October 13, 2013

Pulverizing Recon

October in the Sonoran desert is a magical time of year. The nights are cool, the daytime highs are no longer furnace hot. October marks the beginning of the prime desert mountain biking season, all 8 months of it!! This past weekend called for a bit of trail work on the Arizona Trail, passage 18, then a recon ride of sorts for the backend of the 81 mile AES Picketpost Pulverizer course that I was dumb enough to put together.

First up was to trim back the catclaw on the upper portions of the route, the Montana Mtn segment. I was eager to lop off some catclaw following my ride the previous weekend on Passage 21. We had a nice turnout of 7 total, one fella went solo to clear a separate piece of trail - a special thanks to Doug for taking the effort to do that. The rest of us set out northbound from the second AZT crossing of FR 650. We ended up clearing 4 of the 6 miles up Montana Mtn. It was a great day to be outside for sure.
Most of the north group, Mike behind the lens.
The next day, Jeff, Nancy and I met back out at Picketpost TH to do a 46 mile lollipop loop of the lower 81 mile route. We were also met by Steve, who was planning on pre-riding the 50 mile course, but chose to ride the backend of that route in reverse so he'd have some company over the first 7+ miles. Steve has grand plans next year, he's going to Ride the Divide and has a worthy cause to boot. Check it out, he's a good guy.

At the trailhead it was first things first, pack my light!! Shouldn't be necessary, but after last weekends ride I really need to carry it at all times.

We started heading south around 7:15a enjoying a perfect desert morning.
Picketpost Mtn.
Steve made a long drive to check out these trails, 90+ miles from the other side of Phoenix.
Steve departs north on FR4.
We all rode south to Telegraph Canyon rd (FR4) and then bid Steve good luck on his loop as we made our way up the canyon off of the AZT. The three of us were now on new-to-us terrain, a mix of 4x4 jeep roads over the next 18 miles down to the Gila River where we'd once again meet up with the AZT.

Right off the bat there were a few short HAB's on some loose terrain. We really were hoping for less of that! The grade quickly leveled to a more comfortable pitch topping out with some truly incredible views.
Into the 4x4 extravaganza!!
Cresting the first climb, the views really opened up.
Jeff mashing on the SS.
You'd swear the views stretched to Mexico.
High atop our perch, we were almost level with Picketpost Mtn.
Superstition Mtns & Weaver's Needle paint a jagged horizon.
It's downhill time!! Ajax Mine to the left of center.
Our our way down into the geological wonders of the area.
We came across our first 4x4 near the top of FR4, a father & two boys were all decked out in camo getting ready for some hunting. We began our descent on a road that had it's smooth sections, chunder sections, some ruts and steep pitches. When the grade finally eased we saw a couple more 4x4's down in a wash navigating a tricky route through the canyon. We'd come across all sorts of OHV's on this day, most of whom, staring bug-eyed at us when they learned of our route. It was quite amusing.
Ajax Mine.
Care must be taken around here, no fence keeping you clear of an open mineshaft.
The start of our 2+ mile trek down Box Canyon rd, in spite of the loose rock, it was rideable.
Remnants of years gone by.
Plenty of outdoor enthusiasts on this day.
Topping out on the first of five climbs heading east towards the Gila River.
 As we began our up/down affair over the last 7 miles of 4x4 road we tried to pick out familiar landmarks from our AZT travels. We'd recognize a distant ridgeline, but soon we would see the dominant landmark of the area, the Picketpost spire.
The raw, rugged beauty of the Sonoran desert.
Picketpost spire makes an appearance.
Nancy liked this so much, she did it twice!!
We leapfrogged this 4x4 train a few times, they were impressed with our downhill skillz over this Redington-esque scar.
Jeff works up an almost slickrock surface.
Ah, yes. Good 'ol chunky steep HAB!! At least it was short and led us to the final summit before the Gila.
I was hoping to reach the Gila River by noon, but it was already a little past and we still had a couple of miles to go. The 4x4 train passed by us for the last time as we started our ridgeline descent. Almost immediately afterwards Nancy's tire went flat.
The Picketpost spire stands guard.
We caught a glimpse of a future expedition: Area 52.
Yeah, we just rode down that.
The towers near the Florence-Kelvin hwy are barely visible on the horizon.
The Gila River paints the desert green.
 The final descent to the river was another in a series of bone-jarring terrain, almost making you wish it would end just to give your arms a break. My brake pads were smoking hot!! The only real downside to these chunky descents was the lack of speed, at least for me anyway. We picked a lunch spot next to the water around 1pm.
Canopy rd in AZ??
A river of Yoohoo! Bust out the water filter.
Two motorcyclists that we'd been seeing were also down at the river, looking for a suitable crossing. They didn't really seem to have a plan B and it's a long way from anything out there, but we heard them riding around for a bit before disappearing to the west.

Both Jeff and I have the same Sawyer squeeze filter and each of us had only used it once, so I was anxious to give it a 'real' try. I pre-filtered the muddy water through a bandana from my bottle into the squeeze bag, then filtered directly into my 1/2 full bladder. It looked fairly clear and I really couldn't tell the difference taste wise.

It was now approaching 2pm and we were faced with the daunting 6+ mile 2000' climb out of the river. A short HAB up the initial slopes, then I settled into granny gear the rest of the way. This was the second time on this climb, the last was during my AZT300 stupor, so I was curious to see how I'd do without all the extra gear and a more coherent mindset.
Jeff & Nancy climbing towards the spire.
I came up to one of the few short downhill sections on the climb, hit my rear brakes and they made an awful wailing sound. Drat. I pumped the brakes a few times and a minute later the noise went away. It kinda sounded like my spring was going bad, but I kept riding as I had a spare set of pads anyway.
One of my favorite spots on the AZT.
A few miles into the climb I was zoning out trying to keep up with Nancy, well at least keep her within eyesight, when I heard a pop from the rear of my bike. That was definitely a broken brake spring!! I think Jeff was surprised that I actually had a spare set ready to go. Ride it till it breaks, then fix it trailside, right? My brake pads were glazed over pretty good and I had just mentioned to Jeff how they weren't stopping quickly enough for my liking. There were a couple small chunks missing from the pads too, yikes!! Nancy came back down the trail when we didn't round the corner, but 10-15 minutes later we were back to the climb.

By now the finishing saddle was coming into view, maybe there was a mile or two to go, but my energy levels were sinking fast. I needed a snack! I downed some calories at the saddle and we pushed on into Martinez Canyon. It was now 4pm.
At the saddle the spire is now below us.
The trail through Martinez is always spectacular, even more so in the late afternoon light. The surface was a little better than last time through as well. At the end of the canyon it was almost 5pm and we knew we had to hustle if we wanted to beat nightfall, but we still had 10 miles to go and I was the only one with lights - how unlike me.
Our first view of Picketpost Mtn.
Soft glowing light to the east at the 10 mile overlook.
Jeff racing the sunset.
 We ticked off the miles quickly but the sun was setting faster. Three miles to go and the lights came out. I gave Nancy my camping headlamp for a little assistance, then fired up my helmet light on high beam. At least this week we weren't fighting catclaw on a vague trail, this was fairly easy going mostly downhill to the trailhead. We arrived back at the cars just after 7pm, another 12 hour outing.

It was a super scenic route, but rough in stretches. The full 81 mile course is going to put the hurt on for sure, but I'm looking forward to the challenge. I think my new adjusted time goal for the race is now 18 hours!!

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