I wanted redemption on #21 and to see how rideable it really was since we hike-a-biked (HAB) the last 5 miles of it in the dark. Reno Pass was out this time around. Insert a bit of passage #22 and some jeep roads leading up to Gold Ridge and all of a sudden you have a monster loop. I was under no illusion this could be done in one day so I used the spring on El Oso as a location to make camp.
Day 1: Altered plans, Gold Ridge & The Bear
All I wanted now was some company. The normal bunch of crazies all balked at the idea, perhaps still feeling the effects from the Coconino loop. I posted up a call on the forum and had a few takers. Derek, Rob & Bart took the bait and we all met up in Sunflower.
No rain in the forecast, but temps would be above normal pushing 90º down in Tonto Basin. I left the tent in the car and we all were rolling before 8:30a.
This is one of the few AZT passage junctions without a designated trailhead. The deadend road leading to Bushnell Tanks would serve as our jumping off point, but there isn't a straightforward entry onto the AZT. I had planned on accessing the AZT via the Beeline Frontage rd, but the gate was locked. What to do? Bushwack right from the get-go. Let's just get that out of the way early on. It also included a barbed wire crossing, we noticed a gate after we climbed over!!
Onto passage #22. The trail is rugged, mostly rideable with the exception of a few short steep upslopes. We quickly left the AZ87 corridor and could feel the remoteness almost immediately, well, until we spotted a huge cabin nestled among the hills, but we were out there - way out there!!
Here are the cast of characters at an early gate crossing.
|Derek, already smiling over his reduced gear ratio selection.|
|Rob, stoked to be on his first bikepacking trip.|
|Bart, ready for some Coconino redemption and fast trails.|
|Back in business?|
|This would be a recurring theme and not just the SS'ers.|
|Plenty of watering holes along the route. It's been a wet couple of months in the desert.|
|Our first water crossing, Sycamore Creek feeder.|
|One of the new fancy AZT signs, 7 miles from the halfway point! 393 to Mexico, 407 to Utah!|
We opted for a snack break along the shady shoulder. Not much traffic, a few trucks and ATV's went whizzing by. Up the road we were on the lookout for FR25 to take up into the mountains. We found it, gated, locked and armed with no trespassing signs on private property.
|Above Cross F trailhead.|
|We were lured by constant bits of primo trail.|
|Traffic jam on the old Beeline Hwy.|
|Rut-roh! Plan B, do we have a plan B??|
|FR201 was in surprisingly good condition, only a few short HAB sections even for the SS duo.|
|Not a bad locale to throw down some tents.|
|Starting to make our way around Mt. Ord.|
|A few breaks in the pitch delivered moments of uneasy downhill speed.|
|The adjacent canyon through this haunted forest provided a glimpse of our intended route. We were quite pleased with our new option to the summit.|
|Climbing to the sky.|
|Merging onto the original GPS track.|
|Derek all smiles to be done with FR201.|
|I knew some downhill HAB was going to greet me at some point.|
|The trail starts off great.|
|A few dismounts early on, but only 3-4 total.|
|Rob riding into a postcard.|
|Gold Ridge slicing across the mountainside. Rob saw 5 or so deer near here, I only caught a glimpse of the last one bouncing through the bush.|
|Mogollon Rim making an appearance on the horizon.|
|Derek is ON the trail.|
|Rob on a 'wide open' piece of dirt.|
|Waiting for the trail to drop off the Earth.|
|A few steep sketchy downhill runs mixed in with a handful of punchy climbs to keep things honest.|
|Town of Rye still a long way down.|
|The extended downhill HAB finally arrived beyond this rise, but it really wasn't too long. The bit of trail on the otherhand was steep, loose and rutted. Tough footing, made my left knee start to ache a bit.|
|Here I'm pretending to know where we're headed. Photo by Derek.|
|6 miles later, we arrived at the Deer Creek TH. Pines no more, spines-a-plenty in the land of cacti.|
|Late afternoon sky at Jake's Corner.|
|Fountain drinks & live music, yeehaw!!|
|Food was limited at the bar, so snacks were had from the store.|
|Randomness behind the bar.|
One unexpected bonus for arriving behind schedule was Tonto Basin was now in the shade. It was warm, but comfortable hovering around 80º. We cruised along the paved shoulder all the way to Punkin Center before switching over to night mode and a secondary parallel less traveled road.
