August 29, 2015

Dirty Lemmon

I think most people in the Phoenix metro area are guilty of looking to the north when thinking about escaping the desert heat during summer, myself included. I was all set to head north once again for some great Flagstaff riding when it struck me. Mt. Lemmon to the south, has some really good riding at the same elevation. Why not ride something a little different and an hour closer?

I put out the social media call to see if anyone else was interested. Of course there were!! My ride plan was to start down near Oracle early, ride the dirt control rd. up the north side of Lemmon, grab some lunch in Summerhaven then sample the trails up top before returning back down the control rd.

As I neared Willow Springs rd. I saw Neil, hammering away on the shoulder of AZ77. He left his house around 4am to meet us somewhere along the climb up. He's a super strong rider and I knew he'd have no problems catching us on the control rd, but where?

I rolled into the American Flag trailhead, outside of Oracle, just before 6am to find Jason & Jennifer getting their bikes ready for the climb. We were rolling out at 6:05a.
Early morning rays as we make our way along 11 miles of undulating terrain.
Eventually we'll start climbing into the foothills.
Jennifer topping out on an early climb.
Oracle Ridge as seen from below.
Somewhere around the 12 mile mark I crossed a bridge to find Wendi digging through her stash of bacon!! She rode down the control from the top to meet us, Digital friends no more, we powered up on bacon and started the long steady 12 mile climb up the dirt road.

A couple miles later Neil caught up to us and shortly thereafter Shannon came flying down towards us. She too rode down from the top only to turn around and ride back up. I ride with some tough chicas and usually end up eating their dust!!
The Tucson trio, Wendi, Shannon & Neil.
Jason catching up on the climb.
It was already getting a bit warm, add in the constant climbing and the sweat fest was in full effect. We were still on the lower half of the climb and there's not much shade to be found. The control road is a well maintained access road up the northeast side of the mountain. It's not too steep, just long.

Somewhere near the halfway point I began to feel a slight twinge in my left quad. Ruh-roh. Sure enough it began to cramp, aargh. I had to slow down and nurse it while the others pushed on up the road. Unfortunately for me the cramping only became worse as we rode on. It alternated from left quad to right, never fully locking up, but unpleasant enough to make me stop pedaling. At least I could walk for a bit.
Marble Peak during a cramp stop.
Trees were now prevalent about 2/3 the way up.
Ahh, shade and another cramp break. Grrrr.
The vistas were unfolding the higher we went. A real sense of how for we've come.
 There were plenty of people up on the mountain, most enjoying a weekend of camping. There seemed to be plenty of locations to throw down a tent to enjoy a personal slice of Lemmon.

I knew once I hit the pine trees there was only a few miles to go. I rounded a turn and saw a cattle guard and thought (hoped) that signaled the end of the climb. It did!! The trio was waiting with snacks and I was actually happy to see the Oracle Ridge trailhead!!
Flashbacks to my time on the AZT300 back in 2013.
The Arizona Trail is only one of a few ways down the north side of Mt. Lemmon.
A few minutes later, Jason & Jennifer topped out on the climb. Hooray!! We all made it, now let's get some lunch. First, Shannon & I made a deal to split a dinner plate sized chocolate chip cookie from the Cookie Cabin, those things are huge!! We then shot over to Sawmill Run for some food. While there we marveled at a chubby squirrel's acrobatics to get a meal of their own. Summerhaven was buzzing with people, hikers, DH'ers and a gaggle of roadies - apparently there's another way up the mountain? ;) Strange.
Mt. Lemmon summit (9131'), still a ways up even after all the climbing we did.
My legs felt rejuvenated after lunch, but I wasn't quite sure how they'd respond. So, we tested them out on the climb up past the ski hill to Aspen Draw. It may be a paved climb, but the grade is much steeper than the control rd. 1.5 miles later we were finally ready for a bit of trail!
A couple of finely tuned race machines!!
A kinder, gentler view of Oracle Ridge.
Scenic skyride at Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley.
Distant view of Mt. Wrightson (9360').
The Aspen Draw trail is a nice slice into the world of downhill (DH) mountain biking. Not terribly steep, but plenty of ledges, waterbars, roots and rocks to keep you alert at all times. Throw in a few tight techy switchbacks and it's quite the thrill ride. This trail is right at my comfort level. The last time I rode this trail was part of the famed Lemmon Drop ride - NOT a downhill only ride!!
Not sure how Shannon pulled off the smile to the camera during this drop, but she did!!
Wendi railing some corners.
A rare smooth section of trail.
Neil bashing over this sketchy logroll.
Shannon went with the 'more speed' approach.
Back down in Summerhaven we checked the time and I decided I should probably begin my descent back to Oracle. The skies were beginning to darken with an occasional rumble here and there. Shannon was parked in town, Neil took the macho way down the mountain via CDO (Canada Del Oro) trail, while Wendi and I rode back up to the Oracle Ridge trailhead where she was parked. I snagged some ice and eventually began the long downhill at 3pm.
Thunderheads were popping up all around.
Stormy weather down in the valley too.
The monsoon flow keeping the hillside green.
Another dirt road option for future rides.
Steel cow says: Moo.
It took me 50 minutes to descend 12 miles with my photo stops. This was the first time in a few rides that my wrist tightened up on me a bit. That's a long way to go using breaks over a dirt road. On the upper reaches of the downhill I was amazed how fast the temperature shot up the instant I emerged from the pines. It felt like a solid 15ยบ rise! I kept peeking at my temp gauge on my stem and near the bottom it was firmly in the low 90's. As luck would have it, the developing storms blocked out the sun and kept things relatively comfortable while ascending the two larger remaining climbs.

I could see it raining up ahead to my right for a few miles, but with 7 miles to go the raindrops began to fall my way. They were huge and freezing cold!! It felt wonderful!! It never rained hard, just enough to make the road wet, but not terribly muddy and thankfully not sticky!!
Riding in the rain.
Abundance of shade at Peppersauce campground.
Runoff next to the road.
Full rainbow framing a localized downpour.
 Less than a half mile from my car the AZT crosses the dirt road, of course I had to ride a small piece of it. I took the left onto singletrack and followed it up and over a short rise to the American Flag Ranch. It's one of the iconic trailheads along the AZT and it recently had signage upgrades.
A really fun section of trail after surviving an Oracle Ridge descent.
Gateway to the desert.
American Flag Ranch.
Still standing the test of time.
That's western for 'Keep Out!'
I'm diggin' the new color info graphics on the AZT signs.
The light rain had stopped as I finished up the ride. It was now 5:45p, almost 3 hours from when I departed Oracle Ridge TH. I changed into some dry clothes and began an eventful drive home in the mounting thunderstorms. There were two detours on my way home due to flooding, one full road closure and one where we were directed onto the shoulder landscaping to avoid deep water. Gotta love monsoon season.

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