A new modern gate has been added near the end of the first singletrack section. The trail then follows a jeep road for a few miles before finishing on singletrack into Kelvin. Brett and I were finally into a groove riding. We made one more quick snack stop then headed out to see if we could catch up to anyone.
Carpet of gold.
The desert wildflowers were really putting on a show along the river. The overwhelming aroma of springtime was everywhere! Hard to believe we get to enjoy places like this.

We crested a short climb and just up ahead we saw a group of riders!! We caught up! With a renewed sense of drive we pushed on to catch up to the group. We rounded a corner and there they were, sitting in the shade. 'Hey fellas, how are you guys doing?' Not so good, was the response. One of the guys had taken a nasty fall earlier and was cut up a bit, had a bunch of welts for pulled cactus spines and some duct tape holding his spokes together!! All that and he just ran out of water!! I informed them that it was a good 6 miles to Kelvin with two more climbs to go. I gave them a bailout option for the last climb, ride the railroad tracks out.

I still had plenty of water, cold water too, so I doled out enough to get them into Kelvin.

By now, Brett and I were in a good rhythm. I was feeling pretty good on the climbs in my larger gear even knocked out the powerline climb with relative ease. A long flowy downhill section brought us close to Dale's Demoralizer, the last punishing climb on the route. It's not overly long, maybe just a bit more than 1/2 mile, but it rises 400' with a nice switchback attack thrown in.
Nearing the final climb.
Flowers were out in force!!
I did my fair share of HAB going up DD, but I made the top fairly quickly. Now all that was left was a newly constructed singletrck descent (with a short uphill of course!) into Kelvin. Did I mention the wildflowers? Simply amazing.
This brass cap marks the completion of the AZT. Found at the top of Dale's Demoralizer.
Ready to descend.
Follow the yellow brick road to Kelvin.
There was quite the parry going on when Brett and I rolled into the Kelvin parking lot. The three riders we caught up to made it in via the train tracks, Ron & Dustin took Joe's offer and did the 10 mile out-n-back and we brought up the rear. Trail tales were told, a few beverages consumed and everyone seemed stoked after the ride. Thanks again to all who came out and volunteered their vehicles in order to make this ride a success! Already looking forward to next year's version.

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