|Four Peaks still a ways off in the distance.|
|Big gearing starting to pull away from the SS'ers.|
|At the Punkin Center turnoff.|
|Another refueling location if needed on future rides.|
|Waning daylight cast over Four Peaks.|
The spring was full, Rob found a couple of trees for his hammock and Derek & I found enough clear space for our setups. Derek had a tent, I went sleeping bag / air mattress under a starry sky. Dinner was cooked, ice cold Yuengling cracked and shoes off taking in the sights of the western skies. We were fortunate enough to catch an extremely bright shooting star too.
As I readied myself for the night I dug out my new PowerMonkey charger for the GPS, which was now on low battery after 12 1/2 hours on the trail. To my surprise the PM was dead, wouldn't even turn on!! I was pissed. Why? I had fully charged the battery the night before, all systems GO. The PM was only on its second bikepacking ride and nada. A complaint has already been submitted. I had such high hopes for this device, hopefully it's just a lemon, but I can't trust it as far as I can throw it right now.
Day 2: Short spin to the finish?The vehicle traffic on El Oso started around 5a, which wasn't really all that bad, kind of a slow wake-up call in the pre-dawn light. We set ourselves up nicely for a short second day knocking out 56 miles on Sat. I was planning on reaching Sunflower around noon, we 'only' had 20 miles to go and most of it was downhill. Easy. Right?
|Middle Water spring in the tire & Rob still snoozing in the hammock.|
|Three of the Four Peaks.|
|Finally!! Near the top.|
|It's best if you don't look up sometimes.|
|Mt. Ord still far off, near the finish line.|
|The unmistakable profile of the Superstition Mtns.|
|Ahhhh, morning in the pines.|
|Yet another HAB pitch.|
|What's this? An extended downhill!! Just beware of the ruts from the recent storms.|
|Up we go, HAB continues. At least there are steps!!|
|We have to go up there?!?|
This 8 mile stretch has some fantastic potential, but until a serious amount of work happens it will remain a vague, primitive, burly, overgrown, yet scenic trail. It's one of the few sections of AZT that isn't marked very well. Only an occasional carsonite sign and random cairns mark the way. Most drainage crossings require a dismount, then it was anyone's guess where the trail went. My GPS was now dead, only making it 7 miles along the divide. At least Rob had the track on his phone and we utilized it on a couple of occasions.
|Mt. Peeley? on the horizon.|
|A quick loss of elevation puts us down at the base of these mountains.|
|Narrow, a bit loose too.|
|Crossing the drainage.|
|Bone-rattling trail along aptly named Boulder Creek.|
|Tis but a small rut.|
|It wasn't all this bad, but enough to slow progress to a snails pace.|
|Thirst quenching pools. Photo by Derek.|
|With only 3+ miles to go, the feet were dunked.|
|Derek surveying the land.|
|Rob was about to test those leg coverings.|
|Rob signaling the 'ok' while buried in catclaw.|
|While faint, at least the trail corridor was clear...for now.|
|Look! More riding!!|
|This was a fun hilly section, the trail was getting good, but one HAB remained.|
|An auto graveyard, yet no road to be seen.|
|Up, up, up we go with AZ87 tantalizingly nearby.|
|The fellas back on their bikes.|
|I think I see my car to the right of the bridge.|
|Completing our Mt. Ord orbit.|
|Weathered signs on a weathered trail.|
|Passage #21 was all business.|
|The price for not having knee-high socks!! Ouch.|
|3 hours to go 8 miles will blur your vision.|
|Full loop with all the navigation errors & profile.|
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