This go round, we'd first have to work out a suitable timeframe with our schedules. My place of work decided to give us Monday July 6th as the holiday, where most others had Friday July 3rd off. We worked it out, but I'd be driving up awfully early on Saturday to meet Jeff & Nancy at the AZT crossing of FR418 north of Flagstaff.
1:45am. bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz goes the alarm. I'm out the door at 2:40a and at our rendezvous location before 6am. Gonna be a long day.
It begins to drizzle as I arrive, not good. There are sections of this route that are to be avoided at all costs during times of moisture. Our eyes had been glued to the forecast leading up to the holiday weekend. By all accounts 20-40% of afternoon t-storms were predicted. The South Rim forecast was more favorable, so we rolled the dice. We also had a contingency plan of pavement for the return portion if things became too dicey.
Jeff & Nancy had camped out and said it poured most of the night, but how far north did the rain extend? That was the million dollar question. All packed, we pedaled off into the shoulder high ferns that graced the AZT. A record June rainfall produced a surreal sight. Five minutes into the ride we were soaked (and loving it) from the accumulated moisture on the leaves. Cue the 15 mile downhill...
|Wading through the greenery.|
|You can almost smell the fresh mountain air.|
|Sticky descent near Missouri Bill Hill.|
|Meeting the locals.|
|Loner under a welcomed canopy of solar relief.|
|Choose your track.|
|Green abounds!! Stock tanks had water too.|
|New signage at the west end of Babbitt Ranch.|
|Leaving the dirt road scene in favor of vague singletrack.|
|Unfortunately, the trail was muddy. We battled another mile of potential death mud here.|
|Some rubbly bits.|
|Our view during lunch. Hunphrey's now engulfed by storm clouds.|
|Pizza to the rescue! Photo by Jeff.|
|Plenty of new signage along the way.|
|Tried to capture a few wild horses keeping pace with Jeff, but I was too slow.|
|NOT Russell tank, tsk, tsk.|
|The real Russell Tank, still empty.|
|I had to Google this one. A tree will be tagged as such when it's deemed to be at imminent risk of falling. Slated for immediate removal.|
|A few miles out from Grandview, we get a teaser view of the Grand Canyon.|
|Beautifully contoured forest singletrack along the Coconino Rim.|
|Worst of the deadfall.|
|I was very excited to reach the Grandview lookout tower. Photo by Jeff.|
|The Grandview tower sits about 1 1/2 miles south of the Canyon's rim.|
|The other bonus? The start of a 16 mile downhill into Tusayan!!|
|Setting our sights on the S. Kaibab TH, 22 miles away.|
|Long gradual downhills will cure most ails. Photo by Jeff.|
|Crossing under SR64 north of Tusayan.|
|Getting close now, Grand Canyon NP boundary. No lines here!!|
|We saw plenty of elk of this ride, even spooked a herd of ~30 just before Tusayan. Photo by Jeff.|
|My internal compass went haywire here, it felt like we were riding away from the Canyon at this point!!|
|We made it before sunset!! S. Kaibab TH.|
|One tired pup.|
|Singlespeed power unite!!|
Back at camp I was assessing my physical state and it wasn't too bad. I figured I'd see how I felt in the morning after a good nights rest.
|The people provide a sense of scale.|
|Colorado River making a cameo.|
|Our bikes wanted to check it out too.|
|I asked a lady to take our picture and before we knew it three other tourists were adding our picture to their scrapbooks!! We didn't know which camera to look at!!|
|Super fast paved bikepath got things going quickly down to Tusayan.|
|AZT exhibit at the IMAX in Tusayan.|
|Skies were clear for our spin through the Kaibab.|
I couldn't quite match Jeff & Nancy's cadence even with gears on flat forest roads. It was a bit frustrating. I popped a couple ibuprofen to help me along. An hour or so later I stopped again to make more cleat adjustments. This time I played with the angle of the right cleat. I'm fairly confident this is a cleat positioning issue. I've only had these shoes since Feb and missed two months of riding after my injury. Nothing has changed on my bike and I haven't had these particular issues in the past.
We kept getting passed by Forest Service trucks, one every 10 minutes or so. We assumed something was going on and it turned out they were setting up for a prescribed burn in the area. At least we were long gone before the smoke began to filter through the air.
|Singed trees from a prior burn.|
|Slightly downhill and fast!|
|Oh no!! Not the Great Western Trail. It was short lived thankfully.|
|The AZT is only 1/4 mile away behind this sign, our lunch spot from the day prior.|
|Clouds building near our finish on Mt. Hunphreys.|
|A very fast section of dirt road through Lockwood Canyon on Babbitt Ranch.|
|Wide open expanses of Babbitt Ranch.|
|Gloom & doom ahead.|
|The goal: cover as much ground as quickly as possible before the rains come. I was in a potential death mud trap. Red Mountain to the right.|
|Steeper than it looks, plus the loose surface had me pushing the bike for a bit.|
Next thing I knew the sun was back out and I stuffed my rain jacket away. No death mud in sight!!
The route now approached US180, I really wanted to keep my tires on dirt and when I was putting this ride together I saw a faint 2-track winding through the forest for a mile leading to a more prominent forest road. I had warned Jeff about the hand drawn track and as I dipped into the forest all I saw was churned up earth from heavy machinery. I decided to not proceed, not trusting my own track or not really in the mood to wander the forest looking for a vague path that may or may not be there. So, I reluctantly turned around and pedaled south on the shoulder of US180 for a mile. I took my first opportunity to get back on dirt and rejoin my track. (Note: Jeff informed me later that the 2-track reappeared and it was fine)
|The next few miles flew by. Took a nice snack break here.|
|Saddle Mtn. in the foreground.|
|Jeff enjoying some grade A HAB. Photo by Nancy.|
|It was mostly rideable, except for the fall-line hill climbs. One was so steep I thought I was going to tumble back down if my foot slipped.|
|Beautiful forest roads and incredible mountain vistas.|
|Kendrick Peak straight ahead.|
|Lavender shag carpet.|
|Back on the AZT over 8000' in the land of aspens.|
|The handlebar high ferns dried out from the prior day.|
|I had to hold the camera over my head to get this shot!!|
I think the perfect timing for this ride would be mid-late September when the days are still long enough, but after the monsoon breaks. The days would be a bit cooler and the nights would be chilly, not frigid. An added bonus would be the changing aspens at the beginning / end of the ride.
I'm already looking forward to this one again after a few minor route tweaks. Add this one to your must ride list.
Complete photo album: