November 7, 2015

AES: Kentucky Camp '15

If it's early November that means the Arizona Endurance Series, AES, is getting back into full swing. This year the dates were swapped for the Kentucky Camp & Picketpost events. So Kentucky Camp was up first. Last year was the first year in a while that I missed the event, so I really wanted to get back down to the southern AZ grasslands. I decided to make a weekend of it and knock out AZT Passage 4 as well. It's a bit of a goofy one, in that, a slice of Wilderness bisects the passage making it illegal for bikes to ride through. So, I opted to extend my Kentucky Camp long route by a few miles to ride south to the Wilderness boundary during the event saving the rest of passage 4 for Sunday. More on that later.

I made it down to the start area with 20 minutes to spare. The place was bustling with riders getting checked in and dialing in their setups for the days ride. The long course riders took off at 9a with Chad masterfully handling the crowd and giving me a shove in the right direction.
Chad reminding everyone to close the gates!!
I wanted to stay near the front group for the first hill as it tends to conga line up at times. Mission accomplished as I was on Max's wheel for a short bit. On the backside of the hill I settled in to my pacing not wanting to blow up my legs on the early 5 miles of climbing towards Box Canyon rd.

I kept a solid pace going up the initial climbs and could hear someone on my wheel most of the way. He was content to follow me along until I sputtered a bit near the top of the longer climb. We rejoined at the top and made introductions after he recognized my bike! I've been getting that a lot lately. I had only known him by his Strava handle: VEGAN Bastard, but now I had a real name to go by, Brian. Cool cat & quite the powerful mountain goat of a climber. We cruised down the amber waves of grain towards Box Canyon where we met up with Rhino.
Rhino & Rudy (on a fat bike) riding into a postcard.
The three of us cruised down the dirt roads together, surprised at the lack of washboarding. I had to keep Rhino on route a couple of times, dude is new to this whole GPS track following thing. (Not really) On one particular downhill, Brian & I were pushing close to 30mph when a right turn came up a bit more sharply than anticipated. Brian locked 'em up sliding towards the outside of the road while I grabbed my brakes in hopes of not plowing into him. Somehow, we both found traction at the last second and pulled off a sketchy fast turn over a cattle guard. Probably would have looked cool on a GoPro!!

Not sure if that near mishap caused us to back off a little bit, but the next thing I knew some girl came flying by all of us powering through on the big ring. I later found out it was Cassi, legend of the AZT300 last year. She was hauling, but I think ran into some navigational issues later in the race.

We were approaching the turnoff for Kentucky Camp and a local photographer, Chuck Hill, was out taking race photos. He snapped a good one of me.
Thanks for the photo Chuck.
Kentucky Camp.
I topped off water and caught up to the fellas at the next gate. The route continues on a long series of dirt roads, mostly good riding, into the foothills of Mt. Wrightson. Holly & Josh met up with us at the beginning of the Link trail climb and soon were out in front. The high point of the ride is at the top of the Link clmb.
A hint of autumn as Mt. Wrightson approaches.
As I approached the top I could hear another rider a few turns below yell out as he crashed on the rubbly terrain. He wasn't too pleased uttering a few choice words! There was now a small gathering of riders at the top while I broke out my snacks. A few minutes later Shannon arrived and I'm not sure what sparked it, but a few minutes of hilarity ensued. To quote Brian's summary of events:  
'Gathering of sandwiches, Mountain Dew, farts, laughs, a fart story, a snot rocket story, bananas, PB&J's, crashes, crashees and general yahoos! Super fun'
Yeah, just a few knuckleheads out enjoying a day on the trails.
Shannon joining the fun.
Don't stand downwind of Brian at rest stops!
One by one the riders departed. I followed suit chasing Shannon down into Gardner Canyon. I bid adios to the others at the bottom as I was now at the passage 4 junction. I noted the time and began a short climb up to a saddle.
Vintage AZT signs.
The trail drops over the other side for a bit then levels out for the mile+ to the Wilderness boundary. This section of trail was fantastic. Great riding surface tucked into the hillside among the boulders & trees. A couple of deer made an appearance up above too. It was a really cool detour that took 40 minutes, but I didn't mind. It meant I wouldn't see another rider until the finish.
Backside of the saddle.
Huachuca Mtns. & Passage 1 off on the horizon.
End of the line for the bike. Canelo Hills in the background.
Lichen covered fin.
Felt like an extension of the Flume trail a few miles to the north.
Back on route at Tunnel Spring.
The back half of the ride was fairly uneventful, which isn't a bad thing. I felt really good, only stopping for a couple of snack breaks and all the gates. Of course there were the obligatory HAB sections, but none of them were too long.
Cool tidbits of information trailside.
Rolling back near Kentucky Camp.
Another gate!!
Love this spot!! High point of the short course.
Even the roads ride like singletrack.
Almost done, lots of downhill coming my way.
There were still plenty of people hanging out when I wrapped things up, just short of 7 hours after my 40 minute detour. Such a great day to be out on the AZT. Thanks again to AES for putting together such a stellar route.

A half dozen or so of us camped out afterwards and were treated to a dazzling display of stars in the southern Arizona sky. We were swapping stories around the campfire, when someone noticed a rather peculiar light hovering off in the distance. We all gazed at it trying to figure out what it was as a spherical dist cloud grew around it.
Looked like a helicopter of some sort at first. Photo by Shannon.
The minutes passed and the sphere of dust kept growing, slowly drowning out the bright center light. No noise could be heard while the source appeared to stay motionless.
The sphere of dust taking a greenish glow. Photo by Shannon.
About 20 minutes after we first spotted the light, the sphere began to dissipate. There was a green glow, sort of like a spot light illuminating upward from behind the hills. It was a very strange sighting, but cool to see. For the time being it was a UFO, but we later learned it was a Trident Missile exercise out of California.
Green lights beginning to show near the bottom center. Photo by Shannon.
It made for an interesting close to the evening. Thirty minutes after we first saw it, it was gone. Another AES event in the books.

Long Course+

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