March 13, 2016

Camp Tucson '16

March in the Sonoran desert is sublime. The wildflowers are popping everywhere, the desert is vibrant and lush with color. It's my favorite month to be outside in these parts. It also means the annual Camp Tucson event is going down. Three days of self-supported day rides with like-minded folk, aka: friends!!

First up was the Redington rd / AZT / La Milagrosa loop. This is the shortest ride of the three, but don't be fooled, it's tough. It's a noon departure ride, so I could sleep in a bit before making the trek south.

We had a nice group of 12 riders show and began the easy rollout towards the Redington rd climb.
The Master of Ceremonies for the weekend, Scott and Big Dave of Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks
Nice crew behind me, Alexis & Elliot hamming it up for the camera.
The road slanted skyward and slowly most of the group pulled away. I stayed with Jason up to the jeep road extravaganza as we marveled at each other picking & choosing our lines down the rugged descents.
Looking west back towards Tucson.
I kept Jason in my sights.
A series of wicked jeep road descents.
Jason almost disappearing behind a mogul field of obstacles.
I think both Jason and I got distracted when we rode by Chiva Tank, we both missed the turnoff onto vague singletrack and had to backtrack about a 1/4 mile. The trail was short, but fun and cut off a horseshoe bend of jeep road.
Chiva Tank.
Glad I didn't skip this!!
Jason began to pull ahead, but I noticed another rider near him. A few minutes later I realized it was Shannon, she must have passed us when we blew by the singletrack turn. The two of us would end up riding together for practically the rest of the day.
Surfing through the amber waves of grain.
Passage 10 of the AZT, some very underrated trail through here.
There's some climbing at first.
Plenty of flower sniffing along the way.
The rideable cattle guards are fantastic.
For the most part, the trail contours the hillsides remarkably well.
Before we knew it, we were on the prowl for the split to La Milagrosa, Tucson's signature technical downhill ride. The two of us had only been down it once apiece, my first time on this ride a couple years ago - solo. It was nice to have the ride company in case things went sour.
Pick your line wisely.
I only had one cat-like dismount on the way down and was glad to be on the smooth trail out to pavement.
A bunch of the others were still hanging out at the finish area. Our next stop was Seis Kitchen for incredible burritos. When riding in Tucson, put this place high on your post ride food stops.
Just another boring AZ sunset.

Another place that shouldn't be skipped is Bobo's. That was our breakfast stop for day 2.
Huge apple pancake, no syrup needed!! Yum.
The Empire Rita ride was the biggest ride of the weekend, swapped from day 3 to day 2 this year. I liked this turn of events. There was an option to take a shortcut and trim the ride from 80+ miles to 60+, but by doing so you'd lose the resupply option in Sonoita. I loaded the short route for the Empire Rita loop, but then at the last minute a few of us worked out a third option, go to Sonoita, but stay on the pavement a little longer heading north, then rejoin the AZT at Box Canyon rd. This was a 70+ mile version. Sounded good to me.
The group gathers at Sahaurita rd, another 12 or so riders!!
We got rolling on some pristine AZT singletrack northbound for a couple of miles. Somewhere in there Shannon had some tire woes and tried to play catch up, she ended up doing her own bicycle fun day after getting turned around at a tricky creek crossing.

Our route turned southbound on a powerline dirt road. Typically, in Arizona when someone mentions a route along a powerline corridor your face tends to droop a bit and become featureless. I mean, who doesn't love riding fall-line jeep trail? Well, it didn't quite turn out that way. For the most part, this powerline excursion was pretty ok.
Follow the poles south.
Nancy waiting for Jeff...again.
Our leader, Scott, really likes bikes.
What is that? A storm cell? Haven't seen one of those in months!!
Hmmm, that upcoming grade looks a little steep.
Yet another heart warming rendition of the Yukon Gold Rush, HAB style. Photo by Scott.
I'm not exactly sure how or when it happened, but we exited the powerline portion of the ride after 10 miles or so. Scott was riding next to me and said something along the lines of 'This is where things get interesting'. It was about that time we heard the always chipper Alexis, grumbling Scott's name as she tried to find a way across a vegetation choked creek crossing. Good thing I was riding with Scott, as we took an immediate right onto a primitive 2-track and easily made our way across the creek.
Add in a little bushwhacking for good measure.
Lee wrestles a branch free from his rear wheel.
All smiles once again!!
Is there anything cactus won't grow in around here?
The little adventure across the creek morphed back onto some dirt road riding. I gradually fell off the back of the pack, but soon the gang was poking around in the tall grass looking at something.
Gila Monster!!
There were still a few more crossings of Cienega Creek, but not much bushwhacking.
Jeff riding through the one shallow section.
Fairly easy to tell where the water flows out here.
Alexis wasn't buying what Elliot was selling. It's still 25 effin' miles to Sonoita?!?
The wind had gradually increased intensity during the morning, but so far it wasn't much of a hindrance. We continued on our southward trek and soon reached the short version split. I really wanted to go to Sonoita, but most of the group decided to take the shortcut route. Alexis, Denny & Elliot continued on towards the resupply of town. By the time I made my decision to keep heading south, they were long gone & I didn't have that part of the route loaded.
This map was near the shortcut
I talked with Scott about the area I was about to ride through, no real danger of getting lost I figured. So onward I went.
The sandy road conditions soon gave way to solid dirt and incredible vistas of Mt. Wrightson.
I was plodding along keeping an eye on the fresh tracks in the dirt. I approached a short ridgeline climb and I could see riders up ahead!! I hadn't kept up with anyone all day, but I was feeling good and wondered if I could latch back onto the group.

I came to one particular stretch of dirt road where three gates waited along a mile section. I must have cashed in some form of trail karma or something because each time I neared a gate in this remote slice of southern Arizona someone was either coming through going the opposite direction or holding the gate open for me! First was an SUV, then some OHV'ers and finally my group I had been sort of chasing.

Elliot quickly offered up some gummy worms and we were off. As soon as we made a hard left onto a coarse paved road we picked up a friendly tailwind and sped away. It was nice to finally ride with Elliot, he's quite the character.

The four of us made our way onto the shoulder of AZ82 for what would appear to be an easy flat-ish 4 mile paved spin into Sonoita. The gale force headwinds had other plans. Ouch. Nothing like struggling to maintain a 6mph pace on a pedestrian incline.
Denny grinding.
Beautiful country down here.
Sonoita general store, everything your tired legs need.
We were surprised to find Dave at the general store. I figured he took off ahead with Neil. After discussing some route options, he took off up the road. The rest of us continued our caloric intake and finalized our plans for the return ride. Elliot was going to stay on the road while Alexis, Denny and I would jump back on the AZT at Box Canyon Rd. We thought we had a dirt connector getting us off the highway sooner, but ran into a private property snag about a mile in.
End of the line for our connector route.
A few more miles of pavement led us to Greaterville rd and back into the nasty headwind. I could no longer keep pace with Alexis & Denny as I watched them slowly pull away. We met up one more time at the AZT junction and then again at the car a few hours later.
Greaterville Rd was fine, the winds? Not so much.
I was really looking forward to riding this part of the AZT. For one, it would get me out of the wind, but mostly because it's friggin' amazing!! Dreamy singletrack, grass covered hillsides and a chance to really study the Las Colinas section that most people don't really care for.
I did mention 'dreamy', right?
Tall grass swaying in the breeze.
Alexis & Denny are on that ridgeline. No joke.
This makes me smile.
Crisscrossing the wash under a canopy of trees.
I passed by a couple of hikers with large amounts of gear near Helvitia rd and no sooner had I began the singletrack of Las Colinas I heard Neil announce himself, 'Hey John'. I know better, let me slide off to the side and let Neil crank on by. To say Neil is a strong rider is a gross understatement. He was doing the full singletrack 80+ mile version and rode by like it was an easy after work spin. Incredible endurance power and a cool dude to boot. I'm always in awe watching your rides, Neil. Keep it up!!
There he goes, didn't think I'd see him again, but I did.
Las Colinas has 3 main climbs, most of which are rideable. There are plenty of dismounting opportunities as well.
Surprise, surprise. I spotted Neil, Alexis & Denny climbing here on what I affectionately refer to as Death Mud Ridge.
I knew the magical green gate that signals the end of the ups & downs of the Santa Rita foothills was fast approaching, it wasn't until a few more short HAB's were completed when it was revealed. It was here on this short bit of trail where I feel most of the angst towards Las Colinas lie. You can see the foothills giving way, yet the trail still climbs fall line routing. Overall, the entire distance from Helvitia rd to the green gate is short, some 4-5 miles and what follows next is an absolute hoot to ride.
Twin Tanks near sunset.
I was now in full race mode against a setting sun and a refusal to switch on my lights.
One of my favorite views along this stretch of trail.
I knew the final miles to the car slanted downward and were fast, flowy and mostly rock free. I also knew this section of trail tended to drag on - that's not a bad thing!! I was probably about a mile from the end when I really should have turned on my lights, but I could still make out objects and reached Sahaurita rd unscathed!! Alexis & Denny were still packing up. We drove over to Time Market to meet the others for dinner and to hear about their ride on the different route.

Check out Jeff's recap here, great pics and a few interesting stories along the way for them.

Sunday's ride was the Tucson Mountain Park Big Loop or TMP Big Loop. Breakfast was kept simple and I want to thank Shannon for letting me crash on an air mattress for a couple nights. On our way over to the trailhead we ran into a snag of sorts on I-10. Some powerlines had fallen across the freeway and we thought we avoided the backup by quickly maneuvering onto the frontage rd. Wrong. That too was a parking lot. We shot texts back & forth joking about leaving our cars there and riding over to the ride!! Luckily, the jam was cleared in 10 minutes or so and we weren't too late.
Wendi already in cool down mode after riding to the start.
Once again we had about a dozen riders show up for the final day's festivities. Early on I was on the wheels of the fast guys for no particular reason other than it was fun. To my surprise I almost crashed entering a hard left channeled drop in, cat-like reflexes saving the day...again! Not sure if this was the cause, but shortly afterwards I went for my rear brakes and heart rate shot up a tad as my lever almost reached the grip before engaging the brakes!! Yikes. This was an obvious concern, but as I rode on seemed manageable, at least until my legs didn't really feel like climbing hills.
Beautiful scenery all around.
TMP party crew!
A few others had taken a different route at the beginning and met up with Scott and I at a trail junction. It didn't take much twisting of arms to decide to call the ride short, this also allowed us a return visit to Seis Kitchen since they close early on Sundays!!

My climbing legs were pretty tired, useful in spurts, but probably not much good on a full day 50+ mile ride. Where's the pool again?
Downtown Tucson not far away.
Good times with good friends.
Ride bikes, have fun!!
Hard to believe we're right next to the city.
Approaching a big switchback.
The ride may not have been real long, but it sure was a blast and I found a few new-to-me trails. We rounded out the weekend with a second trip to Seis and some chill time by the pool. Then I was back to the big city.
A huge thanks to Scott for hosting another fabulous round of Camp Tucson. Uniil next year...

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